Love Can Be Complicated: A Cartoon from Karin Schmitt

As I’ve written before, I was the sort of guy–even before all the eighties romantic comedies I ingested–who could believe I’d fallen in love with a girl even though I’d never talked to her before.  This happened more than once to be sure.   Sometimes I think this is something everyone experiences to some degree, and other times I think I am a certain sort of freak–we all find our ways, right?–and that I’m guilty of projecting my experience onto the experiences of others.  After all, when one of my students says, “I had the typical childhood,” I’m always quick to quiz people around the room about their childhoods.  We often find almost nothing in common.
I write this thinking it’s an obvious observation that many of us romanticize what we think a relationship ought to be, and then we are dissatisfied with relationships when they aren’t are fantasies.  At the recommendation of some of my new Facebook friends, I’m reading Rob Sheffield’s book talking to girls about duran duran. Although I think I know my tendency to romanticize relationships isn’t universal, I see Sheffield has also had this experience.  He writes, “One hundred percent of teenagers dream about making out, but they only dream about making out with 5 percent of other teenagers.  This means our dreams and our realities are barely on speaking terms, so we look forward to making out with people who aren’t real, keeping us in a nearly universal state of teen frustration” (186).  I read Sheffield and I think, “Man Rob, me and you could be buddies,” but then I know that Sheffield is good at what he does, he’s able to tap into the details of his experience that causes a certain circle of people to connect with him, and so he’s probably regularly bombarded with people who approach him calling out, “I loved Morrissey too! We should hang out.”  I teeter totter on a tightrope of tension between universal experience and the uniqueness of each of us.
I have not talked with Karin Krista Schmitt, the artist who drew the cartoon below, about what she “meant” by her drawing.  This seems like another “no, no” I’ve somehow learned:  don’t ask a poet what the poem means.   So whatever I have to say about Karin’s drawing below comes from me, but it comes as a part of a conversation started by her and her work.   I read a piece about the expectations of relationships; I read a text about how life is full of surprises.  There are two fantasies here, and they don’t match up.  Karin is another of my new Facebook friends, living in Germany I think, and when I saw her drawings (in a language I can’t read) I asked her if she might be willing to draw something for my blog and Facebook book page.  I hear lots about how Facebook is such a time waster, and of course it is for many and often for me, but I also think there can be something very exciting happen.  A person told me to read Sheffield and now I am on his second book my yesterday afternoon was better because I sat on a stationary bike for 40 minutes and read.  Karin has sent me this funny and thought-provoking drawing and she has got me thinking…
Karin Schmitt catoon for William Torgerson Love on the Big Screen

Cartoon by Karin Schmitt / see link below for more of her artwork

If you want to take a look at more of Karin’s work, you can find her Facebook here.

Love in the Third Grade

Love at first sight?

Between the time I was in the third grade and the time I was around thirty years old, I was the sort of person who could look across a room and think I just fell in love.  I didn’t feel this emotion was something that I could control at all, and I imagine that there are many of you reading this who think love is something that just happens; it’s an emotion you don’t have any ability to steer.  Certainly there are people who think they fall in love each time they see someone who physically catches their eye, but I wasn’t like that as a boy into my teenage and twenty-something self.  There could have been a cast of fifty beautiful and interesting women, and somehow I always managed to become secretly devoted to one.

Logansport's "Felix the Cat"

Let me jump back to third grade love:  my family moved from Logansport, Indiana—home of the Berries—to a house a mile outside of a town called Twelve Mile, so named for its relative distances from several other “bigger” towns.  Even in the third grade, being the new kid brought with it some love capital that could have been (but wasn’t) cashed in.  I fell for this girl I’ll call “Ali” right away, a pseudonym I choose after Elisabeth Shue’s character in the 1984 Karate Kid.   Something rare happened between Ali and me, and because I was just getting started with the whole business of “liking” people, I didn’t realize how rare it was.  Ali started sending me a lot of notes via that special delivery system of the artfully folded note that works its way to its intended recipient desk-to-desk, hand-by-hand across the classrooms of the world.  What was so rare about that?  Let me ask you another question as an answer:  How many of you have liked/loved someone who instantly liked/love you right back?

