Tuesday, November 04, 2008

You're a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith

We interrupt your trek to the polls with this reminder of why.

Hey, you're a lucky fellow, Mr. Smith, to be able to live as you do,
And to have that swell Miss Liberty gal carrying the torch for you
You're a lucky fellow, Mr. Smith--look around you if you want to brag,
You should thank your lucky stars and I mean, thank all 50 in your flag

This bit of Capraesque patrioti-corn was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1964 and features the incredibly dated backing of Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians. However, it stirs the soul to this day, particularly on this day.

You're a very, very wealthy gent--I don't care if you haven't a cent
You can still have things your own way, on each Election Day
If some poor suckers could choose, they like to be in your shoes
That proves that your good fortune's no myth
You're a lucky fellow, Mr. Smith.

I voted, as much as they would let me. Hope you did too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Not for me--thanks!

Is this meant to encourage me? What other profession is based on your relying on people beating down your door and then you decide if you'll even acknowledge them?

I speak, of course, of the venerated literary agent. I've been sending out dozens of equeries lately, with maybe a 10% response rate. With a direct mail piece, this would be phenomenal. With a well-written, professional query, it's abysmal. But not unexpected. That's the norm these days--agents are flooded with equeries (and snail mail ones as well) to the point where they only respond if they're interested. But I wonder how much more productive we'd all be if they could take the ten seconds or so to paste in one of three responses and actually...respond:

1. While your writing is strong, this particular project doesn't appeal to me. However, feel free to submit to me in the future. (keeps the good writers going--maintains a connection that might pay off for the agent one day)
2. Based on the way this query is written, I don't have sufficient confidence I could sell your work. (tells the writer the query is crap and to not waste other agents' time with it--a public service to agents everywhere!)
3. Based on the story you're proposing, I don't have sufficient confidence I could sell your work.
(tells the writer the story itself is crap and stop querying it outright--a service to agents everywhere and the deluded writer)

I could handle one of these. They're all form replies, they're all professional and polite, but at least it would give us clueless writers some semblance of direction. It would let us know if it's the story or the query itself that has problems. It would let us know whether or not to ever pursue that agent again. It would let us know if we should just hang it up altogether, if one is tempted to read between the lines.

It reminds me of a client I once had. I read him a few scripts for radio commercials and he roundly condemned them all. When I asked for a little direction, so I could improve them and bring them around to his liking, he said, "I don't need to give a speech about why I don't like 'em. I just don't!"


"Not for me--thanks!"

Now, I ask you, what am I supposed to do with that?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way from the Forums.

I allude, of course, to the 1962 Broadway masterpiece. The book is credited to Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove, but for my money, the show wouldn't have gotten off the ground without Stephen Sondheim's score and lyrics.

As sung by Zero Mostel.

Once called "nothing but a belch of a man" by my ever-derisive drama teacher, Zero took the role of Pseudolus, turned down by Phil Silvers and Milton Berle, and worked his big, fat, sweaty magic with it. He's occasionally out of tune, his dynamics lack any sense of subtlety and he's frequently out of breath. It's incredible. If you ever come across the soundtrack, give it a chance. But steer clear of the '66 film version, which did away with half the songs and fell all over itself trying to look like an episode of "The Monkees."

But I digress.

Just when I thought I was ready to forge ahead with my query, rejection after rejection proved me wrong. Having exhausted my friends, family and writers' group, I did what any writer would do under the circumstances: I turned to complete strangers. I used an assortment of forums and posted the current version of my query there and invited feedback. The comments came fast and furious. Over a week or two, I re-shaped it into something meeting with most people's approval--and keep in mind, these are, for the most part, people like me, not authors with dozens of novels to their name or veteran literary agents. But they can step back and be objective about it where I can't.

It’s hard enough being Michelangelo’s son. But find out you’re Michelangelo’s adopted son and you might as well chuck the chisel—genetically, you’re hosed. That’s how Dorsey Duquesne feels, slogging away on a guitar in the shadow of his saxophone legend father. He discovers why his tunes consistently blow when his emotionally distant mother breaks a marriage-long pact on the eve of her husband’s funeral and reveals Dorsey was “acquired” as an infant. His known world yanked out from under him, Dorsey becomes obsessed with the life he was denied.

