Sunday, April 20, 2014

One Weekend Jesus Would Love to Forget

     Meanwhile, as we speak, the President is indoctrinating children into the Socialist philosophy of boiled egg redistribution. Where will it end?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Railing Class
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on, loan from Ari.)
"This is 1888, isn’t it? I knew I was Jack. Hats off. I said Jack. I’m Jack, cunning Jack, quiet Jack. Jack’s my name. Jack whose sword never sleeps. Hats off I’m Jack, not the Good Shepherd, not the Prince of Peace. I’m Red Jack, Springheeled Jack, Saucy Jack, Jack from Hell, trade-name Jack the Ripper!" - Peter Barnes, The Ruling Class
or, You Get What You Don't Pay For

     We are all Jack Gurney, whether we like it or not.
     When Peter Barnes' The Ruling Class was made Great Britain's official entry at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, American politics, always a box of spiders just waiting to burst out, was about to become even nastier and tumultuous than it always has been. Nixon's and Lee Atwater's Southern Strategy was about to pay off big time for C.R.E.E.P. (Committee to Re-Elect the President) and Nixon was about to bury Eugene McCarthy in one of the biggest and most humiliating landslides of all time. Liberalism was dead and Nixon was gleefully shaking his flaccid penis over its corpse after pissing all over it for the last four years.
     Then Watergate burst all over Washington like a popped, rancid boil. Its effects would last and reverberate throughout the Capitol and the entire nation for decades and every scandal both great and small, as if through an Act of Congress, had the suffix "-gate" attached to it in some sick political tribute to the most twisted and paranoid leader-freak since King Lear and Macbeth.
     But what Nixon would do, in recruiting the FBI, CIA and his own aides to spy on Democratic National headquarters, break into the Watergate Hotel and even Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office and the subsequent botched coverup, would prove to be a mere Brooks Brothers dress rehearsal for the high crimes and misdemeanors that would follow in the succeeding decades.
     Heinous as they were (as was Iran-Contra, the invasion of Iraq, etc), at least they were crimes with motives and carried out by evil men we could at least understand to some degree. Greed, paranoia, thirst for power: They were all timeless themes immortalized in plays by the Bard of Avon and before him.
     And speaking of plays, I now take you back to The Ruling Class.
     In that movie, the late Peter O'Toole played Jack Gurney, a plainly insane paranoid schizophrenic who had inherited a peerage after the last Earl of Gurney accidentally asphyxiates. At first, Jack seems to be a harmless kook (or what the landed gentry call "eccentric"), one who thinks he's Jesus Christ and insists he will return to Earth a la The Second Coming to spread the Messiah's message of peace and brotherhood. He even sleeps on a cross and, while he's certainly not up to the task of fulfilling his duties to the peerage, he seems nice enough.
     Then Jack convinces himself he's Jack the Ripper. An arranged marriage backfires and the body count rises when Jack murders not one but two women. Before anyone realizes it, Jack's in the House of Lords giving an impassionaed speech about the need for the death penalty and corporal punishment and his peers in the Upper Chamber raucously applaud his conservative sensibilities...
     ...all without once realizing or even suspecting the man they're applauding is hopelessly, irredeemably, incontrovertibly and absolutely quite insane.
     Let me know if this is beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar, striking too close to home like a stalker just under your 13 year-old daughter's bedroom window.

Kings of the Heartless
     Mark Twain once famously said that Congress was the "only distinctly native American criminal class" and our elected officials rarely give us any reason to believe otherwise. Physical assaults on the floor of the Senate were not unheard of, duels were fought and elections were so brazenly and nakedly corrupt that people were encouraged if not forced to vote several times a day. Politics in 19th century America was a snake pit.
     Then the 20th century dawned and politicians, if not made more honest, were at least recognizing the necessity of acting more genteel. However venal, corrupt or duplicitous they were, these men at least were those who knew how to get things done. Railroads were built, frontiers expanded, social programs enacted, infrastructure created and maintained and, despite the greasing of a million palms, shit still got done and we surpassed Great Britain as the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth.
     Then came Nixon but we survived him. Then came Reagan then his milksop Vice President George HW Bush and we survived them. Hell, we even survived his idiot son (barely). Then a funny thing began happening.
     The inmates were given the keys to their own cells and allowed to run the joint.
     I take you to World War One and the movie King of Hearts.
     As with The Ruling Class, this was a box office flop that would later reach cult status. While taking place during two times in history and in two different countries, if one were to combine or juxtapose the two elements one would see a pattern emerging in this country that seems to be metastasizing like a social cancer.
     In King of Hearts, the British army retreats from a small town in France, but they've left behind a nice little surprise for any advancing Jerries who may occupy the town: They leave behind a booby trap, an enormous bomb set somewhere in the small town. And the only person who can stop it from detonating is a lone Scottish soldier, Private Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates), who doesn't know where the bomb is.
     And neither do the inmates of the local lunatic asylum who'd escaped after the townspeople had long since fled from the ticking bomb.
     Eventually, they crown him the King of Hearts and the question of the story is who is more insane? Those who have been diagnosed as such or those who start wars?
     The analogies are as tempting as low-hanging fruit or a large surplus to a Republican. In the first movie, Peter O'Toole plays a man who's elevated to the peerage after a tragic accident and winds up in the upper chamber of Parliament where his insane pronouncements have the ring of lucidity and authority to his peers. In the other, the lunatics at the asylum have taken over an entire town after the regular townsfolk had abandoned it.
     Very much in the same way in which the American voter had abandoned their own democracy, or what passes for it, giving the lunatics free reign. And now we're seeing a new breed of politician that includes in its ranks hypocrites, thugs, racists and even criminals.

