The New York Pitch Conference–One Week Later

Oct 1, 2019 by

The New York Pitch Conference–One Week Later

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New York Pitch Conference–Fall 2019

Sep 26, 2019 by

New York Pitch Conference–Fall 2019

From Sept 19-22, last Thursday to Sunday now, I took part in the New York Pitch Conference, the creation of mastermind Michael Neff. As luck would have it, too, I found myself in Group B, with many fellow writers–most of them focusing on sci-fi and fantasy–and all of us under the tutorship of the sometimes critical, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes hysterical, but always knowledgable, caring, and in particular, focused on what is going to sell in the publishing industry and what will not.

The conference itself was well organized, with three groups separated into three rooms. One group was led by Paula Munier and focused on writing mysteries. Susan Breen led Group A and focused on memoir and women’s fiction.

We only gathered together once to hear a presentation from the funny and strategic thinker, Amy Collins. She presented a plan, Becoming a Successful Author, that is eye-opening about the demands on every author in this modern market of publishing. And we were thinking getting an agent was difficult.

Acquisition editors from some of the major publishing houses were brought in beginning on the 20th after Michael Neff guided each of us in sharpening our pitches on the 19th. The sharpening continued after each pitch based on the feedback received from each editor. By the time we were pitching on Sunday, our pitches were well-honed. Based on interests of the editors, some received requests for more, others did not. We all returned home with the need to do more revising. (That is nothing to be upset about. Revising is about 99 percent of writing a book. It is not at all like they portray in the movies where one sits down at a typewriter or computer and you see them starting and then finishing and it’s ready for publication.)

The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club Pitch

“Kirk Egerton is resentful when he sneaks from his house in the middle of an Upper Michigan blizzard because five of his friends are missing. They all live on an air force base where bombers are armed with nuclear weapons and sit on alert ready for the call to attack the Soviet Union in December 1977, whether it is snowing or not. But while Kirk knows the others should be at the tree house they built during the summer months that year, no one knows a Russian spy has captured the five when they found his hut while trying to get home in the storm.”

The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club Pitch Improvements

We made some important decisions about my present project. It’s something of a square peg. The industry prefers round holes. But at the suggestion of Brendan Deneen, we are now using the comp of the movie The Goonies to pitch my book.

But that’s not all.

I’m now saying the book is “a mixture of the movie The Goonies and a modern-day Tom Sawyer living in an atmosphere of the 1970s.”

At Brendan’s suggestion and with the reinforcement of the responses that followed from others, I’m now also including some of the “cool stuff” that happens in the meat of the book.

“To build the fort one of the guys overcame what he thought were the threat of killer bees. Another swears he sees Bigfoot when he steps away from their camp the first night they spend the night out in the woods. As four trained Scouts, they fail to notice until it’s too late that they’ve sat down in poison ivy. Rather than risking treatment at the base hospital, one of them persuades the rest that using skunk oil will relieve the itch. This leads to them building a trap and….

“For initiation one walks alone at night through a cemetery, that is a former Indian burial ground. Another climbs the base water tower at 10 p.m. and play Reveille after Taps. For the final initiation, they all climb into a cave behind the tall rock face in the Little Laughing White Fish Falls lagoon and the entry collapses.”

The Closing Questions

“At the end, Kirk must rescue the others from the top of the rock face, known as the Devil’s Ledge, by climbing the face of the rock. The spy intends to force the five off the top and let them plunge to their deaths. Kirk engages the spy with a combat knife when the Russian has a pistol. Is he able to rescue the others and keep them from getting killed? How have the events of the year affected Kirk and shaped him for this one moment that will matter the rest of his life?”

I ask some good closing questions. They are designed to get an agent to ask for more, not to give away the whole story.

What I Learned

I’ve been to a number of writing conferences and spent three years in the Southern Methodist University Writer’s Path Program. There is some variance in how to do a few things, but the rules for how to pitch, what New York editors and agents are looking for, those things are pretty much set in stone. There is some fluctuation, but not much. There are so many queries sent to agents each week, their screeners, and the agents themselves are looking for the slightest anything they can find to say no to passing on your book.

