Professional Discourtesy


Hi friends and stalkers!

Many years ago I was part of a collective of publishing professionals called Storytellers Unplugged.  We posted stories and advice about writing and publishing for anyone who was interested in reading them.  There were a lot of big names and blazing talents in SU, and I was lucky to be a part of it.  I always felt like a bit of an imposter there, but I did my best.  I think some of my posts hold up well enough to recycle here

Here is one from well over a decade ago, when the publishing landscape was far different than it is today, but I think the basic point still applies today.


The other day I listened to an interview with a man who many consider to be one of the saviors of the horror genre.  I happen to agree, and I think most of you reading this who are familiar with the genre would also agree, if I told you his name.  I won’t do that though.  I have a point to make, but I don’t want to shame anyone in the process.  From this point on, for the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to our savior of the genre as Mr. Editor.

I’ve chosen to omit his name from this essay for two reasons, because I’ve met the guy a few times and genuinely like him, and out of simple professional courtesy.

Professional courtesy is a vague concept, and I’m sure everyone has their own idea of what professional courtesy entails.  I could spend the time making a list of things I think fall under the heading of professional courtesy, and I’m willing to bet that list would vary only slightly from your list.  I’ll skip the list though.  I have a feeling this rant will be long enough without it.  Instead, I’ll give you my simple bare bones definition.  Professional courtesy means not muddying the waters, not pissing in the well, not shitting where you sleep.

Throw in your own hacky metaphor.  I’m sure you get my point.

I’ve been guilty of my own lapses into rudeness and stupidity over the years, but I think I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I try not to repeat them.

Back to the subject of the first paragraph, the hero of the horror genre, Mr. Editor.

I happen to agree that the man is one of the horror genre’s greatest treasures, but for me the mere mention of his name is enough to raise my heart rate and blood pressure, to make my face flush red and put me in a rotten mood that can take days to shake off.  To me this man is the embodiment of frustration, anger, and the futility of trying to make a future in this business.

I am sure Mr. Editor would be shocked to hear this.  I doubt like hell that this was his intention.  I know he works hard, and I understand that I’m barely a blip on the periphery of his professional radar.  However, I believe that he is guilty of a huge professional discourtesy, and I would bet my next advance that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Here are the facts, as simply and innocuously as I can put them.

At World Horror Convention 2004 I was approached by a fairly big name writer (who shall also remain anonymous – he hates it when people drop his name) who told me that Mr. Editor was looking for me, that he wanted me to meet him at the party in room such-and-such, that he wanted to discuss my work.  So I met with Mr. Editor, pitched him my book, and he invited me to send him the full manuscript.

I met Mr. Editor again a few years later at another pitch session, and again he invited me to send a manuscript.  About halfway through the second meeting he made brief reference to the manuscript I’d sent two years previous, saying he thought he had something of mine on his desk already, but didn’t think he’d gotten around to looking at it.  I confirmed that he did indeed have another book of mine under consideration, and left it at that.  I didn’t want to irritate the man.  I engaged in a bit of professional courtesy and kept my mouth shut.

It has now been over four years since the first manuscript crossed his desk, and not a word.  Manuscript #1 was available as a trade hardcover when he requested it, and has since gone out of print.  Manuscript #2 was about to become a limited edition hardcover when he requested it.  It sold out by the publication date and remains out of print.  Mr. Editor knew about the publication history of Manuscript #1, and was aware that Manuscript #2 was on the road to hardcover publication, and since he has reprinted novels originally released by both of my hardcover publishers, I don’t believe that was ever an issue.

In the four years since our frustrating professional interaction began, I have sent four or five follow-up emails, all spaced at least six months apart.  Again, I didn’t want to irritate the guy, but I am assured by people much higher in the business than I am, that a short follow-up every six months or so shouldn’t be an irritation.

He has replied to none of my follow-up queries.

One of the first things a writer aspiring to publish his or her work has to learn is how to handle rejection, and while I will never embrace it, I have leaned to deal with it.  Every writer who ever published has dealt with rejection.

But Mr. Editor hasn’t rejected these manuscripts either.

There is simply nothing.  Not a word.  Dead silence.

A yes or no would be nice, though I’ve never asked for either.  All I’ve ever asked is to know if the manuscripts, after four years for one and two for the other, are still under consideration.  Are we still playing the game, or should I pack up my toys and go home?

Others have given me advice over the years.

