Thursday, December 24, 2009

No Excuses

The box has arrived in its familiar Amazon packaging. Note: I usually buy books at the New England Mobile Bookfair, walking distance from home. Purchasing from Amazon makes me feel guilty (see previous post). But this time, it couldn't be helped.

I grab a knife and pry open the box. More prying to cut through the packaging of the item itself. And here it next mountain scaled, or my next tumble into the abyss. My screenplay-writing software is in my hands.

I'm still awaiting Amy's (hired editor) verdict on my novel. How many diplomatic ways are there to say "this is an unpublishable piece of crap?"

The conventional wisdom says that a real writer should always be writing. Except for this blog, I haven't written anything since my last revision of the novel, a couple of months ago. So here goes. The story that's calling to me seems to lend itself more to a screenplay than a book. So I've ordered the "Final Draft" software, and gotten as far as opening the package. As soon as I (fill in some blanks that will take about an hour), I swear on my Bat Mitzvah Bible that I will install the program and Start My Screenplay. Wish me luck.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I am reading a terrific book called The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt, which I picked up off the sale table at Brookline Booksmith as a Chanukah gift for my daughter. It's a collection of essays by Jewish women writers - among them Ayelet Waldman, Daphne Merkin, and Katie Roiphe. Some are poignant, others provocative, and nearly all are funny.

Fast forward three years. I'm a Famous Writer, and I'm asked to write a piece for a new edition (there can't be too many words written about Jewish guilt, right?). This will be my contribution.

On Guilt, by Andi Brown

Here's what I feel guilty about:

I lost the plans for our neighborhood park.
I put the funds from our yard sale for the neighborhood park into a bank account and they dwindled away to nothing due to interest charges when
I dropped the ball on the neighborhood park.
I pretended to believe my son when he pretended to be too sick to go to school.
I forgot to pick up my neighbor's newspaper when she went on vacation.
I haven't yet begun my research into the energy used in producing rubber bands vs. plastic bags so I can mount my campaign asking the newspaper delivery company to stop using plastic bags and go back to the rubber bands.
I spent too much money on...everything, especially that crappy all-inclusive Mexican vacation.
Everything else.

Here's what I don't feel guilty about:

I bring my own canvas bags to the supermarket.
Nothing else.

The End.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Doctor in the House

My book may or may not be sick, but a diagnosis is required, so I've called in a book doctor. Hooray for refinancing the mortgage, which frees up some bucks for this expenditure.

This literary effort of mine will soon be declared dead or alive by the sentries at the publishing gates, the literary agents who will sit in judgment on my words. My engagement of a professional editor to critique my work before I send it out to agents (for the third or fourth time) is either evidence of my confidence (it's worth investing in) or total lack thereof (Help!!!) I turned to Grub Street, a writers' organization in Boston, which offers critiques by several area writers and teachers. I'm asked to choose the two readers I like best. I linger over the bio of Semi-Famous Writer With Movie Connections. But her interests aren't a great fit with my work, so I move on, finally selecting two candidates.

I hear back about three days later. I've been assigned an editor I'll call Amy. A day later, Amy sends me an email telling me she'll start reading that day, and hopes to have my critique (three written pages and an in-person meeting is what I'm paying for) by the end of December, and possibly before Christmas. I'm tempted to find out where Amy lives so I can go over to her house and smash her TV so she'll be forced to do nothing but read my novel and write thoughtful, helpful comments about it for the next few weeks, but I manage to talk myself out of it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Murder She Rewrote

I killed someone today. His name was Jason, and he was a 26-year-old Long Island native and member of the Bowdoin College Class of 2006. He was about 5'6" with dark curly hair and a sly wit. President of Brash Bras, a company he took over from his dad after earning an MBA, he was self-assured, cocky even.

He was also a misogynistic charmer who caused a guileless young woman named Diane to lose her job. He gave his life in order to help me publish my book.

I really tried to save him. I chopped him into little pieces, reassembled him and placed him in new settings where I hoped he might thrive. But every new venue proved a harsh environment for Jason. He just couldn't cut it.

He may yet live again, so I've put him in limbo, i.e. my "character" file, whence he may rise again some day.

For now, it's adios, ciao, au revoir Jason.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Do the Hustle

Sorry, I can't take you to the mall now. I have a deadline.
Wish I could go the movies. Remember? Deadline.
Meet for drinks? Tonight? Damn, wish I could.

These are things I said to, respectively, my son, a friend, another friend.

In your dreams. I actually said yes to the mall, movie and drinks.

But the deadline is real....and looming.

Word Hustler, a website for writers, is sponsoring a contest. Submit 50 pages and get a chance to win a full manuscript critique by a real live agent. I've had dozens of critiques of my novel, by real live friends and family members. Some have even weighed in on more than one version. I have very nice friends and relatives. Also smart, insightful ones.

But I'd love to know what a pro thinks. The deadline is 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time Friday, which means 3:00 p.m. here which since I'll be at work all day Friday effectively means TOMORROW NIGHT! Aaaaargh!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Death (of a) Sentence

Today I bury the former opening sentences of my novel. Please join me in observing a moment of silence in memory of:

Someone needs to take a syringe, fill it with common sense, and inject it directly into the portion of my brain where where there’s currently a big, black hole. Evidence that I lack this basic human material had surfaced before, but this was the first time my deficit had resulted in major trouble.

