Nemo in the Literary Market
by Gary Inbinder
Nemo waddled to his computer, went online and checked his e-mail. He had received three responses from literary agents who had been reading manuscripts of his latest novel, and two responses to queries he had sent to other literary agents. Nemo opened the two query responses first. They were form rejections. Nemo sighed. Then, he opened the replies from the three agents who had read — or who purported to have read — his manuscript. The replies were as follows:
Agent number one: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read Kafka, the Nietzsche Quoting Cat. This was certainly a well-written and engaging narrative, subtly humorous and...etc.”
After six months of encouraging back and forth banter, the agent had passed. At least she was nice about it. Nemo shook his head, made a note on his agent submission chart, and continued.
Agent number two: “Not for me. Sorry.” The agent thus declined Nemo’s work with remarkable concision after seven months of silence. Nemo crossed her off his list, and continued.
Agent number three: “I am responding on behalf of Ms. Poltroon.” After one year of non-responsiveness, the agent had had her assistant write a note. “Ms. Poltroon regretfully passes. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to read your novel, Cat Monsters from Outer Space. Best of luck in your writing endeavors.”
Nemo grimaced. He had long since changed the title of Cat Monsters from Outer Space to Kafka, the Nietzsche Quoting Cat, following ten years of submissions to agents and publishers that had resulted in exactly six-hundred and sixty-six rejections.
Nemo made the appropriate notes on his submissions chart and queried several more agents. Then, he left his furnished studio apartment, stumbled down three flights, tripped on a doorstep and entered the red brick courtyard on his knees. His friend Kafka the cat stared into Nemo’s bleary eyes and meowed a greeting: “Guten Morgen, Herr Nemo.”
Nemo rose to his feet, slowly and painfully. He whisked his handkerchief briskly in a vain attempt at cleaning his mud-spattered trousers. “Please speak English, Kafka,” he pleaded with an irritated air. “You know that Nemo’s German is inadequate.” Nemo ceased his futile brushing and hung his head in disconsolation.
Kafka padded over to Nemo and rubbed his face on his friend’s pant-leg. “You are sad, Mr. Nemo. Your mood reflects the early morning gloom.”
Nemo looked up at the leaden overcast. A few raindrops spattered the courtyard. “Alas, Nemo’s tears of shame and sorrow flow like rain-water from the plumbic heavens. He has been playing the agent game.”
Kafka cocked his head quizzically. “I do not understand what you mean by the ‘agent game,’ Mr. Nemo. Will you kindly explain this unfamiliar term to me?”
“Nemo has written a great American novel, and you, dearest friend, are the protagonist. Sadly, the literary agents have yet to recognize the merit of Nemo’s œuvre.”
Kafka meowed sympathetically. “I wish that you had told me of this sooner. I might have put in a good word with my agent.”
For a moment, Nemo stared at the cat in astonished silence. “You... you mean to tell Nemo that you have a literary agent?”
The cat cocked his head, and meowed proudly, “One of the best!” He stopped a moment to roll onto his back, and licked his privates. Then, he continued, “Actually, the agent represents my mistress, but it is well-known among feline literary circles that I ghost-write her work.”
“Nemo is amazed. Who is your mistress? Perhaps Nemo is familiar with her — or, he means to say — your work.”
“Have you heard of Kitty Prowling?”
Nemo’s eyes widened. “Does Kafka mean the Kitty Prowling, author of the Harry Bollocks books?”
“None other,” the cat mewed cheerily. “Follow me, we can talk as we walk,” Kafka added, as he padded off in the direction of the mailroom.
Nemo followed, awed by the revelation that the author of such international best-selling children’s’ masterpieces as Harry Bollocks and the Theurgical Cloak of Invincibility was a multi-lingual, philosophically perceptive tabby cat.
As they neared the mailroom, Nemo observed, “Your international best-selling mistress must be fabulously wealthy. Therefore, Nemo wonders why she would choose to live among the proletarian renters in this apartment complex.”
Kafka’s tail curled into a shape resembling a question mark. He halted and turned his head to face Nemo. “We no longer live here, Mr. Nemo. I just return on a daily basis to visit my friends. I now live up there.” Kafka faced forward and tilted his head upward in the direction of a steep hill behind the complex. There, at the summit, stood the outer gates of a community occupied by the haute bourgeoisie.
“Nemo understands, however he wonders if your old cat friends resent your success?”
Kafka glanced around the grounds, acknowledging a few wandering felines. “It’s no problem, Mr. Nemo. These cats are true representatives of the Lumpenproletariat. If anything, they are proud that one of them has come up in the world. Their leader, old One-Eyed Tom, calls me their ‘scholarship boy’.” With that, Kafka crept on to the mailroom where he waited patiently for Nemo to collect and sort through his mail. “Have you received anything interesting, Mr. Nemo?”
Nemo looked down at his friend, and sighed. “Bills, junk, and the self-addressed stamped envelopes from agents and publishers that betoken rejection.”
Kafka purred and rubbed against his companion’s leg. “Do not despair, Mr. Nemo. I have decided to help you — a friend in need, as they say.”
Nemo smiled. “That is kind of you, Kafka. Nemo is grateful for any assistance you can provide.”
