The Eleventh Round of queries went out May 4th, 2015, in an effort to try utilizing the ways of the Force to get the attention of a literary agent.
But it would seem that I may have made yet another mistake for everyone to learn from by example, as I realized days after the fact that last year about this time, I sent out the Seventh Round of queries on Cinco de Mayo to a chilling silence (see "The Seventh Round"). And during that post, I was commenting on how the previous year I had done something similar by sending out not one but two rounds at a time on Christmas Eve (see "The Fourth and Fifth Rounds"). Internet articles and chat boards would quickly clear up this latter rookie mistake, but for the life of me I can't understand why early May is yet another Bermuda Triangle when in comes to launching correspondences into the void.
And so here we are again, approximately one month after this Eleventh Round went out, and with the exception of some immediate auto-responses and a few legitimate rejections, there has been no word from the fleet.
It may just be time to concentrate all power on that Super Star Destroyer.
Frank Lapidus, if you're reading this, would you like to take a stab at a book cover design?
I recently read an article on NOLA.com that hints at the very real possibility that we may be losing the University of New Orleans. To say that I'm not at all happy about this, regardless of any admitted resilience that I may have sometimes toward change in general, is not even a strong enough emotion. To have this formative place in my writing life be taken away from me, especially now that I'm back in the city and have rekindled my relationship with its campus and library, is heartbreaking.
I'd like to describe an experience that I had recently during a visit to the campus, which I equate to the phenomenon of "lucid dreaming." Just to be clear, the term refers to an awareness that one has while still in the dream state to the point where they can actually navigate the course of the dream. I think this is the ultimate freedom that we as imaginative creatures can have, the ability to run around inside ones own mind, and I think I may have had one of these experiences while still in a waking state on the campus of UNO.
The Earl K. Long Library is one of those places that I consider the birth of me as a writer, the birth of "Blanket," a refuge that ever since my leaving has had no substitute. In that library was where the first chunks of dialogue between Judith Blair and the Funnyman from Scenes from the Blanket came to be, written on an old Brother word processor in a cubicle downstairs, and later I would retreat upstairs to the soothing tranquility of the nighttime window desks to edit those pages. The campus of UNO is where I modeled Daniel Foster's academic career as being and home to the R.S.I.C. from The Petrified Christ, and not the campus of Loyola as is stated in the book.
These among other characters that I've created either live as a result of that campus and those professors and that university, or still dwell there in some way today.
A few months ago back when it was warmer in New Orleans, I took a drive out on a Saturday evening right around dusk to do some writing in the library. I found some private study rooms and picked one of them out from the many that lined every floor. There I would sit and work undisturbed until well after the sun went down.
As I went outside after I was done, I thought about how cool it would be to take my bike out for a spin. And after only a little bit of apprehension as random students walked by me there in the parking lot, I pulled my bike out from the back of my Jeep, placed it on the ground and started peddling. After getting the gears all set, what followed was that lucid dream of a bike ride through the empty, nighttime campus.
I rode all of the sidewalks up to the Liberal Arts building, peeking into the windows as I held myself up on the bricks, only to pedal off again to discover both new and familiar landmarks. I stopped at one point near a student-meeting place between the Liberal Arts and Mathematics building, where for some reason whenever I think about UNO and the possibility of my having had become a career academic, this location always pops into my mind. I'm guessing that I had such thoughts while standing right there many years ago, and thus that little courtyard has been imprinted on my mind ever since.
Off I peddled, taking pictures and making sharp turns as I zoomed here and there, and I felt like a kid. It was amazing. At one point I stopped at an office window that had the blinds pulled up, and on the ledge among piles of papers and books was a book on Chaucer.
I went inside to check the door, and sure enough it was the office of Dr. Kevin Marti, the same professor of the Medieval Literature that I'm writing about now in my new manuscript. Dr. Marti was one of three professors at UNO that impacted me greatly, the others being Victorian literature professor Dr. Leslie White, and the enigmatic Romantic literature professor Dr. Peter Schock. I hope one day to reunite with these men, if only for a few moments of quiet conversation, just to let them know how much of an impact they had on me as I roamed the halls of this great university so many years ago.
