Thursday, December 03, 2009

What Jessica Papin wants

by Jessica

In light of Miriam’s post on good holiday gifts, and Stacey’s elaboration on what she’s looking for, I figured I’d post my own holiday wish list, the projects that I’d love to discover in my virtual stocking, the visions of submissions/sugarplums that dance in my head.

  • Popular science or history of science, in particular, neuroscience, medicine, natural history and biology, but if the writing is good, I’m open to most any discipline. I’m looking for today’s answer to Lewis Thomas.
  • Plot-driven literary fiction, books that contain both gorgeous writing and a well-constructed, dramatic narrative arc.
  • Literate, John LeCarre-style spy thrillers
  • Novelistic/narrative retellings of pivotal chapters in world history—modern or ancient—with strong contemporary resonance.
  • A modern gothic novel, like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History
  • Polemic/muckraking narrative, a la Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Psychology and sociology growing out of original research, with either a “big think” or prescriptive orientation.
  • A surprise


  1. Jessica,

    I was about to tell you that I would send you my copy of THE SECRET HISTORY, and ask why you'd never read it before.

    Then, I went back and actually read your post. Thankfully. That would have been terribly embarrassing.

    Perhaps (sometime) after the new year, I will be the one querying with a piece of literary fiction which will keep Christmas in your heart all year long.

  2. Dear Ms. Papin,

    I seek a literary agent for my narrative "faction" (true story, names changed) about Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Entitled "Rogue Bee," this is based on the harrowing true story of Lt. Col. Darren Curtis who risked his career to testify before the U.S. Senate Democratic Policy Committee last month. The Army is burning trash in Iraq and Afghanistan--munitions, body parts, medicines. Tom Clancy meets Michael Crichton in this suspense-filled, graphic story of: politics; corruption; war; medicine; and science, geographically spanning the farthest reaches of the globe. This is all true. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

    (Video web link to the U.S. Senate hearing below)


    Anthony Szema, M.D.
    Head, Allergy Diagnostic Unit
    Assistant Professor of Medicine and Surgery
    SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine
    Chief, Allergy Section, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Northport, NY

  3. I think this is a fabulous post. I recommend all agents do this!!!

  4. All of you have written great post.Definitely helps a potential author to know exactly what to pitch and to whom.
    I give it, two thumbs and two big toes up.

  5. Well, it's not exactly Lewis Thomas... but as a young Med student and witnessing a *turn for the worse* in a patient, an old Doc put his hand on my shoulder and said. "Son, there's nothing on this planet Morphine can't cure!"

    Haste yee back ;-)

  6. I was under the impression "gorgeous writing" was a bit of a no-no...slow to write and slow to read, in the Twitter era...

  7. Hi Wanda,

    By gorgeous writing, I don't mean overwrought or purple prose. Encountering a sentence worth marveling over, a passage in which language is used in some insightful or inventive (and not necessarily exquisite) way, is one of the joys of reading, and I don't think it is any less prized today than once it was. It's true, however, that the ability to put together a knockout sentence alone won't get you far in this market. Houses are looking for books that contain strong stories, which means that novels in which not much happens (even gorgeously written ones) can be at a disadvantage. Most publishers take pains to avoid books that seem "too quiet."

  8. Thanks for the clarification - "too quiet" is a great way of putting it.

    I think of that one guest at a party (it always seems to be just one), alone in the middle of a sofa, enveloped in an invisible cloud of "too quiet." In a documentary about Princess Diana, it was said that upon entering a room, she always sought out that one person to talk to.

    Princesses, wallflowers, agents, authors - I'll try not to string this out any further :)