Thursday, March 30, 2006

R.I.P. John McGahern

Writer John McGahern died suddenly last night. His memoirs were recently published, and one has to wonder if he sensed the end was coming.

His first novel, The Dark, was published in 1965 and was promptly banned by the Irish Censorship Board. Mr. McGahern, a teacher, was fired from his position at the order of Archbishop McQuaid, and he left Ireland for ten years, seeking the freedom of expression that the country was sadly lacking.

Most of his books are inspired by the rural life that he knew as a boy, growing up without a mother. Beautifully crafted, they are well worth reading. His last and best novel, That They May Face the Rising Sun, is on my stack of books to be read. I'll be moving it to the top of the pile. A great voice is gone, and who will take his place?

Cop On

There's a new literary agency out there - and I know all about it because they contacted me. I keep a page on Publisher's Marketplace, although I don't know why because there's nothing on it except name and e-mail addy, which must be how they found me. But I digress.

This exciting new start-up is located in the heart of the publishing industry. Or at least that part of the industry that is centered on Clinton, Indiana. Ah, now, and since when did physical location matter? Internet access, phone, fax, why, New York is as close as the computer these days. And I'm sure that Clinton, Indiana is a fine town. They have post office boxes there, and that means something.
"We have had to cut and edit our own stories,and in the end,when we have taken the stubborn scene that we know needs to be there to add the depth the story needs and finally decide to discard it, we appreciate the tough decisions necessary to raise our work from good, to better, to great, to a published final text."

That's truly inspirational, that is. Most of the message seems to have something to do with editing, which is not what I want from a literary agent. What a new agent must have are contacts in the publishing world. They could be former editors, they could be junior agents from established firms going out on their own, but a literary agent has to be connected to the publishing world.

And what of our friend Mark Straley? Let's see here.
"It is my belief that only writers can help other writers perfect their art,and this belief has led me to the personnel in this agency. The editors of this agency, our first readers, and yes, the founder too, are all writers."

Lovely, there, Mark, but, em, are they published writers? Oh, and, about the agency's editors. I've been searching for a literary agent for a while, and agencies have literary agents on staff, not editors. I apologize if I'm misunderstanding your company's mission. Are you a literary agency? Or are you a paid editing service?
"Writers in the Sky Literary Agency comply with The Association of Writers’ Representatives, Cannon of Ethics."

Fire away with that cannon, Mark, and blow away the literary world. But, just who are the Association of Writers' Representatives? I've heard of the Association of Authors' Representatives, and they're quite the legitimate group. Does your writers' representatives association have any links with the National Rifle Association? Just wondering about that cannon, you see. Does a client of Writers in the Sky have to carry a firearm owner's identification card?

There are some who will take the more positive approach and label Mr. Straley a well-meaning but clueless man who will ultimately fail and take his gullible, desperate writers with him. Then there are others, who laugh at the latest incarnation of the literary agency scam. We're convinced that he'll fleece the unsuspecting with his so-called editing services, and whether he tries to submit manuscripts to publishing houses or not, his clients will never get published by a legitimate house. Sorry, but a vanity press does not count as a publishing credit.

Looking for an agent? You've been warned, so cop on and steer clear of the scamming sharks that are swimming in the waters. They smell unpublished writers' blood.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Clean Up In Aisle Nine

What does it take to get published? A good manuscript? A fantastic, perfect manuscript? You know yourself that won't get you anywhere in today's world. So, what do you need to do? Go to Wal-Mart.

A college student, and aspiring writer, came up with a story idea that involved spending Spring Break at Wal-Mart, which is certainly a cost-cutting methodology for the budget-minded. "I just intuitively thought, 'This is brilliant!'" his professor has been quoted as saying. What more incentive would a young man need than a professor's approval and the chance for an A in the class. It beats spending a small fortune traveling to Cancun or South Padre Island.

The teacher must have genuinely thought the idea was brilliant, because she contacted the local newspaper and the story started to roll from there. Someone from Penguin got wind of it, and the next thing you know, our aspiring writer has an agent calling him, no query, no synopsis, no nothing beyond aspirations.

The writing's on the wall, clear block print in Courier 12 point font. Aspiring writers the world over will be loitering in Sam's Club, Costco, Target, Super K-Mart, Sears, J.C. Penney, and the really clever ones will move into the neighborhood furniture mart. Before long, we'll be swamped with stories about 'Tuesdays with Sam' or 'My Dinner with Target' as would-be writers slug it out for publicity and an agent's attention.

Can the lad write a cogent sentence? Go on with you, as if that would matter. Mr. Skyler Bartels, a product of Nebraska's writing colony, is on his way, while you're searching the local mall for the best place to make camp for your personal publicity campaign. Super size me, indeed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Let Them Eat Croutons

Those French sure know how to throw a party. Not just a small gathering, but a huge street fest is underway in Paris. Young people, college students, union hacks...it's a veritable slice of Parisian society, or at least that part of society that would lose out if the government has its way.

