Saturday, June 25, 2011

Agent, Agent, Who's Got an Agent!?

Lately, I've been noticing the lemming-like rush on the part of new writers to land an agent. The problem is, they haven't finished their books, yet, and furthermore, they seem to think that if ten or twelve agents turn them down flat, then it's time to approach other agents, as many as 100. And when I say, haven't finished their books, yet, I mean, they haven't really done excellent rewrites, found excellent beta readers, gone back to the drawing board, and dug so deep that they hit pay dirt. Some secretly believe it's "good enough" to send out.

I have a problem with that. In fact, I think this is misguided, wishful thinking. But to each his or her own; after all, who am I to judge? Frankly, there are some bad books out there, which is another cause for dismay, and belongs to another blog post.

That being said, as far as I'm concerned, it is a wise writer who carefully researches a prospective agent, and having selected a few choice potential matches, approaches that handful, sits back and waits. Maybe no one will bite, maybe one or two might want to see entire manuscripts, but ultimately take a pass in a form rejection letter.
Isn't it quite obvious, if after six agents do this, there just might be something not quite right with the work and not the agent?

A very wise writer friend told me she sat down and composed her "dream" list of agents, numbering around a dozen or so, and sent off her queries to half of them, just to test the waters. She figured that if she got no bites at all, she'd revisit her book, and examine the structure for cracks, re-finesse the paint, mow the front lawn once more, before approaching the next handful. Why? Because she didn't want to send out anything less than perfect to the next group. She didn't want to burn all her bridges.

As it turned out, she needn't have worried because she found an agent -- a great guy -- on her first round of submissions.

I've worked with two agents on various projects in non-fiction and the children's market, but I haven't looked for an agent for adult fiction because I am not ready yet. When I am, I just know I'll never find 100 agents whom I'd feel would be right for me, because I honestly think that's a myth. Mind you, I am not writing in a particular specialty field, although even if I were, I'd still be skeptical about loads of agent possibilities. Loads? Really?

I still believe the best advice out there is the advice that reminds the hungry-to-be-published-via-real-publishers: Write the very best book you can. And
for obvious reasons, this is the advice most ignored. In a psychological way, it's a real downer. Some writers don't have sufficient skills to climb to the next rung. They don't want to admit this. They don't want to know they still have a lot more to learn, that they may never learn.

Then again, persistence does pay off. So, perhaps it would be better to focus on writing, writing, reading, reading, and not so much on agent blogs, gossipy, snippy diva-pods, and the latest news about Kindles versus real books in bookstores.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Roach by Any Other Name Would Just Be Wrong

The Things a Girl has to Do!

I am not into bugs. I shun Reptile Houses at Zoos. I only nod politely to very small spiders, and I will not live in a roach-infested dwelling.

But this little guy is no ordinary roach. In fact, he's a Macropanesthia Rhinoceros, and he lives under the ground much of the time in Australia.
He would never dream of entering a kitchen, and he has no odour -- in fact, he's very un-roach-like. This beastie is known as a Giant Burrowing roach, and he's a huge guy.
Maybe three inches long, no wings, just an insect (not a bug) who shares his love for mulberry trees with the koala bear.

As cute or as ugly as this fellow is -- with his "scoop" for burrowing -- he has ended up in the first chapter of my book.

This was not my decision. This is what happens when you allow your imagination to run wild, which mine obviously has, and as a result, he has created a teeny role for himself as an emcee, if you like. The very idea that roach art would appeal to my main character, Isobel, who collects oddities amongst other things for her rare emporium on Third Avenue in Manhattan, serves as a further entrée (no pun intended) into her character. She, too, is imaginative and completely offbeat.

And so, for a few key sentences, Mr. Rhino Roach moves front and centre as the star in an artist's collection of 'roach art.'

In order to do this roach art justice -- I have been forced to attack with a humorous bend and it's a tricky business.
I don't want to merely describe the artwork -- flat, telling etc. Even if the artwork itself is hilarious.
I need to show it, and I need to not be showy in showing it.

Subtle will do the trick, I think. You see, the roach art is presented like individual paintings, like Peeps dioramas. 

I have been playing with this for quite some time, and can't let it go until I hit the right tone.

Comedy is hard work.

And then there is pacing. Even if I had a hundred dancing rhino roaches getting down with Jennifer Lopez, I'd be off the mark. Good writing has to move along briskly, even when it quiets down. Melodic-like. Because, otherwise, the reader says, 'well, this is all very well and good, but, isn't it a tad self-indulgent?" 

