Sunday, March 29, 2009

Random Thoughts on Bobcats and College

My middle child is a high school senior, which means she will be going off to college in the fall. She'll be a freshman at Quinnipiac University, and today they held an "Admitted Students Day," which I initially thought was odd. Most of the time, the last thing teenagers want to admit is that they are students, right? Turns out "Admitted Students Day" is for the kids who have been admitted to the school for next year.

Here, in no particular order, are a few random thoughts from the day:

- I'm getting realllly old.

It's hard for me to believe that I've been out of college for almost thirty years. In the little mental movie that I'm the star of, I'm still a kid and would fit right in on a college campus. Unfortunately that movie is in low-definition black and white. I'm old enough to be the father of the kids I saw walking around Quinnipiac today, which makes sense considering I was there with my own daughter, but still, it's a disorienting experience being on a college campus as an old guy.

- I can't believe a college campus is located off a cow path.

Okay, Mount Carmel Avenue in Hamden, Connecticut isn't a cow path, exactly, but it sure feels like one as you turn a corner on the narrow winding road leading to Quinnipiac and find yourself face to face with an LP gas truck coming the opposite direction, crowding your lane. Seriously, this road must have been built to accommodate Model T's and was clearly designed by a civil engineer working on his tenth Bloody Mary. It must be a real adventure in the winter.

- My granddaughter could have been elected Class President today.

My older daughter had to work this afternoon, so we brought my two year old granddaughter Arianna with us to Quinnipiac. She was the hit of the campus, not just to the other parents bringing their high school seniors to Admitted Students Day, but also to the college kids strolling around the school and to the future Freshmen as well. I think Ari's ready to bypass kindergarten and move right on to college.

- Can you believe a two year old spent six hours in a car and didn't have one meltdown?

This little girl was so good on what had to have been an unbelievably long day for her. She slept for two hours on the way to Quinnipiac this morning, but was awake for almost the entire ride home and was as patient as a saint. She really is a sweetheart.

- College bookstores haven't changed a bit since I was in school.

I take that back. Prices on things are a lot higher now. Aside from that, though, the merchandise on sale at the QU Bookstore this afternoon was exactly the same stuff that was on sale where I went to school from 1977 to 1981. Lots of other things have evolved on college campuses, but it's like the bookstore was caught in some weird time-warp where nothing ever changes.

- I'm more excited for my kids' college experiences than I ever was for my own.

I went to a pretty high-profile university, with some pretty stringent entrance requirements, but the pride I feel for my childrens' accomplishments dwarfs anything I ever felt for my own. My oldest daughter is a sophomore at Saint Anselm College, and my middle one will be a freshman this fall at Quinnipiac. I couldn't be prouder. I also couldn't be poorer, but that's a story for another blog. Next up is my son, who will be a junior in high school next year.

- It's exciting to see the future opening up for my little girl.

Out of 16,000 applications received, only 1400 incoming freshmen were selected to form the Class of 2013 at QU. To say I'm proud of my daughter Kristin would be a massive understatement. This kid has been getting overlooked and underappreciated her whole life, starting in the womb when the OG-GYN told my wife and I that the fetus was dying and we should start preparing ourselves for a miscarriage. My wife refused to accept that diagnosis and Kristin was the result. She's beautiful, smart, silly and motivated. And don't even think of telling her she can't do something, because she will prove you wrong. Every. Single. Time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I'm Going to Hollywood! Sort of...

Okay, so there's no shiny stage inside a fancy theatre filled with adoring fans. There's no awesome band. There's no worldwide television audience in the hundreds of millions. There's no witty Ryan Seacrest or grumpy Simon Cowell or even ditzy Paula Abdul, unless you consider some of the contestants.

Still, it's hard not to look at the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and make the obvious comparison to American Idol, the reality show that has launched the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, David Cook and so many others.

ABNA is co-sponsored by Penguin Books and Publishers Weekly and its premise is simple. Aspiring novelists enter their manuscripts into the contest during a six-day period in early February. The complete, finished novels must be uploaded, along with short pitches, five thousand word excerpts and author bio information.

Over the next six weeks, editors at Amazon evaluate the entries, all ten thousand of them, strictly on the basis of the short pitch that each author has provided - think of it as the ninety seconds or so each singer gets to impress the Idol judges with no instrumental backup - and narrow the field down to five hundred quarterfinalists.

