Transatlantic pen pals share writing tips, friendship
Published: November 26, 2007
|When Margaret Damele Elam and Beate Boeker each began searching for a writing friend, neither imagined how much a single announcement in The Writer forums would change their lives. In Germany and writing for an English-speaking market, Beate felt cut off from other writers. Embarking on a profession often described as lonely albeit rewarding, she didn't know where to turn for help and support. |
Eventually, her search led to The Writer forums. Composing the message took more courage than she had expected, because she feared nobody would be interested in collaborating with someone whose native language was not English. Beate's initial post brought a few replies that directed her to online writing groups, but none had the personal touch she sought. Finally, four months later, she got mail! American-born Maggi, a teacher turned writer, sent a reply.
Maggi wanted someone to read her work, point out inconsistencies in plot, tell her where the writing seemed thin, and make suggestions. Beate needed help with comma splices, reference errors, sentence structure, style and American slang. While Beate's heart belonged to romantic comedy, Maggi embraced various genres. Regardless of the differences, a desire to write united the two on common ground. Within a few months, daily e-mails built the foundation of a friendship that bridged thousands of miles, cultural differences, and an age gap of almost 25 years.
Beate's quick eye recognizes author intrusion and erratic point of view. In addition, she finds the places in a manuscript that may result in reader confusion. Her attention to detail and prompt response time helps Maggi see through the reader's eye and make changes that better her work. When Maggi attempts to skim over a particularly difficult scene in her fantasy novel with a few expository sentences, Beate's resounding "show, don't tell" echoes across the Atlantic.
Maggi spots sloppy writing and undisciplined commas no matter where they try to hide. She sands each sentence until every rough corner is smooth. When Beate wants to jump ahead and call a piece complete, Maggi says, "Edit, edit, and then edit again." Maggi believes in tight writing. Before she finishes, every word must sing.
By the end of 2006, Maggi found success when a publisher accepted her epic-style poem. The first person she wanted to tell was Beate. Beate's turn came next. With a letter of recommendation from Maggi, the same publisher picked up one of her short stories and requested a travel piece for the next issue. When the travel article proved troublesome, a three-hour phone conversation and line-by-line edit resulted in a slick offering.
The next summer saw Maggi's list of published work grow to include a fantasy novella, a flash fiction, and three more short stories. When an international magazine accepted a series of children's stories to run in consecutive issues, she was elated. Beate heard positive comments from a publisher about a novel she had sent more than a year before. The future looked promising--until disaster struck.
Eager for a professional evaluation by a published author, Beate joined a pricey writing organization and sent them her latest romance novel. The resulting critique blasted every part of the work and devastated her. Nothing about the novel found favor with its critic. When she heard the news, Maggi responded by sending Beate links to various Web sites that list horrid rejection letters sent to some of the world's most prominent writers. Eventually, Beate agreed that the critique made some good points, but the tactless presentation left wounds that festered for weeks, despite continued bolstering from Maggi.
Maggi's disaster came from an unexpected direction. Before the first story in her children's series made it to print, the editors announced plans to close the magazine. Scarcely two months from the day she learned they wanted the series, the ride ended. Though she sympathized with the reasons and was grateful that two of the stories would appear in the final editions, disappointment came hard. Maggi internalized the whole matter. A brief sentence in a single e-mail announced what happened, but reading between the lines was easy, and Beate thought she knew just how to console her friend. Her follow-up e-mail stated that the stories must not end because her daughter asked for new ones all the time.
The exchange between Maggi and Beate isn't always about writing. Homemade Christmas cards, funny stories about the evil splinter Beate's six-year-old claimed would probably kill her, grumbles about spouses who fail to understand the fascination of seeing one's name in print despite a lack of payment, and continued encouragement strengthen their transatlantic bond.
Today, because of a firm base to buffer shock and disappointment, to teach and learn, to celebrate and laugh, Maggi and Beate are better writers. Without that hopeful post in The Writer forum, their story would never have happened. So take heart. Maybe someone is already waiting to read your message.
Margaret Damele Elam, a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, has spent the past 20 years teaching. First-place winner of the Greer-Hepburn and Malcom Sedam awards for fiction, her recent work appears in IdeaGems, Pindeldyboz and La Fenêtre. Today she lives with her husband, two cats, and a little black pug named Li Chan in Ohio, where she writes full time. Web: Wolfe Tales.
Beate Boeker is a product manager for garden furniture by day and a writer by night. She speaks German (her mother language), English, French and Italian. While "Boeker" means "books" in a German dialect, her first name Beate can be translated as "Happy"--so with a name that means "Happy Books," the road was mapped out for her. She has written three romance novels, and has published a short story as well as a travel report in IdeaGems. Web: Happy Books.