Thursday, November 26, 2009
The list is long but I want to take this opportunity to address each of you. My friends the world over. With out y'all this year would have been a struggle beyond any I've ever known.
Our year began looking like this ...
But thank to the love, support, and generosity of family and friends like y'al,l we now can be thankful it looks like this ...
From my family to your, let me carve off a large slice of gratitude and serve it to all of you that helped to transform this year into one to be truly thankful for. House payments and all, I never imagined that we would be this far removed from that devastating day. I only hope each of you are as blessed.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
But I've not written much about my adventures at current and longest lasting employer, The United States Postal Service. I'm a big believer in that old saying, You don't crap where you eat but given that I don't have another topic in mind and this story is not derogatory in nature I feel safe in telling it.
This may come as a shock to y'all but I can be a bit of a smart ass when need be, and around the Ol' PO that need often arises. Here is my favorite tale illustrating that point.
Once was the time when I bought a newspaper every morning before work. Given the fact that the Amarillo Paper is small I would fold up the pages and carry the paper in the back pocket. Of course the paper would stick out a good bit as it resembled a flattened tube.
Being that I was in the maintenance department and not the sortation or delivery side my job comes with a certain amount of ... shall we say downtime. We are Gov't workers you see and it wouldn't do to injure ourselves by running from one project to the next.
At this particular point of my postal career, my immediate supervisor was a guy I'll call Slick Willie. Now Slick Willie fancied himself as a the end all be all of the male species. A ladies man extraordinaire. In his mind he put the cock in cock a doodle dandy. Never mind the fact he wore polyester suits and had a pompadour hair-do three decades out of fashion.
Slick Willie liked to make himself feel important by asserting his position of power of his minions, me included. Sure he was the boss, but given the strength of our union and the built in checks and balances, he didn't have near the power or control that he thought he possessed.
Nevertheless one day Slick Willie summonsed me to his office for an official reprimand. The following is our conversation up to the point he threw me out of his office.
Slick Willie -- Travis, you need to stop carrying that paper in your back pocket.
Me -- Why?
Slick Willie -- It looks bad. It looks like you are going to read it.
Me -- I am going to read it. Why else would I buy a copy every morning?
Slick Willie -- No, I mean it looks like you are always going to break. Like you are going to read it right now.
Me -- What about all the smokers. They carry their cigarettes with them. Does it look like they are going to break?
Slick Willie -- Kenny (Kenny was the Slick Willie's boss. The Maintenance Manager) smokes so I can't say anything about that.
Me- So you can't get after the smokers for carrying the cigarettes because Kenny smokes, but you are chastising me for carrying me paper?
Slick Willie leaned back in his chair and smugly nodded.
Me -- What? Kenny can't read.
That's when Slick Willie threw me out of his office, but he never said another word about the folded up paper in my back pocket.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Take eggs for example. I can't imagine what was going through the dudes head that ate the first one, but I bet the conversation went something like this.
"Hey Frank! See that thing that just fell out of your chicken's arse. What do you think the goo inside that would taste like?"
"Beats the hell outta me Joe."
"Well, I think I'll break one of them open and find out."
And while I know enough about animals to understand the benefits a rancher gains by castrating his cattle I will never understand the working behind the cowboy who first thought ... Man that bucket full of severed balls sure looks tasty.
Oysters? Come on no one in their sober mind would say that snot-like gel inside that shell has to be good to eat. After all they they filter fish crap from the bottom of the sea. How could they not be scrum-dili-umptious?
Speaking of sober, think about the dude who discovered booze. He had to be thirsty when he said, "Look those grapes have rotted and turned into mush. Let's slurp some up." Of course after he did it's no wonder he decided to start letting corn, hops and barley ferment as well.
Nope, this post doesn't have a real point. Carry on with your day, but before you go drop me a comment and point out some food item that makes you scratch your head.
For the record, I'm fine with eating deep fried calf testicles and washing them down with a beer or other adult beverage but you can keep the ocean filters and chicken droppings for yourself.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
But before we do, let me explain exactly how this subject came to be my latest blog post.