Clinging to an anonymous letter and a shoebox of his father’s old demo tapes, he chips away at the secrets surrounding his so-called adoption. Answers arrive in the form of a strudel-baking redhead claiming to be his real mother. She sweet-talks her way into Dorsey's heart, family and wallet, but her charm masks a darker agenda. With the help of a one-eyed detective and a disabled medieval warfare fanatic, Dorsey overcomes his identity crisis while his new "mom" schemes to put him in the poor house—and in the ground.

With their help, I sent out this new, improved query and have already received a request for three chaps and another for the full MS. I drink to you, my faceless brethren.

And I link to you, too--see right.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Stop the Insanity.

What is insanity? According to Albert Einstein, it's defined as repeating the same action over and over again, while expecting a different result. What are we to expect by electing John McCain, a man who, in his own words, plans to continue the policies of the least popular president of my lifetime? Something different? I invite you to explain to me how.

All my life, I've avoided politics, finding it an alternately repugnant and boring universe. But when I saw the Republicans of the Corn last night drooling over Sarah Palin, I had to say something. To quote someone else who saw us through some hard times, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." If we let fear motivate who leads the country, we're no better than the residents of places who "vote" with guns to their heads. The way I see it, there are only two reasons to rally behind McCain and put him in office: fear or ignorance. I would say "stupidity," but ignorance allows for those who are simply unaware of the bigger picture. Fear, I've already touched on: these are the people who believe that because of McCain's military experience, he will make our country safer. Bush, of course, has no military experience, but he's "credited" with protecting us from a 9/11-type disaster.

The ignorant are those who must think the country's still in great shape. Those 30% (can it be that few? It looked like a lot more on TV last night) who think Bush's policies are the way to go for another 4-8 years. They must be ignorant, because informed or aware people couldn't look the
facts of our current situation in the face and claim they're anything but bleak. Gas prices, the economy in general, housing, inflation, unemployment, the national debt, the environment, our international reputation: in the toilet across the board. The war is another matter altogether. Whether you supported it, were against it, believe in "the surge" or not, how has it helped you and your family? How has it helped our country? Oil prices are at record highs, the bill for the war has crippled our military and budget and while terrorists have been driven from Iraq, they've merely taken refuge in the bordering countries, including the one that attacked us in the first place--remember Afghanistan? Do you really think Iraq can exist as an independent, democratic nation, surrounded by tribal dictatorships? Really?

Lastly, may I say that it is possible to look beyond your party for the candidate who represents the greatest potential for your future? Ignore the fact that your party "has always been" the one that's stood for religion, gun control and the right to life. That's the fear creeping up again. What I saw last night was unity, all right, but unity based in fear. Unity against the strange and unknown. Not unity towards a common goal, which shoudl be improving this country and restoring our prosperity and dignity. As recently as last month, George Bush said "America has no problems." McCain agrees. Do you?

This country was founded by brilliant, open-minded people who realized the policies of those who came before them were destructive and oppressive. Our country has gone on to be the envy of the world and our democratic system, while cribbed from a 2000-year-old model, has stood the test of time. When you think about it, we have a pretty good track record.

Let's not be the country the rest of the world thinks we are. We can do better.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What do you do with a completed novel?

Even more useless than a B.A. in English is the unread novel. Now that it's done, what should I do? Celebrate? I kind of did already. I went for a run and listened to "When I Write the Book" on my iPod, fueled by adrenaline the entire way. Once that was out of the way, I immediately dove into the second draft. I know everyone says "take some time, put it in a drawer," etc. I will, eventually, but while the thing is still fresh in my system, I wanted to go back to the very beginning--for the first time--and see if anything stood out, good or bad. It's only now that I'm beginning to get a feel for the whole scope of the thing, like the sculptor who doesn't look at his creation until he's done, and then steps back for a once-over. And, most likely, a do-over.

