Monday, July 31, 2006

The Wisdom of Kevin Gildea

From Saturdays' Irish Times comes the sound advice of comedian Kevin Gildea, offering his take on writing a best seller. It's every bit as valid as anything you'd find in any other offer, and all in ten easy steps:


It may sound obvious, but it's so true! The best way to achieve your goal of writing a book is to write. If you don't then you will end up writing a book with no words in it and nobody will buy a book with no words in it except people who like buying books but hate reading (a growing market now that I think of it).


When it comes to writing the three most important things are: location, location, location. Maeve Binchy likes to write in her kitchen whilst having dinner with friends; Samuel Beckett would only write in his favourite chair, which was made out of a giant corkscrew. John Grisham writes in a room.


There is only one time to start and that is Now! Unless of course you are being attacked by a mugger, or in court fighting for custody of your children - then my advice is to leave it for a day or two, when you'll have more time to concentrate on your book in hospital or in the empty house you used to call home.


When you sit down at your desk for the first time in front of a blank piece of paper you face the question all writers (great and small) have faced through the ages: what is my target market? Answer this question and you're halfway there!


6 TIMETABLE (How Should I Divide Out My Time?)

If you want to write productively you must have a regular writing schedule to which you adhere strictly. Tea and lunch breaks must be factored in and you should put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door. Make sure that you put it on the right side of the door (the outside) or you could be stuck in the room indefinitely. If you have to share a room then you could put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on your back. However, no matter the preparation and intention, the best-laid plans can become unlaid. I have included a detailed breakdown of one of my writing days to give you some idea what I mean. I think reading this will give you a greater insight into what writing is really like than all the chats in the world with a drunken man about scrap metal.

6.1 A real working timetable:

7am: I enter my writing room and sit before a virgin sheet of white paper. I inhale deeply.

9am: I awake and wipe drool off the white, crumpled page.

9.01am: I take a deep breath and repeat my mantra: "I am a writer - here I go."

10-10.11am: I pull the sticker off my new biro and put it on my tea mug.

10.11-10.14am: Tell myself to "come on", "let's go" and "let's do it" while picking my nose with increasing urgency.

10.15-10.16am: Reiterate the need to "let's go".

10.16-10.23am: Go to the toilet and read old copy of Hello! magazine.

1.21-1.51pm: I decide to have a working lunch, but I get confused and eat my paper and five staples.

2.51-3.09pm: Go to the toilet and read the toilet roll.

4.51-4.55pm: I tell myself to "focus". I tie my shoelaces to the desk so I can't get up and make any more tea*.

4.55-5.05pm: I polish my pants. Now I'm ready!

5.09-5.35pm: I chew gum really fast in a desperate effort to make something happen.

6.05pm: I decide I am not a writer. I open a bottle of whiskey.

7.05pm: I open a second bottle of whiskey. Now I'm a writer!

(* Tea-making has been omitted from the above schedule because it would have taken up too much space.)


Write about what you know. If more people did this then there would be a lot of books about nothing . . . and there are, so it must be sound advice!


There are as many types of book as there are kinds of books. I am not going to list all the types here although I will mention a few just to "get you going":

8.1 Autobiography - Despite the name, this book does not write itself. My advice is to do something with your life before you write one of these. Geri Halliwell is a good example of a bad example.

8.2 Self-help books - In a world where everybody needs as much help as they can get but don't want to admit it to anybody, this is a surefire money-spinner. One of my favourites is "Women Are From Venus, Men Are From Limerick". The book I am currently writing is a self-help book, called "How To Write A Book", which is very handy because whenever I get stuck at a particular point in my book I just refer to an earlier part of the book and I'm off again!

8.3 Sports books - Many of these are either biographies or autobiographies. If you wish to write an "official" biography, you will have to get permission from your subject. If this proves impossible then you may wish to write an "unofficial" biography. Later this year will see the controversial publication of the first-ever unofficial autobiography! It's written by Roy Keane and, according to Eamon Dunphy, the book is "a complete hatchet job" and Keane is "absolutely fuming with himself". Keane is so angry with the publication of this book that he has threatened to take himself to court.

8.4 Adult fantasy books - This is a very popular category. Writing a book and imagining that it has a chance in hell of getting published falls into this category.

8.5 Romance - Yes, even women have stopped believing in romance. They have dumped romance for chicklit. Gone are the days when women's lives revolved around "a man". Women are now independent human beings who sit in rooms all over the country chatting and laughing for hours with their friends about their sex lives with men, about looking for men, about finding men, getting over men, keeping men, and how men have become redundant in the 21st century.

8.6 Diet books - These do not work in the long run. I don't know why somebody doesn't publish a giant 10,000-page hardback diet book so at least people would lose a bit of weight picking it up.


This is a vastly overrated area of the whole writing-a-book thing - and I'm not just saying that because I have failed to generate any interest whatsoever in my own work.


One man who has successfully taken the self-publishing road is Michael Flatley with his autobiography, "I'm Great". Not only did he publish it himself but he also typed it himself, with his feet - 7,000 words per minute on a specially built typewriter the size of Croke Park. Now there's a big writing lesson for us all!

Kevin Gildea's book, "How to Write a Bestseller", is published by Kevin Gildea Press, price €13.99 (negotiable).

(lifted from © The Irish Times)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Help Is On The Way

After all the research I've done to further my publishing career, here comes a man who can show me how to do it. Sure and I've been doing it wrong all this time, since Blake Moody's taken it upon himself to share his knowledge with me, the result of seven hours of interviews with an unnamed publisher. Tell me more, Blake. What better way to flash your credentials than to not name names.

He found my online writer's profile, he says, so he's trolling the Writers Net waters. And he wants to help me make my next book a New York Times Best Seller. Pity I haven't written one, so I passed the info along to Cian. He's still laughing, so I'll have to finish the blog.

What does Blake want me to learn? Why, he'll be revealing some dirty little secrets that no one wants to tell me. Can't imagine what that might be. I already know about Bertie Ahern and Celia Larkin, acting like a married couple when Bertie's married to Cecilia's mammy. What other dirty little secrets would I need to know?

Once we get through the gossip, it's on to information on how your book idea becomes a published book. I thought it had something to do with getting an agent who sells it to a publisher, but I could be wrong. When is self-publishing an option, your man will reveal all. Blake, darling, you self-publish the family genealogy or that book of recipes that your twenty cousins want. It's pretty obvious.

He'll tell me how to get free publicity and a high-impact interview. Hold a knife to Oprah's throat and you'll be getting a high-impact interview with Chicago's finest. I presume he's got other ideas in mind. Beyond that, he'll show me how to use the Internet to sell more books. The concept does not work, but, don't want to rain on Blake's parade.

