Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Some Self-Indulgent Back-Patting and Horn-Tooting

I feel kind of like a heel putting this on my own blog, but I can't seem to help myself. My editor over at Literary Mama put my name up for consideration for the 2008 Best of the Net anthology by Sundress Publications!

I'm not sure when the winners are announced or what all is involved, but it feels great even to be nominated!

I'm using a lot of exclamation points today!


Sunday, September 28, 2008

So yeah….uh…hmmm

Today was the last day of the Pitch and Shop conference. I think the biggest overall takeaway, for me at least, is how differently people can react to the same thing.

We pitched four editors. The first really seemed enthusiastic about my pitch and wants to read my manuscript (hooray!). She didn’t have anything negative to say. The pitch, at least, totally clicked for her. She would be my dream editor, so let’s hope the writing does, too.

Two editors liked elements of my pitch, but when they asked further questions, it was obvious to me that I should have presented the same story in a completely different way.

With one editor, it was just so not her thing.

The funny thing is that I researched all four editors and had them pegged completely backwards. Based on the books the last woman edited, I thought it would be perfect for her. AND I thought the first editor wouldn’t be in to my kind of book at all.

So where do I stand now? I’m working on *two* versions of a query letter, at the recommendation of my workshop teacher. My “commercial version” is polished and ready. Now I need a more “literary version” in the hopes that I can be smart enough to match the right letter to the right agent. I’ve been told that my writing is literary and my plot screams commercial, so maybe two versions is the right way to go.

Ay yi yi...I'm all befuddled.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Finding the right comp

Two more pitches at the conference today. I’m getting more confident with each one, but the nervous energy in the hall as we wait is palpable. Today the dancer/ actors were trying out for Grease, so EVERYONE in the hall was anxiously waiting for a tryout.

So, Melanie asked in the comments yesterday about finding comparable books. Over on Absolute Write, it seems that evoking other authors in a query letter is taboo, but I have to say, it was HUGELY important at this conference. Maybe the difference is that we are pitching editors directly--I don’t know--but we spent a lot of time finding good ones in preparation for the pitch and several of the editors have commented about having them to market a book.

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but I can share with you what I learned:

--Make sure your comps match the tone of your pitch (or, I guess, letter.) My pitch was making my novel seem a bit more breezy than it is. Partially because of the setting, but partially because of my word choice. My comps at first were The Position by Meg Wolitzer (because of the whole multi-POV, family dynamic thing) and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates because I’ve been told my novel is similar to that, but not quite as bleak. Revolutionary Road seemed to throw everyone. It’s a very literary, very dark book and my pitch just didn’t feel heavy. So I tweaked the pitch to be a bit more serious and switched both comps to sound like this:

In the style of The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer and Little Children by Tom Perotta, Up from Drowning explores the mother / daughter dynamic and idea of accepting the imperfections of the people we love.

Much better, and more clear.

--Don’t use a book everyone else would use (“It’s the new Harry Potter!” It’s just like the Da Vinci Code!”), but don’t use a book that no one knows, either. Try to pick a recent book that sold well.

--Be careful how you word why your novel compares. Use phrases like “With the honesty of ______.” Or “With the intimate voice of ____.” Think about HOW your novel compares and WHY you are using that book. It doesn’t have to be *just* like it. I’m not writing about an affair between a stay-at-home mom and a stay-at-home dad, but Tom Perotta writes about families well, and I have a similar style and pace. The Wolitzer book is set in Manhattan and is all about mothers, plus she uses more than one POV and touches on mother/daughter relationships.

--Actually read the book before you use it as a comp.

--Amazon is a great way to find comps. I looked up a book I thought might work, and magically Amazon suggested two more that actually worked better.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Brain. Fried.

Sorry I haven't been checking in for the last few days. I've been spending my days at the Pitch & Shop conference here in NY and I come home just exhausted. Of course, it doesn't help that I seem to be catching a cold as well.

And yes, my husband has been doing a fabulous job picking up the kids and getting them where they need to be. Yay him. Now he just needs to get them to soccer and fencing and he's all finished.

