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April Fool’s Joke (Except It’s True)

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I glean through many sources (some of them disparate) after information of which agents and which editors have purchased recent books that are similar to one of my manuscripts.
When I find someone I think will be compatible to some of my work, I research them. Then, if I think they would have a reasonable interest in my manuscript (and there can be a variety of reasons) I’ll send a query letter.
I prefer to go through this process of finding names a number of times in a row, instead of finding a compatible person, then immediately sending a query. So, when I find a person I plan to contact, I send this information to myself in an email. It can be weeks before I actually send a query to an agent or editor, and then it can be two or more months before I hear a reply.
Last week I came across the information that John le Carré has a new book coming out the end of this year. I adore John le Carré. This announcement unusually named both his agent and editor. I sent both to myself, and I imagine I would get to them in the next two or three weeks.
This morning, April 1st, I had notification of a rejection by an agent for my NATO Thriller. It was a refusal sent through the portal of the agency (which happens more and more). Since it was not an actual response by the agent, I had to go to my Sent file to see who I had sent the query to.
Uh-huh – it was the same agent as John le Carré. So, I actually got rejected before I sent the query.
Well – anyway – that’s how writers think.
(image)cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/39/750×445/851150.jpg
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Kafka In His Writer’s Burrow For World Book Day

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A burrow offers security and comfort, and Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.

Ottla – his sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was a Christian and ready to go to war. Time was precious.

However, she rarely had opportunities other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of that time. And use it he did, though he never stayed the night.

Through fall, winter and spring Kafka wrote a whole book of short stories. For one single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.

When I visited, even under Communist rule, it had been converted to a book store. Of course (which he would have appreciated) there were no books by Kafka for sale. Today he is displayed in the windows.

It was only when I went thorough the small rooms, and looked out the window into The Stag Moat, that I realized how important the house would become in my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered and I easily imagined Kafka looking through the same glass and walking through the same doorways. No doubt stooping because he was tall. Research met reality.

One of the last stories Kafka wrote, during his final year in Berlin, was called The Burrow. A version exists and is published, though a longer version is supposed to be among his ‘missing’ papers.

In it, a tiny animal keeps incessantly burrowing to keep away from an enemy. A vague noise convinces the animal to burrow deeper, and deeper, and deeper.

Something Kafka himself attempted to do.

(image)https://i.pinimg.com/736x/87/34/8a/87348a86cd918068ad4e09c1b813c3cf.jpg

Kafka Settles Into December from “Kafka In The Castle”

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In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries.  There are many days to fill, as he either did not write during these days, or he destroyed the record.

In these entries, the chill of winter begins to settle over the chill of his life.

10 December 1916

My father is so suspicious, he rarely suspects what is really going on around him. He has no idea that Ottla has rented this house, or that I come here like a thief in the night. He would think that it is another plot against him. And, he is right about the plots – but he’ll never realize they are done solely for defensive purposes. Which is a shame, for he fully appreciates self-preservation.

Of course, even I do not fully know Ottla’s reasons for renting this tiny house. I suspect a young man is involved, but I will keep my queries to myself. It is not the place to bring Felice – but is nice enough to set out on new adventures. I’ve had adventures in less suitable surroundings. The shop girls. The hotels with their chilly rooms.

12 December 1916

Max wants me to publish more. He may even wish upon me the horror of his own proliferation. His novels, and stories, and all his comments and reviews about the “arts”. I do not tell him this, for I think he would be greatly offended, but much of the time my opinions do not even interest me.

 

14 December 1916

Overheard a woman talking to Max today – complained of being lonely. But what it sounded like to me was that she was only tired. She had children at home, family in the neighbourhood, and friends (obviously) whom she could talk to. Yet, she chooses to feel lonely. Yes, her husband is in the war, but a partial loss does not make one lonely. Perhaps alone – but that is entirely different. Being lonely is waking from a nightmare, and realizing there is no one to wake you.

