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Archive for the ‘Querying’ Category

Once more into the fray…or not.

In Drafts, dreams, Hautvoir, Local projects, Querying, Rejection, Revision, Synopsis on May 24, 2016 at 7:47 am

Every day (except when I shut down the phone, and close the shutters),  I meet people who aren’t blips on a screen or figments of my imagination. A lot of them cope with problems that make mine pale the same way the moon does when the sun comes out. Most days, I also read from some writer whose work makes mine seem ridiculous. Somewhere in the whole mix of uncertainties, I whistle a happy tune or crack a joke or blow off a huge amount of steam (this last in private, as much as possible; enough other people blowing off and blowing up in public, I see no point in joining that parade).

No amount of self-delusion will convince me I handle rejection well. I don’t. Rejection hurts. I don’t like pain. I hate getting the facts wrong. I hate getting brushed off. I hate ridicule, unless self-inflicted.  I forgive a lot and forget little.  I’d be better off forgetting more and forgiving less? Maybe I will some day, I haven’t found the trick for it yet.

All this is about the loathed and dreaded trio called Synopsis, Query and Rejection. Plus the underlying question: if writing is the part of the exercise I like, can I just give up on the dream of joining the Heavenly Choir of Published Ones, write on and deal with life as it shows up, period. Lots of folks have dreamt of making It – publishing, acting, singing, painting, tap-dancing, you name it. They didn’t. They did plumbing, copy writing, accounting, dentistry or gold smuggling instead. C’est la vie, and all that.

Yes, others became literary agents, editors, publishers, producers, film makers, etc. Some start off reading queries (or a few lines of same). Some read part of the synopsis. Some ask for the first ten, thirty or fifty pages. I assume most of the ones doing that drudge work are young, and, of course, on the lookout for what their boss wants. Do I have the time, patience, energy and stamina for another ride in that direction, while keeping the rest of my life from foundering on low-lower-lowest income and the growing problems this entails.

I don’t know how to describe what I write. Especially not for a three hundred word max drop-down page on someone’s web site. I’m an almost seventy-year old university drop-out. I had something resembling a career, ages ago, and dropped out of that too. I live in a run-down town and teeter on the edge of… what do you call it? Poverty? Yes, I guess that’s what you call being poor in this country*, unless political correctness strikes those words from your vocabulary. I laugh a lot. I cry a lot, too. Some of my characters do the same. Some do nasty things. Some would love to get even, and don’t. To my knowledge, none of them make it to the Promised Lands, no matter whose promises they listen to.

There. The paragraph above captures some of it, except for the laughing part. Without the laughing part, none of it is worth bothering with. If you don’t laugh, you may as well close the shutters for good, and just give up. Which would be a pity because you’d miss the saffron yellow and the orange and wine red on the curtains, the light on the bookshelf and the sight of Aly walking by on his way to the bus out of town.

*this makes for a lot of us living under the official poverty line, by the way. There’s life and lots of it, below the poverty line. But this seems more annoying than interesting to those for whom gross and net earnings are what matter – and all my best to them if that’s what keeps them going.

A First

In Animals, Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, New story, notes, Querying, Sanford Meisner, Synopsis on January 8, 2016 at 10:20 am

Morning showed up much too early today – at 5 AM, in fact. The dog, eager to move. Not I, so I indulged in a fantasy life wherein no external obligations impinged on my morning off. The fantasy carried me all the way to 5:30 AM after which I went outside and kept a distant eye of the dog so she wouldn’t swallow too many poisonous items. Said poisonous (or intentionally poisoned) scraps put a real damper on pleasant strolls with a canine. Some folks around here put out poisoned rice against the pigeons, others poisoned meat against cats, dogs, rats, mice, whatever.

No poisoned bait ingested this morning. I indulged further by napping on the couch, then reading one of Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories titled Robbery. Now, at almost 9 AM, I’ve opened the shutters at last, and am giving slow thought to the day’s activities.

There’s a somewhat disjointed, suspended feeling at play. For once, after finishing a piece of writing, I’m not in a state of bereavement, but neither am I clear on what happens next out in the story world. Real life keeps providing fresh material – no problem there. But stories don’t spring up just because events suggest themselves as likely contenders.

As for taking on the synopsis/query letter business…the haze that rolls into my head reminds me of someone’s definition of laziness as the universal remedy against useless work. While querying may not be useless, it definitely feels like homework, something there’s no lack of in my life.

Friday morning off. A fresh supply of Badoit to buy at the downtown mini-mart. Plants to water, floor to sweep while listening to music in my head. A fond nod to Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano because some fictional characters provide a sense of family. From one book to the next, you know how Montalbano will react, you know desk officer Catarella will bang Montalbano’s door against the wall while delivering phone messages he’s gotten wrong. You know the rich and powerful will win but die anyway. And while Montalbano angsts and searches out the answers, you know he’ll eat first-rate Sicilian foodstuffs.

