Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Conference seminar discussion #1 - theme

The first session I went to was given by Linda Seger and discussed theme. (The first part of the session talked about character, but I missed a portion of that due to my pitch session.) Below are some of the gems I picked up from her presentation.

Most themes are about identity on some level - who am I, where am I going, what do I want?

A theme should be active, not static. Use a verb, so that your theme isn't "love," it's "finding love," or "losing love." (Storytelling is about verbs, not nouns.)

Another way of looking at theme is to use a versus statement, such as "identity vs conformity."

She also mentions the first chapter on premise from Lajos Egri's book The Art of Dramatic Writing, which says that your premise (theme) is what your story is trying to prove. For example, the premise of MacBeth is "ruthless ambition leads to destruction." The ruthless ambition is the characteristic of the beginning of the story, the "leads to" is the middle, and the destruction is the ending. Nice way of looking at it.

Then we went through certain stages of life, talking about the most common issue that we humans have to confront at that stage, and what happens if that issue is not confronted and resolved. This is laid out in her book Creating Unforgettable Characters. The point of looking at your character's age and what stage they are supposed to be in is not necessarily just to help you with characterization, but also so that you can see what your readers are likely to be dealing with themselves. Odds are your readers are going to be of similar age to your lead, and will be able to identify with someone going through the same problems they themselves are.

All in all it was a neat seminar, nothing earth-shattering but a few new ways of approaching theme, which is a difficult subject for a lot of writers. She used a lot of examples from film, which was definitely entertaining as well. I felt my time was well spent.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pitch Session Highlights

I thought I would break out my conference experiences into sections throughout the week. Today I'll be talking about my pitch session experience.

I had the second pitch session of the day for the agent I spoke to. I had prepared a three-sentence summary of my novel, as well as a longer synopsis, both of which fit on one single-spaced page. The synopsis took me two minutes to read out loud when I practiced it. I also had prepared six questions for the agent on a separate page, and three general information questions.

I left the seminar I was in about ten minutes before my pitch session. I had tried reviewing my summaries but couldn't concentrate, so I paced a little bit and stopped by the drinking fountain a few times. (For some reason drinking fountains - what we call "bubblers" in Madison - help clear my head. I don't know why.) Her first session ended a few minutes early, so I waited a minute or two until the guy who was pitching after me showed up, and then I went in.

And went straight into meeting mode. Hallelujah!

Our palms were dry, our handshakes about equally firm. This is always a good start. I sat down and opened my portfolio. The conversation started out a little slow on my part - I wasn't quite sure what the etiquette was. She asked me if I had a novel, and if it was complete, then what genre it was in. My answer was "paranormal, which means if I was looking for it in Barnes and Noble it would be under horror. I don't find it particularly scary, myself." I read her the short summary - not my best reading, unfortunately. Word of advice - GO SLOW. Don't try to read at normal speed.

Then came the unexpected question - something along the lines of why am I excited about writing. I asked if she meant in general or this project, and I'm assuming she said the latter, although my mind had hit "unexpected question so I'm going blank now" so I don't actually remember. What I remember answering was that with this was the first story I'd been able to stick with for this long, and the more I worked with it the more excited about the characters I got, and developed all this backstory, and that was what the next novel was going to be about. She noted that I had plans for future books, asked me the novel word count, and asked me to send the synopsis and first three chapters. Yeay! Then it was my turn for questions.

Whew. I was ready for this part.

My first question was whether they used an agency contract or if contracts were done book-by-book. (Answer, agency contract with a 3 month time frame.) Then I asked about the terms, which were the very standard 15% domestic, 20% foreign, but no charges to the authors - they do almost everything digitally, so no need for photocopying or postage fees. That also covered my third question (fees) so I then asked about whether she was looking to handle books only or short stories and/or articles as well. (Answer, just books, but if I needed advice on a contract or something she could help.) I also asked about her opinion of e-publishing (growing industry, although still has some stigma attached) and what she was looking for in an agent-author relationship (basically, someone who knew what they wanted and where they wanted to go, who was willing to listen to advice even if they decided not to follow it.)