Neff said he’s even seen screeners even highlighting lines of queries in email in boxes and randomly highlighting them and then hitting delete just so they could get to a manageable number of queries to read in a week. Not fair, no, but there is nothing can be done about it, and one will never know if that brought a pass or if they read your pitch and did not like it.

The proverbial “they” say there is a difference between a writer who got published and one who did not. The one who got published ignored the umpteen rejections and kept querying.

One of my mentors once told me that until I got into the 130-rejections range I really had not tried to query anyway. I’m almost half way there and I have to tell you, my pitch has changed considerably, my book has been revised about five times since then, and the writing is much stronger.

The New York Pitch Conference

I recommend this conference to well-seasoned writers who have a book that’s in its fourth or fifth draft. If you take a first draft or second draft to pitch, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. While your idea may be exciting to the editors and coaches you’ll work with, your book will not be ready for the scrutiny that will follow and in a couple of years their passions will likely have moved on to something else. Writing a book takes time. A novel does. Remember the Ernest Hemingway quote, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

I shared my first draft of Voodoo Hill with my family and a few friends. I’m embarrassed now that I did. I wish I could sneak into their homes and get them all back and burn them, but most likely they’ve all thrown them out already anyhow. That is what should have happened to that copy. The next year when I made a 10-CD audio recording of the next draft, ugh, I shudder to the think about it.

This latest draft I feel is pretty sound, but I felt the same way about the others and I know they weren’t ready for human consumption either.

Go slow. Be deliberate. Let your words simmer. Finish a revision and then put the book away and forget about it for a month or two. Maybe even six months. Then come back to it. The words will still be there. So will the publishing industry. And the trends will change. Maybe square holes will be the thing soon. I sure as hell hope so….

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I Want to Dump Twitter and Facebook, But Can’t

Apr 24, 2019 by

I Want to Dump Twitter and Facebook, But Can’t

As a conservative minded person, I have about reached the end of my patience with the necessity and value of social media, in particular Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Those are the only platforms I use with any regularity, and I have curbed my time on them way back over the past year, two years, even three as the noise, hate and intolerance tolerance has become more and more hypocritical.

Why do I remain on Twitter with my 16,700 followers? For one I worked hard to build my following. I have spent the preponderance of my time the last four years connecting with authors and writers working to get published, who have been published, etc. I desired to learn about the industry by also following literary agents I fancied and wanted to learn about before I pitched them my projects. For agents this helped, too, because I could see the more vocal ones about their far-left ideology, ideas I don’t support on a bad day, so how could I possibly have them fronting my book(s) when they see the world 180° opposite of me. I also saw how many I was interested in, too, also had book projects of their own and while on Facebook they spend 90 percent of their time pitching their own book, so if they did agree to rep mine, when the hell, I wondered, would they find time to talk about mine or their other writers?!

I will admit I did this some myself, but I came across another group of writers on Twitter, the kind seeking attaboys daily. “Hey guys! I wrote 5 million words to day on my WOP! Aren’t I wonderful?!? Please validate me, tell me how wonderful I am, Please, Please, PLEASE, someone #amwriting) The please, please, please part is implied, but it is there none the less.

Having written three unique manuscripts now and being in the middle of revision four of the second WOP, I can say without worry that begging for attention on Twitter about how many words you put in order that day doesn’t really mean a damned thing. Do they all advance your story? Do they make sense? Are they germane to your story or did you just throw them in there so you could say at the end of the day you had written 5 million words in one day?

To me, I’ve come to understand there is far more value if I get even one paragraph revised in a day’s time and found sound words, brought to life the passage’s heart, and fought for every single word in each paragraph. Only then have I accomplished something far better than a blitzkrieg to stoke letters onto a page.

