Monthly Archives: April 2010

OK, The Recap [part 1 of 2] of the rest of the AWP Conference (finally!)

I figure I can only entertain my 6 or 7 readers (which are most likely comprised of family members and possibly 2 friends) with excerpts of my novel for so long before they want actual writerly info–which is what I assume a lot of web-surfing writerly types search other writer’s sites/blogs for anyway.

So, OK–here goes: I wish that I could regurgitate more information from the David Shields et al panel on Blurring the Lines Between Fiction/ Nonfiction/Memoir/Etc., but the fact it, it was absolutely freezing in the auditorium and I was severely underdressed.  One interesting quote Shields had where James Frey was concerned was: “Frey should be a better liar.”  Essentially, Shields is in favor of not just blurring the lines and boundaries between the genres of wrting, but completely obliterating them.  See herehere and here.

The next panel was called From MFA Thesis to First Novel, which I thought was pretty good. Number one: Be a writer [even if it takes 4 – 5 years (or more)].  How long it takes [to “make it”] will always vary. Write the book you want to write and don’t worry about what other people are doing.  These are ostensibly direct quotes.  Another great tip was stop rewriting the same scenes and write the book to the end; finish it!  Don’t get daunted by “experts” and forays into fact-checking—Learn, revise, move on. Disheartening things happen.  Be prepared to revise, revise, let it go and revise it again.

Keep in mind that query letters are your first introduction to agents and editors–make it pop! Let your voice really come through. Calm down and enjoy being a writer.  The business is slow; it’ll wait for you.  “Making it” (whatever “it” is) will not happen when you want it to OR how you expect it to.  Oh, and these are good tips too: A) Meet an agent before you sign B) Novels are easier to sell, C) Research agents a lot!

If you are in an MFA program, take full advantage!  Cross-pollinate genres; don’t pigeonhole yourself.  Apply for contests, grants, awards, scholarships, fellowships—everything out to which you can get your name.  Finish your novel first; don’t send it to publishers before it’s ready.  And it’s a good idea to have an expiration date on your query letters; don’t let them have it forever.

The final panel for this update was Insider Strategies for Getting Your Book Published.  Agent, Jeff Herman, began the panel by reminding everyone that, “Just because your writing is good doesn’t mean that it’s going to get published,” which I think is really sage advice for the unpublished writer.  “No one is entitled to be published—regardless of talent.”

So, then: how do you do it?  Just because your dog likes your book isn’t good enough.  Sometimes, deals do get made by someone discovering (read: stumbling upon) your manuscript in the publisher’s gigantic slush pile (which, if you are unpublished, without an agent, your manuscript will wind up)—which is more like a slush warehouse or largishly-sized room—but it’s extraordinarily rare.  There are, unfortunately, invisible walls within the publishing world.

Determination can help you overcome these walls, however.  Walls are made by humans—keep hustling!  You have to help create the demand for your book; don’t let yourself get weeded out.  Make connections. Get an agent.  The rest, I’ve already pretty much written about.  Keep in mind that agents get you access to the right people.  Just don’t be arrogant about the marketing.  Be discerning and pitch multiple agents simultaneously.  “Don’t tell [agents] what you don’t have; tell [them] what you do have.”

The rest of the conference panel recaps I’ll post tomorrow—I promisefor realz this time.  Later!

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A short excerpt from The New Sophisticates; More AWP reporting/recap later today (I promise)!!

Wednesday, Omaha, NE, 6:46 P.M. CST

Florence, North 30th St. and Weber

Winter in Nebraska ostensibly begins at the end of October and—until December 21st—the days keep getting shorter and shorter, less and less daylight, more time spent in the dark, and it’s typically cold—really, really cold.

“Dude, seriously, what the hell are we doing all the way up here?” Sawyer says.

“We’re meeting the guy that has the solution to your problem, chief,” Sebastian says, somewhat impassively.

“I’m pretty sure an armored car was robbed down here right across the street last summer, Sebastian,” Sawyer says, pretending to scan the immediate vicinity.

“Wouldn’t surprise me.”

“And that Godfather’s Pizza next door there, too.”

“Sounds right.”

“And the Post Office just up the street.”

“Probably.”

