Monday, January 31, 2011

It Was a Good Day.

The Short Version

Today, I signed with literary agent Ann Rittenberg of the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency! I've really enjoyed getting to know Ann in the past few weeks, and I'm really looking forward to working with her in the future. She represents a number of great writers, including Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River - one of my favorite books of all time. I'm incredibly excited about working with Ann. My heart has stopped several times in the last few days. Hopefully, more good stuff will follow in this new chapter of my writing career. If you'd like the full story of how this came to be, keep reading.

The Long Version

I've written this long version because I've always loved reading "Getting an Agent" stories, and I hope that people will enjoy my tale as well.

In 2003, I read Mystic River, Lehane's crime novel about three childhood friends, their pasts tied to a terrible crime, who reconnect as adults when a tragedy befalls one of them. If you haven't read it, I won't spoil even a little bit of this astonishing novel, and you should read it immediately. Lehane's writing and storytelling are masterful. It's one of the books I think about when I think about the quality of my own writing. At the time I read it, I was working on my second manuscript (which, truth be told, was a complete re-write of my first disastrous manuscript), and it made me realize how far I had to go before I'd have something ready to publish, let alone something in the same ZIP code as Mystic River. Along with Stephen King's The Stand, Mystic River quickly became one of my two favorite books.


On the day before Thanksgiving 2010, I sat down at my kitchen table and wrote the So You Want to Write A Novel video. Within a few days, it had gone viral among writers, literary agents and editors (and yes, I'll be honest, I was hoping for such a response to the video). In early December, I discovered that Ann's agency had posted the video to its Facebook page. I'd heard of the agency before and had noted that Dennis Lehane was one of its clients. Quite frankly, because the video was being shared so often in early December, it was dumb luck that I came across this particular posting at all. An hour earlier or later, I might have missed it in my search feed. I immediately clicked Like on the page, and I was able to thank the agency in the comments for posting the video.

A few days later, Ann sent me a message through Facebook, telling me that she and her colleagues had enjoyed the video. I was thrilled. You writers out there will understand -- when you're a writer trying to make a name for yourself, any attention from an agent or editor -- especially unsolicited (and positive) attention -- is like writers' heroin. I told her a little bit about myself, I told her about the Law School video, and I told her about how much I liked Dennis Lehane's work (by now having read nearly all of it). She invited me to contact her after the New Year. In the meantime, a few other agents had contacted me about the Writing video as well, some to compliment it, and a few to invite me to submit to them in the future. 

Now each time I heard from an agent about the video, there was a tiny voice of optimism (one I typically keep locked away in the darkest recesses of my brain like it's a vial of weaponized smallpox at the CDC labs) that started screaming, "They like you. They totally want to represent you even though you haven't sent a query or a proposal. It's going to be like Sh*t My Dad Says!" But my rational, normally pessimistic self kept reminding me that having agents compliment the video was one thing -- having one want to sign me on the strength of the videos and this blog was something else entirely.  

A few more e-mails with Ann followed after the New Year, and then, a phone call. As the weeks went by, my discussions with Ann seemed to be getting more serious, more concrete. And although I was really enjoying getting to know her, I was getting increasingly nervous because this sort of discussion is totally alien to what a fiction writer is trained to expect when dealing with agents.

Finally, my curiosity got the best of me, and late last week, I asked her if the time had come (or was approaching) for me to make a decision about working with her. I know agents are plenty busy with dealing with their own clients, and I was starting to worry about encroaching on too much of her (and these other agents') time. I then held my breath. 

And then, last Thursday afternoon, via e-mail, Ann offered to represent me as I take the next step in my writing career. I read the e-mail on my phone about a thousand times, making sure I hadn't misread it. We arranged a telephone call for today. I told my wife and shared the news with the rest of my family. As any writer with two small children would do, we celebrated with a dinner at Red Robin.

After a weekend to get my thoughts together and to let a couple of other agents who had also expressed some heightened interest in me know about the offer, I had a lovely conversation with Ann earlier today. The conversation left no doubt that she was the right person to help guide my career going forward, and I happily agreed to sign with her.  

Yeah. Me. And Dennis Lehane. He's written a few New York Times bestsellers. I've read a few New York Times bestsellers. And he's one of many talented writers that her agency represents, including a few whose work I've enjoyed checking out over the last few days. 

So this is how my time as an unagented writer came to an end. I am incredibly excited to get this opportunity, as it's something I've been working toward for almost ten years, from my first shitty manuscript, through a couple of short stories published in online magazines, through the constant self-doubt, the sickening feeling that I would never get a chance to make a run at publication, through the writing of the animated videos that changed my life.

