Saturday, April 29, 2006

Response Time

It's been a month since an agent has requested a partial manuscript - but I haven't been sending out too many queries, either. Gotten fully distracted by the WIP that's going along better than ever.

Of the partials still being reviewed, what does it mean that Martha Hoffman has had the material since mid-January? Is she liking what she sees and letting it fester, then going back to be sure she does, indeed, like it? Or is she so busy with other things that she has yet to get to the manuscript? Jessica Regel rejected the partial so quickly that the ink was barely dry before she was turning it down. On the other hand, three other agents have had stuff for over a month with no response.

What does it mean? Absolutely nothing. Some literary agents are highly organized, or they have staff to do the grunt work. They can respond fast, one way or the other. Some literary agents(based on my experience with Robert Guinsler) will do a read and then put the manuscript aside, looking it over much later rather than going by their first impression.

Every agent is different. If they are busy, they can't get back to you quickly. If they like, maybe, the partial, they'll get back to you quickly. Or slowly. Depends. Drives you mad, doesn't it?

Friday, April 28, 2006

If You Build It...

Front page news in the Irish Times today - a product long awaited may soon be available.

Yes, form a line, gentlemen, take a number, the demand will surely be great. Haven't we all been begging the medical researchers for a male contraceptive? The good news has come from Dr. Peter Liu of the prestigious Anzac Research Institute, located at the University of Sydney. That's Sydney down under, where the quest for artificial male contraception has been pursued with vigor.

I know that you've all been concerned about your fertility and what happens to it if you tamper with nature. That's the beauty of Dr. Liu's discoveries. After three or four months, your swimmers are back to full strength, ready for a fallopian marathon. According to the report, this is the true breakthrough in male contraception research, finding a drug that won't cause permanent damage.

One shot and you're good for ... doesn't say how long it lasts. And that shot business, you'd have to see a doctor for the injection, and that would mean making an appointment. Of course, you could just turn up at A & E but the wait would be hours and you'd not be in the mood by then and why bother with contraception when you're exhausted from the waiting?

Still another problem to work out, Dr. Liu. Getting men to use your invention. I'd recommend a home-injection kit, and market it to women. After all, they're the ones most interested in avoiding pregnancy. Unless you could come up with a powder or something that could be dispensed at the local.

"These findings thereby increase the promise of new contraceptive drugs allowing men to share more fairly the satisfaction and burden of family planning," Dr Liu said.

You're a brilliant scientist, Dr. Liu, but you can't honestly believe that men are demanding to fairly share any burden. Now, there was a man a few weeks back, who claimed his partner tricked him into a pregnancy. I'll bet he'd be your first customer. Yes, it's all in the marketing, finding the right niche. Who's first in line, now, lads?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

In Praise of Government Watchdogs

The big city is a dangerous place, where ruthless criminals prey upon the old, the weak and the gullible. Our only hope is the vigilance of our elected representatives, those wise few who make the laws that protect our rights.

And so, I sing the praises of the Chicago City Council, an august body that has taken a daring step.

Have they banned automatic weapons or assault rifles? Well, not yet, no. That's a difficult nut to crack, what with the amendments and the Constitutional lawyers splitting hairs. But they have declared the city a nuclear weapon free zone. Just let some terrorist try to set off a dirty bomb at State and Madison, and see what happens. Chicago's finest would be on it like flies on shite.

Is it a charity initiative, you might ask? Has the council set up a taskforce or a committee to help the bums who were kicked out of Skid Row when the area was gentrified? Maybe the aldermen are doing something to provide Single Room Occupancy housing for those on the bottom of the economic ladder? Ah, well now, you see, not just yet. There's zoning issues that gum up the works, and when you talk real estate, it's location, location, location. I'm sure they're working on the problem.

Hurrah for the Chicago City Council. The town that gave the world Bathhouse John Coughlin and Al Capone has banned foie gras,the fatty goose liver delicacy that was invented in France.

Yes, it's true, they've taken that major step to protect the livers of Illinois' geese. Well, not the geese that are raised in Illinois. There's not one farm that produces foie gras in the entire state.

Come the first of June, those who serve and protect will be entering the top restaurants, inspecting the kitchens and arresting chefs who dare to put goose liver on a plate with a notion to serve it to someone who wants to eat it. Praise the Lord! We've been in dire need of such legislation. You want to spread that goose liver pate on toast points? Go on out to the suburbs with the rest of the gourmands, but you'll not be eating that in the city.

What's next? A ban on black pudding because it contains pig blood? Let them eat cake instead of czarnina, as long as that cake is duck blood free!

Ah, Chicago. The schools are crumbling, the students go in dumb and come out dumber, the streets are full of potholes, and the administration is on the take. Come June, though, you won't be able to order foie gras in the restaurants or buy it in the specialty shops. Glad to see the aldermen have their priorities in order.

Tracking Submissions

What a flurry of submissions in one day.

Sent a novel excerpt to the Blue Mesa Review and The Artful Dodge after I reworked the opening chapter. Three months wait, at a minimum, but at least there's something out there. Not having much luck with the partials from the other manuscript, my unmarketable masterpiece.

Sent off another short story to the Mississippi Review. The issue is closing on submissions in the middle of June and prints July 1. Let's see, do the math, carry the one, and there's a wait of...three months again.

As long as the printer was warmed up thoroughly, I ran off two copies of the first chapter, and sent queries to Ms. Cartwright-Niumata at Folio Literary and Joy Harris. Got nothing to lose in this subjective game, with a revised query, new title and tweaked manuscript.

It feels so good to have more queries to send that I've got fresh inspiration for the current WIP, the one I was getting stuck on and blocked on and what all. Write on?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pay To Play

Your boy's quite the athlete. You've got a six figure income at your disposal. Put the two together, and the lad's off to sports camp, sessions with personal trainers and private coaches. In my part of the country, I see it all the time.

There's a booming business in athletic training, and it's not necessarily geared up to get the lad into college on a scholarship. When money meets a child's spark of interest, the fire's stoked and set to blazing. Pitching coaches, hitting coaches, shooting coaches, defense coaches, offense coaches, rebounding coaches, and on it goes ad infinitum. Junior's performance is a reflection of his parents' financial means.

So what becomes of the little lassie who's not so sporty? Mammy and Daddy want to indulge her interests as well, and so the girl who thought maybe she might like to be a writer or something like that when she's old, around thirty, gets a book packager to give her a leg up.

Unfortunately for Kaavya Viswanathan, her book packager led her down the garden path and straight into a charge of plagiarism. The accusations are flying, but isn't this just a case of the parents getting what they paid for? Their lovely daughter became a published author and got into Harvard, and that's what the money was invested in. It is said that the girl couldn't actually write very well, but the book doctors of 17th Street Productions churned out a best-seller. Okay, so they had to use some stuff from someone else's best seller, but they were hired to fix a manuscript, and, well, accidents happen.

