Friday, August 16, 2013

Love That New Book Smell

Recently I read a blog post by a writer
 Jill Smolinki,  who says she does not keep many books in her house. I’m stymied. I have never met a writer who wasn’t a bit of a book hoarder.
Granted some of us now use e readers. I read in any format: books, e books, clay tablets. When I was in college, living in a small apartment, I had stacks of books under my bed and inside my kitchen cabinets. Later, when my then boyfriend moved in, he explained the kitchen was for cooking; it was not a branch of the Columbus Public Library. He insisted we place food and dishes in the cupboards. But he and I were both big readers, so the stacks of books doubled. The only solution was to give some of them away.

I often reread books, so I tend to hold onto them. You can tell my favorites by the post-its sticking out from the pages, and the underlined passages. Being in the company of paper books soothes me the way others might be placated by sitting on a park bench on a sunny afternoon. Granted I love that, too, but nothing beats a rainy Saturday in a bookstore, relaxing in an overstuffed chair, poring through a stack of books to choose which will go home with you. But as the photo on Jill’s blog shows, one’s attachment to books can get out of hand without sufficient space.

On a design show once I saw how books can be used a decor by arranging them on the shelves by color. One of my living room shelves has books arranged by tones.
Don't they have a nice aesthetic? They blend well with the family photos. Books are family.

I recently spent ten days on business/vacation in Seattle, where I set aside time to visit Elliot Bay Books. I entered Nirvana: rows and rows of books, real ones, not a dressed up toy shop like Barnes & Noble. Call me old school, but this is what a bookstore is supposed to look like. I was on my way to SEA TAC and had dragged my rolling carry-on bag with me. A bookseller offered to hold it for me at the counter as I browsed. I looked for staff recommendations, and someone named Kenny has similar taste in books, so I picked up a few he liked. (I was hoping to meet him and talk books, but he was off that day.)

I spent two hours (and seventy dollars) inside the bookshop.  I picked out five books (one was a gift for Elizabeth.) Since my bag was full, I had to choose which books to ship home and allow myself one to read on the plane, and had the rest mailed home.

A few days after I got back from the Northwest, the package arrived from Elliot Bay. Inside were two carefully bundles wrapped in craft paper.. I took the parcels out of the box and set them on a bureau in my living room, where they sat for a day before I opened one. The other still remains an anticipated gift. Yes, it’s silly. I know which book is in there, but because it’s still wrapped, I look forward to the jolt I will get from studying its cover and contents.

There is an aesthetic to a paper book not found in digital format. I like the rough hewn paper, the fresh inky aroma of a new book. I like to flip back to the cover and study the cover art, or gaze at the author’s picture. Which can be done with an e reader, but not without jumping though a few fiery hoops. I kept forgetting the title of the book I just finished reading last night on my kindle, so each time I turned the device on I had to hit the home key to see which title appeared at the top. And forget about trying to find the cover illustration or the author pic.

All my kindle book smell the same.

Perhaps instead of new car smell, someone will come out with a fragrance of ‘new book smell’ we can spray around us as we clutch our e readers in our hands in bed at night.

For more on this see related post;

Happy Writing ( and Reading).

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Exciting Life of a Fiction Writer

It seems I only update my blog posts when something exciting happens causing me to react, like attending a writer’s conference or reading a good book. Everyday life does not foster good story. For example, here is my day so far; it’s pretty bland.

Get up at 6:30. Brush teeth, wash face and Feed the cats. Have to put Pablo in the garage while ADD senior cat Henry dawdles to finish his meal. If I don’t put the big white boy in the garage he vacuums up all the food. He’s hefty. He can use a few fewer nuggets of IAMS.

Get dressed. I am feeding Elizabeth’s cat today, and need to go spend some time with Pickles. Pablo, perhaps sensing I will be cheating on him with another cat, leaps onto my bed and distracts me with his cute cat poses that beg for me to stop dressing so I can pet him.

Pet Pickles profusely before I fill his bowl. He glances at the food dish, but seeks out my hand for a few more strokes before he takes his first bite. Read from Middlemarch (my book club book) on my kindle while the cat eats.