It was all very much like being suspended as would an acrobat on wires inside of my own skull, kicking myself from wall to wall, grabbing hold of something so I could take a look around before flying someplace else again to explore some other dark corner of my past. And the campus was dark indeed, silent and vacant on this Saturday night, and it was all just so perfect as to be at certain times overwhelming. I did a similar nighttime visit when I first returned home to my childhood house in Arabi, and being an empty post-Katrina neighborhood, it allowed me to explore the ghosts of my past undisturbed.
My childhood home is still there, however, it's just on the market to be scooped-up by someone else here real soon. And no, it doesn't look the same as it once did on the inside, but neither does my UNO home. But UNO is still there and accessible for the time being, and I sure would like to claim that building as a forever place, proving the age-old adage that you can never go home again dead wrong.
This is probably the longest I've ever taken between blog posts, but I have good reason. If you follow my Facebook or Twitter feeds at all, you've probably already seen that I've been quite busy lately, so busy in fact that I haven't updated here in quite some time. Yes, this is that post, the one where I catch-up and then promise to make more regular appearances on my own website.
So, let's see how this goes, shall we?
To begin, after spending the entire month of September dividing my time between learning lyrics and working on my new manuscript, I finally did two shows with 90 To Nothing. They were both in October and both during the second-to-last Halloween weekend of the legendary New Orleans haunted attraction, The House of Shock. This was to be the final year for this long-running show, which blends stage special effects and theatrics with some of the most terrifying twists and turns that an actual walk-through haunted house could have legally.
We played for the crowds as they waited to get into the stage-show area, and it was yet another incredible culmination of hard work and preparation. Everyone was pleased, and it was during this weekend that I broke through any barriers that I might have cultivated with regard to my being able to perform again in the capacity of lead vocalist. I know what it is that I do and do well in the music scene of this city, dormant all along like so many other things in this new and unfolding tale that is my life.
Then November saw the beginning of rehearsals for the play. That's right, I was in a play. Let me explain.
When I first came back to New Orleans in June of this year, my friend Scott Frilot asked if I would be interested in playing bass in a band as part of a play that our mutual friend Gary Rucker was producing over at his own Rivertown Theatres for the Performing Arts in Kenner. I accepted immediately, wanting nothing more than to immerse myself in all that the New Orleans arts scene had to offer, my hometown where it would seem that all the inmates I’d come up with were now running the asylum. I received all of the material for the show, the songs and the script, and then it was all put on the back burner for the next three months while I worked with 90 To Nothing.
But nothing could prepare me for that November night when I first walked into Rivertown and met director Ricky Graham. I had no idea that "the director" I'd been hearing so much about would be this familiar face I'd seen for most of my adult life in the entertainment section of The Times-Picayune, alongside some of the greats of the New Orleans theatre scene. It was truly an honor to meet this man and to, for all intents and purposes, work with him for as long as I did.
The cast and crew welcomed the band as equals as Scott Frilot, Woody Dantagnan, Brian Drawe and myself settled into the pit to begin the rehearsals for the British farce that was to be Richard Bean's hilarious "One Man, Two Guvnors." And I knew immediately that this would be an experience that I would never want to end, and night after night of rehearsals and actual performances did nothing to lessen this emotion. I understand now the feeling of absolute sadness that actors claim overcome them when a film or television series wraps.
Lead Chris Marroy was astonishing and did nothing short of spoil me when it comes to seeing any future shows in this city. I have very little exposure to the New Orleans theatre community, but for me to say that I was taken aback by Chris' performance night after night would be a silly understatement. I'm sincerely hoping that any future trips and/or involvement that I may have with the local theatre scene will feature a performance equal to or as great as what Chris showed me was possible.
