Afraid of Goosequills

The Wit & Wisdom of Neil Hummasti

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Neil Hummasti's Query Letter for I See London, I See France

November 6, 2000

Laura Langlie
Kidde, Hoyt & Picard
335 E. 51st St.
New York NY 10022

Dear Ms. Langlie:

I have recently completed a comic novel. I would like to have access to the larger publishing houses, and I am painfully aware of the fact that most of the major firms will consider new manuscripts only if they are (1) submitted by reputable agents or (2) written by people who have disgraced themselves publicly. I have no notoriety to speak of (unless going to Traffic School with Ken Kesey counts), so I can only hope to enlist the help of a reputable agent.

I See London, I See France... Cover

I See London, I See France...

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I have deliberated long and hard on the formula for finding a good agent. Here is the winning syllogism I finally came up with: (a) You are the agent of Eric Pinder. (b) I once went to Traffic School with Eric Pinder. (c) Therefore, something astral may be going on here. I decided to write to you to see if you've been getting the same vibes.

My book is entitled I See London, I See France . . . In the tradition of Mark Twain, Frank O'Connor, William Saroyan, James Thurber, et al., the story is told from the point of view of a child. The storyteller, Victor Emmanuel Popper, is a twelve-year old boy who has recently returned from a deluxe tour of Europe. He offers his newly-acquired expertise in European peregrination as a travel substitute for those who have good reason to fear even a brief excursion out into our jihad-impregnated world. (Huckleberry Finn meets A Year in Provence.)

Victor is a precocious youngster, in the ugliest sense. In fact, he's been tested and proclaimed to be a genius. You can imagine what that means for a twelve-year old. (It's safer to let preteens play with guns or do drugs than it is to give them access to Mensa.) Victor has the vocabulary of an adult, but the guile of a 6th grader. The first element of comedy is found in Victor's dubious commentary on the history, the famous sites and the cultures of the various countries he visits. He never seems to get it quite right. Sometimes he embellishes. (Oh hell, why not admit it? He could write for the New York Post!)

The second element of comedy is much more personal. Victor is, of course, traveling with his family—as odd an assortment of stereotyped parodies as one could hope to meet on a May morning. Any one of the family members would make a tantalizing prospect for The Jenny Jones Show. Victor's father is a 98% scruple-free advertising man. Victor's mother is a Shirley MacLaine-ish New Age incarnation and sponsor of numerous off-planet beings. Victor's older sister is a cheerleader. (Nuff said!) Victor's five-year old brother lives from one sugar high to the next and is genetically programmed to destroy everything in his path. Victor's uncle is a dysfunctional psychiatrist. The interaction of family members offers countless opportunities for character and situation comedy.

Together, this cohort of consanguineous codependents must survive forty-two days of Europe (without the benefit of electric shock therapy). The tour, although fictional, is based on one of those grand sweeps of the continent. I have personally traveled in Europe on numerous occasions—not that that makes much difference as far as my story goes, since my narrator's apparent interest in truth is negligible.

I had three reasons for writing this book: (1) I have received encouragement from writing instructors to pursue a writing career, (2) I need a job and I wanna be a paperback writer, and (3) I am upset about a spot I saw on 60 Minutes which portrayed Finns as humorless, pathologically shy, prone to alcoholism, and subject to unquenchable despair. I want to prove that Finns are not humorless! All of the other points I concede.

My book is approximately 90,000 words of zaniness—and the most amazing thing about it is that not once do I even mention Monica Lewinsky! I am optimistic that I will be able to sell my comedy on its own merit—without having to compromise my high moral standards, and without having to resort to cheap parlor tricks like subliminal messages. Be this guy's agent.

At present, I hope to publish my book under the pseudonym Ben Champion (since not even I can pronounce my own last name correctly), but first things first. I would very much appreciate the opportunity to show you my work. I am prepared to send you the complete manuscript upon request.

Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Warmly,

Neil Hummasti (a.k.a. Ben Champion)