Monday, August 25, 2014

True Colors

I have a vivid memory of sitting in one of my graduate school classes & listening to a conversation between my professor & a few of my classmates.  The topic of their conversation was remarks made by an influential student on campus, remarks my professor found to be offensive.  Though I was usually not one to sit quietly in the classroom, I didn't say a word as my professor went back & forth with my peers who were defending not only what the student had said, but his right to say it publicly.  I was a bit bewildered, for the remarks at the center of the debate had been made on Facebook, a strange part of cyberspace with which I was, at the time, completely unfamiliar.

It was the year 2005.  George W. Bush was serving his second term.  The indicted Texas politician of the day was Tom Delay.  Nick Saban had yet to win the Crimson Tide any national titles.  I had no Facebook account.  Times were simpler.

I joined Facebook soon after the incident in the classroom.  I figured if I was going to be excluded from classroom bickering unless I joined, I had no choice but to succumb to Facebook's pull because there was no greater joy in graduate school than a verbal throwdown in the classroom.  It was basically like a bunch of kids fighting on the playground, minus dirt & plus some big words & applicable theories thrown in the mix.  

I've learned a lot over the past decade on Facebook.  I've discovered a handful of people I like to think of as my Facebook soulmates (I will not be naming names).  These are individuals I know in person, & in most cases knew before Facebook existed, & without fail, everything they post, be it their thoughts on coffee, traffic, the supremacy of the SEC, religious matters, politics, etc., I find myself nodding my head in agreement.  I won't deny that at times, I clap & say Amen!, because sometimes simply clicking that 'Like' button isn't sufficient.  Of course, for every Facebook soulmate, there are ten Facebook friends you're left with no choice but to block, either because they're always a Debbie Downer, or they clog your newsfeed with pictures of cats, or they're constantly advertising how many miles they ran before the sun was up.  Nobody needs to read that.

Last week I told you I have a legitimate reason for joining the throng of Twitter users.  Without further ado (& with my apologies for the week of suspenseful waiting), I will tell you that the primary reason I've decided to make use of my Twitter account is to stalk a few literary agents.  I know it sounds sinister, but this is at their urging.

Two years ago when I finished writing my book, I sent a query letter to five literary agents.  I got five rejections, & then I went into labor with Henry & thought no more of the matter until a few months ago when a handful of you fine people read the book, offered me some feedback, & pointed out some errors I needed to correct.  In June of this year, I began researching agents again & also took a second look at the query letter I wrote two years ago & laughed at its awfulness, which I attribute to my having written it while pregnant.

While I was mulling over changes to the letter, I began Twitter stalking a handful of the agents I am considering querying.  Everything I've read about finding an agent mentions making use of social media to learn all you can about a potential agent.  A literary agent needs to be someone who not only loves what you've written & is eager to go to bat for it in an effort to convince a publisher it's fabulous & marketable, but they need to be someone with whom you have a rapport.  The two of you need to like each other, basically, in order to forge a working relationship that allows for conversations that begin with, "Okay, you must make these changes to the book you love so dearly."

Following literary agents on Twitter serves the dual purpose of learning more about the publishing industry, & learning more about the individual agents you're following.  Some agents are heavy Twitter users, while others rarely post.  Some confine their tweets to matters pertaining to their work in publishing, while others post every thought they have.  As my Twitter stalking continues, I am finding that, as is the case with Facebook, people, myself included, cannot help but show their true colors on social media.

I mentioned that I began actively stalking in June.  You recall that at the end of June, the Supreme Court issued an eagerly awaited decision regarding a corporation's right to refuse to pay for certain birth control measures for their employees who find themselves with child, but would prefer to be without child.  I think there is a proverb that states, Woe to you who spend time on social media sites the day the Supremes hand down a decision regarding birth control.  Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't have any notions in my head that these ladies I'd begun following were spending their spare time volunteering for National Right to Life, but I was still a little flummoxed by their reactions to the June 30th Hobby Lobby decision.  Let's just say they were less than thrilled.  I had to step away from the computer to refrain from replying to a few of the comments, because really, engaging in an online debate with someone to whom you may potentially pitch the book you've written is a bad idea.

I'm not going to lie, I was, & remain, a little dismayed.  I am sure that, as with any profession seemingly dominated by liberals, there do exist literary agents who were happy on June 30th (or at least not filled with rage), & who might possibly have voted for Mitt Romney.  The question I keep asking myself is, "Does it matter?"  The answer is, I don't know.  I guess if it matters to a left-leaning agent that her potential client is a woman whose first child is named after Ronald Reagan, then, yes, I guess it does matter.  If it matters to an agent that a potential client's conservative ideology will inevitably creep into anything she writes, then yes, I guess it matters somewhat.  My book does delve, ever so shallowly, into a few ideological matters.  No one has ever accused Hemingway of being conservative, but he's certainly never been labelled a feminist either.  As I wrote the book, I was fueled by memories of my undergraduate years, memories of literary critics (crazy, lefty, feminist critics) whose disdain for Ernest Hemingway was, & remains, unfathomable to me.  They can't give the man any credit at all for the things he did well - - the things he did brilliantly! - - because he never wrote a female character that meets their precious standards.  I am under the distinct impression that, were they forced to take a position, the majority of literary agents (a field dominated by women) would side with the lefty feminist critics rather than the unknown, unpublished housewife who wrote a book about people for whom Hemingway's work is an aphrodisiac.      