Sebastian doesn’t seem at all bothered by these unsettling bits of information.  The two sit for a couple minutes, not saying much to one another inside Sawyer’s GT-R right in front of a smallish, industrial-looking building painted a nauseating oatmeal or off-white hue that looks like it probably wants to be a shade of tan and is also adorned with two blue awnings that each read Getty Technologies, Inc. in white block lettering.  The parking lot had been freshly-plowed not too long ago, which made things at least a little easier for Sawyer to negotiate with respect to both his car’s having such a low-slung profile and the prospect of successfully parking it.  Sawyer chose a spot underneath an orange sodium light that was in a constant state of flickering and that he suspected would probably not even remain lit, at the very least, until they were ready to leave.

“I really fucking hate snow,” Sawyer says, breaking the silence.

“You should get a car that gets around better since you live in Nebraska and all, chief,” Sebastian says.

“This car gets around just fine.  I just hate the snow.  And the cold.”

“Weather seems pretty par for the course, to me.”

“Yeah, OK—you aren’t helping.  And besides, I’ve still got the Range Rover my dad bought me for graduating from my MBA.”

“Eh, what can I say?  You got it rough, boss.”

“So tell me again—why the hell is it I still live here in Omaha?”

“Fat-paying job, eighty-some-odd-thousand-dollar car, ultra-pimptastic condo—”

“Oh, right… All that stuff…”

“—insanely-hot future-trophy-wife, Range Rover as a — quote — ‘winter beater’—” Sebastian actually uses air quotes here.

“OK, that’s probably adequate.  I feel much better about my life now, thank you for reminding me.”

“Any time.”

“So now what?”

“A.G. said to go around back.  The steel entry door beside the big garage door is unlocked, it just sticks.”

“OK?  Around the back.  So, uh, where’s the sidewalk?”

“Under the snow—just stay close to the fence.”  Sebastian’s been reading something very intently for a few minutes now, not looking up once from his iPhone since they’d parked, aside from briefly air quoting a minute ago.

“…..”

“Hey man, listen to this: Autisms outVaccines may now cause sweet-ass vampires!”

“Wait… what?”

“Nothing, let’s go,” Sebastian says, shoving his iPhone into his hip pocket.

“You say a lot of weird shit sometimes, you know that?” Sawyer says.

“Dude, please—I prefer to call it free associating.”

“… Right… OK… anyway…”

The two make their way through the snow that’s begun piling in drifts in between the off-white metal building and the concrete rear wall of a dilapidated thrift store that, thankfully, OSHA had recently shut down for numerous code violations, according to Sebastian.  Sawyer notices that a locked chain-link fence encloses the building’s three large air conditioning units that likely won’t see any use for another six or seven months, he figures.  The sodium light above the GT-R flickers, goes out for a second, and returns—erratic—just in time to illuminate an almost entirely concealed parking block underneath windblown and drifted snow that Sawyer was only another instant from tripper over.

“I hate coming down here.”

“Don’t be like that, Tom Sawyer, man.”

As Sebastian’d mentioned a few minutes ago, Sawyer sees a white steel entry door to the left of a commercial-size garage.  The knob doesn’t turn but with a forcible jerk, it swings open.  They take a step inside and Sebastian slams the door shut behind them, enveloping both he and Sawyer in total, unreserved blackness.  Sebastian tells Sawyer to stay put and flicks on a switch a few invisible paces away; the location of which he’s clearly memorized.  Fluorescent lamps overhead click-click-flash-flash-click, hesitate and click again before finally flickering to life, prompting Sawyer to wonder if they aren’t just kind of like a cynical metaphor for this entire part of the city or something.

“Just hang out right here for a hot second—I’ll be right back,” Sebastian says, padding away through an interior door.

It’s drafty and cold, and the old metal building’s outer walls sway a little in the wind.  The fifteen foot commercial garage door doesn’t close all the way because of the hardened snow pack that’s sneaked its way underneath the door’s rubber lip.  An uninvited arctic draft lets itself in between the gaps, robbing the airy space of much of its warmth and leaving an inimical chill behind.  The wind howls outside like terrifying spectres of feral dogs, rattling the large—but ultimately, insubstantial—garage door with unremitting vigor, threatening a hostile and unceremonious extraction of those within.  And the more he thinks about it, Sawyer realizes the ramshackle door is really the only barrier between himself and the less than hospitable elements beyond.

