All posts by Dana Smith

Author and Entertainer

Hot Off the Press…

playin' with fire


       Well, here I am, knocking at the door, and so I thought you might enjoy seeing what a return note on a submission reads like, at least reads like if you submitted Highway Home. It is a little obtuse, a little code like, I’ll explain…


Thanks so much for sharing HIGHWAY HOME with me. I’m afraid I think it still needs work. The opening is much too long and slow.And only Cicero can get away with page long paragraphs. The story begins with paragraph two of the synopsis. Start in media res, hook the reader, and anything that needs to be known as background can be filled in later.
You definitely have talent, Dana, so I’d be glad to see either a spiffy revision OR BANKRUPT HEART. Don’t give up!
Name and Agency Withheld by Author (That’s me…)
    I’m not sure what “media res” means, and I do appreciate knowing in the pecking order Cicero remains stationed somewhere above me, another dissappointing news bulletin for my ego, dang.
    I’ll give you a puzzle and question. If you were about to begin writing a second novel while submitting the first, and after having revised and edited the first novel for the last six months, after having spent some 62 weeks composing and rewriting prior to editing, what would you do? I’m inclined to believe it is baked and served.
    I remember a long time ago when I set out with this plot and began to write that I had decided to write for very different reasons that this agent might have for acquiring a book. This decision to be mindful of what the market wants is only now kind of dawning on me.
    Here is a reality. I’m plotting much more intensely in the second novel. Lesson from the first novel. I am structuring the center of the second novel to bite my central characters ass much more intensely in the second novel. Lesson learned from the first novel. I am working in my novel plot structure with much more suspense and surprise points in the storyline.
     And so to a much great extent the second novel will come out of the box with a deeper blueprint, a more woven design, a greater attention to the mechanics.
     I’m hopeful I’ll have the creative juice to play within this tightness, this restrictiveness, this equation I am creating.
     Anyway, another few readers have now finished Highway Home and one in particular expressed a special pleasure with the read.
     One of these days…………….

Summit in Desert

Sonoran Desert Nearing Dusk


    On a hike at the saddle of a ridge this is what comes into view. I’ve been climbing this trail and rewarding myself with this sight now since my daughter Alana was first born. Canyon wrens claim their rock outcroppings as we pass. Ravens soar above on the updrafts near the peaks. Small sparrows vanish into the brush. Coyote scat steams on the trail. And the beauty of life is that your work keeps moving along even while away. I’m am proud to announce the official arrival of my first rejection letter from a literary agency!

     I got this gem while away on tour. It was a fabulous jaunt into the southwest. In my corner came two more readers who’ve not just read my novel but recommend it! I calculate that with this first notice I am now one more agency closer to an acceptance letter.

     I think we can all now relax and enjoy the fact that nothing comes easily, that we all work for everything we get, every peak we climb, every book we write, every opportunity we take to ask the world to allow us in, so we might add to the dance, one more fragment to the totality of what it means to be alive…

    Now, I’ll get back to submitting to more agencies, and enjoy the journey of asking the world for what I want.

Tempe Festival of the Arts

Good work comes one show at a time. Working with a good busking friend, Glenn Singer and together we are trying to dial in the new material I’ve got to compliment my book. I’ve got this wild idea that my book and my show can speak to each other, that one experience informs the other. Wish me luck because this isn’t certain as in much of life it is totally up for grabs.

Some day this idea just might float....

We are in the mail… that is one submission

october09c 002
The Little Boat that Could...


     Finally the first manuscript has been placed in the mail…this is a customized submission and included: specific header/page number spec’s, lines per page, font, font size…for the manuscript. It included synopsis, title page, letter of introduction, no paper clips, SASE back to me, and mailed flat not folded!!!!!

     Hoops……..lots of hoops…..

     On another note I have had my plotting of my second novel returned and it was shot full of big holes, especially in the second act, so to speak, there were not enough barriers or tests to present enough obstacles or power of ideas to be overcome to justify the transformation of the character from a mess into wanting not to be a mess, to overcoming his mess…… I’ll go back and hack away at the middle which will alter both the start and finish. Got to get a blueprint worth writing… this isn’t the painting this is the idea of the composition.

     Oh, plotting is a different function than writing prose…you can hear the mind whirling different gears

Montaña De Oro…Mountains of Gold……California

Fairmonthotel 006
All Dressed Up and Ready to go...

      Well, cover letter is getting proofed by my editor, synopsis is ready to print, manuscript ready to print, envelope addressed……… and yes, here we go, the first mailing goes out today to a literary agency. 

     Having a developmental editor going over my manuscript since March of this year, after having spent countless weeks and months drafting the book, and scrubbing and rescrubbing the book, again and again until we can’t at least at this moment find anything else we can alter or correct, it is easily, without any doubt, the most intensely written prose I’ve ever worked on.

     I’ve learned an enormous amount. And, by the way, if you are writing a novel? I’d recommend not being too fussy about the first chapter in the initial phase as you’ll have to go back and refine and foreshadow much of what is hardly imagined once you’ve plunged into the body of the book.

     I spent weeks on a first drafting of the first chapter years ago now and much of that effort and prose has been so substantially altered it was somewhat of a waste of time. I ought to have got on with the thing.

