The Aftermath: A Systematic Account of Categorical Rejection
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
“Some men are born posthumously.”
To say I’ve struggled mightily with how to pen this Afterward would be an understatement. While I’m convinced that this final chapter is indeed essential, I’ve grown far less certain as to how to proceed. Initially, I began writing this segment as if it was to be treated as a logical, analytical extension of the Prologue. Consider, for instance, the following excerpts, which, for the longest time, served as the opening paragraphs to this initial attempt.
As stated at the end of the Prologue, I completed the first rough draft of the Gold Connections manuscript in the summer 1999. After spending the remainder of that year deeply immersed in the difficult process of self-editing and meticulous revision, I set out to complete the third and final phase of my mission; that is, to find a sympathetic literary agent and get my work published. Unfortunately, much to my disillusionment, this has proven to be an impossible task. In fact, more than eighteen years removed, my work still remains unpublished.
As a result, at the risk of appearing unduly bitter, I believe it’s imperative to share with my eventual readers the aftermath of my mission. In doing so, I can only hope that this rather lengthy, systematic account will resonate with other aspiring writers, and, in turn, issue forth not only a forewarning of sorts, but also provide a rallying cry for stalwart literary resolve.
Unfortunately, the more I continued to write in this typical, dignified fashion, the more unsatisfied I became. Eventually, I just threw up my hands and declared, “This isn’t working. I’m not truly connecting with the reader. This is not how I really feel. This is all just a bunch of bullshit.”
Indeed, at this late stage, I don’t feel dignified at all. Instead, I feel hurt and angry and ultimately slighted. So, for these reasons, I feel as though a quote from the opening lines to Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground would be a far more appropriate way to foreshadow that which is to come: “I am a sick man…I am a wicked man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts.”
Yes, I’ve decided this Afterward should be an informal, memoir-like bloodletting of sorts. Of course, I say this knowing full well that this type of temper of expression may fail to satisfy the standards of posterity; to which I simply reply, “So be it, amen.” Since I’m certain my mortal days are, indeed, numbered, I want to take this opportunity to spill the whole of my guts…posterity be damned!
To be sure, then, this is Toby Jay Townsend, as opposed to Otto Blaast, speaking loud and clear.
So, let this impromptu bloodletting begin, shall we?
Well, then, this tale of categorical rejection begins in the spring of 2000; it was during this time that I sent out my first set of query letters.
Now, despite the fact that this was my first attempt to land a literary agent, it should be noted that my approach was neither haphazard nor without proper research. Over the course of several years, I had spent a good deal of time consulting the advice of proven professional writers as well as various annual publications, such as Guide to Literary Agents. As a matter of fact, I crafted this initial round of queries in as exact accordance with the advice and proper guidelines as possible.
Naturally, my hopes were very high. Still to this day, I believe these high hopes were perfectly justified. Please allow me to briefly explain.
Not long after the Year of Mysterious Synchronicity, 1996, finally came to a close, a series of highly sympathetic works were released, each of which, in their own special way, helped to solidify my high hopes. In chronological order, these works were as follows: Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, The Blair Witch Project, American Movie, and Mark Z. Danieleski’s House of Leaves.
Now, as much as I’d like to stick to my original intent, which was to offer an extensive analysis of each of these works, explaining all the various relevant sympathies, given this more extemporaneous approach, I’ve chosen not to do so. Instead, I’ve decided to leave it up to the reader to draw the appropriate connections; documentary formats, horror-driven narratives, and conspiratorial subtexts, just to name a few.
However, let me just say, in relation to this curious cluster of artistic expression – perhaps best described by Carl Jung’s collective unconscious in action, whereby artists of all stripes tap into a shared, creative reservoir – there’s absolutely no question in my mind that there was something very mysterious in the air between 1996 and the year 2000.
If I may speculate a bit here, I’m inclined to attribute a lot of this to a heightened sense of pre-centennial urgency. The New Age was upon us, spawning an interest in all things spiritual, (deity, prophesy) and supernatural, (shamanism, witchcraft). Indeed, self-discovery was all the rage. Many persons, like myself, felt compelled to quest for a more cosmic interpretation of their mundane selves. Clearly, it was out of this rather indomitable desire for self-discovery that the icon of Otto Blaast was born.
So, with the utmost confidence, I sent out my first set of queries in the spring of the year 2000.
Of course, given the mere title of this Afterward, it should come as no surprise that I was categorically rejected; not one agent offered to take a glance at a single diary entry.
Now, because this was my first attempt at landing an agent, initially I was largely unaffected by this wholesale rejection – it was to be expected, especially given all the horror stories I had read about how difficult it was to convince a reputable New York agent that your work was worthy of representation.
So, I reloaded. That is to say, I hunkered down for almost a full year, honing and refining my next round of queries, as well as the manuscript itself.
Finally, feeling that the time was right, on August 1st, 2001, I sent out my second set of literary queries.
Now, given that most of these literary agents stated that they would try to reply within four to eight weeks, at the outset of September, I, very vividly, recall checking my mailbox in anticipation of receiving that singular, affirmative, life-altering response. Day in and day out, I felt as though my entire future was hanging in the balance.
Of course, it was during this time – the second week in September, 2001 – that the world forever changed. Indeed, I’ll never forget waking up that fateful morning and watching the Twin Towers reduced to mere rubble in just a matter of seconds. Like most Americans, I was absolutely devastated. In fact, for the following few weeks, it was all I could do to get out of bed, get dressed, and plop myself down on the sofa, so as to catch on-going coverage of this unimaginable act of terror.
