• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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my sleeping it was broken but my dream it lingered near

The other night, I participated in a fundraiser known as “Pitching Roulette.” This is where you sit at a table, and every ten minutes a different writer sits down across from you and tries to interest you in his or her work. Not a single person slipped some cash or hash under the table. That would have helped. Some talked the whole time and were impossible to help as a result.  Some got so flustered they put their papers away in a fit of shame. One woman said, can we just sit here?  Yes, my darling, we can sit here all night. We can sit here even though my pants are tight and I want to hit a deli on Fifth. Even though we will be getting our one minute warning in a minute. Even though I pray I can make a 9:50 movie, alone and in my heaven. One woman pitched three different projects. No, no, no. Who the hell am I to talk like this? The truth is I like helping people, even if just one person grabs on to one thought or idea and is reinvigorated. But I also feel old, tired, cynical and I don’t like it when I can smell another person’s breath and it smells like teen spirit.

Give us a pitch and the warm and fuzzy group of commenters who I’ve come to think as close, personal friends will tell you if it sucks. At least I hope they will.

195 Responses

  1. I’m working on a memoir. If you don’t read it … you won’t miss it. If you do read it … you’ll recommend it.

  2. So there I was, pitching. And I remembered the most valuable advice I’ve ever heard: don’t drink the water.

    My mouth was so dry, so nervous. Tongue like a rope. Oh, oh, you bet I wanted that water, sitting there, like a tantalizing oasis.

    So I told myself sternly (inside my head), No no no don’t you dare touch that luscious pitcher with the clinky ice and the big clean glasses! It won’t help! You’ll just spill it all over the table and the papers, then choke. That is, if you manage to get it in yourself. Sit on your hands, shut up, and just answer the questions.

    Some of the pitches went well, some did not, but I left the room with my head held high and my pants dry.

  3. Oh God, I hope I don’t get Kathryn-ized…

    Rachel O’Brien is a 20 something Jew living in Toronto. Just as she graduates from teacher’s college, her boyfriend suddenly ends the relationship. On a whim, Rachel accepts a job teaching French in outport Nfld. Initially she struggles to fit in, but over the course of the school year (the framework for the novel) she comes to love Nfld and certain Newfoundlanders in particular.

    The novel is set in the 80s and will be told in diary form – Up The Down Staircase meets Bridget Jones’ Diary meets The Shipping News – or something like that.

    • All things Newfoundland are pretty hot right now at least in Canada so likely a good idea. I’d read any book about this amazing place so go for it.

    • Throw in a murder and I’m there! Which, now that you mention it, how come there are not more novels set in Canada? All I know about are Robertson Davies (love him!), and some scary feminist who I won’t even read her reviews. I’m a totally escapist reader! Murders and ghosts, that’s what I want. Set in Toronto! No kids, no pets!

    • I’m always a sucker for a girl who doesn’t fit in.

    • you had me at katheryn-ized (that she be the name of the character who steals the boyfriend. katheryn Ized)

    • Interesting! It has all the elements I like — teaching, diary-format, the outsider discovering a new setting, romance . . . I’m in! 🙂

    • This opening perks up my ears for all the reasons listed here so far. Can you add what a few of the conflicts will be?

    • And yet I see a wrench: what Newfoundlander wants to learn French? But if she could find a way to bring back the cod, they’d love her.

    • This sounds interesting, Downith. Having fun writing the 80s?

    • Downith,
      First, I want to read it.
      Second, picture yourself being the 10th pitch. Can you add specifics, names, conflicts? “On a whim” and “struggles to fit in”, are not worthy of your writing. Details, details, one specific over many generals every time.
      Love the book comparison at the end.

    • I like the premise but I agree with an earlier comment – where’s the conflict that makes one want to keep turning the page? What makes this different from simmer stories? Zone in an that and you’re golden.

    • It’s like show and tell day. Love it! I’m into the coming of age stories in the 20s and Newfoundland provides a great backdrop (from what I’ve researched). Like others, I’d like to hear about the old bag who won’t mind her own business and the gas station attendant who decides she’s his new girlfriend.

    • Downith, bravo for posting!

      Sounds like a great premise/setting! We need to hear more about the conflict, as the other folks are saying, but I like it. 🙂

      As a picky point, I think “on a whim” tends to make a protagonist seem passive.

      • Thank you all for your comments.

        Note to self – need more conflict.

        Deb- were you there when I was teaching back then or what?!

  4. The Coolest Block in The Whole Wide World is a 333 word illustrated children’s book.

    A. is a young girl who lives on one of the noisiest streets in the world. She loves nothing more than to sit on her fire-escape for hours and watch all of her neighbors. As she describes it, “It’s like having your very own t.v. set right outside your window.” From her vantage point, we are introduced to a veritable melting pot of different cultures. Alex plans to travel the world when she grows up but already knows that MacDougal Street will outshine them all. It has that one thing that no place else has, that one something that makes it, truly, the coolest block in the whole wide world.

    • Okay, I’m pretty sure I have seen a version of this on one of your blog posts from a while back? Yes?

      If so, I’ll take it – along with your putative greeting card line and that other thing I mentioned to you via email.

    • Sold. Want.

    • yes.

      i’ve seen spots of this work too at your place, but would have still said yes even without the sneak preview.

      not that i know a thing about elevator pitches, but “The Coolest Block in The Whole Wide World is a 333 word illustrated children’s book.” sounds right on.

    • This is a perfect pitch, except for the last sentence. I would end with MacDougal Street will outshine them all, because it’s the coolest block in the whole wide world.

    • This is the block where Jack lived.

      This is the ball
      That lay on the block where Jack lived.

      This is the boy
      That kicked the ball
      That lay on the block where Jack lived.

      This is the girl
      That chased the boy
      That kicked the ball
      That lay on the block where Jack lived.

      This is the dog
      That barked at the girl
      That chased the boy
      That kicked the ball
      That lay on the block where Jack lived.

      This is the cab with the beeping horn
      That scared the dog
      That barked at the girl
      That chased the boy
      That kicked the ball
      That lay on the block where Jack lived.

      This is the Mommy with the newborn
      That shushed the cab with the beeping horn
      That scared the dog
      That barked at the girl
      That chased the boy
      That kicked the ball
      That lay on the block where Jack lived.