"The Appearance of Democracy Must be Upheld."
     As Boss Tweed famously tells Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, "the appearance of the law must be upheld." The same applies for the sham that is our democracy, a Potemkin village of sorts dredged up every two, four and six years. It's a rickety construct nonetheless propping up one of the oldest fallacies on the planet earth, that our Republic's democracy, our Great Experiment, is a successful ongoing one. If this persistent lie were to be abandoned for even one election cycle, our entire House of Cards would come crashing down around our ears.
     But a recent Princeton/Northeastern study recently discovered, after sifting through mountains of data and 1779 policy positions, that the moneyed elite really call the shots through Economic Elite Domination and Biased Pluralism, leaving Majoritarian Electoral Democracy and Majoritarian Pluralism gasping in the dust. Coincidentally, the report comes out just a week after the now-infamous McCutcheon VS the FEC ruling by the Supreme Court that allows those selfsame moneyed interests to pump unlimited amounts of money to unlimited numbers of candidates. As Americans are famously suspicious of politicians, the conclusion of the top 10% having much more political leverage than the bottom 90% hardly comes as a surprise.
     And it's those candidates, many of them getting into Congress, that are the focus of this article. Moreso than ever, we're seeing fringe lunatics, Tea Bagger thugs, morons and even convicted criminals sliding into the halls of power, so many Stuart Bests accepting money from astroturf outfits, 527s, right wing think tanks and, most conspicuously, money from billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Kochs. To give just a sample of what I'm talking about:
     Former Congressman David Rivera once ran a truck off the road in 2002 that just happened to contain campaign fliers for his opponent that attacked his character. Fellow Florida Congressman Allen West was kicked out of the military after firing a pistol near an innocent Iraqi policeman's head. Anti abortion extremist Rep. Scott DesJarlais pressured both a mistress and an ex-wife to have abortions. Unlike Rivera and West, who both got voted out the same night after one term, DesJarlais actually won re-election. A week and a half after getting sworn into the Senate, Mike Lee of Utah already began calling for the abolition of child labor laws.
     And one shouldn't need documentation to prove the staggering ignorance and sheer stupidity of people like Sarah Palin, Louis Gohmert, Michelle Bachmann, Steve Stockman and Joe Barton, just to name a few. It's not enough to say this is merely Overton's Window at work, that this is the shifting landscape of politics, the pendulum swinging, etc. It's outrage fatigue and understandable apathy on the part of the American electorate who had long ago come to the conclusion, long before the Princeton and Northeastern academics, that nothing they want or believe in, not even their vote, counts for shit. And it's this weary, jaded mistrust of not only politicians but the very concept of government itself, that gives counterfeit currency to the blatherings of deadbeats and moochers like Cliven Bundy and his homegrown terrorist sympathizers.
     At least Stuart Best had a conscience and only reluctantly read from the position paper given to him by these lunatic fringe groups. People like Bachmann, Gohmert, Cruz and Stockman actually believe in these philosophies. And they are now in power, listening to the soft whisper of riffled money rather than the vox populi.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

