Category Archives: General Nonsense

Letters to a Literary Agent

The Latest from the Field

The Latest from the Field

As special bonus content, I’m giving you a sneak peek into my current hunt for an agent. This week, I’m showing off my latest query letter, which is the all-important first impression you make on an agent or their assistant or perhaps the occupants of the same subway train they ride because they left the printout on their seat as they exited the train. Your query letter, well, potentially, your query letter will go through many revisions as you get rejection upon rejection, keeping them all in a safe box to trot out when you do finally land an agent, publish your book, and start making the interview circuit and get to quote a J.K. Rowling-esque number of rejections before your genius was finally understood: “Yes, I was rejected 197 times before Lisa Finklebottom saw enough in my manuscript to sign me and the rest is New York Times bestseller history!” Of course, given that, in my experience, you get no response at all from an agent makes it a little more difficult to collect, but still. The empty shoebox will make for great television, like Geraldo Rivera opening up Al Capone’s vault.

So you tweak your letter, design it to get a response, until finally you get agents asking for manuscripts to read, and then you wait some more. Based on the overwhelming lead the Empty, Soul Sucking Void of No Response has right now, I’ve changed my tack with my very latest efforts. This, dear readers, is my very latest and greatest query letter making the rounds at the moment:

24 March 2016

Matthew Hanlon
*** ****** **
**********, ** *****
m******@***.com | http://www.wombatsdigit.com/b/

Illustrious Agent
Literary Agency 123
123 Hudson St
New York, NY 10007

Re: Trip to the Quiet Room, a novel

Dear Agent:

GREETINGS, ILLUSTRIOUS AGENT, I AM A PRINCE, EXILED IN A STRANGE LAND, AND AM IN NEED OF GREAT HELP AND ASSISTANCE. I HAVE IN MY POSSESSION $450,000,000.00 WHICH I CANNOT GET OUT OF THE COUNTRY IN WHICH I FIND MYSELF.

IF YOU SEND YOUR MAILING ADDRESS, BANK DETAILS, SO I MAY WIRE YOU THE FUNDS, YOU MAY KEEP HALF, OR INDEED ALL, OF THE MONEY, SO LONG AS YOU REPRESENT MY NOVEL, trip to the quiet room, WHICH IS A NOVEL OF GREAT CRASHING AND BASHING, LOVE, LOSS, HOCKEY, TIME MACHINES, AND 1989 (NOT THE TAYLOR SWIFT ALBUM, FOR LEGAL REASONS).

PLEASE, I BELIEVE I MAY HAVE ANGERED TAYLOR SWIFT BY APPROPRIATING HER YEAR AND MENTIONING IT IN A NOVEL AND NOW QUERY LETTER AND MY TIME IS RUNNING SHORT. PLEASE RESPOND WITH DETAILS AND WE WILL MAKE A GOOD DEAL (15%?) AND ESCAPE THIS COUNTRY IN WHICH I AM STUCK AND PUBLISH trip to the quiet room, A SUREFIRE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, BOOKER PRIZE WINNER, AND REAL GOOD BOOK.

MAY I PLEASE SEND COMPLETED MANUSCRIPT AND YOU SEND BANK DETAILS?

Sincerely yours,

The Exiled Prince Matthew Hanlon of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Based on my exhaustive research, this style of letter is about as likely to get me a response as the more traditional approach I’ve been taking, so what’s the harm?
NoResponse

Agents, consider this an open letter to you. Would you like to represent me (and my book)?

Farewell to the Community Bookstore

The New Yorker has a video and short article up regarding the imminent closing of The

God Coffee, I Never Finished You

Community Bookstore on Court Street in Brooklyn. It wasn’t the (surely deliberate anachronistic and ridiculous getup of the) New York Times reporter or the man-on-the-street soundbites about what went on in that pretty that I enjoyed, but the walk down my old neighborhood, scene of many a walk while I composed the perambulatory (and thankfully never finished) God Coffee, I Miss You. It was a paean to my time in Brooklyn and those blocks sandwiched between 2nd Place and Atlantic Avenue, fresh out of college and living the life of Riley, where I spent a lot of my weekends and mornings after having worked until all hours at Avalanche, a hip little new media company on Hudson Street (near the offices of Viking Penguin and many a literary agent), home to the venerable BorderEqualsZero, in Cobble Hill Park, watching the nannies from the islands congregate while their charges ran around the grass in the middle of the beautiful brick buildings in that neighborhood.

