Friday, September 18, 2009

hare e. coli

Every now and then when INTERN gets off the train in the morning, there is a little card table set up on the street with people in orange robes chanting and tinging little bells and handing out flyers for free meditation classes. On the card table, there is always a plate of orange slices, sitting right next to a bottle of disinfectant spray. The orange/disinfectant combo never fails to give INTERN pause. Do these guys need to spray down their oranges periodically to satisfy health codes? Do passers-by routinely pick up an orange slice, turn it over in their fingers, and put it back down, covered in germs? What's the deal here?

INTERN feels the same way—fascinated, suspicious, wary—when those submissions come into the s. pile with a bio listing "high school short story contest 1982" as a writing credit, and "Ms. Tinkleby, the Head Ed at Otherbigfancy Publisher [in 1971!], said this was the most heart-wrenching asian fusion cookbook she'd seen in her entire career" as an endorsement. Who all has handled this sheaf of papers, maybe taken an experimental tug at the rind, and decided to pass? Even creepier, who sprayed it with disinfectant and put that sucker back on the plate without making a single change?

If nobody in the past twenty years has been impressed by the fact that you once read your short story out loud in a coffee shop, or that some agent at a conference complimented your sweater (and, by extension, the manuscript you were keeping warm underneath your sweater like a live animal), it's time to take it out of your query letter. In fact, it's probably time to write a new query letter. Actually, a new book. Maybe even a book with different characters in it, and a different plot. There's nothing wrong with being patient and holding out for the big break, but patience isn't a good replacement for the essential writerly hunger to always be writing (or re-writing) new and better and deeper and more brilliant things. (Are you listening, Hare Krishna? How about some melon, next time?)

Since her day 'o' turmoil on Monday (thanks for the multitudinous comments on career options, which have been a great encouragement), INTERN has been filling her head with various mystical Sufi texts, most of which involve enough mind-blowing parables about donkeys to make your eyes cross. INTERN is not sure where all this donkey-mysticism is leading her (possibly a barn?) but is feeling better about things, and has not ruled anything out.


  1. Please tell me your visions of a donkey do not include riding it at the commune. You know there probably won't be internet access there. You'll be eating orange slices that were grown with no pesticides, possibly ingesting a worm that you didn't see. Sorry all you "green" freaks, I happen to like knowing there are no worms in my veggies and fruit. I wouldn't eat those orange slices by the Hare Krishna either.

    So glad you are feeling better, and have brushed off those dementors in your way of clear thinking.

  2. Please, think of your fans (and jobseekers in lit-land) and find yourself a juicy job in the publishing world, showing it can be done with grace. Or at least wittiness.

    And, side note, I'm wondering if you might, like me, suspect that Guaranja (or whatever it is the haris want you to say) is actually a really foul swearword? It would explain their wide-eyed merriness. terribly immature.

  3. "the manuscript you were keeping warm underneath your sweater like a live animal"

  4. Um, I actually had woven my manuscript into a sweater. The live animal was my pet parrot, Edgar Allen Squawk. Why must you mock me so?

  5. Dear Intern
    Go to Morocco.
    The seaside at Moulay Bouzerktoun 25kn N. pf Essouira
    is quite magic.
    Just a suggestion.

  6. Have a great weekend, INTERN.
    What ever you decide, no worries - you have a following.

  7. Brilliant. The cleverest, funniest thing I've read all month. And so deliciously cruel! I've stumbled it, I've twittered it, I'll fly-post it on the walls of library meeting rooms where writers' groups might see it.

    Whatever you do in the future, please don't stop blogging.

  8. Hare e. Coli is a snappy title. I wish you had time to read one of my manuscripts and come up with a better title for it. You're brilliant with titles. Any pointers on how you do it?

  9. They served Hare Krishna lunches on the Quad at my university...and got shut down one year because of a typhoid outbreak. Serious. Scary!

  10. Hi INTERN,

    Remember, you're on the hero's journey. Two favorite books that have helped me on my way: The Heart Aroused and Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, both by David Whyte.


  11. Whatever you do, please don't quit writing the blog. I check it everyday and really enjoy it.

  12. haha, you get us. I always keep a copy under my clothing, just in case I die unexpectedly. The coronor will find it and I'll be a huge posthumous success.

    Hey, INTERN -- curious* snark aside, do you like this industry? Overall?

  13. Laura: Good question. Yes, INTERN likes being in the publishing industry, but that might be because interns have more fun. Being an intern in publishing is being free to frolic and learn and delve into all sorts of things, whereas regular employees have more at stake, and might find it less fun. Maybe ask someone who gets PAID to work in publishing?

    The only thing INTERN finds more interesting than interning is the freelance editing work generated from this blog, which INTERN would happily and gleefully do every day until she died...

  14. So, you think the men in the orange suits are selling the cleaning stuff and its actually made from...oranges? Maybe that's why they have the oranges in front of it -- avertising...Orange Clean.

  15. Supermarket baggers in my 'hood use lemon slices to wet their fingers, so's they can get bags off the stack. You know, like when people lick their fingers to turn book pages (KILL KILL) but more hygienic. I wouldn't be surprised if the orange slices were doing the same thing. And when you want to take a break and handle your danish instead of your flyers, the disinfectant's right there.

    No idea how that translates into the submissions metaphor though :)

  16. "And find yourself a juicy job in the publishing world, showing it can be done with grace. Or at least wittiness."

    Funny - I thought that said "witnesses."

    Sufi texts are among my favorites as well. "Essential Sufism," by Fadiman and Frager, gives a wonderful sampling from all over.

  17. INTERN:

    In your freelance work, have you ever edited (on a storytelling level, i.e. characterization advice, plot/sub-plot not copyediting) an action-thriller novel? How much would you charge for that kind of treatment (2-page summary on characterization flaws, if any, story arc, satisfying ending, general impressions?)...for a 90K ms.?

    word ver:fockin