And He Winds Up the Pitch


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I am so not a sports fan. At all. But, you know, the post title…

I have committed to honing the pitch for Phreak Show before drafting it, as opposed to after. My theory is that this will help me boil it down to the basics before I start muddying up my own brain with all the details that are about to go down on paper.

Here it is. The latest version. Comments & feedback welcome.

When Tera sees through the 605 pounds of fat smothering Twiggy the Blubber Girl, and finds a hurting teen beneath, she knows something’s crazy-twisted with the Last American Phreak Show. The powerful Phineas is enslaving the acts by using their own warped self-images against them.

Tera can’t just keep her mouth shut and walk away. Sacrificing her own sorry excuse for normality, Tera joins the sideshow—becoming a phreak herself. She quickly learns she’s powerless to set the others free. She’s just as effed up as they are. And the gawking, taunting rubes at every performance along the show’s route reinforce the painful lies holding them all captive.

Only by banding together can the troupe withstand the clashes with the locals, and become strong enough to break free from Phineas. But internal jealousies, insecurities, and tangled relationships pit the freaks against one another. Even when the ragtag group feels like home, a nagging truth gnaws at Tera: they will each have to confront the scary, powerful phreak lurking inside their own skin. Alone. Freedom won’t be won with fancy costumes, slick talk, and sideshow tricks. The battle will be fought in a much deeper place.

Being a phreak isn’t about looks. It’s a frame of mind.

This is probably version #10 out of a possible #3,000. That is to say, apologies in advance for all the future versions you’ll have to suffer through. As a ‘Thank You’…
The MC, Tera, gets her name from Teratology–the study of monsters.

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The Next Novel: Phreak Show


My peaceful breath-between-novels has been released. I’m sucking in the freshness of a new premise exploding with heaving, huffing, puffing, oxygenated life.

Here we go. Again.

It’s always a toss-up for me on how much of a premise–how many specifics–I should divulge to the world-at-large. I’m torn. Of course, I want to share ALL THE IDEAS. I want to gush about the nuances, the love quadrangles, character motivations, the twists and turns, the specific tidbits which make my world & story unique. But, then the fear kicks in.

What if somebody steals my gems? What if a writing thug ganks my ideas and appropriates them as his/her own?

So, I share just enough to tease. Reveal pieces of the puzzle which—hopefully—entice others to ache for more.

{No, this isn’t as streamlined as a pitch should be. It’s more like slightly connected thoughts. Bear with me.}

Phreak Show  is a YA Fantasy. It is set in the Last American Sideshow–an anachronistic Victorian subculture existing within, and clashing against, modern-day society. The phreaks are everyday teens who have been enslaved by the mysterious Phineas Maestro. The main character, kick-ass sixteen-year-old Tera, is tricked into transforming into one of the exhibits. Living, working, fighting, and finding love with the other phreaks leads her to discover how they can all break free from Phineas’ imprisonment.

Their own warped self-images have created the personas of Blubber Girl, Gemini the Two-Headed Boy, The Abominable Snowwoman, and the rest of the oddities.  If Tera can control her unique phreak manifiestation as a WhatIzIt, she can help the others face their fears and release themselves from bondage. With more internal baggage than the spoiled Lil Diva lugs around, Tera will have to confront her own effed-up issues before she can begin to help the others. But being comfortable in your own skin is tough as shit. Being a phreak isn’t about looks, it’s a frame of mind.

I have started a few Pinterest boards for collecting visual references for Phreak Show. Some of the descriptions give further clues to the characters and the world I am building.

http://pinterest.com/gypsyluc/

Take a peek for a few more scrumptious, teaserly morsels.

We have all felt ostracized & marginalized at some point in our lives. Some more than others. In a former life, I was a Youth Pastor. [I know, right? Crazy!] The leaders of one employing church in particular wanted me to chase after the athletes, the popular kids, the rich kids. In their minds, if we could get these types involved, others would follow. Frankly, I thought that was pompous, ungodly bullshit. So, I went with my heart. And this heart of mine roots for the underdog, kids from the wrong side of the tracks, the dirty, the broken, folks who are rough around the edges. The result: I ministered to sk8ers, emo kids, regular Joes & Janes–anyone who desired interaction. I still get Facebook messages, emails & phone calls from these kids–now grown–telling me how much I affected their lives… Long live the underdogs.

