Thursday, August 31, 2006

Let The Digitizing Begin

It is now official - Google has begun to digitize the classics for your downloading pleasure.

After a great deal of fuss and lawsuits over Google's plan to scan everything, including that which is still protected by copyright, the search engine behemoth has focused on the classics, that which is far too old to cause the author any alarm, as the author is most certainly dead.

The question is, is this good or bad? The publishing houses and book shops might be alarmed, but then again, is there much of a market for Dickens and Thackeray any more, outside of the school room? Obscure poetry, long forgotten novels, all that sort of thing will be available through Google's Book Search feature. Students could print out their own copy of Shakespeare's works, bypassing the publisher. Would this loss of business have any sort of effect on the bottom line?

Reg Carr of Oxford University believes that Google is performing a most valuable deed, opening up the books that sit in research libraries, well out of reach of the interested parties that populate the globe. Now the researcher can sit in the comfort of their home, study what is held in major university collections, and not have to come up with the costs of travel and lodging to do a bit of reading. The benefits to the research community are enormous.

Part of Google's overall scheme is to provide information on copyrighted texts, letting the searcher know where the item could be found. It has all the makings of a vast on-line card catalogue. Anyone who has run across an obscure reference and then tried to locate the original text can appreciate the convenience of a Google search.

For the reading public, the Google Book Search can be the answer to any late-night craving for something to read. There are innumerable classics that will be available, from Dante's Inferno to Les Miserables, ready to be downloaded to your personal computer. Then again, the idea of having a sheaf of papers, rather than a bound book, does not sound quite so appealing. Why, you could pretend you were a literary agent, with that unbound full manuscript, pages tumbling out and falling to the floor, out of order. You could create a whole stack of the things and really play-act the agent game.

'Alas, Mr. Balzac, I fear I must pass. Not quite right for my list.' 'Regretfully, Mr. Dickens, my list is full. The fiction market is so tight and I must fall in love with a manuscript...' Unless, of course, you are a university student - don't try that on your professors. Not much of a sense of humor, those humanities types.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

News As Fiction

Tom Clancy is noted for writing of Cold War conspiracies. Perhaps he could tackle this particular story line.

The official Hizbollah news channel, Al-Manar TV, recently broadcast a report that claimed an Irish soldier was fighting with the Israeli army in Lebanon. As proof, they displayed an identification card, an official Irish Defence Forces ID. From that one card, the reporters of Al-Manar were able to concoct an entire story, rather a horror story it would seem. The UN Forces arriving soon in Lebanon are going to fight on Israel's side. The West is out to get us - war against Islam, blah blah blah - and here's the proof.

We are accustomed to news that reports facts. Our Lebanese neighbors are digesting fiction that is paraded as fact, but the facts are as real as a plot device in a novel. What if, the author says, and so Al-Manar delivers clever Tom Clancy-esque stories, with a twist worthy of James Frey or J.T. Leroy.

So where did the Irish I.D. come from? Apparently, it's been kept since the soldier who once owned said I.D. was wounded in 1997 while serving with peacekeeping forces in Lebanon. Poor man had to have the leg of his trousers cut off so that his injuries could be attended to, and there went his wallet with its I.D. card. The gentleman reported the card missing, it was cancelled, and that was the end of it.

Until now, when some clever chap dug it out of safekeeping. Oh look, Al-Manar triumphantly proclaimed, here in this collection of artefacts left behind by the Israeli army is this Irish I.D. so that proves the UN folks are...well, it's a bit of a broken record, that line. No one in Lebanon will know that the card was gone missing ten years ago and is no longer valid. The fiction was written, presented as fact, and Tom Clancy could not have done a better job in crafting a story based on a single found item.

Problem is, of course, that the readers of said fiction don't know it's fiction. Sounds harmless, until you realize that Irish soldiers are going to be sent to Lebanon as part of the U.N. mission. The people they are going to protect won't believe the truth, that the Irish soldiers are not aligned with Israel, because they have been indoctrinated with fiction, presented as news. I do believe that's called propaganda, and Joseph Goebbels would surely be proud of the writers of Al-Manar.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More Agent Moves

What's happening at Adam Chromy's agency?

If you read back in this blog, you'll find a comment from Michelle Wolfson, who moved over from the Vicinanza Agency and joined forces with the team at Artists and Artisans. It had all the earmarks of an expansion on Mr. Chromy's part, a change from his previous one-man-band operation.

For a while, Lauren Barnhart hung her hat in the office, and they were joined by Robert Astle. A check of the agency website reveals that these two agents are gone - and I didn't even get a chance to query them.

It makes me wonder if there are possibly too many agents around for the amount of fiction that gets sold to the publishing houses. Did the agents leave Artists and Artisans because they could not make a living? Without sales, there are no commissions, and without a stable of published, active writers, there's no royalties and foreign rights to bring in the rent money.

Then again, there seems to be a revolving door in the publishing business, with editors coming and going, switching offices, and moving around from place to place. By taking a position as an editor at a publishing company, at least Lauren and Robert could count on a regular paycheck, which is nice.

Where does an ex-agent go when they leave the business? I do so hope that they were not forced to move back in with their parents, to return to their childhood bedroom and collect their unemployment checks. If they became agents because they love books, do they hate the written word now? Such a dreadful outcome, years of college and thousands of dollars in tuition payments, and all for nothing.

Let us hope that they have found other useful employment, or perhaps they have gone off to continue their education and prepare for some other industry. Can't go wrong with an MBA.

New Market?

Hyperion is opening up a new market, and maybe there is some hope for a certain type of author. According to the article in the NYT, the imprint is going after women.

Pause for stifling of yawns.

Hyperion is not alone in this venture, either. Other publishing houses, struggling to reach the book-buying public, are going to specifically target women. Not just any X-chromosome carrying female, either, but the sort of lady who does not read chick-lit no more.

If you're up on the market, you'd have heard that chick-lit is dead. It was a fad, like so many other things, and the publishers jumped on it with very heavy boots, as if this was the major breakthrough they needed. Needless to say, so much dreck was thrown at the bookstore wall that it stopped sticking, and literary agents decreed the genre deceased. In truth, the publishing houses did it to themselves, with marketing studies and focus groups and forgetting that people want good books for entertainment and enlightenment. A little variety goes a long way. Hard to put that into an Excel spreadsheet, though.

