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"...of all the books I've read, Ginny Good is the only book that had me simultaneously crying my eyeballs out and laughing my head off. Several times throughout, in fact. In a word: WOW."
If you wanna see other reviews of both the audio book and the real book, click this:
Otherwise, you missed your chance to hear the whole audio book online. It was taking up too much bandwidth so I got rid of it...except for the some sample chapters you can hear by clicking on the highlighted links.
If you really wanna hear the whole fifteen-hour multimedia extravaganza, give me an address and I'll send you a copy of the .mp3 CDs in the mail. Here's the index that goes with them. You're welcome to print it out...and you can copy the CDs and give 'em to people for presents when you get 'em. It's cheaper for me to mail 'em so if you want a copy, send me an e-mail.
March 28, 2005
These Hollywood guys keep wanting to see a one-page synopsis. Here one is:
Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story
Ginny Good, Elliot Felton, Gerard Jones and Melanie are the four main characters in the book called Ginny Good. It's not a novel or a memoir or a biography, it's neither fiction nor nonfiction, it's not a romance or a comedy or a tragedy or a history or a mystery or fantasy or sci-fi or chick-lit or lit-fic or a psychological, spiritual, metaphysical thriller, it's just a plain, old-fashioned, good, honest book that combines all those elements and more. Ginny Good is the definitive story of the sixtiesset mainly in San Francisco from 1962 through 1969 when and where it was alleged that all you needed was love.
The plot is simple and timeless. Two boys fall in love with one girl, that's it. They could have been Lancelot and King Arthur falling in love with Guinevere. They could have been Jules and Jim falling in love with Jeanne Moreau before the war to end all wars, but they weren't; they were Gerry and Elliot falling in love with Ginny before the Vietnam war. Gerry, the product of an idyllic middle-class childhood in 1950s Michigan, flunks out of high school, has his heart broken by Donna McKechnie and moves to San Mateo, California, where he meets Elliot, who grew up as a Mormon in Utah, moved to San Mateo, and had his heart broken by Dru Davidson. Together they meet Ginny, a rich girl from Del Mar, at the Jazz Workshop in North Beach on New Year's Eve of 1962. Elliot and Gerry fall instantaneously in love. Ginny's too blacked-out drunk to remember either of them.
Thus begins a period of high and low personal and societal drama and conflict, played out within the historical context of the 1960s and early 70s. Elliott puts on a green beret and goes off to the war that has just started in Vietnam. Gerry and Ginny stay at home together in the war that has just started in Haight-Ashbury. Ginny is documented to be the first hippie in 1963. Kennedy's shot. That's only the begining. There's sex and drugs and rock-and-roll, schizophrenia and alcoholism, communal living experiments and heroin addiction, delusions and disillusion and rents in the fabric of human awareness, all tied together with Shakespearean overtones, Woody Guthrie undertones and as many different kinds of love as you ever wanted to know about. For some, the world falls apart and can't be put back together again. For others, life simply goes on. With a colorful cast of characters and vividly recreated moments in time, Ginny Good paints an often funny, sometimes heartbreaking picture of the time "a hard rain" fell and the world changed. For better and for worse.
Here's the story of how Laura Strachan got to be the agent for GINNY GOOD:
Once upon a time, in November of 2001, I went crazy and sent the following e-mail to, oh, I don't know, maybe thirty agents or so:
Here's a chapter from a book you might want to take a look at. Let me know. Thanks.
Out of the thirty agents I sent that chapter to, I think Laura was the only one who said anything. No, actually, that's not true. Twenty ignored it, seven dissed it and Felicia Eth and some guy named James Rouch over in England wanted to see the first fifty pages or sothen they dissed it. Anyway, here's what Laura said:
Okay, I'm intrigued. So what is this? (Can you give me the overall synopsis as well as a paragraph or two about you?) Laura Strachan
Sometimes you read something and it hits you just so, fits you just right. It's like when you meet someone for the first time and feel you've known them all your life. Like something you never even thought of before that turns out to be exactly what you need. Like these words-words you've never read in this particular order-words you've never heard-you already know by heart. Sometimes, it's just so right that when it comes time to talk about it there's simply nothing else to say. It's all BEEN said. It's a Zen thing. What's left to add? Ginny Good was just such a read for me. But I've got to say something don't I? Can't just sit here basking in the afterglow and expect you to pick up on that. How about this then?
