Read a sample chapter from Too Much Information: top ten of 1,984 published and unpublished entries in the 2017 Book Pipeline Competition. When a high-school girl begins seeing crimes as sinister labels in everyone’s eyes, she must expose her psychiatrist as a murderer… even when nobody believes there is a victim!
When I was a young man in the early- to mid-eighties, I was in a hurry to succeed as a writer. I know that’s not unusual for young men, but the advice literary agents gave me then was like the advice all young men got: that I needed to be patient, and to earn my dues. Only many more years of experience and education would give me the chance I needed to pitch my novels. I didn’t like this much, of course, but when I looked around it seemed like most writers really were older men and women, so I played along.
It’s no secret that I am now one of those older men, with a lot of that experience. I have dozens of short-story credits, have taught hundreds of students how to write, and even briefly studied literature at Oxford University. Surely that’s enough to pitch my best novel. Surely it’s time for that chance to come.
Instead, I have to wonder if I’ve missed that chance.
In literally hundreds of pitches between two novels (Starlite Lanes: We Bowl for Democracy and Too Much Information), agencies have rarely given me more than a polite form-letter rejection. Sometimes it’s not even polite. Sometimes they give me nothing. Yes, I can feel the eyes rolling already on the other side of my screen, and I know that rejections often come to novels that deserve them. Maybe mine do… but Starlite Lanes has won Honorable Mentions in the Textnovel and Serena McDonald Kennedy awards, while TMI was featured on The Write Launch, and made the top ten of the 2017 Book Pipeline Contest. To earn this recognition, they must have some value: so what is going on?
Maybe it’s just a change of politics.
Remember the promising career young Joss Whedon had ahead just twenty years ago? He’s still active, I know, but we no longer seem interested in characters he invents. Looking around now, it seems like most of the writers (mostly, now, for film and TV) are grandfathered out by the time they’re in their thirties.
Then there’s that very phrase: “grandfathered.” It’s so filled with male-ness, it almost makes me feel guilty to use it, and the guilt itself stirs up another theory… but this one is going to be unpopular.
If being older has become a problem, then maybe being male makes the problem even worse.
When I was checking my Twitter-feed this morning, I came across a tweet from a female writer. I will paraphrase what she said to protect her identity, but it was something like this: she was never comfortable with the classics, because they were written by older men, and now she feels the #MeToo movement has justified that. A literary agent then replied to the tweet, asking for submissions of writing in that classic style, but by women.
Wow. What a thing to say about influential greats, who aren’t even alive to defend themselves. The implication that Updike or Dickens must have been sexually abusive is bad enough, but what followed it leaves someone like me in despair. Apparently, at least one agent believes that a given style of writing is only worth representation if a woman wrote it. In fact, one of my mentors—a younger woman, as it happens, who loves my novel—suggested to me just recently that it may not be getting attention because of my age and gender.
I know I am taking risks by posting this. If you are going to criticize me, then please don’t misquote me: I am absolutely thrilled that young writers of all genders and identities are getting a voice that we never had when I was younger. All I’m wondering is whether these voices are drowning out the others.
All I’m saying is that I wish I could have had my chance.
About a year after I began submitting my writing, I was offered a contract on one of my satirical thrillers, Driven. Because I felt at the time that it was the least polished of my efforts, I began asking advice, and I will never forget one of the earliest and wisest things that anyone has told me to date.
Victoria Strauss wrote, “Being unpublished is better than being badly published.”
At first, I thought that maybe managing the blog at Writer Beware had made Victoria paranoid. I wasn’t even sure what she meant by “badly published.” If someone was willing to print and sell my first novel on my behalf, how bad a publisher could they be?
Of course, Victoria’s mission is to protect a writer’s work and reputation to future publishers, so I knuckled into some research. I quickly learned a few ways to spot a publisher that even new writers don’t want, and have been learning more and more of those ever since.
Every publisher should offer a clearly worded contract. Some do not. I learned the hard way that ticking a box on a submissions manager is a very poor substitute for a real, big-boy’s contract… and that a real, big-girl’s contract should be about fifteen pages long. Continue reading
Will hashtags help or hurt Too Much Information?
