Month: September 2007 Page 1 of 5

Anti-Pragmatic Manifesto.

I will let the house go to hell while I read a great novel.”

(via Cabinet of Wonders.)

The Top 50 Distopian Movies…

…an odd list, (I mean, Wings of Desire? Come on) with a shocking omission: where is Dr. Strangelove?

Many moons.

It was still pretty close to a full moon last night, which meant the moon was still up when I went to work at o’dark this morning. Groggy, bleary-eyed, and not altogether on time, I still had to stop for a moment and look at the moon. The craters didn’t make up anything that looked like a man in the moon. Or even a rabbit in the moon (which I learned to see a few years ago).* Instead I saw a yin-yang symbol. It was so obvious that I wondered why I didn’t make the connection before.

Anyway, here’s Wiki about The Man in the Moon. Turns out there’s a word for making something out of nothing: pareidolia.

“Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hidden messages on records played in reverse.”

I was thinking about something similar the other day. When I hear someone’s voice, I will try to figure out whose it is — until I decide it sounds like a voice I can identify. If the voice doesn’t belong to the person, I’ll be fine, because I know it’s like that familiar voice. Familiar voices, even if they are incorrectly identified, are reassuring.

I think our reaction to the unknown, in general, is similar. The unknown is discomforting (even on as non-threatening a level as “Is that actor in kids’ show X the same as the one in show Y?”), but as soon as we’re able to put a pattern on the unknown (or make some kind of identification), it becomes less threatening. I would guess that this is true even for things that turn out to be even more threatening than originally supposed — there’s a reason that “better the devil you know” is a cliche, I think. Also, if you’re watching a horror movie, once the monster is revealed (or a pattern of behavior, like, “Oh, it’s a Chinese vampire”), it almost always becomes less threatening.

Personally, an exception for me would be the aliens from the Alien movies. Normally, when a “jumpy” horror movie reveals the critter, I’m okay (if still jumpy). “There it is,” I say. “I can see it.” But with the aliens, it’s not enough to be able to see them. They’re fast, relentless, and leave behind hidden horrors; you can never be sure when you really know what’s going on. And they’re so familiar, somehow, it’s almost as if they’re my personal homicidal clowns. (Back when I was having terrible (unidentified) sinus infections combined with adolescent hormonal craziness, I would see these distorted white shapes out of the corner of my eye — and I would feel like something was trying to crawl out of my skull, so no real surprise there.)

Ah, and on the subject of nightmares, I think I’m trying to tell myself something. Twice this week, there have been two “gates of horn“-type dreams with pretty scary implications:

1) I spent an entire dream cycle trying to get ready for zombies. It was Lee and I (Ray didn’t exist, in this dream), and we’d escaped the first onslaught and were taken into an older couple’s house. They helped us find the supplies we needed, which included very large gardening shears and a chain-saw, the kind you use to saw high tree branches.

2) I was at Pearl Harbor before the attack, in a diner that has started to recur in my dreams. (I know it’s a diner, but for some reason they serve margaritas in these heavy green glasses with blue rims, and they always leave off the salt, which disappoints me.) I kept trying to leave the diner, but I never managed to do it. (Ben Affleck was in the movie; oddly, so was Matt Damon. Neither one of them would listen to me. I even tried to explain to Mr. Damon that he wasn’t supposed to be in the movie, but it didn’t do any good.)

How do you know whether you’ve had a meaningful dream vs. meaningless garble? Well, I know because I know. Sometimes I don’t remember the dream, I just remember that I had a meaningful dream, and I’m like, “Well, crap. I hope I figure it out before it happens.” “It” being whatever it is I’m trying to tell myself.

A while ago, about six months ago, I had these dreams where gray mice kept showing up. Every time they showed up, something horrible happened shortly afterward, either tied into the mice or not. I knew those dreams were important, too, but I never figured out those ones either.

Full moon, pareidolia, or message from the undersoul? No idea. But if I could fit it into some kind of pattern, I’d probably feel better about it.

*Or “CHA“.

Where have all the little slices of heaven gone?

A blog post from Accidental Hedonist on what makes a good bar. Personally, I’m looking more for a coffee shop, but I maintain the sentiment is the same. And don’t try to tell me to go to Pike’s Perk. Poor Richard’s, maybe.

Book Review: Fitcher’s Brides

by Gregory Frost.

Elias replied, “Mr. Charter, wine needs no condoning. Our Lord’s blood is wine.”

(This book is part of “The Fairy Tale Series” edited by Terri Windling, the same collection that brought Stephen Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, and Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin.)


