Revisions Are Done!

I've been working tirelessly with my agent on my revisions for The Ninjas of My Greater Self for a solid three months now and we are finally done with the substantive edits, which feels fucking incredible.  I'm just waiting for a few blurbs from some literary superstars and then my agent will officially begin sending out cover letters to editors.  I'm exhilarated about this.  I'm also mildly terrified.  I mean, these next three to four months will shape my literary debut in the New York publishing world and also have a major impact on my literary career.  I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it's actually true.  I've been waiting my whole life for this moment.  My fingers are crossed.

This Will Sound like a CIA Cypher

I wish I could give more specific deetz about this astonishing development, but I just can't.  It's just not possible.  This is the one thing I can tell you in my infinite vocabulary of vagueness:  one of the most respected editors at one of the most respected publishing houses is now reading The Ninjas of My Greater Self.  I can't even tell you how it worked out this way because that too, my dear reader and anonymous friend, is top secret, but suffice it to say, this is a rare and amazing opportunity.  I really don't know what's going to come of this, and I realize the odds still aren't in my favor even with this opportunity because publishing is a motherfucking business not an art gallery, but for the past ten years of my life, it's felt like literary agents (not talent or vision or even the product) have been my greatest obstacles to publication, and for a few weeks or months or however long it takes this incredibly gracious and brilliant editor to read my novel, that obstacle has been removed.  This is the first time I can say that.

Going All Out

After a concentrated two weeks where LB and I saw both our families back to back, I'm finally getting back in the groove with my writing, revising, and submissions.  And today I've realized that I'm going all out.

Recently, a bunch of my friends have been getting agents, then two-book contracts, thereby fundamentally changing their literary careers in the span of literally one year.  A boy can only dream . . . Of course, because I'm human, I've been waiting by the phone too for the same phone call, waiting for the same miracle to magically transform my writing career into a solid object, but so far, I've been mostly stood up by publishing industry (literary journals have been much kinder to me).  Agents are happy to tell me how talented I am, but their rejections are always about the fit.  Truthfully, it's hard not to feel bad about yourself, especially when you stroll through the local bookstore and you see straight up shit on the coop.  But I'm an eternal optimist, obviously delusional, and also very stubborn, so I'm not giving up.  Not when I'm so close.

This leads me to the whole point I was making before I digressed earlier.  Now that I'm back in action, I'm going all out, man.  I'm submitting queries for NINJAS to a bunch of new agents soon (I'm still waiting to hear from three agents who are reading full manuscripts, but the longer time passes, the less hopeful I get).  If Kaya rejects AMNESIA (they're taking their sweetass time, by the way), I'll send a query for it to fifty agents the next week.  I just sent out several novella manuscripts to Plougshares and the Massachusetts Review.  I'm also sending one of my best (and fave) short stories to several literary journals.  Lastly, I'm sending my memoir to a few indie presses that I think would be a good fit aesthetically, conceptually, and structurally.  Instead of staggering my submissions as I was forced to do during the school year, I'm now going full force.  And that's not even including a screenplay I'll start revising/continuing this weekend about two bike messengers in DTLA.

And it don't stop . . .



So Three Literary Agents Walked into a Bar . . .

Yesterday, I got a request for a full manuscript from a junior and senior agent at Writers House, putting me in a unique and odd place:  for the first time in my life, three (four?) different literary agents are reading full manuscripts of NINJAS at the same time.  Usually, this happens in a staggered fashion:  one agent this week, two agents next week, one agent the next month, etc., etc.  Anyway, this recent synchronicity doesn't really mean anything except that I write a good query letter (and maybe that I have a dope second novel that's ripe for the market).  Other than that, who really knows? 

Still, it feels fucking good whenever I know an agent is seriously considering my work. What's not to love about that?

Warren Frazier Asks for Partial of NINJAS

Less than eleven hours after I sent him a query letter, Warren Frazier emailed me back and asked for a partial, which is of course both appreciated and shocking, to be honest.  I'm not sure I've ever had an agent ask for a partial of NINJAS in such a short amount of time, but I'm definitely not complaining.

