Thursday, February 24, 2011

Anatomy of a Winning Pitch

First of all, forgive me the incredibly pompous title of this post. I just thought it was rather eye-catching and would make you want to read it. ;-)- So the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, Round 1 ("the Pitch") results are in ... and I didn't have the courage to look at the list myself. For the past week, I have been rolling the odds of moving on to Round 2 over and over in my head ... 20% seems like a very small number. When I sat for the Bar exam several years ago, there was something like a 77% passage rate. That's a nice, safe number!

Back to the ABNA contest ... one of my best friends knew how much this contest meant to me, so he (sneakily) checked the results and informed me that I had nothing to worry about! Hurray ... onward to Round 2! (Mind you, my only goal was to make it this far - anything else would be icing on the cake.)

I thought it might be beneficial to post my pitch here. Believe it or not, this endeavor is not just some ego trip. When I was writing the pitch, I googled "winning Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award pitches," hoping past winners had posted their work, and was shocked to only find one such post. It became clear to me right off the bat why this guy had advanced, and I found his pitch extremely helpful when crafting my own. So, in the spirit of public service, here goes:

Ambition, lust and madness threaten to tear apart the lives of three young adults bent on conquering New York City at the height of the Jazz Age. Hedonistic Manhattan pits beautiful, self-serving Lila Payton against her best friend - brainy, virtuous Rosemarie Dauber - in pursuit of Marcus Torrington, a handsome high-society attorney. This tenuous triangle is stretched to its limit when they encounter powerful politico Clayton Starwell. Lila, Marcus and Rosemarie are each forced to confront their most closely-guarded secrets: for Lila, it’s her romantic obsession with Clayton; for Marcus, it’s his inner demons stemming from a past tragedy; and for Rosemarie, it’s the moral tug-of-war between her upbringing and her desires.

SANCTUARY OF FOOLS, a 97,000-word historical novel told through the interwoven narratives of three magnetic, true-to-life characters, spotlights one of the most electrifying eras in American history. Written in an urbane-yet-accessible style, SANCTUARY OF FOOLS propels its readers on a dark and enthralling journey that begins with an explosion on Wall Street and ends with a murder-suicide in Midtown Manhattan. Painstakingly researched, SANCTUARY OF FOOLS caters to the historical fiction connoisseur’s craving for romanticized escapism without sacrificing character richness or historical nuance and accuracy.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A lot can happen in a year!

So, if anyone out there is still reading this blog, here's an update on my life and writings, exactly one year after my last post. Why such a long lapse between updates? Well, the answer can be found below in timeline format (very unliterary, I know!):
  • January 2010 - Found out I was pregnant on the first "try" ... was expecting a 2 year attempt period like all my friends, so this was quite a shocker! Realized the clock was on for finishing my novel. My husband and I decided to move back down-state to be nearer loved ones and to have better gainful employment potential.
  • March 2010 - One of my dearest friends died of brain cancer (I had been visiting her every 2 weeks for many months, so I watched her condition decline. I wouldn't wish her illness on my worst enemy. She *is* truly the most courageous person I have ever known.)
  • April 2010 - Rented out our country cottage to a lovely couple and moved into a rented brownstone apartment in B'lyn. Finished my novel and sent it out to my trusty "editors" ... what did I call them? Oh yeah, my BEs!
  • May 2010 - Secured a long-term legal temp assignment.
  • August 2010 - My H2O broke 5 weeks early ... yikes, the co-sleeper wasn't even built yet! And I still had one final read-through to do on my manuscript before it would be agent-worthy. (Oh, and the most gorgeous, lovely, sweet, wonderful "man" came into my life - I suppose that's pretty significant!)
  • September 2010 - Hastily performed the final read-through and edits while the above-mentioned gorgeous, lovely, etc. man slept for three weeks (guess he wasn't as ready for his big debut as he'd thought!)
  • October 2010 - Began sending queries out to agents ... began receiving form rejection letters shortly thereafter. :-(
  • January 2011 - Tweaked my pitch and submitted my manuscript to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.
And that pretty much brings you up to date!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Awards & Why I Blog

Hi all. Today's post is going to be short and sweet (a real challenge for my verbosity-minded self.) First, I want to thank Ann Elle Altman for giving me a Superior Scribbler Award (I've arrived! ;-] ) Now it's my turn to pass it on. My list consists of 5 terrific blogs that currently have less than 100 followers (but not for long ...)

Now for the second part of this post - a 5-point rundown on why I enjoying blogging about writing.

1) Great community-building tool, especially considering the isolated nature of our passion.
2) Excellent resource - it seems like someone out there has experienced whatever frustration you are currently undergoing as a writer.
3) Fun diversion from creative writing.
4) Good way to keep yourself on track (because you know people out there are actually aware of your progress, or lack thereof).
5) Helps you develop yet another important writing skill - the art of blogging. ;-)

That's all for today. For all you Award Winners, in case you hadn't figured this out already, just upload the Superior Scribbler jpg into one of your blog posts, then click on the Edit HTML tab at the top to get the code.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

WHERE and WHEN Do You Write?

