Month: July 2012

The Weekend in Oz: Pitches, Lectures and Forums…Oh, my


I woke Friday to thunder and rain. It was a bit heavy-handed of God to provide such weather on the day that I was going to pitch my novel at the PNWA Conference, but God does have a sense of humor. I looked out at the wet sidewalks and realized that even though I have now lived in Washington for more than 25 years, I did not bring a raincoat to the conference. This was not a problem for the many writers who were staying at the Hilton, but it was a problem for me because I am frugal. I was staying at a hotel that was old, cleanish and cheap. This hotel was walking distance from the Hilton, but it was not walking distance in the rain when you don’t have a raincoat. So I did what any red-blooded-American would do when faced with such an overwhelming problem: I drove my car two blocks and paid ten dollars to park.

I arrived at the conference dry and ready to meet my fate. The editors and agents started the day with a forum. They talked about the types of books they wanted to see and what they didn’t like. It was very helpful. I spent most of the rest of the day writing and rewriting my pitch. I attended a couple of classes and then around two went to a session called “Is your plot High Concept?” High Concept is taking two or three existing ideas and mashing them together to create something new and popular. (Dinosaurs+Amusement Park= Jurassic Park)

The High Concept session was a little like the first few episodes of American Idol. You know, when people who can’t sing stand up and embarrass themselves in front of three judges. The panel for High Concept tried to be kind, but no one really had a High Concept novel.  I thought my novel (Lost Generation+baseball= greatness) was High Concept, but my newly condensed pitch did not include much about baseball. This realization hit me pretty hard, because the next event I was heading for was the pitch session. I walked to the pitch session understanding that my entire trip was about to come down to 90 minutes of selling my novel.

Remember those junior high dances? The ones where the pretty girls stood together? The ones where all the boys desired a dance but were too terrified to ask the pretty girls to dance? Well add elements of speed dating to a junior high dance and you have a pitch session. Lines were formed and the three-minute pitches began. It took about four rounds (12 minutes) before I was able to get my first pitch. I pitched like a nervous junior high boy and got my first request for materials. The remaining 78 minutes were a blur. I pitched to four more people and got requests for materials each time. Maybe the agents were just being nice, but I didn’t care because I got the dances.

I took the long drive back to my hotel, had a frosty beer, spilled bbq sauce all over my shirt, and watched British Open highlights until I fell asleep.

My final full day was relaxing. I didn’t have anything else to stress about and the classes I took were very rewarding. The day had a few surreal moments: Eating dinner with a great group of writers and the Lion of Hollywood, getting a very public request for my manuscript, and learning that Space Opera is an actual genre of writing.

That was my weekend. Exciting at times, boring at times, bladder straining at times, weird most of the time, and now part of the inaccurate history of my life.


A Weekend in Oz


Seatac is not really part of the Emerald City, but the bastard child of Tacoma and Seattle has its own charm: aging hotels, tourists waiting for another flight, and parking garages. Seatac was home this weekend to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association annual conference and because I wanted to eat unhealthy food, sit without moving for hours and hours, and get nervous to the point of hyperventilation, I went.

The Prep: Before attending the conference I did what every writer should do before packing your bags, I googled “what should I bring to a writing conference.” The information  I gathered from google was valuable because it sent me into a tither of useless activity: making a one sheet (which turned out to be something no one wanted), trying for hours to make business cards (pay someone to do this unless you are Steve Jobs, but if you want to look like a modern-day Jethro Bodine do it yourself), and getting an author headshot taken for my one sheet (have your daughter/son/husband/wife/tripod do this because no one will want to see it anyway.) Then I packed my bags and headed off to Seatac.

