PNWA: Three times the charm

It was Saturday morning, and I kept thinking about the Sims, that role-playing video game in which the people in the town all have little diamond-shaped crystals hovering over their heads, indicating their energy and mood levels. When a Sim is content, the crystal is emerald and shiny, a bright beacon of happiness. When the crystal is faded, looking mostly transparent, the Sim is no longer a happy camper. During the course of any activity, the crystal will slowly fade, ticking down, as it were, into misery and joylessness. Fortunately for the game player, something as simple as going to the bathroom with make the Sim happier. But just given the tendency of time and entropy, according to the game’s designers, all Sims will end up in Funked Out Town. And I have made Sims die by leaving them in a room by themselves with no toilet, food, drink, or human companionship. It is awful to see what goes through their minds as they slowly fade into death. I swear I didn’t do this intentionally. I just forgot I’d left the game running and was in the next room watching reality television.

I took the 560 bus again, getting a salutation from the driver who now recognized me. He may be confused on Monday, but I’m betting he won’t care. This time I wasn’t going to wait for the courtesy vehicle. I decided to walk to the light rail station, remembering that I’d seen the conference center from the train on my first day in town last week. Sure enough, a 10-minute walk later, I walked right into where they were serving coffee and continental breakfast. I should have done that all along instead of waiting around for some hotel van.

No sooner had I put a few things on my plate that I noticed that a lot of people in the room had faded crystals over their heads. Everyone was as wiped out as me. We were all toughing it out but damn, we looked a lot more rumpled around the edges and worn out than we had just the day before. I know we all wanted to be there, but I began wondering if it wouldn’t have been helpful to have had a nap room, like in my old day care. Maybe minus the story time with teacher.

After a few gulps of hotel coffee, however, I had brightened my indicator by several shades of green, and I said hello to the folks I’d previously met. It was definitely nice to hear a stream of congratulations through the day from people who spotted my finalist ribbon. And in the back of my head, when so greeted, I would wonder anew if I would win one of the top three spots for memoir. I told myself not to get my hopes up.

I figured out which workshop to attend, found my chair and started typing away on my iPad to take notes. I’m the only one at the conference with this thing, and I hadn’t thought ahead as to whether any rabid anti-ebooks people would eschew me for carrying the device. I really do love paper books and find them easier to read, but the screen really is pretty good and when I’m really reading, I can eat through novels, so I appreciate having several in one place. Already this trip I’ve read through The Help, The Scarpetta Factor, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. What can I say, I have eclectic reading tastes. I do miss my days as a book buyer because I loved getting uncorrected proofs and reading things before anyone else. But that was back in the era before Amazon reviews and online spoilers. Advance readers had smaller effects on others.

In the hallway I ran into one of the agents who handles science fiction and fantasy, and told her about my SuperQueers story, and she really liked it, handing me her card and asking for the first 10 pages. That made my morning! At that point, anyway.

It was time to go to the editor pitch session, in which a group of writers sits at a table with an editor and gets their take on our ideas and manuscripts. We writers have only a couple of minutes to give the idea and get feedback. While this may sound a bit insane—and it is—it at least mirrors the amount of time editors generally have to consider projects. I liken it to this:

I don’t think they get a lot of time to get the wrapping on at most publishing houses.

I gave the editor my pitch for my superheros novel, SuperQueers, that I started writing back in 2004 for National Novel Writing Month. It was a total turd by the end of that November, but I really liked my idea and so hey, I kept working on it for the next four years. I refused to watch Heroes because I didn’t want the narrative to disturb my project. I pitched the project to the editor, and she really liked it. I told her I often see the story as a graphic novel, and she thought about that for roughly 2 seconds, before smiling and leaning in toward where I was sitting.

“Actually, I think it’s a movie,” she said. I believe my mood indicator turned as green as the rolling hills of Ireland. I needed to get on this project next, take another look at the manuscript, since it has sat around for a while now, and see what needed freshening up before sending it to the agent, with whom I’d spoken earlier. The editor wanted me to make a few changes to the story so that it would be more marketable to a mainstream audience, unless I’d think that those changes would be paramount to selling out. I actually liked her suggestions. But I’d need to tell the agent, maybe, that it would be a couple of months before I’d be ready to send the manuscript out to her.

More workshops, another lunch eaten standing up while networking. My stomach was really starting to get pissed at me for eating so strangely these past few days. At least there was an awards dinner coming up in a few hours. But oh, I’d probably be nerve-wracked for that. I reminded myself again that I wasn’t going to win anything, so I should just settle down. I thought, nobody is going to give top prize to a sex change memoir, Everett. Get over it.

A writer I’d talked with the previous day came up and asked me if I’d like her speed pitching time slot. For memoir these had closed out two people ahead of me in line, when I’d tried to get assigned one, and she knew that. I asked why she didn’t want it for herself. She’d signed up, after all. Well, she explained, her longer-session pitches to the agent and the editor gave her enough information that she knew she needed to go back and spend more time reworking the story, so a speed pitch session would be a waste of time. I said sure, and we worked it out with the coordinators.

When the time rolled around for the speed pitch, I found the conference room and waited. Four of us were to meet with four agents. We got two minutes at each station, and had to listen out for the volunteers to call time, at which moment we’d move on to the next agent for two minutes. I walked into the room, and considered leaving, because taking one look at the group, I knew none of them would be interested in my project. They were:

  • A woman from a small agency in California who had thrown memoir in almost as an afterthought when she’d introduced herself two days earlier
  • A female agent from NYC who seemed really sharp but would be more inclined to take the next Eat, Pray, Love than Bumbling into Body Hair
  • A young female agent who rejected my email query five or six months ago
  • An older mam who probably didn’t know a transsexual from a puffin

The agent from NYC was my first pitch. She nodded, listened, as I talked a mile a minute. I hoped she could hear my “voice” with the Doppler effect from my almost stream of consciousness prose I’d memorized. She wasn’t the right agent, she liked the idea though. Fair enough.