What is so different about Hyperion's venture? They're aiming at older women, those who are past thirty and well beyond the man-hunting, shopping, sleeping around world of the standard chick-lit tome. Ellen Archer, the brains behind the operation, realized that her life, and that of countless other women, was not reflected in that which her publishing house was printing. Like a one-woman focus group, she figured out that her target market was not buying stuff that they could not relate to, hence the decline in sales. So she looked around and said, Where's the stories about women who are dealing with an empty nest, dealing with menopause and approaching old age?

David Rosenthal at Simon and Schuster isn't buying it, however. He's not one to set up specific imprints for a particular class of reader. Considering the fact that Harlequin is watching their sales curve fall, he may have a point. Super-agent Binky Urban believes in Hyperion's Voice imprint, even if other folks in the publishing industry think that women's interests are far too broad to make an imprint viable.

Hyperion has put together a focus group. We may presume that they have a panel of women in their thirties and forties, a group that does not give a rat's arse about Manolo Blahnik shoes and Prada purses. These ladies will be quizzed and interviewed, asked what they like to read, and that will guide the editors of Voice.

So for all the would-be authors out there who have written novels that are not chick-lit, and grown frustrated with rejection because the novel was not chick-lit, it's time to dust off the manuscripts and submit again. Strike while the iron is hot, as they say, and feel free to quote from the article in the New York Times to demonstrate your vast knowledge of the market.

Don't go bothering Binky Urban, by the by. At least not until you've got some sizeable sales figures to lift you above the crowd.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Instruction Manual

In the latest review of books from the New York Times comes a recommendation for a writer's how-to book. Francine Prose (yes, that's her name - hard to believe, though) has penned an interesting guidebook called Reading Like A Writer, and it is full of advice that I suspect you may have heard before, in a different form.

Ms. Prose is no fan of the writers workshop and its critique groups that try to tear apart and find faults to be corrected. Her approach to improve one's writing is, as we have all heard before, to read and read and read. In particular, she recommends reading the tried and true classics, the works that have stood the test of time. While reading, the budding author should not be skimming or looking for the flaws. Instead, she encourages us to pick apart the prose to see what was done right.

A love of reading seems to be a requisite for learning good writing. Taking lessons from successful authors involves deep reading, a slow process that will pick up on minute details that show - don't tell. That simple phrase says so very little, when you try to practice it. According to the book review, Ms. Prose does a fair job of making clear what is meant, using examples.

The best part could be Prose's indication that there are no rules set in stone that must be followed. Again, her points arise from copious reading, which would demonstrate the many instances in which rules were broken, but to good effect. Through careful reading, we can come to see what works and what is best kept to the rule book.

The bottom line? Creative writing cannot be taught, like a two semester course at the university level. By and large, writing is a self-taught skill, one that requires a great deal of study, with Prose's book as a guideline. Writing is a solitary occupation. Learning to write sounds equally lonely.

Not So Smart After All

He's played the President of the United States - and sometimes has acted as though he thought he was the President - but Martin Sheen is not as highly educated as you might have thought. Fair play to him, and he's off to right that intellectual wrong.

Yes, your man in the West Wing is off to university at last. Apparently, he never finished high school, but after so many years of real life experience, the administration at NIU Galway has taken it into consideration and admitted him. Mr. Sheen is pursuing an arts degree in English Literature, Philosophy and Oceanography. Quite the interesting mix of topics, I'd say.

All of Galway is a-flutter, waiting on the arrival of the Hollywood actor. Even though classes start in September, it is uncertain when Mr. Sheen will turn up - maybe September, maybe October. I don't recall university classes being subject to a fashionably late starting time. Perhaps for Mr. Sheen, a very busy man, there are accommodations and exceptions made. With his money, he can surely afford to hire a tutor to catch him up with the rest of the students should he miss a couple of weeks of lectures.

It is rumored that the actor wanted to finish his education after he retired from acting, which is an excellent way to keep the old brain sharp after leaving the work force. Happens all the time, all over the world, when retirees pick up a class or two to exercise their grey matter. Perhaps the honorary degree that was conferred on Mr. Sheen last year acted as a bit of a nudge, tempting him to leave behind the glitz and glamor of Hollywood for the cold, windswept crags of County Galway.

Now he'll be a college student, living in the dorms, hanging out with the lads and downing a pint or two at the local after a long day of study and other intellectual pursuits. With a class in English Literature under his belt, Martin will be all set to pen a few novels, and every literary agent in New York and L.A. will be standing in line, praying that he queries them. No client list is ever too full to pick up one more writer with an arts degree and more than enough ready-made recognition. With that kind of a platform, who needs writing skills?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

No Feedback

Since discovering Rachel Vater's blog, I've been hoping to see my query pop up in her daily (or thereabouts) dozen. Unfortunately, there'll be no such feedback.

Got the standard rejection, signed but with no other personalization. Is the query no good? Or is it the plot that doesn't attract attention? At least if my missive turned up as something she's seen half a million times, I'd know which way to go, but I'm left wondering. What I wrote isn't what she's looking for at this time. Such a pat phrase, free of direction or deep meaning.

So my query isn't laughable, the story isn't risible, but beyond that, the best I can do is try someone else. One request for a partial thus far, so maybe it's the query or maybe it's not.

Hard to judge these days. It's vacation time in Publishing Land, and there's not much point in doing anything for now. The literary journals are opening to submissions again, which means I should fashion some new shorts. Then there's the new WIP, which is bogged down in the research phase. Waiting to hear is becoming too much of a distraction, with the internal editor telling me to give it up. After five manuscripts, can I hold out any hope for the future?

Won't know if I don't try, of course, so I'd better sit down with the history books and get cracking.

Report From Paris

--So they noticed. It was only the matter of a single zero.

Jacques toyed with his pencil, making and then erasing a series of zeros. How could anyone not notice? The difference between two hundred and two thousand was enormous, especially with old Eagle Eyes in the cowboy hat keeping tabs on the numbers.

