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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

Eating Fine Food In 13th Century China

In my novel, China Lily, my main characters, Cepa Cannara and Matzerath, are on a year-long trading voyage from Italy to China on the good ship The Pegasus, thirty years before Marco Polo did the same. In this segment, they have a meal with their host, Lu-Hsing.

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delicious-oyster-omelette

“You boys are in the Port of Zaitun.” Lu-Hsing speaks in an authoritative tone. “Fish a speciality.”

“There must be something else.” Matzerath points. “Look at all the cooks.”

“No soup?”

“Pah!”

“Trouble-making Round Eyes.” Lu-Hsing points to a wok near the end of the aisle and starts to walk. “We’ll try there.”

“What does he have?” Cepa falls into step behind Lu-Hsing, followed by Matzerath.

“Oyster omelette.”

“Eggs?” asks Matzerath.

“As many as you want.”

“That will take a big pan.”

“He can use a high-sided wok.” Lu-Hsing pretends to whisk something in a wok. “Plop it right onto a plate.”

“We don’t have dishes.” Cepa suddenly realizes the fact. “We haven’t been back to The Pegasus all day.”

“Lu-Hsing share you his.” He barks an order at the cook, then turns back to Cepa. “Stay right here. I’ll get them from my table.”

Cepa and Matzerath stand and watch the cook. Cepa notes he is using wood and not the black rocks for his fire. Some oil is dropped onto the metal and immediately sizzles. The cook holds up his hand and extends his fingers; one, two, three, four, five.

“Will you want some?”

“God – yes.” Matzerath nods.

Cepa holds up five fingers and the cook grins. He takes an egg in each hand and hits them together. The upper shell is flipped off and they pour into the wok. He repeats the gesture and the eggs land on top of the others. The last egg is dispatched on the metal rim of the wok and added to the rest before a hint of cooking has begun. The cook then begins to whisk and slide the eggs along the side of the wok before Matzerath has time to make a comment.

“I’d like to see you do that on The Pegasus,” says Cepa.

“I break eggs all the time.”

“I know.” Cepa laughs. And we eat the shells to prove it.”

The cook now twists and shakes the wok by its two handles over the fire. The eggs slide up and along the sides, then settle more thickly near the bottom. With a grin and a twist of his hands, the cook turns the wok right over. The eggs start to slide out with a couple of drops hissing into the fire. Matzerath’s mouth falls open as the cook rights the wok so quickly that the eggs drop right back into it, now cooking on the other side. The cook puts the wok back on the fire.

“Bet you can’t do that,” says Cepa.

“Just once.” Matzerath laughs. “But the whole ship was heaving at the time.”

The cook begins to nudge the eggs together with a spatula. With his other hand he sprinkles a few drops of brown liquid. Then he adds some coarsely chopped shoots of a green onion.

“Hah!” Matzerath slaps Cepa on the shoulder.

After a quick swirl of these ingredients the cook plops in a bowl of small oysters. He takes his time with these, spacing them with deliberation over the quickly cooking eggs. Then – with a flourish – he scoops up a handful of flower blossoms and sprinkles them over the whole bubbling mixture.

“What are those?” Matzerath peers into the wok.

“Chrysanthemums.”

“We’re eating flowers?’

“When in Rome …”

The cook adds a further dash of the brown liquid and then folds the eggs neatly in half. He flips the whole omelette to the center of the wok and sprinkles a palm full of spring onion – this time finely chopped – over of the still-bubbling omelette. He presses the onion in place with his spatula then removes the wok from the fire.

“Timing is everything.”

The voice startles them both. They turn to see Lu-Hsing standing behind them, holding a large platter. He barks instructions to the cook, speaking too quickly for the two men to understand.

“Stick to ribs – make you happy.”

The cook divides the omelette in half and slides it onto the platter. He then takes the wicker top off a steamer and starts to add heaping ladles of red rice along the sides of the platter.

“What’s that?” Matzerath sounds suspicious.

Hong  qu mi.”

“You can see its rice,” hisses Cepa.

“But it’s red.”

“Fermented with yeast.” Lu-Hsing scoops some into his palm and eats it.’”Looks good. Tastes great.”

DE

(image)http://www.funnymalaysia.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/delicious-oyster-omelette.jpg

“Burning In Berlin” Screenplay / FADE IN:

adolf-hitlers-bunker-is-a-carpark-downfall-film-parody-time

 

FADE IN:

 

EXT. BARREN FIELD WITH AUTUMN GRASS – DAY

 

Traffic sounds comes from the four streets bounding the field.

 

EXT. HILL IN FIELD – DAY

 

An information sign is at the foot of the hill. A newly-

painted Linden tree grows beside it.

 

EXT. INFORMATION SIGN – DAY

 

THE INFORMATION SIGN READS Fehurer Bunker

 

EXT. TOURIST BUS – DAY

 

INT. TOURIST BUS – DAY

 

A middle-aged TOUR GUIDE stands by the front seat, facing

the passengers.

TOUR GUIDE

The Berlin police don’t

want us any closer.

 

EXT. TOURIST BUS – DAY

 

Tourist faces peering from the windows.

 

INT. TOURIST BUS – DAY

 

Tourists from the far side of the bus bend and peer

over those seated.

 

EXT. LINDEN TREE ON HILL – DAY

 

One raven flutters and lands on a tree limb.

 

EXT. TOURIST BUS – DAY

 

Two or three faces are pressed in each window.

 

INT. TOURIST BUS – DAY

 

The Tour Guide is pointing through the window.

 

TOUR GUIDE

 

All of a sudden, the city says it

is unsafe. (laughs) They don’t want

to see all you rich tourists being

swallowed.

DE

(image) http://www.thetraveltart.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Adolf-Hitlers-Bunker-Is-A-Carpark-Downfall-Film-Parody-Time.jpg

Turning A Novel Into Film – Characters On The Loose

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When adapting a novel manuscript to a film script, I realize it will take a whole host of other people to tell me how successful I might be. I’ve done this twice before, and realize that I must not only ignore my usual method of writing, but often go exactly against it.

I attempted to “learn” how to write for film. I read many instruction books, attended classes and workshops, and had meetings with people. I read many film scripts, which did help me accept the (to my eye) arcane format. But the one thing that actually turned me visual, was the comment of a writer/editor friend who said, after reading my attempt, “I can’t see it.”

That is, it did not cause visual action in her mind.

And I understood.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle is to accept that a movie is not a book, and that changes, additions and omissions will be necessary. As with a play, there is a finite time limit, that generally clocks in under two hours. The threads and plot points of a movie are different. And the characters (I swear) feel this freedom, and choose to accentuate other aspects of themselves than revealed in a novel.

The very fact their paragraphs of dialogue are best reduced to two or three lines makes them uppity. And because they can, in mere seconds, be in diverse locations, performing radically different actions, they become exact without apology. They don’t have to fill in the spaces.

The writer has to fill in the spaces however, and do so with visual stimulation. The transitions have to be swift and their descriptions exact. The road is always the fast lane and the characters kick the tires with gusto.

DE

(image) http://www.indiewire.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/screenplay_square.jpg

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