Honestly, I'm also a little nervous, because while life as an unagented writer can be tough, it was something I was used to. It was routine. It was familiar. Rejection becomes a part of your life's background, part of the daily noise. Being agented is something I'm not familiar with, and so I'm incredibly grateful to have Ann in that role. In this business, you need someone who believes in your work, and I'm fortunate enough to have found someone who does just that. Ann is the kind of champion all writers dream of having behind them. And I know that I'll have to work even harder than I ever have to take advantage of the opportunity I've been given and ensure that Ann's faith in me was well-placed.

Many of you have been with me since the first post here last June. Others have found me along the way. I'm thrilled to have all of you along for this ride, and I am excited to see what happens next. Thanks for all your support, comments, shares, forwards, and just sticking with me in general. And a thank you to the mad geniuses at Xtranormal, whose brilliant website helped make all this possible, and to the iPhone4 vs. HTC Evo video writers, because their movie was what gave me the idea to write the Law School video in the first place.

Let's get it on like Donkey Kong!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

War Cry of the Judgmental Friend

It's OK. You can relax. No "So You Want To...." movie this time. I promise. Words again. Real written words! 

I'm sure many of you have heard or read about the brouhaha surrounding Yale Law Professor Amy Chua's memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It recounts Chua's experience raising her two daughters under very strict conditions, the way They did it in the old country, up until the time it nearly destroyed her relationship with her younger daughter. By the way, I've seen a number of articles about Chua and the book, but I think this interview with her is the best one I've read.  

Now, I grew up in a pretty strict household, but compared to Professor Chua's approach, I might as well have slept with a loaded gun and a shoebox full of heroin. So I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a list of things that Professor Chua's daughters were never allowed to do growing up and examine each one's impact on their potential to become the first humans to walk on Mars or whatever it is the Professor has planned for them.  I'm going to use a scale of zero to four Tiger Poops, with four having the highest potential negative impact on the Chua girls' flying the Excelsior probe to Mars. 

As a depressing side note, I couldn't remember whether Excelsior was the name of a real space shuttle, so I went to look it up. The five shuttles that make up the NASA fleet are set forth on two lists -- the "Operational Shuttle Fleet" (Endeavour, Discovery and Atlantis) and the "No Longer in Service" list, which is about sixteen levels of creepy.

Anyway, let's move on to Professor Chua's List of Things Her Daughters Were Never Allowed to Do (Full disclosure -- I haven't read the book, and so this is not a review of the book itself, just poking a little fun at her now-famous list of prohibited activities):


Hell, I can't wait until my kids are old enough to attend sleepovers. I've heard parents with older kids talk about them in reverent tones like they were a secret cache of weapons in Modern Warfare 3.  

Growing up, I went to a dozen or so sleepovers. I think 10 of them were at my buddy Scott's house, where we played video games in his parents' study and lamented our inability to convince pretty girls to date us. During these sleepovers, we often devised fantastical schemes to achieve fame and fortune, which really ought to be right in Professor Chua's wheelhouse. It was like Weekend Summer Camp for Dorks. 



It wasn't called a playdate in that long-ago magical time I tell my kids about -- the When-I-Was-A-Kid-zoic Era. My son recently told me he wanted to have a "playdate" with the kid that lives around the corner. After my eyes rolled back down into the front of my head, I explained patiently that it was called "playing."

Thus, I find it interesting that Professor Chua didn't say that they weren't allowed to play at all -- only that they weren't allowed to have playdates. Maybe she just shares my disdain for the phrase "playdate." Hey, Professor Chua, I am totally with you on this one.  

Playdate: 3.5 Tiger Poops (Because I hate the word playdate)
Playing: Zero Tiger Poops (Look, something goes wrong on Mars, you better be able to get along with your fellow colonists)


When I was in the fourth grade, we did a musical about the Revolutionary War (because if there's anything you want set to music, it's treason, sedition and guerilla warfare), and I was assigned to play Patrick Henry, a role that included a solo performance. I should note that my singing voice is so horrific that U.N. inspectors conduct unannounced visits to my house and verify that I'm not using it as a weapon of mass destruction. Anyway, I had such terrible stage fright that all the other kids had to back me up because I refused to sing my part out loud. It was the last play I ever participated in. 

Besides, why is she hating on school plays, anyway? You've got sh*t to memorize, like scripts, songs and dance moves. Stuff like that makes you smart. Exhibit A: I want my surgeon to be like the best memorizer ever. 



Amy Chua obviously never saw Dead Poets Society. Every parent should be terrified of becoming the dad from that movie.

Moreover, if you're a kid, you're probably not going to complain about not being in a school play unless you're REALLY interested in drama and theater and school plays, and if that's the case, well, let's just say things are probably not going to end well for anyone who wants you to become a physicist. 

