Blogs by F. P. Dorchak
Wind Instruments at PPWC 2007.
4/28/2007 7:10:54 AM
Well, the deed was done. Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2007!
The hunt was on. I went in armed with two pitches and steeled nerves regarding one-on-one review comments on a new SF manuscript (ms) I’m working on, my first ever SF material. For the past two years I have bowed out of heavy volunteering at PPWC--short of F. P. Dorchak’s Honda Accord Chauffeuring Services--to refocus more on the attendee experience and find out why my work is not making it. Well, the short answer is, after three days and some long conversations with a good friend, I still don’t know. But:
Never give up, and never surrender! Write until you die!
It all started Friday afternoon, where myself and another (Laura D.) gave a short tour of Garden of the Gods to some of the PPWC faculty. It was great to meet back up with Denise Little, who I haven’t seen in a couple years. I also met her mother, who is quite the spunky lady, and met some other editors and writers I hadn’t met before. Afterward, I had lunch in the restaurant and met up with another friend, Karen L., and we talked at length about all things writing, and about where we both are in our individual Weltanschauungs. Always great to see Karen, and to catch up on face-to-face conversation (we e-mail). She’s one very perceptive individual and I can’t wait to see her work on a bookshelf--or in a movie theater! Keep the faith, Karen!
Later that afternoon, I read a portion of a ms before Denise Little. PPWC has readings where writers read a short portion (about three pages) before an editor and receive comment (not to mention HEAR feedback from your peers, and whether or not they’re shifting too much in their seats from being held a captive audience to your efforts....). Denise liked my three pages. She said it made her feel very nostalgic about the character, but said I should add something to the opening line to foreshadow the nastiness that was sure to follow. I did, and she was right, of course. It was three little words that made a huge difference. I adjusted the first couple paragraphs accordingly. Thanks, Denise!
That evening Dr. Eric Maisel, considered the world’s foremost creativity coach, spoke to us. One thing I was amused to hear was that he spoke of writing first thing in the morning--right after you get up. In short, the mind is primed and this is the best time for writing. I was amused because this is what I’ve done for years. People called me crazy for getting up at three/three-thirty in the D.A.M. (got that from a local morning D.J., sorry, Ross...). Well, they still call me crazy, but the point was, Dr. Maisel said to go to bed with writing and child-like wonder on your mind, and you will awaken primed and ready to rock. I can speak for experience: it is the best time to write. But that’s just me.
Saturday was spent attending workshops and practicing my pitches in a quiet corner back by two pianos near the Eagle’s Nests. As I sat in workshops, I noticed one editor (Sarah Durand, from Morrow/Avon) brought up--several times--that she liked and was into DARK, SUPERNATURAL STUFF. This was not in her bio (and I understand those bios change over time to conference, so no biggee, Steering Committee...). I’m there, thought I! I found her in other workshops, and she said the same thing. Well, always one to snag any opportunity proffered, I decided to pitch her, even though she said she “wasn’t really looking” for talent. This just goes to show: BE FLEXIBLE. Prior to the conference, I’d prepared two pitches, one a paranormal thriller, the other a supernatural murder mystery. I’d finished both of these manuscripts (mss) the same year, and had worked them off and on around each other. I came prepared to deal with whomever was available, and kept my ears and eyes open. This editor mentioned she “wasn’t really looking”...but in the same breath then said she was always looking. Read between the lines; I did. Take a chance, but don’t be a jerk about it (see last blog). Since I also happened to be her ride to the airport after the conference, I came over to introduce myself to let her know who I was, then asked if I could pitch her later in the conference. She graciously said yes; I left. I’d initially thought, hmm, maybe I should have pitched her then--cause you never know when you can next snag an editor. I felt this was to be my Big Flub of the conference. But, I later found out that she requested no one pitch her at the table. Good move on my part. Sometimes this happens, and you have to--again--stay flexible. Agents and editors are people too, as much as we might not believe the lore, but you have to remain open to opportunity. Think of all the stuff that comes out of your mouth over the course of a day, and you’ll get my point. Anyway, I later pitched her at the bar after the banquet, and she said yes. But more on that little tactical campaign later.
