Monday, February 27, 2012

We're Here

We dreaded the move for months before it happened. It was a downgrade, for one thing; we were going from a four-bathroom, five-bedroom house to a three-bathroom, four-bedroom one. Beautiful Cousin and Pie would be obliged to share quarters and Powell, home while he awaits deployment in the Marines, would have to shuttle back and forth between mine and Thomas's chambers. It would be cramped.

Beyond that, we'd become settled in our Mountain Town home. After living as veritable nomads for most of my adolescence, Our Family had remained in one residence for a full six years. It was an unusual and somewhat welcome feeling.

On reflection, though, it was also a bit unnerving. Several bloggers have left comments telling me how sorry they are that I've had to constantly move, but moving is all I've ever known and it's what feels normal. From the time I was thirteen I've been mystified by, if on occasion envious of, those young people who spent their whole lives in one house, attending school with the same cohort of friends from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Is that typical? What could that be like?

Perhaps our background explains why, despite all our remonstrances and worries, once we'd actually moved we were just happy to have done it.

"Did you notice that it feels more normal to be throwing our stuff into boxes than it feels to just like, live somewhere?" I asked Thomas as we carted our possessions into the new house.

"Yeah," my brother laughed. "Is that weird?"

Before taking up residence we swore to hate the new house with undying vitriol, so naturally we'd started to take a liking to it within several days of moving in. It's old, to be sure, but built well; in 1790, when the home was constructed, there were no flimsy windows or prefabricated construction parts. Things then had to last, and they were made to.

In fact, though I'm loath to admit it, this home (which we've taken to calling "the Farmhouse," though it has a more august official title) is preferable in many ways to the one we left. Its high-ceilinged rooms with their hardwood floors and hand-carved marble fireplaces have an Old World charm and its rural setting appeals to the more romantic side of my nature.

In this place, a mere two miles outside of Mountain Town proper, our lives are ruled much more by the elements. Beyond the well lit circle of wagons that is a modern cul-de-sac dusk signals a warning to head for shelter. Those left outside once the sun has retreated are at the mercy of the animals, namely coyotes, that crawl upon our hard brick walls at night.

And what an experience night is. We suburban denizens, with our street lamps and dozens of neighbors, forget the totality of night that our ancestors long knew. Night here isn't a hazy sky hidden by lamps or a time when teenagers stroll across smooth streets. Night is an abyss, a desert of darkness punctured only by the white moon and the startlingly bright stars.

It's kind of cool.

So I'm enjoying myself. I'm enjoying the house. I don't know how long I'll be here, of course. My parents aren't planning to stay more than a few years and there's always the hopeful possibility I'll be offered a job before they've started thinking about where they'll head next. That means, I guess, that I should be ready to leave at any time.

Some things never change.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We've Had to Do a Lot

I apologize for my absence of nearly two weeks from Blogger. I meant to write, but what with our moving to a new house on February 17th (we've now lived in seven different residences in the last decade) I was far too busy. An update post is coming soon.

Thanks for being patient with me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Professional Pursuits

The goal of any university student is to land a good job upon graduation. That's the whole point of getting a degree, right? The economic reality is that getting into a career usually takes more time than we would like, but I've at least been busy trying.

You'll all know, first of all, about my internship with Sentinel of the West Literary agency. For any prospective authors out there (and in the blogosphere there are plenty) now is as good a time as any to explain what a literary agency actually does. Several of you may already be aware of this, but given that I, a lifelong bookworm, hadn't a clue about it until I actually interned in the industry, I think the topic warrants elaboration.

Literary agencies are, in essence, the first line of the publication process. We don't, contrary to common belief, actually publish manuscripts. That's left to publishing houses (Random House, Penguin, and all their seedy ilk). Rather, we act as the filter of the literary world. We sift through the vast deluge of raw, often unedited material that writers churn out each year (these submissions are sometimes termed "slush" by agents for their questionable quality) and attempt to pluck the gems out of the muck.

That's the first part of a literary agent's job. Once an agent has found something worth pursuing, he (okay, let's be honest--she) will pitch it to an editor at a publishing house. If the editor sees what the agent does they will take the project on and it will be published. The author is thrilled, the agent receives 15% of the advance and royalties after recoupment, the publishing house presumably has a big payday, and the public gets to enjoy the influence of edifying literature.

It's sort of a win-win for everyone involved.

