This whole dystopian universe concept baffles me. I live grounded. I live now. From where do these concepts arise? Sometimes one has to step out of his or her writer’s ten-by-twelve square bubble to find life’s answers. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] So did it happen at the summer Writer’s Digest Conference in New York. More specifically, at my maiden “Pitch Slam.”
From the outset, there was training; specifics of how to act, what to say, how to move clockwise or counter-clock wise around the room depending on your strategy. I felt forewarned if not prepared. However, as in time traveling, there is no able preparation for an out of body experience.
This guest post is by Cheryl Schleuss, BS, MA. Schleuss is an ex-behavoiral health care executive who served 30 years with no time off for good behavior. She’s returned to her roots in south Louisiana where she has been passionately and obsessively writing.
She is fed by her forgiving husband who through starvation became a great chef, and warmed by her 85 pound Labradoodle who listens to every draft without complaint.
Prior to entering the room, strangers bonded by scars of rejection rushed toward me. “May I please practice my pitch?” “Of course,” I said, longing to disappear. Remember, we call ourselves “introverts,” so what phenomenon was taking hold? Why were we publicly revealing such personal desperation, unabashed self-consciousness? Then the line began to form.
There were double doors toward which the woman ahead of me kept glancing, audibly moaning, dabbing at sweat beading on paled skin. The line snaked around the room following the tracks of the caterpillar, Absolem; heads rose sniffing for his hookah’s scent, hoping for last minute advice. In those angst-ridden moments, voices chanted up toward the chandelier, down into the pattern of the carpet, mumbling scripts of a hero’s journey, a memoire of heartbreak, the spy who should have loved me.
What was this madness? I for one knew my story. After all, it was a five-year project. How could I not know it intimately, speak of its worthiness, explain in ninety seconds how the world was waiting for my words to come to press? What was wrong with these people? Then the double doors swung open.
There was a sophisticated rush. We are adults. Only twice did an elbow of competitive spirit push me sideways. Mishaps I am sure. “Sorry” was tossed over a shoulder. I made my way to table twenty-three, strategy well planned. I stood next in line to my first choice agent. I had optimistically selected three from the dating profile, hoping for a trifecta of the prized business card.
The young woman who scored the chair first was speaking at an incredible speed. I was mesmerized by the trembling of her fluffed hair, the bobbing of her head, the twitch of her shoulders. She drew only one breath during the outpouring of her dream. My thoughts remained clear.” I can do this. I am ready.” The last five years’ work was building in my chest, moving up into my throat, ready to meet the maker or breaker of this day.
Then I gazed into the face of the agent, squinting at the trembler in the chair, tilting her head as if the young writer’s words were unintelligible from the noise of the crowd. Or perhaps it was something else, something that wasn’t covered in the training, or worse, something covered that I’d missed. The agent leaned in and stared at the flailing lips of the writer…could it be this agent didn’t speak English? Was language fluency on the profile?
The bell rang and my Writer’s Digest bag flew from my hands and landed under the chair I was to occupy. I scooped it up and tipped the chair as I sat and stuck a clammy hand out toward the agent. She graciously accepted the handshake as one does when visiting the infectious disease ward of a hospital. Then she smiled and the bomb timer ticking down the shortest three minutes of my life softened its beat. My first words came dry and raspy, but I had not allotted time for swallowing. I had a story to sell, an amazing story, a brilliant novel, a three-sentence log line that validated my life. And I sold it. And she nodded. And there it was, the business card sliding across the table, the Willie Wonka golden ticket.
Before the bell rang again, I had floated away from the table, gripping the card, thinking of the perfect place to hang it, framed, over my writing desk. This was no dystopian universe, this was utopia. I had crossed a threshold toward becoming a published writer. It was “top of the world, Ma!”
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.