I won't get my hopes up at this point because it's just a partial.  Additionally, NINJAS is very voice-driven and stylized, so it's not for everyone.  I give agents fair warning in the query, but seeing voice-driven stylization on the page is always different.  Also, Warren Frazier represents some motherfucking heavy-hitters in the literary world:  Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Olen Butler, Adam Johnson, and Jess Walter, among others, which includes three Pulitzer-Prize winners ("Bob," as Julianna Baggott called him back when we talked long-distance on the phone from Argentina to Florida in 2008, Adam Johnson and also Frederik Lovegall, who won a Pulitzer in history for his book, Embers of War).  So, I'm nothing if not realistic.  Still, when an awesome agent is reading one of your novels, there's always a little room for hope.   

Two Literary Agents Ask for Partial of Ninjas

After getting Ayesha Pande's email today + a republication request from a major Australian news outlet for an essay I wrote earlier for the Good Men Project, I have to say, this has been a good Monday.  Actually, in the past two weeks, two literary agents have asked for partials of my second novel, The Ninjas of My Greater Self (Kate McKean at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency and today, Ayesha Pande at Ayesha Pande Literary). And as long as there are agents reading my novel, there's (a tiny bit of) hope in my world.  Stay tuned for updates (+ possible mania/heartache).

Lucy Carson Requests Full Manuscript of Ninjas

After a month, I thought Lucy Carson had erased my query letter.  Because I have my shit together (I'm OCD), I keep a linear log of all my submissions (both to agents, literary journals + CW jobs), with color coding based on the final results of each submission.  Black = manuscript still in play.  Orange = manuscript being reviewed (useful only for submishmash/journals with online submission manager).  Light grey = rejection (because it's the easiest on the eyes).  Green = acceptance.  Blue = withdrawn.  Red = who who the fuck knows what happened?  The point being, after a week, I'd already changed my query status for Lucy Carson from black to red because I hadn't heard a thing.  Usually, when agents don't respond within a week, they don't respond at all.  That's been my experience 99.999% of the time.  But today:  Jackson, meet exception.  Exception, Jackson.

Today I got a very gracious response today from Lucy Carson requesting the entire novel.  She also thanked me for my kind words for one of her clients, Ruth Ozeki, who I read at USC + mentioned in my query letter.  Some of the clients at The Friedrich Agency include:  The Pulitzer prize-winning Jane Smiley, Esmeralda Santiago, Ruth Ozeki, Carol Muske-Dukes (a USC poet, no less) + Elena Gorokhova.  Not bad at all.  But to put things in perspective, statistically speaking, the number of literary fiction writers + male writers at this agency is slim.  So, I'm not going to delude myself into expecting miracles here.  But, I def appreciate the full manuscript request.  Now let's see if it's a good fit for her.  If not, I'm certainly flattered nevertheless that a tech-savvy agent like LC showed interest in my novel. 

My Whole Life = Submishmash

In many ways, my life right now mirrors my submishmash status.  Not only have I been waiting to hear from  journals + indie presses, some of them forever, but I'm also waiting to hear from like a gazillion creative writing fellowships + teaching positions in the North Shore + Hyde Park, Chicago + Madison, Wisconsin + Hamilton, New York to Norwich, England.  And honestly, I have no idea what's gonna happen, whether I'm gonna be unemployed or teaching next year, whether I'll have agent or whether I'll still be stumbling through the forest of unpublished novelists.  I have no fucking idea at all.  None.  And so like I've done so many times, I'm gonna wait + hope for good news.  The only thing I have control over right now are the revisions I'm making on The Ninjas of My Greater Self, which an agent requested after reading the first draft.  So there's that, but that's the only kinetic snack food left in the vending machine, man.  And I'm fucking STARVED!

