Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Friday, December 30, 2011

Drop Your Drawers and Let's See What You've Got

It sometimes seems we're asked just that when an agent asks to see the first 2, 5 or 10 pages of a book we know they'll love if they'll look at a few hundred pages.  In the same way, we know an employer would love us if s/he'd skip the silly interview and take our word:  we're dynamite and we can prove it.   Likewise, when we try to hook up with some smokingly hot possible partner, if they'd skip the ridiculous games and just climb into bed with us...well, they'd certainly never regret it!

But:

Most seductions are decided within a few seconds, or minutes, at most. 

Most job interviews are decided at a glance or within a few answers.

And an agent doesn't need to read a few hundred pages to know if s/he cares to read more.  Nor do the few pages requested have to have someone's head on a block or a triple homicide or the world's cutest cliffhanger.  The sample requested may not even hit any operatic high notes.  But it will have to hit the ground running in terms of  authoritative tone, narrative force and stylistic mastery. 

The best strategy we have, I think, is to knock the crap out of ourselves.  To stop thinking we need a hundred more interview questions or a ceasefire on seduction games or compassion from agents who'll sit there and smile while we clear our throats and take our time in getting into gear.

No.  Let's be cool, whip ourselves into shape, then send off whatever's requested, no more.  It shouldn't take a lot of time for us to show our stuff.  And we shouldn't feel a thing but thanks for anyone who'll read a word.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Do the hard thing as if it were easy

...and the easy thing as if it were hard.  I belive Musashi said that first, in his classic Book of Five Rings.  The advice came to mind as I put my helmet on and set to work on my query.

At some point in my years in the desert, querying became the part of writing that I dreaded most.  For a midlist writer, I believed, the hurdles were simply too high.  What name was I to use?  How did I explain my 'down time'?  How did I handle the career change to mystery?

By luck, I thought to take the time to flip through some of my past queries.  Oh, I had my share of rejections.  But I'd forgotten how often I'd gotten requests for the opening pages of past books.  And some of these requests had come from established agencies.  I still had a letter from Amtrak, awarding me an all-expenses paid cross-country train trip to research my third novel.  But the industry has changed as much as I have as a person and a writer.  What I needed to do was adapt my query style to the new work I bring to the table and the new publishing scene.  So...

Do the hard thing as if it were easy.  I didn't spend months or a year on the query, though I had thought about it for months.  I wrote the query in a morning without a thought in my head about seducing or psyching out agents.  I began with a hook far different from any other I've used:  positioning my novel by referencing the juggernaut/rival that arrives in January--and telling why, imo, that project is miles off course.  A brief summary of my plotline and thumbnail skectch of my lead character.   Why the book is my great passion and how I came to write it.   How I learned of the agent and why I am approaching him/her.  All this in well under a page.  Plus: the opening 5-plus pages imbedded in the e-mail, as requested.

Plan:  to approach agents open to e-mail queries first.  And to send these in limited batches instead of a massive blitz, since I need to stay open to feedback.

Will keep you all posted.  Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Back pack or baggage train?

Another way of asking that:  principles or applications? 

The childish part within us would always like to know:  what exactly do I need to do, say or write in order to succeed?  How exactly  do I ace the competition for this job?  How exactly should I start my query to make it stand out from the hundreds that cross this agent's desk this day?  How exactly do I start my book when more and more agents are asking for only the first five or ten pages?  Etc.

The wiser part of us knows that what works for another may not work for us...or what works today may not work tomorrow...or what should have worked tomorrow will be called because of rain. 

So it can be helpful to know assorted specific applications, though they may well already be completely out of date:  pick-up lines, interview strategies, others' great queries or opening lines...These are useful to know, but we'd all be damned fools to set out on our own unique journeys with baggage trains filled with specifics that have worked for others.