44, 44 and 44

     (By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein.)
     Hank Aaron proves we as a nation have advanced not one micromillimeter regarding race relations in at least four decades. But to begin at the beginning as Lewis Carroll advised...
     Four decades ago last April 8th (and I know I'm dating myself here), I was a 15 year-old boy watching the Braves play the Dodgers at the start of the 1974 season. Curt Flood's attempt to free his fellow players from the onerous yoke of the reserve clause was still a fresh wound in the hearts and minds of many who cared about the game. Baseball was changing, painfully as is always the case, not necessarily for the better. And, as usual, it fell to a home run hitter to bring back the love of the game.
     Babe Ruth did it with his astounding feats of hitting starting in 1920, his first season with the Yankees, and the first after the Black Sox scandal. Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, steroids or no, did it again in 1998 during their historic race to break Babe Ruth's other hallowed achievement, the single season home run record of 60 that he'd set in 1927. Between the corruption scandal of 1919 and the bad taste left in the mouths of fans after the 1995 strike, it fell to these men to rehabilitate the game and to remind us what baseball means and represents to Americans.
     Then on April 8th 1974, it was Hank Aaron's turn. He had matched the Babe home run for home run and was poised at 714. The Dodgers #44, Al Downing, threw That Pitch to the Braves' #44 and #715 sailed over the left field wall. You don't need me to tell you it was one of the greatest moments in baseball history, the night when one of the oldest and most cherished records in all of professional sports fell. It had been nearly four decades since the Babe had hit his last home run for that very same franchise.
     We'd heard that Mr. Aaron had received a lot of hate mail and more than his share of death threats as Ruth's record came closer and closer to being broken. In the four decades since, we white people would like to think, we'd moved on to a more tolerant, post-racial America.
     Then Hank Aaron unwittingly disabused us of that ridiculous notion by giving an interview to USA Today in which he said, 
Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated. We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country. The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.
     Nowhere had Mr. Aaron said the president's critics were racist, although he could have. Hammering Hank, as with every single active African American player (with the exception of Curt Flood) was conspicuously absent during the Civil Rights era. Yet, starting the day after the interview was published, both Aaron and the Braves front office had been inundated with hundreds of pieces of hate mail and, yes, even death threats, for Aaron calling attention to the persistent problem of racism. One ironic fact was never once did Aaron even use the word racism. The other ironic fact is the letters began their slime trail to the Braves front office on Jackie Robinson Day.
     As Bob Nightengale said in the pages of the same paper, "Yes, it was like 1974 all over again."
     Or, with a simple transposition, 1947.
Braves New World
     Luckily for us, the most virulent racists are stupid and predictable, making it effortless to spot them. The problem is knowing what to do with them once they are identified. We've criminalized hate speech but why racism and death threats haven't fallen under those same guidelines is a mystery I'll delve into on another day.
     Typically, much of the hate mail came from the deep south, starting with loyal Braves fans in Atlanta. One vowed to boycott all Braves games until Aaron is fired from his sinecure from the Braves organization. Another who thought enough of Aaron to buy his autobiography when thought of as a safe figurehead threatened to burn the book. Many others were too vile to print word for word.
     And Aaron proved once more an unlikely lightning rod for racism in this country, a man who has no track record for Civil Rights and no interest in racist-baiting, one who intended to spend his golden years as one of baseball's goodwill ambassadors. And then he was uppity enough to give an interview criticising the Republican Party for hamstringing the 44th President on the 40th anniversary of the 715th home run and the shit hit the fan.
     Ironically, if the Babe had been alive in 1974, he would have cheered on Aaron. Ruth had no taste for racism and he'd privately grumbled more than once, after playing the Negro League during pre- and post-season exhibitions, about the unofficial but viciously enforced "gentleman's agreement" that barred black men from playing major league baseball. I believe baseball historian and Ruth biographer Bill Jenkinson has the last word on the matter of Ruth's likely reaction to Aaron breaking his record when he'd written,
How would Babe have handled that episode in 1974 when Henry Aaron was passing him on the all-time home run list? First, Ruth would have been furious with anyone invoking his name to denigrate Aaron in any way. Second, being an unusually natural and honest individual, I don’t think that he would have engaged in the standard disingenuous but politically correct practice of saying that he was happy. My guess is that Babe would have said: “Well, I can’t say that I’m happy about my record being broken. But, if somebody is going to do it, I’m glad that it is a swell fellow like Hank Aaron.” He would have supported Aaron’s efforts without reservation. And here is the heart of the matter: if anybody had tried to harm Henry Aaron because he was breaking the Bambino’s record, he would have had to fight his way past Babe Ruth to do it. On this, I have absolutely no doubt.
     Agreed. Through sheer force of personality and a prodigious natural talent, Babe Ruth rose to become not only one of the greatest athletes of all time but an iconic American hero. It's tempting to say that America loved him so much because he represented the United States of America in every conceivable way. The Babe was, especially in his early years, brash, immature, undisciplined but so personally exceptional he literally and quickly changed a game that's loath to even the slightest change.
     But Ruth will never represent America in its totality because he was simply color-blind. He openly hugged black ballplayers and had good will for all and malice toward none. And one could make a plausible case that, when the Dodgers played the Yankees in the 1947 World Series, he might have rooted for his old ball club but silently cheered on a rookie Dodger player named Robinson who'd just smashed the color barrier six months ago.
     And he more than likely would've cheered the election of the first black president over 60 years later.
     Racism and bigotry is to be found all over the world. But there is a special, stubborn and particularly virulent streak of it that's peculiar to the United States, one that changes even more slowly than the famously conservative game of baseball. At both ends of this 40 year span of time between Aaron's fabled 715th shot and his interview with USA Today, Hammering Hank proves we have advanced not a single Baltimore chop toward racial tolerance.
     And even obliquely referencing racism without actually calling it out becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the Atlanta Braves front office will attest.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville #19

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville, 4/12/14

Friday, April 11, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville, 4/11/14

