Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Killer Nashville - 2

Well, Gal Friday did it again.  This time she outdid herself.  She packed the van, directed me in, tied me down, headed the nose southwest and put the pedal to the metal.  We left Delaware at 4:30 AM.  Did you get that?  That's the time we left.  We went to bed at 1 AM.  AM means morning.  4:30 AM is when I used to drag myself home from an "evening of enjoyment."  4:30 AM used to be part of my night--not my morning. Maybe I should say "mourning." Egad, my life has flipped over.

We left DE and drove to my daughter's in the Greensboro area of North Carolina where we stayed for two wonderful days.  We loved the time spent with her family.  Heading farther west, we hit the pavement again and drove to Nashville, TN for the writer's conference.  After the conference, we headed for Tellico Village, TN to spend a couple of days with old friends.  Next came Raleigh, NC to choose stone for the new house and then to Edenton to meet with our builder.  The following day we drove to Elizabeth City, NC to select flooring and tile.  Now did we stay overnight to rest and drive back to DE the next day?  Oh no, when Gal Friday sets that imaginary chauffeur's cap atop her head, she doesn't stop for bathroom breaks much less rest periods.  She did slip in a little nap, but unfortunately it was while she drove.  That constituted a little "white knuckle" time for me.  This journey took 10 days and covered 2,000 miles.  It took us two days of sleep to recover.

Now for the "Killer Nashville" writers' conference AKA three days of intense terror.  The conference was held at a five-star hotel.  I didn't understand why it garnered such a high rating.  The rooms were nice, but not more so than most average chains we stay at.  Leaving our room on the seventh floor for the conference area reminded me of a treasure hunt.  We had to take an elevator to the second floor, cross a route through the parking garage and then take another elevator back up to the sixth floor.  I didn't consider this too high class.  Of course one main reason for a five-star tribute is the hotel's food.  The menu seemed the same for lunch and dinner.  The cuisine approached an attempt at sophisticated Continental fare with names I couldn't pronounce.  Basically it offered pasta, fowl, fish and meat.  All were overspiced and decorated with extra sprigs of parsley.  We lunched in the hotel restaurant on Friday, but the next day walked across the street for some real food at Arby's.  Don't knock it; Arby's has good roast beef.

This was my first full scale writer's conference and I felt certain I'd be uncovered as a fraud pretending to be a writer.  Maintaining a low profile, which is difficult when you're the only person in 300 navigating around in a wheel chair, I escaped being exposed   As I mentioned in my last posting, Gal Friday made an impressive attempt to prepare me for this event.  She did everything except kick my butt to motivate me to action, but of course to no avail.  So I sat there completely unprepared among professional agents, editors, publishers and writers.

Friday and Saturday went fairly well because all I had to do was scrunch down in my chair and listen as we attended panel discussions and workshops, but Sunday was "D Day."  Sunday morning I was scheduled to pitch my book to an editor, an agent and a publisher.  All the work Gal Friday tried to make me do in the last few months had to be crammed into a few hours the night before.  She was not a happy camper.  Our heads hit the pillows around 3 AM and I didn't sleep as I kept trying to memorize that one crucial sentence.  Which crucial sentence you may ask?  Now get this, you have to tell them what your novel is all about in one sentence.  Huh?  One sentence!  It took me six months to compose this sucker and many more months doing rewrites.

You got 10 minutes with each professional and mine came consecutively, or as my dad used to say, back to back to back.  That meant one-half hour trying to sell my manuscript to accomplished people in the publishing world expecting to hear a professional presentation.  I've made many professional presentations all over this globe and I know about butterflies in the stomach and dry mouth, but I never experienced as much pre-pitch fear as that morning.  I was damn scared about, not just being rejected, but being ashamed.  I was out of my league and I knew it.  Truthfully, I think what I dreaded the most was Gal Friday's disappointment.  She really believes I have a great talent for writing and has been my biggest supporter.  I hated letting her down.

A young lady escorted me into a large room with each interviewer sitting at a small table.  The tables filled the room.  I wheeled up to the agent, introduced myself and spit out my one-liner.  I looked into his eyes hoping to see a twinge of excitement.  His response, "That doesn't turn me on."  Oh, shit.  I could imagine this half hour could be the worst of my life.  He asked me about the plot and I mumbled something I tried to remember from Gal Friday's early morning training session.  I have no idea what I rambled about, but he ended up asking me to send him three chapters for his review.  This is a very big deal, getting an agent to ask for your work.  My 10 minutes were up so I kissed his ring and wheeled to the next table.

Then came a female editor whom I remembered well from the panel discussions and what I recalled wasn't too encouraging.  She had been very critical about the rights and wrongs of grammar, punctuation and the story's point of view.  When talking about the right way, she cast her eyes over the room but I swore when she expounded on the evils of vile wrongs, she looked straight at me.

After I popped off my hook line, she retorted,  " I like that."  I was so flustered, I couldn't get my business card out of my jacket's inside pocket.  She stood, came around the table and picked it out for me.  This was a magnanimous gesture on her part and somehow established a bond between us. Before the 10 minutes ended, she asked for the whole manuscript.  I was on cloud nine.  I kissed her feet and left.

While being escorted to the next table, I remembered he was "the deal."  I was going to sit before a publisher--actually have a publisher personally listen to my plea.  By now I was two for two and really didn't care what this guy said.  Well, that's not completely true, but my tension had eased off.  I had already accomplished much more than I ever anticipated.

As I approached, he stood to shake my hand and introduce himself.  This was a first.  This guy was a gentleman.  My tension backed off even more.  When asking about my novel, I let the one-sentence pitch roll of my tongue like it was as natural as giving birth--not by me, but by my Aunt Dorie who had 20 children.  Once again, I couldn't free my business card from my jacket and he too, stood and took my card out.  Most of the 10-minute period we spoke about hurricane Irene and before I left he asked for a sample of my work.  Three for three plus another request from an agent who had earlier critiqued the first 10 pages of the manuscript.  Four for four.  Zowie!  Later that day I talked to a published writer who kindly offered to have me send him my first 50 pages and he would forward them to his publisher.  Unbelievable.

Sandblasting couldn't get the grin off of Gal Friday's face.

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