MISS DEMEANORS

Comfort zones

Earlier this week I was traveling around Monterey with my daughter. She’s a lot of fun, and very energetic, but she firmly believes that I should not get stuck in my comfort zone. She’s always trying to nudge me out of it, whether by pushing me to hike longer than I might have, or encouraging me gently to climb a fence. I’ll catch you mom! (I should note that we were climbing the fence because we realized we were on private land and were trying to get on to public land.) Or even to talk to people that I might otherwise be intimidated by. So, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors: When was the last time you got out of your comfort zone? This is what they said: Alexia: Last week. I presented three workshops, each ranging from 60-90 minutes, at Sleuthfest 2019. My room was an actual auditorium-style lecture hall–a stage facing semicircular rows of built-in desks. From the stage, I couldn’t even see the faces of anyone sitting in the back row. To my horror, people actually showed up. I was forced to stand in front of an audience and not sound like an idiot or a nervous […]

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New York Pitch Conference

Today was the first day of the NY Pitch Conference. I’ve been a workshop leader there for ten years, and it has a very special place in my heart because that’s where I sold my first novel, The Fiction Class. It was a truly life-changing experience. I’d been wading through the publishing waters for some years, trying to catch a wave. (I’ve just been in Monterey and surfing images are in my mind.) I wrote up a pitch and presented it to the first editor, who kindly informed me that no one would ever publish my book because it was about creative writing and no one cared about that. The next editor was much more pleasant, and seemed genuinely interested in my book. Except that he quit publishing that very day and went to work for his family’s logging company in Canada. The third editor was also kind, but she was not the right editor for my book. Then, on Sunday morning, I went in to meet with the fourth editor, read my pitch and she said, “We’re going to want to publish this book!” Even a decade later I can remember how thrilled I was. So now, when I’m […]

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And more pitch tips!

Last night (or possibly last week–I’m not sure. Still on California time) I spoke to the Central Coast Writers meeting in Pacific Grove. A truly lovely group of people who made me and my daughter feel very welcome. My daughter was there to assist me in my talk, which was about how to use pitches to help you sell your book, but also how to use them to diagnose problems with your novel. I am a self-confessed pitch addict and find them very useful in figuring out if a writing project is worth pursuing. It’s also a great way to figure out if the structure of your novel is working. For example, one of the things you want to include in your pitch is a sense of the conflict that will fuel your story. Ideally that conflict should happen fairly early on. Ideally it should happen around the first chapter. But what if you’re writing your pitch and realize that nothing happens worth writing about until page 218? That can be a sign that your novel is not starting quickly enough. In fact, a gentleman at the meeting who’d just had a book published said that his editor wound up […]

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Pitch tips

The first question I always ask when I’m helping someone write a pitch is: What is interesting about your book? Usually the answer falls into one of four categories: character, plot, setting or voice. Then I have a place to start. A novel that is character-driven is going to have a pitch that is character driven. For example, here’s the start of a pitch for Kim van Alkemade’s best-selling novel, Orphan Number Eight. “In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a crowded tenement on New York City’s Lower East Side. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage whee Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research.” This is a novel about a terrible decision Rachel has to make, and the pitch flags that the novel will focus on her character. By contrast, Ben Winters’ pitch for his novel, The Last Policeman, grabs you with his unusual plot (although his characters are also quite compelling): What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway? Detective Hank Palace has faced this question since asteroid 2011GV hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No […]

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The Joys of Pitching

Some months ago I was invited to speak at a writers’ meeting in Monterey, California. I was delighted, for obvious reasons. One of them being that I had been planning a trip with my daughter. On our last mother-daughter adventure we’d gone to Costa Rica, where I almost collapsed after she persuaded me to ride a zip line through the jungle. Monterey seemed much safer. But the other source of my joy was that I would be speaking about pitching. Specifically, “How a Great Pitch Can Save Your Novel (and Help You Sell It).” This is a topic I feel strongly about. I’m a workshop leader at the New York Pitch Conference. I sold my first novel, The Fiction Class, based on a pitch I wrote. And perhaps more importantly, I’ve saved myself a lot of aggravation by writing pitches about novels before I even start to write them. It’s a great way to figure out if something’s there. So I’m hoping this week, both in blogging and life, will be a pitching adventure! How about you? Do you enjoy writing pitches?