Stop at Giacomo's to eat and write. I have half a breakfast sandwich (you don’t want to order a whole one unless you are a stevedore or have been fasting for a week. They’re enormous.) with a side order of mixed fresh fruit and a cafe Americano.

Write. I am editing my  dreadful YA draft. Making it less dreadful.

Recognize a couple in the restaurant and try to figure out how I know them. When I get up to refill my coffee I stop and ask them  it turns out their son graduated from the High school where I teach. We chat about his success for a few minutes. His mother shares Facebook pictures of his son on her mini iPad.

I sit down and edit a few more paragraphs. A retired teacher from my school comes in carrying her granddaughter. We exchange chat about her current job and her children.

I notice the sky getting darker as ifa storm will blow in. I pack up to come home so I won’t get wet. Not that I will melt, but a wet computer is not a happy computer..

When I get home:
Go to the basement and dump the water out of the dehumidifier. It’s a daily thing, sometimes twice daily, on humid days. If I don’t, the basement starts to smell like a Florida swamp.

Plug in my iPad to charge it up and also do cloud backup. Eat a tablespoon of peanut butter and share the soiled spoon with Henry who will howl like a coyote until I give him a taste.

Watch The View where they show a video clip of a cat riding a Roomba dressed in a shark costume.

Check my snail mail. I get an advance copy of a new YA novel called brother. Cool! Summer reading. Maybe I will blog about this book.

Turn the volume down on The View so I don’t have to listen to Snookie. Seriously?

The clouds still threaten to storm, but all that rain sits up there like a boil just getting bigger. I’d like to reach up and pop it.

The volume is not low enough . Snookie claims to be somewhat of an expert on motherhood. “I went to high school,” she says. “I know what I’m doing.” Where is the mute button on this thing?

Yes. The sounds of my neighbor mowing her lawn is a relief.Happy Writing.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Pitches at PNWA 2013

I know I have said before I would rather get a root canal than query an agent. I have since amended that after a recent root canal, but this whole selling myself process is way out of my comfort zone. And I’m fairly brave; I teach high school.

As I stand in line for coffee the first afternoon of the conference, a woman behind me says, “Let’s hear your pitch.” Her name tag indicates she’s not an agent, but a fellow participant.  I am hesitant, having never practiced my pitch before, but she encourages me. I give her my best effort as we walk to a bench to drink our coffee. “Your story sounds interesting, but your pitch is a bit long. You have to remember we only get four minutes, and agents want to know more than just the story.” Her well rehearsed, concise pitch includes a visual aide (a photo of what prompted her story.) In three minutes she tells about the book (historical fiction) and her background and allows time for questions. Oh, man, I have work to do.

Throughout the conference, rooms are available to “Practice Your Pitch.” Conference participants have the option to sign up for a Power Pitch Block where you have four minutes to not only describe your book, but your writing background and platform. Writers should be prepared to answer: What is your book about? Who is your reader? Why should I read it? How will this book be marketed? Why does the world need this book?

At any time of day, participants sit down at one of the tables in the room to practice their pitches with one another and give their feedback. In the back of my mind I wonder if any of them intentionally sabotage one another; we’re all competing for the same agents and editors’ attention.  I’m leery of taking advice from strangers, particularly if I find their story-lines weak or convoluted, but several writers I meet give me some great feedback. A woman named Courtney Pierce presents a well crafted pitch in the practice room, so I am not surprised to learn when I run into her after the Power Pitch she got 7/7 requests for pages from the agents she pitched.  

The Power Pitch is the longest and quickest 90 minutes of your life. Imagine American Idol auditions where all the contestants are dressed for a business meeting. It’s the one shot at making an impression on an agent or editor.  A woman I met earlier that day said what helped cure her nerves was to equate each agent or editor’s face to someone she knew, so she could imagine she was just chatting with a friend of her mother’s and not a super agent who can make or break her writing career.

I drink green tea the morning of my pitch so I don’t have coffee breath since we will be in close quarters during the pitch block.  Besides, I figure the Tazo Zen tea might center me; it has Zen in the name. I drink three cups.