* * *

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We interrupt your regularly-scheduled AWP updates to bring you an [unexpected] excerpt from “The New Sophisticates: A Novel”

Sunday, Omaha, NE, 7:09 A.M. CST

Newport Landing, Bennington

Drew Whitaker looks at the clock and remembers how good it feels to sleep in past 6:00 A.M.  He checks his BlackBerry for any missed messages, calls and the latest RSS-news-feeds to see whether or not it’s even worth venturing out in the cold to the end of his driveway simply to retrieve his paper.  Meredith Tomlin lies nearly motionless on the other side of the bed, sound asleep, curled into a delicate ‘S’ on her right side, one of Drew’s Pottery Barn 650 fill-power supreme goose-down pillows tucked snugly underneath one of her arms, cradling her neck.  Her breathing is almost silent, beautiful.

Drew carefully tosses his legs over the side of the bed and slips into his pair of Cole Haan Zermatt “old man”[1] slippers and shuffles to the bathroom—the way footwear with no heel requires of one—to retrieve from behind the door the very same Paul Smith robe his father’d bought him just before he’d left for Columbia.  Drew makes his way down the curving staircase and past the den where his two greyhounds, Einstein and Samson, lie curled up tightly on their plush dog beds, turning only a lazy eye toward their master as he makes his way to the kitchen.

For some reason the house feels chilly and Drew notices the thermostat has been switched over to its off position versus its typical auto setting.  He resets it to automatic and punches in 72 degrees, the furnace kicking on immediately.  The outdoor thermometer’s indoor display reads 26 degrees and Drew briefly considers how important reading the Sunday newspaper really is to him.  However, on Sundays, Drew receives the New York Times because A) it’s an infinitely better paper than the local Omaha World Herald and B) Sunday is really the only day he’s got time to actually sit down and read anything that isn’t work-related.

The Bodum Arabica Thermal French Press is hot, which means Margaret has already made her morning pass through the house—silently pressing the coffee, tidying up, then flitting away before he’d even known she was there.  And the fact that the paper is still at the end of the driveway and the coffee is still hot and Margaret is already gone means that the paper delivery guy was late.  Again.  Which absolutely nettles him more than just a little since the paper only gets delivered once a week for Christ’s sake, and so Drew decides he really needs to make a call about this weekly inconvenience first thing tomorrow morning.

Drew pads across the foyer and proceeds outside through his double entry Borano Bormio V front doors and briskly walks down his drive toward the mailboxes.  He considers it’s likely that the paper delivery guy/gal/whoever actually has to put forth a concerted effort in order to somehow always—week after week—land Drew’s NY Times, simultaneously, as close to the street and as far from his house as humanly possible with such precision and consistency.  Drew steals a glance to his left as he makes for the paper’s resting place and sees his neighbor’s left-side garage door going part-way up and then back down.

“That you out there Whitaker?” a voice from somewhere beneath the automatic doors emanates.

“Albus?” Drew says, picking up his frozen copy of The Times.  “Is that you under there?”

“Yep,” the voice says, garage opening all the way, “just me.  Finally got someone out here to fix this goddamn thing.”

“Garage door troubles?”  Drew briefly considers the possibility that me might be literally freezing his balls off.

“I’ll be goddamned if this thing’s ever worked right since I moved in.”

“Looks like it’s working now.”

“You bet your ass.  For a grand, it’d better be!”

“They charged you a thousand dollars?”  Drew wonders why he keeps asking garage door-related questions—or any questions at all for that matter—when he’s wearing only a robe and slippers in 26-degrees Fahrenheit air.

“Damn near replaced everything except for the actual doors.  It’ll probably work for a hundred more years now.”

“Well, I certainly wish you the health to live long enough to see that.”  Drew is nearly to his double front doors with no intentions of dawdling any longer.

“Oh, Christ—not me, Doc!  Gotta know when to fold em, which, if I were still a gambling man, I’d bet I’ll be doing long before then—foldin em, that is.”

“Well, in any event, it was a pleasure talking to you, Albus, as always.”

Drew is already back inside his foyer—teeth, a’chatter—before a response reaches his ears, his doors closed before only the faintest recognition of words that sound like they could have come from the mouth of Albus Bartleby permeate, though utterly muffled, through the Honduran mahogany and glass.

