An Agent and Scream of the White Bear

I have rather turned the spotlight on Abrams, or myself, but have never actually spoken up about that agent in New York, Ginger Clark. A tough, fiesty, fat little New Yorker, who I rather liked, when she jumped on me way back when, when I was trying to tour in America again. Already in such hard circumstances, because of the oddness and absolutisms of an ex, but also a senior editor at my own American publisher. One who would not even prioritise a drink, after a two year relationship, either as a somewhat responsible human being, or an ambassador for their firm to a novelist in a Foreign country and city, now starting to hum Sting’s – “Englishman in New York” turning quickly into “I’m an alien, I’m an illegal alien!”. So, by Ginger Clark, I was wined and dined in the best Chinese restaurant, and virtually handed an agent a deal that was almost already made, on a large plate, as I was pushed further and further back from people I had been so close to and needed.

It was my mistake not to tell Ginger about what had happened personally, for a very long time. But that was part of the secrecy that developed, actually in respect of a partner’s fears, and almost obsessive privacies too. But why exactly is it that Ginger abandoned me in the middle of a crisis, and so made it all far worse? Perhaps she disliked the swear words coming down the phone from London, as Abrams threatened and cancelled promised conference calls. I must say that I laughed out loud when she rather sneered at my talk of how hard writing had become, in her Gangs of New york voice – ‘Wot did she do ta ya, steal your laptop or turn off yer electricity?!”

But then agents usually are not writers, and would not understand why something that is most ‘animated’ in imagination and in storytelling, is directly related to the feminine ‘anima’, as Jung calls it. I had lost that externally, and inside myself too, and it was a crisis I was not ready for, at a very particular time in life. It made me rather think New Yorkers are vey mad indeed though when Ginger could so dismiss human grief, lost love, but simultaneously talk about her enormous pain at the death of her Chincilla! A bit like that editor Susan Van Metre had seen fit to discuss my private life with at another publisher, sending a Round Robin right across the publishing world, when her relationship ended. Perhaps she was right to do so, because people have very different ways of coping. So Ginger dumped me, though I thought writers were supposed to dump agents, at the worst possible moment, and before I could actually take the very good advice she had given, which I was about to. I watched in horror as the names of twenty publishers came down the wire, she had lined up to take Scream of the White Bear to around the world. A life fell apart in many ways, and sometimes the fall can be very far indeed. I do not think though she would have done it if the book was any good, which I think it nearly is now.

I was so strung out though, and so believed in the goodness of the people at Abrams, that I genuinely believed Abrams had consciously engineered it, to try and snap me out of a cycle. I am afraid my own fantasy driven hopes and idealisms were very mistaken indeed. Ginger Clark, I think, actually lied to me on the phone, and I say this because of the catch in her voice and perhaps I am wrong, about what was actually said between my editor and agent. It is a disaster when you give yourself completely up to other people.

As it became a very literal disaster trying to rewrite a novel, not away from all that entirely, but straight into the face of it. But then my fantasy books have always been extremely autobiographical, in trying to relate experience in nature, to human experience too, and take readers on a journey worth going on. My tragedy is that big books like FireBringer and The Sight have also been related to personal challenges, and been a way of finding my road through them again and to triumph. There could be no triumph, no wonderful resolution in Scream of the White Bear, because the source of hope, joy, light and life was right in front of me, but had already been stripped away. So came the most terrifying darkness, most specifically because I had been called evil by someone I loved, and tried to write about real evil again in a book, as I have done before. It was also claimed quite bogusly I was a difficult author, when the truth is, when a real dialogue is going on as it should, I have always been flexible and very easy to work with. But that is a vital trust between writer and editor, neither should ever forget.

In the politics of this story I ask just one very loud question. I argued with Abrams that in editorial all I have ever really needed, and it is true, is support and positivity, that electric connection that ends with the reader, and is sometimes so hard to find nowadays, because I am enormously committed, and know that I can get books and stories right. That is why the wall they put up, and the threats they issued, became so monumentally destructive. But editors make much of their ‘ownership’ of authors when they pay the money, but some quickly abandon that ownership and a real and almost sacred responsibility, if it does not suite their own ambitions inside a firm. I became a very big fool indeed for love, and not very nice at times, but I am not a fool and know that publishers are businesses, and books must succeed on their merits, although plenty succeed that have no merit. But the real question is this, if I were Shakespeare, JK Rowling or just Jo Bloggs, what real duty do editors, not to mention agents, actually show to writers, the very source of it all, especially when they have actually contracted them? I did find it shocking that Ginger Clark could so grandly inform me that trust would be destroyed if I dared to mention contracts, like the book they held for four years, and when they were not only threatening my real good name, but my entire livelihood and career. That duty internally though was distorted by the politics of a personal situation they could have resolved but refused to, or one person refused to, because they were trying to keep a secret from a CEO, I think, and because of the power struggles at work behind the scenes. Otherwise it is just raw arrogance about who is the important link in the chain in art and publishing – not writers but editors. The truth of who I really am though, why the wound of love became so harmful, or of the value of my novels was absolutely irrelevant in the end. If the human is lost in all the business then it is not worth having anything to do with at all. David Clement-Davies

1 Comment

Filed under America and the UK, Culture, Publishing, The Phoenix Story

One response to “An Agent and Scream of the White Bear

  1. Christine

    David,
    I am mortified at the difficulties you have encountered over the publication of Scream of the White Bear. I should have thought your past great successes and large following would have rendered that impossible! My daughter and I have been eagerly awaiting publication of your latest book for no less than 3 years since we first learned of its existence. We are great fans and have all of your titles. I have been checking every couple of months for updates. This will be the 3rd Christmas we are still bereft! Congratulations on your new venture with Phoenix Ark Press. May it be all you are trying to achieve, may Scream of the White Bear be the first great success of many, and may we succeed in getting our hands on a copy soon!
    Very best wishes, Christine, Montreal.

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