It has been 10 years since my last rejection letter. I’d written my first and only novel, and once completed, found an agent, went under contract with her, and I was on my way…Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Micheal Crichton, Tom Clancy…make room for loco on that bookshelf, I’d told myself.
Then, I got my first rejection letter, from HarperCollins Books, forwarded to me with a note from my agent imploring me not to panic. I wondered if I gave off that vibe. Was I a panicker, that guy on an airplane that when the pilot announces that the plane may encounter some heavy turbulence but there’s nothing to be concerned about, everyone in the cabin will look at with a “that means you too!” look on their faces?
I didn’t think so, at the time. I was ok, I’d told her. And I was. How was I to know that it was the first of a dozen to follow? Far as I was concerned I had a reputable agent and a viable product and that meant I was two steps ahead in this publishing game. Little did I know that each kindly worded rejection would chip away at my already fragile confidence until there was nothing left to chip, like when you’re watching a great action movie while enjoying fresh hot buttered popcorn, and an intense action scene begins. You sit there feeling giddy as a child again until you unconsciously reach in the bucket to find there are just popcorn crumbs left. By the time Ballentine, WW Norton, Penguin Putnam, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and St. Martin’s Press (and some Independent publishers) were finished with my ego, I was chipping my molars crunching on un-popped buttery kernels.
It has taken me a solid 10 years to recover (assuming I have) from that debacle. I haven’t submitted a single thing to a publisher in that time. I’ve made excuse after ridiculous excuse to friends who inquired after the whereabouts of the my highly anticipated great American novel. Some had read my manuscript…the one that had been gutted by the big boys…and hailed it as great, suggested it was their loss (meaning the publishers), and recommended I self-publish. I was grateful for their support, but with a mouthful of kernels I told myself-via them-that I need to go back to scratch. Rewrite, Revise, Renew. Yeah…that happened. My novel is triple R’d alright, collecting cyber-dust in a folder on my laptop’s C:drive.
Sometimes I torture myself, and open and read it. I still think it’s good, though perhaps a little dated. Nothing a few minor changes couldn’t fix…change beepers to cellphones, Cd-Roms to memory sticks, Clinton to Bush, good economy to fucked economy, etc…No big deal.
Then came Obama…And that yes we can mantra of his. I adapted it. It moved me the same way it moved millions around the world. His positivity, optimism, confidence and audacity inspired me. I joined his cult of personality. Eventually, I started doing something I hadn’t done in a long time: I wrote. I started a blog…just fucking around mostly, following Obama stories and making quips about them. Then, my nature took over and i started doing it again, right there on my blog. I wrote an essay about a song Obama used at the Democratic Convention called “Ain’t no stopping us now”
Then I wrote another essay about Xenophobia called Xenophobes for McCain. Then, I wrote another essay, and another…and I could feel the old juices starting to flow. People were leaving comments, and sending emails saying they’d missed me. I could feel the doubts I’d been nursing for years draining from me like pus from a cyst. That’s when I started this second blog about Japan. I figured it was time to tackle my experience here.
But, in all my excitement and enthusiasm about the return of the talent i thought I had at best lost and at worst had only been in my head all along, I may have jumped the gun a bit. I went ahead and pitched an idea to a magazine in Tokyo. A rather prominent English language one. I’m sure all of you living in Tokyo are familiar with it but I won’t drop the name. Anyway, the editor liked my pitch and, on spec, commissioned me to write the article. I did. I submitted it. He rejected it. Said (among other things) it was “Rudderless.”
But, then, I re-read my submission with his critique in mind. And, you know what? He was right on. I’d never had my writing called rudderless before. But, as i thought back to those letters I’d received from those publishers back before I’d run away from my failure all the way to Asia (I realize suddenly) the wording they’d used was along those lines. I pack so much into my writing that it kind of winds up being ineffective. Sure, it’s entertaining occasionally, intriguing, and possibly even engaging at times. But, instead of hitting my target with laser-guided proficiency, sometimes my writing is like one of those smooth-bore shotguns that spray bullets helter-skelter.
And, that’s fine for blogging, but, needless to say, that just isn’t what magazines are looking for usually. You can get away with anything once you’re established. I’ve read articles and magazines where the writer was all over the place but i still enjoyed the article immensely and came away feeling it was well worth the hour I’d given to it.
I think sometimes I get caught up in myself. I love to hear myself pontificate. Maybe I would have been a great preacher. But, hell, even sermons need rudders.
So, I took a pause for the cause. I stopped blogging (granted it’s only been 2 days but I feel like I’ve been writing continuously for 3 months.) The cause being I had to contemplate the ridiculous again, just for old time sakes. I questioned my ability, my talent. I asked myself those old haunting, taunting, disabling questions: Who the hell do you think you are? Do you really think people give a shit what you think? Enough to pay to read it? And I laughed. Then i stopped laughing. And I started writing again because, you know what? I’m a fucking writer!
So, I’ve decided to work on the rudder. All entries from now on will be rudder-driven. If you read a rudder-free, scatter shot post on my blog I want you (the reader) to give me an earful. Pimp-slap me with your comments.
Cuz, this time, I’m in it for the long run! Boom or bust! Feet don’t fail me now!
Lo (yes I can) co