MONDAY

Um, author friends? For your subject header? "Query" is spelled "query." Not "queary." That's all for today. Thanks.

Houston, Our Brain Has A Problem

August has not been a very good month for us, in terms of Producing Our Own Art, and lately we have begun to entertain the uncomfortable suspicion that perhaps there is a Reason why so many Artists are baristas, dishwashers, bartenders, etc.; the Reason being that it is significantly easier to leave the parts of one's brain required for the production of one's art supple and lithe when one is not occupied all day with a job that closely resembles what one would already like to be doing with one's time, with the notable exception that one's creative energy is expended in nurturing the talents of other people. Although when we have been a barista, dishwasher, bartender, etc., we have traditionally spent the majority of our free time complaining about humanity and drinking ourselves under the table, so possibly we are just lazy. Also, can a brain BE supple and lithe? We are not sure, but maybe we should retry having Deep Thoughts when we have not dragged ourselves home from an overly hip James-Dean themed dance night in the far recesses of Williamsburg at three in the morning of the day on which said Deep Thoughts are being endeavored. Whoooeee. Anyway. What about you, OPP, yeah you know me (Other People in Publishing! Get it?!?!? Get it?!?!? BEST NINETIES PUN EVER?!?!?)? Do you write? Do you care about writing anymore? Do you want to do anything when you get home besides crawl under your bed and hang out there with a nice aperitif and a stack of young adult fantasy novels? Do we need to find a different job? Can "Steve" even survive without us? Who will remind him to eat lunch? Who will reject his queries? Who will unearth the hidden gems of the slushpile? Who will astound the office with his/her sartorial experiments? Who will lead the Other Assistants in their quest for truth, justice, and office coffee that isn't gross?

On an unrelated note, watching the Sigur Ros documentary is totally making us want to move to ICELAND. Want to buy us a ticket? You know you do! We would DEFINITELY get our novel finished in ICELAND.

MONDAY

Dream we are obliged to defend ms we are particularly taken with at the moment before a panel of senior agents, all of whom belligerently scoff at its merits. Despite our impassioned pleas ("It needs revision! But it contains the seed of genius!") agents demand we reject it. Wake up at six a.m. consumed with anxiety. AGAIN. Forget to eat breakfast.

In Benadryl-induced coma, accidentally form-reject "Steve."

Receive email from friend of friend of friend of "Steve" who is so excited about his unwritten memoir he has QUIT HIS DAY JOB to prepare for its eventual success, and now merely needs an agent ("Steve," natch) to negotiate the finer points of his certain seven-figure advance. FOFOFOS has enclosed "tentative" sample chapters. We attempt to compose witty riposte re: their awfulness; Benadryl haze prevents our efforts, leaving us only the ability to assure you through a dense and hazy mental landscape that sample chapters are bad enough to make us weep in our current fragile state. "Steve" entrusts us with the responsibility of drafting "some kind of friendly and personal but firmly discouraging" rejection.

PLEASE SEND HELP. PLEASE. IT'S NOT EVEN LUNCHTIME.

Stuff We Did This Weekend

It's still only Sunday, but we're definitely not doing anything today, except maybe eating a hamburger later.

1. Woke up at six this morning completely overwhelmed with anxiety about an author whose manuscript we loved and put in "Steve's" To Read ASAP pile, which "Steve" has not had time to read because "Steve" is busy doing work for, you know, clients "Steve" already has, and so said ms has been hanging out in limbo for, oh, three months now, and really deep down we know this book is too commercial to be literary but not commercial enough to be commercial and will not ever actually get published, but this author is so nice and charming and occasionally sends us funny, totally appropriate, friendly check-in emails re: the status of his manuscript, and we respond in a positive fashion while knowing someday soon we will be composing a rejection letter and so maybe we should actually tell "Steve" not to bother reading and get the rejection over with on Monday so as to put the poor author out of his anticipatory misery. AUGH. Sometimes being The Assistant is disturbingly similar to DATING. AUGH.