Ginny Good is a lot of things. It's a love story, a life story, the story of an improbable and impossible era peopled with all too probable, all too possible, all too real human beings. It's fraught with pain and love and irony and affection and disaffection. A soothingly disturbing bittersweet elixir. By turns deliciously funny and poignantly painful, it wanders and rambles in and out of the messiness of life. It's real. It's human. You will be different for having immersed yourself in it. Ginny Good has the soul and guts and truth of a classic of American Literature.
And now I realize I haven't even told you what it's the story of. What can I say? It's the story of everything. Of life and death. Peace and war, loving too much and not enough and exactly the right amount. It's a story of family and good things and not so good things and sex and drugs and choices and non-choices and things that just are. Or were. Or still are. It's all those things and none of those things. And it's one of the finest pieces of literature I've had the pleasure to read. Thank you, Mr. Jones, for the opportunity. Darn it, I'm raving aren't I? I am. But I'll tell you what, Ginny Good made a huge impression on me. I feel better for having read it. Can't explain it, don't understand it...it just touched something. And the way I see it, that's exactly what a great book is supposed to do. Read it. You'll see what I mean.
Ginny Good is the kind of story you've been waiting for. This is the kind of story you wish someone, the guy sitting next to you on the bus maybe, would turn to you and tell you. Something as interesting and as truthful as this. This is that kind of story. Imagine Holden Caulfield, thirty or forty years on, telling you about the first woman he really loved, and the second, and the first time he took acid. Yeah, Holden Caulfield on acid, the rebirth of a romantic. This story is all about romance so of course it's desperately tragic and also funny as hell. And the voice, wow, the voice, it's reach out and touch him, he's right there! Read it.
Ginny Good is already a distillation of the lives of the four main characters, Ginny, herself, Elliot Felton, Melanie and the narrator, over the course of forty years, but, to summarize it to the point of crystallization: The narrator has a solid, nuclear family, fifties upbringing in Michigan, moves to California in 1960 and becomes friends with Elliot, a troubled, multitalented Mormon kid, who joins the Special Forces in 1962. In North Beach on New Year's Eve of that year, the two of them meet Virginia Good, a complicated, rich, well educated young woman with troubles of her own.
Elliot goes to Vietnam. Ginny and the narrator take up with one another. By the spring of 1964, Elliot gets out of the military and tries to take up with Virginia, himself, until his father's suicide knocks him for a loop. Haight-Ashbury happens. By 1968, Virginia, Elliot and the narrator all live together in Marin County. That gets too fraught.
The narrator takes up with Melanie in early 1969. Elliot and Virginia get together. In the summer of 1972, the four of them all try living together. It doesn't work. Their lives deteriorate. Virginia ends up in Colorado with new age whackos. Elliot goes increasingly nuts. Melanie takes up with a junkie and gets strung out on heroin. Things get themselves sorted out. Ginny and Elliot end up dead. Decades later things get themselves put into perspective.
So much for a bare bones chronological rendering of the facts of the narrative. The story is found under the facts, however-in the authenticity of the language, images and the approximately 95,000 words which relate the narrative, which is why a person has to read the book if he or she wants to find out what it's about.
A Biography of Sorts
I've been writing stuff on and off all my adult life. Forty years. I've worked at it, sweated over it, worried about rhythm and cadence and the efficacy of individual words in individual sentences. I've come up with a voice that feels reasonably casual and credible enough to say true stuff, but still leaves room to throw in a little lyrical language when it's justified. I've always been pretty selective. Whatever I've written usually zips right along. What I've had to say has been somewhat germane to the affairs of human existence. Some of the stuff was probably even a little illuminating-like the stuff about Ginny Good in the early sixties, for example.
There was brilliant-ass shit in there about how people finally got to be themselves after about a million years. A few minds got blown on acid, that was it. The culture was ripe. It had jack to do with the war or civil rights or free speech-all that riding around in flower power VW busses was the commercialization of the experience. The music, long hair, beads, dope, bare feet, brown rice, fucking, getting fucked, Zap Comix, psychedelic art, light shows, Timothy Leary, Cassady tooling Kesey's Merry Pranksters around in their funky busall that was nothing but advertising put on by people who'd already taken acid to get other people to take acid too. The advertising campaign got in the way. In order to understand what all that hippie horseshit was about you had to have taken acid before it had become something you had to do. Once word started getting out, it was over.
