Archive for August, 2007

I need to join a 12-step group for book buyers, I guess.  The Mark Twain Library had a huge used book sale today, and their prices were very, very low.  One of my new purchases was only 10 cents.  Here is what I got:

  • Footnotes on Nature by John Kiernan.  Published in 1947.  This was a 20 cent hardcover.  Kiernan grew up in Dutchess county, where I used to live, but this book is about his nature experiences near New York City, especially Van Cortland Park.  Illustrated.
  • Three Men on Wheels by Jerome K. Jerome.  Published in 1900 from an 1899 Saturday Evening Post article.  Only a dime!  This is about three men who decide to go on a bicycle tour.  It looks sort of goofy, but it should be fun.  Illustrated.
  • A Book About a Thousand Things by George Simpson. Published in 1946, and I got it for 50 cents.  My grandfather gave me a copy of this book a long time ago, but it got lost in one of my many moves.
  • Adrift in the Wilds; or, The Adventures of Two Shipwrecked Boys by Edward S. Ellis.  1887.  With a title like that, it can’t go wrong.  The best part is it has a 30 page catalog at the end of “Books for Boys” and “Books for Girls.”  I love old book catalogs.
  • The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux.  I saw the movie long ago, and now I can read the book.
  • Bech Is Back by John Updike.  This has a really smarmy 70s cover.
  • The Stephen King Companion by George Beahm.  I had this once and lost it in a move.  The cover features a great, demented picture of King standing in front of his creepy-looking Victorian house in Bangor.
  • It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong.  For some reason, I have never read this before.
  • Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver.  Though I’m publishing an article on Kingsolver, I’ve never read this one.
  • A Graveyard for Lunatics by Ray Bradbury.  This should be good right around Halloween.
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf.  This is one of those books that always looked like I should read it.  Now I will.
  • The Night Manager by John Le Carre.  Continuing my Le Carre fixation.

Book sale season is almost over in New England, so if I can just get through the next couple of weekends without buying more books, I should be okay.  One day at a time, right?


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Movies & My Blog Title

I saw from the search terms that someone was looking for the movie that quotes the Emerson line that forms the title of my blog. The movie is Next Stop Wonderland, and is definitely worth seeing. The quote takes on a funny life in the movie, as the main character, Hope Davis (I heart Hope Davis, as the kids say), keeps meeting stupid guys who try to impress her with the quote.  When she finally meets a guy who knows the entire quotation and who wrote it, she falls in love. It’s an ending an English professor can love.

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Agents=4; Hobgoblin=0

I actually received THREE rejections today!  Is that a record?  Probably not, but it does sound nicely ink-stained and wretched, doesn’t it?  One of them was an e-mail rejection, so I am only metaphorically ink-stained, I guess.  I am not just winning the Race of Rejections (tm, all rights reserved, etc.) with Litlove, I am positively dominating.  I think I’m going to start sending out to agents who only represent Christian Children’s books so I can collect even more rejections and win the race.  No, that would be cheating, kind of like using EPO or steroids.

I’m preparing my second round of attacks on the Fortress of Agents.  I also decided to try out new and innovative things and submitted the entire MS to Macmillan, which has a New Writers program.  It is not the best deal in the world, since they do not pay advances, but it is a straight business deal and I’ll earn one pound thirty (it’s a UK company) on each copy sold.  They guarantee that an editor will read the entire MS and they will respond in 12 weeks.   If they decide to pass, I hear nothing; if they like it, I will hear by November 21, the day before Thanksgiving.  I’ll be sure to keep you posted.  If they publish, I am requiring every reader of this blog to buy a copy so I can get my $2.62 (wow, the dollar really sucks, doesn’t it?) for each copy.  Based on my blog stats, that should yield about enough to buy a new tire for my bike.

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End of Season

The Tuesday Night World Championships, 2007 edition, are over–we had the last race of the season tonight.  After feeling that my legs were dead for a couple of weeks, I have started to feel that I was getting my late season form back.  Sunday’s races worked well for me and my team (we placed at least one person in the top ten in four different races), and I am finally starting to race consistently and intelligently.

The final race was short–only 20 laps.  For some reason, there were a lot of first-time racers participating, and Vs. (the TV channel) had a group of racers sporting black and red Vs. jerseys and a camera taping some of the action.  The promoter asked everyone in the top 20 to start at the back of the pack and stay there for the first three laps so the newbies could get some racing in without the insane pace set by the hammerheads. It was actually fun to start from the back, partly because that meant I was one of the hammerheads, and partly because it meant a mellower intro to the race.

