Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pardon me, my name is Stimson

The dollar has gone into freefall. An editor has offered to publish Your Name Here, explaining that he loves Joyce, Beckett and Pynchon and finds in YNH the things he loves in JBP. He proposes a first print run which was that of Ulysses.

The freefalling dollar would be a matter of indifference if I had, for instance, sold the book about a boy trapped in an online poker fraud ring to 20th Century Fox. The Ulysses-level first print run would be a matter of indifference if the dollar were gaining ground. The two together raise the FAQ: What is to be done?

A: I buy an Idea sofabed on Craigslist, which must now be transported from A (Naunynstrasse) to B (my apartment). (Why not rent out one half of a handsome Berlin apartment while finishing the book about the boy trapped in an online poker fraud ring?)

So I've been shamelessly scrounging, asking Alex Frey, Johanna Thompson and TARARTRAT for help with the schlafsofa. While waiting for a reply I've been fecklessly surfing instead of getting on with the book about the boy etc. etc. And what to my wondering eyes should appear....

In the early 90s I worked for an NGO that supported women's projects in what our brochures referred to as the developing world. For a while I had a colleague, a 50-something-year-old woman who had once worked for NOW (the campaigning organisation for the ordination of women). X had had an old-fashioned marriage; she had met her husband-to-be briefly before he went overseas, they'd become engaged, she'd gone out to India to get married and had second thoughts, her mother-in-law-to-be had poured champagne down her throat till she was too drunk to back out. In retrospect X thought that the fact that she'd agreed to do it had not been a terribly good reason to go through with it.

At some point I was writing a letter to a population of possible supporters, young women we knew only by name. I said: What do you think, is it better to use Miss or Ms?

X: Oh, if you're writing to that generation you should certainly use Ms.

Well, a kiss is still a kiss, but a Ms is not as good as a Miss as time goes by...

Frittering away my time, as I say, trying to organise help with my schlafsofa, I check out Nathan Bransford's blog. Nathan has a post on formality in query letters. Down among the comments

[Update: TARARTRAT has agreed to get up at the crack of dawn to help with the verdammte Schlafsofa]

is one from a 20-something agent, who says, in Anno Domini 2008,

My pet peeve in being addressed is "MS."

My inner English major screams whenever I see this. It's always bothered me. I would prefer people just call me "Colleen".

"Miss" is not offensive in any way and I don't understand why cranky feminists decided to replace a perfectly good honorific with one that is not actually short for anything.

I was under the impression that both married and unmarried women were once addressed as Mistress; two abbreviations were later derived from this to mark marital status. (But to the best of my knowledge, I have no inner (or, indeed, outer) English major. ) I do think feminists made a serious mistake in introducing Ms in the hope of achieving an unmarked form; the sensible plan would have been to coopt Mrs.

As my friend X understood, anyway, it is very common to write business letters to people whose personal lives are irrelevant to the matter at hand. It is not offensive to address an unmarried woman as Miss; it would look careless and unprofessional to address either a man or a married woman as Miss. It is generally possible to identify the sex of an unknown correspondent by the first name; it is not possible to determine marital status, since we do not have the custom of changing first names upon marriage and selecting the new names from a pool restricted only to married persons. It is not easy to see why someone who wants to deal with a woman professionally should have to go to the trouble of finding out whether she is married or single.

[Update: Alex Frey has also agreed to help with the verdammte Schlafsofa.]

In any case. If anyone wants to correspond with me, none of the following is incorrect: Dr DeWitt; Ms DeWitt; Miss DeWitt; Mrs Levene; Helen. I would very much prefer people not just call me Colleen.

5 comments:

hassan said...

Excellent news, and congrats on the YNH offer! Must be a bit of a relief to know you have a spare pair of hands working on the book's future...

Ithaca said...

Ah. I have had an email from another read who also thinks "have had an offer of publication" means "have accepted an offer of publication". This was a wonderful letter to get from an editor, but my landlord does not consider the honour of having me on the premises sufficient payment for use of the apartment.

hassan said...

But you surely get a discount at least, right? :-)

Although that still wouldn't fix the problem of the falling dollar, nor contribute any uncertainty about what to do about your offer. Hmm.

I muse - I wonder if, say, music studios would be interested in creating derivatives based on the celebrity of their artists. The going price for paparazzi photos, mentions per magazines over a week, number of Google hits, things of this nature could go towards formulating a celebrity index. It's a win-win; musicians scramble to increase visibility to play their own stock market, music houses cash in on higher sales from the increasing bankability of their stars, everyone's a winner. Say, anyone out there want to give me angel funding for my idea? Any takers? No?

Glad you got the letter all the same, it must be a wonderful sort of letter to find in one's inbox.

nsiqueiros said...

". . .a first print run which was that of Ulysses."

A thousand books is a bit on the smallish side for a first printing is it not?

Lee said...

Well, if your novel has the same fate as Joyce's ...

But in the meantime, if you manage to figure out how to convince the landlord, please let me know. As a writer who has no prospect of ever earning anything from her work, I could use a better rent-paying strategy.