Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tales from the Script Pitch

I just got home from the InkTip Pitch Summit in L.A. What FUN!

I hate sales, but love to tell stories. I’ve always equated pitching with “script selling.” If I had to choose between doing a sales pitch and sticking pins in my eyes, I’d be blind. But pitching isn't about the immediate sale any more than dating is about getting married immediately and setting up housekeeping. It's more about allowing both parties to get to know each other to determine if they think they want to work together.

You'll hear much more about the Summit in later posts. I'm still digging out from my pile of notes, 1-sheet and script requests, and contact information while trying to re-adjust to a 3-hour time difference and picking up my life where I left it.
However, I had to share my favorite story from the Summit:

Photo by Kenn W. Kiser, from www.MorgueFile.com
Four biker-looking producers are sitting at 1 table. I'm gonna pitch them my dark comedy. The guy before me (sports jacket, attache) passes out his very slick 1-sheets and leaves. All are interested in what he had to say.

When he's gone, the most badass looking of the 4 (black T-shirt, multi-colored tattoos) says quietly, "That guy nearly ran me over in the parking lot this morning."

"No!" Everyone says.

He nods. "Yeah. Got out of his car yelling at me. Cussed me up one side and down the other."

Like clockwork, the other three tore up the 1-sheets into tiny bits & tossed them away.

You just never know: the tough-guy biker might be the producer you're dying to meet! He might be the one you need to give your career the boost you've been waiting for.

In short, common courtesy may be the best pitching tool in your belt! And judging any human book by its cover is a long step off a short and slippery slope...

Be nice. Karma is real. So is poetic justice. It's not all about you. The publishing world and the entertainment industry are full of people who are ready and willing to listen to what you've got to say. But remember: You're pitching yourself as much as your story. If they know from personal experience that you're a self-centered boor, the best pitch in the world won't get you through the door.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Guest Blogger Maggie Mendus: In Praise of Poetic Structure

NOTE: Today's guest blogger is poet, author, & blogger Maggie Mendus . I first met Maggie at a writer's workshop I taught. She has relentlessly pursued her passion: writing and publishing poetry. 

Maggie is "a poet who writes to heal." A retired language arts teacher and a pianist, she is published in "The Eclectic Muse," "Romantics Quarterly," "Harp Strings," "Poets’ Forum Magazine," and "Sandcutters." She and her husband live in the wooded dunes of Lake Michigan. She is the author of Broken Consciousness

Wait, don’t go anywhere. Just because you might not read poetry written in the classic forms doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. I mean it. I was taught to write poetry in traditional forms, and I know the trend these days is free verse, sometimes very free.

Oh, I’ve been to those readings where some bearded guy with dreads sways in front of an audience, eyes closed, head thrown back, the dramatic glissando of his voice sliding between whispers and shouts. I try, but can’t follow his train of thought, and I don’t like being aboard trains that might derail. He’s a performance poet, for sure.

Now I have nothing against beards, dreadlocks, performance poets, or (well-written) free verse. But hey, what I’m hearing has to make some sort of sense. And these dudes go off down winding paths of wild emotion. Their angry tirades, political ravings, and decadent wanderings into love and sex never make sensible circuits with beginnings, middles and ends.

I keep an open mind. But traditional verse met me on the road and we became friends. No, the French villanelle wasn’t easy at first. But reading villanelles (same form as Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas) ignited something in me. I wanted to write one, too.

Why am I attracted to the difficult? Believe me when I tell you that my first attempts were macaroni and cheese compared to a delicate soufflĂ©. But the detailed rhyme scheme kept my attention, and after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears I produced one, an original expression that obeyed the structures the villanelle imposes. I felt as if I’d passed some sort of test with flying colors.

"Poetic fences create boundaries." Photo by Jane M. Sawyer.
Of course that motivated me to write more, and the villanelle became my favorite form. Practice, like keeping my fingers nimble for the piano by playing scales, aims me toward success. I find the sonnet more challenging, but I like writing anaphora and terza rima. I write triolet, rondeau, pantoum, and other formal verse, finding that structure is freeing. Poetic fences create boundaries, and in traditional verse a line is just that, an exact number of syllables, a particular rhythm, a certain rhyme.

This quest urges me ahead and keeps me writing. In early March I published a book of 52 poems, BROKEN CONSCIOUSNESS: Reflections of an Epileptic , and all but one are in traditional form.

Why not try your hand at a poem in one of the classic forms? A great guide is Lewis Turco’s The Book of Forms , a worthwhile tool. Like me, you might resist….at first. But who knows? Also like me, you may become hooked. 

A final word from Ami: I share Maggie's love of structure in writing. Some of my most rewarding writing is done within a strict structural framework. What are your thoughts? Are you a classicist? A student of structure? Or a proponent of chaos? Weigh in with your comments below. Extra points for comments written in structured verse.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Seize the Day: Surprise a Writer

A writer's life is full of endless surprises. Main characters refuse to do the very things for which they were created. Villains become too compelling to destroy. Minor characters endear themselves and merit their own story lines. And then there's Real Life...

