5 Ways My Agent Screwed Me

I had a post several months ago where I finally felt free and comfortable enough to talk about the novel (HABITS AND HIJABS) that I’ve been working on for nearly a decade. The novel, once represented by an enthusiastic agent, has fallen completely and utterly through and I am now just as well off as if I had never had an agent to begin with. I am left trying to find a new agent, all while feeling colossally screwed by the last. Let me count the ways:

5: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION

I’ve been thinking about this since receiving THE CALL from my new agent. During the conversation, I was going through a list of questions I meant to ask, and the one that sticks out to this day, three years later, was this: I constantly write short stories between novel projects, is that something you will also be representing or are you sticking just with the novel? 

A simple No, just the novel would have suited me fine. But I didn’t get that. I got a rambling diversion that told me through implication that she wouldn’t be touching my short fiction. For three years I wondered why she wouldn’t just tell me no, why we had to hang up with that still lingering. Agents are supposed to be blunt, no-nonsense people, right? And it’s not like I got the chance to follow up with her. I never spoke to her again. I spoke to her assistant several times, but that brings me to…

4: Who, exactly, is my agent, and what is she doing?

My now-nullified contract clearly states that my agent is the head-honcho in charge of the whole agency. However, my agent never once directly emailed me, it was always relayed through her assistant, and like I said, the only time we spoke one-on-one was that first phone call.

Piddling stuff, yes? Well, sure, except that all my revisions and updates were sent to the assistant, and all the feedback came from the assistant. I recall one particular phone conversation that went along the lines of “I’m afraid I can’t send this along to Victoria, it’s just not where she needs it. I think we need to consult an editor or book doctor.”

Was my agent not reading my work? Were the comments coming from the agent through the assistant, or simply from the assistant? Was I back in the realm of submission and rejection? Seriously, I turned in numerous drafts of the novel, each time crossing my fingers like I’d done so many times with short stories, hoping I’d finally gotten it right…

3. Okay, I need an editor. Wait, they cost HOW MUCH!?

$6500. That’s how much. Now, before you go running around screaming about how this was a scam and I should have checked Predators and Editors and done my homework and all….I did my homework! You can Google the agent’s name and the editor’s name and find zero report of anything remotely scammy. I even had a correspondence with Victoria Strauss from Writer Beware, and she was cautious, but not surprised or overly concerned. No complaints.

So okay, there were two editors. My agent pressed me to pursue one, Benee Knauer (who is actually very awesome), but I avoided her at first because she was close to the agency. I went with an editor via referral from another editor, and I was happy with the work that I put into that rewrite. But. When I resubmitted the novel I was told it still fell flat. After some reconsideration, I decided ultimately to go with Benee Knauer. To do this, my wife and I discussed it and we agreed we could spend our tax return on this edit. It made me sick to do it at first, but again, Benee is awesome and I will never regret working with her. But my agent’s response to this rewrite was…

2. A form letter and vague invitation for future work

I know I’m compressing three years of writing and rewriting and agent correspondence here, but keep in mind that I had a signed contract that said this woman would represent my book. That she would work to sell the book. That she would read the fucking book.

Listen, I’ve been doing this for a long time, since the time when agents and journals preferred paper submissions and SASEs. I’ve received mass-produced rejections in numerous forms: 1-inch strips, half-sheets torn just off-center, and full-page form letters. I know what a form letter is, literally and metaphorically.

When you get a form letter, it means your work wasn’t read. It means you’re being passed over for better, more promising things. My agent sent me a form letter that was quite long but totally lacking in any specifics about my novel. This is crucial to understanding how completely and utterly screwed over I feel. I was supposed to be a represented writer with a work-in-progress, and yet I wound up being rejected just the same as all the other instances in the last 12+ years. When you think about it…

1. Having an agent has been like paying out of my ass to have no agent at all

I can find plenty of people who don’t give a shit about my writing. It isn’t for them, I get it. But your agent isn’t supposed to be one of them. They’re supposed to be the ones who, once you’ve entered into a contractual relationship, go to work for you. I’m not naive, I don’t expect an agent to take a novel that hasn’t been fully realized to an acquisitions editor. But I do expect honest and specific feedback (#2), some sort of common sense approach to editing rather than just telling me repeatedly to pay for an editor (#3), and an open and direct line of communication (#4 and #5).

