Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Great Advice from Stephen Parrish - Get Mad

Yippie and double yippie! I might even squee, except that Stephen detests the squee and so I must keep that under wraps. *mutters to self and squees a bit anyway*

Today, I’m thrilled to offer up a guest post by one of my favorite new authors, Stephen Parrish. You can find out more about his debut novel, The Tavernier Stones, by stopping at the site – and you know, the man is giving away a one carat diamond, so you might want to check that out.

But this post isn’t so much about the book (which is flippin’ fantastic and if you don’t check it out you’re missing it. Missing it, and all of your friends will have loved it and there you’ll sit with nothing to say or amuse yourself with except perhaps pocket lint. And treasure hunting cartography wrapped in the most fabulous prose is a far sight better than pocket lint... plus, did I mention the diamond?) This post is to introduce you to Stephen, and it's a little treat for those of us who follow him regularly. Okay, here’s Steve:

A Time For Getting Mad

I got into the habit of shooting pool with an employee I'll call Jeannie. Jeannie and I traveled widely together on business, and since she was passionate about billiards, wherever we went we had to find the nearest table and play. I'm no slouch with a stick, but Jeannie was quite a bit better. Enough so that if we shot an evening of eight ball she should, by rights, have won four out of five times.

For a long time, she never won at all. We played against each other in the U.S. and in various European countries. Everywhere we went, everywhere there was a table, we played. Often other employees would gather round to watch. It didn't help Jeannie's cause that she was competing against her boss, but her biggest problem was a lack of confidence.

The first time we racked the balls I told her: "You're better than me. I've seen you play. But you're going to lose tonight. The reason you're going to lose is because you know you're going to lose."

And lose she did. Over and over. She'd run the table and miss the eight ball. I'd take my time knocking my balls down, while she missed the eight ball again and again. Or scratched. She'd get frustrated, because she knew she'd played better than me, often much better.

I taunted her: "You know you're going to lose. That's why you lose. I'm absolutely sure I'm going to win. That's why I win." And true to prophecy, no matter how close she came to winning a game, she'd find a way to choke.

Now, before you judge me too harshly, Jeannie needed a lesson in confidence, and she needed to learn it the hard way; we'd discussed her problem, which reached well beyond the pool table. I believed in my heart I was helping her. Turned out, in the end, I was right.

"You're programmed to lose," I told her. "It's all in your head."

She got mad. First at me, naturally, but it didn't do any good; I just laughed. Then at herself. One night in Florida, in a pool hall atop a swanky high rise, with a dozen colleagues gathered to watch, she figured out what to do with her anger.

"How many games would you like to lose tonight?" I asked her.

Instead of her usual tight-lipped silence as she racked the balls (losers always rack), this time she said loud and clear, to me, her boss, in front of everyone:

"Fuck you."

I don't know how many times she beat me that night. Maybe ten. I didn't win a single game. She shot with crisp authority, gliding around the table, calling her shots in a calm, determined voice, "Seven, corner," hitting the eight ball extra hard into the pocket to put an exclamation mark on the game. Spectators chanted, "Jean-nie! Jean-nie!" Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better.

We played occasionally after that. I rarely won.

With apologies for the long lead-in, there came a time during my submission process when I got mad. First at the whole publishing industry, naturally, but it did no good. Then at myself, for allowing even the smallest moments of self doubt.

I decided to put the anger to good use. I let it shape my thinking. I've paid my dues, I decided. I would continue to seek criticism and to rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, but from now on, anyone who turns me down is passing up an opportunity.

I changed my query letter. It had previously come across like a hat-in-hand request for consideration, rather than an introduction to who I was and what I was offering. I changed the opening line: "Hello," I wrote, "my name is Stephen Parrish." Thankfully I never had to tell anyone what Jeannie ended up having to tell me.

Write with confidence and authority. Neither Shakespeare nor a million monkeys can tell your story the way you tell it. Expect offers, not rejections. When the time comes, and you'll know it's time, just get mad.