      This is the Daddy all tattered and torn
      That kissed the Mommy with the newborn
      That so on and so forth.

      • We had a hard time playing ball in the street. Mamoun poured his used oil down the alley, making it too slippery.

    • I like this, too. Especially in happily remembering an ANCIENT (1940s? 50s?) children’s book titled “365 Bedtime Stories”. It was a story-a-night concept and the characters all lived on one street. I lost the book in H. Katrina but keep a look for it in second-hand shops.

      Best of Luck with your work!

    • I want this to sell as if it was my own.

    • Having seen some of your illustrations, I ask to see them for sure. Love the concept of embracing where you come from with all +/- attributes.

    • City kids will identify, already knowing the tv outside their own windows. Small town and country kids will be awed at a life in the city. Suburban kids will be snotty and think they know it all. I’ll buy it, MSB, sign me up.

    • It looks like you got there. (yay!)

    • This has a wonderful Sesame Street vibe, with the ethnic diversity and all the activity. It’s the kind of thing I was always looking for when my kids were small.

    • Oh, you know I’m there, MSB. Always have been since reading your wonderful posts about MacDougal Street on your blog.

    • Yes, and yes, and barbaric yawp over the rooftops and all that.

  5. Peter Rabbit grows up . He’s an actor. Lotta harrowing shit from childhood — his father was made into a pie by some Jungian wtich named MacGregor, his mother raised him and his three sisters alone in a tree housing project — so he’s got some drugs some sex some soul-emptiness issues. Flopsy Mopsy Cottontail all leading problematic lives spread across America. Mother is suffering a growing dementia. Pie-obsessed. Resolution: they all learn to carry on with the pain. Film version: Ryan Gosling as Peter of course. Surprise casting move: Lady Gaga as Cottontail, an L.A. publicist.

  6. Sometimes I daydream sometimes about writing my own memoir. Not about my childhood or my life–too boring–but about my hackery, my failed pitches and proposals, my abandoned drafts and my half-assed brainstorms and miserable sales and literary misfires. Which would be even more boring. Still, I could fling crap here all day. (For Downith’s Rachel O’Brien: I once seriously considered writing a screenplay called ‘Mickey Doyle, Irish Moyle.”)

    This post will have 129 comments.

    • Oh, you with the cutting comments all the time. Oy vey.

    • I’ve dreamed of reading your memoir. And here I am visiting Cannon Beach (Oregon) and I haven’t even seen the beach yet because I have to check in on Betsy’s blog and scroll down to get me some August.

      I have a title for you:

      August and Everything After. (It’s a good title, and it’s been wasted on a non-August project.)

      Please please please please please please please please please please, etc.

  7. can i just sit here?

    what movie did you see?

  8. This is from my almost-completed WIP. I don’t know from pitches, so I cannibalized my query letter notes.

    In order to save their dying boss and mentor, a group of e-cons must dig past his aliases, secrets, and crimes to track down the family he betrayed and abandoned — and convince them that he deserves a second chance. No sweat.

    Except leads are disappearing right and left and the odds against finding a viable donor are rising. The team is starting to think that more than Murphy’s Law is dogging this job , when one of them is brutally attacked. There’s someone out there who doesn’t believe in second chances.


    Meh. Fire away.

    • I can totally see this a blockbuster film (you know, after it’s a best seller)

    • I never thought thuds could pull on my heartstrings. Tell me it’s the abandoned daughter administering justice and I’m all yours!

    • I’m hooked.

    • Watch the cliches. ‘Disappearing left and right,’ ‘odds are rising,’ ‘brutally attacked.’

      What kind of donor? Get more specific.

      Frank Jute need a new liver. After forty years on a steady diet of whisky chased with whisky, his is the texture of yesterday’s bacon.
      Frank’s ex-con buddies figure they’ll track down the family he betrayed, and convince them to give the big guy a second chance–and a chunk of somebody’s internal organs. No sweat.
      Except when one of them gets both his pinkies snipped off , they realize that someone out there doesn’t believe in second chances.

      • Thanks, August.

        It’s easy to watch the cliches in this, now you mention it–they’re all over the damn place.

        And that’s a great pitch. Wish I could swipe it whole.

    • Who’s the main character? That needs to be in the pitch. Some names would be good too.

    • Love it. The donor business needs expansion. Seems like it’s a key plot point?

    • I, too, want more specifics than anything. A group of e-cons — 3 or 7? Why does he have aliases and secrets and abandon his family — just a few gems, I think, would fill these blanks and make it more concrete.

      I love the premise, Sarah. And now that I’ve read it a 2nd time, I’m wondering if there’s just a paragraph missing to start this off. Maybe the opening could be the boss’s name and how all these people came to be together. And then follow with the paragraphs you have here (punched up a bit).

    • Okay — I know this isn’t a workshop, and I apologize for cluttering up the comments, but here’s a second try:

      Judith is content with her new life as a small-town librarian. Most days, it isn’t as exciting as bulletcatching for the Blaine Company–a private fraud-squad and security firm staffed by ex-cons—but after leading her last team into a killbox, she finds quiet retirement both penance and relief.

      Until David McRae, rehabilitated grifter extraordinaire, talks her into helping him run one more job: saving the life of James Blaine, the reformed huckster who gave Judith and countless others a chance to make good, their way. A man whose last chance is a bone marrow transplant from a close relative, but who refuses to tell anyone a damn thing about his past.

      In order to save their boss and mentor, Judith, David, and a small team of the Company’s best have to dig up Blaine’s aliases, secrets, and crimes to track down the family he betrayed and convince them to help. Whether he wants them to or not.

      No sweat. Except an old rival of Judith has appeared with an agenda of her own, leads are disappearing — or dying — and an ex-company employee is gunning for the team, literally. It’s clear that more than Murphy’s Law is dogging this job — someone out there doesn’t believe in second chances.

      • A thousand times better. I

      • If Dave and Jimmy get last names, give Jude one too. I’d try to trim this down, just a bit.

