Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Person or product

With all the talk about branding and shelf life and marketing, my head is in a whirl about being an author. After years of hard work and learning and writing, and thinking that all there was to being an author was writing a good book, I'm at a loss. Then I read Rachelle Gardner's post about choosing a literary agent and I knew what I wanted to find and how to find it.

I am a writer. It's what I do. It's what I think about. It's what I've always been in one form or another. I write books. I also write articles and short stories, and poetry on rare occasions. I didn't want to sell books, or market, brand, network or make books. I wanted to write. And I have written. But looking for an agent has been a disappointing experience, in part because I was so busy putting together winning queries and packaging myself and my book to tantalize, excite and entice an agent who would be enthusiastic about the work when I should have been thinking about what kind of an agent I want.

I want an agent like Lauren Bacall in the movie version of Stephen King's Misery. I want a clone of Maxwell Perkins or Lewis Jackman in Return to Peyton Place, an agent who sees the person behind the writer and wants to publish everything I write. Someone who sees me as more than a single book. An agent who represents a person -- me -- and not just a book, a single title, or series, and then moves on to the next book.

In all of the rejections from agents I have queried, each has said I'm a good writer, but s/he is not passionate about the book I'm offering. They were excited by my query and proposal package, but just weren't enthusiastic enough about the work. Nowhere in all those polite and politically correct rejections did anyone mention being enthusiastic about me as a writer, a person who turns out good work and will continue to do so. But how do I find an agent interested in more than one project? That is the question.

At this point, I'm not sure. What I do know is that I want an agent who is enthusiastic about representing me and sees me as a writer with a bright future. I'm not my book; that is the product of my imagination, experience, evolution, talent and hard work. It is a product any competent person, or people, can package, market and sell. The engine that drives this assembly line of words and ideas continues to run and produce. I need to find someone who understands that and is passionate about a relationship with me. A relationship with my book is a short term affair. A relationship with me is a long term arrangement. That's the person I want and need. Just point me in the right direction.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The dead speak

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

After five years of avoiding the show, I decided to find out what made the show Bones such a winner and how it had lasted for five years. I was not disappointed. I was, however, interested in learning more about the real life model for Temperance Brennan when I read the show was based on Kathy Reichs's detective novels told from the perspective of a forensic anthropologist, so I ordered Deja Dead and began reading as soon as it arrived.

I looked forward to seeing a crime solved from the bones of a case and to get a close-up view of the process of telling a person's life from the states of their skeletal remains. I got that and more than I had hoped in Kathy Reichs's novel. The details are chilling and exceptional, as they would be since Reichs is a working and accredited forensic anthropologist, and she is much more approachable and human than her television counterpart.

The writing has gritty and raw and hard-edged, but Reichs has a tendency to work too hard at creating metaphors, so hard that they often come off flat and intrusive. Where Reichs excels is not only in the details of forensic pathology, but in giving life to Tempe Brennan and her emotions. Brennan's attention to detail in her work and willingness to take chances in the field, even though she has no field training, makes her vulnerable and fascinating. It's also provides a base for a character arc that gives her plenty of room to grow.

In her drive to make Deja Dead more than just a police, or rather forensic, procedural, Reichs's execution does create some problems. In trying to write a hard-boiled novel with literary sensibilities, she is out of her depth most of the time, the writing constipated where it should be free flowing. She does, however, manage to pull of a one-two metaphoric punch that shows she, as well as Brennan, is learning and growing, or rather that she managed to get out of Brennan's way and let the character take the lead. One memorable example is when Brennan goes to a food stand to get a hot dog.

The guy behind the stand is a John Belushi look-alike. His clothes were damp and smelled of smoke and fat and a spice I didn't recognize. Droplets sparkled in his thick hair. When I glanced over he smiled at me, cocked one bushy eyebrow and ran his tongue slowly along his upper lip. He might as well have shown me his hemorrhoid.

Deja Dead is more than a forensic anthropologist's eye view of tracking and catching a serial killer. It is the first steps of a quickly maturing author who has an exacting eye for detail, a fine sense of theater and a growing grasp of what makes a story ring with truth when she lets the characters speak for themselves.

I much prefer Reichs's version of Brennan to Emily Deschanel's, but both have charms that make watching and reading them worth while.