I'm not a big fan of self-indulgent writers. I pop right out of their stories.

I think I shall ponder this tomorrow at the dentist's office, and then ready my wits for a long, rainy holiday weekend.

Bela Lugosi - Count Dracula
In the meantime, Isobel is considering which of the many roach dioramas she wants to house in her permanent exhibit. She has decided to keep -- "Bela Bugosi." Now he's a much scarier character than a rhino roach. Heh.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Funny how writerly things evolve -- sometimes they're subtle and sometimes it's a new smack-dab fact of life, but all of a sudden, you look around and your focus is different. Oftentimes, you don't know why, or maybe you do, but so what?

I changed mine in February. After ten years of working on and off on The Scarf Dance, my 19th century novel fraught with Sturm und Drang, I decided I needed to let some light in. I wanted to allow myself contemporary free-flow, unbounded by mannerly constraints. And, so, without warning, I began a fresh adventure, an urban fantasy --  if that's what the genre is -- I don't really know. I'll worry about what kind of animal I'm feeding once it's cut all its teeth.

What I am certain of is the setting, the characters and their fascinating story and what stumps me is that I cannot recall how I arrived at it. Usually, I can tell you exactly when a story idea came to me, even where I was or what I was eating. But, in this case, I am drawing a blank. All I know is that something propelled me to read about Egyptian cat mummies and from there, a labyrinth of plot and people and my favourite city, New York, got all mixed together like a sidewalk sale or swap meet under navy awnings. The contents of the assorted tables seem to have no relation one to the other, but, en masse they comprise a perfect tableau, a harmonious swath of pointillism. And each tiny dot is connected to the others.

I find the blank in my memory both alarming and amazing. I am not going to argue with it. So maybe I don't know how or why the story arrived, but it's here now, and it's calling my name. That is all that matters.

The opening.