Yet if you did a search under #amwriting or #writingcommunity today, you’re certain to find such posts, followed by an “Can I get an Amen?!”

DFWCon and Facebook

The DFW writing conference is coming up in June. They have a special group for registrants and members of the local organization. It’s based in Facebook. This group is helpful from April to the latter part of June.

The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club

My book two is about five missing teens during a blizzard in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, December 1977. They live on an Air Force base and were staying at their treehouse until they attempting to get home in the gale-wind snow. But instead they get lost in the storm and find the shack of a Russian spy who has been tracking the alert forces of B-52, KC-135s, and F-106s on base and reporting this intel to the USSR via shortwave radio. There is a Facebook  B-52 group, an I Survived KI Sawyer AFB group, and Fans of SAC group. I have culled these for nostalgia purposes but also to get research to plug in easter eggs that I’ve forgotten since my childhood.

Facebook is also good for seeing photos of family and friends I’ve not seen in many years, even decades.

But even then, it has proven as volatile as the vacuous and malicious anger and hate that is synonymous with the preponderance of the common Twitter user.

This past weekend, two sports organizations bowed to ridiculous pressure to cover up and then remove Kate Smith’s statue from having sung God Bless America because of some situation back in the 1930s.

Say one word in opposition to this on Facebook or Twitter and an avalanche of hate, words like bigotry, and anything else will be thrown at you.

Say you’ve read the Mueller report finding of no collusion, no exoneration of obstruction, (apparently James Comey is the only legal expert who can do that) and you are told to shut up. The anger and madness that CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, Rep. Adam Shitf from California, and Jerry Nadler have promised was there, along with John Brennan and James Clapper spent almost day-in-day out telling us was thee has flopped. But those named about refuse to accept that.

I don’t watch TV news anymore and haven’t paid a dollar a day for 20-sheets of newsprint in almost $10 years when 20-pages of nothing went to a $1 a day. And then paywalls came about and why would I pay money for news organizations that are in cahoots with the Democrats?

I think somewhere in my archives I wrote about what would happen when citizen journalism became the thing. There is no such thing as news reporters any longer. Reporters take sides now adays. They don’t hide it either. Maybe I should go sit and audit some journalism classes around DFW to see exactly what’s being taught and what isn’t. But it seems that more and more reporters are relying on news sourcing from Twitter.

Even Fox News, where one of the producers has a hard on to bury Taylor Swift, she can release a new song, or make a statement, endorsement, post something on Instagram, and Fox will pull Twitter posts from people with 25 followers, which means they have as much influence as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s cows farting do on climate change, and they headline the story, “Taylor Swift Fans Aren’t Happy with XXXXX.”

In the beginning, Twitter was a pleasant place to hang out. I remember when Sully landed on the Hudson and it took 20-30 minutes for the networks to get helicopters and anchors in place to go on air. Meanwhile the world could watch on Twitter as things were happening and from up close as people streamed their rescue.

When AG William Barr held his news conference last week to explain the Mueller report before its release, I watched the event from Twitter. Don’t waste my money on cable anymore. Wifi and an Apple TV with Apps is all I need.

So admittedly, Twitter and Facebook have their uses for me. I need them, but only in small quantities. Twitter has run rampant with outrageously stupid left-wingers. Dan Rather was talking about following the Rule of Law the other night and a crowd of lefties were chiming in right behind him about the need for impeachment for not having committed a crime. Not that a damned one of them understand what’s coming down the pike as far as the real investigation into the spying on the Trump campaign by members of the Big Five; American allies, at the behest of the American IC community that President Trump has been scolded for not believing.

When that door is opened by General Barr, maybe so many loonie left heads will pop and mental homes will fill to capacity and those who have sent nasty gram after nasty gram on Twitter these past many years will finally be given a set of Crayons to draw pictures.

In the meantime, for the most part, Twitter and Facebook have become liberal wastelands of anger, hate, and deceit. I am so close to closing my accounts and shielding myself further from the stupid that is so prevalent in that medium. So very close.

