Saturday, February 23, 2019

Courting Agency

So I finally got an agent to talk to me.  That doesn’t mean he’ll represent me, but he knows, at least a little of, who I am.  This didn’t come about through a web search and cold call.  He agreed to talk to me because we have a mutual friend.

This friend I have never met.  He contacted me after reading a blog post.  We subsequently talked by phone.  He emails me often.  He’s a real booster.  Turns out he’s a writer too.  Those of us who write need one another.

My friend doesn’t know my pseudonym.  In fact, most friends to whom I’ve revealed it have forgotten.  They grow weary of waiting until I break through.  Until they can say “I knew him when.”  Of what does breaking through consist?

Twenty of my short stories have been published.  My fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Write Well Award (Silver Pen Writers Association), and the Best of the Web Award.  I won the Danse Macabre 2009 prix d’écriture de Noël in Fiction, and third place in Calliope’s 20th Annual Fiction Contest (2014).  Where’s the confetti?  Where’s the champaign?

For any of that you need an agent for the Lowells speak only to the Cabots, and the Cabots speak only to God, so I’ve been told.  (Not by a Lowell or Cabot, for they do not speak to the un-agented.)  

Over the years I’ve sent many agent queries, for both fiction and non.  To get attention you have to have already made some serious money by your writing.  Or maybe, as in my case, you have a friend who’s willing to share.

You see, my Medusa novel, for sentimental reasons, has to be the first one published.  Will it make money?  Yes, I think so.  Even if it doesn’t it is the labor of my earlier life.  All authors, even Steven King, have a backstory of rejection.  Editors can be a thick-headed lot.

I’m dithering now whether to send said friendly agent my novel.  He said I should.  There’s got to be a word for this: getting so far that you hesitate to go further because the next step could be a break-through, or it could put you back at Go without collecting your $200.  If only I had an agent to handle the money part...

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Holy Horror

My friend Steve likes horror movies.  It’s something we share in common, and it’s one of the things that brought us together back in college.  He recently published a book that some horror fans will enjoy—Holy Horror.

The idea here—Steve used to teach biblical studies—is that you can learn quite a bit about the Bible from watching horror movies.  It’s an interesting idea because a lot of conservative Christians believe horror is evil.  From the Devil, even.

I find this kind of book interesting because it bring two unexpected fields together.  I write horror stories.  (I’ve got one ready to go, if I can only find the time to get it through Submittable.)  I watch horror movies.  Who would think of finding the Bible in such places?

His larger point, I think, is that horror and religion are closely related.  That I can get!  Have you seen the how the evangelicals behave lately?  How they rally around Trump?  There’s horror right there!

Reading this, what struck me is how often the Bible shows up in horror films.  At first I thought this book was simply all the movies where the Good Book appears in horror.  Clearly it’s not.  Steve hasn’t watched as much horror as I have and he missed a few obvious examples.

Horror will likely never become mainstream.  The reason is that many people don’t like horror, but also many people don’t understand that horror deals with existential issues.  Many horror films are great movies.  Every time I watch The Shining (where Steve starts) or The Exorcist (where he lingers) I say to myself, “That was a great movie!”

Religion has been part of horror perhaps from the beginning.  Most clearly, however, it entered the scene in Rosemary’s Baby.  Holy Horror starts in 1960, and comes up to pretty much the present.  It’s a fun read.  A little on the pricey side, but for my money, it was worth it.  It’s what I call guilty pleasure.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Dust or Rusty?

My, is this thing ever dusty!  The problem with dual identities is that they’re, well, dual.  The working writer has to make a living.  Making a living interferes with being a writer.

It’s no secret that I write under a pseudonym.  In certain professions writing is discouraged.  The only way I can get away with writing the fiction I do is by saying “It’s not me!”  I know I’m in good company here.  The average person can’t identify Samuel Clemens.

No, I don’t mind the nom de guerre per se, but I resent a work life that doesn’t value the writer.  It’s not just editors, either.  There was a guy in my company who wasn’t an editor.  He quit to become a writer and the general attitude to his leaving was a smirk.

Yes, it’s difficult to make a living as a writer.  Unless you get an agent you won’t make much in royalties.  You can’t quit your day job.  And aside from the many hours sapped from your life-force by work, some jobs declare that you shouldn’t write.  It might be mistaken for the voice of the company.

While I’ve been engaged in two non-fiction books, my fiction has been suffering.  The ideas bubble up rather consistently, but the energy it takes to find publishers is draining.  You know how it is—you find a perfect fit for your story, but the editor of the journal doesn’t agree.  They’ll be glad to take your money, though.

I was recently reading about Mark Twain.  He had trouble getting published.  Even had to do what we call “vanity publishing” these days.  Now he’s considered an American original.  My guess is that he wasn’t an editor for a jealous press.  Otherwise nobody would’ve ever heard of him.

Now that a new year has dawned, I’m redoubling my efforts at fiction.  I still have a non-fiction book under contract, but that won’t bring in any royalties.  Time to get down to business.  Time to dust this thing off. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Gotham Writing

Life is plenty complicated without writing.  Life’s impossible without writing.

You see, I’ve got tons of fiction here.  Well, it be tons if I printed it out.  I’ve been writing every day for decades now.  Long past the limit Neal Stephenson once told me, the 100,000 words you throw out before calling yourself a writer.  The problem is, life’s complicated.

I happened into a New York City bookstore.  On the same shelf paperbacks by the aforementioned Neal and Robert Repino.  I know them both.  I returned home and fired up the laptop.  Hundreds of stories.  Half a dozen novels.  Amid all of this, just one story of mine that one small journal thought was worthy of actual ink.  It won third place in a contest.