Day One: I arrived early enough to pick up my registration information and then hopped into line with 400 of my closest friends. We were waiting to sign-up for agent pitch sessions. There were going to be five total sessions ( A,B,C,D,E) and I targeted “B” as the session that was best for me. In retrospect, most of the sessions were probably equal, but as I stood in line with the other writers I became more and more nervous. Many of these people had been to the conference multiple times and had an elaborate strategy for maximizing their pitches. If I were 12 years old, I probably would have started crying, but now that I am as old as the trees, I realize that sometimes these people who sound the most prepared are, in fact, not prepared at all. After waiting for 45 minutes, I was able to get my preferred session and then I went to the rooms where authors were practicing their pitches–What is a pitch? I really don’t know if there is a Webster’s answer for this one, but I would say that a pitch is your book with all the water boiled out of it. Can you summarize your novel in two sentences? How about 30 seconds? Is it memorized?–I sat down at a table with six other writers and we soon found out that five of us were unprepared for the gauntlet of book pitching. How did we find out? Well, there was a writer at our table who was an expert. How did we find out she was an expert? Because she talked the most and had the most opinions. I left the table. If I wanted to hear how stupid I was I could just listen to the soundtrack in my head. The rest of the day was pretty much a blur. My anxiety increased as the day went on and I could not memorize my pitch, I could not boil all my ideas down, and I heaped as much self-loathing into the crucible of my blackened heart as I could. Pitch session “B” was the next day at 4 PM, I went back to my hotel room and began reading Cheryl Strayed‘s new book Tiny Beautiful Things. Strayed’s book Wild is great, but this book (Tiny Beautiful Things) moved me like not too many things I have read in my life. If you want insight into the cruelties of human life and responses to those cruelties that can only be described as radical empathy, then you must read this book.

Tomorrow: The Pitch Sessions


Pieces of Me

Michelangelo chipped away

Flecks of stone

Like so many toenails discarded

by a small choice.

Razor thin or chunks.

Each day his work was swept away,

left in the street and covered by dust.

The forgotten pieces of his work

mauled and crushed by the everyday.

He could not breathe life into stone,

but left eternal alabaster forms.

Like stone, I have been chipped and polished,

But cannot escape the rot of death.

The pieces of me left behind

will have to suffice.

I am Water

The Middle-of-Nowhere, Kansas is where I was born. It was the wrong place for me to be born. I don’t have much in common with Kansas. Kansas is dirt, I am water.

I was moved to Chicago not too long after my birth. It is the first place I remember seeing water, real water. Lake Michigan is real water, expansive and blue. My parents rode my sister and I around the rim of Lake Michigan on the backs of their bikes. We (my sister and I) sat in flimsy, fold-up child-seats, wind blowing through our hair, gazing out at this mysterious body of water.

Then we moved to Montana. There are two Montanas (Joe is not one of them): Western Montana is wild and mountainous, eastern Montana is a pancake of a place. We moved to eastern Montana, dirt. Water became reservoirs, ditches and creeks. We no longer rode around an expansive body of water, we visited leach infested Hell’s Creek. Picking leaches off your body after a swim is Montana. Montana was not built for soy-latte drinkers.

Then we moved to California. People assume California is a wonderland of water. It isn’t. There are several Californias: Northern-hippie-burn-out-California, coastal California,   mountain range California, Southern California, the Bay Area California, and then there is the Central Valley. We moved to the San Joaquin Valley where water was backyard pools and irrigation canals. We did not have a pool. My friends had pools and it is where I discovered that I am water.

Someone gave us an above-ground pool. They were getting rid of it. They probably had a fancy cement pool built in their backyard and wanted to toss out the white-trash pool. Instead they gave it to us.  I spent hours in the water. I couldn’t dive into the pool (at least when my parents were around), I couldn’t dive down to ten feet and sit next to the drain, I couldn’t brag about having a pool because above-ground pools were like ugly girlfriends, but I could become water.

Then we moved to New Zealand for a year. New Zealand is water. There is a North Island and a South Island, but it is all water: Beaches, bays, rivers, lakes. New Zealand was foreign, but I have never felt more at place. It was like visiting Heaven for a year.

When I looked for a college to attend I didn’t realize that I was water. I picked land-locked Spokane. Spokane has water, but it is scenic water. When you are water you need to be in the water or on the water, not seeing water.

For twenty years I have lived surrounded by water. I have bathed in rivers too cold to bathe in, I have felt the heave of the ocean beneath boats, I have rolled in waves waiting for a chance to breathe, I have discovered water. I do not understand people who fear water. Water surges through and surrounds me.  I am water.

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