Next was the young rejector. I told her, “you rejected this query a few months ago, but here it is again.” She honestly looked at me like a deer in headlights. This was a graduate from Northwestern? She seemed taken aback. That’s when I realized I like querying GLBT stuff through the Internet. I don’t like seeing distress on a human being’s face. Not the right agent, I get it. Thanks.

Older guy, taking notes as I talked. I gave him the title first, before my “hook” sentence. He nodded, and looked straight at my chest once he put two and two together. Memoir + story about a transgender person = this guy used to be a chick.

“I like that,” he said, scribbling on his pad, “good phrase, ‘gender reassignment.'”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that wasn’t a creative phrase, it was just medical terminology. Oh those medical terminologists. Such poets, they are.

“Did you have your surgery in Sweden,” he asked.

“I had it at a strip mall,” I said. This is the God’s honest truth. And nobody gets their surgery in Sweden anymore. He was 50 years behind the times.

I sat down at the fourth table.

“This pitching is really not going well,” I said. This was my opening sentence to the agent. “I think I’ll just be wasting your time. We could talk about something else.” Seriously, I felt almost tortured. Little crystal over my head was ready to instruct me to begin a temper tantrum.

“Well, tell me what it is anyway,” she said. She didn’t smile, didn’t give me any false affect.

“The title is Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of a Klutz’s Sex Change,” I said.

“Ooookay,” she said, and told me to go on. I gave her the briefest of synopses.

“But it’s funny,” she asked.

“It’s really, really funny,” I said. “Pinky swear.”

She asked for the first three chapters.

I learned that this writing thing is just a roller coaster and I need to get used to it. There is an advantage to having a thick protective coating around one’s nerves.

We finally, finally, at last, made it to the award dinner hour. I’d gone down to the bar during the break for a tall pint of beer, and some email checking time, and I felt refreshed and ready to finish out the conference. Finalists were treated to a glass of wine and a networking party, then were led into the dinner room ahead of everyone else. For some reason everyone else at my table was a screenwriter, but the volunteers assured me we’d been seated randomly with other finalists. The awards themselves were poorly coordinated, and rife with technical glitches, but we managed to get through them, after hearing a Shakespeare-checkered keynote speech by C.C. Humphreys, who was charming, but too fake British for the wife of one of the screenwriters. She tsk tsked through his speech, which I heard because we were sitting next to each other.

“That is not a proper London accent,” she told me. “He’s not really English.” I myself would never have noticed, being that I’m from New Jersey.

They called up the memoir and nonfiction finalists. I took my certificate and smiled as everyone applauded us. That was nice. The woman reading the nominee names and titles seemed confused and slightly repulsed by the first part of my title. The subtitle wasn’t on the screen. I’m sure she wondered if I were just an extremely hairy man, and why anyone would write a memoir about that.

I did not win a prize, but with three agents expressing interest from the conference, one agent corresponding with me from before the conference, and one set of really good feedback on my fiction project from an editor, I think I’ve won more than I imagined I would. And I’ve made some terrific connections with other writers, with whom I keep in contact.

I left the dining room to head back to the main lobby, catch a cab, and go to sleep. On the way out, I ran into the science fiction agent. I told her the editor had suggested I make a few changes to the manuscript. She smiled at me as we walked.

“Oh sure,” she said, “she really knows the business. Just put that PNWA in the subject line, take the time you need.”

I thanked her, and we talked a little about the craziness of this business, but how we love it anyway. In my head I started drawing up rewrite plans and schedules.

I am a very happy green.

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9 Comments on “PNWA: Three times the charm”

  1. Kristy
    July 25, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    Boo for not winning the prize! Hooray for all the rest! Sounds like a really rewarding conference.

    (I was about to say something rude about political scientists and chest-staring but I’ll leave it to you to fill in the gaps. 🙂 )

    • evmaroon
      July 25, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

      Well, I’d much rather get representation than win $600. But thank you for your support, even if it comes with a half-second of chest staring! Just kidding. I appreciate the support, honestly!

  2. July 25, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    What a great story about PNWA. I’m glad you got some good feedback on your projects!

    • evmaroon
      July 25, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

      Thank you! I think it was money and time well spent, and I’ll be back next summer! What did you think of it?

  3. Sherri
    July 25, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    I think that sounds like 3 days very well spent!

    • evmaroon
      July 25, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

      It was! Time will tell, if anything comes out of it…

  4. Leesa!
    July 26, 2010 at 8:25 am #

    Hey!!!!!! I’m glad to hear that went so well—albeit with a couple of rough patches. But, overall, you came out smelling like Aqua Velva! We miss you guys. Just saw Deborah and Akio at the farmers market on Saturday and she’s doing much better. Actually able to pick Akio up. How’s Seattle? Are you settled into a place? Matt, Mika and I are going to be in Seattle the end of August and would love to meet you guys for lunch/dinner. Matt’s giving a talk for the Alumni house on Warhol Thursday, the 26th and we’re thinking about staying for a couple of days since they’re covering the hotel. We’d love to see you guys so let us know what you think’s doable or not. NO PRESSURE! seriously. Oliver’s doing well. I’ve started to spritz him daily which he finds very refreshing.

  5. Jen
    July 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm #

    Hooray! Great news. And thank you for writing about the conference. I’ve always wondered what those might be like and now I feel like I have a strong sense of it. You capture it well.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. My Funniest from 2010 | Trans/plant/portation - December 31, 2010

    […] When at a Writer’s Conference, Be Sure To—I attended the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association conference this summer, and to be sure, a lot about it was funny. […]

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