A few quick things about what I'm reading:
It is amazing what these guys could do in the outdoors. Make cabins, make canoes, hike thousands of miles, ride the rapids, cross the Rocky Mountains and the Bitterroot Mountains, make peace with the Native Americans they found, document every new species of animal and plant, coordinate their location by the stars, write all this in their journals, kill all their food, skin and cook all their food, cure the sick and injured--and face their fears of the unknown. All of this, for years. Away from their families and friends. Despite all this, Meriwether Lewis, after conquering all of these obstacles, after camping on the Pacific, took a look at his life and didn't like what he saw. Said he hadn't accomplished enough, done enough for the general good. Considered himself a failure. (Stephen Ambrose, the dedicated author, concludes that Lewis had been a manic-depressive.) I cannot imagine this; I'm proud of myself when I walk a few blocks with my greyhound. There probably aren't a hundred people in the country today who could do what Lewis and Clark and their men did. I'm almost 300 pages in.
Author Dan Simmons has created an already-moody (after just 30 pages) telling of the last few years of Charles Dickens' life, as told to us in an unpublished document penned by contemporary author (and still known amongst English majors) Wilkie Collins. Very atmospheric, and shockingly good writing. A very memorable scene in the beginning: It's well-known that Dickens was in a train wreck five years or so before he died, and that his much-younger mistress and her mother--and not his wife--were with him on the train. He got out of the carnage mostly unscathed--although headaches, backaches, and what we know now are PTSD-related symptoms dogged him the rest of his life--but the people he saw and tended to would remain with him, buried undead in his psyche, until he died. The description of these people, and their severed arms, sliced-open heads, fractured skulls--and the mysterious Drood (who could've whispered his name as "Dread"), who was but a shadow with a long black cape, two slits in a skull that passed as his nose, and razor-sharp little teeth--was extremely well-done and clearly in my head as I type this. It is this writing, this atmosphere, and this narrative sophistication that helped this novel sell well and become Dan Simmons' breakout work. (Though his previous, The Terror, also garnered great reviews.)
I recommend both of these books highly. I usually read one non-fiction and one fiction work at the same time. You're not always in the mood to read just one type all the time, right?
Upon my research today, I came upon these two tidbits from two separate agents' websites:
--Query with SASE...No snail mail.
--Prefers to read material exclusively...Only responds if interested.
And I received the shortest rejection ever just under an hour ago: "Not for me--thanks anyway."