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Crime and Punishment

Jan 17, 2019 by

Crime and Punishment

Reading Dostoevsky’s classic novel Crime and Punishment last week has drained me. I didn’t realize it was taking so much out of me until, well, until I finished it and started trying to read something else as of Sunday of this week. Monday of this week. Tuesday … you get the idea. It’s Thursday and I have yet to get into another reading of fiction. I’m thumbing through Anne Lamott’s 1994 book on writing, Bird by Bird, but I’ve only managed to get about 50 pages into it even. 

It’s the middle of January, to establish a record, and I’ve begun to revise The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club once again. This will be the third? perhaps the fourth revision. I’m also working closely with Jen Manuel’s reimagining online course as I go. Right now I’m on the lesson where she’s encouraging me to understand reimagining the “heart” of my story. This is where I’m focusing on my lead character’s “wants,” but as importantly, his “yearnings,” and when you put these two aspects together: where Kirk Carson is clearly aware of what he wants and can’t quite put his finger on his yearning, well that deeply enriches the heart of the tale.

Looking at Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov clearly didn’t want his sister to get married to Luzhin, but his yearning, as a mad man, ran far deeper. He learns in the end, in the very, very end that his pride and separation from society isn’t what he has chalked it up to be and in the end gives that up.

I am not writing the follow up to a Dostoevsky novel. But I have learned so much in having read the last 101 novels. So far I’ve read five of my next 101 books. I’ve said before all that reading has changed who I am as a writer.

Now that I’m revising, looking at what I have written before, I am embarrassed at what I have on the pages. What I have submitted to agents and said, “This is ready.” Because it is not. It wasn’t. I can see that now.

I’ve learned something important.

And that’s the good thing about writing and reading. We get better every day. Anne Lamott says she gets asked by students, “How do you get better at writing?” She says the best way to show students, and it often makes them frustrated, is to pick up a yellow writing pad, pretend she has a pen in her hand, and begin to pretend she is writing on the page. That’s how you become a better writer. You write. But just as important, you read. And read. And read. And read. And write some more.

And the way you make your drafts better? You revise. And revise. And revise. That doesn’t mean you change a comma here, and a word there. Fix the spelling on this page.

No, you reimagine what you’re trying to say, and you say something else entirely. That’s revision. Jen Manuel says, “Re Imagine.”

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Reaching My Goal — 101 Fiction Novels

Dec 6, 2018 by

Heather Sellers’ 2007 writers’ guide Chapter After Chapter prods anyone interested in becoming a better writer to read 101 Fiction Novels. In December 2016, I set out to do just that, having suffered an injury that was keeping me from working like most, one that continues to plague me even today.

Heather Sellers’ Chapter After Chapter.

Other complications and illnesses have been added since, making working and concentrating even harder, but thankfully, I’ve been able to keep reading, and on Nov. 29th, I put down Javier Marías’ The Infatuations, book number 101, satisfied and fulfilled in a way I could not have imagined two years before.

You see, while I have been physically disabled the past two and a half years, I have been able to mentally travel around the world and through time through the power of fiction.

I’ve made a study of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, the three geniuses edited and managed by Maxwell Perkins. Through them I’ve been bullfighting in Spain in the 1930s, been all over Italy and Europe during World War I, and Paris afterward.

Then through various authors I’ve been in Paris as the Germans invaded it during World War II, and in many ways I felt what it must have been like, to have gone from such heydays after World War I with the Lost Generation to the starkness of the Nazi invasions, their lists, the killings.

But I’ve also been to Australia for a road race around the continent in the 1950s with Peter Carey in his book A Long Way From Home, and returned to experience the power of Big Little Lies with Liane Moriarty; experienced The Plague in Africa via Albert Camus, a non-existent war in Africa during Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, and been to South America for a hostage situation via Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. (I’ll read  anything now written by Ann Patchett–Commonwealth was so good, too.)