Once the three laps were over, the attacks started and never stopped.  I did some work at the front when it looked like one of the dangerous guys might get away.  The rest of the time I sat in the pack, plotting.  At about three laps to go, I started to get bossy with my teammates, since I was the team points leader and designated sprinter.  I directed them and shouted encouragement while keeping a sharp eye on Lee from Pawling and Mark from Cycle Center, the two powerhouses in the race.  In the final lap, my leadout guy performed brilliantly, flawlessly.  When the powerhouses came flying past, he immediately jumped on their wheels, sprinting to hang on at 38 mph (no joke–we were flying!), and I stayed glued to his wheel.  When Pawling tried to sweep (a technique where one of the team placed about fourth or fifth in the line slows down so that sprinters from another team can’t stay on his sprinter’s wheel), Steve did not hesitate to roar around him.  He kept the pace high until the bottom of the hill, where I swing around and gave everything I had.  I managed to take second in the sprint, with one of my teammates right behind me in third.  We both let out a roar of triumph as we crossed the line.  It was a very satisfying way to end to season.

There are a couple of other races later in the fall, and I may even do one or two of them, but my season is effectively over.  I learned a lot about racing this year, and I can go into next season a much smarter racer.

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“Dear Author…”

My first rejection letter came in the mail today.  Actually, it is a card that begins “Dear Author.”  It was not my first choice of agencies, and I have braced myself for many letters like this, but it still is a little disappointing to get a rejection.  Dorothy said that this makes me a real author, and she’s right–collecting rejection slips is a rite of passage for any author.  When my MS finds the right agent and the right publisher, the rejections will not mean anything.

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We got the official word back from the laboratory on Muttboy’s tumor.  It is benign, so we don’t have to worry about metastasis, chemotherapy, or anything else along those lines.


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Cynical Thrillers

First, another riff on the optimist/pessimist analogy:  When John Le Carre looks at a glass, he wonders what powerful entity, government or corporate, controls the glass.  He wonders if taking a drink will kill him.  He wonders if the glass has been placed there as a provocation or a warning.

The Constant Gardener, published in 2001, is set in Kenya, and revolves around the British Foreign Office, Big Pharma, and various aid agencies.  As the action commences, Justin Quayle, a mild-mannered chap in the FO, learns that his young, beautiful, and passionate wife, Tessa has been brutally murdered.  Questions soon arise.  What was she doing in the dangerous wilds?  What was she doing with that handsome African doctor?  Was her killing simply random violence, a jealous attack, or politically motivated?

Le Carre tells the story slowly, building the evidence in a quiet, almost offhand manner.  He moves smoothly from one character’s point of view to another’s.  We see Sandy Woodrow was wildly infatuated with Tessa, and had sent her a letter offering to run away with her.  Woodrow is also wildly ambitious, longing to take the place of the kindly but ineffectual High Commissioner, one more step on his way to a knighthood.  Do his ambitions mask some of his baser motives?

Soon a couple of gigantic corporations loom into view: a company known as the Three Bees, and a pharmaceutical company with the Soviet-sounding initials KVH.  As he researches his wife’s death, Justin learns that these companies were essentially using Africa as a test laboratory for a TB drug known as Dypraxa.  Among the side effects are such minor concerns as blindness and death–that is, they are minor because they are happening to poor Africans and not rich westerners.  Tessa and her African doctor friend (who, it turns out, was a homosexual and thus not her lover, though the rumors persist and grow) were on a campaign on behalf of African aid agencies to make the companies accountable for their misdeeds.

The action in the novel moves slowly and methodically.  As Justin accumulates evidence, we learn more and more about the almost mad characters behind the scenes at the Big Pharma corporations, where megalomania and a thirst for absolute power seem to be the norm.  One medical researcher found her career destroyed for daring to question the Pharma protocols.  She got off easy.  Justin begins to realize that there is no way he can fight these companies–they have immense wealth and power, and their corporate interests are made to coincide with British diplomatic and economic interests.  Thus, the Foreign Office has no desire to investigate, and Scotland Yard fires the only two officers wh seem to be at all interested in learning the truth.

Le Carre’s novels often display the hopelessness of individuals trying to work within or without a system that cares little for the individual.  The huge, powerful concerns, governments or corporations, have been warped by their size and power to the point that size and power are no longer adjuncts to their being but are the only reason for being.  In The Looking Glass War, the games played by intelligence services became more important than the value or meaning of the intelligence.  In The Constant Gardener, the human characters either sell their souls to play nicely with their overlords, or they perish in their resistance.

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