Monday, April 7, 2014

Come to the Light

     During my Rodney Dangerfield life, whenever I thought I saw a light at the end of a long tunnel, it would turn out to be an oncoming train. Think Wile E. Coyote thinking that couldn't happen to him while standing in front of a tunnel painted into the side of a cliff. You know he's going to get creamed, I know he's going to get creamed and he's the only one who's not in on the joke.
     Well, I think I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and this time it may not be the A train.
     To the phone booth's worth of readers who still come here on a regular basis, you know about Tatterdemalion, the novel that tied me up all year last year and is continuing to tie me up in the revision phase. It currently weighs in at close to a Caleb Carr-class quarter of a million words. First novels by unknowns like me have zero chance of finding agents let alone homes at major publishers if it's more than 100,000-120,000 words.
     And perhaps I should've trimmed the book to something more closely approximating camera-ready status before I'd sent it out to over 225 literary agencies across the English-speaking world. But it is what it is and, despite its size, Tatterdemalion has gotten the attention of one agent who stands head and shoulders above the rest.
     I'm not going to mention this agent's name before I've even decided to hire him, if I do. But on the first day of spring last month, I'd sent off the file attachment of the book to him at his request and, amazingly, he didn't grab his head and run screaming for the hills when he saw how large it is. His assistant tells me he'll be on the road for the next week but he'd not only brought the book with him, word has it he's actually enjoying it. His assistant is also reading it at his request.
     This is the light at the end of the tunnel... possibly. While I've said that Tatterdemalion is a special kind of special, if this guy (a big fish in the big pond of literary agencies) sells this book to one of the Big Five, it could put me on the map forever. Since he also handles film rights, there's also a chance he could get a production company to at least option the film rights, if not sell them outright.
     But I'm getting ahead of myself. If he likes the book now, I'm confident he'll be wild about it when he finally reads the unimaginably brutal and powerfully harrowing ending. Maybe it's just wishful thinking but if I wind up hiring this guy, I think he'll manage to sell it. If you saw who's on this guy's client list, you may agree.
     And hope is just a glorified way of putting the cart before the ox, imaginary seed fed to a starving bird. And, while I've compared myself to Job at least once, keep in mind that Job eventually found his way out of that whale's stomach after countless crucibles testing his faith and will. I think my time in novel jail and the disrespect and ignorance shown to my work and talent is coming to an end.
      Still, things often happen at a glacial pace in the publishing world and even a best case scenario (say, him selling the property for a good advance sometime this spring) isn't going to help me out in the short term. From the time the publisher gets a property from a literary agent, it could easily take months before anything is actually signed. They first have to do a P&L, or a profit/loss statement, which is their sales people looking into their foggy, cracked crystal balls and reporting back to them how big a seller it'll be. Then, based largely if not entirely on the level of excitement of the bean counters, they decide whether or not to offer a deal and, if so, how large the advance against royalties will be. In the meantime, the agent will have already done their own P&L to determine whether or not they stand a good chance of selling this to an executive or acquisitions editor.
     Assuming an offer is made to both the agent and client, it would then take the publisher's contracts department an average of three weeks to draw up the contract. Agent and client (and any intellectual property rights attorney who may be retained to consult) then review the contract and if all clauses are agreed to, the client then signs it, sends it back to the agent who then co-signs it and mails it back to the publisher.
     Half the agreed-upon advance is then sent directly to the literary agency, which then extracts its standard 15% and sends the balance to the author. The other half of the advance is then withheld pending receipt of a camera-ready manuscript. Then the turnaround time (except for Bantam, which is about eight months) is typically 1-2 years before the book even sees a bookshelf.
     All told, it could very easily, and likely will, take until well this summer before I see even a nickle from this novel. Ask any published author and they'll corroborate everything I've said here.
     Obviously, if this book sells even for a mid six figure advance (as when he signed one of my friends back in 1999 to a three book deal with Mira in Canada), which is about as lucrative as one could hope for a first novel by an unknown, it would put my begging days behind me and I could finally stand on my own two feet like a man for the first time in five years.
     But exactly 24 hours from now I'll be standing in a Small Claims courtroom in Marlborough, Massachusetts trying to get back $190 that's rightly due to me. For a little while there, it looked as if the case would be arbitrated in Hollywood by Judge Judy after a call to my house from CBS last month. Obviously, that didn't go anywhere but for a while, CBS saw the merit of my small claims complaint. But I fucked up. I loaned $150 to some grifter hillbillies here in town who then burned me at the first opportunity. And even if I prevail in court tomorrow, there's no telling when I'll get that money back. If push comes to shove, I'll have to notify the court as to the default and have them send the Middelesex County Sheriff's department to his house to summons him in again and even seize his assets until the settlement is paid, which could take several more months.
     And the $190 I'm seeking is still a drop in the bucket compared to our monthly expenses, which about a grand a month.
     So right now I'm grasping at straws trying to keep a roof over our heads, the car running and the utilities on and we really need help if we're going to survive even next month let alone later this summer.
     As I said, I think my penance for whatever transgression I've committed in either this or another life may be coming to an end. But we just need a little bridge to tide us over until I can finally bring Mrs. JP, Popeye and myself into the Promised Land, the blindingly bright other end of that endless tunnel.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Bluebird of Unhappiness

     Some more regurgitated wit and wisdom or what passes for it on my Twitter feed over the last few weeks (Sorry for the generic, no frills look. Twitter's completely fucked up their embed code, as it was all year last year.).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Panic in Gunland

     It's difficult to remain solemn and respectful in the wake of yesterday's newest shooting at Fort Hood that claimed four lives and injured 16 others. Certainly, the tragic subject matter doesn't exactly readily lend itself to satire and snark.
     That's why we have people like Pat Dollard and Dana Loesch, "people", for want of a better word, who sally forth, heedless of social conventions by going where no wingnut has gone before, contemptuous of the Obama-era czars of basic human decency.
     Because, according to former talent agent Pat Dollard (Breitbart's Big Government, Big Hollywood, Big Douchebag, etc), we should murder all the Muslims over this before the identity of the shooter has even been ascertained. Steve Douchey of Fox and Friends With Benefits wasted no time blaming Obama for the Fort Hood shooting within the first 24 hours, even going as far as quoting a mouth-foaming right wing moron like Gateway Pundit who gave Douchey his talking points for the day like a moth-eaten Karl Rove.
     Point in fact, the shooter was no more Muslim than the President was to blame for this. The alleged shooter's name was initially reported as being that of Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, an Iraq war veteran who served four months in Iraq and was being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So, if you want to blame a Commander in Chief for this, look no further than George "Don't Burn the Oil Fields" Bush.
     Of course, it took Dana Loesch no time flat to show what a class act she was by showing more sympathy for her fellow gun clutchers who won't lose their guns over this than the 20 victims of this latest Ft. Hood shooting. Cristina Hassinger weighed in on Loesch by saying... Well, why don't I let the principals speak for themselves?

