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Fires of Forgiving

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Fires of Forgiving

We'll see how much I have left in the tank.  If you followed the blog last week, we had two major developments re: my life and work, which are really one in the same (as Big Tom points out, I don't do much for fun).  My agent officially waved the white flag, leaving me with two avenues left for publishing my memoir.  The first is e-publishing (which we can do tomorrow, if we want, and Michele would be happy to help set that up); the other is to target small, independent publishers.  I am choosing the latter, since it helps me with my primary goal of teaching university-level writing.  Small publishers and agents generally don't work together (there isn't enough money to be spread around), so I'll be doing my own shilling.  Which is both good and bad.  It's good because I am tenacious, and since this is my life, I have the time and energy to plow forward in a full-court press.  It's bad, though, because I am a social retard.  Even writing electronic introductions to strangers gives me anxiety and renders me awkward.  And without an agent I've been dropped back into the nameless sea of anonymity.

The best part about having an agent is you've been bumped up a tier, kind of like having already dated one hot girl; other hot girls will now give you a chance. Everyone wants to be a writer.  Everyone thinks he/she is a writer.  The amount of material produced, unfiltered and unchecked is astounding.  The tiered system, writer to agent to publisher, has its flaws.  Believe me, I know, especially when artistic merit takes a back seat to sales and marketing, commercial elements diametrically opposed to the governing tenets of creation.  But one of the main benefits of this system is that it weeds out the Fires of Forgiving.

The Fires of Forgiving is a novel that had been sent to my former undergraduate writing professor, Tom Hazuka, back when he was editing a Midwestern writing magazine, and which he'd held onto all these years since it, miraculously, managed to violate every single rule of writing.  He used to trot out every year; it was the highlight of the semester.  Tom would read the entire excruciating novel, replete with affected dialect (which mostly consisted of the writer's annoying habit of imitating cowboy-speak by dropping every "n"), during Finals' Week.

There's the line in Sunset Boulevard when William Holden's washed-up screenwriter, Joe Gillis, agrees to take on Norma Desmond's dreadful attempt at a memoir.  " Sometimes it's interesting to see just how bad bad writing can be," Gillis says.  Like Desmond's butchery of the English language, The Fires of Forgiving pushed the limits of this.

The novel (or maybe technically it'd be a novella) was written by a woman in Iowa back in, like, 1954 (not really, but it was written on a manual typewriter, and the author's address was a rural route PO Box in the middle of bumfuck nowhere), and centers on a woman named Brandy, who has a horse, and who is still in love with a hot hunk from her past named Luke (she opined, lustily, as she mounted the sizable black stallion), and some other hot, hunky neighbor keeps stopping by, which provides countless unintentional moments homoeroticism (Brandy didn't like the way the men eyed one another).  In fact, most of the effects of the Fires are unintentional. There is not a single line of dialogue in the entire thing that comes without an adverb, and no one "says" anything; they "exclaim" and "interject," which they frequently do with clenched jaws, through gritted teeth (which is actually quite impossible to do).

There are lots of little tricks one learns about writing, things like never writing "he thought to himself," because one can't think any other way but to himself.  You also learn when a character is speaking, you have two choice when it comes to tags: said and asked.  Bad writers think that they need to find new and exciting ways to tag dialogue, so they "posit" and "offer," but once you do this, you've basically outted yourself as not being part of the club and are now relegated to the book clubs on rural roads.  This poor woman in Iowa had obviously read too many romance novels and didn't know any better, or else she wouldn't have endured a literary legacy as the punchline to an undergraduate writing class.  But the novel was an invaluable (as well as highly entertaining) learning tool, because sometimes you learn more by the examples of what not to do.  You put on your coat, son; you don't fucking "don" it.

Anyway, this is what the agent/publisher system does; she weeds out the Fires of Forgiving for busy publishers.  You have to think of it from the publisher's POV. These houses get thousands upon thousands of manuscripts every week.  Some might be awesome (like mine), but more than most will be like Fires and Aunt Edna's Jams of the South.

Now that I am sending off my own queries, which I've done before (back when I was trying to get an agent in the first place,) I have to resist the temptation, like all writers, to try and somehow separate myself from the pack by not following protocol, invoking a variation of the "Hey, I know you're busy, and I know you get a lot of bad books, but please give my book a chance" introduction.  Nothing will get your manuscript not read faster.  When you submit your proposal or query, you have only one option, kinda like ordering soup from the Soup Nazi.


The good news to come out of last week, after two years of procrastination and focusing on everything but, I finally started a new novel.  Pretty excited about this one.  I've got characters I know well, with an arc all mapped out.  It starts out in Northern California up by Eureka, and will end down in San Diego, an exercise in metonomy, centering on a 16-year-old kid (Kyle) raised by his cousin, who works the pot trade in Humboldt, with a Sparksian love story at its heart.  When a sale goes bad, Kyle is forced to hit the road, eluding the cartel he (along with his cousin) just fucked out of some big money, as he goes in search of his long-lost brother, who is a movie producer in Hollywood, and falls in love for the first time.  The early draft has the feeling of a YA novel, although I strongly suspect the violence and drug use will push it more in the territory of my writer friend David Corbett's latest, Do They Know I'm Running? ( And since it is going to be quite a while until mine is finished, and since even when it is it very well could suck (he fretted, hesitatingly), you might as well pick up the Corbett book.  Because it's really fucking good.

But there is a price for writing the new novel.  I only have so much time/energy/inspiration in a day. I've been directing a great deal of effort into this blog, striving to post daily (or close to it).  I would still like to do that.  Let's hope the tank's got enough left in it before I go all Jackson Browne on your ass.

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