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Margaret Atwood Travels Further Than Ever – Blessed Be!

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I have noted some folk looking at this post from a couple of years ago. I had put it up because of the success of the television series, A Handmaid’s Tale.

Now, Ms. Atwood has produced a new novel, The Testaments, [which, by the way, has a brilliant front and back cover] with an international launch from London, England. I can humbly state that my part in her literary life remains the same.

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

It was not my intent to piss off Margaret Atwood.

The opposite, in fact. I wanted her to know she was an inspiration.

She was giving a reading at the University of New Brunswick in my student days. I attended, but there was quite the gathering and she was whisked away at the end. However, I overheard there was a ‘gathering’ in her honour. Invitation only, of course. Academia and literati.

I crashed the party (that was the term used by the professor who clapped his sturdy hand upon my shoulder but – happily – did not thrust me into the night).

But Ms. Atwood was kept deep in many a learned conversation and I had no opportunity to converse. I did, however, overhear where she would be spending next afternoon – the historic University Observatory.

Next day I knocked upon the Observatory door.

It was not a cheerful Margaret Atwood who answered, and answered with alacrity.

She asked my name.

She asked my business.

And she asked how the hell I knew where she was. She had stolen the day to do some writing. Some ‘real’ writing, in this window-of-opportunity grudgingly offered on the book tour.

At least I was there to praise Atwood and not to bury her with some essay question.

Nor had I a manuscript to hand to her.

I might not have garnered a smile, but her curt thank you was reward enough.

For me, at least.

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Rejection Takes Many Forms – And Comes At Any Time

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I glean many sources 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 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.
I came across 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 eventually wrote queries.
Recently I had a rejection for my NATO Thriller. It was a refusal sent through the portal of an 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.

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.

Writer Zombie Meme Takes A New Twist

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I’m not sure why people approach me on the street with the conviction I’m a writer. This has happened a number of times, out – as they say – of the blue. When I ask why they think so, they become defensive. I have learned just to say ‘yes’ and let the conversation meander from there.

Of course, when I give readings or lectures or talks, it is to be expected that I’m a writer. That’s why I’m there. Even if I don’t wear a name tag (which I dislike with passion). I believe I’ve learned not to read too long (regardless of the great material), but I can chat and answer questions about writing until the cows come home to roost. Clichés with a twist a speciality.

In addition to being narrowed-in on as a writer, I have been mistaken for dead authors. In this situation I do believe I must make some comment. For the sake of the dead as well as myself. Although I believe I can still make a good impression as a person who is alive, even here I have run into trouble. A taxi driver did not want to believe that the writer he mistook me for was dead.

“I never heard that,” said he.

“It’s true.”

“Are you sure?”

“He’s been dead for years.”

“You look just like him.”

“Not in his present state,” said I.

The taxi driver did not find me humorous.

A few days ago, however, a new wrinkle was added to my apparent Zombie life.

I was sitting on a park bench,waiting for a bus and watching the bustle of the city pass by. A man of middle years, puffing on a Vapour, settled on a bench across from me. After a few additional puffs, he stated – not asked –

“You’re a writer.”

“Because I’m using a pen?” (which I was, though I was fiddling with sums)

“Who did you write for?”
“Write for?”
“Between 1959 and 1966.”
“What do you mean, ‘who’?”
“Where would I have seen you?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I wrote for some newspapers back then.”
“No – not that.”
“But that’s what I did.”
“When you worked for Hemingway.”
“Earnest Hemingway?”
“I’ve read his books?”
“Oh.”
“You edited his books.”
“I did?”
“You were his editor.”
“I would have been too young to be able to do that.”
“What book did you like?”
“Of Hemingway?”
“You know – which one?’
“I’d guess The Old Man And The Sea.”
“People say that. They’re wrong!”
“They are?”
“It’s a terrible book.”
 
To prove there is a God, my bus arrived.
DE

Eleanor Roosevelt,Upton Sinclair, Fidel Castro & Me

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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.

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

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