FIRETHORNS IN IVY DREAMS has multiple points of view, with Robert the protagonist and Dan the antagonist.
Conservative U.S. Senator Robert Smith laughs at LBJ’s question, “What the hell’s the Presidency for?” Robert has only one cause: winning the next election. Otherwise, he never becomes President.
Dan Kenyon fights for his dream. He claws out of an American slum into Harvard and then the FBI to combat inner-city drug crime. But management shuts down his strongest cases and the judicial process strangles others. Dollars from the most successful criminals infest the FBI and courts. Unless he appoints himself judge, jury, and executioner, he is hogtied.
Robert and his fundraiser, Tamar Minella, witness assassinations of their richest donors. The perpetrator leaves notes for Robert. They urge him to tackle the political corruption that shields drug overlords, and they show that each billionaire killed was a hidden overlord. At Harvard, Robert battled Dan for top scholastic honors and in the boxing arena. Robert is certain the messages are from Dan.
Dan is lead investigator for the murders. He interrogates Tamar, an Orthodox Jewess. Romancing her soon rivals his passion for protecting his people from crime. Distracted, he misses an important detail and the wrong person dies in an explosion. The reverberations tear open cracks in the path to The White House.
My op-eds appeared throughout the country under the name Paula Hawkins, U.S. Senator from Florida. I was her ghost. Ballantine Books published my novella "Oceans Away" in Stellar Short Novels. I narrowly escaped a Masters in creative writing and I carry scars and bruises from years in The Vicious Circle writer’s workshop. My day job is Beltway bandit wordslinger.
Please forgive me, but I cut and chopped and sliced and FIRETHORNS IN IVY DREAMS is still 135,000 words. Shakespeare’s Prince Hal plays inspired its creation. Baldacci’s Will Robie novels are comparables.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
FIRETHORNS IN IVY DREAMS has multiple points of view, with Robert the protagonist and Dan the antagonist.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
You wrote a great novel. You had its beginning and its query checked out on AbsoluteWrite and other forums. You studied Query Shark. But all agents reject you and your novel will never sell.
It is lost in the query-letter slush pile. Slush is muddy, melting, dirty snow, with some pieces of ice and some pebbles. Agents negotiate contracts of clients who have proven they can make the agents money. Agents edit works of proven writers to make them more salable. Agents hunt for markets worldwide. They help to sell their writers' published books. They socialize with writers to acquire new content, and they socialize with publishers to market and sell content. No agent has much time for, nor enjoys, rummaging through piles of query slush.
Reading slush is a smelly, disgusting task. Millions think they can write and they send their work to agents and publishers with great hopes. But in nearly all cases, it is hard to keep down one’s breakfast after reading more than a few words from the slush pile. Most slush is terrible. After years of reading slush and finding very little of value, most agents know it is a waste of time. They look for reasons to reject each query quickly, so they can discard as much slush as they can in as short a time as possible.
“But my work is great and will stand out and be noticed, won’t it?”
NO! IT WON’T! No matter how great your novel is, it will not get read, with one exception. The greatest piece of writing has to be your query letter. A diamond query letter looks just like a piece of ice amid the slush. A gold query letter is tarnished by the smelly stuff around it. The query must be stunningly brilliant and not let go. It has to be untarnishable gold with a very sharp titanium hook.
Unfortunately, query letters for great novels are rarely great. Writers of great novels are proud of their novels and try to be true to their novels. That is a big mistake. Query letters should lie! If your novel has a fascinating, convoluted plot that has the reader bawling like a baby at page 300, your query letter must get the reader bawling at sentence three. To do that, you must lie. Throw away the fascinating convolution. “A” should cause “Z.” “A” should not cause “B” and then “B” cause “C” etc. The query must be powerful immediately. The only thing that matters is getting an agent to read your novel. Truth does not matter.
