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Weekly Wrap: Our 2 Sentences

by Susan Henderson on January 12, 2007

Some of you have asked about my trip to Hawaii, so I’ll include some photos at the end of today’s post. I took no camera (as usual) but I have a cool new cellphone that does GPS tracking on my kids (hee hee), so I got some pixel-y shots with it.

Brief aside: I happened to spend last night with men whose first names all begin with the letter J, and all of them are remarkable. So here’s a shout-out to Josh, James and John (Kilmer-Purcell, Spring, and Hodgman)!

*

This week, we talked a little bit about the all-important 2-sentence pitch, both in terms of focussing an unfinished book and selling a finished one. I think lots of times we fill our books with fascinating characters and emotional moments and exquisite details, and we don’t realize until after a round of rejections from publishers that what we thought was the plot of our book was really quiet character development and reflection. Count me as one of those writers who thinks you might do well to write your pitch before you write your book.

And now my confession: I refuse to answer my own Question of the Week. I do have a 2-sentence pitch that I’ve written at the top of my novel, so whenever I open the file, I remember to stay on course. But sharing the two sentences reminds me how much a book’s plot doesn’t speak to the things I care about most in a story – the heart of the characters, the commentary on society, the detail and the rhythm of every last sentence. Because I am only hours away from finishing this novel, I didn’t want to risk losing my confidence by publicly reducing my book to two sentences.

Sorry to chicken out, but I suspect those of you who were brave enough to share your pitches feel the same way. Brave writers do get linked, however. (If you see your name but no link or no last name, it’s because that’s how you signed into the comment page). So thank you to all who answered the Question of the Week: Simon Haynes, Ellen Meister, amy, Anne Brooke, Matt Osborne, Myfanwy Collins, Tish Cohen, Jon Armstrong, Mark Bastable, Robin Slick, Jim, Maria Headley, Sarah R. Roundell, Lance Reynald, Anneliese, Ric Marion, Carolyn Burns Bass, n.l. belardes, Darrin, Aimee, Juliet, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Kris Yankee, Lee, Jonathan Evison, my remarkable, O. Henry Award winning webmaster, Terry Bain, Bernita, Julie Ann Shapiro, Mary Akers, Bruce Hoppe, and the super-lovely Gail Siegel. Thank you, brave ones! Don’t forget to check out each other’s sites.

And thank you to the beautiful and vivacious Maria Headley! If you read her book (THE YEAR OF YES is now out in paperback) and you like it, please do tell your friends. Books sell by word of mouth.

*

Photo time!

Something that always strikes me about vacations is how the memory and the photos don’t often line up. Much of this trip was trying for me, and I’m not really a beach person, so sunshine and ocean don’t leave much of an emotional impression. But when I peeked at the photos on my phone, I thought, “Well, hey, that’s awfully pretty. Why did I complain so much?”

Here is ….


where we saw whales.


This is a shot of the dining room, and the view of the lanai (is that how you spell lanai?)


Those who remember me telling about my family cemetery might note that the cemetery on the Henderson side is a little less spooky. (Note the imported Italian marble.)


My mother in law cut these flowers out of her garden, and we placed them in the little holders at each of the graves. For anyone interested in seeing Joseph Campbell’s grave, here it is. I find the little blank spot left for Jean kind of creepy. The most moving part of the cemetery visit was how my MIL’s dog, Jenny, ran directly for Charlie’s grave. Charlie is Mr. Henderson’s cousin who came home from school with meningitis one day when he was 5 and died two days later.


Water shot. And walking in the rain in a bamboo forest with one of our favorite people ever.


This is at a Buddhist temple, where we went to get blessed on New Year’s day. It’s funny because, after you get blessed, you stand in line to buy lucky charms and fortunes. If you don’t like your fortune, you tie it to the tree and get another. I tied three to the tree; Mr. Henderson tied four. The last shot is Green-Hand Henderson at 2am during our layover in LAX.

That’s all for the photos, if any of you made it all the way to the bottom of today’s post. Tomorrow, Frank Daniels will be here to start another Lit Riot. See you then!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah R. Roundell January 12, 2007 at 10:16 am

Another great week and wrap. Lovely photos from Hawaii! Thanks so much for sharing them. It’s great to be in the park again.

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amy January 12, 2007 at 10:39 am

the two sentences reminds me how much a book’s plot doesn’t speak to the things I care about most in a story – the heart of the characters, the commentary on society, the detail and the rhythm of every last sentence.

