This is the continuing story of one person’s bone-headed resistance to all good advice about how to get published. If you want to know the full story, scroll down to the first post. If you don’t care,
just read on…
In the last post you had just promised to send your third completed novel to an agent. You told her that it was a complex love story played out against a background of all things Canadian. You didn’t tell her that included ‘Hockey Night in Canada’, frozen dog turds and macrame plant holders. The agent loved your sample chapters. The only remaining problem is that you haven’t even begun to write the rest of it and that’s the other thing you didn’t tell her.
There’s no other way out, you’ll have to start writing. Two years of unspeakable misery and toil elapse, during which three things happen…
- Your two remaining friends stop inviting you out.
- You toy with entering your house as a conceptual artwork entitled the ‘Invincibility of Dirt’.
- You convince yourself that the wearing of a slightly rancid dressing gown, on a full-time basis, is not evidence of mental deterioration but an ‘hommage‘ to Mrs Glass in Salinger’s Franny & Zooey.
By now so much time has elapsed that the finished novel bears no relation to the original chapters, and although you still have the agent’s phone number, you wonder if she will remember who you are.
What the hell! You send her the manuscript anyway, with the briefest of covering notes and no synopsis, because even your own plot defeated you. Three months later she calls back. SHE LOVES YOUR BOOK!! You can’t believe it and walk around gibbering into the phone as she praises your style and your complex plot. Then she pauses. There’s just one little thing.
Your mind races; perhaps she wants you to re-write? That won’t be a problem. Change some characters? That would probably be OK . Make the plot vaguely intelligable? OK. If you insist. You pluck up the courage to ask.
”Is there a problem?’
‘Canada is a problem?’
‘For a debut novel.’
As you hurl your copy of the manuscript to the floor, she details the difficulties of ‘falling between genres’. Canada might be OK if you were definitely ‘literary’ or even ‘historical’.
‘I’m quite calm’ you counter defensively.
‘I said HISTORICAL’. The agent sounds a little sour, as if someone has only incompletely peeled a grape for her. You wish you’d tried harder with that synopsis.
‘I’ll take out the Hockey, the frozen dog turds, even the macrame plant holders’, you suggest, crumpling pages of your manuscript at random.
‘Why don’t you write something set somewhere familiar, go for Womens’ Commercial and send THAT to me.’
You put the phone down and utter the cry of all confused debut novelists. ‘Why is Canada bad?’
You wonder what you could have done with these past two years.
You could have learned to tap dance, meeting two wonderful gals and rocking the West End in the first big Lesbian Musical
You could have bought an oversized pair of jodhpurs from the Army & Navy Stores and amused aviators with your lifelike flying impressions.
You could even have become a broken down inhabitant of the demi-monde, complete with ‘chinoiserie’ furniture.
You had to write a crappy novel about contemporary Canada.
Hobbling up the High Street some months later, you pause in front of a shop window in order to staunch a sudden outburst of tears. When your eyes re-focus you realise you are staring into the window of a book shop and there, propped in the centre, is a book which has just won a ‘First Novel Award’. You wanna spit. Then you look again at the promo material beside it. The author of this book has broken the rule about not writing their first book about Canada, for it is definitely set there and yet, she has won a prestigious award, a publishing deal and A HUGE ADVANCE. You sink to your knees in despair and stay there planning your novel set ‘in a familiar place’, while passers-by throw small change at you.
Was the agent’s response to your novel merely a kind way of saying, ‘Go away and learn to write for goddsakes’? Or have you fallen down between the genres and got yourself wedged in the crevasse of uncategorisability. Either way you are going to need a heavy duty rope, an ice axe and a lot of humility in order to haul yourself out and sign on for some professional help.