Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Something Ain't Write

I hoard of Bulgarian women yanked me into the back of the van and took me to see their leader - Karma, but I escaped my captors and spent the last two days hiking back to town .

Or ...

I ate some tainted lettuce and have been too weak to type.

Or ...

The real Santa dispatched a dozen elves to rough me up for making a mockery of his age old tradition.

Feel free to pick your own fantasy as to why I haven't blogged in a few days, because they all sound better than, "I was lazy, had very little to say, and just plain didn't feel like it."

Then there is the fact I've been using my computer time to do research. For some unknown reason I have decided to attach an apt quote to the beginning of each chapter of Plundered Booty. So I have been scouring through books and scoping out the internet for funny little quips that convey the mood, tone, or theme of each chapter. I'll share a few of those with you very soon, but the project has already consumed more time than I ever dreamed. And I'm not sure if it is even a good idea.

Another update on the writing front. I had a call from an agent last Friday. This particular agent had had the complete manuscript of my last novel , A River Without Water since August. She was the third agent to call me this year but once again no offer. unfortunately despite interest and personal phone call you cannot add acquiring an agent to the list of horseshoes and hand grenades where close is good enough. She did offer some helpful advice and offered to reread a reworked version of A River, or any future projects I might have. But she also said she would not submit any of my women's fiction under my own name. She said I would have to choose a female pseudonym because despite the fact I write women's fiction well (her words not mine) too many editors would think otherwise and start reading with jaded eyes.

I'm sure the agent knows a ton more than I still can't help but think about Nicholas Sparks, Nicholas Evans, Larry McMurtry and many other male authors who have written successful women's fiction titles over the years. Why can't a big hairy guy write an emotionally driven story from a woman's POV? I don't know but after more than six years of trying to sell such an animal I can tell you there are a LOT of skeptics. Chime in here Alex, I know you have an opinion and you have seen a bit of that bias up close and personal at Arizona.

But maybe my gender has nothing, or very little to do with my inability to acquire an agent, or sell my novels. Maybe the writing isn't good enough?

Guess I'll be able to better answer that once I finish Booty and begin sending it out, because it's not women's fiction. Since a few of you have asked about Plundered Booty in comments and emails I'll give you a vague take on what the novel is. I haven't worked on my query or pitch yet so this is just the thoughts in my head and in no way a concise description. Plundered Booty is a humorous, modern day pirate tale that stretches from the red dirt of Oklahoma to the white sands of the Caribbean, told entirely by first person narrator Hank "The Captain" Zybeck. I see it as a cross between a Kinky Freidman novel and a Jimmy Buffet song, but here is a small piece of Hank's take right our of the beginning of the novel where he introduces the reader to the story. I'll warn you right up front I'm breaking many of the so-called writing rules and the entire piece is a bit unconventional but so far following the rules hasn't gotten me where I want to be.
Now a sample of my work in progress ...

... But first, let me explain a couple of things since a few of you are probably getting squeamish. Here you are holding a book titled Plundered Booty, and I'm rambling on about underage girls and teenage boys. That's enough to make most anybody uneasy.

Don't worry. It ain’t that kind of book. Reading my story will not land you on the F.B.I.’s watch list. A Dateline camera crew isn't lurking in your bushes ready to demand answers for your shoddy morals. Your neighbors will not receive a postcard from Barnes and Noble telling them you have recently bought this book.

In other words, you will not be labeled a pervert for reading this. As I said, it ain't that kind of story.

No children were exploited, no animals were hurt, and no harmful greenhouse gases were released in the creation of these words. Unless you count the vapors emitting from Junior's bullshit, but neither you nor I can be blamed for that.

Now that we’ve covered what this story isn't, let me tell you what it is. Like all good tales this one is about love ... with a healthy dose of lust thrown in for good measure.
Love and lust. Caribbean rum and brand new automobiles. Blatant lies and plundered dreams. That's the foundation. Yeah, I'm leaving out a few things, but you’d stop reading right now if I told you everything up front.

Don't be shy, weigh in. What do you think about a man writing women's fiction? What do you think about this small piece of Plundered Booty? Does it feel too author intrusive?


Bubblewench said...

You could always be Travina right?

I think if you can write, you can write anything. While gender does play a role, I don't believe it should be an issue when it comes to 'womens' stories or 'mens' stories.

Like the excerpt. Can't wait to buy it at the book store!!

Church Lady said...

First of all, congratulations on the personal phone call! You are achingly close. A whisper away....