     Undeterred, Dana then made herself the victim in true right wing fashion after she got into it with TBogg, who put the results up at his place, Panic in Funland:
     After sniffling that SHE was the one being harassed on Twitter by the daughter of the slain Sandy Hook principal "for bring(ing) the victims into this", the loathsome Loesch really let TBogg have it between the eyes, uh, somehow, for something only she can tell us.
     O, the inhumanity. O, the inanity.
     So, the moral of the story, kiddies, is that it's always the black guy's fault no matter what, we should slaughter every Muslim in America for something a Latino does to people they don't even know and right wingers should be allowed to attack whomever they want then whine about being swarmed by the blue meanie birdies on Twitter when their targets hit back. And feeling persecuted is sure a strange tack to take considering loonies like Loesch have almost all the guns and ammo.
    And every shooting becomes a referendum on the rights of gun ownership whether or not the black guy said he wants to take away your guns. The running theme in the gun control debate is that on the far right, more sympathy is shown for gun owners, even those carrying out these crimes (Yeah, Zimmerman, I'm looking in your direction) than for the innocent victims of these crimes. And the fact that eludes these cordite-huffing psychopaths is it's not us gun control proponents they have to worry about but fellow gun-clutchers like themselves.
     You know, Wayne LaPierre's "good guys with guns."
(Addendum:  I just saw that Tengrain linked to this at Crooks and Liars. If you have any spare cash, Mrs. JP and I need a little help to survive April. TIA.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Good Times at Potterville, 4/3/14

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville, 4/2/14

How Not to Write a Query Letter

      A few days ago, I was web-surfing and came across a site maintained by a fellow scribe. I saw a post he'd put up over two years ago in which he'd queried literary agents about what their pet peeves were in book proposals.
     Anyone who's been following me for even a few months knows my thoughts on literary agents. Depending on your willingness to maintain the current corrupt status quo, literary agents are either a necessary or unnecessary evil inflicted on us by a lazy, bottom-line-driven publishing industry.
     But that's not to say that literary agents don't have legitimate beefs about no-nos that don't make their jobs any easier. As much as I hate and mistrust literary agents in general, that's not to say I don't have a smidgen of empathy for their lot. So this writer had sent out letters to 100 literary agents (typically, barely over half responded) asking them what their biggest gripes were concerning book proposals and query letters.
     Among the most common complaints were "Dear Agent" letters. Among all their pissings and moanings, I have the least empathy for this since they reserve the right to send us out "Dear Author" form rejections. After all, in our spare time, the more conscientious of us send out personalized letters and still get fed a steady diet of boilerplate increasingly sent out through their flunkies.
     But this is still a big no-no because it betrays a basic flaw in your strategy. Sending out boilerplate "Dear Agent" cover letters more than suggests you're not doing your research and are scatter-shooting proposals without any heed as to what that agent represents. It shows you're too lazy to do your research in the interests of appropriate submitting. And, if you're a historical novelist like me, someone who needs to do a ton of research to maintain plausibility and authenticity, how ironic would it be if you sent out letters to badly vetted agents?
     Another huge mistake novelists make when presenting their work to agencies is droning on and on about themselves and in the opening paragraph. No one cares where you were born, how much you love writing, what your great aunt thinks of your family saga. The agent wants to be pitched in the opening paragraph, ideally in the opening line (To borrow a phrase from the film business, it can't hurt to kick off your cover letter with a "log line", or a one-sentence summary of your book. For Tatterdemalion, for instance, I sometimes start off with, "The Seven Per Cent Solution meets The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.").
     Most agents will expect you to summarize the book in the opening paragraph or two, then for you to go on with a mini CV or your literary biographical blurb. What qualifies you to write this story, what workshops have you attended, any prior publishing credits, awards, etc? Always keep your CV pertinent to the book you're pitching.
     Since the onus for success is being placed more and more on the shoulders of the writer, this necessitates you have a marketing platform in place (especially if your book is nonfiction). This all but requires an internet presence, meaning Facebook, Twitter, etc. Throwing in some numbers, if you have them in abundance, can't hurt, especially if it suggests you have a built-in fan base waiting for your book. Saying your Mom and college dorm room mate loved your book will not cut any ice, no matter how objective and honest they were.
     I cannot stress enough the importance of appropriately submitting. There are roughly over 1000 literary agencies currently operating in the United States alone and many of them are specialists. Rick Broadhead and Jeff Herman are just two examples of agents who represent only nonfiction. There are many other agents who rep primarily or exclusively romance while others will only consider Middle Grade, Young Adult and childrens' book. Others are Christian agencies. If your book is a thriller intended for adults, then you need to do your research and find the right agent.
     While researching the right agent for Tatterdemalion, I tended to zero in on those who represented not only suspense and thrillers, I went right after the ones who are seeking historical fiction. A simple Google search using the words "literary agents, historical fiction" is enormously helpful in weeding out those who do from those who don't. And there's nothing more frustrating to an agent than some boob trying to sell their erotica on them when they take on only inspiration and Christian literature.
     It goes without saying you need to proofread your cover letter, synopsis and anything else you would send them. If you can't adequately proof your proposal for spelling, grammatical and punctuational errors, then it conveys to them what a slipshod writer you are. You could be the next William Faulkner but if your query reads like something written during an acid flashback, how are they to know how brilliant you are? Reading an Elements of Style by Strunk and White and making your letter as concise as possible will give them a more favorable idea of what your real work will feature.
     Another beef agents have is when you start pitching them on the sequel or other books. One proposal. One book. You can pitch the sequel later after the first has made it into print. No agent wants to read who you think ought to play the characters in your novel, which is putting a whole team of mules before the wagon. You need to get an agent first, then a publisher, then sell the film rights. And, even then, you would have no control over the casting. So keep your casting ideas to yourself.
     Here's where it starts to get a little dicey and the channel narrows. Agents want to know you did your research and to short-stroke their easily-bruised egos by letting them know what properties they've sold, who's in their client list, etc. While doing this is recommended in the interests of appropriate submitting, don't resort to outright flattery and ass-kissing. Agents want to be acknowledged for their prior victories but they can smell an obsequious supplicant like a fart in a spacesuit. One agent smelled a boilerplate when the author complimented her on her track record. The problem was she was just starting out and had hardly sold anything.
     Another tightrope we need to walk is one involving confidence. Some agents bitch about a surfeit of it while others bitch about a dearth of confidence. Finding that perfect balance is difficult but not impossible. Agents tend to turn to stone when you proclaim your book will make them, you and your publisher a gazillion dollars. Trust me, they've heard it all before.
     Then again, they also hate it when you seem to have no artistic hubris and have no confidence in your own work. "I know you're probably going to turn this down because this is my first book..." is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. A great way to strike that balance is to say, after describing your book, something like, "this would fit in well with {this publisher's or imprint's] catalog and your client list." It shows you envision your book would be a good fit for everyone concerned while showing you've done your homework.
     And speaking of homework, this is the part of the cover letter I hate the most but everyone expects you to do this. Agents and movie producers have one thing in common: They all want to be the first to do something second. Oh, they make a pretense of looking for something original but in reality they're all looking for the next Stephanie Meyer or JK Rowling. And agents are hard-wired to look in your letter for any examples of books similar to yours or at least written in the same (sub)genre that had been successfully published. Once again, it shows you've researched your market and appraised how well your property would fit in.
     Believe it or not, some writers are so hesitant about their work they think they need an edge, a way for it to stand out so it doesn't hit the dreaded slush pile. They resort to gimmicks such as colored, scented stationary, glitter and even outright bribes like chocolate. Being a literary agent must be like living in a Groundhog Day where it's always the first four weeks of every season of American Idol. Once more, with feeling:
     Let your work speak for itself. Show you've done your legwork and have 1) Arrived at your targeted reader demographic, 2) researched the market and determined there's still a demand for your work and the genre(s) in which you write and 3) that you've scrupulously researched just the agencies that would be the best fit to place your intellectual property, including obeying submission guidelines.
     You would have a legitimate beef if you said, "But, I'm a novelist! I don't write query letters for a living!" True enough. But until literary agents are finally phased out and we're allowed to approach publishers again, this is the game we have to play. Writing effective query letters is a discipline that nonetheless must be learned, as is writing synopses. It was devilishly difficult for me but eventually I learned what agents are looking for. And as the old saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville, 3/31/14

