Sunday, June 12, 2016

Doldrums Redux

adjective/ brought back —used postpositively

In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning "to lead back") can mean "brought back" or "bringing back." Redux belongs to a small class of English adjectives that are always used postpositively-that is, they always follow the words they modify. Redux has a history of showing up in titles of English works, such as John Dryden’s Astraea Redux (a poem "on the happy restoration and return of his sacred majesty, Charles the Second"), Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Redux, and John Updike’s Rabbit Redux.

So in a literary spirit of postpositivity I shall now bring back my FictionDoldrums blog. Why the absence, one may ask. It would be easy enough to read between the blogs (or at least glance back at the previous entry) and see that over a year ago I received a series of heartening/disheartening rejections. That might be reason enough. The complete rationale is more complex. These are the three main elements I will discuss in brief. 

1) The aformentioned rejections
In truth, rejections are not so hard to take. I have been making work of one type or another for all of my adult life. The process has generally followed a pattern of experimentation, refinement of technique, critique by other artists, further refinement, and exhibition to intended audience. Rejections are a part of the critique process. I am more alarmed by lack of feedback than by harsh feedback. With harsh feedback [or constructive feedback (or positive feedback)] I have a path forward. When I get no response from an audience, I am left to roll all the possible problems around in my mind. The imagined critique I form on my own is usually far less charitable than any I've received from a reader/viewer. Still, rejection is never fun. Acceptance is preferred.
(Pontas founder Anna Soler-Pont at the agency)

2) Weirdness with my agents
Pontas, international Literary and Film rights agency is located in Barcelona, Spain. To recap, I signed with Pontas several years ago at a time when they were making a concerted effort to prove their capacity to represent English language authors. Pontas has a mission that I feel proud of and list of diverse and accomplished authors that I'm pleased to be associated with. To sign with an agency located in Europe rather than New York was a risk. But Pontas appealed to an idealistic, romantic streak that I often keep hidden under a hard shell of mock grumpy pessimism and sarcasm. It also fed into my apparent need to do things my own subversive way rather than the easy way. 
     The weirdness stems largely from the fact I've felt shuffled around from agent to agent. First, Carina, who introduced me to that agency and sold the idea of taking a chance with Pontas. Then Patricia, who sold my book to a great little UK publisher (Skyscraper). For a time, Marina. Next Jessica, who worked closely with Marina and started out aggressively supportive of my second book Missing People but was quickly sidetracked by the demands of representing a Man Booker finalist, Chigozie Obioma. The year I've been away from the blog coincides with the year Jessica spent with her focus elsewhere. And now, I am in the hands of Leticia.
     A few months ago I was approached via LinkedIn by an English language novelist that was considering signing with Pontas. I wanted to give honest advice, and I struggled with it. Mostly, I've liked working with everyone at the agency. Each has had different strengths. My largest doubt is in relation to the capacity of the agency to make good deals with major US publishers. But ultimately I  recommended Pontas to her, with some caviots learned through personal experience. She sent me a note to let me know she joined the Pontas family. 

3) Teaching 

The skill of teaching has a limited shelf life and by last year I had reached the sell-by date; meaning that if I hoped to have the option to teach again, I had to get serious and step in front of a classroom or suffer total experience atrophy. In the past I have taught drawing, design, and ceramics courses. Because most of my work is currently written, I made the decision to seek opportunities in English departments. A good friend and artist Jean Bevier, currently the Museum Store Product Designer at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, suggested I look into teaching at Dominican University in River Forest. She had been there in the design department and had glowing things to say about the student body.  
     Last summer I met with three faculty members and achieved something remarkable: I convinced a group of literature professors that my interdisciplinary background, my publishing record, and my past teaching experience would make me an asset to their program. This is no small feat; because as much as liberal artists like to believe they are progressive and inclusive, the truth is that academic departments are territorial and tend to dislike change, move slowly, and hire people who have taken a well-trod academic path in order to reach their department. It is a measure of their openess and level of desperation that I was given a shot. I taught in the Fall, was observed and given an alarmingly good evaluation, taught in the Spring, and have been invited back in the coming Fall. 

In summary, mildly disheartening circumstances with my second book, complications with my agents, and the time and emotion suck of teaching a new class, in a new place, in a new department made it a challenge for me to find the time, energy, will, or the positive content necessary to blog over the past year. 

What's changed? Summer is here and that gives me both time and energy. And, on the cusp of officially leaving my agents, they were contacted by a British writer/director who asked to option my first novel for a screenplay. So, as I write this, that contract is being (painfully) slowly hammered out. 

Of course, other things happened in this past year. I wrote some. I was in a student film. I exhibited a bit. Some of my articles for JAB were honored in a fancy way that involved people in white shirts and black vests offering me free booze and baby-size snacks, all while glad-handing with muckety mucks. 

Until next time. 

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