If I send Blake $188.88, and that's marked down from retail, I'll get ten information-packed CDs that will work miracles. Money back if not satisfied. Not money back if I don't become a best-selling author, mind you. But wait, there's more. If I order now, he'll send me four bonus gifts. That would comprise a couple of e-books, another tome called Journey to the Impossible, and a computer program that creates marketing plans. My heart's in a flutter, Blake.

Has any literary agent seen this pile of shite? What a coincidence that a blurb is pasted in the website from Esther Fedorkevich. Sorry, from who? Not listed with AAR, not listed with Agent Query, not showing up at Preditors & Editors. My, but she flies well below the radar. Or maybe she's Blake's auntie who hung out a shingle one day. "I'm a literary agent," she said, and Blake said, "Can I quote you?"

Blake Moody's business plan is simple, and is based entirely on the surety that a fool and his money are soon parted. Don't be a fool.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sugar Coated

Yes, yes, I know, I know. A rejection is a 'NO' and that's that. But I've gotten so many of them that I've reached the point that a personalized rejection can make my day. Pathetic, I'll grant you, but we're grasping at straws here.

Only a very few queries were mailed two weeks ago, all to agents who might be interested in my Manuscript #5. Not a peep out of anyone since, and I can't tell if it's a bad query, a bad concept, or everyone's off on vacation and not reading their mail. Then today I opened up a rejection from Brandt & Hochman, and I nearly feel on the floor in shock.

Not a form at all, at all. The letter was addressed to me, by name. After a slew of faded photocopies, it's a pleasure to receive real letterhead that was used just for me. Then Mr. Schlessiger let me down gently. He's got so many clients, you see, and he can only consider something that he's sure is right for him. That's agent speak for he's only interested in someone who has a track record that involves lovely commissions for the agent. That's how it is with the heavier hitters, and I don't mind the honesty.

But in closing, he encouraged me to keep querying. Sure, other agents have said as much in their form letters, but it was all the way he phrased it. There was a hint of an apology in between the lines, an implication that the query letter itself was not the worst thing he'd seen in this lifetime. The whole thing was so touching that I've kept it, instead of consigning it to the shredder.

When next I'm clutching at straws, I can pull that one out and pretend that I might have a minute scrap of talent.

Agency Demise

Another recent start-up agency has closed its doors. Vrattos Literary Agency is no more.

Back in 2004, owners John and Francesca were attending conferences, in league with some heavy hitters from New York and L.A., but their location in little Sebastopol, CA was apparently a great hindrance. Hard to make connections with the major publishers if you're not in NYC and don't have the connections pre-made when starting an agency, even if you've located in the Sonoma Valley wine country.

Ms. Vrattos's claim to fame was the fact that she had run a literary referral company, linking would-be authors with agents and editors. She worked for a time at Penguin, but it's hard to judge the level of involvement from a blurb on a website. Just as one can't say why she gave up the referral business and switched to agenting. I'm tempted to say that she failed in both endeavors, but that's pure speculation. She has written a couple of novels, but they are only available as an e-book, which should tell us something about her abilities to sell manuscripts to royalty paying publishers.

Her husband was a published author, although putting out a cookbook hardly prepares one for the rough and tumble of an agent's life. Even his twenty years in marketing and sales were of no use, but then, if he was not selling and marketing to publishers, his experience would be inconsequential. Ever the trooper, Mr. Vrattos was often seen at writer's conferences on the Left Coast, in search of talent, but he must have come up empty too many times. No sales, no income, no money, no business.

The best they could do was three sales, all to Andrews McMeel Publishing, and that over the course of their two-three year existence. As for the authors whose works were being shopped, it's back to square one for them in the search for an agent. There was no scam here at all. It was a case of the inept and the incompetent putting up a shingle and starting up a company without the necessary knowledge to pull it off. If you're looking at a start-up agency, it's best to check the owner's credentials first, to see if they're playing out of their league.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In All Honesty

As things now stand, you can go over to Ireland, break into a home and take what you like, because the homeowner is legally bound to run away. To me, that has the sound of a new business venture, a travel junket for antique fans.

With a new ruling from the courts yesterday, I'm convinced that this antique-ing expedition can work. You see, according to the Criminal Damage Act of 1991, you can get away with a crime if you honestly believe that your actions were meant to defend yourself or another, or if you were defending property belonging to yourself or another. That's why the five anti-war protestors got away with causing $2.5 million in damage to a Navy plane at Shannon airport. Protecting the Iraqi people, they said, and the judge bought their sincerity. Well, there's got to be plenty of valuable antiques that need protecting from over-zealous farm wives and their bottles of furniture polish. Time to liberate those hand-crafted pine dressers and elegant Regency tables.

We long to protect vulnerable pieces of furniture. How many bits of Belleek porcelain are in danger of being broken by clumsy owners? Is the Book of Kells not suffering from being locked away, isolated and confined? Time to liberate the treasures, and in all honesty, we believe that we are doing the right thing, within the confines of the law, to protect these endangered items.

And why stop there? The banks are full of money that will be used to oppress the vulnerable people of Ireland. Surely there's been a suicide or two over financial difficulties, and we will protect the depressed by eliminating the cash that is the source of their grief. There's no end to the good that we can do.

The trip will cost nothing, as we are within our rights to liberate a plane from Aer Lingus to ferry us on our mission of mercy. Honestly, isn't this plan justified?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

Mobile phones have become so common that they are an absolute necessity. Running late? Ring up and let them know you're on your way, don't hold dinner. Following someone? Ring up and let them know where the driver is going. That's the part that caused Brian Meehan a bit of a problem, however.

It's been ten years since Mr. Meehan was driving on the Naas Road on his stolen motorbike, jabbering away with Russell Warren. From Naas District Court towards Clondalkin, Mr. Warren followed behind Veronica Guerin and kept Mr. Meehan informed as to her whereabouts. After Mr. Meehan's friend on the back of the motorbike fired six shots into Ms. Guerin, they had little more to say to one another. Thanks to the wonders of our electronic age, the Garda Soichana was able to uncover each and every call, proving that Mr. Meehan and Mr. Warren were linked.

Brian's serving a life term for murder, and he's none too pleased that the courts turned down his appeal. It must be terribly annoying to learn that the police had access to your phone records and could prove that you were chatting to a man who confessed to following Ms. Guerin and then explained to the judges that the phone calls were meant to keep you informed so that you could come upon Ms. Guerin at a traffic light. Your man would expect some privacy when phoning, but there was the list of calls, full of incriminating details.

The legal minds employed by Meehan were hoping that the court would buy their argument, that the phone calls between a confessed accomplice in the witness protection program and their client were pure coincidence, or at least not evidence of collusion. Obviously, the judges did not buy it, as Mr. Meehan was turned down and sent back to prison for the rest of his days.