The truth is that before this agent, the novel was well-liked by the friendly and encouraging readers at the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (when it still existed), and probably could have been self-published at any point and generated some modest income that would have netted a profit by default, because I wouldn’t have spent the money or lost time to devoting my attention to this singular pursuit for this specific agent over the course of our shitty relationship.

The absolute worst part is that I am still where I was three years ago, back to querying agents who will hopefully want to read part or all of my novel. So far I have several rejections and one partial request. That’s super. Odds are very high that I will throw up my hands at some point and do what I should have done years ago: saunter up to the old CreateSpace portal and upload the novel to the Amazon marketplace. At this point I have nothing else to lose.

God, this absolutely blows. Writing it out didn’t even help.

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Safe Space Alternatives to the Liberal Arts Curriculum

Semester I

College Studies 1100 (3 Semester Hours)

Students are taken on a metaphorical and literal tour of their campus to learn how they learn. They will tour campus buildings and investigate the nuances of numerous undergraduate courses that will lead to a Bachelor(ette)’s degree in Science, Arts, or Humanities. Students will learn the names of deans, college presidents, librarians, and research associates who will eventually be publicly shamed for teaching an approved syllabus that meets the guidelines of the Board of Regents.

College Studies 1200 (3 Semester Hours)

A continuation of CS1100, the 1200 course expounds upon previous coursework, helping students dissect any professor’s lecture, statement by statement, into a personal attack on the student on any of the following grounds: misogyny, racism, ageism, sexism, conservatism, liberalism, nihilism, narcissism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, Christianophobia, Judeophobia, exclusion, and collusion. You’ll also learn how to quash and silence the “freedom” of oppressive speech, as well as rebuff any logical discussion with the line, “you’re not [insert personal identifier (gender, race, religion)]!”.

English 1100 (3 Semester Hours)

The Western Canon is way out of touch with the modern world! We have scoured centuries of global literature to bring students the most comprehensive reading list ever encountered on an American University’s undergraduate course load. You’ll read Pre-Colonial, Colonial, and Post-Colonial African literature, codices of the Maya and Inca, poetry by Sunthorn Phu, spells and incantations in Rites of Zhou, and modern explorations of Amy Tan, ee cummings, and Khaled Hosseini. Usually reserved for upper-level or graduate studies, these complex, need-to-view-in-contemporary-context-in-order-to-relate pieces of literature are yours to explore just a year out of high school! At age 19! When your brain is still forming! We feel the idea that having a fundamental knowledge of the socio-political context of the literature of the western world, upon which the modern American campus was modeled, is totally irrelevant to the world at large. Insulting, even, to understanding literature in a global context.

English 1200 (3 Semester Hours)

Continuing on the same path as the 1100 course, English 1200 further explores non-western literature, focusing primarily on oral histories of the Inuit. For the culminating project, each student is assigned the task of writing an impactful, meaningful novel. Honoring the Safe Space Campus, students are forbidden from using any language that might alienate or offend their readership, including but not limited to words that refer to: race, age, gender, religion, height, weight, disability, vocal inflection, music preference, or computers.

English Composition 1492 (3 Semester Hours)

We’ve had to face some pretty hard truths at this university. First and foremost is accepting that the way we understand the English language is exclusionary and volatile. English is an oppressive language with its history and all its rules. We’ve turned English composition on its head with ENGCOMP1492! We consider this the New World of University Composition–and you get to crash its shores and beat its native inhabitants with your cudgels. Instead of making you conform to our “preferred rules of communicating in business, academia, and media”, we’ll conform to yours. Each student is tasked, over the course of the semester, with cataloguing their personal interpretation of the English alphabet, its rules, and pronunciations. Students will be graded on all subsequent written assignments according to these rules, which they must dictate to each professor, who in turn must demonstrate proficiency in your specific language before attempting to grade any written work.