2. Engaged in battle of wills with Auxiliary Support Team, who has commenced hunger strike in response to our purchase of wildly inferior brand of cat food (i.e. costs $17/lb. instead of $22/lb.). Guerrilla tactics employed by AST include but not limited to: rising at 4am and catapulting self from room to room, attempting to set fatal booby trap with catnip mouse, sulking behind refrigerator, eating fragile houseplants, and using table leg as scratching post. We are keeping our powder dry, but fear the enemy may triumph.

3. Practiced our tektoniks.

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Special Guest Post: MFA Exposé Edition!!!!!

We took a couple of creative writing classes way on back in the day. One of them was with a born-again Christian punk rock couple who wrote stories heavily "inspired" by 90210 episodes. For some doubtless well-intentioned reason (conversion?) they invited us to a Christian punk show/kegger at their house, which we attended in a Spirit of Adventure; the keg turned out to be full of fruit punch (really). In a different class one of our stories made a graduate student cry (yep, really: "Why do you hate men so much? I'm a white man (sob, sob) and I'm a GOOD (sob) PERSON!" To which we can only say: IT'S FICTION). Taking that as a sign from the universe, we moved on to the infinitely more pragmatic and lucrative field of postcolonial French literature. Lucky for you we've got friends who stuck it out in the trenches, all the way to the hallowed MFA. Consider yourselves warned, little cupcakes. And you thought AGENTS were cranky.

As The School Year Approaches, A Word About MFAs

by Special Guest Cherie "Hearts in My Eyes For Al Burian" L'Ecrivain

Every once in a while when someone is in my living room they notice that discreetly shelved among all my movies about sharks/dinosaurs/apocalyptic weather are the first three seasons of Grey's Anatomy. When the laughter subsides I explain that there is something about the camaraderie among the interns of Seattle Grace Hospital that I envy intensely. It seems they are constantly bonding over accidentally killing their patients or fornicating with the wrong people while I am alone in my apartment, hunched over my laptop playing with my imaginary friends—pardon, characters—and debating how best to wield the mighty power of the semi-colon. Writing can be some lonely fucking business, not to mention relentlessly hard work, and I will hazard a guess that the popularity of MFA programs has a lot to do with the sad truth that people will pay good scratch for the illusion that this most solitary of endeavors can be magically transformed into a team sport. Some genius figured this out and thus a powerful money-making/vast social experiment was born.

Beyond actually acquiring the physical diploma, it’s difficult to gauge the success of your tenure as an MFA student. It’s not like the degree is meant to help you land a well-paying job. Most of the workshops are heavily focused on short stories and then once a semester an agent visits the class and tells you that story collections are completely unmarketable and no one will even consider publishing yours until you have a novel to back it up. At least this way when you graduate without a book deal or salable manuscript it is only partially your fault. However, your time in an MFA program can be considered a triumph if you clock more hours actually writing than you do vomiting up your student loan money in the bathroom of every bar in Park Slope. If by your final semester you are still fucking around 95% of the time and then either staying up all night to throw together some nonsense for your workshop OR committing the cardinal MFA sin of submitting one of the stories from your application portfolio to your unsuspecting peers then CONGRATULATIONS, you have just wasted up to $120,000 and three years of your time. Also, bonus: everybody hates you.

You will also know how well you have done based on who you are still speaking to when school is over. All MFAs are composed of people who are used to being the standout writer in any workshop they’ve ever attended. So, take twelve to forty people who are equally good at something but accustomed to being the best and put them in a situation where they are required to critique one another and compete for praise and prizes. Have fun navigating that obstacle course of loyalties and animosities, particularly when the participants are perpetually steeped in sleep deprivation and alcohol. In any workshop you'll be lucky to find one or two people who are good readers for your “work”—yes, you will call it that, eventually—and that's nice and all. But more importantly, it’s clutch for your sanity to have at least one friend who understands that your most outrageous fantasies are about having health insurance and that every time someone at a dinner party asks if you “rent or own” your Brooklyn apartment, a little part of you dies inside. More likely than not, the day will come when you need a someone to talk you out of leaping into the Gowanus Canal because a professor calls "bullshit" on something you wrote, a friend who will assure you that your time would NOT be better spent learning the far more lucrative art of court stenography. Your non-writer friends may certainly enjoy the novelty of having you around, but when they are eating at restaurants you cannot afford it’s good to have a person you can phone from the bathtub while you crack open another box of wine and ask the universe why everything has to be so hard.