Getting Published In New York In The Old Days

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Over The Transom

My friend Google tells me that “over the transom” is still a viable term. In this case it refers to a manuscript accepted by an editor submitted cold – perhaps even from the dreaded slush pile.

At any rate, my manuscript for A LOST TALE was accepted “over the transom”, and I was asked to New York to meet the editor. Although I had experienced and appreciated Montréal, Toronto, London, Berlin and other large cities by that time, I had not been to New York. Many events of that trip are memorable, but none more than my “lunch” with the editor.

The editor took me to a dark and trendy place for a late lunch. There were not many people there and, restaurant fiend though I am, the food was not my top priority. Discussion of “the work” and proposed changes was more on the menu for me.

As I sit across the table from my editor, I can not help but notice a man seated by himself beside the wall. He is tieless and shirtless and, though the lighting is dim, what there is reflects from his naked skin. He sits with a beverage and seems to hum to himself.

My editor is discussing both the menu and some confusion he perceives at the beginning of my novel. I note items on the menu unknown to me and am doubly confused.

The shirtless man at the other table increases the volume of his humming and eventually a waiter goes to him and has words. The shirtless man has words back, but they sound like gibberish. At my table the editor suggests something from the menu and I happily comply. There is wine.

Whilst I eat and listen to suggestions, the shirtless man is spoken to by two other waiters. As I (wisely) restrict myself to a second glass of wine, two uniformed policemen enter the restaurant and approach the shirtless man, whose gibberish had increased even more in volume. In the course of a few minutes three other uniformed police officers – one of them female  – arrive on the scene. They are now ranged around the shirtless man and his table. I finally tell my editor what is happening behind him and why I am not concentrating fully upon his suggestions. He turns around.

Two of the officers remove the table from in front of the shirtless man. Two others, one on each side of him, haul him to his feet. It is then that we see his shirtless state continues all the way to his naked feet. The female officer takes the tablecloth from the table and drapes it around him. The four male officers form a circle around the naked, shrouded man uttering his gibberish, and hustle him from the restaurant. The female officer picks up what appears to be a pile of clothes from beneath the table, and a pair of roller skates, and follows them.

I say to my editor that I have never seen anything like that.

My editor concurs.

Italian Onion Meal From The Liver (Not The Heart) of The Fourteenth Century ~Fegato alla Veneziana

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(photo) https://www.zainoo.com/media/medium/4603.JPEG

As I wend my way through my second Onion novel, China Lily, which is taking too, too, long to put into the computer, I approach page 300. The end is in sight.

My intent was to write a trilogy that followed a Fourth Century Italian farm family, as it developed into an International business empire. There was to be 1,000 years between the first and second book, and the third book was to be set in the present day.

I confess, my interest might not be sustained for the third novel.

However, as I soon describe this recipe – and its creation – in detail, I thought it might make someone a nice supper.

Fittingly, this recipe is from Harry’s Bar, in Venice.

DE

When we visited Venice, we asked the locals where to find the definitive calf’s liver and onions. Everyone said Harry’s Bar, and, after trying it there—and lots of other places—we had to agree. This is Harry’s recipe.

Find this recipe in our cookbook, SAVEUR: Italian Comfort Food

serves 6

Ingredients

2 lb. calf’s liver, trimmed and thin membrane peeled off
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 small yellow onions, peeled, halved, and very thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. butter
12 bunch parsley, trimmed and chopped

Instructions

Cut liver lengthwise into 4 long pieces, then, using a very sharp knife and pressing the palm of your hand firmly against the meat, slice each piece crosswise into pieces as thin as possible.
Heat 4 tbsp. of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Transfer onions with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside.
Increase heat to medium-high and add remaining 2 tbsp. oil. When oil is sizzling hot, add liver and cook, in batches to avoid overcrowding the skillet, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until brown and crispy on the edges, 3-5 minutes. Season liberally with salt and pepper, then add reserved onions and accumulated juices. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring and turning liver and onions constantly while shaking skillet over heat. Transfer to a heated serving platter.
Add butter to skillet and scrape up any brown bits stuck to bottom of skillet as butter melts. Remove skillet from heat and stir in parsley. Spoon butter and parsley over liver and onions. Serve with Grilled Polenta, if you like.
https://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Calfs-Liver-and-Onions

