If I ever write a love story -- which is to say, if I ever write a novel where the central plot hinges on the relationship between two people -- I'll build it around the premise that what you love most about a person will ultimately drive you insane.
Is your boyfriend spontaneous? Delightful! His flakiness will make you bonkers. Is your girlfriend a responsible adult? Finally, for once! Her uncompromising nature will sound your death knell. It's not something your partner keeps hidden from you; it's a matter of character, emphasis, and time.
Back in 2013, when I was shopping around Froelich's Ladder, I kept getting the same complaint from literary agents: it's too whimsical. Now, that was true: I wrote a whimsical novel based on a whimsical premise -- that of an impossibly tall ladder. But what these agents meant to say was I'd strayed too far from reality. They wanted a novel that represented reality with all the verve of a card trick. Is it the four of spades? It is? Great, give it back. Instead, my book gushed, OOH, MAGIC!
Ironically, my publisher connected with this sense of whimsy. She touted it. And as the term was gradually scrubbed of its negative implication, blurbers and reviewers began to echo her. "What a whimsical novel!" they congratulated me. "However did you manage to capture that sense of whimsy?" It was very confusing, like being praised for flaking and/or refusing to compromise. Which, hey, actually summarizes my experience! Weird.
The character of Froelich's Ladder remained unchanged -- it was only a matter of emphasis and time. Which makes this anecdote the best kind of love story, the kind that trends from alienation to harmony. Lucky me.
I apologize for my tardiness -- it's been fourteen years since you rejected of A YEAR OF TUESDAYS, my initial foray into novel-writing. I intended to respond sooner, but first I found reasons to procrastinate, and then social media was invented, and the next thing I knew a decade had passed.
You weren't the only editor to reject my manuscript, though you managed to do so in especially dickish fashion (more on that in a moment). The truth is, it wasn't a very good book. The even more objective truth is, there's not much to say about straight, white males between the ages of 22–24 living in New York City that hasn't already been said. I may have made a joke about ordering off a Chinese menu that was unique to my experience, but everything else was derivative.
Wait, no -- not the main character's name. Ambrose Dunden: I worked really hard on that. I borrowed the first name from "Lost In The Funhouse" by John Barth. I wanted my protagonist to be an Ambrose, but didn't think anyone would call him that; instead, he'd go by "Rosie." Dunn came from the political theorist John Dunn (forgive me, I was just out of grad school) -- except, I felt "Rosie Dunn" was lacking a syllable, so I extended his surname to Dunden. Rosie Dunden. When I triumphantly shared this development with a friend, he said, "So basicallyyou named your character Jamie Yourdon?"
Still and all, I understand why you passed; it wasn't the fact of your rejection but its substance that bothered me. As you may recall, your letter began, "Ostensibly, Yourdon is a talented writer ..." Let's just think about that for a moment, shall we? Why "ostensibly?" Why qualify your statement? Why say, in essence, "Let's agree, for the sake of argument, that Yourdon is a talented writer." Am I? Was I? If so, why make it sound debatable? Why not just reject my novel without disparaging me in the process?
Anyway, a-hole, my debut came out last week. If you're still work in the industry, you conceivably could've heard about it -- though my understanding of SWMs in publishing in the early aughts (of which you were one) was that they drank too much, overestimated their charm, and often found themselves unemployed by twenty-seven. So perhaps you've found a new calling in life, while I have doggedly pursued my own. In which case, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
All the best,
On the occasion of my book launch at Powell's City of Books, I read an excerpt from Froelich's Ladder. I'd already rehearsed in front of friends to identify any tricky sections of text (for example, try saying "tricky sections of text" aloud). But as I stood in front of 60+ people, with a sweaty forehead and a dry mouth, I thought, Holy shit. I've never said this word before.
The word in question was "respite." Yes, I know what it means; I was reading a sentence from my own damn book. But it was possible I'd never used it in conversation before, since it's not something one normally says. "After a brief respite, wanna see the new Ghostbusters movie?" No, that's dumb.
I frequently run into this problem. I've got a good vocabulary; I'm also fairly well-read. Many of the words I use reach me via the printed word, and that's where they remain: I'll later spit them out to narrative effect. Occasionally my stupid brain, in conjunction with my stupid mouth, will think, Hey -- how about that big word? The one Atwood used? Let's use it right now! But never before had I mispronounced a word while standing in arguably the most famous independent bookstore in America, representing a novel I wrote. I may be mistaken, but I think hearing an author butcher a word -- happily! casually! -- disqualifies that author FOREVER. It's like hearing your doctor used the medical term "thingy."
So, what did I do? I cheated: I substituted the word "rest." Crisis averted, I finished the excerpt and made an "x" in the margin to alert my future self. But I need to ensure it doesn't happen again -- or, if it does, that the audience is sufficiently distracted not to notice. Thus, I'm going to deliver all future readings with my fly unzipped. That's better, right?