Writing & Submitting
As expected, it didn’t take long for me to get around to beginning revisions on The Poisoned Moon. I was listening to music one day, shuffling through my collection, and played the song Don’t Call by The Twilight Singers (one of Greg Dulli’s bands). It is a bonus track from their 2011 album Dynamite Steps. It fit the tone I have in mind for the novel, and I’m surprised I missed it and didn’t add it to my playlist for the project before. It’s probably good that I didn’t since I write to music that feeds the mood I have for a project. Coming across a late addition to the playlist often revives my interest and focus in a project. First thing to do is read the damn book and mark it up. Looks like my evenings will be full for the next few months.
. . . And, of course, I started a whole new project because, you know, it’s not like I don’t have a hundred other things to do. Let’s call it my Jesus of the Trenches project. I’ve been reading about World War I since I was a kid and it’s finally time to get it all out of my head.
I’m reading a short story collection called Accelerated Learning Techniques for a Budding Sociopath by my friend Evan Hundhausen. We were in grad school together, and he was the first person I met when I showed up for new student orientation.
Also reading Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, even though I’ve never read Jane Eyre. I should probably get around to that some day, but life is short and I have a lot to do already.
On the plane back from Canada last week, I started reading the recent novel A Dog Between Us, which is by another grad school acquaintance, Duncan B. Barlow. I talked to him on the podcast a while back shortly after his previous novel The City Awake came out. On top of the novels, Duncan is also a musician (a founding member of two hardcore punk bands out of Louisville, KY one called Endpoint, and another called By the Grace of God), and he recently released a new solo album called Colony Collapse.
Heather is working on cleaning up the shows for Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes. I just need to write up an intro, and collect all the bios for the show notes. The PTMT shows will carry us through the holidays, and we’ll get back to recording new episodes on other topics sometime early next year. I may do a few one-off interviews/conversation in that time, but we’ll see.
About the time I start a new series, we’ll also be starting to plan for another live show to be recorded.
Maybe I need to take a break on this.
Picked up the new Of Monsters and Men album “Fever Dream.” It’s excellent. I’ve also been going back and listening to a couple of albums the Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks that I’ve had for a while and not listened to fully. Also picked up Duncan’s new album Colony Collapse.
Recently rewatched Roman Holiday. Also watched a few Netflix series, or parts of them with a friend, Kathleen. Russian Doll stands out, but I’ve not finished it yet. There seems to have been a whole generation of filmmakers whose touchstone is Groundhog Day. There were previous “time-loop” stories out there (read the “Legacy” section of the wikipedia page on Groundhog Day), and most of what you’ll find referenced on the Groundhog Day film page are cinematic, but I think Robert Coover’s novella, Spanking the Maid could also fit into the time loop theme even though it’s not a sci-fi or fantasy source for the “loop.”
There’s so much to do, even when it feels like I’m not doing anything at all. Three finished novels and, all of them I feel, need more work in some form. The most recent one needs a full rewrite—pretty much from the ground up. The older two, I’m not so sure what needs to be done. It’s been a while since anyone looked at them and told me what they thought. Maybe I need to collect some new beta readers who will pull them apart for me.
I’ve started a new project, aiming for it to be short so that I can get it out of my head quickly. Not sure what I’ll do with it.
I need to be submitting more frequently. But, much like dating, I don’t know where to start anymore and can’t get out of my own self-critical way. I keep trying agents, and keep not even getting replies. That’s how writers, even one with previous publications are treated these days. The no-reply rejection is the rule now for agents. The no-reply rejection, applied uniformly, keeps the agents from having to deal the those unprofessional egoists who would reply to rejections with rants, pleas for a second chance, and threats fo violence because our online culture feels like a shield of anonymity even when someone puts their name on it. If you want, you can follow literary agents on places like Twitter, or Manuscript Wishlist, and get a flavor both for what the agents are looking for and the kind of unprofessional exchanges they often have with amateur, egotistical twits who think everything they write is brilliant.