Did Kaavya have Megan McCafferty's books on the brain when she penned her first draft? Highly possible in an impressionable young woman who was undoubtedly under tremendous pressure from her parents to excel. Well meaning folks, Mr. and Mrs. Viswanathan, but sometimes a competitive parent can push too far and send their fragile youth into a tailspin.

How many boys have been coached out of a sport, pressed to do well when all they want is to have fun? Kaavya may have been ghost-written out of Harvard and out of any future publishing deals.

Or she might just write a memoir of the ordeal and show up on Oprah's couch, whinging about her overbearing parents and the mess they've made of her young life.

Control Freaks

Ever been hired by someone, only to find that they have done a bit of research and consider themselves experts in your field?

"We'd like to redecorate," they might say. "We took a class on interior design at the local junior college. We must know more than you."

And then they'll tell you your business and you very politely point out what great feckin' eejits they are. What a shock to their system to learn that you've been at your job for a dog's age or you've got a graduate degree or you have a license that requires knowledge of the field.

People who rise to the top in the corporate world did not get there through faint hearts and shy withdrawal. Once they get on top, they cannot separate their lives from their corporate entities, the boss in control, running the show. They might delegate some work to you, but you can be sure that they're there, right over your shoulder, watching every move to make sure you do things right. Problem is, they don't have a clue as to how things ought to be done. No matter to our intrepid executives - they'll supervise just the same.

Is there anything more ugly than a whole group of control freaks whose children play sports? Why would any sane person choose to coach for such offspring, when the know-it-all adults are off on the sidelines, questioning every substitution and second-guessing every strategy.

The source of their expertise? Sure and they've read the sports pages every day for the past twenty years and listened to every post-game interview to garner a wisp of knowledge. They played the game as children and they know how it should be played. Oh, and their own child should be playing all the time. Little one's the best on the team, bar none, and what's the coach thinking to pull my star out and put in someone else?

Fingers on the pulse of business - control freaks who cannot ever relinquish control. You'd like to tell them to sit back and watch the show, but they're hell bent to run it, and they'll run over anyone who gets in their way.

Monday, April 24, 2006

If It's Broke, Fix It

What do you do when you get a bunch of rejections on the partial manuscript? Why, compose a new query letter, change the title, and hit the naysayers again.

I dusted off an old manuscript, revised and reworked a few chapters. I cut out a couple of big sections and pasted them elsewhere, always on the lookout for that pesky backstory that, God forbid, must never turn up at the beginning. As for the query, I tried to follow Miss Snark's advice (can't make the link work to her blog of 4/24/06, but check it out) about the makings of a query letter.

A hook, a couple of sentences about the overall plot, the word count, the genre, and I'm done. There's no publishing credentials to include, so that saves a few drops of ink or a couple of retina cells. Sent four of the new and improved version off to agents who accept e-mail queries.

Do I have renewed hope? Well, the manuscript is safe, sort of. All right, yeah, the concept behind the plot is not the most commonly accepted norm, but can't an author present an alternate universe? What am I saying? Have I sent out queries for another novel that will not be marketable? Have I drifted too far afield once again?

Paula Balzer of Sarah Lazin Books rejects the partial because the fiction market is too tough and she can't sell the fiction that she's already taken on. Are we to all start writing non-fiction? Ah, but if you've no platform, no expertise or teaching post with matching Ph.D., you don't stand a chance either.

What's to be done? I need the anxiety of the waiting to keep focused on the current WIP, a bit of fiction that's the sort of story I like to read. There's no choice but to carry on. Either that, or I'll have to go back to the drinking and smoking.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

What Does It Take?

Should my lips grow dry, would you wet them, dear?
Would you go away to another land, walk one thousand miles through the burning sand?
Wipe the blood away from my dying hand?
Will you love (the manuscript) when I'm down and out?
In my time of trial, will you stand by me?

Would you go to the wall for me? Take a bullet for me?

All that and more must be required for literary agents these days. Eve Bridburg declines the manuscript because she only takes on novels for which she would face down a Mack truck. Nearly every standard rejection I have seen for partials and fulls carries the same theme. The agent does not feel that they could sell the manuscript.

On the shelves of my local independent bookseller and the free (after you've paid your property tax which covers the cost) library, I have encountered one novel after another that really does not have anything to say. Where are the Trollopes and Dickenses of our era? Not marketable is where, sitting in the pile of manuscripts to be rejected. Don't be controversial, don't skewer the high and mighty, because an agent would not risk their life for such subjects.

What does it take to get published? Well,if you write women's fiction, let the Lifetime channel be your guide. Don't forget your checklist of diseases of the week, so that you can include a few characters with bulimia/anorexia/self-mutilation/ shopaholism et al. Add in a hefty dose of some saccharine sentiment - I feel your pain - and you're off to the races.

The manuscript I've been submitting is not marketable. The plot pokes a stick in the eye of those on high. It is topical, it is timeless, but no one would take a bullet for it. Back to the current WIP. Agents have told me I have writing talent. I'll have to use it to bland purposes to get one of them to say yes.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cold Mountain Gets Hot

Everyone searching for an agent asks how they can get one of those high-powered elite types, like Binky Urban. The secret has been revealed, and it has been splashed all over the pages of the New York Times.

You don't have to write a complete and polished manuscript. A one page outline will do, and you could take four years to write the novel if you liked. The publisher will pay you a ginormous advance, and Binky will represent you and the choirs of angels will sing in heaven.

Of course there's a catch. To gain all of the above, you only have to write a best seller to prove your street creds. That's what Charles Frazier did with his blockbuster literary work Cold Mountain. Sold like mad, became a movie, and everyone was happy. Mr. Frazier got a fairly hefty advance on it as well, so he must have had a respectable agent before he settled into Binky's stable.

His editor, Elisabeth Schmitz, was dropped by the wayside because the one-page outline and all its promise was sold at auction to a different house. Her little nestling, nurtured and coddled into bookselling glory, tried his wings and flew away to Random House. And you worry about the propriety of sending your agent a box of chocolates for Christmas? They should be grateful that you haven't sent them packing, leaving them for the 'other woman'.

He was all talk, oh, my darling, I want you to edit my next book, we'll be together always, and then, slam bam. He runs off with Binky, who leads him astray and off to another publisher and a different editor. Ah, she's a homewrecker, that one, coming between a happy couple and sharing in the bounty of a big advance while Ms. Schmitz sits at home with nothing but her memories.

Needless to say, Random House is holding its corporate breath, having paid out a few million on a gamble. They are betting that the readers of Cold Mountain will fall equally in love with the next novel, and there's no guarantee of that. There's an equal chance that the public will reject the book as thoroughly as agents have rejected mine, and the editor at Random House must have found plenty of unimpressive writing when he worked on the first draft of the manuscript. According to the NYT article, Mr. Frazier was due to complete the novel in time for a 2005 release, but he's been working on revisions. And it's half past 2006 nearly.

Can the lad sell 625,000 copies to justify the advance and justify the publication of a third novel? Binky's dazzled him, to be sure, but she won't stick around if he can't deliver the goods.