Rest in peace.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Between Hope and Despair

Just back from Agent-Author conference in New York, . One minute I'm thinking, yes, they liked it! The next, well, sort of. Maybe.

First up, a panel discussion on "The Wow Factor," and the three elements, Platform, Premise and Voice, that will dazzle your agent-to-be. Platform = you went on Oprah to talk about how you rid your neighborhood of crime via the magic of cats. You're a spinster kindergarten teacher with no friends - but you have 100,000 blog followers. You are a Boston working mother with ten blog followers. This is not a platform.

Premise - Your protagonist is a seventy-year-old criminal defense lawyer facing the challenge of her life - winning the skateboard competition, senior ladies' division, while helping her motherless downstairs neighbor pass the bar exam on his ninth attempt. And Voice - your protaganist's a tough, sardonic, skateboarding grandma with a soft spot for orphans. Voice is my only hope.

Next came the conference's raison d'etre, a session with me and 12 other writers around a table reading our first two pages before two agents. By the end of the day, the floor was littered with corpses, one discovered on the beach, two in the woods, one a ghostly ex-husband, and a corpse with magical powers. I have no corpse. I believe this is a good thing.

My turn to read. Ordinarily, my voice rings out with confidence, but my usual self-possession turned tail for parts unknown. I trembled my way through the opening of my novel, and awaited the goddesses' verdict.

"You have a really strong voice." says Agent L. I knew it.
"But where's this story going?" asks Agent G. "Is Courtney (character on page 1) vital to the action?"
"Um, she disappears after page 2."
"This is all back story, " snorts Agent L. "Weave it in later, and start your book where the story begins."

This occurs at Chapter 3, and therefore, Chapters One and Two must become my corpses. It helps a little that Agent L says it's okay to send her three chapters. It helps a lot when two members of my group approach me to say "You're a very funny writer."

The afternoon's panel focuses on the publishing business, which we all fear is on the verge of extinction. No such thing, the panelist agents tell us, storytelling is part of the human condition.

I learned that self-publishing is a Very Bad Idea unless you have a niche audience. Example: there's a woman who is the world's foremost equine masseuse. She self-published a book about her way with her hands on fetlocks and withers, and has sold 100,000 copies at racetracks. Now, I have a way with my hands on a pair of knitting needles, and I'm kind of famous for my guacamole, but since neither cable-knit sweaters nor avocadoes figure in my novel, I'd better find me a publisher.

At the end of the day, agents were taking pitches. One agreed to look at three chapters with a look that said, "Sure, make some poor sucker happy today." The second, a certified genius who must win a MacArthur, asked shrewd questions about characters and plot points. He was especially taken with my characterization of the book as "really, really funny." Uh oh.

Back to rewrite.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Meet the Author

I’ve written three novels, a Broadway musical and countless humor pieces for The New Yorker. What? You’ve never heard of my comic novels PMS: Post Marital Syndrome and Animal Cracker? You missed Ambulance Chasing for Love, my contribution to Shouts and Murmurs? You’re wondering now, as I do daily, Am I Losing My Mind?

Relax. These are some of my UNPUBLISHED works. Join me now on my journey to publication.

You’re thinking, How does she know she’ll get published? Happily, there’s now a viable self-publication industry out there, so anyone who’s really determined can see his or her work in print. It’s the last-resort solution for every writer, including me.

My goal, though, is to do it the old-fashioned way: secure an agent, who will a) find me a brand-name publisher who will b) pay me a big fat advance and c) promote the hell out of the book and d) negotiate the movie rights. With points. Starring Alec Baldwin.

So who is this journeywoman writer? I’m a fifty-eight-year-old divorced Jewish mother of two with a good job in the Boston area. I started writing fiction about twelve years ago. Everyone wondered how I found the time to write with a full-time job and kids then three and eight. Two words: menopause and divorce. Waking up at five every morning afforded me time to write, as did my kids’ absence when they were at their dad’s a few days a week.

I’ve studied fiction writing at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and I’ve also taken Robert McKee’s story seminar; both were invaluable, and each led to a major rewrite of my current novel, Animal Cracker.

I’ve actually rewritten it at least six times. After each rewrite, I’ve shopped it around to agents. I’ve always managed to get some initial interest, with several requests for the full manuscript under my belt. But then, they always say it’s not quite there.

I think it’s there now. So next week, I’m attending an Agent-Author Seminar at the Backspace Writer’s Conference in New York. It’s a two-day event, the first dedicated to query letters and the second to first pages. It’s expensive, so I’m just attending the second. Literary agents will critique opening pages, and, if they like them, may ask to read more.

I subjected myself to a trial run last week at an event called Writer's Idol at the Boston Book Festival. Victims submitted their first 250 words, and a panel of agents raised their hands at the point when they'd stop reading if this work crossed their desks. They raised their hands after my first (cringe) two sentences. But...they were right! Those sentences were awful, and, after licking my wounds, I rewrote the entire opening section, and it's vastly superior to what went before. New York agents, I'm ready!

I hope to find the time to blog from there. I also hope to find the time to do a little consignment store and discount shoe shopping. Yeah, I may write about other stuff from time to time – movies, travel, knitting, my hair…okay, forget the hair. Till New York….