What’s Worth Writing About



Followers of this blog may have noticed that I haven’t posted to it in some weeks. I wasn’t sick, particularly, although I had one of those colds where you have to cough all the time in order to keep breathing. I wasn’t depressed, although my beloved mother-in-law just died and I heard from a respected agent that she thought my latest offering had no discernible plot. I wasn’t too busy to write, although it seemed as if I were doing things all the time, I forget what. I had people over for Thanksgiving. That was fun, but nothing to write about.

I just didn’t feel like putting finger to keyboard.

I still don’t. I know, these are the times that try men’s souls, I should write a protest column. But I wouldn’t know what to say. Others have said it better than I can. The enormity of these outrages has passed beyond my powers of expression, even counting the bad words. I’m going to Washington next month with the other enraged women and I don’t even know what slogan to put on my button. I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit. (Maybe that’s my slogan.)

Personally, our lives are good. We’re having house guests for Christmas. That will be fun, but not something I particularly want to write about. The neighbors seem happy. Nothing to complain about there. If there were, I wouldn’t write about it anyway, because I won’t violate people’s privacy and I detest drama.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with my book, lack of drama. I have put it aside for awhile to be looked at later. Meanwhile I found another one on an old thumb drive, something, I think, that failed to interest my last agent. Called Broken Sister, it’s all about a mysterious adoptee returning to the town of her birth. The first few chapters struck me as being really good, right up to the part where I revealed the murder. Maybe it doesn’t need a murder. Not every story is a murder mystery. Maybe I’ll cut it down to the place where I still liked it and take it in a completely different direction. After Christmas, when I get time.

Thrilled in Manhattan

mosleyLast week was Thrillerfest, a conference for thriller writers and fans that featured Craftfest, a series of talks on the craft of writing thrillers, and Pitchfest, a speed-dating event for writers in search of an agent, as well as a number of thrilling panels. I did Craftfest and Pitchfest. Craftfest was instructive, and Pitchfest hooked me up with three or four prospective agents. I came home and polished up the manuscript of FIREBOMB, plugging what I hope were the last few plot holes, writing a Hollywood ending as requested by the most enthusiastic of the agents. Why not, after all? Does true love always have to end in despair? Surely lovers can be happy, even in wartime, if only for a little while.

Now to wait and see what these agents think of the work. In the meantime I thought you might like to hear about Thrillerfest.

A number of the craft talks dealt with structuring your novel to keep the reader worried about the protagonist until the very end. (Sounds simple, right?)  Walter Mosley, wearing his trademark hat, gave a bracing talk on how to tap the interesting things in your unconscious. He had us all write a sentence. Then he had us write a paragraph.  “Now go home,” he said, “and write on this every day for two or three hours. Never miss a day.” While we slept we would think of new things about it, and be farther along with the project than when we left it the day before. But we must never skip a day. That’s how he works.

Lawrence Block gave a talk, too, looking back over his long and distinguished career,  and harking back to the Mid-Atlantic conference in Philadelphia that I attended when I was first starting out. Walter Mosley was at that very conference when he was just beginning to be published. It was a project of Deen Kogan and her husband, and a bang-up event it was. I still have a souvenir coffee mug somewhere.

Thursday afternoon was the Pitchfest. Before that, a number of Careerfest sessions. One was a discussion of self-publishing, the fall-back position if we didn’t get an agent. Then we were lined up and marched downstairs to several rooms full of agents sitting at tables, there to stand in line for a three-minute opportunity to sit down and pitch our thrillers. It was not an unpleasant experience. The agents were cordial, and the other writers were not anywhere near as cut-throat competitive as what I was expecting.

Then I came home, exhausted, spiffed up the FIREBOMB manuscript, wrote a synopsis and three queries, and sent the interested agents the things they had requested. Tuesday I had a tooth pulled. This week I am forced to subsist on room-temperature gruel. A fairly tasty room-temperature gruel can be made by throwing a can of black beans into the blender with the juice of one lime and blending it silly. With a dab of sour cream on the top it’s quite good. But that’s a blog post for another day.