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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.

The End of an Era

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When I was younger I worried I’d never work in the television industry because I couldn’t live in LA. I had no reason to believe this other than the fact that I’m pale and it’s sunny all the time in SoCal. So I quietly folded that dream into a paper football and flicked it into the far recesses of my brain. I focused on my other dream—becoming a political speechwriter. I went to college in D.C. and I loved it and then… I took screenwriting classes.

I told myself it was just for fun. And those classes were fun. They absolutely helped me become a better writer even though the scripts I wrote for class were terrible. I learned how to critique and how to share my work and to be humble. Then I graduated with my degree in political communication and started working at a law firm and that was that.

For the most part, I hated working in the law firm. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have. The hours were great, the job wasn’t demanding, and I had great benefits. But I was 23 and it was my first full time job and I knew that I wasn’t going to stay. I signed on to work for two years, knowing that after that time I would go to grad school, and that’s what I did.

I used the two years I worked there to save money, and write, and decide what I wanted to study. It felt like all of my friends got their Master’s in Public Health and I’d seriously considered getting a M.A. in Library Sciences but… it wasn’t exciting. I didn’t think my passion for books would be enough to get me through the curriculum. But I thought of something that would.

Sometimes I wonder if getting an M.A. in Television-Radio-Film was a terrible, self-indulgent idea, but I know it wasn’t. It did what a lot of artistic post-grad programs do, they give you time to create. The short films I made were Not Good, but I learned so, so much. The program gave me time to brainstorm, and take honest criticism, and write creatively with deadlines. And it gave me the push I needed to finally move to LA.

For two years there have been a few drafts in my folder with titles like “Moving to LA” and “Finding a Job” which, while not creative, I thought would be helpful. A series of posts about the weird, unexpected parts of moving out West, like how a lot of apartments don’t come with fridges and the beach is gray and overcast every June. But I never did and now it feels too late.

When I got to LA I knew how incredibly difficult it would be to set up in a new city. Or, I thought I did. I had done it for college and again for grad school, but I was wrong and that’s hard to admit for someone who loves to be right. It wasn’t any one thing that made the transition hard, it was a series. Individually, I conquered them. Collectively, however, they got to me. It was hard to find a job, to mesh with my roommates, to commute 45min each way while working 11 hours a day. It was discouraging to go weeks, or months, between jobs or to have a job that demoralized and tired me out. It was trying when, one by one, my few friends in the city moved away. It was difficult to come to terms with my mental illness and then to do something about it.

But I did all of those things! I got the job, and then the next one. I moved to a new, better apartment in a more central location with a roommate I liked and got along with. I went to therapy and tried my hardest to take care of myself. Through all of this I was writing. Or trying to write. And that whole ‘tortured artist’ thing is crap. I have never hurt more than when I tried to force myself to work long days and then go home and write, to hit deadlines, to do work that I was proud of. The more time went on, the more drained I became.

Giving notice that I was leaving my current job was one of the hardest, scariest things I’ve ever done. It hurt because, for the first time, I’m leaving a job I truly love. I wish 16-year-old-Molly could see me now. In therapy. On antidepressants. With a strong group of friends that I love with my whole heart and finally feel loved and understood and free to be Most Moll. Working in the TV industry.

The same day I gave my notice I was on a conference call with one of my favorite writer / television creators of all time. I wrote a little note to myself that says, “You’re quitting your favorite job today. That’s hard. It’s probably going to suck. But remember the love you got today. Remember that you got to be on a conference call with [redacted]. He was cool and had great opinions and was supportive of his writers. It put a giant  smile on your face. Treasure that.”

So after two years in LA I’m packing up and moving back east. Not to my parents house, or my hometown, but hopefully somewhere that finally feels like home. Somewhere that it rains, and is near friends, and gives me time to write. I’m taking my antidepressants with me.

Television Tuesdays: Are You The One?

Love competitive dating shows? Are You The One is the cross between The Bachelor and Real World you didn’t know you needed. Honestly, I thought I would hate it. I’m so glad I was wrong. It’s the perfect outlet to set your worries aside because you’ll be way too busy yelling at all the dumb decisions the cast members are making. The new season premieres Wednesday, August 15th at 10pm on MTV.

Every reaction is somehow more dramatic than the last

Overview

10 men and 10 women are put up in a dope house in a beautiful location for 10 weeks to find their perfect match. The twist is, each person in the house has been pre-matched by expert matchmakers before they arrive and, through the course of the show, must figure out who their match is. They can’t have any pens, paper, or electronics that could help them keep track of any potential matches. If, by the end of the 10 weeks, all of them have found their perfect match, they split a million dollars. If they fail, no money and, potentially, no true love.

Each episode sees two or three couples going on a date after everyone competes in a Survivor-like challenge. Sometimes they’re answering trivia questions about their housemates, sometimes they’re completing feats of strength or athleticism, and sometimes they’re just eating something nasty.

While the winning couples go on their dates, everyone left in the house votes on which of the dating pairs will go into the Truth Booth, basically a free opportunity to find out if one of the couples is a perfect match. It’s the only way to guarantee that a pair is a match and, if they are, they leave the house and get to stay for the remaining weeks in a Honeymoon Suite.

At the end of the episode, there’s a Match Ceremony. On alternating weeks either the guys or the girls call out who they think their perfect match is. They lock in until everyone is chosen, like dodgeball, and then the number of correct matches is revealed via beams of light. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s even more dramatic. If there are no correct matches during the match ceremony, they ‘black out’ and lose half their money. If all ten are correct, they immediately win the game.

I’m sure you can imagine what goes on in this house: a lot of drinking and hooking up. Everyone is so blindsided by finding their perfect match and falling in love, sometimes they forget to play the game. Confirmed ‘no matches’ sometimes hook up to the detriment of the house, because then they’re not looking for their perfect match. It’s frustrating to watch because JUST USE SOME STRATEGY. But with nothing to write down their tactics, and everyone constantly drunk, it’s easy to lose the thread.

I never expected to like this show. I’ve never seen The Bachelor and I don’t care for Big Brother or The Real World but somehow it works. I get stupid invested. I yell at the idiots when they refuse to play the game correctly and cheer when a couple with a lot of chemistry is a match.

There are a few drawbacks of the game. It can be hard to get to know some of the cast in just ten episodes. This season while watching the finale I found myself saying “Who?” at a girl I could’ve sworn I ‘d never seen before. And because the teams are divided by gender the show is super straight.

Are You The One is the trashy reality dating show I didn’t know I was missing but I’m glad I gave it a shot. It’s ridiculous and rowdy and a lot of fun.