Thursday, June 14, 2007


I may well have the goofiest agent stories in the free freaking world. Is it wrong that my agent stories in screenwriting are less weird than my agent stories on the novel side? Yes it is.

Agent #1 loved my first book. This is wrong, and it shouldn't happen, ever. I shouldn't have sent my first book out. I shouldn't have sent my first three, four, maybe five books out. But I had first-book-itis, and off it went. Agent #1 signed me. Two weeks later, Agent #1 went out of business. Ah, well.

Agent #2 loved my seventh book. I liked it, too, and felt good about this agent. Agent #2 got fired two weeks later.

Agent #3 did not love my seventh book. Agent #3 was Agent #2's boss. Can you say "bad sign?" I knew you could. Book number seven got handed upstairs to Agent #3, and Agent #3 was Not Amused. He told me to send along my next book and "we'll see."

Note that about this time I was having an unusual reaction to Agent #3. His name was familiar and I didn't know why. This was pre-Internet and pre-Google. Turns out that Agent #3 was also a writer. A writer in my genre. A writer whose work I had read in college. A writer whose work had won pretty much any award in the genre that you'd care to mention. I worked very hard on book eight.

Agent #3 was run over by and SUV on Fifth Avenue on the day I mailed off book eight. His assistant called to break the bad news a week later. Agent #3 was off work for six months. He came back to work and the assistant called to say they had lost book eight. Could I re-send?

I mailed book eight to Agent #3 on a Monday. On Friday I got the rejection letter. The first line was "I think you are an extraordinary writer." I don't remember anything after that. Some part of my will to live is still lying in a puddle on the floor of a 628-square-foot apartment in Goleta, California.

Agent #3 rejected novels nine through eleven, as well. The usual pattern was sending the novel, doing some rewrites, and then him saying "well, I don't know. It's different from the other things I'm seeing. I'm not sure where I'd send it. Let's put this one aside and see what happens with the next." So I did.

I wrote the first thousand words of novel number twelve at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 1997. Actually, I wrote most of it on a crappy Sun Country DC-10 on the way there from Hawaii. When I got home I sent the opening to Agent #3. His reaction? "There already is a science fiction book with a plastic surgeon main character. I think you should move along."

Picture me lying on the floor again. Yes, I was entirely aware of K. W. Jeter's _Doctor Adder._ I love it. Published in the early 1980s, I believe. But I couldn't quite believe that science fiction has room for only one story about a plastic surgeon. There would seem to be an abundance of starship captains.

Two weeks later Agent #3 was fired. I wrote to his boss. Were they still interested in me as a client? I never heard back. I took that as a no, and wrote novel number twelve.

Agent #4 was in the same firm as my mother's agent. She gave me some terrific notes and I did a substantive rewrite of number twelve. And then timing intervened. I started film school and she started directing plays. I put novel number twelve away and started writing screenplays. Until last week, I was a writer with twelve novels, twenty-one screenplays, four teleplays, and one stage play, and nobody wanted any of them.

None of my agents ever sent one of my novels to a single editor.

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