Why The Nonfiction? / 177 Rejections / Raney Images

If I’m a novelist, and if that’s why I was first picked up by a New York literary agency, why am I now focusing on two works of nonfiction? Simple: nonfiction is easier to get into print, and to gain an audience for.

I have four novels that I’m happy with. My agent was very big on these works, two in particular. But when he couldn’t get them published–and he’s been quite successful for other writers–I decided to write Living the Artist’s Life, knowing that nonfiction was easier to get into print. Besides, I realized the book filled a void, and that most artists did not have the necessary information for navigating the waters of the art world, let alone much reassurance. The result? Publishers typically told my agent that the work was “too unorthodox, too unique” to find an audience. Did I see red? In varying shades. Why? Because I could feel an audience responding to the book as I wrote it. All writers, and artists, know what I’m talking about when I say that.

After punching several holes in our bedroom walls one night (which my wife covered the next day with enlarged photos of the kids, bless her), I realized I had to leave my agent and go my own road. I had endured 177 rejection slips on various books over a period of 25 years. I KNEW there was a market for LTAL and most of my other books, and anyway a small press had offered to put out LTAL. This press lacked the glamour of the big houses in NY, but I felt any kind of start was better than nothing. I was still young, full of drive and humor, and confident that the smaller publisher could make things click. Well, in time they did.

That brings us to Everybody’s Game, and the novels that should follow. Do I now think that EG will be brought out by one of the big houses, along with the novels and screenplays? Probably. When? Don’t know; depends on what agent I wind up working with.

What, if anything, did I gain from 177 rejections? Those years in the wilderness forced me to write at my absolute best; I may never had done this had I been published too young. Too much success, too young, can be more of a curse than a blessing; besides, I don’t think it was my time then, for multiple reasons. The rejections humbled me, toughened my discipline, and made me grateful for what I had. The work quit being about me; instead the focus went onto my books, and therefore the readers, which is where it needed to be all along. I learned this over time, and over the grueling process of rejection.

What then are the novels about? Ah, we’ll cover a bit of that tomorrow.

On art-related subjects, one of my assistants uploaded a few of the Richard Raney pieces today, this in preparation for his show Friday. I’m very pleased. If you want a look, here they are: http://www.leopoldgallery.com/Raney.htm Yeah, he’s a talented dude all right. Intend to make headway for him.

Everybody’s Game / Richard Raney Photo

People keep asking me what the new book, Everybody’s Game, is about. All right, I’ll explain it. I’ll explain while on the gallery floor right now, Richard Raney–one of my painters–is posing for a newspaper photographer. Story will break the day of his show, Friday, 12/2. Man, is he proud. Well, I’m proud of him.

The story behind Everybody’s Game is simple. In fact, here’s the synopsis:

Organized sports today has become a disaster for most kids because of how certain adults run the games: the yelling, negativity, and occasional violence. Most leagues tolerate this, and I confront them head-on, revealing how these cruel attitudes have ruined children’s sports, and why it is time for a change. Why would I know about this? Because I was a baseball coach for eight years—albeit a kind one.

Everybody’s Game is about changing kids’ lives by coaching baseball—and all sports—with compassion. It’s about life and its myriad challenges, and sacrificing as a parent or coach, even when you’re broke and overworked. Especially it’s about the things that will matter when you’re on your deathbed: how many struggling children you helped, as opposed to how many games you won.

To keep the book compelling, in alternating chapters I tell about my team of “geeks” who grew into confident ball players over several seasons. Why? Because millions of children feel discounted athletically, as millions of parents once did, as I once did too.

Primarily though the book is about growth: for the child, the parent, and the family. Programs like Oprah place great emphasis on this; so do I. My voice is one of humor, experience and compassion, where I take the reader on a rewarding journey.

I discuss how to be an involved parent or effective coach, covering practices, drills, games, and so forth. But I also cover medicated kids, depressed kids, overweight kids, and all the decadent influences that parents have to deal with in today’s world. The tested solutions I offer unfold with each chapter. So does the philosophy of how when you coach well, you create a sense of community—something our society sorely needs.

