While watching an episode of Party Down, I was struck by an important concept for us writers. The series is about cater-waiters in LA, every episode showing them working a different party. They’re mostly actors waiting for their big breaks, which, of course, may never come.

In this episode (from the original series, not the recent revival), they show up to work a birthday party for the real-life movie star Steve Guttenberg, who’s rich but no longer relevant. However, there’s a mix-up, so he’s not having this party, but he invites the cater-waiters to party with him instead. When he discovers that one of them, Roman, is a screenwriter, he insists they do a reading of Roman’s latest script.

Roman—who only writes “hard” science fiction—fancies himself a visionary who will never sell out. But when they start reading his script, it becomes painfully clear that it’s awful. Here’s a sample:


Reading on deuterium levels.

BORP-7 (a bio-cybernetic organism)

Seven oh five point two, captain.


Your ship will never withstand the quantum flux between a binary star.


It will in a Godel spacetime field.

Everyone, including Roman, realizes the script is dead on arrival. Steve Guttenberg urges Roman to do a quick revision, which he does. The actors read the new version, which begins showing the heat of life.


Captain. I’m worried–


About our deuterium levels? Me too.


About you, sir.


Since when was worrying part of your programing? Coordinates set?


Thread a binary star? You’ll kill us all, DuKlark. Or is that what you want, since she died?


Maybe it is.

No, it’s still not a great script. But Roman has started making the characters act and sound like real people (even the bio-cybernetic one) rather than entities with no discernible emotions.  

Roman, who almost never smiles, shows the hint of a smile, pleased with himself.

Roman didn’t just revise the script. He re-envisioned it. He saw his story in a new light and breathed some actual life into it, which spurred the actors to really play something rather than rolling their eyes as they spoke their lines. 

Sometimes, that’s what it takes. Not a tweak. A makeover. Don’t be precious with your writing, especially if it’s not quite working. Crumple it up. Take a break. Then start over, with a new perspective. Maybe it won’t be improved. Maybe it’ll even be worse. And that’s okay, because this is always a process. But…chances are quite good that you’ll have pushed yourself onto the path of making it better. Maybe even as great as you once imagined.

Alex Steele,

Gotham President

Getting Repetitive

Good fortune found me working across the street from a movie theater recently, and as the smell of popcorn filled the air at 9:30 a.m., I thought, “Weekday matinee!”
Gradually, though, I realized, this was no regular Thursday morning matinee. It was an exclusive showing of Super Mario Bros. for students of a school for special needs children.
Four or five people arrived first, including a little girl in a wheelchair, squealing with joy. Beside her walked a boy with the flatter face and upturned eyes of Down syndrome. Another group arrived, and another, then another. Every group included a child using some kind of assistance: tiny wheelchairs, reclining wheelchairs, sticker-covered wheelchairs, crutches with arm braces, a walker. More children with Down syndrome arrived, too.
How did I know it was a special screening just for them? The doors to the theater stayed locked. Each group knocked on the door, then waited for an usher to let them in.
The exclusivity of the screening revealed itself through repetition.
Writers hear often on our early drafts, “This is repetitive.” But repetition isn’t always something to avoid. It can be a tool we use to reveal truths buried beneath the surface of our work.
You can call back again and again to objects that hold special meaning; you can return again and again to a setting, or repeat a distinct phrase or sentence.
You can use anaphora — repeating a word at the beginning of each sentence or paragraph, or, as Gotham’s Elane Johnson does in her essay “Aftermath,” each phrase. (Click here to read an excerpt.)
You can use epistrophe, repeating something at the end of each sentence, as John Steinbeck did when Tom Joad says goodbye to his mother in The Grapes of Wrath. (Click here to read it.)
Skillful repetition creates a strong emotion around what’s repeated. Think of Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” using anaphora to create a sense of urgency for justice. (Click here to read an excerpt.)

Or Carmen Maria Machado in her memoir In the Dream House, reiterating “You wake up, and the air is milky and bright,” until it curdles. (Click here to read excerpts.)
The trick is in the timing — the distance between what you repeat, and the rhythm in the way you do it. I’d love to give you a formula, but, as with most things in writing, you’ve just got to experiment. Read your work out loud, and when your repetition makes you flinch, or you long to skip over it, you know it’s not working.
How you break your pattern of repetition is important, too. Look at how King and Johnson and Steinbeck do it.
Which brings me back to the matinee — what broke the repetition is also what revealed that the moviegoers were students enjoying a morning off: A bright yellow bus, arriving after the movie, whisking everyone off to school.

Kelly Caldwell

Dean of Faculty

Gotham Children’s Book Conference

Yes, we have a Children’s Book Conference coming up, May 21 and 22. On Zoom.

This is a great event if you have a children’s book (picture book, middle grade, or YA) ready to go to market, or if you dream of publishing a children’s book. It goes like this:

Day 1: Panels and Presentations, featuring writers and agents, including two Newbery Medal-winning authors: Matt de la Peña and Erin Entrada Kelly.

Day 2: Pitching Roundtables, where you get the chance to present your book to a table of two top-shelf agents who rep the kind of book you’re pitching. (Most on Zoom, some in NYC.)

You can sign up for both days, or pick just one.

This follows the format of previous Gotham Conferences, but we have a beautiful new plan. Instead of one conference encompassing all kinds of books, we’re doing a rotating series of four conferences, each one specializing in a type of book:

Children’s Books
Genre Fiction

Literary/Commercial Fiction


You can view the full schedule here.

The mastermind of this whole thing is Gotham’s Director of Publishing Guidance, Josh Sippie. Here Josh explains the logic behind this plan:

I wanted writers to know they were in the right place. By being more specific with four separate conferences, we can dig deeper into important topics within each genre to allow for a more targeted experience. And having multiple conferences also allows more exploration for writers eager to write across genres.

You can see the full lineup of panelists, presenters, and agents for the Children’s Book Conference right now, and stay tuned for the lineup of the coming conferences.

We believe our conferences are better than most (if not all) other conferences for these reasons:

  • We offer truly interesting and informative Panels and Presentations.
  • Our Pitching Roundtables give you in-depth exposure to agents right for your work, where you spend four hours with two agents, as well as some fellow writers.
  • Our prices are reasonable, in contrast to the high expense of many conferences. 

And, wait, Gotham also offers other ways to get direct feedback from an agent:

Query Letter Coaching

Agent/Editor Evaluation

Agent Evaluation Quickie

The mission is personal to Josh, who says:

I moved to NYC on a whim in 2014 to get involved in publishing and existed solely on trial and error for years before finding my path. I would have loved these kinds of resources at the start of that journey. 

Josh and the rest of us at Gotham are dedicated to giving you the best shot at success in the publishing world. We’d be honored to have you join us.  

Alex Steele, Gotham President