Natural Science 1100 & 1200 (6 Hours + 2 Lab Hours)

In creating the Safe Space Curriculum, we found that non-western science curricula in areas such as Geology, Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy, Astronomy, and Physics created a circular-reference in that they all led back to Western research or discovery. Therefore, instead of forcing these western ideas on our safe space students (who, by the way, market research has found are not very likely to contribute in these areas) are encouraged to spend three hours a week each semester collecting significant contributions of non-westerners in these fields. We know they exist, but we can’t afford a librarian with enough patience to Google it all goddamn day.

Oh, you’ll need to perform some experiments. Maybe you could conduct one where you drill deep enough into the earth’s mantle to discover the corpse of American Liberalism. Odds are, it’s right where you left it.

See past research topics here!

Elective Course (3 Semester Hours)

You pretty much get to do whatever you want. If you feel the need to sit in your dorm for 3 hours a week and protect yourself from ideas that are different from your own and, therefore, inherently offensive, then by jingo that’s your elective! Need to get in a large group on campus for a vague social justice cause that must be important because so many people are vocal about it, and then step on other students’ individual rights? Elective! Basically, we can’t tell you what to elect, or dictate how to study what you elect, so you tell us!

If you’re keeping track of semester hours, this accounts for 26 total credit hours–the two extra hours are trophies you’ll receive for completing your first two semesters of college. And credits. They are real-life credits because, by Jimmy, you earned them.

If we can’t speak rationally about these things, at least let me make fun of them.

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Your Search for the Best Writing Software/Smartphone App is Dumb (and so are you)

I disbelieve, and therefore strongly resent, the assertion that I or anybody else could write better or more easily with a computer than with a pencil.

–Wendell Berry, “Why I am NOT Going to Be Buying A                                                                 Computer.” New England Review. 1987.

When your editor asks you to write everything on a typewriter for a week, say no. Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit. And don’t look back.

–Cory Blair, “My Torturous Week of Writing Only on a                                                                Typewriter.” American Journalism Review. October 29, 2014.

While I doubt Mr. Blair has ever read Mr. Berry’s timeless (and several times reprinted) essay, his attitude certainly suggests he might come across it by accident and roll his eyes.

This animosity between the worlds of typewriter and computer is what I hope to splice myself into today. You see, I live in a world between Cory Blair and Wendell Berry. I was raised on an electric typewriter. Then I was raised on a word processor (with a typewriter function and a yellow/black screen). And then we got a computer. As an adult, I have written several stories on typewriters–some of them rough drafts of eventually published pieces. Some of them just drunken hammerings.

I love the computer. I love the typewriter.

Cory Blair is an idiot for trying to use the typewriter as a computer, for thinking that the laptop of today is used exactly as typewriters were used prior to the rise of the personal computer–of placing our take-it-everywhere mentality on a time-continuum, ad-infinitum, meaning before the typewriter we hauled printing presses and jars of ink and blocks of paper and pieces of charcoal and sticks of dried clay and rolls of sheepskin to their time-appropriate gathering places–cafes, train stations, hitching posts, swamps, etc. He seems to think, somehow, we were dumber sixty years ago. You can see this thought appear on his face in a photograph that accompanies the article. He stands in a hallway, hauling the 40-pound typewriter behind him on a luggage cart. Like a moron.

Now, Wendell Berry, on the other hand (at least the Wendell Berry from 1987), is also an idiot. In his now-historic essay, he preaches of the typewriter as an almost divine creation, something bestowed upon him that, magically, consumed no natural resources during its production. Never mind the hundreds of tiny arms and pivots, all methodically punched out by an assembly line machine producing thousands of identical typewriters in a factory consuming 1.21 gigawatts of electricity per annum, driven from the factory via highway and interstate in a pre-smog-conscious world, packaged in crisp, fresh cardboard straight from the forest. Never mind that the 19th Century device revolutionized record keeping and document making much as the computer did for the 20th Century. And does it matter that Berry’s railing against corporatism and consumerism was stamped out on a machine made in 1956, just a year before Royal Typewriters would manufacture its 10-millionth typewriter? Does it matter that Royal is now Royal Consumer Information Products, Inc., a company that still produces boring office products with the Royal name stamped on it? Yes, I can thank Google for this systematic debunking of one of America’s great sentimentalist grandfather authors–but you know? I could do it without Google, too. And without a computer.

