Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Platform To Stand On

The New York Observer has an interesting article about publishing and the almighty platform. If you don't have one, you're toast.

Trying to identify the components of a platform, the literary agents who are quoted all seem to be saying the same thing. What the author needs is credentials. You have to be published or be famous or be known for something. The publishing houses don't want to spend the money needed to make the author known, so the author has to do it.

Platforms used to be de riguer for non-fiction writers, who pretty much have to be experts in their fields before an agent will consider their manuscript. History professors at name brand universities can scribe texts, or they could push the envelope and write a historical novel, as long as the subject matter falls within their particular specialty.

What if you are not a professor, or a lawyer writing courtroom drama, or a police detective writing a thriller? Well, who are you? Just someone with a flair for writing and enough brains to do the research? Not good enough, unfortunately. Now, if you could count Oprah as a close personal friend, you've got a platform. If you don't know her, or someone with a television show that could feature you, you're up the creek.

Of course, if you are an immigrant from an Arab country, female, and writing about the hard life you led, you've got something that the publisher can market. Just an average American? Not for us, alas, even if the writing is stellar and the novel is entertaining. It's all about marketing these days, according to Larry Kirshbaum of LJK Literary Agency. The author has to have something that can be built on to generate publicity and word of mouth buzz, and if you've nothing but a good book, there's no buzz.

An anonymous publishing executive claims that a really good book can be its own platform, but after reading the article, one has to wonder if he's only thinking wishfully. So put away your manuscript, put pen to paper, and start writing. Short stories, news articles for the local paper, anything that can be submitted to literary journals, and get published.

See? To get your novel published, you have to be published before. Agents can claim all they like that you don't need prior credits, but the publishers are saying something else entirely. It's a business, designed to make money, and the position of published author is not open to just anyone.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Catch And Release

Sometimes I just don't get the law. There are hairs being split, technicalities argued over, and then the judge makes a decision that does not seem to make sense.

In Ireland, a man has just been released from Arbour Hill Prison. At the time of his arrest he was 38 years of age. He was charged with having sex with a girl who was twelve at the time, and was convicted in 2004. Now, here it is, 2006, and the Supreme Court has decided that the law banning sex with underage girls is unconstitutional because it did not make allowances for the poor lad who believed the lassie was older than she appeared.

What does that have to do with the current case? The man pleaded guilty two years ago. He admitted that he gave the girl two Bacardi Breezers and two vodkas, which means the child was falling down drunk. In fact, she passed out, and when she woke up to spew, she was raped. The man said he had done it, all of it, and he was convicted.

It would seem that the entire law, making it illegal to have sex with underage females, has been tossed out because of a technicality, so even though this bastard is guilty, he must be set free because he was convicted on a faulty law. The law was struck down because a sixteen year old boy had consensual sex with a fourteen year old girl who told him she was sixteen, and that was not fair to the boy, as far as the Supreme Court could see. So a 38-year-old man, convicted of drugging and raping a 12-year-old girl, has been set free.

Can you understand now why the prosecutors bring in as many possible convictions as they can dream up? That is the safety net for the victim, the web of crimes that the prosecutor weaves, tangling up the criminal so that if one thread should fail, there are others to keep the rapists imprisoned.

I'm sure the Public Prosecutor will do so next time, find as many statutes on the books as possible to throw at the rapist. And there will be a next time. You know he will rape again. And the next victim can take comfort in the fact that an unfair law has been banished.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Pornographers Wanted

Being a member of a writing forum, I get spammed from time to time, and I always know where the spammer got my addy because I keep hotmail accounts for each site. Writers Net is the source of this newest offer, a mass e-mail to writers by an e-book publisher.

Not just any ordinary e-book publisher, mind you. No indeed, the publisher has seen my name on Writers Net and just knows that I have the stuff to get e-published. Never mind about the Irish name and the assumption that the bearer of said appellation might be Roman Catholic and a bit on the conservative side. After all, Fr. Michael Cleary and Bishop Eamonn Casey were preaching about morality while shagging the housekeeper and the American divorcee, so who's to say what an Irish Catholic might think or say or do. Why, writing pornography just might be in the picture.

Charlene Keel needs me, or at any rate she needs my perverted mind to craft porno for her site. Someone as illustrious as a former editor for Playgirl magazine has invited me to submit a work of literary filth, sweaty graphic sex for the ladies. Considering how steamy the average Harlequin romance has become, I'd be better off peddling my potential pornographic tome to a royalty paying publisher, rather than download the trash to Ms. Keel's site. There's a better chance to get paid if I take the heaving bosoms and throbbing members to Harlequin.

Thanks a million for the invitation, Charlene, but alas, I must pass. Porn isn't my cuppa tea. Not right for my list. Too many projects in train to take on another. Insert more pat rejection phrases here.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Decoration Day

I've heard it said that the last Monday in May was set aside as the day to honor the fallen soldiers of the American Civil War. The full story is no doubt available somewhere on the Internet, if someone had a mind to search for it.

With the war in Iraq, this Memorial Day will also be a time for pundits to argue both sides of the issue - should we be there, is it a failure, when should we leave, and on and on. We in the western world have freedoms that we take for granted, a collection of rights that we do not think about because they are all around us, all the time. So when I hear the arguments, for and against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think of this, from the BBC news website:
Coach Hussein Ahmed Rashid and players Nasser Ali Hatem and Wissam Adel Auda were killed in the al-Saidiya district of the capital.

Witnesses said the three were dressed in shorts and were killed days after militants issued a warning forbidding the wearing of shorts

To me, that says it all.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Home To Roost

The abuse victims are flocking around, like chickens coming home to roost. Unless you're looking at it from the bishops' POV, in which case you might feel that Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds has come to pass.

As another diocese declares bankruptcy, we are once again reminded of the utter incompetence of the men in charge. Out in Spokane, Washington, the church is going to sell off its headquarters and other properties, seeking to raise $11 million dollars. Yes, that's an 11 with six zeroes following, and it's all to pay some compensation to the victims of clerical sexual abuse. A lot of money? Yes, and a lot of victims.

In Ireland, the crisis is so far beyond anything seen in the U.S. that it boggles the mind. To this day, the Catholic Church has a powerful influence in the schools, which are publicly funded but religiously guided. Back in the early days of the Republic, and continuing for fifty or sixty years, the church ran homes for delinquents, again with government stipends paid per head. Except that the children were not really delinquent. Sometimes their crime was in being poor. Sometimes the parish priest felt that the parent was negligent, especially if the parent was a widow, and most definitely if the widow took up with another man.

The inquiries and tribunals are still going on, but the government fears that the cost will top out at a few hundred million euro. The various religious orders reached a settlement, trading properties and cash for a government bailout, but what the clerics ponied up is proving to be far, far short of the cost of the damage that they did.

For the church in Spokane, $11 million may not be enough. Parishioners are not willing to blindly donate, not when the church could have put an end to the abuse through sensible oversight practices. Instead, bishops shuttled abusers from one church to another. They did it in Spokane, they did it in Joliet, Illinois, and they did it all over Ireland. Using their absolute power and insisting on the blind obedience of the faithful, those in power played a shell game, rather than admit to some serious deficiencies. The parishioners are no longer blind, and they are not going to follow quietly behind the crozier.

A Christian Brother, testifying before Ireland's Redress Board, had the nerve to claim that many people came forward, declaring that they had been abused, but they were only after some compensation. No facts to cite, just a blanket statement, a lament that would turn the criminal into the victim. Even after all kinds of testimony, they still don't get it. But the faithful do, they understand exactly what was up.