"We have to defend the rights that were won by our ancestors and which the current government is trying to take away," some news sources are quoting a student of literature who was protesting on the Left Bank. Hey, if the ancestors were so blind to the fall-out of their schemes, why should the young be forced to endure the bruises of their stumbling? Defend the status quo, all you students. Liberty, equality, fraternity, and don't ever change a thing. Say, is there an economics major among you?

The idea of state-sponsored welfare as practiced in France is not sustainable because it is so horrifically expensive. Labor laws that were put into place to protect the downtrodden are having a rather unpleasant side effect, but the people most likely to suffer during treatment are the ones least willing to make the sacrifice for the good of the nation. Employers won't hire young people because they can't dump the nitwits and goof-offs. By protesting, the students imply that they want the right to be nitwits and goof-offs but still keep a job. With unemployment in double digits, you'd think they could figure out that they're losing out in the long term.

Any economist could tell the youngsters that their country can no longer compete with the world because of outmoded socialist laws. High unemployment of young workers, decreasing productivity and climbing costs of pensions and health care will break the French bank, and all the protests in the country will do nothing to fix things when the economy tanks. The Celtic Tiger came to Ireland when the old economic models were dropped and capitalism was encouraged - it's a lesson for the protesters, one they don't want to learn. Plus ca change?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Kielbasa Wars

Haven't I heard this before? Polish parishioners, Irish clergy, at loggerheads over who's in charge - oh, wait, no, that was about one hundred years ago. Must be time for the battle to flare up again.

According to a front page article in the Chicago Tribune, the Irish-American archbishop of St. Louis is trying to force the Polish-American parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish to cede control of the parish finances to him. It's been tried before, and Chicago's bishops waged the same war at the close of the nineteenth century. Seems the Polish Catholics like to keep their own hands on the purse strings, and wise bishops have backed off and let it go. But, having forgotten his history lessons, Archbishop Burke is determined to bring the rebels to heel.

He took away their priests, so they brought in their own. He threatens to excommunicate the lot of them, claiming schism and other theological crimes. And what do the blessed Catholics of St. Stan's have to say? Just that their archbishop wants control of their facilities so that he can sell them to pay off the claims stemming from sex abuse convictions.

How does our holy man take to that? Why, as you'd expect, of course. He tells the people to obey him or face eternal damnation. Hello there, Father? Did you not hear? Or do you think it's none of their business, those people who paid every week to build and then maintain the parish and school? Or do you think you don't have to listen? Pass off their complaints with claims that they're looking to institute a democracy in the organization of the Catholic Church, and you don't need to pay attention to what they're really saying.

The Archbishop calls on his flock to pray, pay and obey, which is undoubtedly the same tactic used by Archbishop Mundelein about ninety years ago in Chicago. The Polish parishioners that Mundelein attempted to rein in had the same issues as today's congregation in St. Louis. The stockholders want to keep control of the finances. They're not looking to tell you what prayers to use, what gospel they'd like on Sunday next, or even what brand of Communion wine they prefer.

Management has made a mess of the Catholic Church, with its utter bungling of the sex abuse crisis, leading to financial ruin and bankruptcy of more than one diocese. The good people of St. Stanislaus Kostka have made a stand. The suits in the corner offices will not be allowed to liquidate assets to salvage the corporation, given their apparent inability to solve the problems that led to insolvency. The stockholders of St. Stan's are not about to hand over their hard earned facility, paid for by their own labor and contributions, to a corporation that has proven to be fiscally irresponsible. To salvage their Church, they will manage the money, and let the priests manage the souls.

No one is looking to replace Archbishop Burke with a president or a prime minister. They will listen to his teaching, as long as he confines his topics to the Word of God. As for his opinions on matters of money, well, there is that story about Jesus booting the money-changers out of the temple. And Our Lord did not recommend that they be replaced with a House of Representatives.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Free Gift Without Purchase

Generous man, that Al Zuckerman of Writers House. Not only did he send me a form rejection for my query, but he graciously included a tri-folded, glossy printed brochure to purchase his book. He's a prince among literary agents, to give me the opportunity to buy his tome for only twenty dollars, and it's hardcover I'll have you know.

Now, for twenty dollars, it's cash or check only. No credit card transactions allowed, not for such a reasonable price. And send the money directly to Writers House. Can we assume that they get a cut of the action?

One of Mr. Zuckerman's clients, Ken Follett, has written the blurb in the brochure, praising his agent for helping him to craft marketable work. Unfortunate Mr. Follett, being British, was making all sorts of mistakes, writing things suitable for the U.K. that were not American enough to be published across the pond. That is, until Mr. Zuckerman took the lad under his wing and the rest is literary history.