At the conference yesterday, we broke into small groups based on genre and worked on our pitches. Then worked on our pitches some more. I think my butt is going to be completely flat and about three feet wide after this is over, because there is a lot of sitting and listening and working. Whatever it takes, I say, flat butt be damned if it the result is a strong pitch. Our teacher has been fantastic and really knows how to focus on the compelling part of a story to make it interesting.

So today I pitched my first editor, and it went very well. Surprisingly, she didn't have claws and fangs and she didn't say things like "Terrible!" and "What were you thinking?!" She was actually a nice person with good insight and suggestions. I'm feeling more confident after meeting her.

The conference is held in a dance/actor studio in midtown. I think people are trying out for Guys and Dolls and various other Broadway shows. Every once in awhile I take my flat butt out into the hall and see actors stretching and warming up their voices. During the pitch session today, we could hear la-la-LA-LA-la-la-la coming from another studio, and someone screaming like he'd been shot. Maybe I'll put on my jazz hands and go tryout, while I'm there and everything. Or maybe not.

Two more editors tomorrow, and one the day after.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nervous Nelly

My conference is starting tomorrow and what makes me the most nervous? The fact that my husband will be caring for my daughters for the next four days. And he's ENTIRELY capable of the job, my brain is well aware of this fact. He's wonderful and patient and able to pick them up from school on time and take them where they need to go. And with the stock market in its current shaky condition, I'm grateful that he's going to pitch in and help me with my schedule. How much have I made of this writing quest so far? Oh yeah, that's right...zero dollars.

I know this is probably more of a reflection on ME than it is on him. The girls will be thrilled that dad is picking them up from school. Other parents might wonder if he just got laid off, but that's okay. Everyone will be happy and healthy. Yet, I'm sure I'll be sitting at the conference, checking my watch around 3 pm, wondering if he got there. I'm ridiculous. The root of the problem is that I'm a control freak. Is there some sort of AA program or rehab for people like me?

Monday, September 22, 2008

My outfit is picked out and my messenger bag's all packed

Starting this Thursday, I'm attending the NYC Pitch & Shop Conference. So, I've been putting my pitch together, think about my hook, and simultaneously working on a synopsis that was requested by an agent. All this requires big-picture thinking, and as someone who is prone to getting bogged down in the details, it was quite a stretch for me.

It ended up being a good thing. I'm now thinking about my novel in a more precise way, and when people ask me what I'm writing about, I can tell them without too many "uhhs" or "umms." I have a background in marketing, so one would think a plan for selling would come easily, but it's tough when it's your own work and you've been obsessing over every little detail for the past year or more.

The first day of the conference is devoted to perfecting your pitch and making sure your novel has all the elements for commercial fiction. I've heard that the workshops can be tough and blunt, but that approach works for me. The 3 days that follow are devoted to pitching your story to editors. I'm slightly nervous there, but I think it will be fine.

I'll be sure to blog and tell you how it went!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nothing But Drama

I hate to be blogging about the financial markets again, but it seems to be all anyone is talking about in my neighborhood. The moms (and dads) at pickup. My hairdresser. The taxi driver. My kid's piano teacher. Things are fearful on the Upper East Side.

And with good reason. A good 70% of the parents in my kids' classes are related, somehow, to the financial markets. New York City is not a one-industry town by any means, especially compared to where we last lived (Los Angeles), where all anyone could talk about was movies, movies, movies. I worked in advertising back then, and I always got the distinct impression that many of my colleagues would rather work for the film industry. But still, Wall Street is HUGE here, and it impacts lots of other kinds of jobs.

Like, oh, trying to raise money for non-profits, which is what I do when I'm not writing. I'm expecting fundraising to be slim this year. That's just my opinion and I hope not, because it *directly* relates to the programs we can run for disadvantaged kids.

Also, overheard on Madison Ave: a woman haggling with a pedicab driver. "15 bucks to go 12 blocks?! Have you SEEN the stock market today?" Anyway, I noticed the Dow was up today. Let's hope it holds.

On a lighter note, my dog has an enormous wart on his face and it's growing exponentially every day. It's bigger than a marble! I'm taking him to the vet tomorrow to see if we can cut that sucker off.

So while you are worried of the potential collapse of the economy, keep poor Truman in your thoughts as well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Writes in Peoria" just doesn't have the same ring...