But those first few footsteps into the virgin territory of "expanded consciousness" left an indelible imprint. The whole world changed. And nobody but me ever got it even close to right. Tom Wolfe, give me a fucking break. Peter Coyote? Pfssh. Emmet Grogan? I don't think so. But despite all those years and all that work and all the glowing prose I've come up with, I've still never had a single word published anywhere, haven't ever made a nickel, never found myself sitting all tweedy and bemused behind a table at Borders, ain't going on Oprah any time soon. Money's not exactly the coin of my realm, thank goodness. I'd be in deep shit.
Okay. I give up. Just send me the ms.
Strachan Literary Agency
P.O. Box 1907
Annapolis, MD 21404
Remember a SASE with sufficient postage if you want the ms. back. Thanks. LS
To save us both some trouble, you can take a look at an earlier version here:
Then if you still want to pursue it, let me know. Thanks again. G.
I looked at the first few chapters, annotated and unannotated (I did get a kick out of the annotated ones), and I'm frankly not sure what this is meant to be. Is it a memoir disguised as a novel a la Dave Eggers? Is it a novel disguised as a memoir of sorts? How much of it is true, and how much isn't? Although Mr. Eggers certainly managed to produce a self-conscious bestseller, I'm not sure that the reading public -- and I know that most editors (navel gazing, they call it) -- don't have the patience for another one. I like your voice and prose rhythm, and I like the overall concept for the book (although I wish I knew why I am a magnet for novels with Vietnam and/or drug themes. Perhaps that's all anyone's writing about these days.) I guess I'm asking what, exactly, this is, or what you intend it to be. For some reason, it seems to make a difference. --LS
Narrative nonfiction. Like that Doctorow guy, maybe? It's all true, but I've disguised some of the names of non-public figures. In the new version, with the new name, I'm calling it nonfiction, period. Which it is. Like Celine, maybe, although I ain't a Nazi-sympathizer. Most editors are idiots. Navel gazing, indeed. Editors want to make money and are most comfortable with what's made money before. Oh, yeah, let's stick it in that category. A la David Sedaris. A la that Bryson guy. This whole book is truly funny as fuck, with an emphasis on the truly part. What I intended it to be is an exploration of love and family. I intended it to be taken as a whole. It's a memoir. It's a biography. It has the "narrative arc" of a novel. It's a mixture of art and craft. It's what I came up with out of what I had to work with which happened to have been true stuff. Read chapter seven for some more biographical folderol, then fourteen and twenty-five. I'll send it to you if you like, but you can get a better idea if you like or not from a little more reading. I've fixed it considerably from what's at the website, but that's the gist. The annotated stuff's mostly out of date. Who are you? A well-kept secret as far as I can tell. G.
Well, the "navel gazing" is a direct quote from an editor I met with last week in NY, and most of the ones spoke with this last trip expressed a particular disdain for Mr. Eggers, despite his have made a ton of money, or perhaps because of it. (I happened to like the book, at least until the end.) Yes, I'd like to see the book, and I do prefer reading hard copy to reading off the computer monitor. Who am I? I suppose I am a well-kept secret, although you found me. More to the point I'm a fledgling agent with a 3 year old agency who's trying to make her mark on the literary scene. In a previous life I was a lawyer, still am, technically. Mainly I'm just a lover of books and good writing who figured out a way work at something she loves. Laura
I don't know this Eggers guy from the man in the moon, but there's a certain amount of navel gazing in the best of us. Every editor is different. There are some quirky ones here and there. My little book ain't exactly got a nook. Or a readily apparent hook, for that matter. That's what I like about it. It won't be all that easy to sell. I'll send it tomorrow. G.
Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I had a serious backlog of manuscripts to get through, and to be honest, I'm only half way through yours. But I wanted to let you know that I hadn't forgotten about you or just tossed the manuscript. I really like it. I'm not at all certain that I can sell it, but it might be fun to try. I'll give you my final wordif you're still looking for an agent, that iswhen I'm done reading. Laura
Hey, Laura, I'd forgotten who you were for a minute when I saw your name this morning. That's a good, strong looking name: L. H. Strachan. Kind of scary. Like a linebacker, maybe. I really like that you like it and am less certain than you are that you or anyone else can sell it, but it would definitely be fun to try. Only you know whether you can afford to do that or not. There's way more to life than making money. Oh, here's part of a new little story I've been fiddling with. G.