Mother And Son In Thirteenth Century Europe

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Exercpt from: China Lily

Matzerath’s mother rarely shared her thoughts with anyone. She is as elusive now as when he was a small boy being raised within the shadow of the religious buildings where she still works as a cook. Bishops and abbots come and go, and red-robed Princes of the Church make their visits, for which she must dress appropriately – but she remains. At least Matzerath assumes she is still there, though he has not been back for five years.

Matzerath is small in stature and taken to be younger than he is. At thirteen he is treated as seven. He allows this because he finds there are more advantages then penalties. He knows far more than is expected of him, and avoids many pitfalls through the guile no one expects he has. He also achieves more than is expected from him, and is given much leeway for a child. Had his real age been obvious, he would be perceived as dim-witted. Because he is thought of as a child, he is considered gifted.

Matzerath’s mother is aware of how her son is tolerated – she even encourages his guile. He is treated better than most children, whose father is absent months at a time sailing the North Sea.

Matzerath is also getting an education of sorts, which is generally restricted to the children of nobles and the wealthy. He has learned how to read and write, along with the rudiments of mathematics and geography. He also pokes his nose into the stables, and the smithy, and the carpenters, picking up their basic skills.

He follows his own mother with interest, and can chose, prepare and present many of the dishes she serves at the Monastery. For the notables at the cathedral, and other clergy, she is expected to produce more sophisticated fare. Matzerath has even acquired some of these skills, but a puny child is forbidden to appear near the high table. He does get to nibble the leavings but notes – as he also does at the Monastery – that very little is ever left.

Matzerath would have been content to stay in this arduous life seasoned with episodes of interest and learning, but his elusive nature is discovered by a visiting bishop.

The Bishop is a militant with evangelical frenzy. He is intent upon forming a Children’s Crusade to march to the Holy Land. Matzerath is not sure what this means, though he gathers it will offer an opportunity to leave the confines of the town and local villages where he has spent his life. His mother is better informed.

Even though the last Children’s Crusade happened generations ago, and the Church proclaims it was a wondrous act for the Glory of God, she is fully aware that most of the children never came back. And that the Holy Land is still lost to the grip of heathens. The murmurs from the Monastery and the high table reveal this bishop to be a renegade and unsound in judgment. His ‘new’ crusade is predicted to be a disaster. His abilities to lead it are a joke. However, he does have the ear of the Pope, and his family has much wealth to give to the Church.

Matzerath does not possess an abundant affection for his mother – not for anyone – but he realizes that regardless of the amount of work she extracts from him, she generally does what is best for him. He pays attention to her instructions and her observations and her warnings. She also encourages him to tell her what he sees and hears. As he becomes older, she also wants to know what he thinks about the things he sees. Matzerath realizes she is using him as a spy, but he does not mind. He knows his mother sometimes manipulates the information he brings for her own well-being, but these rewards also come to him.

Matzerath heeds the warnings his mother gives about some of the priests and monks and their interest in boys. He discovers this himself upon a couple of occasions, and even satisfies one priest just to see what it is like. He shares this with his mother because he knows she sometimes does the same.

DE

(image)http://www.ancient-origins.net/sites/default/files/Episode-of-the-Child-Crusade.jpg

Kafka Uses The Internet To Prod Me Back To Work

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[Franz Kafka]

This is saying a lot for Kafka who, in truth, was not even much of a fan of the typewriter. But, he was a constant writer (even if he destroyed – it is estimated – 75% of what he wrote) and certainly expected any other author to be the same.