Last Saturday was the opening day of deer hunting here in Texas, and me being the procrastinator I am I chose to wait until Saturday morning to buy my license. After all, I wasn't going to hunt until Saturday afternoon and evening so no need to rush right down to my local sporting goods store and purchase said hunting license.
No ... It was much better to wait in a long line with the nine hundred or so other hunting procrastinators that dwell here in the fine city of Amarillo. Matter of fact, the line was so long it backed up into the clothing section at Academy Sports.
Now for those of you not fortunate to call The Lone Star State home you may not have heard of Academy Sports. They sell everything from exercise equipment to grilling items. Hunting fishing, Tennis shoes, athletic apparel. They sell it all for men, women and children.
So there I was standing in the long line with my two boys. As I said it extended back into the clothing area. The area reserved for sports apparel. Hats, shirts, jogging suits and the like all adorned with Longhorns, Aggies, Red Raiders and of course the ever-present blue star of the Dallas Cowboys.
My youngest son suddenly asks, "Dad, are team clothes all for girls?"
"No," I answer. "What makes you ask that?"
"Look," he points.
There was an entire rack of team logo panties. National Football League, Major League Baseball, NCAA. NBA Just about every sport was represented in both thong and lacy bikini brief style.
Now if a woman buys herself these cause she is a diehard fan and wants to show her support for her team I don't have a problem with it, but by show I mean show. There is no need to keep your team affiliation secret. Be proud, be bold. Show us who you root for. Hell, you may convince me to start cheering for your team.
But, and I suspect this is the case, if you are a woman who buys these to please your man, or you are a man who buys these for your gal than I got serious issue with it.
Don't get me wrong I'm happy as the next guy when Jennifer pulls for the teams I like. I find it nice to watch a sporting event together and cheer for the same team, but I don't need to see the Cornhusker logo or the gold Fleur-De-Lis of my beloved Saints to get me in the mood. Matter of fact I don't really want to things associated with sports such as sweaty men, and balls flitting into my mind at that given time.
Yes, scoring is a word associated with scantily clad women but you go bringing sports into the bedroom and the next thing you know there is some doofus in a striped shirt throwing a flag on you for illegal contact.
And while I'm ranting ... how ridiculous are these?
Camo is supposed to hide, disguise things. The last thing men want to do is make the goods harder to locate. I suppose women could be trying to hide themselves rather than relying on the old, "I've got a headache" line, but if that's the case they need to go outside and stand in a bush.
And again if this is about catering to a man's so-called interests than I say why. Most of us men are already interested without you going to so much trouble. Matter of fact, if this theory of encasing your genitalia in things the opposite sex really worked I would be wearing boxers adorned with my wife, Jennifer's favorite things.
What do y'all think? Would I look good in pink boxers plastered with the likeness of Vince Vaughn and QVC channel logo?
If I really wanted to go all out my new drawers would come with a button that when pushed would ask in Sam Elliott's, "Do you feel lucky tonight?"
Or better yet Sam could utter his old commercial slogan ...
Friday, November 6, 2009
Writing wise I finally got the kids literature club at school launched this week. I'm really proud of how the first official meeting went. We discussed SHOWING versus TELLING this week, but for more details about my talk or the club please check out the YOUNG LIT BLOG. And any of you fellow bloggers who might know a budding young writer or reader please share the link as I hope to get an online representation of the Literature Club going as well.
In other news we had our annual costume party this past week. My costume was not up to par this year, but I hope to do better next October.
Your guess as to what or who I am is as good as mine. I was supposed to be a a magician, but I lost my magic wand. Feel free to make your own joke up there.
Other speculated I was a circus ringmaster and yet others said I looked like Dick Dastardly, the evil dude that used to tie Penelope Pitstop to the railroad tracks.
Luckily some of the other party-goers did better with their get-ups than me.
Rebecca and Toby are all about Love and Peace.
The Keg man and his flapper wife.
