LIFE ON THE L-EDGE

wendyo's blog
JANUARY 26, 2010 1:02AM

Authors & Horror Stories (writing: PT 9)

Rate: 18 Flag

             So there is the usual line up of men on C-Span. Why is it always men? Most especially on history, foreign affairs, and in the following case: terrorism. The author, a pleasant fellow, was not talking about “Cold Zero” a book I’m not recommending because he never got around to it,  but rather  speaking of what befell him-- before this book.

              He was not boring, nor eccentric,  not posturing, but a man so excited to finally have been published that it was hard for him to talk of anything else except his publishing difficulties and confusions.  

           This gig was his first leg of his book tour-- in fact, it was his very first reading, at Olsen’s books in Washington. D.C.   I thought he was either a fun professor or at least a proficient public speaker in addition to being an FBI spook. Why? Because he was so at ease,  also very funny-- clearly not inexperienced with large audiences.

          Why bring him up? Because the first thing he said was that he had no idea how any book of his had finally gotten  published. He reminisced at length and vividly about his first book-- a novel that did not make it. 

            He told the usual twisting tale; how  he had contacted every writer he knew with an agent. Then how he received  90 rejection form-letters, the gist of each being, “We are very busy with our own authors. Sorry,”  which was funnier (and far more touching) as he spoke than on this page.
            
               Then he continued detailing those indelible if jumbled  details about the unpublished book’s saga: How he, after two years, finally had a literary agent. True, she was in remote Canada, but she actually called him, which thrill was the last of his good fortune-- though he did not know so at the time.

            At the time he only worried about how powerful was the Canadian agent,  and would she have the “reach” to get him published and reviewed in the USA.
            
         “Ask my wife” he said for the third time, “We cannot, either of us, reconstruct how we finally got here, what I’ve been dreaming about all my life“-- this said while beaming impishly at his audience (both in the bookstore & on C-Span.)

             I suppose he dimly sensed  that this Washington D.C. crowd, a mere three nights after 9/11 , were  shell-shocked and only wanted to know about terrorism as in: ‘ If and when  another attack.’
                   
            But I found his compulsion to rehash his old publishing woes fascinating and so I dove into his excitement--which got my mind blessedly off  bomb/planes/ & bio fears, onto publishing, which yes, was totally off topic for his audience, but with which any writer would identify.

            Soon, hands were waving back and forth, so many they obscured his body on the C-span screen–this audience urgent with questions about terrorists. Which was, fair enough, the topic of his timely book
                    
                Meanwhile, I happily followed his emotional trajectory, and understood that he had to finish the horrid story of his non-published book, which went something like this:

                Writer: “So I figured since she called me, and since she was in Saskatchewan or some such place, this was a done deal. My wife and I debated if she, the agent, had  clout, while celebrating with champagne that the long ordeal, getting a book published, was over. Celebrating that soon we'd have that book in our hands, and out into the world.

                  The assembled group be damned, he focused --perseverative would not be too strong a word--on the  northern plains/ Canadian agent.

                  ”The next call was from her secretary. She told me to turn on my fax machine right away. In a flurry of excitement, of course we did so, both of us so nervous we accidentally turned it off and then back to on. Elated. 

                My wife, she’s here, she’s in the back row, she can vouch for this, how I was yelling," 'the contract, the contract.'" Here he paused for dramatic effect–lost completely on his audience, who were one by one ducking down before the cameras, and leaving. “ It.was.not. a. contract," he said.

                “The page that rolled out was instead  the last rejection from someone who lived six hours from any city, not close to Anywhere, USA.

                 He continued: “She was rejecting my novel, because, and these are her exact words,  she claimed that she in no way could represent me. Because, she wrote, "I have a curious,  Freudian aversion to chicken coops.”

                This excited man, who’d just published at a truly fortuitous moment--was far more obsessed with his long ago rejection, than with his audience or faking a rational speech.

                  I leaned forward on my bed, all empathy and maybe the only one who knew why he could not budge from the dead book and onto the live one. Which was the  subject du jour,  likely to be the subject de siecle. Or de many siecles.

                  He waved to the cameras as if to say, okay this will be a wrap. Then he pleaded with his  diminished  audience, 

                 “If there is a psychologist here tonight, I would very much like to decode what that agent might have meant. I am telling you that I used the phrase “chicken coop” (here you could see the residual obsession of every unpublished writer with a loved manuscript) "in one fleeting scene and those two words never recurred again." (aka: chicken coop.)
                

