Sinister Regard : October 2000

No room at the pigeon hole

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The long silence has ended. This is what the Interested Editor at the Major House had to say in response to my agent's gentle inquiry:

Sorry to be slow--I've been fighting in my corner here, and in the end I failed. The draft of the letter I was writing you follows--I'm very upset I couldn't do it, but there were just too many questions in people's minds. Anyhow, here's the letter, and I'll send the materials back today. Best for now, **:

Dear ******:

Sorry to report that I won't be making an offer for THE ACCIDENTAL TERRORIST by William Shunn. As I told you, I've never come across a manuscript that caused as much consternation—consternation in a good way, mind—than this one. Most of the editorial group read most of it, and all agreed that it's very well written, very compelling, and not a little disturbing; Lord knows what's coming in part two. Mr. Shunn can really handle a tale, and his writing line-to-line is never less than impressive. Unfortunately, though, in the end we just couldn't work out how best to publish this book—the sting in the tale is perhaps too sharp, especially as it does shine such a light back on the rest of the book. A Mormon coming of age story with a terroristic ending—I just couldn't convince my colleagues how best to read a substantial readership with that as my hook. It may be that other editors see the opportunities more clearly, and I hope that's the case as the book is certainly not one I'll easily forget. If Mr. Shunn's work should come free in the future, I'd be very happy to reconsider it—he's a real writer, that much is for certain.

The material you submitted is enclosed, and thanks, as always, for thinking of me.

Yours,
**** *******
I feel sort of like Evel Knievel, having missed the far rim of the Grand Canyon by mere feet. I'll make it next time, dammit, but I need some time to mend.
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Once in a while in my Usenet newsgroup, I post the current state of the table of contents from my book, just so I can demonstrate to myself that I'm making progress. If you don't care for statistics or for recitations of accomplishments that don't affect you, you might want to steer clear now.

I finished Part I of my memoir late in August (including an interlude that forms the connective tissue between the two halves), then shipped it off to my agent. That was 25 chapters plus a prelude and an interlude, and it amounted to a horrifying total of 523 manuscript pages.

Over the next few weeks, I whittled about 70 pages (and two full chapters) out of the manuscript, completely replaced the prelude, wrote a synopsis of the second half, and let my agent start submitting the thing. I also carved two excerpts out of what I had already done for her to try selling to magazines.

This was all a lot of work, and it took me a while after that to get my notes for the second half organized, get my head around the shape of the rest of the book, and get all the necessary loafing out of my system. It seemed like I'd been away from the book itself for quite a while when I finally sat down a week and a half ago, at last, to start producing new material. This morning before work I finished what is now Chapter 24, the first chapter of Part II of the book.

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Here comes the firestorm

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I knew this was going to happen, but that doesn't make it any less aggravating now that it has.

See, as part of this Mormon missionary memoir of mine, I've divulged secrets of the Mormon temple ceremony that I'm not supposed to talk about. In fact, I took gruesome oaths on my life in the Mormon temple never to reveal the contents of that ceremony.

Now that the book is picking its paraplegic way toward publication, I figured I should give my parents a heads-up about the coming betrayal. (Not only will the book contain, early on, this temple material, but I've also culled those pages out as an excerpt for my agent to try to sell to some major magazine.) I emailed my parents, told them about the contents and purpose of my book, and offered to let them see what I had written so far so they could be prepared for the consequences. My mother asked to see the book so I sent it to her a couple of weeks ago.

Well, this morning I received the following loving email from one of my siblings (I have seven):

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The waiting game

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Have you ever experienced Chinese water torture? I haven't either, but it's probably much like waiting to hear from an editor who has expressed a hope of making an offer on your book.

I'm writing this book called The Accidental Terrorist. It's a memoir, really—the first-person story of a loveable young Mormon dissident-to-be who unwillingly serves a mission for his church, only to have it lead him to a terrorist act when he starts taking the whole thing a little too seriously. It's a light-hearted book, really.

My agent submitted the (partial) manuscript to seven publishers last month. About two and a half weeks ago, she wrote to tell me that one of these esteemed editors had called her, and that he loved the book and hoped to be able to make an offer soon. I was stunned.

Then, about a week and a half ago, he called my agent again to tell her that he had a lot of support for the book at his house and was presenting to his editorial and publications boards the next week. He expected things to go well, though he was a little worried about the "dual" nature of the book (i.e., Mormon coming-of-age story melded with terrorism drama).

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