6.20.2006

Cry Uncle..and let slip the poodles of Flatbush

Dear Miss Snark,

I would greatly appreciate any advice of words of wisdom you may have to offer regarding my current dilemma. My Great Uncle Glen, who hails from across the pond, sent me a bound copy of his manuscript months ago. It seems that in jolly old England the Daily Mail will print and bind your MS for about 20 quid a copy, my great uncle, who's pushing seventy-five, sent
them his 185,000 word MS and has now distributed six copies of the most God awful, mind numbing, stab yourself in the frontal lobe, hopeless drivel, around the world to torture various and assorted family members.

I, as you may have guessed, am the unfortunate recipient of one such copy.
Because of my recent attendance at a writer conference and a single agent's request to read a partial of my MS, my great uncle has somehow gotten it into his head that I have publishing connections. (Please pick yourself up off the floor, really, such unbridled hysterics are so unbecoming.)

I am currently trying to convince him otherwise by sending him pictures of my
hovel house, threadbare wardrobe, empty fridge, and overstocked liquor cabinet, I think he's beginning to get the idea and has consigned himself to receiving nothing other than a critique from me.

My problem is, I can not read the damn thing. It's awful, dreadful, the protagonist slaps his hysterical wife while she is holding their newborn in the second paragraph,
there are more typos than I care to record and to top it off, the Daily Mail has printed this TPO with eighteen words per line and forty-five lines per page managing to contain 185,000 words in 230 pages! I'll be blind by the time I finish.

Surely Miss Snark has had to deal with one or two of Grandmother Snark's MS's, what do you do when your family and friends expect
you to weigh in on their crap?


Welcome to my world!

"oh, you're in publishing? here read my manuscript" is the opening salvo in many a curbside skirmish that devolves into fisticuffs, emptied gin pails, and Killer Yapp requiring the services of a bail bondsman.

One does not ever EVER critique the work of a friend or relative in this instance. One smiles sagely and says "I would dearly love to read your work, and I'm so sorry I can't". Then you stop talking. Only the truly foolhardy will press you with "why" and then you say "my agent requires exclusives". Anyone witless enough to press further is met with "I'm sorry, I"m not able to explain further."

Under no circumstances do you deviate from this or you can expect to be 1. cut out of the will 2. cut out of the family hols 3. cut out of the family tree or worst of all 4. declared Uncle's literary executor.

Miss Snark does not announce her chosen profession at social gatherings for just this reason. There are several hostesses in New York in fact who believe Miss Snark is an ent-omologist based in Central Park. (double points to the first person explaining the joke)

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

ent-omologist-from jrr tolkien's lord of the rings-a tree scientist.
kisses to killer yapp.
ninaa

Anonymous said...

Re: the joke ...

um ... is it because there's a problem with beetles in Central Park, and entemologists are trying to find techniques to kill them?

(hides under a rock in embrrassment)

Writerious said...

Not an entomologist, naturally, who studies insects, but an ent-omologist who studies Ents.

Wow -- so Central Park is where they've all gone to? And the Ent-wives and all the little Entlings? Never would have guessed. The old "hiding in plain sight" thing, is it?

(And if it's NOT a Lord of the Rings reference, kindly ignore me. Thanks.)

ello said...

Ha, ha! Confusing etymology with entomology! Words versus bugs! I guess to non readers there would be no difference, just different irritants.

It reminds me of the time when I was a junior associate at a big law firm in mid-town practicing securities law and I was lugging the SEC 33 and 34 act for some bedtime reading (not by choice) which read on the cover "Securities law." SItting on the D train heading home to Brooklyn, a very nice middle aged woman glances at the book and beaming at me says "That's wonderful that you are studying to be a security guard!" I didn't even try to explain that one to her!

Anonymous said...

You talk to trees . . . bearded trees that take a dreadfully long time to say anything in their sonorous tongue!

sign me, a Tolkien fan ;)

McKoala said...

