Dear Mr. Greenberg,
So glad to hear you got the manuscript and, again, my apologies for the fact that the draft took longer than expected. Between an extended visit from my mother and an anti-biotic resistant UTI (TMI?! Trust me, I didn't get it the fun way), I'll admit the last month has not exactly been a sunny stay at Yaddo.
Speaking of, do you by chance have any connections there? It seems my last two applications have somehow gone astray, and the administrative assistant with whom I shared a couple weeks' worth of delightful, banter-filled emails has stopped writing me back. Maybe she's on vacation, or perhaps I shouldn't have shared my piss pain number with her? But then again she felt compelled to treat me to an account of her last bout with shingles. You'll be glad to hear that I was generous enough to tell her about my aunt's cure for the condition–an herbal Crisco rub (affectionately known in my household as Sometimes a Great Lotion), followed by a strict regimen of Sleepytime Tea administered upon waking for six months or until symptoms subside. Anyway, if you do have an in with her, let me know?
To return to the subject at hand—Barbara Burning to the End of the World and Back to the Beginning Where It All Began (A Novel). I wanted to mention here that a few chapters remain unfinished. You'll find these sections marked with asterisks and notes to myself, which are also, in effect, notes to you, and basically deal with a) Gregory's checkered activist past and b) whether or not Barbara should indeed be killed by that falling sycamore limb or instead suffer a more subtle demise. At the hands of Gregory, perhaps? Although a jealous rage murder might, at that stage in the story, read a little over-wrought. What about cancer of the lymph nodes/an aneurysm/the bends? Of course, the bends would require reworking Chapter Two and changing Barbara's profession from that of flower arranger to deep sea diver. What I'm saying is that I would very much welcome your suggestions at this point. In the immortal words of James T. Kirk, bring 'em on. Or was that George W. Bush? Not that it matters. Politics, shmolitics.
Which brings to mind another concern I have about this current draft. Some readers, including my mother, have hinted that Barbara's square-dance-with-Putin sexual fantasy/dream sequence takes things a bit too far. I obviously intended that section to serve as an ironic commentary on our culture's unhealthy obsession with competitive dance programs and hairless Russian leaders, but maybe we should consider taking it out? I could always replace it with that scene with Gregory's wet dream: Helen Mirren, the decorative pepper grinder as condom thingy, etc. That one is currently resting in my “Kill Your Darlings” desktop folder, but say the word and it will be resurrected. Totally up to you. Like I said, I'm open!
Thank you for your time today and for believing in me and the book. You have no idea how hard and long I searched for an agent before I found you, but it's like Whitney Houston says: “Everything happens for a reason.” Or was it, “There's someone for everyone”? Regardless, I'm sure this is the beginning of something really great.
How was your Shavu'ot? Did you have your required dairy meal yet? Not to pat myself on the back, but a certain Shiksa's been doing her Jewish holiday homework! I see that during this holy period your people take the time to read the Book of Ruth, which just so happens to be my favorite Bible story. That threshing floor: so sexy. You might have noticed that I used the moment between Ruth and Boaz as inspiration for Barbara and Gregory's first coupling, hence Barbara's ritualistic removal of Gregory's Docksiders just prior to the big blow job scene, etc. Anyway, here's hoping you've had a restful and happy Sivan.
I took all of your suggestions for the unfinished chapters with the exception of the extended flashback involving Gregory's role in the Haymarket Riots. Perhaps you're correct when you argue that the passage is dated—even “anachronistic,” as you so kindly put it—but to me that is part and parcel of flexing the writerly muscle. My approach to the craft has always been to value creativity over cold fact. It's all about the power of invention. If you want straight-up reportage, log on to the Internet, right?
Incidentally, I just learned that Whitney Houston's famous saying is, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” (Possible epigraph for BB?) I also discovered that she is dead! How awful.
Which brings me back to Barbara. I agree wholeheartedly that having her die in her sleep is the best way to go, as it answers more questions than it asks and gives me the chance to bring in the symbolic portent of her Amish-made sleigh bed. (Should you find a good home for my novel in the near future, I plan on purchasing a similar bed myself.) Actually, you know, confession time: Yesterday I drove to Yoder's Furniture on Route 30 and put just such a pretty cherry wood number on lay-away. That's how confident I am in a) your ninja agent skills and b) the public's hunger for Barbara and Gregory's story of love and loss, as told by their Chia Pet, Bob Eubanks.