So, how do you get a top agent like Binky Urban? Prove yourself. She won't waste her time on the small beer. And here you thought there was a way for a first timer to nab the leading lady. No, no, to acquire a trophy agent, you have to have the success first, and then the world is your oyster. As long as you keep producing,that is.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Not Over Yet

Just because Gerry Adams has spoken does not mean that everyone is on the same page. In County Armagh today, the PSNI arrested four men who were in possession of 250 lb. of bomb making materials, including fertilizer, and a shiny red car.

The Provisional IRA has laid down its arms and is following along behind Gerry, going the political route. The Continuity IRA, on the other hand, will not give up the bloody battle until Ireland is a nation once again, undivided and unoccupied by the Brits.

Can't fault the CIRA entirely, considering the fact that the loyalist paramilitary groups have been pretty decisive about not putting away their guns. And since the IRA was formed in response to loyalist groups creating armed militias, the CIRA does not wish to be the first to go in a new direction.

Police in the Six Counties are saying that the bomb was going to be put in the car and set off fairly soon, given that the bomb being planned would be of an unstable nature. Where the shiny red car was going to be driven to is anyone's guess at this point, but it sounds like the CIRA was planning a show of force, perhaps going back to the days of the Troubles.

The threat of bloodshed will not end until the British occupation is ended. Political pundits have suggested that Gerry Adams may accomplish this to an extent. If the DUP will not sit in government with Sinn Fein, then local councils will take over the work of running the colony. The councils with majority Sinn Fein representation are along the border, and with enough cross-border initiatives and cooperation, the Six Counties could be further divided along sectarian lines, leaving the Protestant loyalists even more isolated and more dependent on London's handouts.

There's little doing in the Six Counties. The linen industry is gone, the textile mills long shuttered, and Harland and Wolff is an historical artifact. Gerry Adams will cling to the Republic of Ireland and the Celtic Tiger. The little DUP zones will continue to wither, devoid of opportunity and hope. And the Continuity IRA will carry on with the futile gestures of a war that cannot be won by guns and bombs.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fairy Tale of Illinois

Once upon a time, a man with little education and no skills to speak of was looking for a job. "Can you drive a truck?" he was asked. He could drive. Even though he did not speak the native language very well he could interpret the road signs. "Yes," he said.

The man drove a big, heavy truck, transporting goods from Illinois to Wisconsin. One day, while he was driving his truck, some people honked their horns at him and sped up to come alongside him. He kept driving. The people in the cars waved their hands, saying things that he could not hear. It was very noisy in the truck cab.

As he was heading north, his truck made a strange noise, but none of the indicator lights went on, so he continued his work of driving the truck. After a while, the truck made a funny bumping sort of motion and the noise disappeared. Behind him, cars screeched and stopped. He thought he saw a fire, but he was afraid and he kept driving.

On the news that night, the reporter told viewers about a terrible accident that occurred on the same highway that the truck driver had traveled that day. A metal part had fallen off a truck and the van following behind the truck could not avoid the large piece of debris. The truck assembly pierced the gas tank, the friction of the road set off sparks, and the van burst into flames. Six children were burned alive.

In an office in another part of town, a bureaucrat heard of the accident. When the police uncovered the identity of the truck driver, the bureaucrat checked the records and discovered that the man had paid a bribe to obtain his license. The bribe money was used to fund the George Ryan for Governor campaign. The bureaucrat became alarmed.

Important people called for an investigation into the licenses for bribes campaign financing plan. The bureaucrat's boss fired the investigators so that they could not disrupt everyone's plans to elect George Ryan. The important people asked the lawyer to investigate, and he was a very fastidious lawyer who looked under every rock and every carpet in Illinois.

The governor grew nervous because the lawyer was lifting up the carpets, looking for the dirt that had been swept underneath. "No more death penalty," the governor declared, and the people were so amazed by his pronouncement that they forgot about the lawyer and his housecleaning duties. They could not see because the wool had been pulled over their eyes.

The lawyer carried on, exposing every speck of dust and dirt. The governor made speeches about the evils of the death penalty that he had eliminated. The people listened to him, the wool obliterating their vision. When it was time for a new election, the governor stepped aside. He could not pull enough wool to blind the entire electorate.

The lawyer went to court and showed twelve people all the dirt he had found. "But he abolished the death penalty," some people shouted. The twelve people scratched their foreheads, where the itchy wool had been removed. "Guilty on all counts," they said. George Ryan is guilty of abusing the public trust. And he is guilty of the death of the six Willis children, burned alive because an unqualified driver was on the road because George Ryan had to have more money to get more power.

The moral of the story is: Watch out for former Catholic altar boys. They grow up to be lawyers and Supreme Court justices.

The Name Has Been Changed

Gil & Macmillan has recently re-issued Kevin C. Kearns' oral history of Dublin Tenement Life. Documenting the lives of old folks who once lived in Europe's worst slums, it provides an amazing view of The Liberties.

Stately Georgian homes that once belonged to the Protestants of the Ascendancy gradually declined into incredibly blighted slums, with one house holding as many as one hundred people. Families of twenty lived in a single room in a building that was on the verge of collapse, crawling with bugs, and lacking in any facilities that did not exist in the 1820's. Think indoor plumbing, central heating, cooking stoves, and the like. To read Kearns' book is to spend a few hours in hell.

But Ireland is wealthy now, and The Liberties is undergoing a steady process of gentrification. New apartment buildings are springing up where tumbledown mansions once tumbled down. Literally. On top of some unfortunate occupants.

The old-timers quoted in the oral history spoke fondly of the Iveagh Market, where they bought second-hand rags to use for clothes and found the cheapest of food when they could afford even the most meager rations. Now there are plans to redevelop the long shuttered market, but this time around it will be trendy, high end and rather posh. A four star hotel might join the mix, settling into an area that was notorious for its gangs, grinding poverty and alcoholism.

You see, that's the little difficulty. Mention The Liberties and the first thing anyone thinks of is what the area was. Terrible reputation, The Liberties, and how can a developer market a high-class development if people associate the name with dirty, barefoot, rickety children clinging to the ragged shawls of their old-before-their-time mothers?

Why, you call the place something else, of course. And what says elite, world-class site, well worth the high price tag? The developers want to call the area the 'SoHo' district because it is located south of Heuston Station, or so they say. And should the naive think that Dublin's SoHo is like London's version or New York City's charming neighborhood, so much the better for the project.

As for the people who live in The Liberties now, those on the dole and the others who scrape by in menial work, will they be pleased with the changes to their neighborhood?

The people quoted in Dublin Tenement Life spoke of hard times that are nearly unimaginable. And they spoke of how much they missed their old haunts, the friendly neighbors and the atmosphere. Almost every single person who was interviewed actually missed the old Liberties, the slums, while forgetting the chronic illnesses, malnutrition and high mortality. They longed for the sense of community that they knew as children raised in poverty. All the improvements envisioned by the Dublin City Council will not restore that.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

And the Dead Shall Speak

Never did I think I'd ever hear a word after a year - or more. My Easter gift for 2006 is two rejection letters, one from Julia Lord and the other from Robert Guinsler at Sterling Lord Literistic.

