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.