My own story as a struggling writer unfolds with the book as well: the enormous problems I’ve faced, and my deep love for my family. I tell how coaching was thrust upon me—-me, an artist and one-time athletic failure—-how at first I resisted it then came to love it, mostly for the kids. I even learned to hit homers at age 40.

Teaching as I entertain, I reveal how coaching with discipline and love is one way of giving back to your society beyond the overwrought professional world, since the journey of the child comes before that of the adult. I’ve written this book to be timely (steroid scandals, out-of-control parents), but also timeless. I believe it is. PD

And there you have it. Why did I–a novelist–write this book, and when will it come out? Those are two complex questions, to which I will provide answers tomorrow. But for now, I’m going to go tease Richard about his refusal to smile for the camera.

Agents / Rejections / Never

I come here to be straight with everyone, so let me be perfectly straight with you writers.

My new book, Everybody’s Game, has received two significant endorsements, and is about to receive several others, but has been rejected by seven agents–including the one in Beverly Hills who requested it (I think he actually wanted to take it, but is just leery of today’s market). The others, it was apparent to me, didn’t even read beyond the cover letter. Of course those agencies were simply cold-queried; with them I had no “in.” Without that, you really don’t have a prayer. Why? Because the PC has made “writers” of scores of people who never would have submitted before. This has caused agents, and publishers, to be inundated in a most insane way. Hence the rejection rate currently is about 99.5%, even if you have a track record.

But in my case, one fine dude in a major agency in NY is currently reviewing EG, and is looking at the entire career that I’ve been assembling for the past 25 years: novels, screenplay, nonfiction, magazine column, TV and radio, etc. Unlike the submissions with the other agencies, I was given an introduction to this fellow. That makes all the difference. We’ll see where it goes, likely in Jan.

Do the previous rejections deter me? Not one bit. Do I find this odd, given the success of Living the Artist’s Life? Somewhat. Does it make me angry? Nah, I know everything will be jake in the end. I remain dead-certain of my purpose; my job, in the meantime, is to keep writing hard, keep promoting my artists, and continue to live fully. Do I think the new book would get published faster if my first name was Paris, my last name Hilton, and if I went waltzing around Hollywood in a bikini? Sure, but my name ain’t Paris. Besides, I don’t look good in a bikini. She does, although I suspect she’s received poor guidance, and inadequate education, along the way. Often the case with the rich: the more enduring values get skewed, or are simply forgotten. Hell, often the case with all kinds of people.

Oh yes, I was talking about rejection. As I say in my lectures, if you believe in what you’re doing, and you feel it in your bones, never, never, NEVER let the rejections deter you. Instead, let them empower you. Amazing, what can result.

Exhibit Finished / New Work / Ozarkian Clan

It’s Sunday morning. The art exhibit, which was attended by a couple of thousand, is over. Met a ceramist whose work I dug: Mark Rademacher. Will meet with him soon to pick up a few pieces: well-executed vessels of almost ancient proportions. This dude innately understands Golden proportion, to which clients always instinctively respond. Wonderful glazes. Pit-fired, which is rare these days.

We’ll have brunch at Mud Street Cafe, then pull out of these hills. First, a hike at Roaring River, where there’s a spring the size of an Olympic pool. Later, another hike at the George Washington Carver place. Then out of the hills, onto the Missouri prairie, and eventually home.

There’s no other place quite like the Ozarks: the big springs, the caves, the water-carved hills. Dorrell history here too: pre-Civil War, alternating wealth and poverty, some clans educated and prosperous, others nothing better than white trash. Most of them violent, as was the tradition then. Lord the stories I could tell, but I do that in my novels. I’ll do it a little bit here too, but later.

I should also discuss what’s going on with the agents in NY, and what’s going to happen to my newest book–along with the four mature ones, the screenplay, etc. But I think I’ll save that for tomorrow. For now, I’ve got to go pick up some art, take a hike, make a drive.

