Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Taking a Summer (or Fall or Winter or Spring) Course

For the last two weeks I have been logging onto my computer every morning to read my assignment for
the day. As if I don't have enough to do, I signed up for an online SinCNE (Sisters in Crime New England chapter) course taught by Ramona Defelice Long. This meant, of course, that I didn't turn to my current work in progress until later in the morning, but I thought it would be worth it to learn something new.

The course is called Necessary Parts, and covers the four texts that writers dread--the log line (for the subject line on an email), a query paragraph (and letter), a one-page summary, and a two to three page synopsis (the worst of all). I have yet to meet a writer who likes writing a synopsis, and it's easy to understand why.

The first question anyone who knows me might ask is this: "Susan, why are you taking this course? You've published ten novels and two nonfiction books with four publishers." And indeed, one of the other participants commented on how surprised she was to see my name on the list of students. But, to everyone's surprise, except Ramona's, I've never had to submit a synopsis to sell a book.

When I submitted my first mystery novel to Scribner's in 1992, my agent sent in the entire ms, and we waited. When I switched to Five Star, a division then of Thorndike Press, again I sent in the entire ms. For my first book, a bibliography for G.K. Hall, in Boston, I wrote a proposal, which was accepted. Twelve books and not a single synopsis. It was time to face the nightmare and learn how to write one.

When I finished graduate school and took my degree, I was glad to be done. But I have always loved workshops, taking courses on a variety of subjects, exploring new ideas, and learning to see things from a different perspective. Even as the executive director of a small nonprofit, I knew there was plenty to learn and signed up for all sorts of special trainings.

No matter how many books I've written, or anyone else has for that matter, I believe there is always
something more to learn. And of all the workshops, courses, lectures, and trainings I've attended over the last several years, Ramona's online course Necessary Parts has been the best. If you have a chance to take this, I highly recommend it. There's nothing like finding out that the great fear (of writing a synopsis or anything else) is nothing but a matter of arranging words on a page. Thanks, Ramona.


  1. The arrangement of words on a page is not writing necessarily; but then it is for a synopsis ...briefly done.

    I don't have friends or employer and this is how I stay in the buoyancy of others.

  2. Thank you, Susan! The course works best if participants are willing to share their work and are open to suggestions and review. You were both, and generous with responses in the round robin. The group makes or breaks a course, and this group was fantastic.

  3. I didn't know what to expect at the start, Ramona, but I will continue to be grateful to you and the course. There's nothing like wrestling the tiger of a synopsis down to a kitten. Thanks again.

  4. Actually, this sounds like a course I could use. Is there a link to a sign up page?

  5. The course was offered through Sisters in Crime New England, so I would check their website. But Ramona Defelice Long, who offered the course and is an excellent teacher, commented here. You could click on her comment above, and email her directly. Hers is the second comment.

    1. My comment got away from me. I strongly recommend the class, Anne, and best of luck with your work.