        Most days, Judith Shmetterling likes her new life as a small town librarian. It’s not as exciting as bulletcatching for Blaine Company–a private security firm staffed by ex-cons–but after leading her last team into a killbox, she could use a little boredom.
        All that ends when ex-grifter David McRae talks her into doing one more job: saving the life of their old boss James Blaine, the man who gave Judith a second chance. A man who’ll die without a bone marrow transplant from a close relative, but who refuses to tell anyone a damn thing about his past.
        In order to save Blaine, J and D need to unearth his secrets and track down the family he betrayed. But when they start digging, people start dying. Someone out there doesn’t believe in second chances.

      • Yes agree – even better.

      • Thanks for the help and encouragement, everyone!

  9. Hitler’s Dog.

  10. THE BOOK: A CAT OF UNUSUAL SIZE, a children’s (ages 9-12) book.

    Franny and Toby are the new cats on the block. They are siblings. Franny is that rarest of cats–she is a cat who can read. Their next-door neighbors are the Highlanders, a family of three cats: Princess Rainbow, her sister Duchess Bay (who sits on the roof and sings the blues), and their brother Moo-Cow (who stays indoors all day nibbling on kibble while watching endless hours of tennis on television, and has grown rather large). The Highlanders have been there a while. Across the street are the Southies, who are Elbee and her three grown kits, Larry (who is Rainbow’s boyfriend), Curly (who calls himself Theodosius the Great), and Moe (who is a little unhinged). They just moved in last year, escaping a gang war in their old neighborhood.

    The humans are mostly off-stage characters. The cats call them “beans.” The other characters are Bunny the Free Range Rabbit and a few birds, which the cats call “sky-swimmers”: MacAdam the Roadrunner (who can also read, having taught himself off garbage in the streets), Colonel Falcon, Squawky Crow, Cooie Dove, and Tweetie Finch.

    THE PLOT: Franny and Toby move in. They get to know the denizens of the ‘hood and spend the summer playing together. One by one, the cats start to disappear, in this order: Curly, Bay, Larry, and Toby. At first, the other cats aren’t too worried, since cats come and go, but they are a little worried. Larry escapes and skinny and scared shows up back in the ‘hood and tells what happened. Turns out the missing cats have been captured by an evil bean who puts them in cages. She (the evil bean) wants to capture the cats and sell them. She is fixated on gold doubloons and hasn’t sold any of the cats yet because she can’t get anyone to pay her in gold doubloons. She has said she has a fine gray cat (Curly), a beautiful chocolate point cat (Bay), a mackerel tabby (Larry) and a long-legged cat (Toby), but she is particularly interested in obtaining “a cat of unusual size” in order “to make a complete set.” Larry reports this. Franny, Rainbow, and MacAdam organize a rescue. Moo-Cow will be the bait. When he first squeezes out through the cat door is the first time we see him. MacAdam says, “Why, that is indeed a cat of unusual size.” MacAdam gets the birds, led by Colonel Falcon, to do some preliminary scouting to figure out where the evil bean’s cages are, since Larry is too traumatized to say anything other than, “They’re over there.” Elbee and Moe, both being black cats, go in on a nighttime follow-up scout to pin down the details, and almost get caught. The next day, information gathered and plans all in order, the free cats and their friends go to the rescue. The Free Range Rabbit chews a hole through the perimeter fence. Moo-Cow somewhat reluctantly goes in and is seen by the evil bean. As she tries to catch him and almost has him, the birds swoop down to distract her. Elbee, Moe, and MacAdam move in to scare her while Franny, Rainbow and Larry pop the latches on the cages and free Curly, Bay, and Toby. The evil bean gets her comeuppance by being trapped in one of her cages when the cats are freed. The cats talk later that day about whether they should leave her there or let her go. Some want to leave her, some want to free her. They decide to leave her for a days or two. Franny and MacAdam write a note (MacAdam holds the pencil in his beak) telling the evil bean that they are freeing her but she must leave the ‘hood and never return, or she will be sorry. All the animals return to deliver the note with their demands. The evil bean agrees to their demands, they free her, and she jumps into her car and drives off, never to be seen again. The cats find cans of tuna in her house (Moo-Cow finds them), Colonel Falcon and Squawky Crow drop them from great heights and they split open, and there is a party to end the book.

    • I think you would benefit from shortening your pitch. Too much information.

      • I believe I have ten minutes. That took three minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Perhaps you’d like some hash? A glass of water? I’m sorry, I have no cash.

      • You’re overestimating agents. They are beans of little brain. I think your pitch is, ‘101 Dalmatians with cats.’

        This sounds younger than 9-12 to me.

      • I’m terrible at figuring out which text goes with which age, though.

    • Tetman,
      I love this story and would buy it for my kids. Now, I don’t get how to pitch so take this with a grain of salt.
      I think regardless of the time factor, there is too much information and if I was being read this I wouldn’t be able to follow.
      Is there a way to cut this down to the key figures, the key plotlines, and leave the person wanting more?
      I think if you can do this, you’ll hit it out of the park.

    • Thank you for making me laugh out loud. I love the story. Yes, the pitch could be shorter…but I think you is messing with us. Perfect. All of it.

      • I’m such an idiot. I fell for it…but I still like it.

      • Clearly I can’t throw a fastball, breaking high and to the inside, but I can fire a shotgun. Thank you all for your comments. (August, you win the prize for the succinct pitch. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you summed it up very well.)

        And I’m not messing with you, this is a real book. I’m at 8500 words, working on it every day, and looking to bring it home at about 40,000 words by Independence Day (U.S., that is). Then it’s tra-la-la, off to market we go.

      • go tetman!

  11. Playing the waiting game with my novel that features a Michigan college botany instructor who takes his summere botany class to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes for research, and later at night on top of a dune, he accidentally sits down on the back of a friendly dragon. Or isn’t that what you meant?

  12. Some of you have already seen this on my blog, but here goes:

    The Berry Pickers

    Helena is a good girl, a hard worker, a patriot. When the Soviets invade eastern Finland in 1944, she destroys her animals and home before fleeing ahead of the onslaught. In the midst of the blood and smoke she reluctantly takes responsibility for the neighbors’ grandson. Instead of joining the local war effort as planned, she delivers the boy to safety in the west where they are assigned to live on a family farm with a mother and daughter.