So true. Also, it’s nice to see another author admit they care about producing a commentary on society. Of course no one wants to be dogmatic or preachy, but lately I’ve been hearing so many writers and publishing professionals saying that plot is *everything*, and social commentary, however subtle, can only kill a book. Which I think is sad, because if we’re not trying to say something about the world we live in, what are we writing for?

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Robin Slick January 12, 2007 at 11:25 am

Wait. Excuse me? You slip in that you spent last night with the three “J”s? I am a HUGE John Hodgman fan…few people can make me roar out loud with laughter like he can.

Holy cow, Susan. I want details!

And you rat, you, keeping those two sentences secret.

The Hawaii pics are breathtaking but I must admit, if my mother in law were my hostess, it could have been Baghdad I was visiting…I would not have noticed one thing of beauty anywhere, just the carnage. So I understand your sentiments.

See you next Tuesday in NYC, where, if you are lucky, I will not dump a hard copy of my (Is it finished to my liking yet? Will it ever be?) new novel on you.

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Myfanwy Collins January 12, 2007 at 12:50 pm

Nice photos, Susan. Thanks for sharing them. I don’t think you’re a chicken at all. Honestly, if my book wasn’t already numerous drafts in, I would not have shared my pitch either.

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Lance Reynald January 12, 2007 at 4:15 pm

nice cemetery…

looks like a nice holiday.

great photos.

xo-L.

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Susan Henderson January 12, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Sarah – Thank you!

amy – Can you imagine if Dickens and Kafka and Twain et al were told social commentary isn’t in?

Robin – Ooh, I better clarify. Josh and James and I did Mexican food and drinks and lots of good talk, and then we went to see John read at KGB. He wasn’t part of our date, though he is sweet and awesome and would have been welcome to join us. Both John and James are on This American Life. (Josh and James, whenever you guys want to announce any of your cool news, I’m all for celebrating right here.)

And Robin, I’m so happy you’re coming on Tuesday!

Myf – I better get back to my novel this minute. Just as soon as I say hi to Lance.

Lance – Hi! xox

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Carolyn Burns Bass January 12, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Susan said:
But sharing the two sentences reminds me how much a book’s plot doesn’t speak to the things I care about most in a story – the heart of the characters, the commentary on society, the detail and the rhythm of every last sentence.

So true. I suppose that’s why my 2 sentences held 84 words and included this: Set in the turbulent 1960s when divorce was a sin, negroes were untouchable, Vietnam sent bloody images into American living rooms, and the Beatles led the British invasion of rock and roll, …

Hope the hours since you posted this have been productive and you’ve typed those brilliant words THE END.

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Gail Siegel January 12, 2007 at 5:52 pm

These are wonderful photos, Susan. And I understand perfectly about the pitch. I actually refuse to read book jacket blurbs because they inevitably ruin my reading experience. I want to read your book itself.

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Juliet January 12, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Great photos! I hope your year goes well, and that you are much blessed.
J

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Julie Ann Shapiro January 13, 2007 at 12:06 am

Susan,
I love you Hawaii pictures. The water just looks so much blue and pure.

I can understand about not wanting to mention a pitch on a work in process. I don’t say much about my third novel, my second one that’s at publishers or even my various ideas for the next one.

I also see the importance of starting a novel with the two sentence pitch or even the query or the synopsis. I started my second and third one that way. Others may well start with the merging of flash stories that I’ve previously written.

After working on a series of characterizations for a client I see the value in starting a novel with that kind of upfront sketch. Although, I prefer running with inspiration and writing organically.

Julie

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Simon Haynes January 13, 2007 at 3:32 am

Nice pics! And I’m sure we’ll talk you into sharing those two lines some time in the future. Or else 😉

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Susan Henderson January 14, 2007 at 10:07 pm

Carolyn, Gail, Juliet, Julie, and Simon – Thanks so much for your notes. Tomorrow’s my self-imposed deadline for finishing my novel, and I’m right on-track as long as I don’t get distracted. So just wanted to say a real quick hi and then bye.

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Dean Whittle October 8, 2007 at 1:39 am

Hello, my wife and I have just returned from Hawaii (Maui and Oahu) and we just loved it. Your photos are great. Being a Joseph Campbell fan I was intrigued as to where you found his grave. Can you tell me where it is? Thanks.

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Susan Henderson October 8, 2007 at 9:14 am

Welcome, Dean. I’d have lots of family members unhappy with me if I posted where the cemetery is on the internet. I can say it’s on Oahu and you’d have better luck finding it if you looked under Henderson rather than Campbell. Glad you enjoyed Hawaii! My favorite’s The Big Island.

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