Elisabeth Shue as Ali in The Karate Kid

I recall Ali’s notes being of the will you be my boyfriend? / check “yes” or “no” variety.  So there I sat, in third grade love with Ali, receiving a note from her asking me to be her boyfriend.  So what did I do?  Red faced with shame—at being a coward?—I threw that note, along with the ten or so that followed, right into the garbage.  Even though the notes arrived most times in front of our whole class, I pretended as if I never received them.  Eventually, Ali stopped sending me love notes, and I vaguely remember still liking her as a seventh grader.  For at least four years, I secretly “loved” her, and I barely even spoke to her.  We may have traded very small talk a couple times in our lives, and each time I was horrendously nervous.  I always wondered if she even remembered sending me the notes, and now, looking back, I feel sure that she did.  She thought I’d rejected her, and I felt in love with her.  How does that work?

Before my eighth grade year, my family moved roughly twenty miles away to Winamac, and I still remember keeping track of Ali—of seeing her at various interschool athletic events—all the while wondering if my life would have been different if I’d only checked “yes.”  Why did it take me so long to try and love someone who would love me back?

I’d appreciate it if you’d “rate this post” and/or leave a comment.  Thanks for reading.

Image from Weddingbee

Comment on Potential Covers

My novel, Love on the Big Screen, is forthcoming from Cherokee McGhee Press in January of 2011.  Right now, the press has posted three drafts for potential covers.  If you’re interested in voting for the one you like best and leaving feedback on them all, follow these instructions:

  • If you’re on Facebook, become a fan of Cherokee McGhee Publishing.
  • You can reach that link here:  http://bit.ly/c04cmM
  • Click on the “photo” tab at the top of the page.  You’ll see a window there for my book, Love on the Big Screen.  If you click on that, three covers will come up.
  • Click on each cover and leave comments on what you think.  Don’t feel like you have to be all positive.  I know I would love some blunt criticism, and I think my publisher would too. Hope you are well!
  • Love to have you as a facebook “friend” too if you’re willing.

Literary Agent Queries

I’m writing you not as someone who has an agent, but as someone who worked as a reader for an agency, has queried a lot of agents and received requests for full manuscripts, and as someone who now has a forthcoming novel with an independent press.

What’s my background?  After I earned an MFA in creative writing from Georgia College and State University, I got a job teaching in the Institute For Writing Studies at St. John’s University.  The summer before I began my job, I contacted Folio Literary Management in Manhattan and inquired about being a reader for them.  This meant that I attended a weekly editorial meeting where I was given manuscripts to read and the next week I’d let the agent who ran the meeting know if I saw anything I thought they might be looking for.  After a summer of doing that, I developed my own strategy for sending queries.

I look for agents on the Publishers Marketplace website.  I limit my search to pages that have been updated in the past ten days.  To me, this means I’m only querying agents who have recently said they are accepting queries.  I read about the agent to see if they represent anything “like” I have written.  The agents receive many queries a day, and so I know I only have a couple of words, if that, to get them interested. I have the title of my book and my last name as the subject line.  I have a 2-3 sentence hook.  For example, for the novel I have forthcoming with Cherokee McGhee Press, I said that Love on the Big Screen is set in 1990 and tells the story of a college freshman whose understanding of love has been shaped by late-eighties romantic comedies.  Then I give a little bit about me:  my degrees, my current job, and my short list of publications.  After that, I copy the first two pages into the text of the email.  I don’t send attachments.  All this makes me think very hard about my title, the two-sentence pitch, and the first couple of pages. I think it’s good for me to think about those things a lot even before I first begin to write.

If there are any specific instructions, not too elaborate, I follow those.  In general, that just means that an agent might want a synopsis or a different length of sample.  Sometimes I hear back from agents the same day.  They want the full manuscript or they’re not interested.  Other times, sometimes six months later, I’d get a short note that the agent isn’t interested.

Keep in mind, this is only my perspective.  Agents get a lot of emails from writers wanting them to represent their work.  This means that you only have a few words, if that many, to get their attention.  You should try to find out a little bit about the agent