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Stray Cat Blues

I received some much needed encouragement and inspiration from our local stray cat yesterday. I’m a dog person at heart, but have come to admire this creature, which I have named Catbert. This badass kitty has somehow managed to survive several winters through his skills and determination. I related this cat’s steadfastness in opposition to a challenging environment to my recent efforts to land a literary agent.

            I have reached out to almost fifty agents since August and have only received a few replies. While I appreciate these agents’ encouragements (several have told me that my novel is both interesting and well written), they end their letters by telling me that they don’t think it is a good fit for them.

            For those who are unfamiliar with the querying process, I will try to give you a sense of the challenge. In three short paragraphs, the writer is supposed to hook the agent with their premise, provide a mini-synopsis of their book and furnish some biographical information. Easier said than done. After attending several workshops and reading numerous articles about querying agents, I have written and refined the following query letter:

Dear Ms. Jones:

When Sean Ireland takes his eighteen year old son Liam to watch the demolition of Byberry State Psychiatric Hospital, he reveals that he was so desperate to form a relationship with his own absent father that joining him inside this same institution did not seem like such an insane idea. A Bold & Brazen Article is a literary novel complete at 69,000 words. Like Michael Zadoorian’s Beautiful Music, my novel describes the protagonist’s comic and tragic attempts to navigate his childhood and adolescence with a mentally ill parent and his eventual triumph over his mother and a society that stigmatizes mental illness.

After six-year-old Sean’s father suffers a nervous breakdown in Philadelphia in 1964, his mother explains his absence through the miracle of television, telling Sean that his father has left to help the Cartwrights capture some rustlers on Bonanza. Sean grows up in the projects where he suffers delusions about his father’s appearances on his favorite television shows. After a friend disabuses him of these notions, he seeks consolation from a gang who bully him and introduce him to gang wars, drugs, and alcohol. Sean learns in his senior year of high school that his father has been transferred from a private asylum to Byberry, a revelation that leads to his attempt to break his father out of the state hospital on the evening of our nation’s Bicentennial and results in Sean joining him there as a patient.

I recently received my M.F.A. from Wilkes University. My novel is based on my experience growing up with a father who was institutionalized with manic-depression. Mental health awareness is an important issue in our society today and I believe that people related to someone with mental illness will want to read my book. I would be happy to send you the full manuscript if it interests you. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Francis X. Fitzpatrick

fitzteacher@comcast.net

            I realize that an agent’s job is not easy. They probably receive a hundred letters a week from writers who are seeking their representation. Query letters are their way of not only finding talented new writers, but also a way to eliminate those who are not. It is therefore my job to place myself in the first category rather than the latter. In addition, like my little feline friend I must remain steadfast in my quest through faith, effort, and determination. Thanks for reminding me of this, Catbert. I think someone is going to be having dinner with Charley the Tuna tonight.