Very kind of Sterling Lord to pop for the extra two cents postage. When I sent the full manuscript, the post office was not even suggesting that they were going to raise rates. Julia Lord had to cover the full postage - I assume they must have lost the SASE I sent with the sample chapters.

The usual boilerplate stuff, by the way, in both rejections. One loved the writing but was not in love with the story. The other liked the premise and the characters, but did not fall in love with the writing. As an author, that tells me that there is nothing that can be changed to make the novel better. It is only a question of finding the agent that is taken by both story and story-telling. If only I could merge the two agents together and make it whole.

The subject matter of the manuscript is somewhat controversial, the style more literary than commercial. How many times has an agent written of 'being torn' but ultimately taking a pass? Good enough to publish, but maybe not marketable, and thus not right for their list, produced as it was by an unproven (unpublished) writer.

They say it is a subjective business. It sure is.

Good And Bad

As much as I'd prefer a request for a manuscript, I'm pleased that Kathi Paton at least responded to my e-query, even if it was a form rejection. There's just something about all the unanswered e-mails that bothers me, like I'm standing in the middle of a crowd, waving and shouting, but the agents don't pay me any mind.

The fact that I am going to have a short story published in a literary magazine next month does not thrill me. No great honor, and it was a case of rushing off a submission as soon as The Chicago Review turned down the same piece. It was so easy to submit, just send the article as a download, and the editor accepted it within two weeks.

The journal is put out by a non-profit organization, which means they don't pay. I don't even know if they'll send me a free copy of the publication. Instead of waiting to hear from the Indiana Review, I was in too much of a hurry and didn't think.

Will it be a worthwhile credit? The literary journal has been in publication for fifteen years, coming out quarterly, but I have this nagging sense that they might take just about anything to fill their sixty pages. Too many rejections, I guess, have warped my self-esteem, or maybe it really is a poor excuse for a publishing credit.

I'll find out soon enough. Once I finish my current WIP, polish it up to a high gloss, and start the query process, I'll slap that credit in my one line bio and the sky's the limit. Or the ground. The ground might be the limit. Unless I've only dug a hole to fall into.

There's still two other short pieces out there to other rags that are quite respectable. There's always hope. And isn't that what the Easter season is all about, after all?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Finder Of Lost Things

According to an Associated Press report, Mr. Mack McCormick received a postcard that was marked 'Return to sender', with a postmark dated 1956. It took the Post Office fifty years to realize that the card was not deliverable, so it sent it back.

Now, after fifty years, the person who wrote the card originally was no longer living at that address, and the mail forwarding orders are only good for six months, so how was the mailman to find the original sender? Always conscientious, Mr. McCormick tracked down the author of the post card and offered to send it to him. The gentleman declined, no doubt wary of delivery what with the track record on the original mailing.

Back in February of 2005, I sent a snail mail query to Jonathan Dolger and never heard back. Being a glutton for punishment, I queried a second manuscript in March of this year, but if I don't get my SASE back, I'll know why. It's floating around in the postal system, and if I don't move (or die of old age) in the next fifty years, I might get that form rejection I've been waiting for. And the one I sent to Aaron Priest eighteen months ago, that will show up as well.

And Gertrude Bregman of the Blanche C. Gregory agency, I'll hear from her within the next fifty years. Let's see, I've yet to get a response from Jane Gelfman of Gelfman Schneider after eighteen months, and I don't know if the rejection from Scott Gould (Roslyn Targ Literary Agency)might not be lost in the sorting bins and machines. After all, if the agency asks that the author send a SASE in their submission, surely they mean to use it. And if I haven't gotten the unlucky envelope, it must be the fault of the post office.

Need proof? Why, just ask Mr. McCormick about the fifty year delivery time on that card.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Happy Birthday Ireland

After you've been to Mass on Easter Sunday and dropped your generous donation in the plate, lived through dinner with the family and done your bit with the washing up, raise a glass and toast to Ireland, ninety years old this Easter Monday.

And is everyone happy with the parade that's planned? In the nation of begrudgers, such would never be. One side argues about the need of armed violence to achieve freedom, while the others insist that Ireland would have broken free of England eventually, just like Canada and Australia. After all, the Irish are lovers, not fighters, and they've gotten bad press down the years but they don't resort to violence, oh no, and what's on those American military planes stopping over at Shannon?

What's past is done and cannot be changed. Pundits can argue until hell freezes over, postulating on the what ifs. No one can ever state with certainty that something might have happened if done differently, because the Easter Rising cannot be undone; the clock cannot be turned back.

Most of Ireland is a nation, and to not celebrate because of the way it came about is a silly gesture. Look to the future, instead of the past. There's plenty of problems that need solving in the here and now. In the meantime, Happy Ninetieth Birthday, and many more.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pre-Election Posturing

From the ABC news (Durham, N. Carolina) website comes this public service announcement:

The three candidates running for Durham district attorney will take public questions at a forum Wednesday evening.
The forum will feature District Attorney Mike Nifong, former prosecutor Freda Black and Keith Bishop. It runs from 5 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. at the Durham County Courthouse.

The public is welcome. You can watch the forum live on Eyewitness News anchor John Clark will be the moderator.

Any names familiar to you? Yes, indeed, Mr. Mike Nifong has been much on the news lately. Politicians just love the free publicity, getting their faces on the camera and be sure to spell the name correctly, there, lad. Nothing like a hot, boiler case to stir up the electorate, and he's got himself one.

The problem is, there's rumors going around that the DNA evidence taken from the victim does not match up with any of the lacrosse players who stand accused. That doesn't go down well with most folks, who are used to all that DNA evidence business on television. Don't the CSI crew solve all sorts of crimes with DNA matching? Hard to get past expectations, even if they aren't realistic.

Al Sharpton is on the way, ready to wallow in the swill of attention. He might want to think back, to his first big bash, when the unfortunate victim turned out to be a hoaxer. Mr. Nifong is fervently praying that such is not the case, because he'd be on the receiving end of a great deal of negative publicity, and too close to the election for comfort. For now, he's courting the black vote and figuring that the rich white folks don't make up enough of Durham County's population to worry about. It's all about getting elected. Kiss the collective arses of the most special interest groups, and then celebrate on election night after the polls close and the votes are counted, that's the politician's approach.

Does Mr. Nifong really care about justice and the exotic dancer who was assaulted? Ah, go on now, and did you just fall off the turnip truck?

Health Insurance

Where can anyone get health insurance coverage for $295.00? In Massachusetts, a new law is set to go into effect that would require everyone to carry health insurance. If a business does not provide coverage for their employees, they would have to pay a fine of $295.00.

Now, if I'm the CEO of some corporation, and I'm looking to reduce costs, I'm cutting out health insurance tomorrow. Don't you think the average company pays out far more than that? Why would any sane executive sign on to the new program if it will cost more than paying the head tax?

