Sunday, February 12, 2012

Curses. Foiled Again.

You know when you think you have a really, really, really great idea?
And you don't do anything about it?
And then, a few months later you hear about someone who just became fabulously rich because of that same great idea?
Admit it. That's never really happened to you.
It's never really happened to me, either.
Except for the part about thinking that I had a really, really, really great idea.
A couple years ago, I had an idea for a book that I wanted to write.
This is not entirely unprecedented, given my career as a writer. I am prone to having many, many ideas that I think are wonderful.
Most of them wind up being less wonderful than I had originally anticipated, but that's the way it goes.

Even if I never had any more wonderful ideas, I would still have access to innumerable ideas supplied by other people. Nearly every event is seen as of a wealth of brilliant potential that I am simply wasting. Not a day goes by when there isn't some event–such as a person eating a sandwich and having a glob of jelly squirt out the backside–and the person will say, "Whoa. I'll bet you could write a book about that, huh?"

"About jelly?" I will ask.

"Well, yeah. But you'd make it all funny and crazy and stuff."

"Funny, crazy jelly?" I will ask.

"Maybe it could be a book about a dog who loves jelly."

For some reason, most of the book ideas people propose to me are about their zany friends or their dogs.

I am genuinely grateful for this input, as it relieves me entirely of the need to create anything on my own.

There are occasions, however, when, despite everyone's brilliant input, I am able to come up with an idea that I think is really, really, really great.

And, as I said, a couple years ago, I had just such an idea for a book.

And, lest I wake up a few months later, seeing my idea as the new number one  New York Times bestseller, I acted on this idea.

I spent nearly ten months, slaving away for hours every day on this brilliant opus.

I toiled and sweated and wrote and rewrote.

And when it was done, I had a staggering work of nearly 250,000 words. The average novel, by comparison is in the neighborhood of 80,000-100,000 words. So obviously, mine was not an average novel.

I was eager to share my genius with the world. I sent it to a few close friends and asked them for commentary.

One friend gave me actual, wonderful feedback.

The rest of them offered feedback like, "Um, no I haven't gotten through that yet" and "Did you just spend all your time looking through the thesaurus so you could sound like a pompous ass?"

The most concise observation came from my brother who said, "I only got through the first 30 pages or so. That was awful."

Undaunted, I carried on.

I made changes, fixed things and cut the book down to its barest elements, reducing it to a lean 242,000 words. Obviously, removing any more would mean depriving the world of my genius.

Convinced of this genius, I actually wrote a query letter to an agent, seeking representation for this book.

An agent is the person who will sell your book to a publisher for you in exchange for a mere 20% of every penny you ever earn on that book. A query letter is when you beg someone to look at your work of genius.

The agent I selected represents a few of my favorite authors and is a very serious big time hot-shot agent.

He responded to my query email within 20 minutes, saying that, since my letter was so great, he wanted to see the entire manuscript.

This is absolutely true.

So, I naturally did a tippy-toe dance of unbridled ecstasy around my home.

I sent him my slim and trim 242,000 word epic and admitted that I was still in the process of revising it, so maybe he should consider this the extended director's cut version.

A few weeks later, I heard from the agent's assistant, who loved the book, but suggested that a bit more cutting, enough to reduce the book to 80-90,000 words might be in order.

I dutifully went to work, excising pages and pages and pages of brilliant prose. Tears dribbled into my computer as favorite passages were ruthlessly cut.

I sent the revised story, now a filmy, shadowy 103,000 words.

After several months of eager anticipation, I checked on the book's status. "We're still quite interested. Other agents in the company are looking it over. Based on how well received it has been, there is a very real chance that we will represent this book."

And so I waited several more months before getting an email that said, "We would like to possibly represent this book if you are open to more editorial revisions."

After more tippy-toe dancing of ecstasy, I eagerly agreed.

I waited 5 months, but the suggested changes never arrived. After all my possible restraint was worn away, I, once again, emailed to find out what was happening. An anxious, sleepless week later, I still had no reply. So I called. A reckless and desperate move, I fully concede.

"I'll try to get an answer for you by the end of the day," I was told by the agent's assistant.

The end of the day came and went, but the next afternoon, there, in my inbox was an email with the cheery subject, "Hi Marty".

I took several deep breaths and clicked on the email:

Hi Marty,

I'm writing to say that unfortunately we have a very full client list and don't feel passionate enough about your project to offer notes and effectively represent you. We wish you the very best of luck in your search for representation. I apologize for the long delay in getting you a final answer. Our office was undergoing several transitions. Taste in fiction is subjective and I hope you find another agency who's opinion of your work overrides ours. 

Then I took several more deep breaths and tried not to cry.
I can't describe the disappointment of that email. Mostly because of the content, but also because of the improperly used word "who's".
I stewed and steamed and fumed and raged.
And then I got over it and carried on.

I've already got queries out to a few other agents, who seem like they may be an even better fit for me and my book.

And if that doesn't work out, I can always write another book. Maybe one about a dog who loves jelly.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Parking Lot Pizza and Rock Opera Lessons

I don't know about you, but I am unable to resist a sign like this.

I'm not talking about the delightfully juxtaposed signs indicating the location of water.