Additionally, I am acutely aware of my own cyber trail.  I haven't done myself any favors with my Twitter behavior.  Without thinking, as if someone else is guiding my hand, I retweet half of what Matt Drudge posts everyday.  I mark as a 'Favorite' articles that I have high hopes of returning to later to read in full, articles that simply scream, "Alert!  Conservative!  This one loves Jesus & thinks the wealthy pay too much in taxes!"  To top it all off, this summer has been a political minefield, from the Hobby Lobby decision, to the mess in Ferguson, MO, to the Perry indictment; it's like someone is setting me up, daring me to fly my freakishly conservative flag.

I'm not sure where this leaves me in my quest for publication.  There are days I feel determined, & plenty of days I don't care at all.  I like my book.  I wrote it because, as Shel Silverstein once said, "If there is a book you want to read but isn't written yet, write it."  There are certain chapters I sit & read sometimes when I'm stressed because they relax me, & also because they remind me that I wrote a book, which makes me feel a little better on days I can't seem to transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer.  I'd rather write ten books that I love & would be proud for my kids to read & never be published than to fundamentally change something I've written in an attempt to please an agent or editor or publisher.  I know they know the market.  I know that, but at the same time, agents constantly stress the subjective nature of their work.  I guess in the same way teachers don't care to teach to a test, I don't have an interest in writing to a market (or tweeting out of character); if I write something someone thinks might appeal to the masses, well that's great, but if I don't, well that's fine too.  

I have been asked before about Christian fiction, specifically, Would your book be considered Christian fiction?  The short answer to that is, No.  Here's the thing.  Like most fiction categories, Christian fiction has specific guidelines, & trust me, my book is not Christian fiction, nor do I think I can write Christian fiction.  There is a difference in Christian fiction, & fiction written by a Christian.  What I've discovered is that my book most neatly fits in the "New Adult" fiction grouping, a category that encompasses books whose protagonists are too old to be labelled young adult, but too young to be labelled adult.  The protagonist is out of high school, but not yet fully immersed in the adult world of jobs, kids, marriage.  A great many of the books categorized as New Adult feature young women in their twenties having a lot of sex that is often described in extreme detail (think Fifty Shades of Grey), which I would think might be offensive to female literary agents who ought to know that women in their twenties can do more than have sex with domineering men.  How about a few ladies who refrain & read a book instead, or at least, if they do have sex, are shown to then grapple with the very real consequences that so often accompany the emotionless sex that is depicted in many of these novels.  But, these books sell, so everyone is willing to set their feminism aside, or, believe it or not!, attempt to argue that these novels featuring young women whose primary activity is sexual are pro-women.

Here's what I have learned (because obviously I would never bore you with this were there not a moral to the story).  It's not possible for me to fake a neutral, apolitical presence online.  Even if I were able to pull it off on Twitter, there's the glaring matter of this blog (a blog whose most popular post, by a few thousand viewings, is a defense of Phil Robertson).  There are few ventures these days that are not tinged by ideological underpinnings, particularly for those in the business of the written word, & I suppose that's how it should be.  This whole issue reminds me of the fine line I walk in the college classroom, a venue ripe for subjectivity where it is impossible at times not to tip the conservative hat I wear.  I mean when you teach public speaking, how can you not devote a significant amount of class time to watching Ronald Reagan deliver his best speeches.  And by best speeches, I mean all of them.
Reagan, Henry, never shy away from what you believe.  Anna & Elsa's father is wrong.  You should feel, not conceal; it's better for your health.  If you find yourself uncomfortably suppressing your true colors, be it in a relationship or with your peers or on the job, stop & evaluate the situation, & get out if that's what is needed.  That doesn't mean you have to express every thought you have the moment you have it, but it does mean you should have convictions, & they should shade every area of your life, & every decision you make.  Finally, always treat people respectfully, whether they share your ideologies or not.  Your behavior is the first weapon in your arsenal in the ideological wars in which you both will inevitably find yourselves when you leave your childhood behind & begin to decipher the lines along which the world is divided.

I feel I should close by apologizing to anyone who now has that horrible Phil Collins song, "True Colors," in their head.  I am sorry.  I'm right there with you.


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