“Be active on the genre message boards.  Mr. Editor is always reading them, and if he sees your name out there it’ll improve your chances.”

I have tried that with no obvious gain.

“Stay off the message boards.  Too much casual interaction with fans makes you look unprofessional.”

I am doing that now, though for different reasons, but it hasn’t appeared to help.

“Keep sending him your stuff.”

I won’t send him unsolicited material.  If he isn’t answering gentle queries about material he requested years ago, I have no reason to believe he would reply to a query for something new.  More importantly, I just can’t bring myself to throw another manuscript down that black hole.  I see no gain in that, only additional frustration.

To be fair, Mr. Editor isn’t the only publishing professional I’ve dealt with who is guilty of this particular professional discourtesy.  There are other Mr. Editors, a few Mrs. Agents, and a Mr. Comic Editor (there has been some communication with Mr. Comic Editor, but I think the requested script has slipped his memory again).

Tell me, fellow writers, is this your experience?  Is this to be expected?  Is this standard operating procedure?  If so, then writers are without a doubt the most masochistic people on the planet.  We would have to be to keep soliciting this kind of treatment.

To Mr. Editor, if you are reading this.  I sincerely hope this doesn’t cause you any grief.  My apologies if it does.  This has been very much been on my mind lately, and it seems like the kind of thing in which Storytellers Unplugged readers might be interested.  I hope you find I’ve tried to practice professional courtesy, even in the midst of a rant about the business.

To editors and publishers in general, I’m not suggesting you should let a bunch of pain-in-the-ass writers run your business for you, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to treat your potential talent pool with a bit of respect.  If you respect an author’s work enough to request a full manuscript, you might respect the author enough to keep him in that outermost loop of your business where his manuscript awaits that hoped for Yes, or the much more common Thanks but no thanks.

The golden Yes is the reason we keep casting our pebbles into your talent pool, and those of us who aren’t used to the Thanks but no thanks already had better get used to it.

Endless silence though, that’s just rude.

My Favorite Gadget

Here’s a blast from the past, written when I was a part of author David Wilson’s Storytellers Unplugged.  It’s about the beginning of my enduring love of gadgets.  It’s all a bit dated now, my gadgets have evolved since writing this.  I have even written a 100K length novel on a tablet, which now my grandson’s favorite toy since I have upgraded again.

I have also changed my mind regarding Apple products and software.  Everything I own is Apple now.

I have not changed my mind about most of the Lewis/Clark Valley’s radio stations.

My Favorite Gadget

If you’ve read the afterword to my novella 1200 AM Live you’ll know my opinion of my local AM and FM radio stations.  For those who haven’t read the aforementioned piece, I’ll give you the short version.

I fucking hate it.

Local radio in the Lewis/Clark Valley is mostly country, which makes me angry if I’m forced to listen to more than a few minutes, or worse, top 40.  I’m not sure which I hate more, a song where even the guitars sound like they’re whining, or a song with a computerized beat and auto-tuned vocals.  Top 40 is the new disco, in my humble opinion, and country is the new … well, country.

There are a few light muzak stations, and a few rock stations, but the only good (IMO) rock station is broadcast from the city of Spokane, which is over a hundred miles to the northwest, and can only be heard clearly from the roofs of this city’s taller buildings on clear and windless days.

For a few years I contented myself by listening to talk radio instead, but too much of that fosters bizarre personal and political opinions, so I gave up listening to talk radio.  I think it was a good choice, like giving up meth or public masturbation.

For the past four or five years I’ve eliminated my dependency on local radio with a miracle of modern micro-technology called an MP3 player.  I load this wonderful little device with music of my own choosing and an audio book or two, and I’m set.  It’s very liberating, not having my ears held hostage by smarmy DJs and music that, quite frankly, makes me feel like hitting people.

I loved these new gadgets so much and used them so extensively that I wore them out.  Any new MP3 player I purchased, no matter the brand or model, had a three to four-month life expectancy.  I could almost predict the week when my current MP3 player would finally bite the dust and would start comparison-shopping in advance.

For a long time, my wife tried to convince me to buy an iPod, the Cadillac of MP3 players, and I resisted for two reasons.  The first reason was price.  Those little bastards are expensive, so why spend so much when I could almost count on wearing it out in the space of a few months?  The second, and to me more powerful argument against the iPod is that I hated Apple software.  Every piece of Apple software I ever attempted to use seemed to slow down or crash my computer.  Why in the hell would I spend so much money on a product that would probably crash my computer ever time I plugged it in before it finally wore out in three or four months?

