For Auld Lang Syne

Reader Logo
by Stella

Every year right about now, practically everyone in the world is unveiling some kind of list summarizing the year: favorite reads, top films, best dressed, etc. The only list I compile at the end of the year is my New Year's Resolutions: less chocolate, less procrastinating, more sleep, and so on. I also make a kind of sub-list for specific reading and writing goals, and I figure the View is the perfect place to share my ambitions for the year 2009.

#1: Finish rough draft of novel.
#2: Read at least twenty-five books on Crazy Impossibly Long Reading List.
#3: Cannot be mentioned or I'll break the resolution. (It's one of those catch-22s, which I might read this year as part of resolution #2.)
#4: Brush up on grammar and punctuation rules. I think I should finally learn how to place commas in the right places.
#5: Practice using figurative language.
#6: Invent three new words/phrases and get at least one in circulation.
#7: Write an updated version of War & Peace.
#8: Crack fewer absurd jokes.

That one is also on my regular list, but I think it's important enough to write twice.

I hope I'll be able to keep all my resolutions, especially the first one. Actually I think the reading list will be the hardest to keep since it means I'll have to read at least one book every two weeks. It's doable, certainly, but tricky – particularly since I've yet to master the art of time manipulation. Don't worry, it's also on the list.

Happy New Year!

TVFH Top Reads of 2008

Reader Logo
by The Team at TVFH

At our virtual Xmas party we all got drunk and swapped our favourite reads of 2008.
So, as is traditional at this time of year, here's the list in no particular order of the books we most enjoyed reading old or new during 2008:

MotherLand by Dmetri Kakmi
The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore by Paul Burman
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber

Here's who nominated each book and why:

Motherland : Paul Burman:
I don't tend to read a lot of non-fiction, but this absolutely engrossed me. The language is wonderfully lyrical and, along with the imagery it creates, captures a blend of cultures (Greek, Turkish, Australian; classical, modern; pagan, Christian) and the way these overlap and sometimes conflict with one another. A very compelling read.

The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce: Mike French:
Paul Torday's follow up to Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, shows him to be that rare author who can write literary prose that makes you want to stop and savour the flavours and yet can also weave a great story so that you end up wanting to glug back the book at the same time.

The Princess Bride: Stella:
"As… you… wish…" One of the more romantic phrases in the English language thanks to William Goldman's The Princess Bride. You've probably seen the movie – more than once, I can imagine – but you may not have read the book and you really should. Originally published in 1973, it was adapted by William Goldman into the 1987 film, and then in 1998 the book was republished in a fancy edition for its 25th anniversary. Funny, poignant, and tirelessly adorable, it has everything the movie has and more: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles... Plus, you get expanded background on all of the central characters. Oh, and there's a Zoo of Death. (It's exactly what it sounds like.) And, I say this from experience, this book makes a great gift. The responses range from, "Wow, I didn't know there was a book!" to "Ooh, I always wanted to read this!" to "Hey, this looks cute!" It can't miss.

Out of the Silent Planet: Naomi:
I read it for the first time this year after having meant to get to C.S. Lewis's space trilogy for years. The science angle is iffy at best but, boy!, does it make a good story. One of the best bits was Ransom acting as translator between the jingoistic Professor Weston and the Eldil. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a book with so little action so much. (Ransom spends a lot of time simply trying to learn the local language.)

The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore: Jane Turley:
I enjoy boisterous blockbusters but I’m also partial to books which exhibit more unusual qualities. The highlight of my literary year was discovering such qualities in Paul Burman’s debut novel.
Thomas Passmore, an emigrant, travels back to England to visit his dying mother but his journey becomes not just one of duty but one of reconciliation for his past is strewn with the emotional debris of his father’s suicide, the death of his childhood friend and the loss of his first love.
The story switches between the past and present but there are also dream-like sequences. Indeed, there is an almost ethereal dimension to this story of love, loss and redemption which keeps the reader perplexed and intrigued to the very end. It is a melancholic tale but also quite beautiful.
However, what really sets this book apart is the evocative nature of the writing and the rich, luxurious descriptions. Book lovers who appreciate the intricacies of the English language will revel in the poetical and lyrical qualities which are rarely found in today’s commercial market.
One thing’s for sure; it’s not snowing for Paul Burman. It’s most definitely greening.