How could a budding author not wish to purchase such a reference manual? Even Nora Roberts, who's no slouch in the writing world, is quoted on the back side of the mailing, lauding Mr. Zuckerman's written advice. As an advert, it's brilliant.

Just the same, I'll pass, alas. According to his biography, Mr. Zuckerman published two novels, and won a drama award in 1964. Sort of implies that he knows the market of forty years gone. Not only that, but he must be knowledgeable in the self-publishing market. Don't the vanity presses encourage their victims to send out mailings? Mr. Zuckerman's done them one better - he's sending out ads and the postage is paid by the recipient, his target audience. Brilliant man - but not the type I'd like for an agent. Besides, he looks like the sleazy milkman on Father Ted.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Not a Bad Day For a Thursday

All in all, it could be worse. Scott Hoffman at Folio Lit. rejected a query and Lois at Ashley Grayson's agency isn't interested either. When Byrd Leavell left Venture Literary for the Waxman Agency, I figured my query there was a wash-out, but wasn't I surprised to get a request for a partial from Mr. Scatoni? In one envelope and out another.

Looks like the good people at Kneerim & Williams work by committee. I sent a query and sample chapters to Jill Kneerim, who seemed the best fit for the manuscript. Today, two months later, I received a rejection in the mail. Apparently, the partial was handed over to Brettne Bloom, another agent who reps fiction, and I heard back from Melissa Grella.

Interesting to note that the manuscript was turned down because it did not garner 'unanimous support' which this agency requires. Maybe some people liked it but others did not, and so it becomes a pass. Another telling point is Ms. Grella's mention of the agency's 'caution about representing first fiction' because of competition. It made me wonder if agents sometimes go off on their own because they don't have as much say as they would like in who they can take on.

As for the reason for rejection, I get it. I've heard it before, and I'm working on it, but acquiring some sort of publishing credit ain't easy. What editor could Kneerim & Williams approach without being able to add 'previously published in Stellar Literary Magazine'? So you thought that writing your novel was hard? Getting publishing credits is even more work.

They'll not be rid of me so easily as that. I'll keep at it, and sooner or later, I'll win. Persistence is more the name of the game than talent.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Study the Market

Somewhere I ran across a review of Margarettown by Gabrielle Zevin. Must have been memorable, because I can't remember where I found it or what the reviewer said. When I found the book on the shelf at the local library, I picked it up. What better way to study the market than to read something worthy of review?

Before I finished the first fifty pages, I knew what was going on. I only finished the novel to prove myself wrong. Surely no one over the age of sixteen would think this was worth publishing? Then again, I was never a pot head myself, so the circular ponderings of existential thought never captured my sober imagination. I'll stick to a wee drop of the cratur, thank you very much, and ponder the bottom of the glass.

Not to spoil it for anyone, but, Jesus Christ Almighty, 291 pages of some dope-infused deep thoughts that are painfully shallow? 291 pages of silliness that must have been written in AP English? Not the right book to pick up after re-reading Willa Cather and Henry James, I'd say.

I fear it's another case of someone with credentials being taken on because they have credentials. The author is listed as a screenwriter and novelist, so this is not the first time Ms. Zevin has been published. The writing was good but the story was puerile - but take my thoughts with a grain of salt, because I can't tolerate fantasy or science fiction. I'm too hard-bitten to enjoy anything but reality, like the reality of getting a novel published. I'll drink to that.

Why Rob a Bank?

There's money to be made in County Roscommon. It is said that Eastern Europeans are flocking to Ireland in search of prosperity, and here's proof that they've found it.


"Damian Dychtanowicz (28), of no fixed abode, was sentenced to two weeks imprisonment yesterday for begging at the Sacred Heart church on Abbey Street." The Irish Times reports.

If a bank robber robs a bank because that's where the money is, what better place for a beggar to beg than in front of a church? Isn't that where the sympathy is? Clever man, Mr. No Fixed Abode, to hold out his hand on St. Paddy's Day, and he made a great success of his start-up company. With profits like that, and Ireland cluttered with one church after another, the man could have made a killing. He was 11,000 euro ahead as it was, although anyone could have told him that it was better to store all that cash in the bank, rather than carry it around in a paper sack.

"Garda Michael Finnegan of Roscommon Garda station told the recent court sitting he had attended 11am Mass when he saw the defendant begging outside the church. He said the man was sitting on the ground with a placard and paper cup and was collecting money."I ordered him to leave the area and he left reluctantly," said Garda Finnegan." according to the article.

Unfortunately, your man being a foreigner worked against him. How was he to know the intricacies of Irish begging protocol? Or maybe he pushed his luck, keeping his one-man shop open beyond closing time and drawing some unwanted attention. Now he's off on a two-week vacation, a fixed abode for a fortnight, but where's he to go after that? Would he qualify for an all-expenses paid trip to Poland?

