Like Father, Like Son

August 27, 2008

Yesterday, August 26. A day of days for the Collins family. My son Noah started his first day of school (kindergarten) yesterday. Twenty-one years before that was the day I left the unfriendly confines of Mount Vernon, New York for the greener pastures of college life at the University of Pittsburgh. A lifetime of changes coming down to one date, one time, for both father and son.

Noah wasn’t as excited about his first day of school as I was about mine some thirty-four years ago (That was September 8, 1974. Except that kindergarten classes were half-days in most of the country back then.) Noah wasn’t unexcited, though, either. He gave us a bit of a time getting out of the house, but we were able to get him to school on time, without any public displays of tears. At least until after he waved to us as he went with his class into the school building. So brave of him. So proud we were.

What does all of this mean? Not much if we don’t remain as diligent as parents of our school-aged child as we were when Noah was a baby. Yesterday was just the first of roughly 2,300 school days between now and 2021, the year my son turns eighteen and hopefully goes on to college. Reading, writing, print and cursive, addition, subtraction, multiplication tables, fractions, decimals, and long division, basic science, an additional language, tying shoes, summer camps, family vacations, friends, puberty, dating, algebra, geometry, trig, bio and chemistry and possibly physics, sports, music, dance, essays contests and science fairs, school trips and school plays, PTA meetings and parent-teacher conferences, and so many other things that I’ve forgetten or just haven’t thought about for a while are on our agenda for the next thirteen years. And we better make enough money and carve out enough time to make most–if not all–of this possible.

Still, I know all too well how life and bad parenting can sidetrack even the most focused and even-tempered of kids. I got off to a great start in kindergarten and in first grade, only to get completely sidetracked in second grade by my mother and father’s divorce, arguments, drunken rages, and my mother’s mystery kidney illness. It took a year and a half for me to make the adjustment. Only to be sidetracked a few years later by the Hebrew-Israelite nightmare that my ex-stepfather and mother brought into our lives.

We have to try as hard as we can to give Noah every opportunity to grow up in a nurturing environment that enables him to grow up and to learn naturally. Period. In the event of any major changes in his life, short of our or my own demise, we must do everything we can to protect him or soften the blow. I want him to have every advantage and every wonderful experience that I didn’t get the chance to have or only imagined for myself over the next thirteen years.

Noah’s another motivation for Boy At The Window. He just doesn’t know it yet. I hope to have it published before he finishes grade school.

Boy @ The Window Chapter Drafts

August 19, 2008

My apologies for not posting last week. Too much drama at home, too many revisions to make to the manuscript.

Enough excuses. Below are drafts of a sample of chapters from Boy At The Window for your review. I will also post these in my “Other Writings” page of the website for your convenience.

I hope that all of you will read, enjoy and give me your thoughts, criticisms and praises about these drafts whenever you have a moment.

Thanks so much to all of you for your support and encouragement over the past year or so, and thanks in advance for your responses to these draft chapters.





Land of Walls and Secrets

August 7, 2008

It’s been a full year and a half since I completed the first draft of Boy At The Window. Since then, I’ve added to, subtracted from, rewritten and otherwise edited and revised the manuscript five times, most recently in March of this year. I’ve revamped my query letter so many times that I’ve lost track of what it was I wanted to say originally in it (not really, but it has felt that way at times). Yet with all of that, I’ve managed to interest about two dozen agents in Boy At The Window. Only to find out in a week or two weeks or a month or a year that while I’m a “wonderful writer” with an “interesting story,” that their “enthusiasm level” isn’t high enough for them to pursue an editor for publication of my manuscript.

It’s no secret what this means, at least from the rejecting agent’s perspective. No matter how well written, my mundane story of trials and tribulations of a Black kid growing up in the New York City area only to turn into a minor success story is old news, because there are so many books out there that shed light on the realities of Black males in America (not!). Actually, my book might not be making agents see lots of $$$$, since I’ve only published one book (and a self-published one at that), I haven’t made a $100 million and I’m not an elite journalist on the New York Times‘ payroll. That is the untold secret of the publishing world these days. That the quality of writing isn’t the first thing agents or editors look at anymore. It’s likely not in the top three or five either. Fame or recognized expertise or obvious leadership experience or being a veteran best-selling author or being rich (or a combination of all of these) are the leading reasons for publishing a new book in this business. If I go by this reality, I would probably have to wait until I’m at least fifty or dead before anyone will take a serious look at what I have to say.

So how do I break through, find the right agent, who in turn will help me find the right editor for a manuscript that I know is worthy of publication, that can be both entertaining and of benefit to readers? I haven’t completely figured out what the next steps are. I could put it aside and work on other projects. But if my memoir isn’t getting a lot of traction, I can’t imagine a collection of essays on American privilege and entitlement doing any better. I might want to think about self-publishing, but in light of my limited success with Fear of a “Black” America, I think it would be a disservice to my manuscript and all of the people I interviewed (or didn’t interview) to go that route. My wife says that Stephen King received anywhere between 200 and 300 rejections before finding a publisher for his first book thirty-five or so years ago. But as I’ve pointed out to her, he’s generally a fiction writer, and there are far more agents and editors for those than there are for nonfiction, especially memoirs.

I haven’t given up the ghost yet, though. I do think that I should contact another batch of agents with my refined query letter. I get to first base with it about thirty-five percent of the time these days, which I think is pretty good. Still, I can’t put all of my eggs in the query-letter-as-siege-engine basket, continuing to hurl boulders into the walls of Ba Sing Se (ala Avatar). I’m also thinking that maybe I should talk with some folks about talking about my story and my manuscript, maybe on the Web or TV or radio (it’s all a part of my proposal for the book anyway).

Perhaps the best thing I can do for Boy At The Window right now is to let some of the manuscript see the light of day. So what I plan to do in the next week or two is to post a few excerpts of the manuscript on my website for your reading and feedback, probably somewhere between one and two chapters. My interest here is only to find out from you if this is something that you would read if published, or if you’re only reading my site until Jon Stewart comes on at 11 pm on Comedy Central. :)

I’ll continue to blog and blather on all things related to Boy At The Window in the meantime, and hope to see some of your comments about my blogs in the near future. Thanks again for all of your support!


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