Doris Betts – A New York Press Requiem

Doris Betts, who mentored me and many others should be remembered for her generosity in developing aspiring writers, but also for her talent as a writer.


Sadly, Doris never remotely gained the recognition she deserved and earned as a writer. That that was all right with her serves as the best testimony to her caliber as a human being.


Writers and Agents

I've recently had advice from an agent (who didn't sign me) concerning one of my novel manuscripts, and my pal Lyn is deep into negotiations with her agent over her novel's structure.


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What seems clear from both conversations is that agents are, for the most part good to excellent readers. However, most don't seem to know the subtleties of writing as well as any writer who can put a serious manuscript before them – they can either tell you they like what they see (read: it will sell ) or not. They may be able to isolate something about your story that will render it unsaleable, but they can't necessarily tell you how to change it.

This is where the relationship has to be simpatico: you have to be able to keep from compromising your story and style of writing in order to sell, and the agent has to be able to understand what you're doing and be capable of selling it. 

Susan O’Neill

Susan O'Neill is the last in my series of writers with military backgrounds – she was a battlefield nurse in Vietnam with an amazing short story collection to her credit.


It's a pleasure when a new writer has something to say and says it well. Former army nurse O'Neill's debut story collection captures the physical and psychological tensions of her 13-month tour of duty in Vietnam with refreshing maturity and a profound sense of compassion. The title, she explains in her penetratingly honest introduction, is "an all-purpose underdog rallying cry a sarcastic admixture of `cool,' comedy, irony, agony, bitterness, frustration, resignation, and despair." It addresses the need of the Americans in Vietnam to harden themselves while maintaining their humanity a battle that often seems as unwinnable as the war. O'Neill presents a portrait gallery of nurses, soldiers, and natives, grouped into three sections reflecting the three hospitals where she worked. In "The Boy from Montana," a veteran nurse recalls a casualty of war along with her na‹ve assumptions about medical conditions under fire; "Butch" details the attachment an American soldier forges with a little Vietnamese boy. "Monkey on Our Backs" follows a nurse's efforts to rid the world of her commanding officer's annoying pet, and features a bizarrely funny confession and some unexpected entrepreneurial ingenuity. In another darkly humorous tale, "Commendation," an archetypal schemer named Scully provides a cynic's guide to bureaucratic logic. While many of the images Bob Hope's USO show, the secret war in Cambodia, the music of the times are familiar, they are made fresh through the nurse's viewpoint. O'Neill's stories are both entertaining and thought-provoking, especially when she depicts feigned indifference to all kinds of pain. Focused and sympathetic, this is a valuable contribution to the mostly macho literature of Vietnam. Agent, Nat Sobel. 5-city author tour. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.–This text refers to the Hardcover edition.