    Talvikki has never questioned authority – especially her mother’s. But when her young son, Jarmo loses his life after a brutal attack she’s just going through the motions; gathering berries, emptying the fish traps, hauling wood. She’s also keeping a secret. Jarmo whispers to her in the forest, haunts her dreams. Now, an outspoken refugee has come to live at the farm and she’s brought a little boy with her.

    As the women’s lives collide and they struggle to come to terms with what they have lost, a stranger lays in wait to finish what he started.

    • get thee to a film producer – I’m already in line waiting to buy a ticket

    • I like the premise – reminds me a bit of A Thousand Splendid Suns with the colliding of the two women and a person against them. That’s a good thing. It’s one of my favorite books :)!

    • Maybe it’s because I’m listening to the audio of The Tiger’s Wife right now, but this sounds like the kind of story I could get lost in as audio. Some books I really want to hear. The Tiger’s Wife, The Book Thief. Maybe that comes from the tension in what I’ve read on your blog excerpts.

    • Thanks for the Feedback. Karen, I’ll start checking film schools in Helsinki for a student with a digital camera…

      • I hope that is a plan – I want to SEE Finland against this story (and know I thought about it during this day while I was in meetings and travel)

    • I already hate this “stranger.” Haven’t these women lost enough already???? I’d read this in a heartbeat.

    • Deb,

      This is right up my alley, but I think the voice you bring in your writing, the clarity, is missing a bit.
      The secong paragraph introducing Talvikki, jarred me out of the visual. I had to reread that paragraph a few times to clear up who was who and the relationship between them. Maybe play with it and keep it about Helena’s perspective?

      Love the tie up at the end. I want this book.

    • I like it–you describe the story well and I’d want to read more. 2nd paragraph–sentences 3 & 4–worded differently? Condense, combine…better rhythm???

  13. Doris is hospitilized after almost drowning and is found out to have age-related dementia. At 16, she began an affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald that lasted over 10 years and now her granddaughter must find her way through her past, one she knew nothing about, in order to save her own life. Elsa must bridge the gap between 1927 and the present with an unreliable grandmother as her guide and most of the parties involved deceased. Most.

    • This is the kind of story that I can see selling right now. But I would start with Elsa, if she’s really the main character. Plus I don’t really understand how learning about her grandmother’s affair could save her life.

      I would start with Elsa’s problem, then her grandmother almost drowns, is diagnosed and Elsa discovers that at 16 she had an affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Piecing together the events helps Elsa get her own life back on track (or whatever it does).

      I know this sounds negative, but it does sound like it could be a great book, the pitch just needs more focus.

      Also: “Elsa must bridge the gap between 1927 and the present with an unreliable grandmother as her guide …” is great. I would cut the second part of it.

      Good luck!

    • Having never done a pitch, I defer to Anon’s suggests, but I am so glad to finally get to read your synopsis! It sounds like something I’d read. Big surprise, right?

    • I’m a sucker for the real historical character in the novel, so I perked right up at F. Scott.

      The 2nd sentence confused me — is “she” Doris or the granddaughter? — and I’m curious as to what Elsa is looking for, what mystery she’s trying to solve. So I guess what I’m saying is it needs be a little longer?

    • Thank you all for these thoughtful, precise comments.
      Anon, not negative at all but spot on. The issues you pointed out have been more helpful to my WIP than I can adequately express.
      Betsy, thank you for this.

      (Lisa and Teri, the check is in the mail.)

    • Intriguing, Lyra. I think Anon’s suggestion about starting with the Granddaughter and tying it into the rest is great. Has Elsa been threatened?

      Like Lisa, I too am so happy to get a glimpse of your WIP! Can’t wait to see how it unfolds. You know it’s right up my alley.

    • Oooooheeeeee! So excited to hear the premise here. The dementia thread is great. My grandmother’s sister thought she had had a lifelong love affair with Frank Sinatra. She even had a drawer full of rings in their respective boxes that she insisted he gave her. I was sure she was out of her mind but I have to admit, there was a part of me that wondered if it were true.

    • story is about Elsa so start with her, then mention the grandmother. it’s a journey story and it has to be pegged to Elsa, not the grandmother.

  14. HUMBA , an urban opera

    Inspired by Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers”, HUMBA is a love story haunted by old promises testing old friendships in the gritty wards of New Orleans.

    Blending historical aspects of the Mardi Gras Indians, interpretive dance, hip-hop music and basic R&B rhythms, HUMBA updates the original opera’s exotic locale and dramatic plot within the unique cultural world that is New Orleans and where ‘Humba’ is the act of deference of one chief to another..

    • Retelling “The Pearl Fishers” isn’t enough of a hook, unless you happen to hit an agent and editor who adore the plot of that opera, which is unlikely.

      Pitch the specific plot and characters you have, then say at the end, this is inspired by Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers.”

      I think there’s a YA book that’s a retelling of Carmen that’s just out. You might want to emulate the cover copy for that.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful comments – this is Humba’s first pitch and I’m glad I started here. And a YA Carmen? wow – I’ll look for that.

    • humba is very different and catchy so rely on it for your hook. the bit about Bizet is the writers influence and not necessary for your book. take command of your book and sell it as your book.

      what are your characters names? what’s happening interpersonally?

      • Jamal, a gang banger and his best friend, Arlin, swore a friendship oath in their youth. That oath is tragically tested when Sarene intersects their lives.

        Sarene, a singer, not only captures their hearts, she carries a promise. A promise that the friends must confront as they also confront their destinies with- or without Sarene.

        (This WIP is actually scripted and is in review with a musician & choreographer)

      • great names. this love conflict should be contained within your pitch. it’s important for people to grab on to your characters.

  15. The Girl Who Cried Wolf

    At Saturday detention Quincy Carter enters the boys locker room unannounced and believes she witnessed her favorite teacher and a fellow student engaged in a sexual act. She must expose the wolf in sheep’s clothing but no one believes a troublemaker with a history of crying wolf.

    • This sounds like a great premise, but the pitch is too slight.

      I would start with Quincy Carter is a regular at Saturday morning detention, because she’s a known liar (or whatever she’s in there for, hopefully related to lying since that’s what the conceit seems to rely on). Trying to avoid (something), Quincy hides in the boys’ locker room and witnesses her favorite teacher engaged in a sexual act with a student. Now, Quincy must expose the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but no one believes a troublemaker with a history of crying wolf.