How many millions of dollars will be needed to pay for counseling and compensate for the loss of childhood innocence? By going into bankruptcy, the bishop of Spokane has surrendered control of his assets, an unheard of state of affairs. A day late in recognizing the realities of child abuse, and many millions of dollars short. Funny how Catholics are continuing to fund their local parish, but they won't contribute to the annual diocesan drive. Hello Bishop, can you hear me now?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The 20 Worst Agents

Here's a link to the top 20 scam artists. If you're even thinking of sending a query to one of them, what in the name of Heaven is wrong with you?

Twenty Worst Agents

A Scam Agent Of The Lowest Level

Absolute Write has always been one of my favorite sites, chock full of warnings about scammers. One of the scammers has shut down the site.

Barbara Bauer is one of Writers Beware 20 Worst Agents, and she was less than happy to be rumbled and exposed for the scammer that she is. Apparently, she called the website host and screamed that her e-mail addy had been posted, which made her the victim of spammers, which made Absolute Write a spammer and the website was guilty by default. Scared little shites, the web host gave Jenna Glatzer of Absolute Write about one hour's notice and then pulled the plug.

The information is posted here:

Making Light

Bauer's website is a dead give-away. Where a legitimate agent would list clients and their books, she has a list of miscellaneous publishers and publications. Who does she represent? What has she sold? Why, she represents no one who has been published because she has not sold anything to a legitimate publisher. The rookie author might not know that, and so she lurks behind smoke and mirrors, ready to pounce on fresh young meat.

Needless to say, Barbara Bauer would like to hide her scumbag tactics so that she can sucker in more marks, and Absolute Write represented a great danger to her thieving plans. Let us all hope and pray that Jenna can find a new host, someone with balls enough to stand up to the criminals who prey on unsuspecting authors.

Sadly, the damage has been done and the archives may be lost. Just remember, if you are looking for a literary agent, GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND. There are too many smooth operators out there, looking for easy money. Don't become a victim of the Barbara Bauers of the publishing world.

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Write It Off

When is it time to give up on the wait? It's when you've seen the writing on the wall, or the words on the computer screen.

Susan Golomb's agency is advertising for a new assistant. I've been waiting thirteen months for her assistant to get back to me on a partial. Putting it all together, I'd have to say that the assistant is leaving his post, or has already gone elsewhere, and no one will ever answer the e-mails sent as follow-up. I will never know what became of the partial, if it was read or passed on or passed along or shredded.

Some months ago, Kate McKean left the agenting business. She was the assistant to Sally Wofford-Girand when she asked to see a full manuscript, and she left Brickhouse Literary Agency not too long after telling me that they had lost the submission and could I re-send it as a Word file? Considering the fact that Ms. McKean left, and the submission was in her mailbox, and she's not there anymore to open the mailbox, the submission is pretty much a done deal.

Over a year ago, I sent a partial to Matt McGowan of Frances Goldin Literary Agency, but he never responded in any manner. So that's it. After twelve months, it's time to write off the submission and move on down the road. Unless, of course, all those agents are holding onto the submission packet, hoping that I'll get published in some literary rags before they'll make an offer. Can't get published unless you've been published, don't you know.

The Long Wait

How long will it take an agent to get back on a query? For some, never. Aaron Priest and Lisa Vance do not respond to queries if they are not interested, and it does not matter if you included a SASE or not.

Amy Rennert took four months to reject my snail-mail query, and Carolyn Grayson needed just over three months to stuff a form rejection in the envelope. Some agents are much faster, like Julie Barer, who opened the query, took one look at it, and immediately shoved a rejection letter in the SASE. Turn around time: 2 weeks.

My experiences with InkWell Management vary, depending on the agent queried. Alexis Hurley responded to the e-query after two weeks, and Catherine Drayton said no within three days.

Over at The Creative Culture, they don't respond to e-queries if they are not interested. Needless to say, I have never had a response from any of their agents.

The big names tend to respond faster, it seems, but that may be due to the fact that they have staff to do the heavy lifting. At Sterling Lord Literistic, Claudia Cross rejected a query in a matter of days, or possibly minutes. On the other hand, Robert Guinsler had a full manuscript for a year before he finally turned it down.

There is something to be said for snail mail queries - at least you get a response eventually, most of the time. Better than staring at the sent mail box, wondering if the agent ever got it, if it was caught in a spam filter, if it was merely deleted on purpose or by could go on for days. So instead of waiting for the agent to get back to you, go write something. Keeps those idle hands busy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


According to Publishers Marketplace, Hilary Rubin has found a new home. No need to worry about the poor woman, wandering the streets of New York City, homeless. She's gone over to the other side, taking a job as an associate editor with St. Martin.

The news flash says that she's working in the editorial department, which means that she is an editor, but it sounds too much like some non-fiction post, akin to a newspaper. I picture her writing out commentary, for some reason. Things like, Dear Ms. Agent, what were you thinking when you sent this shite to my attention?

No wait, that's only if I had an agent who submitted to her. Best of luck in the new job, Ms. Rubin. And, by the by, if you're looking for a great read, historical fiction? How about a modern setting, women's fiction? Okay, then maybe you'd be interested in the family saga, modern setting with historical flashbacks?

I Pity The Poor Immigrant

Dreadful news out of New York these days. Sure, it's grand that the hurling team has done so well, but now there's a bit of a snag.

They've made it to the provincial final, to the joy of all their fans, but unfortunately the final is held in Casement Park. Yes, that Casement Park, the one in Belfast. Now, ordinarily, it would not be such a great problem, but with the recent crackdown on illegal immigration, about half of the team is afraid that they won't get back in if they go to Belfast.

Any coach can tell you that you need good players to make a winning team, and the recruitment drive did a run around the INS. Sean McEvoy, a bar owner in Yonkers, has been charged with bringing in a Gaelic football player illegally, while Phillip Reilly is in hot water over his scheme to get three players into New York and Philadelphia, illegally again. Of course the New York GAA chairman knows nothing, officially, but he's put in for a delay of game and a request that the match be relocated to New York. Many in the GAA are annoyed, since everyone knew since October that the finals were scheduled for Belfast.

So there they are, skilled hurlers one and all, but they can't leave the country. 'Tis a sad day, indeed, to have worked so hard to get so far, only to be told that the door will be locked behind you when you go. Dermot Ahern has come to Washington to lobby on behalf of illegal Irish immigrants, but his hands are tied when it comes to the boys of the GAA.

Ideally, the Ulster GAA secretary will come to his senses and realize that it's much better to spend a week in New York than five minutes in Belfast. Relocate the site of the match, bring the wife and kids, and everyone's happy. Not so bad a trade-off, is it?

This Is News?

At what expense did the government perform this grand gesture? Even though economists were shouting as loudly as they could, being the gentle creatures that they are, the powers in Washington could not hear them, so they ordered a study. And what did the study conclude? Exactly what the economists had been saying all along, and for free.

According to the Federal Trade Commission:
"The evidence collected in this investigation indicated that firms behaved competitively," the commission said.

Who would have guessed that the law of supply and demand was real and verifiable and quantifiable? Who would have guessed that the high price of gasoline is not an artificial creation of some Evil Cabal? Not the Democrats, apparently, who were quick to pounce on every open microphone and call out for an investigation into what surely was price gouging.

The Democrats have the likes of Chuck Schumer, that brilliant mathematician, to carry high the banner:
"It just defies belief that they didn't find price gouging because there is simply no price competition," he said. Mr. Schumer said that the Senate "could do a lot if it had the backbone."