And all those poor folks will get reduced premiums,, who exactly is going to cover the difference between what the insurance costs and what they pay? Or will it be a case of getting what they pay for? I've looked at plenty of health insurance policies, looking to keep down the cost that I pay out of my pocket. You want cheaper insurance? Accept less coverage, and pray that you don't ever get really sick.

I've got to ask, since no news reports have covered this. Do the Christian Scientists have to pay up? Can they get a pass since they don't believe in doctors or modern medicine?

Maybe instead of spending state funds on insurance, Massachusetts would be better off sinking some money into physical education, exercise facilities, and instruction. Obesity is rife, kids are couch potatoes, and doctors are screaming about the avoidable illnesses that result from overeating and underexercising. Instead of treating the symptoms, how about treating the illness? That's health care that anyone could appreciate.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Why Do I Have Spring Fever

Spring is springing in these parts - grass getting green, buds swelling, little shoots sprouting from the soil. The days are getting longer, day in the night, and my WIP has found new life.

I slogged through a rough draft all winter, started over once and took the story in a different direction, but there were weeks when I did not get more than a paragraph put together. The words did not flow because the narrative was refusing to form up into a novel, let alone conform to the shape of a short story. Always, in the back of my mind, I was thinking about the queries and partials out to agents, wondering about the response, when it would come, should I keep going or forget it?

Finally, I've gotten past the 'waiting for the literary agent' stage of the process. Novel #4 is all in my head, the plot running from start to finish, with a bit of middle to fill out enough pages. I don't know why, all of a sudden, this has happened. I cannot say what has changed in my brain, unless it's spring fever. I took the first rough draft of my WIP and reworked twenty five pages down to eleven. That's how much shite was penned when I was stuck on an idea during the dark days of winter.

Can't wait to finish the story, to see where the characters go and how they solve their many difficulties. And then, I can start the query process all over again, with a new and different manuscript. Knowing that I can query when I'm done makes me want to finish that much sooner. I'm getting writer's cramp just thinking about it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Moving On Down the Road

So, Kate McKean's gone and left Dystel & Goderich, and just when I was thinking of sending her a query for the manuscript she might have run across as an assistant to Sally Wofford-Girand.

Conspiracy theorists have seen her departure, coupled with the recent announcement of Molly Friedrich, as being significant. Then again, Folio Literary Agency has picked up a few stragglers and grown in size. Could it be Ms. McKean's bolted for greener pastures? A better offer from a start-up firm?

Or is she sick to death of the piles of query letters and sample chapters, the need to reject 99% of the authors who contact her? Has she grown hopelessly weary of the rejection from editors at the big publishing houses, looking for something that's like the latest blockbuster, only fresh and new? Heaven help us, has she gone to the dark side and become an editor at one of those same publishers?

Type up your query, save it as a Word document, and wait patiently. Be ready to insert her new address if she's stayed with the agenting game. Wherever she lands, if she sticks to the agent game, she'll be hungry for those queries, still searching for the next big thing and the next big commission check.

Not Getting It

Maybe I'm missing something, but when an agency website says they will respond within a certain period of time, doesn't that indicate that they will respond?

I tried Julie Culver at Folio Lit, and the website stated that the agent should reply within a month. Failing that, the applicant was to assume the e-query was lost in cyberspace and it should be resubmitted. Just following orders, sir, and I sent the query six weeks ago and again last week. Why do I not expect to get any sort of response?

Don't know what possessed me, but I submitted another query to Randi Murray, using her online application form. Again, the site says that the agent will respond in a few days. Well, it's been more than a few days, and there hasn't been any response.

There are plenty of agents who accept e-queries these days, and most of them are pretty specific about not responding if they are not interested. Fine, I know where I stand if I don't hear back. Yes, that's it exactly. They get the snail mail query. One never knows, without a response, so play it safe and follow up with a SASE that lets you know for sure.

If an agent states on their website that they will respond in a certain amount of time, I expect a response. If they only respond if interested, then say so,for feck's sake. Adding a few words into a website can't be that impossible, can it? In the meantime, I'll keep dropping those queries in the local post box, three here, five there. I like getting mail. Those returning SASE's have such lovely, colorful stamps. And they usually come on Monday and Tuesday, the days of rejection.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Remembering Veronica Guerin

They said that Patrick "Dutchy" Holland pulled the trigger and murdered Veronica Guerin, the determined reporter who exposed the Gilligan drugs gang in Dublin. For her tireless efforts, she was gunned down, but she destroyed John Gilligan and his empire.

No one could prove that Holland was the triggerman, but he was convicted for possession of cannabis and sentenced to twenty years. His sentence was reduced to twelve years on appeal. Last night at midnight, he walked out of Portlaoise Prison, a free man after serving nine years of his sentence. Good behavior gave him three extra years to walk this earth while Veronica Guerin's family lives with her brutal murder for the rest of their days.

Dutchy has gone off to Italy for a lie detector test to prove that he was innocent of the crime. Something wrong with the lie detectors in Ireland? Ah, of course, the weather in Italy is warm and sunny, and the lie detectors work much better in such a lovely climate.

It smells fishy and no one will trust the veracity of the results anyway. But take heart. John Gilligan has been fighting for years to retain his vast estate, his equestrian center, and what all he bought with the proceeds of his drugs trade. The courts won't give it back to him, and everything he once had now belongs to the state. He's still in jail, the ringleader who gave the orders, and that's as it should be.

Analyzing a Debut

Book groups are wonderful things. The members get exposed to things that they might not otherwise read, and it forces them to stay on top of the latest offerings if they plan to contribute to the discussion. Now, some of them only go for the social outing or the lunch or the wine, but it's really all about the books.

Publishers supposedly don't like to publish fiction written from the first person point of view, and I'll admit that I don't like to read it. I don't know why, exactly, it's just that the prose doesn't flow the way I like. Prejudices aside, I've read some novels from that POV because of the book group's choices, and found them entertaining enough. If not for the book group, I never would have picked them up. I give them a pass at the library.

This month, I've got Robert Hicks' debut novel, The Widow of the South. Jeff Kleinman, now with Folio Lit Agency, was the literary agent on the scene. If you're sending him a query, check out this book and see if you can draw an analogy with your manuscript and this book. Never hurts to make it look like you're querying Mr. Kleinman because he's just the agent for your tome.

Opening with a short prologue, set in a time preceding the main novel, the author sets up his conflict. The main character is introduced, there's almost no backstory, and the author reveals a mysterious character that makes the reader turn the page to see who the man is. The first chapter is printed in italics, so right away, the reader sees something different. After that short chapter, the second starts, and it is told from a different point of view, without italics. Then, the author changes POV in the following chapter and switches to first person. Yes, the POV that publishers don't like. But he waited until page 24 to slip it in, well beyond the first three or first ten that agents usually get.

Now, the first person in chapter 3 is not the same first person that comes up in later chapters. Hicks uses chapter titles with the character's name so we know who's speaking. He writes well, but for those of us who read in short spurts, it's frustrating to have to go back and figure out who's the first person with the POV.

