Why Graphic Novels Work
I just finished reading Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic— a graphic memoir written by Alison Bechdel. An insightful fast-read, Fun Home follows a young girl as she dodges the pitfalls of her dysfunctional family (is there any other kind?) while navigating through the currents of her sexual awakenings. This award-winning graphic novel has also been adapted into a Broadway musical, and will resonate with anyone who didn’t grow up in a “normal” family.
Years earlier, I had the pleasure of reading Stitches by David Small—another graphic memoir dealing with family dysfunction. Graphic novels are an ideal vessel for delivering dark humor as told through the eyes of a child. The innocent design mixed with dark subject matter works in delivering a unique and appropriate mode of storytelling.
As I look at my own novel, Chasing Crazy, still hiding on my computer, ready for its entry into the literary world, I wonder, what if I made Chasing Crazy a graphic novel?
Pitching to Literary Agents – Round II
With 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…
When Your Editor Tells You There Are One Too Many Siblings
The 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.