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville #18

Saturday, March 29, 2014

From Bridgegate to Bridgetgate

"My million dollar lawyers said I was innocent because... hormones! Now someone make me a sammich!"
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)

     If the mainstream media was worth the biomechanical electricity required to hit a button on a remote control, it would've long ago pointed out the screamingly obvious fact that a sitting chief executive does not have the final say over his guilt or innocence in a scandal by hiring a million dollar-a-pop white shoe law firm. That's up to legislative ethics committees and, if necessary, courts of law.
     Or, as NBC's own website says,
Critics have pointed out Christie's close ties to the chief of the law firm and said that the report lacks crucial testimony from those most deeply involved with the lane closures, including Kelly, Stepien, former Port Authority staffer David Wildstein and Port Authority Chairman David Sampson.
     Yes, indeed. Just as the FBI was blocked from interviewing potential crucial witnesses (that would be the bin Laden family) in the first days after 9/11, the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher either blocked themselves or were instructed to never interview exactly the very principles involved in the Bridgegate scandal that closed all but one lane on the GWB starting on the first day of school last year. The most conspicuous absence of depositions was that of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former Deputy Chief of Staff.
     And yet, despite David Wildstein's charge that Christie knew about the lane closures before, during and immediately afterwards, this law firm that enjoys very cozy ties with Christie announced with all the credibility of the 9/11 and Warren Commissions that Christie's innocence in the matter "rings true."
     Unfortunately and amazingly, NBC's Carrie Dann, who wrote the article,  either elected to ignore and was blithely insensible to the rampant misogyny of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's whitewash job. Essentially, it almost completely chokes off accountability at Bridget Kelly herself and faults to a far lesser extent Wildstein himself, the guy who actually ordered the green lights turned off at all but one lane on the GWB leading from Fort Lee.
     As John Amato at Crooks and Liars correctly points out,
They show no proof of their misogynist allegations, but they include them anyway, Why is that you ask? Because this is not a real internal review report, but a document that's sole purpose is to exonerate Chris Christie. Why they thought going gonzo on Bridget Kelly was a good idea I have no clue. Maybe they believe like Bryan Fisher, that women are an inferior species and make a handy scapegoat.
     Which isn't to say we should have a pity party for Kelly, plainly a partisan political operative with a little bit of power and thought absolutely nothing whatsoever of inconveniencing countless thousands of motorists for four days straight in the interests of petty political revenge inspired by a desire to curry political favor from a man she knew would be pleased by this. And the "probe", plainly written entirely by men, shamelessly makes repeated references to Kelly's emotional instability, a terminated relationship and basically coming thisclose to mentioning the word "hormones."
     Yet, at the very least, the report still reveals Christie as a boob who hadn't the slightest idea of what his senior staffers were doing under his nose and during a re-election campaign. At the very worst, it shows Christie as every bit the Jersey leg breaker he is by commissioning an internal probe costing the New Jersey taxpayers, at minimum, $1,000,000 to take down one woman who was but one member in a conspiracy designed solely to exact revenge on a Democratic mayor who withheld his endorsement of Christie during his bid for re-election. And it shows he is all too willing to use the tried-and-true Republican tactic of misogyny to justify his actions after the fact.
     The very fact that Christie saw no problem billing the New Jersey Treasury $1,000,000 or more to have a law firm whose top dog is buddies with Christie in the interests of distancing himself from a scandal that just won't go away and to save his sinking 2016 presidential aspirations speaks volumes. The very phrase "internal probe" has about as much credibility as a crocodile in a camouflage suit.
     And imagine the furor that would've arisen if it had come out that one of President Obama's Deputy Chiefs of Staff had ordered a lane closure of a major bridge because its Republican mayor withheld his endorsement of Mr. Obama's own re-election bid in 2012? John Boehner and Darrell Issa would have burns and callouses on their hands from the lynching ropes they'd be endlessly gripping.
     Considering Christie's countless evils against the people of New Jersey, the Department of Education and a growing line of victims littering the wayside of Christie's potholed road to Pennsylvania Avenue, it's amazing that it took this long for one of those scandals to finally stick to his rotund body. And the more Christie tries to distance himself from this scandal, the more he lambastes former aides and school chums, the pettier and smaller he looks and the more he resembles the vindictive Chief Executive whom David Wildstein said knew about the lane closures and did nothing to mitigate them.
     Indeed, for someone who's obviously adept at lane closures in the interests of petty political revenge, Chris Christie knows precious little about closure itself.

