Robin Becker is a take-no-prisoners sort of writer.
She’s unafraid of zombies, and even if I thought her original subtitle for Brains (see below) to be superior–“A Zomoir”–she knows when to change tracks.
Thus, her entry for #AuthorFail is the rare instance where one’s agent (rare enough, perhaps) asks for the manuscript one wishes had been eaten by zombies.
Substitute “hard drive” for “zombies” and you’ve nailed the particular type of post-ironic failure we are collectively doomed to suffer.
Ah, the ennui of the computer age…
Here’s how I pitched my first novel to agents: “Spank is the story of Kym Cooper, a young stripper with a secret that could land her in jail. As a teenager, Kym had a consensual sexual relationship with her stepfather. When her mother found out, Kym killed her—and got away with it. Five years later, the police reopen the case, forcing Kym to come to terms with her past and accept who she is: a very bad girl indeed. A naughty girl who needs to be spanked.”
In all honesty, that synopsis makes me cringe. The premise is absurd, failure plastered all over it like grease on a corndog. What’s more, I didn’t skimp on the sex scenes between Kym and her scumbag stepfather. In fact, I fancied myself a feminist, post-modern Nabokov, exploring a real social issue confronting many young women. If Nabokov could do it, why couldn’t I?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was one very good reason why I failed: I’m not Nabokov.
I started Spank in 1999 and in 2000 turned it in as my graduate thesis. It passed. I revised it for a year and then queried New York agents one week before September 11, 2001. Turns out no one wanted to publish a pretentious, metaphor-laden, sexually exploitive, coming-of-age novel in the wake of our nation’s greatest terrorist attack.
The literary agents were right, of course. I wouldn’t have touched it either. Even now I feel dirty when I think about that book. Nevertheless, I kept on revising. Because it was my baby. My first attempt at something more than a short story. And I spent three years on it. That had to be worth something!
I’m nothing if not tenacious. But, as my mom always says, you can’t polish a turd. Sorry, Spank. It’s not Kym that needs her bottom beaten. It’s you.
Recently my agent asked to see Spank. I was embarrassed to send it, but I dutifully looked through my old floppy disks. I rummaged in the closet for the outdated computer tower we were too lazy to get rid of and hooked it up to the monitor. I inserted the disk, feeling sick to my stomach, scared to be confronted with this vile novel of graphic, transgressive teenage sexuality. I hardly remembered the young woman—me!—who wrote it over ten years ago. I couldn’t quite imagine her motivation or who she thought the audience might be for such a book.
The drive clanked, sounding like grinding gears. It was slow loading and when the document finally popped up, it was corrupt, nothing more than a series of meaningless symbols. Two hundred and fifty pages of gibberish.
Thank god, I thought, relieved that Spank had reached the end of its life. This is what it was always meant to be: lost.
Last Week’s #AuthorFail 6: Jarret Middleton
Next Week: #AuthorFail 7: Alexandra Chasin
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Davis Schneiderman is a multimedia artist and writer and the author or editor of eight print and audio works, including the novels Drain, Abecedarium, and Blank; the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization and The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game; as well as the audio-collage Memorials to Future Catastrophes. His first short story collection, there is no appropriate #emoji—with collaborations from Lance Olsen, Cris Mazza, Kelly Haramis, Stacy Levine, Tim Guthrie, Andi Olsen, and Megan Milks—will be released in Fall 2019.
His work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Fiction International, The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, and TriQuarterly.
He is Krebs Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Lake Forest College.