So I walked up to J and said, “Let’s do this.” I directed the hyper girls around the green giant and down the red velvet ropes. We walked a long way until we finally reached the backside of the food court. Even as far back as we were I could still see the Christmas tree. It was ok, though. A warm feeling came over me like a blanket and kept me solid. We joined all the others in a line that snaked up and down the huge mall – tons of people waiting, but that’s no surprise. If there’s a special chance to get something you really want, of course you have to try to take it.
– NOW AND AT THE HOUR, pg. 60
It turns out the most significant thing wasn’t that my parents divorced. The most significant thing was that I managed to embody the characteristics that they most despised in each other. My parents are both amazing people whom I love and admire, and I like to think they raised a decent human being. But being as how we are all imperfect, I’ve recognized that my sometimes overemotional and combative self is tempered by a sometimes cool and judge-y aloofness — two ends of a spectrum that, as it turns out, could not live happily ever after.
[For all of their differences, however, it’s likely that they’d be united in their displeasure regarding the above paragraph: insulted that I described them as such; perplexed that I speak with such authority on a topic I don’t really know anything about; and resigned to the fact that now that I’m a writer, of fiction no less, these unfortunate episodes are likely to continue and will probably only get worse.]
The cool thing is, the place of my birth – New York City – is a spot that reconciles these unfortunate broken home “truths.” Even though my parents are southerners and we’ve lived in the south for decades, both my mom and my dad regard NYC with possessive affection and speak warmly of the time we lived there. This is an awesome gift, akin to being conceived in love. When people learn that I’m from New York, they often respond, “I can tell,” which I think references my lack of an overt southern accent, even though we moved to Charlotte when I was two. Or maybe it’s a nod to my liberal politics. Or to my sometimes anxious and introverted default mode.
Regardless, when it comes to who I am as a person, it isn’t so much that I had the time to really become a true New Yorker, but that I had parents who would choose to go on a New York adventure, have a baby there, and then regard that place fondly forevermore.
I’m excited to report that I’m back in New York this week. This is my second time attending the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and I’m thrilled to be with all of my people, including my writing group ladies who have traveled with me (I promise we will [mostly] behave.) I know that being in the presence of the creatives and artists and teachers who are coming from all over the world will infuse my weary brain with their energy and brilliance, inspiring me and giving me hope for these troubled times.
I’m eager to participate in the Pitch Slam again this year. Maybe every part of that sentence gives you pause. What is this thing? It sounds like you pitch your manuscript and then somebody slams you. The truth is a lot less brutal – but the event can be intimidating.
The Pitch Slam is kind of like speed dating for authors. Agents line the walls of a ballroom, organized in alphabetical order. Authors line up outside waiting for the green light – the doors fling open and a bell rings and everyone scurries to their potential matches. You have 3 minutes to pitch your project, but that really translates into a minute and a half of prepared remarks, and then time for the agent to ask questions. If they like what you have to say they’ll give you the scoop on how to send them pages to further determine if they might be a good fit for representation. Then the bell rings and you race to the next spot. This fun continues for an exhilarating hour.
Last year I was a nervous wreck before the Slam. I’m not naturally adept at pithy and strategic public speaking so I did a fair amount of work to prepare. I wrote out my remarks and practiced them at length, timing my speech on my phone to make sure I was on point. I made sure to include the title, genre, and word count; some compelling scoop about the main character and the plot, and especially the stakes in the story. Even with all of the preparation I struggled to stay calm and focused as I joined the long line snaking outside the ballroom before the event.
But then I remembered some words of advice offered by Chuck Sambuchino at the Pitch Slam prep session, and they made me smile. They made me laugh, actually. He shared several helpful tips, but my favorites were definitely:
- Don’t sing your pitch
- Don’t pitch in character
- Don’t touch the agents
(Well. If you insist on taking all of the fun out of it . . .)
In the end the anticipation of the Slam was much worse than the actual event, which was very positive. Every agent I spoke with was kind and supportive. It was extremely helpful to see their responses at various parts of the pitch; it helped me understand the aspects of my story that might be concerning to those considering taking on my novel. Their questions offered insight into how my story might resonate, and the line it needed to walk to be appropriate as a middle grade story. I was able to talk to eight agents during the Slam. All of them requested pages.
When I exited the ballroom afterwards all of my writing group girls were waiting for me in the hallway. They were prepared to offer support in the event that the effort was a disastrous fail – but were thrilled to toast a successful experience instead.
So this Saturday I will look forward to slamming again. “Are you pitching the same novel?” someone asked recently, and the honest answer is yes. And no. It is the same novel I thought was finished this time last year, but after feedback from beta readers and subsequent edits, and a writing class focused on a rewrite of the opening chapters, this book has emerged out of the cocoon that housed it before and has been transformed into it’s better, polished self.
I’m excited and grateful and focused on getting ready for the opportunities ahead. Many folks at this conference have riveting and hilarious and tragic and life-changing stories to share with the world at a time when beautiful and enduring art is needed more than ever. Maybe my story will be one of the lucky ones – I’d appreciate any and all good vibes you want to put out into the universe on my behalf. Not to be selfish or starry-eyed, but if somebody is going to get a big break in the big apple, why not root for the hometown girl?