Speed Dating in the Literary World

Pitching to Literary Agents – Round II

agent 1With one year under my belt, I felt a false superiority over the woman ahead of me in the registration line, juggling her phone and handbag in one hand while trying to unfold the day’s itinerary in the other.

“So, where are you from?” I asked, trying to calm her nerves.

She looked up, apparently surprised that a stranger was talking to her. “Me? I’m from Omaha.”

“Omaha,” I repeated. “Beautiful city. That’s a long drive. You got me beat.” She smiled at me and went back to untangling the wadded up piece of paper. OK, I thought. She’s not here to make friends. I’m good with that.

I looked behind me to see that the line was now half-way down the long hotel corridor. Like last year, the 2017 Writers Workshop of Chicago was once again being held at the Congress Plaza Hotel. And like the year previous, I was here to recharge my creative juices and meet a few literary agents…speed-dating style.

Along with the seminars and workshops, many writers’ conferences also allow writers to pitch their completed manuscripts to attending literary agents for an additional fee per agent. It’s kind of like buying your way into an interview, which sounds a little suspect but I prefer to look at it as an opportunity for them to meet me.

Each purchased pitch is ten-minutes long, and as I peak into the hotel ballroom, I see the literary agents setting up their spaces for the day, each one seated at an intimate round table topped with a linen table cloth. Ready to face a day of… “My novel has a different ending if you turn the book around…”, “The narrator of my book is my cat who…”, and “I would compare my book to “To Kill a Mockingbird, but its better because…” There’s not enough caffeine in any of their cups to get them through this day.

9:30 – My first pitch is actually with an editor of a publishing house rather than a literary agent. “Nice glasses,” I say to her as I take a seat. She smiles, but it vanishes quickly. This woman is all business. Her first question: What’s the name of your novel?

Chasing Crazy,” I reply, which apparently is the wrong answer. After hearing my reasoning for the name, she shakes her head and explains that Chasing Crazy sounds too lighthearted, and more fitting for a romance novel. Damn. I can’t even get the title right?  As she dissects my story description, I write vigorously while trying to move beyond the fact that my novel has a title more befitting of a Nora Roberts book.

“Time’s up!” the room monitor announces. And for the second time, the editor smiles, pleased, I imagine, to be done with one more pretend-writer.

9:40 – Its tough going from one pitch immediately into another. There is no time to gather my thoughts and as I walk to the next table, I wonder if I should say that I haven’t come up with a title yet. Or maybe I can come up with a new name. Straight Jacket & Sun Glasses, or Running with Scissors? No, that’s already a book.

My next meeting is with a literary agent that actually owns and runs her own shop. I had hesitated meeting with her out of intimidation. With her list of clients, she can’t possibly be interested in meeting with a writer holding her first manuscript. But just as you should never judge a book by its cover, I was surprised to find this rock-star agent to be genuine, kind and interested—interested in Chasing Crazy. Not the romance, but the story of a German mother suffering from a cocktail of mental illnesses, and the affect it has on her children. A story of violence, hope and crazy times.

11:30 – I learned something about agent pitches last year, after I purposely requested one for the last time-period of the day, thinking that after hitting it off, we might wander over to the hotel bar for a beverage or two and become best friends. No. I learned that as the day progresses, the agents start to all get a familiar glaze over their eyes that can’t be erased with a gallon of coffee. So with this information in-hand, I head over to my last pitch of the day while the day is still young, confident that the next agent isn’t comatose yet from countless writers starting to blur into one another.

As I chatted with yet another wonderful agent, I was surprised at the friendliness of her tone, the many questions she asked, and her interest in Chasing Crazy. Or should I call it, In the Shadow of Children, or…

Stay tuned…

Heidi McCrary

 

Station Eleven… A 60-Second Book Review

 

Book coverHow would you fare in a post-apocalyptic world? Could you move beyond losing everyone and everything in the blink of an eye?

After a pandemic flu wipes out 99.99% of the population, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel focuses on a handful of people leading up to and after the apocalypse. As their lives intersect at times, we learn who survives, and whether living in the new world is a blessing or curse…or both.

Character-driven and with a heroine that could challenge Katniss of The Hunger Games, Station Eleven gives us a glimpse of the strength that sometimes lays dormant within us. West Michiganders are given an extra treat as a band of survivors travel the shores of Lake Michigan.  A thought-provoking summer read…and read best by candlelight.