Eventually she talked me into it.

I bought an iPod Nano, which worked flawlessly for two years before my wife bought me my new third generation iPod Touch.  The Touch was a Christmas present, and is the coolest, most useful little gadget anyone has ever given me.

The old Nano is still in use.  My oldest daughter has had it for three months now, and it still works just fine.

Truthfully, I thought the Touch was overkill.  It’s a fantastic gadget, but much more than I required for simply playing music or audio books in my car or work truck.  There was just no way I’d ever use even half the features this new toy had to offer.

Then I discovered the wonderful world of applications.  Evidently there are several million applications available to install on this little gadget, many free, most only a few dollars.

I must admit that very few are of any real interest to me.  I’m not a gamer or a social bug.  I don’t want to turn my iPod into a small hand-held heater (yes, there is an application for that), or keep 24/7 tabs on all my Facebook friends.  I’m a driver during the day and a writer on nights and weekends.  My iPod keeps me entertained while driving during my working life.  I thought it would be severely cool if I could somehow use it to write.

As it turns out, there is an application for that too. No shit!

There are probably more than one, but the one I use – I’m using it now, actually – is called My Writing Nook.  It is a cool, and extremely useful little program.  It auto-saves as you work, has an optional auto-correct function that is actually pretty good, and thanks to the third generation iPod Touch’s wi-fi capability, you can email your work to your desktop or laptop computer with the touch of a virtual button.  You can also create your own workspace on My Writing Nook’s website and sync your documents in progress.

This is an excellent tool for writers.

Recently, my wife’s favorite gadget, her mucho expensive touch screen laptop, took a dump on her.  Since she hasn’t had a desktop computer for a few years now, she didn’t have a second machine to fall back on.

I have a laptop too, a tiny little thing about the size of a hardcover book, that I do all my writing on.  Unlike her, I insist on keeping a desktop computer too, but I don’t like writing with it.  I do all my writing on the laptop and everything else, including editing, on the desktop.

Since my wife’s computer is FUBAR, she is now using my little laptop.

Have I gone back to writing on my desktop computer?

He’ll no.  I’m using the iPod for that now, and thanks to my wireless network, and My Writing Nook, transferring my work to the desktop computer for editing is actually easier.

You might imagine that writing anything more extensive than, say, a shopping list would be a pain in the ass with the iPod’s tiny little screen and keyboard, but that’s not the case.  I got used to it remarkably fast.  I still have to copy and paste my work into Microsoft Word, and there is a bit of formatting and extra editing involved in incorporating your output into your word file, but not as much as you might think.

If the My Writing Nook people could incorporate some simple formatting options and a more powerful spellchecker into the program, it would be just about perfect.  With a cost of $1.99 for the iPod application, and no cost at all to use the Writing Nook web page, I can’t complain too much.

Now my favorite gadget is my most useful one.

Holy Crap!  Regarding Religious Freedom and the Upcoming Elections

I generally don’t like to talk about politics or religion – “Damnit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a political pundit!” – but it seems like we’ve backslid about sixty years in the past few months, especially regarding women’s rights and the idea that the United States of America is not now, nor has ever been, a Christian Nation.  I imagine the 1950s were a wonderful time in some regards.  In others, however, it was not.  Widely accepted and protected racism and sexism are only a few of the social evils we have mostly left behind.

It seems lately that a lot of these old notions have been pulled out of the trash-heap and dusted off.  It seems insane to me, how many people seem eager to erase sixty years of social progress.  When I heard a man who I once liked and respected refer to The President of the United States as – and I apologize for this – “The Niger ‘N’ Chief,” it felt like someone slugged me in the stomach.  I guess I always knew there were people who thought and behaved that way, but it’s a shock to find out how many there are, and how close I am, or in this case used to be, to some of them.

So, here are my two cents, for what they’re worth.

Regarding Religious Freedom and the Upcoming Elections.

National elections have always been a messy business, lots of name calling, finger pointing, and hate of contrary ideas and beliefs manifesting as hate toward the people who hold those contrary ideas and beliefs.  The upcoming election seems, to me at least, to be an especially rancorous one, and most of that ugliness seems centered around political figures presenting themselves as religious leaders to a constituency of THE FAITHFULL.  They betray a sense of entitlement, a GOD GIVEN imperative for THE FAITHFUL to spread THE TRUTH as far and wide as possible, and to turn THE TRUTH into THE LAW whenever they can.