Agents: How to Cut Your Slush Piles in Half


 
Maybe the title is a tad hyperbolic. Nevertheless, there is a useable nugget of truth here. I promise.
 
Sometimes, a writer has to take a chance on a query letter. I have tried a few things–nothing outlandish–but perhaps a little out of the tried-and-true norm. I know, I know. Gimmicks are almost always an instant turn off. I haven’t used dancing baby videos or written a query as though one of my characters was doing the pitching.  Confession: after a conversation regarding what makes Freeborn unique, I did use this subject line for a few queries:
 
Query – FREEBORN – YA Sci-Fi (With pregnant dudes? What!?)‏
 
Yeah, well, I recovered from that moment of lunacy.
 
Sometimes, writers don’t feel like they’re taking a chance; it just happens. An example of this is querying agents who may/may not rep the genre the writer is submitting. I thoroughly research each agent before querying: agency sites, interviews, twitter, random internet searches, client lists. No matter how in-depth this fact-finding mission, it is often hard to discern exactly what an agent is looking for. Some have a very quiet e-presence, while others throw themselves out there loud and proud.
 
When in doubt, I send the query out.
 
Much love to the agents who spell out their wants/likes/dislikes in crystal clear terms. Unfortunately for the slew of querying writers, there are plenty of agent profiles which merely provide the wide-open, vague “YA/MG” market with no specific genres noted. With these agents, I will take a chance and send a query anyway.
 
***Note to agents with vague ‘What I’m Interested In’ declarations: Want to cut the number of ‘Not Right For Me Queries’? Give us details of what IS right for you.***
 
Both you and your interns will thank me for it.
 
One of my best rejection letters came from an agent who simply listed the “YA/MG” market. This rejection is inserted below. With the Dear John opening address, it starts off sounding like my girl back home is breaking up with me while I’m crawling around in muddy, wartime trenches. After that, there are amazing statements every writer likes to hear. But then it hits–the dreaded asshole-of-a-word–however.
 
Dear John,
 
Thank you for your query. I thought this was a really creepy, interesting concept and that you executed it very well. The writing was super compelling and the pace was great. However, I’m afraid that I don’t do all that much with Sci-Fi, as I’m not a big sci-fi reader and don’t feel I know the market well enough. I wish you all the best and encourage you to submit your query to other agencies. Thank you for thinking of me!
 
Best,
Agent with Vague Profile
 
Let’s recap the key terms and play-by-play reactions:
“really creepy, interesting concept” – [Yay! It’s not a form letter! Perfect compliment. That’s my brand.]
“you executed it very well” – [:: Heart flutter :: We’re off to a great start here.]
“writing was super compelling” – [Wow! This is going really well! This agent ‘gets it’. :: heart rate increases ::]
“the pace was great” – [I agree. And thank you. I worked hard to make sure of it. Where is this email leading…? :: heart skips a beat ::]
– “However” – [F#^k!!! :: heart shrivels and dies ::]
 
After the however, my eyes glazed over. My blood pressure rose. My finger instinctually slid over the mousepad and selected the “Move To: Rejections” icon. Fantastic. Agent read at least part of my sample chapter, liked it, but rejected it.
 
I double-checked the agency website and online info for the agent. Yep. Just as I suspected. Vague market with no genres listed. Don’t get me wrong. I am very appreciative of the customized letter and feedback. I understand that the effort was a gift and took time for the agent to compose. The agent could have simply form-rejected Freeborn since my submission was not in a genre s/he represents. However…
 
 

There Is No [Damn] Spoon


“Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.”

“What truth?”

“There is no spoon.”

“There is no spoon?”

“Then you’ll see it is not the spoon that bends; it is only yourself.”

Most of the time, it sure feels like there is a spoon to bend–a massive titanium spoon with a stubborn streak. And that sucker wants to remain as it is. Unbent. Then there are the times when said spoon seems to actually morph, bow, twist, and submit. But, according to Spoon Boy, it’s not the spoon which is bending; it is me.

