Dec 30

 

Yesterday I stumbled on a website which has apparently created a fair amount of buzz in the literary world: Literary Rejections on Display.  Despite the hideous name (seriously, folks, what kind of an acronym for a blog is LROD?  Now, RR on the other hand…), the site itself is pretty funny…or devastatingly sad, maybe, depending on your particular situation and whether you preferred Tigger or Eeyore as a kid (I've known devotees of each character, and, well, let's just say the shoe fits.  I guarantee Billie Joe Armstrong was an Eeyore guy, even if he denies it.).  Ostensibly developed and maintained by a published and award-winning writer, the site essentially celebrates, er, rejection–at least of the literary kind.  Writer, Rejected (God help him/her/it if he/she/it ever posts at the Chronicle using that name) or one of his/her/its readers will post some rejections, add some witty repartee ("Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about my 'general air of bitterness.'  The blog is supposed to be helping me with this.  Or so says Lady Shrink.  I hope this means you'll come back."), and then let the comments fly.  Posted rejections vary from the apparently bitter ("Literati Roll," where a number of high-powered contest judges is added to the list of those who rejected poor W, R because since he/she/it didn't win the contest he/she/it obviously lost it, thanks to these bastards) to the evidently bizarre ("It's Not Easy Being Gay," where one reader sent in a rejection which actually said "it can be difficult to publish a male gay novel successfully").  I say "apparently" bitter because W, R claims he's/she's/it's not, or at least not as much as it might seem (and besides, W, R has an agent and is published now, so he/she/it says)–he/she/it just has a sense of humor, thinks the publishing industry is B.S. (see, there's an acronym you can go to the mat for), and wants everyone to know it.

On one level this guy/girl/acronym has really got it going on.  First of all, he's/she's/it's (let's just go with HSI from now on, 'kay?) gotten people to notice–and people in the industry at that.  Editors and agents alike post on HSI's blog either defending themselves, desperately trying to explain what publishing or agenting is really all about or bemusedly trying to figure out what the hell is going on, with (generally) predictable results.  There are more than a couple of industry execs who have made it their business to run around the Internet crying foul at anyone who dares question their methods for whom I imagine W, R is a spawn of Satan (sorry, S.O.S.), and boy, would they blacklist the hell out of him/her/it if they could find out who it was (more on that issue in a minute).  Second, W, R is utterly unflappable, so much so that even if you find HSI annoying and self-indulgent, the attitude starts to grow on you.  In one post, HSI responded to the comment "A normal person would just give up.  Why post evidence that you are a BIG FAT LOSER for the world to see?  I don't get it.  You must suck as a writer." with "Hey, wait!  I recognize you.  You're the voice inside my head!  How did you get out?"

LOL, W, R.

It's particularly amusing to see people try to play psychological games in the apparent hope that Rejecto-man will rip off the mask and come forward with a sobbing confession about HSI's true identity, when it's obvious that even if HSI weren't obviously having a blast outing, picking on and often humiliating agents and editors (all except Rosemary Ahern, who has won the coveted GAK! or Golden Apple of Kindness award (that's W, R's acronym, not mine) and is kind of a mock patron saint of the site), there's no way HSI could reveal his/her/its identity now: far too many bridges have been, well, annihilated (burned isn't strong enough) to take the chance, and after all, it's a lot easier to be brave behind The Mask Of Internet-Anonymous Strength.  I should know.

Which leads to the other, not so nice side of the LROD.  Given the anti-heroism of the mysterious W, R, who throws out names like they're going out of style without any intention of doing the same for himself/herself/itself, what, really, is the point of all of it?  It's not really a "this editor is a bastard.  This agent should be thrown to the wolves" place; there's certainly more than a fair bit of carping at the industry, but the minute an agent or editor posts a response, W, R's tone becomes absurdly conciliatory and rational. ("Jim!  You are good to stop by and give us some insight.  Listen, I think maybe you bring up a very good point here.  Your intention is to help and you want to offer some kind, useful advice, but blah blah blah brownnose brownnose brownnose can I do your laundry for you thanks!"  Okay, I was paraphrasing the last part.  HSI actually offers to wash the guy's car.)  But it's also, clearly, not a "let's all have a rational discussion about the problems with the publishing industry, of which we all want to be a part."  And it's sure as hell not satire when it spends half its time bitching about how crappy it is to get rejections and how lousy agents and editors are on their respective power trips and the other half backfilling frantically when a member of one of the aforementioned groups shows up in person.  It's not a heartwarming rags to riches tale about one writer's struggle for recognition (since, according to W, R, "in the eyes of many, I am still a literary reject"), but it's equally not a "wallowing in failure" blog…since, as W, R insists, HSI is published and award-winning.  It's just a site that says things.  About people.  Anonymously.

And that ultimately is the issue here: LROD is really like cotton candy.  It tastes good; W, R can obviously write, and is such a great mixture of self-deprecation and absolute aplomb that you stick with HSI.  Any criticism leveled at HSI will meet with the same kind of "what, me worry?" rejoinder.  It's so clever that it's sweet, and it's fun, and it's even a little decadent, but it's also, well, candy: it isn't real sustenance, and too much of that same diet gets awfully old after a while.  Someone, back behind the invisibility screen, read these rejections and was bothered by them: really bothered, so bothered that HSI needed to create a site and a persona, one part Tigger and three parts Eeyore, to call the bastards who did this to HSI out.  But we'll never see that person, both because HSI doesn't have the guts to do what HSI does to agents and editors on an everyday basis (and I wouldn't weep for them either…they're public figures, and they ought to be able to take the heat) and reveal who HSI is and because we'll never see a real reaction from him/her/it either.  Everything is for the funny, the joke, dude, relax, we're all having a good time, or you're right, I'm a bad person, I know I am, that's why I write this.  It's all about the smile of the court jester, and if you've ever watched a jester (or the modern equivalent, a clown) for long enough there comes a point where you start wondering where the human is behind the "look, I'm hilarious!" game.

I assume that if and when W, R stumbles on this post HSI will leave a comment poking fun at me, or HSI, or both.  That's cool; it's the typical postmodernist "nothing matters, even my saying this" game, and HSI plays it really well…HSI is one funny dude/dudette.  And there's no doubt that some agents and editors need to be taken down a few pegs.  But still, I can't help but wonder a little bit about how exhausting it must be for Writer, Rejected to play this shell game all the time, and what would happen if HSI ever slipped up…you know, posted something about a rejection really pissing him/her/it off, or said "you know, guys, I'm really feeling down today.  Really, this time, I promise.  I really need help.  Really.  Can someone help me?"  Would anyone actually step forward?  Why would anyone have any reason to believe the emotion was genuine this time?

But nah, it's all about the joke, anyway.  We'd rather have fun, right?  Pass the cotton candy…I love it when he does this next juggling act.