Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why Couldn't I Have Been Hired at the CIA?

A lot of what went on during the three hours of Agentfest is a blur to me. The time was spent:

1) Rehearsing the pitch I wanted to give to the next agent in line, so I could be relatively certain my mind wasn't going to go blank on me at the most inopportune time (fortunately that only happened once or twice - I'm sure those agents didn't even notice),

2) Making the most of the three excruciatingly difficult minutes I was allotted in front of as many agents as possible,

3) Writing quick notes about the reaction of each agent and what materials (if any) they had requested at the end of my three minutes, and

4) Getting in line behind another agent, preparing to start the whole process over again.

It was a little like what I imagine those Ameican Idol auditions are like, where the nervous singer stands in front of Randy, Paula and Simon and sings his little heart out. Only instead of doing it once, for three minutes, you had to do it over, and over, and over, for three hours. So, to say I was stressed is a collossal understatement.

But there is one thing I remember very clearly. One agent asked me what I did for work, and when I told him I was an air traffic controller, he asked why I didn't write a thriller about ATC. The question was a little disappointing to hear, since it was a sign even Stevie Wonder could read that he wasn't interested in the novel I actually had written, but it's still a pretty good question.

It seems like it would be a natural, right? Agents and publishers love to see fiction written by authorities, which is why you see so many ex-cops write books about cops and so many ex-spies write spy novels, etc. Makes sense I suppose - who can bring greater realism to a story than someone who has actually done the job?

The problem is, I've been a controller for more than 26 years; it's all I've done my entire adult life, and I'm tired of it. I want to write about things that are much more interesting to me, although I'm fully aware that a great many people find the work I do to be fascinating.

So, although I haven't started my next novel yet - I'm still kicking ideas around in what passes for my brain - I may very well bite the bullet and write the definitive air traffic control thriller. It could be kind of fun and if it would allow me to get a foot in the door with an agent or a publisher, since I'd be the all-important authority, it might not be a bad move to make.

Wow, me an authority on something. Who would have guessed?


norcalfella said...

I hate to say this, but I agree with the agent. My father has been in real estate since 1962. He is pitching all of these different ideas to me. I told him he should write about real estate which he knows 100x more about.

We've all heard the cliche "write what you know" and with all cliches they start because... (drum roll)... they're true.

You have knowledge - use it.

Now, what I would suggest Half is that you make a central character, plot or setting relate to the ATC environment. It doesn't have to be the whole story or even the majority.

Picture a tired ATC who is approached by terrorists with large sums of cash to do their bidding. Or an ATC building/office taken over. It doesn't have to be terrorists even. Maybe they want to hijack a plane with a politician or even celebrity. Heck, make it a crazy fan trying to divert a plane carrying Jack Black. You get the idea.

Hope all is well.

Al Leverone said...

Hi Norcal, I do agree with what you're saying and would be more than willing to write an ATC-related novel if that's what it takes to open some doors. In fact, I am already starting a very rudimentary outline, in hopes of maybe beginning the book within the next month or so.

As far as the Jack Black thing goes, if I was the controller working the airplane taking him away, I'd be tempted to let it go, but that's just me....