In addition to being brought up using typewriters and word processors and computers whose most awesome feature was MS-DOS, I also grew up using real-life card catalogs and performing real-life library research for written assignments. For crying out loud, I used colored pencils to highlight photocopies of book excerpts. The computer (and its ever-increasing access to scholarly sources), dear new writer, allows me to do all this research far more efficiently, effectively, and get closer to a finished product faster than at any point in my writing history.

So you, dear new writer, are also stupid if you ask me my opinion on the best writing software or application for your computer or smartphone. When I discuss writing with other writers (which I really, truly despise doing, but do so out of courtesy when I hear the words–“Oh, Joseph is a writer, you should talk to him about writing“) it is guaranteed that I will be asked what software I use to write. Word, you dolts. I use Microsoft Word. 2007, 2010, 2013? Uh, I guess. I never thought about what software I used, except that every so often the features on the ribbon change places, and sometimes I long for the simplicity of Office 97. If you don’t have Word, OpenOffice Writer is pretty much the exact same thing.

Now, I’m not saying you’re an idiot for having a preference–if you take nothing away from this rant, take that at least–and in fact what I’m saying hasn’t been said yet. After stammering my way through my answer, I always get the protest-as-clarification–“No, no, I mean what writing program do you use to format your writing and block out distractions?”

OH! My mistake! Microsoft Word. Whatever version is on whatever computer I use. That’s what I use. Word.

“NO! Focuswriter? Storyweaver? Dramatica? WriteitNow? WritewayPro? PowerStructure? Powerwriter? Contour? Writer’s Blocks? Master Writer? Storybase?”

Like you’re asking Mickey Mantle just how he got to be so damn good. What’s your secret? Because you want to have all the same advantages I have. I know, I know, because my name is one you’ve never heard and yet someone just told you I was a writer and you think maybe they know what they’re talking about.

The question doesn’t have to be directed at me. It can be anyone asking a writer for advice. But the advice is inherently garbage, because it doesn’t matter. And you shouldn’t be so worried about software specifically for writers. Don’t you own books? Real life books on a shelf over your writing space that you can reach up and refer to when you need to? Because thumbing through Gray’s Anatomy is way more satisfying than Googling “those awesome looking bones below your neck.” And can’t you format your own Word document like a big kid? And can’t you refer to an actual book for spacing and formatting guides–like, say, Guide to Style? Shouldn’t you be more worried about what written content you prefer to pull inspiration from rather than what computer program you’re going to use to hack your way through a mental catalog of tepid literary ideas?

The search, the struggle to find the perfect writing software that turns off distractions, that helps with formatting, that helps you build characters and stories and plots, is really just you putting off your due diligence as a writer. It is a huge distraction in itself. If you devoted your anxious energy to reading for pleasure–to exploring the depths of your curiosity through the written word–rather than to nitpick the pros and cons of every writing program available for $49.99, you might just realize that you’re the best writing program. You can make up your own rules, you can do anything you want on paper (or, uh, screen). But you have to be generating words to do so, and it doesn’t matter how the words come out.

So, when you ask for writing advice–is that the best you can do? You have the opportunity to ask anything, anything at all of a fellow writer (however well-known or not) and the only detail that matters to you is what the author has downloaded? Are you, dear new writer, a complete imbecile? If that is truly the only curiosity you can muster about craft, there is no software available for you that can help.

The effect of technology on the written word is one of efficiency, and that is aimed specifically at the act of writing itself, not on tasks associated with writing such as formatting, character and plot development, and editing. My take on technology and literature is that we, as writers, will naturally gravitate toward a system where we are most efficient and effective. For me, the computer (and Word) allows me to type at the speed at which I think. I don’t know what the next innovation in the written word will be, but I’m sure my sentiments will echo Mark Twain’s as he reflected on his first typewriter:

…I will now claim–until dispossessed–that I was the first person in the world to apply the typewriter to literature…The early machine was full of caprices, full of defects–devilish ones. It had as many immoralities as the machine of today has virtues. After a year or two I found that it was degrading my character, so I thought I would give it to Howells…He took it home to Boston, and my morals began to improve, but his have never recovered.