Is it any wonder that people are too cynical to give a beggar a hand-out? When you see someone on the street, palm open, isn't this exactly what's keeping your hand in your own pocket? If there's no honesty among thieves, there's not much among beggars, and Mr. No Fixed Abode gives the panhandler a very bad name indeed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Give It To Me Straight

Elisabeth Weed passed on my partial. Full of lovely compliments, she was, but she's not handling much fiction. Problem is, I've heard that same line before, from Melissa Flashman of Trident Media. Has it become the official Trident Media excuse to let the writers off with a gentle hand?

I'm not one to be in need of feeling-sparing. If you don't want it, that's fine. If it's not good enough for Trident's calibre, I can handle it. But I'd rather not hear a break up line that's been passed around the office.

Boilerplate rejections can be frustrating because we all crave some sort of feedback for the effort. In a way, it's worse to be told that one has skill as a writer, but, after asking for a partial on something that was never marketed as anything but fiction, the agent isn't actually looking for fiction. I've been at this long enough to know that she'd take on fiction if I had something to offer that was easy to market, like Harlequin pap, or if I had a string of credentials to hypnotize an editor.

All this querying and rejection is getting boring. If anything, it's a good source of incentive to write something new, so I can start querying all over again. Sooner or later, I'll find someone who wants to listen to my story.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Becalmed

...and floundering in the doldrums. Another Monday, another week begins as the wait continues. There was a time when I was over the moon because Robert Guinsler of Sterling Lord was reading a full. Since then, I have learned not to expect much, not even a reply, because an acceptance or a rejection may not be forthcoming.

When work on the WIP slowed, I tried writing other things to re-charge the old creative batteries. Three short pieces are out on submission, I revised another manuscript, and today I just can't get motivated to go back to the WIP. My brain is distracted by another idea that's been tumbling about, and the research books are sitting in the pile, calling softly.

Watch out! A subject for a bit of non-fiction just climbed out of the darkness. Just a short article, and the research would take me only as far as the county courthouse to pick up some documents and it's only half a day's work and the article would practically write itself, being half-formed in my head even now. Stop! Leave me alone! I must be disciplined. I must finish the novel. I must get the self-doubt out of the way and sit at the desk, pick up the pen, and write. Hush now. No more of that talk, about not being published and how do you know if you're putting the action in the right spot and does the back story belong over there?

If only a wind would blow and I could get started. No more of that. There was a time when sailors would strike up the white ash breeze and row out of the doldrums. I'm off to whip up a Waterman breeze.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Popular Misconception

Annie Proulx has been ranting about the Oscar 'snub' for her story. In an editorial that has been spreading around the globe, she derides the 'conservative heffalump academy voters' who apparently don't know what's what in 'contemporary culture'.

Poor Annie. She's laboring under the popular misconception that '6,000 film industry voters...living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates' are responsible. I have many friends in the trades in Hollywood, lads in the trenches who toil behind the scenes and see everything that is going on. 'Tisn't those 6,000 film industry voters doing the voting, Miss Annie.

I've seen films before their release to DVD because a friend was given a reviewer's copy and it gets passed around. From one of the 6,000 it goes direct to one of the 6,000 secretaries. They not only share the films with their friends, but THEY ARE THE ONES WHO VOTE. Out of touch with the 'shifting larger culture and yeasty ferment' you think, Annie? They are the yeasty ferment. They don't live behind gates, they live in cramped little apartments, in the midst of all that ferment, across the hall from a gay couple who are going on about their ordinary lives. Their bosses give them the tally when it's Oscar time and tell them to take care of it, just like they tell them to send a letter or call a contact.

Do you think those hard-working folks give a horse's patoot about the message of Brokeback Mountain ? Did you ever think, in your ivory towered ferment, that they picked Crash because it's an action flick with plenty of comfortable and entertaining stereotypes? Kind of like characters in a John Grisham novel, Annie, and he's selling a lot of copies. Is it trash? I don't like Grisham's style, but I like yours. Unfortunately, I'm not a secretary to one of the 6,000, so my vote doesn't count.

The Annie Proulx diatribe sounds exactly like the diatribes of unpublished novelists who pen beautiful prose that falls into the literary category. Why is Grisham a best selling author while they can't get an agent? Why did Crash take the Oscar? Why do some liberals come across as elitist? The secretaries and the assistants to the 6,000 voted, and they chose entertainment over issues. Isn't there enough competition for decent men these days? It's not entertaining to realize that there's even more competition out there, from other men.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Time to share the family recipes:

White Soda Bread
4 cups plain flour
1.25 tsp. bread soda
.75 tsp. salt
2 cups buttermilk

Yes, that's all that's needed - no raisins, no butter, no nothing. These aren't scones we're making here.