Fitcher’s Brides is an adaptation of the Bluebeard fairy tale. Apparently, there’s a variant of the story called Fitcher’s Bird, from whence the title.

The story follows the plot of both pretty closely; no surprises there. But like any good ghost story, you’re not hooked on it because you expect to be surprised: “Don’t go in the basement! Don’t answer the phone! Don’t join the Armageddon Religious Cult!!!”

(But they never learn.)

The book is set in New York’s Burned-over District, the birthplace of everything from Mormonism to Milleritism, a hotbed of Spiritualists, table-rappers, and frauds. The religious cult in question is named as “Fitcherism,” the followers of a fictional charasmatic, Elias Fitcher, who preaches the world will end on a certain day in 1843.

The moral of the story, happily enough, is not that sex is bad or that a woman’s curiousity will be punished (although sex is used in the book to hurt curious women), but that blind faith can lead to horror. An altogether satisfying book.

By the way, here is what Gregory Frost has to say about the book.


Now, I’ve been wondering for a while if it’s just me or if anybody else connects the Bluebeard fairy tale with that of Dracula: a sinister, foreign-looking man has a terrible secret; the women around him disappear, sicken, die; the man has an isolated house out of nightmares with numberless rooms; sexuality is evil; the dead “wives”; a woman’s fidelity cannot be trusted; curiousity and willfulness are flaws, rather than virtues.

The story never comes out and says it, but I think Fitcher is a vampire. He can travel by day and doesn’t have to take a coffin with him, but he can appear in places he is not, travel with celerity, leaves one man pale and weak after they have traveled together (the man later asks for God’s forgiveness for having “been with” the preacher), and kills a woman in the form of a gray mist or shadow, draining her until nothing but a husk remains. Several times, the narrators mention seeing him out of the corners of their eyes with pointed, wolflike teeth.

None of the citations at the link to Frost’s website above mention anything about vampires. Nevertheless, I have my theory…

She glimpsed his face, his eyes rolled down almost beneath the lids, his lips drawn back from his teeth–a feral face–and panic took over.

Jen Hunter: Size 12 “Overweight” Model

The winner of a popular British TV modeling contest signs up as a plus-size model after getting burned by the fashion industry. She’s 5’11” and weighs “eleven stone,” or 154 pounds.

Here’s a picture of one of the other competitors on the show, Marianne Berglund, who had no problems getting a contract.

(via By The Way…)

Top Ten Food Books.

So here are the supposed top ten food books (from Epi-blog, the Epicurious blog). I’ve read…two.

Top 10 Food Books (not Cookbooks) That Every Chef Should Own
(in random order)

1) On Food & Cooking — Harold McGee ***Agree. What, a 1000 pages of heavy reading?
2) The Art of Eating — MFK Fisher ***A lovely book.
3) Kitchen Confidential — Anthony Bourdain
4) It Must’ve Been Something I Ate — Jeffrey Steingarten
5) Tender at the Bone — Ruth Reichl
6) The Tummy Trilogy — Calvin Trillin
7) The Omnivore’s Dilemma — Michael Pollan
8) Down and Out in Paris and London — George Orwell
9) Heat — Bill Buford
10) The Physiology of Taste — Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

An Interview with an Agent… (VII)

Please understand that I didn’t catch every word, so this is more the “flavor” of the answers than exact quotes. My comments are in [brackets]. Any errors are mine alone 🙂

Q: Is there are maket for alternative-lifestyle romances?

AK: I have one that’s taken over two years. But it’s a good market. It’s got to be different. [YT — the woman asking the question said, “Oh, it’s different” and we cracked up.]

Q: What’s a successful day for you?

SB: When I get a call saying, “We want to publish your book.”

Q: Where will the industry be in five to ten years with regards to the Internet?

AK: I love my books. I want to fall asleep with it on my chest. “Just read it on the Internet?” No, no.

SB: I think there will always be paper books. Publishers are trying to become more savvy on marketing via the Internet, though. Maybe not as many copies of a given title will be published on paper.

Q: Earlier you were talking about “one shot” with an editor. Can you clarify?

SB: You have one shot with the house. You need to find the right imprint and the right editor. It used to not be like that. Then Random House bought everybody. All the agents said, “How are we going to sell projects?” So now Random House has rules. Simon and Schuster and Harper have their own rules. Within an imprint, you absolutely have only one shot. If editors share an editorial board? Then the answer is no.

Q: If I’m planning to submit something to the PPW contest, should I still submit the book to an agent?