My job at Sentinel of the West has consisted mostly of reading queries (the e-mails authors send us pitching their books) and either rejecting them or asking to read a full manuscript. If the full manuscript passes muster then I recommend it to the Agentess, my boss.

Agenting is an occupation that requires the ability to hand out rejections pretty liberally; of the hundreds of manuscripts and queries I've gone through, only three have met my standards and been referred to the Agentess. When I apologized to her for the scarcity of manuscripts I was throwing her way, she waved my worries off.

"You've given me three," she said. "That's more than anyone else. And anyway, the fact that you're selective is a good thing."

It's now, after two months of interning, that I can see how true that is. At the literary agency in the City of Fate, you see, I was not allowed to engage in agency business on nearly so involved a level. Literary Agent, for example, never had me look at queries, and having done so with Sentinel of the West Literary Agency I really have an idea of the staggering number of submissions that these agents have to process.

In light of this logistical reality the Agentess's maxim, which once felt harsh, now seems appropriate.

"If you're on the fence, you should probably pass," she told me. "If it doesn't really grab you it's not worth it."

And she's right.

In a world where any given agency received ten submissions a month it would be possible to do the developmental work that would make many so-so stories fantastic. In a world where agencies can actually receive hundreds of submissions in a single week, that just isn't feasible.

This work, while quite rewarding, is entirely unpaid and so has left me a bit strapped for cash. The Agentess, once again proving how much cooler she is than Literary Agent (my standoffish boss in the City of Fate) decided to lend me a helping hand.

"I'm going to refer you to the Survivor," she said. "She has a really fantastic personal story but is having some trouble translating it into a manuscript that will work for publishers. She's been on the prowl for a freelance editor and you're clearly very qualified, so let me put you in touch."

The Survivor really has been through it; molested in childhood by an uncle, she was driven to anorexia and heroin addiction in her late teens. Her manuscript revolves around how she buried those demons, how she put down the needle and picked up the fork once again. As someone who's dealt with both childhood abuse (though not of a sexual nature) and anorexia I identified with the Survivor's tale. I also noticed several areas of the book that could be improved and learned, on talking with the Agentess, that the amount of money I would be paid to make and/or suggest these improvements was surprisingly large.

"I really wouldn't charge any less than $15 an hour," she said. "I want you to know that so you're not taken advantage of. You could also offer to do the manuscript for a $500 flat rate, which is actually a pretty steep discount; it's very typical for an author to pay $1,000 or more for professional editing. Since you're getting your feet wet, though, I figured you could probably do it for a little bit cheaper."

I've already spoken with the Survivor once by phone and am due to talk with her again on Monday to discuss the logistics of my compensation. Long story short: it isn't a sure thing, but there's a pretty decent chance that I'll have my first paying industry project within a week's time.

Believe it or not, there's a third bun in the oven. I think you've had to read enough for one post, though, don't you?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Our Family has made a habit of moving from one home to another every two years or so for much of our history. Here in Mountain Town, though, we've broken the pattern and remained in one place for more than six years. Because of that, I forgot what has always been my favorite part of moving: discovering old treasures.

Yesterday while packing up my room I stumbled across a poem that seems to be from 2007 or 2008, which would have put me somewhere between eighteen and twenty years old at the time of composition.

The poem was about a then high-school-aged Powell, whose abusive behavior reached its worst at the same time that his drug use and social popularity were peaking. The piece proved to be chillingly prescient.

Here it is:

You made me feel unworthy
But I am not the one
You made me feel as if you were
A god lit by the sun

You made me feel unworthy
But that was never true
Beneath it the unworthy one
Has timelessly been you

You dared to touch me, dared to slap
And dared to strike my face
As if that daring lifted you
Up from your common place

You are the coarsest, vilest, worst
Most awful, wretched thing
However much you've clothed yourself
In gold, diamonds, and rings

The false mirage of your renown
Is vanished in my eyes
You really are a stupid boy
I've finally realized

When all is done and your pursuits
Exact their awful toll
As rest assured, they surely will
For Time's wheel always rolls

Then you'll be to the whole world
What you are now to me
Violent, horrid, fat, profane
Just oozing and ugly

Enjoy your reign before it ends
That end is coming near
The time when all your precious fans
Will from your pathway clear

You great dumb oaf, you demi-man
How far can this go on?
The tolerance for your abuse
Won't last for very long