PitchWars wishlist

This fall I’m participating in PitchWars, which is a mentoring program in which published authors work with a new writer to spend three months revising his or her manuscript. It ends in February with an Agent Showcase in which agents can read a pitch/first page and can request to read more. This blog entry gives potential mentees information on who I am and what I can do, to help them decide whether to submit their work to me. (You have to submit through PitchWars, not to me directly.)

Who Should Submit: Writers aiming for an adult (as opposed to, for example, young adult) audience.

Who I Am/Why You Should Submit To Me: I’ve published two books and am writing a third, so I’m familiar with the experience of writing a 300+ page manuscript and getting it out to the world. Both of my books were agented, so I’m familiar with that aspect of publishing too. I’ve pitched agents, worked with editors, edited galleys, made publicity plans with publicists, built author websites, written freelance articles and blog entries, gone on book tours, done radio and TV interviews, and traveled all over to give talks.

I’m an experienced reader and commenter, having given feedback on many manuscripts. I aim to say things that would be concretely useful in a revision. Instead of just saying “This doesn’t work” I try to say, “Why not try doing X, Y, or Z to improve this aspect of the work?”

I also try hard to be a good listener. I think that what helps writers most is simply being given a calm, patient space in which to discuss their ideas and conundrums. I try to say just the right thing at the right time, in as few sentences as possible.

I rarely make marginal notes in a manuscript. That’s because, as a writer, I find it tedious and unhelpful to go through someone else’s written notes in my manuscripts. My main approach is to write an essay in which I try to help the writer see their work through fresh eyes. I think it’s best to address the big picture instead of getting bogged down in paragraphs and sentences.

Communication Style: I’m refreshingly deaf, as I like to say, but I hear more than well enough with bilateral cochlear implants and various high-tech accessories to talk with you via phone or Skype. If you’re in D.C. and can meet at a coffeeshop, so much the better.

What I Want: I’m interested in reading science fiction and memoir, but I won’t turn my nose up at any particular genre or topic. A good writer can make anything sing. One of the best workshop manuscripts I read recently was an historical novel about the suffragette movement. I would never have picked up such a book on my own. So if you think I might be right for you, try me. If your words leap off the page, I’m interested.

What I Don’t Want: Science fiction that doesn’t pay attention to the essentials of worldbuilding, plotting, and character development. Memoirs that are just, “Let me tell you everything that happened in my life.”

Regarding Memoir: Let me say a little more about what I want to see in a memoir, since I have particular expertise in this subject.

A good memoir has what I call a “double discourse.” It’s about events in the writer’s life, of course, but it’s also about the significance of those events. My memoir Rebuilt was about going deaf and getting a cochlear implant, but over and above that, it was about what it’s like to live in a body suddenly made shockingly unfamiliar. I wrote about what it was like for everything to sound completely wrong, but I also wrote about how the experience forced me, finally, to accept David Hume’s theory of radical skepticism. I also used my story to argue that Hollywood’s depiction of human-machine fusions (that is, cyborgs) was totally off-base in portraying them as dissociated and robotic. Nonsense, I said. Having mechanical parts does not make one machinelike.

So my memoir told a story, but it also probed for the meaning of that story in a way that appealed to people who had no special interest in deafness. That “double discourse” was why the book won the PEN/USA award for Creative Nonfiction in 2006.

So don’t just tell me the story of your life. Tell me your story in such a way that it illuminates a larger issue, and in a way that’s fun and interesting. Here are four great examples of double-discourse memoirs: Daniel Everett’s Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes; Oliver Sacks’s Uncle Tungsten; Josh Swiller’s The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa; and Ellen Ullmann’s Close to the Machine.

Regarding Fantasy: As I said, I’m open to just about any genre. But I don’t have much patience for fantasy that ignores basic laws. One thing about Harry Potter that bothered me was its complete disregard of physics. I don’t care what universe you’re living in, a spell to apparate is going to take energy, lots of it: where does it come from? Similarly, in one of the X-Men movies Magneto levitates an entire sports stadium. I just snorted: please kindly tell me how a human body can be the conduit for that much energy without being burnt to a crisp. So if you’re going to try me on fantasy, please give me something that respects the laws of physics.

All that said, if you have a manuscript and you’re on fire to change the world with it, talk to me.

Pitch Wars 2019 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

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