Ello, I can reverse that experience! I'm a copywriter (as in advertising) and DH is a lawyer. When he was a student all his little eager beaver chums thought that I was in copyright law. One track minds on the wrong track.

Anonymous said...

Great advice on what to do with relatives tomes. But, if the person who sent this email thinks great uncle can accept it, suggest there are online critique groups he can subscribe to for free. Just because this draft is gawd-awful, doesn't mean it has to remain so. It only has to be that way if Unk can't take criticism from strangers.

virginia said...

I'm seconding Miss Snark: DON'T CRITIQUE YOUR UNCLE'S MANUSCRIPT! Especially if it sucks. Just feed him some line about how his work is so very different from your own that you feel unqualified to comment. Leave it at that.

My aunt is retyping her friend's manuscript, although it is already in digital form. I refrained from pointing out the futility of this endevor. From the little bit that I read, the author needs way more than properly aligned margins, but the ladies are having a big time, and I don't want to take that joy away from them. (They're both comfortably retired, by the way.)

As long as your uncle isn't putting a significant amount of money into his project, let him have his fun. Don't hurt his feelings with your honest opinion unless you truly believe the book is salvageable. Even then, step lightly.

Robin said...

You can relatively safely critique the work of a relative or a friend IF he became your friend or relative (in-law, for instance) only _after_ he received some critique from you and still decided not to slap you. Crit group friends are safe. Uncles and aunts - you are far too busy to read their stuff, but you can always helpfully point them out in the direction of your crit group...

Anonymous said...

Ahhh...Tolkien! So Miss Snark is a closet fantasy fan after all! I'll query shortly! ;)

kathryn magendie said...

oy vey! okay, I just love saying that, even though I was raised Southern Baptist, even though they either disowned me, or me them, who can remember, years ago.

Why not the truth? Then you'll never receive another manuscript again from Uncle Oh No. The truth being, "Unc, I love you, you're adorable, I've named my precious poodle after you, and I have your photo on my dresser right next to dear old dad, but I'm not qualified to critique this creative genius, these words which are meant for a world that is not quite ready for your type of brilliance! Dear Uncle! You have slipped the surly bonds of our pitiful literary existanceseses and mere mortal that I am, I can't express in mere simple wordages how otherwordly your work is - I am humbled, low to the ground in a bow. Please, take the manuscript back, for it makes me doubt my very existence as a writer, and I've been sobbing for days with the knowledge I'll never be able to put forth a work such as you. The manuscript is enclosed, complete with dried tear spots. Love and Kisses, Your despondant... "

*grin*

Anonymous said...

If the book is as bad as it sounds, then there's no point in providing any sort of critique, as it doesn't sound like there's anything much constructive you could say. You're not going to help him fix the book's problems because they're not fixable, and you're just going to hurt his feelings. I'd definitely go for the "You're so amazing for having written this, unfortunately I don't know enough about this genre to be able to critique it" approach.

Anonymous said...

" . . . the protagonist slaps his hysterical wife while she is holding their newborn in the second paragraph . . ."

That makes the book "awful, dreadful"? Why? Good books are full of bad people doing bad things (and good people doing bad things for that matter) -hence the tag protagonist.

You should just put the manuscript aside for now. One day, hopefully not soon, your dear uncle will be gone. Then, you will want to take out that "awful" and "dreadful" manuscript and read it (not as a critique, but as an heirloom) as you wonder what the grand ol' man was thinking as he wrote it. Who knows, it may give you some insight into his life. -JTC

Anonymous said...

You could just do what I do and charge him a dollar a word reader fee for evaluation, anda buck-fifty for copy-editing...

Anonymous said...

I'm married to an entomologist. He keeps bug specimens in our freezer. And I know one who has studied the pests (insect variety) in Central Park, if you need her. Neither is very good at dealing with cockroaches, though.

And, yes, I've read Tolkien. But does this reference suggest that Miss Snark talks to the trees?