Preheat the oven to 400 F (gas 6). Sift together the dry ingredients. Add enough buttermilk to make a moist dough. Form the dough into a ball (or make two smaller loaves). Mark the top with an X to keep the loaf from exploding in the oven. As soon as you've got it mixed, you have to bake it. The chemical reaction between the soda and the buttermilk creates the air bubbles, and you want to catch the first stages of gas formation for a proper loaf.

Put the dough on a greased baking sheet, slip it into the oven, and bake for 30 - 35 minutes. It's ready when it's golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.

Serve warm with plenty of butter (Kerrygold, of course). Soda bread is only good when it's fresh - after it sits and gets cold, it looses a lot of the taste.

Drown the shamrock in plenty of lager or stout, and you've the makings of a brilliant evening.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

About John Hanrahan

Christy Moore wrote a song about John Hanrahan, an Irish farmer who took the Merck drug company to court when their new factory spewed out poisons that killed his cattle. It was a hard slog against the big boys, and apparently it was financially crippling.

Within the past few days, the Agriculture Department confiscated his cattle. The Hanrahan family has been farming in the area for centuries, but it's coming to an end. Fighting to get the money owed him, he seems to have gone broke, unable to buy enough feed for his cattle.

Being a whistleblower, an ant taking on an elephant, takes great courage. It also takes a small fortune. John Hanrahan has lost his animals. We have gained from his victory over the drug company.

Haven't I Seen You Before?

Hollywood is getting ready to deliver us another new film, according to an article in the Irish Times - can't link to it, sorry. You'll have to buy the paper.

Mr. John Moore, born in Ireland but making it big in the big time, was filming his blockbuster in Croatia. Lots of films are done in Eastern Europe these days, simply because it's cheaper. Looking to maximize profits, our boy was grinding out miles of film when the protests erupted.

"Last December, about a week before we were to go to Croatia, the [ alleged] war criminal Ante Gotovina was picked up in the Canary Islands. Part of the deal to get Croatia into the EU was that Croatia would have to hand him over to the war crimes tribunal.

"The Croatian government asked the Catholic Church to help them get people's [ acceptance] and the church's condition was that we be kicked out." Or so Mr. Moore believes. After his sets were vandalized, burned to cinders, he pulled up stakes and took off for the Czech Republic, and eventually he'll be back home to finish off.

What movie could so upset Their Eminences? That most dangerous of films, The Omen, in which the Antichrist makes his appearance as an ambassador's son. Done in 1976, it's been thirty years, and time for the next generation of horror.

We've been given the Dukes of Hazzard, again. Bewitched, again. The Hills Have Eyes, The Pink Panther, The Shaggy Dog, King Kong, The Producers...Christ, I'm getting exhausted. And now, Mr. Moore is trying to stick us with another remake? The people of Croatia aren't having any of it. It wasn't the Catholic Church that wanted the film crew kicked out. The Croatians were doing the world a favor.

Enough of the reruns, give us something new, the Croatian vandals implied. There must be dozens of Croatian screenwriters who would jump at the chance to get their story out there. Unfortunately, the Hollywood moguls would have to - dare I suggest it - take a chance on something that is not tried and true.

All this talk and hand-wringing over the decline in movie going - and they've yet to figure out that people don't want to watch re-runs? Maybe it's time to take a clue from the Croatians and kick the film crews out until they come home with something that isn't so frayed and worn.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Oops I Did It Again

Checking Agent Query every day has become a bit of an addiction. What better place to find a newly hired agent, check snail mail addresses and get a sense of the sort of material an agent represents.

Recently, they listed Simon Green of POM Agency as someone interested in being queried. Looks like I've gone and scared the fella off.

He gets my query letter, and the next thing you know, he's not taking any more queries. Don't send me another, he begs, and the Agent Query site obliges by changing their listing. Not accepting queries anymore, Mr. Green of POM.

Surely his desk was piled high with them, and my missive was the one to set the pile crashing, possibly causing paper cuts and minor bruising. That was five weeks ago, and it must have taken him this long to dig out from underneath and send his updated information to Agent Query. No more, he has had enough. That would possibly explain the lack of a reply - even the sight of a SASE is enough to cause crippling flashbacks to the avalanche of queries.

At the beginning of January I sent a snail mail query to Michelle Wolfson, who is listed as an agent at Ralph Vicinanza's establishment. Much to my surprise, while browsing around yesterday, I found her listed as an agent at Adam Chromy's Artists and Artisans. Since she never replied to my original query, which I guess was the one that drove her to switch agencies unannounced,I e-mailed a new one to her attention. Switch agencies if you like, but sooner or later the queries will find you. How long before Ms. Wolfson tells Agent Query that she's not taking on new clients?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Not My Job

Putting together the packet for the Rosenberg Group was more than I was expecting. First three chapters and synopsis, okay, got it. Manuscript been shopped yet, can understand the concern. Anyone else reading it, again, I know where she's coming from. But an assessment of the book's market?

