Saturday, December 26, 2009
I consider this an achievement. Some of my posts last year should have been multiple posts. Plus, who the heck wants to read such long blog posts? I set a goal of shorter, more frequent posts this year and I think I've achieved it.
We can look at what I was writing about using a Wordle. Here it is (you can click on it for a much bigger image, and I hope you do, because it was a huge pain in the fucking ass to capture the image off that site):(To be specific, this shows my blog content from 2009 only - not from the whole history of the blog.)
I am sharing this with you, but to be perfectly honest I can't make heads or tails out of it (and you know how much I love playing with data). If there is some wonderful insight about my psyche (as expressed in this blog) to be gleaned from this thing, I sure as hell can't figure out what it might be. The only lesson might be that I use too many qualifiers in my writing! But as I've said many times before, blog posts are first drafts...so what?
2009 has been a good year blog-wise, though. I've finally got some readers and commenters and made some friends. Of course that wasn't really what I was seeking out when I started this in October, 2007, but things have changed. I was also lucky. Serendipity brought me the online persona of Lt. Cccyxx just about the time I started querying and needing the interaction with others much more. Before that I really struggled with how to express my online identity outside just the content of the posts themselves. Though I never had to struggle too hard because I didn't have much in the way of readership. Again, that was cool with me, given what I was trying to accomplish.
But I like Lt. Cccyxx, and it's been good for me to be able to go and comment on other people's blogs as a steady persona instead of an ever-changing set of names and identities.
The one thing I really want to do a better job of in 2010 is more book reviews. I articulated a fairly reasonable philosophy of reviewing books back when the blog was first started, and did a pretty good job at first, but it has fallen off. Book reviews are good for me to do for several reasons, but if I let too much time elapse between finishing the book and attempting the review, it becomes much more difficult and less effective. I am planning to do a book award post, as I did last year, but it'd be a whole lot better if - like last year - I could link to reviews I had already written.
So good for me for finally moving to shorter, more frequent posts. I want to keep it up. And more book reviews: that's my one "bloggy" resolution for 2010.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
I just don't know how people can live their lives that way...yet some choose to do it, for years and years and years (though most burn out much sooner).
And it'd be one thing if this kind of stuff was really really necessary to get things done. But it's not - it's mostly a combination of political stunts and just general dysfunction (though I'm not sure I agree with Krugman about the solution).
I mean, staffers know - or certainly should know - what they're getting into when they sign up. It's a trade-off that many consciously choose to make. They can cash in once it's over. They can make a difference while they're there. But I guess I'm made of different stuff. My year on the Hill was a great experience, but it was also enough.
And this year, I'll be spending Christmas Eve where I choose to spend it - not at work!
Saturday, December 19, 2009
My wife and I got ready to go the gym and run a couple of errands. I was even wearing shorts, for crissakes. We walk down there and: a) the gym is closed; b) my dry cleaner is closed so I couldn't pick up my clothes; c) [and this is the worst] the deli is closed so we can't even buy beer!
There is not a single car in the parking lot. Some idiot lady is out there with skis. A bunch of guys are using snowblowers in front of the shopping center. Not a car on the road, either.
ADDENDUM 1: Why couldn't this have happened Sunday night?
ADDENDUM 2: "Here's Johnny!"
Friday, December 18, 2009
"Start with a cage containing five monkeys … Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.
Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.
Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.
Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.
After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.
Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here."Is this one of those trite cliche stories that get told at boring management seminars? I hope not, because - honestly - I thought there was something to it. It's really a good explanation for a lot of human behavior, for a lot of cultural practices, for a lot of the things people do that to a small child - or an alien, or someone from someplace very different - would make no sense.
Of course the story begs the question of what's the banana and what's the cold water in real life instances, and can we do anything about them (or at least consciously realize they are there playing that particular role)?
That's it. I have no larger point. Just thought it was cool.
In other news, I'm very happy it's Friday, I'm depressed about my novel going nowhere, and I HATE THE FUCKING METRO!!!!!! Is that zen enough for you, goddammit?!
Thanks for listening.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Now, since these were for charity, the prices they went for might have been inflated, but probably not too much so. But before you read on, think for a minute: how much would you pay for this?
First let me say: the auctions were competitive. The 25 auctions got between 11 and 51 bids, with an average of 31 bids. I don't use e-bay too much, but in my limited experience that's a pretty popular auction.
