For some reason I had a strong desire to build a story around words themselves, as displayed in the fine art of handwriting or calligraphy. Because of research I had done for another novel in my bibliomystery series, featuring the English bibliophile Samuel Pepys, I wanted to set it in Pepys’s London of 1670. It occurred to me that the art of handwriting would be most significant in the life of a writing master (teacher), and even more significant for someone who was deaf – for whom handwriting was the only language. It would become still more vital if the deaf person were a sixteen-year-old girl who had to depend on her writing skills to save her father and her country during a time of political intrigue…and there was the plot.
Tell us something about it.
Only the writing-master’s daughter and her father, the much-admired calligrapher for King Charles II, know why she does not speak. But Grace Quespin’s silence is linked to a secret so ancient and shrouded in mystery that even Grace and her father have no inkling of its significance…until one night the writing-master is seized by the King, setting in motion a terrifying series of events. From the moment she discovers an ancient volume of elaborately coded pages called the Watersmeet Book, Grace finds herself at the heart of an intricate plan – one reaching beyond Restoration London politics into dangerous, centuries-old secrets. Desperate attempts by spies to destroy both her and the book…secret envoys for Louis XIV…mysterious underground waterways that could save England from the Dutch…dramatic rescues by a strange, hooded man…the ancient, true meaning behind our alphabet…an eerie link between each letter’s meaning and the corresponding day’s events…the significance of a recipe for ink…unexpected romance…all are writ large in Grace’s world.
What made you choose to attend the Algonkian conference? How did you feel about the conference?
This book was a departure from my earlier mystery series in both style and setting, and I wanted some final advice and guidance before sending it into the world. Because I was changing agents, I knew it was important to learn how to package it effectively for prospective agents and publishers. When I saw the Algonkian pitch conference on the website, it looked like just the thing…and it was. In fact, it far exceeded my expectations in every way. We received excellent literary writing practice and advice, as well as intensive focus on pitch development. I can’t speak highly enough of the focused and efficient organization of the conference, the information itself, and then the experience of pitching to an agent. It shot me ahead on the trajectory to publishing this book – far beyond where I would be if I hadn’t attended. It was also tremendously encouraging. An unexpected benefit of the week was a memorable and enduring friendship with the other writers at the conference. We cooperated on honing one another’s pitches for days and far into some nights, just because we were having so much fun together! I still think of my Algonkian conference friends and feel a common bond, a wonderful writing fellowship. I came home feeling something remarkable and life-changing had happened to me.
Do you feel Unlocked is improved as a result? If so, how? What specific changes will take place in your novel as a result?
The Algonkian conference exposed me to writing at an entirely different level; I had been writing genre fiction and finally glimpsed the world of literary fiction. Until then I had appreciated literary fiction, but had never understood how to move in that direction. Before the conference I was like a near-sighted person who could only see trees as big green blurs; at Algonkian I put on a pair of glasses for the first time. My writing life will never be the same. The greatest epiphany was learning to think in relevant symbols and then use them to tell the story.
What did you find most effective about the pitch session at the Algonkian conference?
It’s hard to say whether it was honing the pitch with my fellow writers, or the practice presenting to them and the agents. Together, they were more transforming than I expected.
What did you find most effective about the Algonkian approach as a whole?
Making theoretical instruction practical. It was tremendously effective to receive training in specific writing-enhancing techniques immediately followed by exercises that cemented that training. Ditto the pitch development; if we had developed the pitch but hadn’t presented it repeatedly to both colleagues and the agents, the effect would not have been so transforming. I appreciated the intense focus of the conference; we did not waste time. It was perhaps the best-spent, most efficient education I have ever received – very well thought-out and organized.
How would you compare Algonkian to other writer conferences?
The Algonkian conference was focused (on developing exceptional literary writing skills, honing pitches, and presenting them), so it was much more productive. It was also much smaller and more personal, allowing each of us to receive more attention. Other writing conferences have been more scattered, and do not require exercises immediately following instruction (in my experience). Nor are those exercises presented and critiqued for immediate feedback at other conferences. I have never been to a conference that fosters the camaraderie of Algonkian instead of competition and judgment.
Where does Unlocked go from here?
I am confident it will be placed with a dedicated agent and a publisher who appreciates it. Then I hope it will transport readers to another place and time and provide them hours of enjoyment and enlightenment.