I'm coming to the end of reworking my WIP rewrite in accordance with the feedback I've been getting from my dear friends and family. As always, they've been tough on me (in a good way!) and I've learned a lot. I'm feeling inspired about pushing forward with Part 2 of the book. It's still a daunting task, but the comments I've received have given me a roadmap as to what my readers would like to see as the story unfolds.

So now I want to talk about a seemingly mundane topic that we all have had to address in our writing endeavors: WHERE and WHEN to write. I'd like to take an informal poll - how many of you are creatures of habit, having to write in exactly the
same spot, at exactly the same time each day? That's generally how I'd describe myself. I'm a morning person (always have been) and so most of my WIP has been composed between 7AM and noon on the downstairs sofa where I'm now sitting.

I'm starting to rethink my rigid writing pattern, however. I need to pump up the output so I can get this thing finished and ready for a final beta-reading. (Remember, the goal is to have this puppy off to agents and small publishing houses by the fall of 2010.) So that means I have to be adaptable. Our house is VERY small and my husband works from home. He has a loud voice, which is great for Skyping tech guys in the Ukraine, but not so great for his aspiring author wife downstairs (did I mention that our bedroom is a loft-thingy with no doors?)

I recently started going to the cafe in town to do some writing. It gets noisy around breakfast and lunch, and at times I'm afraid I might explode from all the herbal tea I have to drink in order to feel legitimate, but it's still better than home. I also suffer from Easy Distraction Syndrome (with a strong disposition toward Eavesdropaholicism), so it is a bit of a challenge to stay on task.

FIGURING IT OUT AS I GO: Today I'm turning to YOU for advice. How do you block out the world and find your writing zone?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Have a Good Laugh ... at Your Writing's Expense

The feedback has been coming in, slowly but steadily, on Part 1 of my WIP. As always, my BEs (old and new) continually impress me with their thoughtful analysis and creative thinking. From their comments, I believe I have made a significant amount of progress since the first draft, but of course, there is still a lot for me to work on.

I've noticed a strange bi-product arise out of the feedback process - humor. Not so much humor in my writing ... wait, let me rephrase that ... not so much intentional humor in my writing, but little quirks in my style that give rise to guffaws. Some of you might be horrified at the thought of a reader laughing out loud at a passage which you, as a writer, take very seriously. But I've got to tell you, I've come to believe it's good for the soul, and the writing, to be able to take a step back and just laugh at your work.

My mother and I were in stitches the other day over my overuse of some words. We had to stop our critique session just to laugh and parody it a bit more. This called to mind an assignment in Junior Year Honors English (many, many years ago) where the teacher asked us to write a short, satirical piece based on one of the books we'd read in class that year. I chose The Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. I wrote a page of narrative in which every other line elaborated upon the protagonist's "ignominiously burning bosom." (I still remember that after all these years!) I recall getting an "A" for my cheekiness, and I never once worried whether Mr. Hawthorne was turning over in his grave about it. I imagine he would have found my parody amusing.

FIGURING IT OUT AS I GO: We as writers should let ourselves go a little when we receive feedback on our work. Don't be afraid to embrace the humor in your writing process - have a good laugh at your own expense from time to time. I promise it won't leave you feeling low about yourself or your capabilities ... quite the opposite ... sure you'll need to fix those shortcomings at some point, but a bit of levity may help you realize you're dealing with hills, not mountains.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: Move over Nobel Laureate, Make Way for a Newcomer!

I said in an earlier post that I would never openly disparage another writer on my blog, and I plan to stick to that promise. I have no problem with a little anonymous disparaging, though! I recently picked up a highly-regarded book whose author won a Nobel Laureate for writing it.

So I read, and I read, and by page 100, I didn't hate what I was reading, but I didn't love it, either. Ninety-percent of the book was exposition - well-crafted exposition, to be sure, but distancing exposition all the same. (Now we all know that I am not one to talk when it comes to the overuse of exposition, but hey, no one's given me a Nobel prize, and for good reason!) I'm not saying this author didn't deserve the prize, because at the end of the day, literary tastes are subjective. I respect the fact that one reader's treasure is another reader's yawn. But I decided not to fight my opinions, and put the book down in accordance with my "new policy."

This new policy states that, if I am not fully engrossed in a book after 100 pages, I have no "obligation" to continue reading it. There was a time when I would struggle through a book to the very end, no matter how bored I was by it. That's because I viewed quitting as a failure on my part (if I were smarter, I'd be "getting this" ... must not give in to my own frailties ...) In recent years, I gained the confidence to say, I don't have to impress anyone with what I read. If I can't get into a book, it means it's not the right fit for me - like a blind date with no chemistry. Neither party is superior to the other, it's simply time to go our seperate ways.

