So you would not believe the sick heinous shit I have to read every day. It's literally like I work in a morgue but instead of gross dead bodies I have to deal with the gross dead shit that people write. And by people I mean mostly totally disgusting OLD white men who can't seem to complete a paragraph without oppressing someone, typically, me, who has to be the only chick on the planet who has to read this crap because trust me, it's not getting published... So yes, I took the job because who wouldn't kill to work in publishing right out of college? Professor X says I’m gifted and he has lots of friends and most of them run small presses, mostly as hobbies I think because they're tenured and can't get fired unless they get really drunk and feel up the wrong provost. I'll admit that I flirted with the old fuck; I suspect that after teaching English and comp for 30 years to hung-over teenagers just the thought of potentially taking a shower with me must be the high point of his desperate daily routine. I wasn't born yesterday. He grins from ear to ear like an intoxicated frat boy when I sit down in his office dressed appropriately and crossing my legs to discuss career options. One needs a mentor, doesn't one? So anyway Prof X sent me the way of one of his associate prof buddies who has this whole small press thing pretty well figured out. Not to give away any trade secrets but here's how it works. Professor Y somehow lands a job at some college or other because he knows Prof X who sits on the search committee. Once embedded in the English department, Prof Y announces that he is starting a small literary press intent on publishing only the finest work by, to date, totally awesome but entirely unknown writers who hopefully are NOT horny middle-aged white guys like Professors X and Y. The plan is to put Sleepy Little College on the literary map and faster than you can say women of color, the whole Eng. department totally gets behind Prof Y's new hobby-press and are made board members of such. Are you following me?
Now, as it's a non-profit and all, with no paid positions, and as there is WAY too much nasty bad writing out there, and not just at said college, there needs be rules and reading fees. To wit; no previously published drivel, and that includes especially self/indie published drivel. And Prof Y is a very busy man-boy, so there will be a fee, otherwise, how do we know you're serious about being a writer and all?
Now if you are a gifted student of our fine institution, we will gladly wave the fee, throw your tripe along with the other courtesy submissions into a metaphorical hat, and choose one randomly at a future date. That then leaves the thousands of horrible manuscripts we receive the other 364 days of the year. But the b is getting ahead of herself. Prof Y gets into a bit of a jam with one of the other faculty members, a certain married woman of vague age who’s also doing the Dean, and ends up getting bought out of his job which amounts to two years pay and he gets to keep the small press as the college no longer has budget for it anyway. Now, suddenly he's a legit independent publisher and operating out of his basement as he rents spare bedrooms to coeds in order to get by. And guess who's actually in charge? That would be me. No way The Old Dude formerly known as professor is going to wade through the slush pile; he’s looking for a real job, and if you dream of the faux legitimacy that a small press can bestow upon your blighted writer's soul, I'm who stands between you and your sad dreams.
All of which returns your humble narrator to the source of her oppression.
So apparently back in the dark ages of typewriters and snail mail, when looking to submit literary residue, one found an out-of-date list in the back of P&W at some dank old dungeon of a public library. Now that every wacko with a Tumblr account is automatically “published” the number of pathetic wannabe writers has grown like infinity times and this poor b gets e-bombed dozens of times a day with stories like, let’s see, where to begin:
Some sick white guy trying to boink some boy, girl, dog whatever
Some frosh girlly who sad faces her subject line and writes about her dead cat
Some aging housewife ranting about how much she hates the pesky neighbors
Some other old guy’s awk political thriller based entirely on all the political thrillers he’s read with his thinly veiled self as hero
More novice stuff about sad sad sad dysfunctional families
It goes on and on. I would say that typically, I don’t even get past the first sentence, it is that bad. What’s worse, in order to get grants, we have to promise to publish the work of people who don’t exist. And let me just say about our upcoming issue devoted exclusively to writers of indeterminate gender and about that topic only; Old Dude and I will have to write the stories under pen-names in order to meet the deadline.
As SOON as I get into an MFA program I am so out of here. It’s depressing just writing about it.
Hello again. Have a lie-down on the couch. This may take a few minutes. We are going to travel back in time, to early adolescence or thereabouts.
