A PITCH FOR PUBLICATION


IN NOVEMBER OF 2005 I reserved a space at the San Francisco Writers Conference. I was nervous and edgy when I boarded the plane. My pitch proposal, pitch suit, and pitch necklace, were tucked inside my suitcase. The pitch convinces an agent or publisher, that you know your subject well enough to feel one hundred percent confident.  It may sound irrational that a writer could work five years on a book and not know what it is about. As an emerging writer I view my work through a kaleidoscope lens. I see multiple themes, subplots, and messages, and they change with each reading. Then there are loose knots of personal misery, lost versions and rejections ringing in my ears. My pitch has to convince an agent, that at least 5,000 people will buy my book. The pitch suit is the outfit you wear for an interview; only for writers, the guidelines are very loose. Some writers wear their narrative. I brought my tailored, looking successful, pants suit. My pitch necklace is a gold Buddha medallion that my father had designed for my mother. I wear it for good luck and because I know the necklace has survived all the family tragedies. The conference is at the St. Francis Hotel at Union Square. From experience, I have learned that choosing a conference because of its alluring location is meaningless; I never pay attention to past experience.

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It was pouring when I arrived. The staff at the front desk greeted me with musical familiarity. Every time I swished by they called out, “Hello, Ms. Smiley.” I imagined them as a chorus singing my name. I arrived one day early to pace the galleries, cafes, museums and Saks. After the first night, I had to switch rooms. I was directly above the street dumpsters, where for hours the chugging of trash kept me awake. I moved frantically, to scoop everything up and not miss a moment of San Francisco. After switching rooms, I dashed over to the Espresso Bar. It faces the corner of Powell and Sutter. Outside, the streetcars clanged by, passengers dangling from the bars like vines on a tree. In between the tracks, workers both blue and white-collar, and some without any collar at all, jammed the sidewalks on foot, bicycle, moped and skateboard. With phones and iPods attached, eyes alert, they buzzed on the vibe of Saturday, moving like musical notes in a symphony.

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In the café an elderly woman wearing a SFWC name tag was seated next to me. I noticed she positioned her book on the corner of her table. She looked overwhelmed and frightened. As I introduced myself she smiled courteously, and said she was a neurotic housewife all her life and didn’t have much to write about, so she wrote about her husband’s war stories. I told her she should write about the neurotic housewife. Just as I was leaving, she stopped me and thanked me for speaking to her. “There’s always a guardian angel around.” Her voice lingered in my thoughts all weekend.
At six o’clock that evening, I was gliding around my room dressing for the gala. I reached for my jewelry bag. It was gone. The weekend was ruined! I would never get published, I’m too wired, too reckless, too distracted. I called the front desk. Heather said she would call me back. Bang, bang, bang, went my shoe against the bed frame. Then the phone rang.
“Hello, Ms. Smiley. I’m sending the bellman up with your jewelry.”
I answered the door recoiling with pained joy. The bellman listened attentively. I rushed upstairs to Harry Denton’s Starlight Room. There I began wine tasting with Maggie, Peg and George; three new comrades in a room of hundreds.
I spent the next day among more comrades, writers with unpublished stories, books, and works-in-progress. I listened to panels of writers; agents and editors discussed the fateful downward spin of publishing and upward battle towards reward.  We sat in our chairs looking overly anxious, taking copious notes, and waiting for answers to our questions. At the end of the panel discussion we all lined up to meet the agents and editors. While we stood in line we met each other.
“What’s your story about?” the woman behind me asked.
“Growing up with gangsters,” I replied.
“ Oh well! That will get you an agent.”
“ I hope so.”

During the conference, I experienced a lucky throw of the dice. I met one of my mentors; Joyce Maynard. Her book, “At Home in the World,” is on my beside table. Joyce was published in the New York Times when she was sixteen years old. JD Salinger read the piece and invited her to live with him. Joyce’s story will send you back to reading Nine Stories.
As I progressed through the circle holding my pitch stick, the fear and apprehension subsided just a tiny bit. Three agents responded; ‘send me your manuscript.’ Naturally when I returned home, my hands were tied to editing. I rushed through, did not employ someone to copy-edit, and then ran about announcing my almost to be signed contract. Three months later I recovered from the rejections and began another rewrite and another until today, when I am on my fifth manuscript. This one feels right because I am not rushing through it expectant of publication; this time I know it will be published.

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EXCERPT FROM BOOK- SMILEY’S DICE


In the summer of 1994, infuriated from a broken affair, another job displacement, and skimpy funds to support me, I found myself in Beverly Hills, walking along with half-hearted interest in seeking employment.

I stopped in the shops Dad frequented; Geary’s, Schwab’s, and Nate ‘n  Al Delicatessen  seeking a root to hang onto.
Beverly Hills has the most powerful effect on me. As soon as I hit Beverly Drive I want to shop, need to shop, must shop! A rise of envy turns into jealously and my attention to wealth fades as Rodney Dangerfield crosses the street, his face contorted by some agitation.  I walked past Jack Taylor’s Men’s Haberdashery and hesitated a moment. I had not seen Jack in ten years. The last time was 1982, at my father’s memorial service. Jack was the only friend Dad trusted outside of the Mob.