The rest of the cast included my lifelong friend Gary Rucker alongside Erin Cesna, P.J. McKinnie, Shelley Johnson Rucker, Lara Grice, Logan Faust, Michael P. Sullivan, James Howard Wright, Matt Reed, Kyle Daigrepont and Joshua Talley.
So, let's review. So far since coming home I've been in a short film directed by John Beyer called "Sis-Tours," joined 90 To Nothing as their new lead singer, got a request for a full manuscript from a potential literary agent, and was featured (that's right, even themusician's names were printed in the programs and on the lobby poster!) in a New Orleans theatre production. Whew.
Which brings us to the here and now, where again I am that guy who has launched a blog, not updated it as regularly as he would like due to a complete lack of personal assistance, and is now promising in his latest post to keep his website updated.
And so like I said only paragraphs ago, let's see how this goes, shall we?
I should be working on songs right now, but instead I'm writing. Not that I haven't been working on songs for the past week now, because I have. It's just that this is a part of the transition, the way in which I gradually take off one of my hats and put on the other.
Just as a quick update, I've slowed down production on my new book for a few days in order to deal with a different type of wordplay. You see, where there was once output there is now input, a gradual absorption of lyrics and meter and rhythm. No, I have not crossed over into the realm of the aspiring poet, not entirely.
But I have joined the New Orleans-based band 90 To Nothing as their new lead singer!
It's been about eight years since I last took the role of a front man in a band, where I utilized my vocal abilities and what interpersonal skills I'd learned with an audience from being a singer on Bourbon Street for the better part of the six years prior to Hurricane Katrina. While it's true that I've become older and shorter of breath, I am still confident in my ability to sing! And as far as the interpersonal part goes, well, we'll see how the subtraction of alcohol since 2009 works with regard to my ability to connect with you the audience.
Of course I'm saying all this in jest, and I couldn't be more confident and thrilled to be a part of something like this now again in a city where it seems as though I'm truly picking up where I left off. I'd forgotten just how much of a network there was here, especially now that I realize that I've left some sort of mini legacy behind during my nine-year sabbatical. Where at once I used to reflect on how New Orleans must've treated mention of me as one would treat the mention of a person who'd passed away and thus had no hope of returning, now I understand that talk of me has mostly centered around the possibility of my returning to an identity and role that has already been established and is very much in place.
With new musical opportunities coming in, all of which I plan to consider and work on throughout the rest of this year, I have also been actively seeking out other opportunities to throw my music hat into the ring. On my wish list is to return to Bourbon Street as a vocalist. Although I started out down there as a bassist that eventually just sang, I have to say that at this point in my life I consider myself a much better contender to work alongside the amazing talent on that street as a singer, and a singer only.
And so I've slowed down the writing for the time being, and I do mean for the very-brief time being, so that I can give these new opportunities the time that they deserve. I've always claimed to be of these two halves, the music and the writing, and a man who does two things at once really doesn't do either of them well. So wish me luck as I jump from one side of the green grass to the other to digest some words, and then with any degree of luck, back again very soon to lay down some more of my own.
Go give the Facebook page a like at: https://www.facebook.com/90toNothing
According to FedEx tracking, as of yesterday morning my first full-manuscript request has arrived at the door of a potential literary agent. This is a big deal! Last week when I was scouring the Internet just to find out how best to format such a thing for delivery, the first few sentences of every post I read said that I should first congratulate myself, because this alone meant that I've made it through the slush pile and attracted the kind of attention that only a few attain.
It certainly is a glorious feeling sending something like a manuscript out in the mail, knowing that the physical pages themselves are being carried across country packed neatly in their own form-fitting, 8 ½ by 11 box. And even now I think about how great those pages are going to look when that box is opened to reveal all of my hard work. I told some friends of mine recently who seem to be quite optimistic about this new step in my writing career that for me this is comparable to opening a business or building a house, that having had no children of my own, these are the kids that I'm raising and sending through college.
