29 May 2012

It's Alive!

by David Dean

Have you ever noticed that, as an adult, good news always seems to have a catch?  When I was a kid it was very different.  When something good happened, such as getting great presents on my birthday or at Christmas, I never questioned it and didn't have to hold my breath waiting for the dreaded catch.  After all, what more could be asked of me when I had lived up to my end of the bargain?  If I got a birthday present it was because I had survived another year--done!  As for Christmas, well, if I hadn't been good all year, then what were those presents doing under the tree?  Hah!  No take backs, no conditions.  Then I grew up and became a writer.

Writing, as we all know, is a odd profession that begins with a solitary writer pecking away somewhere all on his lonesome.  Then, once his/her muse has been properly summoned and appeased, said writer produces a manuscript.  This creation, upon subsequent readings, suddenly develops a life of its own and has to be wrestled to the ground in order to regain mastery.  This sad contest can go on for days, weeks, even months or years.  Meanwhile, our chastened writer must write anew, repeating the process over and over, thus populating his world with dozens of clanking, questing creations, some of which he may never drive forth into the greater world and readership.  Instead, they occupy dusty corners of his home, and worse, his imagination, occasionally sitting up and looking about in confusion at having been left behind and glaring with hatred at their creator; rattling chains and straining to have at him.  I believe I read once that the talented James Lincoln Warren has succeeded in having every story that he has written published.  And he should have...if you've read his work then you know that he's very good at what he does.  I have not fared quite as well, yet I persist.  And sometimes this persistence pays off...but there's the catch.

A few years back I wrote a horror novel set in southern New Jersey.  I know what you're thinking, "A horror novel?  Have you lost your mind--what do you know about horror...or even novels?"  Not much, I'm thinking, but that has never stopped me in the past, and it didn't this time.  I wrote it and was moderately pleased that I had come up with something fairly unique and readable; maybe even commercially viable.  Even my editorial board (Bridgid, Julian, and Tanya) didn't condemn it outright, but deemed it "entertaining".  I was encouraged by this ringing endorsement. 

Every agent I submitted it to disagreed.  Dozens...actually more than dozens (I don't think it benefits anyone to go into actual numbers), managed to turn down my generous offer of partnership on this merry voyage.  "Fools!" I cried.  "You damned fools...I'm letting you in on the blockbuster of the year and you say...no?"  They did.

Univeral Pictures "Frankenstein" 1931
After a while, I coaxed the monster back into its cell and padlocked it.  For months afterward, I would be awakened in the night by its cries, threats, and laments.  I drank heavily.  At some point, I can't recall when, the cries, which had been growing fainter and fainter, faded away altogether, leaving the house in silence.  I tried to forget.  I wrote and wrote.  There were successes and failures, but the "Novel" as I had come to call it, kept returning to haunt me at odd, unguarded moments.  Finally, one day when Robin was away for the afternoon, I dug the key out of the clutter of my desk drawer and went down there.  I opened the door...I opened the damned door!  It was still there, barely alive; covered with dust and cobwebs, breathing faintly, with a thready, uncertain pulse.  I dragged it out into the light.  And, of course...it all started again!  I made a few rewrites, a different beginning, tightened up a sentence or two.  It groaned and flailed weakly, but was still unable to rise and stand on its own.  What had I been thinking leaving it alone for so long?  I blamed Robin, she had never cared for horror and made no secret of it.  Perhaps her disdain (for now I could see it for what it was), had seeped into my work, poisoned my best efforts.  I found her watching me in unguarded moments; quickly looking away when I caught her at it.  She hated my novel!  I knew it!  She wanted me to put it away again!

But I schemed and plotted and soon I had found a way around both her and the damned agents!  E-publishing!  That's the ticket.  I contacted a reputable firm recommended by MWA to help me prepare my creation for its entry into the virtual world.  I e-mailed my manuscript to their proofreader.  I didn't need any stinkin' agents, or even a publisher.  I'm the publisher now, baby!  I'm my own man!