Just as it is hard to believe that the demand for oil in China and India could possibly have anything to do with an increase in demand. Just as it is hard to believe that the oil cartel only pumps a limited amount, creating a static supply. I suppose those Cartesian coordinates are a bit much for Mr. Schumer, trying to figure out which line is supply and which is demand and where the price comes into the equation.

Want to lower the price of gas? It's been suggested that the summer blend be made the same for the whole country, rather than insist on a special formula for nearly every city, town and hamlet across the country. But no, we can't do that because that makes too much sense.

What if Congress were to lower the taxes on a gallon of gas? Sweet God in Heaven, have I lost my mind to suggest such a thing? Lower taxes? Unheard of. Better to blather on and on about price gouging until the less well-educated constituents at home believe that the high price of gas is the fault of some evil corporations. That way the members of Congress can look like they're doing something, which is to complain and rant, without having to acknowledge that market forces take heavy work to tackle. Bring down demand and the price will drop. So simple. Yet so difficult to do.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Nothing brings it home like an article in the New York Times. Reporting from Book Expo American in Washington, DC., the venerable NYT takes us into the heart of action, where publishers and authors court book sellers. But what was the headline? Not something dull, to be sure, but a banner trumpeting the success of a self-published author.

On writing forums all around the world, those who believe that vanity publishing will be their claim to fame are chattering with the like-minded. If Kathleen McGowan can do it, so can we, they declare. The NYT article opens with a snippet of her success, the fact that she was at BEA last year, racking up thousands of dollars in debt to garner a bit of book vendor attention, and here she is today, about to be published by a Big House.

No one ever said that a traditional publisher would NOT pick up a self-published novel, as long as it had respectable sales figures. Ms. McGowan plugged her tome through hard work, but the article does not delve into that aspect of the quest for publication.

Unfortunately, the vanity press crowd may be too dazzled to read on, to hear what a book store owner has to say about the self-published.
Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, an independent store in Coral Gables, Fla., and Miami Beach, said he liked to trawl the exhibition floor looking for interesting titles. But self-published books, he said, gave him pause. "There is a validity," he said, "to the selection process" of a known publisher.
There were other self-published writers in attendance, all trying to catch the eye of the vendor who would put their work on a shelf in a brick and mortar. Mr. Noe, who has sunk $200,000 into publishing the scribblings of men in jail, was failing to attract so much as a nibble for his offerings. Not much interest out there for the musings of the incarcerated, it would appear.

And then there are those who fervently believe in what they have produced, and do not see (or choose not to see) the rolling of eyes from the target audience. Steve Brown was there with 1,000 copies of his magnum opus, in which he refutes many fallacies about the Bible, like the actual number of animals that Noah took on the Ark. Entertaining reading, that is. He's spending thousands of dollars to get his work published, and now he'll have Kathleen McGowan's success to hang his hat on.

For every one who makes it there are countless thousands who shell out money and get nothing back. The vanity presses will play up the rare case and ignore the most common outcome, but they are in it to make money. Publishing is a business, and it's caveat emptor all the way.

Cold Cash Defined

You just know that someone will chuckle over the phrase 'cold cash' in relation to a pile of money discovered in a freezer. Congressman William Jefferson has been caught on tape accepting bribes from an FBI undercover operative, and the very money that was handed over to the congressman turned up in his home, on ice as it were.

Cold cash indeed. How nice to see that corruption is an equal opportunity employer. No discrimination based on race or politics, the representative from Louisiana is just as tainted as Mr. Cunningham, recently indicted on bribery charges. Those who believe that Congress is for sale cross party lines.

But wait, sweet William claims that he is innocent. Or at least nothing more than the victim of a prosecutor who is out to humiliate him. Tough to claim you've done nothing when the FBI has you on tape, accepting money. And then when the FBI finds the same money in your freezer, well, there you are. Given time, he may well come up with some other reasonable excuse, but for now, his attorney is blathering away while madly attempting to sweep all the dirt under the rug.

The funny thing is, Mr. Jefferson assured the informant that he had passed the cash along to a Nigerian government official, who was then going to grease the skids for the bribe giver. Can the congressman claim that he was not bribed because he did not give the money to its intended target? He kept it for himself, and apparently spent $10,000 between the time he received the 'donation' and the FBI's raid on his freezer.

Perhaps Mr. Jefferson can claim ignorance. He sure is looking mighty stupid right now.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What Else Have You Got?

McSweeney's sent a lovely card, rejecting my short piece of fiction, but wasn't it kind of them to ask that I send something else another time. The piece had a political bent and they couldn't use it in any of their upcoming issues. I have to ask, is this a standard rejection? Or do they really mean that I have a chance if I can hit on the right topic?

Even the editor of the Prairie Schooner enclosed a slip of paper that let me know they were taking a pass on the short story I sent. Couldn't use it, but they liked it, and would you have another bit of a story you could pass along?

Rejection is the miserable part of the writing program. Getting form letters from agents is unpleasant but the skin gets thick over time. Somehow, these rejections from a couple of literary magazines were far more palatable. Underlying the notes is the same theme, that maybe I can write a decent sentence and string together a few of them into an interesting paragraph.

Being turned down preys on the mind, jabs at the self-confidence, and the slightest compliment becomes a cause for celebration. Do I have anything else to send? Sweet God in Heaven, if there's nothing written out yet I'll create something. That's what it's all about, on the rocky road. Take a step and fall in a hole, climb out of the hole and take another step. Here's hoping I don't die of old age before I've reached the promised land.

Temper Tantrums

Can you hear all that noise? The sound of hands wringing all over Dublin is near deafening. The poor sad Afghani lads are off their food, holed up in St. Patrick's Cathedral and threatening to starve themselves to death unless they are given permission to remain in Ireland.

There's a war going on in Afghanistan, don't you know, and it's too dangerous for them to be there. They charged into St. Pat's, making claims that they were about to be deported to that dreadful place, and promptly started a hunger strike. You'd think it was the end of the world to hear some people wailing and moaning over the poor wee lads. So unfair, Mr. Minister, surely you can make an exception and let them stay.

Well, there is the one who's already gone through the process and been granted refugee status. He's in no danger of being deported, but he's supporting his fellows, yes indeed, and he's starving to death right alongside the others. And the bunch that only just applied, there's no decision made yet, but just in case the government had a notion to deport them, well, watch out, now. All right, so there's not one of them slated to be deported. Better to be prepared for the worst, and they're protesting now in anticipation of a negative outcome later.

Then there's the man who just happens to be a nephew of a former Taliban cabinet minister, and if ever there was someone who would be lynched when he got home, it's him. By all means, he should be allowed to stay. Look at how kind Argentina was, all those years ago, to take in those Nazi refugees who would have been tried and possibly hanged at Nuremberg. Surely the Irish could be as hospitable.

There are reports that they've pulled the gold braid off the chairs and fashioned ropes, which they claim they will use to hang themselves if the gardai try to boot them out of the cathedral. Steady on there, Rosanna Flynn of Residents Against Racism. She's all worked up, the poor woman, because some of the lads have put those nooses around their necks and she fears that they're going to use them.

And if that doesn't work, they can all hold their breath until they turn blue and then the world will be sorry. You don't want to eat? Then don't. You don't like the process that all immigrants have to go through to get refugee status? Life's a bitch, isn't it? There's an element in society that is naive, trusting and driven to show charity to all, and the Afghanis are playing on those emotions while playing those people for idiots. There's another segment of society that is cynical, and they're hoping that the fools tie that upholstery cord around their necks and jump off the choir loft.