A group shot that includes a witch and Aphrodite in the forefront. Mr Gadget, The Joker, and Nacho Libra in the back.
A couple of deviled eggs.
Lady Gaga and a fangless Vampire.
The prom king and queen circa 1982.
The Wild Thornberry's.
Which one is your favorite? Did you dress up this year and if so, as what?
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
This tale of success comes from Cicily Janus.
I have a story about Gary, AKA SUPER AGENT G or SECRET AGENT G or
Once upon a time, Gary and I met at an illustrious wreck of a
conference in Massachusetts. There were writers, agent(s), mainly
him, one show-running dude and a very bad cook. Got it?
I was, more or less, forced by the hapless leader of this group to
pitch a novel I hadn't written yet, seeing as he didn't like my
completed novel, to Gary.
Setting: Gary sat in the middle of a circle of seething, blood-seeking
shark like humanoids, known as UNPUBLISHED writers. We were supposed
to pitch him while in the group and get instantaneous, loving, adoring
smiles and agent representation...(AKA: REAL FEEDBACK) on the idea of
our novels. Gary liked my idea, wondered aloud if someone with no
novel writing experience could pull it off and then proceeded to move
his Texas twangy good nature around the room. Only one gal teared up
as he said, I don't get it. (Knowing Gary very well now, I know for a
fact that his pseudonym/nickname is Mr. Agent Ambiguity Man. He's the
king of finding all ambiguity in all works of art)
Later that afternoon Gary approached me, or maybe I kidnapped him and
said, well, if you're going to pull off that novel, I suggest you read
x, y, z yadda yadda. He sat down with me in front of Amazon.com and
gave me a frackin' long list of books to read. And I bought every
single one. And read them. Relished them.
Fast forward a month later: I met a kind young man on an airplane,
whom I watched kiss goodbye his very pregnant wife and then hobble
onto the plane via crutches. Grimace and all in tow. It was ski
season in Colorado. Oh yes! I got on the plane (I am also a nurse)
and sat next to him (Southwest airlines, choose your own seat)
We began talking, as I believe he wanted a distraction from the broken
bones he was about to have surgery on, pondering aloud if Vicodin and
Chardonnay or Rum was okay on a flight. He was in a LOT of pain. Of
course he asked me what I did. I said a nurse. He said, oh. Cool. We
talked about the surgery, fractures etc. then I asked him, so, wadda
ya do? He said, oh, I'm a writer. ESPN Sportscenter something or
I said, awesome. After a few minutes of listening to brilliant (not
joking) sports writerly talk, I fessed up. I like to write too. Or
so I said. He said, oh really? (I'm sure he was thinking, GREAT,
everyone thinks they're a writer...) And I told him about the
impossible novel. The one Gary had directed me to start on when I was
at that conference. He said, MY WIFE WOULD LOVE TO READ THAT. Uh?
Sure...I said, well, it's not out, it's, as a matter of fact, in its
infancy. It's barely a conjoined sperm and egg lovemaking concept of
strings of thoughts etc...wait, who's your wife again?
Shana Drehs of Source Books. Editor-at-large.
INSERT ENLARGED, BATTERED, SWOLLEN, SORRY-ASS FOOT.
She would? Really? You're too kind. Really. REALLY?????
Next day, I wake up and receive the email. GREAT TO HAVE MET YOU AND
THANKS FOR THE GREAT TALK. HERE'S HER ADDY. SHE WANTS TO SEE IT.
So, I email Gary, tell him, hey you, you remember me don't you? Can I
run a few para's by you and ask for some literary valium/advice?
His response? You Betcha. Of course I remember you.
He critiqued, read through and offered advice within a two day
period. It was invaluable.
A year, some odd change and a few days later, I email him again.
Hey Gary, Remember me?
His response? You Betcha.
I briefly gave him a run-down of the jazz book I was thinking of doing
and he answered me back within 48 hours: For practitioners or
listeners or both?
We've been literarily married ever since. Random House was our
first child's home and to this day, we're working on my new book prop
together. He's my rock in this crazy business...they're not all like
him, but I sure as hell am one lucky writer to have him on my side.