     My unedited manuscript came in at 256 thousand words, the novel is now down to 157 thousand words, and that doesn’t count all the countless other pages that were part of revising and part of the initial drafts… Of the 157k that remain, some 25 thousand of those words have been studied, altered, revised, changed, and contemplated until everyone involved has had their heads nearly explode from the thing. What a process. On to the next challenge!


Golden Light of Dawn

Autumn Sunrise...fall colors in California sky
Autumn Sunrise...fall colors in California sky


     Back to work now. Weekend dashing south to Palm Springs and returning north late yesterday. Serious business this week. Final bite of the first 50 pages, and then a meet up with my editor to coordinate ideas on the final draft of the synopsis and then away we go…..I should have all my revisions done in a few hours. Had about 1100 miles to look out the windshield and think…lots of that happening.

     I can’t begin to calculate how many times I’ve edited the first 50 pages, but after having so many passes through this text with revisions made I’ve elected to pass through the first chapter of my second novel fast, revising just enough to bring it to life, but not grind and polish too much yet. No need to get too much into the weeds. The chances are 100% that much structural framework is in need of balancing and until the structural elements are firmly in place you can’t really polish something that is going to be tossed anyway. It is really just a shell to hold the content for now, add and delete as required and THEN go for the full on fine rewrite.

     That is what passes for thinking by this writer this morning.

Inspired Sunrises…Do Good Work…Put your heart into it…

Storm brewed Sunrise October 2009
Storm brewed Sunrise October 2009


     Sitting with coffee in the morning and watching the sunrise before getting to work on the next book, continue to adjust the first book, and lucky to be here seeing the world unfold in all its worldly ways. What a good looking world we have… sometimes it’s hard to see her good looks, sometimes its obvious. Yesterdays downpour was one for the books here in San Francisco. Good day to write. Plot and first chapter of second novel off to editor.

Rye Waters, Ry…..Ry….with the wind

Shroud of Alcatraz October 15th-Dusk
Shroud of Alcatraz October 15th-Dusk

     Have placed my next novel into full drive. Ryan Waters, Ry Waters, is the central character. First scene takes place on San Francisco Bay in September 2008…on a night not unlike this one. I’ve been building a powerpoint presentation of the plot. I’ve 30 scenes and thirty slides. There are bubbles galore, some represent time frame, some emotions, some the inner journey, while others subplot, and still others lists of actions the scene will go through… But, for now here is a look at San Francisco Bay………and the magic that comes with twilight, fog,  lights, islands………..

Rock walls… Finally Finished…Just Beginning

Up against the wall
Up against the wall

     Onward we march. Highway Home was tinkered with by Vicki Weiland and the author yesterday. We gathered at Vicki’s beautiful apartment in Pacific Heights. There on the 9th floor we gazed a bit out to the north and drank in the splendor of the Bay. We’d been delayed in our meetings while Vicki continues to mend and I continued on the road. While away Teresa LeYung Ryan had given a scrubbing to the first 50 pages. Her editing suggestions were sorted through and where appropriate we made revisions to the text. I’ve got another 35 pages to adjust in the next few days that will be done and from there the manuscript will stand in submission form and as Vicki said, “we’ve done everything we can do, it’s done.”

     A few comments by Teresa included the following…

“Your descriptions are engaging…. the settings come to life.”

“Many passages are exquisitely written…”

“You end many of your chapters with intrigue….Bravo!”

Hey, come one…. you got to ring your own bell sometimes…. and considering how many times others have over the years been so kind and supportive in my work as an entertainer, and this my journey into the world of fiction, it is appropriate I would think for those following my progress to get a preview of what some of the professional editors are saying about the work I am doing.

     Getting a manuscript ready for submission requires a great deal of effort. Errors and uncorrected flaws are not going to pass muster. I’ve been surprised at how many places in my manuscript I’ve detected problems. It can cause a great deal of agony because sometimes the image is 99% there, but still it is not in the end making enough sense to stick and so you lose pieces of the work that simply can’t hold up when really evaluated. And that is after you’ve spent hours and hours playing with the thing again and again, but you just can’t make the thing fly.

     I ought to have the thing turned around now in short order and next week with luck away the submissions will go. Aim for 15 out the door on your desk submissions per week… once the whole of this is prepared its as simple as print, put in envelope, and send out. Just do it. Don’t worry, don’t guess, don’t imagine, just do the work the rest will follow.

     Now…back to work

Back to Editing

I’m back in the saddle. Laptop sited in my favorite location in my apartment. I gaze eastward out my windows toward the East Bay Hills from my place in San Francisco. My desk has on it two items. First, a freshly marked up manuscript from Teresa LeYung Ryan. I’ll take it down to the health club and study contents of her comments while on exercise machine. I’ll make some notes and take her mark ups to Vicki Weiland in the next few days and we’ll discuss Teresa’s ideas make whatever adjustments we feel wise and then………..move ahead. Looks like a signficant amount of work, but every passing now of the manuscript brings it that much closer.

Second, while on the road since September 17th I’ve been building the plot to the second novel. I’ve been working on this plot for about six months total. It is complete although it will go through revisions and refinement. It is a work in progress. Feels like I know more than enough to begin. Characters all have names and have been sketched out. Plotting is done. The timeline is complete. Everything I need to aim the story is in place. I’ll take my first swing today or tomorrow. Once underway it will be a relentless process of drafting without letting up. Unlike my last book this one will undergo editing as I proceed.

And last of all a glimpse from the last few weeks

Geneva self-portrait...
Geneva self-portrait...