My bad for concentrating on financial accounting when I picked up that handy little MBA. The other fault I have is that I am not in the publishing industry, so I sure don't know a thing about the market. Jaysus, if I knew that, why would I need an agent?

Ms. Rosenberg asks about the book's strength within its market. That's easy. The book is well-written. Literary without being pointy-headed obscure. Commercial without being hackneyed. Yet all the advice we ever hear is to not toot one's own horn too loudly. Here's a strength for you - no one is wearing Prada, shopping in New York City or whining about how rough things are. No female protagonist in a love-hate relationship with her mother, now there's a real strong point.

I believe that it is the agent's job to categorize the manuscript, to get it in the hands of the appropriate editors. I don't have the knowledge to do that for her. If the writing grabs the agent, I guess she'll offer representation. If not, all the market analysis in the world won't help me get published.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Coming and Going

Don't we all appreciate a speedy response? Jessica Regel received my partial, take one look at it and swiftly decided it was not for her. In about a week, she got back to me on the first three chapters. Her only comment on the rejection letter (about half a sheet of paper) was that it was not right for her list. No editorial suggestions, just a no, but she was quick and it's finished. Hope she wasn't angry about my not being able to grant her an exclusive look.

In the same pile of mail, I found a request for a partial from Barbara Rosenberg. Bizarre how it turns out, that one agent rejects and another asks for material, with their letters crossing my desk at the same time.

Trouble is, I can't remember if I sent some sample pages to Ms. Rosenberg. After Ms. Regel's speedy exit, I'm having some self-doubt about the writing, and I'm tempted to look at the chapters and tweak here and there. Can't very well tweak something that an agent's looked at and liked enough to ask for more. Sometimes I send out queries in a foul mood, fed up with the whole process, and my record keeping is not what it should be. Not the first time. Not the last, I'm sure.

I've been reading The Woodsman's Daughter to get a feel for what's selling. After skimming through the first part, which I forced myself to read because I thought the characters were wooden and the story lacking, I'm beginning to like the middle section. Now, if something like this can make it, I really don't think my manuscript is half bad. The first fifty are going out as is. I like them fine, and I like them better than what I've been reading. Oh, right. What I like to read is not what the big houses like to publish. Could be a bit of a problem here.

The Dead Beats' Society

Sometimes the mail gets lost. Sometimes manuscripts get lost in piles in cluttered offices. But not all these.

Making allowances for the vagaries of the postal service and office personnel, I figured that a follow-up e-mail would clarify the situation. Why didn't the agent get back to me? As wanna-be novelists, we all wonder how long the literary agent is going to take to review the material that we send. For these folks, the answer would be - never.

Matt McGowan at Francis Golden's agency has never responded. Was he able to download the submission? Did he read it? Or is it just another throw-away stab at finding something new? We'll never know, because he ain't talking.

Ethan Ellenberg has a reputation for not responding if the submission is a no - so I guess he did reply, in his own unique way. It's been over a year and I don't expect to ever hear another word from him.

Riley Kellogg over at Jane Lord's office sent me an e-mail when she got the material and claimed that she would get back to me after she'd had a chance to read it. My word, but they must be backlogged. I haven't heard a peep out of her since last April. Too busy to even answer a request to let me know if it's still being considered. You'd never guess agents were so swamped, based on the drivel that's getting published.

Sterling Lord Literistic has an excellent reputation, but I guess that Robert Guinsler doesn't have to deal with writers with no reputation. Did you get the material, there, Robert? Hello? Are you there?

Over at Susan Golomb's firm, Jon Mozes was working as her assistant when he asked for a partial manuscript last May. Since he does not answer my e-mail, I have to wonder if he's still there, or if anyone is picking up the slack.

As writers, we gnaw our fingernails down to bone as we fret and wait to hear back. The fact that some agents never get back to the writers might give one pause. Then again, isn't there always that outside chance that the manuscript being submitted is the one - the best thing since Gone With The Wind, only better?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Tearstains On His Pillow

Poor, poor Mr. Dubay, the victim of vile treachery. So trusting, and now, so betrayed.

It's not fair at all, at all. Now, if he had only paid more attention to his biology classes, but it's too late. He's learned the lesson. And he doesn't like it. But he can't change it.

When in the name of God did sex have anything to do with procreation, he might ask. It's all for fun, like drinking a pint when a man's thirsty. He was merely recreating, and he trusted his female conquest when she said she was using contraceptives. (Quiet there, ladies, I hear you snickering. What man hasn't used a similar line, about being careful and you won't be up the stick?) The unfortunate Mr. Dubay could have worn a hat, but condoms dull the experience, and it's all about his pleasure after all. He was duped, and now he's supposed to pay.