The Jazz book Cicily modestly refers to is titled The New Face of Jazz:
An Intimate Look at Today's Living Legends and the
Artists of Tomorrow
It is available now for preorder on Amazon.com
I had a novel. It was polished and awesome, and I thought it good enough to publish. I started to query it.
I did this properly: I crafted a strong query letter. I always sent five sample pages. I personalized my letters to the agents, and I sent out small batches at a time.
After twenty-five rejections with only one small nibble, I was really wondering what was wrong. I didn't believe it was the book, and I didn't think it was my query letter.
Nathan Bransford, literary agent, had said on his blog that if he rejected you, and you emailed back to give him permission to critique your query on his blog, he might do so.
One of my rejections was from Mr. Bransford, so I gave it a shot. He emailed back to say he wanted to take me up on the offer. His blog post went up that same week.
Reading the critique was excruciating--not because Mr. Bransford was anything but kind, and not just because it was public--but because I got exactly what I asked for. He told me what was wrong.
Heaven help me, it was the book. Blaming my query letter would have been soooo much easier on my ego, but it was the sample pages that were turning agents off.
Mr. Bransford pointed out my opening was simply confusing. I had started in media res (because I'd heard that was a great way to get the reader right into the action), and Mr. Bransford's advice boiled down to: "Back up, and slooooow down."
My ego crawled under the bed and wailed for a few days, while the horrified and embarrassed remainder of my psyche politely thanked Mr. Bransford and his readers for their comments.
After I recovered, I re-outlined and re-wrote my first scene.
And sent out five more query letters.
And, from one of them, got a request for a full and eventually an agent.
Mr. Bransford is not that agent. He will not make any money from helping me. His critique was a pure donation of his time and expertise, but it got me over the last hurdle. If he hadn't helped me see into my own blind spot, it might have killed my chances of finding representation for that novel.
And he did it just to be nice!
Thank you, Nathan Bransford. I greatly appreciate you and your generosity.
Having had the extreme good fortune to have won Nathan's latest contest I just recently received a very detailed critique of my first three chapters. He took a lot of time to really explain his take and I can only hope his advice will open the kind of doors for that it did for J.J.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
The wonderful agent with whom I entrust my writing career is an outstanding businesswoman; her eponymous agency is world renown for representing certain niche markets, as well as for general representation. Working on a nightmare-of-a-screenplay-project/rights acquisition deal on my behalf, she paid out of pocket for services and disbursements for over two years, never hesitating, never backing down. That long ago deal fell through, through no fault of her own, but she and her associate have never given up on me; their encouragement and faith in my talent is one of the major enhancements of my life.
I am currently working through a biologically-based mental "dis-ease," and during an episode last year I contacted her with several book proposals. She set up a meeting during which she sensed something was amiss about me. When I confided in her and her associate, they listened patiently, pushing aside our business at hand and focusing instead on my well-being. I had been having difficulty finding a specific practitioner; fortunately for me, they have an out of town client in the field, whom they contacted for a local referral. Two days later I consulted with my new doctor who met all my requirements, thanks to the two agents’ thoughtfulness, compassion, and care.
I’ll never have an agent horror story to relate because, for my part, I hope to maintain this relationship for life.
Here's my helpful albeit slightly painful experience. I once wrote a novel then queried said novel, then received a myriad of rejections for said novel that were bland and meaningless and politely said, "sorry I don't think we are a good fit".
Nevertheless I continued with my query fest until I finally received a request for a partial. 'Super agent' (who was also wise in my eyes for requesting a partial in the first place) sent back something just this side of worse than a bland rejection.
It was a harsh, hard boiled, non sugar coated, not for the meek or week or basically for anyone who had a heart. It was cruel.
"It" I later learned was called a critique. It hurt like hell and I wanted to hide from the free world and mostly the cyber world and any alternate reality that might have mistakenly known me as a writer. Clearly according to 'super agent' I was anything but. Then after a few hours I slinked back to my computer and re-read the darn thing again. OK. She said she liked my voice. She also asked me to rewrite the first three chapters and please send it back to her because she really was interested.