Kafka meowed decisively: “Let’s take a look at your manuscript.”
* * *
Kafka stood with his hind legs on a chair, his paws intermittently resting on Nemo’s computer desk and clattering on the keyboard. The cat stared fixedly at the monitor screen as he read the manuscript with uncanny alacrity.
Nemo marveled as deft kitty paws briskly and assuredly amended a masterpiece of literature that had been more than a decade in the making. He praised the cat’s editorial prowess. “Nemo is astounded,” he gasped. “Truly, Kafka is among the greatest of book doctors.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Kafka meowed. “You have already done a splendid job with the novel, Mr. Nemo. It needs but a little tweaking to be ready for the marketplace.”
The prodigious feline finished his work in the amazingly short time of just under two hours. He consulted his friend before making the final changes. “Mr. Nemo, I would like to change the title to Kafka the Theurgical Cat and the Holy Hairball of Armageddon. I envision this as the first of a series, and we should look forward to a multi-book deal.”
“Thank you, Kafka. Nemo approves the new title and the idea of a series is quite exciting.”
“Of course it is. My agent is known for negotiating multi-book deals with stupendous advances.”
“Oh my dear Kafka, what Nemo would give for any advance,” he cried.
“Now you must be positive, Mr. Nemo,” Kafka meowed encouragingly. “My mistress is barely literate, and she’s raked in millions — with my help, of course.”
Nemo gushed, “Oh Kafka, you are a true friend. Nemo will be eternally grateful.”
Suddenly, Kafka bounded from his chair and scampered into the kitchenette. He returned presently. “False alarm; I thought I saw a mouse, but it was only an oversized cockroach. Now, one more detail and we’re ready to query my agent. I would like to change your name to Candy Nada.”
Nemo’s bushy brows lifted in surprise and his eyes widened. “Nemo has always written under his own name, and what’s more the pseudonym you proposed sounds... uh, feminine.”
Kafka cocked his head in annoyance. “Do I detect a hint of sexism? What’s more, must I point out that your writing career while using your own name has, shall we say, been somewhat less than spectacular?”
Nemo frowned. “Nemo is not a sexist, but he admits that his writing has not been as well received as Nemo might have wished.”
Kafka sniggered behind a paw: “Mew, mew, mew.”
“All right, Kafka, Nemo admits that his writing career sucks. However, he is perplexed as to why the name you propose, Candy, uhhh... Candy...”
“Yes, Candy Nada. Nemo does not understand why that name will make his novel more marketable than it would be were Nemo to continue using his own name.”
“Please sit down, Mr. Nemo, and I’ll explain.” Nemo sat on the edge of his bed and Kafka climbed onto his lap. Nemo petted the cat instinctively, and Kafka purred before continuing, “Your story, as now re-written, will certainly do well in the YA and Middle-Grade market; however, my agent is looking for such material written by up-and-coming female writers. Therefore, I strongly suggest that you change your name to Candy Nada, and change your sex.
“Fortunately, I happen to have a very good relationship with the veterinarian who neutered me. I’m sure that she’d be happy to operate on you for a very reasonable fee...”
Nemo lifted Kafka from his lap and held him, so that he could look directly into the cat’s emerald eyes. “Now see here, Kafka. Changing a human’s gender is a much more serious matter than the routine neutering of a tom-cat.”
“So now you’re adding species discrimination to sexism?” Kafka hissed.
Nemo put Kafka down gently. “Nemo is sorry, Kafka. You are Nemo’s best friend and he sincerely appreciates your efforts on his behalf. However, changing Nemo’s gender to sell a book seems to be going a bit too far.”
“I see,” Kafka mewed impatiently. “So you are turning down the opportunity of being represented by an agent who is famous for negotiating six- and seven-figure book deals?”
Nemo stared at the cat for a moment, before replying hesitantly, “Perhaps... perhaps Nemo could change his name to Candy Nada without changing his sex. Nemo could impersonate a woman like a...like a transvestite? Do you think that would do?”
“Hmmm, it might do.” Kafka jumped onto the floor and padded about in a circle. Then, he looked up at Nemo. “Very well, I’ll prepare a query letter and synopsis and send it off to my agent on your behalf. In the meantime, I suggest you purchase women’s clothing, make-up, a wig, and get a good depilatory.”
“Nemo thanks you, and he’ll do just as you say.”
Kafka winked at his friend. “Your thanks are appreciated, however when you are a best-selling author I’ll expect more: prime tuna, sardines, catnip toys, etc.”
“Of course, that goes without saying.”
Thus, our friend Mr. Nemo, a.k.a. Candy Nada, with Kafka’s aid and ably represented by famed literary agent Iwanna Micut, created a series of best-selling children’s books that led to a multi-million dollar movie deal, animé, electronic games, a line of toys, etc.
Moreover, Candy Nada and Kitty Prowling became the best of friends and next-door neighbors living in the same haut-bourgeois gated community overlooking the proletarian apartment complex. As for Kafka the Cat, he grew fat on tuna and sardines, and wrote page after page of best-selling prose while blissfully stoned on catnip.
Copyright © 2009 by Gary Inbinder