Monday, March 15, 2010

Joys of Hell: V

Sometimes weird things happen. For example, I queried The Bent Agency on 3/10 and got a fast rejection the very next day (my birthday--Ouch!). Jenny said, "Thank you so much for writing me about your project. I read and consider each query carefully and while yours is not exactly what I am looking for, I would certainly encourage you to keep trying. I know your work is important to you and I am grateful that you wrote to me. All best." Now, as far as rejection goes, this one was timely and seemingly sincere and encouraging.

My email response was, "Jenny, Thank you for your careful consideration of my project, and may your day be filled with floral scents."

Here's the weird part: No sooner had I sent my response than I got this automated reply: "Thank you very much for sending your query to The Bent Agency. It is our goal to respond to every query so please do resend if you haven't heard back to us within eight weeks of receiving this notice."

It seems because my "floral" reply had the word "query" in its subject heading, the software program that reads the agency's incoming email automatically generated the quick "Thank you."

This automation, of course, makes me wonder how "sincere" the rejection was. Perhaps it's just another form letter, rather than a sentiment from Jenny's heart. Ah, the mind games we play with ourselves.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Joys of Hell, IV

A velvet-clad rejection sledgehammer from Jessica at Bookends on 3/8:

"Thank you so much for giving BookEnds a chance to consider your work. While I found your query intriguing I’m afraid I wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic to ask for more at this time. As I’m sure you know, publishing is a subjective business and I’m sure there’s another agent out there better suited to your work. I wish you the best of luck and the greatest success."

LESSON: For you really bad romance writers, here's a line for your next  really bad novel (Feel free to plagiarize): "She looked at him with disdain in her eyes--the kind of disdain you might see in a dog's eyes when you reach into your coat pocket for a doggie treat, only to realize they're all gone, and so you pull your empty hand out and, instead of giving the mutt the treat he's already slobbering over, you offer up instead a lame pat on the head--and, after slapping him viciously on the cheek of his face, as opposed to the one on his ass, she snarled, 'Are you sufficiently enthusiastic to ask for more at this time?'"

But, there's some good news, too: a couple of local presses, Ooligan and Tin House Books, have said they'd like to see a partial manuscript, so I'm sending them the first fifty pages. Oh, the joy, the joy! But, let's not get ahead of ourselves--and why am I suddenly writing in the plural form, as if you're in this Hell with me? Stay tuned ....

A Weirdosity of Stupendous Magnitude

Over twenty years ago I wrote “Marlene,” a short story, and recently I resurrected it from its file-cabinet grave, brushed off the dust, “fiddled” with it a bit, changed the title to “Leghorn Love,” and posted it as the very first entry of my blog. Okay, nothing weird so far about that, right?—except perhaps my insecurity, how I felt compelled to once again “fiddle” with a piece that had been, back in the day, fiddled ad nauseam in order to, you know, “make it better.” Okay, enough about my insecurity.

Anyway, Lori, my musically astute—and, I’m quickly learning, literarily astute, as well—neighbor read the story on my blog and emailed me, commenting she liked the story but, she observed, it seemed to be missing a scene toward the end, between the time Larry, the protagonist, makes a phone call to Marlene, the antagonist, and the concluding (and brilliantly conceived!) scene. She even envisioned a few ideas (involving a few beers, etc.) as to how one might fill in the allegedly missing scene.

Well, I attributed her “missing scene” as a sign of her over-active imagination, or a misreading or misinterpretation. I even suggested she try writing a story of her own to, you know, give her imagination a proper cathartic workout. There was, I knew, no missing scene at all. I must confess, however, that I was so sure of being correct in the matter that I didn’t bother checking the blog and seeing for myself. And you know the old adage: Pride goeth before a fall.

I was going to read the story that Saturday at our monthly “emotive” gathering, comprised of a bunch of crazy neighbors and friends of various artistic backgrounds, Lori among them. (she's a fantastic singer of classical music). It was to be hosted by another neighbor, Ricardo, an escapee from a Columbian mental asylum—but that’s another story.

So, having just “fiddled” with the story for my blog, I now had to “fiddle” with it for the reading. I revised it on a Word document and, wanting the version on my blog to be identical, copied the Word version to my blog. I did this several times, going back and forth between Word and blog. When I read the Word version Saturday evening, I noted the end didn’t seem right. For one thing, a line was repeated. This should have been a head’s-up about the possibility I’d screwed up the blog version.

Anyway, Lori commented [either that night or the following day, I’m not sure which, and I attribute this lapse of memory to the cheapness of Ricardo’s wine] that I had added the “missing scene,” the one she had noted a few days before on my blog. She even said, I believe, that I'd incorporated some of her imaginings. I politely disagreed, stating the scene had been in the original story, written over twenty years ago and so, therefore, it was in the blog, too, just as it was included in the Word version.

Yes, this is a classic example of faulty logic and, yes, this whole thing is also getting very confusing.

To conclude: As you have, I’m sure, already surmised, Lori was right. In all my going back and forth between blog and Word, I had somehow omitted the scene on my blog.

The weirdosity is this: Lori’s “imagined scene”—that is, what she envisioned with the beer, etc.,—matched up darn well with what I’d originally written a long, long time ago.

This fact should be a really, really scary thing for Lori: She thinks like me!

And I've learned the hazards of excessive fiddling (which I'll ignore, thank you very much). Lori said when Beethoven composed, he did so rather manically, with lots of visions and revisions and revisions of revisions ("before the taking of a toast and tea"?); with Mozart, though, an inviolate epiphany in the form of a complete symphony would spring from his fertile mind. I hate him, and I'm sure you do, too. Most writers, I believe, are Beethoven's.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Joys of Hell, III

My novel is a worm (and who doesn't like worms?) dangling on a hook (i.e., the "query") in a big lake (i.e., the "publishing industry') of big fish (i.e., agents and editors), and every once in awhile the tip of my pole quivers (i.e., I get a reply) and I seize the rod (with HOPE!) and yank out another pair of fish lips (reel in an empty hook, dripping with cruel REJECTION).