The Mayonnaise Man
Giselle had heard it all-whistles, catcalls, hey mama this, hey mama that, sirens, a bullhorn: "Keep your hands where I can see them and step out of the car." They could all suck her dick, cops included. Her uncle was a judge. Her ex-husband was a lawyer. She taught math at the high school. The only mama she wanted to hear about was the one Ray Charles was singing to her on the CD player:
"Hey mama, don't you treat me wrong.
Come and love your daddy all night long..."
It was her car. It was her life. So she had tinted windows, so the fuck what? Limos had tinted windows. She was her own chauffeur. How else but tinted could the windows of a white T-top '89 Firebird be?
That morning she was wearing her thin skintight black leather gloves again. Squeezing the steering wheel kept her hands and her forearms strong. Wind tangled her wild hair beyond repair. Red, chestnut, dark brown, auburn, walnut, mahogany, her hair was all kinds of colors, but Giselle mainly just thought of it as red-a tall, acerbic, redheaded chick. One of the guys. That was her. She saw her nose and part of her pretty left cheek in the swept-back rearview mirror.
"Tell your mama, tell your pa,
I'm gonna send you back to Arkansas..."
I like it. You make me laugh, which is more than I can say for most people. My husband accuses me of having not a sense of humorI do, but it's very wry. Anyway, thanks. I'll get back to you about Ginny Good in a few days. Laura
Gerard, Well, I don't know if I can sell it, but if you're willing to be patient, I'm willing to try. The market it terrible right nowno one is buying anything, or anything much anyway. And that's before you consider the legal issues. But, as I said, if you're willing to be patient... Normally I would send out 6 or 7 proposals at a time to cast a wider net, but things are tight right now. I would want to send out one proposal at a time, which is a much slower way of doing things, but much less costly as well. Let me know if you want me to take a shot at this and I'll send a copy of my contract for youor your sisterto review. Best, Laura
Hey, Laura. I'm willing to be patient if you're willing to take a shot at it, sure. Don't do it if you don't totally want to and cover whatever bases you need to cover. Put a draft of your contract in an e-mail and I'll see if anything freaks me out about it. Tell me about yourself, too. How you work. What you've sold. That sort of thing. G.
First off, I don't take on anything that I don't love, and what I do take on I totally commit to. That's part of my problem. I'm relatively new at agenting. I've really only been representing authors for about 2 years, and to date I haven't sold a thing. A terrible track record, I know. It's a combination of things: it takes time for editors to get to know who you are and the type of work you represent; I handle primarily literary fiction, which is the toughest thing for any agent to sell; the fiction market has been just abysmal for the last year or so; and I take on things that I love, but that are not necessarily commercially viable. I can't tell you how many suspense/thrillers, romances, and science fiction/fantasy novels I've turned down. I would like to represent Ginny Good because I like your voice and your sense of humor, and because my gut tells me to.
The way I work is that I don't charge the author up front for anything. I take 10% of the proceeds for domestic sales (and a varying amount for other things like foreign rights), and only recoup my expenses for postage or photocopying, etc. if and when I sell the book. Obviously, this has not been a profitable way for me to do business, but it's the fairest and most ethical way. Typically I would put together a proposal to send out to a handful of editors and then send out a new batch when all of those editors declined the manuscript. What I suggested to you was that I send out one at a time, because otherwise I can't afford to take on the book. I just can't afford the expense right now of a larger group of submissions.
About me. I'm 43 and a late bloomer. Always was. Didn't get my drivers license until I was 19. Didn't get married until I was 34. I majored in English in college and wanted to go into publishing, but publishing was in (another) depression around 1980, so I went to law school. Mistake. I got my J.D., passed the Bar, practiced for a year, despised it and found something else to do. Actually, I found a lot of something elses to do, all of them a lot less lucrative than being a lawyer (do you see a pattern here?) Finally met my husband, got married, had two kids, then decided to do something that would make me happy. I combined my love of books and good writing with my so-far useless law degree and decided to be an agent. It's been a long, uphill struggle to learn the business and to become known among the various editors, or some of them anyway, but I love what I do and I keep chugging along, because I know that, eventually, I'm going to get a break. I have a great list of books that I know are better than most everything else out there that manages to get published.
I've attached a copy of the contract. It's done on a Macintosh. Some people seem to know how to deal with that, and others don't .I can't tell you. Let me know if you can't read it and I'll e-mail it to you in the body of the e-mail. Let me know if you have other questions. Laura
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