Then, since we had a few minutes left, I asked one of my general questions, which was: If I write a short story using my own intellectual property (IP) for one publisher, can I write a different short story using the same IP for another publisher? The answer is probably not - particularly if it's using the same characters. The first publisher will probably have first right of refusal if they have published a story with those characters previously. This should be spelled out in the contract somewhere.

That's kind of what I thought, which makes me glad I had decided not to submit any short stories based off my novel. I'd love to, especially once the novel is going to be coming out, but until then I'm going to have to hold off so I don't confuse the rights. Ah well.

Tomorrow I'll talk about some of the seminars I went to.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pitch Session tomorrow morning

My summary is written, long and short versions. I have spent several hours reading up on the agent I'll be talking to tomorrow, as well as advice on pitch sessions and how to promote my own work. I have five agent questions and three general publishing questions written down. I've picked out my outfit and decided how I'm doing my hair. I've looked up the building and found where I'm going to park. My portfolio is stocked with two copies of everything and samples of my work should it be asked for (unlikely).

Fourteen hours to go.

I am nervous as hell.

I'm so glad that my pitch session is the first thing I'm doing at the conference. That way I can pay attention to everything that comes later and not be a brainless nervous wreck.

I've been on the other side of the desk when people were pitching their dreams to me. I should be able to apply that experience here. I can at least pretend composure for eight minutes.

Check back on Monday for the results! I plan to do a thorough debriefing on my whole conference experience so you all can reap the benefits. Wish me luck!

Hurrah! Revision done!

My new revision is finally done! Hurrah for self-imposed deadlines!

That still leaves me with most of tomorrow to work up my summary, memorize my summary, and figure out my "so what would you do to promote your book?" pitch, along with decide what I'm going to wear and where I'm going to park (and find out what building I need to go to!). All that with the husband not going in to work until 1pm and friends coming over for dinner later in the evening. No problem. ;)

I must be insane.

I can't wait until Monday, when I get to go back to my regularly scheduled erotica short stories...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pitch Session

So my revision is coming along pretty well, I just have one more plot point I need to figure out how best to work in. (I have one idea, but I keep thinking of problems with it, so I need to do a little more work on it.) I'm currently over at a friend's house at a "job search party." Basically, the three of us hanging out looking at job websites. And since I forgot to put my resume on my laptop, I'm mostly just bookmarking sites for later, and reading everything I can find as far as pitch session advice goes.

I've found a few websites that have been helpful. I think it's mostly a matter of writing up my summary and repeating it over and over and over again until I'm muttering it in my sleep. I have a marked tendency to go completely blank the moment anyone asks me a question. (I think this is a factor in why I want to write for a living...)

And Rotorooter finally did show up and got my pipes cleaned out, finishing fifteen minutes before they would have gone into overtime. Yeay! The amount of unexpected expenses that have cropped up this year is mind-boggling. I am fully expecting my refrigerator to die any day now too. It's been ready to die for ages, but given the list of stuff lately, I would not be in the least surprised. Like my husband says, hopefully we're getting all of the bad stuff out of the way early this year...

Monday, March 23, 2009


Still no Rotorooter. Very frustrating. I gave them a call an hour ago, and the dispatcher was supposed to call me back. Called back again, and now they will give me a call before they head over. Great. At least that means I can go upstairs to write, although my cat has been surprisingly good today. I wonder if she's feeling ok?

I decided to review the revision so far, not in detail but skimming through to add in the subplot I took out that I have since decided I want to put back in, as well as to get some sort of context for the scene I'm currently stuck on. Hopefully I'll be able to plow forth from there. Speaking of plowed, the two gin-and-tonics-with-frozen-raspberries-instead-of-ice-cubes have not hurt my ability to buckle down, which surprises me. However they have hurt my ability to make zesty fries, which I realize I have left sitting next to the stove. Give a little, take a little.

