JUST THE FAQs, MA’AM!
1. HOW CAN I GET PUBLISHED?
This is by far the most FAQ of all the FAQ I get. Unfortunately, I don’t have any easy answers. If you write fiction and/or poetry I have no idea how to get it published, since I don’t write in those genres (but see below). If you write fact-based stuff such as histories, biographies, true crime—genres sometimes referred to as “creative non-fiction”—there should be a number of small-to-middling-sized publishers in your state who will take a look at your manuscript. (Check their websites first to see if they accept unsolicited submissions. Smaller publishers often do; major publishers almost never do.) Remember: publishers are out to make money and stay financially solvent, just like any other business. They are looking for things that are entertaining and well-written, and which appeal to as broad a market as possible. It would be great if publishers accepted every collection of avant-garde poetry or work of experimental fiction which came their way, but if they did the market would be flooded and every publisher would go broke overnight. Try to see things from their point of view. If your writing deals with facts, publishers expect that you have done your homework and can back up everything you say in your book. Include good footnotes, parenthetical citations, or a bibliography. Readers and other researchers who want to follow in your footsteps should never be in doubt about your sources.
Brace yourself for rejections and disappointments. Try not to take them personally. If you request it, some publishers will provide you with a list of other publishers who might find your book a better fit for their needs. If you keep plugging away, eventually you will either get lucky and have a manuscript accepted, or you will realize that you should try something else at which you will have more success. In either case, keep on writing. Even if no one else ever reads what you say, writing can be very therapeutic. And the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it, as with every other activity.
An idea: If you really want your poetry and/or fiction published, why not try writing some non-fiction first? It is probably slightly easier to get non-fiction published, and once you get a manuscript in print, it may be easier to get other things published later. I have noticed that many authors of true crime go on to publish crime fiction, for example.
2. DO YOU HAVE AN AGENT?
I wish!! So far all attempts to gain one have come to naught. Any interested agents out there reading this, contact me!
3. HEY, I’VE WRITTEN A MANUSCRIPT! WILL YOU CRITIQUE IT FOR ME?
Many apologies! I am so busy with my own work and reading my students’ essays that my plate is overflowing.
4. WELL, IF YOU CAN’T CRITIQUE MY MANUCRIPT’S CONTENTS, WILL YOU LOOK OVER MY GRAMMAR AND SPELLING?
Sorry, see number three above. But there are professional copyeditors you can hire to look at it.
5. HOW DO YOU GET ALL THOSE WEIRD STORIES?
Through the magic of backbreaking research. I’ll turn over libraries to find the information I want, using sources such as local histories, death certificates, cemetery records, censuses, old newspapers, personal interviews, and Ouija boards. (Just kidding about that last one—or am I?) The Internet has made it much handier to find obscure information, as long as you know how to use search engines properly and keep in mind that just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s true—double-check information whenever possible. Ancestry.com is a great source.
But the number one way I get stories is a method that is obsessive and some would say maybe even a little daft. For the past eight years or so, I have spent as much time as I can spare at a microfilm machine in Eastern Kentucky University’s library, looking through every issue of the daily Louisville Courier-Journal, making my own personal and highly idiosyncratic index of the articles within. (For a while I attained the status of a minor campus legend as The Guy Who is Always at the Microfilm Machine.) Most people would rather be eaten alive by hyenas than undertake such a chore, but for a person with Asperger’s Syndrome this is as much fun as a trip to Hawaii—maybe more! I started with January 1877 and as of this writing I have made it to 1935.
Hard work? Yes, but the results are incomparable. I keep finding interesting long-forgotten stories and information that contradicts the established version of history which we are spoon-fed through the classroom and the media. I get to find early versions of modern slang terms and urban legends. And I find some great stories by accident while researching other matters. Serendipity is my bestest pal.
6. WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR YOUR BOOKS?
My fondest wish is that my books will be taken to other planets, where aliens will read them and build civilizations based on their contents, just like in that Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise lands on a Roaring Twenties gangster planet…and the one in which they land on a Roman planet…and the one in which they land on a Wild West planet…and…
IFAQ (INFREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS)
[More to come as the whim strikes me!]
Q: What does the phrase “bizzle my shizzle dizzle” mean?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Who was the mayor of Jeffersonville, Indiana, in 1904?
A: Abraham Schwaninger.
Q: What does the inside of your nose smell like?
A: Mine smells like lilacs in springtime.
Q: Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?
A: Of course not. That’s stupid.
Q: Is liquid floor wax an invention of Satan?
A: Yes. Do not drink it under any circumstances.
Q: Why isn’t plaid a color found in nature?
A: Why should it be?
Q: Did you ever wish you had three arms?
A: Every second of every minute of every day of my life.
Q: What would you do if you had three arms?
A: I would carry bags of groceries and wave at people at the same time.
Q: I think Neferkare II was a better Egyptian pharaoh than Semerkhet.
A: That’s not a question.
Q: What is the motto on your family coat of arms?
A: Ogni volta che mangiate una carota, un pupazzo di neve perde un naso. (“Every time you eat a carrot, a snowman loses a nose.”)
Q: If we pay you, will you put on a clown costume and entertain our kids at their birthday parties?
A: How much money are we talking about?