The Slush Pile

I don’t know how anyone else viewed the prospect of querying. I was nervous, but I didn’t dread it. Honestly, I was eager to start. I think part of it was that I had never done it before, so I wasn’t jaded. And part of it (a big part) was that I was riding the high of having been accepted into Pitch Wars the first time I applied (seriously, I’m still surprised and grateful for it). I didn’t get any requests during the Pitch Wars agent showcase, but I kept revising and eventually I was happy. I received positive responses from beta readers. There was nothing left to do but start querying. Even then, submitting my work to agents—submitting my work to judgment—was terrifying.

I’ve heard a lot complaints and discussion about the phrase “not right for me”, that nebulous phrase agents seem to use when a project is good, but not perfect. Or not perfect for them. Or they don’t know how to sell it. Or, or, or. It’s kind of become a catch-all phrase, but one that, when querying, you’ll probably hear a lot.

I heard it a lot. And I think what softened the blow of hearing that phrase about my own work, again and again, is that I’d thought it before.

When I started querying around this time last year, I worked in television development. Part of my job was to read scripts and judge whether or not they were right for our production company. Ninety percent of them were submitted through agents or managers, so they had been vetted before they reached me. And of the dozens I read I only loved two.

At my going away lunch my boss told me that she read the things I liked carefully because I was so… judicious with my praise. And it wasn’t that everything crossing my desk was bad, it was the opposite of that. I read scripts that were carefully crafted, by veterans in the industry, etc. But. But. But they weren’t right for our company’s vision. Or the humor was too mean. Or we couldn’t think of a suitable home. Maybe something about it wasn’t quite right but we didn’t know how to fix it. Sometimes it was too similar to something we were already developing. A lot of times it was a matter of personal taste. And, occasionally, a project that crossed my desk was just not good enough.

Once, my boss asked me to draft a rejection email for a submission. The dreaded “Thank you, but” email. Honestly? I opened the folder of query rejections and read through a bunch of the polite, but generic replies I’d gotten from agents because they weren’t mean, they were just honest. Thank you for thinking of me. You’re a strong writer. You have a good idea here. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how good your submission is, it’s just not right.

Over the course of the eleven months I’ve been querying, I’ve amassed a lot of rejections. A few came with a nice note, or helpful feedback, but for the most part, it was the generic “I read every submission carefully, but…” And 99% of the time, a rejection is just another email. It’s another red box in my submission spreadsheet, and doesn’t bother me. Much. It’s just a fact of life.

Working in television development was my dream job. I miss it every day. And I will forever be grateful for the way it prepared me to deal with rejection of my own. You’ll hear over and over again that publishing is a subjective business and having worked on the other side of it (albeit in television), I understand that first hand. It helped to make the rejections sting less.

Television Tuesdays: The Good Place

The Good Place isn’t trying to be another Parks & Recreation, though both shows share a creator. It’s happy to be a weirder, more surreal cousin. It’s easy to see how the two are related, but they are also fiercely independent. What they have in common: both are beacons of warmth and humor on days when you can’t remember what it feels like to laugh. The Good Place just finished its first season on NBC.


The premise alone – the eternal afterlife in which you exist after your death – might not seem like it’s for you. But the show has so many layers, there’s something in it for you, I promise.

At times the show can seem too surreal, too fantastical, especially in the first few episodes as the it finds its footing. The overly-fake CGI and preposterousness were a little off-putting but are definitely worth enduring. Hold on. Keep watching. Because before you know it you’ll be thinking about existentialism and ethics. What kind of good are you doing in your life? Are you living life to the fullest? What, exactly, would your version of The Good Place look like and how would your perfect house be decorated?

Maybe you don’t want to consider the ethics of your daily life. I know I don’t. But the show doesn’t force introspection, it’s too busy making you laugh. You feel good because you’re probably a better person than Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) was when she was on Earth. Or you think, “If Tahani made it into The Good Place, I definitely will. At least my altruism isn’t done just so I can brag”.

Despite making it into The Good Place, the main characters that populate it are all beautifully flawed in such relatable ways. Chidi can’t make a decision to save his after-life. Tahani’s kindness is a performance. Eleanor is the voice in the back of your brain that speaks before you can censor yourself. And Jianyu, well, he’s something else entirely.

It’s a weird show, but it’s meaningful and it’s good. It’s hard to discuss without spoiling the show and the way that the season unfolds is worth watching on your own.  The character growth is gradual and the relationships built between the characters feel organic. It carefully balances on the line between providing an escape from the real world and forcing yourself to confront your own reality.