All Time Classics

  • Our Worse Half: The 25 Most Embarrassing States.
  • The Missing Security Tapes From the World Trade Center.
  • It's a Blunderful Life.
  • The Civil War II
  • Sweet Jesus, I Hate America
  • Top Ten Conservative Books
  • I Am Mr. Ed
  • Glenn Beck: Racist, Hate Monger, Comedian
  • The Ten Worst Music Videos of all Time
  • Assclowns of the Week

  • Links to the first 33 Assclowns of the Week.
  • Links to Assclowns of the Week 38-63.
  • #97: SNAPping Your Fingers at the Poor edition
  • #96: Treat or Treat, Kiss My Ass edition
  • #95: Monumental Stupidity double-sized edition
  • #94: House of 'Tards edition
  • #93: You Da Bomb! edition.
  • #92: Akin to a Fool edition.
  • #91: Aurora Moronealis edition.
  • #90: Keep Your Gubmint Hands Off My High Pre'mums and Deductibles! edition.
  • #89: Occupy the Catbird Seat/Thanksgiving edition.
  • #88: Heil Hitler edition.
  • #87: Let Sleeping Elephants Lie edition.
  • #86: the Maniacs edition.
  • #85: The Top 50 Assclowns of 2010 edition.
  • #(19)84: Midterm Madness edition.
  • #83: Spill, Baby, Spill! edition.
  • #82: Leave Corporations Alone, They’re People! edition.
  • #81: Hatin' on Haiti edition.
  • #80: Don't Get Your Panties in a Twist edition.
  • #79: Top 50 Assclowns of 2009 edition.
  • #78: Nattering Nabobs of Negativism edition.
  • #77: ...And Justice For Once edition.
  • #76: Reading Tea Leaves/Labor Day edition.
  • #75: Diamond Jubilee/Inaugural Edition
  • #74: Dropping the Crystal Ball Edition
  • #73: The Twelve Assclowns of Christmas Edition
  • #72: Trick or Treat Election Day Edition
  • #71: Grand Theft Autocrats Edition
  • #70: Soulless Corporations and the Politicians Who Love Them Edition
  • Top Ten Facts of the MH370 Air Disaster
  • Top 10 Tips for GOP Congressmen Running Against Women
  • Top 10 Signs Walmart's Mistreating its Workers
  • Top 10 Diversions John McCain Found During Syria Hearing
  • Top 10 George Zimmerman Excuses for Speeding.
  • Top 10 Reasons Paula Deen Got Fired by the Food Network
  • Top Ten Ways Pope Francis is Deviating From Convention
  • Top 10 Reasons For the Pope's Resignation
  • Top 10 Emails Hacked From the Bush Family's Email Accounts
  • Top 10 Lies Told by Mitt Romney at the 2nd Debate.
  • Top 10 Examples of How Hard the Campaign Trail is on Ann D. Romney.
  • Top 10 Ways to Tell The Boston Red Sox Are Finished.
  • Top 10 Things Mitt May be Hiding in His Tax Returns.
  • Top 10 Events at the Romney Olympics.
  • Mitt Romney's Top 10 Wild & Crazy Moments.
  • Top Ten Reasons Why Dick Cheney Got a Heart Transplant.
  • Top 10 Facts About Tonight's New England/Denver Game.
  • My Top 10 Resolutions.
  • Top 10 Rejected Slogans of the Romney Campaign.
  • Top 10 Reasons Herman Cain Suspended His Campaign.
  • Top 10 Trending Topics on Twitter During #OWS Eviction.
  • Top 10 Herman Cain Pickup Lines.
  • Top 10 Changes Since Anthony Weiner Decided to Resign.
  • Top 10 Inaccuracies re bin Laden's Death.
  • Top 10 Ways to Prevent a TSA Patdown.
  • Top Ten Things Not to Say When You're Pulled Over.
  • Top 10 Reasons Why Donald Trump Bowed Out of the Presidential Race.
  • Top 10 Ways Evangelicals Will Prepare for the Rapture II.
  • Top 10 Revelations in Today's Parliament Inquiry into News Corp.
  • Top 10 Reasons Why There Was No Vote on the Debt Ceiling Last Night.
  • Top 10 Revelations in Dick Cheney's Upcoming Memoir.
  • Top Ten Ways Americans Will Observe the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.
  • Top Ten Advances in Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia.
  • Top Ten Inaccuracies in Bill O'Reilly's Book About Lincoln.
  • Top Ten Suggestions From the Cat Food Commission.
  • Top Ten Worst Moments in George W. Bush's Presidency.
  • Top Ten Facts in George W. Bush's Memoir.
  • Top Ten Reasons Terry Jones Postponed His Koran Burning
  • Top 10 Causes for Dick Cheney's Congestive Heart Failure
  • Top Ten Ways That Jan Brewer Will Celebrate Cinco de Mayo
  • Top Ten Demands in Sarah Palin's Contract
  • Top Ten Whoppers in Karl Rove's New Book
  • Top 10 Items Left Behind in Rush Limbaugh's Apartment
  • Top Ten Things Barack Obama said to Rush Limbaugh in the Hospital
  • Top Ten Bizarre Promos Offered by the New Jersey Nets
  • Top 10 Bush Executive Orders Labor Wants President Obama to Repeal
  • George W. Bush's Top Ten Lesser Achievements
  • Boolean Bozoism