The Road Home: Jen Persson:
My Christmas pasts are misted family memories of a spitting coal fire, colourful wrapping and paperhats, and the melting richness of clotted cream on warm Christmas pudding. Perhaps it is living as an expat, who has worked across much of Eastern Europe, that I am drawn to recall my favourite read of 2008, as Rose Tremain's 'The Road Home'.
I love the language. Different voices have different dialects, accents, and detail: we hear the Irish motion picture described as a 'fillum', just as Lev hears it. I love its imagery and leitmotifs which echo in the subtlest of mentions in the story. I love its perceptiveness of space, freedom and restriction; in the countryside, in microcosms of a restaurant kitchen, a bus, a wendy-house.
I also love puzzles, and Lev's home country is never determined. I believe it is intentionally all and none of a collection of southern Eastern European countries, so as not to label Lev, with a particular nationality. Its timeline is contemporary but not precise. I believe time and place are deliberately left open for the reader to interpret and provides the opportunity to meet Lev in any immigrant we may meet. To see an individual person with a unique story. And that is the beauty of her very real portrayal of characters in this wonderful work of fiction.

Ideas of Heaven: Kathleen Maher:
It makes no sense, but when asked what I read this year, I count fiction only. Of course, I prefer to write fiction instead of other pieces, but even after reasoning with myself—a book is…a book—I relegate reading political books, histories, and books about social trends, the Internet, and how-to Photoshop to pleasant chores, like reading the newspaper or The New Yorker. “Ideas of Heaven,” by Joan Silber, c. 2004. These six stories form a circle of characters, some of whom act upon each other’s lives and others who come from an earlier time but indirectly foretell the personality or fate of the more contemporary characters. This beautiful book almost called my name in January, even though I had read it already, sometimes in 2007.

So there you go - do let us know in the comments what your favourite read of 08 was. See you in 09!

Poor Old Father Christmas!

Reader Logo
by Mike

I did this film for GO!Smell the Flowers, but I thought you might enjoy it here as well.

Happy Christmas!

How to get a Publishing Deal # 9

Reader Logoby The Lone Ranger

The last one! After this I get put back in my box until next year! So drum roll please ....

Tip Number 9

Paste your Novel up in Your Publisher's Local Tube Station

Again research is key. Find out what route your chosen publisher takes and then plaster your script all over the tube walls. You'll have to tear down the existing posters first ( See picture above for one I've prepared earlier) then paste them all up. It might help to use a font higher than the 12 point your publisher normally asks for and to wear rubber boots.

Enjoy Christmas and send me your book once it is in print - signed with a mince pie would be nice.

That's signed by you with a mince pie.

No sorry, that's signed by you with a pen and a mince pie.

No! Stella help! - see how important sentence construction is!

Picture credit: Francis Storr

Welcome Jane Turley

Some of you know her as a chocolate fanatic. Others as a weary mother on The Witty Ways of a Wayward Wife. Yet others as a humour columnist at the BBC.

And if you don't know her, you will soon as she joins the team here at TVFH. Things will never be the same again!

Was that Jane?

Kids Today

Reader Logo
by Kathleen

Arriving home after our neighbor’s play, “Buddha Revived,” we alert our sixteen-year old: “We’re home!” From the living room, Claire flicks on the lights. “Meet my boyfriend, Reed.”

Seeing him, I notice a person more seductive than credible: angelic, tousled hair, deep blue eyes. Claire’s first boyfriend is as beautiful as she is (and I’m an adoring father).

“Hello, Reed. Call me Chaz.”

Sylvia and Claire laugh in my face. “Chaz? That’s hilarious, Dad.”

“Call him Charlie,” Sylvia says. She punches my arm, still laughing (“Chaz!”).

“My mother Sylvia—Reed; Reed—Sylvia.” Claire’s first reaction still hovers above our heads. “Chaz. Jeez, Dad.”

“Good night, children,” Sylvia says. While she climbs the stairs, I fall into the armchair, and end up staring at Reed’s bare feet. Strong, graceful feet.

Claire, meanwhile, is staring at me. “Go upstairs, Dad. With Mom.”

“Have a drink with me first.”

Reed nods. “Mos def.”

“How ’bout martinis?”

“We’re underage,” Claire snaps.

“Live a little.”

“Martini, please, Charlie,” Reed says.

“Hendricks gin or Belvedere vodka?”

“Stirred or shaken?” Reed grins straight at me.

“Real vermouth or pretend?”

“Pretend vermouth, real gin.”

Claire says, “Goodnight, you stupid fools.”

Reed leaps up, catching her wrist. “Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not.”

In the kitchen, I fix the drinks. Reed switches the music station. Claire appears, tugs my shoulder, and whispers, “Have you flipped, Dad? Are you drunk?”

