Saturday, July 30, 2005

Anais Nin the Loathesome

Carlton from Grad Student Madness made a comment to the post about agent Jack Scovil's scathing rebuke of Anais Nin (see previous post below). I think it justifies a post all its own:

"I suppose the good news is that there are plenty of readers who enjoy Anais Nin. Sort of an astounding comment really. Not particularly witty, and really bizarrely vicious. Why exactly would a mentally healthy individual loathe Anais Nin anyway?"

Indeed, why would a big-time agent like Mr. Scovil dismiss out-of-hand a writer who has charmed so many, sold a ton of books, and whose influence on other giants like Henry Miller will assure her a place in literary history? What sort of author is he looking for? The website for his company, Scovil Chicack Galen Literary Agency insists:

"Our list is eclectic and chaotic, rich and diverse, and there is no type of book that doesn't interest us if it is first-rate. We take on clients who interest us deeply as people and as writers, whatever their background and prior accomplishments. At any given moment we might be working on a first sale for an exciting new author or an eight-figure deal for a veteran of the New York Times bestseller list, or anything in between."

Just no Anais Nin, please!

Interestingly, I was not the one who made the comparison between Beyond You & Me and Anais Nin. It was Demon Queen, a fan, and a passionate one, too. The real Cassie wasn't familiar with Nin's work, who was still not well-known in the mid-70s when the journal my novel is based on was written. So I have stayed away from Nin's writings for fear of being influenced-- Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence appeared during this same time period, and he was a looming presence at Yale. In this case, a reader who finds a resonating chord in the book made the connection to Nin's naked self-revelations.

Looking further at Scovil's own list of agented books, they're all pretty weighty topics: Mars, the Korean War, no fiction I could see. Thankfully there's THE CATHOLIC GIRL'S GUIDE TO SEX by Melinda Anderson and Kathleen Murray to redeem Mr. Scovil from total fuddy-duddy status. Certainly no stories about the mostly self-inflicted problems of a married woman and her failed affair. Of course, it's true that the problems of most people are small, personal and often largely self-inflicted, not the subject of great books.

Or apparently, even commercial fiction.

The truth is, most of us are under the partially mistaken impression that agents are looking for books that will sell. So why, you might ask, would Beyond You & Me, which has clearly demonstrated an appeal to at least a small coterie of fans, be of such little interest to a big-time agent? Apparently the month-in, month-out dedication of so many of you in the unfolding saga of Cassie DiMarco is not enough for Mr. Scovil and others in the business.

I hesitate to pick on him, except the arrogant dismissive tone of his email makes him such an inviting target. I'm sure to get an angry missive from at least one of his authors (assuming anyone is reading this site), so let me issue a blanket apology up-front: I'm sure Jack Scovil is a wonderful agent, talented and immensely sage. I suppose I just caught him on a grumpy day.

So why are agents unwilling to take on a book with a fan base. It's not because we expect our literature to be non-profit. Dr. Johnson, one of the titans of English literature, decreed "no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Yet we denigrate commercial fiction. No matter how many of you embrace Beyond You & Me and swear you'll buy it, that doesn't change a thing with agents. The book's inferior in their estimation. Your vote doesn't count.

Beyond Beyond You & Me, Scovil raises an interesting question in my mind. Is women's writing and/or books about women second-class? Just look at the condescending descriptor "chick lit." Or "chick flick." The highly-regarded "Band of Brothers" or "Black Hawk Down" films were really just "guy flicks," but because they have wartime settings, they're more meaningful than books or films that appeal to women. Nin's work (and by extension, Beyond You & Me) suffers from being confessional.

And erotic.

How can erotica be true literature, since it's purpose is not to excite the intellect, but arouse? Because Little Birds and The Delta of Venus were written for pornographers, they can't be literature, right? Add to this the anti-sex bias of western intellectual history since at least St. Jerome took to heart the Paulist dictum about cutting off an offending member. Self-castration will certainly limit arousal.

I accept my banishment by Mr. Scovil and the other agents. It's now up to the small presses to see the merit in having a pre-sold audience for a book that's not about nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula or the Kennedys, or even successful young women looking for Mr. Right amid the wilds of Manhattan. I would be happy, though, to take a seat beside Anais Nin in the erotica ghetto if she'll let me.

And to the organizer of "S.W.A.Y. Sex Week at Yale" who asked me about coming back to Old Blue to read next Valentine's Day, I will not let your interest "sway" those same agents in their resolve to ignore my novel. No, nor when its website passes 50,000 hits (sometime around Labor Day). Nor when the list of links to the webiste passes 100 (currently at 75 and picking up two or three a week). No, nor even those of you who drop by regularly to comment on the unfolding saga of Cassie DiMarco.

After all, publishing is a meritocracy, not every vote counts.



Blogger herakles said...

Good post / comments.. couldn't agree more.

7:09 PM, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Demon Queen said...

You have made several good points that most writers probably are not aware of.

We've spoken before of the publishing industry and it's dinosaur mentality (and how other industries have HAD to change to keep up with the times). The fact that Nin got published should give you hope. It proves that forward thinking minds still exist (you just have to go to France to find them).

"I would be happy, though, to take a seat beside Anais Nin in the erotica ghetto if she'll let me."

You will my dear. No doubt in my mind about it!

12:20 AM, July 31, 2005  
Blogger nicbailey said...

I think what he was really saying, was that he 'Just Wasn't That Into You', or 'Anais Nin'.

The agent might see that something has potential and that there may be an audience, but unless it is something that interests him, he is not going to want to represent you.

Agenting is a lot like dating, you can meet someone, recognize that they are a nice person, but not necessarily someone you want to get in bed attraction, no passion.

As a writer, frankly I want an agent that is passionate about my work. If they are not, then how can they enthusiastically try to sell it?

Agenting and publishing is very subjective.

5:28 PM, August 08, 2005  
Blogger W. S. Cross said...

I guess I was under the impression that having a chance to sell books was partly what this was all about. Had an agent for a non-fiction book 10 years ago who couldn't sell it despite all her passion.

As I've gotten older, passion has waned in favor of other things.

5:53 PM, August 08, 2005  

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