Friday, May 24, 2013

Do I Know You?

Well, folks, it’s that time of year again.  It’s the season of querying! 

If you are a published author or one of the millions of aspiring to-be-published authors, you know of which I speak.  It’s the process where you take over a year’s worth of work, struggle, pain, joy, and basically birthing-out-your-brain-hole and try to condense it down to three short paragraphs.

Along with your three paragraphs, you also need to connect emotionally and spiritually with the target of your query letter, knowing all about that person’s personal tastes and sense of humor, but without seeming stalkerish or full of yourself.  It’s great if you can reference how that person’s favorite books are like what you’ve written, name drop one of their clients, and squeeze in mention of a few of the prestigious literary awards you’ve won in the past three months.  Don’t forget to explain how you’re the only one who could have written what you’ve written, include a brief bio, and remember to thank everyone for their valuable time, but don’t waste too much of their time including a line about that.  And keep it to about two hundred and fifty words.

Ok, type that up everybody.

Writing a query letter that succinctly describes your work is a difficult task.  Tailoring that letter to the personal tastes of a complete stranger is a bizarre hazing ritual literary agents have honed to perfection.

Now, if you happen to be an agent reading this (Hey!  How you doin?)  please understand I’m just letting off a little steam.  Many agents share some of the hundreds and hundreds of query letters they get a day and I am flabbergasted by what you have to dig through just to find even one possibly sane author who has contacting you for representation.  I don’t envy your job at all.  I just envy the authors that got through to you.  If I could build some kind of reliable filter that would keep out the complete junk from an agent’s email box, I’m pretty sure I could write my own ticket in New York City. 

Querying my third manuscript, I’m getting a nice response so far.  I know how to write a query letter.  I know what not to say and I know mostly what needs to be said, but I still find it extremely difficult to connect on a personal level with someone I just don’t know.  If my query to you, dear agent, feels slightly impersonal, it’s because it is.  I’m not, but it is, because we still are.  My hope is, if you love my concept and love my writing, we can work together, and then we’ll get to know each other. 

And that’s when the fun will really begin.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Writing Problem With a Silver Lining?

To read or not to read, that is the question.
Have you ever watched a movie and wondered, “Could the book have been this good?”

That’s not how it usually works.  Traditionally, the book, or source material for a movie, is the superior product and the movie does a decent job translating that to the big screen.  That’s if the movie is any good.  Watching Silver Linings Playbook, I was left thinking about the source material this movie is based on.  For me, the movie was just perfect.  So much of the strength of the whole thing was in the incredible actors involved and the performances they gave.  And of course, credit is due to the director and screenwriter and all the other talented people involved in the creation of something as big and ambitious as a feature length movie.

So how could the original book have conveyed what those actors did in the movie?  I was one of the people who saw the first Harry Potter movie before reading the book.  I enjoyed the movie (little did I know how much better they would get with each installment) and decided to go back and read the book.  I thought the book was fantastic.  Much better than the movie, and the experience of reading the book is what drew me into the franchise.  I also saw Twilight before reading the book.  The movie was unique and stood well on its own, but the source material was more engrossing and a more complete expression of the author’s intent than the movie could ever be (and yes, those just got worse as they went on).

I’m tempted to read The Silver Linings Playbook, but I’m afraid.  How could someone have expressed on a page what was shown so expertly through the amazing acting, facial expressions, and tone of voice of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert DeNiro, when they embodied those characters so perfectly?

I think reverse engineering performances like that into our writing is the real challenge.  I’ve never thought about it that way before, but characters in books need to be just as vibrant, just as quirky, and as visually fascinating as actors on a screen.  If your reader can’t see the scenes unfolding in front of their mind’s eye with the realism, grit, and humanity that a real, live actor can bring to a role, then we haven’t created a character worthy of being read about.

I may still read Silver Linings Playbook.  And maybe I’ll be surprised to find what the author was able to create on the page after all.