Great Rejection from Lisa Bankoff


I feel history about to repeat itself. I'm remembering when I received a query years back from an unknown writer whose manuscript caught my attention. I knew he had something exciting going on but I didn't make an essential connection with the work-- didn't quite 'get' it. I told him the truth, he found an agent elsewhere, and has since had more than a few bestsellers. That unknown writer is Christopher Moore. 

With your book, I have that same certainty about its potential but also that same underlying disconnect. But I want to recommend a colleague who might be a good fit. His name is __________ and you can reach him at Tell him I sent you.

Good luck and all the best,

Talking Field Exam Reading Lists + Agent Referrals with TC Boyle

Since he's my thesis adviser + also a former teacher of mine, TC Boyle told me to stop by his office soon after the recommendation snafu to talk about my Post WWII reading list for fields. I also wanted to talk to him about getting a referral to Sandra Dijkstra. Stop on by, he emailed. After teaching, that's exactly what I did, a slight spring in my step. Must be the sunshine.

1. Field Exams

When I walked into his office, the dude looked fucking exhausted.

I shook his hand + said:
You look fucking exhausted. I am, he said, leaning his head back.I saw you on Bill Maher's Real Time.Oh yeah?
I nodded.
Yeah, it's the only time I've seen you in a group of people where you're not talking the whole time.
We both laughed.
I don't like dealing with talking heads.
After chatting a little more, I handed him my proposed reading list for the field exam I'll be doing with him, post WWII literature. He read the list + nodded:
Well, this looks great.I'm not sure what critical connections I'll make yet, but once I've read 1/4 to 1/2 of them, I'm sure I'l see them.Well, I've read almost every book here.I haven't a read single book on that list. That's why I picked'em.
He looked up.
I thought it would be a perfect excuse to read a bunch of books I've always wanted to read but haven't.That's brilliant.

2. Sandra Dijkstra

Once we'd finished figuring out the details for my reading list, I paused, turned to Tom + said:
—So can we talk about Sandra Dijkstra?—Sure. It's time to get you an agent so you can get your books published. What's up?—Well, I'm still waiting to hear from the Irene Goodman Literary Agency but I'm getting antsy + I don't want to wait anymore, so I wondered whether you might give me a referral.—Of course. I told you I'd be happy to.I took a look at her client list + it's pretty rad.*Well, I already talked you up to her.—Awesome.—Okay, how about this? I'll write her a letter right now. When will you send her a manuscript?—Tomorrow.—Great. Okay, are you going to send her Ninjas?—I'm not sure. I kinda want her to take a look at BLANK before I send her Ninjas. But I haven't decided yet.—Okay, well, he said, pulling out a piece of SC stationery + scribbling a note to Sandra Dijkstra, I'll send this today, should get to her by tomorrow + you'll send your manuscript to her tomorrow + a short letter mentioning some of her clients you admire. . .—Okay, great.

I'm not sure what's going to happen with any of this + I haven't closed the door to the Irene Goodman Literary Agency at all, but a little competition won't hurt anyone. Besides, from reading literary agent blogs, I get the very strong impression that agents are naturally fierce with each other + accept competition because they have to (it's part of the industry), even embracing it sometimes. So we'll see what happens. Even so, I'm flattered that Tom actually talked me up to such a big agent. That shit is flattering.

Now, back to The Ninjas of My Greater Self

*Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Lisa See, Susan Faludi, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan

When TC Boyle Treats Your Success as a Fiction Writer as if It's Inevitable when It's Not but You Really Want it to Be

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with my Turkish friend Marve(y) on campus. It was one of those perfect, idyllic LA days + I was laughing about, fuck I dunno, something, when Tom walked up to me + said: --I recognize that laugh a mile away.
--Hey Tom, I said. Oh Tom, this is my friend Marve(y)
--Hello, she said, blushing.
--Hi, nice to meet you, he said. Then, turning to me: Jackson, he said, stop by my office sometime. Let's talk.
--Okay, cool, I said.

The moral of the story is: When TC Boyle goes out of his way to say hi to you + tells you to stop by his office, you fucking stop by his office.

The next week, I did just that + went to his office.

--So, he said, what did Georges say?
--He said that he was impressed with my writing but also had some concerns that I had too many narrative strands in Ninjas, but he didn't want to prejudge, so he told me to send him the whole manuscript once I was done.
--Good, he said, smiling.
--Of course, it won't be ready for a year until I have a definitive draft. I'm only to page 200.
--Me too, but anyways, that's good that he wants to read the whole thing.
--Yeah, I guess so. How fast do you crank out a novel?
--Pretty fast. I'm working on a historical novel right now about the San Juan islands. I think we already talked about this.
I nodded.
--Listen, I was talking to Sandra Dijkstra. Are you familiar with her?
The truth is, I was trying to figure out whether my friend from Glenn Loomis Elementary School, Greta Dijkstra, had changed her first name + was friends with Tom for some bizarre reason. Finally, I decided that didn't make any sense, because, truthfully, it doesn't. I shook my head.
--She's a good agent. Tough, but very good. She asked me if I had any writers I could recommend to her. So maybe if it doesn't work out with Georges. . . Anyway, check out her website.
--Wow, awesome. Thanks Tom.
--The crazy thing is, I said, on the same day I got Georges's response, I also got a solicited email from the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.
Tom gave me a blank face.
--They do commercial, literary, genre + literary non-fiction.
--Oh, that's normal. Even Georges did a workout book with Jane Fonda.
--Really? I said, incredulously.
--Sure, why not? Some things just fall on your lap like that.
He nodded.
--They asked for the whole manuscript of BLANK + also an outline of Ninjas.
--They're going to pick you up, he said.
--I dunno Tom, I'm playing it cautiously.
--Well, this is great. Maybe it'll work out with Georges. But if not, this might just be perfect for you. Or you can send something to Sandra.
--I also sent my story collection to Greywolf.
--Oh, he said, great press. I think that's a great idea: publish your stories with Graywolf + then get one of your novels out there. That's the way to go.

I love Tom, I really do + I especially appreciate how he talks about my own success as a fiction writer as if it's inevitable. It's a beautiful, wonderful thing to have someone like him giving you that kind of encouragement. But right now, at least for right now, it doesn't feel inevitable. I'm not being pessimistic (it's not my thing at all). I'm just being cautious. A secret part of me feels that it will happen--all of it--but admitting that out loud makes you sound arrogant + cocky + when it comes to this industry, I'm neither. Still, you have to believe things are going to work out. Otherwise, you stop hoping. And when you do that, you start writing solipsistically (or you stop writing--something I could never do), which means, you ignore everything that's flawed + amazing + impossible + heartbreaking about this world. Then you're really fucked.