So here I am searching for an Agent.
I confess, I feel almost as if I’ve passed through a time warp. The era in which I started trying hard to be a Writer, and the era I find myself in now, seem so different. Yet I don’t feel different. My writing doesn’t feel different. I went on this journey, restarting my life again and again, the time filled up, and yet, returning to this passion of mine, picking up the pen it feels as if no time has passed, but suddenly the world is different.
So what about this new world of smart phones and an amazingly comprehensive internet and online commerce? What does it mean to me as a Writer?
In one sense, it’s been disastrous for Free Lance writers. You hear that a lot from free lancers and former free lancers. The markets have dried up, magazines and newspapers are a dying industry, the world is awash in free content, or low price content. It’s harder than ever for most creatives to make a living at it, or even a successful hobby.
But then again, in the fiction trade, it was hardly ever easy. There were times perhaps when things were more open, where there were paying markets for fiction, where publishers were looking desperately for product to stock the shelves and fill the catalogue. Or where people in just the right places and time could get lucky. Unfortunately, I was never in those times or places.
So be it.
I’ve read that there are more novels around now than ever before, more readers, more books than ever before, the world is awash in print, either manual or electronic. Okay, maybe. Sure. I’m not sure I’m seeing it. I remember when I came to Winnipeg, I counted twenty bookstores, new and used in a half hour walk. Today, I count one new bookstore and maybe a half dozen used. Of course there are the big box book superstores in the suburbs and the ebook market, so apples and oranges.
But if there are more books out than ever, then my god, there are more Writers out there than you’ve ever seen. I’ve read someplace that there are a million scripts floating around Hollywood at any given time. I don’t know whether that’s true. But I wouldn’t be surprised. Every publisher, every editor, every agent has a gigantic slush pile. Looking through some of the literature on Agents, it’s like they get literally hundreds of inquiries a day coming in through mail and email from prospective writers. The numbers out there are insane.
WARNING: Strong and Salty language in use. Unkind things are said in the unkindest possible ways. Words not used in polite company are employed in appropriate ways. Do not read if you are easily offended. If judicious use of vulgar language is not for you, then piss off. I don’t care. Sometimes you have to be blunt.
Hi ho. So here we are, into the seventh month of a pandemic, no end in sight. Most of us are holding our breaths waiting for a second wave.
The United States… Well, let’s put it this way. Their handling of the pandemic has been nightmarishly bad. We can blame the Orange Narcissist, but in fact there’s plenty of blame to go around, ranging from badly mismanaged and ill coordinated pandemic plans at federal, state and local levels, politicization of the virus, and just an appalling amount of selfishness and stupidity among large parts of the population.
You could spend weeks dissecting everything the Americans did wrong. But so what? America is a distraction. It’s a distraction from how completely badly so many others dropped the ball.
I’m going to be blunt: There are a lot of dead people in Canada, because the people who should have been paying attention were asleep at the wheel. The same for Italy, for Iran, for France and England, Spain and Germany, Russia, Brazil, India, you name it.
Those people, the ones asleep at the wheel, do not deserve to be let off the hook. They do not get to point to America and say “Yes, we were negligent and sloppy and half assed, we weren’t paying attention, or exercising due diligence, yes the sins of our past caught up with us, and we weren’t prepared, we acted late and badly, and we lied to you some, possibly a lot… but hey, look at Trump!”
Dear Bastards, you do not get to do that.
Elijah McClain was a young black man, kind of skinny, glasses. He lived in the suburb or Aurora, in the city of Denver. He had no criminal record, had never been in trouble, he didn’t do drugs, there were none found in his system. He was a massage therapist, he volunteered at the SPCA, and he played the violin for lonely animals. He was just a sweet kid who never did anything to anyone. On August 24, 2019, he bought Ice tea at the corner store for his brother and began to walk home. Then police killed him.
The story goes was that it was a warm night, and he was wearing a ski mask. He did this because he had anaemia his face was cold, apparently there might be some mild autism, or some issue with thermo-regulation. I know people who are cold in warm weather. It happens.
Someone called 911 on him. The report was that he was acting “sketchy,” according to an audio recording of the 911 call released by the Aurora Police Department. The caller told a 911 that the person “has a mask on” and “he might be a good person or a bad person.” The caller went on to say no weapons were involved and when asked if he or anyone else was in danger, the caller said “No.” We don’t know what ‘sketchy’ means, and neither did the police. But what’s clear from the call is: No danger, no weapon.