The book is well worth reading because it is well written, historical fiction that plays What If? with a real person. I could have done without the first person POV and enjoined it just as much, but I have to wonder if authors aren't using clever gimmicks to make their stories stand out from the slush.

Can a person get published by just telling a straight ahead story, or do you have to jazz it up with tricks? Should I go back to my historical fiction pieces and use different fonts? Should I do what I don't like for the sake of getting published? But once it's been done, can I copy the same tricks or will that just make the manuscript uninteresting? Been there, done that, bought the novel.

I write what I like to read. I don't buy many books because I don't like much of what is out there. Therefore, I do not get published because my manuscripts are not marketable. To thine own self be true?

Friday, April 07, 2006


Now that Dan Brown has been vindicated, writers of historical fiction can breathe easy. Fiction does not have to be completely made up, and so it has been, and so it will continue to be.

I have used plenty of information that was culled from non-fiction works, for how else can one build a framework for the novel? Many's the idea that's popped up while reading, asking 'What if?' and going from there.

The lawsuit was ridiculous from the start, anyway. It's a case of someone writing a book that did not make a ton of money trying to suck some profit out of another's version of the same topic. Historical fact does not belong to the person who wrote it down. The only thing they own are the sentences and paragraphs. Since Dan Brown did not lift pages wholesale, he could hardly be accused of plagiarism.

If anything, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh have gotten some much needed publicity for their The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail , although it hasn't come for free and the extra books that they sell may not garner enough royalties to pay their attorneys' fees. What they have earned is this month's Grand Gesture award, a lovely expression of futility in the face of insurmountable odds. Well done, lads. Now is the time to put out another book, strike while the publicity iron is hot. I hear there's some new information on Judas Iscariot out there that's begging to be told.

Death To America Tour Live in Dublin

Here's one for you. Two guys leave England and go to Pakistan for a wedding. No wait, it gets better. See, they're not religious, claiming that when they left Tipton they weren't practicing Muslims. So, they go to Pakistan with a friend who's getting married. It's an arranged marriage. But these guys are just as Western as the rest of us. Except for the arranged marriage bit, but, you know, the folks are a little old fashioned and what's a guy to do? Keep the peace, son.

What's a young lad to do for fun in Karachi? Shafiq Rasul and Rhuhel Ahmed found interesting diversion in a mosque. But they're not practicing Muslims, mind you. There's just not much doing in Karachi. Appeals for humanitarian aid were made that evening, a call to help the poor people of Afghanistan who were suffering - war is nasty business for civilians, you see. Now, you'd think that a twenty-eight year old man would have some sense, but not our friend Shafiq. Ah, no, he was off looking for adventure and he went to Afghanistan with his friend. On a humanitarian aid mission. But he's not a practicing Muslim.

There they are in Afghanistan, using all their money to buy food and medicine for the suffering masses. Then along come the evil Northern Alliance forces, who spotted our boys by their foreign accents. Sort of like your man in Dublin, able to pick out the culchie at twenty paces. Not treated well by the Northern Alliance, were our noble lads.

"They survived a massacre outside Shebargan prison and appalling conditions. "We were covered with lice," Rhuhel said. He bled from scratching himself and lost a lot of weight," reports the Irish Times. Dreadful, isn't it? But it gets worse.

The Northern Alliance turned them over to American Special Forces, and that's when things got really bad. "They endured brutal interrogations and torture which extended from beatings, some especially severe, stress-inducing loud noise, being tied with their heads touching the ground "for six or seven hours" - as Rhuhel recalled it - and solitary confinement which could extend for three or four months." according to the newspaper report. Six or seven hours, was it? Three or four months? And all because they went to a wedding?

Now, they'd like to bring their Death to America Tour to America, but they're frightened, the poor wee lambs, because Shafiq is "...worried about being arrested. He remembered comments of Americans in the Guantánamo Bay detention centre: "You are in the US now. We can do what we want [to you]."

Since their experiences, the two have become religious - but they weren't religious before, oh no. And they want to come to America to tell everyone about Guantanamo? And they think that Americans are going to believe them? For further information on having one's bluff called, see also Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

How Does She Do It?

The extremely prolific Danielle Steele was interviewed by a Chicago Tribune writer - and I found it very enlightening.

Of course, if I had ever read one of Ms. Steele's novels, I'm sure I could have gotten a lot more out of the quotes. Apparently, she has been writing since she was nineteen, cranking out pulp and cranking out babies at a rate that makes my head spin. Largely due to the massive centrifugal force, she spun off five husbands in the process.

According to the article, Danielle Steele claims that she writes for up to twenty hours per day when she's on a roll, which must be just about daily. Sweet Jesus, this woman never sleeps and she's not dead yet. What I wouldn't do for twenty minutes without interruption to write, and she's putting in hours that would kill a college student. I'm presuming that the local Starbuck's franchise is located in her kitchen, and she is the leading client.

Her books follow some sort of formula, with happy endings for all and to all a good night. It is certainly a winning formula she has concocted because people (women) buy up her tomes by the truckload. Now, I have no intention of writing like Danielle Steele, nor would I want to. Anyone who has studied literature, American or English, has heard tales of authors who were wildly successful in their day, household names that sold well. Those same authors are unknown today, unread, out of print and unmourned. What's it to be? Immortality and poverty, or wealth followed by obscurity? Are you mad? Of course I'd take the money. You want immortality, have children.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Another Door Opens

Courtesy of Publishers Marketplace, source of all good things - the Aaron Priest Agency is about to say good-bye to two agents, and all of the clients associated with them:

Molly Friedrich is leaving the Aaron Priest Literary Agency to set up her own agency, starting July 1, and share office space with the Gernert Company, PW reports. Paul Cirone will join Friedrich, and as will all of her clients.

Something to look forward to when the query bug bites in the summer - but I have to wonder about their policies. I've queried Aaron Priest's firm before, and enclosed a SASE. However, the agency does not respond at all if they are not interested, and you can kiss your SASE good-bye. Doesn't exactly answer the question: Did my query even arrive? So, will Ms. Friedrich and Mr. Cirone continue with the brush off tactics, or will they have the courtesy to shove a form rejection in the supplied enveloped and put the author out of their misery?

Remains to be seen - and will Mr. Priest be advertising for new literary agents to replace his departing employees? Ah, the new agent at the established favorite prey.

Come July, I'm sure I'll be looking for someone to query. I received my very first literary journal rejection today - from the Chicago Review. Shooting a little high on the first go-round, but by July, I might be out of literary magazines to submit to, and I have to do something with my time.

Sic Semper Touts

Recently, the papers have been covering the back and forth finger wagging between the DUP and Sinn Fein, a juvenile exchange that suits the school yard rather than the halls of government.

How perfect, then, that a tout was assassinated, and just in time to disrupt the peace process. Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein often sounds like a broken record with his claims of 'securocrat' dirty tricks, but too many coincidences may prove him right.

