Ugly Babies

Conferences are an important part of making connections in business. Writing and publishing is no different. You never know whom you might meet who can connect you to a publisher or who might be willing to read your fourth rewrite of a story.

Or when you might learn about ugly babies.

Conferences also have useful information, considering that’s the purpose. I went to a small conference organized by the League of Utah Writers. Utah has high elevations, high teenage suicide rates, and a substantial number of excellent storytellers who know the biz.

I drove out there with my friend Lehua Parker, a great middle grade author, and after missing the exit three times because I was so involved in our conversation (and slightly unfamiliar with that stretch of I-15), we made it to the conference on time.

The first presentation wasn’t great, to be honest. It was heartfelt and organized, delivered by a gentleman who wrote books about adopting children from Russia. I’m not a memoirs person, but I also take it a little bit personally when I hear publishing success stories from someone who is also the CEO of a large company, stays involved in church, and has raised nine children in some fashion. I get jealous and start to pout.

But he talked about ugly babies, and while I was pouting that I wasn’t the CEO of a large company along with being a published author, I missed the importance of this gem.

His ugly baby was a moment that he experienced while in Russia adopting one of his daughters. The details aren’t important—unless you can’t sleep at night without hearing about war vets in parades—but he was told more than once to cut it from his story. He was close to the moment emotionally, like we are to our newborn babies even though most of them look sort of like aliens, and couldn’t see it the way readers saw it.

It sat in my head for a while, one of those dormant ideas that bides their time and waits to be useful. Then it happened—I had to figure out how to tell someone he had an ugly baby.

It was in my writing group. Usually there are about four or five of us, the same faces twice a month with our double-spaced drafts to pass out for feedback, but this time there were eight people I didn’t know along with a few of the regulars. We had an ugly baby.

I didn’t recognize it at first. Sometimes babies are babies and they look and sound like every other baby. This woman passed out a chapter for feedback. An early chapter, maybe the first?

Ugh. All backstory. All backstory, a fiction piece that started with dates and places and a brief appearance from a waiter on the beach, over 1000 words of concept. There was no story, no hook, no reason to continue reading unless you don’t like dialogue or action.

Then she told us that she was finished with the entire book. Hundreds of hours, thousands of words, and she had an ugly baby.

We told her, as gently as we could, to start over. Great concept. Tell us more about the waiter on the beach. Start with a scene. Weave this information into dialogue. Who is this girl? Is it a love story? Then the girl is more important than the location of the beach.

Oh. No.

I started a young adult series this last week that has potential to be income. (Yes, it’s  my blog and eventually has to be about me.)  A ‘money-maker’ the publisher called it. For the past two days, as I stare at the screen, I’ve had this nagging fear in the back of my mind that echoes those not-so-veiled words…Great concept.

Which really means You have an ugly baby. Start over.

Have any of you had to tell someone they had an ugly baby? Have you been told you have an ugly baby?

6 thoughts on “Ugly Babies

  1. Haha. “You’ve got the genetics for it, but this one didn’t work out.” My creative writing class often told me I had an ugly baby. They didn’t like fantasy, and sometimes I rushed a 15 page story the day before it was due.

    I feel there’s something liberating about an ugly baby, as long as you’re aware of it. There are low expectations, the compliments you get either make you feel really good, or they reveal these people don’t read your work or are lying, and it can spawn great works. Very cool with the publisher and the conference! I need to do more of these.

  2. I agree with Paul..if you know if you’ve got one, you avoid that, edit for that etc. If you’ve picked a great publisher they will tell you if you’ve got an ugly baby and then you can fix it. Nothing is set in stone until you actually start publishing 🙂

  3. I once submitted the first part of a novel to a writing group. One woman said, “I showed it to my editor to see what she thought of it, and she absolutely hated it! You should definitely keep working on it, though.” I think that qualifies as an ‘ugly baby’. Not sure how sincere she was that I should keep going, though.

      1. I didn’t really say anything to her, I just nodded like I was taking her comment under serious consideration. And all the time I was thinking, ‘Well, that’s encouragement for you.’

        I have kept working on the piece. I’m on the fence about some of the comments made, particularly since it’s a story I’m writing with my sister, who lives on another continent and therefore was not at the writing conference. It definitely needs lots of work, but the revisions are something we’ll have to discuss together.

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