Einstein and Samson are waiting for Drew when he turns around, wagging their long, skinny tails and panting, wide-eyed, as if to remind him it’s yet another morning and they’d enjoy very much being released into the back yard for a few laps around the fenced perimeter and a shit, thank you very much.  Drew lets the dogs out the back door onto the deck that opens up to a half acre and returns to the kitchen, tossing the defrosting paper on the counter and retrieving a mug from the cabinet in which to pour himself a cup of coffee, black—no need for cream or sugar when it’s been pressed accordingly, he thinks.

He sits at a counter chair and unrolls the Times from its protective orange sleeve and is not just a little astonished to see two local articles plastered right there on the front page of the Times’ national edition: the Who’s Who corporate real estate gala and the deer-slash-mountain lion invasions of Omaha, the latter article pondering the impact the wildlife figures to have on the planned expansion and development of Omaha west– and south-ward toward the city limits of Lincoln.[2]

By the time Drew finishes the article about Omaha’s manifest destiny and subsequent annexation of every– and any-thing in its path, Einstein and Samson are ready to come back in for breakfast and Meredith has materialized at the top of the stairs wearing only a pair of panties and the Ermenegildo Zegna shirt Drew wore yesterday, buttoned ostensibly no more than halfway.

“We need to get you a sexy robe or something to wear when you stay over.”

“Are you saying you don’t like me wearing your stuff?”

“No, I don’t mind at all.  I really dig it, actually.  I was just thinking along the lines of something more comfy and that actually fits.”

“Anything good in there” she says, stepping down the last few stairs into the foyer and nodding at the Times.

“Omaha appears twice on the front page.”

“Wow, really?”

“Yeah, check it out.”  He slides the paper across the granite counter-top.

Meredith skims the front page, flips to the corresponding jumps and shakes her head.

“This place is getting insane,” she says.

“Tell me about it.  Albus was outside this morning playing with his garage door.”

“Playing with it?  He creeps me out.”

“That’s probably a logical sentiment to experience around him.”

“Can I have the Arts section, babe?”

“Sure thing.”

Meredith scoops up the paper from the counter as a cold, wet nose appears from below and nudges her elbow.

“We’ve got a beggar here,” she says.

“Samson! Go lay down,” Drew says, firm.

“At least he’s cute.”

“Someone told me they look like overgrown weasels once.”

“Who said that?”

“Just someone—can’t remember who off the top of my head.  Doesn’t matter.”

“I think they’re gorgeous.”

“Agreed.  Not very bright though.”

“Oh, check this out—Matthew Scott Keohne has some new stuff coming out this week.  He kind of dropped off the map for a while after this last book.”

“Who?”

“Don’t you ever read things that aren’t published in JAMA?”

“I read the Times.”

“…..”

* * *

Sunday, Omaha, NE, 3:20 P.M. CST

Riverfront Condo, Hall Bathroom

Sawyer can’t see his reflection in the mirror at the moment because he’s scrabbling along the tile floor, writhing in almost every conceivable three-dimensional direction, palms clutched his to his face, over his eyes, fingers knurled in various configurations of agony.  He’s been down there for about thirty minutes.  The pain’s onset was rapid.  Even his breathing is now a labored and conscious effort.

Sawyer’d finally managed to wriggle himself up to his knees a few moments ago, bracing his weight against the toilet before freeing his wallet from his back pocket—only then he’d somehow proceeded to drop his wallet in the process of trying to retrieve the special Harvard items from behind his dollar bills with his appreciably shaky hands, and so his wallet of course—at the irresistible mercy of gravity—fell splashing down into the toilet, the lid of which Sawyer’d thought to raise in a preemptive maneuver to address his very uncommon cluster headache-related nausea.

And so then the aforementioned wallet-to-toilet sequence of events just about completely shoved Sawyer over the edge of his already deteriorated capacity for concurrently tolerating pain and stress, and so said sequence of events probably would have shoved him right on over had he not (luckily) managed to pinch one of the two Harvard items between his thumb and forefinger before accidentally depositing his wallet into the shiny, white basin filled with chemically-treated, though environmentally-friendly, coolish, clear water.