Beth: Call the contest. We can pull the entry if you get published! Can we have one last question?

AK: I’ve been lucky in finding a senior editor over all the imprints at a publishing house. When I pitch him a book, he can tell me who to send it to.

Q: When you’re selling a nonfiction book, do you send the proposal or make a verbal pitch?

SB: I send the proposal. I never do a verbal.

Prizes: one copy of Self-Editing for Writers. One deck of cards from Ellora’s Cave, an erotica publisher. “Fun!” exclaims Beth.

The End 🙂

An Interview with an Agent… (VI)

Please understand that I didn’t catch every word, so this is more the “flavor” of the answers than exact quotes. My comments are in [brackets]. Any errors are mine alone 🙂

From here out, it’s mostly audience questions.

Q: I’ve edited a lady’s memoirs. It’s a WWII story. I’m not qualified to be an agent. If I send a query letter to you, what would your reaction be? She’s eighty-five years old.

AK: You’re the one responsible for getting my interest, if you’re writing the query letter. But the contract is with her. If anything were to happen to her, her family would have to abide by the contract.

SB: I sometimes get queries through someone not the author. Especially memoirs. But keep in mind that everybody has a story. I will make contact however it’s set out in the query letter.

Short break “for the agents to eat candy.” This is when I spotted the print of the luminous tree.

Q: Are you open to queries from workshop members?

[Information withheld. Essentially, yes, but using a method that was meant to be provided only to the people at the meeting.]

SB: As with any agent, you shouldn’t query me if you’re writing romance or science fiction, poetry, horror, or adult fantasy. I do like YA fantasy.

AK: Right now, I take manuscripts across the board. Historical fiction. Memoirs are hard. I’ll probably take a look at it if it’s a straight memoir. I don’t do children’s books. I do middle school and YA. I don’t do erotica. I haven’t made those contacts.

SB: I represent nonfiction across the board.

AK: Self-help, metaphysical, business books.

SB: It’s easier in fiction to talk about categories. If it’s nonfiction and good, I’ll want to take it on. You have to write a book proposal if you’re writing nonfiction. Not the manuscript, you don’t have to write the book before you sell it. Proposals are hard. They structured. Some good books on writing proposals are The Shortest Distance between You and a Published Book by Susan Page. You have to have the book completely mapped out, including a table of contents, chapter summaries, and two sample chapters. That’s what the agent uses. Provide your expertise and give your credentials; explain why you’re better than other writers on the same subject.

AK: Look in Writing for Dummies [YT — is this out of print? Couldn’t find it] and use the simplified proposal. Then choose another book.

[This was Beth again.] Q: The writers here have varying levels of experiences. What are the typical royalties, etc.?


AK: Royalties are 7 1/2% to 12%, depending on the house.

SB: The standard for hardcovers is 10% for the first five to ten thousand, 12 1/2% for the next ten thousand, and 15% after that. Trade and mass market editions pay six-seven-eight percent. They’re lower. For big publishers, that’s what’s standard. The figures are based on the list price of the book. Small publishers, the figures are based on net, which is what they sold the book to the bookstore for, about 50% of retail. Small houses pay on net. Big houses pay on retail. But to make up for the difference, some smaller publishers will pay bigger rates than the standard.


AK: The trend is not as high. On average, advances are five to ten thousand, which is really good for these days.

SB: It’s terrible right now. The publishing houses practically bankrupted themselves. Advances are paid out in halves or thirds over a twelve- to eighteen-month period. Royalties, the book has to earn back that amount. You don’t owe them any money. You’ll earn royalties sooner than later.

AK: Smaller houses have to pay back what it costs to publish the book, then you’ll earn royalties.

Negotiating power of agents:

SB: You have some as an agent, but not necessarily about advances and royalties. The publishers are not going to do any marketing if you’re not a big name. You can keep film and translation rights, get rid of the option clause where the publisher has the first option on the next book, audio rights. We don’t really get to negotiate rates, but we negotiate the breaks. Instead of ten percent for the first fifteen thousand books, we can get ten percent for the first five thousand books and 12.5 percent for the next ten thousand books. The more known the author is, the more we can negotiate.

Beth: Does this hold true for big agencies as well?

SB: Yes. Some agents are like gods, they’re so powerful.

Q: I have one book with a New York publisher, and it’s out of print. Can I go to smaller publishers? I ahve the rights to it. I have an agent, but she won’t represent the book to smaller publishing houses.