My Fixation on the Novel

It's odd.  If you'd told me 7 years ago that I'd be working on my PhD in English/Creative Writing, I would have laughed at you.  If you'd told me that I'd be working with writers like Percival Everett, Aimee Bender + TC Boyle, I would have said:  Lay off the weed, dude, it's conflating your dimensions.  If you'd told me then that in the next 7 years, I'd publish stories in journals like ZYZZYVA, African American Review, Fiction, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Quarter After Eight, Fiction International, Quarterly West, Stand (UK), Notre Dame Review + the Connecticut Review, with more to come inshallah, I would have said: Stop fucking with me man, it's not gonna be that easy.  And yet, even though all that shit's true, + even though I'm crazy grateful for every one of those things, the truth is, I'm not satisfied with my writing career at all, if in fact I can even call it that.

I want to publish my first novel The Amnesia of Junebugs.  I want to publish my second novel The Ninjas of My Greater Self.  While I think both novels have flaws for sure (which novels don't?), I think they're great for different reasons + deserve to be in your local bookstore as much as any other original work of literary fiction.  I have no doubt about that.  I don't doubt it for an instant.  Sure, I see momentum in my own emerging career.  Yes, I have a much stronger backbone from years of workshop critiques + gratuitous attacks by opinionated haters who don't write half as hard as I do.  Yes, I'm publishing stories in journals that I love + admire, that I grew up reading during my MFA years, journals that agents read.  Yes, I believe in myself 100% + would have killed to have been published in some of the journals my stuff appears in now.  But I'm sick of being in professional limbo where your entire life, your whole artistic career is put on hold while you scramble to get your novels published.  This isn't the goddamn 1920's--you can't live off of short stories anymore, even if you publish them in the glossies with your agent's help.

What I want is the novel.  I want my novels in bookshelves.  I want to be able to delete from my inbox a bunch of snarly, hitman-type book reviews by half-actualized, curmudgeon literary fiction writers who write these self-indulgent, in-your-face masturbatory sentences written out of envy for my own ascension.  I want to stop being a default critic of an industry I feel shut out of + start feeling like a player inside my own vocation. 

Seven years ago, I would have been happy with this progress, but not now.  Now I want more.  I want bigger dreams, I want insanity, I want my writing to receive scrutiny, adulation, innuendo, indignation, joy + Eros, I want my books to be dog-eared + heavily creased at the public library, smelling of black tea + engine grease, I want to turn on complete strangers with my sex scenes + move a reader to tears with my characters, I want cum stains, lipstick marks + tear drops on the pages of my novels. I want my unique literary voice to be part of this world, not an aspiration of grandeur.  I want to give public readings, do an interview while drunk + chat with people in bookstores about characters as if they were real.  I want my words to have resonance beyond the voice inside my own head.  I want cultural and artistic accountability, I want the consequences of affecting people, I want to share my creativity to the world, I want the unique privilege of participating, critiquing, embracing + affecting culture.  In other words, in my own selfish, arrogant, egomaniacal, grandiloquent way, I want to be an artist.  I want that.  I want all of that shit.

The way I see it:  My only hope is to either win a book contest, snag an agent or publish my novels in one of the indie presses.  That's when my career will really take off, when I become competitive for creative writing jobs at universities, when I stop questioning my literariness, when I start connecting with readers, when I start standing tall + being what I can only aspire to right now, which is myself.

Well, Here Goes Nothing

So I finally did it, I sent my complete, fully revised manuscript + sophomore novel, The Ninjas of My Greater Self, to agent extraordinaire, Georges Borchardt, agent of Elie Wiesel, Ian McEwan, Robert Coover, TC Boyle, who is also in charge of the estates of Tennessee Williams, Aldous Huxley + John Gardner, this is the man who first introduced America to Lacan, Barthes, Bourdieu, Fanon, Duras, Foucault, Ionesco + Sartre. Yes, this dude is a big fucking deal, representing over 8 Pulitzer Prize winners + 2 Noble Prize winners, in fact, he may be the biggest fucking deal I've submitted to in my entire life. And while sending him my novel (which he asked for in its entirety last year after I'd sent him the first 145 pages + an outline) honestly scares the shit out of me because it puts me on the chopping block, at the same time, I kinda want to get this over with, one way or another. Does that sound bleak? I guess it does. But Ninjas is the best thing I've ever written yet. It's a fucking awesome novel, it really is.

