Tag Archives: Miriam McNamara

Come Play in My Sandbox Writing Retreat 2014

Come Play in My Sandbox Retreat 2014

Come Play in My Sandbox Retreat 2014

You know that phrase from the movie Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come”? Well, that’s what happened this past weekend. I sent out an email to my clients a few months ago, vetting interest in a client retreat. There was a resounding “Yes!” Although everyone couldn’t make it, this past weekend I hosted a 3 day party for some of my very talented, very smart, very funny clients. I haven’t laughed so much in quite a long time. I also haven’t sat around talking writing for 3 days with such talented writers. Maybe ever.

And I learned so much this weekend! First of all, I confirmed something that I kind of already knew: I’m a very lucky agent. I also learned that Manhattans are to be stirred 100 times, not shaken; and that it’s really ok to call gin & olive juice shaken with ice & garnished with olives a “Martini,” even if there’s no vermouth to be found. I learned some 18th century Caribbean history. I learned that in Alabama it is still a criminal offense to sell sex toys. I learned that keeping a flip chart  and some markers in the same room as 9 sassy writers is asking for trouble (and is a sure-fire way to laugh until I cry). I learned the most effective way to lure my wavy/curly hair to the curly side. And I learned a lot about how different people’s writing process goes.

One of my clients has to write, even just a little, every day. It feels like a need, like breathing or eating, and unfathomable that it could be any other way for anyone. One of my clients saves it all up for times when there’s uninterrupted, childless, day-job-less time, taking a week here and there, or a whole month in the summer, to do nothing, nothing, nothing but write… until the offspring return. Another client writes from 9-5, Monday – Friday. After all, it’s a job. Yet another client has worked out a day-job work week of just 4 days, and does nothing but write on that 5th day. And then there are variations of all of these ways, and sneaking writing in to busy lives full of other commitments. Is there a right way? Does one way indicate more commitment and drive? Is one person more of a writer than the others? I think not.

We discussed storyboarding picture books. We discussed manuscripts that spawn manuscripts that spawn manuscripts. We discussed whether you need to know the end of your story when you start. We discussed how to be on Facebook yet hide from your relatives and high school classmates. We discussed what it means to be called a Pirate, whether it can be just a mindset or needs to include the act of piracy (i.e. stealing things). We workshopped works in progress, giving and getting criticism. We showed and telled. And we shared  finished work, just for the fuck of it. We played with a new way of goal setting, working backwards from the future. We ate a lot. We drank some. We took an already funny “plot device,” made it into a joke, and then beat it like a dead horse the whole weekend. We barely stopped laughing.

My clients thanked me over and over for hosting this retreat, but I can’t stop feeling like I’m the lucky one. Besides having a great weekend, besides laughing my ass off, besides feeling their admiration, I feel so honored to be entrusted with the task of getting their work published. They all know how committed I am to achieving that goal, and how I’m busting my butt to get the job done. But it sure was nice to take a weekend off and just hang out with these fine folk.





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Random Acts of Writing: When Miriam McNamara met the Breadbox

images-1In honor of NaNoWriMo, I’m  spending the month of November offering you all some writing prompts! Here’s the game: A few times each week I’m posting a picture and a setup. Your task is to write 500 words or less. That’s about a page (single spaced). If you want, you can email me what you come up with (linda dot p dot epstein at gmail dot com) with “writing prompt” in the subject line and I’ll pick a few to post on the blog. Please don’t submit your writing in the comments section, I’m not posting them there. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, for the next few days I’m posting some of my clients’ writing on a picture/setup I challenged them with. If you haven’t yet, try running with this one!

images 5.15.23 PMHere’s one from Miriam McNamara. The task was: Two people are walking in the woods and come across this object. Write a scene where they use the object. You can use dialogue, but it should be <50% of the writing. 500 words or less.

Birdie ran the last few yards, curiosity getting the better of her. The box was tucked neatly in the rotted out base of an oak tree, fitting so neatly that it almost seemed as if the tree had grown around its edges—but the box was freshly painted bright blue, it’s little sliding metal door closed neatly, the metal smooth and undented—it couldn’t have been there long. An round area the size of a dinner table was cleared in front of it, and marked off with rocks.

“Who’d put a mailbox here?” said Birdie. It looked neat, actually—a post office for squirrels, or fairies. Her fingers tingled as she put her hand to the cold knob on the door. What would be inside?