SB: Yes. But your agent has to release the book. They have to write a letter. Publishing the book depends on doing reprints. Is the book still relevant?

AK: I want to look at the sales.

An Interview with an Agent… (V)

Please understand that I didn’t catch every word, so this is more the “flavor” of the answers than exact quotes. My comments are in [brackets]. Any errors are mine alone 🙂

Q: Some basic questions about contracts. First, do you have verbal or written contracts? What are the basic clauses? What should not be included in a contract?

AK: I have paper contracts so new authors have something to hang on to. [YT — hear, hear!] My agreement is that we will be exclusive for a year, but on a handshake basis after that. The exception is previously published authors who are looking to publish in a different genre. It’s all about trust. I’ll make a contract if we need a paper contract, but I don’t if we don’t. There’s always a way out for my authors: write me a letter if you think it isn’t working out. Everything that’s going to cost you, as an author, money should be written down. If I have to use another agent, it’s 10 percent for each of us (for example, if your book is turned into a movie).

SB: I do have a written contract. When I started working as an agent, I was mostly representing unpublished auhors who didn’t understand the business. I would explain the term clause, explain what costs I would pass through (mostly photocopying, but now I use e-mails). I do like them. When I’m first representing you, I want to lay out how it’s going to work. You can get out of the contract. I also have contracts for my protection. If I sold a project to a publisher, I’m married to that project. I should always get commission on that book. If I’m still trying to sell a project and we part ways, there has got to be some kind of timeframe before I turn the project over to another agent. I have a 12-month clause.

AK: Yes.

SB: Authors have to wait one year before they can resubmit the book to someone I already submitted the book to. The exception for contracts would be an experienced writer.

Q: How many clients do you have, Anita, since Sandra already told us.

AK: I have about 25 clients, 12-13 really “in the works.”

Q: What percentage of work do you place or sell? Is that a typical percentage? Is it different between fiction or nonfiction?

AK: It’s about 50/50. I’m so new. I have no idea whether that’s typical.

SB: It depends on what level you’re at, how big your agency is. You get better the longer you’re in the business. I don’t give up easily.

AK: Me neither.

SB: I have two or three books I’ve been trying to sell for years. But the authors haven’t said that I should stop trying. If I didn’t love the books, the authors and I would have parted ways. But they have a good story to tell. I have a story for you. I went to a writers’ conference in DC in 2003. A woman pitched a novel to me. I thought it was interesting. I asked to see the manuscript. So did five other agents — she had six of us after her. The book was a masterpiece. We all wanted to represent her. She didn’t pick me. I watched for the book for years. I thought maybe she’d changed the title. I always called it the book that got away. December 2006, the author contacted me and asked me if I was still interested in the novel. Her agent had sent the novel to twenty houses, and they had all turned her down, because the book wasn’t commercial enough. The agent had told her that if the book couldn’t be sold to a big house, he didn’t want to sell it. But me, I’ll sell to anybody! I read it again, and it was every bit as good. It got turned down at the big houses. I finally sold it to Ghost Road Press in Denver, which is as small as it gets. The editor loves the book. I’m not going to make any money on it, but I’m thrilled. I really love their work [YT — I think she meant Ghost Road’s].

The book is called Seal Woman. It’s set in Iceland after WWII. Icelandic farmers needed women to cook and clean and whatever. There were a lot of single German women after WWII, so the farmers posted a notice in a German newspaper. They weren’t mail order brides. [YT — Someone from the audience says, “Slaves.”] Yeah, exactly. And they went. But it’s a really interesting story. It’s about a fictional woman who travels from Germany to Iceland to start a new life, but she can’t leave behind her memories. The author’s name is Solveig Eggerz. The book should come out in May 2008.

The first door prize was given away: a $25 gift certificate for hair services. Both men and women could use the certificate. I was one number off: not meant for a new ‘do.

Q: Do you prefer e-mail or written query letters?

AK: Both.

SB: It doesn’t matter. Now, I do look at my e-mails first. It’s easier to put paper to the side.

Q: What do you tell your first readers?

AK: They read the manuscript after I’ve read the first three chapters. They’re looking for flow and content, not typos.

SB: I don’t have readers. It’s just me. I have a couple of people who look at my queries when I’m overwhelmed. They have the form letter. One of them especially. He knows what I like. We have similar tastes and sensibilities. He’s a good judge of smart writing. I’m so busy, 99% of what comes in has to be rejected. Unless he’s really sure I’ll like it, he sends it back. The first sentence of my form letter is “I’m sorry this is a form letter.”

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