Friday morning off. The pace is bound to quicken soon enough.

 

Bits of August living

In Animals, coffee, Collage, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Querying on August 3, 2015 at 6:51 am

From my kitchen window: the moon fading off to the right; to my left, the sun applying fresh lacquer to an old stone facade dripping with tendrils of ivy. Below the window: birds chirping in the stand of black locusts that screen the bedroom and office windows.

Life getting organized in the new setting. I visit home decorating sites for ideas, then devise my own lamp shades. I open the front door: the dog races over to the neighbor’s house and whines for her three small buddies to come out and play. Yesterday, I tore up a tired old textbook in classical Greek and pasted the pages on what serves as a coffee table in the living room. Discover in the process that every modern fable in the Occidental tradition was known to the Greeks. Also among the excerpts: bits from Cloud Cuckoo-Land. Nothing from Aristophanes’ The Frogs. Pity.

***

Meeting my Guinean/Ivory Coast friend this morning – the boy who trekked across Africa, managed to survive the crossing and land an apprentice position with a local butcher in this town*.  We’ll work on his French reading and writing skills from the Volubilo offices; the Social Center closed down for the August holidays.

***

Story: this morning, the characters – and I with them – are in better spirits than their circumstances warrant. Moods are odd creatures – like wind or sea currents. There’s a reason or even a long historical list of reasons to them. They come and go. How to capture some of that in fiction.

In this morning’s Nouvel Obs, I see a Jim Harrison title translated as Grand Maître. Look it up. The Great Leader: A Faux Mystery. Will I splurge and buy? Afraid so.

***

Querying? Having pasted up pages of rejections on a piece of office furniture, yes, I’m giving some thought to it again.

***

* His true wish was to become a baker, except the butcher treated him kindly and the baker didn’t.

Time

In Circus, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Querying on August 1, 2015 at 5:57 am

Of course this town has its “nicer” areas. There, people live in well-tended homes with lovely gardens. They drive recent-model cars and complain about the cost of living and any number of other legitimate gripes. People become ill there too. They know heart ache and disappointments, tragedies great and small. I don’t spend much time in those neighborhoods so I don’t have much to say about, for or against them.

The rental agency’s handyman called, late yesterday afternoon. Will come by later this morning. Visions of a secure mailbox and a working shower take up front row space in my head. Meanwhile, objects continue to clump together in odd assortments, or migrate from floor to floor. More wall art finds a resting place. Same with books (now tending to accumulate by bed side – what else is new).

***

Strange, this business of now having what I can legitimately call a small body of work, none of which has found grace in the eyes of the handful of agents I’ve queried. Perhaps the work is of no interest to those whose lives run along different paths than mine. Perhaps I don’t know how to sell my wares. Whatever.

***

Characters, meeting for the first time, or meeting up again after a hiatus. Same town. Changed circumstances.

Hautvoir. Then, and now.

Levels of discomfort

In Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, Querying, Rejection, Revision, Synopsis on April 24, 2015 at 6:23 am

A cv plus what they call over here une lettre de motivation in which you sell yourself and your interest for a job rates an even higher level of discomfort than sending out a query plus synopsis. Why? I don’t know too many people who enjoy doing salesmanship on their personal experiences and abilities. Some folks have that skill to a remarkable degree? Yes, but I’m not one of them. I would rather clean up the spelling and the grammar on a student’s paper? Yes. Why? Simple: I know French spelling and grammar rules well, and no one will bat me out of the playing field for cleaning up the mistakes in a student’s paper.

Risk-taking at the wimp level. Note: we all have a wimp level. This happens to be mine.

Meanwhile, the town emerges slowly from an unseasonal and uncharacteristic fog while gender-related debates swirl on, from the most ridiculous to the most disturbing.

Watched an overlong documentary last night: a French school nurse’s daily ministrations, ranging from nicks to self-scarifications, minor belly aches to rapes and unwanted pregnancies, or teens dealing with the loss of a parent or a brain tumor. Overlong to my taste because the film maker chose to focus only on the nurse’s interactions with the teens where, of course, she dispenses pills, advice, compassion, humor, empathy, etc.  She’s good at her job, even with the girl who pushes all her buttons. But who she is, other than the school nurse – who knows? who cares?

Does any of this relate to the draft revisions? At first glance, no, except as a search for striking the right balance – the outgoing, the inner-directed. The brave, the wimpy, what makes this character advance and that other retreat.

Allez? Allez.

In Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, Querying on March 18, 2015 at 8:29 am

The crowd last night at Bêtes de Foire included most of the people who worked on the show – puppeteers, musicians, constructors of automatons. Crowd being a relative concept. The tent accommodates a maximum of one hundred and thirty people. There will be a fourth showing on Friday in a neighboring village. I doubt I can make it. If I can, I’ll learn even more about the minute precision of the performances, and the stage management of unexpected glitches and sudden inspirations.