  • #19
  • #18
  • #17
  • #16
  • #15
  • #14
  • #13
  • #11
  • #10
  • Kindle in the Wind, my dedicated site for my novels.
  • Conservative Values for an Unsaved World.
  • Esquire's Charles Pierce.
  • Brilliant @ Breakfast.
  • The Burning Platform.
  • The Rant.
  • Mock, Paper, Scissors.
  • James Petras.
  • Towle Road.
  • Matt Taibbi's blog.
  • Avedon's Sideshow (the new site).
  • At Largely, Larisa Alexandrovna's place.
  • The Daily Howler.
  • The DCist.
  • Greg Palast.
  • Jon Swift. RIP, Al.
  • God is For Suckers.
  • Think Progress.
  • Hullabaloo, Digby's place.
  • The General.
  • The Rude Pundit.
  • Driftglass.
  • Bildung Blog, some of the funniest and sharpest captions in the b'sphere.
  • The Carpetbagger Report.
  • Newshounds.
  • Sadly, No!
  • William Grigg, a great find.
  • Oliver Willis, "Like Kryptonite to Stupid."
  • Brad Blog.
  • Fark.
  • Down With Tyranny!, Howie Klein's blog.
  • Wayne's World. Party time! Excellent!
  • Busted Knuckles, aka Ornery Bastard.
  • Mills River Progressive.
  • Right Wing Watch.
  • Earthbond Misfit.
  • Anosognosia.
  • Utah Savage.
  • Echidne of the Snakes.
  • They Gave Us a Republic.
  • The Gawker.
  • Outtake Online, Emmy-winner Charlotte Robinson's site.
  • The artist formerly known as Politits. The politics are still liberal.
  • Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo
  • No More Mr. Nice Blog.
  • Head On Radio Network, Bob Kincaid.
  • Spocko's Brain.
  • Pandagon.
  • Slackivist.
  • The Randi Rhodes Show.
  • WTF Is It Now?
  • No Blood For Hubris.
  • Politickybitch (Nunya).
  • Lydia Cornell, a very smart and accomplished lady.
  • Roger Ailes (the good one.)
  • Michael's Moore's official website.
  • BlondeSense.
  • The Smirking Chimp.
  • Hammer of the Blogs.
  • Blue Gal's Blog.
  • Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.
  • Argville.
  • Existentialist Cowboy.
  • The Progressive.
  • The Nation.
  • Mother Jones.
  • Vanity Fair.
  • Raw Story.
  • Watching America.
  • Citizens For Legitimate Government.
  • News Finder.
  •, comparative, nonpartisan analysis of the media.
  • Indy Media Center.
  • Urban Dictionary.
  • Lexis News.
  • Military Religious Freedom. What Mikey Weinstein has found will make your head explode.
  • McClatchy Newspapers.
  • The New Yorker.
  • Bloggingheads TV, political vlogging.
  • The Pensito Review.
  • Find, the next-best thing to Nexis.
  • Altweeklies, for the news you won't get just anywhere.
  • The Smirking Chimp
  • Don Emmerich's Peace Blog
  • The Talented Cafe, a resource for writers and artists.
  • Wikileaks.
  • The Peoples' Voice.
  • CIA World Fact Book.
  • IP address locator.
  • Tom Tomorrow's hilarious strip.
  • Babelfish, an instant, online translator. I love to translate Ann Coulter's site into German.
  • Newsmeat: Find out who's donating to whom.
  • Wikipedia, an invaluable research tool.
  • Uncyclopedia.
  • Icasualties
  • Free Press
  • YouTube
  • The Bone Bridge.
  • Powered by Blogger