Love Notes

March 8, 2010 at 2:18 am (Uncategorized)

Waiting, waiting…so far, so silent over there in literary agency land. Not. One. Word. Again, I am past knowing how to respond – is it good that I haven’t received a definitive no, or is it very, very bad that they evidently don’t respect or prioritise me enough to make a call one way or the other and put me out of my misery? When I said to Llew last week, “I just can’t imagine the universe in which a five-month wait is a good thing,” he said, “Well, it’s disrespectful, that’s for sure. It’s not the way you treat someone whose work you respect.”

It was a blow that landed deep in my guts. Oh my god, I thought, spirits plunging into the jet abyss, he’s right: my MS has failed to earn their respect. Not liking it or wanting it is one thing, and I can take either of those responses right on the chin, but not respecting it, and by extension me as its author, is so, so much worse. The implications of such disrespect are far more upsetting to me than outright rejection and failure. But it also doesn’t really make any sense, which is what’s so confounding. Last time I had any news for the agent I’ve been dealing with, I emailed and received an ‘out of office’ auto-reply, so I knew exactly when she’d be back at work. She responded the very day of her return – no mean feat after Christmas holidays when she probably walked into an email avalanche. All our emails have been friendly and upbeat.  So I don’t understand what’s happened, and I don’t know what else I can do.

One last thought nags me: it doesn’t seem like the way to treat someone you do want to sign, but it’s also a very unfortunate way to deal with someone you don’t.

Anyway, on to diary keeping, a subject near and dear to my heart. Admittedly I write in my ‘thought books’ a lot less now that I blog, but there are still occasions when the blog is an inappropriately public forum for my private thoughts, and so I’ve always still got a diary on the go. I’ve also got a separate ‘IVF diary,’ although various unrelated things (or perhaps they are related) have already managed to sneak in there, so that I’m no longer sure of the wisdom of attempting a distinct record.

I no longer possess my earliest diaries, but I retain books dating back to my two years in Canada at Pearson College, so coming up to 21 years’ worth of recorded thoughts. I don’t know how many I’ve accumulated, and I don’t keep them all in one spot. Where there are clusters, they are not chronological. Some are hardcover, some are ring-bound, and some no longer boast a front nor a back.

There’s no easy answer for why I have them. I certainly do not intend nor wish for them ever to be read by others. They’re for me, I think, some place to keep memories, and a means of admitting and confessing things to myself that I can’t or won’t admit or confess to anyone else. Their contents can horrify and embarrass me – how deeply I felt things in my late teens and twenties seems cringe-worthy to me now. The tone of some entries is borderline hysterical. My pronounced (and pronounced, and pronounced, and pronounced again!) passion for friends and lovers is an especially curious verbal artefact, now the objects of such devotion – my demented attentions – have often completely fallen from view. How could I possibly have felt this way about someone I don’t even know now? How could I have expended this much energy writing about, romanticising, and idealising someone who sooo patently didn’t give a fuck about me? What on earth was I thinking? Who is this person, this ridiculous ‘I’?

But there are important things in there too. Irreplaceable moments I’m glad I recorded. Life-changing events that compelled me to write, to remember, and to recover the only way I know how: through words. Some entries make me gasp in pain, others make me laugh, and still more make me blush. Sometimes I feel enormously sad for that younger me; I made so many awful mistakes because I didn’t believe I had any worth. But in spite of all the shuddery horrors, still I can see – what I see most of all, is that whatever the consequence, whatever was at stake, whatever happened next, no matter what and however unrequited, always I loved. And if that’s my biggest crime, then you know what? It doesn’t feel so bad.

POSTSCRIPT: news just in at DoctorDi HQ is that my worst suspicions have been confirmed: the agent has declined to offer me representation, and sincerely apologised for the delay. She and a colleague apparently both felt a lack of ’emotional closeness’ with the main character, which I must admit actually was a surprise. I thought emotional closeness was the one thing the manuscript had going for it, so this feedback opens up a new nightmare altogether. Anyway, it’s been six months since I last worked on it, so I’m going to be very interested to see how I find it once the next redraft begins on Friday. But in the meantime, what I really want to know, more than just about anything, is why literary agents don’t know how to use apostrophes…

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18 Comments

  1. Norwichrocks said,

    Awww, crap. Sorry to hear about the agent’s response. But still, do you really want your work represented by a muppet who can’t a) organise themself enough to make one phonecall or send one email in five months and b) can’t use apostrophes correctly.

    No idea what advice to give on the supposed lack of ’emotional closeness’ comment. But I have found your blog often resonates with me on an emotional level, and I’m not a particularly emotional person, so I doubt its the actual writing.

    {{{hugs}}} anyway. Rejection sucks, even when you sort of expected/feared it already.