When I first decided to focus on submitting novels, I assumed that trends were my friends. With all the #MSWL listings asking for them, I tried to write using strong female voices; because they dominated Young Adult fiction, I tried to create paranormal characters. By the time I had written revision after revision, though, I found that agents were already looking for LGBQ voices instead, and that the teenage obsession with friendly monsters had given way to the Dystopias that had probably always lived inside them. In other words, writing to trends was as often harmful to my chances as it might have been helpful.
How do we judge, then, whether something trendy will serve to enhance an agency query or just give it a shelf life? By the time my editor, Matthew Bird, gave me the tools I needed to craft my sixth revision of Too Much Information, the novel already had plenty of trends in it. It features a teenage girl, after all, who awakens from a coma able to see that everyone around her is a ‘Bully’ or a ‘Misogynist’ or a ‘Murderer,’ just by looking in their eyes. The novel is a murder mystery, but about a super-power that Jessica feels is a curse. It has girl-power. It has wacky sidekicks. It has threats from the darkest corners of our real-life fears, and teenage protagonists learning to face them.
It was about to get a whole lot trendier, though: some say too trendy.
Only Jessica sees the hashtags that might get her killed…
Chapter 3: A Bit Squishier still featured on The Write Launch.
There have been a few losses, lately, around my life and community. Trusted mentors and benefactors have passed away: some peacefully and some painfully, and one even in a light plane crash. Some had lived a longer life than statistics would predict. Others were far too young to go.
Still, they all had one thing in common: the overwhelming response on Facebook.
Yes, profile photos taken to impress friends and attract mates scrolled past the bereaved by the dozen, offering peace-signs and fiesta filters and memories of drunken nights out. More than a fair few were even making Duck-Face while expressing their sympathies. Some called it a fitting tribute. Others called it an outpouring of genuine grief. I call it a disgrace.
Christmas is over, so I’m off to do some shopping. I’ll never leave my chair, of course—the idea of going out to shop has become almost laughable—but there are a few books waiting for me to buy, a few more almost certain to be discovered, and an Android e-reader that supports enough apps to overcome even Amazon’s false Kindle barrier.
In other words, while I struggle to do any writing, I might as well do some reading.
My first stop is to pick up B. Lynn Goodwin’s newly released memoir, Never Too Late. If you’ve read any of Lynn’s articles, coaching or other missives over at Writer Advice, you’ll already know that her style will grip you, but that’s not what appeals to me most about the samples of this book. What appeals to me most is that it’s written by someone who remembers when meeting people had to be done without the help of billion-dollar apps, and when the photos that strangers saw of you were too expensive to be reposed or retouched. It’s written by someone who understands that the person in our mirror may not be the person we remember being, and that Craig’s List may be as brave a foray as some are willing to make into social media. It’s written by someone who’s learned that humanity is a fleeting treasure.
Where do you go when you want free stuff? The samples at Costco aren’t free; you have to pay an annual membership. Your free birthday meal at Denny’s costs you for anything you order to go with your Grand Slam, and the free entertainment on Cavill Avenue comes at the expense of dealing with three hundred drunks in Surfers Paradise. It’s getting so that a sign reading ‘Free’ is just shorthand for, Warning: you are about to be harangued over something unrelated.
So it is with a free website URL from Tokelau.
Well, it’s been a long time, hasn’t it? If dust could collect on a blog, I’d be having allergy attacks now.
After a busy few months teaching, and travelling, and just basically keeping life afloat, I thought I would check in once in awhile to see what’s happening in the old neighbourhood. Most of the blogs I follow have been very busy, so I’ll only take a moment now to post a link to my Flash Fiction piece that earned runner-up status, also a few months ago. The story, No Chocolate for Gerald, explores the tragic compromises that even the most devout Animal Rights activist might have to make.
Angela and the WOW team have recently begun hosting a creative nonfiction competition, in addition to their Flash comp. A more supportive community you will never find, so I highly recommend that any author visit their website, read their blog, and put them on your list of readers.
It’s good to see so many authors still hammering out their inspirations. We could all use a little of that.