Before pitch block C (the largest of the blocks) a hundred or more of us stand nervously outside the banquet room that houses our futures. When the doors open, we stampede inside. (well, okay, we have to stop and show our name badges and Block C tickets.(It’s a little like boarding Southwest Airlines where everyone rushes for the aisle or window seats.)

I am pitching Parallel Lines, my YA novel, and now I don’t remember what it’s about. Oh crap, what’s my character’s name again? What’s my name? Oh yeah, I wrote this stuff down on a card.

I get my first choice of agents for my initial pitch: Laurie McClean. I had met Laurie in two of sessions on The Evolving YA Market and From Middle Grade to Young Adult Fiction. I found her funny and engaging, so sitting in front of her first helps ease my tension, especially after the monitor yelled at the room “Do not pitch yet!” because as soon as we sit down everyone simultaneously begins our pitches. Evidently we need to wait for the bell like at the races. "I feel like we're in the Hunger Games," I whisper." She laughs, and says, "May the odds ever be in your favor."

I don’t remember what I say, but Laurie has time to ask me questions, and she asks for ten pages and a one to two page synopsis.

I have just enough time to meet five other agents. One agent tells me it might work if Nick had a super power of some kind. Inwardly I laugh, but I thank her for the suggestion. John Green’s characters don't have super powers and he’s doing pretty well, I think. Another suggests I change the gender since “girls are the chief readers for YA. Boys won’t read it.”  Hmmm. Why don’t I just write an entirely different novel?

The monitor announces those of us in line have time for one more agent pitch after the bell, but after drinking all that tea I have to pee like a racehorse. I don't walk away empty handed, though; I get three requests for pages.

Afterwards I realize I forgot my elevator pitch: my novel is Catcher in the Rye meets Don't You Dare Read this, Mrs. Dunprey." Oh well.It’s crazy and frenetic, and as Regina Brooks said in the agent panel; chemistry counts.

Happy Writing.

Friday, August 2, 2013

For my Middle Grade and YA Author Friends Who Are Seeking Agents

The Agent Panel at PNWA 2013

There were 23 agents in on this panel. I only wrote down bits about agents who are looking for YA and Middle Grade. I tried to take notes on my iPad but it was awkward without a background surface, (it kept sliding off my lap) so I hand wrote notes and am now having trouble deciphering my chicken scratch. Here is a summary of their advice on pitching and/or querying:

Regina Brooks- An interesting woman who had once been an aerospace engineer and is now a super agent.. Her advice in looking for an agent is the 3Cs: competence, chemistry and character. She looks for hook, platform and good writing.

April Eberhardt- she says ask three things of your manuscript: Who, what and why should we care?

Rachel Eckstrom- There is not much difference between pitches and queries- but she says you can pitch a book your are still writing or revising. In a query, make sure this is a project you have sat with for awhile.  She likes a humorous voice.

Mandy Hubbard- looks for YA. She says don't be humble about yourself.

Susan Finesman- Looks for a story driven by character.  “Work on the first sentence. Be direct and purposefully brief.” (A lovely person. I pitched to her, and she wasn't interested in my work, but she knows where Zanesville is. She’s from Pittsburgh.)

Jill Marr- says show your voice in the query.

Laurie McClean- She’s funny with loads of personality. She says she looks for work that is unique and not derivative, “So don’t send me The Obesity Games or The Titanic in Space.”  She is looking for authors willing to do hybrid marketing- print and eBook titles released simultaneously.

Pooja Menon- Her advice on pitching is to have fun. She is looking for Middle Grade and Contemporary YA

Kathleen Rushall- looks for character driven and voice and wants to know what else you are writing.

Katharine Sands- looking for (something illegible beginning with a d having to do with voice. Drive? Dynamic?) [**SEE COMMENTS] passion, freshness. In your pitch/brief summary think of When this happened…, and now….

Pam van Hylclama Vlieg- interested in YA fantasy. Said if she were not an agent she’d work in forensics

Ethan Vaughan- looking for YA and a narrator who is different. He looks for strong voice.

Happy Writing.