Sorry to say I agree with the agent. At least for a debut--I probably would pass on a 'womens' book written by a man. It has nothing to do with your writing and everything to do with my preconceived perceptions (and I'm about as liberal as they come).

cher said...

i say come out of the closet as a post op tranny and call it a day.

how dumb, in my humble opinion to care what the gender is of the author. what matters is content. does the story capture your attention and keep it? is it believable? what if your name was Pat or Terry? Does that mean someone wouldn't buy the book because they aren't sure of the gender? I wish i was an agent. i'd pimp your book out all over the place.
i know men who can relate to women hundreds of times more than i do. women, for the most part just make me scratch my head. if i was to write a novel from a woman's point of view, it would probably be blank.
i think plundered booty is totally refreshing. i look forward to reading more. keep focussed Travis, and keep that hairy, manly chin of yours up.

alex keto said...

My thoughts are the world is what it is and not what we wish it were. That includes dealing with flagrantly biased views that are highly hypocritical. However stupid or wrong these views are, they exist and must be overcome.
So... if you become Josefina on your first novel, that may be the price you pay. And I would think it's not much of a price, really. After all, Dan Brown's first novel was published under the moniker Danielle Brown. And, yeah, it was woman's fiction too and had the title "187 Men to Avoid: A Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman."
Having said that, I suspect a number of agents are cagey enough to know there is a difference between presenting a pseudonym to editors and rejecting a book query outright because of a male author. Of course, this did happen in Arizona, but there are nuts in every line of work. This may not prove much.
I also agree that getting to the point of a personal phone call and being invited to submit again is progress. You now have, I believe, a bevy of beauties that will take a look at what you write without going through the normal query effort.

But I'll be honest. I really want you to publish under a pseudonym like Brandy Erwin or Misty, and then watch how the book signings go. Call me evil, but that's got potential.

By the way, why can't Hank in your new book do some moonlighting as a mall Santa?

alex keto said...

One way around your dilemma may be to stop saying you are writing women's fiction. Isn't there a core audience that the term women's fiction covers other than just women in general?

So couldn't you say, "My book will appeal to so and so and such and such."

Cheryl Wray said...

I think that it's crazy that you can't write women's fiction. You're right...I immediately thought of Nicholas Sparks when you first mentioned it!!

I will be crossing my fingers for you that your agent will get a deal for you! I have actually had several nonfiction books published and do plenty of magazine articles, but I dream of having a novel published (a mystery that I'm actually working on), but the innerworkings of the fiction world elude me a bit. I love to hear the "inside" scoop like this!

Shauna said...

Travis, I do believe that men can write great women's fiction. It has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with the writer.

However, as a voracious reader, I will admit that when browsing the bookstores I think twice about buying a "romance" book written by a man. That's not to say I haven't - 'cause I have and they've been great - but there seems to be a preconceived idea that women write romance better than men. So I guess I do kind of agree with the agent.

Your excerpt from Booty is fabulous! Is this from the prologue? Will the same narrative style continue through the rest of the book? Is it written in first person? Am I asking too many questions? :-)

While I think this is a great way to open the book and catch the reader's attention, IMHO the book should then take on more of a 'story' quality. Does any of this make sense?

Anyhoo, I'm anxious to read this story, so write, write, write. ;-)

Phats said...

I was going to go with your wife handcuffed to you to the bed for some well after hours partying, and she lost the key, and you're stuck there in your Ho Ho Ho thong.

I like bubble's idea Travina!

angel, jr. said...

Yeah, Nicolas Sparks writes all those stories that end up Lifetime Television for Women. Why does he get to keep his name?

Stephen Parrish said...

Why can't a big hairy guy write an emotionally driven story from a woman's POV?

Rather than hide who and what you are (and I know you don't do that) be up-front about it; be "the big hairy guy who writes emotionally driven stories from a woman's POV" and exploit it to your advantage. It's intriguing. Ignore anyone who tells you to change your name or run with the crowd.

Merry Jelinek said...

First of all... I can't wait to read the full - I love love love the voice, it pulls your right in, with pirates and Jimmy Buffet, I'm definitely hooked... plus, some of the best sellers don't fit the standard advice.

Now, about the big hairy women's fiction writing question - here's the thing, I see where she's (I'm assuming the agent was a she, aren't I presumptuous?) I see where she's coming from though with a first book by an unknown author... Yes, worked for Nicholas Sparks, but have you seen him? He's so clean cut and wholesome and if I didn't know he was married I would've sworn he was gay.... not that there's anything wrong with that - for women's fiction, as fickle and silly as we can be, it's a definite plus.

No offense, Travis, even leaving your picture off the back cover, the name Travis doesn't exactly scream feminine...