Human biology is a sly and devilish thing. First, the human will preserve itself, and so Mr. Dubay was no doubt eating when hungry and drinking when thirsty, washing his hands to avoid infections and so on. After the human has taken care of self-preservation, however, it's time to preserve the species, and that's where the problem lies. For years, thanks to contraceptives, the link between sex and pregnancy has been altered, and a man can easily forget his biology lessons when the drive to preserve the species takes hold.

Life is not fair. Some people have long legs and can slam dunk. Some are short and uncoordinated. Women can have babies. Men cannot. A lawyer, a judge, a court cannot re-write the laws of biology to correct the basic inequality.

As for trusting his partner to handle birth control, has Mr. Dubay ever heard the adage, 'If you want it done right, do it yourself'? Hope you had a grand time making the baby, lad. Now it's your responsibility to look after it.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Another Agency Gone

News flash - or at least it was news to me today. Graybill & English is no more.

Jeff Kleinman left recently to join Folio Lit, and the ladies Graybill and English have split, it would appear. Anyone looking for Kristen Auclair can click on a link that goes to her e-mail address. Lynn Whittaker is listed as not taking on new clients, with no notice as to her whereabouts or future plans.

Elaine English has set up her own company, and Nina Graybill continues as a literary agent to the credentialed (that means don't bother with the query unless you're published) with a very basic website.

Hard to say if Kleinman made for the exits to seek new adventures, or if he saw the writing on the wall and got out before the lights were turned out. It seems hard to believe that he was the key to the agency, and it could not go on without him.

Not wishing to take sides in the divorce, I sent an e-query to Ms. English because I am very much not credentialed. Old agent, new agency - who could resist hitting the send key?

The Merry Pranksters

Always up for the messing, those college lads. Here the FBI was worried that some racists or terrorists were on the loose in Alabama, burning Baptist churches in an orgy of hatred. Turns out it was all a bit of fun.

Funny, funny joke, to set fire to a church or two or five. As it turns out, a couple of the arsonists are theatre majors, and don't we all feel less than cool to not get the point of their performance art pieces. Making a statement about the boredom of life for today's young adult, is that it?

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test has met the modern era. The Merry Pranksters are roaming the great state of Alabama in an SUV, purchased by Mummy for use by her prankster son. Is it the lad's fault that Volkswagen stopped manufacturing their bus? What's a man to do, when he can't drive the prescribed vehicle? Re-think the image, of course, and what the Volkswagen bus was to Ken Kesey's crew, the SUV has become for the firebrands of Alabama. There they were, driving about, lighting fires and having a good laugh at the expense of the establishment.

Boys will be boys. How could any court convict such delightful pranksters? Surely the courtroom will ring with laughter as the three arsonists relate their merry adventures, and perhaps Tom Wolfe could write about them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Starting Over

Writing forums are fine, but they're no way to truly learn the craft of writing. The best way to learn how to write is to read.

I've been doing my research lately, picking apart the opening chapters of new releases, analyzing the paragraphs. Thou shalt not put backstory in the first chapter seems to be a cardinal rule. I've read the beginnings of several new novels - not the ends, because the books are dull and the writing mediocre. The trend is to smack the reader between the eyes with action.

Cut to the chase is the operative phrase. The result is, I have to turn back to figure out who is who because there isn't enough verbiage to flesh out the characters and distinguish one from another. Then the backstory gets tacked in later, say, after the first fifty pages that are supposed to grab the literary agent's eye. Goodnight Nobody is fairly well written, but the backstory seemed out of place and a bit clunky, as if the agent said, "Can't put that here at the beginning" and it was pasted in elsewhere.

Who am I to judge, as one who isn't published and isn't getting too far along on the rocky road? I'm revising MANUSCRIPT C, which Simon Lipskar read and passed on, claiming that it was a close call. The bits of backstory that turned up in chapters 2 and 3 have been trimmed into near nonexistence, and the POV at the opening is changed to that of the female protagonist. I hear the ladies like it better that way, to focus on the girl and let the gentleman cool his heels in the background for a few pages.

Start with a few e-queries, paste in the first few pages as perMiss Snark's suggestion, and give it a go. At least with an e-mail query, I'm not out the cost of paper and postage.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Is It a Comedy?

Last night's Oscar telecast was, as is typical, sometimes dull and sometimes funny. This year I actually took the time to watch parts of it because I had not seen one of the movies up for awards, and did not even know the plots of some of them. Assuming that the clips that would be shown would be selected to highlight the best aspects of the film, to entice Middle America to go to the show, I paid attention.

Brokeback Mountain is hysterically funny, based on the segment that I saw last night. Mr. Ledger's character came across as mildly mentally handicapped in his delivery of a few lines. Sometimes dialogue that works in a story, a part of a larger picture that includes the character's inner workings, does not translate well on screen.