Now, for prices: the auctions started at $25. But the range that the critiques went for was $495.00 to $1025.00. That higher number was an outlier, but the average price a critique went for was $591.00. (Only 1 went for less than $500.00; 14 of them went for $500-$600, 8 went from $600-$700, 1 for $700-$800, and 1 over $1000.)
(In case you are interested, there is absolutely no correlation between number of bids and final price - the R^2 was not significantly different from zero.)
(Also, in case you care, she raised nearly $15,000, which is great for her charities! More cynically, if she spends two hours on each critique, that's 50 hours of her time, which means her time is worth about $300/hour - higher than most D.C. legal associates.)
Would you pay $600 for this? You know, my initial estimate of how much I would pay would have been a lot lower. There's no way I would have bid high enough to win any of the auctions. (And I didn't learn about them until yesterday - they ended on December 11th.)
Upon further reflection, however, I might pay that much (now that I know how much it is worth). I was thinking about it yesterday even before I found the auctions. This is partly a topic for another post, but I was raised by extremely thrifty parents, and then was a poor student/postdoc for so long, that I am weird with money. Over the past couple of years, for the first time in my life, I am making good money. And all I do is save it. The proportion of my money that I spend on "stuff for me" (which means not taxes, investments, or necessities like rent and car payments) is absolutely miniscule.
But think about it: I love reading and I buy books. Often new books, when I could go to used book stores more often or just the library. That's a luxury.
Physical fitness is important to me and I pay for a gym membership for both myself and my wife, and I have for years. That is not a trivial expense.
We go on a couple of vacations each year...and we don't totally slum it, but we keep a pretty strict budget. But we love the west, we love hiking, and that's what we do.
What about writing? I love it, I devote serious time to it, and perhaps one day it can actually be my "day job." Why would I be reluctant to spend money on it like other hobbies (because let's face it: at this point, that's what it is)? That doesn't mean throwing money carelessly at it. For example, the INTERN has a great post about contests - I've always been leery of paying $25.00 to learn six months later that the judges read my story but thought Ha Jin's was better. But something like this could really make an impact and move me ahead...couldn't it?
It's hypothetical at this point because I missed the auctions, but something to ponder for the future.
In other, not unrelated news, the one piece I had submitted to a literary journal (about a month and half ago) was rejected. No reason why, though my guess is that the style was different from what they prefer. It's not technically a short story - it's a short snippet from some of my overseas adventures while still a grad student. I found a few other places it might be good to send it (and yes, one of the journals on that list is the one that rejected me).
Quite frankly, though, I don't much care about this or my other short stories except insomuch as publishing them can help me move the novel ahead. I'm undecided about whether it's worth it to spend a weekend sending these things out again or not.
Ah well, back to the original subject (if you've followed me this far in an admittedly rambling post): would you pay $600 for a partial critique from Irene Goodman (or someone like her)? How much would you pay?
Sunday, December 13, 2009
And also, if you read this blog, you know I've been extremely frustrated that agents don't even seem interested enough to read my manuscript (that is, no requests for partials or fulls after about 30 queries sent). The frustration comes largely from the fact that I know the premise of the book is intriguing, so given that, where's the weak link in the chain between "intriguing premise" and "no thanks"?
Even though Travener and I are both still kind of groping in the dark on this querying business, and though I suspect we have written very different books, he's at least had a couple of partial and full requests.
Anyway, back to the point: he offered to critique my query and provided some excellent feedback that got me thinking big-picture about what the book is truly about and how to encapsulate its essence in just a few paragraphs.
And so after thinking about his comments and working on it for a few days, I've arrived at a Query Version 3.0 I am happy with. (And my wife, who doesn't know much about the publishing industry except what she hears from me, but who is an excellent writer and editor herself, was really excited about it.) It's about 15% shorter than Query 2.0 but seems somehow to capture more of the conflict/drama/themes.
I was griping to her yesterday that I seem to be spending an awful lot of time trying to write the perfect query letter, which has very little to do with writing novels and short stories...or the quality of the novels and short stories that one might already have written. (I know some might disagree with that assertion, but to me it seems as different as writing a newspaper article and a scientific paper.) But I have to admit, trying for a moment to put myself in the shoes of agents who are deluged with new work and have to quickly try to identify any needles in the haystack while at the same time representing their existing clients, I can't think of a better way to do it. Even first chapters are not necessarily representative of the larger work, and they take a lot longer to read than a query leader (and also neglect the parts of selling a book that aren't purely about the quality of the writing).