Nevertheless, three police officer converged on Elijah McClain as he was walking home with his iced tea. He was indeed wearing a ski mask. There were no weapons or burglary tools visible. There was, apart from the ski mask, nothing unusual about his behaviour. He wasn’t furtive, looking into windows, checking car doors. He wasn’t running. He wasn’t acting bizarrely.
So basically, the police should have noted ‘unarmed man wearing ski mask, carrying iced tea, walking at a normal pace.’ No sign of weapons, no sign of danger, no sign of a crime. No unusual behaviour. And that was it, they should have pissed off somewhere else.
So…. here I am looking for an Agent again. I’ve got Princess of Asylum. Bloodsucker has been submitted to a Tor Imprint. The Mermaid’s Tale’s rights have reverted back to me, and The Luck was contracted but never published. That’s four novels in play.
Might as well bite the bullet. What am I going to do? Write another novel? I’m actually working on two right now. Release another ebook? Four or five are done and in the pipeline.
It was, and still is, a catch 22. To get an Agent you needed a book deal with a publisher. To get a book deal you needed an Agent. Round and round we go on the merry go round, no way on.
How do you find one? Well, back in the day, when I was first trying to break through, there were publications. SF Chronicle and Locus for the speculative fiction genre, there was Writers Digest Magazine, there was an Annual Directory of Publishers and Agents. I had subscriptions, I bought the Directories. It was all like reading tea leaves, it was all inscrutable and frustrating. Names of Agents who had sold novels to publishers, but they were names in a vacuum, phrases connecting here to there in emptiness Even the Directories were frustrating, the Agents write ups, or interviews in magazines being maddeningly frustrating.
“I want well written novels, with compelling characters and interesting plots.”
That seemed to be every one’s default. That really set them apart from all those other agents out there who wanted badly written novels with dull characters and boring plots. Gosh!
Oh and then there were the ones who really narrowed it down.
“We look at fiction and nonfiction.”
Gee whiz, that’s helpful. Seriously, that’s so goddammed helpful. Really, zeroes in, narrows it down.
I want to talk about the politics of rage.
Let me start with an Interesting factoid – they’ve done catscans of the brain in various states. To see what happens when people think, what parts of the brain light up. And what the sequence of the brains activities are in things like happiness, arousal, anger, sadness, etc.
Want to know something they found? The parts of the brain that light up for anger, are exactly the same ones as for happiness.
Anger is basically happiness-lite. It’s substitute happiness.
Anger is Faux-Happiness.
It’s the same kind of neurological high, except that it’s much easier to trigger, and less lasting.
It’s what they call a response rather than a state.
That explains why some people are so angry all the time, so easily angered. Because neurologically, their anger is fake happiness. They’re addicted.
“Melissa is a street kid who believes she’s a vampire. As she cruises and feeds among the low lifes of a decaying city, she encounters hookers, drug dealers, homeless people, perverts, predators, musicians, artists and social workers, all of them just trying to get by. Meanwhile, trio of young serial killers are cruising for fun. And elsewhere, a black lab has been exposed and secret investigators are on the trail. Melissa tries to cope with her new nature by setting limits and moral standards, but as she progresses, she crosses line after line. Eventually, her journey leads her back to the secret laboratory, and the revelation that she’s not a vampire, but something worse….”
Bloodsucker is my first novel, way way back. Not much to say… I’d been writing short stories for years. I had dozens of stories. The market for short stories was crap, and I figured that I’d developed enough as a writer to try something more ambitious. Simple as that.
Actually, there is more. When I moved out to Winnipeg to go to law school, it was my first time in an even semi-large city. I was far from home, and on a very limited income, I didn’t know anyone out here. Eventually, I ended up living downtown in the Exchange district in the middle of what turned out to be the red light district, in an old low end building, owned by a divorced entrepreneur and his sons.
So, I just suffered through the Netflix series, Space Force. It’s an extremely awkward non-comedy starring Steve Carrell and John Malkovitch. John Malkovitch plays himself, in the role of a civilian scientist named Mallory. His job is to be really smart, principled and slightly sarcastic. Steve Carrell plays a socially awkward, repressed guy in over his head… basically, it’s every other role he’s ever played, this one is called General Naird (Nerd! Get it! Ha ha).
General Naird (Nerd! Get it! Ha Ha) is in charge of getting the President’s ‘Space Force’ up and running as a sixth branch of the US Armed forces. As General Naird (Nerd! Get it! Ha Ha), fifty years America went to the moon for human progress, now they want to go back to ‘put boots on the moon.’
If that doesn’t creep you the hell out, I don’t know what will. But yes, the notion that America has a manifest destiny to militarise a lifeless, airless rock far out in space and be ready to fight a war is presented with utter lack of affect or irony. I suspect that maybe there was some intent at irony, but they didn’t want to offend the ‘America F*** yeah!’ and ‘Hey, youse guys hate America!’ crowd, so they just leached all the subversiveness out and played it straight.