Bear these things in mind at orientation as you surreptitiously look for wedding rings amongst your classmates and debate the merits of this or that bar near campus. Later, when the personality disorders begin to surface and you know more about these people than you ever wanted, comfort yourself with the thought that, for all their shortcomings, you’ll never again be so beset by a group that routinely asks after the well-being of your characters as if they were old friends and can happily bond over beers and a rousing affirmation of the power of the mighty semi-colon.

Stuff We Did This Weekend

Lest you think we loll around in the park taking nips off our brown-bagged fifth of Old Crow and reading young adult fantasy novels EVERY weekend.

1. Attended Extremely Hip Art Opening, where we witnessed a gentleman who bore a suspicious resemblance to Salvador Dali performing Talking Heads covers, and managed to not do anything particularly embarrassing. As opposed to, say, the last Extremely Hip Art Opening we went to, where we said quite loudlyto our Support Team, "Look! It's the guy from TV on the Radio!" and then realized the other guy from TV on the Radio was standing directly behind us.

2. Seized by the Spirit of Adventure, boarded the LIRR with Support Team, got off randomly at Easthampton, and wandered around until we found the ocean. Easthampton is sort of like what would happen if Norman Rockwell had embarked upon a heavily-funded experiment in isolationism and eugenics with Coach and Ralph Lauren as corporate sponsors. We are not certain the good people of Easthampton were prepared for the full splendor of our august personage (i.e. us stumbling along its bucolic byways in a sweaty, sun-stroked stupor, clad only in our fluorescent pink tiger-striped bikini and Adidas Sambas, in search of snacks/the ocean (do rich people not EAT? WHERE ARE THE SNACKS OF EASTHAMPTON?), while saintlike and long-suffering Support Team encouraged us gently to drink more water and put our clothes back on), but traumatizing the undeserving wealthy while paddling about in the warm bosom of the Atlantic is an infinitely more pleasing experience than roasting oneself a handsbreath away from half the adolescent population of New Jersey on the syringe- and beer-can-strewn "shore" of Coney Island. The last time we were at Coney Island we were obliged to spend the bulk of our afternoon fending off the amorous advances of a very determined gentleman who addressed us as "Boo," sported what appeared to be a home-arrest monitoring device about his ankle, and who had recently taken the waters in his undergarments, which clung rather suggestively to his admittedly very muscular physique. Flattering as such attention is, we do prefer a certain degree of mutuality in our romantic endeavors, and will patronize the suitor-free sands of Long Island from now on. Maybe next time we'll go to Montauk.

3. Watched our first Werner Herzog movie ("Encounters at the End of the Earth"). AMAZING. We feel a particular spiritual kinship with the lone deranged penguin fleeing suicidally for the hills. Monday! We're ready for you! Bring it ON, slush pile!

Important Lessons For The Week; Or, Thank God That's Almost Over

1. If you write a lot of brief, self-aggrandizing, autobiographical accounts of your activities revolutionizing the masses of various oppressed locales? And put them in no sequential order? That might be fiction of a certain kind. But it's NOT A SHORT STORY COLLECTION. We are CRANKY, not STUPID.

2. Totally going to include the number of a mental health crisis line in form rejection letter from now on. Jesus H.

3. Vampires: still totes hot. Sizzling. Delish. Not enough coffee! Vampire word association ensues! WAUUUGH!

4. We are clearly losing our mind.

5. As a follow-up to our dress-code musings: When we ask our Support Team how we look in the morning, and our Support Team responds, "You always look nice," this is not the same as our Support team responding "Wearing a dress that can only be said to cover one's nether parts in the most nebulous sense of the verb 'to cover' over bike shorts is totally work-appropriate."

6. "Steve" better get us a new computer soon 'cause every time we look at Gawker our current computer crashes. Pony up, "Steve." The day takes a LONG TIME without Gawker.

