A chance meeting

View from writers workshop in St. Augustine, Florida

While the view outside was serene, the ten writers, including myself, were getting a good thrashing inside by our mentor, who, after listening intently to our unrehearsed pitches, proceeded to eviscerate our work. “That’s already been done. Change the ending. You need a dead body on the first page. Decide your genre. Where’s your voice?” Initially relieved that the woman on the opposite side of the room had volunteered to be the first casualty, thus leaving me at number nine, I quickly realized after listening to each writer’s pitch, that what I’d imagined as my story’s pitch was not a pitch at all. As the writers took their turns, I scribbled in my notebook, hoping by the time I was called upon, I’d come up with something. Anything.

My turn. Deep breath. “I am pitching my memoir titled….”

“Too long. Story begins in the middle. Get rid of the rest. Cut the ending.” BUT, BUT, BUT . . . I could feel myself doing exactly what I’d promised I wouldn’t. I was resisting, pushing back, and feeling defensive. I felt ten years old again and wishing I could lob a spitball at the hateful teacher.

Relax. You didn’t put all that money on your credit card not to listen, I told myself. Take it in. If you feel she’s full of shit after this is all over, then fine. But for the next four days, just listen and learn. At the end of the day, I learned I was not alone as I see-sawed between revenge and despair. Without exception, everyone was dismayed over their individual critiques. I didn’t know about anyone else, but I was ordering a big, fat martini before dinner.

Three days fly by. Bonding. Laughing. Working hard. Perfecting the original three-page pitch down to fifty words. The moment is here. We have exactly ten minutes on the phone to pitch to a big-time editor of a big-time New York publishing house. Our mentor gives us our final instructions. “Say your pitch, shut up, and let her speak.” I mouth it as I wait in line, adopting it as my new mantra, sayyourpitch,shutyourmouth, sayyourpitch,shutyourmouth, sayyourpitch,shutyourmouth.

Only the editor doesn’t follow the rules. She asks me question after question. I answer again and again. I need to shut up but I can’t. Ten minutes is over. The door bursts open and my mentor barks, “Times up!” I have to cut this big-time editor off mid-sentence. I stumble from the room, shell shocked. It did not go well.

I have to pull myself together because I have to pitch again. This time, it’s a big-time literary agent who’s flown in from New York for the day. He’s sitting outside on the deck, interviewing one of the writers. Two people are waiting in front of me. That gives me thirty minutes to figure out what went wrong with my first interview and not repeat it with this guy.

I pace around the living room, look out the window, and finally take a walk out on the boardwalk to the ocean. I stare at the waves. Fuck it. I can’t figure out what to do. I’m too old to try and second guess people. I’ll just be who I am. It can’t be any worse than what just happened on the phone call with the editor. At least I’ll be able to look him in the eye.

I introduce myself and shake his hand (this is pre Covid-19). He’s open and friendly. I pitch my story. He nods his head and smiles. We talk about New York, where I lived for most of my life before I exchanged it for a life of sand and sun. He asks, “I’m curious, how old are you?” In the past, I would have bristled over such a question, but now, writing this story has freed me. I have nothing to hide. I’ve written a memoir that is set in the sixties. Do the math, I tell him. He responds with another question. “What took you so long?’ Have you got a year, I answer. After a few minutes, he offers me representation. I accept. His specialty is book-to-film adaptation. A perfect fit for my story.

I discover my work has just begun.

The one word you should never use to describe your memoir

“Never, ever use that word.” This was the advice given to me by a hardened, retired veteran editor, who had perused my query letter as a favor, before I sent it out to the list of agents I’d culled from Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents.

Inner journey, outer journey, long journey, complicated journey, violent journey, slow journey, intoxicating journey, revelatory journey, whatever journey you’ve been on, use another word to describe it, if you want your query letter to be read and not tossed in the wastepaper basket.

OKAAAAYYY!

Out came the thesaurus. Was there a word that I could find to replace the one that I felt captured my narrative? What could be better than journey–c. 1200, from Old French¬†journ√©e “a day’s length, a defined course of traveling, one’s path in life.”

One by one, I tried them on, like a new hairstyle or outfit, each one worse than the next. All fifty-five of them.

I typed “journey” back in. Tomorrow’s another day.

Welcome to my literary journey

After searching YouTube and blog after blog to learn what happens between the start of a book and its successful publication, I came up with zilch, zero, nada. There was a lot of advice from literary agents, former employees to literary agents, and published writers. But nothing from first-time writers about their struggles and eventual successes or failures in getting their book out to the public, either through a traditional publisher or as a self-published work. So, I thought, why not share with those of you who are interested and write about my own journey, as I learn to navigate the agent and publishing world with my debut memoir.

For an aspiring writer, the odds of landing a six-figure deal from a traditional publisher, with attached foreign and film rights, is about as likely as winning lotto. The good news is, like lotto, you have to play to win, and SOMEONE eventually does win. Sometimes they win the whole enchilada and other times, they have to share with other winners. So, why shouldn’t it be you or me, or if the stars are aligned, you AND me?

Having had a career spanning decades as an international runway and print model, I know a little about odds. I also know that what I accomplished in my former career isn’t going to matter a lick in my new career as an author. Spoiler alert. My memoir is NOT about my wild and crazy years I spent globe-trotting, working for world-class designers.

The one thing that I HAVE learned over the years is how to grow thick skin. In fact, put me up against any rhino, and I’d beat them, hands down. So, the first thing I’d suggest, is to make sure your hide is as thick and impenetrable as (whatever tickles your fancy) a rhino, croc, ‘dillo, shark, or giraffe. But, pick one ’cause you’ll need it! I’m wearing my rhino cape.

How thick is your skin?