Back to Saturday morning: I had a one-on-one critique session with Steve Saffel at 11:30, late of Del Rey and now freelancing, and he had 20-odd pages of my current, in-work ms. We had a great time discussing possible endings, and my sports jacket. Dillards, I said. Dillards he said? Dillards. Didn’t have a Dillards in his neck of the woods. Onward. He then gave me great comments about the ms, and brutal (as was the rep) line edit--but that’s okay; this was only a second draft. We then talked longer than usual, and pretty much chatted throughout the conference. As a former Executive Editor at Del Rey, I was all ears to whatever Steve had to say (sentence structure...?). Yeah, I can shut up. Really. It was great seeing Steve again; we’d met several years earlier and always get along great. That’s another point: make friends when you go to these things. It’s not always about pitch or not to pitch (or is that bit...). As I mentioned earlier, they ARE human, and humans like to interact. BS with these people and get to know them. I always like to get to know them (editors and agents) AS people, without the weight of some mythological (was it Pericles?) sword hanging over every conversation of should I or shouldn’t I. Thanks, Steve!
Saturday afternoon: I had a pitch session to Anne Sowards, of the Penguin Group USA, at 3:40. I knew going in that the work I had probably wasn’t quite right, but it was, at the time, my best option given the bio write-ups. So, I pitched the paranormal thriller. She liked it, but said it wasn’t what her house was doing (not SF-y enough; I agreed without lunging over the table at her). So, again, never one to miss an opportunity and utilizing my remaining time before Barb N. kicked my ass out of the seat, I told her I was working on a UFO ms. This she liked and said I could send when complete. I gave me her card. I hope she’s still around in a year or so, when I do finish it. Thanks for your time, Anne!
Okay, back to that bar-side pitch. Now, keep in mind, this editor (Sarah Durand) and myself already made plans to meet and talk after the banquet and Jim Butcher's keynote address (this guy is funny). But when I showed up, she was already deep in conversation with another. She never looked up to see me there--or had great peripheral vision. But, I thought, rats, she’s talking to some guy and they look dug in. How had that happened so dang fast? I’d left RIGHT after dinner?! Anyway, wunnerful, I thought. Do I be “rude-ish” and shove my way in there? No, I decided to let them continue without interruption for a little. In the interim, I met a guy, named Paul A., who was also waiting to talk to the editor, so we struck up. He informed me he was not about to pitch her, but wanted to know where she was from. He decided he’d help me get in to talk with her, since I was there on a mission. What a dude.
So, we watched and waited. Still nothing. Paul and I grew into Margaret Y., Paul, myself, and a couple others who filtered in. Sarah never looked up. Paul, myself, and the others who began to congregate discussed what were possible topics of conversation with Sarah and “The Guy.” I informed all of my mission, and they all said they’d help. Subtly, they began to line up behind Sarah and The Guy, so she couldn’t make a quick getaway.
Then Todd showed up, and I whisper-shouted “Stay!” He was a Good Dog. Stood directly behind her, and as we all know, he’s 7 foot 12. Ain’t no one be getting past him without a mark.
As I talked with Margaret, she said, by now, I really should just make my move. It had been hanging a couple minutes. Sometime I’m just too nice a guy, my wife always says. I thought, yeah, I probably should, since it was getting on. So I did an about-face, and directly faced Sarah, who, it turns out at this point, was actually picking up her things, looking to leave. Things were looking up--but she still hadn’t acknowledged me (look at me, look at ME!!!).
Was I worried?
Heck no, I had a crescent of people blockading behind from behind. I had 7-foot-12 Todd. By the time she was into any “excuse me, gotta run” I’d be on her with my pitch....
Well, it turned out we didn’t need the interdiction. Sarah had actually been looking for me. Yes, I said that right: LOOKING for ME.
How cool was that?
So, no need for 7-foot-12 Todd or the rest of my [now] BEST friends, to stall--though I greatly thank them all for taking the time to hang and offer their help in my mission. I now had her complete attention, and it was COMPLETE. Almost unnerving. Just like the guy before her, her attention was totally on me. She never looked away, asked all kinds of good questions, and was totally and utterly focused on me. I was impressed with that and her. Just as I had given her space to talk with that guy at the bar, and noticed how she was focused on him, she was now giving me the exact same courtesy. Had I butted in, who knows how that could have ended. Poorly for me, I’m sure. At that point, not even 7-foot-12 Todd could have helped out.
So we talked, and...she liked it. Yeah, my gritty, dark, supernatural murder mystery. She said to send some pages. When we were done, I did Paul a turn, and segued over into him, who’d given up his “slot” to me for my self-aggrandizing pitch, so they could talk origins. Which they did. Then she left.