Was this a pity rewrite?
I wasn't sure. But rewrite I did and you know what? My story rocks now. I'm no longer embarrassed to show it to humans of all ages and sizes. Was I before? You bet. Why? Because I should have been.
There is nothing like a cold hard dose of the truth to wake us up and painful as it is sometimes we need agents to hear the truth. it's rare to find that friend or family member that is gutsy enough so this is yet another service that often falls upon agents shoulders. I've written on here before about my first personalized rejection but since I have a few new readers I will share the handwritten words with you again. the agent said and I quote, "Your meandering story telling and excessive verbiage does not appeal to me now or never."
And yes, that particular agent was correct in his brief summary of my writing at that time. And his harshness motivated me to get better. I at least like to think I have.
Monday, November 2, 2009
I've had several kind words, helpful personal rejections, and friendly smiles from agents over the years. I've met several agents in person and rarely had one look down at me for not having a book on shelves. Indeed, I feel they tend to look at me hungrily, as if I might be fresh meat for their grill. (Which I hope to be!) But Nathan Bransford (of course!) went far and above the call. He asked for a detailed rewrite on the first chapter of my first book. I don't think he really reps fantasy, so I fancy he did it out of the goodness of his heart. He ended up rejecting it, (nicest rejection I ever got), but his critique launched the discovery of my preferred style and voice. It was like he reached beyond the chaff and saw what the work was meant to be. The book is as of yet unpublished, but I've had many, many requests based on the first chapter I revised for him, and it's now under consideration by a NY editor.
I love Betsy voice and style and can't wait to read one of her novels.
I have several Nathan stories which I will be sharing. All of the agents that take the time to blog and educate we writers on the business side of the publishing world go above and beyond. I have learned and continue to do so by reading their posts. It's nice to have that little bit of insight into what goes on at the other end of those query letters.
Question, what is your favorite agent blog and more importantly, why?
First off let me say I'm surprised at the number of emails and comments I've gotten that fall on the bitter side. One of my goals for this idea was to remind unagented writers, (such as myself) that agents do not exist to be dream killers. These agents have very difficult jobs and they are unpaid for much of that work. Matter of fact the only chance reputable agents have of getting paid is to find writers of quality work and then to sell that work so saying no is not what they want to do.
I have been there and understand the sting of rejection. The closer I get to landing an agent or book deal the harder those rejections hit, but I understand this is a business and I truly believe my writing career would be better off with a knowledgeable agent guiding, negotiating, and partnering with me for the ride.
Now to the stories ...
Being that this is my blog, I am starting with my own.
Several years ago I was attending a week long writing workshop with a dozen other writers. As part of this workshop we honed our pitch and had the opportunity to pitch to agents and editors.
This workshop did not use the regular five minute pitch concept popular at so many writing conferences Rather we, the twelve writers pitched in front of the entire group, and to multiple agents and editors at a time. I usually comfortable speaking in public but this was an extremely talented group of writers and every last one of them had better credentials than me. There were multiple MFA grads from very impressive universities, professional journalists who had served as white house correspondents, and multi-published authors. Here I was a bullshitting Texan who'd taken a few classes at my local community college. I was feeling a bit intimidated but i refused to let it show.
The pitches began and these weren't the garden variety I'd experienced at other conferences. if the agent or editor didn't like the hook or premises they said so rather than offering up the same standard smile and reply of, "Send me the first thirty pages and I'll take a look."
But like I said these were very talented writers so there had been quite a few requests and even some "send me the full manuscripts."
Two spots before me, an editor from a small but well-respected press said to one of my peers, "I like your premises but what's the story behind the story. What made you want to write this novel? and what's going to make a reader keep from putting it down?" Addressing us all, she said point blankly said, "If you can't answer those questions without hesitation I'm not interested in anything you write."
With only one person pitching before me I began concentrating on my answers.
All too quick it was my turn. Most of the others were pitching literary novels. I was pitching women's fiction.
