How Being Short Can Take You a Long Way

Being short, you’ll never have to worry about seeing all of that guck that’s on the top of your refrigerator. Me being the long, lanky type, so shamed am I when I spot that accretion of grime that I have to stop the speechwriting I do for the American Graham Cracker Collection Society, and clean it immediately. But here I’m referring to length, not height, where bigger isn’t necessarily better—in writing.

There’s a situation that brings this to mind: I’m going to the Writer’s Digest West writing conference in LA in late October, and there I’m going to engage in a frolicsome thing called a pitch slam. A pitch slam isn’t where you test your curveball to see if you can strike out Albert Pujols; it’s where a hoard of peevish, underfed literary agents listen to your strangled proposal for your book, and then press a button that puts you in a trash compactor, while you hear the waning sounds of their maniacal laughter.

The slam part is this: you have 90 seconds to pitch your book. Ninety seconds: that’s easily enough time for me sit in front of the agent, swallow my tongue, fall to the floor and writhe spasmodically. I have scanned the agents who are available for this particularly torture, and I see that I will have at least five chances to pitch—a fit—in front of them. Thus my writing exercise for the next month will be to put the novel I’ve just finished into a readily digestible pill: sweet, vivid and utterly condensed.

Brevity Is the Soul of Lingerie

I’ve written before on how challenging (yet oddly freeing) it can be to be forced to write with brevity. It’s refreshing, like ice in your underwear. For ballast, I’ll be checking out some information on pitching and synopses from the Guide to Literary Agents blog, where I’ve gleaned good information before.

Writing short is a useful art. A couple of months ago, I won a great MediaBistro Literary Festival conference pass just by tweeting what I judged to be the best sentence I’d ever written. (Never mind, with counting the hashtag, that my first three choices were longer than Twitter’s character count allows). As Dorothy Parker said, “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” Thus, to display my lingerie, I just entered the Gotham Writer’s Workshop 91-word memoir contest, where you are supposed to deliver your biography in 91 words. Here’s my first half:

A Cardboard Fort, Conquered by Language
At six, long backyard hours in cardboard refrigerator-box fort, alone with clock, dinosaur books and languid time. At twelve, graduating to Hesse, Twain, Steinbeck, and hearing the sweet siren call of language. At twenty-four, English-degreed, writing crabbed copy for catalogs, questing.

You’ll just have to wait for the rest; I don’t want to reveal the part about my secret marriage to Doris Duke while the contest is pending. Have to run—have to figure out how to squeeze my multi-points-of-view tragicomic opus into 90 seconds, without including all the sighs, cries and lies.

(And hey, if any of you agents happen to read this, I don’t really think you are peevish or underfed. I will remember all your children’s birthdays forever.)

Bonus Material! Missing Teeth, Dangerous Drugs and an Unsober Man

And for a little comic relief, of the not-so-short variety, take a look at my guest post on the charming aspects of hysteria experienced in the dentist’s office. That minor play of neuroses is courtesy of Dr. Richard Wilson’s Bite Point blog; Doc Wilson is the author of many a toothsome tale, including the forthcoming epic, The Man Who Wore Mismatched Socks.

Writers and Booze: Pardon Me While I Drink This Manuscript

Waiter, can you bring me a subordinate clause?

Waiter, can you bring me more ice and a subordinate clause?

Because I am the founder of the Bentley Paranoiac Dystopian Technique (BPDT), I have managed, at the one-month mark, to have made my stay in the beguiling Bahamas a time of substantial anxiety, temper and intolerance. Not only that, there was some bad stuff happening too. It is once again a lesson in attitude IS everything (almost), and that my attitude makes your basic murderous dictator look like the designer of the Princess Phone.

BPDT aside, I have noted in the past the reputation of writers as the self-medicating types. I’m talking about the storied boozy histories of Faulkner and Hemingway and of Dorothy Parker, the quarry of this quote:”Writer, thinker, drinker.”

Thus, I’ve seen that when my interpretations of this beautiful island become baleful, I’ve started longing for my gin-and-tonic bath. That usually happens around 11am. (When Alice and I were shopping in one of the local liquor stores, one of the tourists there told us that the low-alcohol version of the good native beer, Kalik, was fine for morning drinking, and provided a stepping-stone (if you could still step solidly) to the higher-proof noon-time brew.)

Links with Drinks
Well, I haven’t actually succumbed to the morning bottle-feeding routine, preferring to continue my “I’m strong enough to wait until 5” standard of excellence. Besides, I’ve got work to do, and I don’t have Hemingway’s constitution. But with all that in mind, I thought you’d enjoy my small collection of writerly links about drinks. They prove it is possible to hold a pen in one hand and a cocktail in another, however wobbly both may be.

Top Ten Drunk Writers

11 Drinks to Pair with Your Favorite Books

Greatest Books on Booze

How to Drink Like Your Favorite Authors

A Bar Pretending to be a Bookstore

Mind you, I’m not encouraging a headlong pursuit of boozy debauchery. Intemperate application of alcohol has created many a hell for many a soul. I just apply the stuff as an edge-smoother, and I’ve been edgy lately. I’m much more for the “moderation in all things” mantra rather than “why did I wake up wearing lipstick and heels?” Next time you’re in the islands, you can enroll in the BPDT program, buy me a drink, and I’ll tell you all about it.