Whatever the lads decide, they'd best keep in mind that the World Cup is starting soon, well before they're likely to starve to death. What's the point of making a statement if everyone is watching football?

Friday, May 19, 2006

New York Is Deserted

It seems as if all the literary agents have gone off to Book Expo America. That's part of their business, making connections with the people who do the buying, and just about every high ranking agent is networking away.

Today's agenda includes such exciting items as Norton's drinks party, where famous authors can talk up their latest release. How could anyone expect an agent to be spending time reading through queries and manuscripts at such a time? They're busy, busy, busy with conferences and parties and presentations, and that query that you slaved over is left to gather dust.

Waiting is bad enough, but these interruptions are maddening. There's nothing to be done besides wait patiently, for the expo will eventually end and the agents will go back home to piles of query letters. I've fired off an e-query to BJ Robbins because she updated her Publishers Marketplace page and gives the impression that she's looking for some new clients. Even JetReid Literary is open to submissions again, according to the website, so let's hope that the agents are going to come back from BEA all refreshed, ready for new work.

And then there's hoping that your work is exactly what is needed. Whatever topic your novel covers is precisely the topic that the acquisitions people at Random House or MacAdam/Cage are clamoring for. All you can do is wait, and hope, and dream a bit until the form rejection turns up in the mailbox. Here's hoping and wishing for success.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Don't Leave Me Hanging

The wait is killing me. I sent another query to Fifi Oscard's agency, using the form on the website. The auto-response said they'd get back to me in two weeks. As you've guessed, they didn't.

I had sent a query to them before, when Ms. Oscard was still walking the earth, and got the same auto-response and same lack of results. As instructed, I sent an e-mail asking about the status of the query, but again there was no answer. After that, I tried snail mail, with SASE, but Ivy Fischer Stone never answered that either. Now I hear that she's retiring, so I'd say there's no hope of every getting a response. Time to write off that agency, I suppose.

The short stories I've sent off to literary magazines have been equally ignored. The Indiana Review says they need two to four months, and they only accept 1% of the submissions. Thanks for that bit of info, but will you contact the other 99%? We're coming up on the four month mark, and I'm wondering if I'd be better off sending the submission elsewhere. It's hard to honor their need for exclusivity when I don't know if I'm wasting four months of my writing life.

As for the other three pieces, the journals are fine with multiple submissions, and in a way, it's more charitable on their part. If someone out there will print my novel excerpts, it's in my interest to cast a wide net. Now with the summer upon us, most of the literary journals aren't reading, connected as they are to university English departments who close down in the heat. What to do? Sit tight, perhaps, and be ready to fire up the laser printer for September and October. Cocktails, anyone?

Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

Until today, I had no idea that it was against the law in Italy to dress up in clerical garb, unless of course one is, indeed, a cleric. And apparently, the crew from RTE's Would You Believe didn't know that fact either.

Oh, and did I mention that the person adorned in a bishop's robes was a woman? And did you know that The DaVinci Code movie is opening - in fact, it's already been shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Which is closer to the Vatican, in terms of miles, than Dublin.

So there they were, these innocent young Irish television people, creating some lovely footage for the folks back home. A program about the role of women in the Church, apparently, so what would be more entertaining than a few clips of an Italian actress in the guise of a bishop? I can see the comic possibilities, or even the surrealistic art house feeling that could have been invoked.

Well, the police pounced on this law-breaking crew, hauling them off to the station for questioning. What might the lawmen have asked?
"This actress, does she represent Annie Murphy? Are you making a comment about Bishop Eamon Casey fathering a child with the woman who came to him for counseling?"

"Bishop Casey has returned to Galway and the parishioners are comfortable with it. He has reconciled with his bastard son. Are you trying to stir up trouble?"

Chastised, the film crew shuffled out of the station, only to learn that their permission to film the Pope's audience had been abruptly cancelled. Their excuses must have fallen on deaf ears. After all, they pointed out, no one could believe that they were trying to fool people into believing the person in a bishop's coat was really a bishop. That person was a woman, you see. A female member of the species. To no avail. No filming of the Papal audience, and so they are returning home, to cut and splice and put together their television program as best they can.

Now, if they were to pop up to Galway and ask Bishop Casey what he thinks of the whole there's a sound bite for the late night news.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Solving the Mystery

Thank heavens for the wise members of the European Parliament. They are convinced that the U.S., or more accurately, the CIA, has been "outsourcing torture" to paraphrase Dick Marty.

Dead-eye Dick is a Swiss investigator with the Council of Europe human rights group, and by God, he's got the smoking gun now. Admissions of guilt, if you turn your head the right way and squint a bit. They're all in on it, the whole world, and the CIA is at the center of this cruel universe.

Plane spotters have tracked several private jets that are leased to the CIA. These planes have landed all over Europe, thousands of flights, and the Council of Europe just knows that these are rendition flights, hauling so-called terrorists from one place to another where they can be tortured into confessions. Except, unfortunately, that there is no proof. No one has seen a shackled, boiler-suited and bearded gent on any of the flights. No one has seen the same type of character disembark in a torture-friendly nation. But Dick Marty is not one to let facts get in the way of his theory, oh no indeed.

In regard to the rendition of Abu Omar from Milan, Dicky-boy has evidence that the Italians were in on it. Because someone in the CIA said that the rendition could not have happened if the Italians weren't in on it. But the Italians are saying they don't know a thing about it. In Marty's world, the fact that someone in the CIA said what they said is tantamount to a confession. Poor man doesn't know a smartass comment when it rears up and bites him on the arse.

Portugal's M.E.P., Carlos Coelho, also believes that European countries are colluding with the U.S., since someone in the know told him that renditions could not work without the knowledge of the European country in question. Are you just now figuring that out, son? It's not the evil old U.S. of A. going off on its own, willy-nilly, riding roughshod over the innocent souls of Europe. In fact, it's beginning to sound like the heads of state in Europe understand the dangers of Islamo-Nazism and they're more than happy to come to the aid of the Yanks, just don't tell the neighbors.

Talk of human rights is fine, but it's always a good idea to remember that other people have rights too. Like the right to worship God as they see fit, dress as they like, that sort of thing. That sound you hear is Dick Marty, hopping up and down on his soapbox, ranting about the imagined abuse of terrorists. No one seems to be listening to him. Must be frustrating.

Dreams Of Fat Advances

Now there's a dream, the life of the author, sitting around with pen in hand, thinking and scribing away the days. The cash comes rolling in, great waves of money, as royalty checks fill the overflowing mailbox.

What would anyone do if they found literary success? Quit the day job, straight away, and not look back. Could the stress of producing the next NYT bestseller be any greater than the stress of a dull occupation, the clients demanding more and the boss putting on the pressure to produce? To spend one's days in creating would be bliss indeed, even though the process of writing is mentally painful. Like an addiction, the urge to write becomes stronger with every passing minute, and putting pen to paper brings blessed relief. But the relief does not last, the urge comes back, and the writer must face the blank page, physically in need of written words that do not always come easy. In spite of that, the sweet misery of writing cannot compare to the drudgery of the day job.

And after the daily grind is left behind? A room of one's own would be a delight, to shut the door and shut out the world and compose prose. No one telling you to run this one there and pick up that and we're out of medicine over here. Is that why it is so difficult to write a complete novel? A universe of distractions and duties are pulling at you, tugging from one end to the other until you find that something has to give, and that something is writing.

But there is a way to savor the pleasures of writing. There is time in the day, or rather, the night. Who needs sleep?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Got MFA?