               Which story really did have to be derailed because  now he was getting hissing and boos, with many more walking out on this whole crazy segue-- while I was thinking just  how hard it IS to remember how a book is born, how to track in hind site the sequences. I was thinking of all those odd steps and missteps; up, down and sideways; of the truly bizarre cast of characters met along the way, what any first book by a new author undoubtedly does encounter en route to getting (or not getting): published   
                 
              

               

 

 

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I've always wondered how a book is published...the guy just wanted to know what had happened to him, but still didn't understand. I guess we're all looking for answers to life's persistent questions, as Guy Noir says. Very interesting! Rated
Reading between the lines is a gift and so is keen observation. Excellent writing, rated.
I love the way you told this. Maybe if he wrote a book about "not getting published".....then.....
Guys, this was a hard one to write, but I couldn't work for two hours and then not press go. Or whatever we press meaning publish.

This means that I owe 7 of my own stories and tonight I so remembered this man and his nutso performance I hope to show is actually typical, if not in front of an audience. We get obsessed with our books and rarely do you hear positive stories about how anyone felt getting there.

I think my story is far worse than his but of course being female or being me, I knew enough on my book tour to STICK with my topic. More on that.

Thanks so much: Ralph, Thoth and Trilogy. And this time I had no more energy to invite anyone. So especially kewl. Love to all of you, have no idea how I'll feel in the AM. O this IS AM!

But I have some gret stories of my own to fill in, one by one non -sequential All love ! Many Thanks!WendyO
"Which was the subject du jour, likely to be the subject de siecle. Or de many siecles." Hilarious, Wendy! xox
This is a fascinating piece, Wendy. I think lots of us can relate. My own experience with agents and publishers is still confused in my mind: books that were sure to be a hit that nobody bought; books that were loved by all the editors except the one who pushed the "purchase" button; rejections for reasons that seemed bizarre and arbitrary. The book you've slaved over for years that everyone says is good, but not quite good enough. Sigh. Now I know why: chicken coop.
What a strange performance indeed. I can picture you watching it, completely relating, while his live audience is trying compute what they are listening to and utterly failing to understand.
There's something so endearingly crazed about this author you describe, and his compulsions and obsessions and rejections. And your pacing conveys his blind impetus to rehash: "he had to finish the horrid story..." I love the way you told this, the soft light you cast on his need to share his failure rather than his success. So human. Lovely, rakish, eccentric, angle. Much more fun when it runs amok!
You actually watch the book talk on C-SPan. Really?

I have decided that I don't want to publish anything any more except here. I don't need the money and I hate speaking in front of groups larger than one.

Besides, She Who Must Be Entertained wouldn't like me galavanting around the world.

Color me retired. The book will never get written and we'll all be better off for it.

(At least that;s my story for today. Every time I've written a novel, it has cost me the relationship I was in at the time. Writing sucks. And that's when I'm in a good mood.)
An easy read. A great story. The obsession that we have as writers, authors and poets is possibly what keeps us tied to our insecurities for so long. I have lost the path a number of times and then realized that I had never let the path. I was just standing still.
Excellent post.
rated
I've come across the book talk many times. They're lousy cameras and poor audio quality make it all the more amazing that you found his talk engaging.

What luck for him to have just published a book about terrorism shortly after 9/11. Weird. He was probably confounded at that coincidence and felt he needed to explain how bizarre it was. Hope he managed to sell a few books anyway.

I looked up the book and saw his photo. He started out as an FBI agent and ended up a writer. Maybe that accounts for his awe at being published. And I wonder if this proves that old adage: write what you know.

Thanks Wendy for writing about this. I might have to see if Book Talk is on the internet --
I don't get it. I have a Jungian aversion to pig sties. Is that unusual?
It would be interesting to see if he ever published again. Who could have had a more "fortuitous moment" [irony intended], that he would publish a book on terrorism three days after 9/11? I hope some of his insane suicidal (for his book) talk came from some innate a unconscious moral imperative to think that his book might be a hit built not by what it said but upon the bodies of the slain. Beyond that he shows an amazing obsessiveness on an irrelevancy.

I think I would have been fascinated with him too, not for the reasons you were - but I can understand well your reasons - but because what he was doing was so absolutely self destructive of all he had worked to achieve: finally publish a book.

Fascinating read, wendy.

Monte
In this man's angst ridden journey I saw some of myself more than once...but I know I could push the old story aside when capable of such wonderful luck...and in fact have!

I love your stories, so full of insights and compassion...a perfect combination for them. Keep up the great work please!

R
Thanks to all the below for taking time to comment:

--Robin, yes I loved that line you found funny.... more via email

--Frank Indiana--So glad you could relate. It remains for me, and I just wrote a book about it: The Publishing world, who gets chosen, how some books are huge hits and yet poorly written and etc etc.

---Sithery 22/ so glad you came as your takes are important to me.

--Bonnie Russell:L I don't get C-Span anymore. Haven't for years. Is the book segments still on. And on foreign affairs it is still 100% men?You brought it all back to me with your comment, after the speach is over, the camera keeps rolling. I remember that!

