The Human Condition (at 2 a.m.)

640px-Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_ViatourEarly 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. . .

Still nothing.

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.

Wait. WHA???

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.

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8 thoughts on “The Human Condition (at 2 a.m.)

  1. Wow. Well, his loss, is all I can say, though that doesn’t take the shock away. Your points are spot-on, too, kk. Makes me think of Shakespeare, who wrote about love, jealousy, ambition, resentment, and such like over 400 years ago. But those emotions and experiences and passions are still part of what makes us human. And I like reading things written by authors I wouldn’t necessarily have pegged as writing certain genres. (Does that make sense?) One M/T/S book series I discovered recently has a Welsh female detective named Fiona Griffiths and is written by…. a man. Is it different, somehow, than a book with a female protag written by a woman? Yep, though I can’t always put my finger on why. But I like them and I like the character (Fiona’s very interesting — she suffered from a bout of serious mental illness as a teenager and is still dealing with it, including by smoking the occasional joint in her toolshed). But it sounds like that agent you mentioned would have rejected the query for Fiona’s series outright because the author didn’t fit his preconceived mindset of who should be writing them. Again, his loss. –Donna

  2. Don’t worry about that agent, Donna. Last check, he was doing mighty fine. 🙂

    You hit the nail on the head, I think, in that each of us puts our own unique spin on the stories we tell. A man writing as a woman will, no doubt, look through her eyes differently than a woman writer might. And vise versa. Same goes for a gay person writing a straight character, or a straight person writing a gay one. But I would suggest that the differences, if perceptible at all, don’t detract but add to the equation. Like a hint of sea salt enhances a really fine steak. Unexpected flavor, just one more way we writers keep our stories interesting, while making them our own.

    As for me, I have the agent I knew I needed, and prayed I would get. What happens from this point forward is anyone’s guess, but I do know this: so far, it’s been one hell of a ride.

    Have a great day, Donna!

    ❤ kk

  3. Hmm. This being the case, he wasn’t the perfect agent for you. 😉 If Cherry was a coming out story, I might agree with his point– but it isn’t, so I don’t. Maybe he is looking to support the LGBTQ community by repping members of the community, or maybe he isn’t looking for subtext. On the surface, though, his position doesn’t make sense to me. Novels limited to the author’s direct, physical experiences would likely be very boring, very quickly. You know the plot of the manuscript I’m about to bury is magical realism, the main characters are an alcoholic woman and a male hoarder. I’m not an alcoholic, a hoarder, male, or magic, but it’s the stuff behind the trappings that, imo, makes the characters real; it’s all in the depth and emotions that make for turned pages. ❤ ❤

    • You’re right, Mrs. Fringe, he wasn’t. The irony of my little story is that both he and my agent are out and proud.–two agents, two wholly different takes on who can/should write what. . .

      You’re right again relative to the impracticality of limiting what we write to what we personally know. Novels are, by definition, works of fiction which is, by definition, literature pulled from the imagination. Otherwise, there would be no Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, The Odyssy. . .

      As for your potentially buried novel, don’t give up. The richness of your characters, and depth of emotions you have wrought, are as real and raw as any this writer has experienced. No doubt in my mind, there’s an audience eagerly awaiting novels like yours. Please don’t be so quick to tuck that gem away.

      xoxo kk

      • Impractical, and would wipe out 90% of fiction available on the shelves. Romance alone would wipe out 50% 😛
        My novel… *shrugs* I’ll let it rest, and continue to cheer your well deserved offer of rep ❤

  4. This is why I love and loathe 10 Queries. I love reading them and seeing agents discuss what they’re looking at, even in the most circumspect of terms. It’s possible that was you. It’s possible it wasn’t. And sometimes, looking at those R’s from agents based on what little they Tweet…I think “well, maybe they weren’t the right fit after all”. And that’s kind of a blessing, isn’t it? If right from the get go, a vision is so very wildly not-shared, then an R means the author gets to find an agent who very much shares the vision.

    • Best case scenario, you’re right, Jen. The hard part is finding the agent who shares your vision; who sees, in your work, *something* worth taking on and fighting for. Not easy for writers on their best day. . .

      But there’s a match somewhere out there, I think, for a writer who writes well, and has something of value to say. The beauty of feeds like #10Questions is that we writers can do our own culling. And like you said so eloquently, learning that the one *perfect* agent may not be right for you sometimes opens the door for the one who truly is.

      ❤ kk

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