And so Sawyer, not really in the exact frame of mind to stop and think about a whole lot else, places the innocuous off-white blotter tab on his tongue and is happily surprised with the rapidity with which it dissolves.  There isn’t much of a flavor to speak of, but a sort of pseudo-aspartame-like aftertaste does linger.  Sawyer, eases himself back down to the floor with a spasm’d hand still clutching his face where the imaginary icepick seems lodged inside his right eye-socket.  He considers experiences likely more pleasurable than this, his current one: castration by butter knife, disembowelment via soup spoon, medieval torture implements such as the rack, the iron maiden, flagellation, drawing and quartering or thumb screws.

The pain finally begins to dissipate after another 20 minutes or so, give or take.  Sawyer’s clothes are soaked through with sweat.  He’s feeling a little dizzy and not at all in tip-top shape but—most unbelievably of all—the pain is gone.  It’s just fucking vanished.  And he isn’t sure where Ashley is or why she’s been gone all day on a Sunday, but Sawyer figures his best bet as of right now is to sleep off the dizziness and reassess everything at a time a little later when he doesn’t feel like he’s teetering on the verge of imminent death.

He carefully makes his way to the bedroom, fearing that any sudden movement might reverse the effects of the 2-BromoLSDIt’s working; don’t fuck with it, he thinks.  Sawyer carefully eases himself into the bed, underneath his freshly-laundered Frette sheets and reaches for his BlackBerry.

* * *

November 23rd

Monday, Los Angeles, CA, 1:39 P.M. PST (3:39 P.M. CST)

Dingbaum Land Company HQ, Century City

“How are the population figures looking, Ribble?”

“Sir?”

“The wildlife population numbers.  In Nebraska.  How are they looking?”

“Oh, yes, right.  The numbers are looking healthy.  We’re seeing growth in both species’ populations and our transplant teams have remained completely undetected thus far.”

“This is good news.  You know how much I love good news after my post-lunch massage.  Bad news just brings all of that tension back into my body and I honestly feel the only thing that helps is to fire someone. Ostensibly.”

“That’s completely understandable, Mr. Dingbaum.”

“And I wanted to personally thank you for escorting my father down to the Omaha gala Saturday night.  I’ve heard rumors that a near catastrophic social faux pas, regarding a lack of pants, was narrowly averted by your quick thinking.”

“Oh, thank you, sir.  It was nothing, I can assure you.”

“You’re just being modest.  Those idiots Godfrey and Pearson would’ve likely needed to call you or I—or even potentially both of us—to ameliorate the goddamn situation.  I swear those two couldn’t find their assholes without first asking someone to remind them that it encompasses the permanent location of their heads and their singular, shared-brain.”

“The pleasure was all mine, I assure you.”

“And making sure the old man was able to have a steak.  Mahogany is a fantastic place to dine, or so I hear.  Red meat is just so dreadfully hard on the digestive system.  You are a prince among men for suffering through it all.”

“Mr. Dingbaum, you flatter, really, but it really was honestly nothing.  Irregardless, sir, I do appreciate the compliments.”

“What was that, Ribble?”

“I said I appreciate the compliments, Mr. Dingbaum, sir.”

“No, before that.”

“I believe I said thank you.”

“After that, Ribble.  Jesus H. Christ, are you just fucking with me now?”

“Sir?”

“You said irregardless, did you not?”

“Oh, perhaps, yes, I believe I might have.”

“There is no perhaps, Ribble.  You said it!  Irregardless is not a fucking word!  You can say regardless, or you can say irrespective; but under no circumstances, whatsoever—unless you are doing as I am now, which is to say, blatantly pointing out a word that does not exist, has never existed, will hopefully never exist and yet somehow has found its way into the masses’ collective vocabulary—under no circumstances do you say irregardless.  Ever.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.  It won’t happen again.”

“Fuck me, I always find a way to regret saying good things about people—it never fails.”

“I apologize.  Please tell me what I can do to immediately remedy this situation, sir.”

“Get me a Valium.  Or a Xanax.  Or one of each.  Just get me something—my goddamn nerves are shot now.”

“I’m on it.”

“Mine is a stressful job, Ribble!  Act like you’ve got a shred of common fucking sense from now on.”

“I will, sir.  Here are your tablets, Mr. Dingbaum, er, sir.”