Not too long ago, John Gilligan went back to court to get some time taken off his sentence. The ringleader of the drugs gang that was responsible for the murder of Veronica Guerin, he did not fare well either. His equestrian center and other properties are still forfeited to the state, and his sentence was not reduced. If only he could put the bullets back in that gun. If only the batteries on the mobile phone had lost all power. If only the call had been dropped.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Preparing For August

The first round of query letters for Manuscript #5 resulted in a request for a partial. So I figured I was hot again, and I sent out another batch. The silence from the other end was more than deafening, it was an airless vacuum. Maybe that initial query letter was not so awesome, so I revised it. The hook's the thing, and that's the first place to start.

My second attempt has met with equal disinterest. I sent off an e-query to Sarah Jane Freymann, who reps the sort of nonsense that I wrote this time around, but she never bothered to even send off the form rejection. She read the query last week, and she used to respond, but I guess the letter was so dull that she dropped off to sleep and hit the delete key before she could reply.

August is coming, that lazy, hazy hiatus time in the publishing world. I don't suppose that agents are very much interested in anything these days, what with summer vacations and a month in the Hamptons or a couple of weeks in Tuscany to occupy their minds. Clearly there is no point in querying now, in spite of the overwhelming urge to send a few letters off to see if this fifth manuscript has legs.

On the other hand, August is the start-up month for many literary journals, as they once again open up for submissions. When I am driven to query, I must force myself to print out the 3,000 word short piece and mail it off to obscure colleges around the country. Watch out, Cream City Review, I've got you in my sights and August 1st is just around the bend.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

And That Goes For You, Too

Must be the heat getting to the interns at Meredith Bernstein's agency. I sent her a query at the end of last week, without expectations of success. What I got back today was not what I sent.

Somewhere in Gainesville, Florida, a man who studied creative writing at university is no doubt looking over the pink slip rejection from Ms. Bernstein, sad to see that she does not want more of his debut novel. Bad enough that the query letter was double-spaced, but a novel of 56,000 words is not what most agents are after. Apparently, the cost of producing a book is not significantly cheaper if it's 80,000 words vs. 56,000, and the narrowness of the book spine is a problem for bookstores. And for browsers with poor vision. Tough to squeeze a title on a narrow spine. As for the plot, it's a bit bizarre. Nurse steals drugs from hospital to supply her prostitution ring after hours. I didn't read any more. Felt a bit like a voyeur, looking at what I shouldn't.

Another gentleman elsewhere in the country discovered my query letter in his SASE, and he was kind enough to send me an e-mail to let me know. Who can say where his rejected query ended up? There must be a chain of these, numbering in the hundreds, completely screwed up. All it takes is to be off by one envelope and the entire stack is thrown into disarray, with queries being returned to the wrong party.

The lesson here is simple. Don't put something in your query that is not suitable for public consumption. You don't know who might be reading it. Oh, and by the way, that's a most speedy turnover time from receipt to rejection. But maybe the intern could slow down just a little bit, pause to wipe the sweating brow and engage in quality control.

When To Follow Up?

Now that's a truly tough question to answer. When is it acceptable to shoot an e-mail to the literary agent who's been sitting on your partial manuscript for the past three months? Most agents don't set a limit on how long it will take them to get through your opus, but then, they don't operate on a set schedule either.

It is much easier to know when not to follow up, and today is that day. Under no circumstances should anyone drop a line to an agent in New York City, no matter how long the wait or even if the agent's designated wait time has expired. The answer that you will get back, if you get an answer at all, will be 'NO'.

How can I be so wise as to know this? Simple arithmetic, actually. Take one overload of the electrical grid in New York City, add temperatures in the nineties, and then subtract the lack of air conditioning. Factor in the inoperative elevators, and there you have it. It all adds up to a very ugly picture, and you would be most unwise to pile on your little note.

Can you imagine your potential agent, slogging up God know how many flights of stairs to the flat, to sit in the dark and bake in that hot oven. Not a scenario that would lend itself to pleasantries, is it? So, the agent is broiling mad at ConEd and the world in general, and you'd best leave him or her alone to sweat it out.

After things cool off and the power is up to full strength, then you can start again to fret over the timing of your gentle nudge. As far as this weekend goes, don't even think about hitting the send key. Don't even consider composing your most ingratiatingly passive e-mail. It'll bring you nothing but heartache.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Recluse Sighting

There's a rumor floating around that the exceedingly reclusive author Thomas Pynchon is about to release a new novel. After nearly ten years of waiting, I would imagine that his fans are expecting something truly mind boggling.

It's not as if he hasn't done anything at all in that time. There was the guest appearance on "The Simpsons" that was much ballyhooed. And like most authors, he's been puttering around with the occasional short essay to keep his hand in, and possibly to keep the creative juices flowing during a blockage.

Without a doubt, the book is causing a stir. According to the MSNBC website, Mr. Pynchon posted a description of the book on Amazon, a synopsis of sorts that is so convoluted that it defies description. Shortly thereafter, the folks at Penguin pulled it with no explanation given. Adds to the overall air of mystery, doesn't it? And since the author will not be doing any book tours, the marketing people are much in need of something to plug the book. And they might need a wheelbarrow as well.

The book is going to run for at least 900 pages. That's around 225,000 words, or the equivalent of three average novels. Can you imagine hefting that around on the subway commute? Who needs a session at the gym after that?

Literary agents are running for cover even now. Before long, they will be barraged by hopeful writers, all submitting weighty tomes that approach Mr. Pynchon's word count, and what will they bray when told to cut? One must always remember that the author who wants to be published must adhere to industry standards in both size and dreck-level to get the first book out there. It takes a following, a large, cash-paying following, to get away with anything else. Thomas Pynchon has been wildly successful. No one will tell him to see the editors before submitting.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Recommended Reading

As a general rule, I don't like first person POV, but The Whistling Season was positively reviewed by the Chicago Tribune. I was surprised to see the novel on the library shelf so soon after the paper spoke highly of Ivan Doig's newest release, since the top notch books are usually circulating most of the time.

I already knew a little of the plot, based on the review, and it sounded intriguing. The novel is a coming-of-age tale, told from the perspective of a grown man recalling a key moment in his life. Turning to the first page, I discovered that it was also full of 'I', and I was sorely tempted to put it back. However, study the market and all that, so I checked it out.

The prose is absolutely unique, with phrases and metaphors that add to an overall sensation of light-hearted joy. Doig's voice is almost playful, nearly over the top but oddly enjoyable to read. Even though the novel is set in rural Montana at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, it is the sort of book that supersedes its location and the story becomes more universal. In other words, it's not a Western, even though it is set in the American West.

Doig builds up the suspense through suggestion, revealing the backgrounds of his key characters in pieces so that the reader maintains interest. The only bumps in the literary road occur when the reader is jarringly reminded that the narrative is coming from a grown man recalling his past, with a few uncomfortable insertions that serve as reminders that this is all flashback.