The late Mr. Donaldson was arrested years ago, charged as a Sinn Fein operative spying on the Northern Ireland assembly, just when things were getting up and running and heading towards direct rule. Paisley and his merry band were not happy, being forced to breathe the same air as the Shinners. Their lungs were spared with Donaldson's arrest, which brought down the power-sharing government in quick time and turned the clock back to good old rule from London. Just the way the DUP likes it, as luck would have it.

In December, when the peace process made another step forward, the biggest bank robbery in history went down, and immediately it was the IRA's fault. As expected, Gerry Adams was out and about, denying any IRA involvement while both England and Ireland blamed his troop. To date, those arrested in connection with the robbery have links to money laundering operations that are not IRA, but pure criminal enterprises. No one has paraded a definite IRA link to the crime. After the theft, the DUP ran screaming in horror, abandoning further efforts to get direct rule up and running again.

Yesterday, Mr. Donaldson was found dead, and the reports claimed he had been mutilated and tortured, and isn't that exactly how the IRA kills those who betray the cause? Oh, sorry, a bit hasty there. Turns out he was not tortured or mutilated in an IRA tout-killing scenario. Apparently the mutilation was only the result of a defensive wound, where the victim put up an arm to instinctively protect the head from the bullet.

And what's the fall-out? Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair are due to meet today to give the peace process are hearty kick in the arse to get it up and moving. What news of the DUP? Why, they're screaming and attempting to run for the hills, blaming the IRA and they haven't gone away and they're still a bunch of criminals and we'll not hold office with the likes of them in the room.

Who killed Mr. Donaldson? The official line these days asks, Who benefits from his death? Maybe Gerry Adams has it right. Maybe the folks who don't want home rule have something to do with it. It could be loyalist paramilitary, or it could be disgruntled IRA men who like the status quo.

Unlike previous derailments, the two governments are pushing ahead, essentially ignoring the horrified cries of the DUP. The only way forward is to push ahead, stepping over the road blocks that were placed to block progress. Do Ahern and Blair believe Gerry Adams more than Paisley? Our day will come, cry Sinn Fein - maybe it's coming?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Job Openings

Since I don't live in New York, I can't apply for these positions, but if someone wanted to get a leg up in agenting, here's two spots to start, courtesy of Publishers Marketplace:

At Trident Media, they're in need of a foreign rights assistant. Now, I could swear that they were looking for the same assistant not that long ago. High turnover? Fast burn-out? Or maybe it's the salary, butting up against the cost of living in NYC:

The right candidate must have at least one to two years of book publishing experience, preferably at a literary agency. Strong organization skills and a willingness to put in long hours when necessary are a must. Must be personable, energetic, detail-minded, and extremely well organized with the ability to prioritize.

Other responsibilities include trafficking and processing payments and contracts, corresponding and talking with clients and publishers, answering a heavy volume of daily email, tracking manuscript and book submissions, organizing trips to Frankfurt and London for the Book Fairs, reading manuscripts (must love books!), writing editorial letters, filing, and general administrative duties. Proficiency in Word, Excel a must; knowledge of BAITS software a plus.

And what are they paying? Maybe I expect too much, but $28,000 per year, even with medical and dental coverage, sounds a bit low for that much responsibility. Why, reading the slush alone must be worthy of combat pay.

Nicholas Ellison is on the prowl for a literary agent assistant, but they leave off the salary part. Now, if it was a high-paying job, you'd think they would make the salary a banner headline, but they're keeping mum. Still, one has to start somewhere, and the bottom is usually the jumping off point.

If you take up the position, your duties are: and editor correspondence, manuscript evaluation, preparation of author submissions and general office work. This position involves work in all aspects of publishing, including foreign and film rights. This job is an excellent opportunity for a self-starter who wants to be part of a diverse agency. Strong computer and writing skills essential. Some publishing experience preferred. Must be able to start immediately.

So, there you are, literary agent wanna-be, a couple of jobs available. Shoot them your resume and you're on your way to fame and fortune - and more rejection than a normal soul can handle.


According to today's New York Times, comedian Craig Ferguson is about to become a published author. Nothing unusual about that, considering the towering 'platform' that a gentleman with a television show can stand upon.

Publishers Weekly has already given his novel a glowing review, citing its "ebullient picaresque" quality and then there's the reverie and humor on top of all that. All in all, the work is a literary confection, and probably not the sort of thing that Ferguson's fans would expect - or probably even read.

Mr. Ferguson never returned to the classroom, but he eventually began to design a syllabus of "Great Books" for himself to read, partly to plug the gaps in his education but also to ward off loneliness, particularly during long stretches on television and movie sets.

And the quote that I cite brings up an interesting point.

Craig Ferguson never went to writing workshops, and he certainly did not earn his MFA. He learned how to write by reading, and not by reading the toss-away nonsense that is the New York Times Best Seller list. What remains to be seen is whether or not the man can, indeed, write a novel that is readable. I'm pulling for him on that one. The best way to learn how to write is to read good books, and if Craig Ferguson can earn out his advance and garner a strong sell-through, I'll be feeling quite clever and smart.

Chronicle has given Mr. Ferguson's book a first printing — 30,000 copies — that would be considered quite large for a first-time author who was not a Hollywood celebrity. But Mr. Ferguson said that far more important than the modest advance he received — probably less than he would earn for a night of stand-up comedy — was the freedom the publishing house gave him to tell his story with minimal editorial interference.

Of course, he's going to get a bigger first printing because he is a celebrity, and that counts for something to the bean counters. As for the last part of the above quote, well, I don't quite get it. I'll have to wait until I'm published to find out if the big houses actually interfere a great deal with an author's story.

Come to think of it, I doubt that I'll ever know if there's much difference between the editorial freedom of self-publishing or traditional publishing. Wouldn't try the former and don't expect to experience the latter. Anyone have any experience that could be shared?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Is This On?

I keep an e-mail account for queries only - so the only incoming mail would be from literary agents. Can't remember the last time I had any mail in the box.

Even Anna Ghosh of Scovil Chichak Galen did not send her usual auto-response. Every other time that I queried her, I would get one of those verification messages that were tied in with her spam filter. Last night I shot off a query and waited for the return so that I could verify that I was not spamming, but nothing ever came. I have to wonder if my e-mail box is working.

After browsing through this weeks' deals list at Publishers Marketplace, I have an idea that maybe it's not the e-mail box that's not working.

Two debut sales are listed. The first one:

Co-author of He's Just Not That into You Liz Tuccillo's HOW TO BE SINGLE, to Greer Hendricks at Atria, for publication in spring 2007, by Andrea Barzvi at ICM (world).

That's not much of a debut, considering the fact that the author has been published before and has some sort of track record. The second, and final, debut offering comes from a high school English teacher.

Now, I'm not a teacher, I only studied English in high school. But being a teacher is a much better credential than being a former student. No matter how you cut it, it takes credentials to get published these days. Agents are looking for a 'platform' for the author to stand on and shout from, because it's all about sales and marketing.

So, in between sending queries, working on the next novel, and, oh, say, earning a living, we should all be furiously churning out short stories and firing them off to literary rags. Throw enough words on the wall and surely some of them will stick.