“Now who’s hilarious? Stay with us. I’ll open a bottle of wine for you.”

“No thanks.” She kisses my cheek goodnight.

Reed and I drink martinis and talk Keynesian economics. The boy’s in high school but reads The Financial Times. Ella Fitzgerald is singing, “Anything Goes.”

After three martinis, Reed stretches out on the couch. His eyes roll up, finding mine. If his specific, unsettling affect on me is a variation on common fatherly distress—Claire’s first boyfriend—it’s one I haven’t heard before. Sitting still in the armchair, I’m past terrified. I’m jellified.

Reed comes over and crouches above my loafers. “Most people,” he says, his hands cupping my knees, “aren’t all one way or another.”

Smiling hard, I brush Reed’s palms off my kneecaps. “I’ve heard that.”

Queasy, I let my head drop back against the upholstery. If Claire continues going out with this boy, my troubles will grow worse. And worse.

“Excuse me, Reed.” I step outside the backdoor. Shiver in the cold. Until panic disperses. I sneak upstairs and join my wife in bed. In twenty years of marriage, I’ve never strayed. Not physically. So it occurs to me—straight, gay, who cares anymore?

“Kids today,” Sylvia seems to say.

After five minutes, I hear Reed and Claire talking in her bed, which is acoustically impossible and so must be my drunkenness:

“Was it fun?”

“Yeah,” Reed says. “Of course, next time it’ll be much more.”

How to get a Publishing Deal #8

Reader Logoby The Lone Ranger

Now I know many of you take the waggon train into work every day. Commuting I think you call it. Me, I prefer the wind in my face and the sound of Silver's hoofs. Still if you do commute then you can use this to get your book published.

Tip number 8

Find out which train your publisher takes to work, then sit opposite them reading your paper.

? you might say.

Here's the clever bit. Each day print out a page of your masterpiece in large font. Say about 20. Then glue it to the back page of your paper - a broadsheet works best. A picture of a fine gal or cowboy next to it helps. Then hurrah - each day your targeted publisher gets to read the next page of your stunning novel.

I have had comments that I am encouraging people to stalk publishers and the local Sherif wants to ask me some questions. But hopefully I will be back next week.

Photo credit: Erix!

Eliezer Sobel Interview Part 3 of 3

Reader Logo

by Mike

The View From Here Interview:
Eliezer Sobel

Eliezer Sobel
is the author of MINYAN: Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken which won the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, University of Tennessee Press. His most recent book is The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist's Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychadelics, and Consciousness-raising Experiments. He lives in Richmond, Virginia in the USA with his wife Shari Cordon, and three cats, Peanut, Squarcialupi, & Plum. He's very funny, likes long book subtitles and is dangerously close to being a genius (although don't tell him!)

Part 1 of this interview can be found here.
Part 2 of this interview can be found here.

How important are your Jewish roots to you and your writing?

That's a bit like asking a fish, "How important is the water to your swimming?" Jewish is the ocean I showed up in. Plus, I had the added bonus of growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust. My mother and her immediate family got out of Germany just in time, in 1939, but had to leave loved ones behind who were put to death soon after. It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to be 14 years old and have to leave the only home you’ve ever known because the powers that be want to kill you. It understandably left her scarred, with very little trust of non-Jewish people and a fundamentally fearful stance towards life that got transmitted to me, which has required a lifetime’s work to recognize, understand and move past. And I write from inside all of that history.

Can you give some advice to writers trying to get a publishing deal?

It's murder out there. Try to separate out your well-being, self-esteem and quality of life from the publishing process. I always write very effective query letters, percentage-wise, which means I know how to get someone's ear, and then it is up to the work itself, or more accurately, the whimsy, taste and mood of whoever happens to read it. It could be a college English major interning as an in-house reader who’s anxious to get back to the dorm for a party.

What do you think of the current climate for publishing fiction?

I'm actually completely ignorant of the current climate conditions for fiction. Are you trying to tell me something? What's going on? Should I quit?

Can you tell us something about the books that came after Minyan.

Book, singular. There were two before Minyan. The first was called the Manual of Good Luck. I was working as the editor of a magazine in the late 70s, and received a call from a man looking for a writer. He sold mail-order how-to books that he published in his basement on an old press, and advertised through the classifieds in the National Enquirer. He had just run an ad, as a test, for a book that didn't yet exist, and received thousands of orders. So he needed someone to write a book for him very quickly. I took it on.