The Universe is no longer as you imagined it. Everything you believed to be true is now somehow, well, not so much. You feel alone, isolated from others, and the infinite space around you is closing in. You're pretty sure that the malaise you increasingly suffer from is not only profound but also unique. No one, not a soul in the meaningless void knows how you feel.
Then somehow, all at once, in the quintessential flash of an eye, that all changes. Suddenly, there is someone you identify with, a cosmic soul mate sent from above to connect directly with you on every level. It's your Favorite Author For Life (FAFL).
Premise: Your entire imaginary literary identity is based on the first “serious” author you discovered via a classic retelling of myth or coming of age story. Your life's work has become the ill-fated process of recreating that "masterpiece" - only with you as "author."
These all too common symptoms typically present in one or two ways. In many cases, the late adolescent initially puts on the cloak of their beloved FAFL and then sets about furiously composing what is sure to be the most remarkable first work ever produced. Then, after several fits and starts resulting in a messy discharge of juvenilia, the would-be author re-retreats into a world of teenage depression, myopic introspection and premature writer's block.
Whether first experienced in tortured youth or not, symptoms typically present (again) in middle age, often in more serious form as the patient, who typically hasn't written anything but grocery lists for the preceding 20 plus years, is suddenly stricken with the conviction that her calling, all along, has been to emerge phoenix-like (again) as the gifted protege of said FAFL.
Newly emboldened, perhaps by some hormone disorder or the well-meaning but dishonest praise dispensed hesitatingly by friends or family, the patient will embark upon (another) frenzied attempt at authordom. Absent almost immediate success and personal glory, amidst bouts of adult depression, myopic introspection and premature writer's block, the mature patient will begin to seek out quick fixes, including, but not limited to:
Joining a writers group
Hiring a book doctor
Blogging about writer's block and not being published
Attending conferences, workshops, and seminars about "writing"
While there is no known cure, some patients will eventually come to their senses and take up a lesser craft such as macrame or canning. In more extreme cases, the patient may attempt to transition to writing sci-fi or children's books with predictable results.
Some context. Many of the affectations of the failed novelist have their basis in the stereotypes that form the myth of the tortured artist, but the failed novelist portrays these as weaknesses, when to the successful literary poseur, they are in fact strengths. You’ve probably been posing as a novelist all along, but the wrong kind. Let’s fix that starting right now.
It’s not something you like to talk about, your sad and even horrifying childhood. But it is who you are, after all, and as such, must be admitted to from time to time, preferably when there is a slightly looped and large breasted female nearby. Key point: Hacks write unpublishable stories about their unhappy youth. You must exploit yours tactfully, like a runaway Girl Scout met outside the bus station. You haven’t always wanted to be a writer; you’ve always known you were one. Life weighed heavy on your shoulders from about age 2 when you witnessed or personally suffered some unspeakable act. It’s of no importance what this dark event actually was. It may be alluded to but must never be described for the simple reason that your audience (looped and large breasted female above) has, being human, also experienced most or all or worse than you have. The only chance you’ve got is implying that something too horrible to describe has made you the tortured yet resilient type who can weave masterful fictions, fictions which you have some sort of sublime cosmic connection to.
And this is a good spot to address the current popular confusion regarding the differences between memoir and fiction. Memoir was once the domain of interesting individuals who, having lived an interesting life, having perhaps led rebellions or accomplished similar great feats, went about recording said life, usually upon the request of a real publisher based on the fact that there was some real demand for the resulting book. When we think memoir, we should think T. E. Lawrence or Nabokov, people who led interesting relevant lives and actually knew a few languages and could actually write. But contemporary memoir has now become the preferred medium of nobodies and rehab whores. These types have been embraced by the public who have learned from television and tabloids that what’s really fascinating and important is the telling of the trials and tribulations of ordinary white-trash wannabes, each more outrageous than the last. This is combined with the belief that the “true story” has more value, and the bitter disappointment when the public discovers that all the best parts have been “made up.”
If you want to pose as a novelist, eschew the habits and vanities of the latter-day wannabe memoirist. Nobody wants to know about you, they want to know the other you, the distant, tortured, angry, probably drunk but also sensitive, creative, slightly dangerous novelist you. Maybe you'll finish that book someday. But not right now. tbc