The competition's fierce out there if you're trying to land an agent. How can you get your manuscript under a literary agent's nose, when all they go by for a first impression is that query letter?

Let's say that you'd like to join Jennifer Cayea's stable. She's left Nicholas Ellison and gone off on her own, so she must be looking for talent to help pay the rent. The first thing to do is see who she reps, and if you have a subscription to Publishers Marketplace you can do a quick search.

Ah, so she is the agent for a certain Mr. Cook, author of The Girl From Charnelle. Off to the public library with you, unless you're flush with cash and can afford to buy. And if you've that much to throw away, you've no business being a struggling writer.

You read the book. It opens with the heart of the action, a mother abandoning her children, from the POV of the daughter. And then? Well, this is literary fiction. Nothing happens. Of course, the author paints a picture of a lost little girl, without her mother, but as for action, nothing happens. It's literary, you see.

But that's how I write, so why can't I get an agent to rep me? Turn to the back flap, my little friend, and you will see that Mr. Cook teaches writing. In a Master of Fine Arts program. How could an agent not take up such a one, the teacher being superior to the pupil.

There you have it. Write as well as you have been, but get a position in Iowa or Nebraska or Columbia and crank out other creative writers who follow the formulas and produce mass media. And you thought it was difficult to get published.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Back To Business As Usual

Hurrah, and praise be, the Northern Assembly is going to meet again after a four year hiatus. Yes, the august body that was brought down by the Stormont spy ring affair is back in business.

Funny about the spy ring, though, when it turned out that the man who was arrested as a spy was none other than the late Dennis Donaldson, a man in the employ of the Special Branch. Just when they were getting up and going in 2002, the police staged a raid and claimed that Sinn Fein was spying, and that took care of any power sharing for awhile. Looking back, it appears to have been a cod, a ruse concocted to put an end to home rule and have London run things, like they have for the past two hundred years. Now the Assembly is due to reconvene, so what do the lovers of the status quo have up their sleeves for this session?

How can they wreck the agreements and put a stop to home rule this time? Maybe a bit of late breaking news about that bank robbery. You remember, surely, it was nearly two years ago and everyone insisted it was Sinn Fein's doing. Well, no, they haven't actually demonstrated a link, although they did arrest a couple of criminals who aren't exactly frothing at the mouth republicans, but we're talking about the Northern Assembly now.

Ian Paisley is giving it his all, latching on to one excuse after another, only to be shot down by the wily Gerry Adams. Now the man who loves to hate is refusing to share power unless the Shinners recognize the police force in the north. That would be the same police force that staged the raid that nabbed their own spy in Stormont. Yes, yes, and that colluded with the loyalist gangs and protected thugs who murdered Catholics for sport.

So, the assembly will meet, they will get nothing done, and then the loyalists will trundle off to a lovely wee garden party with Chuck and Camilla. All in all, a delightful day for the gerrymandered majority, and the political pundits will at last have something new to pundit about. All that matters to some is that nothing ever changes.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Agent Query has always been a reliable source of information for good, legitimate agents, and I never felt that I had to tread carefully before sending a query to one of their listees - until now.

Recently they added Susan Graham of About Words Agency. The name was familiar, and I recalled seeing it on a romance writer's site. Any time an agency name rings a bell, and a negative one at that, I'm off to Preditors & Editors
to check things out. Sure enough, About Words Agency is listed as NOT RECOMMENDED.

If you're looking for an agent, you have to do your homework to avoid the scammers and the well-intentioned losers, and Agent Query is no longer the shortcut it once was. Why, you might ask, is this agency not recommended?

The simple fact is, they seem to be tied at the hip to an editing service, and such a parasitic relationship should send up the red flags. Agents should not be sending your work off to an editor who is sitting at their right hand, and you as a writer should be aware that most of the time, said agent will tell you that you need editing and here's the bill. That's not how it's done in the legitimate agenting world.

By all means, use Agent Query to help in your search. Just don't forget to vet your selections. Let the writer beware, and avoid the sharks.

Friday, May 12, 2006

When Does It End?

Last Sunday, Michael McIlveen went out for a pizza with some friends. They were on their way home, close to midnight, when a gang of ten attacked them. The gang came armed with baseball bats, clearly out for a night of fighting.

Michael and his friends ran, but after about half a mile, the gang had Michael cornered in a dark alley. The fifteen-year-old boy was beaten, and when he was down, members of the gang stomped on his head. He was able to make it home, but his family rushed him to the hospital, where he died the following morning.

There's been an outcry, as expected, from religious leaders and politicians. Aghast, they are, and the hand wringing and wailing and moaning are near deafening. This is wrong, they all say, to beat a lad to death because he is Catholic. We must learn to live together, can't we all just get along?

Protestants and Catholics live in separate communities, little ghettos, and never have anything to do with each other. They attend separate schools, and attempts to build integrated facilities has been met with claims of tight budgets and there's enough desks out there already.

It's amazing, how the North of Ireland is exactly like America's south during the Jim Crow era. Two groups of people eye one another through a lens of stereotypes and false notions. Those in power live in fear that the downtrodden will take over and then the world will end, surely. The downtrodden live in fear of those in power, fearing for their very lives if they say the wrong thing or wear the wrong clothes.

There are plenty of folks who are up in arms over the use of Shannon Airport by the American military, in hysterics about all the poor innocent Iraqis who are killed by the brutal soldiers. But the occasional Catholic beaten to death or pounded to a pulp in the homeland? They've bigger fish to fry, apparently. There's no glamour in protesting the murder of innocent children in Ballymena.

NSA Calling

Good morning, Mr. O hAnnrachainn. You don't seem to be making any calls from your land line.

Ah, no, sorry. I've got the mobile, you see, and with the competition, the deals are too good to pass up. No roaming charges, no extra fee for the long distance. I could call anywhere in the world with the mobile.

Like Tehran? The West Bank? Moscow?

Why would I call there? I don't know anyone east of Dublin. There's the brothers in California, if the call were to be routed to Europe and then across China I suppose my signal might be going east, but I don't know anything about the technicalities. Oh, yes, and e-mail. I do e-mail them often. Share a laugh, forward a joke, the usual banter.

But no calls on the land line?

Does anyone use that telephone attached to the wall by a wire? If I had to call the police or the firemen, of course. Although some people are using voice over internet protocol, and that really annoys the public servants. They say they can't use their caller I.D. to get a fix on the address, and if you're in the middle of a heart attack and can't speak, well, isn't everyone in a muddle then?

If you could see your way to using your land line? We're trying to compile statistics and it's terribly difficult if people aren't making calls.

But you've got all those poor people who can't afford a mobile - they'll be using the land line. And old people. The grannies like to call people; they're much more sociable, and they don't seem to like modern technology. Ah, yes, I see. The data gets skewed when the sample isn't random. It's all pretty meaningless then, unless the terrorists you're looking for are poor or old or just technologically challenged.

Thank you for your time.

You're very welcome indeed. Before you go, though, if I could ask a question. I thought I read somewhere that the CIA was rumbled over in Milan when they lifted that Muslim fella. Something about the SIM cards in their cell phones giving away their location. Have you lads thought about looking into that to help trace your terrorists?

Have a good day, sir.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Adventure Log-Book

Number of Queries sent over a three year period: 325

Number of requests for material: 34

The query letter was revised at least fifteen times, and the manuscript was tweaked and primped about eight times, with major revisions. Some of the changes came about because of agent evaluation, while some came about from my own analysis of story structure in current novels.

There are still six partials out there. Can this novel be published? When the agents wrote to me with their comments and claimed that they were torn, or that this was a close one, were they sincere, or just blowing smoke?

