Archive for March, 2012

Agent Queries, an Update

Well, I’m back at the computer keyboard after a week off from blogging.  I had something else that kept me away last Sunday (March 18) so I didn’t get a chance to write some of my usual bilious crap.  Here goes this week.

This week I want to write an update on my querying for my first novel, The Anthanian Imperative–Blue.  A rather long science fiction novel (124,000 words), it’s been my pride and joy for over ten years now, and I’m impatient to get it published.  I’ve sent out over sixty-five query letters in various formats recently, as regular letters, as e-mail queries, and as queries filled out on agent websites (six of those so far).  I’ve received thirty-four replies, that is, slightly more than half the agents responded, either by e-mail or by sending a reply in the self-addressed stamped envelope I supplied.  All of those replies were form letters, of course, because no one has asked for anything more.  No agent is going to take the time to sit down and give a personal reply to everyone who queries, I’m sure they’re way too busy for that.  Many agents nowadays have started a new reply routine: they don’t reply at all if they’re not interested, so many of the non-responses I’ve not gotten are really rejections, as much as any form letter.  It’s hard to quantify the responses that way, though, because it can take up to three months for an agent to reply, so the lack of a response doesn’t mean anything for a long time.  Is the agent still mulling it over, or is the lack of a reply a no?

But I’ve gotten a few form letters which, though they’re really rejections, are curious in their wording.  All of them say no, obviously, but several have said something like, “send it elsewhere, someone else might like it,” or “continue to submit elsewhere.” Many wish me luck in my writing career, but the reply worded in that way leaves me curious.  Let’s assume that my manuscript is a pile of horse c–p.  (I don’t think it is, but it may be.)  Is it appropriate for an agent to be encouraging a new writer to continue to send it out if it really is that bad?  That could reflect badly on the agent, and perhaps come back and sting at a later date.  So many form letter replies are so vague as to be almost meaningless, for example, “we regret that we cannot consider your material at this time,” so I’m wondering why an agent would have a letter that encourages someone to continue submitting if they really think it’s lousy.

In any event, I’ve temporarily suspended querying to agents, and am thinking about sending it to publishers directly.  Right now I’m in the process of revising the first chapter as well as making small changes in the rest of the manuscript.  Then several publishers will get the polished final result.  We’ll see what happens.

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“Blackout,” a Review

Blackout” is a book by the science fiction writer Connie Willis, and I just finished reading it and thought I’d write down a few comments.  First, it’s a relatively large book, 491 pages and probably well over 100,000 words.  But that didn’t stop me, I plowed right into it and began a great time of reading.  I don’t usually think of books as the type “I couldn’t put it down,” but this one qualifies as closely as any.  I’m not really sure what it is that makes a book like that, but I enjoyed reading it so much that whenever I did put it down, I couldn’t wait to get back to it.  Most books don’t do that to me, and I’ve always wondered why.  I’ve got a couple of theories.

First, the subject of the book was relatively interesting to me, though I realize others who try to read it might not find it so.  The plot revolves around three time-travelers from Oxford, England, who, from the year 2060, travel back to 1940 England to study the British people as they endure the Blitz–the bombing of London–and the evacuation of British armed forces from Dunkirk, France, as the German army was about to encircle them.  I’ve had an interest in WWII for a long time, perhaps because I grew up in the years just following the war and heard about it from everyone who had anything to do with it.  I don’t remember the war itself, but I remember hearing about it from so many others.  It made an especially good topic for numerous TV shows, documentary as well as fictional series.  My father was in the war too, in Europe, especially in England, though he was there later, around 1943 to 1944, preparing for the invasion.  Thus, the subject of the book had a familiarity about it that appealed to me.  Someone else, especially a person much younger, who picks up this book might not feel the same way.