For example, your novel is a legal thriller in which the protagonist is the deciding Supreme Court justice for a case in which a woman is not guilty of attempted murder because she used poisons covered by international treaty, and the case was originally tried in a state court (Bond v. United States, used here as an example). That is what you write in your query, right? WRONG! Your query should say that the novel is about a sterile wife who poisons her best friend for having an affair with and getting pregnant from the sterile woman’s husband. Forget the Supreme Court Justice. (She would be the fourth character mentioned, and that’s too many.) The query might state that the case goes to the Supreme Court, but it should imply that the wife is the protagonist. Under the limitation of a paragraph or two in a query, she is the interesting character. The only thing that counts is that the agent reads the novel. Being truthful will make sure your novel is not read.
“But won’t agents eventually notice?”
Even if they do, they won’t care. If your query is so good that it persuades an agent to ask to see the full novel, your book is probably good enough that it will be obvious that your talent will bring the agent money. Chances are the agent won’t remember your dishonesty, but even if so, your honesty or dishonesty does not affect the agent’s pocket. Your writing ability does. That’s what matters. The agent might ask you about the inconsistencies, but will still offer to represent you.
“Should you lie about word count?”
Damn right, you should! Your novel might be the best thing ever written, but it will not be read if you tell agents it is over 135,000 words. Remember that agents are looking for a reason to reject your query and move on to the next one. A high word count is the number one reason for a rejection. The agent you persuade to read your book will not care after reading the 150,000th word that the novel is too big if it is a great book. Again, you must use any means to make sure agents read your novel. Think “by hook or by crook.”
“So, having a well-crafted, lying query letter will get my novel sold?”
That depends on your novel. The whole supposition here is that you have a great novel. If you do not have a great novel, it will be rejected no matter how golden and titanium your query is. The point is that a great novel will not even be read unless accompanied by an even greater query letter. But query letters for great novels usually are not good because the authors try to remain true to their novels.
Your ultimate goal is to sell your great novel. If concern about dishonesty keeps you from achieving your dreams, then you are not being true to yourself. Shakespeare says “To thine own self be true.” If lying in a query letter helps you be true to yourself. Then lie, lie, and lie, and sell your great novel.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Suleiman the Magnificent was looking for someone to devise weapons to help him win his battles. Leonardo Da Vinci responded with a query. In it, he described submarines he would build that would defeat the best sea vessels of the day. He showed designs for tanks that would be invincible. He also presented drawings of conventional weapons that would be far better than anything else in existence. He ended his query with the words, “And I happen to paint better than any other man alive.” Suleiman never responded.
Da Vinci’s intelligence is incomparable, but no one can deny that Suleiman also was a brilliant man. He conquered much of the Middle East, most of North Africa, Belgrade, Rhodes, and a large part of Hungary. He was a distinguished poet and goldsmith; he became a great patron of culture, overseeing the "Golden" age of the Ottoman Empire in its artistic, literary, and architectural development. He also was well educated and spoke five languages.
It is mind boggling to think what Da Vinci could have done if he had Suleiman’s wealth and power behind him. What would Suleiman have done with Da Vinci's brains guiding his own? Why would someone the world knows as “the Magnificent” reject the smartest man to ever walk the Earth?
Monday, August 19, 2013
I asked an old, famous writer if I needed an agent for a novella of mine. He said, “Hand me your manuscript and I will give it to the best young agent in the business.” That agent, whom I will call Literary Agent Gatsby, gave my novella to Ballantine Books, which published it. I found myself with a nice advance for a very young, first-time author, and it all happened within a few short weeks.
Agent Gatsby had one rule for all of his authors: never phone him before one o’clock in the afternoon. He claimed that he sold his writers’ works by socializing in the evenings. For at least eight nights a week, he went to parties, threw parties, went to dinner, or just went drinking with individuals who would either provide him with the best writing of the day or who would publish that writing in the best markets for the most money. I went with my agent to two parties, and attended one party that he threw. His gala was in an incredible two-floor, ocean-facing suite of the Miami Beach Fontainebleau hotel. I will always remember him with a beautiful writer under one arm and a beautiful editor under the other arm, as he chatted amiably with one of the most important men in the publishing industry. Like The Great Gatsby, my agent was wealthy, powerful, and mysterious.