      Your line is great, I think, and this seems like it could totally sell! Although, I hope the teacher isn’t a gay villain.

      • Thank you anon! I agree – I thought it was too vague. The example you wrote really helps me see what I need to add.

        The villain is male but I wasnt thinking he was gay – he’s a pedophile which usually has nothing to do with sexual preference but dominance and preying on the weak. Did it come off that way? I hope not!

  16. A memoir not only about my dirty life and times*, but the story of a person who helped shape that life, my stepfather, Thomas. A child places a different set of demands and expectations on a stepparent and the chapters of my book alternate between growing up with an alcoholic stepfather and visits to hospitals years later when Thomas is at the mercy of a health care system ostensibly designed to prolong the life of and bankrupt an elderly patient. Tentative title is Free To A Good Home.

    *apologies to the late Warren Zevon

    • Mike, I like this a lot. I’m not sure you need to tell about the different set of demands. The conflict between Thomas as alcoholic and as an elderly man needing care that he may not deserve is enough to intrigue me.

    • ps always good to keep old Warren in your heart

    • this is intriguing, especially if you focus on the stepchild and their demands and expectations. structurally, could you tell it from the two main characters POV? alternate between Thomas and Mike?

      never apologize about Warren Zevon. genius fella.

  17. Category: Memoir

    Title: Roots & Treetops or Not If – But When.
    (Which title is better?)

     Thirty four years ago my family adopted me through Catholic Charities. The adoption was closed and the records sealed.  One day I open an e-mail and read a message from a girl claiming I am her aunt’s long lost daughter. A DNA test confirms she’s right. My birthmother married my birthfather and they had two children after me. Past and present collide as I try to embrace my new identity and stay true to the family who raised me.

    • Sounds great! I like the Roots & Treetops title the best.

      Instead of the last sentence, with just the general idea of colliding, I’d love to get an example of the conflict — i.e. different families vying to get you for Christmas dinner, or maybe there were lies told at the time of the adoption (I’ve heard that wasn’t uncommon in the days of closed adoptions!)

  18. Okay, this is the first time I’ve written the pitch.

    Julie Rhodes is a wife and mother. In 2010, her career is dead, she’s questioning her parenting skills, and her twenty year marriage has gotten dull. She wishes for something different.

    When she gets her wish, Julie realizes she should have been more specific. Waking up in England just before D-Day wasn’t exactly what she was hoping for.

    Now she has to learn how to live in 1944 England knowing more than she should about the war. While searching for a way home, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s shifted time and is trying to get back to where they belong.

    • Okay, I so want to read this.

      Not sure if it’s important, but an agent may need to know how to sell this. A wish coming true…maybe more specific? Is it paranormal, historical fiction, sci fi?

      Tighten up the last sentence. This is complicated, and involved, somehow show that in one small detailed last bit.

    • That first sentence is a killer, and all the information there–she’s a wife and mother–is contained in the second sentence. I’d change to:

      In 2010, Julie’s career is dead, she’s questioning her parenting skills, and her twenty year marriage has gotten dull. She wishes for something different.

      When she gets her wish …

      (I wonder if you wanna mention -how- she travels back in time, but I suspect you’re smart to elide the ‘hot tub time machine’ problem. And I think Lyra’s right about the last sentence.)

    • You’ve been holding out, Lisa! I love this. Now I want to hear more.

    • Careful what you wish for, right? Sounds wonderful, Lisa. Time travel is a hard one. My 10 yr old is working on one at the moment. When I asked how does the character travel, she said, “through the washing machine, of course.” I’m certainly curious how yours does it.

      I’m with Averil. I want to hear your snark.

    • The idea that there are others who have “shifted time” and are “trying to get back to where they belong” is very intriguing. If I were a shameless schmuck I’d steal it.

    • what’s Julie doing in England, specifically? i sense this detail is needed in the query/pitch. thematically, too.

  19. Lydia is a beautiful, argumentative, sassy, well-read young woman who thinks the world is hers to conquer. Not your typical 1800s mindset for a young woman. She agrees to marry Reuben, a man she feels will treat her as an equal. But that never quite happens. And as life in the 1800s, albeit a privileged one, presents its trials, with babies every two years and more than half of them dying before age 4, Lydia’s spirit is worn away. She devotes her remaining energies to her remaining children, and Reuben turns elsewhere for more compliant companionship. When Lydia objects, Reuben fires an unexpected volley and her nearly extinguished spirit is enflamed again. Declare me insane? Lock me up for being jealous. Not without a fight!

    • I like that this sounds like it could be The Yellow Wallpaper set in the 1800s.

      I wouldn’t switch to first person in the last few sentences. Also, the beginning sounds like a Regency romance. If that’s what it is with a different twist, then come out and say it. If it’s more literary, then you need more literary language in this pitch. You might actually benefit from comparison titles, because it’s not really clear what kind of book this is.

      And you’ve got some repetitive language that isn’t really working for you: 2 “young woman”, and “remaining” energies to her “remaining” children isn’t really an effective use of the device.

      Sounds like it could be a great book!

    • Mary Lynne,
      I keep coming back to this. I love the story, but think you can write it with more power. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how.

      The last part in first person needs to be cut, or the beginning needs to be rewritten to match. I think the key is in the end, something about how he wants to declare her insane because she is no longer needed? That’s not quite right either…

      I love the concept, but the pitch needs to have more power and focus. Wish I could be more helpful.

      • You ARE helpful, Lyra! All your comments are spot on. This is the first time I’ve actually put a pitch for this together (it’s still very much a WIP) so now I see more clearly what I need to do. And I’ll mull over the “how”.

  20. The working title is DISCARDED:

    In the ruins of an abandoned island city, a hunt is afoot. The city is a place of exile for anyone whose thoughts are deemed a threat to the telepathic community. These outcasts are hunted for sport by the telepathic elite, who adhere to a rigid caste system in which mental discipline is power and disinhibition a criminal offense.

    Seventeen-year-old Fainne Alannah is dragged from her home and deported to the island with a small group of fellow exiles. There, Fainne discovers within herself a deep reserve of courage and quiet humanity. Her companions, however, drunk on free thought and wired on danger, are becoming as unstable as the crumbling city. Fainne needs her friends to escape the island – but she’ll have to survive them first.