“Would you like me to simply voodoo some fucking water out of thin air to take these with?  Or should I see if I can work up enough saliva to prevent myself from choking?  Which would be more amusing to you, Ribble?”

“Sir?”

“I’m obviously simply here for shits and giggles, Ribble—you’re personal amusement.  So tell me, which option would you find funnier?”

“Sir, neither of those would appeal to my sense of humor—at all—because you are a very respectable and powerful man, and I’ll fetch you some chilled Perrier right away with a glass, because that’s what would make me the happiest as of this moment, currently speaking.”

“That seems like the most reasonable conclusion, and you came to it all on your own.  I’ll wait here.  Put a rush on it if you would.”

“I will.  No worries at all, sir.  I’ve got this situation completely under control at this particular juncture.”

“Be sure that you do.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And Ribble?”

“Sir?”

“Have the arrangements been made for our Omaha colleague’s impending visit?”

“Yes, indeed they have Mr. Dingbaum.  Thursday, as scheduled.”

“I trust you’ve taken the liberty of freeing up your own schedule as well?”

“I have, sir.  The family is somewhat disappointed that I won’t be there for pumpkin pie and carving the turkey, but we’ve got an adequate number of males in my family to take up the slack, if you will.”

“I’m sensing a tone, Ribble.  ”

“A tone, sir?”

“Yes, I believe I detected a tone.  A fairly unpleasant, sort of biting, or chewing type of tone—or even, perhaps, a tone so attenuated as to merely be a kind of ancillary, nonverbal intimation of what would typically be considered, quote, ‘barely-in-excess-of,’ indiscernible levels of sarcasm.”

“I’m not sure I know exactly what you just said, Mr. Dingbaum, but no unpleasant tone was intended.”

“Because for a split, what some might, again, call a micro, fraction of a second, I was having the vaguest notion or inclination of a tone treading the line between a displeasing and disagreeable persuasion.”

“No, sir.  That doesn’t sound like me.”

“And you are positive of this?”

“Completely and utterly positive with respect to any biting or acerbic tones that you may have sensed coming from my general direction or person, sir.”

“Good, OK then.  Is there anything else?”

“I don’t believe so, sir, no.”

“Then let’s begin appraising our prairie development stratagem.  Call Pearson and Godfrey into my office, would you Ribble?”

“I can certainly do that, sir.”

* * *


[1] As Meredith always calls them.

[2] State officials have remained diligent with respect to the process of conceiving and then actualizing the Omaha-Lincoln Metropolitan Area as part of the OLMA Metropolis Project, which will one day be home to some 1.2 million people and, consequently, attract larger corporations and businesses and will thus, on paper anyway, boost state revenue into a realm of dollars only describable as “exponentially more than present.”

(2,834 words)

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The Denver AWP Conference, part 3: Your Platform — “What Agents Are Looking For”

I really wanted to visit the “Shameless Self Promotion” panel prior to this one, but found myself already ravenously hungry, which prompted me to take a break and purchase an other-worldly-priced bratwurst (that’s price did not remotely match its overall deliciousness) and a Pepsi.  I think my pseudo-lunch cost me $10.  Moving on…

Building a platform, according to the panel is about being an empowered artist, becoming visible.

Typically, there are 2 questions, with respect to platforms, that I will get to shortly and will offset with such ingenious formatting techniques as block quotes, italics and bolding.

Platforms are essentially what you do besides write, they are not your CV.  Building a platform is an ongoing effort to connect with your readers–both a journey and a process.  In this regard, you need to make your platform work for you; it’s your Presence [capital ‘P’].  The best example of platform building in the 20th Century (according to the panel) was Ezra Pound. In other words, make your platform your life.

Q1: With what tools can you build a platform?

– Websites, blogs, e-zines, e-classes, write for publication, give talks, writers groups, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads.  Embrace all opportunities that exist; don’t say “no” to anything. You really need to create an online presence.  A term I also was told to Google is “Conversation Prism.” The bottom line is that you don’t need to be on all of the social networking sites, just focus on a few. These things, remember, are just tools. Be adaptable. Twitter is great for reference referrals. You have to be where your audience is: “Become the Poet Laureate of your coffee shop.”

Q2: What are the biggest challenges in building a platform?

