Saturday, August 01, 2009

PNWA Conference Day 3

Today was all about listening to successful writers and how they do their craft, how they found success and what we need to do to get there.  I met more famous people this weekend than I have met in my entire life.  Joseph Finder, Robert Dugoni, Will North, Caitlin Kittredge, Cherie Priest, Richelle Mead, Lisa Mantchev, Kevin O’Brian, Mike Lawson, Royce Buckingham, and many more. Some of these aren’t world wide famous, but are certainly big writers within their own genre, and they know their stuff.  They’ve been doing it for a while.  They study their craft.  They work at it.  They love it.  They want other people to be good at it.  It was like attending a three day Nerd Dinner for writers, and it will have a huge impact on my writing career.

I loved to hear how different writers write.  Mike Lawson did all his writing when he was getting started riding the ferry from Seattle to the Bremerton ship yard, much like I do my work on the train. 

Royce Buckingham and I talked through one of the short stories I was working on and I think we figured out how to novelize it, and how to get around a particularly bothersome issue in the plot.  He liked the story, and that may lead to other opportunities as well.  Connections are so important.

I have a really good lead on an agent now, but have some serious work to get done before I send it to her.  She said she would wait, and would remember me (for good reasons).

I also met a couple of folks who I am going to work with to try to set up a writing group, which will be good for all of us.  I’m excited to read their stuff, and to get feedback on my stuff.

It was also good to get home and see the kids for a few hours before they went to bed.  I was talking to Lisa about the possibility of me taking a weekend to go to Manitoba to do some research for my book, and Reece looked at me and said ‘Daddy, don’t go away.’  Awwww.

PNWA Conference Day 2

Okay, it’s the morning of Day 3 of the conference, and, like yesterday, I’m a day behind on blogging. And yesterday, I was writing this at the conference where connectivity to their network was $7 / minute.  Yes, you heard me right.  So the day 1 article I just uploaded was written 24 hours ago.  Today, I’m up early again, but writing this at home before I leave.

Yesterday was all about the business of writing.  All the sessions I attended dealt with pitching to agents, writing query letters, hearing about what is going on in the publishing world.  Has anyone heard of the ‘SteamPunk?’ or ‘NewWeird’ genres?  Apparently they’re the next Chick-Lit.  You know, once chick-lit has run its course. 

In the gaps between sessions, you stalk agents.  Literally stalk them.  Catch them on the way to the bathroom or when they’ve got a mouthful of food.  You get about 15 seconds to try to sell your book to them.  I’m serious.  I’ve spent 12 months working on this bloody thing, and I’m lucky if I get to the third sentence of my speech.

I can handle rejection when it’s based on “Its not an area I work in”, but the hard ones to take are the ones who say they are interested in the area, but not in your book, for one simple reason.   It’s too long for Young Adult.  And you look at them and say, but it’s not young adult.  It’s got very adult themes.  And they say ‘But your protagonist is 16.  Adults don’t want to read about 16 year olds.  Make him 20, and it works.  Or make it YA, and cut 40% of it.”

Seriously.  40%.   They want me to cut 57,000 words out of my book.  Ouch.  I took that pretty hard, but it is no use arguing with them, because they are right, and you know this because you don’t hear it once, or twice, but three, maybe four times in the span of a couple of hours.

So after hearing it a few times, and getting through the grief, and it is grief, because you go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, you have to decide what to do.  I clearly can’t just just 57,000 words from my book.  What I can do, is break the book into two pieces.  The first two thirds of NOWHERE HOME told one story.  The last third started to take the tale in a different direction to set up for what I had planned in book two.

Well, as it turns out, that first two thirds is about 80,157 words.  Perfect.  The second part is 57,000, but when I pull in some of the work I’ve done on book two already, I’ve got nearly the second book already completed.  I’ll have to do a lot of editing yet to cleanup the ending of the first and the beginning of the second, but I know I can do it, and by the end of the summer, I’ll have two completed books:  THE LONGEST ROAD, which now becomes the title of the first book, and NOWHERE HOME, which becomes the title of the second book.  I’m now looking forward to making this work.

I talked to a lot of people yesterday as I was going through this process, and received a lot of advice and support.  I just hope I can stay in contact with some of them as time goes on.  Pam Binder, the President of the PNWA is an amazing woman, and she an I have talked a lot during this conference.  She saw the look on my face yesterday after a brutal agent rejection, and spent about fifteen minutes talking with me.  She had friends waiting to go do something, and held them off until she was sure we had put a plan in place to deal with the length issue.  Amazing.

Last night, at the dinner, I got to listen to Joseph Finder speak about how he got his start in writing, how he had a lot of help to get going, and took a lot of risks.  He developed a  3 year plan to get a novel published and then to decide whether or not to continue writing, and sold his first book just shortly before his three year deadline.  Lisa and I have talked about a 3 year plan here from time to time as well, but I’m not about to quit my day job to pursue writing full time.