60-Second Book Review

By Heidi McCrary

Eat Your Way Through West Michigan

Lakeview Diner.JPGWe’ve all been there. You’ve been counting down the days for Saturday to arrive only to have your weekend plans doused by rain. If you’re a true Michigander, you simply shift gears and schedule a road trip! Only one thing can make a chocolate milkshake taste better, and that’s savoring it at the counter of a diner you just discovered while traveling the backroads of West Michigan.

So grab a friend or two and fill up your tank because we’re taking a West Michigan Road Trip—one diner at a time.

STOP 1 – BLUEBERRY PANCAKES AND BLUEGRASS

Breakfast is to diners what corned beef hash is to eggs. We begin our tour at the marvelous Nena’s Cooper Café in Cooper.  You know that the breakfast is going to be excellent when a diner doesn’t even try to mess with offering dinner. This quirky diner features an electric train that circles the dining area, and while you’re enjoying your breakfast burrito, you just might be serenaded by a bluegrass band that drops in regularly.

 Nena’s Cooper Café: 7759 Douglas Ave, Cooper

STOP 2 – JUST DON’T ASK FOR NED

Make sure to take the scenic drive up M-43 to NEDS. Slow down as you pass by the North end of Gull Lake. Nestled across the road is a delightful deli/restaurant/bar where you can enjoy grinders, pizzas or burgers inside or dine al fresco in the wonderful lakeside ambiance. They serve lunch and dinner, and offer a special treat on Sundays—a BBQ bonanza of pulled pork, brisket, and ribs. Just don’t ask for Ned. NEDS stands for North End Deli & Spirits.

 NEDS: 15450 S M-43, Hickory Corners

STOP 3 – DOH, DONUTS!

No Diner Tour is complete without a pit-stop along the way for a snack or two, right? Don’t let the non-descript name of this place fool you. Bloomingdale Bulk Foods & Bent-n-Dent (AKA Triple Bee) is located just west of Bloomingdale, and features a beautiful cedar entrance. Careful, parking next to the Amish buggy or two that will likely be in the parking lot. This General Store carries a wonderful assortment of bulk foods, deli cheeses, and natural foods. But the real reason you’re there? THOSE DONUTS—made fresh on Fridays and Saturdays.

Bloomingdale Bulk Foods & Bent-n-Dent: 44085 CR 388, Bloomingdale

STOP 4 – DINNER & A DINOSAUR

StationLong ago in Cassopolis, there stood an ordinary Sinclair gas station. Restored in all its glory, it’s now a quirky tourist attraction featuring that green dinosaur standing guard on the rooftop. Visitors can travel back in time checking out the art-deco furniture and gas station accessories. But this trip comes with a bonus attraction. Just down the road is the Lakeview Diner, appropriately connected to a classic boat museum. This 50s diner serves lunch and dinner in a fun retro-styled setting complete with a jukebox, neon signs and incredibly delicious milkshakes topped with whipped cream and a cherry.

Lakeview Diner: 980 E State St, Cassopolis

Here’s a thought…take a road trip and discover something new. Just make sure to tell me about it!

Kill the Sister

When Your Editor Tells You There Are One Too Many Siblings

deadstickThe further I get into the writing process of my novel, CHASING CRAZY, the further away I am from being finished.

Let that resonate. Feel free to read it again—I’ll wait.

I wrote down the first words for CHASING CRAZY on August 25, 2013. As I began writing, I questioned whether I wanted to keep this venture to myself or share my quest with everyone within earshot. Wouldn’t be great to just present a finished novel to the world, and have them go, “Oh my god, you wrote a novel?” But I decided to announce my writing intentions as a check and balance, believing that if I told the world that I was writing a novel, I better damn well do it.

So I did.

The downside to that logic is I had never written a novel and knew absolutely nothing about what goes into the process, thinking sweetly that my editor would look over my first draft and fix a few typos. I envisioned her saying, “It’s incredible, darling! This book will be a best seller!”

But the reality is a long road of new characters, deleted chapters and new directions. What started out as a memoir turned into a novel, and the reality is, a tight storyline means less characters. Translation—my editor informing me that, “You need to lose a sibling.” Which, if you have a sibling or two (or four), is the equivalent of being told that you need to cut off your arm. I balked at this suggestion for over a year as I rewrote and reworked the storyline.

