• Movies, Query Letters & Lunchtime

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 2 comments

    After a lot of loose talk and promises, we’re finally getting our “Dear WBN” *$#^# together. Dear WBN is your chance to ask us questions (writing-related, hopefully) that we’ll answer off the clock (Ooh, what samaritans!). Sometimes I’ll answer, sometimes Justine will, and for the lucky few, we both will. Email all questions to me, and write “Dear WBN” in the subject line. We’ll do our best to answer ’em all, and we’ll probably put the most interesting ones in our newsletter. Unless you request otherwise, we’ll just publish your first name and location, so make sure to mention them in your email.

    Can I get a drum roll? Anyone?

    No one?

    Fine. Let’s get started. Like Samuel L. said in Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts.”

    Dear WBN,*

    Do you always like the book better than the movie?


    (No location provided. Anytown, U.S.A.)

    Well, “Jake,” I usually prefer the book, but there’s an exception or two. I can think of one immediately, and that is Wonder Boys. The book was okay, and Chabon’s a stud (with a batty wife), but the film is one of my favorites. It’s flippin’ hilarious, beginning to end. Douglas and McGuire are way good, Downey Jr. should’ve won a bunch of B.S. awards for his role, and for a double-extra bonus, it’s about writing (kinda-sorta). Our pal Austin Kleon recently posted this scene on his blog, which is a good one: pompous writer Q (Rip Torn) addresses the crowd at the annual writers’ conference.

    Rent it, watch it, love it. DD

    Dear WBN,

    Do you always need to send a query letter?


    Round Rock, TX

    Depends on what you’ve written and where you want it published. For example, lots of literary magazines accept unsolicited fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, etc., but will ask to be queried about book reviews or interviews. If you’re looking to get a book published, there are very few traditional publishers who read unsolicited manuscripts. If you’re talking about newspapers or magazines, generally you want to query first.

    The smartest thing to do is to go online, search out the websites for your target publications or publishers, and read their guidelines. And if they’re not provided on the site, find an email address (often in the “Contact” area) and send a brief (brief brief) message asking that person (or nameless entity) to send you some writers’ guidelines. Don’t say anything about yourself or your piece/project, unless prompted. Don’t attach any files (you know, viruses, pornographic photos, etc.). Don’t drop any F-bombs. Don’t lead with “Dear Sir” when writing to a woman. Don’t lead with “Dear Ma’am” when writing to anyone, ever.

    And do your best not to send your request to the higher-ups. Either they won’t answer or, if they do, they’ll be annoyed and terse.

    Mmm’kay? DD

    Dear WBN,

    Name one writer you’d want to have lunch with, and what you would order.


    Naperville, IL

    If you’ve scanned the bookshelves at WBN headquarters, my answer will come as no surprise: Paul Auster, Paul Auster all the way. (All the way? What would Paul Auster part of the way look like? Dear lord, what could it mean?) I own everything he’s ever written, including a wisp of a poetry collection, translations by Paul Auster, which saw a print run of 500. The book is basically extinct. I think Auster is brilliant, so naturally, I would be interested to pick his brain on life, love, and (oh, yeah) writing.

    But I must admit, I have an ulterior motive. I am terrified of this man—the sweaty-palmed, dry-mouthed, shaking-in-my-boots kind of terrified—and would want to share a meal with him if only to prove to myself that I could.

    One of David’s favorite stories to tell in mixed company is about the time that he and I attended a reading of Auster’s then-new book Man in the Dark in Cambridge. All was right with the world until Auster announced that he would be signing books at the table to the left. I surveyed the crowd. Every single person in that packed theater was wielding a pristine, hardcover edition of Auster’s new release; I on the other hand was clutching a tattered copy of Auster’s first novel, City of Glass. (First novel not counting Auster’s first first novel, a crime novel called Squeeze Play, published under a pseudonym because … well … the tagline is “One man on. One man out. One man dead.” I get it, Paul.) How could I expect to lay that thing on the table and not be questioned, revealed for the lifelong, die-hard Auster-ite I am? The more pressing issue was how I could expect to be questioned by my favorite author E-V-E-R and not faint. Or cry. Or pee.

    So I did what any self-respecting fan would do: I ran.

    “We can still go back, you know,” David reminded me outside the theater, on the train home, three days later. Three years later. Thank you, David.

    Anyhoo. Paul Auster. What would I order? The chicken. JG

    All the way from Naperville, Illinois? Thanks for writing, Patty. Although yours isn’t phrased in the form of a question. This ain’t Jeopardy.

    The first half of that gives me pause, but the second … also gives me pause, I guess. Where are we eating? If I’m meeting this writer at a pizza joint, I guess I’m ordering pizza. If we’re meeting at a sushi bar, I guess I’m gonna grab some McDonald’s on the way home.

    Let’s go continental (continental?) and say we’re at a Friday’s. (I actually don’t know what “continental” is, but now that I’m looking at it again, I’m pretty sure Friday’s doesn’t fall into the category. Anywho.) I’ll probably get a half-order of potato skins, because damn. And then I’ll get some sort of salad as my entree, because I’d feel like a tool meeting a writer for lunch and just grubbin’ on some skins.

    As for who that writer is, it’s probably going to vary. Just like if you’d asked (and why didn’t you? It’s much simpler) who my favorite writer is; depends on my mood. Today I’m going to say George Saunders. Partly because he’s one of my favorite writers and I think he’s probably a hilarious lunch partner who wouldn’t mind having his brain picked a bit; mostly because he’s coming to town this week, and I’m secretly/desperately hoping he’ll read this and invite me to lunch.

    The ball, Mr. Saunders, is in your court. DD

    Disagree with any of our answers? Think we’re idiots? Think we’re geniuses? Tell us so below.

    *You don’t have to write “Dear WBN” in the email itself. That’s just ridiculous, and I can add it myself.**

    **But if you want to, then by all means do it. Saves me time.***

    ***Yes, it saves me like a second and a half. But they add up.

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    […] an idiot if you think the movie Wonder Boys was better than the book. The book is brilliant, and way more complex than the ridiculous piece of Hollywood shit it […]

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