Early this morning–really early–I dragged myself out of bed, made myself a cup of joe and then, on a whim, pulled out my query list for CHERRY and started reading the thing. Why? I’m not sure, but one tends toward sentimentality at two effin’ a.m.
This particular list is eight pages of coffee- and tear-stained memories stretching back to 2013. I spent the next hour reading and remembering the queries I’d sent–most, garnering form rejections, with a delightful smattering of requests for partials and fulls amidst those closed after hearing zip.
It was one of those latter, unanswered queries that gave me pause this morning, and which prompts the writing of this post.
I remember the literary agent well. He’d seemed like a really good match for CHERRY and I had high hopes when I emailed my query and the first two chapters. But a month passed, then another, and yet another. . .
And so, taking a chance, I nudged.
On a query.
Which is pretty much a no-no although, in my defense, I really liked the guy and he seemed so . . . perfect. My nudge was brief and appropriately humble: begging pardon, asking if he’d actually received my query because, you know. . .
On a hunch, I decided to check this agent’s Twitter feed, just in case he’d posted something relative to his inevitable pile of slush. Instead, I stumbled upon a string of tweets akin to, if not actually, #10Queries. For those unfamiliar with #10Queries (not sure if it’s still a ‘thing’), agents run through a short list of queries in real time, tweeting their reasoning for rejecting/requesting something more.
One of this agent’s #10Query-esque posts seemed to be a direct response to my query for CHERRY. Perhaps I was mistaken; in truth, I’ll never know. All can say is, I read that particular tweet and immediately felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something like:
M/M literary suspense, not considering because author is not a gay man.
It’s true, I’m not a gay man; never have been, never will be. And it’s also true that literary agents have every right to reject any query for any reason whatsoever. But I couldn’t help but feel . . . hurt, maybe. Taken aback, for sure. It was almost as if this person was saying that a straight woman can’t possibly write a good novel with a gay male protagonist, because how could she possibly, possibly know what being gay, or male, or gay and male, was really like?
Really? What about an author’s imagination and creativity and all that? And as for ‘writing what you know’, with respect gender and sexual preferences, I have an answer for that, too: we’re human beings first. I know something about the human condition by virtue of my own humanity, the provenance of which I tout with pride.
And I’m pretty sure I can take it to the bank.
The bridge between Story and Audience is built with writers’ imaginations, their experiences, everything they’ve read, heard, learned. Regardless of gender, race, age, etc., our characters have far more in common with us than not, because they’ve been where we’ve been: seeking love, trying their best, trying not to fuck it up. Writers make their characters real by making them fallible and imperfect, as humans tend to be. They know and understand their characters as well as they know and understand themselves, their family members, friends, enemies, acquaintances.
Each of us is different. We’ve walked different walks but we’ve had similar thoughts, harbored similar hopes, doubted, laughed, cried, kicked ourselves in the proverbial ass for being one. We’ve been selfish and forgiving, cruel and kind–
Point being: writers are human beings first. Tap that, and you’re bound to get it right.