I've been hammering away at my query, if only to be writing something that isn't the book itself. I'm also vascillating between titles. I started out with "Mother Sucker," then tried on "Another Mother" and "World's Greatest Mom." Lately, I've been kicking around "Worst. Mom. Ever." I know it's "contemporary," but as one of my friends says, maybe not in a good way. Any opinions? Here's the hook in a nutshell:

When a successful software mogul discovers, on the eve of his father’s funeral in coastal North Carolina, that he was secretly adopted forty years ago in a backroom deal in Germany, he is forced to grow up and get some real problems. Before his emotional dust settles, two women are battling for his affection—both claiming to be his mother. Feeling betrayed, he traces the truth back to a small Bavarian town, unaware that in his shadow lurks a figure wishing he’d never been born.

I don't know that this quite captures the "Carl Hiaasen" aspect of the book or sets a reader up for something offbeat, but it's concise, and everything I read about queries says "less is more."

Writer's group tonight. They've got the final seven chapters--we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Expanding the Cult

The Church of Buffett has two new disciples. I took my sons to their first concert Saturday and it couldn't have been a more perfect indoctrination. We were one of maybe 20 families in the "family section" of the lawn (no alcohol/no smoking), which had room for at least 50 more blankets. Guess the other concertgoers were determined to drink and smoke no matter what.

This was the set list:

Homemade Music
License to Chill
Pencil Thin Mustache
Miss You So Badly
It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
Cowboy in the Jungle
Brown-Eyed Girl
Cheeseburger in Paradise
One Particular Harbour
Come Monday
Why Don't We Get Drunk
Bama Breeze
Son of a Son of a Sailor
Schoolboy Heart
Makin' Music for Money
Tryin' to Reason with Hurricane Season
The City
A Pirate Looks at 40
Far Side of the World
Southern Cross
Fins (encore)
Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 (encore)
Coast of Carolina (encore)

Very satisfying, especially after a 4-year absence. Made for a perfect start to the summer. Hopefully, we won't have to wait as long for the next visit, and it will definitely be a family event from here on out. Although maybe next time he won't use the f-word, which disappointed my son beyond belief. I didn't say it would be entirely wholesome...

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Mix Tape for Writing

For years, I've put together mix tapes for myself and other people. I've since moved on to mix CDs, of course, but the intent is the same. Some of my most prized mixes were assembled with one purpose in mind: to keep me running. Although my iPod made my entire collection obsolete, I still have all the tapes, sitting gathering dust behind my office door at home, with inside-joke names too embarrassing to cite here. The jokes were so inside, in fact, that only I would get them. How's that for warped? I became so accustomed to the running order of these tapes that to this day, I can't hear "The Ballad of John and Yoko" without expecting to hear Men at Work's "Underground" hot on its heels.

They did the trick, these tapes. Maybe it's why I'm much more dedicated about my running than I am about my writing. 4-5 days a week, 4 miles at a time, with very few exceptions. I run as much for the mental benefits as the physical ones. I write headlines for work (I'm in advertising), I sort out domestic issues, I make plans for the weekend, I even work out problems with the novel...all in my head. Of course, there's nowhere to write it down, and by the time I finish my run, the adrenalin begins to taper off and the enthusiasm cools considerably.

If there were the equivalent of a mix tape to inspire writing, I'd make one in nothing flat. Unfortunately, if I'm truly in a writing frame of mind, I can't listen to music, or at least not music with lyrics. When I was writing my last novel, which involved several scenes set in Greece, I listened to some Greek music to gear me up before/during writing (though it had lyrics, I couldn't understand them, so they weren't terribly distracting).
So...is there such a thing? Did Jackie Gleason or 101 Strings put an LP out that I'm not aware of: "Music to Write Contemporary Novels By?" Any suggestions? Did our great writers of the past listen to anything to get them going, besides their elusive muses and the siren's song of the bottle?

As you can tell, I'm writing this as a way of not writing the actual book. But I have a new deadline looming, so the real writing will commence shortly.