Clearly, 911 had knocked the stuffing right out of me. Stunningly, several days passed before I finally realized I hadn’t even bothered to check my mail. I mean, after all, Manhattan was now in a grave state of emergency. Surely, sending a prompt reply to my query was the last thing on the minds of these prospective New York agents.
Consequently, almost overnight, my dream of becoming a cult-like New Age sensation was effectively over. As far as I could tell, 911 had destroyed the New Age movement, much like the way Altamont had driven a steak through the heart of the hippie generation. After Altamont, the flower-power peace movement was never quite the same. Likewise, 911 had driven a dagger into the heart of the New Age movement. Now, America was officially at war. Now, there was no time for spiritual awakenings, or interstellar self-discovery, which now seemed almost trivial – a mere trifle, if you will. Now, fear, dread and anxiety ruled the day; the result was a palpable sense of retraction. As responsible Americans, what we all needed to do now was hunker down, and get serious about what really mattered most – our survival.
So, the picture is set: there I am, stuck to my sofa, obsessively viewing the aftermath in Manhattan, the very place where all my literary hopes and aspirations resided.
Slowly, but surely, one-by-one, the agent replies began to trickle in.
Of course, it goes without saying, I was, once again, categorically rejected; not a single agent expressed the slightest interest.
Only this time, the rejection really hurt.
Worse yet, instead of offering helpful advice or some sort of literary guidance, virtually all of these rejection letters looked like standard, impersonal form letters – except for one, which I’ve chosen to share with the reader.
Now, although I was encouraged by the fact that a legitimate agency actually took the time to send me a personal reply, I was immediately irritated when I encountered the line, “we have to be extremely selective about our fiction clientele.”
“What the hell?” I wondered. “Did they even bother to read my query letter…did they really read the manuscript?” Infuriatingly, this same erroneous interpretation was echoed, time and time again, in almost all the other rejection letters…“Sorry, we’re not taking on any fictional works at this time.”
After a while, I felt like shouting from the mountaintops, “For fucks sake, my shit is real, alright!” In fact, it’s the non-fictional nature of my work that, I think, truly sets me apart. As boastful as it may sound, this is precisely why, I believe, Gold Connections is scarier and ultimately more important than House of Leaves.
Consequently, for first time in my life, I began to battle chronic, debilitating depression.
Luckily, however, during this time of almost complete despondency, I happened onto perhaps the most timely literary find of my life, namely Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House-Five. Suddenly, at least for the time being, there appeared to be an ever-so-slight ray of hope…or lifeline, if you will.
Of course, I could go on and on here. Instead, like most of the pertinent references herein, I’ll be brief. Essentially, I found Vonnegut’s literary voice to be one giant “Fuck you!” to the traditional, literary establishment; this was certainly no conventional, professional writer. Here, in Vonnegut, I had happened onto a true American iconoclast – a real kindred spirit.
Subsequently, shortly after I burned through Slaughter House-Five, I began to do a bit of research. In doing so, my intuitions were overwhelmingly confirmed. Vonnegut was, very much, a self-professed iconoclast. Unlike a lot of writers of his generation, he actually took delight in literary discussion. In fact, one of my favorite quotes of his appeared in The Paris Review, where he addressed the obvious bias against writers with non-literary backgrounds, like myself, succinctly stating, “Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak?” Furthermore, he once implored the New York Council for the Arts to seek talent not just in English departments, but in all the other disciples as well. “I think it can be tremendously refreshing,” he stated, “if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far.”
My sentiments, exactly.
So, newly emboldened, and partly out of a sense of sheer spite, I sent out a third round of queries on New Years Eve, 2001.
Naturally, once again, I was categorically rejected. Only this time around, there wasn’t a single personal reply in the bunch; every response was a generic form letter.
Soon, for the first time in my life, I actually became suicidal; the hurt turned to anger, and the anger turn to spite, which turned to…
“Shit man, everybody loves a dead artist,” I reasoned. “So, if I off myself, maybe someone will actually take the time to read my work…publish it, even.”
Now, in retrospect, it’s clear that the winter of 2001/2002 was the genesis of my perennial, ongoing obsession with the idea of taking my own life.
As I recall, I spent nearly the entire year of 2002 in a semi-functional, simmering stupor; staying up all hours of the night, working diligently on my manuscript. Eventually, by the time fall rolled around, I had finally worked up enough gumption to send out another set of queries.
Of course, this time was no different than all the rest. My dream of becoming a bona-fide author was, once again, denied.
However, this time around, I actually cracked. For the first time in my life, I, quite literally, suffered a nervous breakdown. No joke, I woke up one December morning only to find nearly the entire left side of my upper torso covered with gross, hideous blisters. Come to find out, I had been stricken by a nasty case of the shingles. My poor nervous system had just gone plain kaput.
Moreover, 2002 marked, by far, the worst Christmas of my life. In fact, for fear that I might do something very stupid, my folks, who lived in Southern California, flew back to Oklahoma, hoping to talk some sense into me. And, rightfully so, for I had fast reached a point of no return. When they finally arrived, and peered into my devastated eyes, they immediately suggested that I receive urgent psychiatric care.
Naturally, I declined.
Now, looking back, I’m almost certain that when my parents boarded the plane back to California, both feared they’d never see their son again.
Then, to compound matters, later that spring, on April 17th, just two days before the 7th Anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the unthinkable occurred.
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