One day, Agent Gatsby called me. It was, of course, well into the afternoon. What he said was that a few weeks earlier he had arranged a multi-million dollar deal for one of his clients. Now he was “pruning his stable of authors,” and I was one who would be pruned away. He referred me to another agent, and she was happy to take me as a writer. But she was young, with very few contacts among publishers. She worked from nine to five. One could not call her after business hours, because she was home with her family. She never sold anything I wrote.
It is now quite a few years later. I spoke to Agent Gatsby’s wife recently. She told me that his mind is gone. He is burnt out. I am looking for another agent. I cannot go back to Mrs. Nine-To-Five. I am hoping to find someone similar to the young man my famous writer recommended. Unfortunately, it is an impossible task. I’ve asked every old, famous writer I know, but there’s nothing they can do. There will never be another literary agent like Agent Gatsby.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Monday, August 5, 2013
As an undergraduate, I was a science major and expected to become a scientist. But then I sold a novella to a major publishing company. It was a tough decision whether to continue to a doctorate in science, or to study writing and be a writer. I always wanted to contribute something to humanity, and until then I thought science (and technology and medicine resulting from it) was of more value. Perhaps in self-justification for making the decision I did, I decided that the arts add pleasure to life, and increase humanity's understanding of humanity. So perhaps the arts is of equal, or maybe even greater value. But I've continued to ponder the thought ever since my undergraduate years. Is Beethoven's work, or Rembrandt's, of any less worth than Newton's, or Edison's? What value does music or painting add to society? Is Hamlet any more or less of an achievement than the theory of relativity? I don't know. Does anyone know? Can anyone know? That's why I am posing the question. What has more value, the arts or the sciences?
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Sunday, May 5, 2013
I was very saddened this week to hear about the death of a professional assassin I knew very well. Novelists such as Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, David Baldacci, and others write about assassins who are supermen; who know everything there is to know about guns, have tremendous aim, and incredible reflexes. Flynn's Mitch Rapp and Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger are very much alike. Baldacci, who is, by far, the best writer of the three, has assassins who are a bit more nuanced. But even his characters, like the others, have a certain invincibility, along with extreme confidence, pride, and fake humility that doesn't quite ring true.
Abe Fridling, who died at the age of 95 last week, was the real assassin. I used to see him every Saturday in synagogue. When I was a young man I would sit next to my father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor, on the left side of the synagogue's second row. Mr. Fridling, I always called him Mr. Fridling, sat on the right side of the same row. I used to see him swinging his legs back and forth because they did not touch the floor. He was that short, barely over five feet tall. Sometimes during breaks from praying, he and my father-in-law would speak to each other in Yiddish, a language I do not understand. But when my father-in-law passed away, Mr. Fridling came and sat next to me, and he began to tell me stories of his life during World War II and the years following it.
During the war, Mr. Fridling, who was born in Poland, fled to the woods and joined with others to become a partisan guerrilla resistance fighter. The partisans defended Jewish towns and villages against Nazi soldiers, and conducted raids against German military forces. Some partisan groups even built communities in the woods made up of Jewish civilians who escaped the Germans. After fighting as a partisan for much of the war, Mr. Fridling eventually joined up with the Russian army. One of the biggest regrets of his life was that he was shot in the chest three weeks before the war ended so he could not march into Berlin with the Russians.
It was in the years immediately after the war that Mr. Fridling became a paid assassin. It was his job to eliminate Nazi soldiers who had survived the war and had returned to normal lives after murdering hundreds of Jews. I asked him who paid him to do it, and he would not tell me, but he said that if he did, I would recognize the names.
Mr. Fridling told me of his getting into the back seat of an Cadillac in Germany shortly after the war. Inside was a doctor and Mr. Fridling pointed a gun at him. The doctor said, "You're not going to kill me. I'm too useful to the Jews now, treating the sick in displaced persons camps."
