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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone

Fuck the Forest, Let’s Talk about Me: A Writer’s Advice to Agents —GUEST POST by AUGUST

1) Never forget that we’re children. Needy, needy children.

2) Never say ‘draft.’ Nothing we give you is a draft, because everything we give you is perfect. Say ‘manuscript.’

3) Never say you ‘haven’t finished reading the manuscript yet.’ First, because it’s a lie. You haven’t started. And second, what we hear is, “I abandoned your novel without the slightest hesitation, because it defines ‘putdownable.’ I can’t remember a story that affected me less.”

4) Practice the ‘shit sandwich’ form of criticism. First a tasty hunk of bread: “You’re a genius. This is what Shakespeare wanted to write, but never did.” Then move to the shit. “But readers are morons. They won’t understand your intent, when you start referring to Frederick as ‘Joseph’ halfway through the manuscript. They’ll think you need rising tension instead of 100 pages of Anastasia’s journal from the 16th century.” Then finish with more bread. Favorable comparisons to famous writers is a plus. “After reading this, people aren’t gonna say you’re the next Harper Lee. They’re gonna say, ‘Harper Who?’”

5) Don’t explain. There is no good way to tell me I need to lose the melancholy bus driver, but the best is, “You need to lose the melancholy bus driver.” After that, any explanation just sounds like a wasp crawling around my ear canal, preparing to sting.

6) When you explain anyway—you can’t help yourself, you’re a special kind of idiot who believes that forthright, honest communication actually solves problems—keep it bone simple. Otherwise I’ll pore over your comments, trying to decipher the imaginary code. If you say you don’t like the bus driver’s moustache, I’ll delete the chapter about the Treaty of Versailles.

7) Underpromise and overdeliver. If an editor tells you she’ll know in a month, you know she’ll tell you in two months. So tell the shmuck of a writer it’ll be three months and thrill him by being one month early.

8 ) There is a good way and a bad way to use social media. The good way is to sing my praises. The bad way is anything else. I don’t want to know you’re on vacation in Nantucket. I don’t go on vacation. I don’t go to Nantucket. I write in a garage with an extension cord running in through the window. And think before you tweet that you just finished the best manuscript you’ve read in five years. Think about every one of your clients hoping you’ll lock your babies in an overheated car.

9) Hate with us. When I slam the door and flop onto my bed shouting “I hate him,” because my editor queried my use of semicolons, don’t explain his perspective. This isn’t about grammar, I’m trying to make you choose between us; there is only one correct answer.

10) Lie to us. The agent/author relationship is like a happy marriage: based on supportive falsehoods. Tell us you love us. Tell us nobody’s ever made you feel that way before. Shudder a little. Maybe weep.

After writing half this post, I realized I’d written it before. I searched, and sure enough, it was my second or third post on Betsy’s blog. Then I cannibalized. I’m my father; my stories aren’t done until I’ve repeated them so often that no meaning remains.

What stories do you repeat? What subjects won’t leave you alone? What axes do you grind?

61 Responses

  1. Oh my goodness. This has to be the best thing ever. I mean, it just HAS to be. Thank you.

  2. 5(a) Hone. “Lose the bus driver.”

    All my stories are repetitions of other stories. Are your’s not?

  3. Yes, that surely seals it.

  4. ” I don’t want to know you’re on vacation in Nantucket. I don’t go on vacation. I don’t go to Nantucket. I write in a garage with an extension cord running in through the window. ” Thank you for that.

  5. Ah, the shit sandwich. Contemplating same brings back underfondled memories of MuthaFuckinArtist school, where shit sandwiches are the only thing on the menu. I tried to substitute just plain straight shit-on-a-skewer, simple and cold, while I was there and people got offended. Go figure.

    The answers to your three questions are: All of them; All of them; and, All of them.

  6. Frankly, dear August, I’ve never been your willing whore. But you showed me the money and sweet-talked me away from my street corner with this one.

  7. One of my friends who is a beta reader for me just invited me to join her book club (fine, I invited myself, whatever). I told her she was prohibited from describing any book we read for book club as the best and/or funniest she’s read all year, and if she did, I would hit her over the head with the best and/or funniest book she’s read all year.

    Also, I loved your use of the semi-colon in point 9.

    • Agreed. While I can understand that a grown man might prefer Game of Thrones over his beta test copy of my chick-lit novel, I still don’t want to SEE HIM BUYING the boxed set. George Martin doesn’t need the attention, but I do.

      Semi-colons are nothing. I read something on a grammar blog and I went hog-wild and put two dozen REAL COLONS in my MS. You can not sneak a bunch of those skinny snowmen past anyone.

  8. Draft beer gives me gas. Tonight I will lie awake imagining the wasp in my ear canal. A father’s most repeated story: “Did I ever tell you about the Fuck Book we had while I was stationed in Japan?” Sobbing works better than weeping; weeping seems like you’re not trying hard enough. I like a sharp ax.