As a side note, I had given up on Kathleen Anderson and Jill Grinberg, who had yet to respond to the queries I sent last November. Getting around the additional postage issue, I got a blanket rejection from Kathleen Anderson via e-mail - to an old account I stopped using because the spammers got hold of it. The SASEs I used won't be of much use with those .37 stamps - so what will Anderson/Grinberg do with them? Donate them to charity?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April Fool!

And having a top laugh here. David Black Literary Agency is having the slag with me, but it's all for fun.

When the tri-fold SASE turned up in today's mail, I knew another query was getting rejected, but after so many I don't flinch. As I opened the envelope, though, I noticed the stamp was not one I had used recently. Thanks to the USPS, I've had access to a variety of styles that give me a clue to who's getting back to me.

Sure enough, it was a .37 stamp, and my local post office has kindly passed them along to me without asking for the extra two cents. Well, I knew that the query it came from must have been sent months ago, before I learned of the rate increase.

The form letter must have been through about fifty Xerox sessions, so pale was the ink. Like all form letters, there was no mention of the manuscript title, so how could I know what was rejected?

My log sheet only details the outstanding queries that have a chance of being answered, usually no more than eight to ten weeks old. Nothing on the list from Mr. Black's firm, as expected. I'm sure I started putting extra postage on SASEs in December of last year. Time to turn to the spreadsheet, the master list of every query ever sent.

At last, after a bit of a search, I found that I had sent the query to Leigh Ann Eliseo on October 1. Today being April 1, that's five months ago. Jesus Christ, five months to open an envelope and send back a form rejection?

I checked Agent Query, and Ms. Eliseo is still listed on the staff of David Black Literary, although her listing now says she's not taking queries. Considering my track record in driving literary agents into hiding, I'm thinking that I might have done it again, and it took the poor woman five months to recover enough to send the rejection.

Then I thought, no, it can't be. Why, it's April Fool's Day, and she's having a bit of fun. Making me chase around, trying to figure out why this letter showed up in the mail after I'd long forgotten the query. It's a tough job, being an agent, and there's probably not much jollity amidst all the rejections. Always up for the messing, those hard-working agents.

In The Balance

"Battle of the Somme, 1916 Rising." Paddy weighed his options. Easter Monday was fast approaching and he had to choose one commemoration or the other.

Hundreds of young Irishmen, out of work and with no hope, had signed on during the Great War. Not out of patriotism, to be sure, but those lads had no other way to support their wives and children, their aged grandparents, or their siblings. It was the same as all the other boys who went Over There; they were slaughtered like so much cannon fodder. Should a modern Irishman join in the marching and parading to commemorate the Battle of the Somme, to honor his fellow countrymen who fell to no good purpose?

On the other side of the scale, Paddy looked at the Rising. He wanted to believe that Ireland would never have been a nation without a bloody revolt, but the media sages were claiming that the nation would have eventually been separated from English rule. And the uprising was not popular at the time, so what right did Pearse and Connelley have to kill people in the name of some fuzzy ideal? Taking that tack, a man would appear to be bloodthirsty or nearly un-Christian to join in the military parade in Dublin.

"We're not coming," Johnny Bull said, pouting. "Oh, we'll come by to offer a moment of silence for the heroes of the Great War, but that 1916 business was a terrorist act and we'll not toast your murderous ancestors."

Being shunned by the neighbors was enough to send Paddy's scale to tipping. He wanted those all around him to think that he was a level-headed pacifist. The Battle of the Somme was gaining favor.

"What's the big deal?" Cousin Jonathan piped up. "Hell, we have fireworks and parades and more speeches than you can shake a stick at on the Fourth of July."

Becoming an independent nation was something to celebrate, Paddy had to agree. The only difference that he could see between Ireland's planned festivities and the Fourth of July notion was minor, but significant. In America, the citizens celebrated the paper that declared them free. In Ireland, it was all about the fighting, the gallant signers of the Proclamation and their futile battle against the mighty British Empire. The Yanks never talked much about their own futile battles, but they prattled on and on about the Declaration of Independence.

"Well?" Johnny Bull said. "What are your plans for April? I have to make reservations in advance if I'm to get a decent room."

"Let's remember our dead, even if they died for a cause that we don't believe in these days," Paddy said. "And we'll have a grand parade on Easter Monday. 'Tis all about the piece of paper, more than the guns and bullets. Independence without a war? Jesus, you've only to look at the North to see what we'd be without the fighting of 1916."

One last time, Paddy tested the weight of his two choices. Battle of the Somme, Easter Rising, Battle of the Somme, Easter Rising...the scale leveled off as the celebrations balanced.

Shall I Compare Thee To a Summer's Day?

Tony Blair has recently made a good point about the extremists who call themselves Muslim - those who murder with abandon are not true Muslims at all. He then went on to compare the Islamo-Nazi to the Ulster Protestant who kills Catholics, noting that such folk were certainly not Christian.

"But unfortunately he is still a Protestant bigot. To say his religion is irrelevant is both completely to misunderstand his motive and to refuse to face up to the strain of extremism within his religion that has given rise to it," Blair was quoted in the media.

And there, in the background, jumping up and down in a fury is a Protestant from the Six Counties, pointing an accusing finger at the Catholics who created the IRA. That's character assassination, that is, comparing the Protestants to the murdering thugs of the Taliban.

To be a Protestant is to be a loyalist. After all, the Free Presbyterians firmly believe that the Catholic Pope is the Anti-Christ, and surely there's no bigotry there, to refuse to share power with Anti-Christ disciples. Has Mr. Blair forgotten his history? What of the cries of "Rome Rule" when Home Rule was first discussed in the 1880's? That cannot be bigotry, not when it sounds like so much logical, practical thinking. Better safe than sorry, and if the Catholics would renounce their Pope and be more Protestant, things would be so much easier.

Where's the similarity between a loyalist killer and a Muslim suicide bomber? The thugs who detonated car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan did not sit in the cars that were loaded with explosives. Right there is further proof that Tony Blair has gone too far in his analogy.

As for bigotry, there is no bigotry in marching through Catholic neighborhoods, flags and banners waving and drums beating to celebrate the Protestant defeat of Catholics hundreds of years ago. No bigotry whatsoever in fighting for the rights of Protestants to march wherever they please, when they please to take their march to the front doors of the Catholics. What Tony Blair mistakes for bigotry is nothing more than Ulster Scots culture. How can he compare Protestant loyalist culture to Islamo-Nazism?

How can he compare loyalist thugs to Muslim thugs without mentioning the IRA? That is the comparison that was lacking, and that is the source of the loudest complaints. The loyalists feel that they are under siege, ignored by London and coveted by the Irish Republic. They know that their political culture is thoroughly infused with the religion that Ian Paisley invented to rationalize hatred of Catholics, but who wants to be reminded? Point some fingers over there, at the IRA, Paisley Jr. seems to say, and take the glare of the bigotry spotlight off the DUP and the Protestant loyalists who are driven by religious sectarianism, just like the Muslim extremists.

They're all after the same thing, in the end. They want power.