The excerpts of the quarterfinalists are then posted at, all five hundred of them, where they are available for free download to whoever is interested in reading them. Readers are free to post their own starred reviews. During this four week period, editors at Penguin Books are reading and evaluating each full manuscript, and on April 15, the semifinal round begins, with the editors choosing 100 books to continue in the competition.

One month later, on May 15, the Final Three are chosen, with the winner of the competition announced on May 21. The winner receives a $25,000 advance and a contract with Penguin for publication of his or her book; hopefully marking the beginning of a long and successful career.

Bill Loehfelm won the inaugural competition last year, with his mystery titled FRESH KILLS, which I suppose would make him Kelly Clarkson, winner of the first season of American Idol. Several other Top Ten finalists ended up with contracts as well.

Right now the competition is in the quarterfinal stage, and I'm telling you all this for an ulterior motive - I am one of the quarterfinalists! The novel I entered is titled PASKAGANKEE, and its' excerpt is available right now for FREE download if you'd like to check it out, at

I would be very grateful if you take the time to download it (remember, it's FREE) and check it out; I could use as much exposure as I can get. There are some really good entries in the competition, but I believe PASKAGANKEE stacks up pretty well against any of them. See if you agree! Hopefully I won't end up as the William Hung or the Norman Gentle of the competition, but I suppose anything's possible.

Don't worry if you're reading this on Myspace and click on the link and get the spam alert - it's Amazon and it's completely legit. Feel free to copy and paste the link if that happens, I won't tell Tom.

Needless to say, this is a huge opportunity for an unknown author who is having moderate success in the short story market but having difficulty getting the attention of agents and publishers, especially in this down economy. Making it into the Top 100 would provide valuable exposure, not to mention validation, not just for me but for any of the five hundred remaining authors.

If you'd like to be a part of launching someone's career, take a few minutes to check out my excerpt or any of the others. Mostly mine.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm an ABNA Quarterfinalist!

As an aspiring novelist, I've always felt that if I could just get a little exposure for my work, people would enjoy it and want to read more. I'm just guessing here, but I would imagine most writers feel the same way, otherwise what's the point? You might just as well keep a diary, it you're only going to write for yourself.

So when I happened through sheer luck to see the information regarding Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest (ABNA), I figured I had nothing much to lose. I had failed to interest an agent in the work and was nearly finished with my next manuscript, so there was no reason not to give it a shot.

Of course, there was a problem - isn't there always? The entry period for the contest was only six days long, from February 2 through February 8, and it was already February 6! So I had two days to write a pitch and a profile, and format an excerpt for submission, then get everything transmitted in less than two days.

Of course, after months of querying agents regarding this novel, I had plenty of material to work with. Anyway, I got it all in before the deadline and then waited. The deadline for announcing the quarterfinalists was supposed to be March 16, but I waited on pins and needles all day yesterday and heard nothing. Then I got up this morning and discovered my novel, PASKAGANKEE, had made the cut!

The contest is run by Amazon in conjunction with Penguin Books as the publishing sponsor and Publishers Weekly as the reviewing sponsor. Out of 10,000 initial entries, the editors at Amazon narrowed the quarterfinalists down to 500, broken up into eight categories of novels, including Thrillers, the category in which my entry resides.

Excerpts of all five hundred entries still alive in the contest are available at Amazon to be read and reviewed by anyone. The novel excerpts consist of up to the first five thousand words of the manuscript.

The next step in the American Idol-like process takes place on April 15, when the five hundred remaining manuscripts are winnowed by the editors at Penguin Books down to a Final 100, and out of those 100 books, a Final Three are selected on May 15, with the winner being announced on May 22.

The winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award receives a $25,000 advance and a contract to have his or her novel published by Penguin. Obviously, this is the goal every unpublished author is working for and it goes without saying, this is MY goal.

I need your help. If you have any interest in reading fiction, I would very much appreciate you taking the time to go to Amazon and download my excerpt. The novel is titled PASKAGANKEE and the download is free. After reading the excerpt, please post a customer review on the site, which will then become available for everyone to see. It's really easy to do and it's FREE.

If you're interested, here's the link to my entry at Amazon. If you'd like to check out some of the other great quarterfinalists too, here's the link to the contest home page, where you can get to all 500 excerpts.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to check it out if you choose to do so, and thank you for your help!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Record-Setting Day

I accomplished a literary feat today that I would never have believed possible; not even in my wildest, most fevered dreams. For all I know, I may well have set some sort of world record, although it might be a record no one would want to break anyway, like the largest stock market drop ever in one day or being declared officially the stupidest person in the world.