The ad he ran said something like "Change Your Luck Overnight: Send for Free Introductory Material!" The free introductory material was a four-page leaflet that had also been produced previously in order to sell a product that did not yet exist. The leaflet declared, "This astounding information has been revealed by the Ancient Secrets of the Essenes. Don't make a financial move until you've read it." Thousands of people paid $17.95 for their book at about the same time I was hired to write it. I was actually not at all well versed in the Ancient Secrets of the Essenes, so I dropped that idea and wrote a fairly useful self-help book.

The Manual of Good Luck sold over 40,000 copies, but I received only an agreed-upon flat fee of one thousand dollars, which seemed like a good deal to me then. It never occurred to me to negotiate for a percentage. For fun, some years later I ripped off the cover and submitted it as a manuscript to a division of Prentice Hall. They promptly sent me a contract, at which point I had to sheepishly confess that there was one slight hitch: I didn’t own the rights to my own manuscript. I attempted to negotiate with the Manual’s publisher to buy back the copyright, but to no avail. I had to let it go.

A friend once calculated that the publisher of the Manual of Good Luck may well have made close to half a million dollars or more on my work, and she said that I had nothing to lose by writing him and simply requesting $25,000. So I did.

She was right: I lost nothing.

Just a few years ago I discovered a book for sale on the internet called the “Manual of Good Luck." Suspicious, I ordered it, and sure enough, discovered my own words - including my own personal story - attributed to a name I didn’t recognize as my own. My work had been edited from the original 175 pages down to a flimsy, twenty-page pamphlet. I threatened to punch the man responsible and he stopped selling it.

My other earlier book was Wild Heart Dancing, a self-guided creativity retreat book. After Minyan came my current book, published last February, called The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist's Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics and Other Consciousness-Raising Experiments. My original subtitle was "On Personally Preventing the Paradigm Shift," but my publisher preferred something a bit steamier, plus a guy at Kinko's Copiers saw the title and asked me what a "pa-ra-di-gum" was. The 99th Monkey is an account of my utter failure to get enlightened, my 30 years of resistance to change and growth despite going to great extremes all over the world in the attempt. "Hilarious and poignant, shows great insight into the human condition," an astute reviewer might suggest.

Do you have any plans to write another novel and can you tell us something about it?

In my twenties, I was really excited by Jack Kerouac's ongoing saga of his own life and that of his friends, using different names and undoubtedly doctoring and/or manufacturing reality. His Duluoz Legend, as he called it, inspired me, so when I wrote Minyan, I considered it to be the first in a series about Norbert Wilner, the next being Wilner in Wonderland, then Norbert Goes to Newark. I have started one that picks up his life nearly 20 years later, with some of the old characters and some new ones. Maybe I'm just imitating Philip Roth and his Zuckerman series, but I didn't mean to.

Thanks Eliezer

Thanks so much, Mike!

Read The View From Here review of Minyan here.

To visit Eliezer's web-site click here.

To visit The 99th Monkey click here.

How to get a Publishing Deal #7

Reader Logoby The Lone Ranger

This week I've got a tip that will get you to stand out from the slush pile and get that six-figure deal! It only works in the winter months - so let's get cracking!

You will need:

  • A Portable Fan with infra red control (you may need a Physics degree to build this.)
  • Glow in the Dark pens
  • Wire Cutters
  • A mask

Ready? Okay this is what you do:

  1. Write your submission using Glow in the Dark pens.
  2. Post it off, with SAE etc
  3. Break into the Publishers office a few days later and wait until it becomes dark. (about 4.16)
  4. Put on your mask.
  5. When you have a chance quickly place the portable fan on the publisher's desk.
  6. Then when he/she returns to his desk use the wire cutters to cut the lights to the building. ( Not the power or the fan won't work.)
  7. At the same time remotely start the desk fan.

That's it. Simple you stand out from the slush pile.

Here, in case you haven't worked it out, is how:

The fan blows all the submissions in the air.
Your submission being written with glow in the dark pens lights up magically as it floats down in the darkness. The publisher watches the glowing manuscript descend and takes it as a sign from the Gods that this is the one to pick.

It's foolproof I'm telling you.

Photo credit: ax2groin

Thirty Years

Reader Logo
by Kathleen

Gwen Willoughby had taught third grade in Port Townsend for thirty years. Long enough so that this year’s class included Gillian Hopkins’s daughter, Tessa. All fall Tessa stood out as a straight-A achiever. Nothing like her mischievous mother, who had been such a terror.

Yet twenty-four years ago, when Gillian was nine, the rules were stricter. Tessa said, “Momma’s thirty-one.”

Ms. Willoughby calculated fast. “That’s correct.”