And at this point, while nothing would make me happier in the whole fucking world than for Georges to pick me up as a client, if he doesn't, I guess at this point, I want to know that, accept that + go on with my life + stop pining for something that's not gonna happen. It's just the realist in me. Of course I'd be bummed if he didn't give me a shot, but I'd find a way to soldier on. Hopefully, though, he loves this novel enough to say yes. God knows how that would totally transform my writing career . . . I hope he sees what I see. It could be the beginning of something massive if he did.

I've Reached the 400-Page Mark with My Second Novel, The Ninjas of My Greater Self!

It's interesting: Originally, I felt like I wasn't as efficient as I wanted to be this summer. But after talking to friends + other classmates in my cohort + in my program at SC, I'm realizing that I actually had a really productive summer after all, even though it didn't feel like it.

The three basic things I did this summer were:

1. Spend 9 days in China

2. Knock Off 25 books from my three reading lists for field exams

3. Double the size of my novel, writing exactly 200 pages in The Ninjas of My Greater Self. When I'd finished up last semester, I was at page 200 + now I'm at page 400. Even better, based on my flexible outline, I only have 5 and 1/2 chapters left before I'm done with a definitive draft, which is fucking crazy considering I wasn't planning getting there until sometime next summer. Of course, anyone who knows my work ethic with my writing, knows that I could easily spend another six months just revising my second novel, over + over + over + over + over again, both local + global revisions. But that doesn't fucking matter, I'll be revising my novel while being able to say I've finished writing it (even though technically, revision is a type of writing).

Now that I'm teaching again + football season is about to bloom from its summer germination, I'm worried I won't have as much time as I'd like to, to read + write + revise. But still, 5 and 1/2 chapters, that's like 6 weeks, 8 at the most until I'm done, unless my flow gets cockblocked by grading papers or some other shit. Suddenly, I went from feeling like the marathon had just begun to being able to see the finish line. And I'm telling you, this novel is going to fucking be huge, man. It's going to launch my career, just you watch.

Good Rejection + Open Door to Read More Material from Nat Sobel

There's good news + there's bad news. Here's the bad news (though it comes with a decent rejection):

Dear Jackson Bliss,

Thank you for sending us the first 50 pages of . . . , which Nat Sobel asked me to read. I have discussed your work with Nat prior to sending my response. I think that this is an innovative approach to a novel, and I enjoyed the setting you have chosen. However, I’m sorry to report that I have too many concerns to request the balance of the manuscript . . . I admire the energy and style of your prose, but at the same time there is a self-conscious quality that prevented me from being completely drawn into these pages.

Please know that my reading is a subjective one, and others may feel differently. Nat and I both think that you are a talented writer, and we hope that you are able to find a publisher through your current literary agent. While we don’t feel that BLANK is the right novel in which to launch your writing career, should things not work out with The Irene Goodman Literary Agency, we’d be happy to consider more of your work in the future.

Best of luck,

A*** W*****

And here's the good news: After I clarified to A*** W***** that that the Irene Goodman Literary Agency isn't, in fact, representing me at all (they'd actually sent me a rejection letter months ago that mysteriously never showed up in my inbox or spam folder, so I had to write them + ask them what's up--lame), then I asked her if I could send her a partial of what I'm working on now, The Ninjas of My Greater Self + she said hell yes. Okay, actually, she just said yes. But as many of you know, Ninjas is the best thing I've written yet. I'm 320 pages into this motherfucker + I'm telling you, it fucking rocks the joint. I have no doubt that I'll publish BLANK eventually--frankly, despite its various + sundry flaws, it's still a breathtaking novel that's ambitious, innovative, smart, compassionate, multicultural + kinetic. It deserves to--and will someday--be published in an excellent indie press that rewards ambition, vision + heterodoxy. But Ninjas is going to be the novel that helps me launch my career from an emerging unknown novelist to an up-and-coming novelist with national implications. That may sound arrogant, but it's not, man. It's just what's going to happen + I'm gonna work my ass off to make sure it does. Stay tuned. In a month, I'll have a better idea of what's going down.

