Wednesday, April 18, 2012

(don't) Say Anything

Lloyd Dobler
"To know Lloyd Dobler is to love him."

My sister-in-law, a soon to be published author by the way, once described me as being Lloyd Dobler.

Because of her I sat through Say Anything, a movie which some had raved about being a great film. I didn't think that much of it but maybe that was because I was being characterized as teenaged John Cusak (aack!). To know me is to know I am much more the tormented newly grown up High Fidelity John Cusak type.

What left me really scratching my head was why the movie was called "Say Anything?" I first confused it with a Kirk Cameron movie about a debate club. My wife, who is one of those people who thinks Say Anything is a great movie, quickly corrected me. By the way, the title of the Kirk Cameron movie is Listen To Me. Clearly you can see why I got confused.

Believe it or not, the subject of why Say Anything is called what it is was already answered on Yahoo and as it turns out has nothing to do with Lloyd's character, rather the annoying father-daughter bond he needs to work inside of and eventually destroy (Yahoo Answer). So am I Lloyd Dobler, the deceiver who steals daughter's hearts from their fathers? I say no, but I really can't back that up with more than a desire to not be that guy.

Perhaps we should mentally place the ambiguous movie title aside and look more at Lloyd's character. Thanks to the internet I met Kate White, a writer for the Pittsburgh Examiner. She wrote a wonderful column on why every woman wants to meet and be with Lloyd Dobler (Kate White, Pittsburgh Examiner). As she wrote, "He is the urban legend of dates and the Holy Grail of boyfriends. He is the weirdo underdog, the rogue charmer, and the sensitive loyalist. He won our charred, dead hearts one romantic, offbeat line at a time." Well alright, now, sugar! This works for me and personally I think it describes me rather accurately. However it does nothing to get me my 100 minutes back that I spent watching that movie.

Humbly I admit I am a rogue charmer, offbeat, and definitely the underdog, especially when it comes to my writing style. Soon I hope to be able to show my work to the world in a more professional manner. For now I play the aspiring author paying his dues by sending out queries every week and languishing in my own hemlock society of gathered rejection letters.

The vast majority of the general public has no clue how a form rejection letter from a complete stranger can damage one's underdog qualities. Sometimes it takes days to get up and dust yourself off. Occasionally a bit of providence steps in and lifts you up quicker.

Normal Maclean
This week I came across such a bit of providence in the form of a letter at the Letters of Note website that would prove to be very uplifting and make me more aware of an author by the name of Norman Maclean.

He wrote A River Runs Through It and in 1975 he thought things were going well as the Alfred A Knopf agency was ready to publish it. Then they backed out. I know exactly how he felt at that moment as earlier this year I was in talks with a publisher in the UK who wanted to publish two of my children's book manuscripts. They kept me on the line for three months, then the publisher's executive director resigned leaving the agency in damage control mode and my manuscripts in the dustbin. I still feel a lump in my throat when I recall that event.

As luck would have it for Mr. Maclean, the University of Chicago Press picked up his work after Knopf dumped it and it became the celebrated novel it deserved to be. Wait, it gets better. In 1981 he was contacted by an agent at Alfred A. Knopf who was interested in finding out if they could get a shot at Maclean's latest work. The best presumption is the agent had no idea that Knopf had previously toyed with Maclean and the offer would likely upset him.Well, old Norman let him have it in a response letter that makes for great reading, especially for frustrated writers. The entire text of the letter can be found here (letter) and it is a must read for the writer having no luck at being accepted.

Here is my favorite part of his letter to the publisher who left him at the altar six years previous. "The dream of every rejected author must be to see, like sugar plums dancing in his head, please-can't-we-see-your-next-manuscript letters standing in piles on his desk, all coming from publishing companies that rejected his previous manuscript, especially from the more pompous of the fatted cows grazing contentedly in the publishing field. I am sure that, under the influence of those dreams, some of the finest fuck-you prose in the English language has been composed but, alas, never published. And to think that the rare moment in history came to me when I could in actuality have written the prose masterpiece for all rejected authors – and I didn't even see that history had swung wide its doors to me."

Let me make it clear, these are not my words, at least not at the moment. I am still in the ass-kissing and asking for seconds part of my writing career which means I can not afford to burn any bridges yet as I can not afford the big boat to cross the water on my own.

Someday, maybe I can be as honest and glib as Maclean was, but right now I want to assure agents and publishers that I want to be their very own Lloyd Dobler.