Aimee Bender Helps Me Chill Out

I'm gonna tell this story in reverse:

Exactly one minute after hanging out with Aimee, I received this email from Graywolf Press, that pretty much broke my heart:

Dear Jackson Bliss,

Thank you very much for submitting "BLANK" to Graywolf Press.

We certainly found a great deal to admire in your work, but when it came time to make a publishing commitment, I’m afraid we decided we couldn’t make you an offer. It’s always difficult to make these decisions and to write letters like this one. The small number of books we can publish each year unfortunately puts us in a difficult position in terms of taking on a lot of new work.

We will say, though, that your enthusiasm about New York is fresh and infectious, and we did enjoy much of this. Unfortunately, we didn't connect with the voice here as well as we'd have liked. This is, of course, simply a matter of taste, and others may feel differently.

In any case, thank you for having Graywolf in mind. We wish you the best of luck in finding the right publisher for your work.

With best wishes,

The Editors

Graywolf Press

I have crazy love/respect for Graywolf Press. They pretty much epitomize everything that is awesome about indie presses (e.g. great selection of published novels, including translations, a devoted, smart + savvy editorial staff, national distribution, publishes literature that is aware of the greater world around us). So you can imagine the heartbreak when I found out they'd rejected BLANK. My big concern with BLANK has always been that it's too structurally ambitious, too conceptual + lyrical, too socially plugged-in + too unorthodox for most of the big presses. So my concern, my big concern, is that if the awesome indie presses won't take a chance on a sui generis novel like BLANK, then frankly, who the hell will? I mean, the only way I'm going to get Little, Brown to publish BLANK is if I have a love affair with Paris Hilton or protect Jessica Alba from a mugger with my dinner toothpick.

But my conversation with Aimee helped me get my shit straight:

1. I have to remember that I'm working on a second novel right now, which means that I'm not going to be sending out as many manuscripts as I normally do, which means I'm also not going to be getting pieces picked up as much as I'd like. But that's part of the whole creation process when you write. Working on a novel is your downtime to create, revise + invent. Most of the time, your novel will be hard to split up into pieces + published anyway, so you shouldn't worry about the publishing game for quite awhile.

2. Every major writer always has a tipping point. For her, it was publishing a short story in the Santa Monica Review, which helped her find an agent, get published in an anthology +get Girl with a Flammable Skirt published, all happening in quick succession. Obviously, I don't know if I'll have a tipping point (though I believe I will) or when it'll happen (though I sense it'll happen while I'm in LA). All I can do is keep writing, submit when I can + remember that I'll get my time. I hope.

3. After she offered me one of her vegan samosas, I asked Aimee what Jim Sheppard's writing trajectory was like.

--I'm not sure, she said, but I'm sure he paid his dues just like we all do.

And somehow, that's comforting to know that other writers that are now national players have had to slowly create their own momentum too just like I do, just like almost every writer has to.

4. I apologized to her about bringing in an Anis Shivani article for the class to discuss in our workshop last year in light of Shivani's most recent bitch session about literary publishing in the Huffington Post that came out a few weeks ago. Anis Shivani picked Aimee as one of the 15 most overrated contemporary writers

--Oh, don't worry about it, she said, smiling. --Actually, I'm completely flattered to be mentioned with those other writers: Amy Hempel, Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, Vollman, Lydia Davis.

This is when I told her: --Aimee, for the record, I think it's really hard to write like you. I've never seen anyone who could write you convincingly. Besides, theory's got nothing on you.

--Thanks, Jackson, she said, blushing, --I appreciate that.

I guess writing is tough for everyone right now.