At any rate, coupled with a bit of travel, I had not written for ten days. It is possible that I have not gone that long a stretch for years. For the last couple of years I had been writing six days a week, rarely missing that amount. I think that in the last few months, writing an original novel and editing another on a daily basis did me in.

But, earlier this week, on the same day, I received the same article in an email and on Facebook. It was a short section of Kafka Diary entries. Real ones (I say this because I have written a novel where I fill in some *missing* Kafka diary entries). It was directed to writers, and commented about some aspects of writing. The one that leapt out at me was:

March 11  How time flies; another ten days and I have achieved nothing.It doesn’t come off. A page now and then is successful, but I can’t keep it up, the next day I’m powerless.

I generally think I can take a hint. And a hint given twice. And a hint from Kafka. And a hint given decades after he is dead, via a medium (pun intended) that Kafka would despise.

So – I took the hint.

A page a day since then.

And onward —>>>

DE

 

Of An Age And Still Keeping On Trucking

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I wrote the previous blog  about Bertha Klausner a little over a year ago. I found it interesting (indeed, find it interesting), to have some connections to a more distant literary tradition – no matter how tenuous.

So, maybe I come close today, as I just had a response by another literary agent. I had no idea of his tenure in the fields of getting the written word published. Not that I still would not have sent the query letter.

Dear Dale,

Thank you for submitting your materials to *********** for review.  However, after considering them, we have decided that your project is not something we can successfully represent at this time.  At 85, *********** needs to be selective about the projects he takes on and he has more than enough on his plate.  But I wish you good luck finding representation and a publisher for this. 

All the best,

********* (assistant)

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Eleanor Roosevelt,Upton Sinclair, Fidel Castro & Me

While reading some literary site about Amazon, I came across the fact that “Harriet Klausner, an esteemed Amazon reviewer who wrote more than 31,000 book reviews, died”. All power to her, thought I, that is quite a feat. However, I took more note of her last name, one I had not thought of for a long time. Eleanor Roosevelt,Upton Sinclair, Fidel Castro & Me

In my tenure as an author in the world, I have had four or five agents. And I am currently looking anew. At the far beginning of my time, before I was published, I had the New York agent Bertha Klausner – at the start of my career and near the end of hers. She started her agency before I was born and was working two months before she died in 1998 at the age of 96.

Back in those over the transom days, one stuffed typed pages into an envelope, sent them off with return postage on another envelope, and waited up to three months for a reply. And when it came back, you sent it out again. One of my envelopes went to the Bertha Klausner Agency.

However, when it came back, it had other people’s manuscripts in it, and (to my memory) little hand written notes politely saying no. Mistakes happen even at revered agencies, so I sent it all back explaining what had happened. She replied, with neither apology nor thanks, annoyed that mistakes do happen and adding, “Say, you must have something. Do you want to send it to me?” Which I did. Again.

As I said, communications were through slow mails (slow on her side, as with literary agents to this day).  I now assume she initially was both being polite, plus did see some promise in what I had. But after a year or so she said – in effect – ‘thanks but no thanks’, and I sent things to other agents, and eventually had my first novel sale by, indeed, sending it over the transom directly to an editor in New York, who purchased it.

I don’t think I knew that Bertha Klausner had such a stellar career until I looked her up. An agent for decades, she had famous names like Upton Sinclair, Israel J Singer, Eleanor Roosevelt and Fidel Castro. She even represented actor Basil Rathbone.

I imagine I would have become a lost tale.

DE

(image)https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/ea/31/e6/ea31e6ab3e7ec52fc033935fe3c02d14.jpg

Interview With National Radio Some Years Ago (But Most Answers Remain The Same)

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I came across a transcript of this at the end of last year. It’s not that I forgot it, but it took me some time to remember it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1. What unique challenges do you face when writing about serious
non-fiction issues such as religion?

