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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Possible “MAX, the blind guy” cover


(design by Calvin Rambler)


What do you think?


[Book jacket copy:

Max, the blind guy is a complex, emotional story of love, marriage, art, and ego. Beyer’s nuanced story brings to life fictional characters from America and Europe as a group of recalcitrant retirees travel through Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, and Venice.

Maximilian Ruth daydreams in colors which his eyes can no longer see. His wife is leading them on a six-city European tour. Greta Ruth calls this trip their “last hurrah.” She hasn’t had the best from 40 years with Max. But Max takes their life differently: marriage is an affair of more than the heart’s journey. This pair of American originals have known passion, riches, and sorrow. Today, these roads lead them through Europe’s famed cities, but Greta wonders if the plan will see her through to the promised “champagne on the Grand Canal.”

Their Elite Travel tour-mates are getting on each other’s nerves. They are characters found next door, on everyday streets, under black-eye days, and across lost-memory nights. The highlights and sights, the posh lunches, the gamy conversation over drinks in the bar – and of course the “tour friendships” – all make their faux-camaraderie sometimes combative but never boring.

A story rife with modern perils – too much time, too much money, just enough libido, secrets revealed – Max and Greta Ruth don’t wait for what the future may bring. ]


The Agent Steeplechase

The “Age of Internet Communication” has made life & work easier for writers (and other artists); contacting publishers, agents, and readers is a “virtual” no-fee process (remember printing/copying costs, envelopes, and postage?). As I embark on a 3-to-4 month effort to get “Max, the blind guy” a larger chance at a worldwide distribution market, I have noticed a few things (some new, others ridiculously cliché) about the publishing industry.

Firstly, the research to hunt down likely agents is far easier than it once was. Today, websites abound on which agents avail themselves of their education, their pedigree, likes-and-dislikes, what “turns me on” or “we don’t consider.” Great!

I can send out 10 queries in the space of an hour, using cut’n’paste tech with a letter that reads as if I had only them in mind (which I do, for the time it takes me to assemble the requisite letter) even while some actually expect a writer to send a single query, wait nine weeks for a single response (rejection? acceptance? blasé criticism?), and then think I’m lucky to have gotten any response at all.

Agents/editors might have the same tech as I do, but often they are living in a distant past that even the venerable Maxwell Perkins could chuckle upon over a sandwich eaten at his desk while reading manuscripts of unknown authors, looking for that gem he wouldn’t otherwise allow underlings to pass over out of venal angst or pure ignorance.

Nevertheless, while I do in fact look closely at each agent to whom I post a query, I know that I am up against a high wall of — no, not expectations — sales/marketing mentality. In other words, agents are looking for “the next …. [fill in the blank author’s name]” while not actually able to predict what will/shall/can/ought to sell, and what won’t. Truly, this IS the case. Most of them admit to this fault; hell, major-PubHouse editors haven’t a clue (and their jobs are far more precarious than agents’).

Secondly, I retain the hold on my “product” that the agents claim they “want to see in print” and promise they’ll “work with an author to forge the best book possible” — as if any author should allow a mere agent to tell them what is or is not good writing (likewise, an editor). You see, agents and editors (who may in fact be writers themselves, but usually not (only readers), and more likely business people who look at your book as “product”) are quite lovely people who are in a terrible position of not understanding the market any more than the average writer walking through the local Barnes & Noble and/or looking at various “sales sheets” of the top 100 books. So to allow yourself, as the writer of your story, to be convinced that this story needs this’n’that changed, becomes a fool’s game, with the writer playing the fool, if he isn’t careful (I’ve heard numerous stories of writers doing major rewrites over 2-year periods, only to be told by the agent/editor, in the end, the story didn’t fit any marketing profile).

Agents, Editors, Publishers, Readers. Friends, Adversaries, Haters, Benefactors. Slush Piles, Invitations, Rejections, No-Response Bastards. Published Book, Sales Figures, Book Fairs, Public Readings, Residual Checks.  Book Reviews, No Reviews, Good Reviews, Bad Reviews. “The best writing I’ve read in years!” “I didn’t get the plot.” “I liked the opening but not the ending — couldn’t the character have lived?” “I read only stories that I can identify with the character.”

