the circular runner

who am I? trying to write a query letter for the first time…

In media, observations, Uncategorized, writers & books on May 29, 2011 at 10:22 am

So for the last week, I’ve been writing my query letter to agents and to indie presses about my short story collection, Real Magic Doesn’t Sell.  I’ve decided to hit up indie presses because from all the authors I have bothered over the last month with my newbie questions, the answers have been the same: story collections don’t sell for much if they sell at all, hence, agents aren’t really interested in getting involved unless you have a novel.  I do have a novel, by the way.  Or I should say I have about four versions of 2/3 of a novel (it’s new math for those of you who are confused.)

In any case, I have part of a letter done.  I don’t like writing them and that’s why it took me a month to start it.  My head starts spinning when I get to the part where I have to “interest the reader” and describe what I do.  I think of what I do as being serious fiction, but my stories often have something magical/supernatural/strange happen.  (I’m not even sure which word to use because as far as I can tell the “serious fiction” world and its denizens do not take kindly to supernatural strangeness.  From what I can tell, they relegate anything by unknown writers that isn’t straight-up realistic to the world of unicorns and ghosty stories.

Because I don’t write ghost stories or have unicorns flying around my characters’ heads, I try to avoid being placed in that company.  It’s not that I think unicrons are bad.  But a lot of so-called fantasy writers do seem a little cheesy.  The covers to their books and their websites look like the covers of Dungeon & Dragons books or Led Zeppelin albums, which looked like a lot like the covers to D&D books.  It’s just not my thing.  I like characters–normal people in the present.  That’s who I write about.  Now, if I have one of those normal people–let’s say a white man–dream that he is a Mexican woman who is having an affair with a day-laborer he’s recently hired and if that dream then blends into reality because he finds out that he is actually part of said Mexican woman’s dream, well that’s when things get sticky for me as a writer.  Because what would you call that?  I heard one author who I like say that her stuff skirts up close to bat-sh*t craziness, but I’m not sure any agent is going to appreciate that term to describe my aesthetic.

Over the last week, I’ve  found myself using words I’m not sure I understand because I’m not sure anyone else who uses them does.  I used to say Magical Realism was what I wrote, but I once had a teacher who was Latina tell me that with my last name, the term would turn people off.  Magical Realism is ok for Gabriel Garcia Marquez not for g. martinez cabrera.  Fair enough.  I don’t really want to go head to head with a master writer the first time at bat even if the label kind of fit.  At least I thought it did until my wife, in her brilliance, came up with a distinction that makes sense.  With someone like Marquez, you might have something odd/surreal happen, but then no one seems to react to it.  Whereas in my stuff, there’s usually one crazy thing that happens in an otherwise “realistic” world and that is what causes the plot to go forward.  I like my wife’s distinction, but then again, she’s brilliant.

OK, so I’m not a Magical Realist.  She said I might be a practiotioner of the Real Marvelous School.  Check out Alejo Carpentier if you want to know what she means.  Problem is that my wife is brilliant, she has a Ph. D. in Spanish Lit, so she knows Carpentier’ work.  That label only applies to him, and if you don’t know him, and English-language readers probably don’t, the label is kind of useless.  What is Borges?  Anyone have a title for him?  How about Calvino?  I’m not saying I’m a genius like those writers, but what are they?  Fabulists?  I hear that term get pushed around.  I like the sound of it.  But then again it sounds kind of heavyhanded, and am I being arrogant to take it up?  Hello, world, I AM A FABULIST!!!  I am a fabulous FABULIST!!  If I were to use that term, I think I’d need a sound system so that my voice could take on some echo and reverb like God or Charlton Heston.   Amelia Gray, one of the authors I have reached out to about query letters, said she writes “quirky fiction,” which I like.  I am quirky, and I like quirky, though on later reflection, that’s more of a description than a category.  It also kind of sounds like a euphemism for cute but not cute enough.  As in that cute guy you know who likes sitting out in the rain without a hat or umbrella as he reads fantasy stories with no unicorns or ghosts–he’s quirky.  He might be cute, but do you want to seriously get to know him?  Probably not.

So who am I as a writer?  I realize writing this that my real problem is an old one and has little to with writing.  It’s personal.  I like to be things to all people.  I like to be liked.  If you go out in the world, and you declare something about yourself, you put yourself in a box, and then people can reject you because they don’t like that box.  This makes me crazy.  The truth is that just like with friends, the people who end up sticking around do so regardless of the box you put in front of them.  A lot of people, maybe most people, will walk away and leave you unopened, but you only need a few people to stick around and get to know what’s inside.  In this case, I guess I only really need one agent or one publisher.  Still, I’m uneasy.

I guess in the end, I am a story teller.  Simple enough.  A little serious, a lot bat-sh*t crazy, and hopefully a good bit fabulous.

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