The firm contacted me a few weeks later.  After having read my novel, they wanted to publish it.

Say what?

Now this really screwed things up.  I had this all figured out; I didn't need anybody!  But as the words of the email sunk in, I began to chuckle, then laugh aloud.  The irony of it all!  And the wonderful feeling of smugness at being backed in my opinion by a perfect stranger.  This, I suddenly realized, was the gift...the perfect gift!

But then I continued reading...there was more--there was a catch.  The publisher deemed that for us to go forward together more work was required.  My manuscript was in desperate need of a good developmental editor.  If at the end of six months it failed to meet his requirements, then all bets were off.  Oh, how skillfully he had thrown out the bait, how cruelly he had set the hook.  How dare he!  More work?  And what the hell is a developmental editor?

So you see, my friends, there is always a catch.  They know us writers...they know what we want and what we'll do to get it.  We want our creations to stand up and walk on their own.  To breath and bellow!  To be allowed to walk in daylight along with all God's creatures.  But "they" always want more work, and then...more and more work! 

So now I have been graciously granted six months to accomplish what he wants, and he calls the shots--I'm just the writer again; little more than a temporary employee sans benefits.  But there's a chance now...just a chance, I admit, that my baby will yet be set free.  And on that glorious day the whole world shall hear me cry, "It's alive...it's alive!"


Universal Pictures "Frankenstein" 1931
By the way, I know that a lot of you have already been down this road and I'd appreciate hearing your experiences, especially about working with editors. 


7 comments:

Janice said...

Sad truth department. Editors, by and large, no longer edit. They either leave the details to the ( probably outsourced0 copy editor or get the writer to pay an editor on his or her own dime.

Dixon Hill said...

For some reason, I keep thinking I ought to say something about tying your running shoes tight, and keeping a weather eye out for torches and pitchforks. But, that doesn’t sound terribly supportive. And I feel supportive. But, alas, have no experience to offer.

To grossly misquote Churchill: “You’re traveling a path, up which I have not been.”

So I’ll just leave it at:

“Good Luck, Buddy!”
--Dix

David Dean said...

Most of the folks I've spoken to support your view, Janice.

Thanks, Dix! I do get what you mean and I appreciate the sentiment.

Fran Rizer said...

David, sorry to be a day late, but I understand you'll be notified of a late comment post. I'm enthusiastic for you, but I have to ask: ARE THEY CHARGING YOU ANYTHING FOR THE DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR? If so, seek elsewhere. If not, go for it because even if they don't take the manuscript you'll have tweaked it for the next publisher.

David Dean said...

Thanks for the concern, Fran, but no they haven't ask for any money. It all appears above-board and sincere. In this case, the book will have to make money for the publisher to profit.

James Lincoln Warren said...

Well, David, there's one recent story of mine out there that has yet to find a home, and I have to say I'm not surprised, because it was heavily experimental---written in screenplay format, no less. (I still regard it as a short story, though, and not as a template for an actual film).

And I'm not the one who has won EQMM Readers' Choice Awards and gotten an Edgar nod, like you. So I wouldn't worry.

Janice is right that the editor probably doesn't want to pay you and wants you to do all the work he should be doing for free. Despicable. On some occasions, I've been told that a story I've sent in isn't good enough as it stands and needs work before the editor will consider it, and after making a few tweaks, the story sold. Usually, though, that problem doesn't arise.

Almost always, I have been asked by magazine editors to make changes in much of what I've sent them after they've accepted the story. (Usually I see their points, but at other times I wonder what they're thinking---it's not so much that I've fallen in love with what I've committed to the story, always a foolish thing to do, but that they want to cut things that in my view have a manifest purpose for being there.)

David Dean said...

James, thanks for weighing in--it's always wonderful to hear from you. I'm glad you didn't mind me invoking your good name. And while I've got your attention, why not treat SleuthSayers to a guest blog? I feel certain the staff would be thrilled to give you some space.

As for your screen-play story, let me make a prediction--it shall be published!