Extra confusing when it is raining, as the water is also coming from above.

I'm talking about the signs beckoning all who pass into an empty parking lot with the promise of a tasty pizza.

Who can possibly resist so tempting an offer? Not me.

I parked there in that empty parking lot in downtown Colrain, Massachusetts and waited for quite some time.

My hope, of course, was that as I sat there, a swarm of olive-skinned attendants would emerge from the mysterious pyramid thingy in the background and deliver a non-stop stream of pizza to me as I sat in my car, listening to the cool, mellow sounds of Lamb of God thundering through my car's stereo.

I waited and waited, but there was no pizza.

Because, it was Wednesday and the pizza isn't available until Thursday at 5 p.m. But I wouldn't become aware of that fact for quite some time.

It could have been a long, cold night sitting there, awaiting my pizza, but even the siren song of parking lot pizza could not lure me to sleep there. I had things to do and schools to visit.

I was in Colrain for more than the mysterious pizza lot. I was there as the Artist in Residence at Colrain Central School.

So, as chagrined as I was about it, I made the difficult decision to abandon my parking lot vigil and head to the hotel so I could get a good night's sleep before embarking on my residency.  While in residence at a school,  I strut around wearing a crown and a sparkly cape, barking orders and acting all artistic. It's loads of fun, but requires a certain amount of mental alertness; alertness I would not have if I sat in a parking lot all night, eying the mystery pyramid and waiting for pizza.

I returned to my hotel and passed an idle evening using Skype to communicate with my loving family. The communication mostly consisted of watching Alex and Victoria make faces into the computer's camera, and, as diverting and entertaining as that is, it could not make me completely forget about the pizza.

I passed a troubled night, tossing and turning and dreaming vivid, garlic-scented dreams. When I arrived at the school the next day, Mrs. Looman, the principal, greeted me and welcomed me warmly.

"Yeah, yeah," I said, still clutched in the fevered grip of the mysterious pizza lot and unable to even converse politely, "What's with that pizza sign out there in the middle of town? Why was I not given pizza when I parked there?"

Mrs. Looman explained that the sign did not actually offer the promise of free pizza for any who parked there. It was indicating where one might park if one wanted to walk across the street to Mike and Tony's Pizza.

Mike and Tony's Pizza. They will not serve you in the parking lot, despite what the sign may imply.

I passed a lovely day at the school, relieved that the mystery of the Pizza Lot had been settled. After school, I drove back to Greenfield, MA, where my hotel was, in order to pass the time until I could return to Colrain when Mike & Tony's opened at 5 p.m.

I wandered around Greenfield, past the Academy of Rock, where I was barely able to resist the urge to rush in and sign up for their PhD program in Rock Awesomeness. I didn't see any classes on how to deal with unruly groupies, so I decided against enrolling.

I found a tantalizing old book store where the winding, serpentine piles of books formed teetering, precarious aisles that led into the spiraling bowels of the very earth itself. I could have spent many hours in the store and, indeed, at a few points in my visit, feared that I would spend the rest of my life there if unable to find the exit.

When I finally found my way out, a freezing spittle had started falling, making the roads slippery and treacherous, but even the unbridled fury of nature could not deter me from my return trip to Colrain.

I braved the elements, skidding and sliding around hairpin curves and perilous drops from thousand foot cliffs. My white knuckles clenched the steering wheel as I forged onward into the stormy night and toward pizza.

And the next thing I knew, I was at Tony & Mike's. It seems that only the regulars were willing to brave the mad tempest raging outside, for there were very few people there, and all of them were clustered around the bar watching the less than subtle fight underway between the teenage kid cooking the pizzas and one of the owners - Mike or Tony. I didn't buy a program so I don't know who was who.

The dinner theater was fraught with intrigue as the cook was evidently convinced that MikeorTony had lied to him about something.

Dialog such as this ensued:

MikeorTony: You want me to call him and he can tell you for himself?
Kid cooking my pizza: Yeah. I do.
MikeorTony: Fine. I will.

(Telephone call is made)

MikeorTony (into phone): Will you tell [kid making pizza] that you are [mumble, mumble, mumble]

(Hands phone to kid making pizza)

[More mumbling and angry mutterings.]

It had all the making of a brilliant Italian opera. An interesting cast of characters. Incomprehensible dialog. An eager audience. Except for the fact that nobody was singing.

My pizza finally arrived and I was delighted that it was, in fact, some of the tastiest pizza that I have ever had.

I lingered over it, casually watching the continuing drama in the restaurant as it unfolded.

Although I was disappointed not to see how the scene ended, I was eventually able to break the spell and, with my leftover pizza clutched tightly in my hands, headed back out into the storm to try to return to my hotel.

"At least I'll have something to eat if I careen off the road and go over a cliff," I thought.

The next day of my residency, although lots of fun, was somewhat anti-climactic. It did not feature death-defying rides, muttered threats of mild violence, or delicious, cheesy pizza. It was just me, visiting classes and giving an afternoon workshop to a room full of teachers who were eager to be set free so they could go to Mike & Tony's.

I'd like to know how everything worked out in the opera there. I'll have to go back and see what happened when I finally enroll in that PhD. program at the Rock College.