I pitched my novel which at the time I had dubbed A River Without Water. It is the tale of a young woman who ran away from home at seventeen and spent the last decade blaming her father for forcing her to have an abortion. Out on the road she meets a man who has spent several years grieving for his wife who died in childbirth. A large part of him wishes his wife would have had an abortion. Neither character knows of the others past yet they recognize a common sense of loss and not only do they forge a relationship but as the truth unwinds the two of them realize the toughest questions in life rarely are black or white.
The pitch was much better and more precise than that but it's been a while since I focused on that novel and given my computer woes I can't go dig up my old query right now.
So after my pitch came the question. "Why did you write this story?"
And my answer, "I wanted to write a a novel with a pro-life slant that dealt only with the human psyche and not the legality or morality of the issue."
"So your novel is intended for an inspirational audience?"
"Not at all," I explained. "The characters are too worldly to be embraced by that audience and I purposely avoid any debate on the morality, or even legality of the issue."
"But you said it has a pro-life slant."
"That slant is very subtle and not the crux of the story. It's primarily a relationship story. The conflict stems from the two protagonist relationship with each other and their family. It's a story of healing for both my male and female protags even though they have polar opposite backgrounds and beliefs on the issue."
"So what makes it pro-life?" Was the editors next question.
"In the end, the male protag realizes that his daughter is not to blame for his wife's decision and that by loving her and being a part of her life he can be reminded of the love he and his wife once shared."
"And your female protag? The one that had the abortion. I suppose she is left on the outside feeling sorry for herself." The editors tone had turned hostile, but I tried not to let that faze me.
"Not at all. The novel is in no way judgmental. If it was I'd be throwing my main character to the wolves. Part of her character growth is realizing the choices in her past were every bit hers as much as her father and that the only way she can deal with her own grief is ..."
That when things turned ugly.
"Grief!" Shouted the editor. Why must she have grief. Not every woman who has an abortion spend the rest of her life regretting it. Not every woman ends up in counseling. Not every woman should have to explain or apologize for making a choice."
"I'm not saying every woman does. But my character does have a good bit of grief and I spent lots of time researching this story and character. i interviewed two woman who have had abortion. One who regrets it and one who does not. I have also read numerous books on both sides of the issue."
"No one with a penis between their legs has the right to write so much as a single word on the issue of abortion."
It was at that point I knew my pitch had somehow gotten personal so I simply said, "John Irving did it quite well with Cider House Rules." I then sat down.
Needless to say that editor made no requests. Matter of fact she spent to next ten minutes declaring why my novel had zero market except to Midwestern farm wives engrossed in their religion.
And then an agent spoke up. A female agent I might add. She said, "I think it great that you would tackle a book like this. And I love the concept of these two characters and their varying backgrounds on the subject. Do you have any pages with you?"
I said yes, I have the first fifty with me right now.
"Great I'll read them over lunch."
Still feeling somewhat battered I handed the pages over.
After lunch the agent approached me and said, "The writing is very well done, but I'm more impressed how you handled yourself while being unfairly attacked. I'd love to read the full manuscript."
I sent off the manuscript. Several weeks later I received my first phone call from the agent. Matter of fact it was my first personal call from any agent. We talked about the book she expressed a few concerns and asked me to rewrite a few things. I did so and while she ultimately passed on taking me and the novel on she did so again with a personal call. She told me to please keep writing as I had a wonderful voice and that she would love to look at my next project.
Yeah it hurt like hell to get rejected after such a close call but I appreciated her taking the time to call. and more importantly I appreciate her having the courage to differ from that very vocal editor and stand up for me as a writer and my project. That agent could have easily went along or said nothing. And if that were the case who knows what my writers psyche would have been like coming away from that workshop.
Part of my wants to use the agents name but given there is a minute chance the editor at that small press could read this I will not. the last thing I want is to incite animosity between myself and the editor or even more so the agent and editor.
More stories to follow. Feel free to send yours to my email travis AT traviserwin DOT com.