All in all, the novel reads less like a memoir than most other first person tomes, which makes it far more pleasant to read. Now that I have finished a well-crafted first person POV novel, I think I might be able to try another one. It is said that first person is hard to pull off without resorting to 'I' this and 'I' that, but Ivan Doig demonstrates how it can be done well.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ireland In The World Cup

Courtesy of You Tube:

Soccer Video

And is this Al Zuckerman as Pat Mustard?

He's in the phone booth at the end of the clip.

Your Failure Explained

So you've written a novel and put together a query letter, but literary agents have yet to beat a path to your door. If only someone in the business could help you, to give you a few hints or clues. Why do I fail, you ask yourself, but you have no answers because you are not a publishing professional.

Thinking of attending a conference to meet agents and mingle with fellow writers? Rather pricey venture for five minutes of an agent's time, isn't it? But you don't have to go through that particular ordeal, not any more. Yes, thanks to literary agent Natasha Kern, you can now find out why you're an abject failure, and for only $75.00 (not a reading fee).

And did I mention that it's not a reading fee? No indeed, you can go right ahead and query her for free, but when the rejection letter arrives, you'll be left with the same questions you've always had. Enclose a check to Ms. Kern for $75.00 (not a reading fee) and she will send you an analysis that will point you in the right direction. She will look over your query and tell you if it sucks. She will read the first five pages of your manuscript and tell you if your writing sucks. And she will also let you know if your synopsis demonstrates a marketable concept and coherent plot, or does it suck as well.

Actually, the consultation fee does not ring of a scam. Ms. Kern states quite clearly on her website that you can send a submission and then follow up with the consulting fee after she's rejected you, to find out what you did wrong. After that, it will be up to you to fix the query letter or re-write the novel on your own. All she'll do for $75.00 is point out the flaws in the query, the two page synopsis, and the first three chapters of the manuscript. And if she does not represent what you've sent, she'll send the whole thing back without cashing the check.

Or, you can post your work on Writers Net or Absolute Write
and get skewered for free. The choice is yours.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Strangers Not Allowed

Thinking of retiring to a wee cottage in Ireland, are you? You got the urge from watching every episode of Ballykissangel, and fell in love with the beauty of County Wicklow. What could be better than slowing down the pace of life by relocating to some small town, one like the setting of that old soap opera? Once the estate agent finds out where you're from, they'll be saying that they are ever so sorry, but there's nothing available.

How can this be, you might ask. You've done your research, and you know that the television program was filmed in the town of Avoca in County Wicklow, and there certainly appeared to be acres of open ground. Now the estate agent is on the spot, hemming and hawing, possibly giving the old tight collar a tug. There's nothing available, you see, because you're not one of them. You're not living in Avoca now.

Of course you're not living there now, you carry on, you want to move there to live from now on. Can't do it, unfortunately. You might be able to find something to rent, but to own? No, sorry, nothing available.

Thanks to some quick action by the Wicklow County Council County Settlement committee, you can't move into several small rural towns unless you already live in the small rural town. No stranger faces allowed on their little country roads. If you'd like to relocate to a slightly larger area, like Avoca, well then, get in line. Only 25% of new homes built in Avoca can be sold to strangers.

If you can see your way to moving into a bigger town, then you might stand a better chance. Some places are being roped off for residents new to Wicklow, to keep all the strangers together and well away from the settled Wicklowians. Just don't go picking one of the highly restricted places, where no one can build a new home unless they've been a resident of the town for at least ten years.

It's all about controlling growth and urban sprawl, done up Irish style. Don't want too many houses being built in the small hamlet? Don't let anyone build. Isn't that so simple? And when your neighbor's children are ready to leave the family nest and want a place of their own, well, you tweak the law a bit and restrict new construction to long-time residents, such as the neighbor's kids who have resided in Wicklow since birth and meet that ten year requirement.

The County's scheme is far more complex than I could ever hope to explain. They've split up the place into ten categories, each with its own set of rules and regulations. The whole thing is so complex that no one in their right mind would even try to figure out where they could build and where they cannot even move to. So, the plan works perfectly. No urban sprawl for County Wicklow. Brilliant.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Must Read

Looking for something to read while you bask in the summer sun? But you want something sophisticated, European...perhaps even French? Soon to be released, there is a blockbuster memoir just for you.

The one and only Nicolas Sarkozy, interior minister of France and possibly Chirac's successor, is publishing his memoirs today for release in time for the European holiday season of August. There will, of course, be the requisite book signing tour, and by joining Nic's mailing list you can get a sneak peek at his prose via his website. Yet you doubt that he actually did the writing? Accuse him of hiring ghostwriters?

"I wrote it all myself," M. Sarkozy has been quoted as claiming. The French Prime Minister, the intellectual Dominique de Villepin, has a list of poems to his credit, along with a biography of Napoleon, and Nic is not going to upstaged by the likes of de Villepin. And it turns out that Chirac was not going to be upstaged by Sarkozy last Friday, when the memoir was supposed to be released to coincide with Chirac's last Bastille Day speech. The two came to an agreement so that Chirac could flap his gums without anyone being distracted by Sarkozy's purple prose, every word penned by his own hand he says.

It looks to be a page turner, this memoir. Besides the usual stuff, about the immigrant parents coming to France in search of a better life, there are promised to be many pages devoted to Sarkozy's undying love for the missus. Who had left him for the bright lights of New York City with another man, but apparently, she missed Gay Paree. Or she got tired of her American lover and the dull provincialism of New York.

I have no doubt that the overriding theme of the section dealing with the lovely Cecilia and her return to Nic's arms will be: How do you keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Close Again

Unfortunately for me, the editors of Pleiades can't use my short piece. But, and this is to writers what a birdie is to the amateur golfer, they were interested enough in it to ask me to submit again in the future.

Like getting a couple of good strokes in golf, the invitation to send something else is enough to make you want to keep pursuing a relatively futile escapade. Not quite right for the folks in Missouri, but, but, but...I write good enough, and maybe the next short work will be the one.

The agents at Georges Borchardt are not taking on any new, unpublished authors, according to the miniscule scrap of paper they sent me in my SASE. If only I knew what it was that I sent them. I forgot to log in the submission. The only clue I have is the stamp, which I've used in my most recent submissions. So I'm guessing that they turned down my historical fiction manuscript. If only a literary rag would show more than interest in my work, I too would be published and have real, live credentials. Maybe then the literary agents would give me the time of day.

Time to follow up with the Indiana Review, as it has been four months now and they've reached the limit of their stated wait time. Hard to believe that four months have flown by already.

We Ain't Ready For Reform

Nor nudity neither, I might add. After a short run of six months, the infamous Stringfellow's lap dancing club on Dublin's Parnell Street has closed their doors. Folded their tent. Packed their bags. And their PR man is astounded.

