From a certain perspective, I got back into the writing game these last few months. I’d taken a long time off to work on my James Bond project and start dabbling with a manuscript detailing the evolution of the entire project. With all my essays completed and the heavy lifting begun on the “behind-the-scenes” or “immersive journalist-y” part of the manuscript, I abruptly stopped writing. That makes sense right? I’d submitted 10 agent/publisher queries for the manuscript and received nary a derogatory comment in return. I’d not received a positive comment either. I’d received exactly zero words in return. In case you’re not well versed in the submission process, one must prepare a tailored pitch for every agent or publisher. So in addition to the hundreds of hours of work poured into the manuscript, there’s at least another 30-45 minutes spent on each submission. This includes researching targets and crafting the query. Silence is absolutely, positively, 100% the worst response for any submitting writer. This says, “Hey, you’re not even worthy of a form rejection.”
I’m not wallowing here. I accepted this bullshit part and parcel when I resigned myself to being a writer… or a failed writer. Or whatever kind of purgatory this is. Still, this is damaging to forward momentum. I shifted that manuscript to the “HOLD” pile while I tended to a few other projects and figured out what about my sales pitch caused people to not give any fucks.
During the month of May I poured myself into a James Bond short story for LICENCE EXPIRED: The Unauthorized James Bond short story collection. I played it safe, used characters from Fleming and drew inspiration from my favorite James Bond novel. I felt really good about my submission. I didn’t try to push boundaries. I made a few sly inferences that the nature of James Bond was something like taxidermy. I wrote what I felt was a very strong story with a nice bit of commentary on the whole franchise.
Thank you for submitting your story The Bulgarian Tumble to LICENCE EXPIRED: The Unauthorized James Bond. Sadly, we are unable to include your story in the collection.
It did come very close, but ultimately didn’t make the final cut as it dwelt on themes and characters that too many other of the stories also touched. We’ll both be keeping an eye out for your work though; if you spot one or both of us in an editorial capacity, do consider submitting.
I should have known that expectations in the writing game only exist to be trampled upon. I hadn’t felt disappointment like this in years. I’d become hardened to all manner of writing rejection. At least I thought. This rejection, however, rekindled a landslide of forgotten emotions. I even heard from those old friends Self Doubt and Self Loathing, the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of cliched, sad sack writers everywhere.
Until this rejection arrived on Saturday, I’d planned to tackle another two projects in short order: a submission packet to write a 33 1/3 book for 333Sound’s open call window and a short story for Matrix Magazine’s LitPOP competition. Now, eh… let’s find out what’s jamming up the DVR. (A whole bunch of TCM movies! I’ll finally watch Wasp Woman!)
How quickly confidence becomes a bottle of gin. This is why writers become f’ing alcoholics. Gin always loves my writing. I kid. (I don’t. I really don’t.)
I went for an early evening run in the rain on Monday evening. I went for a run in the rain because it’s been raining every day and if I wanted to go for a run it was apparently going to have to be in the rain. I didn’t wear my headphones. As a result I couldn’t listen to some sad sack singer-songwriter with the Michael Smith seal of approval corroborate and lend credence to my unhappiness. I watched the rain come down and felt like a pathetic stooge in a 1980’s teen dramedy meant to piggyback the success of Say Anything. I felt thrilled to be a part of such a production. I also came to the realization that I’d never actually written a detective/spy/genre short story in my life. To backtrack/summarize: my harshest critic (me) had been *happy* with a story I’d written despite never having dabbled in that style of writing once in my life. (Anybody know where to submit a spy/espionage story featuring
James Bond Clive Hardwood?)
I came home and immediately sat down to polish a story for the Matrix Magazine contest, judged by George Saunders. Why? Because George Saunders is one of the reasons I write. If I had to name my literary idols, the list would begin with George Saunders. I picked an old oddball story about self-aware puppets on a Christian version of Sesame Street. The original ran upwards of 40,000 words. I selected one storyline and excised it, specifically for George. 6 hours of brutal editing brought the story in under the 3,000 word maximum.
Do I think it’ll make the cut?
No. Because that’s the healthy response.
People — and by “people” I mean the cultural hegemony of false positivity — suggest that we should always think positive. I disagree. I think we should try our best with as much time as we have and just say “fuck it all” when we’re done. “Fuck it all” doesn’t dismiss or judge or place expectation. It’s not even necessarily negative. “Fuck it all” just means, in that moment, I’ve done all I can do, I’ve done my best, so come what may. It means now I’m moving on to that next thing. I will not dwell on my disappointment. “Fuck it all” is new wave self help.
I had 48 hours to turn a 40,000-word story into a 3,000-word story. I did my best because I how often do you have the chance to put your work in front of your idol. I submitted that story early this morning. I’m under no delusions here. He won’t see a word of it. The Matrix Mag editors will put the kibosh on that puppet story long before he sees it because I didn’t play it safe or I did play it safe or it just wasn’t any good in the first place. It’s not what they’re going to want to read. But maybe it is. Maybe he will read it. Either way, fuck it all.
Now on to that other project. No, not the Bond book. Those typed pages are staring at me right now from that “HOLD” bin. I’m crafting a submission packet for the go ahead to write a book about one of my favorite albums for the aforementioned 33 1/3 series (a collection of books about music — each one focusing on one individual, influential record album). When I first thought about sending in a submission, I tried to figure out what album would be worthy of the series. I had a list of five or six records that hadn’t yet been tackled by 33 1/3. Records that most everyone would agree deserved a spot in the series. But then I thought about what records mattered specifically to me. And about what records inspired me, shaped me… and I decided I wanted to write about Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Dulcinea. Do most people consider that an essential record? No. But it is. And I do.
So fuck it all. Back to writing. Back to giving all the fucks… but at the same time none at all.