--Damned Italians. So pushy. We can't let them take over on this. Who do they think they are, to provide leadership on the ground? They'll be claiming that they invented bechamel sauce next.

Of course Italy was going to run the show. They learned that bit of business from their Western allies. Granted, the majority of the troops were going to come from Italy, but France was entitled, surely. There was a compromise of sorts, finally, with the dagos getting a temporary sop. And by February, when France took over, it was greatly to be hoped that the worst of the confusion was sorted. Wouldn't that just make things worse, to have France accused of mucking up the entire operation? Let the Italians take the fall, and all the glory to France come February.

--This bit about disarming, is that settled?

With the unrest in the banlieus, it had better be well settled. The UN could not very well go in and disarm them, now, could they? Oh, sure, the resolutions called for it, but, it's not the job of France. It's up to the Lebanese. Yes, that's the excuse. That's it right there, nice and neat. Blame it on the Lebanese. And hope that no one notices how helpless and weak they are. At least that's easier to hide than that missing zero.

--Things could still go badly. With all the press and satellite news coverage.

No one was going to barge in and forcibly remove the weapons, but what was a soldier to do if he saw a group setting up a rocket launcher? By rights, the UN troops were supposed to act with force if necessary, but it was much better to simply ignore certain things and not risk getting shot. Fox News would be driving from one end of southern Lebanon to the next, just looking for that exact scenario. And then they would play it on the air, over and over and over, until the other news media had to cover it. On the other hand, it would be a disaster at home if some French troops had to shoot and kill a few of the towelheads. No, there was absolutely no good solution, no politically viable means to avoid what they had been avoiding for so long.

--I still think we should have said it was a typographical error.

With the world laughing at them as it was, why add more? Who would dare to appear before the eyes of every foreign nation and declare: We meant to say we were sending two thousand troops to Lebanon in a peace-keeping mission. The typist left off the last zero. They had overridden Jacques' suggestion and cobbled together a much more diplomatic excuse. Blame it on the UN, of course. The mission was not clear. Unfortunately, it was quite clear now and there was no backing out. Damn the Americans. Starting up that stupid war in Iraq. If not for that, they'd be handling this mess in Lebanon, and we could all go home and relax.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Vanity Press Variation

Wondering if you should try to publish the family history? Surely there's some ancestor back there in the distant past who did something noteworthy - like leaving the miserable squalor of Old Europe and emigrating to America.

No time to compile the records, is that what's holding you back? Well, my friend, I have the solution. Thanks to the folks at, you can easily obtain the entire written history of your very own family - chop down and pulp a tree to construct the family tree, as it were.
Did you know that the history of your family name could fill a book?
And we can publish it today

Not to quibble, but in all honesty they mean to print the book. But isn't it grand, that notion of publishing? Has a ring to it, all Library of Congress on the shelves, immortalizing the clan for all times. And to fill a whole book as well. No mention of page count, though. Are they talking novella length? Short story? Flash fiction?

Back to the spam:
Sifting through billions of records and other trusted sources, we carefully gathered all the facts, figures, names, and places we could find, tracing the origin of your family name as far back as we could go.

I see, it's the family name that's to be immortalized. Confidentially,, I don't think it'll be all that difficult to trace back the origin of the family name. Irish not being a fully dead language, you see. Can you do more for me?
Here are just a few of the many facts you may discover:

What does your family name actually mean? It could stem from an occupation, the father's name, town name, or even a nickname.
Where did your family name originate? In many cases, a family name can be traced all the way back to the original country.
When did people with your last name come to the United States? You can learn when they most likely immigrated and even the ships they sailed to get here.
What occupations did your family pursue? Maybe it's built into the genetic code. Some families have plenty of doctors. In others, it's all about farming. If you think it's all random and personal choice, wait until you check out that section in your book
There are a few free websites out in cyberspace that can tell me what the name means. As to country of origin, I'm clear on that. Although there are stories in the family about ancestors who were rescued from the wreck of the Spanish Armada - but I don't know if you'll be going back all that far. Besides, it's all wrapped up in a general hatred of all things British, including that Protestant Elizabeth I and the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots and Roman Catholic. Too touchy an issue to cover in a simple genealogy text.

When did people come here? Taking a wild guess, I'd say 1847-1987 and I'd not be far off. But when you're listing the names of the ships, don't forget to include the modern air ships. Immigration from the Emerald Isle was a long, drawn-out affair.

The occupations - again I'm taking a wild stab at it, but I'd look to farming without doubt, and there's bound to be a cleric or two in the mix. And there's no personal choice in that, believe me. When the mammy picks the offspring she's giving to God, that's as good as written in stone.
It is not available elsewhere - and it's just $49.95!

For that kind of money, I'd be mad to presume that the book would have anything near as detailed as a professional genealogist's output. Even so, fifty bucks is a high price to pay for things that I would probably enjoy discovering. Sure, isn't vanity printing an expensive proposition?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Kind of Town

Nothing like a little civil disobedience to stir things up. After the brilliant minds of the Chicago City Council got together and banned foie gras, half the country marveled at the inanity. You'd think that the so-called 'Big Box Ordinance' that tries to regulate pay scales would be of greater importance, what with the big boxes like Wal-Mart and Target moving their new stores to the fringe suburbs. But not for the noble aldermen of Chicago, such trivial matters as loss of sales tax revenue.

The 'thou shalt not serve fatty duck or goose liver' commandment came into effect on Tuesday, although the city claims that they won't be doing any enforcing until today. That would explain why so many restaurants who served foie gras were not cited. It's all a bit of deft maneuvering, after all.

There's the reporters, scattered all over the city, their fingers on the pulse of the diner. Dozens of restaurants that normally do not serve foie gras had it on the menu yesterday, just to prove the point that the law, sir, is a ass. Now, what right-thinking cop in his right mind would try to issue a citation with all those reporters sitting around, just waiting for a policeman to issue a citation so they could write it up and mock the whole thing? No, it won't do, so you tell the boys in blue to ease up for the day until the publicity cools off.

Connie's Pizza offered deep dish cheese and foie gras. In other parts of town, you could find foie gras in soul food and Italian cuisine. You wanna ban liver? I got your liver right here, pal.