There’s no way to count pre-computer writing.  I was born before the advent of the household CPU.  Before electronic calculators.  We thought the TI-30 was a big deal, little red lights and all.  I’d been writing for years already.  How many words?  Who can count that high?  Who has the time?  Life, remember…

So I fire up the laptop and start counting.  I quickly lose track how many individual stories I have in Scrivener.  At various stages of completion.  Many finished, sent out, and rejected.  Many more being polished and awaiting the click of the “send” button.  Even many more not yet done.

I click through some of the older stories.  I can’t remember where I was going with them.  When I started, the idea, I know, was pretty clear.  Beginning, middle, end.  Characters so real they could be sitting in this very room.  Now, however, I don’t recall their names.  Backstories.  Why was that character suicidal at that particular time?  What do I know about whaling, beyond Moby-Dick?  Perhaps one with flashes of intense emotion like me should be a poet instead?

It’s raining in the city and I recall one of my published stories about Bryant Park, just outside this plate-glass window.  That window’s like time.  You can see through it, but you can’t change it.  Not without breaking the law.  And life’s already complicated enough without doing that.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

In the Night

There are those who might rightfully suppose, like Mark Twain or Paul McCartney, that K. Marvin Bruce is dead.  The fact is that Marvin is engaged on two books of non-fiction that are actually under contract; fiction presses seem less friendly to my brand of writing.

Also, I haven’t been submitting much fiction because, well, I have books under contract.  That’s why I’m pleased to announce that “In the Night” is up on Exterminating Angel Press: The Magazine.  You can find it here: EAP.  The title come from the theme of this quarter’s publication—Things That Go Bump.

The story, as usual, predates the theme.  Quite some time ago I was struck by how religious authorities used to—and in some places still—have the authority to punish believers.  Believe it or not, in many parts of the world this includes the death penalty.  Civil authorities are unable to change their theological minds.

“In the Night” deals with such a situation.  A girl who has left a tradition, loosely based on my own experience growing up, lives in fear that they may catch her.  It is a dark tale, but things that go bump in the night are used to the absence of light.

As with most of my writing, this is heavy with metaphor.  The real issue is not to finger a specific religion but rather to question why religions have this kind of authority.  Religions disagree, often fundamentally, about what is right.  The idea that you may be punished for something amorphous as wrong belief is, to me, very frightening.

EAP: The Magazine has been quite kind, unlike many religions, in being willing to publish an unknown like me.  Over a year ago a different press expressed interest in my Medusa novel and never got back in touch.  I know people who work in publishing and such lack of communication is, well, unforgivable.  Those of us who write has our own sort of religion I suppose, and I’m glad to have a venue to express it.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Strangely Moved

Writing is all about habit.  I recently moved house and with the move I somehow left my old writing habits behind.  Or so it seems.  The fact is I’ve had two non-fiction book assignments in a row and my true love has had to wait.

My house didn’t come with a writing nook.  It was a tough market this year and finding some kind of suitable domicile before my apartment lease was up proved a trick for which I wasn’t prepared.  I thought there would be lots of choices, but instead it was catch as catch can.  Writing nooks weren’t in this year.

Still, my usual chair was still available and I settled in to try my morning writing.  I had a story accepted for publication—the first time in over a year—and I realized that what I was missing was the drawing in of new material.  I need to see how other people live.

There’s a bar within walking distance.  A trendy one that serves only local brews.  There I noticed the beard was back.  I have an old-growth beard myself, more of the Hemingway variety than the more trendy bald-on-top, hirsute-below model.  I also spied a tattooed young lady who’d’ve made Bradbury pen The Illustrated Woman.  So that’s what other people do.

My designated driver took me down a country lane dotted with stone houses.  Not the kind that have faux stone panels that speak of false premises, but the old variety built hard on what would’ve been a rough, horse-trodden trail.  Houses that had witnessed a ton of human drama.  Houses with as many stories as ghosts.

Perhaps I did lose my box full of old writing habits when I moved.  Tucked into some shadowed corner of a moving van and deposited at the next client’s house.  But the freedom of getting out and about revealed that there’s still a future of writing ahead.  And a new story will be appearing in coming weeks.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Writing Rearranged

Jo March had her red cap (before such things were tainted) and writing nook.  Those of us who write also have our habits.  Thing is, circumstances change.

For the first time in over a decade I’m moving house.  Most specifically, I’m moving from an apartment into a house.  I’ll keep my day job, but I’ll be telecommuting—whatever that is.  Here in my apartment I awoke very early in order to accommodate public transportation.  My writing time has been very early.

Weekends have taught me that sleeping in disrupts writing.  Indeed, my freshest time is way before dawn.  My mind is sharp and alert.  I’m productive.  I’m energetic.  I’m also not as young as I used to be.  One of my more self-indulgent activities is to allow myself to sleep until 5 a.m. on a Saturday.

I wake up groggy, uninspired.  I sit down to write, weary already.  Only with great effort can I shove the pen.  I really don’t want to sleep any more, but I don’t want to write either.  I must have a fever!

This makes me fear for my new lifestyle.  The few people in my life say they’d like to see me keep more normal hours.  Not go to bed until 9 or 10.  Be better rested.  Better adjusted.  And what of my writing?  What will become of it?

Houses with writing nooks are not easily affordable these days.  My new house has a gnarly, unfinished attic.  It could have enough privation to make a suitable writing space.  Freezing in winter, stifling in summer.  I can see myself up there amid the storage boxes, hunched over my desk, bleeding out my soul in words.

Writing is all about habits.  Mine, it seems, are about to change.  There’s no way I’m going to be buying a red cap.  But maybe I can learn a bit from Jo after all.