Second, though the book is large, the writing is well done and intriguing.  The largest part of the book is taken up with the time-travelers’ mishaps.  Things don’t always go well for them, even though they’ve researched the Blitz and the evacuation, as well as London at that time before they make the time travel leap into the past.  Their research isn’t always accurate, though.  Accidents happen, unforeseen events take place, and setbacks occur that turn a simple sojourn into the past into a life-threatening adventure for all three characters.  After all, going back into the past to a place where bombs fall every night onto the place you are staying doesn’t make for a simple time studying the population.  Yet, the excitement of it all made for a fascinating read, and I was held to the book all the way.  I’ve picked up smaller books that never held my attention anywhere nearly as well.   I had read one other Connie Willis book, “To Say Nothing of the Dog,” also a time travel book, and though I made it through to the end, it didn’t hold my attention quite as well, and was a little hesitant to try “Blackout.”  I’m glad I did.

One small caveat.  There are a lot of details in the book, and it was hard to keep track of all of them.  Several times I had to refer to the front of the book to refresh my memory.  Ms. Willis obviously did a lot of research, and used it well in the construction of the plot.

In short, I recommend the book highly.  I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, “All Clear,” which, as I understand it, wraps up the story.  I’ll order it soon.  It won the Hugo Award last year.

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I’m not much of a poet.  Back in the early years of the twenty-first century, I tried my hand at writing some poetry, and I even read a few of my poems at the Open Mic gathering at Winston-Salem Writers when I lived in North Carolina.  I did most of my poem writing when I lived in Cincinnati, before I moved to NC in 2007.  But poetry and I never seemed to get along very well, and I gave up my poetic attempts after about a year.   That poetic interlude came during a lull in the writing of my first novel, when it was at a point where I realized the novel was so blasphemously boring as to be exasperatingly unreadable, and I was thinking about how to repair it.  But one other thing happened during that time to goad me into writing poetry.  I’d picked up a copy of a Time-Life picture book of the attacks on 9/11, and as I sat reading the book and looking at the pictures, a poem began to form in my head.  I went upstairs to my office and put the words on paper (actually, on the computer screen).  It was called “The Sky,” and to date it probably is my best poem, though I couldn’t read it at Open Mic because it’s a little too long.

I worked on a few more poems, though nothing as good as “The Sky.”  But my reason for this blog is not to promote my works, but really twofold.  One, to suggest that every writer should try his/her hand a poetry at least once in his/her life.  Poetry is much more confining than prose.  Poetry has rhyme, meter, foot, scansion, and a whole litany of words that describe the mechanics of the art.  It takes more time than prose, and you have to stop and think about what you’re doing much more intently than with prose.  It may take several hours to get one line or one rhyme.  It forces you to look more carefully at what you’re writing and to choose your words more carefully and thoughtfully.  If that carries over into your prose, so much the better.  Prose doesn’t usually contain rhyme, but it frequently contains such poetic devices as alliteration, allusion, rhythm, onomatopoeia (look it up), and metaphor and simile.  Putting those in prose can only make it better.

My second reason for blogging about poetry is to suggest that every writer should, at the very least, read poetry.  Though I never became a poet, I do read the stuff, and my favorite poet is Edwin Arlington Robinson.  Robinson lived from 1869 to 1935, and won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry three times, an unusual achievement.  Robinson’s poetry is very straightforward and easy to read and understand.  His short poems may be only two or three stanzas, but the imagery is unconcealed.  There may be a hidden message behind his works which may be more difficult to perceive, but if you read him (especially out loud) you may be able to see what he’s getting at.

One of his best known poems is “Richard Cory,” and I’m not going to repeat it here (you can probably find a copy online), but I frequently go back to it just to read it over and over.  I’ve read it so many times I’ve got it memorized.  Another poem of Robinson’s is “The Mill,” a poem which I used as an inspiration to write my short story “Mountains HIgh,” which you can find on this blog site (look for “Short Story”).

In short, don’t overlook poetry if you are doing any sort of writing, fiction or non-fiction.  You can always learn something from the poet.

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