Since this blog was begun with the idea of writing about the literary world and the constant rejection indigenous to it, it behooves me to bring the reading public up to date on the latest. I can confess now that I have written a novel entitled WE WALK ALONE, the Diary of an Ice Pick Killer. Prior to this, I have been reluctant to reveal the idea and the title for fear of having it stolen, but now who cares?
Previously I have self-published a memoir and edited a war anthology, and published no less than fifty pieces of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in various outlets throughout the country (see list of publications on this website) and felt that I had certainly accrued sufficient credentials to enable someone to consider me a publishable entity.
Beginning in August of 2013, I began sending queries to literary agents and small publishing companies throughout the United States (plus a couple in Canada and England) with the assumption that I had a winning idea here. The novel is about a woman with Multiple Personality Disorder—today known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, but I like the old term—who gradually evolves into a serial killer. I stole the idea from the woman in Florida some years ago who was killing men on something of a random basis, but added the multiple personality aspect because I’m a psychologist and have treated these kinds of people. Now, I ask you, who isn’t interested in the subject of multiple personalties? How about serial killers? Put the two together and you have a winning combination, right? Well, that’s what I thought. As usual, I was wrong. As of this date I have received no fewer than 230 rejections from literary agents and 13 from book publishers. Yes, I really have. The records are available for all to scrutinize.
At least I get points for determination. And, perhaps, masochism.
So, what is wrong with this picture? The idea seems sound, and the novel is written and developed by a writer with a proven track record. Furthermore, the opening chapter has actually appeared in an online journal (see “Death by Moonlight” in the fiction section of this website), so somebody liked it. Thus far, however, the several literary agents who have actually read the first chapter were not impressed. However, “it’s entirely subjective,” they say.
The maddening thing about writing and literature is that there are supposedly certain rules for what is good and what is bad, but following them seems bring no reward at all. I am fond of citing Cormac McCarthy as a writer who is constantly breaking every rule in the book and he’s a best seller. I once wrote a story entitled “Hemingway’s Question” (again, see my list of publications) in which I employed present and past tense, plus first, second, and third person all in one story—breaking the rules, of course—and not only was it published in a perfectly respectable literary journal, but was later praised by a reviewer as an example of excellent character and plot development in a one-thousand-word limit. Ye gads! So, what do we learn from this? I guess that rules are made to be broken, and some stuff will be published, some will not, and nobody knows exactly why.
Of course there is a difference between good literature and what we consider best sellers. I am certainly one writer who believes the vast majority of the reading public has lousy taste. I have a friend who has a PhD who thinks Fifty Shades of Gray is an excellent book from a literary standpoint, God forbid. Nothing I can say will dissuade her. This is not new. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was one of the few great pieces of literature in history which was also a best seller, primarily because it went through a well-publicized court battle over obscenity issues. The Parisian market was more than ready when it finally emerged in book form, and the French reviewers were happy with the results—i.e. people bought it.
I recently was a judge for the online Million Writers Award. As I have said in a previous blog—“Literary Prizes and the Selection Process,” Sept. 20, 2013—selecting three stories from thirty stories chosen by online editors as their best is somewhat ridiculous. Generally, all the stories are good and I simply chose the three that I found most interesting. Another judge, I am fairly certain, would have chosen three completely different ones. In this most recent instance of being a judge, however, I found one story that I rated as one of the best I have read in the past five years: “Briefly Luminous Against the Dark,” by Stephen Ornes, published in the Portland Review Online on March 29, 2013. It is the step-by-step depiction of a married couple and their individual reactions to the husband’s gradual descent into Alzheimer’s Disease: http://portlandreview.org/briefly-luminous-against-the-dark/
Beautiful written, poignant, sensitive, illuminating, the story took my breath away, and when I sent in my list of the three chosen stories, I made special mention of this one. But it was not selected by the judges to make the final ten stories to be voted upon by the general public. Why? This is an important story, it is relevant, and it merits recognition and an award. Either I am wrong or the other judges are wrong. Somebody is wrong. Who is it? IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE WHO CAN ANSWER THE QUESTION?
The final three stories that won the prizes—culled from 400 or so entries—are all excellent. I like them. But are they better than “Luminous?”
Well, enough of this. I continue to beat a dead horse. I’m sure you have heard all the stories of famous books that were rejected numerous times. The most recent one I read was that The Diary of Anne Frank was plucked off a slush pile of rejected manuscripts after it had been previously rejected twelve times. Um, what is the plot here? Jewish girl lives in attic hiding from Nazis for several years. Well, not much action, right? But it’s certainly showed staying power in print, stage, and film.
I am going to close this semi-diatribe by pointing out that one of the literary agents who rejected my manuscript was kind enough to give me a play-by-play account of why she did so. Basically, every time I was describing the interaction of the various personalities within my major character’s head, she got bored. When there was external action, she was more interested. She implied that I should cut out all the internal dialogue among the personalities. But, of course, the internal dialogue is the point. If I followed her advice, I wouldn’t have a character. If I didn’t have a character, I wouldn’t have a book.
I’ve never understood why writers don’t commit suicide more. Hemingway and Kosinski did, but they were already famous. It should be the other way around. Maybe next blog I’ll just ramble on about suicide. It’s been on my mind a lot lately. There’s just a paucity of high buildings around here . . .