Mr Fridling replied, "That could never make up for all the women and children you murdered. Get out of the car."
The doctor left the car and started running. Mr. Fridling shot him in the back and killed him. That was just one of many assassinations. I once asked him how many people he killed, and he replied that he could not count that high.
During the war, Mr. Fridling heard that his brother and his family had been murdered by Polish Nazi sympathizers. He went to the home of the person he thought had killed his brother, and found only the suspect's mother. He put a gun to her mouth, got her to admit that it was her son, and she told him where to find him. Mr. Fridling said he shot her through the mouth and killed her. Then he found the man who killed his brother, put a gun into his mouth and got him to confess and say who his accomplices were. Then Mr. Fridling shot him, found the accomplices, and killed them as well. Covered with blood, Mr. Fridling came back to his partisans, went to where they stored the camp's food, and began making himself lunch. The commander of the partisans came in and expressed amazement that Mr. Fridling could do what he had done and still be interested in food, before even cleaning himself up. Mr. Fridling told that commander, "I was hungry." Those are the sort of stories Mr. Fridling told me about himself, all of them true, I have no doubt.
There is one Mr. Fridling story that I read about in the paper and I asked him to tell me what really happened. After the war, he came to America and started a chicken farm in New Jersey. Eventually he sold part of farm, keeping much of the land, and moved to Washington, DC, where he bought a liquor store. One day, in his store, two robbers came in with guns. One of them put a gun to Mr. Fridling's head and told him to open the cash register. Mr. Fridling said, "Hitler couldn't kill me and you're not going to kill me either." He proceeded to grab the gun out of the robber's hand and shot him. He then held the gun on the second robber and called the police. When the police came, they asked him where he got the gun and if he had a license for it. He said that it was the robber's gun. He'd had enough of guns in the war and did not believe in owning guns. But he did tell me that, years before, he had grabbed a gun out of the hand of a German general who had captured him, shot the general and other Nazis with him, and escaped, so grabbing a gun pointed at him was not a new experience.
How did Mr. Fridling's personality differ from those of the fictional assassins? Those all seem to be the strong and silent types, who never would talk about their killings. Mr. Fridling loved to talk about it. But Mr. Fridling left all that behind him and became a family man. He raised three sons and a daughter. One of his sons won a MacArthur Fellowship ("the genius award") as a brilliant physicist. But Mr. Fridling did have that pride. One day I told him that my father-in-law described World War II as "when I walked to Germany." (My father-in-law was marched there from Czechoslovakia at the point of a gun, digging trenches for Nazi soldiers.) Mr. Fridling's responded, in a gruff voice, "No one would ever make me walk to Germany." After hearing his stories and knowing him well, I can believe it.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Tolstoy once came down into his living room from the office he wrote in, saw his family laughing, and said, "How can you be happy when Prince Andrei Nikolaevich is dying upstairs?" When you truly experience that feeling concerning your own characters, you are a writer.
Post-novel depression's intense pain tortures the most talented writers because the developing, changing, coming-to-life characters are no longer alive and growing. They are the writer's children during the writing process. When the novel is done and the writing stops, they become unchanging memories. It's like your own children have died, and all you have left is their memories.
David Brin says that writing is the ultimate sadomasochistic experience. A writer succeeds when the readers can't stop reading, giving up food, sleep, and sex, because they can't put the book down. The greatest compliment I ever received was when an MIT student complained that my novel gave him a bad grade on an exam. With the best novels, readers are in bondage to the novelist. The aim of the writer is to create characters as vivid as one's best friend, parents, or even spouse, so that the reader worries terribly about what is going to happen next to that character. The readers are enthralled, with "thrall" being another word for "slave." But the one most enslaved by the writing is the writer himself, as Tolstoy was with Andrei Bolkonsky. Tolstoy destroyed my vision, because I read War and Peace in one weekend.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013