German Novelist Patrick Findeis Gives Props to The Ninjas of My Greater Self

Yesterday in workshop we had several visitors, one of whom was Patrick Findeis, a visting German novelist staying at Villa Aurora as a Winter Quarter Fellow whose debut novel, Kein Schöner Land (No Land More Lovely), has been making headlines. Aimee was kind enough to forward me Findeis's flattering words about the excerpt of Ninjas he read last night, which is included down below. Cool, man. At least I know that one German will buy my book when it comes out. Danke!

Hi Aimee,

good to meet you too!
I really enjoyed the class, the level was very high and the writing strong.
I read the excerpt from Jackson's book in the evening and I think it's great. The little I heard of the first story made a big impression on me as well.

Take care,

Freedom + Hope: My Last Workshop + Sending a Query to Sandra Dijkstra

1. While I still have five more weeks of this semester, I'm officially done getting my shit workshopped forever! What an amazing feeling: Ah, the tangy taste of freedom! No, it's true, I'll be doing a private writing class with Aimee next semester, but that'll be one-on-one, the very opposite of workshop, in fact. Talking with Aimee is sort of like talking with a very insightful friend of yours who carries a pair of sheers with her wherever she goes + who is also way better published than you are. Not only do I not mind this private writing class next semester, I'm actually looking forward to it because it will force me--structurally, speaking--to keep working on The Ninjas of My Greater Self as I prepare for fields, which will be fun but also crazy stressful too. And while my workshops at SC were a 100 times more helpful for me than the pissing contests/genealogy of morals gang-bang I used to go through at Notre Dame, at the same time, I think I've plateaued with workshop just in general. I know what my strengths + weaknesses are as a writer. Now, it's really just about creating work that is its best version of itself. Through workshop + other venues, I've become very aware of what I do well + where I need help. So, thanks workshop. But now I'm gonna peace out.

2. I just sent Sandra Dijkstra a 25-page sampler of BLANK with a query letter. Hopefully she'll be intrigued enough that she'll want to read the entire manuscript. Based on her client list, I think she'll appreciate the strong, smart, independent female characters, the multicultural crew, the ambitious + intersecting plotline + above all else, the novel's return to history + culture, the love of language + the joy of storytelling in BLANK. But if for some--tragic--reason she rejects BLANK, I'm still planning on asking her if she'd like to see $67 for My Favorite Dictator, my collection of short stories +/or whether she'd be interested in reading Ninjas once it's finally done--whenever that is.

My New Strategy for 2011

I sent out 103 manuscripts to journals in 2010 + I only have one acceptance so far + only 8 manuscripts left in that cycle. I'm not saying it's not worth it to send your shit out there because you kinda have to if you want to get published + since literary agents read literary journals, it's kind of a necessary evil. But now that I know what I know about 2010, I feel like I wasted an incredible amount of time that I could have spent writing. So, my new strategy for 2011 is simple:

1. Write the shit out of The Ninjas of My Greater Self, since that seems to be the book that's getting the most attention for me right now, making it all the more important that I finish it.

