Sunday, July 29, 2012


My agent, Katie Shea, did an interview a few months ago with Writer Unboxed, a website dealing not only with  writing fiction, but also with the business aspects of it.  Katie read my manuscript based on a cold query I sent.  You always hear it can never happen that way, but I believe anything is possible--if you do it to the best of your ability and persist past the rejections that come.  Anyway, she singled my query letter out in the article.  I'm sharing it here for anyone who has ever queried/pitched, or plan to query a manuscript, screenplay or pilot. 

TW: What do you look for in a compelling project?

KS: I want to know the main character. Really, know him/her. A successful writer isn’t afraid to be honest. Put emotion into your story and put details you think should be secret. Conflict is a major part of a story, so use it. Use conflict as a base to your protagonist’s emotions. Another aspect that is important in a “compelling” project is the development of the characters. I love character-driven novels, and I love seeing when characters change their ways and realize certain values in life through a particular situation. Show personal struggle and personal strength to make the full circle in a character’s novel life.

TW: Can you provide a few examples of clients who’ve hooked you with either voice, plot, characterizations, a great query or synopsis? What did it?

KS: I love one-sentence pitches. Give me what the story is about in one sentence. This proves to me that the writer knows his/her project.

One of my first clients, Carolita Blythe, sent me a query letter that I could not refuse. Her first sentence went like this:

    I am seeking representation for my 90,000 word completed novel, Revenge of a Not So Pretty Girl, the story of the unlikely friendship that develops between an 80-year-old reclusive former actress and the 13-year-old girl who tries to mug her.

Tell me more! Lets break this down to why this is a great first sentence. First, she included the word count. Title is next, which is always important. Now to her one sentence pitch:

    the story

The highlighted word here is “the.” There is only one story like this.

    unlikely friendship

Carolita did her research; I love character-driven novels.

    80-year-old reclusive former actress

A fantastic brief description of one of the main characters.

    13-year-old girl

There is a huge age difference here between the two protagonists, and it is obvious this story is of an “unlikely relationship.”

    who tries to mug her

Conflict! Carolita proves to me that she has a well-developed story line with two interesting characters while presenting conflict.

*Carolita Blythe’s Revenge of a Not So Pretty Girl will be published Spring 2013 by the Random House imprint, Delacorte Books.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Behavioral Bucket List

“Everybody’s dying!  Everybody’s dying!” my mother said to me during a phone call earlier this month.  I felt as if I was having a conversation with Chicken Little – only a more pessimistic, more morbid version with a Jamaican accent.  “You’re there one second and then it’s all over,” she continued.  Well, I didn’t think everyone was dying, but I understood where this sentiment was coming from.  Two people she had known a good portion of her life had recently passed away.  

Once I hung up, I tried to put the conversation out of my mind, but Jamaican Chicken Little’s words kept nagging at me.  I’ve already been to three funerals this year.  Before that, I had probably only been to seven my entire life.  And only one of the three funerals was for someone who would be considered senior.  It all got me thinking of the people who had passed away and how they were eulogized – and if they could, what they would have wanted to change about their lives.  Then I thought about what I wanted to change about my own life – what would be at the top of my behavioral bucket list.  Among the leading contenders: mismanagement of time, not sleeping enough, over-consumption of sweets, not working out enough, the frequency of which I drink my own bodyweight in liquor, not involving myself in charity quite as much as I should…oh, the list went on and on.  But I surprised myself with what ending up topping it  - my reliance on the number one.

Spending my childhood in Flatbush, Brooklyn, the skinny, smart-alecky child of a single mom who worked all the time, I had to “get grown” really fast.  If there was a problem, I alone had to figure out how to solve it.  Schoolyard bully, I had to come up with a way to outwit her – or as ended up happening, punch her in the jaw and run away so she didn’t break my ankles.  No one to talk to at home, I invented one or two or four imaginary friends to keep me company.  Learning independence and self-reliance was great, but there was a negative effect - an overwhelming dependence on one person... myself, even when involving others might be more beneficial.

