Thursday, February 21, 2019

Collecting No's Pays Off

James Coburn preparing for a scene - Hard Contract (1969)
Hi folks,
I was planning to write a post about staying positive while collecting "no's". I've been sending out query letters to agents who rep biography since last November, and I've collected a bunch of them.

They have been in the form of jaunty form-letter rejections, or brief words, although a couple have been a bit more personal and encouraging. I got one referral and then the no from that was very kind, probably more in deference to the referrer than me. I only had one really brusque no, and their brief feedback as to why feels perfectly logical and useful.

I've even had a couple of requests for the full proposal (more on that later), and about half the people sent no reply at all, which after a certain time (usually specified on their websites) is a tacit no.

I didn't feel bad. I researched each agent thoroughly - read their sites, determined whether they were a good fit for the book, were open to new authors or any submissions at this time, customized my query letter. I sent out a few a day in what was two batches over a couple of weeks each time, then settled down to wait. I was collecting those no's, because every no was one step towards the ultimate yes.

I guess I hadn't been at it very long to become actually discouraged.

Then a kind of miracle happened. A friend of mine who is a writer referred me to his agent. She was certainly not on my radar or in any of the guide books. Nor is she a bio specialist, but does have some experience with the genre, and knows everyone. I talked to her, and she requested my proposal, and read it the next day, and came back to me with an offer of representation - which is unheard of. That is super fast. I was lucky that I caught her in a few free days - she actually read my sample chapters while she was on a family trip.

She's lucky - she can read in a moving vehicle. The main thing is she said she believes she can sell it.

So as things stand, there are some contract details being addressed with the James and Paula Coburn Foundation, and I may soon be able to say that I actually have an agent for Dervish Dust. To follow more on this particular journey, please Like my Facebook page for the book.

But the great thing, for which I will be forever grateful, was that she took time out of her vacation to give me some valuable and awesome notes about the proposal (OMG too long) and sample chapters (just some tweaks!). It was so exciting to have real feedback from someone who knows what they are doing about this proposal.

I hope she will also be interested, in the fullness of time, in my upcoming fantasy YA series, the Mermaid Lake books. The first one, Mermaid Summer, is in rewrite stage - the tough part.

Saturday, December 29, 2018


One of James Coburn's movies that somehow feels very contemporary is THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST (1967). The plot concerns a psychiatrist tapped to be the US President's analyst, who becomes increasingly paranoid as he learns more and more confidential secrets from his patient. It turns out that his paranoia is justified as the international espionage community converge on him to try to learn those secrets. All of this is against the backdrop of plenty of still biting social commentary and some wonderful prescient ideas about technology.

Aside from reviews, the movie is mentioned in different places like this legal blog:
Above the Law

and this therapist's article about privacy: Forbes celluloid shrinks

Here's someone else who agrees that it's prescient: Slant

I like that the film is being rediscovered, like this showing a couple of years ago: BAMPFA 

It has even been used as support material for psychoanalytic studies college courses: Atlanta Psychoanalysis movie mania

Jim's behind-the-scenes stories of making this picture are some of the most fun in the book.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The best tool to help you finish a big writing project

Here's my other buddy, Virgo the cat - trying to tell me to take a pause I think.

I've been busy with two different projects connected with writing for the last few weeks. The first is my ongoing agent search for Dervish Dust - researching each prospective agent and sending out tailored query letters. I call this process "collecting no's" and I feel good about the number I have so far. Many have been a bit more personal than a form letter, and feel genuinely encouraging.

The other writing I've been doing is the first book in my Middle Grade fantasy novel series - or maybe it will become YA in time. I've been managing to get out close to 2000 words a day, because the plot is very thoroughly written out already. My challenge is actually prioritizing doing it - especially as the Holidays loom. I'm keeping track of my word count at the end of each writing session - a scribbled post-it note with yesterday's tally crossed out, and today's written down. It helps to feel productive.

But one thing that I learned about writing a big project - in my case a fully researched biography - is that it helps to have an accountability buddy. I honestly think I would have added a year to the process without mine.

My new friend Julie, a super-duper marketing maven, set the terms. I was to write without fail from 10AM until 12PM every weekday. I was to text her at the start, and text my word count at the end. 10AM suited me and my schedule at the time. But only two hours? I thought it was an insufficient commitment. But then again, it also felt doable, even when I had other stuff going on.

It felt odd at first, being beholden in a way to someone so entirely outside of my usual life. We had met at a talk about leadership and management for musicians and film composers. Such an odd fortuitous circumstance. When Julie heard that I was finding it tough to get into a rhythm of writing, she suggested being my accountability buddy. It was so kind of her, with her own busy life and schedule, to take that time to hit a thumbs up each day.

Sometimes I would text that it was going to be a research day - and then I got a lecture about actually writing for two hours first. If I needed to miss a day for something nonsensical like a doctor's appointment, I got a pep talk about not sliding out of the writing habit. It was wonderful.

And of course, two hours usually stretched to four or six or even eight when I was on a roll. But the text was always at noon. Sometimes I would text again after the next two hour interval. And the book got done. I'm so grateful for that daily nudge.