Thanks, Gloria, yeah I do. Wait, not that kind! I'm a married man.
Seriously, since from reading the blogs I've garnered that I'm just about the only poor schmuck who is a big enough sucker to still be querying this close to Christmas and the end of the year, why not? I've got 11 queries out there (well, more, but 11 that might still be pending - this lovely observation notwithstanding), so I can start off by sending out four or so to keep my 15 going.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Karl Iagnemma (well, he's an engineer - but close enough for my purposes).
Allegra Goodman (no she's not, but check out Intuition).
Who am I missing? What other scientists write (and publish) fiction? Who else writes realistic fiction about scientists? About the humans who do it and their conflicts?
And, really more importantly, who represents them? I've spent hours on this website to very little effect.
I know I'm not the only one. So why is this so motherfucking goddamned hard?
It reminded me of the academic job equivalent, which goes something like this:
Dear Search Committee,
Thank you for your letter of December 23rd. After careful consideration I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me employment with your institution.
This year I was particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates it is impossible for me to accept all rejections. Despite your institution's outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time.
Therefore, I will initiate my employment with you beginning July 1, 2010. I look forward to seeing you then.
Dr. Lt. Cccyxx
Ah, the parallels. It's too bad you can't tell agents who reject you that you look forward to contacting editors on behalf of their agency. LOL.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
We've just learned how Stalin's father descended into alcoholism and beat him. Now we learn that his mother, who doted on him and tried to protect him from his father, nonetheless also felt it necessary to beat him.
The last time he visited his mother, in the 1930s (Stalin died in 1953, by the way), he asked her why she beat him so much.
"It didn't do you any harm," she replied.
Yes, Soso, in fact you became a great success, the greatest success: leader of the whole Soviet empire. Any mother would brag about your accomplishments...and why, they must reflect on her child-rearing skills.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
On Monday afternoon there was a huge Metro clusterfuck because some kids were horseplaying at Gallery Place and one got hit and killed by a train. My wife and I wound up taking the bus home to avoid the hour (!) delays they were predicting on the Red Line - by the time we got home it was nearly 7 and the long herky-jerky bus ride had made both of us nauseous.
On Tuesday I went to an event that after work that I'd been looking forward to, but it wound up being both expensive to attend and extremely disappointing - nonetheless I didn't get home until nearly 9.
On Wednesday I came home on time but did some household chores that took me until almost 9 again.
On Thursday I had to get home from Georgetown - that plus another minor Metro clusterfuck at Metro Center (thanks at least in part to the Caps game, I guess) meant I didn't get home until 7 and was just generally unmotivated.
Then Friday we came home on time but were both exhausted. Fortunately I got a really good night's sleep last night.
Next week shouldn't be as bad as this week was, and the two weeks between that and Christmas should be more reasonable as things start to slow down for the holiday.
We didn't let the snow today stop us from getting ready. We went to everyone's favorite Christmas store - Target - to get a medium-sized tree and some ornaments and other holiday paraphernalia. It's the first time we're doing Christmas together with decorations and all. We decided against a real tree because we thought it might hurt our rug, plus our landlord is pretty hyper-sensitive about the place, including the floors. And honestly, given how warm it usually is here (this weekend notwithstanding) I had to wonder whether a bunch of bugs would come in with the tree. Anyway, we're going to set it up tomorrow and I think it'll be nice to sit in our living room in the evenings and watch the tree (maybe we'll buy one of those balsam fir-scented candles to make the experience seem more genuine).
Tomorrow marks eight weeks since I began querying for my novel. Ah, where did the time go? (not really) Well, since it's been two months now, let's take stock in true Lt. Cccyxx style, with some data:
(First of all, can I just say, making charts on Excel 2007 sucks-diddly-ucks?)
