This is a letter I received last year in response to the submission of my first novel, Trawling Oblivion, to Melville House. It's from Dennis Loy Johnson, the editor and publisher. It reads as follows:
What a wild ride your Trawling Oblivion is! It's one of the funniest and most interestingly constructed books I've read in a while, and I was delighted to meet the intelligence behind it all ..... And yet I'm sorry to say I'm going to have to take a pass on it. Essentially, it's just too avant-gardist for us - much as I like it I don't think we could successfully market it. I kid you not in saying that I really enjoyed it thoroughly, though. If you ever find yourself straying more toward something just a tad more reliant on narrative, I hope you'll keep us in mind. I do admire your writing, meanwhile, and I'm flattered you asked us to consider it.
With all best wishes,
Dennis Loy Johnson
When I got this in the mail I felt this wave of happiness and fear, and I immediately felt that Dennis Loy Johnson was the nicest human being in the world. I just couldn't believe anyone would ever like any of the novels I'd ever write, especially a first novel. I've since written others, and I've also revised Trawling..., cutting out many things I thought no longer worked, whatever that means. I wrote Broken Antennas after Trawling..., which I think is definitely too weird and silly to ever publish. I've sent it here and there, but no one wants anything to do with it. I understand. (I want to quarantine some of its sections to construct smaller stories to add to a collection I'm also working on called Milk Like a Melted Ghost.)
Then I wrote my favorite, Lepers and Mannequins, which I sent out to Dennis Loy Johnson right after I'd finished it. I'm still nervously waiting to hear back. It's about a leper colony constantly at war with a mannequin tribe over spare parts, but of course one leper, Quall, is in love with a mannequin, Jaundice, so there's a certain Romeo and Juliet aesthetic to it, which isn't very original, but it's still a pretty strange, humorous and relevant novel, I think. It attempts to show how disconnected people are from each other, but especially from themselves (literally, in the story, with lepers losing limbs all over), and how humans tend to objectify other humans for their own purposes, including women, but mostly just people they don’t know or understand. Blah blah. I wrote Lepers... while recovering from an appendectomy, which seems appropriate since I was myself now sans one body part. Writing it was one of the happiest times I can remember being in a long time, with the exception of my daughter being born.
After that I started working on The Immortals Act Their Age, a novel of interconnected stories. For the most part it's pretty much a 'surreal fantasy,' like most of my other fiction. I think this novel's main theme is how humans not only interact with one another, but how, without even knowing it, they effect / affect each other from a distance by degrees of separation. I think Lepers... makes social commentary in the same manner. These discriptions are silly.
I've been working on and off on some other novels, too, like Mermaid Sackrace and The Quarantine Ceremony (semi-autobiographical), as well as small novels like The Dying Bloom and Ox Crossing Drawbridge. Whether these or the other novels are any good, whether they will ever see publication, I don't know (I sometimes think their titles are the only good parts). When I think about it, I feel happy and immediately afraid. To be honest, I don't feel like 'shopping them around' because I have no idea where to send them anymore (they've all been rejected a few times). But if I did start submitting my novels again, and if I could receive rejections like the one Dennis Loy Johnson sent me last year, I think I'd be happy with that.