William Kotzwinkle and the Fata Morganas

In the spring of 2011 the now-defunct online literary journal child universe pictureLITnIMAGE published my short story, HEMINGWAY’S QUESTION, after it had received 52 rejection slips, a subject which I mentioned previously in my blog “Editing and Managing your Migraines.”  This past spring I published in the Feb-March issue of MILK SUGAR my short story, SNIPER. Now this one, I am somewhat chagrined to say, was previously rejected 100 times. Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to announce that these rejection slips are getting out of hand.

Perhaps I have mentioned previously my penchant for reading–no fewer than 3000 books in my lifetime (and still going strong), and at least a thousand of those have been fiction. A book clearly in my top ten list is the spectacular but little known novel, FATA MORGANA, by the spectacular but little known writer, William Kotzwinkle. He is the 250px-Superior_mirage_of_the_boats_paintingmost famous writer you’ve never heard of because he wrote the novel version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial after it had already become a best-selling film. The book (FATA MORGANA, that is) is so beautifully written and so totally absorbing that I have read it no less than four times and find myself drinking in his words as though I am consuming the finest French wine.

A Fata Morgana is a mirage, generally a mysterious one that cannot be approached, and it perfectly describes the sense of unreality this book creates. A brief synopsis of the plot: Paris: 1861. Detective Paul Picard is hot on the trail of Baron Mantes, a serial killer of beautiful women. Along the way he is asked by the head of the Paris Police detectiveDepartment to investigate the supposedly aristocratic Ric Lazare, a man of questionable origins, who has been holding soirees for the cream of French society, where fortunes are told with stunning accuracy by a peculiar machine. The investigation soon plunges Inspector Picard headlong into a world where the real and imaginary merge, where the future is decipherable–or  is it?–, where toys may have genuine human qualities, and where Black Magic may or may not reign. His sleuthing takes him through Nuremberg, Budapest, and Old World Paris where he is variously involved with gypsies, gypsy pictureprostitutes, enchantresses of all sorts, thieves, murders, while never knowing which of these characters can reveal to him the information he is seeking. The ending to this superlative book is not only unanticipated, but one of the finest I have ever read. Kotzwinkle, now somewhere in his 70’s and presumably living on an island off the coast of Maine with his writer-wife (his personal life appears to be as mysterious as his novel), has written numerous other books, but this one is the best. He is one of the most creative men on the planet.

(He may, ladies and gentlemen, it behooves me to warn you, also be a bit weird.)

I often wonder, as the self-proclaimed King of Rejection Slips, if Kotzwinkle ever got any (rejection slips, that is). Probably in the beginning. When you write a novel with all the bizarre qualities of FATA MORGANA, you should be creating–almost by definition–a work that will appeal to vast segments of the public, hence producing a best seller. However, not so. Ergo, it makes one wonder (or, at least, I wonder) how many great pieces of literature have sunk into oblivion unknown, or perhaps never even reached the goal of print. I understand THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK was snatched off a discarded pile of manuscripts. Hmm. . . . 250px-Mirage_in_The_Aerial_World,_by_Dr._G._Hartwig,_London

I have recently completed a novel that I believe has something for everyone, that should attract a literary agent and eventually a nice New York publisher. It involves a seriously disturbed woman, a ruthless serial killer, a collection of swamp people, some high class society people, compassion, ruthlessness, sex, violence, and other things I will not name. I have begun sending out queries and sample chapters to literary agents and they have dutifully begun sending me rejections slips. This is the usual procedure. And so I again ask the age-old question, what exactly do these people want? At times despair descends upon me and my mind whirls like a merry-go-round. Night falls in my brain and a strange detachment envelops me; for a while I float, defying all gravity, until I eventually find myself in a peculiar nether region of consciousness, infinite but bounded, like the universe, filled with literary agents, a Fata Morgana of agents, smiling because they recognize me and know I am ready for success. Appropriately, they crowd around me and compliment me and offer me representation. Ah! Such happiness . . . The_Fata_Morgana_As_Observed_In_The_Harbour_Of_Messina

But, it’s a Fata Morgana of course. A mirage. A wish fulfillment fantasy, Freud would say. So I return to my computer and, there they are: more rejection slips. What to do? I sit down and begin writing again. For what purpose? Well, the alternative is . . .

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