Operated by Sabley Taverns Ltd., the glorified strip club put down roots in a residential neighborhood, and the Irish mammies went berserk. Mr. John Sullivan, ace PR operative, was horrified. After all, in his most studied opinion, that sort of protest would never happen in a modern capital city. So provincial, those Irish women, protesting three nights a week out in front of the place. At the grand opening, when celebrities turned up, they had the audacity to jeer.

And now for the backstory. Peter Stringfellow is British, with a remarkable resemblance to Hugh Hefner, complete with ditzy bleached blondes adorning his arms. His strip clubs are supposed to be more classy, like the old Playboy clubs, and he attracted a fair share of D-list stars to his London nudie spots. When he sought to branch out to Dublin, he figured it was a sure thing, what with the Celtic Tiger and tourists and all. Pity he did not reckon on Irish modesty, which has most definitely not gone away.

When the place first opened, they had nary an Irish girl grinding her arse into the customer's crotch. Surprised they were, to find no takers for those job openings amongst the natives. Had to import pretty young and desperate things from the poverty stricken regions of Eastern Europe. You'd think that might have been a bit of a clue, but they must have missed the signs.

The mammies were not satisfied to merely protest, either. They went to court to challenge the club's liquor license. How's that for provincial, there, Mr. Sullivan? Crying, he is, now that the ladies won their battle, wagging a finger at them for shutting down an Irish-owned and operated club. Shame, ladies, for putting one hundred people out of work. And most of them Irish. Shame on you for noting that there are more than enough jobs in Ireland these days, and girls don't need to go around demeaning themselves.

The pack of mammies went and shamed the corporate clients Sabley Taverns was counting on, and the much needed clientele stayed away in droves. Can you imagine, going off to a strip club and there's your granny out front? Christ Almighty, you'd march yourself straight away to confession and still not dare look her in the eye for the rest of your days. And if you'd think you were safe if you made sure she was home for the night, think again. "Saw your boy last night," Mrs. Cleary would say to Granny. "Going into that nudie club, to look at naked girls." You'd rather die than have that played back at you.

And so Sabley Taverns must close shop, because the women were out front protesting night after night and what man in his right mind would dare to cross Stringfellow's threshold. Mr. Sullivan is horrified that such small-minded thinking has caused the demise of a lovely club. As a PR man, Mr. Sullivan, it's best to know the market you're selling to, and I'd say you skipped a step when doing your homework. Thought things were different because people don't go to Mass every week? Ah lad, Ireland still ain't ready for nudity.

The A.C.L.U. Steps In

David Buckthesystem, a leading attorney in the gay rights movement, is strongly considering an appeal of a recent decision by the Nebraska courts that ban gay marriage.

"We're suing biology," Mr. Buckthesystem said. "Because biology clearly discriminates against gays and lesbians."

In a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit,
"laws limiting the state-recognized institution of marriage to heterosexual couples are rationally related to legitimate state interests and therefore do not violate the Constitution of the United States."

Ranting against the ruling, Mr. Buckthesystem insisted that his group's lawsuit had nothing to do with marriage. Rather, they are seeking the recognition of civil partnerships, granting the rights normally conferred on married couples to same-sex couples. But it is not to be confused with marriage.

On the other hand, James Seeksnorules of the ACLU argues that his interests lie in protecting families. Same-sex couple families, that is. Except that same-sex couples cannot procreate in the standard, long established biological fashion, which leads to a potential lawsuit against biology.

"It's not fair," Mr. Seeksnorules says. "A man and a woman can have a baby if they choose, but a same-sex couple must go through torturous medical procedures to reproduce. A same-sex couple who would like to form a nuclear family are at a severe disadvantage, and it's time that biology was re-written to accommodate my clients."

Mr. Seeksnorules claimed that he was astonished by the Nebraska ruling, which sought to deny same-sex families the same biology as traditional couples. A decision on further appeals is pending, but given the Circuit Court's refusal to consider a complete overhaul of the rules of biology, the ACLU would appear to have a very tough row to hoe.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Storm The Bastille

In honor of Bastille Day, run out to your nearest French bistro and lift a glass - ah, go on and lift a whole bottle - to our Gallic neighbors.

They went and lost the World Cup, the star of the team let everyone down with his temper tantrum, so what else might they have to cheer for these days? Probably won't be much of a celebration this year, with all that bad news. So it's up to us to help them along, to stand along side the hapless French and sing some happy songs. Edith Piaf, where are you when we need you? Oh, right. We're in need of happy songs.

If you're holding back, still with that boycott the French business, you'll be wanting to ease up a bit today. President Chirac has been suggesting, while other world leaders are slapping Israel around, that it's looking like the other side started it all, and it's not actually Israel's fault that the bombs are falling and the rockets are flying.

Vie le France! They may not be much for fighting, but when it comes to food, they can't be beat.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Being Bobby Sands

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the hunger strikes in the notorious H-block prisons in the north of Ireland. It was the height of The Troubles, when the IRA went to war in an attempt to force equal rights and equal treatment in a highly sectarian colony. Bobby Sands was the face of the hunger strike, and is commemorated to this day as one of the many 'martyrs' to die for the cause of Irish freedom.

How incredible to learn that a group of suburban moms are taking the message of Bobby Sands and...what are they doing, anyway?

According to the Chicago Tribune, a large group of as many as forty women in Illinois are joining in the protest. They say they have a large group, at any rate. Attired in pink which represents the very motherly nature of the protestors, Ms. Julia Field, a member of the organization, now sits in a lawn chair in Evanston, hunger-striking in public. This hunger strike business is serious stuff. Bobby Sands lasted for sixty-five days, and by all accounts, the end is unspeakable agony.

And so she goes without food...from 4 in the afternoon until 8 at night. Wait, amend that to she goes without solid food. Barring the vacuum flasks of broth and juices. For four hours out of the day.

That's not a fast, for the love of Christ, that's a feckin' diet. You're dieting for peace, woman, you're not on a feckin' hunger strike.

Is this worthy of a grand gesture award? When I first started reading the article, I was ready to give herself the award, but as I read on, I'm ready to give her a good hard shake to wake her up.

This so-called hunger strike is a slap in the face, an insult to the memory of Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Patsy O'Hara, Raymond McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee and Michael Devine.

Sit out there on your lawn chair, Julia, and make a great holy show of your suffering. Don't strain yourself, darling.

Penguin's Discovery

According to an article in today's NYT, the bean counters at Penguin Group have made a most startling discovery. People tend to buy more paperbacks than hardcover, and they honestly believe that it's because the paperbacks are cheaper. Apparently, they don't get out of New York City much, and I very much doubt they've ever been in a Wal-Mart, or they would have figured that one out ages ago.