Two more Pitch contests have come and gone. The stubborn spoons of 3-2-1 and Super Intern are still marvelously straight. I won’t toss them into the garbage disposal, though. Instead, I’ll tuck them away in my silverware drawer of attempts made.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, here are the current stats for contest entries, requests, and queries:

Contests –  Entered: 6     Outstanding: 1     Wins: 3     Losses: 2 [I can tie it up!]
Requests – Submitted: 5   Outstanding: 5
Queries –    Submitted: 3   Outstanding: 3

So, my calculations bring the total number of Outstanding opportunities to 9. [Please, double-check my math for me.] I do indeed believe these are “Outstanding Opportunities” in the best sense of the phrase.

The truth of the matter is that–in order to be successful in my writing endeavors–it is I who must bend.

Freeborn’s pitch has been tweaked and honed at every stage of feedback. The manuscript has gone through multiple revisions, 2 critique partners, and 6+ beta readers. I am anticipating feedback from the requesting agents with the possibilities of either “I want you!” or “Please revise & resubmit using my amazingly specific comments as a guide.” I refuse to accept the idea of form rejections.

After all, there is no damn spoon.

I am always a little wary of using ‘profanity’ in a post. Anywhere online, really. There are folks from early epochs of my life who [I’m sure] are appalled by my use of ANY profanity. We change over time. This is fact. Funny how folks from your past–people you never interact with anymore, people who have no authority over you–can still cast their heavy shadow over your life. I’m trying to shake it off. But sometimes I still feel like a kid caught smoking behind the barn.

Feedback: Super Intern Contest


I like that little checkmark!

The committed Erica Chapman finally sliced and hacked her way through all 30 randomly selected pitches & first 250 words in the Super Intern Contest. Being a lover o’ math & calculatory functions of a complex nature, I had to run some simple stats on the contest. Erica was gracious enough to clarify a few responses I couldn’t quite nail down as a Yes or a No.

Disclaimer #1: This is totally my own doing because, well, I wanted to.
Disclaimer #2: I interpreted each of Erica’s comments. Where she was ‘on the fence’ I either asked for a clarifying verdict, or took the overall tone of the feedback to polarize her comments into a Yes or a No.

Here are how things turned out:

70% “No, I wouldn’t read more”
30% “Yes, I would read more.”

I’m not sure how those numbers compare to the usual slush pile ratio, but those are the stats for this contest.

At least two of my online writerly friends also made the randomized cut. Of the two, 1 received a Yes, and the other received a No. The full details, entries, and comments can be found here: http://brenleedrake.blogspot.com/. For your onsite reading enjoyment, my entry and Comments are posted below.

Super Intern Contest – FREEBORN
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Word count: 79,000

Query letter:

Dear Mr./Mrs. Uber-Agent,

The Surgeon Generals are liars. The lives squirming inside the guts of Katia and the other clones aren’t parasites. They’re Freeborns.

The squirming in Katia’s gut means two things: she is infected with the dreaded parasite, and her boring life as a sixteen-year-old clone is over. Despite her precautions, the infection—which attacks regardless of gender or age—has implanted a living tumor inside her. Katia knows she should obey the Surgeon Generals and submit to their so-called treatment, but claustrophobia has a way of pushing her to do crazy things. Trapped, with nowhere to run, she accepts Adam’s offer of asylum in a safe house full of infected rebels.

As Katia’s stomach swells, she experiences feelings she has never known, discovers the truth about the life wriggling inside her, and joins the rebels in their insane plan to shift the power. The militant Doctors and assassin Candystripers are proficient at ending the little uprisings which threaten their illusion of peace. Only, they have never faced a threat like the plot Katia and Adam are involved in.

The rebels plan to infect every man, woman, and child on the planet with the Freeborn parasite the leaders are seeking to destroy. Not only do they have the guts to do it, but they also have the means. Katia’s fear of tight places is nothing compared to her fear of what will happen to every clone in the world, herself included, if she and the other rebels should fail—or even more so if they actually succeed.

Freeborn is the 79,000 word YA Sci-Fi offspring of The Hunger Games and Contagion.

I am a writer, poet, and visual artist. With published short stories, articles, poetry, and illustrations, Freeborn is my second full-length novel. As I seek an agent, the concept for the sequel is in the works.

Thank you for considering Freeborn.

250-word excerpt:

Katia shuffled down the busy sidewalk, hunching over her cane. Mindful of the surveillance cameras, she periodically stopped to adjust the scarf securing her gray wig. Though her old lady disguise was fake, her Infection was real.

