Saturday, January 08, 2005

My other unpublished novel

From my query letter:

I am writing with regard to my novel, “The Devil Wouldn’t Kill a Bad Thing:” a 116,000-word haiku, a 350-page soul song, an Augustinian Rabelaisian Bildungsroman; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets The Great Gatsby; a copy of which was thrown over the gate of Bono’s estate in Killiney, County Dublin in 1999.

“The Devil Wouldn’t Kill a Bad Thing” is a pseudo, fictionalized memoir presented as a novel. It depicts the narrator’s life—and memories—following his departure from the anesthetized structure of home, school, and country, as he ventures into the world and discovers the only bounds on his conduct are conscience, the law, and getting caught. With a liver like polished chrome, money saved from a part-time job tending a downtown parking lot, the narrator moves from Ontario to Ireland, seeking escape from the toxic familiarity of his hometown, Windsor.

Written from present day Dublin, the compass arrow of the narrator’s creative energy points homeward. The recurring question driving his recollection is “Where does this evening find you?”—as it finds him dodging a Dublin knife-fight, dreaming of old girlfriends, and carousing with cronies from the hotel where he eventually finds work. Until he journeys home for a Christmas visit, and encounters Hadley, the first girl he ever loved.

“The Devil Wouldn’t Kill a Bad Thing” is a story of transformation along the line of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It contains observations about the world as perverse as those in Gunther Grass’ The Tin Drum. With the flair and folly of Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, the parties of Pynchon’s V, and the memory-steeped sensibility of Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, “The Devil Wouldn’t Kill a Bad Thing” is also informed by world cinema, a voracious appetite for TV, the music of Tom Waits, and the satire of Lenny Bruce. The novel lands on its feet in much the same way as Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

* * *

My query letter was dismissed and rejected by numerous agents and publishers in the spring of 2003. However, one did respond positively:

Date: Thu, 26 Jun 2003 12:42:10 -0400
Subject: RE: The Devil Wouldn't Kill a Bad Thing
From: Agent

Dear Matthew:

My name is Jennifer and I am Beverley ______'s assistant. I have just read the book proposal for, The Devil Wouldn't Kill a Bad Thing, that you sent is in April. Your writing and plot outline has intrigued me. I would love to read the manuscript in whole. You can mail it to me at the address below and I can perhaps pass it along to Beverley.

I look forward to hearing from you,

I sent on my full manuscript, which I had just finished writing and was fully prepared to revise based on any suggestions the agent might propose.

Date: Thu, 03 Jul 2003 15:42:18 -0400
Subject: RE: The Devil Wouldn't Kill a Bad Thing
From: Agent

Dear Matthew,

I just wanted to let you know that I received your manuscript today and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’ll be in touch as soon as possible.

Best wishes,

Then the waiting game. It was excrutiating, yet gratifying, to force myself to move on to other work, especially knowing that a novel that took me six years to write.

Date: Tue, 16 Sep 2003 12:46:03 -0400
Subject: My Progress
From: Agent

Hi Matt,

I just wanted to let you know that I'm still reading, The Devil Wouldn't Kill a Bad Thing, and I absolutely love it! I want to read more before passing it on to Beverley but as soon as I do, I'll let you know.

I hope you had a great summer.


It seemed my work had made contact. After my first book (As My Sparks Fly Upward & Other Stories) was published I just couldn't reconcile the glowing reader responses I received with the uncountable rejections I had received from editors and publishers for the very same work. It was my first glimpse into the gaping chasm between the reading tastes of readers and the reading tastes of jaded, blunted editor/publishers. But it seemed "Devil" had bridged that gap.

Date: Mon, 17 Nov 2003 10:33:23 -0500
Subject: Re: ATTN: Jennifer
From: Agent

Dear Matt: Thanks for your letter to Jennifer. I’ll save it for her. But I also wanted to write you myself. You are a talented writer but I felt more attention needed to be paid to structure and story. I really hope you will contact us when you are ready to submit you next novel. With warm wishes, Beverley

So, there it be -- the blunted senses won out in the end. I was wholly prepared to deal with and fix the issues the agent had with my novel, but she wasn't asking for revisions. This was flat out rejection. Talent didn't matter. Her assistant's response to my work didn't matter. I'm no naif when it comes to the bland business aspects of publishing. Dollars and cents are the first and last consideration. But didn't the agent's assistant's response to my novel indicate that there was a market for it? Sure, the assistant was but one person, but looking back on my experience following the publication of As My Sparks Fly Upward, I knew the assistant's reaction wasn't isolated.

I have spent the intervening time working on my other novel, "Randham Acts," and revising whole sections of "Devil." I have also embarked on writing another novel. Work continues, the query letter still go out every once in a while. Somehow, somehow, somehow I continue to hope that that agent's assistant might one day start her own agency.


Renee said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for posting about your agent experience and with the actual emails. This is quite illuminating.

I’ve always had a sense about agents that I’ve had about the People’s Choice Award… Who is “people”? I get the sense that there are still a few people who make the decisions that dictate what’s out there that we see or read or hear. In a way it’s like Proust writing in the early 21st century about “the 500 who mattered,” or the social and intellectual elite in Paris/Europe.

Maybe that’s why I always seem to like small presses and indie presses.


Whetam Gnauckweirst said...

I'm sure I'm not the first author to go through such a scenario, and will not be the last, but this story encapsulates the thrill and disappointment of being a working writer, sending one's work around.

Anonymous said...


This is a book that I would very much like to read. Your query letter rocks!