“That’s a breadbox,” said Izzy, wheezing a little as she caught up, and Birdie felt bad that she’d left her behind, even for a moment. “Ms. Gershwin’s breadbox, I’ve seen it on her counter. Gus must’ve made off with it for one of his games.” Izzy leaned on her cane, her skinny back rounding as she took the weight off her bad leg, but she looked unfazed. 

Maybe all Mom’s insistence was right. Maybe Izzy would get all the way better. 

Mom was never right, though. It had been three years since Izzy’s fall. If she was getting all the way better, it would have happened by now. She wasn’t right about Daddy, either. But everything was black and white with Mom—either you were sick, or better. Either you were here with your family, or you were dead and gone.

Birdie slid back the tin door and knew Izzy was right. A set of marbles, and a set of jacks, all jumbled together in a colorful heap at the bottom of the tin. The cleared ring must be where Gus and his friends came to play. She frowned at the hijacked breadbox. “Stealing and gambling, at eight years old! Maybe we should tell Ms. Gershwin.”

Izzy stepped to the edge of the circle and gingerly sat down, her left leg straight out to one side, cocked at an ever-so-slightly off angle. She looked up at Birdie. “Care for a game, my de-ah?” she said, in her best fancy accent.

Birdie cracked a smile. “I’m quite sure fancy ladies like use wouldn’t know the first thing about playing marbles,” she said, but she reached in and scooped out the bright bits of glass and metal. Her fingers caught a corner of paper, and she pulled it out. She unfolded it. It was a picture, creased inkless along the pleats.

It was Daddy’s Jenny.

She recognized the picture instantly, and her heart was in her mouth. That was Daddy’s plane, she knew it. The image was black-and-white but her mind painted it canary yellow, the star on the wing red, white and blue. 

Time: 3pm. Place: Coney Island. Admission: 25 cents.

“That looks like Daddy’s plane, doesn’t it?” said Izzy faintly, peering over Birdie’s shoulder as she sank to the ground beside her.

“It is Daddy’s plane,” said Birdie. His “baby,” he called it. The only baby he took with him when he left. 

“It can’t be,” said Izzy, her voice small, close to tears. She believed Mom, that Daddy was dead. But Birdie didn’t. 

That was Daddy’s plane on that flyer. She had to go to Coney Island and bring him back home.

Headshot Miriam

Miriam McNamara has her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is currently deeply involved with an historical fiction manuscript featuring double lives, star-crossed romance, and lady pirates. She lives in Asheville, NC.

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GUEST POST: Three Tips on Querying Agents based on My Recent Experience

Querying (Miriam)As a delighted new client of the lovely Linda Epstein, I am thrilled to share three quick tips on landing a sweet agent.

Tip 1: Don’t send your manuscript out before it’s ready.

Duh. Even before I sent out my first query, I could have told you that this was The Most Important Thing. But I’d worked on the first draft of my manuscript for what felt like sooooo long. I thought I’d do a quick pass, clean it up, and be ready to query agents within two months—so that’s exactly what I did. And, hooray! Two agents requested a full!…

THEN I woke up in the middle of the night with the horrible realization that the last third of my manuscript WAS IN THE WRONG ORDER.

So, yeah, those two agents did not make offers.

I revised again, and I sent it out again, with much more success.

Tip 2: Put effort into selecting your agents.

I did some serious research. I looked up agents in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, on QueryTracker, on Publisher’s Marketplace, etc. I looked for agents who were actively seeking the kind of story mine was: YA, strong female protagonist, historical fiction, etc.

When I thought agents might be a good fit, I internet-stalked the hell out of them. I read their blogs, followed them on Twitter, and perused their agency’s websites. I looked for clues that they might connect with my story on a deeper level than just categorically. That cut my initial list in half.

Then I queried, and half of those agents requested a full or partial.

Tip 3: Commiserate with other writers.

Querying agents is hard. Rejections came quicker than requests. After a few rejections, I started to wonder if the story I’d been working on for the past forever was any good.

The best remedy for despair is connecting with other writers: writers who have queried successfully, those who are going through the process simultaneously, and those who someday hope to. Read every blog on the querying process ever written. I got some of the best advice and most heartening stories from writers I’ve never met.

Good luck!

Headshot MiriamMiriam McNamara has her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is currently deeply involved with a historical fiction manuscript featuring double lives, star-crossed romance, and lady pirates. She lives in Asheville, NC.


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