Kim Edwards' debut novel The Memory Keeper's Daughter did passably well when it came out in print, but since it was published in paperback, it's taken off. The NYT did not review it, and some found the emotions a bit too saccharine, but the main theme of the novel has touched many a heart and many a book group. As far as the author of the article, Motoko Rich, can say, it's word of mouth that fueled the runaway success of the cheaper edition.

Not only word of mouth, according to Susan Petersen Kennedy of Penguin, but
something mysterious about this book is really seeping into people’s hearts and minds

and so it's the summer blockbuster. That something mysterious might be the fact that readers find the book a real page-turner in a more literary style than the typical potboiler thriller, and the novel looks at family-related issues. Always of interest to the women who make up most book groups, looking for a novel that has some kind of issue to discuss over lunch and cocktails. What is startling is that a publisher finds this mysterious.

As for the whole word of mouth business, there's no doubt a good bit of that, but someone at Viking, who published the hard copy, had enough confidence in the novel to put up a six figure advance. For that kind of investment, the PR people at Penguin aren't going to sit on their hands and let word of mouth be their only campaign.

This book was heavily promoted, with extra paid out to have the copies located at the front of the store, where more people are likely to see and buy. Sure, word of mouth helped, but Penguin did their fair bit as well. If the novel had garnered little more than $10,000 for an advance, there wouldn't be so much work put into promoting it to boost sales.

Since publishers like to sell what has sold before, look for the Big Houses to be in search of family-issue oriented, literary type novels. Good for you if you've got one in the hands of an agent. Bad for you if you're only just getting around to writing it now. By the time you're finished, it will be last year's hot seller which is now too cold to serve.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Muck To Rake

If there's one thing that the Chicago newspapers love, it's a story about wealthy people in the high rent district doing something very stupid. That's front page material every time.

What does today's Chicago Tribune have in store for those who are dying to know how the upper crust lives? Fascinating to discover that a certain Mrs. Walgreen is keeping pigs on her estate. Oh yes, of course it's that Walgreen, my dear. In Chicago, everyone knows that the drug store magnates are up north in la-di-da Lake Forest, the name being so unique in the area that one is safe to assume that anyone named Walgreen, residing in Lake Forest, is one of them.

Juicy little bit of scandal in the blurb, about the pig-keeping Mrs. Walgreen being - gasp! - divorced from the grandson of the original Walgreen. (That final bit was added to make sure that you knew which Walgreen we were talking about. For those not fortunate enough to dwell on the North Shore, that is. You know who you are.) Well, it was himself gave her the pet pigs, but that was back when they lived on a ten acre estate in Lake Forest. Since the divorce, she's had to climb down a bit and move to smaller digs, getting by on a couple of acres. Oh, yes, and the Tribune does mention that the estate is on Sheridan Road, a very well-to-do part of town.

It's the neighbors complaining, in the way that neighbors complain in Lake Forest. They call in the lawyers, of course, and file a lawsuit. Lobbing writs and pleas over tall fences, they spar over the legality of keeping pet pigs versus small scale hog farming. Mrs. Walgreen's neighbor is disgusted with the grunting, and is concerned about her children. Even Mr. Walgreen's mother has put in her opinion, claiming that old man Walgreen was nearly nipped by one of the beasts. Have to wonder if that has anything to do with the divorce, but who can say? Firing back, Mrs. Walgreen insists that she keeps her critters clean, regularly changing the hay that is kept in her garage cum pigpen. And they're harmless, her three Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs.

The local politician feels that the ordinances are pretty clear, that piggies are not allowed, but there are lawyers who believe that the ordinances are not that tidy, being rather nebulous and all. Are we talking dogs and cats here, or any sort of domestic pet? Mrs. Walgreen does have a dog license, for her pigs, but the neighbors aren't buying it. Except for one, who thinks the pigs are rather dog-like and she even lets her children play with the things.

I'm thinking full Irish fry, rashers and black pudding. A lovely ham for Thanksgiving dinner. And maybe I can convince my Italian buddy to whip up a batch of his famous hot sausage. Yum. That's good eating.

Of course, by the time the lawyers finish with the whole business, the pigs will be long gone, off to meet their maker, and isn't that a waste of good pork?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

No More RSVP

A long time ago, when Kirsten Manges was still at Curtis Brown Ltd., I sent her a query through the mail. After a month had gone by, she sent me an e-mail, requesting the manuscript. She must have just gone off on her own at the time, and it took a while for the mail to catch up to her.

Now she's strictly e-mail queries, it would seem, since all she has listed is her e-mail addy. Must save a tremendous amount of time, not having to stuff rejections into envelopes. Then there's the overall cleanliness of the office, without stacks of queries cluttering up the place. Unfortunately for the author, it also means that Ms. Manges has joined the ranks of the 'no response is a no' literary agent. It may also indicate that she does not have an assistant to handle the paperwork, as the non-response is a great timesaving device.

A month ago, I queried my latest venture, but not a peep out of New York from Manges Literary. It's becoming more and more common for agents to not respond with their regrets, only extending an invitation to the dance if they are interested in doing the literary waltz with you. At this end, the problem is the wonder if the query letter was received or read or lost in cyberspace.

E-mail queries are too easy to send off without much thought, they cost nothing, and like everything else, you get what you pay for. Literary agents are swamped with them, and it's no wonder that some will not even accept them. I've come to appreciate that particular sentiment.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Downhill Already

Of the four queries that I sent out over the weekend, I've gotten responses from three of them - all no, of course. The other one I suspect is being answered even now. That would be the 'no response is a no' variety of rejection.

After sleeping on the query, I re-wrote it this morning and send another batch of e-mails. Within hours, I had garnered two more form rejections. Is there any hope for the two remaining? I'm not holding out any hope, not after the experiences that I've had over the years.

I'll let the query letter rest a bit more, and then go back to it to see what can be done. It's tough to put together a decent letter, what with all the conflicting advice that's out there. I tried to put in a bit of the plot and came up with two short paragraphs rather than one of medium length, but then again, it could be the opening paragraph lacks a pointy, sharp hook to snag the elusive literary agent.

Add to that the usual summer doldrums coming in, and I'd be better off holding onto the query until after Labor Day. August is vacation time in literary land, and I wonder if many agents do more than clear their desks in July to get ready for the break. In the meantime, I can polish the manuscript and start in on the research for the next WIP that I've had in mind for some time.

Good thing I enjoy writing, or I'd be ready to finish myself off. Ah, that doesn't work either. Look at the doctor in New York today, trying to commit suicide and ends up by blowing up his office building to dust. Survived the whole thing, injured a bunch of people in the process, and he's got more trouble now than he did last night. Might as well keep living, if that's the outcome.