On the other side of this dilemma, though, in promotions you'll have to be proactive and I don't see how the agent plans on pushing your publicity without your physical involvment... sigh...

At the end of the day, phone calls from these agents means that they have no doubt that the work is good - it's whether or not the public will think it's good enough to buy with a bias against it...

I'm hoping no one asks me to change my name in light of my male protag and the fact that boys are more apt to buy books written by men - it actually does work out that way for some reason, it's why S C Hinton used initials... but I think that might be my fix for the situation if it came down to it - for me it's most important that the last name is mine, I could use my first initial without being too very upset.

I mirror church lady, congratulations on the phone call, that's awesome!

(By the way, if you haven't yet submitted to Donald Maass, he specifically mentioned at his site wanting to read great womens fiction from a male author)

WordVixen said...

After looking at your list of male authors- I'd say change your name to Nicholas. :)

And the excerpt is good; I like a bit of authorial input. I'd recommend editing it down a little (make it a bit tighter), but the tone is good.

WordVixen said...

Hmm. Steve's got a point- big hairy man writing best selling women's fiction is serious bait for interviewers. Both in magazines and on TV!

All you need is to sell a decent number of books from your first novel, and Bingo! You know most if not all of us here will be buying copies. Some of us might even buy multiple copies. And post on our blogs. And do "author interviews"... Dude- you've got a built in PR machine!

preTzel said...

Travis ---

You have a penis so be proud. Stand up and shout it to the world "MINE NAME IS TRAVIS, I HAVE A PENIS, AND I WRITE WOMEN'S LITERATURE!!" Nothing wrong with that. In fact, sometimes it is refreshing to hear a man's POV. But--- and I'm saying this seriously, many women read ROMANCE novels because they are LACKING in their own lives/relationships. We *want* to read other women who are suffering in their lives too.

Shala could not contain her gasps as he slowly ran his fingers across her burgeoning nipples. She knew this was wrong as her husband was working but she could not resist Harold the plumber. His crack was something to behold. Bent beneath her cabinet, his hairs tufting from his tighty - whiteys just drove her to distraction. "Take me Harold, take me" she moaned as he swept her lips with his greasy beard.

Now what woman doesn't swoon when reading stuff like that?

Duct tape your penis back, thrown on a pair of wifey's tight skirts and go sell yourself...err book and say you're name is Travelina Wimpelina from Texas. I'd buy it. :)

Can't wait to read the rest of Plundered Booty!

Bernita said...

Use initials.
The agent's right.
It's no use comparing your situation with what an established writer can get away with.
Obviously, you are soo close.Agents don't phone up over just "nice" writing.
What is more important to you, standing by your male "identity", or having your book published and read?
Terrific excerpt!

Monnik said...

how about initials? Like JK Rowling and SE Hinton?

T Whatever Erwin. Sounds good!

Penelope said...

Of the authors you listed, not one of their female perspectives I've bought into. Perhaps I'm biased? I don't know.

Anyway, I'm impressed an agent called you. Quite frankly I'm impressed that you've finished a novel, as I've started two over the past three years and neither is completed yet.


inherwritemind1 said...

I agree with both 1)Stephen and 2)Bernita:

1)Don't hide. Be who you are. You're unique in being a hairy beast writer of women's fiction. Work it.

Can't you simply call it Contemporary Fiction?

2)Use your initials.

Barring that, I know some great hair and makeup artists for your book jacket ;-)

Travis Erwin said...

bubblewench - I could,a nd had the agent said change your name and I'll rep you, I;d be changing my name. Or had she said change this and this and change your name and I'll take you on, but she said change this and I'll reread and maybe I'll sign you, and you'll have to chagne your name as well. I think that is too many of's to stop my momentum on my curretn project and chase maybes.

church lady - Thanks and I appreciate your honesty.

cher- If I were gonna acquire a pimp you would be my first choice. Thanks for the kind words.

Alex - If I published under Brandy Erwin my next book would be called Tales of a Bearded Woman.

Cheryl - The inner functions of the fiction world still baffle me as well. Good luck to you on your mystery. Even if I never sell a novel I'll keep writing because I can't imagine quitting.

Shauna - Yes that piece is aprt of a three page introduction or prologue or whatever you want to call it. After that the story is more active and traditional but Hank does chime in occasionally and speak directly to the reader.

Phats - You paint an ugly picture.