Unlike disruptive Gillian, Tessa shared Ms. Willoughby’s love of numbers. “They always make sense.”

“Without fail.” The teacher smiled at Gillian’s daughter. Her best students ended the year doing fifth-grade in math.

Once upon a time, Ms. Willoughby started the school day with a prayer. No more. Now they had an approved set of environmental rhymes. Fine. But Ms. Willoughby still read from “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” Who could forbid the up-in-a-swing poem?

Two weeks before Christmas vacation—now winter vacation—Ms. Willoughby used to hang in the middle window a crystal star her father had given her. Bigger than a fist, it cast rainbows throughout the afternoon.

Ms. Willoughby’s star was banished even before the daily prayer. For a while, she hung it from her kitchen window. These days, it lay in a box Ms. Willoughby never opened.

The last day before vacation, Ms. Willoughby heard Tessa, no, Gillian breaking something. Shattering it. Inside the classroom, Gillian and Phoebe were giggling.

“Gillian,” she said. “You broke my star!”

“My name’s Tessa, Mrs. Willoughby. And nothing broke.”

“You shattered my Christmas star.”

“Gillian, bring your chair beside my desk and stay still. Class, if you notice her move, tell me. We’ll listen to music while you work in your workbooks.”

Phoebe said, “But Tessa didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Another word and you can sit here, too. Work in your exercise books.”

Mrs. Willoughby found the CD player and put on the “Nutcracker.” Volume loud.

Sitting still proved impossible, but nobody told Ms. Willoughby when Tessa folded her hands, then sat on them, swayed, and cried.

Ms. Willoughby closed her eyes, listening to Tchaikovsky. Tessa needed to pee. After an hour of crossing her legs and holding on, Tessa asked permission to use the lavatory. Half-asleep, Ms. Willoughby’s head flew forward. “Anyone who broke my star, Gillian, can just hold it in.”

Tessa’s tears turned to sobs, which Ms. Willoughby ignored. She wet a little. Again begged permission and was again denied. Finally, Tessa involuntarily peed a lot. It pooled in her socks and puddled on the floor.

Liam sang, “Tessa wet her pants.”

Ms. Willoughby woke from her daze. “First the star, Gillian, and now this. Stay in the chair.

Not until the real Gillian arrived to see what was keeping Tessa did Ms. Willoughby realize her mistake. Red with anger, the real Gillian said, “How dare you!”

Gillian Hopkins remained furious long after she took Tessa home.
Ms. Willoughby apologized. She couldn’t apologize enough.

Eliezer Sobel Interview Part 2 of 3

Reader Logo

by Mike

The View From Here Interview:
Eliezer Sobel

Eliezer Sobel is the author of MINYAN: Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken which won the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, University of Tennessee Press. His most recent book is The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist's Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychadelics, and Consciousness-raising Experiments. He lives in Richmond, Virginia in the USA with his wife Shari Cordon, and three cats, Peanut, Squarcialupi, & Plum. He's very funny, likes long book subtitles and is dangerously close to being a genius (although don't tell him!)

Part 1 of this interview can be found here.

You had nearly thirty rejections for Minyan, how did you cope with that and what made you keep going?

I had received enough positive feedback from certain people so that I knew it wasn't completely terrible. Plus, I had already published the first chapter in Tikkun Magazine, although we now know that you can't trust the first chapter. Pushcart Press expressed interest in it at one point, but the company was in dire financial straits at the time and advised me to keep sending it out. I also have the misfortune of being friends with a famous novelist whose work makes me feel like I am barely a step ahead of a low-order mammal that grunts. He liked it, and I believed him, and that gave me hope. And then his agent loved it and wrote to tell me, "We will find a publisher for this." I got insanely excited. Then he died.

Did you consider self-publishing Minyan?

No, for two reasons. One, that wouldn't "count" for me. I desperately wanted and needed the recognition of the literary community. And secondly, I did consider self-publishing my nonfiction books early on, and bought one of the best books on the subject, by the pioneer of self-publishing, the late Peter McWilliams. His book talked me out of it in the first paragraph, when it stated: "Recognize that to self-publish means to spend 95% of your time being a publisher, and 5% as a writer."

How did you feel when you heard that Minyan had won the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel and was going to be published under the University of Tennessee Press?

