January 21, 2005
I want to talk about something that was hinted at in a recent comment--how I should be happy to have a published novel and not lament so much that I don’t have a career. That’s not what the comment said at all, but that’s what it got me thinking about. I’ve probably talked about this before. I get the feeling that I repeat myself sometimes, I mean whole sentences, verbatim--but what can I do, these thoughts are core to my every day. My answer is: no, having a published novel is not entirely enough.
I wrote the novel that’s been published when I was twenty years old. I wrote the first draft--200 pages--in an insane month in a dirty room in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. My agent at the time, who was trying to sell an earlier novel about being a slacker in Minneapolis, MN, didn’t know what to make of it. She sent it out reluctantly. "I do not see a market for a book that is slight and lacking in any meaningful message," said one editor. Three years later I added forty pages to it and decided to try and get it published myself. Soft Skull Press decided to take it on. At that time they were publishing books at Kinko’s. Mine was their first full-color, professionally bound book.
It was a great experience getting it published--vindicating, made me feel like a writer, which is a great feeling. I went on a book tour, there was a book release party, I had a girlfriend, I felt good. Soft Skull didn’t have any distribution at that time so the book kind of stayed in place. It was great to have a book to hand out to people, and it was an impetus for writing another book, but it’s not like it launched me anywhere other than my own mind. I broke up with that girlfriend--actually she broke up with me, not because we didn’t like each other, but for other sort-of-dramatic reasons. So I was a single, self-loathing 24-year-old. I started writing another novel in this atmosphere which would last me three years.
All in all, it was a very fucked up experience writing the next book: it owned me. I thought that was proof that I was writing something profound, important, but maybe it was a learning experience--never write like that again. Never drown yourself in a book. I tried to find an agent for the book, got rejected, found one who would take it on, and then the book was rejected by many publishers, even small independent publishers. I can hear you thinking, Maybe it sucks. It doesn’t suck. It needs some help, but it doesn’t suck. Not getting that book published nearly drained me of my will to write. What’s the fucking point to suffer like that and have nothing come of it? Rejection letters aren’t just about vanity. I know there is much worse suffering, but these problems are real to me. I need to keep writing, keep submitting, same old story.
In the past, editors would take on writers who showed promise. They took on careers. Not today. If you’re not an instant success, or can’t promise it, you’re nothing. All right, moving on. Cut to: Wilmington, NC. I start another novel while my wife is pregnant. I try to write something that has more chance of selling. I can’t write something completely mainstream because nothing will come out of me, but this book is less of a long character piece. It’s called "North of Sunset," and it’s about Hollywood--vanity plates are a big part of it, but I don’t want to get into the plot. It’s sort of like Tom Wolfe except more fucked-up and less uptight. I think this license plate should be the cover. Everybody who reads the book loves it, they say it’s a page-turner. Except for the people who work in publishing. Agents say it’s hard to sell a Hollywood novel. I say, Hollywood is the capital of America, and America is the capital of the world, so this shouldn’t be an issue. The novel’s about more than the movie business. But agents reject it. I go with my original agent who says he’ll try to sell it aggressively.
The book gets rejected twenty or so places. Then it’s done. Keep in mind that I am a new father, an unemployed new father. I have worked very hard on the novels I have written and I have little to show for it. I have had little morsels that have kept me afloat until the next piece of good news. Of course, some people are dying to get an agent, etc. but I am past that. I’ve got a kid to support, I have written five novels, I am working on my sixth, I am a writer who writes. I am sorry to bore you with my self-pitying and un-unique tale, if you've made it this far. Given the subject of the last post, it may seem like I’m whoring out my depression. Really I just have to vent this shit every once in a while.
So, to conclude…this blog has been enormously important to me. To have smart people actually respond positively to what I’ve written, in real time, is a great experience. Thank you. It’s progress.
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