Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Compound

I’ve  discovered that some of my fellow residents in our little world refer to it as “The Compound.” It’s great shorthand and I think I’ll adopt it. Saves the trouble of trying to decide whether you want to say you live in a senior community or a retirement community (or an old folks’ community).

A century ago it wouldn’t have been a problem, because most people weren’t living to be old. Any that did probably ran out their string in a bedroom of the family domicile, now handed down to a son or daughter. That usually meant a son- or daughter-in-law as well, with all the potential friction that brought on as the oldster expropriated a grandchild’s bedroom and got a turn in the family bathroom. “Don’t be silly, Dad. It’s not an imposition.     You be quiet, Susie.”

The Compound has some 9000 residents in 17 "mutuals," groups of cooperative apartments. Apartments are 12 to a building, which is fine with me. Having grown up in rented apartments in New York tenements, I’d be uncomfortable without people on three sides of my walls making living noises.

You see some people sunk under blankets in wheelchairs, but the great majority are quite independent, and many are talented, as the annual arts and crafts fair demonstrated. There are more clubs  and activities than anyone can recite from memory, and new ones spring up when four or five enthusiasts in anything discover each other.

Income range is a reflection of the greater society: some got it, others don’t. The thing of it is, if you can afford to buy in in the first place, the living is easy. I think most people do it by selling a  single-family home and applying the proceeds. Monthly payments then are low, maintenance is taken care of, et voila! you’re retired.

A lot of us still work inconspicuously at computers or in the wood shop or at the ceramics kiln. Some of us of more authoritarian bent become security officers and get to drive around in white cars with lights that flash red on occasion. Many if not most of those occasions will be when assisting the paramedics, who are regular visitors. The county thoughtfully located a fire station literally just down the road  from us, so help is here within minutes. Sometimes even that’s too late, but the thought is comforting.

All in all, if it’s security you want -- and you find you do want help with that as your aim and gun hand become shakier -- this is the place.

Jean and I used to say “That’s for old people.We’ll never live in a place like that. Right on the first part, wrong on the last.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

New York, New York

There’s a type of writing assignment that never grows old: the city guidebook.

One type is really comprehensive, covering all the things that make up the city, from aquarium to zoological garden, if the city has them, and heavily into restaurants, theaters, and that sort of thing. Everything a tourist would want to see and the Chamber of Commerce would want him or her to spend money on.

There’s another type which, if it doesn’t exist, should. It would convey the spirit and mood of the town rather than the mundane facts of its geography and physical features. It would look like this.

A Visitor’s Guide to New York
New York is everyone’s favorite city; it’s the friendliest. You want neighborly? There’s no place you can get closer to your neighbors, quicker, (or they to you) than the IRT subway at 5:30 on a Wednesday evening. Sample it at its best, on a humid summer day.
That “big city” image? It’s only PR; New York is really just a series of neighborhoods strung together. Each has its own attractions for the visitor who can speak the local language or is adept at a martial art.
Just think about this: New York has, in one city, two of the best-known tourist attractions anywhere.
Times Square is maybe the most famous single location in the world, and I understand they’ve cleaned it up wonderfully.
Central Park – well, you still want to be alert there after about 6 o’clock, and you don’t want to go there at all in the evening, but it’s spectacular from the penthouse of the Plaza Hotel. Check out the closing credits of “All in the Family.”     

I grew up in New York, but I haven’t been back in years (decades, really).  Things can change a lot in that time, and I don’t know if this advice would still be useful. I may have a nostalgic view of it, but that was my New York

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Flogging the Novel - 2: A Revoltin’ Development

There’s a classic story and I think a whole ballet -- “Spartacus”-- about slaves rebelling. You suffer under someone else’s oppressive rules for a long time and one day, like Spartacus, you think, Dpz  SaFGv  WYbje -- “the hell with this” --  and you do it your way. It’s the most liberating feeling, figuratively and literally, there is.

