An aspiring author confronts the literary demons of the world and sets off in search of an agent.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Digital Life Sacrifice - a lack of imagination?

A few weeks ago, on December 1, a slew of celebrities died, well sort of.  Alicia Keyes, Lady Gaga, Jay Sean, Justin Timberlake and other stars offered themselves up for the Digital Life Sacrifice, killing their cyber selves through a blackout on Twitter and Facebook.

It was for a good cause: to raise a $1million for the AIDS charity Keep A Child Alive.

It also got the Demon to thinking, “So let me get this straight, Lady Gaga won’t tweet again until the money is raised?” Something felt wrong about this – it lacked imagination.

What do I mean by that? Let’s begin by considering a point made by JK Rowling in a speech at Harvard. She talked about a time when she worked for the Amnesty International Office in London.

“Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet…Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds; imagine themselves into other people's places.”

Imagination, that was JK Rowling’s point. "We do not need magic to transform the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have power to imagine better." And that, I believe, is the power of Amnesty International: they call on us to imagine, empathize and act.

This point-of-view stands in stark contrast to the gestalt of the Digital Life Sacrifice. That event, as near as I can tell, did not challenge people to imagine much beyond a day or two without tweets from their favorite celebrity. For that reason, this effort felt strangely disconnected from, and without empathy for, the very people in need of help; it felt like a failure of imagination.

Of course, Alicia Keyes and her colleagues were acting with the noblest of intentions for the worthiest of causes, but I would challenge them in the future to challenge our imaginations a bit more.

‘nuff said!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Four Reasons Your Query Letter Failed

Why do query letters fail? The Demon surveyed the most respected literary agents and here, in their own words, are four reasons they've rejected your query letter:
  1. “To whom it may concern” no longer  works at this agency; we fired him/her years ago.
  2. You propose to write a novel that is “somewhere between Gone with the Wind and The Little Engine that Could.”  Frankly, my dear, I don’t think you can, I don’t think you can, I don’t think you can.
  3. Thank you for assuring us that your manuscript is “complete, finished, done and over with.” That just about describes your chances with this agency.
  4. Gee, what a fascinating coffee stain on the lower left-hand corner of the letter…would that be Mocha Java or Sumatra?


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Rules of Querying

The Demon has decided it's time for some rules to guide aspiring authors as they go about the Herculean task of querying literary agents:
  • No bitching!  Okay, you are allowed a small whine only after your fiftieth rejection.
  • No voodoo dolls. If you’re stupid enough to think this will work, odds are you’ll end up sticking the pin in your hand instead of the doll.
  • No dart boards with pictures of famous literary agents.
  • Never imply that Tony Soprano is a friend of yours and he really, really wants to see your novel published.
  • As much as you hate being ignored by agents, Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction should never become your role model.
  • Hunger strikes are fruitless.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

More Haiku as Query Letters

In an earlier post, I looked over several haiku by Bashō, the famed Japanese poet of the Edo era, and tried to imagine which author might have used which haiku for one of their query letters. Here are a few more:

In my new clothing
I feel so different, I must
look like someone else                             
     (The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain)

With dewdrops dripping,
I wish somehow I could wash
this perishing world                                 
     (The Road by Cormac McCarthy)

Taking a nap,
Feet planted
Against a cool wall.                               
      (Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain)

Bright red
the pitiless sun
autumn winds                                           
     (Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury)

clenched in the hand:
torchlight in the dark                                   
     (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)


Friday, December 17, 2010

No Country for Snowmen

From Rejecting Sobriety, this holiday poster lampoons a movie based on the book No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. It made the Demon chuckle!