Pebblestone’s Dilemma
Carol Krenz 2011

Chapter One

    When Zeno Cavallos agreed to paint Isobel Mansfield’s library at 34 Gramercy Park East, he changed her life forever.
    He never knew this because his was a walk-on part in her play; it was, however, a pivotal role that set off an unexpected chain of events the way a spoon of Breakstone’s cottage cheese sent her running for root canal. Her endodontist  said that a hair-line fracture could live undetected above or below the gum line for years until one day –  when you least expected it – bam.
    Isobel understood that Cavallos’ deed was purely unintended, like Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern in her barn that started the fire that burned down Old Chicago. (Of course, she knew the cow story wasn’t true but everyone believed it.)
    And so a question lingered in her mind about Cavallos  – was what he did fated to happen like her root canal? Or, was it really a random cow accident of the universe? Either way, she could not have anticipated it.
    What would she have noticed, anyhow? A paunchy tradesman in white overalls and mustache, looking fastidiously like Super Mario, who was inspecting the apartment with professional admiration, eyeing the ceilings and crown moldings as if they were the Sistine Chapel.
    “Beautiful,” he said, stopping at each fireplace to trace the veins in the marble. He praised the wide-plank oak flooring. “This place is all original isn’t it?”
    “Yes. My family moved in when it was built. 1893, I think.”
    They finished their tour and settled in the library.
    Cavallos asked, “So, what’s it going to be? We do the whole room?”
    “No, just three walls.” She handed him paint chips. “I like the Pale Iris. And, I think the wainscoting would look wonderful if you could make it the same sandy colour as the wallpaper.”
    “You serious? You will save that wallpaper?”
    “Yes. My great-great-grandfather put it there. It’s old, but I love it.”
    “Ah, family. I understand. You like to feel close. What’s that pattern? Egypt?”
    “Yes…hieroglyphs.” She stroked the paper. “Please, promise you’ll be careful?”
    He straightened up, eyes narrowing – he couldn’t have been more than five-foot-three – and suddenly the room filled with the towering presence of his wounded pride – a puffed up fire-breathing dragon with leathery wings and phosphorescent scales. “I always take care. I always do an excellent job--”
    She shrank from him. “Oh--I’m sure you do. I didn’t mean--”
    A final blast through the nostrils and the beast retreated. Cavallos’ smile returned and he moved on as though nothing had happened. Isobel marveled at the volatile temperament of artists. She wondered if there was a Mrs. Cavallos at home in a sackcloth and ashes who faithfully trimmed the dragon’s nails and polished its wings with leather balm.
    “What about the ceiling?” he asked.
    “Do you think it needs it?”
    “No, it doesn’t, but it will look dirty surrounded by new paint. Put your Pale Iris there, and do the moldings white. I will make you beautiful work.”
    “Terrific. How soon can you start?”
    Jeffrey was due home in three days. Jeffrey, not five-foot-three, but six-foot-four, incredibly handsome, neurotic, and a social phobe which was funny considering his business was the lecture circuit. He’d object to this invasion of privacy. He was obsessive and paranoid about his possessions and kept them under wraps.
    Cavallos said, “I can start now, if you help me move stuff. If it’s a rush job, I get Nino, my partner.”
    Were there any people left in New York who didn’t think everything was a rush job?
    Together they pulled furniture into the centre. She removed the Handel lamp to the dining area. Once Cavallos had submerged the bookshelves and the Charles de Gaulle desk under a waterfall of sheeting, he left to buy the paint. Farrow & Ball. Old-world  limewash, elegant and light absorbing. As restful as a tomb.
    In Cavallos’ wake, a vibration filled the air – like the whirr of a million humming birds – which entered her ears and washed over the back of her neck. She was attuned to these sensations to greater and lesser intensities. This one felt exciting. Good vibes. A good day.
    She brewed an espresso, lit a Moods Filter cigarillo, and called Lydia to say she was going to stay home.
    Lydia balked. “Izz, you’re heavily insured. They’re bonded and management approved. Why stay?”
    “I dunno…I suppose you’re right…”
    “Of course I’m right. Lock up your cashmeres, throw the silver into a large bag of kitty litter--”
    “I don’t have a cat--”
    “Who cares? You should always have kitty litter around. And, don’t forget to stick all the remotes in the washing machine.”
    “Gawd, Lydia. Where do you get all this stuff? Who’s gonna steal remotes?”
    “Not steal them. Use them to watch porn on the cable channels.”
    “I’m staying home.”
    “Don’t be silly. I’m only half joking. Besides, guess what just came in? Your rhino roaches. I draw the line at roaches, Izz. You unpack ‘em, not me.”
    “Did you see them? Are they all right?”
    “I told you, I won’t even touch the box. And it’s a big box.”
    “They’re dead, Lydia, they’re dead.”
    “They better be. I see you have Bloomberg’s number on your speed dial…”
    “Lydia, Bloomberg isn’t interested in dead roaches. He’s too busy chasing bedbugs.”
    “Just get in here, okay? You, me, the roaches, we’ll have a regular picnic.”
    “All right. About an hour, then. I still have to get dressed.”

    When she finished her coffee, she strolled the hallway to the living room, making note of the paintings. It was foolish to feel nervous – Cavallos was recommended. Nevertheless, there was one thing she would not risk damaging or losing – Mr. Ruggles, who was perched under treated glass on his marble pedestal. His round head faced the windows overlooking the park.
    “C’mon, my sweet baby,” she said, cautiously lifting the glass. His lattice-work linen wrappings were exquisite, his crooked nose wide and long. When she stroked it she sensed velvety fur and a Burmese face underneath. She carried him gingerly to her bedroom and placed him in the recesses of a closet. His vacant eyes regarded her with perpetual curiosity. “See ya, Ruggles,” she whispered and shut the door.
     Forty minutes later she was dressed like Beau Brummell – Tuesdays were Beau Brummell day. Cavallos and his partner, Nino, returned to find her in riding boots, black skinny pants, white-collared shirt with a blue silk cravat, a vest, and a black cutaway jacket.
    She stopped to finger-comb her long bangs in the foyer, saluted the men, and left.

    Outside on the curb, narrow trees, most of them Aspens, tossed their heads back and forth in a steady breeze, their buds ripening quickly in the sunshine. Two dusty gardeners inside the park were sweeping away lingering traces of winter. She watched through the wrought-iron railings as they cleared the path leading to the statue of Edwin Booth and was tempted to stay and root for the squirrels who were trailing the sandy debris, treasure hunting.
    Instead, she ducked over to the Starbucks on 23rd.
    Since their phone conversation, Isobel envisioned Lydia plastered against a wall, her auburn corkscrew pigtails quivering, her freckled face locked in a scream, as a herd of rhino roaches broke free from their box, hissing, clacking and scuttling their way toward her ankles and her ineluctable demise.
    Lydia was going to need fortification. Isobel ordered a grande triple shot cappuccino.

-end snip-