Every face that passed wore a government-issued prevention mask. The virus did not discriminate, but attacked regardless of gender or age. None were immune. Even though Katia had taken every precaution, the sickness had wormed its way into her blood. The parasite now squirmed in her gut.

A pair of Doctors brandishing chrome assault rifles blocked her direct route to the building. One tiny prick from their portable infection detector would immediately unravel her disguise. They often slammed the infected to the ground—just for kicks—before hauling them off to a quarantine center. That was their role: abuse their authority, mess with the rabble, keep the streets clear of the infected, and toy with them along the way.

Katia held her breath and shuffled behind the Doctors. Their voices turned towards her as she passed, but they didn’t address her as she mounted the steps to the ten-story structure. Like most corporate buildings, this one had been converted to housing to accommodate the rising population caused by the Infection.

The woman in Suite 940 was her last hope. While most people referred to the woman as a witch, she called herself Ilythia. Katia’s friend—one she almost trusted—had passed on the information; Ilythia possessed the ability to help the infected through the horrific final stages.

***********

COMMENTS

erica m. chapman said…
QUERY
I remember this. And I really liked it before. This is good. I really like this premise and the way you’ve set up everything in this. I’m confused as to why they would want to infect everyone with the parasite? Isn’t that a bad thing? You may want to make that more clear. Also, comparing your story to the Hunger Games is not something I would recommend. This is good. You have me intrigued.
250
This is intriguing. I like what you’re setting up. I get an idea of the surroundings and the world we’re in. Letting us in on the infection early on is a good idea. I would read more of this.

John Lucas Hargis said…
Thanks for hacking through all these pitches for us, Erica. You’re a gem.
1. Nix the Hunger Games reference. Done!
2. So, the ambiguity about ‘why’ the rebels would want to infect everyone: I thought that might be a perk-up moment in the Pitch to get the agent to want to find out. Guess not…lol FAIL!
So stoked that you’d read more. Gives me a happy face. See —> 🙂

erica m. chapman said…
My pleasure!! Ah, it’s always better to be more direct, I think. Just my opinion ;o) Glad i could help!

***********

The next phase of the contest entails 3 of the pitches being escalated for a 10-page critique. While I would love to receive that bonus prize to give Freeborn a little boost, I am already appreciative for the feedback on my first 250. I have been having success with the Pitch, but it is nice to finally get a bit of feedback on [at least the opening of!] the writing itself. It gives me hope. Much hope.

Too-Small Blanket


Note: My feet are a little bigger than that^

My mind may be shrinking. I hope not. All I know for sure is that it currently feels like a too-small blanket.

I remember this one winter night when I crashed at a friend’s place. The amazing party and afterglow were followed by folks hunkering down and sleeping it off ’til morning. The hosts were [are] the magnificently odd artist-types that I love. You know–they forego creatures comforts like ‘heat’ in the Ohio wintertime so they can live solely on the income from their artistic endeavors. Once again, amazing folk, extending hospitality. (Within a freezing cold midwest loft.)

Curled up in a recliner with an electric lap blanket wrapped around me, I had the best accomodations. But you can only sleep in the fetal position for so long. Enter: the effort to stretch out. Bad idea. That poor little 3′ square blanket was cranked up to High and giving all it had to give. It wasn’t the little guy’s fault that I was twice as tall as it was long. Cramping and kinked, the too-short blanket saved me from frost-bite and hypothermia. As long as I kept myself wound into a tightly wrapped ball, my core body temp remained above freezing. That too-short blanket was my savior.

My mind is having a tough time wrapping around the things going on with Freeborn right now. It seems like, just yesterday, I was scribbling down those first few chapters. Now, after a small amount of well-placed effort, here are the current standings:

Freeborn Request Tally = 5
– 2 Agents with Full: Elana Roth, Michelle Witte
– 2 Agents with Partial: John Cusick, Tamar Rydzinski
– 1 Publisher with Partial: Month 9 Books
 
You never know how these things will turn out. All this really shows is that I intrigued these industry pros with my pitch. It says NOTHING about how the manuscript itself will be received. They could all stop reading at the second sentence and toss Freeborn into the “Dear Intern, Please send out my form rejection” pile.
 
Nevertheless, I continue to find myself bursting out in random fits of masculine, butch-like Squeeeeeees.
 