I come from a family of Jehovah’s Witness, and say what you will about that particular sect, they refused to get involved in politics in any way.  All of the ones I knew at least believed they had no business at all getting involved with the political process, which they considered too worldly to participate in, and I was led to believe that was the official position of the JWs.  Maybe that is why the idea of mixing religion and politics seems so ridiculous to me.  Or maybe the notion of turning religious belief into law is just a ridiculous one.

Most religious sects see it as their job to make everyone else behave and think the way they do, and since good old fashioned conversion is plainly not doing the job for them anymore, they have decided they must write their beliefs into law and force us to behave and think as they do.  Kind of like The Taliban did in this little Middle Eastern country some of you may have heard of.  If you think The Taliban is an unfair example, then you need to start paying attention to how some of the Christian extremists behave.  It’s frightening.  If the Hard Religious Right was given free reign in the USA, we would be burning witches and demon worshipers (ie, anyone who doesn’t agree with them) at the stake, and stoning homosexuals, liberals, and atheists to death in town squares for the entertainment of THE FAITHFUL.

They are not fighting for religious freedom.  They already have religious freedom.  They are fighting to create a GOD CENTERED AMERICA, also known as a theocracy.  Google theocracy if you don’t know what it is.  I am referring to the extremists, not the sane majority of religious people, but unfortunately it is the extremists who are making the most noise and putting forth a huge effort to recreate America in their demented image.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

I found the line above in a curious old document called The United States Constitution.  Evidently the fellows who wrote The United States Constitution were so serious about the idea that they included it in The First Amendment.  They didn’t waste any time putting it down on paper.  They wanted it right out front.  And just in case the Founding Fathers didn’t make their opinion of religion mixing with politics clear enough in The First Amendment, I’ll offer the following historical quotes.

“The United States in is no sense founded upon the Christian religion.” – George Washington

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.” – Thomas Jefferson

“In no instance have churches been the guardians of the liberties of the people.” – James Madison

“This could be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it.” – John Adams

“I disbelieve all holy men and holy books.” – Thomas Paine

I know these last two aren’t Founding Fathers, but the quotes are excellent.

“The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession.” – Abraham Lincoln

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” – Susan B. Anthony

We live in a nation, in a world, full of conflicting opinions and ideas, and here in the good old USA you are allowed to hold and express any opinion you want.  That right, granted to you by The First Amendment, extends to your religion.  Worship Yaweh, Allah, Odin, Zeus, the sun, Mother Nature, Justin Beiber, or even The Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever floats your boat.  You can even – and here’s a radical notion indeed – worship nothing at all!

What The First Amendment does not grant is the power for some backward thinking politician to write his religious beliefs into law.  If said politician feels strongly about a topic, then he/she must find a way to promote his or her position without falling back on the Bible or God.  If they can’t, then he or she is not worthy to promote that idea, or the idea itself is not a worthy one.

Separation of Church and State is not a radical idea, or even a new one.  It’s what will prevent this nation from becoming a theocracy, and if you think a theocratic nation would be a good thing, just imagine what life would be like if it wasn’t your faith or sect in the seat of power.  Then you might discover what religious persecution is all about.

Brian Knight

Maybe Someday I’ll Write a Nice Western

This is a very old blog post I’m recycling, and which is kind of apt now that I’m branching out a bit with crime and YA Fantasy fiction.

I hope you enjoy it.

Brian Knight

Greetings from Lewiston, Idaho, which, despite popular belief, is not the “Potato State,” but the “Gem State.” Have you ever seen a Star Garnet? Most likely not, because the only two places on Earth they are found in India, and the state of Idaho.

Fascinating, no?

The few of you who know a little about me are probably saying “What? I thought he lived in Washington.”

I do live in Washington, in a small city called Clarkston, right on the border with Idaho. In almost all respects, Lewiston and Clarkston are one city, but it’s a divided city, split down the middle by the Snake River, which happens to be the Idaho/Washington border. Clarkston is the poor first half of the city, Lewiston the slightly less poor second half.

Lewiston and Clarkston are named after the explorers Lewis and Clark, and at one time, Lewiston was the capitol of Idaho. Before that though, when the state of Idaho was still part of a huge chunk of land called the Washington Territory, this place’s name was Jawbone Flats.

Fascinating, no?