Eureka Springs / Art Exhibit

Picturesque doesn’t describe this town. Victorian architecture, steep streets, endless footpaths, good restaurants. Never get tired of this place. My mom used to have a cabin on the edge of town, and for years we spent odd weekends with her. But she done split for Oregon, so now we just come for the quiet and the calm.

Town characters: the New Yorkers who opened a B&B and write their novels here; the gay chefs who left San Francisco to open a restaurant here; the endless throng of painters and sculptors and poets; the Christian shop-owners selling Christian trinkets up near the Passion Play; the waitresses who apparently would rather be in NY fulfilling their dramatic destinies; the other waitresses who are happy just to be here; the intellectual carpenters, stone masons, and plumbers; then the Ozark natives who are curiously of that live-and-let-live mentality, don’t write books, don’t need to, and just quietly live out their lives in these hills. I know that type. That was my father’s side of the family.

Our favorite hotel? The Crescent. Favorite restaurants? Mud Street for breakfast, Ermilio’s for dinner. Favorite swimming hole? Hog Scald Hollow. Favorite river for canoeing? The King’s. Favorite past-time? Doing as little as possible. The views are endless, the hikes a pleasure, and the accents soothing to the ear. Think we’ll go for a hike soon, then to a spa to soak, then to the hotel just to read for two hours uninterrupted. Dinner later with friends. Damn good day.

After we got into town last night, I stopped by the convention center to meet up with Steve Schmidt—local art bon vivant—and judge the art exhibit there (www.eurekaspringsartists.com). Lord he didn’t make my job easy. A lot of fine work, and all varieties: craft, photography, painting, sculpting, jewelry. Spent two hours reviewing everything, then making my selections. A lot of talent in these mountains. Perhaps I’ll work with some of the artists eventually.

Katrina Auction / Lawrence of Arabia / Flattened

The first of several stories ran yesterday on the fund-raiser that Wendy Garrett is organizing for abandoned pets in the wake of Katrina. About 250,000 animals were left on their own–some chained up, some in cages–and apparently it’s pretty bad. So Wendy’s raising money, through a gala she’s organized, to help rebuild the Gulfport Humane Society. Details are at www.adoptgulfport.org The shindig takes place at the Overland Park Convention Center on December 9th. Art Auction, banquet, music. I’d like to see very strong attendance, and wallets emptied.

Later today my family and I leave for Eureka Springs, AR. Beautiful resort town in the mountains. Been going there for 30 years. Curious combination of latter-day hippies and fundamentalists. Great restaurants and spas. I’ve been asked to judge an art exhibit, so this trip is paid for. It’s going to be great.

Reading a biography on Lawrence of Arabia. My second. You can’t get too much of a genius like that. Hope to follow some of his journeys one day.

Football yesterday. As I expected, the punks flattened me on most of my solo returns. I scored once out of five attempts; a year ago it would have been five out of five. I’m getting slower, they’re getting bigger and faster. Damnit. I almost made two runbacks, but my older son nailed me with a flying tackle right at the goal line on the near-success–this after I’d broken all the other tackles and thought I was in free. Punk! Very proud of him. Well, at least I made one clean runback. I’m pleased with that at 48.

Hard Times

It’s Thanksgiving. I don’t have to work, I don’t have to write, I don’t have to broker a single art deal. All I have to do is play football on Ward Parkway with a bunch of teenage punks, take my wife out for espresso and quiet conversation, then later build a fire at the house and welcome in friends.

How will we begin dinner? The same as always: by everyone expressing, in turn, the things for which they are grateful. We live a middle-class life in this wealthiest of nations, have never known great want or privation, and though we’ve sure seen some difficult times, our “hard times” would have been welcomed as times of wealth by many people in the world. It’s a good day to remember these things.

Now for football. At the end of the game I always have all the punks line up at one end of the field, me at the other. They kick off, and each year I run right through them. This year? Hell, a lot of them are bigger than I now. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get flattened. Well, it’s time.

