Thursday, August 19, 2010

Suppressed Memories, Delayed Reactions

I was in the shower just now and I remembered why I hadn't bothered to ask any probing questions of the agent I met with the other day at Bread Loaf. It was clear from the start that we wouldn't make a good match, but couldn't I have pushed myself a little bit further outside my comfort zone to make the most of my one-on-one time?

Oh, right. Now I remember.

It was something he said that just shut me down. I have a bad temper like my dad. When I was growing up, my dad hadn't necessarily learned to control his temper, just to recognize it. He taught me to fear mine. Keep it hidden. Maybe this is why in certain situations, I hide my anger so quickly, I'm hardly aware of feeling anything at all. And then I just fall back onto blank politeness.

I was trying to explain to him where I saw my books. I thought he might be able to suggest a good way for me to find an agency that's welcoming to a fantasy book that would be marketed to the masses (like Neil Gaiman--I aim high). The best way I can often explain this is by using book reviews as an example.

I said, "I want to be reviewed in the general fiction section of Publisher's Weekly, not the--"

"I think it's a little early for that, don't you?" he interrupted, with a patronizing smile.

He had not asked me about my novel. He had not asked about my query. You know why? Because in an effort to seem charming I had told him when I first sat down, "I have a confession to make: I write speculative fiction and contemporary fantasy."

That was my first mistake.

My second mistake was looking young. I don't know what I can do about that. Do I give off an immature air? I don't think so--I've always been very serious. Sometimes too serious. What do I have to do, where ugly brick red lipstick with my hair in a bun or something?

He had no way of knowing where I was in my writing process, what my writing was about, or even how well I wrote.

Imagine if the conversation had been in a job interview (and isn't that what it really was? Okay, informational interview but we all know that means, "informal interview with no strings attached on the part of the employer.")

INTERVIEWEE: I really think I'm a great fit for this company. In five years, I see myself in a manageri--"

INTERVIEWER: I think it's a little too early for that, don't you?

That would never happen. Because it's never too early to think about where you are, where you're going, and where you want to go.


  1. I'm at work, so watching the werewolf video (which I suspect is hilarious) should probably wait for home. But this, I just wanted to say you are absolutely right. It's one thing for a writer to expect that they'll be the next J.K. Rowling when they haven't even finished the first book. But this right here is a case of an author, yet-unpublished, thinking seriously about her craft and where she'd like to be in 5 years (or X amount of time). And then, using that goal as an example or jumping off point to ask, "How do I get there?" You weren't thinking ahead unrealistically. And frankly, even if you were (you weren't, IMHO)...well, writers need a bit of optimism. We know how hard it is to get published and we should keep those goals and hopes in mind.Otherwise, it's so easy, too easy, to get bogged down in our own fears.

    I don't know his attitude or body language as he said that (deja vu, weird), but that was a bad choice of words on his part.

  2. Thanks, Sabrina! I really appreciate that because when I remembered what he had said, I felt so deeply embarrassed. I do think he might have made a judgment based on my looks (young) and my "genre." Other than that comment, he was genuinely lovely. Just not someone I would ever work with.