Beyond the one-line description of Supercell being “a fast-moving thriller set against tornado chasing on the Great Plains,” what the heck is the novel about?
Here’s the “elevator pitch” for it (an “elevator pitch” means the author’s got only the duration of an elevator ride to pitch his/her book to an agent or publisher):
Chuck Rittenburg, a former professional storm chaser, has lost it all: his business, his home, his family. But he’s offered a chance at redemption—-and a million bucks—-by a Hollywood film company if he can lead its cinematographers to a violent EF-4 or -5 tornado.
The catch: he has only two weeks in which to do it. And given the extreme rarity of his quarry, he knows the odds are overwhelmingly against him.
He quickly discovers, however, the short time frame and elusiveness of his prey are perhaps the least of his adversaries. He’s hurled headlong into a maelstrom of self-doubt, familial conflict, a deadly manhunt, love and betrayal.
He finds himself plagued by a bitter, estranged son; an old friend who remains haunted by the Vietnam War; a female FBI agent working undercover; a rebellious film-crew manager; a pair of murderous brothers; and a mysterious and dangerous guardian of what may or may not be a mythical fortune hidden away on the Oklahoma prairie.
The hunt culminates with a storm encounter so unique it’s virtually the stuff of legend.
All-in-all, Chuck’s two-week quest is filled with dark twists and turns that lead to surprises no one, not even a veteran storm chaser, could ever have imagined.
Supercell sweeps onto bookshelves in November.
PHOTO: courtesy Roger Hill.WRITERS CONFERENCES … WHY?
Some of my friends, non-writers, knowing I’d just returned from the Southeastern Writers Association Workshop, asked me what goes on at such conferences.
First, I must explain, there are different types of conferences. Some, such as the one sponsored by the Southeastern Writers, focus on teaching the craftsmanship of writing. Many, like those held by the Atlanta Writers Club, are designed to put authors in touch with literary agents and publishers. Still others, usually bigger gatherings—-the Willamette Writers Conference, for instance—-are a combination of both, sometimes with film agents thrown into the mix.
Wait, you say. You mentioned teaching, which implies learning. Don’t you guys already know how to write? Of course we do. But, for example, just because you know how to frame a house doesn’t mean you can design and build a custom coffee table inlaid with marble.
I’ve always known I could write, but I had to learn a craft in order to become a novelist. It took me ten years and four different manuscripts—-a not uncommon odyssey among aspiring novelists—-before I scored with Eyewall. To most readers, Eyewall is just a high-energy story. But what went into it, what I had to learn, were such esoteric skills as narrative drive, threading, cueing and subordination. Yeah, exciting.
Similarly, there is much to be learned about writing poetry, memoirs and screenplays.
But beyond classroom endeavors, conferences offer an opportunity for writers to commiserate with one another, for ours is one of the few professions in which rejection and failure are endemic. Only if you’re a writer do you understand this. Only in the company of others like you, do you realize your journey is not unique. And only in the fellowship of other authors do you find comfort and hope.
As NYT best-selling novelist Steve Berry used to tell me, “If I can do it, you can do it.”
So we gather together to cry on each others shoulders, find solstice and hope, and talk shop. In the end, we come out more knowledgable, reinvigorated and ready once more to tilt at windmills.
-June 25, 2012-
IMAGE: Sunset at Epworth by the Sea, St. Simons Island, Georgia, site of the annual Southeastern Writers Association Workshop.
There’s a boo-boo in the last paragraph: I’m a meteorologist, so naturally I was thinking about finding a solstice, not about finding solace. (The solstice, BTW, was June 20, so I did find one.)
-June 27, 2012-DEAR JOHN…
To me, it was akin to getting a “Dear John” letter from an old girl friend long after I’d married someone else.
But here it came, a rejection letter (email) from a literary agent for Eyewall over a year after the novel had been published and more than two years since I’d contacted—-and long forgotten about—-the agent.
Rejection, a lot of it, is part of the business for most writers. Here’s how it happens: You send a query letter and maybe a few sample chapters of your book to a literary agent explaining very briefly what the book is about and why you’d like that particular agent to represent it to publishers. (Agents are the gate keepers for major publishing houses.) With Eyewall, I was told “no thanks” 113 times. That, believe it or not, is not unusual in the world of first-time novelists.
Sometimes, in this age of emails and instant communications, a response from an agent will come in a matter of minutes (I think my personal best is 60 seconds), other times it may take weeks. A few agencies will say if you don’t hear back from us in six weeks or so, assume we aren’t interested. Fair enough.
Usually, after three months, if I haven’t received a response from an agency, I can safely assume my query’s in the trash bin. That’s not always the case, but it is 99 percent of the time.
I realize agents are inundated, overwhelmed, buried with queries and manuscripts. Hundreds per week at big name agencies. By the way, an experienced agent can tell after reading just one or two paragraphs of a manuscript whether it’s marketable or not. At any rate, I understand that it takes time to receive feedback.
But over two years? Come on. Get real. Why bother? Did the agent think I was sitting around waiting to hear back from him/her after that length of time? It wasn’t the agent I heard from anyhow, but an “associate,” probably code word for an intern. That’s okay, but again, why bother? Didn’t the agency have more recent queries to respond to, like ones that were maybe only a year old?
I’m not upset. In fact, getting a “Dear John” note long after Eyewall had gone on to a modicum of success brought a good chuckle to me. I just find it totally bizarre that an agency would waste its time dealing with a query that had more dust on it than Phoenix in a haboob.
Hey, I kinda figured out you weren’t interested. Oh, and thanks for telling me why the manuscript wouldn’t work.
-May 29, 2012-
IMAGE: from the movie Dear John