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“Hi Jack, I was in the neighborhood, I wanted to say hello?”
“Jesus Christ! What a surprise,” he said rushing over to kiss me.
“Come in and sit down. My God, where have you been-what have you been doing?” Jack’s attention toward me was exacting and unavoidable.
“I’m in transition right now. I’ve changed careers-well, several times. I was in real estate in San Diego for a long time.”
“I knew you were in real estate, your Dad told me. What are you doing now?” Are you married?”
“No, not married. I’m living here now, and looking for a job.”
“What kind of job?”
“Well, something where I can use my skills in marketing and…”
“Why not come work for me?” he said leaning closer.
“Here, in the store?”
“Yeah, why not? You’ll be great.” he beamed.
“But I’ve never sold men’s clothes before.”
“So what! I’ll teach you. I need someone–my girl just left. I want to get out and play golf. I’ve spent my whole life in this goddamn business. Forty years for Christ’s sake. I’m tired, you know, I’m not a young man anymore,” he said without sentiment.
I hope he’s not doing this because he feels sorry for me, was what I was thinking. I heard my Dad’s voice, and he said, ‘Be grateful he offered you a job! You’ll be in the centerfold of high rollers.’ Dad still managed to interface my life in admonishment and disapproval. He was not just in my head. He was in command of my choices. His disapproval was still the beam I ducked from. Sometimes I felt his presence; like you do when a cat enters a room silent as snow.
The next day I called Jack and told him I could start the following Monday. Jack is a legend in Beverly hills; he cut cloth for the Rat Pack, Jackie Gleason, Tony Martin, Cary Grant President Truman and Allen Smiley.

JACK TAYLOR ADVA custom suit starts at three-thousand dollars. I stood by the front windows folding the finest cotton shirts, cashmere sweaters, and ties. Jack jogged back and forth, from the tailor shop to the retail shop, to the telephone, juggling all their demands with explosive keenness and a lot of cussing. This was a stage I wasn’t prepared for; the illustrious display of wealth on the street. I’d forgotten people still have their own drivers, and valets open the shop doors, and limousines double park in the middle of the street. It just dazzled me into a sort of trance.
“Lily! You’re standing there like a lick of honey in a hive of rich bees. Want me to introduce you to one of them?”
“I’m not ready.”
“For crying out loud! What are you waiting for? Stop looking out the window for Christ’s Sake. Get them to look at you!” Jack escorted me to the women’s collection and yanked out a suit.
“Try this on. You’re a six right?”
“Yes, how’d you know?”
“Whatta’ you think I do in this shop? Weigh turkeys.”

The best time of the day was four o’clock in the afternoon. Jack fixed himself a high ball, turned up the volume on a Frank Sinatra CD, and took off his mask. He poured me a drink, placed a bowl of mixed nuts on the coffee table and stretched out on the leather sofa.

We both wanted to talk about Dad.
“I watched a documentary on Ben Siegel; they alluded that dad had something to do with Ben’s murder.” I said.
“You’re lucky your father will never hear you say that.  Dad spent a lifetime in fear that they’d take him out too. He tried to stay away from the business, he wasn’t even allowed back in Vegas after one incident. You know about the Ryan business?”
“No. What was that?”
“Forget it.” He stood up and filled his glass again.
“Your father had a temper, but he was a rose petal compared to Siegel. Anyway, Dad couldn’t leave this goddamn town; he was afraid they wouldn’t let him come back.”
“But he got his citizenship in 1966. Why couldn’t he leave after that?”
“It was you— he was afraid something might happen. These other guys like Meyer and Costello–they were afraid of nothing.”
“I met Meyer.” I said.
“Yeah, so you know.”
“I don’t know. Meyer was very gentle.”
“You’re Al Smiley’s daughter! That’s different. He wasn’t always so gentle.” Jack shook his head, private thoughts stirred.
“Your Dad tried to stay low, but he couldn’t walk away from the thing,” he said shaking his head.
“What thing?” I persisted.
“For Christ’s sake, what are we talking about? You know, the Mafia.”
“My father wasn’t in the Mafia!”
“Sweetheart I’m just telling you what I know. Maybe I’m wrong.”
“But he couldn’t have been. I mean my mother wouldn’t have married him.” Jack threw his arms up in frustration.
“He was Siegel’s partner, and then Roselli’s right arm! When Johnny was murdered your father changed.” Jack shook his head regrettably and continued.
“How did he change?” I asked.
Just then the door swung open and a distinguished man in a suit and overcoat walked in.

Excerpt from soon to be finished book, Smiley’s Dice


THE SNOW SEDATED the choppy feeling in my stomach, the conjecture of  discovering why my father was wired with anxiety. His whole life was a chase scene: arrest him, convict him, send him to Russia, and never pull the tap from his apartment, or the FBI guys from his tail.

Me,  Diane Friedman and Cindy Frisch.

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Now there is a wash over my interpretation of his obsessive, protective, paranoia, distrust, and interrogation of my friends. I wonder if those gals I grew up with knew about Dad from their parents’. I relied heavily on the open arms of my friend’s families. They’re remembered more than my teachers: The Blair’s, Bourne’s, Both Friedman’s, Frisch’s, Hoffman’s, Pindler’s, Saunders, Schwadel’s,  Taubman’s, and the Tefkin’s.  Hope I didn’t leave anyone out.  I left out the Berman’s and the Crosby’s.