Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And When I'm Not Looking For Work...

Playing in the background: "Pitchmen" on the Discovery Channel

...I drive myself bats doing other things, like writing query letters.

You know what a query letter is, of course. In case you don't, though, it's a short "elevator pitch" to a literary agent or publisher, asking him/her to take time out of his/her busy schedule and listen to you, the complete stranger, who wants to sell him/her something, generally a manuscript of some length. (Hence the show playing in the background; could there be anything more appropriate?) It's kind of a cross between one of those letters you send to a random company when you're unemployed in hopes that they might be hiring, and a fumbly first-date attempt to get somebody into bed. If you're extremely fortunate, said agent/publisher might come back and say, "Okay, I'm interested, send me more." More often said agent/publisher says, "Thanks, kid, but no thanks." If you're extremely unfortunate, the world ends, your heart explodes and you die. Well, that hasn't actually happened to me yet, or anyone else I know, either, but try convincing the reptilian part of my brain about that.

If you hang around on "Twitter," or even if you don't, you can search for #queryday and find literally thousands of tweets from last Friday (April 17) about how to write query letters (and how not to). A bunch of literary agents participated in this thing, fielding questions from the serious to the pretty silly (still chuckling about the guy who said he had a rewrite of The Lord Of The Rings as played by sentient lawn furniture). It was awesome, even if I couldn't keep up, and thank God I'm not working or I'd have been fired on Friday for sure. Anyway, it's obvious that lots of people have problems with this necessary part of getting something published. In short, I'm not unique. But being not-unique hasn't done much to appease that reptilian part of my brain, which is still convinced that Writing Query Letters somehow equals Death.

In case you're wondering, I did it. I hammered on a paragraph-long Elevator Pitch over about a week, put the letter (email) together and sent it out yesterday. This is a minor miracle in itself considering the amount of energy that gets dumped into the effort. Not effort writing the thing, which isn't easy either, but getting past that reptilian part of my brain (I've been calling it Scaley) that keeps screaming about imminent megavolcanoes and meteors about to open giant craters just off the Yucatan and something about the Permian Great Dying. If Scaley were a separate being, he'd be a fierce-looking but totally stressed-out T-Rex from a bad children's Saturday-morning cartoon sitcom that chews his nails, ducks under palm fronds a lot and jumps six feet in the air, screaming, whenever his clueless brontosaurus buddy Clyde walks up and taps him on the shoulder. I mean, really, you kinda gotta feel sorry for the guy.

Back in the good old pre-twelve step days, I had an obvious solution for Scaley: Get blind drunk before writing query letters. This worked every time. Three beers and Scaley went to sleep; I wrote the letters (which were, I'm sure, just masterpieces of the genre) and by the time Scaley woke up with a headache, it was all over. Trouble with that solution was that a headache for Scaley translated as projectile vomiting for Jen, so we had to quit doing that. Minus the booze, I basically have to listen to Scaley rant himself into exhaustion. Then, while he's panting for breath, I sneak onto the computer, send the letter, and try to get back to the sofa before he looks up.

If he catches me in the act, though, we have the Dreaded Deadly Post Query Letter Temporary Insanity kick in, which is almost as much fun as the Pre-Query Letter Angst of Imminent Doom. In fact, it's a lot like going off Zoloft for a few days just to see what happens. (I don't do this anymore but I used to.) Minus Zoloft, my brain starts doing all kinds of wacky things. I start, for example, to believe things purely at random. (If you haven't done so, you might wanna read Douglas Adams' masterpiece, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. The Electric Monk with the short circuit? That's what I'm talking about.) Last night after sending this query letter I believed the following things in rapid succession: That the Mayans were right and the world really was going to end in 2012, that we're all going to get quick-fried like in the movie Knowing, and that since it's not technically possible to get a trilogy published before 2012, I might want to run a classified ad and sell my car. No idea where that last thing came from, but I was already composing the language in my head: 1998 Toyota Corolla, 85k miles, needs body work...

Fortunately, there's always a small corner of my brain that doesn't buy any of this and comes up with the brilliant suggestion that I might just want to go to bed, already. Which I did. I woke up this morning and went on one of the best job interviews I ever had. I actually leaned across the table at this guy and said, "Look. I say this without a shred of embarrassment: I'm one of the best there is." Which is, uh, true, actually, but I don't think I've ever said it out loud before. Not the best (give me ten or twelve more years) but one of the best. He just can't go wrong, placing me somewhere. No one can. I'm good.

(In case you're wondering, Scaley doesn't do job interviews. He's strictly a query letter and manuscript submittal kind of angst-ridden cartoon dinosaur.)

2500 years ago, Buddha said, "Don't trust your brain. It will lie to you." That's disconcerting to say the least. I mean, what can you rely on, if not your intellect? But for me it was a tremendous relief to find this out. I'm pretty sharp, and from the time I was a little kid I expected I'd be able to think my way out of problems. And most of the time I can, but there are some problems that just don't respond to thought. Buddha knew this roughly 2,350 years before Sigmund Freud. Sometimes all you can do is keep on keeping on.

So I'll let you know what happens. I'll have to send another one in a day or two here or Jackie will get on my case. (Hi, Jackie!) Maybe if I do it sooner than later, Scaley will still be tired from the last one and won't get as worked up. Until they invent Zoloft for angst-ridden cartoon dinosaurs, that may be the best I can do.

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