–“The First Writing Machines,” Hartford, March 10 1875.

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TV Review: WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP

When you’re a camp counselor, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be initiated into the cult following of WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER the first time you spend a weekend with your co-counselors. You will quickly realize that a huge part of the appeal of this box-office flop is that it perfectly portrays what a camp environment is like. The cooks are off-balance, campers and counselors live in accelerated time, and things like a talking can of vegetables can be a…thing…

That’s how it was when I was a counselor (approaching 10 years since my first summer as a senior counselor), and the movie (and its bottomless pit of inside jokes, funny or not) has a special place in my heart. I opened up that special place to let the Netflix FIRST DAY OF CAMP prequel inside, and I tell you it has lit up my heart and soul like a pit of glowing toxic sludge.

The first episode is almost like a pilot. The jokes are not quite pitch-perfect, the characters are much older and distracting, and you’re wondering where so-and-so is and why all these big-time Hollywood actors and recognizable comedians are teaming up for this series. And then you get to the first joke or gag that makes you laugh out loud and you realize it has promise. Then, because it’s on Netflix, you rewatch the original movie and realize–HOLY SHIT–all those actors that seem out of place in the series were in the original. Yes, I know I said the movie had a special place in my heart, but I hadn’t seen it in a long time and I literally did not realize that Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Joe Lo Truglio, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and Christopher Meloni were all in the original movie. Just..I had no idea.

So, with that realization in mind, and the movie fresh on my mind, I moved onto Episode 2. Honestly, 2-8 are a blur and they are genuinely on-point and funny through and through. That should be enough for this review…but I’ll go a little bit deeper.

WHAS: First Day of Camp treats its die-hard fans to loads of backstory that make the original movie even better. We get why Molly Shannon’s “Gail” is so torn up in the arts and crafts cabin–she is in 3 relationships over the course of the first day of camp, and we get the origin of Judah Friedlander’s “Ron von Kleinenstein.”

While we may have thought that the talking can of vegetables was Gene’s PTSD causing him to hallucinate, we come to learn that it is actually the camp director who has fallen into a pit of toxic sludge to become a talking can that can suck its own dick. Now, we’ll talk more about Meloni’s “Gene” in a bit…

Poehler and Cooper get the most screen time (perhaps because Cooper only had a day to shoot, so they made the most of it) for their production of Electro City–an amazingly incoherent original musical that features, of all things, a two-person zoot-suit. This subplot includes solid backup with actors Jon Slattery (Mad Men) playing Claude Dumet–a sleazy yet likable stage actor–and Michaela Watkins (Everything you’ve ever seen) playing Rhonda, his chain-smoking, wild-hair-akin-to-Helena-Bonham-Carter, leather pants and black t-shirt, hip-thrusting, too-cool-for-school choreographer. Watkins owns her Character. Rhonda could easily have been lazily interpreted or even over-acted, but Watkins gets the most out of Rhonda’s limited screen time, by far overshadowing Slattery’s Dumet.

We also get to see Michael Showalter reprise the role of lovesick Coop, who’s love-interest on the first day of camp is a new character, Donna, played by Lake Bell (How to Make it in America). Coop, we learn, is the perpetually lonely and pining lovable loser. If the series went on in perpetuity, we have enough character development in Coop to know that Katie will be replaced by another girl, who will be replaced by another. Coop has to compete with Yaron for Donna’s affection. Yaron is played by co-writer David Wain, and while the character is funny, this subplot never really takes off, even when the three of them are fondling each other uncomfortably. It just doesn’t quite work.

