In Search of the Elusive Comp

indiana-jonesCome closer, child, and I shall tell you why your Uncle Jack gifts you with his storycraft, instead of peddling it to the masses for a fee, and also why he wears these rags and lives in what your father calls “a rat-hole apartment,” and gifts you with his words, instead of real presents, what you can open and actually enjoy.

Long ago, when you were but a thought, I sought the Market of Tales, as those of my guild do. Though there were rumors it was all a-panic from the attack of the Amazon, and there were those that bade me walk the murky road to Self or Vanity, still I knew in my heart of hearts that my place was in the hidden Random House, or with the impossible Penguin. There is but one way to the Market of Tales; the bridges have all collapsed, and to cross the River of Obscurity, one must charter a boat from the ferryfolk, and they are called Agent. And the Agent men and women never offer passage without a Query scroll.

So I wove my word-magic and forged the runes, though I had no Platform, and though I had nary a Twitter follower, and had neglected my Tumblr. For days I worked, under the tutelage of Master Storytellers, and set at the task of telling the story of my story, but like, you know, in an elevator pitch, and without words like bildungsroman, which Agent folk respond to with smite-rage. I finished creating my relic of power in the month of November, but I waited to try to cross the river, which had swelled with the poisons of the Na-no-wri-mo tribe.

The Agent had strange ways, the ways of the Big Apple and the City of Angels, and they were a many-thing, built of a whole tribe. They offered a kindness, though, with warm words and praise for the great Query, and even for the story itself.

“IS THIS Y.A.?” they asked, holding fast to their ferry oars.

“Yes,” I said. “No? Maybe it should be.”

“YOUR BOOK IS YOUR OWN, WRITER-THAT-WOULD-BE,” they said. “WE CANNOT DEFINE IT FOR YOU. AND ANYWAY, IT HAS SORT OF A GROWN-UP VOICE, BUT UH… IT’S ABOUT TEENAGERS?”

“I think it’s YA,” I said.

“THIS IS GOOD,” they said, and for a moment, I relaxed. Mayhap my query was the currency to cross and find the great Harper, Collins, where I would become Bestseller and live like a Duke. But they were not finished, the Agent. Still they had questions for me: “WHO DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR COMPS?”

This was difficult. My story contained chronomancy, so I chose out a name. “Audrey Niffinegger?”

“YOU ONLY NAME THE GREAT AUDREY BECAUSE OF THAT FIVE MILLION DOLLAR ADVANCE ON WHATEVER HER SECOND BOOK WAS.”

This was true. What was the name of that second book, anyway? Did anybody read it? “Connie Willis, then.”

“THAT IS A NOBODY!” bellowed Agent. “MY NEPHEW WOULD NOT KNOW CONNIE WILLIS FROM CONNIE BRITTON!”

“Who?”

“SHE’S IN AMERICAN HORROR STORY.”

“Oh, I keep meaning to watch that. Is that like a compilation kind of thing, or does it have a continuous arc? I hear it’s by the Glee peop-”

“DO NOT TRY TO WIN ME WITH YOUR HONEYED WORDS, STORY-WEAVER! AND IT’S NEITHER. THEY DO, LIKE, ONE STORY EVERY SEASON. EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT! WHAT, HAVE YOU BEEN LIVING UNDER SOME ROCK, WHERE THE ONLY LITERATURE TO READ IS FROM DECADES AGO? WHO ARE YOUR COMPS?”

I trembled. I reached for names, for anyone. For those who had obatined the treasured Booker, for the hallowed Airplane reads. For the divisive indie, for genre. I tried it all “Charles Dickens!” I tried. “Chuck Palahniuk! Ian McEwan! Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Stephen Grishcricht!”

“YOU INSULT ME!” said Agent. “THAT LAST ONE ISN’T EVEN ONE NAME!”

“John… Irving?”

“HM…” considered Agent. “PERHAPS. AND NOT JUST BECAUSE OF THE CAPITAL LETTER THING GOING ON IN THIS BLOG POST, WHICH SOME MAY ARGUE IS ANNOYING AND GIMMICKY.”

I shrugged. “We can’t all be Kelly Ford.”

“IRVING IS CLOSE. BUT HE DOES NOT WRITE YOUNG ADULT. AND HE IS AN ANCIENT FIGURE. DO YOU NOT HAVE SOMETHING MORE RECENT?”

I pondered. And considered. I racked the recesses of my mind, and child, that is a place that is darker than I hope you ever have to tread. In the end, I answered the only way that I could. “I am myself,” I said. “It is enough, I hope.”

Agent sighed. They rowed their boats away from the shore. They handed me back the Query. “SEEK US AGAIN WHEN YOU FIND YOUR ANSWER,” they said. “WE GROW TIRED OF WAITING, AND THE OPEN BAR IS BEGINNING AT THIS CONFERENCE.”

And so I sought, child. I have poured through the annals of libraries, and e-readers – they’re a thing now, get used to it – and I have forged and re-forged my Query, but always my answer feels like a lie, and always Agent, who in the end, we must admit, knows best, can see through my deception. Their question is not unreasonable, and if I cannot find it, then I will never see the shores of Publication.

But the hour grows late, and your father is asking me if I’m talking in that old-timey way he’s told me a million times to stop doing, and he has to drive me home, because I cannot afford my own vehicle. Goodnight for now, and remember, if you dream of being a wizard of stories, one thing above all else: nobody is the next Audrey Niffinegger.

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