I have been to Tennessee and South Carolina to figure out the mystery of the woman who stole river children in the 1900s for adoption in Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours. (Lisa is under the impression US senators ride around in limousines all the time. Reporters should know better.)

My thinking about trees was forever changed by Richard Powers’ The Overstory, one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. To think about living in the canopy of a redwood in Oregon for nine months, 100 feet off the ground. Something I’d never thought of, but might consider, given the chance and with better health. A wonderful, wonderful book that haunts me now whenever I see someone cutting down a tree because I know how long it takes for a tree to grow, the history behind it and how we snuff out a tree with a chainsaw and don’t give it a moment of thought.

Gosh, I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve been to England. Ian McEwan’s Atonement. What a great story about the power of love. Don’t forget to also read his On Chesil Beach. If you want to read some of the first murder mystery genre setting books, don’t forget John Fowles’ The Collector, who kidnaps a woman he fancies and drags her off to live in his flat north of London. The Lodger is another prolific book that brilliantly explores the murders surrounding the mystery of Jack the Ripper. Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje was also one of my favorites from my journey.

Then there are the books about the States. The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel remains a favorite, a story about a boy who shows up in an Ohio town the summer of 1984 claiming to be answering an ad in the local paper calling on the Devil to present himself. Steven King’s The Outsider was something new for me. It wasn’t scary, but definitely a different read. Tommy Oranges’ There There shed new light on the Native American culture I did not know about. A.J. Finn and The Woman in the Window, Ottessa Moshfegh and Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, as well as Lauren Weissberger’s When Life Gives You Lululemons all gave me new perspectives about the modern woman.

Celeste Ng took me back to Ohio in Little Fires Everywhere, a very good book, and Rachel Kushner seemed to have much the same thematic in The FlamethrowersFac Ut Ardeat (made to burn); perhaps that theme was also being explored in The Summer that Melted Everything as well. Even Stephen King’s The Outsider.

Thomas Wolfe intrigued me for days with his You Can’t Go Home Again. The language and writing is beautiful.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. Funny, at times. But with an important message nonetheless.

Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin was strange to me at first, but I came to enjoy the writing once I got my bearings. The initial passages about the blind assassin himself, and the girl, were just strange, and I’ve found I’m not much for reading sci fi or dystopian nonsense.

I also flat out skip sections in books about explicit gay sex. Chloe Benjamin, Adam Haslett, take note. Your books were good, but I skipped large portions of The Immortalists and Imagine Me Gone and don’t think I missed anything, which means, those sections could have been left out (note to authors, agents and publishers). Those sections didn’t add anything. And in the case of Andrew Sean Greer’s book Less, once I learned that’s what it was, I’d actually ordered it from Amazon, I cancelled the order. I have no desire to read anything like that. Period.

I’ve read my share of spy novels: Daniel Silva’s The Other Woman, T. Jefferson Parker’s Swift Vengeance, Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her, and the over-hyped ridiculous Bill Clinton/James Patterson The President is Missing.

In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone I spent time in Washington state and Oregon, and then the wilds of Alaska. This was not a great book by any means, but people recommended I read Hannah’s The Nightingale and I honestly believe it is the best book I’ve ever read. Goodreads has it rated at a 4.65 or something close and that seems to be the highest rating I could find. I highly recommend this book above all the rest. It is the one I described above as helping me understand what it must have been like when the Nazi’s invaded France in World War II. Maybe you should read some of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and their antics in Paris beforehand to learn about how gay and charming the city was 10 years before, that way you may get the full impact.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I’m going to start revising my second novel once again, with new knowledge.

And I’m going to keep writing.

It’s my 53rd birthday today and I’m getting a copy of War and Peace. I’m planning to also read Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov as a study in the next few weeks. I also need to finish Anna Karenina. The movie version is good, but not good enough.

I also have asked my girls for a series of books that PBS and my local book store, Interabang Books put together this summer–100 supposed best loved novels–that I intend to read. Some of them I don’t think belong on the list and won’t read, but a good many I will. Some I already have and just have never read.