But how will the ordinance be enforced? There's not enough money in the budget to send police into Charlie Trotter's on a regular basis, searching for lightly seared liver. Much better to wait until someone calls in a complaint, drops a dime on the chef who dares to prepare foie gras. Big Brother is watching you, Tru and Four Seasons. Perhaps the children of every kitchen staff across the city could be instructed to rat out their parents. It worked in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, so why not in Chicago?

In the meantime, the suburban restaurants are serving up foie gras. Stop by for dinner, after you've done the shopping at Wal-Mart and Target.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

From the Old Post Road

Thank for you for submitting your work to Post Road. Although we
appreciate the opportunity to look at your work, unfortunately it does not
meet our current needs. Best of luck finding a place for it. Keep writing!
Post Road

The standard rejection letter, sent via the Internet - and it's a no from Post Road. They accept submissions as a download, which saves on postage, and I expect that they are inundated with submissions.

I gave it a go, twice. They responded within a month, which is incredibly fast in the literary world. Unfortunately, both times were negative replies. Will I send anything to them in the future? Perhaps. I thought my fiction was in line with what they published, but my opinion is quite clouded by my desire to get published somewhere. Anywhere.

Meanwhile, I still wait on the Indiana Review, now over a month beyond their stated time frame. As for the rest of the submissions, with a couple approaching six months, I may have discovered a couple of non-responders in the literary journal field. The most recently sent pieces may sit until October, which sounds like a long way off, but it isn't. Funny how I've come to measure my life in segments of time. Waiting for Wednesday and Thursday to roll around in the event of a query being accepted. Waiting for Labor Day to appear and the literary agents to come back. Waiting three months here, five months there. It all adds up to years, but broken up into bits, it sneaks past my notice.

Monday, August 21, 2006

After You

So genteel! Such manners! And wouldn't it be so, when the very word etiquette is derived from the French. They lead the way, the elegant French, with displays of proper conduct. Even now, they are holding the door for other countries to go first. How terribly polite.

After all the talk, the back and forth and the dickering to craft some sort of agreement, Monsieur Chirac is demonstrating that most Gallic of attitudes. 'No, please, I insist. After you. You go first.' Unfortunately, no one else is willing to enter Lebanon before the Gallic contingent, and so, no one is going in at all.

There was a great deal of talk when it came to the Middle East and Saddam Hussein's refusal to abide by the rules laid out by the UN Security Council. No one wanted to take the first step, perhaps fearing a faux pas, so the burly and rude U.S.A. barged in and did things their own way. Now that the Americans are stretched thin across the Middle East, there is no one left to do the barging, and the unfortunate French, with all their politesse, are left looking the fools.

Diplomats talking is one thing. Generals waging war is quite another. The French generals will not act until the French politicians clarify the mission. Apres vous, monsieur. The French politicians have to look at such disparate items as the danger of not being re-elected, along with the budget to wage war and the cost of annoying all those Muslims in the Parisian ghettos who have already shown a propensity to riot.

In today's New York Times, the reporter ventures into the heartland to get a sense of why American-based Pakistani immigrants aren't turning to radical Islam as they have in other countries. Fear not, there is a pronunciation guide for those new to Chicago, that most exotic locale. Wouldn't want the tourists to turn up asking the way to Devon Avenue and mispronouncing the word. The overall consensus of the Times article seems to suggest that immigrants in Chicago are assimilated, like it or not.

A friend of mine teaches in a high school with a growing Palestinian population. Many of the parents are wholly against assimilation, fighting wildly to keep their offspring Palestinian. And failing miserably, as any American could guess. Issues are dealt with at the administrative level, and the administrator is a woman. The counselors love it when Papa Palestinian foams at the mouth, refusing to deal with a female when males counselors are available. Papa plays the victim card, and the counselors smile warmly. 'Life's a bitch,' they commiserate. 'But you're here in Chicago, darlin', and you'll play by our rules. My heart bleeds for your troubles, but no one gives a flying fuck.'

In America, the Muslim immigrant assimilates because there is little choice. In Europe, the Muslim immigrant is shuttled off to a little ghetto and ignored, left in a limbo between native land and Europe. Would the French be more willing to embark on a mission to Lebanon if they had played rougher with their Muslim immigrants? Or would they continue to demonstrate the epitome of etiquette and insist that someone else go first?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Crazy For Trying

And so, the editors of Crazyhorse have declined. There wasn't enough rejection out there in the literary world, and I had to go find even more through submissions to literary magazines.

Ah, but all is not lost. Once again, I am invited to submit something else. It's almost like an agent requesting a partial. The query was intriguing, but once the actual novel arrived, well, not quite right for the old list.

Try again. The short piece is out on submission at three other journals, and there's four other shorts awaiting an answer. As for Crazyhorse's invitation to subscribe, alas, I must pass. The money spent on the subscription could go a long way in the submission process, at $1.59/each. Best of luck in finding some deeper pockets than mine, which are painfully empty these days.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Sales Pitch

All right, here it is, here's the pitch. Bar owner gets accused of murder, but he's innocent, see? No, no, stay with me, now. So he's innocent, but there's this one cop, a detective, see, and he's on the case. Yeah, a regular bloodhound. And he's got evidence against the bar owner, but the guy's as innocent as Bambi.

You've got the bar owner accused of murder, the cops are after him, and all the neighbors figure he's guilty, so there's some conflict there that'll keep the pages turning. How does it end? Ten years or so, you've got the bar owners fighting to clear their name, and they get some higher ups in the police department to start looking into things, and they get the goods on the detective. Yeah, he's trying to be a big shot in the department, itching for promotion, and they end up proving that the dead guy was a hit and run victim, but the detective set up the bar owner. Classic Alfred Hitchcock, isn't it?

But it's not fiction at all, you see. Far away in County Donegal, cattle dealer Richie Barron was discovered on the side of the road, dead, and members of the McBrearty family stood accused of murder. Sgt. John White of An Garda Siochana was on the case, utilizing the services of Bernard Conlon, a local troublemaker who had it in for the McBrearty clan. As it turns out, Conlon was a willing party to White's clever little tricks, like setting up the McBreartys to make it look like they were serving after hours, with Sgt. White poised to issue summonses and license revocations.