Looking at my career, there’s also an individual bend.  I might work on soundstages as part of a crew, but being a script supervisor, I am boss and employee of probably the only one-person department on a set.  In my personal life, I am single…and like it.  Again the number one.  Even in selling my first book, I did it on my own - no agent, no publicist.  Correction, I did have a publicist…guess who it was…me.  I just went under a different name.  I was like a literary superhero – mild mannered writer Carolita Blythe by day, and by night, her persistent book pushing alter ego, Toni Miller.   But you know what the problem is, going about things solo and not asking for help is a lot more time consuming and a lot less lucrative.

 Since my last post – two eons, an ice age and the extinction of the dinosaur ago – I’ve gotten an agent (now I’ve upped the number from one to two), and she’s helped to get the second book out to publishers (the numbers continue to increase).  And while this is a good thing, this newfound reliance on others has got me feeling a little unbalanced and without control.  The agent constructs the query letters, she pitches the book, she filters whatever feedback there is.  And even without the book having sold yet, she’s been helping to come up with some marketing ideas for me to implement.  I’ll be reaching out to my personal village of friends (numbers climbing into the hundreds here) and the broader literary village (dare we say thousands?) to try to get a buzz started.  For someone who has been a lone warrior her entire life, this reliance on others, which goes hand in hand with learning how to ask for and accept help, has not been easy.  But I’m vanquishing the number one.  And once that item on my behavioral bucket list has been conquered, it’s on to the others.  Next step, laying off the beer and removing all the KitKat bars from my kitchen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Kardashians are Geniuses

I never thought I’d ever write a sentence that included the name “Kardashian” in it, much less one that included “Kardashian” and “Genius.”  But there’s a first time for everything.  

A couple of weekends ago, I went to a baby shower for a friend of mine and ended up running into a couple of people I used to work with and see every day, but whom I haven’t seen in probably fifteen years.  I guess after hanging out in a particular intersection for a while, life has a way of leading us down different streets from there.  Anyway, one of the people I ran into is named Ehrich Van Lowe, and he’s a writer/producer.  I remember Ehrich as being one of the most pleasant people I had ever worked with.  Well. Ehrich is still pleasant, and remained so, even as he ripped me a new one!  Through the power of social media, even though Ehrich and I haven’t seen each other in ages, we are facebook friends and he had been following my blog.  If anyone of you regularly follows/followed my blog and knows me personally, you know that my blogging has become a little like some other aspects of my life (dating, traveling, working) – inconsistent!  So, after asking what was up with the six month interval between a particular pair of blogs – a question I really couldn’t answer since in those six months I had managed to work on a TV series, travel to Hawaii, travel to Atlanta, sit through many a Yankee game, drink my weight in beer and watch many a mindless reality show – Ehrich went on to lambaste me (in a nice way, of course) for not being more committed.  And he wasn’t just talking about the writing – marketing and branding were also on his mind.

Ehrich’s now spending a lot of time writing paranormal novel’s for girls and he’s constantly thinking of ways to get put his book on blast – blogging, contests, you name it.  As we spoke about the power of marketing and branding of yourself, I just couldn’t stop thinking about those damned Kardashians.  I really do love to write, it’s everything else associated with it I don’t like – the hustling, the marketing, the networking.  Problem is, that seems to be 60 percent of the job.  If no one knows your name, no one knows your product, and an unknown product dies a quick death.

Now, say what you will about those Kardashians- and I have.  I mean they don’t act, they don’t sing, they don’t write, they don’t excel at a sport, they don’t even always form coherent sentences.   In fact, they seemingly have no discernible talent at all (unless you consider having a big ole boody talent, which some of my guy friends unequivocally do), but yet they’re rich and famous and seemingly everywhere.  And then I thought about it, they actually do have a talent – and a great one at that.  They know how to brand themselves and to keep their name out there, and that might be one of the biggest talents of all. 

