Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Write On: Letter-Man

Yes, I know it’s been a month and a half since my last update where I immediately fell on my face. That was painful but instructive, and I’ve since fine-tuned the opening of my story.
But that’s not what took me a month and a half. No, I’ve been revising (and revising and revising and revising) my query letter.

The query letter – well, email these days, yes, stay with me – is the writer’s initial introduction to an agent. This is very much a business correspondence as opposed to a creative endeavor, so I rolled up my sleeves and dug into the nuts and bolts of a query letter. Turns out there’s not a lot of mystery around it. Generally, here’s what everyone expects:

  1. Opening salutations with the essentials: the story’s genre and word count, and why you’re writing that agent specifically. Yeah, form letters aren’t going to cut it.
  2. Story pitch: A synopsis that touches on the characters and stakes, and includes a hook that makes the reader want to learn more. Oh, and maybe call out a few well-known titles that are similar in tone and scope to your story, too. If you’re picturing the write-up on the back cover or inside flap, you have the right idea.
  3. The wrap-up: A bit about yourself, any pertinent experience or awards, etc. Thank the agent for his or her time, and you’re out. 

So, that. In about 400 words. 

Here’s the thing: The query letter is also very much your first impression. And I desperately want to avoid botching my first impression, so I tinkered and tinkered and tinkered and then showed the letter to some people and revised based on their feedback and tinkered and tinkered again. Suddenly it’s six weeks later.

That’s all good, because the first bunch of queries are out the door. If I get a good response, I'll post my query letter for anyone bumbling through this process. And if not... more tinkering!

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Adventures in Leaving the House: Overshoot Edition

I work from home. I’ll never complain because there are more advantages to that arrangement than I can even count, but there is one down-side: I don’t get out much. So on those occasions where I do leave the house to visit people or get away for the weekend or pick up a loaf of bread, it opens the door for 

It occurred to me earlier this week that 20 years ago this month, I left for a year-long position in Japan teaching English.

Hard to believe that much time has gone by -- 20 years! It was a much different world then, a bigger place. You can Facetime with someone half a world away, whereas 20 years ago you'd either pay a king's ransom for an international call or write.

It's probably not very surprising that I did a lot of writing during my stay in Japan. Social media didn't exist and there were no blogs, but I did what I could with late-90s technology: sent serialized mass emails about my experiences.

I can see myself dipping into those stories often over the coming months, so I figured I'd start at the beginning and explain how a recent college grad wasting away in Connecticut ended up in Japan.

The answer, of course, is by looking for work in Boston.

At that point I'd been out of college for about two years, and spent that time living back home in the basement, trying to figure out what it was I was supposed to do with myself. I was working in my field, sure, but I was floundering and not making enough to move out on my own. I felt stuck, uncertain of what to do with my life, and needed to do something to get myself in gear.

Boston was the logical choice for me -- I'd always loved Boston. I hit all the typical channels: surfed the Internet, networked, perused trade mags and picked through the Sunday Globe. It was while I was doing the latter at the Border’s (remember those?) in Manchester with my buddy Jon that quite out of the blue, I saw this ad:

“Hey Jon,” I said. “Get a load of this.” I read the ad to him.

“You could go Orient,” he quipped.

Yeah, I could.

What the hell, I thought, and circled the ad. The next day, I sent out a cover letter and resume along with the others for jobs in Boston.

A week later, NOVA sent me a package of information and an invite to their informational seminar/interview. I managed to schedule for Saturday morning on June 20th, and promptly reached out to my friend, McStay, about crashing with him for the weekend while I interviewed.

I had another interview chalked up for that Friday afternoon, and blew it. Within 10 minutes, everyone involved could tell I wasn't a great fit for the position. Worse, I was mid-response when I realized that I had forgotten to bring a copy of my college diploma -- something that was required for the NOVA position. As soon as the interview ended, I went into a mad scramble trying to find a way to have my diploma faxed to me (again, it was the 90s). No luck. The only thing I had, inexplicably, was a laminated wallet-sized version of the diploma that was handed out along with the real ones at graduation. Our tuition dollars at work, I suppose. At that point, there was nothing left to do but meet up with McStay for nachos and beer.

“An hour will be plenty of time.” That was the last thing I said to McStay before heading out for my 10:00 AM interview at NOVA. I should have known what would happen next: between traffic and construction, I pulled into a parking garage with a whole eleven minutes to spare. Up the elevator and to the Info Desk. “Hi. I need to get to Oliver Street. I know it’s just around the corner from here. Can you tell me where it is?”

“Oh… Oliver Street?... I… I don’t…”

I didn’t have time for this. “Look. Here’s a map. I have to get here.”

“Oh… I think… go… left out of…”

“Yeah. Thanks.” And I bolted. Up the escalator and out the building. Left. One, two, three blocks. She sent me the wrong way.

After confirming directions with a cop, I ran five blocks (in full suit with briefcase, summer in the city) the way I came, then down Oliver a block. Through the lobby and into an elevator as the doors were closing. Another guy wordlessly pushed the button for the floor I needed. Turned out he was heading to the same meeting.

There were about eight people in the information session. We all went around the table, saying a bit about ourselves. Two people had been teaching English for 30 years. The guy in the elevator has gone on frequent business trips to Tokyo. Another guy taught English in Korea for a few years. Another woman grew up in Japan.

Me, who didn't have a fraction of the experience, whose entire cultural exposure to Japan consisted of Godzilla movies, and was now in full flop sweat from my sprint around the financial district? I opened my mouth and out came “Yeah… I just want to get out of Connecticut.”

After that, all that was left to do was confidently slide my tiny laminated diploma over to the interviewer. He stared at it, confused, then went off wordlessly to make a blown-up photocopy.

I was offered the position a week later.

NEXT WEEK: The latest on my novel.

First Post: The Story So Far

Hallo. I’m Scot Nolan, though you might know me from reviewing and discussing bad movies over the past ten years as “Nolahn.” But this ...