Time. Remember that the writing is the most important.  Let the world know what you know. It takes time for your efforts to pay off. Overcome the stigma of self promotion. Get out and comment on other people’s sites. Clarify yourself as a writer by zooming in on what you offer and thinking about your audience as much as yourself. Have a concrete plan. Find yourself 3 role models: who’s out there? Who’s accelerating their careers? Get honest feedback and always stay professional. Oh, and check out this site too: ChristinaKatz.com. Her book on platform building is great!

Also check out Seth Godin’s book Tribes and Chris Guillebeau’s 279 Days to Overnight Success.

And lastly, find models your comfy working with.  See what your favorite authors are doing.  Write them fan letters.  Keep in mind three things, however: 1) you will write a lot about the book after you have written the book, 2) You have got to pitch yourself, and 3) approach agents and editors as an equal; give them reasons they should sign you.

That’s all for now. The next post will be focused on the panel discussion: “From MFA Thesis to Novel.”

Recap, rewind, redux: Back from the abyss! (or rather, the national AWP conference in Denver): Part 2 of ???

OK, down to what people probably really want to know: what did they talk about a the conference?

First of all, I was more organized and goal-oriented going into this conference.  I’m very close to finishing my first novel, much of it is fairly polished, at least as far as I can personally edit it, and I’m really focused on publishing this thing some day. Thus, I was mainly interested in the publishing and marketing discussion panels and the AWP this year really didn’t disappoint.

I’ll try to give a brief rundown of some of the panels I attended and my own impressions.

The first panel I attended was titled “How to write about your writing” which focused on writing proposals, grants and query letters.  J. C. Hallman’s presentation was exceptionally entertaining, written and delivered  in a very David Foster Wallace-esque style and tone however, I didn’t really glean much in the way of writing an actual Proposal.  (A few other conference goer(s) had the same issue with Hallman).

He did mention one should have a speculative, marketable tone and assume a pragmatic approach, but this advice seems nebulous and vague a best.  He may as well said “don’t write a sucky proposal.”

The section on Grants was considerably more informative. First, always review the organization-from-whom-you-desperately-hope-to-receive-monies’ mission statement.  Speak to previous winners.  Google the formats previous winners used.  Seek feedback.  Start small; winning smaller grants will lead to larger grants.  Don’t brag about yourself.  Think of it like asking for money from your parents.  Absolutely trim the fat from your proposal.  Show them how it will affect you if you don’t win.  Your grant application needs to illustrate the importance beyond your own personal success–how will it make the world a better place?  Apply for grants “in your league.”  Unpublished? Look for grants for emerging artists–maybe even locally.

Assume the judges for your grant application are good people putting forth their best faith efforts.  Strive for clarity; if it can be misread, assume that it probably will.  Use bullet points to show that you have addressed all of their questions.  Leave out things that do not pertain to your writing.  Keep your goals realistic; don’t tell the panel you will write a novel in two weeks if you win.  Don’t be vague.  Don’t say, “I’m going to write for 16 hours a day,” even if you are going to.  Tell them what you will be doing with those 16 hours.

Turn your weaknesses into  strengths.  Talk about what you need to become a better writer; don’t pretend your weaknesses don’t exist.  Say, for example: “I need time at the writing center to work on point of view.  Here’s what I’m going to do________.  Here’s how I’m going to do it ________.”

And finally, Queries were discussed.  Essentially, it boils down to the fact that good writing is good writing.  Here, you are now marketing; keep this in mind.  Think about your query outside of your novel.  Make your query one page, five paragraphs.

Paragraph 1: This is where you introduce yourself, the book, position within the market, credentials and closing.  Relate to those who will be reading your query (agents, editors, publishers), mention conferences, Publisher’s Marketplace, name drop if you can.  Research before writing the query.  Google agents (or editors or publishers) before sending out your pitch.

Paragraph 2: Remember–who? what? when? where? why? and how?  Go for simple and keep the language tight.  Give them a sense of your voice in this paragraph.  Transition the voice from formal to your own and then back.

Paragraph 3: How will your book make a difference?  What genre is it?  Contextualize your voice and tone, with respect to other authors who you sound like as well.  Show your angle.  Do you have a unique point of view? Is there something unique about your craft? your narrative?