I WRITE about spiritual matters and leave religion to others. The spirit and its quests drive religion – religion just interprets. The biggest challenge I faced in THE ELEPHANT TALKS TO GOD is that the Elephant started asking questions I could not answer. Thus endeth the book.

2. You wrote The Elephant Talks to God in 1989. Why did you decide to
re-release it with the added stories rather than write a sequel?

THIS WAS the decision of the publisher, Goose Lane. When they approached me for a re-issue they were unaware of the additional stories. It was decided the marketplace would prefer one longer book over two shorter ones. Having just one book also reduced production costs, which in turn reduced consumer cost.

3. Why did you decide to become a writer?

“I WAS born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” This quote from Leonard Cohen sums it up. Not “born” this way exactly, but within one month in grade eleven I went from ‘no writing’ to ‘continually writing’. I have no explanation. I had no previous interest nor inclination toward the arts, or writing. I was not a reader, and only after university deliberately read such children’s classics as Black Beauty and Alice in Wonderland.

4. What books or authors have most influenced your life?

POSSIBLY P.G. WODEHOUSE was the most influential author in my formative period. I even sent him a fan letter and received a response. In university I experienced Franz Kafka, and I believe I have read everything of his in print. Much later I visited Prague to research a novel I have since written about him. There are reports of ‘missing’ stories and diaries of Kafka still in Berlin, which I would dearly love to find.

5. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good
writing?

SURPRIZE, HUMOUR and reality. ‘In context’ (it doesn’t matter what the genre) I want to be surprized by what is happening, yet fully believe in the reality created in the book. And somewhere, at least once, every character in every novel should make me laugh at least once.

6. What are you reading right now?

“WICKED” BY Gregory Maguire. His abilities as a writer astound me. I am a slow reader, and seemingly getting slower. Soon (?) to be read will be Alice Munro’s “The View from Castle Rock ” and John LeCarre’s “The Mission Song”, both requested Christmas presents. I also do a lot of research for my novels, and will embark upon histories of China in the near future.

7. What advice would you give to writers starting out?

I HAVE two steadfast rules, one put into rhyme. “When in doubt/take it out.” Regardless of the wonder of the poetic line, or the awe of the slice of dialogue, if you have any questions about its effectiveness, that is reason enough to remove it.
The other concerns the physical writing itself. At the end of your writing day, and you know what the next line of dialogue is, or the description you are going to write, or the next line of the poem – DON”T write them down. Start with them the next day, and you will quickly get back into the writing. I find this works 90% of the time.

8. Describe your writing process.

I’M A morning writer, roughly from 9:00 until 15:00. There’s a meal in there, and research and email and such, but I will generally complete two pages a day. I generally write seven or eight days straight and then take one off. At the start of a novel I have a well developed outline and characters, though I rarely write such things down. I find that at the end of a novel I spend an additional third of the writing time editing what is done. I usually complete a novel in two years.

9. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome
it?

THREE MONTHS of writer’s block during my second novel has (so far) been my experience with this curse (knock knock knock on wood). I sat at the desk literally for hours per day attempting to continue. I think I wrote five paragraphs in that time. I know of no way to overcome it other than attempting to write each day. My number two tip in question #7 will help in avoiding writer’s block.

10. Naturally, most writer want as many people as possible to read
their work. Who did you have in mind when you were writing this book,
the “believers” or the “non-believers”?

BRITISH PUBLISHER Joseph Dent introduced “Everyman’s Library” in the early 1900’s (which is now published by Penguin Random House UK). As my mother was from England and my father was a proud UEL, there were many of these books when I was growing up. Everyman’s Library had a motto at the beginning of each book:        “Everyman, I will go with thee/and be thy guide,/ in thy most need/ to go by thy side.”     This is what came to mind when thinking of who I write for. I did not write for either believers or non-believers. I wrote for everyone, and my job is to make them accept that the The Elephant believes. 

DE

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