Tarred and feathered

2011 ACFW Conference in St. Louis

For the last month I’ve been preaching to my Motlow English students, “Voice, voice, voice. You’ve got to find your voice. We English teachers are KILLING your writing because we’re taking away your voice. We’re making you all sound the same with your generically proper English.”

Yes, I know my students MUST learn to write proper academic papers, but they are so concerned about not using contractions and not using fragments that they’re losing their voices.

Why is that a problem? Because when they write their scholarship essays, their essays won’t stand out from the others. They will all sound the same.

Well, duh. Smack me in the head with a Harry Potter book. Yes, I said Harry Potter. It has to be a BIG book because up until now I have been teaching it and preaching it, but I haven’t been “getting it.”

I attended two back-to-back writer conferences, the SCBWI conference in Nashville and the ACFW in St. Louis. I almost bowed out of both of them. I wasn’t prepared. The Nashville conference offered a contest to the first 25 entries in each genre.

I didn’t want to enter my old manuscript, so like a phoenix, I aimed to rise up from the ashes of my failures to try something new. So I wrote all night from the top of my head about a girl and a guitar. I wrote from my heart. I wrote with abandon and came up with a killer title I blatantly stole from a Matt Urmy song.

But I didn’t make the contest. I was too late with my submission. All that writing for nothing.

At that point I REALLY didn’t want to go to the conference, but I had already paid the fee. I felt defeated—again. I was just tired. Well, I wasn’t just tired—I was tarred. That’s how we say it in the South. That’s how we say
it when we aren’t being good and proper English teachers.

To make matters worse. I had paid for a writing critique. But what was I going to send?  On a whim, I packaged my newly penned WIP with the killer title and sent it off. I expected the worse.

When I arrived to the conference, I dragged myself into the critique session and awaited my sentence. I was doomed.

Then the oddest thing happened. The literary agent said she liked it. Most of all, she liked my voice, and she said my main character was very likeable and very funny. (She underlined very on my critique notes.) She also said my work was very marketable for the teen audience.

Woo hoo! Too bad I hadn’t finished it. Next time I will send a completed manuscript.

But I finally figured “it” out, “it” being the lesson I have trying to teach my students. Voice is everything. Voice
comes from the heart.

My voice is quirky because I’m quirky. My colleagues wear business suits. I’m more comfortable in jeans, yellow Converse sneakers with daisies, and vintage rock t-shirts.

For crying out loud, I have feathers in my hair! What’s wrong with me?

Okay, I can explain the feathers. I blame it all on pirates and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, a rather nice combination, I think. My older son dared me; my younger son BEGGED me, on his knees with a tiny little tear in his left eye, “Don’t do it, Mom.”

But I did it. I have four little feathers in my hair. How was I to know that every middle school girl in the county would get her hair did that way too? Oh, well.

But I’ve learned that jeans, yellow daisy shoes, and rock tees are who I am. Feathers too. And FYI, my feathers have been a great conversation starter. I’ve had several women my age and older ask me why, and I say, “Because these feathers remind me I’m not afraid to be me.” They smile and nod and say, “I think I might just get some feathers too.”

So FINALLY I am on the path to figuring it out. I can’t write with any other voice. I have to write with my own—as quirky and unconventional as it is. And I must, must, must write with humor. So I over exaggerate. So I sneak in quirky characters and ridiculous situations. Isn’t life quirky and unpredictable?

And tragic?

When I went to St. Louis, I met three women who set my writing wheels back in motion. I attended Morgan
Doremus’ workshop on author branding. She explained that an author’s voice IS a major element of her branding.

I attended Janice Thompson’s workshop “A Merry Heart,” and she said that a funny book, a reason to laugh, is
like an ointment that soothes the hurt in our hearts and souls.

I pray my words can be an ointment.

And I met literary agent Natasha Kern.

Ms. Kern asked me why I had signed up to meet with her. She didn’t represent YA authors. I didn’t realize I had signed up to meet with her. Her name appeared my conference agenda, and there we were—together. A mismatch.

It’s not that she would never represent YA authors. She might be interested if I were the next Jenny B. Jones. But  I’ll never be the next Jenny B. Jones. But I am, however, the now and forever Teresa Lockhart.

Then Ms. Kern pointed to her heart and said, “You have to write from here. Don’t write to please the
markets. Don’t let anyone change the way you write.”

Then she went on to tell me she was pretty unconventional herself. After all, it was she who sold her client’s
book about Amish vampires.

Okay. I like that. She’s a woman who’s true to her word.

So here I am, “tarred” and feathered, but I’ve got my compass in hand, and I’m ready to set sail on this writing adventure again.

Ahoy, mateys.


Deadline for commenting for contest: Midnight Friday, Oct. 7, 2011
Congratulations Mandy Hunt and Amanda Taylor, whose names were drawn from the “cyber hat.”
Please email me privately so that I can get your mailing addresses to send you your cards.