Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Unfairness of It All

When I was in high school, I discovered theater. It came by way of reading books, bringing the written word to life through reading out loud in forensics and eventually drama clubs. In college I moved to backstage, but when I graduated and moved to a small town in Texas, I discovered acting again.

It happened in a little community theater, run by a man with a passion and a large grant from somewhere. I'd been to one or two of the shows soon after moving. They were impressive. The building was gorgeous, the sets and costumes expansive, and the lighting state of the art. I fell in love.

And then, like fate finding me, they decided to put on the play, Prelude to a Kiss. This was soon after the movie with Meg Ryan had come out, and I'd identified so deeply with something in that script. It felt tailor made for me. I knew the part by heart before the director even asked me to audition. I looked enough like Meg Ryan at the time to be a shoo-in. That's what I'd been told, anyway. I was told, before stepping in the door, that part was mine for the taking.

And then... I went to the audition. And though I was exactly what the director thought he wanted, although I knew the lines and looked the part and could have breathed the character given half a chance.... there was only one suitable actor to play the male lead opposite, and he was old enough to look like my father.

At a good ten to twelve years my senior, and easily a foot taller than me, it was clear we weren't the ideal couple. The director nearly cried when he told me. I don't know if I cried or not, but I know I felt the unfairness of it all. I was the right person for this character. I was good at this. And all that was keeping me from my breakout role was a few inches and my young appearance, and a lack of decent men. I was crushed.

He promised me the lead in the next play, which I would go on to take, even though the role was completely not me, and I went to see the opening night of Prelude to a Kiss, which was passable but lacking in any real passion. And I learned that not everything that looks perfect works out perfectly.

I'm beginning to see that publishing is like this. Books and agents and editors are like that too. Sometimes, although separately each looks perfect, together they don't mesh.

Your book may be rejected - by agents or editors - but not necessarily because it isn't good. It may be perfect looking, well-written, interesting, timely, passionate. But for some reason you can't see, it doesn't fit. It doesn't fit the agent's tastes. It doesn't fit the book list the publisher is growing. It doesn't sit well alongside the others in their collection. It may look too old, too serious, too humorous, too southern, too slow... too something for today. Yesterday it might have been perfect, but something happened today that made it less so.

Life is unfair. It just is. Acting is immensely unfair. Actors get passed over for roles purely on the whims of height or hair color or body build. The face might be too round, the legs too long, the voice a tad too high or the ears a bit too low. It's random unfairness an actor can't even begin to control.

Writing, too, is unfair. The truth of the matter is that no matter how good your book is, it really may just be "not right." For this agent. For this season. For this economic environment. Maybe the next book will be a better fit. Maybe this book will be a better fit at a different time, or with a different agent or publishing house.

If you want to succeed, you have to accept that this is not a fair industry. And sometimes, when you most deserve it, you won't get it.

The question is, will you let that stop you?


  1. No. At least not today!

    I don't know if I will ever receive a yes, instead of a rejection. As long as my heart is pumping I hope to never lose the act of trying.

    I was obsessed with Prelude For A Kiss at one time too, for reasons that are kind of sad really. And Alec was eye-candy to me then!

  2. You're right Heidi life isn't fair!
    That's a really sad story about Prelude To A Kiss which is one of my favourite films.I adored Meg Ryan back then and I still post about her older movies on my blog.
    I'm sorry you didn't get to play the part of Rita on stage but I'm glad I discovered your blog,I'll drop by again soon.

  3. That's horrible, but you're right if we let the unfairness of life get us down, we have no shot at succeeding.

  4. Life is life. How we perceive it and react to it is what makes it fair or unfair.

    I imagine that if I ever write something I really believe is good, I'll have a tough time the first time it's rejected. We'll see (I hope).


  5. NO!

    And I did theater in high school which I loved, but ended soon after I was upstaged in music auditions for Guys and Dolls my senior year. I had prepared the song I'm in Love With A Wonderful Guy, excited to sing it in front of my friends with my so-so voice when A FRESHMAN sang THE SAME SONG with her amazing, perfect, beautiful voice. SO when it was my turn I changed the words to I'm in Love With A MORE Wonderful Guy. Take that.

    I'm sad you weren't Meg Ryan. Why can't more handsome, young french-looking men like theater?

  6. Well I kind of wish that it was stopping me. I haven't even finished the book yet, to send it off, to be rejected...a whole different roadblock!

  7. I'm linking to my recent post. A beautiful tie in.