Pre-Thanksgiving / Richard Raney press

Everyone’s pretending to work today, but no one’s heart is in it. I had one meeting with a mid-sized corporation that is considering an expanded collection of specific themes. No other meetings rest of the day. Have to close a deal by phone on a painting, then another deal on a glass sculpture, secure two more stories for Richard Raney, then I’ll split early. It’s a good day to head for the community center, swim a half-mile, and deflate in the sauna. Drinks in Westport with friends tonight. Do the drinks defeat the purpose of the sauna? Probably.

On Thanksgiving? Another football game with my sons and their friends, this time on Ward Parkway. It’s a KC tradition to play there, on the broad median beneath the pines. Afterward, sit down with family and friends to one fine dinner. No I won’t cook it; my wife’s better at that. But the boys and I will sure do the dishes.

Heck, I’m ready to get out of here now.

Presentation Completed / Final ’05 Signing / KU Mentor

We finished our presentation yesterday for the corporation I’ve alluded to before. Got back rather late. How many hours did my assistants and I put into preparation? About 80. Did it go well? Quite. Do we have the job? Don’t know. The thing I dig about it the most, if I get the gig, is this company is actively involved in their community, meaning I’ll get to structure an outreach program for teenage artists in the inner city of the town where the company is based. Yeah I want to assemble one fine collection. I want that thing to shine, hum and inspire. But making a difference in a bunch of kids’ lives? I want that even more.

Gave my final signing of the year in Lawrence last night. The Art Guild. Good crowd. About 50. It was great going back, since I’m a KU alum, and certainly an alum of all the bars down on Mass Street.

To that end, an old friend of mine–Steve Dickey–met me for dinner after the signing. We both had the same mentor at the University of Kansas, Sam Anderson. A renaissance man, Sam spoke five languages, could read in four others, played violin, could recite Elizabethan poetry or recent limericks, was a globe-trotter, art collector, harmless chaser of university boys (predictably we met in the university sauna, 1979, one of his favorite hangouts), and linguist par excellence. His boy-chasing was all in the most amusing innocence; he never touched or offended anyone. Too well-behaved for that. He simply enjoyed his fantasies.

He never really forgave me for being irrevocably straight. Consequently he was very tough on me about language; would not tolerate American laziness when it came to grammar, history, musical discourse, or diet. Tutored me in Latin and French, joined me on journeys to Colorado, Czechoslovakia and Germany. He also taught German and Russian up on the hill. A native Kansan like Steve and I, he loved his state, but also loved getting away from it, hence many summers in Europe. I’ll write a book about him someday. He died in ’95, and god how I still miss him. Had it not been for that man, I wouldn’t be the writer I am now, or the art consultant.

Anyway Steve met me after the signing. He teaches Serbo-Croatian up on the hill now, is married, has a great kid, and has an office across from where Sam’s once was. I remarked on how I felt Sam with us, and how proud he would be of Steve: fluent in German and Russian, well-traveled in Eastern Europe, sophisticated beyond his years. Steve said he could feel the old man with us sometimes too. Would Sam be proud of me, what with the books and gallery and all? Oh sure. In a way, Steve and I were the sons he never had–since most gay men don’t have sons.

The upshot? I fear we will never see his like again. Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

Sunday Work / Football

It’s Sunday, and I’m in the gallery putting finishing touches on tomorrow’s presentation. Do I like this? No. Do I have any choice? Not that I can see. When you’re self-employed, this is part of the price of having that freedom. Is it worth it? Every bit.

But it’s noon, and I’m done. We’re in very good shape, and I know the presentation is strong. Now I’ll ride my bike home (good brisk day to ride), make an omelette for everyone, then hang a door and paint a jamb. Afterward? Tackle football with my sons and their friends, ages 15 to 17. I’m 48. I can’t outrun many of those punks any longer, but I can sure knock em down. Trouble is, they can knock me down too.

It’s going to be a fine day.