The Story of the (My) Novel So Far

I tried to hit a home run. In that sense, it’s hard to find blame. I perhaps should not have tried to swing for the fences. Maybe I should have settled for a double. A solid single even. But I tried to hit a home run. They’re so much sexier.
What am I talking about? Anyone who has followed my ramblings here, or who knows something about me, knows I have tried to get a novel published for a good 18 months now. Perhaps longer. I don’t know. Let’s call it 18 months. I am on my second agent (or third but second trying to sell this novel). And really, at a certain point, I have to say, it’s not going to work. Because it’s not working. It’s not a bad thing to admit but it’s something that has to be admitted. The gatekeepers of the (American) publishing industry have looked at what I had to offer and were indifferent.
Here is my predicament, in random order:

1)   I’m on my second (American) agent. Wait. Third. But I say second for a reason. Hang in there. I went American for many reasons. Now who am I, as a dumb Canadian with one (minor) book of short stories under his belt, to try and publish with a foreign-owned American multinational conglomerate? Why should they even look at me? This is perhaps the most relevant question here. Who am I? Or more to the point: who do I think I am?

2)    And the agent thing is a story in itself. My first American agent, an old pro, and a lovely fellow, was not interested in my fiction. He was interested in what I do on Twitter. I said fine. The industry didn’t. We parted ways. This was amicable. I have an open invitation to return to him. Should I stop this annoying fiction habit. And believe me, it is annoying. (And no, don’t worry, this is not a “why write?” post though, honestly, I rue the fact that I have the urge to put words together to form sentences that aren’t remotely true. Unlike that last one. That was true. But then again, it wasn’t fiction.)

3)   I met my second agent through Twitter. We worked on my novel. I redid it twice (which would be, for those keeping score, drafts 8 and 9). And then I heard absolutely nothing from her. Months later, I tried to get in touch and she told me she’d left the agency she was at when we’d met to start up her own and that I was not on her roster. Then she accused me of being passive aggressive. It was an odd kind of experience. Frankly, it was a huge waste of time. But the editing I did under her was good stuff. So all was not lost.

4)   My current agent. Another old pro. Very nice. But he’s getting nowhere. And not for want of trying. I have listed some of the responses from some of the publishers in these pages. Some were nice. Some ignored me. Some asked for more material and then said they didn’t find the original material compelling. Some were dicks. Some suggested I stay with male editors. They were also dicks.

5)   By this time, a large sub-section of you are thinking: so self-publish, already. I’m getting to that, hold on.

6)   I have a call scheduled with my agent in August, after I’ve returned from holidays. I know what we’re going to talk about.

7)   Self-publishing is work. It’s a job. Full-time if you want to do it properly. Yes, today authors are at the center of publishing – they can control everything. The internet will set us free. Musicians have done it and now writers can do it too. But it is a job. And, frankly, I have a job. I have a great job. It pays me well (but if you’re my boss and you’re reading this I am SEVERELY AND GROTESQUELY UNDERPAID AND SOMETHING MUST BE DONE ABOUT IT). It more than holds my interest. And, most importantly, it is a full-time job. More than full-time. It’s so full-time it cuts into my bourbon time.

8)   The American thing. OK. I went American with this book. Why? The vast majority of my book is set in America. Let’s go with 98%. Perhaps 2% is set in Canada. There is a Canadian character in the book, a woman from Montreal. But the rest of the characters are American. Except for one dude from Japan. He’s important. Of the main characters, two of them are Italian-Americans. Why? Probably so I could write about Italian food. The book is set in New York. And Montana. And there’s a road trip between New York and Montana with pit stops in Kansas City and Denver. There is a sex scene in a service station toilet in Wyoming. (I’m going to post the synopsis that we’ve used in the pitch at the end of this, um, what is this exactly? A screed? I don’t quite know.)

9)   Why is a Canadian, and a brown-skinned Canadian at that, writing about America? Why not? You want to know what my book’s about? It’s about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about many things, sure, but it’s mostly about the pursuit of happiness. Which is universal. But also particularly American.

10)  Why did I call myself a brown-skinned Canadian? Other than the fact that I am, indeed, a brown-skinned Canadian? Because as a writer, that sets up expectations. My novel is not that Canadian. We’ve covered that. Canadian novels can be set in a lot of places but Canadians don’t like Canadian novels that are American. This suddenly becomes an issue. The fact is, I don’t really write very Canadian fiction. My writing is mostly urban and not really concerned with typically Canadian themes. (The who and what of CanLit is for another time, really, I have a headache.) I’m also not a genre writer. I write fiction. You might even call it literary fiction. Plus I didn’t write about brown-skinned people in the novel. I didn’t write about some brown-skinned Canadian Yuppie reminiscing about his grandmother making chapatis in some dusty lane in India. Why? Did I mention that many of the characters in the novel were Italian? Why? Because I don’t see characters first by the color of their skin. Or where I came from. Or where my family came from. Hell, where I grew up, over 90% of the population was Jewish. My high school grad ceremony was in the auditorium of a synagogue. (I was valedictorian. At the end of my speech I got Biblical and told my classmates to go forth and multiply.) I didn’t write about that, either. I rarely, if ever, write about myself. My life is really not the source material for my work (answering a huge question I get on Twitter all the time.) That’s the point of writing. You get to make things up. You get to invent worlds and people and all sorts of things.  Mmmmm. Chapatis.

