I sent off my first queries to agents today. As you read this, see if this would be something you would go for:
Dear Mr. Kleinman,
In It’ll All Be New: A Tale of Love, Loss, and Friendship Spanning Two Continents, a family trip to visit friends in Germany frames an intense reflection on international relationships whose bonds have transcended distance and time. As my family and I visit one friend and then another, I recount and contemplate how these relationships, these people, and facets of my life have developed in common over the course of thirty years.
When I was 22, on a whim, I sold everything and took off to work in the vineyards of the Mosel Valley. I couldn’t speak the language. I had no contacts, almost no money, and carried what I owned on my back.
Over the course of a year, I landed a job with a well-reputed winery in Trier and met people who influenced my entire life. Each subsequent trip I made to visit these friends over the years—from final tense days during Cold War to the birth of a new republic—reintroduced me to a Germany and friends whose lives were changing. My friends developed in their careers as craftsmen and artists. I matured from an overbearing and needy drunk to a stable family man. In between, my wife and children formed their own relationships with my friends.
Tales of love, disappointment, and the death of my best friend, a German, take the reader through a personal odyssey that spans two continents, a trip to the mental hospital, and several careers.
The University of Nebraska Press published my two travel memoirs. Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains (2009) recounts my 1,450-mile walk from Kansas City to Helena, Montana. Canoeing the Great Plains: A Missouri River Summer (2015) takes readers down 2.200 miles of the Missouri River from Helena back to Kansas City. Both are works of personal exploration, as well as solid travel narratives. Seldom Seen won mentions in several book awards contests, including the Byron Caldwell Smith Award from the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas. I have been an award-winning journalist, book editor, college professor, and ironworker. I conduct memoir-writing workshops at the Writers Place, a Kansas City literary center. I earned a doctorate in American History and American Literature from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2013.
I’m seeking an agent who shares my enthusiasm for travel narrative and memoir. It’ll All Be New is a 93,000-word travel memoir that explores 30 years of personal development, human friendship, and loyalty. The manuscript is complete and ready for your consideration.
Dr. Patrick Dobson
1717 Jarboe St.
Kansas City, MO 64108
Europe—it hailed me through the summer of 2014. It infested my dreams and daydreams, woke me in the night, and made my heart skip when I thought of it. The trip was almost here.
But I still had work to do.
Nothing makes grading student essays more drudgery than a trip on the horizon. Community college writers, and especially those who take classes online, produce a wide variety of work, mostly bad. I’d been reading my online students’ Donald Duck writing for about three weeks. Slogging through each essay and commenting on it seemed to take hours. Days became as long as weeks. Then came exams, which also had a writing component.
My misery was all my fault. I could have made things easier on myself, demanded less student writing—shortening the assignments to one or two from four—and used more multiple-choice and short-answer questions for exams. Unfortunately for my students, my undergraduate days loom large in my memory. The classes that were easiest for me taught me little. I found that, as a graduate student, I had to learn the lessons I didn’t learn as an undergraduate in a short time. Absorbing, for instance, the historiography of the Progressive Era while writing a dissertation about Progressive reforms made difficult, if not sometimes impossible, work.
I couldn’t sell my students short. Even though this was community college, the operative word for me is “college.” I wanted my students to walk out of my class and find themselves prepared for academics—in history, anyway—in any four-year college or university. My classes were difficult, but only in the sense that it took work. A student need not be overly intelligent, clever, or quick to do well in my classes. They need only do the work—read the book, take the tests, do their weekly quizzes (a cakewalk since they do these online and can use their books), and turn in the writing assignments. All this was work, and work for them meant work for me.
And here it was, the closing of the semester, the time when my work load was heaviest. Intellectual labor felt as difficult sometimes as physical labor. A day of student essays feels like carrying several tons of rebar, as I had done as an ironworker. In fact, after a couple of days of grading essays, I wanted to re-up my union card.
One of the great secrets of teaching is that after about eight weeks of a regular semester and four weeks of a summer semester, most teachers want the school to end as much as students do, maybe more. Few people who take summer semesters online at community colleges don’t really want to go to school anyway. They enroll because they want to finish up their coursework and move on with their lives. Or they believe an eight-week summer semester online will be less work than sitting in a classroom for sixteen weeks. Adjuncts like me teach summer courses because they love teaching and need the money. Soon, students who don’t want to be in school drain the joy from teaching and I’m in it for solely for the money.
The semester was a wreck and I was about as tired from the work as I’d ever been. I’d had it with school. I heard enough of students’ petty complaining and wheedling. I was over negotiating for grades. I was determined to be fair; I always am. But I decided that firmness with students and simple, stupid stamina would carry me through the last weeks until, once relieved of college duties, I was going to Europe with my family.
Once I turned in the semester grades to the school, it was time for us to go. While Virginia and Nick had been packing and repacking for days, I had a single day after the semester ended to get my things together before we got on a plane. Packing, however, is an easy exercise in throwing things in a bag. I was more worried about making sure we had passports and tickets ready and accessible. Virginia took charge of these documents, which made me a nervous wreck. I trust no one, not even my wife, with my passport. I lost a passport once on a trip to Germany and was determined never to go through that pain again. Letting someone else control the passports was akin to letting an inveterate drunk carry a Faberge egg in a backpack.
But we were off and no one was happier about it than me. My wife and I had been talking about a trip to Europe for over three years and thinking of one long before that. Something always came up in the weeks before we bought our tickets—a death in the family, someone’s wedding, or schooling needs for my son, Nick. Whatever the reason, we’d decided this was it and nothing would stand in our way. Luckily, no one died or was going to get married. We had buttoned up all of Nick’s outstanding and future school projects. We were ready to go.
And this was a special trip, more than a European round for a bunch of American tourists. We were going to visit friends in Germany, and we looked forward to seeing them in the flesh. Phone calls and e-mails weren’t good enough anymore. We had to see our friends in their habitats.
All the people we were meeting on this trip had been friends of mine since 1985, when I first hopped a flight to Germany to find a job in a vineyard. I was a 22-year-old kid with no self-awareness, plenty of fear, and loaded with great dreams. After resolving I would go to Germany, I had been frightened, but the fear of not doing what had come to me on a whim overcame the fear of doing it. By luck and accident, I found the job I was looking for in Trier in the west of Germany, a city ten times older than my country. Through the help of the winery director, I found a small room in the attic of the apprentices’ school, where for the rent I also got a small breakfast and coffee with some of the students.
I hope you get the agent.
I want to read also your third book…
Thanks, Ilmari. I’m trying hard. I query ten agents a day, which is no easy task. I approach it with my head down and just grind it out. Rejections are now trickling in. But I’m used to rejection and it proves I’m doing the work. But many agents won’t answer the query unless they want to see a manuscript. So, once that query goes out into the world, I have to forget it and be surprised if I get anything back.