The cowboys I have met do not fit the John Wayne stereotype, but that is the stereotype that was used. Somehow, using a stereotype to break away from another stereotype makes the whole thing lean towards parody rather than serious stuff. Listening to Mr. Ledger ponder 'this thing' made me chuckle. He sounded like the partner's second cousin, the one who was always described as being 'a little slow.'

Rather than sit in a movie theater, laughing, I'll read the short story. Annie Proulx can show better than Heath Ledger can tell - and that's a lesson for any budding novelist.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Disappearing Website

Surfing the web, I happened to click on a link to Peter Cox's agency, Redhammer, and was directed to a pay-to-join site that he was - or is - associated with. Litopia is some sort of forum for writers, and used to be linked with the webpage for Redhammer.

How very bizarre for the Redhammer Agency's site to morph into Litopia. When Mr. Cox says he does not want any unsolicited queries, he's not kidding. Troubled by people sending him submissions, which the website was set up to accept, he has disappeared into the ether. Does this mean that his agency is no longer in business? He has a page on Publishers Marketplace with his address, but the link to his website goes to Litopia, and it ain't free.

There's more than one way to make a buck (few quid), and charging fledgling writers for one's bon mots may bring in the rent money. It's possible that he has switched gears and gone off into a more prosperous sideline. At any rate, if you missed the Redhammer website when it was up and running, you're too late to see it now. The flying angel that once graced the header must have flown off into the sunset.

UPDATE - March 11, 2006

Have the hackers been at it, or what? Redhammer's website is once again up and running, with the link to submit back in action. Still don't know if Mr. Cox is accepting submissions, or if the submission link goes to some black hole where the letters are sucked in and become anti-matter.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Great Adventure Looms

My father-in-law is dying. This afternoon, I went to say goodbye and watched as he gasped for breath, fighting against the pneumonia that is going to kill him. Dying is a hard thing to do, to let go and set off on the last adventure into the unknown. He battles the weight of his chest, filling his lungs with effort and then sliding into periods of breathing so shallow that he does not seem to inhale.

Hour by hour, the episodes of apnea will increase. Within days, he will stop breathing, but it will happen with such stealth that we will not notice it immediately. We know this is coming. We cannot be prepared for the end.

He will not go gently. He rails against death, but in the end, death always wins. And yet we will not be ready when he finally goes.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

If You Can't Beat 'em

The French are so clever. They set the pace in food and fashion, and now they've shown us another way to get ahead.

Who would not love such a father as one who would poison his children's athletic rivals? Lara Marlowe reports from Paris on a case that makes the Texas cheerleader mom seem, sadly, declasse. The poor woman could have ensured her daughter's cheerleading future if she only had the foresight to dose all rivals with sedatives an hour before tryouts. Her little girl would have starred, being the only one who was not nodding off.

Unfortunately for M. Fauviau, he failed to swipe the gentleman's car keys and prevent him from driving while under the influence. But for that tragic error, the Fauviau children could have set French tennis on fire and no one would be any the wiser. Despite his mistake, the doting pere made the grandest of gestures, going that extra kilometer for his offspring.

The fact that Fauviau was a former soldier could trigger a new round of 'cheese eating surrender monkey' satire in some quarters. Is he to be faulted because the French Army does not provide training in poisoning and doping? It's not as if he was in the Special Forces.

Fair play to you, Fauviau. Every parent whose child is involved in sports and competition can relate to your anxiety. Who's to say that another of us might not go just as mad?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Mood Swing

Just as I was feeling like a pariah in the publishing world, I got a mood-lifter.

There are many queries out there, but no one has responded one way or the other when I was hoping to get something. Either agents are seasonal workers, and late winter is the off season, or my name is traveling around the publishing community on some literary agent blacklist. Sort of like the 'Do Not Call' list, only my queries generate a shudder of horror and a quick pass into the circular file.

About once a week, I'll run through the list of sent e-queries, noting the non-responders as a 'no' in my database o' queries and deleting them. The time was coming to clean out the file, and Jessica Regel's name was at the bottom of the pile as the oldest unanswered letter after nine days. Housekeeping duties being a real low priority task, I did not clean up, and Blessed Ash Wednesday but she asked for the first three chapters.

Can't give her an exclusive, but I would if I could. Quite high up on the literary agent food chain, Jean Naggar's agency, but there's a couple of other partials out there and I have to be honest. Tomorrow, the packet goes in the mail, and I hope she understands that I can't grant her exclusivity request. Not that it matters, I suppose, since she's bound to reject the material anyway. Who wants an unpublished author when there's so many with credentials? Why kill yourself selling a manuscript from an unknown when you can approach the editor with a bit of 'won this award, earned an MFA, published in Glimmer Train' and all that jazz?

It was looking like I'd never need the Priority Mail envelopes and stamps that I bought about two months ago. Could it be a sign that the agents are shaking off the winter doldrums and getting up to speed?