That said, Showalter also plays President Ronald Reagan in a subplot that takes off into the land of the absurd and is a solid, ridiculous success that culminates in: a standoff between two rival camps and the U.S. military, a perfectly choreographed kitchen brawl between Meloni’s Gene and Jon Hamm’s Falcon, and a hilarious tongue-in-cheek recap of the entire subplot to a camper that point-by-point admits how absurd the whole thing is.

And that brings me to the overall review of this series. There is enough off-center humor in each episode to make you wonder what you missed, then make you go back and watch the whole thing over again. Showalter and Wain are not afraid to dive into the insane when it comes to their subplots, and they respectfully and carefully make nods to gags from the movie–Gene caressing a refrigerator, Victor Kulak painfully deciding to crawl under a tree root instead of jumping over it, and even Nurse Nancy uttering the same hilarious and uncomfortable line: “For my pussy.” The last is something that Showalter and Wain save for the very last episode–perhaps knowing that we were wondering why, of all characters, we needed Nurse Nancy back in the first place. Though, we do learn that she is just as sex-focused as the campers and counselors, needing lube and sharing her diaphragm. This is a reboot that works, plain and simple, because the writers take into consideration our appreciation of seemingly minor characters, like Nancy, and play to that. Perhaps this is the Netflix model–let the creators create and explore as they wish, to make the shows they really want without compromise.

A big part of the care taken to create this series is the respect shown for many of the original actors who were called back to be a part of the series. We get Samm Levine (Freaks and Geeks) as the voice of the Beekeeper, though the character of Arty is played by a different actor (as it was in the movie). As well, some of the nerd squad returns for the series as punks in the convenience store who get wasted by Falcon (specifically–Kid with Cape, Medieval Nerd, Mork Nerd). We may wonder what happened to Mallrat girl or Moose, but we can rest easy knowing that Madeline Blue (Cure Girl) is back for one episode, and that even Kerri Kenney (Reno 911) who had an uncredited role in the movie comes back as the real-estate agent who finds helps David-Hyde Pierce find a cabin to rent. Also, we get to see H. Jon Benjamin (Home Movies, every voiceover ever) as the camp director before being turned into a can of vegetables by a pit of toxic waste (voiceover!).

Then, there are the cameos–Weird Al Yankovic, Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Chris Pine, Michael Cera, Rich Sommer, Randall Park, Jordan Peele, Jason Schwartzman, Kristen Wiig, Josh Charles (The Good Wife), Paul Scheer–that are as much a feast as a necessity. As if the original cast didn’t turn out successful enough, there seems to have been some strings pulled and now we have a legitimate comedy (tiny gags like Kristen Wiig briefly mimicking oral sex on a tube of lipstick, or awkwardly posing as she leaves a scene) with jokes to miss and catch. Each bring something interesting to re-watch and explore. In this way, watching the series feels like watching the movie, which is all WHAS fans wanted–more, more, more.

Now, I said I’d talk about Meloni’s Gene, and here we go. By far, Christopher Meloni’s “Gene” takes the spotlight, and his character goes full-arc. We see him covering up his past (pretending to be a happy-go-lucky camp chef engaged to Gail), embracing who he is but being somewhat ashamed (he gets awkward when he realizes that his erotic mumblings have been heard), and then, in the movie (with epic love-yourself monologue) embracing his need to hump refrigerators and rub mud on his ass. Meloni takes an easily-cheesy character and makes him genuinely, perpetually, infallibly funny. This success is due in part to his straight-man sidekick Gary (A.D. Miles), who is Gene’s foil and friend. It helps that Gary and Gene haven’t aged–they are a direct transplant from the movie to the series–and as such their humor comes directly from the writing and not the visual irony that they look way too old to work at camp. They play off each other, and each scene is brilliantly played–either Meloni’s perfect delivery, subtle face-work, or even his oddball mumblings–even when you have a hard time reconciling the fact that Don Draper is fighting Elliot Stabler in the kitchen, you are strangely satisfied with their slapstick knife-throwing and bucket-on-the-head gag. Meanwhile, Miles plays the kitchen help to a T–the kind of offbeat guy who is the opposite of Napoleon Dynamite. You want to hang out with Gary and smoke with him, slack with him, take a nap in a hammock with him. He’s the perfect character (and actor) to play opposite the psychotic Gene. The kitchen scenes are where First Day of Camp win me over, though there’s plenty of excellence in the rest of the series to get you through happily in stitches.

