So on Friday I’m in a read-and-critique session, one where a reader reads the first page and three people give their first impressions. I have Ginger Clark, Jeffrey Deaver, and Rose Hilliard (editor at St. Martin’s).
The reader stumbles over one sentence three times. I resolve to rewrite it.
Rose Hilliard says, “Intriguing.” She likes the title. SF isn’t her specialty.
Jeffrey Deaver says it starts out very concretely and advises me to ground the situation quickly – are we on a spaceship? (No. Crap.) The story comes across as a detective/thriller; he advises me to be careful about mixing genres.
Ginger Clarks says, “I would keep reading” and says I have evocative descriptions.
My pitch session on Saturday is with Ginger Clark. She’s sick, and her ears are out. I give her the log line: Barkeep tries to save town from alien invasion using mysterious blue beer.
She says, “Wait. I’ve heard this one. This is the girl that walks into the bar.”
“Yeah,” I say. When you say it like that, I feel like there ought to be a punchline.
“What did I say about it?”
“I don’t remember. I was too ecstatic. It was nice things, though.” (I wrote them down at the time, though, luckily, so I have the crits.)
“Okay. I’m paranoid I’m going to run into someone whose stuff I didn’t like. Send me fifty pages.”
I glow, even though I know she’d probably ask for pages as long as it wasn’t something completely awful or out of her range of representation. I ask her a few questions.
The entire time, her expression is very guarded, frozen onto her face. Her lips are a little oval on what looks like a wide mouth. I wonder whether I’ve seen her smile: on Friday, I tracked her down to be a Geeky Fangirl and tell her I loved Patricia Wrede’s Sorcery and Cecilia books.* She didn’t smile at that, just asked whether I knew about PW’s new book, Thirteenth Child. I didn’t. (I look up the book later: Old West School-of-Magic fantasy WITH STEAM DRAGONS. It’s mine. I don’t care if I have enough unread books to last me a year. It’s mine.)
What I really want to ask her is whether she’s a bitch. Because I don’t want to work with someone who’s going to be nice to me. I don’t know I got it across, but she told me she’d let me know if she thought anything was wrong with the manuscript – and pointed out that I should be more worried about an agent’s track record. Fair enough.
Will she work with small press, if that’s the best option? Yes. (I love Subterranean Press.)
Is she completely adverse to something with a more literary quality about it? [Cautiously] No. But in the RNC session, she joked about literary fiction as being “anything that won’t sell.” Well, Alien Blue is what it is, and I think one of the reasons SF hasn’t been doing as well lately is that all the wonder and love has been sucked out by ideas and facts and plots and messages. Greg Egan is brilliant…but where is Zelazny? Corey Doctorow is inspiring…but where is Sturgeon? Exactly. I can help.
I tell her I have YA drafts I’m working on, too, so I need a good YA/adult SF/F agent. As miserable as she is, she lets her mouth go wide – not exactly a smile – at that. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s an open-mouth-insert-foot moment. I’m okay with that.
To sum up my first impressions of Ginger Clark, professional literary agent for Big New York Agency: an introvert dropped naked into poison ivy and then put onstage at Broadway. The best you can do is not scratch until you bleed, at least until you get off stage. I know that feeling.
About four minutes left in an eight-minute pitch session. I tell her thanks, and I’ll get out of her hair.
She tries to look earnest: her eyebrows go up. “But we’re doing this for you.”
I say, “You wanted fifty pages. I asked my questions. I got what I wanted. Have some free time.”
She dives into her purse (ollie ollie oxen free!) for her Crackberry: “I’ll get caught up on some e-mail.” Her lips crush themselves into a smile that only goes wide and curly at the corners, and she blinks several times. Has she not blinked this entire time? I can’t remember.
She’s gone. I leave the room, find the first person I recognize, and do the squirrel dance, which is both arms up in the air, loose in the knees, and jiggling like an electrocuted scarecrow. I have no pride.
I find out later Ginger used the time to request a full from a buddy of mine. So dear Powers that Be: I got some karma coming, all right? Yeah? Yeah?
*With Carolyn Stevermeyer.