2. Send submissions to only the journals that are essentially game-changers, meaning:

The Paris Review
The New Yorker
The Atlantic
Tin House
A Public Space
Southern Review
Black Clock

Now, granted, these are some of the most prestigious journals in the business + will increase my rejection rate from 99% to 99.9%, but I think that's okay because I don't mind being rejected from the glossies/gatekeepers. In fact, though it's unfair, I kinda expect that. With small MFA-affiliated journals, however, I don't expect that kind of rejection, which is a huge mistake since the average fiction reader is a white, 20-something MFA student, often male, highly opinionated, unpublished, insecure, technically competent, idealistic + overworked writer who wants to be the next great American writer. When it comes down to it, fiction readers in MFA programs don't really want to read your shit. They think they do before they get recruited to read for a literary journal, but after two months, it takes up too much time that they need to work on their own shit, not to mention all the crap that's getting dumped on their lap in workshop. In the context of MFA programs + reading for literary journals, rejection--whether it's deserved or not--becomes the most effective way to get back to your own writing, sad to say. Also, with that extra .9%, I will feel like I'm really fighting for a dream since getting picked up in any one of the above journals will change your writing career in some way. Not so with most of the very good + very small literary journals peppered all across America. Lastly, lots of major writers have found their agents or started their career with the following journals. If it sounds like I'm vaguely giving up the prospect of publishing new stories in journals, I actually am. I won't stop fighting, but I will stop expecting it to work out + focus more on my writing, which is the only thing I used to care about when I first started writing.

In the meantime, I'm gonna spend less time mailing out stories to journals my parents have never heard of and more time working on my second novel, which is probably where my literary career begins anyway. And if I'm wrong + one of the above journals picks up one of my stories, all the better, but I'm definitely not expecting that, at least not without an agent.

I Miss You, Second Novel

When you're a PhD student, you have to read a lot of books. Most of the time, that's awesome because the shit you have to read is fucking awesome. To give you an idea of how nerdy I can be, I'm actually looking forward to my field exams next year because that means I'll get to read 70 books of the awesomest books in the whole wide world, books I've always wanted to read, from Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections + Lan Samantha Chan's Hunger to Robert Olen Butler's Scent from a Strange Mountain, among other standouts. But that said, there are things I miss (like weekends), + one of those things is, I really miss my second novel, Ninjas of My Greater Self.

Anyway, second novel, I'm looking forward to another date soon. I miss you like crazy. I really really need to hear your voice + remember what's it's like to be in your world again.

Limbo: Where Fiction Writers Sleep

About the only thing I know right now is that I've been waiting in a state of perpetual limbo for awhile now + it just doesn't go away man, not even after a long nap. By waiting in a state of perpetual limbo, I mean:

1. I'm waiting to hear from Graywolf Press + Algonquin about $67 for My Fave Dictator + BLANK

2. I'm waiting to hear from the Irene Goodman Literary Agency about BLANK

3. I'm waiting to hear from 20 journals I submitted stories to in the past year, some of which I sent a year ago--you know who you are, TLR!

4. I'm waiting to have more free time to start working on The Ninjas of My Greater Self again after getting sidetracked by essays I had (still have to finish) grading, an oral presentation on Joan Didion + kicking it with LB's sister Fia, where I relived all of my touristy moments in LA for the 100th time

5. I'm waiting to have more free time to start sending out new submissions for 2011, after which point, I will begin waiting and living in a state of perpetual limbo all over again

6. I'm waiting to hear from the Macdowell Colony about a summer residency I applied for

7. I'm waiting to hear from the East Asian Studies Center at SC to see if I was awarded a partial/full grant to travel to Tokyo/Osaka this summer to study cosplayer subculture

8. I'll soon be waiting to hear from the English Department at SC to see if I was lucky enough to score one of their endowed fellowships, which would mean no teaching composition next year! Can't you even imagine that?

9. I'm waiting to hear from the universe pretty much all the fucking time, sister

10. I'm waiting for Black Clock's submission window to open again

Georges Borchardt Responds

Georges responds at last. And I'm still in agent limbo. . .
Dear Jackson Bliss,

It took me a little longer than I thought to get to THE NINJAS OF MY GREATER SELF, which you sent in. I’m very impressed with your writing and particularly liked the section called “Girls…”. I’m concerned, however, about the novel moving off in too many different directions, but I probably should not pre-judge before seeing the whole manuscript (which I’d be happy to read when it is ready).