Anonymous said...

The Daily Mail printing shite!

I'm amazed!

You 'Merkins don't know what you're missing.

Yellow Boy

Anonymous said...

Methinks the inimitable Miss Snark deserves her own syndicated advice column. :)

ello said...

You know lying gracefully is always a great way to deal with uncomfortable family situations. LIke "Oh the roast was delicious, besides I like my meat a bit overdone... or ... I love what you did with your hair, it's so festive... etc."

As a courtesy I would briefly skim the book (skimming or flipping and reading random words on a page or read the first page, one middle page and the last page) and inform my relative that it was clearly an enormous effort on his part to produce this manuscript and it was truly a commendable attempt. If he asks for critiquing, I would say, I wouldn't know where to start as I am not an expert but I would highly recommend such and such writing classes at his local university or writing center.

If you don't do it gracefully, you will never hear the end of this from your parents...

Maria said...

trees turns to paper turns to publishing.

Anonymous said...

I once had my mother-in-law ask me to look at her memoir, and when I demurred, she proceeded to read it to my husband and I, in its entirety.

I suggested a critique group "because it's so helpful to have a group of fellow writers nearby" and even that was enough to stop her speaking to me for an hour or two. (Not that I minded much, the hyperlexia may be new, but the logorrhea has always been.)

Termagant 2 said...

Were this uncle's MS in my hands, I'd borrow from CS Lewis (friend of Tolkien, don'tcha know): "Uncle Nigel, ONLY YOU could have written this."

T2

J Malcolm said...

I think the easiest out is to tell him no agent on the planet would touch a paid to be published book with a ten foot pole. If it wasn't already published then you could do something, but since it is, then there's nothing you can do. (Tell him this, even if it isn't true)
Then wish him better luck on his next opus.

Anonymous said...

Slapping hysterical mothers?? Methinks dear uncle has seen one too many eps. of "Footballers Wives."

(I confess to seeing an episode while high on a painkiller for an injury. It wasn't nearly enough to stop the visual agony.)

One of the great upsides to being a writer is the fact that one must be alone to create, particularly when it comes to relatives. I live a good 1200 miles from the whole lot, and am grateful for every linear inch of it. Most are unaware that I'm a fairly successful writer (they'd only wander into a bookstore to ask for directions to the carwash) and believe I'm a drunkard on welfare like many of the others in the clan. I encourage this, thus nipping in the bud any hopefuls looking for a loan (since all writers are rich like Mr. King) or literary help. (Oh, yeah, right, someone else actually graduated from grade school, yuh-huh.)

How I love W.C. Fields, who remarked in response to:

"Gee, Bill, it's hard to lose a relative."

Fields: Yeeeess, almost im-POSS-ible.

Amy said...

sage advice indeed...

i have an aunt who is still not speaking to me after she forced me to give her my honest opinion about a romance novel she'd been working on for 12 years.

Anonymous said...

To me, being nice to someone is a lot of trouble. You give them an inch and they take a mile. On second thought, it's kinda like being cordial to one of your dreadful neighbors, and I have many. I won't go there. Anyway, would it hurt to read a little here and there? I mean, Uncle is how old? 75, well, he could be good for a few more stories, but you could end up blessed in some way that you never imagined. No, I'm not drinking. Think about it. Seriously. You may be surprised what comes back to you. And no, I'm not a nice person. Ask my neighbors.


Georgia Girl

Ray Goldensundrop said...

The joke really bugs me, but not nearly as much as relatives. I just can't relate to them, and I had no input into the decision to become their relation in the first place. Ploop! Here you are, a whole set of crazy people with whom you must spend too much time. It gets really interesting in adolescence when the enormity of their faults becomes undeniably irritating. Then you get older and wiser, and move away with an unlisted phone number. But then they use the people finders on the Web to locate and harass you with impossible demands, and the only thing left to do is to become calm and silent in the Zen of discontinuance.