I was in Whole Foods Market at the time, in Charlottesvlle, Virginia, and got the call on my cell phone, so I had to be subdued and contain myself, and I also found it hard to believe it was actually happening. At the same time, there was a sense of inevitability about it, like, "Finally. Thank you, God; it sure took you long enough." The scary part though, is that those moments, ecstatic as they are, are not exactly grounded in the reality of the situation. It may feel like winning the lottery, but in the big picture, it's actually a very small and relatively unimportant event. I mean, Minyan getting published had no impact whatsoever on the people suffering in Darfur, for example, as far as I know. In addition, each time you have a "win" like that, it simply ups the ante, so now the ecstatic moment would be, as I said, when the New York Times calls, or Oprah. How much external validation and acknowledgment will ever be "enough" to relax that feeling inside? I have a friend who has spent the last 15 years writing full time at home, working on a novel. He has never published anything. I don't know how he does it. I needed to know that I was going to be read, otherwise writing for its own sake didn't interest me. In fact, I went on strike until Minyan was accepted, because I just wasn't willing to add to the stack of unpublished manuscripts in my file cabinet.

The artwork on the cover is yours, did Tennessee work with you on the format and look of the dustcover?

They were great. I submitted the artwork for their consideration, they accepted it and designed the cover around it. That painting hangs over our piano in the living room.

You have said that you thought the book was largely overlooked, how do you feel about that, has it effected you as a writer?

Yes. Even though you can never get enough external recognition to be satiated, I could use just a little more for this book. It's mostly my frustration with the book business, and the mystery and luck of a book somehow winding up on the front table at Barnes and Noble instead of having to see all the LIKE NEW copies for sale on Amazon. It does make me wonder if I should bother writing another one--I mean, the positive responses from readers are certainly very gratifying, so that is obviously reason enough, but unless you hit it big, the material rewards are less than slim. I just visited 14 cities in 28 days to promote The 99th Monkey, and even if every one of the roughly 300 people total who came bought ten books each, that still wouldn't even register on the success-o-meter. You either have to love writing, or you have to have something you really want to communicate. I have some of both so I will carry on, but I find myself filled with envy and jealousy of more successful authors, just as unpublished writers have at times been envious of me. We're all such fragile creatures. A friend of mine has won the National Book Award, received the MacArthur Genius Grant and many other prizes, and I've observed him stewing miserably over one subtle line that could be construed as less than positive in an otherwise spectacular review.

Did winning the prize open other doors for you?

It allowed me to get to know the judge, author John Casey, another winner of the National Book Award, for Spartina. It turned out that he lived nearby, and subsequently invited me to sit in on one of his writing classes at the University of Virginia. I hadn't been to a writing class in 16 years, and was afraid to raise my hand at times, but Casey was both dazzling in his spontaneous stream-of-consciousness literary free associations, as well as incredibly generous, insightful and encouraging to people's work in a way that was very inspiring.

I wouldn't say that it opened any doors of opportunity for me as a writer, except indirectly, in that I'm sure the prize helps when I'm submitting something new to a publisher, although the sales figures sure don't help. I've even heard of authors who changed their names in order to publish second novels, for that very reason. I'm thinking of using "Pinky Schmelnick" next time--please keep it quiet.

Is Minyan semi- autobiographical as your main character, Norbert Wilner says towards the beginning of Minyan, "although parts of my story are identical to the author's, I am a fictitious character."

Yes, very semi-. I took bits of real people and their real life events and put them together into a fictitious story, alongside characters I made up. Of course, if you're the friend whose life I stole, you will not see it as fictitious at all, much to my dismay, since it cost me the relationship of an ex-girlfriend who didn't see the bigger picture. And there is a bigger picture.

Oddly, just the other day I received an email from a real person in Holland named Norbert Wilner. It kind of freaked me out to hear from one of my own characters, and particularly the one that is based on me. I hope he doesn't change the ending.

Later this week: Part 3 of the interview when Eliezer talks about how being Jewish effects his writing, his other books and gives some advice to writers.

Read The View From Here review of Minyan here.

To visit Eliezer's web-site click here.

To visit The 99th Monkey click here.

For part 3 click here.

Issue 6 of TVFH on Sale Now

Reader Logo
by Mike

Last issue before Christmas!

Interviews with ...

Author: Ann Kelley
Author: Shanta Everington
Publisher: Luath Press

Articles from Stella Carter & Paul Burman
Rabbit Writer monthly cartoon from Naomi Gill

Industry News & Events from Jen Persson
Original Fiction from Kathleen Maher

Book Reviews of
Iain Banks: The Steep Approach to Garbadale
Steve Toltz: A Fraction of the Whole

with original art by Fossfor.

& much more!

ISSN 1758-2903

Click here for a full preview and option to buy.

How to get a Publishing Deal #6

Reader Logoby The Lone Ranger

This week I show you how to write the perfect introductory letter to send with your novel to a publisher.