Next book project. Time to pitch Hollywood producers. Merry-go-round or steeplechase?


“Max, the blind guy” is a story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. The manuscript is now out with agents; it may be in print as early as December 2014.

What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

If You Have a Thick Skin, You Might Want to Be a Writer

I used to tell my fiction writing students — especially the ones that needed a kick in the ass to hand in pages — that “The easiest thing to do in the world is NOT WRITE.”

Sometimes this did the trick. Of course, the writers in the class (usually just 3 of the 20 students) hadn’t a problem to make story and put it on the page. It was the middle-grounders, the kids who had potential and imagination, but needed a few years to figure out how to tap into their heads, those were the hardest nuts. Nevertheless, the in-class methodology wasn’t hampering them, which was as open a process as made possible for imagination to find a story thread. Perhaps they didn’t like what they had written, or were trying to write, or how it was coming onto the page from the images in their heads.

These are all great concerns of the writer. Fortunately, criticism wasn’t part of the games we played in class. Criticism was the last thing these young writers needed at this stage; peer criticism worse still, because Who would you want least to criticize your early writing efforts but some schmo sitting next to you who himself can’t compose a coherent sentence? Right. What young writers need is encouragement. (I’ll discuss the CCC Fiction Writing Dept’s methodology in a future post)

Encouragement is a fortunate part of a writer’s life, because it can be found everywhere: the written word is bountiful in our literate world; at least, you should have a bookshelf of the best writers whose prose and characters and story are there for you to learn from.

READ GOODS AUTHORS TO LEARN GOOD TECHNIQUES! … (Roth, Bellow, Atwood, Murdoch, Woolfe, Joyce, Rush (Norman, not Limbaugh), Updike, Naipaul, McEwan, Theroux, Doctorow, Franzen, Eugenides, Waugh, Beyer, J.F. Powers, Ford, Barnes, McNair, Harding, Banville, McCarthy, Nabokov … to name but a few) … That’s another thing I told my writing students, mostly because it had worked for me and every writer for whom I held admiration of style, character, content, theme, use of metaphor, story progression; and onward. No, I am not being redundant here.

Redundancy would be for me to point out that rejection and criticism and ignorance is what writers must battle daily. Agents don’t answer but 5% of your queries (90% of which are rejections); publishers send rejections written (scrawled!) across the top of your well-written query letter; the agents and/or pubbers who ask to see your work take 6mos to answer, with another rejection (“We don’t know where your book fits in our marketing profile.”); your writers’ group colleagues don’t understand why Character-X won’t want to continue fucking Character Y “just because”; and, your family keeps asking “When is that book going to be done … Steven King writes a book every year!”; you look at your work one day, and its Pulitzer-bound, while the next day that same page is S-H-I-T; you sign a book contract only to learn the editor-of-the-day doesn’t like your book; when your book is published, the reviewers pass over yours for another title from yet another vampire author; and then, no one buys your book because it’s a single drop in the ocean of titles published this year.

This is what writers live with. And if you have a thick skin, or the perfectly matted feathers of a duck, then you might want to continue as a  writer. Why? Because you need to let the water-beads of rejection slide off you over and over. Meanwhile, you must write one sentence at a time, one paragraph after the next, one chapter and then another, until THE END appears one day on the last page. And then you start another novel.

Forget about the fact that you can publish your long-worked novel (or – GASP! – the one finished yesterday) via Amazon or another POD provider. That’s the first step in the public life of your book. Twitter away; FB is your “friend”; write another blog post — these are just starters in today’s market. And, as far as social media goes, writers are often enough hooked up with other writers, not with the readers they want to engage with. While this isn’t rejection, it can feel like a circle jerk.

So where do you find YOUR readers? Where have all the publishers gone? Why won’t your family read your published book? When shall recognition come to you, and with it the trappings of fame and success?

All of these will happen after you finish the next book. I promise. Now get back to work.


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.