How cool is that? That is our goal at this thing, this conference. To get a foot in the door and get our stuff READ. They may not like it once rubber meets the road, it may not be right for them, but we’d gotten a READ. And it brings me back to my BE FLEXIBLE. It took me a whole day to get to her, but I’d campaigned and been smart--and polite--about it. Okay, yeah, on the surface it looked a little, well, “stalkerish” toward the end there, but it was all done and in good faith and good fun and friendship among my peers. No one had any bad intent (I can vouch for that). My point is, be open to other opportunities, be prepared to pounce on them, and do so SMARTLY. Don’t crowd...bide your time. Get your friends to help you out if at all possible (without being stalkerish). Ask them for an introduction, if they’d previously met--even in a pitch (I’ve done this for others). Just don’t get maniacal about it. You have three days. Plan your approach. Don’t be rude. Pitch. Thank them, then, if the opportunity arrives, hand off to another who might be in waiting. Don’t monopolize. Agents and editors are busy, tired, and trying to be cordial. Don’t take advantage.
I’d also like to say something about the buzzword for that weekend in case others didn’t understand it: PLATFORM. This word was uttered lots, and seemingly in different contexts, but what it came down to (I asked during a panel) is that it is both logistical and political. It means not only what you have to promo yourself (blogs, web pages, chocolate, etc.) but also what “platform” from which you have to orate--like a politician. For example, with this UFO ms, there are already all kinds of UFO groups. So, I’d be contacting them with my point of view of UFOs (sorry, not giving it away just yet), for example. Or with the übernatural murder mystery, it would be why I think things like this happen in the first place and would seek out organizations that would be related to it.
Now, on the PPW loop this past week there was much ado about the Most Important Thing we took away from our weekend and our Biggest Blunder. The most important thing I’m taking away is what Bob Crais said in his Sunday Brunch delivery: thinking outside the box. He went against all the best advice to write something different and he’s a millionaire. I pitched to an editor a ms that wasn’t for her. We had time, so I winged it, and pitched another. That got me an “in” at a table that is normally reserved for one pitch. I listened to editors and heard what they said, and modified my approach at the conference. I couldn’t sell my books at the PPWC bookstore, so I brought them in my car’s trunk (how Grisham!)--and sold one. Had I not brought them, I wouldn’t have sold anything. Small victories, people! Baby steps!
My Biggest Blunder? Well, I’m sorry that I didn’t spend more time with certain people, like Jimmie Butler. When he arrived, we’d talked for a spell, but I’d been looking for an editor (Sarah, from the bar), saw her, and had to excuse myself to set up that bar appointment. Then after having talked with her, got sidetracked (that happens lots at these things). Then, after having helped set up the Saturday Banquet tables, I told Jimmie where his table was, and never had a chance to get back with him. Because, as we saw above, I’d waged my campaign for the Editor-In-The-Bar...then again got sidetracked. Dang, how that happens. So, sorry, Jimmie, that I never got to spend more time talking with ya.
Then there was the Twilight Zone “Jeanette Experience.” Good God, where do I begin? This woman was unreal! At the Saturday Banquet, my wife, Karen L, and myself met up with the most outgoing and feverishly-funny person I’d met in a long time. I only know her as “Jeanette ,” and that she’s from Montana. She should do Stand-up. She had a million stories to tell, and when she laughed, you couldn’t help but howl with her. My side and mouth hurt from all the laughing. My soul hurt. Hadn’t hurt that much from laughing since Jerry Seinfeld’s last in-town appearance. But let me tell you, I’d never seen Karen laugh so dang hard! She had to run to the Ladies’ Room (sorry, Karen...) at one point! We were all rolling in the hallway, bouncing off the walls, holding in our hernias, especially when she related a little ditty about peeing down the open hatch of a Forest Ranger Fire Tower. Think about that. Now think about UPdrafts...sudden, POWERFUL, updrafts....
It was a blast seeing everyone--and thanks for snagging me in the hallway, Annette. Was good talking with you, too. Jené and her chocolate Mate teas (and thanks for the chocolate bite and tea sample--still haven’t got to that yet). Chris M. and RUH! I love that dog! Cindy and Charley. The various Lauras. The other Chris's. Morgen (one and only!). Giles. Martha. Everyone. Especially the new friends I’ve created in Paul and Margaret, etc. But, I’ve ranted enough and must now depart. Chores and ms writing beckon (hmmm, which do I do first...)! It was a sheer pleasure to see you all again and rub elbows (and blockade editors)! I did miss, however, Jan J. She was out on other business.
That’s it. Don’t get used to these novel-length blogs!
BTW, I’d sent out my partial to Sarah that Monday. Wish me luck--I wish all of YOU luck, as well. Hang in there and keep writing!
F. P. Dorchak
All Writing Helps All Writing
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