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WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP Boasts 25 Original Cast Members

The first thing you’ll notice about the Wet Hot American Summer revamp is all the familiar faces, and if you’re a tad bit obsessive like me you’ll want to know just how many original actors from the 2001 movie got called up to appear in the new Netflix series. Well, by the title of this post, it’s obviously 25, and there are some hidden gems.

First, the list of actors reprising their roles from the cult-classic film:

Janeane Garofalo–Beth

David-Hyde Pierce–Henry Newman

Michael Showalter–Coop

Marguerite Moreau–Katie

Michael Ian Black–McKinley

Zack Orth–J.J.

A.D. Miles–Gary

Paul Rudd–Andy

Christopher Meloni–Gene

Molly Shannon–Gail von Kleinenstein

Ken Marino–Victor Kulak

Joe Lo Truglio–Neil

Amy Poehler–Susie

Bradley Cooper–Ben

Marisa Ryan–AbbyBernstein

Elizabeth Banks–Lindsay

Kevin Sussman–Steve

Peter Salett–Guitar Dude

Judah Friedlander–Ron von Kleinenstein

H. Jon Benjamin–Can of Vegetables

That’s all for role reprisal, but here are some actors that got called back that you may have missed:

Remember Henry Newman’s lovable band of misfits from the movie who help save the rec hall from the falling piece of Skylab? Well, some of those misfits came back as punks that hearkened back to their original roles:

Christoper Cusumano–Played the medieval nerd in the movie, plays a medieval punk in the series

Kevin Thomas Conroy–Played the mork nerd in the movie, plays mork nerd in series

Gabriel Millman–Played the caped nerd in the movie, plays the head punk in the series

All three punks get blown up by Jon Hamm’s character, Falcon, in aconvenience store.

Also, David Wain (co-writer/creator with Showalter) appeared in the movie as Paco, while Kerri Kenney played his wife. In the series, Wain is back as Yaron–a main character opposite Coop, both of whom are after the same girl. Kerri Kenney has a brief appearance as the real estate agent who helps find Dr. Newman his cabin for the summer in the Netflix prequel.

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Habits and Hijabs

To date, I’ve been very good at beating around the bush when it comes to being a writer. I don’t like to discuss it when I’m around other writers, regardless of where they are in their careers. I have done so because I felt it was my duty to show great humility when it comes to my accomplishments, talent, and ambition. However, it’s been pointed out to me that the way I approach it is not through humility, but through poor self-esteem and lack of confidence. Am I not proud of the good work I’ve produced? Of the dedication I’ve put into developing that talent? Wouldn’t I rather be writing full time than anything else? Of course, but I’ve stood in my own way.

So here I go, preparing to out myself as prideful, ambitious, and talented.

I have an agent (Victoria Sanders), a novel (Habits and Hijabs), and an editor (Benee Knauer). At present, I’m in the process of editing the novel for perhaps the sixth time with Benee’s guidance, and I’ve been working toward this singular goal since I started playing with the Brother word processor my mother bought when I was in second grade.

I have just shy of a dozen published short stories to my name, a handful of non-fiction articles, and occasionally I write for a Kentucky tourism website.

What’s funny is that I just realized this week that I have a friend who didn’t even know I was a writer. That’s not being modest, that’s just being closed-off.

Let me get weird and personal in an attempt to explore why I am this way. 99% of my life has consisted of me not speaking up when I should have, not having the composure to carry myself in a debate, not having the confidence to stand up for myself. You know how you think of the best comeback when you’re back home all safe and sound? Just imagine that happening every day for as long as you can remember, every time someone talks to you. You never say what you mean, what you need, what you want. You feel guilty for having something to say.

