L’audace, or, Enormity

It’s working on 1 a.m., and I am a complete insomniac. I don’t normally bother people with “inner Happycrow” posts. Y’all don’t need to put up with that stuff. But if you’re up late tonight, well, this is one of those posts.

I finished the rough draft of this novel thingy as mentioned. Okay, no big deal, it’s an adventure story with some thinly-disguised (but hopefully still readable) polemic.

After talking to my brother (who’s spent the last few years hanging out with booksellers) and my sister-in-law, (who has been one, and is a very serious writer in her own right), I became convinced that self-publishing probably isn’t the way to go. After all, I wrote the thing, dammit — why shouldn’t I see how far the thing can actually go once it’s been edited?

That means getting an agent. There aren’t a lot of them, fewer who do escapist genre adventure stories, and you basically have to sell yourself to them. Because the alternative is that your work sits in a “slush pile,” where it may or may not be looked at for 9-12 months… while you’re not allowed to put it on anybody else’s slush pile. Not because publishers are schmucks… but because there’s so much writing and so little publication money out there. And, of course, since the point is to sell said story, and see how far it can go, that means trying to get either a good agent, or one of the best agents. Anything else is “seeking failure”: aim for the top, and you might just hit the middle, right? Aim for the middle, and…

That’s a lot of arrogance from a guy who wrote an adventure story just to see if he could.

But then, I’ve already been published… just not as a fiction writer. I’ve got a fencing article out there in print, been a technical editor for a tome on weaponry so monumentally ginormous that it literally weighs in at just under ten pounds, and written… well, written a couple of articles. Actually, I’m a very successful writer. Just in the wrong field, and for the wrong reasons.

Let me explain. Back in 2002/03, I realized that there was a major flaw in the interpretive methods generally used in my field. I did some homework, and tore up about at least a month’s pay in equipment in order to perform the experimental archaeology that would answer my questions about archery and armor. The article that came out (and here’s part of the arrogant part) was expressly intended to expose that interpretive flaw, and thus “punch higher than its weight class,” forcing not only an acknowledgment of the thesis, but also the forcing the entire historiography to change its comparative methodology and spend more time down in the trenches “doing the math,” replacing a bird’s-eye view with the “worm’s-eye view” (a phrase stolen from the back cover blurb of a Glen Cook novel).
Yeah. Arrogant. Stamp it on my forehead. So, being hopelessly arrogant, I conceived two other articles over the course of the next couple of years. They were literally intended as an “article trilogy” designed to do unto the historiography at large what the first article does on an introductory scale.

One of the articles is considered a “bombshell” even before it’s published, and faced truly severe “pushback.” Fortunately, the editors were convinced that the thesis was worth fighting for, and fought the publisher’s external reviewer every step of the way as I turned in draft after draft and clarification after clarification until finally the article was approved.

Boy do I owe those guys a hell of a nice dinner.

The last one isn’t considered “bombshell” per se, but in theory it’s a captor mine. It got reviewed by two of the biggest names in the field: guys who sneeze, let alone forget, more than I’ll ever know. I’m truly fortunate that the first of the editors/critics “gives good comment,” because the final product is much better and significantly wider-ranging than the first draft, and should be generally accepted. But if that holds true, it contains ideas that simply wreck many of the assumptions taken for granted by the previous historiography.

These guys, too. At minimum some really kick-ass wine.

Yeah. Arrogance. This from a guy whose latin compares badly to that of geeky Harry-Potter-inspired eighth-graders.

And it worked.

My work has been publicly held up as an example of how research of its type should be performed. I’ve already completely altered the research career of a (vastly-better-trained) colleague in Hungary, whose most recent article states that article #1 ~”will force the complete reappraisal of the historiography of the High Middle Ages.” (Meaning, within this particular field, of course, not the whole enchilada. No human could approach that without some sort of sci-fi cyborg technology.)

None of this is exaggeration.  I oscillate somewhere between giddy and appalled (at the prospects for my sadly-engorged ego).

What’s this have to do with trying to land an agent? Well, besides demonstrating a thick skin, deep debts I owe to other peoples’ patience and helpfulness, and a tendency to long-term (even grandiose) thinking, not much.

But it has a metric crapload (3% more full of crap than an Imperial crapload) to do with why I’m up at 1:30 in the morning, unable to fall asleep. I can’t sleep because I lay there before bed tonight, did the mental math…

and am simply stunned at the depths of my own arrogance.

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  1. alex

     /  August 22, 2007

    I don’t think you’re being arrogant at all and let me explain.

    Like you, I have written in non-fiction fields. Publication #70 will publish next month in an online journal covering nanotechnology, law, and business. I have done plenty of scientific publications already, (there are 5 more in various stages of page proofs to near final draft) and now I’m branching into analysis papers rather than original research or new interpretations of research.

    One of the papers I wrote in 2000 turned out to be THE MOST cited paper in the Journal of Applied Polymer Science for 3 years running, as it was a comprehensive paper telling everyone, in a nutshell, “how you’re analyzing these materials is likely wrong, here’s why it is wrong, and here’s the right way to do it with the technology we have now”. The high citation of this paper got me the book deal that I have on the “highbrow” topic of “flame retardant polymer nanocomposites”. To this day I’m still amazed at this but this event, combined with other peers saying “yes, you’re right and you do know what you’re talking about” gives me a feeling of pride, and more importantly, confidence.

    Confidence is not arrogance. Sure it can look like it, but it’s not. It’s only arrogance when you go into a conversation and dismiss other opinions not on the data at hand, but solely on your opinion that you’re 100% correct all the time. I’m confident that I know my field very well, but I know I don’t know everything. So the confidence keeps me writing, and, success breeds success. I get more offers to write things now than I did before.

    Which leads me to my last point – there is an alternate business model to get your work published, and that is to break the novel into parts and sell the parts a serial publication. If you have written Science Fiction, may I strongly suggest you try Analog as a place to publish? I have seen at least 5 novels in the last 3 years come out of this magazine which were originally published as serial novels – Including Joe Haldeman’s recent “Camouflage”. If the serial works out well enough it will get you an invite to repackage the thing as a novel. Just work out ahead of time the copyright details and you’re set.

  2. You’re not being arrogant if you’re simply proud of an accomplishment. You’re not being arrogent by challenging bad thinking.


  3. No, but in conceiving these things as a plan ahead of time… yeesh.

    Not that I’m a hard scientist putting out 70-some publications over only several years. Nothing gets published that quickly in history…


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