As some of you may know, my husband is in the finance business here in NYC. It's been a crazy couple of days here. And although I know lots of people at Lehman, my husband is not one of them. Still, scary times for the investment world. My husband has lived through a meltdown before, back when he was a young, bright-eyed analyst at Drexel Burnham Lambert. So showing up for work one day to find your stuff in a box is always been something that he's entertained as a possibility.

This crisis did prompt a discussion about the priorities in our lives. Number one by a wide margin: family. As much as we love living in Manhattan, we could be happy most anywhere, doing most anything. Just saying that out loud made me feel better--much more secure. Everything else can fall into place after that.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I Love the 70s

What is it with me and the 1970s? Clearly it wasn't the most fashionable and pleasant decade in our history, so it's a bit of a mystery why I'm so obsessed with it in my writing. Over 1/3 of the novel I've just finished takes place in 1975 suburban Chicago. A short story I'm working on now is about a woman who was a Bunny in the Hollywood Playboy Club in the late 70s. And last night I was plotting out my new novel about a young girl with a neglectful mother. I'm thinking of setting it in...wait for it...St. Louis in 1978.

Some of my favorite movies are One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and Annie Hall. if I told you I liked The Clockwork Orange as a teenager, you'd think I was some sort of violent weirdo, so I'll leave that out.

In the late 1970s, I was busy peddling my bike round and round our cul-de-sac while my mom baked casseroles inside or ranch-style house. Pretty boring upbringing. So what's up with my fixation on the grit and sexuality of the 70s? Hmmm...best not to think about that too long.

What were you doing in the 70s? Were you even born? Or were you, as my mom would say "in the milk river?"

Monday, September 8, 2008

Spammers: *raises middle finger*

Seriously, ugh. I hate spammers. I'm not sure "spammers" is even the right term, but apparently some p*rn people linked some of my work to their pervy little fetish site. (I'm not using the "o" because I don't want strange visitors, not because I'm such a delicate flower I can't type "p*rn.") I know this because I received a Google alert about someone using my name, and when I clicked on it---yowzas. No thank you.

So now when someone googles my name, someone like, oh, A POTENTIAL AGENT, that's one of the hits. Big ladies doing naughty things. Please, please, please, don't think that's me, agent person.

I've already had that experience before. When I was in college, one of my dorm-mates had a dirty magazine and one of the featured women looked EXACTLY like me. (Well, not exactly, she was a bit more...bodacious. But exactly like me in the face.) So what does he do? Why, he makes copies and plasters them all over the hall, that's what.

How nice of him. Thanks, guy!

And, to be clear. That is NOT how I paid tuition.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Maybe *you* can be my inspiration

I'm sure different writers have different sources for inspiration. Some people are more plot-oriented ("Hey, what would happen if a sailor discovered the ship he was on was full of ghosts?") and some, like me, much more character-driven.

New York may be a lot of things, but there is NO shortage of people around who are just a little "off." Or a lot "off." And I am drawn to people like that. Many of them are characters in my stories. Like there is this old woman who sits in a lawn chair on the toniest part of Madison Avenue, watching the people go by. She sits right on the sidewalk, pretty much in everyone's way, directly in front of the Carolina Herrera store. And she's all dolled up--dress, jewelry, makeup. She's there every day. I say "hi" to her, and I wonder What's her story?

She's next on the list.

Or there's the homeless dude who plays the harmonica around the corner from my building. He plays loudly. Badly. Apparently, that's his angle. But, he's a super nice guy. And he's made it into my novel. I'm considering giving him a copy once it's published (confidence! make it so!), but I'm afraid I'll hurt his feelings about the bad harmonica playing. Is it possible he thinks he's good?

Or, really, I can just take my notebook and sit outside if I am lacking ideas.

What inspires you?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Home Again Home Again, Jiggety Jig

Ah, New York. How I have missed you. Despite the fact that you are crowded, and noisy, and sometime just a huge PITA, you are still all right with me.

If anyone would like to point and laugh at my feeble attempt at query writing, I've posted it for all to mock here on SYW. There's a reason they call it Query Hell, but hopefully a pretty polished query will rise up from the ashes.

Happy Tuesday, everyone.