Wednesday started out like any other day. Horses, dogs, cats, & assorted flocks of fowls to feed... A beta read to continue for a Twitter friend... A request for a quick foreword edit from a blog visitor...

While perusing my Twitter feed, I saw blogger Tracey Hansen's Week 3 #HumpDayChallenge: Write a short story of no more than 100 words that featured the following 5 words:

Jelly. Memory. Greed. Stench. And legerdemain.

Entries had to be posted by 8 p.m., for judging by novelist Al Boudreau.

So after editing the foreword, I started working on a little something... 

In the evening, while my daughter was in karate class I sat in the YMCA, finished up my entry and posted it -- 15 minutes before the deadline.

And then life hit me with the surprise:

I came home to discover that my wonderful husband, who has been doing really well lately, had stopped making sense. Which is not normal for the WunderGuy. Fearing that he was gearing up for a seizure, I packed him off to bed.

(I learned later that the "not making sense" was actually a sort of seizure in itself. I should have taken him to the ER immediately. If only he'd come with an operator's manual. Now I know...)

At quarter to 1 a.m., the fun started. Multiple tonic-clonic seizures, coupled with major ick-sickness, can totally ruin an evening. After the third seizure in 2 hours, I knew it was time to take him to the hospital. His right side wasn't working very well, but somehow (thank God) we got him down the stairs. He was exhausted, so I sat him on the chair to catch his breath while I called a friend to come and watch our daughter. WunderGuy began seizing again.

I dialed 9-1-1.

When the paramedics pulled into our drive a few moments later, he seized a 5th time. He spiked a fever (common after multiple seizures), was sick-sick-sick, and was completely comatose.

We got to the ER shortly after 3. They stabilized him and ran a bunch of tests: EEG, CAT scan, chest x-ray, blood tests. Nothing conclusive, except they're worried that he aspirated fluid into his lungs, so they gave him an antibiotic as a preventative for pneumonia.

These seizures, and the 4 hours or so leading up to them are very different than others he's had. Just this past week, his meds have switched from name brand to generic made-in-India because insurance won't pay for the "real" ones. I'm leaning toward a theory that says that's to blame. But what do I know?

We stayed overnight in the ER; got discharged shortly after 10 a.m. Dragged my butt home, put exhausted WunderGuy to bed, then muddled through the day trying to stay awake & be a mom to 8 y.o. (True confession, I did park her in front of a movie so I could catnap for an hour.)

So it was a wonderfully pleasant surprise to check in on Twitter and learn that I'd won the short story contest. (Want to read it? Here: NIGHTFALL.)

Aw, Gee. You made my day.
What did I win? Well, I'll tell ya, it was a virtual swag bag.

I won the right to display this bitchen, way cool badge of honor. I received a ton of goodwill congratulations from other contestants & Twitter followers. I got the satisfaction of seeing my fiction in print on a site other than my own. And I got a much-needed boost to my emotionally drained spirit that will propel me to fight (and write) yet another day.

In other words, the prizes were a gladly welcomed surprise.

Later (apres catnap and after ascertaining that WunderGuy was still breathing and cogent), I received another surprise.  The person I'd helped with foreword editing sent me a Starbucks gift card in thanks. How nice. How thoughtful. And, given my insatiable penchant for coffee, how totally appropriate.

Now, neither winning the contest nor receiving free coffee has lessened my concern over my husband's well-being. They haven't helped me sign with my Dream Agent or contributed toward this month's mortgage payment. But both went a long way toward making a difficult day... bearable.

Want to make a writer's day? Surprise 'em! Some ideas:

*  Tweet 'em up. If you're both on Twitter, post a less-than-140-character note telling the world how great your Exceptional Writer Friend is.
"You are SO cool!" photo by Mary R. Vogt / MorgueFile.com

*  Blog 'em big. If you have a blog, write a post about something your friend does that you admire. Especially if the thing you admire is writing-related. Most writers get way more rejections than kudos thrown their way. Having someone specify how they don't suck can do more than you know to bolster a writer's flagging spirits.

*  Leave a comment. If your writer friend has a blog, say something in the comments section. Drop a note saying how much you appreciate the friendship, the insight, the craftsmanship, or the humor. Go public with your recognition. It can make someone's day.

It's the little surprises that make life worth living.
* Send a snail mail.  Eschew technology and go old school. Get tangible. Break out the pen and paper or pick up a card, write a note of encouragement and approval, and send that puppy.

*  Send 'em something special. Thanks to the twin miracles of PayPal and online gift certificates, it doesn't take much time or money to send a certain special sumpthin'. Even a $5 gift eCard for their favorite bookseller, coffee shop, movie theatre, or other vice goes a long way. It's a great way to say, "I believe you're going to make it." 

So go ahead, make someone's day. You might find it brings a smile to your face as well:  Surprise!