Habits and Hijabs is a beautiful book. I say this not because I want to oversell my new pride and self-confidence, but because I am profoundly connected to the characters, world, and story I wove nearly 6 years ago. When I first wrote it, I titled it The Appalachian, and the only thing beautiful about it was the main character, Maggie, a sixteen year-old runaway. I put it away for a couple of years thinking it was one of those projects that wouldn’t go anywhere. When I got it back out a few years ago, I liked it enough, put some work into it, and entered it into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.

Round 1: From 5,000 to 500 (I think). Made it through. Nice.

Round 2: From 500 to 100 (I think). Made it through. Huh.

Round 3: Semifinals (Top 50…I think): There’s my name. There’s my book. “Honey, come look at this…”

And that’s as far as it went. I was ecstatic. Didn’t care that I didn’t win. Didn’t care that I was so close yet so far. It meant the novel was viable–people would read it and like it…but it needed work.

So with another round of edits, I went the route of submitting to agents (for the umpteenth time in my career) and got the usual round of form letter: Not what we’re looking for, good luck in the future, sorry, we’d like to represent your novel pending structural revisions and editorial development.

Damn, that sucks.

“Honey, come look at this…”

So, this novel has been pending representation for a while as I go through the editorial process. The first attempt with a professional editor was pleasant enough, but it wasn’t what I needed as a writer. You see, I’m a special kind of stupid…

“Novelists have, on the average, about the same IQs as the cosmetic consultants at Bloomingdale’s department store. Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.” --Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

I’m not brilliant at the novel but I’m persistent. Now, after hundreds and hundreds of attempts at short story writing, I’ve become semi-brilliant–that is, I can occasionally pump out a stellar story–but that persistence is what gets them published. I’m still submitting stories I wrote years ago because I know they’re good. They just need to hit the screen of the proper editor at the proper publication at the proper time.

Back to novels. Being semi-brilliant at the short story means I have the ability to write, edit, and submit one within a week (or trash it and move on). I don’t have a formula, but I can quickly get in the Short Story Zone (SSZ (c)) and have a rough draft over a weekend. Single story line, single-sentence revelations, characters you only want to be with briefly. I got that. Trying to translate this same skill to the novel is a lot like a gold-medal sprinter deciding to do a marathon in the middle of training for the 50m dash. Vomit. Vomit everywhere.

Or, back to writing, it results in flat storylines, flat characters, and ponderous revelations that absolutely make no sense because you’re 100 pages in and you realize every other page is trying to be too…revelatory…important…significant?

The most common critique I got from Victoria Sanders after several successive revisions was that the storyline and characters were undercooked. Undercooked? I got it. I’ll fix it..I think..I’ll cook it more. I’ll be the grillmaster of literary perseverance.

Enter Gordon Ramsay yelling at the top of his lungs: “It’s fucking raw! Are you trying to kill people? Get your shit together, man!”

See, if you don’t know what undercooked means, then you’ll probably do something stupid like put more salt on your steak or hit it with a hammer and put it in the fridge. I had no idea what Victoria really meant. Whew. It felt really, really bad to admit that. Much worse than I thought it would. I’m glad it’s out in the open.

Enter Benee Knauer–a woman whose name you’ll find in the Acknowledgements section of many books in your local bookstore. Go on and look. You’ll find one. There you go. Benee absolutely knows her shit, and she knew my shit before I even knew there was shit to know. I’ve been working with her for a few months and so far I’m floored by my experience with her. I’d love to go into detail about working with Benee (ie, what working with an editor is actually like and why I love it/need it/crave it) but I’m afraid that has to wait for another entry. The point of this entry was simply to tell you that I’m a writer–no self-deprecating joke about being mediocre and no humility whatsoever–and I’m on this journey that sometimes I forget about because at the same time I have a lot of other things going on…like real life (Dad stuff, work stuff, drinking stuff). Right now, I need to stop procrastinating and actually get to work on Habits and Hijabs. Seriously, I wrote this post instead of working on my book.

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Blankets

They say a good way to see if your dog is smart is to put a blanket over it and see what it does. If they find their way out, they’re considered smart. 

I put a blanket over my dog and he laid down and went to sleep.  That seems pretty smart to me.  That’s what I do with blankets.

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