One of the things I do feel really good about is that people are amazed when I tell them that I turned out the original 139000 words of Nowhere Home in about 4.5 months, working mainly on the train.  Agents love to hear a writer can do volume (as long as it isn’t crap).  Now that I know my books should be 80000 words, I could easily turn out two books a year, if not more.  I have lots of ideas in my head for books that fall into the area I’ve been writing, I just didn’t think I could stretch them to 120000 – 140000 words.  Now that I know I don’t have to, that’s really going to see my output jump up.

Anyway got to go get the kids up and get ready to hit the road.  Have a great day.

PNWA Conference Day 1

I’m at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference in SeaTac, Washington this weekend.  It’s actually early on the second day.  There’s no one else in the whole conference center at this hour.  I’m a wee bit early, so I thought I’d use the time productively.  Yesterday was an interesting day, in many ways.

The conference center is literally right across the street from a building I worked in from 1999 to 2004, so I know the neighborhood pretty well.  There’s a Denny’s Diner not to far from here I used to go to from time to time, and since I was early yesterday (and hungry), I decided to swing in and have one of my guilt pleasures, a Denny’s French Slam, with bacon, and true diner coffee.

When I got off the plane from Denver in 1999, I stayed at a hotel just a few hundred yards from Denny’s for the first week.  The first night I was there, I met a waitress named Geri.  She was in her early 50’s then, the picture of an American diner coffee slinger, the deep voice of a life long smoker, or at least inhaler of second hand smoke, as nice as all getout, and just really friendly.  Her husband worked for Alaska Airlines, where I was just starting, and she and I struck up a friendship.  I’d swing by once (or more) a month.  She knew my order.  We talked about the airline, we talked about what was going on in my life.  We laughed.  We went through Flight 261 together.  We went through 9/11 together.  This Denny’s was half a block from the airport.  Pilots, crew, staff from every airline were in and out of this Denny’s at all hours of the day and night.  To Geri they were all family. 

When I came in yesterday, Geri wasn’t there.  I asked the guy behind the counter where she was.  He paused for a moment, and then told me that Geri had passed almost a year ago from lung cancer.  She had gone quickly.  A few weeks from diagnosis to death, and it had hit the staff pretty hard.  I sat there for a moment, a little stunned.  Then I started to tell the new waiter about how I knew her, and a couple of my memories.  He just smiled, kind of nodded his head, as if to agree, what a great ole gal.  Geri, I’ll miss you.

I got to thinking after that, as I often do after hearing news like this, about how lucky I am.  I’ve got a fantastic family, a great job, a hobby that is truly fulfilling, and have been fortunate in the past few years to be in the right place at the right time to be financially safe, living in a great neighborhood with great neighbors.  Sometimes it’s really important to take a step back and just remember that, and just as important to say it out loud.  So to all of who are reading this, thanks.  You’re part of the reason I’m so lucky.  You care enough about what is going on in my life to want to read about it.  That’s means a lot.

Last night, author Terry Brooks (who wrote the Shannara Series, Phantom Menace and 30+ other books) did the keynote speech.  He talked about Fame, Fortune, Friendship, and Fulfillment.  He said he had achieved Fame.  He knew this because his son, who was in his early teens at the time, told him has was famous because he worked with George Lucas on Phantom Menace.  He had achieved Fortune.  He knew this, because when he asked his publisher one time about a bigger advance on a book, his publisher, Mr. Del Ray, basically wondered why a man with more money than God needed a bigger advance.   His talk about Friendship revolved around the fact that his 10 year old son had put all his personal information on a social networking site, and he now had plenty of friends, and didn’t want anymore.  But his talk about fulfillment aimed directly at the heart of all the writers in the room.  He talked about getting so immersed in a character that you can’t separate them from yourself.  He talked about the nerves of starting a new book, and not knowing where it is going to go when you sit down.  The relief you have when it is done, and the angst you feel when you are away from the keyboard for too long.  He hit it right on the nose. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I still want my share of fame, fortune and friendship, but that fulfillment piece, that’s where it’s really at for a writer. 

I met a lot of interesting people yesterday, and I’m hoping that a few of become good friends.  There are some really talented people here, and some that are… a little odd.  I’m trying to set up, or join a writing critique group to learn to write better, and it’s important to have people you like and trust in the group.  This is where you find those people.  Yesterday was a day for practicing your book pitch to fellow authors, listening to feedback, and making alterations.  Today is the real deal, where we start to meet with agents and editors.  I’ve listened to some really good pitches, and some not so good.  My first draft fell somewhere in the middle, but with a little help, I’ve got it tightened up.  I talked to Pam Binder last night, the president of the PNWA, and she asked for my pitch, and she said it was really good and tight.  We’ll see.

People are starting to arrive now.  Have a great day!