I’ve always had this thing where I felt like tooting your own horn was boorish and obnoxious, but I really need to get over this.  The world is moving too fast.  If you don’t toot that horn, no one sees you coming.  And it’s not just a one-time toot; you’ve got to keep your hand on the buzzer.  Attention spans are so short, there’s so much out there to focus on, you’ve got to figure out a way to inundate people with that brand that is “you.”  I’ve got to change my mindset.  Instead of thinking that people are going to think I’m the most egotistical blowhole ever, I’ve got to think, “it’s a sin not to share all this fabulousness with the world.”  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Naked And The Free

     I took a week off to visit my friend Juanesta, who’s working on a show that’s shooting in Hawaii.  Juanesta is renting a condo in Waikiki/Diamond Head.  It’s a lovely one bedroom place that has partial views of the Pacific Ocean, its shores lined with those tall graceful palm trees you think of in association with the tropics.  There’s no beach behind the property, only jagged rocks.  The currents there can be dangerous and signs abound attesting to this.  “Swim at your own risk,” “Only experienced swimmers should enter,” and more to the point “Danger!  Keep Out!”  Just up against the rocky boundary is a sturdy sea wall that allows a two foot walkway along the edge of all the buildings at this tail end section of Waikiki so that surfers and other “experienced swimmers” can go to and fro.  A short black wrought iron fence forms the only separation between the public sea wall and this private property. Behind this fence are four lounge chairs arranged under two welcoming palms.  These chairs face a westerly direction, and allow for a most breathtaking view of the sun sinking down behind the horizon and seemingly into the depths of the mighty Pacific each evening.
     I was seated in one of these loungers one morning reading “Eat, Pray, Love” (saw the movie – let’s just put it this way – next time I need a nap, I’d rather not pay 12.50 to do so) when a Hawaiian man, I’d say mid-thirties, walks by.  I mouth Hello and go back to reading.  About three minutes later, he walks by in the other direction, stopping to make polite conversation.  He is from the neighboring island of Molokai and he had heard there was a calmer beach than Waikiki, where he could just lay out without all the distractions and tan – a neighboring nude beach, because he doesn’t want any tan lines.  I tell him I don’t know of any nude beaches, he makes a little polite conversation, then he’s gone again.   But then two minutes later, there he is walking in the other direction again, a little slower, more hesitantly this time.  Now, I’m from Brooklyn, and I happened to catch the premiere episode of the newly revamped “Hawaii 5-0,” so Homey don’t play that.  My posture becomes a little more rigid, my head straighter – kind of like one of those little meerkats.  If this man is gonna try and jump this fence, I’m ready!  Right on cue, he appears once more. He stops and looks at me for a second, then leans over the fence. Okay, it is on!
     “Excuse me,” he says, “You seem pretty cool, I kinda need to ask you something.”
     “Uh huh…, “ I say.
     “Maybe if you could come closer,” he says.  “I don’t want to say it out loud…See, it’s kind of embarrassing.”
     “That’s cool, I got great hearing.  You can whisper it right from where you are.”
     “Okay, well…would you mind walking down the sea wall with me.  There’s a bit of a secluded area down around the way…”
     “Oh, hell to the nah!” I’m thinking.  “This man’s gonna ask me to perform some lude act on him.”  And I just stare, cause I can’t wait for him to finish his sentence.
     “I’m performing tonight…well, I’m in a stripping contest, which is why I can’t have the tan lines.  Anyway, you have to dance and all.  And it’s my first time…kind of an adventure, really.  And I was just wondering if you could follow me down the way and watch my act and give me some feedback.”
     “Watch your act?” I ask.  “You mean, watch you strip?”
     “Well yeah, and dance.  And let me know if it’s engaging. ”
     Well, if his act is anywhere near as engaging as our conversation, he was sure to be prize pig that night.  Blue ribbon all the way.  But, still being a cautious, untrusting New Yorker, I decline, explaining I was just about to leave to go have a look at Pearl Harbor, which was the truth.
As I drove through Honolulu, I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy.  If he really was stripping that night and not trying to lure me to an untimely death, he had a lot of chutzpah – in a good way.  I sensed no mental illness.  His eyes didn’t dart back and forth as he spoke to me.  He didn’t have an imaginary friend seated on his shoulder.  But he was free enough, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally to not only take it all off in front of a room filled with people, but also to make a most interesting proposition to someone he did not know – someone who would be judging him every moment of the way.  He was free enough to be able to put up with my critique, no matter how brutal. And how shall I put this – I don’t think either Chippendale’s or Thunder From Down Under would ever be rolling out the red carpet for him.
     In this journey I’ve been on to find a new agent and publisher for my novels, there has so far been more lows than highs.  The cold submission of query letters has so far only been met by sometimes polite, sometimes very impersonal “Thanks, but no thanks” letters.  I’m getting better at being more detached as I read them.  It pricks a little, but I file them away and do my best not to take it as a personal rejection of me as a writer and as a person.   As an artist, rejection is such a great part of what I do, the skin has to grow thicker at some point.  The problem is, it’s as if I’ve reached a safe middle, where the lows don’t really sting, but with that, the highs don’t make as much of an impact either.  I’ve become a bit desensitized.  But this man – this lovely, strange Hawaiian stripper dude desperate for an even tan, seemed to have figured out the balance. There was such feeling and emotion in what he asked, but there was a calm and freedom.  It was actually inspiring– as he seemed to have mastered being both emotionally attached and critically detached at the same time.  In other words, I could sense the highs were as explosive and colorful and full of flavor as they should be, but the lows had been anesthetized. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Two weekends ago, I went to my first literary conference.  It was a last minute decision as I deliberated back and forth whether I wanted to pay the three hundred and fifty buck fee I could ill afford to part with, plus pay for lodging and drinks and food and drinks and gas and drinks…you get the idea.  There were a couple of reasons I had never gone to one of these conferences before.  First of all, as big as my mouth is, it seems to become filled with cotton when I’m in the critical situation of having my work judged by committee.  I love to write, but the business of writing, not so fond of much.  I’ve also had this weird snapshot in my head of what a typical attendee of a writer’s conference looks like.  Here goes.  Remember Roger and Virginia Klarvin, the characters Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch played in the late nineties on SNL?  They were these college professors who spoke in this affected manner, called each other “my lovah,” and couldn’t keep their hands off each other.   Roger of the full beard and thick, gray, “Masterpiece Theatre” meets “Grizzly Adams” sweater, and Virginia of the long, stringy graying hair with teenager-like bangs crowning her middle-aged forehead.   I swear, this is what I thought I’d be confronted with as they spoke of the philosophy of words and of writing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a few Klarvin look-alikes running around, but there was a pretty cool variety of people.  And instead of being intimidated by people’s work, I was really inspired.  And I even read some of my own and survived the comments, both complimentary and critical.

