Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What I learned at the Tahoe Writer's Retreat

So I've told you the who, where, and what about the Tahoe Writer's Retreat - but now I will share what I learned. I'll bullet point the topics and then give you the bit of information about it.

Besides the most beautiful place I've been around Lake Tahoe, this writer's retreat helped my writing in brand new ways. 

Maybe it was because I was open to hearing what I needed to hear this time. Maybe the stars aligned. Either way, I am grateful. I came home recharged and ready to revise, rather than defeated and wondering what I am doing with my life.

Thank you Nevada SCBWI!

  • Ethnic groups represented in books:
Do you notice different ethnic groups in books?
If you do, what and how are they typically represented? Do you see a pattern? If you are a writer and do not see an ethnic group represented well what can you do? 

1. research. If you are not in the ethnic group you are writing about, make sure you do your research.

2. ask questions: Kids know a lot about what they don't see in books. And they want to tell you. Ask them what they've never seen in a book about a particular ethnic group.

3. buy books: Purchase books with ethnic characters on the covers, in the stories. Read. Incorporate your ideas. 

The stakes in your story must be high. Life or death situations - not always literally - but something must be at stake for your main character. And it's best if all of your characters have something they might lose if things don't go the right way.

1. choose your character arcs carefully

2. keep your story from becoming predictable

3. watch your subplots - they should move the story forward

4. hurt your characters - they must go through pain and a lot of it so the reader gets on board

5. pick a narrator that challenges you - don't make it easy - choose the odd choice

6. ask yourself why you chose your MC - if you don't know - it's wrong

7. know your focus of the book - what is driving it - why are you writing it?

  • Story Structure
There are many types of story structures - but they all seem to have the same things in common.

1. introduction
2. rising action
3. climax
4. falling action
5. resolution

First you show your character in the now. Then something triggers her to action. What will your character do next to try to remain the same? A surprise perhaps moves them along toward a new goal. Or kicks them off of their path. The choice comes soon after - either the main character will go to the right or go to the left. Both paths must have great stakes - a negative and a positive for each. The climax is the result of the choice. Then the consequences come and all characters should be affected. The last part, the resolution, is the new world for the character.

  • Sarah Davies - Greenhouse Literary 
Sarah spoke on the panel the last day and I also had the pleasure of sitting down with her while she critiqued my first chapter. Sarah loves writers. She wants to nurture them and their careers.

She chose the name greenhouse for her literary agency because what does a greenhouse do? It gives soil, water, and heat to growing plants. It nurtures them. That's her philosophy.

What she is looking for:
  • not so much genre - but great writing
  • strong voice
  • fresh concept
  • well developed craft
  • potential
  • someone she can work with

Sarah also said something to me personally that I want to share with you.

PRECISION: be precise!

She said "sometimes my writing was a bit clunky and imprecise. Sometimes the reader isn't quite sure what you mean or what you are referring to."

This struck me where I needed it to. When I write, I world build. But because I know the world so well, I assume that others reading it will "get it." No so. I need to be precise. 

Now that I know that I do this, I've gone through my chapters and I see it. It's an easy fix, but without someone pointing it out to me I wouldn't have ever changed it.

Check your precision. Make sure each sentence matters and makes sense to your reader. 

  • E.B. Lewis - Illustrator
I am not an illustrator, although I do draw and paint. So listening to E.B. Lewis talk about his process was fascinating to me.

E.B. does one on one internet classes for illustrators who want to have their work critiqued by him.

He will interview you via email and then let you know if he thinks the two of you would work together well. And if he thinks he can help you hone your craft. 

  • Elizabeth Law - editor
Elizabeth is currently working with clients one on one. She does line edits as well as big picture ideas and character development.

You can email her for pricing and schedules at

  • Tahoe Mentor Program 
The Tahoe Mentor Program has had many success stories and you can find them online at 

Generally how it works:

1. Mentors give deadlines

2. They read your work and give feedback - line edits as well as overall story

3. You will meet with them at two big retreats and then a few more times in-between as your and the mentor's schedule allows

4. When you decide to try out for the mentor program - you choose two mentors to apply to

5. You will work hard for 6 months

6. You will learn to hurt your characters

7. You will have fun

8. The mentor program is on an 18 month cycle

9. You will be able to Skype with your mentor

10. At your final retreat - you review your entire manuscript and revisions made. (and drink a lot of wine)


When you can see yourself in the work - but your voice / style can be opposite too.

Tip: If is sounds like writing = rewrite it!

Voice is harmony. 
It's when the reading disappears and the voice is all that's left.

  • Querying Agents

My best advice to you is to wait until you get multiple green lights. 

Green Lights:

1. You feel it's ready.

2. Your critique group feel it's ready.

3. You've gone to a writer's retreat and the critique group there thinks it's ready.

4. You've had a critique head/mentor ask you why you're not sending this out yet.

5. You've met with an agent and he/she says it's ready.

Good sites to visit before you query:

So there you have it my writer friends. Use this blog as a tool to help your writing become query worthy. 

As always,

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