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L.T. Suzuki

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Blogs by L.T. Suzuki

Critique by Author Jack Whyte
10/27/2009 8:53:08 AM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

My Blue Pencil session with best selling author of Arthurian legend, Jack Whyte.
The Blue Pencil Café portion of the Surrey International Writers Conference is a must for any author serious about perfecting their skills as a writer. It’s an opportunity to have the undivided attention of your favorite author as he/she reads and critiques your work to show you what you’re doing right, where it’s going wrong, and how best to fix the problem.

Not for the faint of heart and definitely not for the writer who cannot take constructive criticism well, as all egos must be checked at the door when you enter this session. In my case, I had the good fortune of booking Jack Whyte, a best-selling author renowned for his retelling of the Arthurian legends and now, the Knights Templar. I was told by conference coordinator, KC Dyer that Mr. Whyte is in such demand for the Blue Pencil sessions, unless you’re one of the first to register for the conference, his time is snapped up right away.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” cautioned Mr. Whyte. “Just to warn you, I’m going to be brutally honest.”

His foreboding tone and his expression was solemn, bracing me for what could potentially be the worst experience in a writer’s life.

With gleeful abandon, like a masochistic fool looking to get her writer’s soul slashed and bloodied by a red pen she willingly provided, I slid the pages of the opening chapter to this author I respect greatly.

There was no hesitation… no excuses for why my writing might not be up to snuff. I remember smiling at Mr. Whyte as I responded: “I am looking forward to your kind of brutality. Please go ahead. You’re welcome to take a pen to it!”

“Okay, just give me a chance to read this first,” said Mr. Whyte, taking up the sheets of paper while his eyes seemed to scan me for signs of emotional instability in case he had a crier on his hands.

Thinking I’d be sitting in silence, subjected to deciphering his thoughts and feelings via facial expressions as he scrutinized my work, Mr. Whyte surprised me by reading my sacrificial offering aloud.

From a writer’s perspective, especially one who is a fan of this esteemed author, it was an experience like none other! It was so surreal as everyone around me abruptly vanished and ambient sounds disappeared. All I heard was this author’s voice, as clear as if he was doing a professional reading for an audio book. It was nothing short of magical!

If you ever had a chance to meet Jack Whyte and speak to him, this gentleman of the literary arts has a beautiful Scottish accent. The words rolled off his tongue so smoothly and with such passion, it was as though I had been immersed into the world I had created from that very first spoken line. If I had closed my eyes, I know my heart and mind would have been transported to another place and time, even though it was an era and destination created in my imagination. When Mr. Whyte read the last word from the last line on the page before him, I wished I had given him more, just to hear him read aloud for a little longer.

When he was done, he lowered those pages, looked me straight in the eyes and gave me his critique: “Powerful and full of suspense! From that first word, you’ll immediately draw the readers in! This is very good. Now… here’s what you can do to make it even better.”

With a stroke here and a dash there to shorten sentences, thereby adding tension, and replacing the word ‘creature’ with ‘it’ as this would force the readers to speculate what the protagonist was dealing with and heightened the mystery and dread, Mr. Whyte was done.

He reiterated that I had ‘done a wonderful job. It just needed a bit of tweaking’, but overall, he felt ‘the readers will be immediately drawn into the story and held there by the level of suspense’.

I graciously and calmly thanked him for the critique, while in my mind’s eye I was standing on my chair, fist pumping the air, shouting out to the world: “Woo-hoo! Jack Whyte liked it! The greatest writer of Arthurian legend didn’t think I was a loser!”

With that said, his job of critiquing my work was done. Because he didn’t have to hack and slash through my pages, explaining why it was necessary to remove so many words or juggle paragraphs around, our session was over before the allotted time of 15 minutes.

Was I about to merrily skip away, pages in hand to digest his words? Oh, no! This was my 15 minutes with Mr. Jack Whyte so I used the opportunity to discuss the last book I read prior to this meeting. It was Uther, written by this esteemed author.

I told him how I enjoyed his style of retelling this age-old legend known to most around the world, but I explained what I liked the most was that it was written in such a way it would make the reader believe it was a glimpse of the past, as it seemed so grounded in history.

We discussed our shared love of the movie Arthur with the actor Clive Owen taking the part of King Arthur, discovering why we both shared the same sentiments about this version of the famous legend.

He thanked me for the compliment and I went on to tell him that the character I enjoyed and empathized with the most was the female character Nemo. He had captured the emotions perfectly of how she could have fallen victim to the hardships of her life, but instead, found the strength to persevere. I told Mr. Whyte that I knew exactly how Nemo felt; the rejection, the frustration and the determination she needed to survive in a man’s world as I, too, experienced all this when I became one of only two women in law enforcement for the federal government when women were just breaking into this field many years ago. I also empathized with her struggle to gain acceptance when she joined the Pendragon warriors, for I’ve withstood that resistance, too, when I first joined an all-male, full-contact martial arts club where I was the only girl and most men dropped out within the first few weeks because of the grueling training regimen and brutal ‘sparring’ bouts. And how, even now as an instructor, it is hard to get the same level of respect, even from those with belts below me who are not aware of my abilities, just because I’m a small female.

Immediately, Mr. Whyte’s eyes opened wide in pleasant surprise. His hands clapped together in delight as he announced with an affable smile: “You get it! You understand Nemo and her importance in the Uther story.”

He went on to explain the origin and significance of this character’s name and her undying loyalty to Uther Pendragon.

As our time drew to a close, I shook hands with Mr. Whyte, thanking him again for his critique and valuable time, departing with the promise to read the next book in the series.

He wished me well and good luck with my submission to Tor/Forge, telling me how they first published his books for the U.S. Market. His final words as I left his table were to keep up this level of writing.

Though my work was not perfect, his words of encouragement, praise and confirmation for what I was doing right allowed me to walk away from the session with the sense that I was indeed on the correct path and should continue this journey; a trek made less arduous and lonely with the support and encouragement from such a respected author!

Come back again to my blog to read about what I learned about world building from master of fantasy, Terry Brooks and about researching for historical fiction from Diana Gabaldon during the Surrey International Writers Conference.

For photos and video clips, check out my website at http://web.me.com/imagobooks




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