    • doctordi said,

      Well, NR, during this protracted stay of execution, I had a lot of time to consider whether the extra days of grace were really working for me… and I must say, if my head’s on the block, I think I’d prefer they just get it over with. It seems unfair on any writer to leave them lying there cramping, getting pins and needles, for five months only to say oh, sorry, we’ve decided to lob your head off after all. As I say, very unfortunate. And I’d like to think I and all other hopefuls do deserve a bit better – although I should stress that when I pointed out the timeline, she was clearly deeply embarrassed and genuinely sorry.

      But thanks… I’m slightly mystified by the ’emotional closeness’ call because I thought I’d pulled down all the character’s walls and really left her exposed… I’ll be very interested to see if there’s anything I can do about making her shiver in the nude.

  2. litlove said,

    Absolutely what Norwichrocks said. I was going to say that it sounded like a very disorganised office to me. Not what you want. And do remember that any feedback comes from a quick read by only one or two people (undoubtedly with one saying, Oh I think it lacks x and the other readily agreeing) and cannot be taken as absolute gospel. Sure, consider it when you come to redraft, but I still say the point is to make the story everything YOU want it to be. It’s all subjective opinion, and one day you will make the right connection with an agent who loves your voice.

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, LL. I’m really glad for the feedback, though of course I would have preferred a different outcome, but I also think you’re right: this experience did make me wonder if perhaps it wasn’t the right place for me. I’d even felt a slight ambivalence about the idea of signing on if they DID come back with a yes – although I know I would have signed on like a SHOT if they’d wanted me to! I think it was just bugging me that the prevarication was lasting for nearly half a year – and might have continued unchecked for another few weeks, presumably, had I not called time. I also know people who’ve been taken on at this agency, so I knew the signs were bad, I knew it wasn’t standard response time for a MS they were interested in taking on. I won’t be returning the MS to them for a bunch of reasons although she said I could. Anyway, yes, agreed, I just have to do what I can to fix the MS on my own terms, but I never discount feedback even when I disagree with it, so I’ll certainly take what they’ve said on board.

  3. Grad said,

    Well, you see? Here’s another reason why I could never be a writer. I would never understand the literary criticism. “Emotional closeness?” What does that mean? That the reader loves or hates the main character in a visceral way? I ditto Litlove. If you write your own story (using the criticism to file a little down here, and polish a little bit there) you will find just the right agent. Remember, if one celebrates one’s fat thighs, one will find a fat-thigh-lover!

    • doctordi said,

      Well, Graddikins, the agent’s colleague’s feedback was that she didn’t feel close to the main character, that the character’s ‘walls’ distanced the reader from the story. I’m pretty confounded by that… I thought I’d systemically removed her walls a very long time ago… but I can’t ignore the fact that both of them said they felt ‘at arm’s length’ from the story (my apostrophe). That’s concerning. And it’s also too similar to what the other agent said, which was that she really didn’t care about the characters. Oddly, in trying to improve the structure of the story and nail that narrative arc, I seem to have lost something of the intimacy of the protagonist’s voice. So perhaps that’s the redress that needs to occur now.

  4. Pete said,

    What they said. And fuckity fuck. Sorry, sometimes only swearing will do. Does ’emotional closeness’ mean they didn’t like the main character or they couldn’t empathise with him/her? If it’s the latter then that could be the starting point for a revision. But I agree that the agent sounds like a muppet. I would be tempted to work them into the story just so that I could get my revenge.

    • doctordi said,

      Yeah, I agree, Pete – sometimes only swearing will do! Thanks mate. Um, it sounded like they felt the protagonist held her cards too close to her chest, which meant they felt as readers that they weren’t able to get in to the core of her emotions. I’m still pretty surprised they felt that way and it’s going to take me some time to wrap my mind around it, but I think the answer lies in what I’ve said above to Grad – I think perhaps the last draft was so focused on the structure that some of the feeling was lost. That’s a possibility. Also in trying to create conflict between the protagonist and the illustrator, I think I’ve created some fairly lukewarm arguments I’m not sure anyone’s convinced by, and those attempts to build tension might have backfired because they were so contrived.

  5. Pete said,

    Oh, and I liked the part about the old journals. I’m currently going through a few old ones and I’ll come across names that make me go “who the hell was so-and-so?” I generally cringe at younger me but every now and then I have some respect for the willingness to struggle on regardless (and love).

  6. doctordi said,

    Wow, you actually don’t even know who they are?! That’s really impressive! I always remember the person in question, but my feelings for them seem utterly alien. I think it’s also funny where I had a MAD crush on someone with whom I remain friends – now I mostly just think, ‘Huh?’ It’s seriously weird reading that I was once wildly infatuated with someone I just cannot imagine feeling that way about!!! And there’s one friend, someone in whom I never had the remotest romantic interest, whose disinclination to continue being my friend became a source of such incredibly angst-ridden sorrow – total melodrama – that I can only shake my head in wonder. But it’s clearly how I felt at the time, so… let the record stand (as long as no one else ever reads it!). I’m glad to think you’ve got your diaries too, and that you’re finding such similar things in them.