7. Form rejections of query letters: 142. Nice, personal rejections of query letters either written by people we felt particularly sorry for/depressed by ("My wife just died of cancer, I wrote this 700-page paranormal romance in her memory, here is a picture of her upon her deathbed," WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO US!??! AUGH!?? DO YOU WANT TO MAKE US SUICIDAL?) or people who had clearly spent hours crafting an intelligent, sane, thoughtful query letter for a project that didn't interest us: 5. Thoughtful rejections of requested manuscripts with insightful commentary and revision suggestions: 3. Manuscript requests: 6. Manuscripts we are totally reading before anything else even though they just came in yesterday, because they sound SO INSANELY AWESOME: 1.Lesson: Hang in there, dear authors. Hang in there. Cream rises. Promise.

On Work Attire

We are quite a bit older than we look and have been employed in a splendid variety of capacities over the checkered history of our working life, very few of which involved an office of any kind unless you count the walk-in freezer. You know if you harf a little boo* in there the smoke sinks, right? Sooooo cooooool. Anyway, our point is that we haven't exactly spent a lot of time in dress-coded environments, and thus have never really managed to amass what most office-y rosy-cheeked fresh-out-of-college sorts of people have no trouble with, i.e. a Work-Appropriate Wardrobe; instead nine days out of ten we leave the house looking like the lead singer of Ratt on his way to Jazzercise class. Any time we make a conscionable effort at acquiring said Wardrobe we invariably become confused and disoriented and have to breathe deeply and then go eat a snack. What do normal people wear to work, anyway? It all looks so itchy and weird and costs so much money and you have to get special shoes or something. Or, like, a handbag.

Our boss, who we'll call "Steve" for the sake of anonymity, has never actually come out and SAID it is inadvisable for us to wear our sleeveless Guns 'N Roses shirt and totally sick black spandex zippered leggings to the office, although "Steve" does get really, really excited and heavy-handed with the compliments on the rare occasion we show up to work looking like some approximation of a rational adult, possibly because "Steve" is a dog owner who espouses the Positive Reinforcement school of obedience theory. The thing is, we are just as smart and efficient in wildly awesome outfits, and we are also a lot happier, so it stands to reason we should stick with what's working, right? One of our office mates remarked recently that we were the "best-dressed person in publishing," causing us to stand up and do a little dance of disbelief and glee; we must be doing SOMETHING right. Right? We do transition effortlessly into evening, which we hear is real important.

*Yeah, we grew up on the west coast. Why?

A Cry For Help

We are not heartless, we are really not, and we don't hate our job, and we don't hate writers, and we don't sit here rubbing our little hands together and cackling as we click "send" on the 104th form rejection of the week; we are a GOOD PERSON, swearz. But Jesus H, when you send us a query letter regarding your project which contains "14 stories 7 are XXX sexy.One outstanding lesbian love story of 10 pages called Giggles" it MAKES OUR HEAD BLOW UP. And then we can't say YES. To ANYONE.

A Word

Dear Authors,

Please allow us to let you in on a little-known industry secret: when you receive a form rejection letter from an agent, and it says "your work is not a good fit for my list," what that really means is that we didn't like your book but are too polite to say so. Like how sometimes your friend has a new sweater in a particularly awful shade of puce that makes him/her look quite bilious, and when your friend asks, "How do I look in my pleasing new sweater?" you respond, if you are a well-bred person, "What a striking color that is!" We are guessing that you would prefer not to receive a rejection letter that says "please query us again when you learn to construct a grammatically correct sentence" or "your proposal is so bizarre/hilariously terrible/deluded that we passed it around the office and emailed it to all our friends, who are still laughing hysterically" or "please, just keep a journal. PLEASE." So when you look up our boss's listing on justfindmeanagentalready.com and reply to our form rejection with a cut and paste of said listing and the following statement: "Your listing on justfindmeanagentalready.com says you represent books about apocalypse-averting sea mammals with supernatural powers and my novel, The Dolphin Who Saved the Entire Universe, clearly fits in that category," it makes us HIT OUR HEAD AGAINST THE WALL AND WONDER WHY IN GOD'S NAME WE DIDN'T GO INTO HEDGE FUND MANAGEMENT LIKE A NORMAL PERSON. Okay? So knock it off. Thanks.

Also, you'd be surprised how many people title their novel "Syzygy." Don't do it.