My decision to attend came from my new 2010 motto…”Tom Jonesing it.”  What does the Welsh singer of “It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and “She’s A Lady” have to do with my writing?  Not so much.  But I get inspiration from the strangest of places.  My poor friends have heard the story so often, they take off running when they see me coming, so I’ll try to make it short. 

Went up to Vegas last month with my friend Nat Johnson to support another friend who was producing a one-man show at the MGM Grand.  Well, also performing there…none other than Mr. Jones himself.  Tickets – a hundred bucks, so we put it out into the universe that we would score some free of charge.  Five hours later, we stumble into a bar and find ourselves sitting at a table next to Tom and his band mates.  When you work in entertainment, you often lose whatever awe you might have had when it comes to entertainers, but not in this instance.  So Nat and I sit there staring at the drink menu trying to figure out how to approach the man without making complete idiots of ourselves.  Nat, who’s got balls bigger than a T-Rex’s; Natalee, who has no problem approaching anyone and talking to them about anything; Natalee who’s done stand-up at the Comedy Store and Laugh Factory in front of hundreds of skeptical faces actually had fear in her eyes, and no amount of coaxing could get her to approach the “Sugar Daddy" himself.   Finally, after a damn it all to hell moment, I gulped down my drink, announced I was gonna “Tom Jones it” and pounced.  (I didn’t really pounce.  Just thought it sounded like a good word.  A more accurate description would probably be “I treaded both softly and hesitantly”).   But the results of my sudden bravery: hanging out with Tom and his band till 4 in the morn and scoring tickets from them to the next night’s show, where we sat in the center of the theatre at the wives and girlfriends table.