Angel - I use Sparks name but I think my novels actually are a bit heavier on characterization that his. At this point his name is well known enough that he can do pretty much what he wants.

stephen - That has always been my plan an d I've ahd a few agetns adn editors say that they would see my gender as a plus, but they've never taken me on either, so there are other factors as well. The story, writing, the timing. OR a combo of all.

Merry - Are you saying I'm not clean cut and wholesome? And I have submitted to Maass in the past but the far past. With my first or secodn novel but not the latest. thanks for the tip.

wordvixen - I'm gonna hold you to that interview when I sell a book so be careful what you volunteer for.

pretzel- Travelina Wimplina? Sometimes you scare me. :)

Bernita - I agree that a prepublished writer should never compare themselves to an established author but The Notebook and The Horse Whisperer were both first novels.

Monnik - The agent mentioned initials but in her opinion a femal name would be a better option. And as I said above, if changing my name were the only thing standing in the way I'd be Lucy Erwin or whatever in a heartbeat.

Penelope/Karen- Finishing a book is tough. Just keep plugging away. You'll get there if you don't give up.

Travis Erwin said...

Tena- I have flown my flag under the mainstream banner but eventually agents ask me direct questions about my envisioned market and comparable books.

Sam said...

I know several men who write women's fiction - so that doesn't surprise me at all.
Love the idea of a book set in the Caribbean!!

Sam said...

Forgot to add that the guys who write women's fiction write under pen names, and one just uses his first initials adn his real last name.

The Duck said...

So... you're writing your own foreword? Is this just in the story itself? Are you going to continue with an author/narrator vibe?

I'm not sure what I think about that particular passage from the book. I require more information! Just send me your manuscript and I'll tell you more.

deborah elliott-upton said...

This isn't anything new. Just a few short years ago, many females who wrote mysteries (we're not talking cozy mysteries, but the hard-action type) had to use pseudonyms or at least initials to get an agent to even read their work. It was a Man's Land that no one without a penis could, er, penetrate. I am saying why do your novels have to be pigeon-holed as Women's Fiction? Why isn't it just good fiction? To Kill A Mockingbird isn't a children's story even though the main viewpoint character is a child. I'd say you write main fiction novels and let it go at that. But, we've had this discussion before and you know how I feel about this. Sometimes you have to play by the rules someone else makes when they own the ball, even, or especially when it makes no sense. Feel free to use my name on your books. I'll be your beard at the signings. I'm sure we can work out something. THEN when you're winning all those awards, you can be "outed." Of course, then I'd be like Milli Vanilli, so maybe we shouldn't.

Kristen Painter said...

Hmm. That except sounds to me like it was written by a man. I don't know how to explain it exactly - it's just something in the voice. Not that that is a bad thing! Just what it sounds like to me, you know?

Anyway, congrats on the phone call. THat's a great sign.

Brooke said...

I would like to hear more about the elves please...

Travis Erwin said...

Sam - Maybe I should submit using initials ans see if my rate of interest increases.

Duck - It is sort of a forward-introduction/prologue and yeah I want the reader to think the narrator is orally telling him the story. That is the tone and feel I want, but this part is definetly more author intrusive thant he rest. And sometime in the future I might be looking for voluteers to read so be careful what you ask for.

Debbie- yes we have had this discussion many times. And I woudl love to say in query letters this is just good fiction but alas that doesn't seem to cut it.

Kristen - Yeah that segment and this book should definitely read as a guys since the narrator first person POV is a man. This project is not women's fiction but my thre prior novels are.

brooke - The elves swore me to secrecy.

Shauna said...

And sometime in the future I might be looking for voluteers to read so be careful what you ask for.

I volunteer!! I love pirate stories and a modern day pirate sounds intriguing. :-) Sign me up. I'll give you reader feedback.

WordVixen said...

Darn. I gotta stop volunteering for stuff. :)

Seriously- you get pubbed, I'll interview. Pinky swear.

AaroN said...

Personally, I don't think gender has much to do with it, unless you can name more authors who have written crappy novels of the like.

And you're teetering on that edge of being to intrusive, I think.

Sherry said...

My question is "what is a woman's story?" does this differ from a "man's story?"

Are you talking about "chick lit" (a phrase I can't stand!) or Harlequein romance? None of the people who write for Harlequin use their "real" names so you'd be fine changing your's (might be safer for you!!).

If you're talking about a book written in the genre of a Nicholas Sparks et al...I think you leave your name as is.

I pick up a book because of the title or what it's about, and not who the author is, unless it's an author I'm familiar with and want to read that person's work.

Travina said...

My name is Travina and I am a writer too. Journalism by trade, creative by heart. I love the clips I have read so far, feel free to use my name for the next book lol :)