I hope you enjoy the revisions. I look forward to hearing from you.
P.S. Any word from Yaddo?
Hi Levi. I really think it's time to send the manuscript out into the world. I feel like we might have reached the point of diminishing returns when it comes to revision and although, as Ringo Starr once said, it's true that “All writing is rewriting,” it's also true that if you tweak a nipple too hard nobody's happy. Not the nipple. Not the person it belongs to. No one.
Your idea that we change the point of view from that of Bob Eubanks to a more omniscient narrator, while well-intentioned, strikes me as conventional to the point of banality. If I wanted to write a kitchen sink drama I would have read up on plumbing, whining, and the pathetic death rattle of the American middle class. I'm obviously trying to do something very different with this novel, which, in my humble opinion, successfully straddles that gray area between literary fiction, fantasy, hard sci-fi, thinly veiled autobiography, and artful erotica.
So let's set my baby free, shall we? If it walks on its own, which I'm sure it will, it was meant to be. If it falters, we'll burn that bridge when we come to it.
P.S. Some readers, namely my mother, have suggested I have a tendency to mix my metaphors and resort to cliché when simple language would suffice. Could you kindly keep your eyes and ears peeled for any incidents of such sin-tax (haha!) during your final read-through?
Wanted to touch base since I haven't heard from you in a while. Starting to worry about Burning Barbara's progress. What word have you received from editors, if any? I must admit, I seem to be beset with doubts and worry. I'm drinking too much and sleeping too little. I've canceled the lay-away sleigh bed, I think I'm coming down with the shingles, and I’m out of Crisco. Please write soon.
Dear Are Those Levi Jeans That You're Wearing,
Why won't you return my calls? I thought we had a connection beyond that of writer and agent. I thought we were friends, pals, compatriots, allies against the grain in a cruel world. I guess I was wrong about us, just as I was wrong about so many things.
It's like Barbara tells Gregory just before he leaves her for Bella Abzug. “I was wrong about so many things.”
Sorry if my last couple messages sounded a bit desperate/unhinged. I assure you I'm fine and feeling good, feeling positive, feeling up and leaning in. I've even started working on a new project, too inchoate at the moment to talk about much here, but one I believe to be of extraordinary promise and, fingers and legs crossed, lasting literary merit.
Self-doubt is such an ugly thing, isn't it? Such a sad sign of weakness and human frailty, but given your profession, I'm sure you're more than a little familiar with the writer's temperament. We're sensitive instruments. Pluck us the wrong way and we jangle all out of tune. Shakespeare? Rihanna? Anyway, I think for a while there I felt plucked by you.
That sounds sexual. I do not mean it that way. I mean to say: ignored, misused, rode hard and put away wet. Incidentally, how is your wife? Did she enjoy the edible arrangement I sent for Tisha B'av? Please give her my love.
Tammy('s Got Her Groove Back)
I'm taking keyboard in hand to let you know I'm very close to finishing my new novel-in-progress, Killing Levi Softly with a Pile of Falling Shingles (A Love Story). I'm informing you of this fact only to keep you abreast of my career, which I gather from the contract termination you sent me in the mail, you no longer want anything to do with. Fine and dandy. A win-win, if you ask me. I have decided that self-publishing is the wave of the future and I plan to surf it into the sunset. Amazon and I are like THIS.
Incidentally, taking out that restraining order was completely unnecessary. As was calling my mother, who told me all about your “concern for my mental state.” You want to know what state I'm in? I'm in a state of grace, motherfucker. I'm in a state of the art. I'm in a New York state of mind. Even though I live in Indiana.
To paraphrase Ricky Martin,
P.S. I just found out I got in at MacDowell, so you and Yaddo can suck it.
Deborah Kennedy recently earned an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her work has appeared in Third Coast Magazine, Sou'wester, The North American Review, and Salon. Originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Deborah currently lives with her mother and obese Chow mix in Portland, Oregon.