First: my appearance at the Chiaroscuro Reading Series back in January. I read Chapter 1 of The Pattern Scars - because I always fear that I’ll ramble if I decide to read from, say, Chapter 5 and need to set things up for the audience first.
Peter Watts was another guest, that night. And he killed me. Or he killed the Caitlin Sweet who lived in the post-alien-invasion New York City of his Crysis: Legion novel, anyway. Karin Lowachee came along for the ride too. Fun was had by all.
A few months later, at Ad Astra, I eschewed my fear of rambling and read from Chapter 5 of The Pattern Scars. (The lovely authoresses sharing the table with me are Lesley Livingston and Adrienne Kress.)
It’s been years. Six, to be exact.
I wasn’t much of a catch, in 2000. I was an unpublished author who presented you with a first novel that was long on semi-coloned, polyhyphenated-adjectival lyricism and short on plot. You took a pretty gigantic leap of faith when you signed me – and I wasn’t experienced or smart enough about the process at that point to be sufficiently grateful. You were patient, relentless, dry, irritating, incisive and wonderful. (I can only imagine some of the polyhyphenated adjectives you’d apply to me.) The sales of my first two books, to Penguin Canada and Random House Germany, were yours – and yet when a Big Genre Agent (BGA) came courting in 2005, I fell for him.
I was all in a tizzy – fresh off the publication of my second book and ready to be told that I was going places. So when BGA said that he saw my writing taking an epic and highly marketable turn, and rattled off the names of some of his other genre clients, I dumped you.
You were patient and sweet when I finally mustered the courage to make the call. “Such is business,” you said, as I battled nausea. “You’re taking your career in a different direction, and that’s OK. I wish you all the best.”
I tried and tried to write something epic and highly marketable. I made it to about 50,000 words of the first book of a trilogy, and Penguin Canada types said yes, yes, yes – all the way up to the top guy, who said no: my other books hadn’t sold well enough, and his mandate was to increase profits by 72%. (My memory of the exact number is imprecise.) BGA was pretty damn patient with me too. I despaired, after the Penguin deal fell through. The trilogy withered on the vine. I started something else – another trilogy, which he talked through with me: so much talking, because nothing was working. This one eventually did the withering thing, too. When I finally made a start on something else, he said that I should just go with it; he’d read it when I was done.
It took me two years – writing on the streetcar to work, and in cafés on the mornings I didn’t have my kids (because there’d been a divorce in there, too). I loved this book. It flowed from the very beginning because it wasn’t epic: it was small, dark, ungrand. It was also the tautest story I’d ever told, which convinced me that BGA (and by extension the Big Publishing World) would love it too.
It took him six months to tell me that I was wrong.
It wasn’t the first of a trilogy, and it wasn’t a paranormal romance, and it wasn’t young adult – the only kinds of marketable fantasy, he said. Also, he didn’t get it. It was too dark, too claustrophobic; he couldn’t find a way in, and therefore couldn’t be passionate about it. No passion + no marketability = no deal.
After I’d uncurled myself from the fetal position, I managed to get some other editors and agents to read sample chapters. Their responses were unanimous: a few years ago, before the market crash, yes. Now? Regretfully (and they were unanimously regretful), nope.
In the end, I found ChiZine Publications through writer friends, not an agent. They’re small, dark, and ungrand, and they snapped up The Pattern Scarsand slapped a stunningly gorgeous cover on it and will be putting it on shelves and e-readers in September, and I love them.
Meanwhile, there’s another book in the works: a young adult. Yes! One of the marketable ones! A re-telling of Beauty and the Beast by way of the Minotaur myth – and a bunch of agents wanted to read it, and one has, and has just (this very morning) said no. The protagonist is unlikable; perhaps I could submit again if I re-wrote from the point-of-view of someone more sympathetic.
And so, like (say) a newly divorced woman who’s just torn open a shoe box in the laundry room that’s buried under a mountain of bags intended for Goodwill – the shoe box that’s filled with all her first boyfriend’s letters, and his dumb boutonnière, and the creased photos of him wearing the dumb boutonnière – and then hit Facebook to squint at columns of tiny thumbnail photos in search of his – yes, like her (maybe, sort of), I looked you up again. I found your new agency’s website and read your profile, and…
You no longer represent genre authors.
You always said it was the literary elements of my first book that hooked you, not necessarily its fantastical ones, so I guess I’m not surprised. But I’m sad. The newly divorced woman squinting at “Status: Married” – but of course he is; she never really expected anything else, which kind of makes her sadder.
But enough, now. No more hyphens, semi-colons, or adjectives. Just thanks.