11)  The other question, of course, is why not return to the publisher who published Squishy? That is a fair question. But they are small. They are too small. I don’t even know that they would want this work but mostly these are people who haven’t even managed to put Squishy out as an e-book. I’m pretty sure I can get those rights back soon.

12)   So I tried to hit a home run. It didn’t work. I would just give up but I don’t think what I’ve written is bad. But I’m not objective.

13)   At some point I’m going to have to do this self-publishing thing. I have a “platform” (publishers love using that word – authors need platforms! And I have one. You know what? I have more than one!). And I’m a loud mouth. I guess I just need to figure out how to do these things. The industry has changed. What a revelation. I think I’m trying to play by the old rules.

14)   A few days ago, on another blog, I asked this: Do all writers have to become content strategists now? I’m about to find out. Of course, the irony of that question, is that….my job that pays me relatively well (unless you are my boss in which case I AM AMAZINGLY AND EMBARASSINGLY UNDERPAID) requires me to be, um, a content strategist. It’s kind of what I do….

15)   I love this post from the great great great website Brainpickings. Some thoughts from George Orwell  about why he writes (if you haven’t read the book mentioned here buy it). Every part of it rings true. Let’s face it. Writing is a form of immortality. It takes a certain kind of arrogance to put your work out there. To think that what you write is worthy enough for others to read. The creative impulse might be misunderstood, or not understood at all, but there is arrogance at its heart. It is the driver. What makes you put that stuff out there. What makes you swing for the fences….

16)  (And here, folks, never before seen – except by certain publishers – is the synopsis/pitch of my novel)


Waiting for the Man is a novel about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about listening to the voice in your head, the one you know you shouldn’t listen to but you do, because sometimes that’s all that makes sense. It’s about how your happiness might clash with mine and the conflict that arises when it does. It takes place in a world where the private is the public and our innermost thoughts become fodder for the world’s insatiable consumption.

Plus there’s sex in a bathroom in a truck stop in Wyoming.

Joe Fields is a relatively successful ad copywriter in New York, best known for a campaign for a new beer he called Berlin (though it was not a German beer). But lately he’s been unhappy writing ads for diapers and detergents. And a strange man – who bears an striking resemblance to Starsky & Hutch’s Huggybear – has been speaking to him: In his dreams, when he’s awake, this man, this voice won’t leave him alone. And so Joe submits to this voice and starts “waiting for the man” on the front steps to his walk up. A few days later, a beat reporter from the Post, Dan Fontana, takes an interest in Joe’s story and a media storm slowly builds – to the point where Joe’s wait has attracted a crowd, the cops have shut his street and networks across the country and around the world clamor for the rights to Joe’s story.

Dan and Joe’s different ambitions and dreams form the basis of the odyssey that propels the narrative. Dan is both enabler and foil to Joe’s pursuit. And Joe is the same to Dan.

Following instructions from the Man, Joe takes off on a road trip in a sponsored mini van with a media bus (and Dan) following and documenting every aspect of the journey. Joe picks up a Japanese hitchhiker (touring America before returning home to the safety of his father’s business), has a very public encounter with his invasion of privacy in Indiana, and suffers through the horrors and humiliations of fast food along the way. The longer the trip takes though, the less the public’s – and media’s – interest and his quest to meet the Man ends in disappointment.

But he does manage to find himself working as a dishpig in a five star ranch/spa in northern Montana, where his advertising past leads him to a new and improbable job. Until his more recent past shows up at his doorstep…

Waiting for the Man is about the pursuit of happiness, yes, but it’s also about family restaurants, Kansas City bbq, love deferred, the Cambodian war, social media, the hospitality industry, farming, the death of traditional media, foreskin restoration, greasy pizza, the lawns of New Jersey, Japanese nepotism, French pastry, religion, Tupperware containers, the Blackfoot nation, celebrity, the American countryside, German tourists and our ownership over our own stories in an age of always-on media.

Arjun Basu is a Montreal-based writer and magazine editor. His first book, Squishy (DC Books, 2008) was shortlisted for Canada’s ReLit Awards and garnered favorable reviews from Canadian media and was recently released as an audiobook (Iambik Audiobooks). In 2009, he started writing “twisters” on Twitter – 140 character short stories – for which he won a Shorty Award in Literature. His twisters have attracted media attention from the likes of the Washington Post, NPR and Fast Company, among others, as well as media in Canada, the UK, Portugal, the Netherlands, Norway, Australia, Japan, India and South Africa, and have recently been published in two high school text books about new media by McGraw-Hill Ryerson in Canada. He has 150,000 followers. His short stories have been widely published. He is currently mulling over his next novel, a story inspired by a recurring character from his twisters. For more about him visit


So this fall, we’ll see. I might try and swing for the fences again. Except I’ll do it on my own….








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