Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Vox Day and Me (Part 10)

It turns out Jim Croce was right all along, but I simply wasn't listening:
You don't tug on Superman's cape
you don't spit into the wind
you don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
and you don't mess around with Jim.
There's a truism frequently bandied about by those on the outside desperately yearning to be in: It's not what you know, it's who you know. By the end of my second term on the SFWA Board of Directors I knew pretty much everyone there was to know, but I didn't know one person who could help me.

Gene Wolfe liked Cyberpunk, and sent me a real nice quote that I'll use on the jacket if I someday ever find a real publisher. Ben Bova liked it quite a bit as well and sent me a letter of introduction to use in my pitch package. (He also sent me a signed copy of the book he wrote after his first wife tossed him out the door: The Survival Guide for the Suddenly Single.) I knew literally hundreds of pro writers (and in many cases, knew far more about their precarious personal financial situations that I was really prepared to handle then); had a nodding acquaintance with most of the editors in the field; had access to first-class agents galore.

Nobody wanted to help mediate this dispute, and thereby risk joining the ranks of those already on the list of People With Whom He Who Must Not Be Named Will Never Work Again. Plenty of editors were eager to look at the manuscript after I got my contract situation sorted out. Likewise, plenty of agents were willing to handle me after I resolved my problems. I especially remember one "power-agent" who read my samples, heard my sad story, and then scheduled time for a lovely lunch with me, during which she told me she thought I was a terrific writer with a lot of potential and she would love to represent me — just as soon as I resolved my contract situation, and got two or three bestsellers under my belt.

In the meantime, I sold a few last short stories to Amazing and Aboriginal, but they were both in the throes of going out of business so those stories went nowhere. At one point, sitting alone in my shabby efficiency apartment, I reached such a low point that I even considered taking —

— a ghost-writing job for Byron Preiss, who had a Famous Scientist with a burning desire to see his name on the cover of a novel but no actual time or ability to write it. I even did some work on this book — on spec, no less — but it didn't pan out and I never got paid a nickel.

In the end, three people really pulled me through. First off, the brilliant John Borowicz, who you might remember from back in Part 5, and who, having been tossed out by his first wife a few years before, kindly gave me a place to live for a few weeks, while I found a new job and then the aforementioned shabby apartment. Secondly, the wonderful John Sladek, who, when that new job of mine abruptly up and moved to San Diego, introduced me to a friend of his who was a tech writing manager and had an unadvertised job req about to open up in her department. Thus, like Sladek, I finally and officially became a Tech Writer.

And third, Ashley Grayson — but more about him in a minute.

Speaking of knowing people, Minneapolis in the 1980s and 1990s was a hotbed of fantasy writing, and I knew pretty much all of those people. Gordy Dickson, Pamela Dean, Eleanor Arneson, Kara Dalkey, Curtis Hoffmann, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, Steven Brust (Never let Brust talk you into a "friendly" game of cards!), John M. Ford, Joel Rosenberg, Patricia Wrede, Peg Kerr, Kij Johnson... I'm sure I'm forgetting some names. The point is, they were all fantasy writers, and while I knew them all in varying degrees of friendliness, I was never really part of that circle. Part of it was that I was then and remain now simply incapable of writing pseudo-Medieval fantasy. Try as I might, I can never get more than about four pages into a story before my characters start noticing that neither indoor plumbing nor dental hygiene have been invented yet.
As Sir Epididymis squirmed on his rude straw bed and sought warmth in the tattered rags of his old saddle-blanket, he caught a glimpse of the rising harvest moon through the stable window, and once again the vision of that jaundiced, pock-marked orb reminded him of his lost love, fair Princess Gwenrowundelwynne, she of the twelve teeth. Oh, happy the legions of lice who dwelt in the forest of those greasy golden tresses!

His view of beautiful Luna was eclipsed by the short and stubby form of the farmer, who like many of the peasants in North Umborgringlugrand had the gift of understanding the language of the animals.

"Sorry, guv," the farmer said, as he leaned in through the window. "I'll 'ave to ask you to move to the sty. The 'orses are complainin' about 'ow you smell."
Another part of it had a distinctly political component. Being a hunter, a gun owner, an NRA member, a parent (if not a terribly successful one), a Christian (if not a particularly good one), and a suburb dweller, I was already suspect. When I signed the contract with He Who Must Not Be Named, this in some eyes only reinforced the idea that I was some kind of deranged right-wing crypto-fascist military closet-case. When the deal subsequently went pffft!, this was worse: it meant I was an unsuccessful deranged right-wing crypto-fascist military closet case, and several people who I thought were my friends began to distance themselves.

Nonetheless, it was the Minneapolis fantasy crowd that finally came through for me, albeit in an oblique fashion. Kara Dalkey had dumped Curtis Hoffmann and decided to marry John Barnes, and I, being tangentially part of Kara's circle and rather better friends with John, was invited to the wedding. And it was at this wedding that I was introduced to John's agent, Ashley Grayson, who listened to my sad story, and then decided to boldly go where no agent had gone before.

He decided to get involved.

To be continued...