I could go on. I can’t stop thinking about the depth and layers of friendship between Eleanor and Chidi. I could, and someday might, write a thousand words on how The Good Place is one of the most brilliant takes on a dystopia I’ve ever seen. It will take a very long time before I stop picturing Adam Scott as his character, a representative from The Bad Place. The Good Place wasn’t brilliant right out of the gate, but it had a brilliant first season. It’s definitely worth giving a chance because it’s one of those rare shows that’s delightful to watch.

Television Tuesdays: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

 

I came to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend late. The first time I saw an episode I had heard some positive buzz from critics but it was my father that convinced me to watch an episode. He showed me 1×03, “I Hope Josh Comes to My Party!” It was… odd. One thing that immediately became apparent is that for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, context is very much necessary. If you don’t know the premise, the depth of character, the love and care that goes into the satire, then the show seems off-puttlingly bright and manic. But when I looked at CEG holistically, everything slotted together and I couldn’t help but respect, and like, what this small show is doing.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend just wrapped its sophomore season on the CW. Both seasons are available on Netflix.

Overview

When I gave Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a second chance I had just moved to California. I’m not saying that my relocation to the same area as main character Rebecca Bunch had that much of an effect on my perception of the show except, yeah, it probably did.

Rebecca Bunch was an up-and-coming lawyer in New York City, poised to make partner by the time she was 28. But when she ran into her high school crush / summer camp boyfriend Josh Chan wandering around the city, looking so happy and content about his decision to relocate back to the West Coast, she couldn’t help but think: maybe that’s what happiness is. Maybe the West Coast represented everything her life had lost – happiness, relaxation, sunlight. Sure, seeing Josh Chan sparked a reminder of her giddy teenage feelings for him, but he represented so much more. Seeing Josh again was hope.

Rebecca quits her lucrative job and moves across country on a whim. She arrives in California tense, and terrified, and so, so hopeful. The show cleverly uses dramatic irony as we, the audience, know that Rebecca is Not Okay. We watch her do some mental gymnastics to justify her move and lifestyle change. When you combine her forced optimism with her mentally performed musical numbers, things start to slot into place. This girl is barely holding it together. But you cheer for her regardless. That manic optimism is almost endearing, even as she makes some cringe-worthy decisions. You can forgive Rebecca lying to every new person that she meets, because you can’t help but be painfully aware that she’s also lying to herself.

The first season unpacks Rebecca’s decision to move to California and drastically change her life. She chases and idolizes Josh Chan, ingratiating herself into his circle of friends and attempting to befriend his girlfriend. She dates his best friend, even as she fixates on Josh. To Rebecca, the key to becoming as simplistically happy as Josh Chan is to be with Josh Chan. The second season delves further into Rebecca’s supposition that Josh is the key to her problems and also the strains that ‘true love’ can put on friendships.

Musical Numbers

Because the musical numbers of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend take place in the minds of the characters, they have the freedom to be ambitious and outlandish. Generally not more than two to an episode, the songs, like in all musicals, work to further the plot. They do double-duty, giving key insight to the characters while also providing scathing commentary or parody.

Some songs are better than others, which is only natural, but the ones that are good are amazing. “West Covina” gets stuck in my head regularly, and my roommate and I will sing it to one another. “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” flits through my head when I’m putting on make-up for a night out. And every time I think of the “Sexy French Depression” song I marvel at how well it nails perceived depression versus the reality. I’m constantly amazed by how thoughtful, creative, and stuffed with social commentary these songs manage to be.

Representation

The show has a fairly diverse cast and, at times it’s easy to let this fade into the background (which, in many cases, is how diversity should be implemented. Reflecting reality to the point that it’s odd when that reality of diversity isn’t represented) but the depth and richness of characters represented is worth talking about.

In season two we’re introduced to a new character at Rebecca’s law firm (played by Scott Michael Foster aka Cappie from Greek). In a meta song, “Who’s the New Guy?”, the characters ask, “Why should we root for someone male, straight, and white?”:

Rebecca, the heroine, is Jewish and the show explores her culture in different ways. Her love interest, Josh Chan, is Filipino. It goes on and on. Daryl, Rebecca’s boss, has a wonderful storyline in which he comes out as bisexual (his song, “Gettin’ Bi,” is annoyingly catchy). In an interview, creator Rachel Bloom said that she cast Josh Chan purposefully as an Asian bro, instead of his race being the byproduct of blind casting. Why? Because she grew up in SoCal surrounded by fratty Asian bros. It was her reality growing up and, to her, it was strange to not see that represented on screen.

At every turn, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend dismantles the trope of the crazy ex-girlfriend and puts out some scathing social commentary. Rebecca can be annoying and hard to root for, but she’s interesting, smart, and fun to watch. It’s not a perfect show, but it’s a good one, all while being a musical and a very funny comedy.