Four Tiger Poops (mainly because theater majors probably aren't signing up for the astronaut program)


Yeah, I didn't watch TV or play computer games as kid either. Woopity doo. Then again, this probably wasn't that hard in the 1980s. Three network channels and a retail price on the Atari 2600 of $169. So presumably, this was a harder task for Professor Chua. So hard, in fact, that I call total bullsh*t on this one. Here's my case. According to the book, Professor Chua's daughters are 18 and 15, meaning they came of age in the high-speed Internet era. And if they're as smart as we're led to believe, and let's hope they are, because otherwise the book (and Professor Chua's supposedly very awesome advance for the memoir) is kind of pointless, don't you think they probably figured out how to watch some bootleg content online?

Four Tiger Poops. (Yeah, you watch too much TV, you're probably not going to be making the trip to the red planet). 


What I find interesting about this one is that this prohibition covers the entire universe of extracurriculars, including school plays. So why is Professor Chua targeting school plays specifically? Wouldn't it have been better to proscribe some other fun childhood activity? Like eating ice cream or something?  



Sue Sylvester from Glee is reading this book and planning her revenge.  

My parents never spelled it out like this, but I was pretty much expected to get really, really good grades, and in high school, I didn't let them down. I was actually the co-valedictorian, which, I can assure you, was the high-water mark for my academic career. A few months later, I shuffled off to college where, for the better part of four years, I failed to grasp the fact that I was surrounded by 2,400 classmates, most of whom had ALSO been valedictorians, salutatorians and in the top 5 or 10 in their high school classes. I paid a steep price for this ignorance and finished somewhere in the bottom quarter of the class. I'm an idiot. 

Anyway, the interesting thing about these Tiger Mother parameters is that it's possible that the Chua girls could have fulfilled their mother's expectations but not finished first in their class.

I wonder how the Professor reacted the first time one of the Chua girls came home and reported they weren't #1 in a particular class. THAT must have been a long night with the AP Chemistry flash cards. 

POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON GOING TO MARS: Four Tiger Poops (Straight As are probably a prerequisite to setting foot on Mars). 


According to the interview in the Guardian, some of the most spectacular battles between Chua and her daughter were fought over the piano and violin. She allegedly threatened to burn her daughter's favorite stuffed animals if she didn't nail a particular piece on the piano. That is pretty f*cked up right there. 

I'd looked at this list about a dozen times before it occurred to me that Professor Chua might have some unresolved internal conflict with the arts. Mean music teacher growing up? 

Whatever. I didn't play an instrument. I have a vague recollection of wanting to join a school band of some kind in the fifth grade, but I abandoned it when I realized none of my friends wanted to do it. 

POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON GOING TO MARS: Zero Tiger Poops. Don't you always see these super smart scientists in the movies playing an instrument or something to give the character depth and substance? 

So that's it. Except for one thing.  I do have a warning for Professor Chua. 


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Resistance is Futile.

LISTENING POST 072-4815162342
LOCATION: Facebook Headquarters
DATE: 12 January 2011
TIME: 2015 Zulu


Mark Zuckerberg: Who the f--- is David Kazzie?

Unknown Subject (UnSub): We're working on that, sir. He runs a little humor blog called the Corner. I use the word humor loosely.

Zuckerberg: And he has the gall to resist the profile upgrade?

UnSub: Apparently, he fancies himself some sort of revolutionary. He keeps blathering about it on his Facebook page.

Zuckerberg: If he's so unhappy, he can just delete his account.

UnSub: Uh, no, actually, he can't. Remember, we removed that feature over the summer? You were planning to do a press release entitled "Facebook is Forever"?

Zuckerberg: Right. It's on my to-do list. So he's a blogger? Oh, that is so delicious. He thinks he's got an online presence. What does he have, 98 followers?

UnSub: Uh, 77.

Zuckerberg: 77? Facebook added 77 new users in the time it took me to say this sentence.

UnSub: He's been on our radar since October sir. He wrote a YouTube video-

Zuckerberg: YouTube. Please. More like PooTube.

UnSub: Yes, sir. Anyway, he wrote a video and posted it on YouTube.

Zuckerberg: Are you deaf? I want it called PooTube.

UnSub: Right. So anyway, his video about Law School was shared on Facebook more than 80,000 times. It's gotten more than a million hits on You... I mean... PooTube.

Zuckerberg: He should be kissing my ass. He should've been first in line to upgrade. He should've been-

UnSub: He wrote another video you should see.

Zuckerberg: Really?

UnSub: It's called So You Want to Close Your Facebook Account. It's been around for a couple months. About 60,000 hits.

[Sounds of loud banging, glass breaking]

Zuckererg: Give me your iPhone. I want to see it now.

UnSub: Yes sir.

[Five minutes and sixteen seconds of silence]

Zuckerberg: Interesting. Do you think he knows about Phase Two?

UnSub: Anything is possible, sir.

Zuckerberg: If this gets out...

UnSub: I know, sir.

Zuckerberg: We have no choice. Implement the Farmville protocol.

Unsub: [Unintelligible]

Zuckerberg: Just do it!