The chart shows numbers of queries, numbers of rejections, and numbers of partial and full requests as a function of days into the process. In sum I have sent out 30 queries, for the most part sending out batches each weekend. The rejections have trickled in: I've received 10. However, given that it has been eight weeks since I started and taking into consideration the time limits on agent websites (i.e. "if you haven't heard from us in x weeks, we're not interested") I think it is safe to assume that an additional 9 queries have been read and dismissed. That leaves me with a best estimate of 11 still pending, including three sent on 10/18 (six weeks ago - I'll be discounting these pretty soon), two sent on 10/31, two sent on 11/16, one on 11/25, and three on 12/1.
I've basically used two versions of the query letter. The first version went to 21 agents and was rejected eight times, and the second (and I believe superior) version went to 9 agents and has been rejected twice.
I want to keep about 15 query letters in play so I need to send out about four more this weekend, then just keep on keeping on as the weeks roll by.
One final observation on my chart - check out the numbers of partial and full requests. What nice straight lines those make, huh? 30 queries, 19 implicit or explicit rejections, and not a single bite. Not even for a fucking partial. I didn't expect some miraculous record-breaking time-to-offer-of-representation, but if you'd told me two months ago that not a single agent would even be interested enough to ask to see a partial manuscript, I'm not sure I would have believed you.
Well, two months is enough to start giving me a little bit of perspective on the whole thing, so here's a summary of where my thinking stands now:
1. My book is good. I haven't lost one bit of confidence in my book. My book should be published. My book will be published. I believe in it. I will not give up.
2. Not knowing why agents are rejecting my book is frustrating for many reasons. But there are some things I can control and some things I cannot, and I'm realizing this more and more. For instance, agents may be rejecting my book because they read the query, understand what the book is about, and in their professional judgment it simply won't sell in this market. Alternatively, they may be rejecting it because the query is somehow failing to adequately convey what the book is about or something about the query is making the book seem less appealing than it actually is. (Obviously, it may be a mix of both since agents aren't all the same.) I cannot control the first thing, but I can control (or do my very best to attempt to control) the second.
Since it's the query (or the query and first chapter in a few disappointing cases) being rejected, and not the manuscript, I really wonder. And that's why getting those full and partial requests will be so important. I think if we are in February and I'm still not getting any requests at all, I may have to think about paying someone to evaluate my query letter and about other ways to approach agents (conferences, personal connections, whatever). Because it'll be clear then that the query isn't working for me, but unless I get some more bright ideas for how to improve it I'm not sure what to do about it.
3. That being said, I'm fairly reconciled to not receiving any feedback, and basically just have to rely on my own best judgment here.
4. Finally, I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: there's writing and there's publishing and I don't want to fixate on the latter at the expense of the former. I'm starting to get into some new projects and basically just have to move ahead even as I continue to query for this first project. I'm hoping I can get my act together over the next month and make a writing plan for the new year.
That's about it except for a few words on my ongoing tooth/gum/jaw woes. I'm feeling more and more like what I've got is a TMJ problem and not a dental problem. My jaws have been tight and my bite has been shifting, even as my teeth now bother me less. My jaw's been cracking occasionally and it's sometimes hard to find a comfortable position to sleep with regard to my jaw. This is probably tied in with tension in my neck. That being said, I've been taking care to massage my jaws and neck, to go to sleep in a position that minimizes the likelihood that I will grind or clench my teeth, and to avoid doing things to aggravate the problem.
At least I'm a lot less freaked out about a muscle and cartilage problem than about a tooth problem. My weight has also stabilized, even though I am down in the 188-190 range, as low as I was when I moved to D.C. But my wife says it's mostly come off my middle, and she hasn't noticed any decline in muscle mass. I don't feel as though I have lost strength, so that's good.
It is amazing what a motivator fear can be. I have changed some long-standing habits in response to these issues (even though I acknowledge some of these habits aren't terrible and/or aren't interrelated with the problem). For example, after years of trying and failing, I finally stopped drinking Diet Coke (well, maybe I have a can once or twice a week now, instead of multiple cans a day). I haven't chewed gum in weeks after years and years of constantly chewing gum. I've been avoiding crunchy foods - the good ones and the not-so-good ones. Generally, besides this TMJ/tooth/TMI(!)/whatever issue, my whole system feels pretty good.
I was actually thinking a few weeks ago how fear as a motivator is such fruitful theme for fiction and then it occurred to me that it's already been done in a form both shocking and pithy: "Quitters Inc." by Stephen King. Speaking of whom, "Under The Dome" is on my shelf and will be a treat to myself during Christmas week.