Today, I received my first agent rejection on my new manuscript. That in itself isn't all that earth-shattering; I've gotten plenty of rejection and have every confidence I'll be getting plenty more. What makes this particular rejection so impressive, so noteworthy, so potentially record-setting, is the speed at which it occurred.

The literary agency I queried regarding my new manuscript accepts electronic queries, as do most agencies now. On their website, this agency spelled out their requirements for unsolicited queries: A one-page synopsis and the first chapter of the manuscript, submitted as separate Word attachments to the query email.

I carefully crafted what I hope is an engaging but professional query, including a short description of the manuscript, a paragraph about my background and how it applies to the novel, and a description of some of my writing credits. To it I attached the two requested documents, and pressed "Send" at 5:24 this afternoon.

I figured it would be a while before I heard anything back from the agent - most of the time it takes anywhere between a couple of weeks and a few months to hear anything; sometimes you never do. Imagine my surprise, then, when I checked my email a couple of hours later, and there was a response from this agent!

But that's not the best part. Out of curiosity I looked at the time it entered my inbox and discovered that I received my return email at 5:44, an incredible twenty minutes after sending it out!

This is the kind of clout I wield in the literary world, folks. When I speak, people jump. I have no doubt that this agent personally ran to his computer when he saw he had received an email from me, opened it with bated breath, and then dropped everything to pound out a reply. "Sorry, Mr. Eisler and Mr. Coben, you're going to have to continue this conversation without me. I just received an email from Al Leverone and it requires my immediate and complete attention!"

The agent cleverly disguised his interest with a form letter rejection, but I'm sure in the twenty minutes my query resided in his inbox, he had plenty of time to, you know, actually read the query, along with the synopsis and the requested first chapter. Of course he did.

I'm just getting started on my agent search for this manuscript - this was just the fourth query I have sent out - but it's nice to know I got that "quickest rejection" thing out of the way. At least I hope I did. My previous quickest rejection was overnight and that was pretty darned impressive in its' own right.

I can't believe there is an agent anywhere quick enough on the draw to top this, but if there is, I hope he or she demonstrates it on someone else next time.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sarah Connor is Right

The machines are out to get us.

How else do you explain the fact that my laptop, just as I've completed my brand-new manuscript, the one that's going to put me on the map (I'm nothing if not confident), suddenly and without warning, shits the bed.

My computer has become nothing more than a one-trick pony, freezing utterly and completely, as dead as your ex-wife's smile, as soon as I try to open anything with it. This includes any of my three completed novels. Or any of my more than two dozen short stories. Or any of the information about literary agents that I have painstakingly compiled over the last two years.

In short, it's a disaster on a grand scale; my personal equivalent of an unsinkable ocean liner striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage and, well, sinking.

And I know what you're thinking: Any idiot knows you back up all your important files, just in case disaster strikes. Well, let me tell you something. I'm not just any idiot, I'm a very special kind of idiot. That'll never happen to me, I said. That sort of thing happens to other people, the ones who don't take care of their valuable electronic gadgetry.

And I take care of my computer, ask anyone in my family if you don't believe me. No new mom has ever treated her infant as well as I treat my laptop. Up-to-date antivirus protection, regular scans, a healthy diet. That little hunk of plastic and weird electronics is my sweet little baby.

Unfortunately, my sweet little baby now has a case of the terrible twos, and will do nothing I ask of it, no matter how many times I say "please."

But all is not lost, and this is why I can still laugh about this disaster. I bought a portable hard drive (Yeah, I know, I know, welcome to the twenty-first century). But I still had a problem. Every time I connected the portable hard drive to my laptop, you guessed it - It froze!

Luckily everyone else in my family is smarter than me. See, my daughter told me about this thing called "Safe Mode."If you start your computer in safe mode, only the basic essentials open up, and sometimes you can work around the problem that way, which is what I tried, and it worked!

So now, all my literary gems are safe inside this brand-new hunk of plastic and weird electronics, and I will be bringing my laptop in for emergency surgery later today. I'm hoping that with compassionate care my baby will soon be as good as new. But it's going to take a long time for that thing to regain my trust.