It took a long time, but the innocent were validated when an investigation proved that Richie Barron was killed by a hit and run driver. As for the noble sergeant, well, he didn't let legalities stand in the way of furthering his career. The Morris Tribunal, which has been investigating Garda activity in Donegal, has concluded that Sgt. White planted an explosive device on a telephone tower, with an eye to implicating those who were protesting against the tower. Then there was the time that he planted a shotgun so he could make a few arrests. When the investigators came to call, the sergeant led them down the garden path, covering up and misleading so that his deeds might go unpunished. All in all, the tribunal has concluded that a few of Donegal's gardai were loose cannons, doing things without regard to the law and justice. A few people with badges and power were not interested in following orders or maintaining discipline, preferring to conspire to cover up their activities, and damaging the reputation of the entire force in the process.

So you see, truth really is stranger than fiction. If I were inclined to write mysteries, this story would make one incredible, twisting and turning, page turner of a novel.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Round Two Version Five

In short order, the first partial on manuscript 5 was rejected, and save for one agent, no one is pounding at the door, begging for a peek at the novel. Rather than face the blank page that is the current WIP, I revised the query letter and changed the title of #5 - can't re-query the same agency with old words, can I?

After a couple of days, there's been a nibble, but I have no confidence in the e-query and the downloaded submission. There's no money involved, and since you get what you pay for, there's no expectations. It seems that the literary agent should have some sense of obligation to really look at the partial manuscript, knowing that the destitute writer has paid out much needed cash for paper, ink, and stamps. But the freebie e-query - how can they take it seriously? Ah, maybe, worth a quick glance, like Amazon's 'Look Inside' feature translated to submissions.

Not grabbed in the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page? Delete the whole mess or cut and paste in the standard rejection. Nothing lost but a few minutes of the agent's time. But that piece of paper, that's not to be ignored. It's there, right on the desk or lurking in the bin, a constant reminder of a real person at the other end. The literary agent has to hold it in their hands, touch it, come into contact with writerly DNA.

The fact that I e-mailed a new query and got a positive reply in a matter of hours surely means...that I happened to hit send around the same time that the agent was reading her e-mail. Nonetheless, I'll pretend that the newly revised query and catchy title were irresistible. And tomorrow I'll send off a batch of snail mail queries, just to be sure.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Suspending Disbelief

No matter how much research has been done, no matter how accurate the author tries to be, historical fiction is still made up. As readers, we know that the writer was not sitting in that Regency drawing room, taking notes as people chattered away, yet we read the words enclosed in quotation marks as if we were listening in.

As for fantasy, well, that takes a long stretch of suspending one's disbelief, now, doesn't it? Dragons, time travel, magic powers? We know there's no such thing, but it's entertaining to exit the real world and poke about in something that does not actually exist.

It is up to the author to create the environment in which the reader can let the world go and accept the fiction on the page. All that 'what-if' that makes up the story, the twists and turns of the plot, hinge on our ability to wonder along with the writer. There are times, however, when suspending disbelief is hardly possible.

For pure beauty of prose, I stuck it out with Jamie O'Neill's At Swim Two Boys. There's one character who has imaginary conversations with a former cell mate, arguing philosophy, and it's done so well that it works without being a distraction to the story. O'Neill knows his history and his settings in 1916 Dublin, with enough detail to set the stage without boring us with long, drawn out descriptions of every minute detail. Really gets the feel of grinding poverty across, which was quite the hallmark of the times.

He lost me about half-way through, unfortunately. Now, the two boys, our heroic protagonists, are supposed to be discovering their teenage sexuality. The older man, when not arguing with his head, seduces the poor waif, to the hissing and booing of the audience. But wait - this evil deed does not go unpunished. No indeed, the older man sees the light and gives up his hedonistic ways just in time to go and fight for independence. And he actually is head over heels in love with the other sixteen-year-old boy, but he refrains from seduction as a favor to the other boy who is his paid paramour. How's that for salvation? Why, he doesn't have sex with the lad until after the paid paramour has died in the Easter Rising.

If there's one thing I cannot do, it is believe that it is acceptable for an adult to seduce a child, straight or gay. There's no salvation to be had, even if your man goes on the run with the rest of the Shinners during the civil war. In the real world, people like that are recognized as being sick puppies, and trying to make such a pervert into a hero is not at all believable. My first thought goes to the author, who put this notion forward, and I'm wondering if O'Neill is a charter member of MABLA trying to make his sick ideology acceptable.

Maybe it's just gay writers trying to prove that they are normal people in spite of their sexual orientation. Colm Toibin certainly gave it a go in The Master, where he tried mightily to prove that Henry James must have been gay, only to reinforce the notion that the man was straight and traumatized by his parents' bad marriage. Happens even today, except now it is acceptable for folks to live together without the bonds of holy matrimony. But still, there is some sort of frantic grasping at validation, a way to shout out 'Look, I'm as good as this character who I think might have been gay'. Talent is talent. No need to tie it to one's sexual leanings, as if homosexuality has anything to do with the ability to write exquisite prose.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Narrative

As defined by the dictionary, narrative is the storytelling, the way the author relates their tale. 'Didn't fall in love with the narrative' is a point where both Kirsten Manges and Elise Proulx agree. Two rejections on a partial because they did not fall in love with the narrative.

There's something so hazy, so nebulous, about the phrase. The idea of the story was intriguing enough, based on the query, but start in on the actual novel and there's no love. What's the budding author to do? If you can't tell a story, you can't write, isn't that it?

I've been analyzing and tearing apart one novel after another, to learn the craft. I write, get critiqued, and have become very aware of POV changes, continuity, a level of suspense, but now I'm wondering if I've crafted my way into dullness. Does the prose now drag because it's become ordinary and boring? Have I learned too much and gone stilted in an attempt to craft something polished?

Could be that I've got a style of writing, the 'voice', that isn't everyone's cuppa. I've read novels that spend reams of paper in descriptions and details, and that's not the sort of narrative I love, but clearly some literary agent goes for it.