The goal in all of this is to make me a better writer, but what it’s also doing is making me a better person. Opening my mind and horizons. Making me think and relaxing my soul. My body is not in a condition to do what it once was able. I’ve been doing all I can the past two and a half years to get help from doctors to get it fixed. In the meantime, I’ve been getting my heart, mind, soul and writing ready for when I am free to walk normally in the world again.

Two years later, that’s the greatest gift I can give myself.

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The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

Aug 15, 2018 by

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

I recently read The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante and enjoyed the power of this book. I don’t think I’ve read a book yet on my way to 101 works of fiction that is packed with as many powerful lines in so short a work as this one, and there are some great, powerful words in this book. I’ve included a list of the passages I underlined while reading the book for you to soak in.

The Days of Abandonment is an excellent read with incredibly rich language.

I wanted to write stories about women with resources, women of invincible words, not a manual for the abandoned wife with her lost love at the tope of her thoughts. … I didn’t like the impenetrable page, like a lowered blind.  I liked light, air between the slats, I wanted to write stories full of breezes, if filtered rays where dust motes danced. And then I loved the writers who made you look through every line, to gaze downward and feel the vertigo of the depths, the blackness of inferno.  pg 21

The contradictions in the life of a couple are many–I admitted–and I was working on ours in hopes of untangling and resolving them.  pg 31

In this long hours I was the sentinel of grief, keeping watch along with a crowd of dead words. pg 32

…taught as wire digging into the flesh pg 35

Women without love lose the light in their eyes, women without love die while they are still alive. pg 44

Sometimes she gave me the feeling that she didn’t like me, as if she recognized in me something of herself that she hated, a secret evil of her own. pg 52

…You don’t speak to a father who sneaks into the house and leaves no trace of himself, not a hello, not a goodbye, not even a how are you. pg 58

Meanwhile I grabbed Mario, who was turning around with frightened eyes, his nose bleeding, and he looked at me full of terror and astonishment at once. Hold the commas, hold the periods. pg 70

A woman can easily kill on the street, in the middle of a crowd, she can do it more easily than a man. pg 72

A long passage of life together, and you think he’s the only man you can be happy with, you credit him with countless critical virtues, and instead he’s just a reed that emits sounds of falsehood, you don’t know who he really is, he doesn’t know himself. pg 74

We don’t know anything about people, even those with whom we share everything. pg 78

No, I thought, squeezing a rag and struggling to get up: starting at a certain point, the future is only a need to live in the past. pg 92

There was no distance between me and them, wheres the rule say that to tell a story you need first all of a measuring stick, a calendar, you have to calculate how much time has passed, how much space has been interposed between you and the facts, the emotions to be narrated. pg 98

Tricks of words, a swindle, maybe the promised land has no more words to embellish the facts. pg 98

The most innocuous people are capable of doing terrible things. pg 114

We fabricate objects in a semblance of our bodies, one side joined to the other. Or we design them thinking they’re joined as we are joined to the desired body. Creatures born from a banal fantasy. pg 131

Success depends on the capacity to manipulate the obvious with calculated precision. pg 131

What a mistake, above all, it had been to believe that I couldn’t live without him, when for a long time I had not been at all certain that I was alive with him. pg 140

How heavy a body that has been traversed by death is, life is light, there’s no need to let anyone make it heavy for us. pg 146

Not even the TV in one corner, transmitting the latest harsh news on the deeds of men…. pg 157

Translation

This book was written in Italian and translated into English. What I’ve already learned is that there is more packed into the Italian version that does not come across in the English translation. That’s hard to believe given the list of quotes from the book already included above. Elena Ferrante has a command with words and it is beautiful to read.

This is a passionate story. A husband leaves his wife and she is left to pick up the shattered pieces of her life. The book is worth a read. A couple readings, actually. The writing is among the best ever. Truly.

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