I was still in Australia when I set the novel aside, so I went to a small bookstore in the town where we were staying to hunt for something new. I came across a memoir called "Bruce & Me" by a local author named Oren Siedler which looked intriguing. Ms. Siedler is an American whose family immigrated to Australia when she was a child.

The theme of the memoir appealed to me immediately: the author was on a quest to understand her Bohemian parents - specifically her highly-intelligent, vagabond, outlaw father - and the events of her extremely unconventional childhood split between two continents. Two years ago, I wrote a book about a young woman who struggles to understand her family, specifically her highly-intelligent outlaw sister, and what it means to be the child of vagabond, Bohemian parents. Unlike Ms. Siedler, I grew up in a very straight-laced household, and could only imagine what such a life would be like.

My unpublished first novel's greatest failing was not the fact that I hadn't actually lived the adventures I described. It was the fact that I failed to explore my characters' psyches in a meaningful way. The situations I created were interesting, but that did little to enhance the cardboard cut-outs I'd put in place to experience them.

Ms. Siedler proves that a good memoir is about much more than reciting one's life-story. She creates full, rich characters out of herself and her family. Her writing style is clear and clean, and subtly age-appropriate to each phase of her life. Her reactions to the confusing world around her evolve as she grows up. She is always introspective, but never engages in heavy-handed philosophizing. Her writing is witty, warm, and nostalgic at times, but never sentimental. Put simply, Oren Siedler has created a compelling, endearing read out of her quest to resolve unanswered questions about her childhood. In the end, she realizes that some questions may never be answered, and that that's okay. She makes peace with her past and embraces the future with optimism.

I don't think the book has distribution in the US yet, but you can buy it online here. And while we all know that literary tastes are subjective, I can pretty much guarantee you'll agree your money was well spent!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A new year's writing resolution that just might change my WHOLE LIFE ...

I've been thinking a lot lately about coming up with a writing resolution for 2010, but considering how many goals I currently have in place (rewrite Part 1 of my WIP over the next month or 2, then complete drafts of Parts 2 and 3 by mid-spring, etc.) I wasn't sure I had any room in my life for one. And then, a few days ago, it hit me like a ton of bricks - my New Year's Writing Resolution is to let go of all that pressure.

Let me back-track and tell you a little bit about myself (I have a crazy hunch many of you super-motivated and disciplined writers will be able to relate, at least in part ...) Let's go all the way back to my college days. My first year of school, I got very mediocre grades. My social life was great, but I hadn't found my academic groove yet (although, looking back, I recall spending most of my time in the library and computer lab.) The problem was that I still didn't know myself very well, and I certainly didn't know my optimum study habits ... whatever had worked in high school just wasn't cutting it with higher education.

Fast forward to my senior year of college. I had watched my grades steadily rise from Bs to straight As. I was like a well-oiled machine, and could spend even more time with my friends because I knew how to get the most out of my study time. My secret was simple - I did everything linearly. I absolutely never worked on two papers or projects or test preps at once. I would start one as soon as it was assigned (even if the due date was months away), finish it, and move onto the next. This system was perfectly orderly and efficient, allowing me to maximize the results of my efforts.

But there was a residual problem: the habit stuck and now that's how I live my entire life. Looking back over my 20s, I structured my existence around this principle. I did everything one-step-at-a-time. Grad school, get job ("no time for creative writing - must build serious TV career"), more grad school ("no time for relationships or writing - must build even more serious legal career"), true love found, marriage, great job ("now I can write"), lose job ("now I can write even more"), only work part-time b/c must focus on writing ("can't think about furthering my legal career or starting a family 'til I finish this book.")

That is actually the way my mind works. Many of you are probably thinking, "Whoa, that's scary." Reading it on the screen before me now for the first time, I'm thinking the same thing. I have allowed my goal of becoming a published author to become more of an obsession than a passionate hobby. Somewhere along the way, I got it in my mind that, like a college research paper, I have to neatly tie off my writing dream before I can move on to the next project.

The other day, my mom emailed me saying that her high school crush just published his first novel. He's 74. This got me to thinking about how incredibly lucky we writers are. Of all the "dream careers" (becoming a movie star, professional athlete, rock star, etc.), ours is the only one that doesn't have a shelf life. You could be 300 pounds with a smoker's cough, living in a Florida retirement community, but your pen name may bring to mind visions of gorgeous 20 year-old heroines travelling the world, being pursued by dashing men. Our shelves stay open as long as our minds are working.

So where does that leave me for 2010? Well, I'm going to make a conscious effort to just chill with all my writing goals. That's not to say that I'm going to become slack, but I plan to focus less on "getting it done" and more on enjoying the ride. And most importantly, I'm going to embrace the fact that this "ride" may well last a lifetime, and it would be an awful shame to speed past all the wonderful stops along the way.