You know the story. . . .
Joe F.T. (First-time) Novelist sends seventy-five pages to an agent, and the agent says, Have you thought about how this might be adapted to film? Joe sheepishly says, A little. Meaning, he dreamed what he'd do with the money. The agent, suspicious, asks if the reunion scene is set at a NASCAR race because it would make a lucrative tie-in? Joe, offended (and embarrassed), says, No, the race instantiates the craziness of people driving around in circles, symbolizing for the reader that these reunions will repeat, perhaps endlessly, each a short-lived failure. Like "Groundhog Day"? says the agent. No . . . well, yes, says Joe, but via Nietzsche and Kundera. I look forward to seeing the whole thing, says the agent.
Joe takes out the NASCAR scene. Then puts it back in, wondering if there are meanings to it he hasn't yet seen.
The agent calls a few weeks later saying she's gotten a call from a "book packager" who's looking to do a series of books about a pair of pit-crew members who fall in love despite working for rival drivers.
Joe, despite himself, is excited. He spews: Like the Tony Earley story, "Charlotte," which channels some of Roland Barthes' thoughts on cultural mythologies? No, says the agent, like Pixar's "Cars." Oh, I liked "Cars," admits Joe. Good. Would you be interested in showing them some of your ideas, seeing where the conversation goes? After a pause, Joe says, No; I think I'd like to see where the book goes on its own. Fine, says the agent.
Joe is kicking himself. He could hear the lost money in the agent's voice. What's your problem, he asks himself. Didn't Hemingway and Faulkner write for the movies? Didn't Fante? Doesn't McEwan? Doesn't your own imagination act like a camera half the time? He drinks several beers. This is all perfectly natural, he decides. The agent isn't in the book business, she's in the agenting business--she needs commodities to change hands. It's not her fault. And the book packagers. . . . well, when she calls with a "literature packager," then sign me up.
Six months later, he is dropped by the agent. That's fine, he doesn't have a book, he doesn't really need an agent. A year later, in the book rack at the Salvation Army used clothing store, he notices Twist My Bolts, a volume in the "Love is the Pits" series. He leaves without buying it, then goes back two days later and buys it. But doesn't read it. It just sits in his bathroom, asking whether any of his ideas were stolen.
But we know this story ends happily. Sure, another year passes. Sure, two hundred pages of his novel seem to be less interesting to agents than seventy-five had been, and less interesting still to publishers. But eventually a small press is willing to put the book out there on its merits. (Or he gives up. Or he dies while rewriting it again.) In any event, a certain kind of ideal has been maintained--there are writers and there are publishers and there are readers, and on some level they're all concerned about the same thing, and it's not the movie adaptation. Sure, there are some commercial forces out there, trying to transmogrify the novel into a "multimedia property," but there is a channel of hope one can navigate: it goes from a literature-loving agent, to a kindly, sensitive editor, and (okay) through a publishing house that doesn't punt on the marketing.
It is while clutching this little fantasy that I approach, with disappointment, today's news about Simon & Schuster.