I wrote my first novel, Cinemabibliomaximus, a few years ago and sent out a query letter that began . . .
Imagine what would happen if the writing of a novel, the writing of the script based on that novel, and the filming of the movie based on that script were going on simultaneously, and the lines between each began to blur, with author, screenwriter, director, characters, and actors all vying for attention and control. This is the concept behind Cinemabibliomaximus, in which a studio executive and a publisher invent a publicity-fueled business process designed to maximize revenue for both the film and the book. As the plot progresses, we see not only the characters and actors working their way through the story, but also the action going on behind the keyboard and behind the camera—the outtakes.
The query letter was met with universal yawns from agents nationwide, as well as one WTF response from an agent who had gone “cross eyed” from the plot and objected to any title that wouldn’t fit on the spine of a book, not to mention the length of the manuscript, which at 150,000 words bordered on tonnage at the post office.
Undaunted, I set about revising the manuscript, cutting 45,000 words and saying good-bye to the book’s narrator and a few characters. I also changed the title of the book to Outtake, which worked well with the central plot. Then I sent out a revised query letter that continued with . . .
But the book is more than a humorous spoof on writing, publishing, and filmmaking. It is at its core an exploration of love and sex—the joy, the agony, the comedy, and the utter madness that ensues when one is confused with the other in a world where sex comes easy but love comes too early, too late, not at all, or battery operated.
As the story—an intricate murder mystery—unfolds, plot lines intertwine and morph, characters have debates with the actors playing them in the movie, and a serial killer moves among them, stalking his next victim in a way that would make Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman drool for a shot at the leads. Think of it as Silence of the Lambs meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets The Big Lebowski meets Magnolia meets I (heart) Huckabees.
None of these movie references did much to attract agents, including the cross-eyed agent, whose eyes continued to examine his nose closely.
Still undaunted—persistence must be a character trait of would-be authors—I cut the manuscript to its core, the murder mystery, and changed the title to Skeleton: A Bare Bones Mystery, the plot of which I described as follows:
A Blockbuster employee on a smoke break discovers a human skull in an overflow pond, setting off speculation that the skull may belong to a graduate student at the local college, a beautiful young woman who mysteriously disappeared the year before. Inspector Jeremy Wolf, a widower, wine lover, would-be author, and long-time detective, takes on the case, assisted by Jack Mathers, a curmudgeonly medical examiner with a fondness for jelly donuts, and Kate McCormick, a beautiful rookie officer who has more than a passing interest in Wolf.
The continuing investigation leads Wolf and Kate through taxidermy shops, dermisted beetle farms, tattoo parlors, and the halls of the local university. And then more women begin disappearing.
Through all this, Wolf and Kate are hounded by TV reporter Paige Pataki, who hopes to displace the current top story—the strange appearance of an emu in town and the fruitless, Keystone Kops attempts to capture it—by an in-depth series on the evolving case that she hopes will finally land her an anchor job. The stories, with on-screen interviews of Wolf and Kate, do not go unnoticed by the killer, especially where Kate is concerned. Throughout, a host of other memorable characters drive the action and create good, good, good, good vibrations.
I think lead balloons may have been mentioned in a few of the rejection letters I got. Happily, though, the cross-eyed agent uncrossed his eyes to say that the writing was excellent. Unfortunately, he then crossed his arms and told me he’d have nothing to do with the book because it crossed genres, a “problem” that follows me to this day, as my agent (yay, I have one!) makes the rounds with my latest novel, FLICKER. (If agents and publishers want books to fit a certain mold, why do they call them “novels?”)
Even after striking out three times, I still felt strongly that the book, particularly its last iteration as Skeleton, was worth publishing.
So I plunked down some cash and had a vendor convert the text into pdf, ePub, and Kindle formats, and then uploaded the e-book to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, the Apple store, and other sites, where you can find it now for just $2.99. To learn more, check out http://tinyurl.com/2dbstrg