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Gotta Know Where You Stand

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(alternate text)The whole section starts laughing. There are a couple of leering looks, but mostly, mouths drop in amazement. This woman bounds down the aisle, dressed in shiny black supposedly-leather-but-its-really-twenty-dollar-vinyl. Her pants are skintight, laces run up the sides of her boots, and there’s a bolero jacket over a shiny red bra. It’s clear that she thinks this outfit should be in a big budget Jenna Jameson flick but everyone else knows it’s more at home on the rack at Spencer’s Gifts in the mall.

She drops a pen and bends over at the waist, looking back of her shoulder to see if anyone notices. And everyone just laughs. Flat-chested and bony, with a pasty complexion and greasy hair that was once blonde and is now blah, this was a woman no one wanted to see bent over.

Watching this spectacle of embarrassment was how I passed the time waiting for the arena to darken and the opening chords of Shout at the Devil to assault my eardrums. And it also made me think of how important it is for us, as aspiring writers, to recognize the positives and negatives of our work. Be confident, but don’t be a fool. Don’t stalk attention when your work is the literary equivalent of nineteen dollar pleather. Delusions of grandeur aren’t healthy, they aren’t attractive, and they aren’t helpful. That goes for aspiring groupies, looking to climb the ranks of tour bus bunkbeds, as much as it applies to aspiring authors, striving to achieve literary greatness.

(alternate text)I relived my heavy metal past, and added the need for at least three extra hits on the television volume button, at a Motley Crue concert the other night. On the drive to the arena, I spoke with an editor pal who vented about his submission stalker. A rejected author called the editor’s residence to attack his knowledge of fiction. “This guy submitted a story where the protagonist’s name changed three times. For no reason other than the author’s confusion,” my friend said. “There were no less than five typos on the first page alone.” Yet, the jilted author was convinced his work was fantastic and unjustly rejected. 

I frequently hear this complaint from editors and agents. They recount tales of wannabe writers who make the nutcases on American Idol look sane, rational, and reasonable. And I thought about all these stories as I watched Pleather Tuscadero make a scene before the concert.

She doesn’t walk down the arena steps. She lunges over the seats in each row, laboring over each plastic chair. She reaches the security guard standing near the edge of the stage and curls up into his chest, twirling her hair, pouting her lips, peering up at the big man. He doesn’t seem to be buying it and folks around me are placing bets. But eventually, she does seem to score some kind of concession because she giggles and kisses him on the check. Back at her seat, Pleather yells at the guitar tech on stage, curling her finger at him in a come hither gesture.

A friend who works on a university literary journal emailed me to complain about the people who submit stories without running spell-check, without page numbers, without discernible plots and without basic grammar principles. He’s a good guy, an aspiring author in his own right, so he’s hardly contemptuous of the slushpile. “But damn it all, if I didn’t get a letter from this guy threatening to humiliate me on national television when his novel is picked by Oprah. In his cover letter, he said his work exhibited the same post-modern tendencies as Herman Melville and Wally Lamb. And he’s pissed that we rejected him.”

The lights go down and Pleather races as far down in our section as the ushers will allow. She leans over the railing, begging for attention from the band members. She yells, flirts, drops her bra, hangs over the rail, makes her finger-beckoning movement, and does all she can to get their attention.

Now, the gentlemen from the Crue have not always been known to make the wisest of decisions. But, they do exhibit good taste in women, if you appreciate that varietal of companionship.

(alternate text)

  • -Vince Neil: once married to a Playboy playmate
  • -Nikki Sixx: once married to a playmate and currently married to a Baywatch star who also appeared in Playboy
  • -Tommy Lee: once married to Heather Locklear, once married to Playboy cover model for life Pamela Anderson, dated Jenna Jameson, dated Bobbie Brown (siren of eighties hair metal videos) and countless others
  • -Mick Mars: once lived with a statuesque filmmaker

They may not be nuclear physicists and they may not win the Pulitzer and they may not be your choice of mates. But in this category of homo sapiens, prized for some qualities over others, the boys in the band have access to the very cream of the crop. Pleather Tuscadero, on the other hand, was curdled milk. She couldn’t get the attention of the pimply faced kid selling hot dogs, yet she’s providing comic relief by trying to get with rock stars. If this woman made it backstage, it would have ended in pure humiliation.

See Also: Led Zeppelin, shark incident. See Also: Marilyn Manson, raw meat helmet.

The moral of the story? Although it’s important to have supreme confidence in your work, you need to also retain some resemblance of reality. Be confident in your writing, but not the degree that you threaten editors at home. Accept criticism, absorb it, learn from it. Pay attention to the writing of respected authors, try to objectively measure your work against theirs. Don’t stalk editors and don’t harass agents.

And if you are an utterly unattractive, shameless groupie at a rock concert, just try to impress beer guy. Don’t get mad because the band won’t pluck you out of the crowd. If they do, you might just end up on the Internet, naked in a hot tub full of baked beans with a shaved head, while the band trades you to Humble Pie for fifty bucks and a case of Heineken.