The Community Bookstore was just down the street from that park, and I’d go in and pick up a used book or two, or three, all in the name of fleshing out this novel, or the next one, or the next. There was the flashier, cleaner BookCourt  down the street and the even bigger and flashier Barnes & Noble across Atlantic Avenue, and, of course, I’d browse through those, as well, but with my student-loan saddled shoulders, I came away with the most books from the Community Bookstore. While it was a good deal messier, it reminded me, for sheer volume and the sense that books had digested the room, of the back closet on my grandfather’s porch of a three decker in Worcester, Massachusetts, where books lined every shelf, in all states. It was a sort of magical space, where who knew what you were going to find, but it was likely going to be worth the archeology, whatever it was.

If you’re in the area I highly recommend stopping by for the sheer experience of it.

No Booker Prize for William Murphy

William Murphy’s tale of time machines and tussles has not, I’m afraid, been selected for the Man Booker International Prize long list.

On the list!

On the list!

I know, I know. Stop weeping, please. Especially on the train, like that. People will stare. They’ll wonder. So dry your tears, wrestle in those last few body-shuddering sobs. It’ll be okay. The book’s not even published yet, so you couldn’t expect the Booker Prize folks to add it to the long list.

Could 2017 be our year? 2018?

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Least Popular of Times

Listen, you win some and you lose some.

You win some, you lose some

Winning some, losing some

Sometimes you’re the least popular, but at least you can console yourself that you’re super highly rated (because no one else has read it to give it a worse review).

You, too, can check out your year in books on Goodreads, if you track what you read there.*

 

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews: The Sisters Brothers and Touch

Making Space at the Library

HANE-HANN

While you’re waiting for my book, William Murphy’s Trip to the Quiet Room (you may be waiting a while) to come out, you might want to go grab a copy of The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt. It’s got the sort of sensibility I love and the cast of characters are flawed and fantastic. Once you’re done with that (or before, I don’t mind), Claire North’s new book, Touch is out, and well worth your time while you sit in your local bookstore in the Fiction aisles by the ‘H’s, camped out on the floor with a halogen lamp, hard hat, blanket, picnic lunch, butterfly net, accosting each and every employee who wanders past, dragging at their cuffs, begging them to let you have the very first copy of William Murphy’s Trip to the Quiet Room, you’ve got to have it. Touch is the slightly larger book, so having that on hand in the bookstore while you sit your vigil will lend itself as a defense when the book store security finally show up to escort you out, as it makes an excellent shield (not that I know from personal experience). On the down side, you’ll also believe that you can simply transition to the security guard’s body by touching their skin, so maybe that book wouldn’t be the better choice. If you’re reading The Sisters Brothers, there is a good chance you’ll try gunning down the security guards in cold blood, which also isn’t a great idea, so perhaps you should read those two books from the comfort of your own home and maybe just read the reviews of the books that follow while you’re slumped against the ‘H’ shelf, hoping that, like some magical fairy or mirage on the horizon, one of the times you look up to check the shelf that there, next to the Kristin Hannah books, is William Murphy’s Trip to the Quiet Room, by Matthew Hanlon.

 

The Sisters Brothers
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven’t had a lot of success reading books with a blurb along the lines of “Could be the finest comic novel since Flann O’Brien’s…” or anything comparing an author or book to Flann O’Brien, but here I go with my own comparison: “The Sisters Brothers” is like some long-lost cousin to Flann O’Brien’s novels. The American cousin, if you will.
I loved the voice and I thought the way Patrick deWitt developed the brothers’ relationship was excellent, the driving force behind their trip down south to kill a man for the Commodore. But the whole cast of characters — the crying man they meet along their way; Mayfield, the bigwig in a small town; Warm, the man they’re meant to kill; and the boy, abandoned by his gold prospecting party — they would be comfortable showing up in “The Third Policeman” or “At Swim-Two-Birds.” There is an exchange between Mayfield and the brothers, mid-way through their meeting, where Mayfield recounts being robbed by a man with a limp in their hometown of Oregon City, then thinks to ask them if either of them walks with a limp. The dialogue back and forth is pretty snappy and well-timed.
Each and every one of these characters has a little bit of despair at their core that keeps the humor pretty black, and it’s a sometimes matter-of-factly gruesome ride with these notorious Sisters Brothers, but I thought the book was brilliant from start to finish.

 

Touch
Touch by Claire North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like her own creation, Kepler, I felt like, when I touched the pages of this book, I, too became something else, someone else. The Reader.

