Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Speaking Truth To Agents and Editors

After fifteen years of rejection and some newfound success, a writer has finally had enough and responded in kind to an editor's callous rejection.

But the issues for me, as just a writer, were: how much is a writer supposed to take? I mean, when is ENOUGH ENOUGH? When can a writer fire off, at long last, a reaction, a human response, and fight back to a cold rejection, written with no sensitivity or care? When does integrity come into play, or are we forever at the mercy of whatever editorial response someone feels is justified and convenient for them?

I understand editors are harried people. That they can't always respond kindly or in depth. But they are also paid people. We writers write these proposals for no money, and nothing is there for us unless, if we're lucky, some magazine is going to pay us and then that barely pays for the mailing expenses and time we spent writing to send off the accepted piece.

Susan O’Doherty, Ph.D offers her advice:

I’d be careful, though, about repeating such an outburst. Your frustration is justified, but there are plenty of good writers out there who don’t rock the boat, and an already harried editor may choose not to work with one who is perceived as difficult and unprofessional, as unfair as this may be.

By abusively rejecting this writer's proposal, this editor has already chosen to work with others. By responding in kind to the editor, the writer has risked nothing, since the editor didn't like the proposal and most likely wouldn't respond differently to this writer’s work in the future even if they had remained silent.

A few years ago an agent excitedly responed to my query letter and requested my proposal. I sent it off with the usual great anticipation, only to receive an email blow off shortly thereafter. The agent provided some reasons for her rejection and they didn't make sense to me. I was proposing an encyclopedia style book about James Dean. This was clear in my query. But that was why she was rejecting the proposal-she didn't think "readers" would like the format. I couldn't understand what she was talking about. Agents sell books to editors, not readers.

I've let nearly all the rejections I've ever received slide. I responded politely to her e-mail, hoping to get her to clarify her rationale and also hoping to change her mind. She got miffed by my response. How dare I challenge her! She said that it would have been nice if I'd thanked her for taking the time to read my proposal. Well, that did it. I told her that unless she wanted to start charging fees, reading proposals was part of her job. Why should I thank someone for doing their job? Her parting shot was to tell me never to contact her again.

That's fine with me. I need an agent who not only shares my enthusiasm for my work, but has passed basic reading comprehension. I also would not want to have anything to do with someone so brittle, someone who is bitter because she has to read a few book proposals before she finds one she can sell.

Why Our Culture Sucks

In much of the media, there really is less and less interest in the actual content of books or television programs these days. What matters is merely the sell, which increasingly means the hype. The actual product comes last in priority. With free markets comes great freedom but also some responsibility: to publish books worth publishing, to air TV shows actually worth airing, to care about content as well as ratings and sales. Those criteria are distinguishable from what the market will reward. That distinction has been lost in many places. It is not a criticism of the market; it is merely a reminder that markets also require integrity among those who work in them. That point deserves recovering.

Andrew Sullivan

Robert Altman Finally Dead at 81

Critics' darling Robert Altman died. He was 81.

I am unmoved by Altman's death. I remember film critic Stanley Kaufman, on the Dick Cavett show sometime back in the '70s, express his opinion that Altman was an overrated mediocrity.

Maybe he wasn't even that. I remember seeing MASH with my parents when it was first released and enjoying it. I think a great deal of my enjoyment came from the outrageous iconoclasm of the film's lead characters. I haven't seen the film in its entirety since, but I suspect I wouldn't think nearly so highly of it now. I think that I'd be in sympathy with Richard Corliss's assessment of the film he gives in his excellent book, Talking Pictures.

It's surprising how many of Altman's films I've seen, considering I have no real affinity for his work. Pop culture can be so omnipresent, it's hard to escape and sometimes easier to just succumb to the critical accolades for a film and give it a try.

I think Altman's best film is Countdown, one which his celebrants would no doubt dismiss as an impersonal studio assignment. I didn't like Nashville and hated McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I couldn't understand the hoopla over The Player. The Long Goodbye is a desecration of a great novel and doesn't even make sense on its own terms. I mean, Marlowe (Elliot Gould) is presented as a loser and a patsy, but he lives in a fantastic apartment building and drives a vintage 1941 Lincoln. Now where would a loser like him acquire such a car, aleady a valuable collectible when the film was made? If Marlowe inherited it, then he would sell it and make more money than most detectives do in ten years of work.

Keith Olbermann's Special Comment

When Keith Olbermann started delivering his special comment editorials on his TV show several months ago he was treated like the second coming of Edward R. Murrow by some. I wasn't that impressed. Not until yesterday. Olbermann's editorial yesterday was superbly eloquent, forceful and insightful. I've included the transcript but I recommend clicking the link above and watching the video.

And now, as promised, a Special Comment about the President's visit to Vietnam.