I say let's set out with our back packs instead, lightly packed with principles that will endure and serve us well if we have the pluck and luck to forge our own specifics:  E.g. :  Grab the reader by the throat and never loosen your grip...In a query or an interview, think about You(the other) and not your own miserable Me-Me...Seduce, don't rape, the reader...Be brief, be blunt, be gone...Etc.

End note:  I've never forgotten Robert S., a San Francisco businessman years before computers, or his massive, hand-carved desk.  The desk's surface remained, almost always, completely empty--except for one thing:  a 3x5 index card.  On the card, carried in his shirt when not set upon the desk, were the figures he needed to tell him how exactly his business was going.  Years later, I think of these figures as his principles.  The enduring things that he needed to know.  As for the applications--the daily decisions that he had to make--he remained perfectly fluid, guided by instinct and his own experience, not rules from books or others' words. 

The lesson for today endeth with one more abiding principle:  Always risk getting your face slapped for taking a chance on yourself.

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monster in the Desert: World Premiere Photo Event!

You've been here too, I'm convinced of that, friends:  had an idea that would not leave your skull, but which you kept failing to follow.  Oh, logic had its reasons for you as well as me:  the idea was too wild, too this or too that.  Maybe your brains even told you:  You're not that kind of person.  Well, get a load of this one and know you're in good company.

Seven or eight years ago, an idea came to me for a photo event that I thought could make some waves, move a few viewers and get a few laughs.  Maybe even lots more than a few.  I imagined a pair of photos, Then and Now:  the first showing what I'd call The (Midlist) Monster in the Desert...the second showing his rebirth as he was 'goosed by luck'.  Now, the second shot wasn't the problem, though it packed some   challenges:  I needed to look svelte and charged, radiating energy--with a certain something extra I couldn't quite define.  Either a prop or...I didn't know.

The first shot presented the problem:  I wanted to look grossly fat, whacked-out and downtrodden.  I thought up ways to pull that off, including XXL clothes and stuffing.  But....how far was I willing and able to go to convey the spot-on essence of The Monster in the Desert?  For years I thought about this, brainstorming and backing off from increasingly wild ideas.  But bolts of boldness struck this year and I began to give in to my wild side.  I bought the most outlandish props, showing them casually to people who raised their hands in horror.  I practiced poses and expressions for a month.  Hell, what did pride or dignity matter compared to conveying the truth:  of how it felt to be a monster in the desert for so long.

Result:  the photo shoot this weekend went off without a hitch.  And, whatever reception it gets, I feel a delicious unburdening, now that my long-orphaned idea has a home.

Check it out on my Facebook page.  The official event date is December 10.  But, you never know, it may appear days sooner...:)

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Bigger the Trouble, the Better I Fly

 The competing juggernaut I described at the start arrives in January.  Though our story lines differ completely, the pressure's now on me to put on real speed since I am proceeding solo.  I'd first hoped to be querying agents by now.  But I've set that back till the end of the month for a couple of good reasons.

1)  The beta feedback received was terrific.  And one recurring comment about chapter 4 confirmed my own suspiciton that it suffered from Back Story Blues.  Since then I've found a way to get much of this upfront without sacrificing the consistent first person p.o.v.  This tough trick in progress will take a little time.
2)  Since I am flying solo, I need to go back through the first 80 pages that Brad, my ex-partner, had worked on.   However good his input was, I can't and won't use his words.  I'll consider myself blessed though for the lessons I received in clarity and speed from Brad.
3)  I'll need to do what I hate most:  come up with an outline and query that work.

Meanwhile--orchestration!--I whip the rest of the novel's tenth-drafted 300 pages into reading shape, honoring my betas.  And I take notes for the novel's last section which I have already drafted:  a 100-plus page hunt and siege.

Summary:  right now is the critical time zone.  This month.  Before that juggernaut arrives, I want the book's first fifty pages to rock...I want the next 250 polished to high glory...I want the outline and query completed...and I want to be already nailing the final 100 pages. 

No problemo.  I say, with my hero Boss:  The bigger the trouble, the better I fly.