I forgot to make a pre-DFWCon post, which probably would’ve been something to the effect of “convention time! yay!” Riveting stuff, I know. So instead, a more informative recap.
Friday Stinky & I drove out and THROUGH SOME MIRACLE avoided getting hopelessly lost. As in every “wrong” turn I made ended-up being right. Cue foreshadowing music.
We arrived & attended a pre-conference workshop with Donald Maass, who’s one of the biggest agents in the bidness, but they told us not to pitch to him because he’s not taking queries (important info for later). He workshopped us with a Socratic approach to plotting and characters, and it didn’t take long for Stinky’s eyes to pop out of her head. Granted, the dude’s pretty awesome and taught a tight class, and though we’ve already done a lot of what he said, he articulated things in such a way that we went “wait, we can do MORE of this now that we have concepts to wrap our brains around.” So to make a long story short, he gave us more work. : \ Don’t you hate when the teacher does that? Don’t you also hate it when you do the work and make an A in the class? Ugh, I know I do – I HATE MAKING GOOD GRADES! Ok not really.
Afterward we had dinner with some spectacular writers, Stinky gave me her daily (sometimes hourly) threats of violence, and we went to the pre-conference mixer. There, I won a set of “girly” bath soaps as a door prize. They offered to let me trade-out for something less girly, but GUYS NEED TO TAKE BATHS TOO, so I kept them and made them a conversation piece for the rest of the night. Met some pretty interesting people there too, which is important because when you’re walking around the con, it’s good to have other folks to tap and ask “what are you doin’ next?” Also it’s good to have people to sit with at lunch and other random times. And hell, most of us are these introverted hermit writers with tons and tons of quirks, why WOULDN’T you want to meet them?
Stinky cut out early, so I went up to her room and we talked story. After Maass’s class, we had some ideas we both needed to flesh-out and approve with one another, and as is our standard for collaboration, we did. Side note : at one point I propped the door open anticipating that Annie Neugebauer would emerge from the elevator, WHICH SHE DID (moral of the story : trust your instincts). Annie is EL SUPREMO PRESIDENTE-O of our crit group, an incredible writer, and all around impossibly cool person. If you don’t know her or haven’t ever read her blog, CLICK ON HER NAME ABOVE RIGHT NOW. Seriously. She also bakes cookies. COOKIES. YES, YOU HEARD ME RIGHT, I SAID “COOKIES“!!!!
After cookies and story talk, I returned to my room and passed out for hours and hours, which is pretty rare for me. Everyone else I know apparently had trouble sleeping (well, maybe not Russ). The next day I met my conference peeps and attended classes. I don’t want to gloss-over the classes, but I’ll say they were pretty solid this year, partly because Donald Maass taught a lot, and partly because Tex Thompson taught a couple of my favorites. For those of you who don’t know Tex, GO CHECK HER OUT TOO. She’s like an explosion of 52 enthusiastic kittens all trying to go in the same direction, but instead latching onto everything at once. Yes, that’s exactly what she’s like.
For lunch I made it a point to stray from my crowd and sit with folks I don’t know (mostly), then Stinky and I had our first scheduled pitch at 2:48. As previously agreed, I did most of the talking, and the agent asked for the full manuscript. We left the pitch room flying high, especially Stinky, who hadn’t grasped the fact that we’d created something that awesome and different until that moment. Ha.
Later we hit dinner with THE ZA, El Supremo Presidente-O, Christine, and Kelsey, and we met a very “special” waiter. Most of us show up just in time for the start of the query gong show, which requires a little bit of explanation. Earlier that day, people turned in queries for the gong show, which George “THE VOICE” Goldthwaite reads with his super movie / radio announcer voice. A panel of agents listens, and at the point where they’d stop reading, they hit their gong. After 3 gongs, they stop and discuss what went wrong with the query. Most queries don’t make it past a paragraph or two, if that.
A side note about our particular query : Stinky wrote most of it. I gave her maybe one line, and we both did battle with a different line but ultimately couldn’t make that sentence work, so we just left it in like the lazy bums we are. She sent it to me, and I was supposed to edit it before printing it out. I hate queries with a passion, so I looked at it and went “I don’t like anything about this query, but I also don’t want to waste time on it,” so I printed it out. Friday I handed it to her to look over, and I didn’t realize she kept it. Saturday there was some panicking and shuffling when I went to turn it in, but in the end, we got it where it needed to be… obviously.
Our query came up in the gong show. Honestly from here on, it’s mostly a blur, but here’s what I remember : George started reading and I knew we were gonna get gonged because I hated that query letter. He kept reading, on and on, no gongs. I had no idea what was happening. Russ and the people around me started going apeshit because they’ve been reading this story in crit group, and the new friends who’d never heard of it picked up on our reactions and started freaking out too. At the start of our second paragraph, George hit the line Stinky and I had done battle with, and we got our first gong… but it went on.
And the third paragraph started. George’s voice cut through the silence, and in the jumble of emotion exploding through me I couldn’t remember how long the damn query was. How much further did he have to read? Finish, damnit! We got our second gong at the very end of that third paragraph, and a huge commotion erupted. People thought it was done, that we’d made it through to the end without 3 gongs. Agents started talking, and above the din I heard Donald Maass say, “Whoever wrote this, query me.”
I will remind you that earlier, we were told he wasn’t taking queries. Stinky compared this to Simon
Pegg (whoops, that should be “Cowell” – thanks for the correction, Stinky!) giving the thumbs up, except that in this situation, I felt like him showing interest made the other agents sit up and take notice too, sort of in an, “if he sees something here, I need to take a look too.” Other agents piped-up, but the host and George were like, “Hey there’s another paragraph.”
So everyone shut up and let him read, and we made it through. 2 gongs in our obvious let-down places, but the real victory came when agents who had gonged basically said they’d still be interested. In fact we ended up getting requests for the full manuscript from all but 1 of the agents on the panel. Actually I take that back – the real victory was when Donald Maass, the guy everyone was told wasn’t taking queries, got on the microphone and said to query him. In front of hundreds of people.
We’ve written something different, and I expected we’d get a good response, but this? Nope. Never.
Russ, one of my closest crit buddies, bought Stinky a drink, as did El Supremo Presidente-O (she probably needed it). I ran around getting cards & socializing. Maass requested the first 50 pages (later he upped that), and after they kicked us out of the convention center my crit group had its own shortened Afterparty (our version is one word and capitalized. Deal with it), during which I tried to help THE ZA prepare for his pitch. “Flying high” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Wasn’t a lot of sleep to be had that night. I’m unsure when unconsciousness actually hit me, but I couldn’t have gotten more than a couple of hours. At breakfast Stinky made her requisite daily death threat to me (whew, got that out of the way early!), then we hit our 9 AM pitch. The agent, who was on the gong show panel the previous night, noted, “I realize I have some competition for this,” and requested the full manuscript, bringing our total to 5 and a partial at the time.
Stinky & I walked a little taller that day. Well, I did. She didn’t sleep much either, but I’m used to dealing with that. Everywhere we went, people were congratulating us. At one point I grabbed Stinky and sort of threw her at Maass. We talked for all of about a minute and when I repeated his orders to send the first 50 pages, he said, “Oh why don’t you just go ahead and send me the whole thing?” Sold.
Last night I logged into twitter and found a bunch of new followers, some of which I remembered meeting, some I didn’t (sorry! I met a lot of people!). This morning, in my cold, cluttered kitchen, I shoveled cereal into my mouth and thought about how that query changed everything.
And damnit, while I still don’t like the language of it, I love what it did for us.