  7. Fugitive Pieces said,

    You know, any envy I might have felt about your not needing to date any more has evaporated. Totally.
    I have more to say about love, and the peculiar faith involved in loving your characters, but that’s for a day when I’m not befuddled with catarrh. Everyone else above me is absolutely right: what they said. Especially Pete’s “fuckity fuck”. And I vote you send the agents a rejection letter back, rejecting their rejection, on the grounds of their grammatically-challenged fuledom.
    (As Stefan Merken did, here: http://www.kenyonreview.org/issues/spring08/doyle.php. Which also has the best rejection from an editor, anywhere, ever:
    “We have read your manuscript with boundless delight, and if we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And, as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition and beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.” Now THAT’s how to say no.)

  8. doctordi said,

    Fugitive, whatever do you mean by that opening line?!

    Looking forward to what you have to say on the subject of the ‘L’ word, and thanks so much for this link, I *loved* the Doyle piece, it made for excellent reading.

    Fuckity fuck indeed. Fuckity fuck FUCK.

  9. Fugitive Pieces said,

    What did I mean by my opening line? *racks cold-swamped brain for the original thought* Um….it was something to do with a flickering notion about safety and indifference?
    Got it! Right. It was about the delusion that single people occasionally indulge themselves in – that being happily married/shacked up must mean never having to solicit approval from anyone else, about anything, because you’ve already scored the Big Tick from someone. You could just breathe out once you had that, so the delusion whispers. Stop trying. Cultivate your leg hair. Fester quietly whilst watching daytime TV.
    Whereas your hollow laughter (yes, I can hear you, Di) suggests that the only way to STOP NEEDING OTHERS’ APPROVAL is to stop breathing. And that having a romantic Big Tick is no bloody help, should you need a differently coloured Big Tick in an unrelated box. Your writing, for example. But a Big Tick from an agent will lead to the need for a Big Tick from a publisher, and the reviewers, and the booksellers, and the reading public… Bugger it, the only Big Tick that’s useful for your character right now is yours. Concentrate on that.
    (Sorry. It’s just that from my current, prone position, I feel strongly that there should be someone mandated to make me hot ginger tea, before going out to buy me more tissues. It is Self-Pity Manors here, in the Land of the Snivelling UnTicked. Bah humbug.)

  10. doctordi said,

    Cackling a trifle hysterically – I honestly thought it was some kind of riff on my Diaries of Doomed and Delusional Infatuations 1989-1996, along the lines of, ‘I guess you earned a reprieve, having clearly made such a monumental fool of yourself right throughout the nineties.’

    As for the Big Ticks, you’re absolutely right. For needy, insecure folk like myself, the Texta Torture never ends. But very sorry you’re feeling poorly!!!! I definitely think we should mandate butlers on demand. Hot butlers, bearing trays of treats.

  11. Lilian Nattel said,

    I’m sorry that the news after such a long wait wasn’t what you’d hoped for. It’s quite a vague criticism, but you’ve had some time away from the ms, so when you go back to it, you’ll be able to read it fresh. Even at my stage, I can wait quite a long time for a response because the agent just has so many other priorities than responding to a ms in progress. It is frustrating, but if you’re able (as you have) to move on to something else then the time can be well used.

  12. doctordi said,

    Thanks, Lilian, but I really had accepted the outcome some time ago, so it really wasn’t so bad at all. Also I sort of stopped caring once I realised I needed to do another draft, and that was ages ago. At that point I truly didn’t expect them to take me on – this was three strikes for this draft (the other agent, the CAL Scribe prize and this agency), which is really all I needed to know. I do feel I’ve used the wait well, and it’s also given me some lovely, much-needed distance on the MS. So all to the good.

  13. davidrochester said,

    Damn it!

    Although it is important to take useful criticism, I echo the readers above who suggest you take it with a grain assault, as the people who find my blog on Google would say.

    I had my novel pitched to five major publishers a few years ago, and based on the acquisitions editors’ responses, I learned the following things about the novel:

    1) It is historically accurate and wonderfully detailed.
    2) It is vague and lacks a sense of period.
    3) The ending is a huge surprise.
    4) The ending can be seen coming from page 1.
    5) The climax was inevitable.
    6) The climax was contrived.
    7) The main character doesn’t change at all during the story.
    8) The main character changes too much during the story.
    9) The main character has a good emotional arc, but isn’t likable.
    10) The main character isn’t actually the main character, and that’s the major flaw of the book.

    … and so on.

    One reader’s opinion … or even two readers in the same space … isn’t necessarily the final word.

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