Thursday, November 12, 2009

When it rains, it pours

I've been turning to craigslist to try to find freelance writing gigs. There's really not a lot of good stuff there for professionals. What people are looking for are people to write content for social networking sites, offering either no pay or pay on a scale depending on how many people click through your piece. Folks posting potentially interesting writing gigs are paying ridiculously low fees. One guy wanted a name for his new company. He said he'd pay $30 for "a good college try" and $200 if he chose one of the writer's candidates. I could get almost 10 times that in the "real world" But for the sake of adventure and some pocket money, I decided to give it a shot. I had a great rapport with the guy and gave him two rounds of names, about 25 names in all. He liked aspects of many of them, but ultimately was unable to select one. He invited me to submit more but I politely informed him he'd already exhausted the time and creative energy I was willing to DONATE to his cause. At least he paid the $30 quickly.

But in the last 24 hours, some things seem to be moving in the right direction. First, I saw a posting a week or two ago from a small independent press in Indiana that was looking for submissions from Boston authors (the press historically had focused on Indiana and midwestern writers but wanted to expand its scope), so I sent a letter and my manuscript via email. Then I saw a post from a guy who has a hot sauce blog and he was looking for people to write short reviews of hot sauces. He was only going to pay $5 a review, but you do get free hot sauce. Again, he and I seemed to hit off and he agreed to send me my first shipment of five different sauces to sample. Then just last night, I responded to a craigslist post from a literary agent looking for novels to represent. So I sent a query letter to her.

Last night, I got a voicemail from the independent publisher. I called him back this morning and he told me he liked my concept. He hadn't noticed that I had attached the manuscript so he said he would read it and call me back later in the day. Still waiting, but this is the first time a publisher has actually seen my work so it's very exciting.

Later this morning, my hot sauces arrived in the mail. They have the following interesting names: Hemorrhoid Helper, Idiot Boyz, Pit Bull, Dave's Insanity, and Hog's Ass. Can't wait to start tasting.

And just a half hour ago, the literary agent asked to see my first 50 pages. So much of my work on my novel once I finished writing it has been filled with the monotony and disappointment of researching agents, sending out query letters and sample chapters, receiving rejections, and waiting to hear. Suddenly, everything seems to have moved into fifth gear. Of course, it could all end in disappointment - which has truly been the story so far - but at least it's happening quickly and with excitement rather than a foreboding sense of futility.

I'll update when I hear something on these developments, and will include a link to the hot sauce site when my reviews are published.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Well begun is half done

Who knew this quote was from Aristotle? I always thought it was from Mary Poppins. With a three-year-old in the house, I certainly watch the latter more frequently than I delve into ancient philosophy. But as with many things, it's the thought that counts. And for someone like me who is getting into the business (well, the practice anyway; "business" implies that money is changing hands) of writing books, it's an important thought indeed.

I recently learned about a competition being held by a literary agent named Nathan Bransford. Writers were to send him the opening paragraph of their work in progress, and the best one would receive a free critique of the writer's work or query letter. It seemed like a low-risk venture, so I entered. But I didn't send the opening paragraph of my completed manuscript, The Grave and the Gay. The reason is that I had already sent a query letter and sample chapters of the work to Bransford and he had rejected it. And even though I had since adjusted the opening (and did so again as recently as 48 hours ago), I felt that a fresh start was required.

I looked at the opening paragraph of my other work in progress, which is a single sentence: "I am the King of Bad Dreams." Nah, that won't work. Not much of a paragraph, is it? I could bring up the next two sentences and pretend I intended the three to form an opening paragraph, but it still wasn't compelling enough to stand up to competition. The fact is, the opening is the hardest part of writing a novel. I'm not sure I'd be happy with my current openings if I spent the next 30 years revising them.

Ultimately, I sent the opening paragraph of the essay I wrote about spreading my friend's ashes, which I shared in an earlier post. Even though it's not a work in progress, it's my favorite opening paragraph:

The last time I saw my friend Marc, he was tumbling down from a bridge onto the ground approximately sixty feet below. I had a good view because I was the one who caused his descent. I didn’t necessarily want to do it, but he insisted. And he wasn’t hurt by the fall, because he was already dead. You see, I was spreading his ashes.

Suffice to say, I didn't win. Well, so what? As my hero Abraham Lincoln once said, "I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined." Besides, I'm plenty busy shopping around The Grave and the Gay and working on my other work in progress (which is still untitled; the file name is NEW NOVEL.doc). So I dropped it from my mind. Until today.

I was looking through my "Writings" folder on my computer, where a number of files of varying vintages are stored. Many of these are fragments: beginnings of stories, snatches of dialogue, plays on words, observations, etc. I've saved them because I'd once read that Stephen Stills saves all of his musical and lyrical scraps until he finds a place to fit them in. Maybe it could work for me, as well.

One of the files had the cryptic title, "Fifteen.doc." I didn't recall its contents so I opened it. There was just a single short paragraph:

Fifteen. When I was 15 it seemed like I’d be 15 forever. The summer that I was 15 was a memorable one. I had my first beer, my first joint, and my first kiss. Days lasted years. Nights lasted decades. And then one morning, I woke up and I was 45.

I liked it! I must have written it some time last year, when I was 45. It felt real to me, and yet it was also something I felt I could build on. The first question, of course, was "What's next?" And it came to me very quickly. I appended the following to the paragraph:

And I had a 15-year-old of my own. And I had to tell him that I was leaving his mother.

So now I had a brand new opening paragraph that I wish I had found in time for the competition:

Fifteen. When I was 15 it seemed like I’d be 15 forever. The summer that I was 15 was a memorable one. I had my first beer, my first joint, and my first kiss. Days lasted years. Nights lasted decades. And then one morning, I woke up and I was 45. And I had a 15-year-old of my own. And I had to tell him that I was leaving his mother.

No matter. It was an exciting new beginning and I went with it. Within half an hour, I had five paragraphs and something more: yet another work in progress. In need of a title and, one day I hope, an agent and publisher.