But today, I killed a sibling. I didn’t actually kill the kid. I simply (literally) erased the poor child from the pages of my novel—nothing personal. The editor made me do it. With eyes now wide open, I continue to rework, delete and rewrite. CHASING CRAZY is not a great novel yet, but it will be.

Stay tuned…

 

 

RIP My Daily Newspaper

newspaperI often talk about the changes traditional media is going through these days. The fall of the daily newspaper was made clear to me yesterday as I thumbed through our local daily paper on the day after the Presidential Inauguration, and the day of the largest Women’s March in our country’s history—two impacting news stories from a national and local standpoint.

While keeping in mind that, traditionally, the Saturday newspaper is the smallest of the week’s editions, I was flabbergasted to find that this paper-thin newspaper contained the following…

Section A: Local, Regional & National News – 4 pages, Stocks & Mutual Funds – 2 pages, Comics – 2 pages

Section B: Sports – 4 pages, Puzzle – 1 page, Classifieds – 1 page, MLive Ads – 2 pages

This $1.50 newspaper contained 8 pages of news/sports. What it didn’t contain was advertising from local or national businesses. Not one ad.

A business cannot survive in this fashion for very long, and I can only imagine that our local daily newspaper will not be printed for much longer, and likely, no one will notice when it stops. Today, the majority of people receive their news on-demand in an endless variety of online mediums, no longer waiting for their news to land once a day in their newspaper box in the front yard.

As I read about the Women’s March online, I think about tomorrow’s newspaper featuring yesterday’s news.

RIP, my friend.

Living in Kalamazoo… Looking Back at 2016 – the Good & Bad

child-with-balloon-1If you live in the Kalamazoo area, you were probably knocked off your feet more than once this year by the horrific events involving the mass shooting in February, and the tragedy involving the bicyclists this past June. Both incidents drew national news coverage, and painted a dark picture of what people are capable of doing, along with the incredibly sad consequences of their actions.

No one would argue with any of us if we quietly closed out the year, saying “Next year will be better.” But that’s not how we operate here in Kalamazoo. Instead, after getting knocked down, we stood back up as a community, and stood side by side.

While the violence behind the two tragedies does not reflect who we are, how the people of Kalamazoo reacted to the events does define us. We are part of an incredible community – defined by three factors.

The People…

Beyond those who make the headlines regularly, Kalamazoo is built on a foundation of good people who make a difference on a daily basis but without the fanfare. Like the two women highlighted below, who champion a segment of the community without a voice, and are Superheroes to the world of dogs and cats.

Katie Timber works endlessly as the Executive Director of SPCA of SWMI – a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing homeless dogs and cats, and adopting them into responsible homes. You have probably seen Katie with a spunky dog or two on the local news on Channel 3, or at one of the many SPCA events held in the area.

And over at Animal Rescue Project, Amy Geil Susan is also championing cats and dogs by dedicating her time to helping with the rescue, rehabilitation and adoption of at-risk pets in pound facilities. You may have encountered Amy with a cat or dog at one of the many fund-raising events she facilitates.

Places…

When it comes to unique shops and eateries, the area is exploding with a distinct local flavor that rivals cities twice its size. And to keep us on our toes, the city’s shopping and dining landscape is ever-changing. From crack Fries at the new-to-Kazoo HopCat, Bronco shirts and Plainwell Ice Cream at the newly-located The Spirit of Kalamazoo, to a cappuccino at the new Coffee Bar at Sawall Health Foods, it’s all good! Want to relax? Kalamazoo has you covered, with a multitude of parks, trials and nature preserves.

And Things

While Kalamazoo may sound more like a Dr. Seuss name, the heart of what makes it tick is very real. Like the generous people who providing a large monetary gift to the city which will help in bringing down the city’s debt, and lessening the burden to those living in the city, and the organizations and people who are stepping up in the rebuilding and revitalizing of Bronson Park. This is why I am proud to call Kalamazoo home.

Here’s a thought… As we look back on 2016, let’s remember what makes us Kalamazoo Strong.

Heidi McCrary

Advertising Goddess / Writer

heidi@adshopetc.com