If an ms falls through the transom and nobody reads it, does it make a sound?

If my brother baits a trap and it is ignored, is the uncomfortable silence worthless or priceless?

Bernita said...

Poor old nuncle.
Got to give him credit for enthusiasm.
Choose one of the polite white lies offered above and be thankful you've improved on the genetics.

feta said...

ent jokes? so miss snark is secretly tolkienian? i have faith you'll come out of that closet someday...

Jan Conwell said...

Oh, man. I HATE when I read this blog late. I coulda been a contender... everybody knows ents.

Chumplet said...

I fired off my first two novels to several of my favourite aunties. Some liked, some didn't, one was kind enough to point out that there are no snakes in New Zealand, and one line-edited the snot out of them.
I was grateful for all.

Writerperson said...

One of my favorites was when a friend, unable to comment truthfully about another friend's staged play, said, "You must be so proud." I dust that off on occasion.

Douglas said...

"pictures of my hovel house, threadbare wardrobe, empty fridge, and overstocked liquor cabinet"

Eh?

Isn't that a successful writer's answer too?a

delilahrose said...

I felt like such a slug when I read my uncle's book "published" by AuthorHouse. It was actually pretty close to being good: all the technical stuff was fine - only problem was there was no discernible plot . . . and it was supposed to be a thriller. Oh eek, eek, eek!!

Since I'm hardly dog's gift to literature, I didn't feel it was my place to do anything other than gush. And gush I did as he announced his plans to spend biggo buckos, he didn't have -- and of course he is the absolute salt of the earth -- on promoting it.

And that is why they make slug poison that not only kills them; it dissolves their slimy little arses!

Sherry Decker said...

That was a riot to read. "I have a great idea for a story." How many of us have heard that line, followed by a string of ideas for scenes, and sometimes it's from someone we love. My excuse is that I'm so involved in my current project, I simply can't take on another at this time. The next time they ask, I've started another project.
Eventually they give up.

Sherry Decker said...

By the way - this is the funniest exchange I've read on this blog. Haven't laughed this much in weeks.

Jim Oglethorpe said...

All of the "favors" prepare you for what you will face as an published author. If you ever have a booksigning, friends of friends (and strangers) will come up to you and shove their work in your face. They want your agent's name. They want your advice. They don't realize that it is YOUR DAY. You try and be polite but they won't let up. And oddly enough, they will put you in an awkward position without even forking over $12.95 to buy your book. My take: skim Uncles ms. Tell him how many words he needs to but to make it publishable (that should keep him busy, recommend a writer's group ("I just don't comment specifically on friends/family member's work")and recommend that he buy whatever Agent's Guide you like the best and start querying!

Anonymous said...

My 82 year old father began working on his memoir a couple years ago. He is not a writer, and so the results were rather rough. But I recognized that his content was special, both for a part he played in history and to the family. I told him that like all manuscripts, it would need some editing. He asked me to do it, and insisted on paying the market rate for freelance editors. I worked hard on his 80,000, preserving his voice as I lopped, chopped, and rearranged. He self-published the results POD. I'm grateful to have had the chance to help, and would have done it for free if he hadn't been so set on keeping it professional. In the end, I got a new laptop out of it.

This isn't much help to the nephew in question, but I'm just trying to say to all out there that we can help these elderly writers, if we are willing and have time.

Eileen said...

As if family dynamics aren't complicated enough... you want to add honesty? Geez we'd never make it through a family dinner. If honest opinions start flying around the table I'm starting with telling Aunt Edith that creamed onions suck and stop bringing them because we all just shove them around on the plate to be nice because she's old.

Lorra said...

I will never have the problem of pesky friends/relatives asking for a critique because I can make myself go invisible.

And how do I know I have this power? Whenever I approach the deli counter in the store where I SPEND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS EVERY YEAR, five clerks with absolutely nothing to do don't acknowledge me in any way.