If anything, I have a much better understanding of how modern novels are constructed than I did when I first began to write. My current WIP is in better shape on the first draft than any previous manuscript was after two re-writes. Even though I still don't care for most of the publishers' offerings, I force myself to read the latest, the best sellers and the small press works, all in a bid to understand and perfect my skills.

Jesus, 325 queries. Talk about persistence. Or madness.

Inspector Clouseau

Funny movies, weren't they, with Peter Sellers playing a bumbling French police inspector. Apparently, he based his characterization on real people, judging by the mess in French internal affairs these days.

Chief Inspector Chirac set out to discredit his adversary, the sly political operative Sarkozy. After all, Chirac's hand picked successor, the debonair Dominique, was fading in the polls and someone had to put a stop to the wily Sarko. Bring in le red herring, monsieur!

Seeking to discredit Sarkozy and tie him in with a kickback scheme that came to light a few years back, someone in authority turned some documents over to the judge who was investigating. There was the name of Sarkozy, splattered all over the list of those involved in accepting bribes and other nefarious deeds. Mon Dieu, such a scandal. Turn that man out of office, would be the cry from le monde.

How unfortunate that the documents were false. Dapper Dominique is accused of using the French intelligence service to throw mud on his arch rival, Nicolas Sarkozy. Why, after the documents were released, Dominique was convinced that he had gotten the better of Sarko, but this is the French intelligence service we are speaking of, after all.

Now the socialist ministers are calling for Chirac's resignation. Quel domage. Why does that damned Clouseau always come out ahead?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Not Right How?

You've done the research. You find a literary agent that reps your genre. You look at their website, to find something similar to what you're offering. Your weighty tome could be considered literary fiction, but someone else might call it historical fiction, or even women's fiction on a good day, so you fire off the query and call your manuscript that which best fits.

And the agent replies: "Sorry, not right for our agency. Good luck elsewhere."

All the research can't tell you what exactly the literary agent is looking for, because that changes based on the market demands, and only they know what the market will be down the road because they've sold the future publications. The best that you can do is make a good guess and then give it a try.

Just because the agent has repped literary fiction in the past does not mean they want it today. If the market is contracting, they won't be after more to stuff down a narrow pipeline, but if you happen to have a cozy mystery, why, that's exactly what they could use.

Right now, I've got fifteen e-mail queries waiting for an answer - although I believe that most of them have been read and passed, with a no reply to indicate lack of interest. After a few weeks, I'll cull the dead weight and after a few more weeks I'll send a snail mail query. Wear them down and sooner or later they'll ask for a partial just to stop the pain. Am I in violation of international law forbidding torture?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Magic Touch

I've got it, emanating from the tips of all ten fingers. Yes, it's my magic touch, my ability to drive literary agents out of the business with my queries.

A few days ago, I fired off a letter to Hilary Rubin at Trident Media, and then sat back to wait for a response. Or no response, which is a response, in a manner unique to literary agency.

Much to my surprise, I got a reply, but it was from the charming young lady who has apparently replaced Ms. Rubin. Yes, you've guessed it. I queried Hilary Rubin and she ran off like a frightened hare chased by a pack of hounds.

At this rate, I could conceivably eliminate half the agents in New York City. There must be something in the way I turn a phrase or parse a verb that causes such drastic changes in employment. Maybe I'm only lucky, in being the one overly heavy straw that breaks the agent's back, the last in a long string of horrifying missives that drives them over the edge and out of the door.

Where have they all gone? Is there perhaps some halfway house on Fifth Avenue, offering a hot meal, a cot and retraining for future gainful employment? For the wannabe author, they have the option of giving up the search for an agent and publication because they can simply keep their day job. Therein lies the tragedy of the literary agent - nowhere to turn when they lose their way on the rocky road to publishing.

Travel Plans

Thinking of visiting the Emerald Isle this summer? Soft days, lush golf greens, and the craic going ninety - sure and it's a tourist's dream. Just don't be flying in an airplane on a Sunday.

In an effort to reach out to the homebound, the priests have gone on the air, doing the Mass for shut-ins, but wouldn't you know, there's a wee problem with their brilliant notion. According to today's Irish Times:
The Irish Aviation Authority complained to ComReg that it was experiencing interference with the radio frequency used for air traffic control and suggested that Catholic church broadcasts could be causing the problem.

The priests know all there is to know about God, about penance and redemption, but they're not technical wizards by any means. Unfortunately, they also didn't know that broadcasting the Mass required a license, so these well-meaning men of God are actually operating pirate radio stations, in clear violation of the law.

So now they've been told to stop the show, which has upset those folks who depended on the radio to participate in Sunday services. Martin Long, Director of the Catholic Communications Office, was put out by the government's ban, as if it were all the fault of ComReg that the Church's radio transmissions were interfering with air traffic control, to say nothing of disrupting communications for the gardai and fire brigades. Even though ComReg has not come, hat in hand, to talk things over, the government body has promised to find some radio waves out there for the parishes to use. Until then, I'd stick to flying Monday through Friday, afternoons only to avoid morning Mass, and maybe check the holy days of obligation schedule just to be safe.

Looking forward to a good pub crawl? You might have to crawl a bit further than planned. It seems that over six hundred pubs have closed their doors in the past few years, driven out of business by low profit margins and sky high fees. For some locals, the cost of water and refuse hauling put them over the edge as overhead began to eat into the bottom line and then consume it completely. The Vintners Federation estimates that one a day is going out of business, so the longer you delay your departure, the harder it will be to find a pint and a lovely plate of boiled bacon and cabbage.

Get those bags packed; don't forget a raincoat, and enjoy your trip!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Will David Blaine Drown?

One can only hope. Does anyone honestly care about his silly trick? Having a rough time of it, he says, trying to generate some publicity.

Look at me, everyone! I'm in a fishbowl for your amusement, so look at me.

If he said he was grand, would anyone keep watching? If he didn't act as though this stunt might be his last, oh, the danger, holding his breath, chains and locks and straitjackets and he might not escape, oh, the humanity...hype by any other name would smell as nasty.

Too much information, there, David. I really don't want to envision your peeling skin, or the possibility that you are becoming Swamp Thing. By the by, you might want to have an aquarium maintenance crew stop by periodically to change your water and adjust the salinity. We are, after all, a clump of cells bathed in salt water.

If only he would go away, and leave us all in peace. The World Cup starts up again soon - now there's an event to get excited about. I suppose his great escape will be featured on some television channel or other. As long as ESPN avoids coverage, I'll have a place to go where I don't have to hear about the nonsense.

Reruns At the Movies

The talk is all over the internet today - Tom Cruise's new movie is a flop. Analysts have multiplied and divided, added and subtracted and found the cosine, all to say that fewer people went to see the third installment of his series than saw the second.

At least the television shows, like 24, come up every seven days and the audience can follow the changing scenes with little time in between episodes to forget what happened earlier, or why they started watching in the first place. Poor Mr. Cruise has had to wait years for this third sequel, and the audience may have lost interest when it took too long to get the movie out.

Aren't they all just breathless with anticipation for the next blockbuster of the upcoming summer season? So much hype for the Poseidon Adventure! Ooops, sorry, I think they adjusted the name so that the idiots in the audience would never guess that it's a rerun of an old film. What are we all so keen to see in this second version? Why, what fat and dumpy Hollywood actress is going to play the Shelly Winters role,of course.