    • The telepathy angle is what will make or break this, since otherwise a group of teenagers being hunted for sport by an elite treads dangerously close to The Hunger Games or The Most Dangerous Prey. Still! Your writing is sublime, and I think if you’re able to blend that quality with the intensity that comes from blurring mental boundaries, this book will be a killer. Go for it!

    • I like last line – it’s book jacket crack for sure. Maybe Lord of The Flies Meets Gattaca with a dash of Hunfer Games for good measure.

    • I’m against the double-ns in both her first and last name. In fact, I don’t like Fainne. But I hate ‘Katniss,’ so what do I know?

      I suspect you should start with the second paragraph. Or combine them, something like:

      When she (commits whatever thought crime), seventeen-year-old Fainne Alana is dragged from her home and deported. She and her fellow exiles are sent to the ruins of an abandoned island city, to be hunted for sport by the telepathic elite. There, Fainne discovers deep reserve of courage and (preferably something other than ‘quiet humanity,’ which sounds to me at least kinda boring.) Her companions, however, are becoming et-very strong-cetera.

      But mostly, I’m with Phil. You’re all-in with the telepathic elite, here. If you get an agent who’s into that, they’ll ask for more. If not, not.

      I kinda wonder (and I think I’ve solidly established my credentials as a blowhard who doesn’t know what he’s talking about) if you might not want to find a way to sidestep ‘telepathic,’ somehow.

      • i’m with you on the name. it really sticks out for me. too tricky? rhythm? i dunno. it just sticks out. sometimes a name that’s trying to hard to be different isolates your reader from being able to say it. bonding drops. does that makes sense?

      • Yeah, absolutely. If I spell it Fianne Alanah, does that help? Or Fiona something-or-other . . . Fiona Sutton, maybe?

      • a, i think one exotic name is enough for a character but that’s my opinion, so take it with a grain of salt.

        think of ATTICUS Finch, BOO Radley, Billy PILGRIM, John YOSSARIAN, etc. etc. Each of these characters has one easy name paired with something different/memorable/ironic/symbolic.

    • I think you three are onto something. I’m going for more of a Lord of the Flies literary vibe here and I can see I’ve fucked it up.

      The idea is that these are people who come from a thought-controlled environment and find themselves in a state of mental anarchy. Why I’m trying to make this about the hunt is beyond me; the conflicts in the story take place between the exiles. What I need is a different way to set up the situation and place them in this predicament.

    • I love this idea!

      I would combine the two paragraphs though and place the protagonist in ‘immediate danger’ in your first sentence – something like this:

      Seventeen-year-old Fainne Alannah lives in the ruins of an abandoned island city, an exile in a crumbling city used to contain anyone whose thoughts are deemed a threat to telepathic society.

      By doing this, you impart a sense of urgency and threat to your heroine and drag us into the story.

      Also the title Discarded is an evocative one word title, but why would anyone hunt what was discarded? Wouldn’t something like ‘Stalked’ be more appropriate?

      Would love to read this book!

    • Thank you for all the help, my friends. I’m starting a 4-day writing retreat tomorrow, so it couldn’t have come at a better time.

    • I’m curious why certain people are able to get by these telepathic authorities. Do they all share something in common that helps them deflect the transfer of thought? Is it possible that she inherits this telepathic ability but uses it, not for sport, but to help her escape?

  21. Jason Cisnyski is a 14-year-old boy, running for his life from a street gang with murderous intent in the 95,000 word YA novel: The Arc Riders. When what appears to be a rider-less police horse appears right in front of him, Jace decides to ride to safety. That ride will change his life forever. Jace’s savior is no ordinary horse, he is an Arc Horse; member of an ancient, magical race of teleporting equines that have taken a blood-oath to work for justice in the world. Jace is the latest in a long line of human teenagers chosen to work for justice one case at a time. Jace will face challenges at home in New York and in Mexico where Peyton the Arc Horse transports him to save a girl from the clutches of a drug gang. The stakes are life and death; boy and Horse must learn to work as true partners in the quest for justice, overcoming prejudice, violence and their own fears to save Yasmin and get Jace out of trouble. A rousing action adventure story for young adults that asks hard questions on the true nature of justice, The Arc Riders will be popular with fans of Scott Westerfeld and Suzanne Collins.

    • I sort of love this, but think it’s probably better suited to middle grade. A fourteen-year-old and talking horses skews pretty young. Unless, the horse transforms into a girl at midnight and they fall in love. But then he’d he riding her, which would probably cause other problems.

      And there’s nothing about it that says Scott Westerfeld or Suzanne Collins to me–jarring comparisons. I wouldn’t include this at all. It’s a strong pitch, you don’t need it.

      One nitpicky thing: You’ve got too many rides: rider-less, then ride in the next sentence, then one more ride in the following. I would change middle one to “uses it to escape” or something.

      • Thanks Anon!

        The horses don’t talk, they are telepathic, and the situations are life and death which is why (combined with the length) I think it falls more in YA than MG although ever since JK Rowling that line is blurred.

        Thanks for the suggestion on too many ‘rides’ – I definitely need to watch that!


    • I’ll have to disagree on suggesting it be made middle-grade, simply because at 95k words, you’re not going to get the word count down to middle-grade level. Plus, with life and death stakes, even with no romance, I think it’s YA level. The main issue is your protagonist is 14. 14 is the blade of the knife. If you make him 15, bam, no more dilemma!

      One small nitpick — calling him Jason and then Jace confused me.

      • Thanks tamarapaulin.

        I appreciate the advice.

        On the name issue: In my mind he would spell his nickname as Jas.. but I thought that might lend itself to reader confusion on pronunciation. Any thoughts on how to handle that? For the pitch I can just never mention his nickname, but in the book…?


      • Is it necessary that you nick his name? Can he not be always Jason?

      • stick to one name and be consistent. if you want the nickname, use it throughout.

      • Thanks guys. I’m assuming you mean stick to Jason (or Jace) only for the pitch but that it is ok to have the character have both a given name and a common name in the book.

        This is the first book I have finished to the point of being ready to pitch so I am learning here!

        The comments in this post of Betsy’s have been VERY illuminating!

        And there are A LOT of books mentioned here I hope get published so I can read them!


