MISS DEMEANORS

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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How does reading fiction change you?

Reading changes me. From the moment I start a new book until the moment I finish the last word, I feel like I’ve been on a trip. What I take away after the book is finished depends partly on what I brought with me before I started and partly what I learned along the way. Let me say that another way, when I delve deeply into a world I already know, I’m more likely to focus on nuances, when I’m looking into a world I’ve never seen before, I suspect I’m like a kid in a toy store who stares at the brightest and shiniest thing. And then there’s the entire spectrum in between being an expert and a novice. Still, when I close the book, I see people, places, and even my own self with new eyes. People. When I read a phrase the describes something I’ve seen a million times and does so in a fresh way, I’m a bit awe struck. It’s like a little bit of poetry snuck into prose. The best writers do it all the time. We know exactly what they’re talking about, and yet they show us the extraordinary in the everyday. The […]

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Interview with Richie Narvaez

Today we’re lucky to have Richie Narvaez whose latest book, Hipster Death Rattle, will be published one week from today. (Go ahead and pre-order right now. We’ll wait until you get back.) Richie is a former President of the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and the award-winning writer of Roachkiller and Other Stories. This is your first novel. How does it feel? Richie: Scary! I am living in terror waiting for people read it. I mean, some people have read it and seem to have enjoyed it, so I’m hoping that at least maybe five or six other people out there in the world kind of like it. But, yeah, it’s scary. And weird. You know what I don’t worry about? The classic, wilting Amazon review that says, “too many f bombs,” which really isn’t so bad because that becomes a selling point for some people. What’s this new book about? Richie: That thing! Yes, well, Hipster Death Rattle is about real estate and gentrification. It’s about New York City and culture. And it’s about a machete-carrying serial killer. And a little about real estate and gentrification. The basic thrust is a slacker reporter gets involved in […]

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Reading, Writing, and Empathy

If reading fiction makes you more compassionate, what does writing fiction do? Tomorrow, we’ll have Richie Narvaez here to talk about his debut novel Hipster Death Rattle. Richie’s kindness when I attended my very first Mystery Writers of America meeting is what inspired my choice of a topic for this week. He was the president of the New York chapter of MWA at the time and was so gracious. If a guy who writes about killing people can be so thoughtful, surely, maybe there is something not only about reading that allows us to better understand–and respond–to how other people are feeling, but maybe writing it does, too. I couldn’t be a bigger fan, so please join us tomorrow for a wonderful discussion with Richie, a prolific short story writer and winner of a number of awards for his first book, Roachkiller and Other Stories. His latest, Hipster Death Rattle, will be published on March 11, 2019. By the way, not only is the title and cover of his novel crazy cool, but the book is fabulous. For those of you who don’t have the time to delve into the distinction between genre and literary fiction, or, quite frankly, just don’t want […]

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