I feel like the proverbial one-arm fisherman who, when asked how big the fish was that got away, holds up his one arm and says, "This big, at least!" Okay, enough with the allegory!

So, here are my two most recent rejections: Michael, at Dystel & Goderich Lit. Agency, who I queried 2/26/10, responded very politely on 3/4/10: “Thanks so much for letting me take a look at your materials and please forgive me for responding with a form letter. The volume of submissions I receive, however, makes it impossible to correspond with everyone personally. Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit my list at this time. I wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work and I thank you, once again, for letting me consider your materials.”

Wow! That's a well-phrased, courteous and professional "form" way of saying "fuck off and drop dead." No, actually I'm not that bitter. Honest. I understand completely: I do not "suit" his "list." I mean, if back in the day when I was dating, had I asked a girl for a date, she could have merely said the volume of submissions she had to deal with was overwhelming, and that I didn't suit her list, and then she would have thanked me for letting her consider my materials. I simply would have said, "No prob!" and then drowned my sorrows with another beer, wondering how in the hell she could have checked out my "materials."

Over the years between then and now, nothing much has changed, I guess, in how I deal with rejection, except perhaps wine is now my drowning drug of choice.

Here's the second one: Scott, at Trident Media Group, LLC, in his 3/4 response to my 3/4 query [pretty quick reply, huh?] says, "I respect the time and effort that you have put into your project, which is why I regret to tell you that it just does not feel right for my list. I read every query that is sent to me via e-mail and because the volume of these queries is so huge I am forced to be extremely selective about what I ask to see.” I like his employment of alliteration, with "respect" and "regret."

I'd throw "rejection" into the mix, too. But, okay, I can see a two-fold "theme" emerging: (1) all these people are busy with "volume" and (2), they have a "list." There's not much I can do about "volume," except perhaps begin a terror campaign directed at novelists across the country. Hmmm, not a bad idea, but how can I manage to get them all aboard the same airplane and airborne at 30,000 feet?

Yeah, I know, that's not funny.

But what about this "list" thing? Do I have any control over it? I do my research, or what I call "research." It consists of reading an agent's bio, his/her (more her's than his's--by far, it seems) description of current projects and preferences, the house's list of published works, etc. If I see the words "literary fiction" anywhere, [Are you ready for another bad dose of allegory?] I'll deem him/her an appropriate "big fish" in that "big lake" and bait my hook and cast and hope for a bite.

Ahhh, to one day say, "Baby, they're bitin' like bulldogs!"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Joys of Hell, II

So. I've spent the last few days expanding my list of agent and publisher queries, which has grown to ten. They include the following: Joy Harris Agency, Ann Rittenberg Agency, Scott Waxman Agency, Dystel & Goderich Agency, Ooligan Press, Trident Media Group (2 different agents), The Bent Agency, and Hawthorne Books.

You may notice that I've approached two different agents in the same agency, Trident. What are the ethics of this, or do ethics even apply? And no, I didn't notify either agent of my "multiple" query. I will admit to some ignorance in the matter of "acceptable practice" for submissions and queries.

Years ago, the standard practice included explicitly stating, if you did the multiple thing, that you were doing so. Now, however, that doesn't seem necessary. In the case of Hawthorne Books, their website said they were backlogged with submissions until December of 2010, and that they wouldn't be reading any new submissions, but I queried them anyway, saying my novel is ready now. Is this "risky"?

I consider my queries and submissions, whether or not they follow the exact letter of submission/query requirement, as "shots in the dark." (I actually use this phrase in some queries.) So far I've taken ten "shots," and as far as I can tell most of them are still speeding through the immense and very dark world of publication and hitting nothing.

I've gotten one reply, from the Scott Waxman Agency, saying they "won't be pursuing representation at this time." I immediately fired back an email asking, "Why?" So far, no response.

Update: I've been chastised by a dear writing friend, Jessica, about the ethically-challenged practice of multiple queries to the same agency, and I promise I won't do that anymore. Honest.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Being a Kid, I

Who knows where or when one's heart first warms to the idea of writing. I suppose many writers can trace their love to some fondly remembered moment during kidhood, such as when a parent or a teacher read them an exciting story, or they received a journal or a diary as a gift, or perhaps they simply fell in love with the feel of a pencil in their hand.

My kidhood, though, was stacked against me.

I cannot remember a time when either my father or my mother read a story to me. In their defense, I imagine they were too busy making a living (Dad was a logger) and raising three kids (mostly Mom). We were poor, although at the time it didn't seem so. Mom and Dad did, though, have a few books and magazines around the house: for Mom, romances and scandal rags like "The National Enquirer," while Dad preferred crime stories and thrillers. I learned the basics of reading and writing in grade school (no pre-school or kindergarten), but have no remembrance of a "special moment" when I fell in love with anything, except, that is, the mile-and-a-half walk to and from Westside Elementary. There were horse pastures and orchards and lots of rocks to throw along the way. I still love walking and throwing rocks. No, in grades 1-3 we mostly sat in circles and read picture books, and in grades 4-6 the pictures went away. There is, though, the recollection of practicing our skill at penmanship. We would hold those too-big pencils in our too-small hands and painstakingly trace out (between the lines, of course) all the letters of the alphabet, both in upper- and lower-case. I did like doing that, so perhaps my love is based on a tactile memory. Who knows?