  22. Category: Memoir

    Title: Twelve Houses: My Trial and Error Adulthood

    The pitch: A memoir in places about my trip through the strange country of adulthood and my search for home.

    Summary: Written from each of the 12 locations where I lived as an adult, my story covers three states, fifteen years, and countless wrong turns, all with a common thread—a tendency to leap into new experiences as I struggled to define my adult life, and a belief that, when those new experiences went sour, I could fix things by pulling up stakes and starting over. Until I learned better, that way of thinking led me into early artistic poverty, involvement in a cult, marriage to an alcoholic, and, indirectly, a drive-by shooting. The shooting catapulted me to a new life in a new state where I slowly put myself back together, realizing that if I was ever going to be happy, I was going to have to learn how to build a home I wanted to live in and a life I was willing to stay in one place for.

    (Comments welcome–and much appreciated!)

    • I’d tighten up the first and last sentences, but this is intriguing.

    • Interesting. You got my attention.

    • As someone who has moved too many times, I would pick this right up. And I’m attracted to the frame of the 12 moves . I sat right up when you got to the shooting and that the final decision is to stay put. Maybe more on the tension of staying put in the end — what conflicts arise?

      My main question is about tone. From this paragraph, I can’t tell if it’s going to be inspirational, sarcastic, sometimes humorous, or just a straightforward telling. Just a hint would be great.

      Love the concept.

    • 12 locations is fascinating and there’s so much potential here. in a baker’s dozen, you get a spare. what’s yours?

  23. I’m so tired of all this. Luckily tomorrow is the apocalypse .

    • Yeah, I didn’t clean the house. I figured the roaches won’t mind.

    • Luckily I got & spent my tax refund before Sat! oh, and if this doomsday is real: I’ve always planned to have a snowball stand in Hades. look for me.

  24. I’m so tired of all this. Luckily tomorrow is the apocalypse.

  25. Wasn’t gonna, but DAMN, 136 responses?

    DRINKING FROM OBLIVION is the story of Truman, 15, who hits his head playing 2-on-2 soccer. While unconscious, he travels to the Underworld and is met by Vergil and offered a choice. He may stay in paradise, or he may return to his life – but without the benefit of his memory. I’d say that DRINKING FROM OBLIVION is based on a true story, but Betsy would tell me to fuck off and get on with it.

    There’s lots of other details about the fact that Truman is an academic kid, like his classics professor mom, and has to re-discover himself, which he does through ultra running and a new friend named Sybil. Vergil continues to visit him during his post-trama seizures, guiding him, but the main point is that Truman has to figure out who he is without the benefit of context.

    • Oh, it’s YA.

      • This sounds wonderful, Jess. I’m wondering why he would want to leave paradise, especially if he doesn’t get his memory back? What is it about his real life that tugs him home?

      • His close connection with his mom.

        It’s just the two of them (divorce when he was a baby) and they are a lot alike – or were, before the accident. Both cerebral, academic. As he has had to leave behind hard-earned accumulated facts and figures, he’s no longer academic superboy and finds his identity in the physical rather than the intellectual.

      • Great. I wanted that to be the answer. I so want to know what he decides! Is Vergil a good kind of influence or the devil in diguise?

      • Vergil is a benevolent influence, funny, self-referential…while Truman never remembers their meetings during his absence seizures (or his initial trip to the Underworld, for that matter), Vergil’s advice, and Truman’s decisions regarding that advice, linger in Truman’s consciousness and help guide him toward identity.

        There’s also a final meeting in which Truman has to decide between life death – but unlike the first time, when he drank of the River Lethe and has no memory of it, he will remember it this time. During a 24-hour trail race, Truman takes a wrong turn and gets hypothermic. Vergil appears to him in his delirium, and Truman chooses life or death once more.

  26. […] most of the day fiddling with a possible Pigeon pitch over at Betsy Lerner’s—I know I’m jumping the gun, but that’s been my favorite (read only) form of […]

  27. “The Globe” is book of interconnected short stories about expatriates living in present day Hong Kong, SAR. Characters exist in-between worlds. Their stories explore how they deal with emotional discomfort at the point where loneliness and alienation intersect. The stories are connected through themes of seismic tremors, dizziness and falling.

    In ‘Leon’, a young man under work pressure heads to the pub to meet up with his friends, Load Toad and Decker. A giant billboard of a near-naked man hangs over the city and affects them in different, surprising ways. In ‘How to Pick up a Maid in Statue Square’, Fast Eddy instructs the reader on how best to atone for sins committed in Wanchai, the red light district. In ‘Rephrasing Kate’, a young married woman vacations alone in Bali. The animalistic environment alters Kate and she confesses to Decker, a man trying to change his womanizing ways.

    The book was inspired by my time living as an expatriate in Hong Kong.

  28. Of course you like helping people. In fact, isn’t that what you’re all about?

  29. God help us all. I am so sorry if I have ever offended anyone on this blog. You people are actually very sweet and innocent. I feel bad. But I must tell you, all of you are lucky I am not an agent or editor with whom you must try to strike a deal. I’ve got your name! I’ve got your number! I’ve got your address and I will torture you just as much as you have tortured me! One heart felt story that isn’t for kids! Just one! One that isn’t a god-awful TV rerun. Just one! Please, stop writing. Stop trying to write. Stop trying to be clever. Stop thinking. It’s doing you more harm than you know. Please, just stop. That August, fuck-up, keeps saying I don’t believe people when they say they just must write, but who ever August is is full of shit, that’s a double bind from hell. If you are not moved by the fucking shaking of your bones and the roar of the outside world to write, don’t. Please. Thanks, Betsy!

    • you tweaking, Jeff?

      • That’s a foul statement. If I write something you don’t understand therefore I’m on some sort of drug? You should be ashamed of yourself for that sort of discourse. If, god help you, you honestly think that I’m on some sort of drug that drives me to write things that you don’t understand, I would say you have some thinking to do. But, again, if you are with a whole heart willing to slander someone, you should think about who you are and what you want and what you are willing to do to get it and then, again, think about who you are. Slander me again, I dare you, rea. And, again, you should be ashamed of yourself. It looks to me, if I may, that you have written yourself into a very poor, and I mean poor, corner, with three words. And, go fuck yourself, I don’t do drugs. Do you need drugs to feel?

