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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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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I Don’t Wear Red–A Character Sketch

May 31, 2018 by

I Don’t Wear Red–A Character Sketch

It’s time to start revising Pretty Has A Price, a novel I wrote in 2015-16 about a writer who is doing a writing in residence in Montgomery, Alabama, around the corner from the last house lived in by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald when he falls for a local married woman, Sterling James, who is neck-deep in the scratchy politics of the elaborate annual balls of the capital city.

From time-to-time I toy with ideas about the book, which I need to revise. Sometimes I do sketches. Here is one of them:

I Don’t Wear Red

Her lipstick smudged the page. Or was that the red of the typewriter ribbon? I could not tell, the red was so stark, and just the day before at the café she had been so defiant with me, so pronounced, so assuring. Almost indignant.

I don't wear red

Character sketch from “I don’t wear red.”

“I do not wear anything red. I don’t even own anything red,” she said as though I had offended her. Like I had said she were in an Auburn sorority.

But the incontrovertible facts were right there in front of me, as sure as the sounds of the typewriter had been. There was a smudge of red on the page.

What was I to make of it?

It’s Time To Revise–A Sketch Within A Sketch

I am ready to pry open the notes that I took of those painful days in Montgomery. Days that I have long put behind me; like those who escape from the city must all do once they are able to finally break free. When you are living there, you tell yourself you want to leave, but can’t, that you can never live anywhere else. Montgomery has you locked in its orbit. Bound by some mysterious gravity that restrains you and binds you in ways that are not easy to comprehend.

To escape you must tear yourself away. Make no mistake, getting free of that town is no simple task. There is something about Montgomery that seeps into your inner core like a resin leaking into every pore and cell of one’s body, permeating every fiber and staying with you long after you have left the city limits.

 

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Revising Using JenManuel.com’s ‘Narrative Space’ As A Guide

Apr 19, 2018 by

Revising Using JenManuel.com’s ‘Narrative Space’ As A Guide

I’m Revising my debut novel again, this time using JenManual.com’s Narrative Space tool as a guide and what an eye-opening experience this has been.

Before beginning her The Reimagine Course, which costs $249, I’d done something daring. The manuscript of The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club, then weighing in at 112,000 words, was way too long for a debut novel of any sort. So, I took the first five chapters and set them aside, cutting the book to 72,200 words. Talk about killing your darlings. That’s 39,800 words of darlings.

Some of them are going to come back because I’ve realized I’m not writing a middle grade book, I’m writing something of a nostalgia book—something between To Kill A Mockingbird and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. My book is something adults would more relate to–those who were children of the 1970s, but also I’ve found middle grades do like, so I’m torn at the moment. My next quest is finding an agent who reps Nostalgia….

Regardless, that left me with what was chapter five becoming my new chapter one.

What is Narrative Space?

In its simplest definition, according to Manuel, “Narrative space is how much space on the page the parts of your story occupy. How much space these narrative parts—or moments—take up on the page.”

What she recommends, and I’ve done with my first chapter, is gone through with highlighters in MS Word and the hard copy, and highlighted the narrative spaces or significantly different moments.

JenManuel.com’s Narrative Space Tool helped me see what I needed to add and cut from my first chapter without even looking at the words.

I started with the opening paragraph and highlighted it in green. Then my main character dives right into a first conflict in the book and it is highlighted in red. A few paragraphs later I go into what amounts to a data dump—something I’ve decided I, too, can reduce if not eliminate (in light blue), followed by a paragraph in red, another light blue, back to a red, then a second conflict introducing a new character and a third conflict in purple, the antagonist jumps in highlighted in black, back to red, back in black, more red, to pink, another conflict and a different color, more purple, back to orange, one line in black with the antagonist, two lines in red, another conflict in orange, a little red, then we jump into yellow, more purple, yellow, purple, yellow, purple, yellow, purple and more conflict, a little more black with conflict, and the chapter ends.

Whew! That looks confusing on the surface of it. But it is telling me all sorts of things.

Narrative Space Interpretation

Without even looking at the text, I zoomed out, so I wouldn’t even see the words, here’s what all of this is telling me.

Most importantly, my antagonist, highlighted in gray, isn’t getting enough time on the page in the opening chapter to make him the goon that he is. There needs to be more about him and less about what’s in light blue to follow.

The light blue, see above. This section needs to be reduced to give more play to what’s highlighted in gray.

The green at the beginning. This section begins the book and nothing else is done with it the whole chapter, but the other sections support what is laid out in the beginning. To provide more impact to this section, I need to come back to it with the chapter’s end. At present, I do not. So, to revise, I need to brush in elements of red, black, purple, yellow—the most prominent sections of the chapter—the longer sections of narrative space that provide the greatest emotion and experience to my future readers, a sandwich effect, if you will.

Conclusion

Pretty cool stuff, eh? Jen Manuel is Canadian, so I threw the “Eh” in for her. This is the only tool from her course I will feature. For me it’s like clouds have been overhead and God has appeared and pushed them aside with his mighty hands, the tool is so amazing. This is such an impactful and different way of seeing my work.

Suffice it to say that Ms. Manuel’s course is money well spent for any writer wanting to hone his/her craft.

Check out her site. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

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