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When An Author Is Asked To Re-WriteThe Bible : Luke 7 36-50

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I note that folk still like reading this, though it happened a number of years ago. I gotta say, the more I think of it, the more I am tempted to actually write a Book for the Bible. 2 Micha, perhaps.

I had an odd request – a very odd request, come to think of it – to re-write a portion of the New Testament. It is Luke 7 36-50, where Jesus is Anointed by a Sinful Woman. I was asked to write it from the woman’s point of view.

I met the man who made the commission at a Starbucks (his suggestion). He is a successful business man and owns and runs a professional corporation. He gave me the verses he wanted done and asked if I thought I would be able to do so. I said yes. I have the ability and the project intrigued me.  It would hold my interest.

He was not garrulous or forthcoming, and I refrained from asking him why he wanted this done. However, I did query the direction he might want the story to take. he was vague about that, also. A woman’s point of view. A woman of the times. I felt I pressed that issue strongly enough, even if I did not get an answer.

We discussed price. I told him what I thought such a project was worth. I explained it as an issue of time expended (even I wasn’t sure how much effort it would be). He agreed to an hourly price.

The end result was that he did not pay me. he disliked the finished story. I include the work and our email exchange at the end of the adventure. I wish he would have been as detailed in telling me what he wanted before the fact, instead of after.

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Luke 7: 36-50

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman
36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.
37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume,
38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
 41 “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[d] and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.
46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
I would like to see this story told from the sinner lady point of view.
****************************************
What I did.
The woman was a sinner. Everyone in the village knew this and everyone treated her accordingly. She would sleep with men for money, and thus was shunned. Except by those men who used her and paid her. But when they were done with her, they shunned her, too. Men are like that, selfish and deceitful. She has earned her money. They have earned her contempt.
The woman had reasons for being a sinner. Her parents were old when she was born and she was a chore to them. Not only a chore perhaps, but their affection was watered down. Their interest in her was always coloured with annoyance. She did not do what they wanted. She did not think as they thought. She had desires which had left them years before, so they did not think them important. And she was a girl – good only as bait for a man to marry. She was a burden.
However, she had a life to live. Her parents said she should thank them for her life. She said that instead she would blame them. She would look after herself if that was the way it had to be. She would use the tools that God gave her, just like a carpenter uses his tools to build. If there is no help from her parents; if her village looks down on her; if a man won’t marry her; well, she’ll set out on her own.
And she did.
It was not difficult to become a success at what she did. When with a man all she had to do was move her body and tell them lies. Praise them. Make those sounds they want to hear. Make then happy and she had a repeat customer. Keep the foolish secrets they seemed to insist telling her to herself. They trusted her as they used her. She used their stories for her own good. Learned where to purchase the best goods. Learned who to avoid. Make a bit of money on speculation. Even the cheapest grave digger when the time came for each of her parents. Be able to keep her parents house and even put some money away. What was a reputation compared to this?
It was from her clients that she first heard of Jesus. Yet another desert prophet full of crazy talk. The rabble seemed to love him. The Pharisees warned against him. He talked as if his words were the words of God. He seemed to give strange interpretations of the stories in the Bible. He seemed to think that more than just the rich were important. The men she was with laughed at that, but it was nervous laughter. There was something about this Jesus which troubled them, but also interested them. It was not usual that her client’s talk included references to God.
It was also from one of her clients – a Pharisee who liked to brag – that she learned Jesus was going to visit her village. The Pharisees were not happy with Jesus. They did not like what he was preaching. People are not equal. People need their leaders. Give people such ideas and they will be harder to control. So one of the Pharisees was going to invite Jesus to dine at his home.
The sinful woman decided she would attend the dinner. It was enough of a public event that she doubted she would be turned away. She wanted to hear what this Jesus had to say. See what he looked like. She knew about men and she was certain she could tell if he was to be trusted. And, men being men, she would bring him a gift. Nothing suggestive, just a jar of perfume to sooth him after his journey. She would present it to him if what she was hearing about him turned out to be true.
When she arrived at the house, and heard what Jesus had to say, she understood why the rich and powerful feared him. She knew the truth when men spoke it, because she heard it little enough. Jesus offered her comfort and asked for no favours in return.
She approached Jesus and kneeled at his feet, weeping. She was so affected by his compassion that her tears caused streaks through the dust on his feet. She wiped away at the tears with her hair, sobbing all the while. She then began to pour the perfume on his feet, rubbing the scented oils into his skin to relieve the ache of his walking.
Although the woman did not look up, she heard the condemnation coming from the Pharisee. She cowered lower beside Jesus’ feet and was prepared to be mocked and told to know her place. Forced from the house. Instead, Jesus remained seated and told a story. He asked who would love a moneylender more, one who had a huge debt cancelled, or one who had a small debt cancelled? The Pharisee replied that the one with the larger debt would have more love. Jesus agreed.
Then Jesus looked at the woman and smiled. He spoke to the Pharisee, and took the time to detail the actions of the woman since he arrived. He compared what the woman had done to the neglect of his host. She had paid attention to him, kissed his feet again and again, soothed him with perfumed oil after his walk, took the time to make him comfortable. The Pharisee had done nothing to put him at his ease. So if the woman was a sinner, then she deserved to have all of her sins forgiven, for she had done much for him. Her love was the greater, for she had overcome the greater sins, whereas the Pharisee, regardless of his fewer sins, had done nothing.

Jesus then forgave the sins of the woman, and told her to go in peace. And although this outraged the Pharisee and his guests, and made them question the authority of Jesus, the woman left the house cleansed.

*************************************************

Email Exchange Re: Bible Story

 

Hi, *****:
Let me know what you think of the story.
Dale
Did you receive the Bible story?
Dale
I’m starting to wonder if I have the correct email address, though nothing is bumped back. Did you receive the story? I am wondering what your reaction is.
Dale
I’ll try this address and hope to get a response
Dale
Hi Mr. Dale,
I expected the story to shed the light on the values and habits of Jewish community at the time of Jesus. I would elaborate on the social rejection to the sinners who does not conform with the social rules. I would not picture her as a community defiant person. I would highlight her struggle with her temptations & her religious and community values. I would illustrate how the teachings of jesus to invite the sinners to repent made a difference to her. I would imply how her humplness made the difference between her and Simon.
I do not think that the story delivered the massage that we discussed.

No Giller Prize For Margaret Atwood … Or Me

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Much literary note has been taken that, although Margaret Atwood has won (jointly) her second Booker Award (for The Testaments), she was not even a finalist for the most prestigious (and lucrative) book award in Canada – The Giller. In some small way I can feel her pain (if, indeed, she cares at all).

I was in the fancy downtown Library a few days ago. When I left, I took a different route than usual. On the non-street side of the library, for its whole length, there is a walk/bike/delivery area. Down at the auditorium end, three chaps were unloading a van. I was surprised when one of the men smiled and waved at me.

He is a musician acquaintance who – oddly – I come across in similar circumstances, at other places, two or three times a year. This time he and his mates were unloading their equipment for a gig later in the evening at the library. They were going to play ‘background’ music for an event concerning the Giller Prize.

I have since looked it up on Google. It appears the Giller finalists are being presented at a half dozen venues across Canada, to be part of some type of panel about writing.

Anyway, while explaining what they were doing there, he told me he was so out of touch with Canada’s literary world, that he wondered if I was there because I was a finalist for the Giller, and on the panel.

I believe that we were both disappointed.

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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