You may know about my novel. I’ve written about it in a post or two and there’s a whole sub-page about it on the home page, and if that hasn’t brought it to your attention I’m not sure what more to do here. But I’ve figured out what to do with literary agents.

It’s galling, when you’ve written something and you’re trying to get it published, to have to approach someone on your knees. That’s the way the agent game is played, however, and how you’re expected to play it. That’s the way I’ve been doing it. 

You look up a likely prospect -- an agent who specializes in your type of writing, your “genre.” They all list the types of material they want and don’t want to see. They also tell you exactly how they do and don’t want it submitted, and that if you send something you’d better not expect to hear anything back from them any time soon. “Responds in four weeks.”  “Responds in six weeks.” Never responds at all. But you send your work anyway.

 As I said, that’s the way I’ve been doing it. Because novel-writing is an aberration rather than my career, I’ve been pretty lax about it. Send it out and wait. Maybe get a rejection, maybe get nothing. Send it out again.

Well, no more. This time I picked 20 fiction agents off a list, starting with the “A”s and pitched them all at the same time.         If  I’d stopped to think how easy it is now I’d have done it long ago. No more typing a letter, addressing an envelope, the stamp, adding the time-honored SASE, the package  mailed to arrive three or four days later.

Today’s listings give the agents’ email addresses; you type “Query” in the subject line, and that’s all the writing you have to do. You paste your pitch in, hit “Send,” and go on to the next one. And  like it or not, they’ve got it in their inboxes right now.

What’s more important about my new approach, however, is the pitch itself. For starters, I ignore their precise formulations of what they want you to send and the format they expect to see it in. I just pitch. But I don’t try to tell them how great the book is; in fact I don’t even mention the novel until the end of the pitch.     I tell them they can make money off of it.

It’s not hype, either. I honestly believe there’s a big market, and   I give them examples where the same subject matter has generated publicity and book sales  -- the mother’s milk of agenting.  And you know what? It’s working.  I’ve had two rejections in two days. Laugh if you like, but that prompt a response is unheard of in this game. The last rejection I got took six months. Six months!  What would you prefer: hang by your thumbs for six months, or get the word immediately? And there’s still 90 percent of the list that hasn’t rejected it. So I’m revolting. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Grammar Doesn’t Matter

I can prove it.

There’s an awful lot of writing (and a lot of awful writing) by people who write on the Internet, and some of those people even claim to teach writing. Having learned my grammar back in the pleistocene era of education when the rules were drilled into schoolchildren, I’m always surprised to see ostensibly professional writers making elementary mistakes. Lots of confusion out there about “its” and “it’s,” for example, and  “your” vs “you’re, “ and “who’s” and “whose.”  (Them apostrophes are tricky.) But does it matter?

It does to me, and I’m sure to some other people, yet I can prove that in the bigger picture, it doesn’t.

I would divide things three ways:

If the message in important or useful, as long as the meaning comes through, you'll overlook some mistakes. Assuming they're not so bad as to obscure the message, they may make some of us wince, but from a practical standpoint -- it doesn't matter that much in today's communication setting.

Compare it to having a good piece of furniture that works well for your purpose but you discover that for no apparent structural reason, the cabinetmaker has used one phillips-head screw in with 29 slotted ones. Probably ran out of the right ones and reached for one nearby, would be a reasonable guess. It may make you think a little less of the cabinetmaker’s dedication to his craft, but you can still store your shirts and socks in the drawers.

The other end of the spectrum:  if the message is among the many that are of little or no value  -- what then? Well, in that case, who cares? Correct grammar isn’t going to save it, and bad grammar is one of its lesser problems and becomes irrelevant.

The last case is the anonymous strings of obscenities that pass for comment on line from some of our linguistically challenged brethren. In yet another way this further reinforces the case. You wouldn’t want to see grammatical rules applied to this stuff; you might begin to understand it.

 So -- Grammar Doesn’t Matter. QED.