About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, February 25, 2011

An Anniversary Musing, #2


A couple years ago I did some postings on technology and the agenting business, in the first one I talked about how the Scott Meredith Agency kept a lot of records on green index cards, called not very creatively "green cards." Alas, those were gotten rid of in the mid 1990s when the agency moved, doing some of these anniversary posts I think how wonderful it might be to look over some of the detailed histories on some of them. But they ain't around, we must move forward!

One of my other earliest clients was a horror writer by the name of Ronald Kelly. I remember being held rapt by his "first" novel on the Shortline bus ride into Manhattan. It was then called "The Tobacco Barn." It ended up being published right around New Years, 1989 into '90, as Hindsight. It took rather a long time to sell, longer I would still think than it should have, before being taken by Wendy McCurdy, then at Kensington/Zebra, so even though Ronald was one of my very earliest clients he was beat to publication by several other authors who came later.

Like many of the authors I took on during my Scott Meredith years, Ronald had used the agency's fee reading service, and The Tobacco Barn wasn't the first novel the agency had seen. Alas, those records we kept track of on what I think were the white cards, which are as dead and gone as the green cards, but if memory serves he went into horror after some initial tries at writing westerns. I didn't read the earlier novels but Barry Malzberg whom I believe did would tell me that Ronald had kind of hit upon success by sheer force of will, that he kept at and kept at until he found something that worked. That makes Ronald a little bit of a rarity. By far the large majority of aspiring writers don't have and won't have and can't have the special gifts that allow success to occur. And then a lot of the writers who do and will and can have those gifts, they have them the same way that some people are born to hit baseballs or shoot baskets. To achieve the goal through hard work, passion, commitment -- even the talented writers need that, but to make the gifts yours, to kind of take and grab them, is another skill set entirely that is vanishingly rare.

So I liked The Tobacco Barn, I worked hard over a couple years and I think nine to twelve submissions though it may have been more, to place it. Ronald ended up becoming a fixture of the Zebra horror program over the next half dozen years, with eight books published.

Alas, the Zebra horror program came to an end, with two books that Ronald had written that were not to be published. The horror market had pretty much collapsed entirely at that time, and I had no idea how or where or to whom I could market them. It didn't help that there wasn't a lot of editorial support at Zebra. The horror line was kind of about the product, they had their two slots to fill and they were going to fill them. Ronald wasn't pushed to go beyond what he needed to do to fill out his spots in that program, which meant the books he'd written with that program in mind weren't likely to go over as mainstream horror/thriller titles.

A decade or so after we parted ways, I was happy to see Ronald have a renaissance of sorts. Two years ago, Cemetery Dance published a collection of his short fiction called Midnight Grinding and Other Tales, and subsequent to that one of the novels that was caught up in the horror collapse of the mid 1990s, Hell Hollow, finally saw print as well. You can track down some of the good notices for those publications here. Another collection called Dark Dixie is available for e-book. And you can check out Ronald's own blog here.

My relationship with Ronald was hardly the longest-lived that I've had, but I will always have a soft spot for him and his work because he was one of my very very first clients, not to many that I was reading on the Shortline bus which automatically puts him in the first six months of my now 25-year career. His resurrection in recent years is inspiring.

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