Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Pitch

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Zoe Whittall

by Zoe Whittall

I spent the last three weeks in a writing room with some of the most talented comedy writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

One of the most exciting things about the job was that the producers had created their own dream show. It couldn’t have been created or executed by anyone else. Because it came from such an authentic point-of-view, it was both hilarious and seemed essential. Though every writer has to write from their own voice in order to succeed, we do a lot of shape-shifting and adjusting to the needs of the "market" in order to get work, be it publishing contracts or gigs in writing rooms. We think a lot about our readers, our audiences, and the gatekeepers who can choose to produce our work, or not, as is most often the case. A lot of writers have dream projects in their back pocket, waiting for the moment they can finally do what they want to do. This column is about talking to writers about those dream projects.*

Before I got the recent TV job, I was working on my novel and occasionally having “meetings” (TV industry code for begging networks to read and consider your scripts) with executives and production companies who might be interested in my TV pilots.* (TV pilot scripts are under 50 pages, novelists. It seems insane that you cannot write several of these a month and then see what sticks, am I right?) The process of learning how to pitch an idea, make it sound timely and necessary and unique, is an interesting one. For one, I’ve learned that I’m a writer who could use an actor (read: pushy, confident person) to speak for me in pitch meetings. But I sold my first pilot with the charm and luck that comes from not knowing anything about the process and wandering into rooms with a whimsical sense of naiveté that comes off as “zeitgeist-y.” (Thanks Lena Dunham!)

These two experiences, of pitching and then working on someone else’s dream team, made me contemplate what I would do if I could write whatever I like. And thus, a column is born. The Pitch will feature thoughts by novelists and poets on what they’d write if they could write anything. They have the time. They have the money. So, what would it be?

If I had the option, I’d spend years working on a book-length manuscript of poetic fragments, and a half-hour cable dramedy starring Connie Britton and Merritt Weaver where they spend a good amount of time doing each other’s hair and giving each other Coach Taylor pep talks.
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*Because it’s the TV industry, I can’t tell you what the show is, because for some reason, writing for TV is the best job in the universe but you’re supposed to be really humble and secretive about it, as is industry standard. This goes against everything fiction writers have learned, as we are told to keep our books in the trunk of our cars to sell you should you catch our eye in parking lots.

*For an excellent (and hilarious) example of how they could go wrong, see the following web series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzdmUotdOUA

George Murray, the poet laureate of St. John’s, NFLD, and the author of seven poetry books, says his life would look like this: “I'd spend the bad six (eight?) months of Newfoundland in southern Europe somewhere just working on poems on a daily basis and whenever someone offered me a new underpaid contract in marketing or comms, I'd tell them to fuck off.

"I would make poetry my work day (instead of my leisure time), continuing to write books that no one knows what to do with, and I'd use my leisure time instead to make little crafts with clay and cardboard and play games with my pals. Probably by Skype if they don't also get to be part of this dream. I might even take drawing back up.”

Stay tuned for dream pitches by Mariko Tamaki, Ivan Coyote, David Seymour, Angie Abdou, and more.


Zoe Whittall’s next novel, The Best Kind of People, will be published in fall of 2016 with House of Anansi Press. Her novel Holding Still for as Long as Possible, won a Lambda Literary award, was shortlisted for the Relit award, and was an American Library Association’s Stonewall Honor Book. She’s published three books of poetry, and works as a freelance TV writer and journalist in Toronto.

Her books have been translated into French, Swedish, and Korean.

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