Au Revoir, Zidane

Ah, you great cheese-eating surrender monkey. Couldn't take the trash talking comme il garcon, mais oui? That spaghetti strangler Materazzi got to you, yes you, the man who was rated as one of the best when it came to the penalty kick.

If you had timed that head-butt right, mon ami, you could have induced cardiac fibrillation and Signor Materazzi would be dead by now, to trash-talk no more. Instead, you let your temper get the better of you and before you could turn around, the red card was waving in your Gallic face.

Couldn't have been much fun, to sit in the locker room and listen to the Italians cheer their victory. Don't let it trouble you too much, Zinedine. I was pulling for the Azzurris, since the USA dropped out and Ireland never even made it to the qualifying rounds. I do love French food and French wine, and as for the champagne, mon Dieu, c'est magnifique. But I'm partial to pasta alla norma, washed down with a charming barbaresco, and who could turn down a cannoli?

What a way to end your career. What a stupid, stupid, stupid way to say goodbye.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Round Five

It's surely an addiction, this querying business. I put the finishing touches on Manuscript #5 yesterday, with every intention of putting it away to mellow like fine wine. The next thing I know, there's a query letter typed into the e-mail and I'm hitting the send key. Not once, but three times. What a rush.

This newest manuscript has taken the longest to write, and it's one of the shortest I've ever written. Is it ready to go? I like to think so, but time has a way of changing the old perspective. But after Sandy Lu of Vanguard Literary sent a form rejection, I had to get something else out there, to find a glimmer of interest from a literary agent.

Since Ms. Lu had read the first few pages that I included in the query, I thought that just maybe she might want to read more than the two chapter sample. Wrong again, and it was nothing more than a form rejection that came in the mail, two months after the submission, and right in line with her schedule.

As for the three new queries I shot out on a Saturday, B.J. Robbins was quick on the draw and read my missive within five hours. Then she immediately rejected it. Not enough time to scroll down to the sample pages, it was a no from the first line. My hook was either not sharp enough, or she's looking for more literary pursuits than my satire.

The World Cup final beckons. Time to put away the manuscripts, the queries and the Excel spreadsheets, and enjoy the best of soccer.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Assessing the Competition

At last, the new edition of the Mississippi Review is on line and I can see who beat me out.

Check the writing first? Hell no. Go to the end of every story and look at the author's bios. What do I find but that, of seventeen stories selected, only two were written by those not listed as previously published. Two. Out of three hundred submissions. Worse than one in a hundred, and those are some mighty bad odds.

One of the stories is in a very serious vein, while mine was entirely humorous. The other, from a college professor, reminded me very much of a college exercise in plagiarism. There were footnotes to the short story. Can't compare my little blurb to that; it's apples and armalite.

As for the rest, from the previously published, I can see where my story was on the right track. Why was it not selected? Perhaps it was too similar to a couple of others, and the previously published will always win out in that contest.

So I'll keep submitting, pounding on the doors of the literary journals until they let me in. I'm not far off.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Show Me The Money

So you've poured your heart and soul, your sweat and blood into a novel. It's your baby, your creation, the fruit of your fevered imagination. Next step, find a literary agent who will love and cherish your little darling and send it along on the rocky road to publishing. Snap out of your dream, my friend, and check out the Peter Miller interview with Jenna Glatzer.

Unless I missed something, there's not a word in there about art. Of course, the word might have gotten tangled in the mass of money references. What does Peter Miller look for, as a successful literary agent? Not your work of literary excellence, to be sure, unless it also happens to be an item that will make a great stinking heap of cash. But this is your life's work, the one novel that is perfect and the only one that you are capable of creating - no thanks, Mr. Miller will say to you.

He wants prolific writers who pen best sellers with strong film potential. He's in the business for the money, and he's perfectly honest and up-front about it. Fair play to Peter Miller for stating, in stark terms, what drives an agent's choices when reading through the slush pile. Why should he spend his valuable time pushing something literary when he could expend the same amount of hours and have something to show for it at the end?

It's all just a business. Businesses exist to make money. No room for art, for creativity, not when it gets in the way of the bottom line. Over at Everyone Who's Anyone, Gerard Jones loves to rant about the money-grubbing Nazis who control what we see, hear and read. While he might sound whacked, what he says is proved by the words of Peter Miller, the Literary Lion, who prowls the slush pile for cash potential, and who gives a flying fuck about art?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

July Book Club Selection

From what I've heard, Jodi Picoult is a best-selling author. So if I read her book, I can analyze it and get a better understanding of what makes a best-seller.

So here I sit with a copy of Vanishing Acts. I've had it since Monday night and today it's Thursday. For all intents and purposes, I have finished the book, although I didn't read much of it at all. I didn't like it. If not for Book Club, I would have skimmed the opening pages and immediately put the thing back on the shelf. But this is what sells.

First person point of view? Hate it. The whole book is done up in first person POV, but the person possessed of that POV rotates through the list of characters. Clever? I had to keep going back to the beginning to figure out who was who. You see, the chapter is titled with the appropriate name that matches the POV. There's some funky fonts as well to help out, but the old eyes aren't what they once were, and the font jumble gets exceedingly annoying after a while. Sort of like the printer screwed up, ran out of type or was fooling around with the Word program. And to top it all off, the whole novel is written in present tense. Strike three! You're out!

On Tuesday morning, I started in, only to find my eyes crossing. I could not, no matter how I tried, get into the flow of the narrative. It's a very subjective business, you see, and from my vantage point, this one is not right for my list. But it's book club, after all, and how can you talk over a novel without reading it? So I did the best I could without Cliff Notes. I skimmed. I read the beginnings of sentences to pick up the core of the story. I turned pages, eyes flittering over the middle paragraph to see if there was anything in there worth reading.

Last night, I could take no more. I turned to the last couple of chapters and skimmed through, where the conflict was resolved and the loose ends tied up. And that's it. I've done my bit for book club this month.

So this is what makes a best-seller. Pick a topic that Oprah could do a show on. In Vanishing Acts, the topic is culled from the pages of, well, not the NYT. Man marries drunk, sues for divorce, daughter gets molested by wife's lover, man kidnaps daughter to protect her from Mom's pervert boyfriend, shit hits fan after man's secret identity revealed, blah, blah, blah. To me, this is not captivating.

Could I write something like this? Without laughing over the inanity? Probably. For the sake of being published, maybe this is the way to go, but it's hard to write while holding one's nose.

Pencil a trip to the local library into today's schedule. I'm desperate for something to read...something worth reading. Back in the stacks, where the well-thumbed literature is stored, I'll find some quality reading that will be entertaining without having to rely on annoying gimmicks. Just tell me a story, for feck's sake. And that's my subjective opinion. Other literary agents may feel differently.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Money must be tight for the JetReid Agency. In lieu of a pre-printed form rejection or a faint photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a form rejection, Janet Reid sent back my query letter.

