NOTES ON A SCANDAL: I thought it was ironic that I went with my friend Joy to see the excellent film Notes on a Scandal, then received a rejection letter for Conquering Venus taking me to task for including similar themes all in the same weekend. I won't reveal the name of the publisher, but needless to say it's a bunch of tight-asses who were scared of the content. I will say that the press in question is well-known for publishing novels by gay and lesbian authors. Who knew the queer presses were becoming so conservative?

The letter began with flowering praise about my writing skills, how well-drawn the characters were, how I had superbly re-created London and Paris circa 1995. Then it said the "committee" had found some of the content objectionable. The editor said this committee was made up of "teachers," which made me laugh. They didn't like the supernatural and unexplained parts of the story. The fact that Martin and Irenne -- the young gay man from America and the 60-something Parisian woman -- had the same tattoo and shared similar visionary dreams was just "too unbelievable."

But what the letter spent the most time on was chiding me for having a main character -- the high school teacher Diane -- look the other way when Martin begins an affair with one of her students. They also objected to the way the teacher "allowed" the students in her charge on the trip to Europe to party and sneak out of the hotel. I'm not sure what planet these teachers are on, but most of the school trips I remember taking were non-stop parties. In Europe, where the legal age is 16 for sex and 18 for everything else, there's very little that can be done. Trust me. I know for a fact.

What I found hilarious about the letter was that it seemed to be addressed not to me, but to the character of Diane, and for her horrible choices and shortcomings as a teacher. How dare she allow the relationship, the partying, the abject neglect of those in her charge! I've never received a rejection letter quite like it before. Sure, when I had the agent in New York a few years ago, one editor raised objections to the relationship between Martin (who's 22 in the novel, and the student is 18), but back then most of the rejections were hysterical overreactions to the terrorist aspect of the story.

Rather than write a nasty note back, I simply sent a thank you letter and said I was thinking of turning it into a memoir, "because truth is stranger than fiction." At this writing, the publisher has not responded.

Oh, and I highly recommend the film. Dame Judi Dench is totally out of her mind as the repressed lesbian school marm who has the hots for fellow teacher Cate Blanchett, who she discovers is having an illicit affair with a 15-year-old boy. The script is wickedly funny, despite the dramatic themes, and Dench's performance is really Helen Mirren's only competition.

Comments

I *Heart* Notes on a Scandal
Carl Bryant said…
Wow, Collin - I've never received such a detailed rejection letter.

Usually my rejection comments fall somewhere between "thanks, but I'm not the agent for you" and "please take your writing pencil and ram it into your brain."
Anonymous said…
Maybe Daniel Radcliffe should play Martin.

GAV
Collin, I have to admit I am a little jealous of your rejection letter. Mine never elicits so much - anything - from the people who read it (I've been shopping a novel around, as well as my poems). The best I ever got from Graywolf was "it is very nice but in the end we just couldn't believe some of your plots twists." Which ones? I'll never know. Maybe it was that Frank O'Hara comes back to life as a sort of Virgil; or maybe it was that the lesbians who meet at the end of the book instantly merge and move in. Who knows.

And I agree: it is a total grudge match between Mirren and Dench, but Dench should DEFINITELY run away with the spoon.
I'm sure the right published will pick up your novel.

I was curious about the movie... I'll definitely have to see it.

It's almost weird typing on your blog with you across me.

-D.
Collin said…
Although I love Dame Judi, Dame Helen gets my vote for best actress. Judi's got her little gold man and Helen is way overdue.

Dustin, you looky-lou, you! I wondered why you were eyeballing me from the other side of the room. Dustin and I attended a loverly poetry reading at Outwrite Books this evening in Atlanta and he was sitting on the other side of the room typing on his laptop.
Have you seen Dench in The Shipping News? I thought she was wonderful. Spacey, however, did't fit the part. Blanchett was solid - as always. I was disappointed in that film - because the book was such a powerful read for me.
SarahJane said…
Hi -
is it cruel to say that i enjoyed reading about your rejection? sorry. it's funny how you imagined them writing to your character. Good luck finding a publisher.
cheers

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