Paragraph 4: Only include stuff that is relevant.  Keep the angle professional.

Paragraph 5: Keep your conclusion professional and succinct, i.e.: “If you would be interested in reading past the first chapter of my novel, please let me know.  I appreciate your time and consideration.”

OK, so that was longer than I intended it to be.  I’ll keep this post short and add more tomorrow.  Plus it gives people a reason to tune back in!

Back from the abyss! (or rather, the national AWP conference in Denver): Part 1 of ???

I just got back in town yesterday from an extended weekend in Denver, CO.  I gotta say, I’m exhausted!

The national AWP (the Association of Writers and Writers’ Programs) conference was held April 7 – 11 which ostensibly amounted to my sleeping terribly each night, attending panels from 9:00AM – 5:30PM three days in a row while consuming potentially hazardous amounts of coffee in the interim.

Though admittedly I learned a lot.

But before I jump into the nuts and bolts of the conference itself, I thought I would first take the time to mention certain aesthetic observations with respect to the conference’s actual attendees.  Most of my comments can be summed up with a single sentence: Everyone looks the same!

There are essentially five or so archetypes of conference goer of which I will deconstruct below in a mostly disorganized and lazy fashion:

Berets are still in (seriously, why?).  Sport coats of various fabrics–mostly micro-suede and corduroy–are the new tweed among academic types.

The “Jesus look” = in!

Guys with full beards, glasses and flannel-wear?  Also in.  Al Borland and the guy from the Brawny paper towel commercials and wrappers would be ecstatic.  These writers favor Jack(s) London and Kerouac for their salt of the earth, everyman prose style.

Hobo-fabulous/chic is also in.  This type favors boutique designer wear such as $200 Citizens of Humanity or Diesel jeans, $100 Ben Sherman or 7 Diamonds shirts, the sport coats of the “new” academics and tennis shoes.  Seriously.  Like running shoes.  I’m not kidding.

Women, especially aged 40+ gravitate toward thick-rimmed glasses, shawls and shocks of white hair, an effect which they may or may not have implemented dyes to attain.

Then there are older gentlemen who sport baseball caps, vests and a few layers of tough leathery skin.  Also see salt of the earth literature; though perhaps this type’s is saltier.

Speaking of beards, they were everywhere.  Thick facial hair is trendy again in order to seem truly artsy.

Chuck Taylor’s? Ubiquitous.

Skinny jeans and 80s punk rock hair are back.  Hooded rugby shirts–always too small–accentuate this new punk’s physical likeness to fitted PCV piping.  And you can forget backpacks; they’re out.  Canvas messenger bags are the new black (though I should note that I personally prefer the weight distributing properties that a backpack offers, so fuck what’s hot–give me what’s comfy!).

So everyone pretty much looks the same–not just with respect to each other but to everyone who has ever lived.  They further reinforce the idea that there are no new ideas, just rehashings of old ones.  People trying to individuate themselves by buying into, and thus looking like, how they “should.”  The clothes they wear fit their chosen archetype.  For whatever reason, the harder the individual tries to assume the appearance of their chosen archetype, the more an air of severe hoit and toit emanates from them.

Butch-lesbian-chic?  In.  Whether or not they are all actual lesbians or not, this particular look is fucking everywhere too!  These women at least look like they could kick your ass, the truth likely not far from the suggested appearance; the spiky hair only solidifies their ass-kicking appearance.

Hooker boots: definitely in.

Funky chic?  IN.  Lots of color, crazy boots of varying degrees of height, funky hair?  In, in and in. (And how could I forget the myriad of “patterned tights with boots?  That was everywhere.  And dresses plus cardigans, of course.”  Thanks to Elisa Gabbert for reminding me!)

Short skirts?  In.  I’m not complaining, more like just saying: they’re here, in full effect.

Some people wore a hodgepodge of these looks, which suggested mainly that they simply were trying too hard…to look original… Those who wore bowler, derby and cabbie/newsboy/Oliver Twist hats were everywhere but always gave the impression they were trying to figure out what others thought of their personally wearing said hat(s).

One attendee looked like a terrible goth/emo Crocodile Dundee “mash-up” mishap.

Don’t people use mirrors anymore before going out in public?

Anyway, actual conference news soon to follow!

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