      • Sorry! I just realized my popular culture may not be yours. The what I consider the humorous part of my comment is directly from the movie Full Metal Jacket, the first part of it, the boot-camp part of it. It was all in humor. As an assignment, watch that movie, which isn’t far from the truth, and then you will get it. In the mean time, sorry, no offense, unless, of course, it was warranted. Be good.

    • I’m sorry, I miss wrote, I meant rack your bones.

    • The volume of posts to this invitation from Betsy is an amazing example of why this site is worth watching. It also suggests the “sweet innocents” are really writers: people who experience the world in sentences and are brave enough to share their creative pursuits to the exposure of helpful comments, compliments and silliness.

      I guess the negativity is just bullying – learning who is willing to stand up for their dreams and ideas. And insisting such comments were all in fun and just quoting another work doesn’t dilute the spew. It’s just another pile of ick to step over.

      Never-the-less, thanks for being consistent. Now, my coffee is finished brewing and I can enjoy the day.

  30. Maybe people are sick of hearing about my book, but what the hell.

    Kim didn’t finish college, but she’s a smart business woman – a high earner with an array talents: marketing (hawking meth to an eager Boise, Idaho crowd while eluding the cops and working for a Mexican drug cartel); high finance (money laundering, gambling); PR (lying to her family, boss, friends, the man she loves, and herself); and nursing (self-medicating with meth, cocaine, and other drugs). Despite the pressures of leading a double life—she works as a bail bond agent, owns her own gift basket business, and meets regularly with her child’s special education teachers—Kim maintains a solid veneer of control.
    When she realizes her live-in boyfriend loves not her, but her money, Kim’s life begins to unravel. Arrested for possession with intent to distribute, she decides to kill herself and take her son, who has Down syndrome, with her. Deterred by her parents’ sudden intervention, she enters rehab instead and makes peace with her family, only to relapse 20 minutes after her release.
    Sentenced to probation, she appears to get off easy, but when she fails her third drug test in a row, she’s threatened with losing her son. Finally, she realizes what she has to do, but she’s so far gone that even the local meth clinic won’t take her. She’s facing prison, and it might be too late to save herself and become the mother and woman she’s meant to be.

    • Oh, and August, I say this based on some of your previous comments to my posts: Trust me. I know what a piece of shit I am for being a meth addict. (Clean for 4+ years now.)

      No one could ever make me feel worse about it than I can, so please save those kind of comments. I know how you feel. I can read.

      • Congrats on making 4+ years. You deserve to throw away the old label and take pride in yourself and your strength for getting to this benchmark!

        Your WIP sounds like it could be a series – or maybe a trilogy? The story of a redemptive search always gets my attention!

      • Kim, I’m going to assume what you’re telling us is true, or at least sufficiently so. Given that starting assumption, I’ll say things you haven’t asked me to say, but here we are.

        You are not “a piece of shit for being a meth addict.” Life is hard. It is sad. No one gets out alive, no one gets through undamaged, and everyone makes mistakes–sometimes terrible mistakes, and no one gets to go back and unmake them. You know this, I’m not telling you the news.

        You are not a piece of shit for being a meth addict or for anything else. We all fuck up, every last one of us. We all have truths about ourselves we can barely stand to face. We all have danced with the devil, thinking we could call the tune. And some of us have dared entered the ring with a heavyweight champion of death, thinking we could go a few rounds, get in a few good jabs, float like a butterfly and sting like a bee and leave the bout sweet, unstained and undefeated–but the butterfly dies at the first frost, and the bee dies at the first sting. You’re not the first person to box outside their weight and get KO’d.

        But you got up off the mat, you got out of the ring, and you found something better to do. You are not a piece of shit. You are a human being. You have an important story to tell. Only you can tell it. Please do.

      • Tetman, that was a great response. And I’ll add my congratulations to Karen’s. Your book sounds great, Kim, and I wish you the best of luck. When it’s out on the shelves though, you’re going to get comments a hundred times worse than anything August might say (and I’m certain he doesn’t intend to be unkind but I understand it might feel that way).

      • I agree. Hear , hear. What boggles me is why people need to, basically, assault people for writing words on paper. How could thoughts on paper possibly offend anyone? How could that possibly send anyone into a flight or fight response? Yet, it does. Very interesting. Humans, very interesting creatures. And I’m one of them. If someone tells me my stuff is naive or badly written I want to rip their throat out. Why is writing so touchy? I’ve worked hard labor and those guys are more compassionate. Why is writing considered a higher form of communication and therefore more important and worthy of greater scrutiny? Weird, man, weird. And no, again, I’m not on drugs.

  31. Thank you for your kind words. I don’t think I made myself clear. I know I’m okay. I’ve come to terms (mostly) with my past. My comment to August was about posts he’s made previously about the subject of my memoir. They’ve not been kind. I’m not asking for a pity party, I just don’t need to be reminded of what I once was. The book covers that quite well, thank you:)

    And Karen, the manuscript is finished and I’ve paid to have it professionally edited by someone who works in publishing in NY. (Not sure if I should name names, so I’ll err on the side of caution.)

    • I do want to add, though, that August’s replies in this post have been insightful and helpful. I wholeheartedly welcome that kind of candor, August, just not the, “I sold my daughter for a gram of meth” kind of thing.

    • wonderful! keep us posted!

  32. […] Friday, Betsy invited her tribe to offer themselves up for public humiliation share their pitch. For some reason, (impending Rapture?) I went for it, posting a description of my independent study […]

  33. Eden must find Ryan, the father of her son Will, to ask him to care for their son after her impending death. Problem being? She faked her own death when she was a pregnant teen so Ryan would never know about the baby. Now Ryan’s married with kids (and troubles) of his own…but that doesn’t mean he ever stopped loving her. Eden and Ryan meet, rekindle…and then she drops the bomb on him that she’s been diagnosed with cancer and needs him and his wife to care for Will. And for her, as she gets sicker and sicker. What kind of wife would agree to this? What kind of husband would ask it? And while it seems this could tear Ryan and his wife apart, maybe it’s the only way to bring them back together…except for her affair with her high school sweetheart. The title is Watermark, based on a poem that says “your love has been a watermark across my whole life…”

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