That’s obviously not Atlantis on the book cover. If anything that’s Anti-Atlantis, with it’s central sea in there, surrounded by land and ringed by mountains. That’s an almost complete inversion of Plato’s idea of an Island nation out in the Atlantic.
The picture is Greenland of course. But not the Greenland we know, it’s Greenland without the ice. This is a topographic radar map of Greenland’s elevations. It plays a little trick on us – blue is the colour designated for sea level elevation, so everything on the radar map that’s coloured in blue is at sea level elevation or lower. The green parts are just above sea level. The reddish brown represents mountain country.
It actually gives you a decent idea of what Greenland was like, or would have been like without all that ice. Not a perfect idea, there’s a thing called ‘Isostatic Rebound.’ Basically, most of Greenland is under two miles of ice. That two miles of ice is compressing the bedrock. Take it away, and Greenland will probably lift. But I suspect that mostly, that lift won’t dramatically change what we see I think it’s a fascinating map. It’s filled with possibility, potential. It’s so much better than most homegrown fantasy maps.
That’s the explanation for the Map that isn’t Atlantis, on a book titled Fall of Atlantis.
In a sense, like The Dawn of Cthulhu, this is a book about world building. It’s speculative fiction of the plainest, barest kind, taking ideas like ‘What would Greenland be like without the Ice?’ Or ‘What’s a plausible pathway for the Romans to get to the New World?‘ And just spinning them out and extrapolating. No plot, no characters, but fiction all the same.
Some people get very tired of Black Lives Matter. Well, okay. For those folks: Here’s some white people who got murdered by the police.
Tony Timpa, schizophrenic, depressed, in August, 2016, called 911 for assistance, police arrived, begged for his life thirty times. Officers handcuffed him behind his back, tied his ankles, laid him face down, sat on him, died of asphyxiation, Officers then laughed and made jokes as he died. No officers charged. Police department fought like a tiger for three years to keep the body-cam record from becoming public.
Magdied Sanchez, deaf, developmentally disabled man, in September, 2017, in Oklahoma. Shot by police officers because he wouldn’t comply with demands… being deaf and all. Onlookers shouted out that he was deaf and couldn’t understand. Shot to death anyway. D.A. cleared the officers, saying that deafness was irrelevant. “You don’t need to hear to understand what these officers are saying to you.” Apparently, because deaf disabled people are psychic or something.
Earlier in Oklahoma, unarmed suicidal man shot to death by police. Charges were laid on that one.
David Shaver, murdered in a hotel hallway in Mesa, Arizona, while on vacation. There’s Youtube footage of his murder. Look it up. It’s skin crawling sadism. The guy is crying and begging for his life. The officer walked, left the force, got a nice big settlement, claimed PTSD and got disability. The killing was captured on camera, but as with other cases, the police fought like tigers to keep that footage from going public. In fact, and this is horrific, the police exacted a promise from Shaver’s wife that she would not speak publicly about what she witnessed on the footage… And then they played his sadistic murder for her. Really, look it up on Youtube if you dare. Watch it, and then think about the living hell they put Shaver’s wife through.
Anybody remember chapbooks? Also known as chapter books, or chapel books?
Well, before self publishing was a big thing, they were a thing. And therein lies a tale. One that, I’m sad to say, makes me feel a little old. But here goes.
Chapbooks were basically a collection regular eight and a half paper sheets, folded in the middle, with a cardstock cover, and stapled in the middle (saddle stapled). This resulted in a 5×8 publication, which was digest sized. Small press and zine publishers used the format, and before the advent of eBooks, computers, modern printers and POD, it was the route to self publishing. Some of them were quite nice with glossy covers and high end art. Some of them were works of art by themselves with handmaid paper, and hand sewn fabric stitching.
I first came across chapbooks at a local bookstore, McNally Robinson. Three collections of sci fi poetry and short stories by a local film maker, Perry Stratychuk. Back then I was doing a fanzine for a local sci fi club, and I was intrigued enough to interview him. He was a nice guy, he worked for the National Film Board, and he’d written, produced and directed a ‘no budget’ post apocalyptic sci fi epic called ‘Roc Saga.’
That was my introduction. Something off the beaten path, something cool. But not something I was interested in following. At that time I was writing short stories, lots of them, and sending them out steadily. Self publishing seemed like a dead end – I’d get a few copies in bookstores and…. so what?
Then shortly after, in September, 1994, the World Science Fiction Convention came to Winnipeg.