Monday, March 20, 2006

Rogues Gallery

On the excellent Miss Snark blog, which features advice from a literary agent, a hapless reader wrote that she hadn't heard from her "agent" in months. When this reader contacted the agent, asking what publishers had seen the work in question, the agent got angry at the author; how dare you bother me, the agent said.

But the agent did inform the writer that she had a good lead, someone very interested in the novel, so don't worry and don't bother me again.

This would-be novelist later revealed out that she had forked over $5,000 to this "agent" as a reading fee. My heart sank. I would have a better chance of getting her novel published than this agent-scammer. Osama bin Laden would have a better chance. A feral cat would have a better chance.

I tried my hardest to look at this person with pity. Still, I couldn't help but feel just a trifle smug, how could so one be so stupid? She didn't read all the warnings on the Internet and in books about such shysters -- God, like, open your eyes!

I know these guys

The problem with such an attitude is that I forget how vulnerable we make ourselves in writing fiction. And though I have not been scammed in the pocketbook, I have opened my soul to some extremely mean, rotten people, who I let have power over me.

Here are but two examples:

--I once befriended a grad student and her husband, also a writer with some measure of success. For reasons that will soon become clear, let's call him Dickwipe.

Dickwipe was racist, mean, foul-mouthed, and rude to his (now divorced) wife. Sadly (and I am humiliated I let it get to this), I let Dickwipe read my novel/thesis, which, in truth, isn't very good. He never spoke to me again -- since I wasn't going to be a "star" in his eyes, I couldn't help his career and wasn't worth knowing. In retrospect, I see now that Dickwipe only wanted to associate with people who could shine a little light on him.

Since then, Dickwipe has gone on to modest publishing success and an academic post at a Midwestern university. I hope he's happy making people there hate him.

--Another in my rouges gallery is a man we shall call Assface. He was one of my first writing teachers, but also a mean, drunk, hateful person. Though Assface could give excellent advice, if your writing wasn't up to his standards, fire breathed out of his assface into your face.

There were several first-time writers in Assface's workshop, and he seemed to enjoy abusing them in particular, sending many home in tears (not me! but barely). He was spiteful and bitter that his own work had not gotten more attention, and took his fury out on 24 and 25-year-olds. It's amazing that I didn't quit writing back then.

The idea of "constructive criticism" was as alien to Assface as a day without a fifth of Jim Beam. Despite some withering things Assface said of my work, he apparently liked it enough to want me in the MFA program he ran (I had moved to another city). I sent him a story for his perusal, just to show where I was with my work.

His response was the most insulting letter I have ever received, so nasty and awful that I can recite entire sections of it. He said "I'm glad that you're a failure"; "you can't stand your characters, and you can't stand yourself;" and "you're not Prince Hamlet, so stop acting like him." In the same letter, he flogged his MFA program, saying that a particular female professor who decended from the 12 Tribes of Israel "is always on the look out for nice Jewish boys like you."

I can still smell the booze on the parchment. Just thinking about Assface makes my eyes roll back in my head and neck swivel 360 degrees.

A writing teacher to be

I know what you're thinking: why did I associate myself with these losers? Was I that insecure, that unsure of myself that I was desperate for any type of attention I could get, no matter how despicable the person giving said attention?

The short answer: yes. I was insecure, I needed help for my fiction, and didn't know if I was worth a damn, which made me an ideal target for these manipulative pricks. And yes, I feel like an idiot for having associated with these losers. But had one of them suggested that I pay them $5,000 to help me get published, I would have at least considered the offer for more than three seconds.

Years later, I'm wise to such types and know not to put my self-worth in their suitcases. The sad fact of it is these two are just the worst of the bunch. Wife has told me of similar encounters with such men (and it is almost always men), who are either power-tripping or stroking their own pathetic egos by humiliating others.

It's gotten me so upset that I forgot why I wrote this in the first place.

Oh, yeah. Beware of shysters posing as literary agents, don't pay them up front, and if you see Dickwipe or Assface, punch them in the face, hard. With brass knuckles.