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June 20-26, 2007

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, I am writing to you as a result of an interesting conversation held with a friend of yours in a writers group in Northampton, U.K. I have written approximately 100,000 words of a lesbian romance/drama. Earlier in the year, I began to write to mainstream agents, eight in total, I believe, plus two mainstream publishers. I sent off the standard three chapters and a synopsis with covering letter. I received negative responses from all.

I'm wondering if I ought to be approaching "specialist" agents and publishers, as I suspect that the mainstream presses are not interested in gay writing. Obviously, there's always the possibility that my novel is not worthy of publication, that the plot is uninteresting or that my writing is dreadful. But I sort of suspect that there is more to it than this. The conversation came about as the friend of yours is writing a novel where two of the main characters are gay men. He says that at least two-thirds of his novel directly revolves around their story. I asked him if he would be looking for specialist agents/publishers; he didn't believe that he would have to. I would value an opinion on this debate.--Gay Girl

Dear GG: Gay/lesbian fiction is often considered genre fiction. It doesn't have to be, but if you don't mention to an agent or a publisher that your novel deals with gay themes or relationships, and they start reading it, the minute they realize that it's Suzy and Yvette that are getting it on, they're going to look back at your cover letter with a big question mark on their face that says, did she mention that this is about gay people?

I don't know what they have in Britain, but in the States, Writer's Market is the submitting writer's bible. Each agent and publisher listed has a list of types of fiction they will consider, and many specify gay/lesbian themes, along with literary fiction, etc. If you do get published, your book may be placed in the gay/lesbian section (they don't have to label the heterosexual section, because that's everything else).

You need to decide if you want your work to be pigeonholed. Consider if you are writing about what it means to be gay or if you are writing about what it means to be human and then decide what stance you want to take in regards to representing your own work. If you refuse to allow your work to be genre-fied, then your chances of getting published may diminish, but stand your ground. You need to choose your own route, and then insist upon it. And so what if you are pigeonholed? What's wrong with being in the gay/lesbian section? Last I checked, they need some more material over there. Let's work on making the gay/lesbian section fill half the store, shall we? Haven't there been enough novels written about straight people?

Dear Sydney, last week I came home from work tired, hungry and stressed out. I started to cook dinner. I got the pasta pot boiling and the hamburger browning. As I sipped a fine glass of Cabernet Franc, I started to feel good. And then I tried to twist off the jar lid to the spaghetti sauce. It wouldn't move. I turned and turned and still it wouldn't budge. I twisted and twisted with all my might, and still no movement.

As that immoveable spaghetti jar top started to represent everything that has gone wrong in my life, I became enraged. With a furious roar à la Howlin' Wolf, a gyration à la Elvis and a twist à la Chubby Checker, I proceeded to twist my body down to the ground, and then twisted it back up. I was furious! Who are these capitalistic pigs who put these lids on these jars anyway? I mean, I am an able-bodied person, so what are little old ladies suppose to do? This is indicative of those sociopaths from Enron and that other capitalistic pig on the hill, but I bet he has a butler to open his jars of spaghetti sauce, so he doesn't care!

As I was performing this song and dance of rage, I looked across the gulley and realized my neighbor had seen the whole thing and probably heard my roaring due to our mutually open kitchen windows. Her face was a whiter shade of pale, and from her perspective, she could not see the spaghetti sauce jar so God only knows what she thought I was doing. I furtively held up the jar with a weak smile, but it was too late--she had snapped the shutters closed in order to obliterate the sight of me.

I don't know my neighbor very well, as I am new here. Should I write her a note explaining things? I think if I showed up at her door she'd surely call the police, or worse yet, she might shoot me. I finally did open that jar, but I was too upset to eat my spaghetti. The dog seemed to enjoy it, though.--Ignatious O'Reilly

Dear Iggy: First and foremost, let's deal with the jar issue. I'm sure you know the usual tricks: hit the bottom, pry around the inside of the lid with a butter knife to try and release the seal, and, one of my personal favorites, breathe in, breathe out, deep breaths, then untwist with a deep exhalation. As strange as this may seem, I find this technique very effective in a "use the force" sort of way. There are also a number of lid-poppers available in local markets that claim to get the lid off anytime, anywhere. You might consider investing in something of this nature. I just bought my mother one of those "guaranteed to open any jar" lid-poppers for only a few bucks. She has a bad wrist.

As for your poor neighbor, you can pretend it never happened and let time heal her wounds. Surely you will be able to win her over with enough friendly greetings, pulling to the side of the road to let her pass and slowing down so that you don't run over her cat. If your good will is clear, she will probably be able to forget about the incident, or at least block it out. After all, at her age, she's probably seen a lot worse than a little jar wrestling. Most women have. Buy her one of those jar openers I just got for Mom. Then, at a time when your neighbor is out in her yard, grab it and take it over to her. Tell her that you had such a dastardly time getting the top off of that jar of spaghetti sauce the other night (perhaps she remembers seeing you wrestle with it?). Then you found this miraculous item, which works so well you decided to buy her one, too. Just on impulse. That should endear you to her eternally. If it doesn't, she probably isn't good friend material anyway. At least you tried.

'Ask Sydney' is penned by a Sonoma County resident. There is no question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Inquire at or write [email protected].

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.