So that is my big advice to anyone trying to get the thing done and having trouble starting or focusing or just believing that it's OK to make your writing a priority - have an accountability buddy outside your family, someone with no stake in it - objective enough to see clearly through the likely moments of making excuses. Just two hours - two hours every day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Coburn Movie Review - Charade (1963)

James Coburn as Tex Panthollow in Charade (1963). I love his gingham shirt. 
I have been seeing James Coburn pictures turning up more and more often on various cable channels. When I first started writing Dervish Dust, I had to search out some of his more obscure early pictures. Now they are sitting in my DVR having been grabbed by the automatic "Search and Record" setting. I love technology, and I love that his work is more visible.

This month one of Jim's early movies that is certainly not obscure is playing on TCM. It is Charade (1963) starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, with James Coburn joining the cast as a key villain. There are plenty of neat behind-the-scenes stories in the book, which I won't spoil, but I will say that both Jim and his wife at the time Beverly, absolutely loved Paris where almost all of Charade was shot. That is despite 1962-63 winter turning into one of the coldest on record in all of Europe. In Britain it was called the "Big Freeze". Jim talked about his eagerness to go in to the soundstage to work because it was the only place he could get properly warm.

You would never know it was freezing from watching luminous Audrey Hepburn chase after and spar with Cary Grant. He thought her character was dressed like a "kook", and had less appreciation for the Givenchy wardrobe that to our modern eyes looks so beautifully elegant. There is plenty of humor interspersed with the mystery and sense of danger in the story, and the pacing is good too. Of course there is never any real danger that the charming Cary Grant could turn out to be a bad guy despite the efforts at misdirection in the story. But the cleverness of the various solutions to the mystery are delightful, and I remember the twists as not predictable, the first time I watched this many years ago.

One of Jim's most famous scenes from Charade with Audrey Hepburn.
Even having seen it numerous times, this is one of those films that continues to be enjoyable if for nothing more than the eye candy of beautiful people, beautiful clothes, beautiful locales and sparkling dialogue. It is even more so once you realize that there were often snowdrifts just off screen.

"Tex" was Jim's biggest film role to date. He came to Paris fresh from the shoot of The Great Escape, and was soon joined by Beverly and the two kids for the long shoot. Very soon he would be in a co-starring role in another TCM stalwart, High Wind in Jamaica (1965) which shot primarily on location in Jamaica, and was much more comfortable, at least as far as the weather was concerned.

You can see Charade on TCM, Thursday November 29 at 8:00 pm Eastern

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Vale James Coburn

Today is the anniversary of James Coburn's passing in 2002. He died of complications of congestive heart failure after collapsing at home. He had been spending some time that evening preparing the music play list for the upcoming family Thanksgiving Celebration.

Jim was a huge and lifelong lover of music, especially jazz and classical music. One of his favorite pieces was Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring". He credited his junior high music and choir teacher, Mrs. Spiller, with awakening a love of all kinds of music in his young teenage self.

Later, as a young adult he spent many happy summer evenings dancing to the big band jazz and swing at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Island. In the army, one of his best friends was a musician who taught him claves, the percussion stick instrument of Cuba. In New York in the early 50's his perennial hang out was Birdland. He was very nostalgic about those great old days of music - he called them "the days of fun and frolic".

Throughout his life many of his close friends were musicians or connected to the music business, like his pal composer Herbie Kretzmer, and his other close friend Petey Kameron who once managed The Who. Perhaps his most extraordinary connection to music is his appearance on the famous cover of Paul McCartney and Wings' album "Band on the Run." And this doesn't even touch the array of fascinating artists who composed the music scores for his movies.

It is quite possible that the last things he heard in his life were the strains of some of his favorite music.

RIP James Coburn.

The James and Paula Coburn Foundation continues to pay tribute to Jim's love of music by supporting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among other worthy causes. You can make a donation if you wish by visiting the website.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Use Your Library!


One of the most valuable resources any writer has is the public library, and I mean beyond access to the whole world of books.

Here in Los Angeles where I live, we have the Los Angeles Library system and the County Library System. With your library card and PIN, you can access for free a remarkable number of resources for learning all kinds of things including online courses from outlets that are otherwise quite expensive. These include services like, Gale Courses and language learning sites.
The kind of courses you can access include computer proficiency, GED and job searching skills. And you don’t necessarily have to be at the library to do it. Many of these resources are accessible remotely. Did I mention, FREE?

Meanwhile, for writers in Los Angeles – here is a page detailing how to find local writers’ groups. 
Some are free, others are fee based, and some are actually held at libraries themselves. Aren’t we lucky?

If there is one thing that will make a difference to getting your writing project finished, it is having an accountability buddy. I would probably still be muddling along with Dervish Dust, if it weren’t for mine. Your writers’ group may work to fill that role, or you may find someone to do it there.

Of course, when I was researching Dervish Dust, I visited a number of specialty libraries and also accessed material in various archives. But the public library was part of me journey too.