Impossible to second guess or figure out what the rejection is suggesting, if it suggests anything at all beyond no thanks. This being the dog days of August, there's little chance of getting a response to a query anyway, so it's back to waiting for the shorter days of autumn to hunt down someone who will fall in love with my prose. And then there's always the off chance that I'll get the historical fiction rough draft finished and polished, tack on a happy ending, and send it off. Rumor is, there's a demand out there for good historical romance.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Grass's Stain Comes Clean

Gunter Grass is one of the shining lights in the literary world. The man's won a Nobel Prize, after all, and that's a rare enough event. These days, it's his outspoken anti-war stance that really stands out, due to a most unpleasant incident in his youth.

Speaking of youth, that would be Hitler Youth in Gunter's case. The man who wrote the anti-war allegory The Tin Drum turns out to be a raging, full of hot air hypocrite. Anti-war indeed, but at the end of 1944, he was not so anti-war as all that. No, he up and joined the Waffen-SS.

Could he have signed on as an ordinary grunt, a volunteer in the Wehrmacht, to do his bit for Nazi Germany in the closing days of the war? That particular question hasn't come up, and so we are left with one nasty fact. Gunter Grass was in the SS, the most vile, most murderous unit that Heinrich Himmler directed into everlasting infamy.

Why admit to it now? After all, he kept it a secret for sixty years. One might naturally assume that someone found out and was going to spill, leaving your man with little choice but to embarrass himself by admitting his membership in the SS, or letting someone else humiliate him.

And back in Germany, the anti-war crowd is dazed. Grass was the voice and the face of pacifism, the man who flapped his gums over the Nazi question. Turns out he was a Nazi himself, and doesn't that put a whole new spin on his rhetoric? They're sure spinning in Germany, where a few prize commissions are seriously thinking of revoking the awards to the famed novelist. Joachim Fest, who wrote Gunter's biography, is absolutely in shock. How could Grass set himself up as the national conscience and turn out to be one of the enemy?

What's left to do but rush out and read some of Gunter's anti-war prose? Should be good for a top laugh, roaring over the hypocrisy of the gobshite.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Now begins the human interest stories, the reporters' tales of young British men who just do not seem to be the sort to blow up airplanes and murder thousands. Not unlike looking at a photo of Ted Bundy and commenting on how very normal and ordinary he seemed. It would be so much easier if the average terrorist were a turban-wearing, rabid foaming at the mouth madman, but the enemy within does not stand out from the crowd.

Mr. Imliaz Qadir was interviewed in London in an Islamic community center. He knew three of the terrorists well, since infancy he claimed, and he can't believe what the police are saying can be true.

Good boys, going to school, going to mosque, but not crazy men. No running up and down the streets screaming out, nothing of that sort. Born and raised in England. Well, no, they did not wear western dress so much. Born and raised in England. Dressing like they're in Pakistan. So it must all be a set-up, in Mr. Qadir's mind. He doesn't believe a word of the so called allegations.

Reporter Ruadhan Mac Cormaic stood outside of a mosque on Queen's Road yesterday, observing the local constabulary guarding the gates to protect the worshippers from retribution. The terrorists, those good Muslims, were known to attend this particular venue, and the odds of some folks taking matters into their own hands was deemed sufficient to warrant police protection. One of the police officers was Asian, someone who looked like the Muslims entering the house of worship. And what was the response of the protectorate?
You are a Muslim. You should be ashamed of yourself. You are a bad Muslim.

Obvious now what constitutes good and bad in this particular community. When the notion of good and bad is so grotesquely skewed, is it any wonder, then, that it could give rise to mass murderers?

Friday, August 11, 2006

War of Words

Powerful things, words are. They say exactly what I mean, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll. Sticks and stones, the children chant, but words don't hurt. But words can cut - a cutting remark. They can be lethal, those words.

All over the news, we've heard of the plot out of Pakistan by way of England. Bit by bit, details are revealed, about the group in England that took its marching orders from Pakistan. Arrests in Pakistan led to the order to carry out the plot, according to the Guardian news service. Tony Blair would not have been on holiday if he had known the arrests were coming down, but the police had to move quickly, unexpectedly. George Bush spoke from Wisconsin, where he had been giving a speech. Some vacation he's having, isn't it?

Stark reminder, at war, and such words as that were carried over the air waves yesterday. How close we came to another massive attack, mass murder on an unprecedented scale. By all accounts, the men involved were Muslim. So what of those who speak for Islam? What are their words?

As quoted in The Irish Times, we have this gem from Nihad Awad:
US Muslim groups criticised Mr Bush's description of the foiled plot as a "war with Islamic fascists", saying the term could inflame anti-Muslim tensions. "We believe this is an ill-advised term and we believe that it is counterproductive to associate Islam or Muslims with fascism," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group.

Was the plot evil? Doesn't matter to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The evil was in the American president's words. Islamic fascists. Dreadful term, and to link Islam with fascism. Why, that's just going to upset the infidels.

The plotters were followers of their own bastardized version of Islam, and the politics of their movement is fascism in Arab dress. But heaven forbid that one utter two words together and link the two. Don't call a spade a spade, Mr. President, because words can hurt. Course, liquid explosives and crashing planes are far more painful, Nihad, but it's only the words that concern you. The violence, the hijacking of your faith for deadly purposes, none of that seems to be a trouble at all, at all.

Isn't it time that Mr. Awad started using some words of his own? Like condemn, not followers of Islam, congratulations to British and Pakistani authorities for nabbing the devils, the heretics. Some words say exactly what they mean, and sometimes silence speaks volumes.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Here's To The Ladies

Back when China started down the one child per family road, the higher powers were focused on a bleak future. More people than the land could feed, overcrowding, and the sort of dissatisfaction that might lead to rebellion - all of that was supposed to be curtailed by limiting family size.

In spite of world criticism, the policy was put into effect and it has done its job. The increase in population began to decline, and today the more-equal-than-others can point to their success. The ballooning numbers look to be under control, with figures that suggest the overpopulation problem is resolved.

Wouldn't you know that the Chinese people would go and skew things. Fine, they said, if it's to be only the one, it'll be a boy. Hard to combat thousands of years of tradition and some deeply ingrained notions about the value of boys when it comes to farm work and minding the old folks.

