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.