Writing to me has always been a constant, a thing that I'm simply wired to do regardless of whether or not I reach any level of success, and so even the smallest of victories feel tremendous. Being home in New Orleans now for a little over two months, I find myself still hunting out the same old quiet places to write from my comparative youth, a habit of mine that only in retrospect did I realized I'd been doing for the better part of the past twenty years. I've done this everywhere I've lived, and it's consistencies like that one that make it easy to understand who I am at my core.
And so now as my fingertips gently brush the golden ring that I've been reaching for since the First Round of queries went out almost two years ago, never before have I felt so much in the game for real. Believe me when I say that email submissions and hard copy submissions are two different beasts. Right now with any degree of luck, the industry person who requested to see more of the rooms in this house that I've built is thumbing their way through the structure page by page and one square foot at a time, and it takes every bit of my writer's imagination not to think that they're hopefully enjoying all of the amenities that I've put into place for their visit.
I want to write about an experience that happened to me during my first month back here in New Orleans, a very full-circle experience that vindicated in some ways my second coming in this city. The experience turned out well for me, because it opened up a new avenue that I would never have thought possible just nine years ago in pre-Hollywood-South New Orleans. It in fact only took twenty years, but a few weeks ago, I was up on the silver screen.
When I was 15, I was rabid for the idea that I wanted to be a film director. Having been given access to a rented VHS video camera for a family vacation to Walt Disney World, my parents just went ahead and purchased the thing because quite frankly I wouldn't let it go after the week was up. That camera was the seed of obsession that saw me making videos that I entered into a student media festival at LSU throughout my four years in high school, and I won the damn thing all four years in a row.
But at some point this urge to make movies faded, and I always site the reason being that selfishly, the collaborative process at the time proved too much. I went to college and made a movie my freshman year, but then I was just done, off and running into the void that would eventually end up with my deciding that the written word would be my main mode of storytelling. In retrospect, I also believe that I would have given up long before Hollywood South and their glorious tax incentives would have ever come to town.
And now back to our story.
It all started during a random conversation with filmmaker John Beyer and actor Corey Stewart, both of whom participate in what is known as The 48 Hour Film Project every year, which they thought I could contribute something to this year in front of the camera. The 48 is an international competition where filmmakers are given a genre to work with, a line of dialogue that needs to be spoken, a character name and a prop that needs to be used and then are told to go out and make that movie in forty-eight hours. The New Orleans-based competition is moderated by an old Bourbon Street friend of mine, Pedro Lucero, and that fact alone should have told me that the universe was about to place me somewhere that I needed to be.
And so on the morning of July 19th, 2014, I was emailed a copy of the script for "Sis-Tours" that had been written overnight and then I was told where to go. I made coffee and grabbed some semblance of a wardrobe from my closet and headed out. When I arrived, the first thing that struck me was the silent efficiency of the set located in an office building that was given to us for the day, with crew members that scurried here and there setting up lighting and camera equipment and set decoration.
I got dressed and was then asked to go into makeup where among other things, the artist made sure that my bald head -- which I dubbed at the amusement of the crew as the "chrome dome" -- was dimmed-down enough as not to be too shiny for the camera. When this was done and after some waiting around, it was then time to do my first take, a voice-over line that I was told just to read. Being at least good at reading things, and knowing that I had the luxury of doing it with no memorization necessary, I nailed the inflection and made director John Beyer giggle.
So far so good.
But next was my first actual on-camera scene, a talking-head shot in which I had to deliver lines without reading them. I stumbled at first and then asked if I could do it again as a stifling hush filled the room that I didn't care to interpret at the time. And when I did it again and opened-up into character under the direction of John, the result was another break-up behind the camera and a restoration to my confidence.
The rest of the day went unbelievably well, and the collaborative experience of this very-ensemble piece -- which also featured Corey Stewart, Laura Flannery, Karen Gonzalez, Jamie Choina, Ed Hubert, Brian Bonhagen and Chris Fontana, and the behind-the-scenes work of Todd Schmidt, Laura Duval, Matt Bell, Alex Payne and Franz Wise -- was as gratifying as anything I can remember in recent years. The ease with which I navigated this environment made me nostalgic for my high school years, where all I wanted to do was make movies, an instinct that perhaps I should never have let grow dormant. The universe is funny that way.