First step: Do you research. Don't just send out loads of letters. Find out who is likely to be interested in your stuff, read some of the books on their lists, Google them, get to know them so you feel you can trade cigars over a camp fire.

Second step: Write your letter. Use my guideline below and just paste in your name and the name of your novel. Heh I give this to you free.

Hiya Partner

Please find enclosed the first three chapters of my fine novel Tonto is a an Idiot and a synopsis if you like that kind of thing. Now then here are my terms:

  1. Agree to publish my novel within three months and offer me a contract within three days and you will discover you have three lives, in addition to the one you’re living now.
  2. Publish my novel in six months and you’ll find six pots of gold under the sink.
  3. Answer this in three days, agreeing to read my novel—every word—and you’ll find your true love. Or if you’re already committed, your lover and you will enjoy three times the pleasure and joy, trust, affection, and (need I say?) sex, three times the sex, three times better.
  4. Six months, you’ll have a really hot date with your lover, or if you prefer, someone younger and hotter than you can remember knowing, not counting babysitters.
  5. Refuse me in three days and you’ll suffer an intractable, unnamable problem for three years.
  6. Refuse me in six months and you’ll suffer six intractable, unnamable problems for six years.

The Lone Ranger

Third step: Contact me and I will pick up your letter for you and personally ride across Indian country facing many perils to hand deliver your letter for you.

If you get a reply that says:

Who was that masked man?

You know what to say. Until next week.

O and a big thankyou to that fair lady Kathleen who sent me the above letter which I discovered when sorting through my fan mail. Good idea good woman and I copy it here as all my own work!

Was that font big enough?

Eliezer Sobel Interview Part 1 of 3

Reader Logoby Mike

The View From Here Interview:
Eliezer Sobel

Eliezer Sobel is the author of MINYAN: Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken which won the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, University of Tennessee Press. His most recent book is The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist's Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychadelics, and Consciousness-raising Experiments. He lives in Richmond, Virginia in the USA with his wife Shari Cordon, and three cats, Peanut, Squarcialupi, & Plum. He's very funny, likes long book subtitles and is dangerously close to being a genius (although don't tell him!)

Can you tell me a bit about yourself.

That's not easy. I just published a whole memoir to try to answer that question. I guess I'm able to say a whole lot about myself, but I can never manage to get it down to "a bit." I was once meeting a boss for the first time at a company event, after having already worked for him for several months. He approached me and said, "Okay, give me the two-minute version of who you are." I laughed, refused, and instead handed him my business card, on which my job title is listed as "Human Being." (I gave it to someone at a party once who responded by asking, "But are you any good at what you do?" My wife clarified, saying, "He only does it part-time.") I guess I should also mention that the guy fired me a bit later. But the basics are I'm 56 and living in Richmond, Virginia with my wife Shari and our three cats. We're both Jewish, raised in New Jersey, and were fixed up by relatives. I built a pond in our backyard, and I like to ride my bicycle. I'm a Type Four on the Enneagram, an ancient system of personality study. Type Four is also called "The Melancholic."

Both of my parents are alive, living in the house I grew up in, Mom with Alzheimers, Dad taking care of her, me helping him when I can. I talk to them on a video chat nearly every day, and mom often asks me, "How long are they going to keep you there inside that little box?"

What's your ideal night?

Sitting on the couch across from Shari, both of us reading, then perhaps playing some classical music on the guitar or piano. Shari is promising to get her flute out some time soon for some duets. On a cold night, a soak in the hot tub under the horrible light from the streetlamp in the back alley, making me long for the star-studded black sky of the country life we recently left behind. Then reading in bed together, she falling asleep in the first paragraph but continuing to hold her book aright, me eventually needing half an Ambien or two. Getting awakened by the phone, and it's the NY Times Book Review informing me that they want to feature Minyan on the cover, and as a result, a publisher wants to publish it in paperback and is offering me a six-figure advance plus free use of his dream house in Kauai. Sex would be nice, too, but who can count on that?

What is your favourite book?

It used to be The House on the Cliff, which was the second book in the Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon, who, it turned out, was a pen name representing a team of writers working on independent chapters. Before the Hardy Boys were the Happy Hollisters, a female family of sleuths, and before them, the Papa Small books by Lois Lenski, along with Scuffy the Tugboat, Judy and Jeremy's Hanukah, and my truly, all-time favorite book to this day: A Suitcase With A Surprise, by Miss Frances.

