I went to an event hosted by an agent last week and we were asked to bring some sample pages and a query. This agent was going to read the pages aloud and tell us right there and then if he or she will pass. Excited and overdressed for the occasion, I arrived early and took a seat in the third row ('cause I like to be close to the action but not too close). There was a chubby middle aged woman next to me--frizzy brown hair, oversized glasses, black watery eyes and an obvious hew of red fluster painted on her face. She was clutching three sheets of paper in her hand when she turned to me and said, "Hi." I returned the favor and shook her hand.
"It's nice to see someone young pursue writing--good for you."
"Me? Nah, I'm old. I'll be twenty-three next month, so before you know it I'll be on crotches."
With her head thrown back she cackles, and in three seconds flat simmers into silence as she reads her pages. By now the seats were beginning to fill up all around me; people were jostling chairs, chatting about the election and plain old having a jolly good time.
"Hello, Hello everyone," someone said importantly. A rather curvy woman in a black power suit sits beside the woman next to me, so that we're both on opposite sides of her. This lady opens her bedazzled clutch, tosses her silky black hair to the side and pulls out a single sheet of paper. It looked as though she had forgotten her query or sample pages and I peered around at the other people and saw that they were all reading/holding/fanning with or waving two or three sheets of paper. My spidey sense began to tingle.
Out of nowhere the woman next to me, Cheryl, said, "I always get nervous at things like this." At first I didn't know if she was addressing me or anyone who cared to listen, and after three seconds of silence I told her I do, too.
"It never gets easy, does it?"
"No," I said, "especially in a setting like this. Hearing the honest truth about your work--your baby--is never mild."
"I've been working on this (she waves her sheets) young adult for two years and I recently started querying but no bites yet."
"That's nothing, I've been working on a Middle Grade for seven years. It got rejected, accepted, chewd out, peed on, sexed on--you name it!"
She laughed. "You're funny. You're very funny."
Ever the modest guy I said, "I'm not. What you call funny my girlfriend calls annoying."
Another moment of no talking ensued followed by a question from Cheryl, but this time it was directed to her pages. She was mumbling about the font and questioning if the agent would notice a spelling error in the first paragraph. Now, as nice as Mrs. Cheryl was, she seemed like a very introverted, nervous sort of person--always nitpicking and second guessing herself. Her chat with the paper ended when she asked me if I thought the agent would stop reading if he/she saw a spelling error. Well, some agents do, some agents don't but I didn't want to cause her any more unrest so I told her agents focus on the story and don't pay much attention to grammar 'cause it's easily fixed. This brought her little comfort because she turned to the woman next to her (the one with the bedazzled clutch) and asked if she could look it over, and in return she'd offer the same. Why she didn't ask me I'd never know, but back to the story: as it turned out the woman didn't swap and graciously agreed to read Cheryl's pages. At this time, I thought it wise to double check my own and I was later disrupted by a bunch of huffs, like someone eating a prime rib and critquing the taste as they chewed.
"Is it bad?" Cheryl asked.
After a few more huffs the woman (who shall be named Sasha) sighed, like literally sighed, and handed Cheryl the pages. "Did you revise this?"
"Are you sure?"
By now poor Cheryl was shrinking into a watery mess of self loath. "Oh my god, it's that bad?"
"Can I be honest?" Sahsa said, facing Cheryl directly. "I think you should write something else. The pacing is too slow, you start with a dream, there are eight spelling errors in the first two sentences and the dialogue of the MC sounds like a fifty year old woman. I'm a reader for the [redacted] agency here in [redacted] and I would never let something this horrible touch the agent's desk."
As much as I wanted to speak up, I thought it best to keep my mouth shut because Cheryl did ask this woman for her opinion. And she got it... Tenfold! However, what came next stunned the shit out of me.
"I take this business very seriously," Sasha said to a bewildered Cheryl who just nodded automatically. "Every idiot off the street thinks they can write a book and I'm of the opinion that some people should never do that! I don't know if you're taking writing seriously--and if you are I think you should take a writing class, if not I think you should maybe dabble in something else."
I kid you the fuck not that's what she said. Not too long ago I wrote a blog post about something like this where an aspiring author told another to stop writing, and now this? What is it with people? Don't they know that some things are better left unsaid? Well, this time I wasn't gonna keep quiet. IT WAS ON BITCH! LIKE DONKEY KONG!
"Excuse me," I said as politely as I could. "You don't have the right to tell this woman--or anyone--they shouldn't be writing. That is out of line!"
She tilted her head from behind Cheryl's and said, curling her lip, "Excuse me?"
"You heard what I said, don't pretend you didn't hear me."
"I don't know who you think you are but I don't like your tone."
"I don't like your face, how 'bout that?"
By now Cheryl was trying to keep the peace, insisting she asked for Sasha's opinion and got what she deserved, but I was hearing none of it!
"She asked for my opinion, okay. I didn't approach her or beg her--she asked! So take that attitude to the playground little boy and mind your business!"
When someone disses me like this I begin to laugh, but in reality it's a defense mechanism I employ when I'm about to go ghetto on a bitch. However, people was beginning to stare and I was at an agent's event, afterall, so this was not the time or place to do that. To show her I had more class than she had in her whole face full of python poison, I said, quite affectionately, "You know, I pitty you. No joy can ever be found in belittling another person's dreams. It speaks volumes of what little esteem you have in your own aspirations that you have to fell someone in order to prop your self worth. Shame. On. You."
I was expecting a stinging retort, but she just gathered herself and took a seat in the back.
In closing, I want to say this: We all share the same dream. We all have the same goal. We might write certain genres and seek different paths but we're all aiming for that same star. When you tell another dreamer they shouldn't dream, you're telling that star it shouldn't shine. It needs us to dazzle ever so brightly and without us dreamers...without it's light...there can be no dreams now can there?