Since the first program worked, it was time for a follow-up program that was tried out beginning in 2003. Have a girl, those-who-will-be-obeyed cooed, and there's money in it for you. Subsidies and benefits until the ladies are married off, and swear to Jaysus the government will give the old folks a wee pension after they reach the age of 60. And sure enough, it was incentive enough.

These days, there are 120 boys born for every 100 girls. It used to be 134 lads, so there's progress for you. If nature was allowed to run its course, there would be only 105 boys per 100 girls, so there's work to be done in China to bring about a balance. They wanted to cut back on new births, but things took an unexpected turn along the way, and it is not a pretty picture.

Imagine, if you will, those 34 or 20 testosterone charged young men, with no chance of finding a wife because there aren't enough to go around. Now multiply that out and you've got yourself an army of sexually starved lads with a bit of pent up aggression and more than enough frustration. The rulers of Communist China are sending out their army of spies to catch those who dare to defy the government edict banning fetal sex selection because they can readily envision that army marching to Beijing.

Time for another crackdown in China, going after the black market ultrasound technicians. If that doesn't work, perhaps they could introduce the concept of polyandry. Sure and the ladies would go for that, wouldn't they? Hard to imagine what kind of incentives would work, to convince a woman that having more than one husband to skivvy for was a grand notion. There's not enough money in the world to cover the cash payments that would be required.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

No Secrets Any More

Been using AOL to search for whatever? The world knows what you're up to, and let's hope that your employer doesn't get wind of your hunt for a new job while you were on the clock.

Somehow or other, twenty million Internet queries from AOL have gotten posted on the Web, for any and all to peruse. What's the first thing that anyone wants to know? How many users were in search of pornography, of course, and was that creepy man down the block hunting for kiddie porn?

My own list of queries would revolve around searching for literary agents. Anyone lifting my three month set of topics would find such eye popping questions as: "michelle andelman literary agent" or "christina hogrebe literary agent" and so on to infinity. What does that say about me? That I'm mad, of course, or obsessed with one particular industry.

I've done nothing illegal or wrong or even embarrassing in my searches, but all the same, what I've queried is entirely my business. The fact that the data are out there for all to see is nothing less than an invasion of privacy, like having half the world looking over my shoulder as I check to see what kinds of novels the agents at McIntosh & Otis are selling these days.

AOL says it compiles the data to make it easier for the user to refer back to their recent searches. It's a matter of convenience, you see, but sometimes there's a price to pay for the shortcut and the easy way. I'd rather just have to re-enter my query, thanks just the same, and not have data collected on me for my convenience. I could do without the saving of a keystroke when I have to pay with my privacy.

Monday, August 07, 2006

It's A Beautiful Day

If there's one thing I think of, on the most rare occasions when I think of it at all, it's that Forbes Magazine is the epitome of the Republican, conservative mindset. The journal fairly screams out wealth, what with its listing of the richest folk who dot the planet. How appropriate for the man who champions financial aid to Africa to own a stake in the thing.

Hard to believe that Bono has invested in Malcolm Forbes' literary baby. According to the rumors, Bono's Elevation Partners has bought in to the tune of 40%, which is very much enough to throw some weight around. But it's not the print issue that your man is after - it is said that Elevation is more interested in the on-line edition, which garners around ten million hits per year. That's a great deal of media exposure at the click of a key.

Granted, Bono knows the media business from the musical angle. He's been performing, recording and selling music for half his life. There is something ironic, however, in Paul Hewson's involvement in this particular, and rather traditional, medium. He's been all over the world, meeting with top government officials and taking them to task for ignoring poverty in Africa. Could he take Forbes and make it another mouthpiece? How about an article about the starving masses in Nigeria, right next to a lengthy discussion of the oil industry? Or will he let his investment ride on, accumulating profits, and keep his hands out of the editorial pie?

Would he use his new platform to launch into a debate over government taxation policies? Just recently, the Irish government amended their tax laws to limit an artist's tax-free royalties to E250K. According to today's Irish Times, Mr. Hewson et. al. have promptly moved their music publishing business to the Netherlands, where their royalties will be taxed at a much lower rate that approximates zero. All that berating of politicians to donate more from their coffers to assist the downtrodden costs money, and U2 can't very well afford to pay more in taxes when they need their money for other uses.

Bono and Forbes - who would believe it? Suddenly, it seems so perfectly logical.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Discrimination Approved

If you were looking for a job at Dotcom Directories, you might be surprised to notice an addition to the advertisement. You would be prepared for any and all requirements to answer phones at the call-in center. Good diction, clear voice, well modulated tones, and a pleasant manner. Would you not be surprised to see that "No smokers need apply", a blatant example of discrimination?

Discriminating against those who light up a fag from time to time - why is that? According to Philip Tobin, the director of the firm with the job openings, smokers are anti-social and they stink. Oh, and they take too much sick leave. And since everyone knows how bad smoking is, and they do it anyway, they must be stupid.

Sound logic for barring the smoker, but why ever stop there? Let's go after the obese. Now if there's a group of potential employees that take a lot of sick leave, it's the obese. And the bacteria lurking in the folds of fat! You're talking rank odor by the end of the day, and there's the fact that they take up more room than the rest of us. Clearly that's not fair, that they get a seat and a half while we must settle for one.

Look at the health outlook. The obese will develop high blood pressure and Type II diabetes, and we're all paying for the extra load on health care costs because of them. Why should we have to put up with that? If the EU says it's all right to refuse a job to a smoker because they take so much sick leave, why not refuse to employee the obese who make medical costs higher for the rest of us? That's antisocial behavior right there, driving up insurance fees.

If a smoker can quit puffing, then an obese person can quit eating. No job until you give up that vice. Why must smokers be the EU's pariah? Why not go after the obese as well? Perhaps for the same reason that you can make a fuss over someone smoking in a restaurant, but God help you if you tear into a four-hundred-pounder for sucking down a thirty-two ounce steak and a five-pound baked potato with butter and sour cream and bacon. But it's all a question of health, isn't it?

Head off to that job interview, speak glowingly of your many skills, and when they ask if you smoke, lie through your teeth. It's not your boss's business, is it, what you do after hours. The EU's such a bastion of human rights. Makes me glad I'm living here in the States.