I also loved The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac, and The Outsider by Colin Wilson. In college, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand inspired me to drop out of music school to become an architect like the hero, Howard Roark. Then I found out that Northwestern University didn't have an architecture department, so I enrolled in the nearest thing to it, Interior Art & Design. On the first day of class they had us cutting out little couches from construction paper and I quit school entirely.

How long did it take you to write your first novel,Minyan,and what stages did it go through?

I first conceived it as a series of ten independent short stories, in which the characters and plot lines would spill over and overlap. It evolved into a novel, and several friends read it and told me that ten characters were far too many to track, especially when they are named Goldberg, Weissbaum, Lipschitz, Finkelstein and so on. So I literally took four of the ten and crushed them together into two characters, and in order to have the title still make sense (since the word "minyan" refers to the ten men required for a Jewish prayer service) I included a dead man and another character as part of the minyan. So I guess you still have to track ten characters, except the dead guy doesn't do much. That process, from beginning to end, including the years of multiple agents, rejections and rewrites, and the years of putting it away in a drawer, until publication, was about 18 years.

Can you tell us about the Hollywood agent who expressed interest in Minyan before it was published.

She got me all excited after she read and loved the first chapter. "I work with BIG Hollywood projects," she told me, "and I mean REALLY BIG!" I began composing my acceptance speech for the Academy, for Best Adapted Screenplay. She promised to read the rest of the book on her upcoming vacation in Greece. About three weeks later I received a generic, white postcard--the kind you get at the post office, no picture of Corfu on the front, nothing. On the back she had written, "I can't work with this material. I am discarding the manuscript here." I was heartbroken, and imagined the pages of my book floating about in the Aegean Sea, my characters helplessly flailing their arms.

Part 2 of this interview coming later this week in which Eliezer talks about Minyan and his reaction to it being published.

Read The View From Here review of Minyan here.

To visit Eliezer's web-site click here.

To visit The 99th Monkey click here.

Picture credit: Kelly Athena

Read part 2 here.

For this interview in the printed edition of TVFH visit here.

Mean Boys

Reader Logo
by Kathleen

My ophthalmologist noted my astigmatism, told me he’s married, and asked me out. “Nothing casual,” he said. “My intentions are venereal.”


“Desire, not disease.”

Julian took me to dinner at Orsay, CafĂ© des Artistes, Jean Georges. He’s married and has a daughter, but we got along so famously, they seemed far away. We traded ironies and smirked at saying the obvious. “Really raining.” “Crowded elevator.” “She’s a bitch.”

After a month, Julian took me to the Stanhope hotel, where our sexuality blasted the sun. The magnetic force that’s Julian and me held the planets in orbit. All night.

During one year, we went to the Stanhope one night a week, then two, then three. Everyone knows us—Julian and Samantha. Jean-Georges welcomes us when we enter his restaurant. He brings me whatever amuse-bouche he’s just made.

Today Julian showed me a corner three-bedroom at Fifteen Central Park West. Sixteenth floor. The park’s trees rolled endlessly beneath every window. He was leaving his wife and daughter.

I was too surprised to respond. Julian said, “For you.”

We walked to Jean Georges and he said, “Think about it. Think about us laughing all the time.”

Julian ordered champagne. And then, a coincidence. Effusive Tom Scully, who went to Catholic school in Queens with me, looms over us. How great to see me! How long has it been?

Not that long. A cousin’s funereal, sometime last year. Tom’s huge, handsome face turns red. He’s sorry to intrude. But he sees the guys from our grade and everybody wonders how I’m doing.

I’ve heard this before from Tom.

“Wait till I tell them you look the same.” His tall body sways and I excuse myself.

Possibly, Tom wants forgiveness, which after twenty years, I’ll give him. But I can’t hand it to him out of nowhere. He needs to say, “I apologize.”

At thirteen I looked like I do now. Same big breasts and long legs. The average eighth grade boy’s nose reached my nipples. Back then, in eighth grade, Tom handed me a note.

You look like a frog,
Smell like a hog,
Poke out your eye
And see if you die.

Every boy in our grade had signed it. They called me frog-face and when the girls heard that, they shunned me, too. Even Erin from next door. When someone threw a rock through my bedroom window, I stopped going to school. St. Agnes promoted me to high school with a poor attendance warning.

Thirteen was painful. Most injuries you can’t help. But schoolboy cruelty? A runaway father? Julian and I had fun, a lark. Nothing serious.

Finally Tom lurches away and I return and sit down. Jean-George brings us miniature omelets.

“Julian, how old is your daughter?”

“Penelope? She’s twelve.”

“So besides you, who’s a good ophthalmologist?”