So what if my mind feels like a too-small blanket right now? I’ll take it. But I’m holding off on curling up into the fetal position. I’ll save that survival technique for the day the last rejection rolls in. No, scratch that! The thought is colder than a harsh Ohio winter. Instead, I’m gonna find a way to stretch this mind-blanket out. If all goes well, I’m gonna be needing an oversized quilt to keep me warm in the next stage of the process. Might as well get to yanking and pulling before it happens.

Connecting the Virtual Dots


A lot has been popping with Freeborn. I’ll reiterate this from previous posts: I have not submitted a single query via the usual channels yet. In fact, I didn’t complete my last round of polishing until 1:30 this morning. A month ago, my plan was to complete the final edit, and then begin querying on my self-imposed deadline of 6/16/2012.

Alas, that plan was tweaked a bit by some amazing opportunities which sprang up between the tightly laid cobblestones of my proposed path to publication. If you walk away with nothing else from this blog post, then I ask you to consider the weight and importance of being active online and being involved with the personalities you meet there. The partials I have received have stemmed from those virtual relationships.

I received TWO partial requests for Freeborn yesterday.

  1. Via the YaLitChat YALitChat Pitch Slam2 Contest – A request for the first 50 pages from agent Tamar Rydzinski of Laura Dail Literary Agency.
  2. Via the Month9Books Facebook page – A request for the first 5 chapters from publisher Month 9 Books.  

I originally heard about the YaLitChat Pitch Slam2 contest from a Twitter friend. To trace that lineage back even further, she & I were both involved in the #WVTP contest. Afterwards, a group of us continued to message one another, connect via Facebook, and celebrate/share/whine about our writing endeavors. If this connection had not been made and sustained, the Tweet announcing Pitch Slam2 would have scrolled along, getting buried in the rolling feed. Because we had connected with one another, I took notice of the Tweet and followed up on the opportunity.

Here is the form the request took. [Pay attention to the name of the Moderator. You will be seeing it again shortly…]

 Reply by Georgia McBride 
Tamar would like to see your first 50 pages! Congratulations! Please email us at membership@yalitchat.org for submission instructions!

I’ll try to keep the circuitry of the Month 9 Books motherboard as sorted as possible. While on YALitChat, the ‘Chat’ window bleeped at me. I joined in a conversation with Brenda Drake and Georgia McBride. Brenda and I had originally connected through her Brenda Drake Writes blog months ago, and then we connected again as she served as hostess-with-the-mostest for the #WVTP contest. Georgia is the founder of the YALitChat site [along with a ton of other endeavors!] and we connected there. A week ago, she took the time to thank me for being active and helpful in the PS2 conversations on the site.

In the midst of discussing a concern I had regarding a specific element in my pitch, Brenda asked if I had pitched to Month 9 books. I scribbled the info on a post-it to investigate later and continued chatting. Later, I discovered that M9B is yet another of Georgia’s many endeavors–and Brenda’s publisher. At the time, I had no idea of either connection.

I found M9B’s website and started my research. First of all, I loved the publisher’s tagline: Speculative fiction for teens and tweens…where nothing is as it seems. As always when researching agents and publishers, I delved further. I checked out every aspect of the company including the basics, what they are looking for, current titles & authors, and quality of the book covers. What I found particularly interesting were the Publishers Marketplace announcements on the ‘News’ tab: 2 & 3-book deals, auctions, and an expanding staff roster.

With the confidence that M9B would make a perfect fit for Freeborn & its author, I followed a link to their Facebook Page and submitted my query. Within five minutes, I received this response in the form of a Comment:

Month9Books, LLC. I’ll bite. I’m looking for straight-up sci-fi. Please send first 5 chapters to submissions@month9books.com. Please polish and make sure the world-building is solid.

One more dot to throw in here to increase the connectivity a hundred-fold: Georgia is represented by the illustrious, aforementioned Tamar Rydzinski.

Is your mind scrambled? It took me a few takes to trace all the circuits.

So, what’s the point of this post? Other than the fact that I’m geeking out over a pair of requests on the same day?

Make and sustain meaningful online connections with others who share your passion.

Yeah, I know. It’s common sense and it has been said before. Maybe I have nothing to offer except a reiteration of the obvious. I’m totally okay with that, because I am seeing the importance of the simple truth being played out in my own experience. Don’t underestimate the power of seemingly ‘simple’ advice–and virtual relationships.