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Public Speaking Pro Tips

In less than a month, I will be speaking at a country club about the stories behind my stories. The engagement is a benefit to support services for seriously ill women at Englewood Hospital. I’m the entertainment. In exchange for speaking for an hour, the hospital is giving everyone a copy of The Widower’s Wife. My usual anxiety level is probably around a six out of ten. But this event has put it at an eleven. I want people to have a good time. I want them to enjoy the speech enough that they feel particularly good about opening their wallets to support a good cause. I also am hoping that maybe some people will like me enough to read my books. So I reached out to the MissDemeanors, many of whom speak in front of classes and conferences regularly, to ask for tips. Here’s what they recommend. Alexia Gordon: I just finished one 30 minutes ago. I’m a faculty author at Sleuthfest in Boca Raton this year. Never before have I had to lead workshops at a writers conference. Never before have I been faculty or a “featured author.” I’ve been on author panels, but only as a panel member, […]

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Writing As Therapy

“We’re professional worriers. You’re constantly imagining things that could go wrong and then writing about them.” Novelist John Green to The Late, Late Show host Craig Ferguson. I talked to my psychiatrist the other day about poop. The conversation, like everything I discuss in therapy, wasn’t what I wanted–or had intended–to talk about. It stemmed from my attempt to excuse my lateness for our session as the result of my elderly dog not relieving himself quickly enough during the morning walk. As usual, however, the Freudian philosopher in front of me seized upon my off-hand comment, attempting to draw a connection between some unrealized-yet-deep-seated childhood trauma regarding bodily functions that might help explain my persistent anxiety. “When were you potty-trained?” I scooted a centimeter back from the edge of his couch in response. I like to park my butt on the bleeding edge of the cushion so I can bolt upright in the event of an emergency. Not that I think there will be a sudden blaze in his dim basement office located in an older home that was surely constructed before new fire codes went into effect. Or that I spend too much time pondering how quickly his decorated-to-distraction […]

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What Dave Chappelle taught me about Public Speaking

I think faster through my fingers. This is how my brain works. Behind a screen, words flow through me. My stories become entertaining, my descriptions visual and apt, my ideas clear and concise. Post editing, even more so. In person, I fear I’m not nearly as eloquent. My biggest failing is verbosity, which follows from my fear of awkward silences. But I have others. I make jokes and then spend hours afterward wondering whether they were truly funny or, worse, potentially offensive. I get passionate and repeat the same previously expressed idea without adding anything new. I say so many self-deprecating things in an effort to be entertaining that I start to seem like I am putting on an sad comedy performance. Queue pity claps. These were more sarcastic than pitying. Unfortunately, public speaking is a necessary component of all jobs, particularly that of a published author. There are book signings and readings, which no one attends to hear anyone simply read. There are engagements, like the one I will be helming on April 11 (shameless plug), in which I am supposed to be entertaining. But I have learned a way for me to be better in these events thanks […]

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Does writing fiction expand the way you experience the world?

When I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors how writing fiction has altered or expanded their own views of the world, I expected to get some good answers. What I got went well beyond that. From serving justice to understanding our humanness, my fellow Miss Demeanors answered in ways that are both deeply thoughtful and utterly thought provoking. Alexia: Hmmm, had to think hard about this one. I’m not sure writing fiction has changed the way I see the world. I write fiction because of the way I see the world. I see a world full of injustice, where the bad guy often wins and evil often triumphs over good. In the world, you can do the right thing and watch helplessly as cheaters get away with it. The world doesn’t care if you’re a good person, bad stuff happens to you regardless. Life’s not fair and you have no right to expect it to be.When I write fiction, I change the world by making it operate the way I want it to. Good wins, justice prevails, hurts are healed. Writing fiction keeps me from despair.  Tracee: I agree with Alexia that writing is a means of controlling the – or […]

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How does writing fiction change you?

No matter how much you may dislike your antagonist, you know he or she must have at least one redeeming quality. In fact, the more redeeming qualities the better because then your character becomes messier, more complicated, and fundamentally more human. My favorite writers, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, are the ones who force me to see the infinite shades of gray in life. I like being reminded that even the most odious person has a mother who loves them, and, quite possibly, a very cute dog. It’s this bit of writing characters day in and day out that has altered my real life the most. Now that I write fiction, I find myself paying attention to particularly beautiful turns of phrase. I notice elegant and unexpected descriptions of people, places, and things. Still, day to day, it’s thinking about people in my writing that has changed the way I think about real life the most. First, as I already mentioned above, there’s the so-true-that-it’s-rather-worn bit of advice that no bad guy thinks of himself as a bad guy. Beyond melodramas, most of us don’t find someone twirling his mustache as he ties his hapless victim to […]

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