Lovely little note printed on the bottom, declining the submission as it is not a good match, and her poor hand must be cramping up if she has a lot of these to turn down. I didn't mean to waste her time with my query, but I did think that maybe my novel fell within her guidelines. Everyone sees things differently, I suppose, depending on their perspective.

Now, about the sample pages - I do hope she can find some good use for them. Sell them for pulp, perhaps, since it would be rather awkward to use the clean face for correspondence, what with the printing on the obverse. A client could get mightily confused, not sure what they're supposed to be reading with both sides of the page in use.

Fair play to Ms. Reid, however, as she was most prompt in responding. If only she could push some of that organization over to Erin Cartwright at Folio Literary Management. She's had my query, with sample chapter, since the first of May and I've yet to hear back. So much for their one month response time - but then I'm not one to hold my breath waiting for agents to cough up an answer.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Clean Out The Freezer...

...and you never know what you might find. Might be a three-year-old turkey, a gift from one of your business contacts. Perhaps there's the odd frozen pizza, purchased who knows when and so covered with freezer burn that the cheese looks entirely inedible.

If you're the Sims Clinic in Ireland, you've most likely uncovered some frozen embryos, no expiration date, and what do you do with them? The woman who created the ova wants them, but Mr. Sperm-provider has a different idea in mind. And it's all been dumped in the laps of the Right Honorable High Court, in the land of saints and scholars. Quite a mess, this housecleaning and freezer inventorying.

Mum-to-be insists that her frozen babbies have a right to life as per some article or other of the Constitution, which protects the rights of the unborn. Never thought there'd be unborn in a freezer, did you there, Eamonn DeValera? Caught you napping, lad, and here's the court trying to sort out the muddle. If the court rules in Mum-to-be's favor, she'll have the embryos thawed to room temperature and implanted. Dad on the sidelines is one hundred percent against it.

Back when the fertilization took place, Mum and the unwilling Dad were married and having problems with conceiving, hence the IVF protocol. They had a beautiful child as a result of a successful implantation, but the left-overs were put on ice for later use. Most unfortunate that Dad had an affair and left Mum for another woman. Now that he's with a new partner, he doesn't want more kids, and there's the three embryos in the freezer and what's to become of them?

He wants them sold to a needy couple, with the proceeds going to charity, but Mum is horrified at the notion of selling one's own children. Destroying the embryos has also been suggested, but with the same reaction on Mum's part. The source of the dilemma is due to a slight oversight, as the couple never thought about the fate of the frozen when they divorced. Visitation for the child, divide the marital assets, who gets the house and the car and the vacation caravan, but the little icecubes at the clinic were forgotten.

Science rushes headlong into the future, while the legal system lags far behind, dawdling along as lawyers do, splitting hairs while scientists are splicing genes. But there is one point where both disciplines can converge. Biologically, Mum is running out of time as she faces the onset of menopause. Lawyers are superior at wasting time, dragging out a case for years with writs and motions. Combine the ticking biological clock and the snail's pace of the law, and very soon, the answer will be moot.

4th of July

Where else in the world could a million starving Irishmen go and have a chance in life? For those who survived The Great Famine, where else in the world could they go to make a decent life, without the discrimination and prejudice that plagued them in their own land?

Nowadays, it's popular, practically chic, to bemoan the loss of this 'land of opportunity', but the bemoaners haven't talked to any immigrants lately. I work with a man who loves America because he has a good job and always has twenty dollars in his pocket. He doesn't worry about the rains and the corn crop, the bandits on the roads, or whether or not he'll be able to feed his family tonight.

Another colleague slaved away, taking the backbreaking work that no one else wanted in the farms and field of California. Today, his two daughters are attending university, and the youngest is well on her way to success. He struggled so that his children could have the opportunities that he never had.

A third came to work with his father, to send money back home to the rest of the family. By September, the rest of the family will be here, permanent residents in a country that offers hope and, surprisingly enough, opportunity. It's there for these men, who see what the bemoaners miss in all their wailing.

It's what you make of it in America. Come looking for handouts and sympathy and the Ulster-Scots Presbyterian influence will flair up. No free lunch, do it yourself, but if you do, well then, good luck to you. You can make a go of it, but chances are, it won't be you reaping big rewards. It'll fall to your children and grandchildren, down the line, but who would begrudge a bit of success to the future generations?

No opportunity any more? When you're so far away from the source, it's hard to see through the immigrants' eyes. Course, if they'd only ask them, but a good whinge would be ruined by facts. So raise a glass and toast to the rebels of 1776, the men of Enlightenment's age, who shed their blood so that we could all be pursuing life, liberty and a bit of happiness.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Off The List

There goes another submission, crossed off as rejected. The Mississippi Review declined, what with 300 articles to pick from and I didn't make the cut. I was wondering if they would get back to me, since it was an electronic submission, and they did.

I had a feeling it was going to be a no. You see, the accepted short stories are always followed by an author bio, and, since they never contacted me to ask for one, I pretty much figured they had no need. It would not have been very interesting anyway, and certainly not up to the standards of their previous authors. Not a single publishing credential to my name, unlike the sort of author that the Mississippi Review likes to publish.

Once the issue comes out, I'll be reading it from electronic cover to cover, to understand what it was that the editor was looking for and where I went astray. Submission requirements are vague, and if your little flash of inspiration does not click with the editor, then the game's up and it's time to move on.

As for the short story, it's painfully short, as per the guidelines, but I can flesh it out, expand a bit, and find another journal. Before you know it, it will be autumn, and the university-based rags will be accepting submissions once again. Onward and upward! or downward...not sure which direction I'm going in these days.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sound Advice

Until David Csontos, who at the time was with Frances Goldin's agency, strongly urged me to get some credentials, I hadn't paid much attention to literary journals and the like. He was so insistent in his rejection of my query, making a definite point that writers need publishing credentials, that I began the process of scribing short pieces and sending them off.

A check of the Agent Query website indicated that Ellen Geiger, also employed by Ms. Goldin, was taking a long vacation. Clicking on the link, just to see what (or who) might be new to the agency, I saw that Mr. Csontos was gone. It was a short ride, but I hope it was a glorious one.

If a literary agent were limiting his clients to the previously published, and he's only a hatchling himself, there won't be a line out the door. Potential authors in need of agenting will often look to the newest member of an established company, assuming that said rookie is hungry and willing to do the tough work to make his name. Limiting the client list to the more stellar authors, the ones who might attract a glimmer of interest from a heavyweight, may have been Mr. Csontos' downfall.

Wherever he is, I hope he does well, but I'd not recommend the commodities market for one who looks for the sure thing. As for me, I've had one story published and there's a pile of submissions waiting, and we'll see if getting some credentials will make any difference when it comes to snagging the elusive agent.