Thursday, August 26, 2010
I've certainly sent my share of short story submissions (not enough, certainly), but this was my first query letter. I didn't realize just how hard it would be to distill 90,000 words into something short and coherent. Especially Barnes County with its many points of view and interwoven stories. Here, though are the central paragraphs of the query:
When Terry Stegman, a beloved female sheriff’s deputy of rural Barnes County, Missouri, is killed by a meth dealer, the men around her must find a way to go forward, to adjust, and set a new course.
Though Terry’s killer is injured and jailed, Sam Summers, a big-city transplant, friend, and fellow deputy whose feelings for Terry may have been something stronger than friendship, is on the hunt for why the killer murdered two others that day. Aging Barnes County Sheriff Bill Wallis is suffering through the break-up of his marriage, the changes taking place in the county, and the growing distance from his teenage son. Terry’s hired man and close companion after her husband’s death, Franklin Redbird quickly falls into drinking and trouble. Logan Wallis, the sheriff’s misfit son, outcast because of his public profile and rebellious appearance, meets a romantic interest, but when she winds up in trouble, he seeks a violent vengeance. A recent immigrant to the county, Harlan Lustig quickly falls in with a dangerous meth cook and, after learning the trade himself, seeks to usurp him. Their stories meet, mix, mingle, and collide among the back roads and abandoned farmhouses of the fictional Barnes County in Southern Missouri.
While there are elements in the novel of mystery and suspense, Barnes County, at 90,000 words, is a story of people in flux, how they struggle to find the right way, and how some fail at it.
While I don't know that this really gets to all of it, all of the conflict and tension, all of the psychological inquiry, I think this might get someone interested.
Dropping the envelope into the box was a relief. I'm happy to have done it and have it out there. Now comes the anxiety about how it will be received.
Monday, August 23, 2010
If Simon Axler's loss of confidence in his acting ability is meant as a projection of Philip Roth's loss of confidence in his writing ability, then The Humbling should stand as an excellent example of it. The novel comes off more as a sketch of book, as if he'd written it as an outline of a more developed novel that was still to come.
This is a novel of man in crisis, and though we spend a fair number of pages in the thin book dealing directly with the subject, the book wanders into Axler's new relationship. This relationship, with the lesbian daughter of old friends, is at times cruel and superficial. Their scenes together, when not involving sex, are cursory. One scene, the parents' confrontation with the daughter, is simply told in dialogue from the daughter to Axler. Where the reader may have benefited from actually being there in what may end being a pivotal scene, Roth treats it as unimportant. And so when things change in the novel, we don't have a reason to care.
This is a disappointing novel by one of America's great novelists. Maybe Roth is writing too much these days. A book a year might be a pace that doesn't make for good novels.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Last week, I stopped in the downtown Tattered Cover Bookstore to look at some poetry. Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency
Destroy yourself, if you don’t know!Inspired by AMC’s Mad Men to take a closer look. But standing there, reading the words, the poems jagged edges pleasing to my eye, I realized how much I miss poetry.
It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It's like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.
For the last two years, there’s been no time for poetry. Barely any time for fiction. And even before that, I’d neglected it. There was a time when I read a lot of poetry, devoured it, wrote it, read it at poetry readings, published it. I turned them into songs. I even used to send out a poem each week to a long list of email contacts. I haven’t written a new poem in probably ten years. Even in the MFA program, I stuck with the fiction writers. You kinda got the feeling you’d better not go trying to play in the poets’ sandbox.
So now, writing again after two years off in the EMBA program, I feel it might be time to reconnect with poetry. I really want to shake up my use of language, to be inspired to take chances, to not go for the obvious word choice, to seek out unique metaphor, to see things again from a poets perspective. So I pulled down from my shelves Carolyn Forché
You recognize strangers,Sylvia Plath
think you lived through destruction.
You can’t explain this night, my face, your memory.
You want to know what I know?
Your own hands are lying.
“Taking Off My Clothes”
I have fallen a long way. Clouds are floweringNot the poets I know well. I went to the library, checked out Theodore Roethke
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.
Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness—blackness and silence.
“The Moon and the Yew Tree”
Is pain a promise? I was schooled in pain,Denise Levertov
And found out all I could of all desire;
I weep for what I’m like when I’m alone
In the deep center of the voice and fire.
I know the motion of the deepest stone.
Each one’s himself, yet each one’s everyone.
“The Sententious Man”
From the tawny lightLi-Young Lee
from the rainy nights
from the imagination finding
itself and more than itself
alone and more than alone
at the bottom
of the well where the moon lives
“Everything that Acts Is Actual”
And one day, when I needWe all should more poetry in our lives. At least I know I should.
to tell myself something intelligent
I’ll close my eyes
and recall this room and everything in it:
My body is estrangement.
This desire, perfection.
Your closed eyes my extinction.
“This Room and Everything in It”
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I would like to see him drop his dissent. Bernanke runs a more democratic Fed and is willing to support the differences of opinion, but a dissent now will only add to the uncertainty. Investors, not just fed-watchers, are looking for something definitive out of the FOMC. They’re not likely to get it, but a dissent now, at this inflection point, would leave them questioning the statement in its entirety. It’s not a matter of differences of opinion on how to chart the course of recovery; the concern now is slipping backwards. Saying that we need to raise rates in the face of the current economic conditions isn’t going to add any much-needed stability.