Well, it is to me. I love local history. There isn’t much of it here, we’ve only been around for a few hundred years, but what history we do have here is colorful.

About a half block from where my mother, a paralegal, works, there is a small city park. There used to be a Boys & Girls Club there, and for at least a few summers, a kick-ass water slide. There also used to be a city swimming pool there. Those are all gone now, the buildings that housed them empty for all I know. The Hanging Tree is still there though.

I discovered The Hanging Tree when I was fourteen or fifteen, after a half day of summer school classes on the Lewis Clark State Collage campus not too far away. A few friends and I had just been chased out of the administration building after we were caught riding on the top of the building’s single elevator. With nothing else to do, we decided to go make some trouble in the nicely shaded park.

The tree had a plaque on it, telling its history, who all had been hanged there.

There’s another hanging tree not too far from where my grandparents live near Pierce, Idaho. Five Chinese men were on there way to trial for the murder of a local merchant who was found hacked into pieces after an argument with them, when a lynch mob liberated them from the Sheriff’s Posse and strung them up.

Lynching used to be all the rage in these parts. Lynching and Indian Massacres.

History is always bloody, and the history of the American West is no exception.

I’ve learned much of the local history I find so fascinating, including the story about a crazy mountain man known as Ridgerunner, from my grandpa and grandma Cole, who are in their own way as much a part of local history as The Hanging Tree only a few miles from their home. We’re even related to the famous old west outlaws Frank and Jesse James.

They are prospectors, loggers, and mill owners from a family of the same. They lived the original American Dream; independence, ownership, and family. Their dream is dead now, or at the very least it’s evolved into a New American Dream; wealth, big houses and fast cars, overindulgence, instant gratification, all served with a sloppy, steaming heap of sex.

The only respect that belongs to the hardworking family man/woman these days is self-respect, and the New American Dream is doing its damndest to kill that too.

Sorry, I strayed a little.

Or did I?

When my grandpa found out I was a writer, a thing I didn’t advertise to most of my family because of what I write, he asked me what I was working on. At that time, I was working on a novel called Feral, so I told him about it.

Have you ever been on a crowded elevator with one of those folks who only baths on February 29th, and who missed their last date with the bar of soap because they forgot to change their calendar? You know the faces the other people make as he cozies up to them, introduces himself, and begins a long, complex story about how the CIA, Forest Service, and Bill Gates are out to get us all?

That was the face my grandpa made when I told him about Feral.

My mom, who has been making that face about my writing since I was in High School, hid a smile behind a hand. My grandma continued to look politely interested, but I could tell it was a struggle.

Finally, grandpa said, “Well, maybe someday you’ll write a nice western.”

It’s a reasonable expectation, I guess. With so much interesting regional history around here to base a story on, and so much interesting family history to tie in with it, it’s probably what he expected I’d write.

I swallowed the first response that came to mind (not bloody likely) and gave him the synopsis for a weird western/horror story that’s been sitting unfinished on my hard drive for a few years now. It included a fictional member of the Cole family and a crazy Frenchman who looks like Alice Cooper and behaves like the Marque De’Sade.

Grandpa was not amused.

These days not bloody likely seems like a foolish attitude to take. Tom Piccirilli and Ed Gorman both write westerns, and Charles Grant writes romance under a pen name (or so I hear). Who am I to argue with them, especially when the mainstream has little or no interest in horror these days? I’ll mention no names, but a well-known author who’s familiar with my work once told me that if I wrote mysteries or thrillers instead of horror, I’d probably have a big fat multi-book deal by now.

I should probably be content with what I do have; a decent paying day job, some small press book deals that help me get through some of the tighter times, and just a modicum of self-respect.

I’m not content with that though. I want a bigger audience, better deals, and to be able to answer the question what do you write? without everyone looking at me like I’m a circus geek. I want to be able to quit my day job, buy a big house, and drive a fast car, instead of an old mini-van with broken door handles, broken power windows, broken air conditioner, broken heater, bad fuel injectors … oh hell, you get the picture.

And sometimes I do get other, non-horror, ideas.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll experiment and try something different, something without maniacs, monsters, or ghosts. Everyone is doing it these days. Genre bending and crossing is all the rage. I certainly have to try something different if I’m ever going to find the New American Dream.

Maybe I’ll write a thriller next, or a romance (what my dad used to call crotch rippers), or a mystery.

Maybe even a nice western.

Brian Knight