This Column Is Brought To You By The Letter F
by Ian Birnbaum

Last week I told you a bit about half of my professional writing ventures – namely, being a sports bitch at a local newspaper. This week, I'll begin to go into the other half: freelancing.

newsie.jpgWhile the sports position is certainly a Just For Now Job (also discussed last week; special condolences to Dan, who worked as a security guard for a year – that must have been awful), my dream job is to write for magazines and to write novels and screenplays. The best way to get these jobs is to show up with talent, confidence and a bursting, quality portfolio. And freelancing is the only way to build a portfolio.

A quick etymological tangent: a freelance worker is someone who hires themselves out to a profession where they will work temporarily for people who work full time in the same field. It comes from a name for medieval mercenary knights; these knights would work for any client, general or army that chose to pay them – they were, by trade, "free lances". There, you learned something; that'll be a dollar.

If you want to start getting paid for your columns, opinions, short stories, poems or novels, you absolutely must have a sibling or spouse working in publishing. Barring that, what you really need is a copy of The Writer's Market. They print new editions of this tome every year, but a deluxe edition should easily last two years or more for the beginning freelancer.

Inside The Writer's Market is a listing for every magazine you've ever heard of, and hundreds of others that you haven't, a listing for book publishers for all genre of manuscript and many tips on the legal and professional business of selling words.

In the coming weeks, I'll be documenting exactly what I'll be doing as I prepare to send off my first prospective article. I'll be talking about how to choose potential markets, how to edit, how to sell, what the hell a "First North American Rights" agreement means, and the cold, cruel hands of the mistress Rejection, that heinous bitch.

For the rest of this column I'll give you a prestigious sneak peek at the short story I'll be trying to sell in the coming weeks. Titled Celebrity, it is a retelling of the Greek myth of Narcissus. In my modern version, the story is related by the main character after his own death, and it just gets more interesting from there. Enjoy.


That... man I see now at my feet – lying there, with his head propped up onto the box spring of the bed, his eyes sightless, his mouth slack, drawn – bears no resemblance to the man that you might see, were you to have known us.

You, dear viewer, you would have seen a young man, a strong, charismatic, beautiful man in his late twenties. You might have seen a wicked sense of humor, or flashing smile, a magnetism that fascinated everyone who met him. Ha! You would have been fooled.

You could not have seen through to reality. You could not have seen, just like I did not see until now, the mind behind the sparkling green eyes that was juvenile, pathetic, a grubby-handed child pawing for praise, clamoring for recognition, whoring himself for the attention he knew he deserved.

You could not have seen his furtive glances towards the windows at night, the posturing, the flexing, sucking in his gym-hardened stomach, bleaching his hair to blonde, crooning his pathetic fucking jaw-line, his pointed fucking cleft chin. God how, at last, I loathe that scrubbed complexion. I would murder a child for a scar on that pretty face, a pimple on that perfect nose.

I can’t believe what I once thought mattered.

Well, yes, I am angry. I’m bloody furious! Imagine yourself, waking with a start in the middle of the night, feeling disembodied, out of place...then discovering that you are, in fact, disembodied. That you, as one dead fucking person, are, in fact, out of place in this world of the living. That your hands are nonexistent at worst, spectrally dodgy at best! Hands that earned your money, that combed your white locks, that framed your infernal mental movies are now a hint of a whisper on a breeze, and just as useful.

Imagine how angry you would be, discovering in the ass-crack of night that you are standing over your own twisted corpse.

Of course I’m angry. But now, in this moment of confession, this generous moment of reflection granted me by who-knows-who, I can also admit: I am also excruciatingly sad, heartbreakingly disappointed... in my self, in my life, in this world, in this end... in everything.

So now here it is for you, simply stated: I, Dante Giordano, am dead. I am standing in my room in my small flat in Clapham, looking down at my own broken corpse. I am being allowed to stay here: here in this realm called Earth, here in this place called London, for as long as it takes for me to tell my story. My story as far back in my family’s history as I know through to the end of my miserable life. To tell that story, in its honest entirety, to you.

Ian thinks he looks pretty when he looks in the mirror. Archives


The Writer's Market was my bible for many years.

But my fears of rejection and failure kept me from ever putting stamps on the envelopes that contained my life's work.

I still haven't gotten over those fears.


When I moved into my new house, I set up my desk and made a little filing system. There are 3: one says "sent out", one says "published" and the largest one says "rejected". It's a fact of life.

While I'm sending out this story, please follow along. Pick out one of your old stories, no matter how dusty, no matter how silly, no matter how terrible you think it is. Just do what I do, and we'll all send it off together.


Ok. It's a deal.


This article is all kinds of cool. I think a lot of people will be following you on this....

And thanks for the sentiment, Ian, I'm still not quite over it. I did the Barney thing at kids' parties too, serious, but that somehow held a lot more respect.


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