Tom Jones revels in being on stage, and the joy is transferred to anyone who has a chance to experience him.  But even more priceless than those tickets was being able to talk to Tom and his musicians about how doing what they love, how not allowing anything to shift them from the path of their passion has given them a life filled with immeasurable joy and accomplishment. 

Tom Jones strikes me as someone who throws caution to the wind and goes after what he wants; someone who, like Sinatra sang, does it his way.

None of this would have taken place had I not grown some balls and said something as simple as “hello,” to “The Jones.”  And I walked away from that weekend thinking that whenever I have a strong thought, despite potential doubt or fear, I’m just gonna “Tom Jones it.”  I Tom Jones’d that conference and now feel a renewed excitement for my work.  Balls to the wall in 2010.  Tom Jonesing it all the way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I’ve had to learn to develop reasonably thick skin when it comes to my work.  After all, you can’t please all the people all the time, so why try.  The way I look at it, not everyone’s gonna like my writing, and it’s all good.  We all have different experiences, come from different backgrounds and find different things appealing.  Case and point, some people actually care what happens in the lives of Heidi and Spencer.  Anyway, I’ve sent out ten query letters, have received a response so far from seven of those agents.  To the one who wanted to see more pages, I did a little Jamaican jig, then sent my first five or so chapters off.  To the five who communicated, very succinctly, that they were not in the least bit interested in my work, I very maturely mumbled that they should “suck it,” then composed myself and sent off a short, polite email thanking them for taking the time to read my query.  But then there was this one response that wasn’t asking to see more pages.  Actually, it was blowing me off completely, but it wasn’t so succinct or formulaic.  It was actually very sweet the way this agent told me to “go scratch,” and it went something like this:

“I sincerely want to thank you for considering me worthy of reading and potentially representing your work.  While your query was an interesting read, I don’t quite feel I am the person to do your novel proper justice by representing it.  I wish you much luck in your career.”

What the hell!  Well, how am I supposed to respond to that?  I mean, I know how to respond:  “While it is not the response I was hoping for, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my query.”  Problem is, I can’t yell, “suck it.”  I can’t call her a jerk.  I can’t try to make myself feel better by mumbling, “If you’re saying no to me, the books you represent probably all bite ass.”  With her pleasant, non-standard blow off email, this agent actually did more harm to me than good.  Does this woman not understand that I’m a New Yorker?  Does she not understand that disinterested or mean serves to fuel and fire me up?  What the hell is with all that nice?  It’s like when my girl, Consuelo, and I went to see the Yankees play the Angels in Anaheim and we started up our pro Yankees, anti Angels chants and these fool fans actually said, “Well, what can we say, the Yankees are a great team.”  Shut me and Consuelo up immediately.  And all that animosity filled –I’ll shank you in a prison yard scuffle - attitude flowing through our veins just sort of fizzled out and we didn’t feel so high and mighty.  Same principle here.  Being killed by nice is the worse way to go.  So, a personal plea to all you agents.  If you don’t like my work, just say it!  Don’t try to cushion the blow, don’t try to baby me because you’re doing more harm than good.

And since I used that baseball analogy before, just a little aside.  The past month of the baseball playoffs has seen me swigging more beer than a cross-country trucker.  It’s been nerve racking, it’s been decadent and I’m quite certain my liver is considerably smaller because of it.  I have written little & sworn lots, but the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for my little sports diversion since the work situation (which I still can’t yet speak on) & a personal situation (can’t yet speak on this one yet, either), are just as stressful as before.  And I’m not sure whether it’s coincidence or cosmic intervention, but that little sports break couldn’t have come at a better time.  In closing (why does this sound like a valedictory speech all of a sudden), I’d like to congratulate my New York Yankees on winning their 27th World Series championship. And, I would like to tell all the obnoxious Yankee haters out there to SUCK IT!  For the ones who are not as obnoxious, I would like to ask them to become more so, so that I can also tell them to SUCK IT!…and have no remorse about it. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Checked My Own Book Out Of The Library, Is That Weird?!