--Gail--you got exactly what I was trying to capture and by the by: you wrote your response so well, bettern' my post, true true.

--Sage, I totally get it. It's almost imposssible to write for publication and stay in love at the same time. And, wise also because much that is written doesn't need a wide audience.
--
----mical, don't you think we are always beginning as if for the first time? I wasn't sure about posting this, it isn't great but I feel freer to publish for OS for now. But o so write, painters, all artists, film directors and most of all we solo writers, it's all tied to insecurity, except those magical times when it isn't.
--skelenwmn: Hope I got your difficult name right. I cannot beleive you found this man. Truthfully, I plucked this from my leaky memory bank and may have mixed things a bit up. but what IS his name and DID he go onto write novels. Once my memory alighted on him, I do think I captured one truth.

--John B: What do you think about the trials of publication? I know you write screenplays AND novels, right? Your aversion to pig sites is quite common and I talk as a Jungian. But even so, you should not reject a book that has one reference in 400 pages just because of an aversion.

---Monty I'll email skeletwmn since she actually looked him up while I only remebered the book title not his name. Would be interesting to see if he did get a novel out.

--and Dear Buffy: Of course you hit the nail on proverbial head. I only wrote about this because so much of the emotion mirrored my relation to pub biz. Saw myself almost in all of this except not in the insane way he used the story. But then again, this is a distant memory and maybe he took 8 minutes on the unpublished book.

And to everyone: I know many many many (you get the picture) published writers and I don't know one who is not mostly discouragd or confused or furious at the editor or agent or house for what was percieved as unfairness.

The only exception is my ex, who has cancer as I wrote here and he is not doing so well. But he finally published with a great agent and at Random House with Adam Bellow, son of.. , a book that is selling like hotcakes. Of course, in his case, he gave himself stomach cancer from working non stop for the last decade. So there is no winning in this world of books is there? Not a complete win, anywya? (His book which I'm not promoting is called : Jewish Pirates in the New World, whith a great subtitle. His name is Ed Kritzler or Eddie to the rest of us. Sad!
I enjoyed reading this and the comments too. I can picture this poor fellow fixated on his rejection while all around want to give him respect/attention with their questions about the subject at hand. It’s almost comical with a random agent in Sask. or God-knows-where and then a rejection for a phony reason and then a reading three days after 9/11. You really can’t make this stuff up, can you?

We all have a story to tell and yet our motivation(s) for telling it are so varied. Rejection is always hard and yet so common. So I see this narcissistic character who wanted to focus on his hurt rather than his success, or the topic. Wounded narcissism is something indeed.I can only imagine what he must have been like to be around in person.

Your description made this very visual for me as I could see this fellow as the audience was leaving in disgust, and he is just totally not getting it. Thanks.

And I am sorry to hear about you ex’s cancer at a time of writing success. Life is so weird.
As this author, and you, illustrate, the planets have to align perfectly before publication can be successful. So much can go wrong! The Miracle of Birth has nothing on the Miracle of Publication. Thanks for this fresh look at some of the craziness.

By the way, I'm so sorry to hear of your ex-husband's cancer. How unfair that he achieves writing success at the same time his health deteriorates.
Seems to me you witnessed a man's transfiguration from a specialist in terrorism to a writer.
I watch a lot of C-SPAN. Isn't Susan Swain on quite frequently doing Washington Journal? (I wish I could catch that show more often. Doesn't always work in my schedule.) Many other times of day I watch are just Senate/House things which obviously show people who are there... Maybe they don't bring in many women to be interviewed, I don't know. Is it disproportionate with the number of people in the news? Not sure. Might just be seeing an echo of the glass ceiling presented on an equal-opportunity mirror.

The interview you describe sounds excruciating. What I found myself asking is "If this person has this sense of focus, how did he get published?" Perhaps it shows people are good at some modalities of communication more than others.
So you are recalling a C-Span episode from over 8 years ago? This must've really stuck with you.

When I'm mailing my manuscripts around begging for agents I'm sure I'll remember this. Thanks for sharing.
No matter what the dream is- you can not give up or give in.. You have to keep that dream alive in your heart and work with passion to make it had. The day a man dies is the day he stopped dreaming.
You have to keep going no matter how many rejections and boos or whatever you can give up on your dreams.
Very interesting, inspiring.. As Thoth said " Reading between the lines is a gift and so is keen observation."
I've watched that show... rarely is it as good as I wish it was.

This one sounds hard, painful to watch, but as you describe, worthwhile in some ways. Lessons come to us in some odd ways sometimes... very odd ways.
The interesting thing is that both the speaker/author and the audience were there to have their questions answered -- and in both cases, essentially to be reassured.
The guy with the mike wins, until he loses his audience.

Good story.