While standing in line, I learned that another group of circus artists had lost their big (all right, medium) top to the vandals who destroyed personal property out at Sivens. Slashed their tent to shreds, and good luck with the insurance company. I also learned that the snippets of poems I receive on the screen of my phone aren’t general mailings. “Why don’t you answer my messages,” the clown asked me. “I thought they were general broadcasts,” I answered. This won’t make answering them any easier. I like the person who plays the clown. He has a great wish to see peace on earth and goodwill towards all become the basis of everyone’s political platform. Who can disagree, save for the details of how, when and where to implement to everyone’s satisfaction.

As I write, a message comes in on same phone concerning legal representation for a family in dire need of same. The toughest part in writing fiction: when the “real” world and the fictional one balance out too evenly. Homeostasis, it’s called. Provokes the need to break the balance, even when I’m in full agreement with my friend the clown’s agenda – or, at least, with the sentiment he’s expressing.

Querying? Yes, must keep up with that part of the program. Promises you make to yourself matter. A lot. Even if you have to sort through and do regular updates on them. In the left corner, still crazy after all these years: A fine selection of promises. In the right corner, getting crazier by the minute: real life in full ramification.

As I walked down the rutted sidewalk  yesterday, I noticed the largest potholes in the street had received a sprinkling of asphalt. First round of the departmental elections on Sunday. I had to laugh inwardly at the notion I address my queries and – for the most part, the remarks I post here – to places far, far away where people live their own lives filled with events, big and small, about which I know nothing. A local someone told me she had attempted a read of this blog, but her English wasn’t up to speed. Voilà.

Allez, as the title says, the day beckons.

Freakish

In A post to keep afloat, Artists, Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, Querying, Rejection, Revision, Synopsis on March 16, 2015 at 9:16 am

Maybe what frightens people away from writing – or any other sustained endeavor requiring a commitment to regular practice – are those bouts of bone-crushing loneliness when the work isn’t going well. Or when an off-hand remark out of nowhere feels like the thumb of God resting on the top of your head. “A writer, are you? So where are the books?” Or: if nobody wants your stories (implied: if they’re not good enough for the professionals), why don’t you self-publish? Or: Self-publication is the only way to go. Those fat publishers and book sellers don’t deserve to make  one centime off your sweat (this from the Anarchy Forever ones who will never read a word of mine anyway, since I’m willing to solicit the attentions of arrogant literary agents who are nothing but the running lackeys of… etc).

Plus, the scary ones who say: “I’d love to read what you write.” And the panic sets in: oh my gods,  please spare me well-intentioned criticism. Please, please. Etc.

Of course, once you’re into the writing, there’s no bone-crushing anything. You’re in it, the same way a swimmer is in swimming by the thirty-fourth or fiftieth lap. The whole problem, to use that example: getting to the pool in the first place, and into the chlorinated water and off through the first laps filled with faulty breathing, poor coordination, and all the garbage churning through the synapses.

A young girl (ten? eleven) delivering a parcel to my mobile home in Florida, once. Stepping inside and opening wide, frightened eyes. She looked around. “This is so… freaky,” she said.

I looked around, searching for the source of the freakiness. “What’s bothering you, Heather?”

The answer took a while to surface. “The… quiet,” she said.

As in: no tv sets competing for attention – in fact, no tv set at all. No music. No screaming over the rest of the racket. The quiet. Hearing the natural sounds around her. Lord help us- listening in to her own thoughts. How freaky can it get.

The toughest are the bone-crushing bouts of loneliness, but even those are all right, once you manage to make something out of them.

One thing I know: you don’t put on supremely accomplished juggling and acrobatics like those I saw this weekend at  Elsa de Witte and Laurent Cabrol’s Bêtes de Foire* without spending a lot, a lot of alone time with just you, gravity, and objects in need of re-enchantment.

* The title refers, in French, to the so-called Freak Sideshows that once flourished at country fairs. These days you can find freak shows on TV, I guess. (You’re sounding snobbish, the voice says in my head. Oh, Heather, you were right. Silence can be freaky.)

 

Another Sunday

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, photography, Querying, Sundays, Synopsis on March 15, 2015 at 8:18 am

All right. After a brief tour of various news and opinion sources, back to here. Topping the slanted pile on my right: faded photocopies of a storyboard done by someone who abandoned her project a few years back. The story as such doesn’t interest me but some of the drawings fit the mood for one of the children in a messy, messy draft. These few years later, the copies are so faded, I must run over the lines with a sanguine pencil.

A problem, combining query work on one story while feeling the pull back to another. Attention wavers. Too many signals.