Friday, August 04, 2006

From the Horse's Mouth to speak. If you wonder about the world of the literary agent, about publishing and how things work in general, there's no better source of information than a real, live literary agent. Not that you can just ring one up and quiz them, of course. But there are some agents who blog.

Interested in getting your chick-lit or romance novel represented but don't know what you're doing wrong? Check Kristin Nelson's
highly informative postings and you may find your answer.

What are agents looking for in a query? Check out Rachel Vater's
blog. She's with Lowenstein-Yost these days, and her postings often list the queries she's read that day, along with her reasons for rejecting or, quite rarely, asking for more. It's an eye-opener, especially if you think you've got a unique story. The agents have seen it all, and your brilliant idea could be one of a thousand. But at least you can figure out how to make it stand out from the rest.

Over at Absolute Write (linked to the right), agent Ben Salmon has been posting replies to questions in the Ask The Agent Forum.

There you are, three new sources to help you to educate yourself to the process. Best to head into battle well-armed, if you're planning to beat out the competition.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hook the Reader

At last, one of the big houses comes into the technology age. HarperCollins will now grant the reader access to the opening pages of their new releases. The idea is clearly taken from Amazon's successful ploy that allows the prospective customer to do what they would do in the book shop - see if the opening pages are grabbing.

As a fan of on-line buying, I'm all for it. I can't afford to buy many books, so what I do purchase has to be vetted and that involves reading. I'd like to be able to skim over a bit more than the opening, as in the case of literary fiction that unfolds more slowly, but every step forward is a benefit.

As a writer, the opening page previews should be a reminder that the beginning of the novel has to interest the reader and make them want to turn the page. That's the whole premise of literary agent Noah Lukeman's book The First Five Pages, which gives the budding author some pointers to perfect the beginning of the novel.

He's a successful agent who knows his business, and if you're looking for some advice on writing when the agents are rejecting your partial manuscripts without asking for more, it might be worth a look. According to his website, it's been used as a textbook for some college writing courses. Maybe that's why some of the novels I've read start out strong and then die a slow and agonizing death. Does anyone have a textbook that covers pages six through three hundred?

No Mas, Gracias

Granted, the NYC literary agents are said to be out for the month of August, but Elaine English is in Washington DC and surely she's still at work? With that logic in mind, I sent her another query for the current manuscript being shopped.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to consider your project, but I think I'm going to pass. My decision is based largely upon my current work load and the fact that I handle only a limited range of commercial fiction, rather than the merits of your project.

Jaysus, it's the form rejection again. The last time she sent this one to me, I was querying for a bit of literary excellence, but it's all commercial to her when it comes to fiction.

Face the facts. Fiction is a hard sell these days. The publishers can't seem to push it, and heaven forbid that they blame the poor sales on the pulp they're producing. Literary agents are programmed to send more of the same, but that's not selling, so don't send more. In the meantime, there's scores of readers craving some good escape from the world's worries, longing for a nice bit of entertaining fiction that just is not coming.

There's always the occasional miracle, isn't there? Some acquisitions editor just might ring up an agent, looking for something different that could be the next big thing. Start the novenas, and maybe by the middle of September, the Lord above will answer your prayers. My beads are rattling even now.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Slip of the Tongue

Depending on which news source you hear, you'll get different perspectives on what's happening in the Middle East. They're killing hundreds, one side says, and then the other side says no we're not.

They're after the civilians, I've heard. Except that one of their spokesmen let slip with a little more information than he probably should have.

In an article about the Israeli habit of phoning in a warning of a bombing in Gaza, Mr. Abu Ahmed voiced a complaint about the tactic. Now, this is from a group who are parading journalists through bombed out areas, showing off the damage and getting their spin out there.
Last week, many Khan Younis residents answered the phone and heard a recorded warning message in Arabic. The Israeli army also has broken in on the frequency of the Hamas radio station to broadcast warnings.

In all cases the message was similar: Don't harbour militant fighters or store weapons for them. Those who do will place themselves in harm's way.

"It's intense psychological pressure," said Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad. "They're trying to force the civilians to drive the resistance away from the civilian population centres."

How dare those terrible Israelis do that, get the innocent people out of harm's way. Why, then there won't be stacks of corpses to show the foreign press. Get the jihadists out of the population centers, and when the Israelis bomb them, it's only the jihadists getting killed. Sly devils, those Israelis. But really, Mr. Ahmed, you shouldn't be giving away your group's strategy to the press. Sometimes, they report that as well.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gr8 Nuz 4 U

Young people don't read, or so it is said. How to reach the young adult and teen market? Over at Hodder Headline Ireland, they may have found the answer.

Only 18 years of age, but Ruth Gilligan is a novelist. Her debut novel, Forget, is about to be released in a rather posh area of Co. Dublin where she lives. Don't bother trying to read it if you aren't literate in text message speak - because that's how the book's been written.

The plot revolves around love and the teenagers who inhabit Ms. Gilligan's select world, a place of privilege and private schools. In fact, the novel started out as a school project, in which she had eight months to finish up a fifty page writing assignment but decided to keep going and pen an entire novel.

Ms. Gilligan is no slouch, I'll have you know. She's been an actress on a popular Irish soap opera, plays piano and writes music. Granted, writing a novel is a whole different game, but she had a copy of How to Write Your Novel to turn to when she got into a bind. Like most first-time writers, she ended up with a five hundred page brick, but thanks to a friend of the family, she was put in the capable hands of an editor at Hodder Headline Ireland to tweak and prune the manuscript. Patricia Scanlan is also an author as well as an editor, and we can readily assume that her work with Ms. Gilligan involved more than the occasional comma removal. Imagine how far you could go if you had a friend to put you in touch with an editor at a major publishing house.

The characters speak like Ms. Gilligan and her friends, lending that much needed air of realism that might appeal to readers of her age. There's lots of teen angst of the type that results from living a well-heeled life where family squabbles are hidden behind gates and walls, a sort of voyeurism that could lead to sales.

As for the future, the debut novelist is hard at work on her second book, and credits the publication of Forget with getting her into the English program at Cambridge. Now why does this sound like Kaavya Viswanathan with an Irish brogue?