  9. Number three is responsible for a large percent of my AWOL self-esteem.

  10. I’m a teacher. I use the shit sandwich on a regular basis, but I call it something else.

    August, you are my hero. Best. Post. Ever.

    Sorry, Betsy. I love you, but COME ON.

  11. The word draft is insanely annoying. Hate it. Never want to hear it again.

  12. Now THAT was funny. I had a great laugh. Thank you.

  13. Thanks for asking about the repeated stories: after spending 5 days with visiting siblings, my brain is numb from the marathon “remember when-fest” of all the silly-sad-ironic tales of our childhood. Like little post-it-notes flagging pages in the Book of Life, these stories foreshadowed what directed our career paths, what influenced personal choices and what still haunts us. Most interesting was watching our children react to these trips down memory lane. I fear my son is unshakably sure we are all insane.

  14. Damn it. I picked the worst night to get shit faced and shovel dry cereal into my mouth while reading Betsy’s blog. I hope I remember to come back tomorrow.

    • I too am incapacitated, Lisa. I’ve returned from the cabin with forty-four mosquito bites, including one on the wing of my angel tattoo and a cluster on my right shoulder where a critter apparently settled down to gnaw awhile. My shoes are off, bra straps askew and the boss just caught me clawing down the crack of my ass like a leper with the chicken pox. Maybe something witty will occur to me later, but for now I’m going to scoot around my chair and paint myself with calamine lotion.

      Luckily August already knows we adore him. If only he’d scratch my back. . . .

  15. Seriously, you all suck up to August way too much.

  16. ‘putdownable.’ Ugh, the worst. Wakes me up at night.

  17. See, but if *you* say you hate the word ‘draft’ then it belittles *my* otherwise rational and oft misunderstood disdain for the word. It makes it seem like I’m just sniveling and deluded when really…

    Oh.

  18. I like the shit sandwich analogy but I need my throttling to resemble tiramisu with a little drizzle of optional shit way off on the rim of the plate.

    So, is Betsy really in Nantucket? Where the fuck is Nantucket, anyway? Does it really exist?

  19. Yesterday I thought about locking my own children in my overheated car. You can probably imagine what I wanted the world to do.

    You forgot to mention that built into every agent/writer’s contract should be a masseuse equipped with a portable battery operated fan, just to take the edge off.

  20. Wow, I mean wow, that has certainly given me a lot to think about, I have used the bus driver myself in the past. Not as much now though, I tend to stick to what people would want to read, rather than endless character building details and then oooops, overbuild.

  21. I liked point 5. Don’t explain. Don’t.

    Though on bus drivers: today I managed to slip past my Editor ‘the driver with his shaven head and Magnum moustache wearing an iridescent safety uniform.’

  22. Shit sandwich has just been added to my vocabulary for better or for worse… but probably worse 🙂 Brilliant post!

  23. So fucking funny, not incidentally because it’s so accurate.

  24. I didn’t like the bit about hoping the agent leaves her babies in an over-heated car. Joking about hurting babies and children – not something I feel comfortable about people finding funny.

  25. Oh, my gosh! The shit sandwich is the best description I’ve heard in a long time. Might be my new favorite expression. 🙂

    • Careful with that one. Once ingested it often results in a diarrhea of words. And shit-for-brains ensues.

  26. You will hate being called a lovable curmudgeon, but there, I said it. You remind us that there is only one truth: we keep going because under the layers of disappointment and devastation — our book isn’t being picked up, the people we love can’t give us enough, we are aging and withering though we continue the steady stream of wisecracks — we can’t stop nurturing an idiot’s sense of hope and meaning. Why else do we keep writing?

    What was the question again?

  27. I love every word of this. Thank you, August!

  28. Thank you August! Your words should be engraved on stone tablets and carried down from the garage’s overheated crawl space.

  29. 6) Deciphering imaginary code–the anguish, the doubt, the lack of guidance–the explanatory legend I’ve been looking for. Write it, print it, sell that puppy like pancakes.

  30. August…you slay me.

  31. I keep re-writing about my parent’s relationship growing up. Some if it was quite violent.

  32. Social injustice. I just won’t leave IT alone. I’m a fuckin’ idealistic idiot.

    I like your post, August; your words sing a song that rings true, discordant chords and all. Music may be based on repetition, but advice? Yeah, sure, why not? Maybe someday it’ll sink in.

  33. August – that was beautiful.
    Though as a Canadian I feel an intense urge to club that baby seal.

    • Careful: that may be a literary agent in disguise, trying to avoid pesky unpublished writers intent on delivering their elevator pitch.

  34. Man, I miss this blog when I’m gone. I never know just how much until I come back.

  35. […] – Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone « Betsy Lerner. Posted on Thursday, July 21st, 2011 to miscellania | Leave a Comment […]

  36. […] August (whoever she is) guest posted for Betsy Lerner while away. The title pretty much sums it up: “Fuck the Forest, Let’s Talk About Me: A Writer’s Advice to Agents” […]

  37. Haha, interesting post for sure! I really enjoyed reading this, especially the part where you threw in the typical “shit sandwich”.

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