Play it again, Sam, the Hollywood moguls plead. Make it again, when it was successful the first time around, for surely it will succeed again. Unfortunately for those who sit on high, they never get out of L.A. to find out what the unwashed masses are pining for. How can it not be clear to them that reruns are not going to bring us to theatres, to pay out our hard earned, needed to buy gasoline money? After they got over being horrified that The Chronicles of Narnia was a money-maker, you'd think that they'd cop on, but, hey, they're in Hollywood, land of artificial contrivances and facades. They'll tell you what to go see, and that's the end of it. And when you don't go see it, why, they'll tell you that you're the Philistine, without taste or sense, but at least you've still got that ten bucks in your pocket.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Shot Down Again

Based on some recommendations made by a literary agent, I had fooled around with the manuscript and rearranged some things, cut a bit here and there, and sent out new queries. In my heart, I felt that the manuscript was weaker, rather than stronger, because I artificially moved a section from chapter four to chapter three and I did not love the way the story flowed.

Sure enough, Barbara Rosenberg and Elisabeth Weed both had the same thing to say when they rejected the partial - good premise, loved the writing, but....don't think they could sell it.

Too much advice from too many different quarters is not always helpful. I went back to the manuscript and went back to the original opening, a scene that takes place in the middle of the story. I cut a different scene out and moved it back to the middle, getting into the heart of the conflict a little sooner.

Will it help? Who knows? I'll take a break and keep writing the new WIP, then look at the earlier manuscript again to see if it comes out the way I want it to read. In the meantime, there's a few partials outstanding from Manuscript #2, and I've got a third novel fermenting away, ready to be distilled while the WIP goes into the barrel to age.

Then again, maybe Ms. Rosenberg turned the manuscript down because I didn't have a marketing plan that met her expectations. Is that it? She couldn't sell it because I couldn't flog it adequately? Better luck next time.

Filling A Gap

With the infamous 'Opal Mehta' book getting pulled by Crown, they had an enormous gap in their offerings, and thank God that someone eminently photogenic stepped up to fill the space.

Valerie Plame of outing fame has landed a very, very big deal with Crown Books, reportedly in the low seven figures. That's millions of dollars, for those of you who are math and/or financially challenged. And what might she have to say?

Do you honestly think Crown is caring right now? In the corporate boardroom, they're praying to the windfall gods that the CIA makes a bit of a to-do over the book's contents. Seeing as to how the CIA has to approve anything that former agents submit to publishers, the good folks at the big publishing house are very much in need of some pre-release publicity, and a ruckus over censorship or banning key passages would be a boon beyond measure.

And of course Ms. Plame is going to write the memoir herself - now, is that anything like Kaavya writing her own novel? (That was uncalled for, lad. Back off, now.)

Will she earn her big advance? Of course not. That's where the rest of Crown's stable comes into play. The authors who sell well, but who lack the cachet of a former CIA agent, are footing part of the bill. Christ Almighty, I'd take up a collection for the woman if Crown would publish my manuscript. That's just how the publishing world works - the big names get the big advance, they don't earn out, and the mid-list grunts pick up the slack. Did anyone ever say that life was fair, now?

Will I buy the book? Who's got that kind of money to waste on nonsense? I won't even bother reading it. There's too many good writers out there who need support, and the celebrities can make their own way. A woman making it in a man's world, yeah, yeah, yeah, heard it before. Valerie Plame's living in a posh house near Washington D.C. and my house is tumbling down around my ears. Ah, sure and my heart bleeds for you.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Celebrity Gossip

The name of Mr. T, B-list celebrity, is a name that lives in infamy in Chicago's posh northern suburbs. With the piles of cash he garnered as a television star, your man did what any up and coming Chicagoan would do - he moved to Lake Forest. Once upon a time, it was the town of choice for the meat-packing Armours and Swifts, the mercantile barons of Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co., and everyone knows that F. Scott Fitzgerald's Daisy was patterned on a Lake Forest society debutante.

Once he moved in, though, Mr. T broke some cardinal rules. Yes, he did indeed cut down every tree on his five acres, leaving a gaping hole in the canopy that once spread solidly up the street. The neighbors hated him. New laws were passed, barring tree removal at will.

Sadly, Mr. T was not as financially astute as one would need to be to maintain the Lake Forest lifestyle. As his bank account thinned, the house was sold, and everyone cheered. Ah, but surely the place was cursed now, because the couple that bought it, after promising to restore the elegant mansion to its former Arts and Crafts glory, promptly divorced.

A new developer came forward, tarting up the place and then offering it for sale. The price is no doubt astronomical, but this is Lake Forest after all, dear. Who will buy such a pricey property? The house is well off the road, perched in the middle of its vast open prairie, in a place that values privacy.

Who, you ask, who would be rumored to be seeking such a grand kip? What famous actor hails from Lake Forest? Need another clue? He's linked with a certain actress whose husband dumped her for a certain whacky actress who is fond of Africa.

Yes, you've got it. The latest celebrity rumor has Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn buying up Mr. T's former home, an enormous mansion in toney Lake Forest. Close to town and shops, only steps from the Catholic Church, excellent school system. Location, location, location!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What Are the Odds?

Miss Snark brings up an interesting statistic for anyone with queries out there. What are the chances that an agent might ask for more material from your humble proposition?

From literary agent Andrew Zack comes this quote:
During the month of November, we received 107 query letters and declined fifty-nine. We received twenty-five requested sample chapters and declined twenty-six. We requested six more. We also received one requested proposal and asked to see three more. We received one manuscript that we’d requested. During the month of November, we offered representation to one author.

Mighty slim, isn't it? 2% of the letters lead to a request for more.So let's say an agent gets 100 per week, that's two requests for more. In raw numbers, there's Mr. Zack's data of 107 queries leading to only six requests for more. Therefore, in any given week, the odds are astronomically tilted towards rejection, and it's not much better after leaping the initial hurdle to catch an agent's eye. See the last line in the above quote? Yep, that number is one. One manuscript good enough to offer representation.

So I should be proud of myself, getting requests for partials from time to time. The fact that an agent has asked for a full straight off should be a cause for some back-patting. Twice I sent more material after an initial review, a good thing again.

Guess what? Not one agent has ever offered representation. All those other positive notes are only stepping stones on the rocky road to publishing, and I've fallen in the drink on every attempt. Not enough steps to get over, you see, so who gives a rat's arse about the partial requests? I'll be happy when an agent offers to take me on and sells my manuscript. Until then, the odds are so stacked against me that I'm proving myself a right idiot to keep at it. God suffers fools gladly, though. I've got that going for me.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What A Difference...

...a request for a partial makes. Took a chance and sent an e-query to an agent who's recently gone off on her own. As per the requirements, the query letter was one page and the synopsis was brief.

Now, if I'd sent a snail mail query, I would have included the first fifteen to twenty pages, in line with the submission policy. That tells me that the agent wants to judge the author's ability to write, which is good in case my query letter was particularly lame. To tack fifteen pages into the body of the e-mail, on the other hand, isn't going to work out very well, and I'm not about to re-type that much material.

What would Miss Snark say? Paste in the first two or three pages, which is not a lot of extra reading and which demonstrates some basic command of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and general cohesion. Fair play to you, Miss Snark.

The agent asked for a sample of fifty pages, not the fifteen or twenty of the submission requirements. Sure, I know it might not indicate anything, but I'd like to believe that the first three pages were good enough to lead her to ask for a little more. She knows how the story plays out, having read the synopsis, and if the sample pages truly sucked rotten eggs, she would have taken a pass.

Then again, she's just getting off the ground with her own agency and the poor thing's maybe desperate for clients. Once she reads the fifty page sample, she's liable to experience a cerebral vascular accident, or her eyes may pop out of her head and flee in terror.

