Not only to fly, but to bring the world's eyes...skyward.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reality Check, Part 2

Then again, it might not have been my "thriftiness" and elegantly efficient travel schedule that woke me up that second day's morning. It might have been the heat. My God, the heat.

My friends know I have reincarnation fantasies, and in one of my possible previous lives, I was a lizard. I absolutely despise being cold. So the previous night, when I found my room in Corte Madera cold enough to hang meat in, I mumbled a few choice words as I noticed the dated room had only a single gas heater (no fan) built into its central wall. (This wasn't the hotel chosen for the conference, by the way, but a generic substitute nearby. Did I mention my occasional bouts of "thriftiness"?) I nearly tore the thermostat off the wall, clockwise, and forgot about it. It had taken all of the 30 hours or so since to bring my room up to the prescribed 95 degrees, but it did it.

That next morning, after grumbling more vague curses about the Bay area's weather, I returned the thermostat to a sub-Venusian setting and looked down at my laptop next to the heater, which was now furiously tick-ticking its way into the first break it'd had since "Lizard Man" arrived.

A familiar, creeping sense of doom was enveloping me.

I didn't mean the post I'd made the night before to sound as childish and bitter as it no doubt did, but then again, if I had a dime for every time I've said or written something that's been taken more harshly than I intended, I'd be writing this from my yacht's mooring in Polynesia instead of from seat 10B (yes, that's a middle, btw) on flight 903 to Miami.

I'd done similar things far too many times and lived to regret them all. I had to take it down.

After doing so, I used Tweetdeck to send a Direct Message to one of my tweeps who'd replied to my Tweet about the post. Fortunately, she hadn't read it yet. Then, I noticed that some chick in Seattle named Karlene Petitt was tweeting about her own forthcoming airline thriller. "Well, how nice," I pretended to gush. "Should I tell her to save herself the time, or would I prefer some company in my misery?" I said hello and figured I'd just let the conversation go its own way. After a few DMs, Karlene sensed my frustration, nee despair, and being the kind of person she is, she offered to call me right then. Since my self-induced night sweats had me up an hour early, I was happy to accept.

Karlene told me she'd just been to a smaller conference herself, and I told her that I'd been told my/our concept was "DOA" and that I'd made a total ass of myself with Ken Atchity. She said she'd had contact with Ken, too, and he'd seemed genuinely interested in her story, for whatever that was worth, and several other agents she'd pitched were also looking forward to her submission. She didn't understand how I could be so disheartened so early in the going.

I explained to her that my conference director had said that terrorism, especially the airborne variety, was a saturated market three years ago, and that any such plotline was guaranteed rejection. That my story was too big, at 165,000 words, and I was going to edit it but hadn't yet begun in earnest. That I wasn't able to convince my would-be mentor that my story was much more than just a terrorism plot, but a frame story (which he'd never heard of), a family saga that just used a terrorism plot to resolve a 70-years-long conflict.

Karlene, unlike anyone else I've yet told about my opus, listened; I mean she listened like her own life depended on it, and not just that of this strange fellow airline pilot sitting in his underwear in a 90-degree hotel room 500 miles away. She asked questions. She asked more. She clarified. She made sure she had it right, that she wasn't missing anything. I could hear, but couldn't understand, her concern.

And then she said something that still echoes in my head every time I start to think maybe I'll never get a chance to show the world my story. Something that's had me force myself to stop editing and get some sleep already while I still have some time left in my layover: she said, "Wow. You've really got something there. You've got so many layers and so much going on, I bet it's a hell of a great read. You can't quit this thing."

"But it's too much, Karlene. I can't get anyone to listen to me long enough for me to tell them everything. I start off great, but I end up off in the weeds so far I can't find my way back!"

"You can do this, Nate. I'm going to help you. Let's do it right now, before you go back in there."

So we did. We worked on it for at least half an hour, after we'd already been on the phone at least that long. I mean, Jeffrey Dahmer had shorter sessions with his therapist, and Karlene was doing this for me, a total stranger, for nothing. Humbled isn't the word for how I felt. I don't even know that a fitting word exists, to be perfectly blunt about it.

I got off the phone with only forty-five minutes to shower, get breakfast, and get back into the game.

We spent a good portion of that second day of the conference discussing the "craft" of writing good fiction. I've never been a good note-taker, so I can't give a blow-by-blow description, but it was largely similar in nature to some of the great information from credible sources we find out here in the blogosphere, particularly agents' blogs.

We talked about the demand for original stories versus tiny twists on the tired and true. The need to create sympathy for our protagonist, and how this doesn't necessitate his being someone you'd let your daughter date. We discussed character arc, how our protagonist must be a different person at the end of the book than she was at the beginning, for having somehow lived through what happens in the middle. How there must be a mini-climax of some kind in the early going that commits our protagonist to the course of action he knows just might prove to be his undoing, and how we need to make the stakes clear, and daunting.

I sat there listening and thought of the changes I'd need to make as I edit A Silver Ring, but mostly I thought of how relatively few and small the changes really would be. It had taken me six years to write the damned thing, but I'd either intuitively known to include or later incorporated nearly every key component to a page-turner. I'd done a pretty decent job of writing it, considering my lack of training and other handicaps. My beta readers thus far aren't credentialed, but they've been people who read and whom I trust gave me their honest, forthright opinions, and I'd either fixed or planned to fix all the problems they'd identified, which were all minor.

I just had to get it down to size, and learn how to pitch it. Karlene had helped me immeasurably in distilling the story down to its essence, but it was all up to me to practice how I'd get that across the table to the agents at the pitchfest Sunday morning.

We were told the 'fest would begin at ten, but we were invited to come early and get in line to have Michael help us hone our pitches further, if desired. But I'd had all the help I needed already, from someone who understood my WIP on a far deeper level for having taken the ridiculous amount of time made necessary by my own inability to distill my story's essence.

It was clear to me there'd be no convincing Michael that my "airline terrorism" story was salable, and since I'd already "wasted" someone else's chance to pitch Ken Atchity the first day, I didn't want to be seen as senselessly consuming any more of the group's resources with my white elephant.

I arrived at about 9:45, grabbed a cup of the hotel's free coffee (again, the thrift), and went outside to rehearse my pitch alone. Upstairs in our conference room, nine literary agents were making ready for a part of their job that some love more than others, but as I studied them, even the most sullen seemed at least "content" to be there with us.

Any one of them could, for me, prove to be "The One."


  1. Hi Nate, this is a thriller in itself! lol. I am glad I could help. I have to say, that had I not attended the Hawaii Writer's Retreat with William Bernhardt, I would not have known how to pitch and what they wanted. An education in itself. Ken Atchity is representing my friend Heather McCorkle... and she adores him. He wasn't in Hawaii, but I pitched to three others... and they appeared interested, even with the aviation thriller. They said, "It's all about how you write it."
    Really..."It's all about how you pitch it." :) I'm so glad you continued with your novel. You will get published. It is very powerful! Have a great day!
    PS... I posted my prologue, let me know what you think. Heather said I should post the synopsis too. Have you thought of doing that? I first, prologue next.

  2. Well, I try to leave 'em wanting more, anyway! (It's not easy, after 1500 words!) Next post will be about the pitchfest itself, then it's back to the book. Maybe I will post a sample or synop, but I didn't do a prologue, so that's out.

    I got that link to your blog posted, btw, and
    thanks again, Karlene! Best of luck with the 'bus!


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