***

Two excellent moments away from the messy, messy desk yesterday. The first, on my way to grocery shopping, to a friend’s new studio and shop. A long pause in the typing, here. Something like the pause in front of a photo he had just printed out on a huge device that uses inks guaranteed against fading for one hundred years.  On paper suitable for that kind of work. He offered me another photo on long-term loan because it inspired as “my” book cover for Hautvoir stories. “My” book covers being amateurish mock-ups I pull together for my own benefit in the world of as-if.

The second moment, inside a small circus tent with an even smaller ring. Seating capacity: one hundred and thirty. Two principals, one dog, and a cast of automatons. Juggling and mime of the highest order. This afternoon, I’m going back to see Laurent, Elsa and Sokha again in Bêtes de Foire. From a seat on the other side of the tent.

***

Plus culling, culling and more culling through things accumulated inside this apartment.

Yardsticks

In Music, Querying, Synopsis on March 14, 2015 at 8:11 am

If seeing any of your writing in print means anything to you, this is a must-read. Why? Because it’s honest, it’s funny, it’s daunting and it catches the flavor of a specific microcosm. For me, the  reading is made even funnier by the total disconnect between the deal-making world in New York and the present realities in my life – most of which I cannot discuss here, and some of which I attempt to re-cast in fictional terms.

I’m spending long stretches of my time in reviewing agency websites at the moment. Alert to an elusive something that might signal a path through the hype, the glitz and the plain old misrepresentations; and also, much as in Goldilocks, a sense of the right size container for the stories I write.

Success – by whose yardstick. From a publisher’s viewpoint: the biggest possible return on his or her investment. From a good agent who cares about the work and about his or her own reputation: best possible client list and satisfactory deals struck. For the writer? Depends on the writer, of course. For this writer? Finding the right audience. Which begins with finding the right agent once I’ve done everything I can with the story and its unavoidable synopsis.

One of the agents I’ve tagged for a query likes to receive the one-page version of a synopsis. Something like building a model of the ship inside a tiny bottle. An interesting challenge, if only as a voyage of discovery into what it was you truly wrote and what truly matters in that writing. I’ll give it a try.

It may sound silly but, in many instances, the very glossiness and perfection of the artwork and promotional copy on display puts me ill at ease. What? I want a grungy-looking  book and spelling mistakes in the blurb? No, I want a book cover that looks something like the content. There’s nothing slick about the world in which I live and write. Not much expectation of making the list of Biggest, Most Outstanding, Most Awesome Ten Best Ever anything. Most of the characters in my stories are like the people I encounter every day: they know the odds are against them, they know the game is rigged. They laugh anyway because laughter is something way more precious than their rating in a rigged game. The day may come when there’s a tax applied to laughter – heck, at this point, some people are getting jail terms or lashings for playing the Fool – a role even kings understood as crucial to their social order.

So. Off goes Ravel’s Le Petit Poucet through a forest of high rises springing up around him. The pigeons ate the crumbs, the street cleaner swept away the pebbles. Allez? Allez.

Agents and unsolicited manuscripts: their expectations and mine

In Current reading, Local projects, Querying on March 13, 2015 at 8:31 am

One of the agency websites I visited yesterday peeled off a long list of clients aka writers. Of course, you were welcome to click on any one of the names and get a better sense of what this writer wrote. A daunting prospect when not a single of the names is familiar and you get the feeling of a visit to a big box store. To which you add the obvious question: do I wish to find an available niche  in this agency’s names beginning with a B? On to the next website, although I’ll go back for a glance at a few of the writers listed there, if only as a courtesy to their status as writers.

My reading of any number of contemporary writers is non-existent – be they prize winners or not, the quirky principle of attraction works or it doesn’t. I read precious little of the current writers published in French. Perhaps this will change. In the meantime, I’m not about to lash myself with a wet noodle, any more than I would over my non-interest in tackling Murakami’s IQ84 in any translation whatsoever. Life is short. The books I hope to read outnumber the ones I’ve read already. The stories I’ve written still need to find a home. The ones I haven’t written yet still hover in the place where the unborn await the shove into the arena, there to grow as fast as they can and make some sense of the world around them.

What matters. Finding someone who likes what I do, who has a sense of who else in the publishing world might like it too, who points out the flaws and the pitfalls and respects both my right to angst and my right to decide if I re-write or don’t. Finding my personal version of Staunton’s Dr Von Haller in Robertson Davies’ The Manticore when she explains her role: “Oh, I am several things; an interested spectator, for one and for another, I shall be a figure that appears only in military courts, called Prisoner’s Friend. And I shall be an authority on precedents, and germane judgements, and I shall keep both the prosecutor and the defence counsel in check. I shall be custodian of that constant and perpetual wish to render to everyone his due.”

In the meantime, I’d best get on with earning my keep.