For those of you wondering why anyone would have had two gin and tonics before 2pm on a weekday, I will remind you that I am Wisconsin born and bred. There is never a wrong time to drink in Wisconsin, as long as you aren't impaired when you show up to work. Since I am currently unemployed, I can drink whenever I want. And I fully expect to have to drive my loving husband home from our friend's birthday party tonight, so I might as well do it now.

If you've never visited here, I highly recommend it. (See also Lewis Black's bit on drinking in WI from his White Album. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WlwumGkSec) And you must eat the deep-fried cheese curds, preferably dipped in ranch sauce. It's a rule.

Down with the Block!

I suppose it's not really fair to call this writer's block - frankly it's just that I'm totally sick of my novel. I know everyone goes through this - I've been through it before with this monster. But with my recent short story work, I've re-discovered my love of writing - and frankly, I've fallen out of love with my novel. I can't wait to start the next one, but I won't let myself until this one is out making the rounds. Ergo, I must finish it. But even re-writing one of the erotic scenes can't hold my attention, and that means things are pretty bad. It doesn't help that I'm very tired and waiting for the Rotorooter guys to show up at some point.

I have five days to finish the new revision. I usually work better under deadlines, but I'm still dragging my feet. Working on this thing is like slogging through mud, and how can that produce good writing? Persistence, that's how. Ugh.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Of cats and conferences

As I write this, my cat is sitting behind me rather desperately trying to get into my lap. One would think a lap cat would be perfect for a writer, but for some reason it makes it very difficult for me to work. I really need to get the wireless fixed on my laptop so I can blog from my office.

I'm very much looking forward to the writer's conference next weekend - particularly the class on marketing. Writing, I can do - promoting myself, I need to learn a lot about. Any book recommendations out there? I love to research. It's amazing what story ideas you can come up with by reading non-fiction.

Speaking of stories, that front is going well. I'm sending two shorts out today, and then spending the rest of the time between now and the conference polishing my novel. I can't wait until my pitch session is done, because either way I'm sending the stupid thing out and moving on to something else. Freedom!

Monday, March 9, 2009


Distractions abound. Between refinancing, birthday parties, home maintenance, and some long overdue one-on-one with the husband, I'm hardly getting any writing done. Bah! No one said this writing life was easy - but at least my office is repainted and the closets are cleaned out. Now just to haul all that stuff down to St. Vinnie's, and I'll have a viable guest bedroom again. Amazing how much you can get done when you are avoiding doing other things!

I'll be heading to that writer's conference I mentioned last time at the end of March. Should be interesting. I'd love to have an agent but I'm not going to let that stop me - e-publishing may not be as glamorous as print, but I do think it's a growing field. I'll be very interested to see how much the industry grows in the next five years or so. I had never thought I would want to buy anything in a download-only format, but the Teaching Company cured me of that! I love those guys, especially because I can log into my account and download my lectures again no matter where I am or what computer I am using. This is particularly nice when I'm traveling and just have my laptop - I can download the lectures I want to listen to without having to plan ahead, or hook up my laptop to our network at home. (I leave all that networking stuff to the husband.) So, while I'm not quite kosher with downloading music yet (partly because there is no RIAA for audiobooks, as far as I know, so I'm not worried about proving that yes, I really did pay for that. Yes, RIAA, you have helped me just stop buying music ALL THE WAY AROUND! Good job! Thank the gods for internet radio!) I am more than happy to download audiobooks. I have bought one digital CD and one digital non-audio book (PDF that I printed out). I guess it will be a race to see which happens first - I get a digital book reader of some sort for free, or the RIAA gets brought down by RICO charges.

I can dream, right?

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Welcome to my blog. Here I'll be talking about, well, whatever pops into my head, as well as writing, publishing, researching, and all that good stuff. Have fun, because I sure will be!

For you writers out there, have any of you ever attended a writing conference? What was your experience? I'm thinking of attending one or two this year, but I've never gone before. I'm mostly looking for information on how the industry is changing and advice for marketing myself and my work. If you've been to a conference, leave a comment and let us know if you found it worth your time and money.

Off to play D&D!