It is a shame — and it is embarrassing to us all — when President Bush travels 8,000 miles, only to wind up avoiding reality, again.

And it is pathetic to listen to the leader of the free world, talk so unrealistically about Vietnam, when it was he who permitted the "Swift-Boating" of not one but two American heroes of that war, in consecutive Presidential campaigns.

But most importantly — important, beyond measure — his avoidance of reality is going to wind up killing more Americans.

And that is indefensible — and fatal.

Asked if there were lessons about Iraq to be found in our experience in Vietnam, Mr. Bush said that there were — and he immediately proved he had no clue what they were.

"One lesson is," he said, "that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while."

We'll succeed," the President concluded, "unless we quit."

If that's the lesson about Iraq that Mr. Bush sees in Vietnam, then he needs a tutor. Or we need somebody else making the decisions about Iraq.

Mr. Bush, there are a dozen central lessons to be derived from our nightmare in Vietnam, but "we'll succeed unless we quit" is not one of them.

The primary one — which should be as obvious to you as the latest opinion poll showing that only 31 percent of this country agrees with your tragic Iraq policy– is that if you try to pursue a war for which the nation has lost its stomach, you and it are finished. Ask Lyndon Johnson.

The second most important lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush: if you don't have a stable local government to work with, you can keep sending in Americans until hell freezes over and it will not matter. Ask South Vietnam's President Diem, or President Thieu.

The third vital lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush: don't pretend it's something it's not. For decades we were warned that if we didn't stop "communist aggression" in Vietnam, communist agitators would infiltrate and devour the small nations of the world, and make their insidious way, stealthily, to our doorstep.

The war machine of 1968 had this "Domino Theory."

Your war machine of 2006 has this nonsense about Iraq as "the central front in the war on terror."

The fourth pivotal lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush: if the same idiots who told Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to stay there for the sake of "Peace With Honor," are now telling you to stay in Iraq, they're probably just as wrong now, as they were then… Dr. Kissinger.

And the fifth crucial lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush, which somebody should've told you about, long before you plunged this country into Iraq — is that, if you lie us into a war — your war, and your presidency, will be consigned to the scrapheap of history.

Consider your fellow Texan, sir.

After President Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon Johnson held the country together after a national tragedy — not unlike you tried to do.

He had lofty goals and tried to reshape society for the better. And he is remembered for Vietnam and for the lies he and his government told to get us there and keep us there… and for the Americans who needlessly died there.

As you will be remembered for Iraq and for the lies you and your government told to get us there and keep us there… and for the Americans who needlessly died there — and who will needlessly die there tomorrow.

This president has his fictitious Iraqi W-M-D, and his lies (disguised as subtle hints) linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11, and his reason-of-the-week for keeping us there when all the evidence has, for at least three years, told us we needed to get as many of our kids out, as quickly as we could.

That president had his fictitious attacks on Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, and the next thing any of us knew, the Senate had voted 88-to-2 to approve the blank check with which Lyndon Johnson paid for our trip into hell.

And yet President Bush just saw the grim reminders of that trip into hell:

– Of the 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese killed;

– Of the 10,000 civilians who've been blown up by landmines since we pulled out;

– Of the genocide in the neighboring country of Cambodia, which we triggered;

Yet, these parallels — and these lessons — eluded President Bush entirely. And, in particular, the one over-arching lesson about Iraq that should've been written everywhere he looked in Vietnam, went un-seen.

"We'll succeed unless we quit"?

Mr. Bush, we did quit in Vietnam! A decade later than we should have; 58,000 dead later than we should have; but we finally came to our senses.

The stable, burgeoning, vivid country you just saw there is there, because we finally had the good sense to declare victory and get out!

The Domino Theory was nonsense, sir. Our departure from Vietnam emboldened no one. Communism did not spread like a contagion around the world.

And most importantly — as President Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Korb said on this newscast Friday — we were only in a position to win the Cold War because we quit in Vietnam.

We went home. And instead it was the Russians who learned nothing from Vietnam, and who repeated every one of our mistakes when they went into Afghanistan. And alienated their own people, and killed their own children, and bankrupted their own economy, and allowed us to win the Cold War.

We awakened so late — but we did awaken.

Finally, in Vietnam, we learned the lesson. We stopped endlessly squandering lives and treasure and the focus of a nation on an impossible and irrelevant dream.

But you are still doing exactly that, tonight, in Iraq.

And these lessons from Vietnam, Mr. Bush, these priceless, transparent lessons, writ large as if across the very sky, are still a mystery to you.

"We'll succeed unless we quit."

No, sir. We will succeed — against terrorism, for our country's needs, towards binding up the nation's wounds — when you quit — quit the monumental lie, that is our presence in Iraq.

And in the interim, Mr. Bush, an American kid will be killed there, probably tonight — or, if we're lucky, not until tomorrow.

And here, sir, endeth the lesson.

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