I’ve never had much success with agents. I’m not a very good self-promoter, and I’m too self-critical. I self-eliminate a lot of the time. Because I’ve not had much success with agents, it rules out the publishers who only deal with agented writers—that includes all of the Big Five (Penguin Random House, Harpercollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan) (click this link to see a chart with the Big Five and all their Imprints)—an expanding group of the mid-major independents like W.W. Norton, Workman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, John Wiley and Sons, are also moving to working only with writers who have agents. That leaves only the small presses working with un-agented writers.
The small presses, all struggling to make ends meet in a publishing world dominated by the Big Five and Amazon’s ruthless assault on brick and mortar booksellers, are the last best hope for American literature. The only problem is their respective lists are often very particular. They have to be. We as a society subsidize oil and gas, but not literature, not art. To me, that’s backwards. Utilitarian things, like gasoline, solar power, hammers, tampons, shoes, internet access, these things should not be subsidized. Some should be de-monopolized though (internet service providers), some so necessary to one gender only that they shouldn’t be taxed) but largely, utilitarian things should be left to survive on the quality of their usefulness. Art, literature, is NOT utilitarian, but it is necessary and more complexly, it’s highly subjective and personal. Judging art on its universal popularity is a bullshit metric for worth. As Ernest Hemingway once said “If you have a success you have it for the wrong reasons. If you become popular it is always because of the worst aspects of your work.” To understand how that translates, take a look at this old post from one-time agent Nathan Bransford. It shows you the bestselling novel of each year, starting in 1900, and the book or books published the same year which were part of the Modern Library’s list of 100 greatest novels. Out of the list of 112 novels (1900 to 2012) only SIX (6) annual bestsellers were on the Modern Library list. There are some books on Bransford’s list that you may think should be on Modern Library’s 100 best list (Doctor Zhivago, The Good Earth, All Quiet on The Western Front, and some others), but even then, the bulk of the annual bestsellers were and are forgettable (who the fuck was Morton Thompson?) or, in the case of the years 1982 and 1983, spin-offs from popular movies of the time (E.T. and Star Wars respectively). We can argue about the Modern Library’s criteria for a “best” novel and how they chose their list, but some books, even if they’re bestsellers, simply aren’t that good.
For me, I’m more concerned with being good than being popular. I eschew formula, and I’m looking for truth and beauty. For me, story is a way to understand and comprehend an incomprehensible world. My problem is I’m never sure I’m good enough. When I do my research into small presses, I often find myself in two separate situations. First, I find a press I like that’s published books I might want to read, and where I think I could fit, but they’ve suspended acquisitions, often indefinitely, sometimes for six months or a year, or they have a single month in which they consider submissions and I just missed it by a week and have to wait another year (I’ve started putting their submission month into my calendar with notices in the hopes that when the next period roles around I’ll have the confidence to send one of my manuscripts).
Second, I find a press that I like, with books that sound interesting, but then I read their mission statements, and the descriptions of their authors, and I think I’m simply not “cool” enough for them, not ironic enough or hip enough, and that my credentials are too staid, old-mannish, and too white male. I can smell their judgmental rejection before I even type the salutation on my query letter.
A third and less frequent situation I find myself in is this: I have some acquaintances and former classmates and fellow alumni who run small presses, but I’m afraid to submit to them. Their rejection would be too monumental, too personal.
And so, I feel stuck, adrift. It’s been a decade since my first novel came out. I’ve written three more since then and acquired nearly a hundred rejections on the oldest one. Some days it seems pointless to keep trying to send it out. Instead, I plow my energy into writing the next one, do doing the podcast, and, now, trying—again—to build a literary community around me that might, in some small way, keep me and the other struggling writers I know around here, sustained, encouraged, and most importantly involved in creating a literary ecosystem that will make it possible for writers who are pursuing their own sense of truth and beauty to find their audience, and feel seen, no matter how small an audience it may be.
Because I always forget Caturday.