I've spent the last three days (taking time out for meals, of course) writing up an outline of my novel Earthly Vessels. I showed the results--12 single-spaced pages (with blank lines between paragraphs)--to a friend who has been an editor, and she assured me that, yep, that's what the outline of a novel looks like. And grim going it has been.
Readers of this blog may recall I'm doing this because an agent asked for a 50-75 page partial, and an outline of the rest. He's the only agent I've targeted so far, and he seemed like a good candidate because he's specifically looking for literary fantasy, and lists people like Italo Calvino and Kurt Vonnegut amongst his favorite writers; to me, this bespoke a certain flexibility of mind and excellent taste in literature (which, in my probably deluded frame of reference, suggests he might be interested in Yours Truly. Looked at that way, it's clear I've lost my senses.)
Earthly Vessels doesn't condense or synopsize well. It's by turns goofy and faux-erudite. It's digressive. There's an intrusive unidentified (and possibly unreliable) narrator who elbows his way into the flow of the story at seemingly inappropriate moments and holds forth on matters only tangetially related to the action scene he's interrupting. But a description of the plot gives no clue about all that.
So I took a risk and let some of the tone of the book come out in the query letter:
All cultures have a legend of a Chosen One, a Messiah, a golden child who will be born to redeem them. But thirty-something Arby Keeling is not that guy, and Earthly Vessels is not that story.
To his credit, the agent didn't let my rather flip cover letter put him off, and he then presumably read my synopsis:
For the Gods, incarnation has always been a risky business. Gods thrive on worship and on human emotion, and there’s never really enough to go around.
It’s a God-eat-God world out there.
In New York City in 1969, love child Crystal Keeling participates in an occult sex rite with the Children of Pan—a rite that, unbeknownst to her, is designed to bring a God down into manifestation. Annoyed with the cult, she disappears to Oregon, unaware she is pregnant with an entity from the Inner Planes.
The child she carries isn’t the Hero, the Chosen One of the Children of Pan. Instead, because of a metaphysical snafu on the Inner Planes, her son Arby is a manifestation of the tarot card The Fool, the force of improbability and randomness in human nature.
Arby grows up unaware of his heritage, and tries to lead a normal life—a tricky project, when your essence makes things go haywire all around you. But in 2005, thirtysomething Arby unwittingly makes others aware that some unknown God walks the earth. The most powerful incarnated God, Benedikt von Fleischer, sends minions to destroy him; other, lesser powers send their members to try and recruit a new ally.
Rescued by a mysterious blind woman, Arby is led through a series of physical and metaphysical adventures in Rome, where the very earth still twists with all the ancient emotion invested in the Empire and in the Vatican (powerful energy sources for those who know how to feed on them). They escape to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the emotional power of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs lives on in the soil. Here Arby finds a community of misfit minor Gods united against von Fleischer’s expanding empire.
From Los Alamos, Arby ventures onto the Inner Planes, learns how to reclaim his essential self; and is driven at last to a confrontation with von Fleischer—a battle that destroys them both, but, through another metaphysical wrong number, results in Arby being born yet again.
Along the way, this novel answers the Big Questions. We learn about the mechanics of penile erection, how reincarnation really works, why when you summon bees you also get rattlesnakes, how Mayan civilization fell, how the fabric of space and time can be modified by extended metaphors, and why, on the most rarefied levels of existence, Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors Ice Cream sells only vanilla.
I know you’ve spent sleepless nights pondering these matters, especially the bit about rattlesnakes. This novel has the answers. Honest.
I have to say that anyone who can read through the foregoing--which includes an editorial 'we', fer Chrissakes--and still want to see parts of the book in question...well, that's my kinda guy.
You need not tell me that I'm breaking the First Commandment of looking for representation, which is Thou shalt not submit material to only one agent at a time and then sit idly by twiddling thy thumbs awaiting an answer. But this is my second time around, so I won't be wearing white at my wedding, and today I'm not looking for just any agent. I'm looking for an agent who, like, yanno, pretty much gets it.
Wish me luck. Or, to be more specific, wish me good luck.