Not trying to toot my own horn here (well, maybe a little), but despite growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where you had to be able to speak the loudest in order to be heard and master a mean “screw face” if someone gave you some ‘tude, I think I’m one of the most even keeled, even tempered people around.  But recently, I’ve just wanted to beat some people down; I'm talking about giving ‘em a good old fashioned pick a switch from off a tree ass whupping, a humiliating Singapore public caning.  My work stress has been dominating my writing, so I haven’t really been able to get in that right mental space. (Scroll down and you’ll notice I haven’t had a blog entry in some time.)  I can’t go into any detail about the professional strife right now, but when I’m able to, it’ll probably be enough to qualify for my third book.

Anyway, I had to pay a little trip to downtown LA.  Though I live in Hollywood - all of a ten minute drive to downtown – I hardly ever seem to make it there.  First, parking is a bee-yatch.  Second, come sundown, there are way too many areas that seem to morph into the setting for the “Thriller” video.  I mean the freaks truly come out in full force.  But, I had a bit of business to tend to.  I had my laptop with me, and like I said, since writing hadn’t been going so well, I decided maybe a change of scenery… being in the studious confines of the Central library…would rub off.  Besides, it’s such a beautiful building architecturally, I figured, that in itself could be inspiring.  And then I remembered that a friend had recently gone there to check my book out, but when he got there, found it had already been checked out.  (YAY!)  But I started thinking, why did he check it out; why not help a sistuh’s sales and just order the thing from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.  (BOO!)  But then I figured, since that one little copy of my book is crammed onto a shelf among thousands of others, it needed to get some exercise and not sit there all lonely and neglected, so YAY again.

So, I did a computer search for “The Cricket’s Serenade," found out where it was located, took the escalator up to the third floor – literature – fiction – skimmed the section with author’s last names “B,” laid eyes on the prize and grabbed it up.  The funny thing is, when I first took it off the shelf, as people passed by me in the aisle, I kept turning away from them, as if they were all aware I was the author and wondering why I was checking out my own book.  But then, I decided, let them feast their peepers on my beautiful baby, and I started holding it out at a very unnatural angle, as if I was one of "The Price Is Right" models trying to bring attention to the item up for bid.

I have to say, it is inspiring seeing something you created on the shelves of LA’s main library.   I would love to know how much action it’s gotten, but since they no longer have those little pockets in the front of books that hold those cards they would stamp with the check-out and due back date, I have no way of telling how often my book has taken a trip away from those cramped shelves.  It is located very close to “The Exorcist” (Blatty, William Peter and Blythe, Carolita – having the first couple of letters of the last names in common) – which I figure is a good thing – since I’m sure that one gets its share of action.  Who’s to say that a few people, while scanning the shelves for a dark, demonic story of a little girl possessed by the devil, haven’t stumbled first across my book about unrequited love set against the backdrop of race and class difference in a politically turbulent Jamaica and changed their minds, checking out mine instead?  It’s a stretch, but so what!  I’m going to consider moving it right next to Mr. Blatty’s famous work to increase the chances of that happening…once my book is returned of course.  That’s right, I’m checking it out – helping it register on whatever list the library uses to keep track of how each item traffics.  I wonder what the woman at the check-out counter will think when she swipes my card and scans the book and notices some similar information.  Hell, who am I kidding, I’m willing to take bets as to whether she would even notice if I was green and had a third eye.

But the library has done its job in some ways; it’s inspired a blog entry from me for the first time in weeks.  And, it’s given me a little sunshine on a bit of a personally cloudy day.