With my part of the eight-hour shoot done, the crew was then off and running to the next location. I went home and officially began waiting for the opportunity to see the finished product. I also did quite a bit of writing that day, inspired by the creative atmosphere that I'd just left.
People in love with storytelling are my kind of people, as are film people, which I learned that day firsthand.
I'd now like to fast-forward to the night of Thursday, July 24th, 2014.
The entire team -- dubbed now "The Sullen Ducks" -- arrived at the National WWII Museum theatre in the Warehouse District of New Orleans for the second of the festival's four screenings. We all filed inside, and a bit of a reunion took place between myself and moderator Pedro Lucero. This recognition would in fact carry-over into the auditorium where as we all sat and they got ready to begin the screening, Pedro pointed me out in the second row and announced into a hot microphone, "And Ted Torres is here!"
That moment meant more to me than you know, Pedro, and I thank you.
And yes, there I was projected fifty-feet high for a few moments that will stay with me forever, strictly for the sake of punctuating how fast things can happen when one simply allows the universe to nudge them back into place.
And ... scene.
Since returning home to New Orleans last month to stay, of the many places that I've revisited was this one, the New Orleans Museum of Art. As I walked all of the conjoined rooms, I was stunned into humble submission as I realized the consistency of the artistic temperament. Last night I was reading through an English Literature textbook before bed (wanting to get into Dickens and got sidetracked) and I started reading Victorian writer and art critic John Ruskin's Modern Painters, in which he says that there is no difference between the painter who uses his series of skillful brushstrokes and the poet who uses language, for they are both simply the tools used to express their visions.
I might add to this, visions that will make them immortal.
And so there was that visit, but then there were also visits to small theatres where I saw stand-up comedy performed three feet in front of me, legendary music clubs where friends embraced me and asked me where I'd been all this time, private movie screenings and restaurants and bars and all those things that make up my roots. The streets materialized around me again as I instinctually just knew where to go, like a great city map that had begun rendering itself block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood. Never before in my life can I recall ever having had such a sense of belonging, part of a community of creatives that take from this city that which is all that it really has to offer, first and foremost a never-ending spring of inspiration embedded in every square mile.
But back to the Rounds, and the Eight and Ninth have gone out within a month of each other, the latter of which actually produced a request for a partial. Self-publishing has not so much gone by the wayside again, but has dropped down the ladder a few rungs. At some point I'll begin submitting to publishers in addition to agents on a monthly basis, and I'll continue writing new things, and with that nothing has changed much at all.
But can I get back to how wonderful it is to walk these streets again, how nourishing to the soul it is to have conversations that require no background or context and that go on for hours and hours until it's time to go home and begin these days again, and how a man can indeed go home?
Transition, powerful and sudden, a miraculous revelation that put me at one with the universe.
But let's start with Cinco de Mayo.
I wasn't aware that this holiday may or may not have been one of those times of the year when agents automatically delete queries sent to them, much in the same way I'd lamented my rookie mistake months ago (see "The Fourth and Fifth Rounds") by sending a batch off on Christmas Eve. I suppose it's still too early to tell, being that the Seventh Round went out a week ago, but I have to admit that the reception so far seems icy. But paired with some things that have crossed my mind quite a bit lately due to an illness that hit me in the beginning of March and ended with a surgery in mid April, a span of two months that put me in an intense state of self-evaluation about my role if any in this world of publishing, it became apparent to me that maybe my patience is wearing a bit thin.
So, take your time, prospective agents. As much as I wish one of you would latch on to my project and give it the representation that it deserves, I think I may be putting up that particular fishing pole for the time being. Well, at least I'm putting away the one with the kung fu grip in favor of multiple, lighter and less important ones.
The plan is to send out a batch every month, to the few agents that are left all over the country and beyond. But in the meantime, I have been exploring self-publishing options in a turn of events that anyone following this blog probably didn't see coming. Things change, and the marriage of media and technology is no exception.