To confirm my invisibility, I usually ask a stranger standing next to me if I have, in fact, gone invisible as I try to pass my hand through my mid-section. The strangers never answer.

So now all I have to do is call upon this dog-given power and Poof! -- when I see a wild-eyed writer striding toward me with a huge stack of mangled computer paper, I'll do my deli-counter thing and simply disappear.

HawkOwl said...

What does the slapping-the-hysterical-wife part have to do with it? That would actually be rather cathartic. I hate authors who pamper hysterical women. Not to mention that hysterical women getting slapped actually happens all the time in real life.

jaywalke said...

I use these when ill-advised people press me for opinions about their singing or acting:

"Good isn't the word . . ."
"Oh, you should have been in the audience!"
"You really affected everyone deeply."
"I've never seen anything like it."

Anonymous said...

A relative asked me to co-write a book once. The premise alone was so breathtakingly dogawful that it was all I could do to keep a straight face. Of course, "co-write" was code for "I couldn't write my way into a gin pail, much less out of one, so you write it and I'll take the money."

I told the relative that I was too swamped with other projects to give the book the time it deserved. I don't think I have to translate THAT to you smart folks!

Carmen said...

I hope Great Uncle Glen doesn't read Miss Snark!

bonniers said...

Another possibility -- gush a bit about how much work he put into it and how proud he must be, and how so few people who want to write a book ever even start, let alone finish. Then encourage him to start a second book. That should keep him busy for a while.

Anonymous said...

My mother in law offered to edit my MS. She is a real stickler for details on punctuation and such but the thing is she likes mystery books, my book is a Sci-fi thriller, with one...two....three, yup three sex scenes in it. Which are really explicit. So I had her look at chapter 1-3 then I said no its ok thanks for taking the time.
I don't think I could look her in the eyes if she read some of the stuff I've put in this book.
Its dangerous having a family member look at your work, dog help us but writers are a sensitive bunch of babies sometimes.(myself included- I am currently going through my, (oh, god, go die stupid idiot writer, who do you think you are writing anything but a grocery list!!!! Stage of my non-existant career.)
I decided never never never to let a family member critque my work. One wrong word from them and its off to find a high bridge and a short drop for me. Ok, seriously its just not a good idea for aunti emma to look at your sex manual for senior citizens or anything else you write until its in print.
And that is my two cents worth of noise.

Christine said...

Ent-omologist.... funny stuff.

You read too much JRR.

Xopher said...

A person who studies Ents would be an Entologist. An Ent-om-ologist would be someone who studies Entish mantras. A gastro-Enterologist would be someone who studies how Ents add filler words to their already longwinded discourses when their stomachs are upset.

alnzhigj - Arabic adaptation of the French name for a Celtic dance.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

I think I would actually be brutally honest and nip this whole thing in the bud. As in, "Uncle X, I got to the part where Y slapped his wife while she was holding their baby and I couldn't read any further. It was just too upsetting. Please don't send me anything like that again." It's not like you asked him to send it to you in the first place, right?

I'm a great proponent of "if you don't want my opinion, don't ask me".

Daisy said...

Almost on-topic, my great-uncle's preferred phrase when confronted by an unattractive infant:
"My, now there's a baby."

Termagant 2 said...

Better still, read some of Nuncle's MS, and if there's anything good in it, copy-paste it to a file of your own. Then you can put it in your own MS when you need a zinger written by an old dude.

Just kidding, actually. I have no living uncles nor a Dad, and right now I'd be pretty happy to read anything they'd written. Better still, to spend an evening just chatting with them in the front room.

T2

Sherri said...

I'm rather surprised at the number of people who have said their mother-in-law either wanted or gave a critique. This happened to me, and stupid me, I thought it would be a good bonding experience. It was not.

Phillip McSween said...

Finally a good blog! Ah, so refreshing...My favorite quote to bad, unpublished authors: Well, it looks like you've got yourself a novel here.