Until I hear from her again, I can live contentedly in my lovely little dream world, a reverie of royalty checks and the other three manuscripts being snatched up by a drooling publisher who hosts book release cocktail parties in a posh Manhattan brownstone. I'll have some of what you're having.

Young Man's Fancy

Ah, springtime, and a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of ... marching? Yes indeed, another marching season is approaching and nothing has changed.

Leaders of the loyal orders will not talk to any nationalist group about being a bit more courteous in their choice of marching venues. No, not when it's their glorious 'culture' being disrespected. They want to send their parades and drums down the streets of Catholic neighborhoods, what with their 'culture' consisting entirely of rubbing the noses of the downtrodden into their defeat four hundred years ago. We'll show you who's boss around here, their beating drums declare. Some culture to be proud of.

Trying to avert the violence that has marked marching seasons for decades, the powers that be set up a Parades Commission to regulate the routes. Well, the loyal orders won't deal with them either, because all the Parades Commission wants to do is keep them from marching down the street of Catholic neighborhoods, and there's that 'culture' thing again.

And it's all the fault of the republicans, too, by the by. As reported in today's Irish Times:
William Long, head of the Royal Black Institution, said he could not "in conscience" talk to republicans who endorsed violence. David McConaghie of the Independent Orange Order went further. "The Orange Order, during the course of the Troubles, had 310 members murdered. In July last year, when the IRA stood down, it said that the campaign was entirely legitimate."

This failure to apologize for "this slaughter" deserved to be utterly condemned, he added.

What does the Independent Monitoring Commission know about anything? They say that all the violence and crime is being done by loyalist gangs, but that would mean that the IRA really has renounced the armed struggle and the problem lies with the loyalists. That's disrespecting their 'culture', surely?

Funny, how everyone else in the world sees sectarianism and outright bigotry and they see their 'culture.' While they're out there all summer long, marching from one end of the Six Counties to the other, they don't seem to notice that their little corner of the empire is falling so far behind both Ireland and England that they're little more than a welfare state, dependent on London's handouts. Not much of a victory in the end.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Not Right For My List

At last, I have found insight into the literary agent's thought process. I picked up Joanna Scott's Liberation at the public library, and suddenly all is made clear.

How did I select this one? As usual, I opened to the book flap, where the story's premise is laid out. First thing I notice is that the novel is historical fiction, just my cuppa tea, so I read further. A child in Italy at the time of liberation, and later an adult in New Jersey - sounds like it has the potential to be an intriguing book. The adult's narrative might even use flashbacks to present the story, and I'm fine with that device. I like literary fiction, far more than commercial drek, and I'm still on a literary buzz from The Widow of the South. Home we go.

Opening with the little girl hidden in a cupboard while the British and French forces slog it out with the Nazis, the author does many pages of navel gazing, but I'm willing to push ahead to the good stuff.

Fast forward to the present, and the child is now an old woman having a heart attack. Read the words, man, get on with it, you can do it, get past the slow parts and....slower....slower still....grinding to a halt....can't take it anymore.

After 27 pages of contemplation that are boring as hell, I have given up. This is labeled literary fiction, but it is just a bunch of words strung together to make pretty rhythmic sounds that go nowhere. I don't care about the characters. If the old woman were to die right now, it would be a blessing. Put an end to the suffering.

The flap copy was the query. It caught my eye. The manuscript, however, was not right for my list.

The Warmth of Wool

Think you paid a small fortune to heat your house last winter? Natural gas is the fuel of choice in these parts, and it has gotten expensive. Looks like things are about to get worse.

Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, has just declared that the natural gas fields in his country are the property of the people of Bolivia. The foreign companies that built the infrastructure and pump the gas are being told to get out.

Mr Morales said foreign companies would be evicted from the country unless they give the Andean nation control over the entire chain of production.
according to an account in The Irish Times.

What a brilliant strategy. Why waste time with increased taxes, or even mess about with creating some new bureaucracy to channel funds from the government's coffers to the people in need. If Evo did that, he would actually have to pay out to the downtrodden, and where's the benefit in that?

Much better to take over an industry, thereby creating more job openings for Bolivians. Who happen to be friends. Of Evo Morales.

All are equal, aren't they, there, Evo? Except that some are more equal than others. See, that's the pesky problem with Marxism and socialism. Humans aren't quite the generous organisms that the ivory tower residents would have you believe. Greed gets in the way, that drive to survive and stomp on the competition. The poor of Bolivia will cheer you on, but in the end, they won't be any better off. You're a friend of Fidel Castro, but can you ignore all those Cubans who are desperate to leave? Ever wonder why he won't let his people go?

Let the foreigners run the companies and take a little more off the top. Then use the windfall for good. If you truly believe in your dream, you can push legislation through, and provide free education, affordable housing, and all that other stuff that the poor would like to have. Your friends will reap no benefit from such programs, unless they set up school book publishing houses or construction companies. Got the guts to take the hard road?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Do They Vote?

All the news today is nothing but illegal immigrant rallies, up and down the land. Everywhere, it seems, illegals are boycotting work, marching and marching, demanding rights.

Except for the Irish, of course. Low key group, heads down, don't rock the boat, don't cause a fuss. Being a politically minded people, they beg and plead with Ted Kennedy and John McCain to do something about their status. All they ask is the opportunity to work, pay their taxes and raise their children, but if they could please go home to visit and be allowed back in, it would be grand. Many a mammy's gone to her grave without a last kiss from the child struggling to make a living in New York or Boston. Good citizens all, keeping quiet while praying for Congress to have pity, they've been at work today.

And then we have the Hispanic element, millions of Mexican migrants who are demanding to be granted special status because they are working for low wages. The Democrats are on their side, with them one hundred percent, and pay no attention to George Bush and the guest worker program he's proposed. We'll let you stay, we'll let you be citizens. Just remember who gave you these handouts.

What power do the illegal migrants have? Why, none whatsoever. There's others sneaking in or coming over the border legally, sponsored by families who were amnestied in the last time around. Protest, stay away from work, and if you get fired, there's someone else waiting to fill the position.

Do you think the politicians really care? About a group of people who can't vote? Ho, ho, ho rubbish - you have no power here.

Secure the borders, that's what the American people are demanding. And they vote. Eventually, the politicians will listen. Or they'll lose their jobs, and there's always another fella waiting in the wings to fill the position.

Hide and Seek

While browsing in search of an agent who accepts e-mail queries, I stumbled into the website for Dystel & Goderich, but Michael Adelman was not there any more.

What's happening at Jane Dystel's firm? Kate McKean disappeared into a black hole when she went there, and now Michael Adelman has been erased from the staff list. Are they floating out in space, along with Lynn Whittaker and Kristen Auclair from the old Graybill and English agency?

Publishers Marketplace is always running notices for job openings in publishing. Can one presume that these disappearing agents turn up at the big houses, transforming into acquisitions editors so that they can be the ones to dispense the rejections? Can you blame them? After getting turned down on manuscripts they love, don't you think they'd like the chance to be the ones discovering those hidden gems?

Then again, maybe they've had it with the whole business, where rich girls hire book packagers to put together something that nets a hefty advance while good writers get ignored because they aren't 'marketable' or celebrities.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of all these agents who have gone missing? Have they been seen on the sidewalks of New York, willing to work for food as long as the labor does not involve publishing or books? Begging for loose change, living in flophouses - or possibly backpacking across Europe, in search of themselves and wondering what ever possessed them to get into the literary agent game.