The book was paced really well, the action and flips from one person to the next effective. So Kepler is this sort of creature who inhabits people’s bodies upon touching their skin. Their kind has lived for ages, passing from one host to the next, absconding with that new person’s life, leaving their old host suddenly days, weeks, years older and minus the intervening memories. It’s a great idea for a story and it raises so many practical and philosophical questions, and Claire North dredges most of them up and paints an empathetic picture for The Reader — it’s not that the protagonist, this Kepler, is purely good, you get the sense that there is a myriad of shades of grey and all sorts here, and it just makes the story more entertaining.

The author has a great ear for snappy dialogue, and since we’re also dealing with people who realize that the other person to whom they’re speaking has just been in possession of their own body you have the occasion for discussions about what the other has been eating while inhabiting the owner’s body which might get a little dizzying, but fun.

If Claire North started writing the information on the side of a box of cereal I would suddenly start buying a lot more of that cereal, she’s just the business, and I’m very jealous, indeed.

While this book wasn’t as good as the mesmerizing “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August,” it’s still an excellent read. I worry that maybe I *had* been possessed by something , something that even still has a hold of me and makes me want to rush around the streets, accosting strangers, asking them if they haven’t read “Touch” just yet, and if not, why not?

View all my reviews

One-Minute Time Machine – Sploid Short Film Festival

William Murphy’s Trip to the Quiet Room involves a little accident with a time machine that rips a family apart, so the subject matter is near and dear to my heart, and Devon Avery (@Dir_Devon_Avery) and Sean Crouch (@Seanecrouch) and crew have a sweet (sweet and a bit salty, so cover the kids ears while you watch) little story about time travel of a different sort than building a contraption in your bathtub to take you back to the 1800s.

Check it out here or on Gizmodo’s Sploid Film Festival page:

Lockjaw Magazine: Choose Your Own Adventure

So I wrote something for the folks at Lockjaw to include in their in-progress Choose Your Own Adventure story.Birdcage

It’s short, sweet (ish?), and will bring back fond memories of reading through countless possibilities and keeping one, two, three, four fingers stuck in pages where you mean to go back and fix the mess you wound up in.

Start at the beginning, see if you can find it… otherwise, for the lazy amongst you, feel free to jump to the bottom of this post to get the direct link of an out-of-context piece of the story that likely will make very little sense at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As promised, the direct link to my particular piece of the puzzle.

Ah ha! Fooled you… or, some of the other contributors did, as they didn’t turn in their pieces on time… so the story will be published tomorrow. In the meantime, read the story, see where you think I may have wound up.

 

UPDATE: At long last, the link! Or at least a link to something to help you decide whether or not you’ll actually click on it.

 

 

The World’s Greatest Hockey Fan

Remember fist bumping @NHLBruins fan Liam Fitzgerald? He was honored with an @UpperDeckSports inspiration card. From Twitter

There were a few bright spots in this last Bruins season, but one of the brightest, by far, was Liam’s story on E:60.

If you have a couple minutes, maybe your kids nearby, I would take the time to watch it.

 

 

 

Help Liam #BUMPOUTCANCER, he has his own fund-raising page.

Dennis Lehane on his Newest Book and Missing Boston

Dennis did a spot for WGBH a little while ago in which he talks a little about his latest book, his connection to Boston, even though he’s now living on the west coast. It’s a short but sweet interview but obviously the part that resonated with me was this:

I think you write better when you are homesick. [… T]he next book is set in Boston. I’m writing it from California. I’m thinking about Boston all the time.

There’s a long history of the exiled writer, whether self- or Hollywood-imposed, and I wholeheartedly agree, I think (and others may not agree) that my best writing comes when I’m writing about home. For example, Butterfly (which may be retitled William Murphy’s Trop to the Quiet Room, for sake of trying to hook an agent’s interest) is set in Worcester, Massachusetts, the town in which I was born; a little bit in that venerable tourist attraction, Old Sturbridge Village, just down the street from where I grew up; and Cape Cod, a favorite vacation spot from my youth (and still). For each of the interminable drafts I sat in my grandparent’s floor in a three decker on Hillside Street, wandered the muddy spring paths of Old Sturbridge Village, probably with a stick of rock candy in my hand, or sat with my back against the dunes down on Nauset Light Beach. Which is to say I use that feeling of homesickness to try and make the scenes that little bit more vivid, much like Dennis Lehane does and Joyce did with Ulysses (with far greater commercial and just plain old regular success).

 

Dennis Lehane is appearing at Listowel Writers’ Week, which has an amazing lineup this year. If you’re in the area at the end of May you really shouldn’t miss it. Tell Anne Enright I sent you.

A little taste of home