• Carmen

a funny story about this photo...part 1

Want to know something interesting about this photo?

It was taken a little over two years ago in New York City. I was ten weeks pregnant with Vivian and about 50% done with a novel I was writing (not Coronet, a different one). This photo was taken right after I pitched that novel concept to six agents. It was a stressful experience, but it went surprisingly well, hence the big (and slightly tense) smile on my face.

But here’s a behind the scenes secret: As I sat in a hallway preparing for the Pitch Slam (what they call that nerve-wracking thirty minute event where you get a three minute "session" to pitch your story to an agent and hopefully snag a business card before a buzzer sounds and you move on to the next), a young, blue-haired girl dressed up like Harry Potter walked over and sat next to me. She introduced herself as Benji and asked me to practice my pitch on her. I was surprised but decided to go ahead and do it. Good practice, right?

“It's romance novel about the daughter of mysteriously murdered missionaries...[I honestly don't remember the rest at the moment, but it was pretty good.]

Benji listened, then tilted her head to one side. “Okay, but...are you going to address the history of white supremacy and post-colonialism associated with your characters?”

I sighed. For someone trying so hard to be a non-conformist, Benji turned out to be comically predictable. She was friendly enough, but I couldn’t help but think I was being haunted by the English Department colleagues I'd left behind. I think I nodded, or said "good idea" or something equally polite and lame.

Next, I listened to her pitch some young adult/sci-fi concept about gay teens living under an oppressive religious government in outer space, and we went our separate ways. It was almost time to pitch, and suddenly I was filled with nagging doubts.


Would the agents I was about to meet be like Benji? Would they be like people in the English Department? Would they care more about worn-out progressive talking points than the actual story? I filed into the crowded room and quickly found the answer.

Yes...and no.


All six of the agents I pitched to asked for a partial or full manuscript. One of them asked about post-colonialism. Another one said something about feminist characters. Another one said something derogatory about Christianity. But all of them liked my pitch enough to give the story a shot. So I went back to Kansas and finished it.


And guess what?


It was a mess. It really was. A dash of half-hearted feminism here, some watered down Christianity there, and so much careful treading as I did my best to make sure that none of the liberal agents would be offended by my fictional characters. At the end of the day, even with those flaws, it was a decent novel, but it certainly wasn't the one I'd set out to write. I sent it to one agent who wrote back and said the writing was good but she wasn't that passionate about the story itself.


Yeah. Me neither. Discouraged, I tossed it in a drawer.


Shortly after, I had Vivian and went into mom-mode, and if you've followed Viva La Joy for any length of time, you know that having Vivian had a wonderful impact on my writing life. About three months after giving birth, I sat down and started writing again, and this time I wrote exactly what I wanted.


No Pitch Slams. No blue-haired critics. No forced feminism. Definitely no "postcolonial" nonsense. Just a good, engrossing love story about a woman who's an underdog in more ways than one. Mixed Martial Arts. Lots of romance. Weak faith that gets stronger and stronger. A few of my favorite things.


I finished that novel in May 2019, and....


I'll tell you the rest next time 😉 But I promise it has a better ending.


You can find part 2 here.