To say that the world of self-publishing has changed since I did it last would be an understatement, but at the same time a lot of the same things still hold true. For instance, without the backing of a traditional publisher, for the most part marketing and publicity is still left completely up to the author. But that's okay, because hand-in-hand with the strides that technology has made in self-publishing, so has the means of getting the word out.
And then I've heard through some confidants of mine on Team Torres that authors who self-publish now can actually earn a little bit of royalty that amounts to more than just a few cents here and there, something that in the past has always made me look forward to receiving my 1099 every year just for a good chuckle. As a musician, I still gig on the weekends and earn a little money here and there. But the way I see it, with pricing structures now in the hands of the authors, I can now count my books as things that actually make me some cash on the side.
All the arrows are pointing in this direction, even now as I have the manuscript out to three different beta readers whom I don't actually think realize they are beta readers yet. I will follow up with them and initiate them officially, making then card-carrying members of the newly formed Team Torres. Yes, the process has begun.
I'm still keeping one eye open to traditional publishing, because I do still plan to consistently chisel away at least once a month in both the agency and publisher markets. But I've already begun to imagine the cover design, and already have a member of Team Torres ready with his mighty Photoshop sword. There was always something special about the control of self-publishing, about the time leading up to and including the process, knowing that ultimately I would have a say on when and where my children were born.
I have pelted the east coast with queries at this point, with the Sixth Round deployed on March 3, 2014 to ten carefully chosen agencies. Some have come back within a day with rejections, while others are still pending within the time frames dictated on their websites. These things take time, and these agents are swamped by writers of varying degrees of determination, and this is the glacier-like nature of the business.
But it looks as though, at least for now, my attack on the east coast has ended. There seems to be no more agencies left that would be appropriate for my special brand of psychosocial thriller, which while falling under the classification of "genre fiction" is still a bit of a rare subdivision. More and more I'm thinking about re-entering the self-publishing trade, if for no other reason than it seems that the business has evolved exponentially from I when I first published The Petrified Christ and Scenes from the Blanket over the course of the past fifteen years.
And so the next rounds will spread out into the rest of the country, hitting the smaller less selective agencies that may find great interest in the subject matter of my unpublished New Orleans-themed manuscript. They're out there, and I would think that it's a rarity that authors with aspirations such as myself ever really consider querying anywhere outside of Manhattan, while still thinking that they were accomplishing something. But I totally do, because there comes a time when fishing in the big pond that houses the fewer fish may not be the way to sustain the hope that we as writers need to keep going, and this is just where I am in the beginning of my 42nd year.
I've always had a symbol that's brought me great peace simply by looking at it, and I'm not sure if this is a positive byproduct of my Catholic upbringing or what. That symbol is the circle with the cross in the center, extending out evenly in four quarters to touch the circumference, very much resembling the Holy Eucharist of Communion during the Catholic mass.
I've always written it at the top of pages, in the margins of journal entries, just to set my mind at ease. The significance has always been that it represents my life, a large circle with everything inside, and a cross in the center holding it all together. Everywhere I see this symbol, and by that I mean not scribbled of my own doing, I stop to regard it and wonder if possibly it's a sign that that's where I needed to be at that moment.
I had this experience almost a year ago when I re-entered the workforce, going in for an interview at an office where in the conference room, there was an entire window of this design. After getting the job, I snuck in there when no one was looking and snapped a picture. I've been on the lookout ever since.
My job is in Homewood, Alabama, and I don't know if maybe there was some city-appointed architect assigned to keep certain themes going in some of the structures, but I came across the symbol again in one of the most appropriate and eerily telling places that Ted Torres could ever find it.
In a library, the Homewood Public Library, a building that I found this week, eight months after I should have. It is as beautiful and inspiring as the Hoover Public Library, very similar in its design, and in the main study area -- where tables are spread out under the glow of individual lamps -- there is a high window that is a circle with a cross in the center. That is all.