Slapped by Beaver Tails
The next time you come across that box of VHS tapes your parents have stashed in the back of their closet (and that they're never going to throw it away because your cousin promised years ago to transfer them all onto DVD), do me a favor and dig around for a 1990 SNL sketch titled, "Slapped by Beaver Tails." No YouTubers that I could find have unearthed it. To be fair, it isn't exactly lost treasure (the skit is essentially one long excuse for Chris Farley to take off his shirt) but I need to see it again because lately I feel like I'm in that skit, standing there next to Farley and Phil Hartman and everyone else who just keeps getting back in the water despite the obvious.
The beavers in my scenario? Literary agents. The good news here is that I finally finished a novel worth publishing. (Notice I didn't stop that sentence at "novel"). Which means I now know that my author friends weren't exaggerating when they said that sitting in front of a blank screen everyday telling yourself that No, another piece of cake will not fix this and No, your husband will not file for divorce if you tell him about the voices in your head and Yes, you are still a worthwhile person is the fun part. Finding an agent is not the fun part.
Shopping for an agent goes something like this: Over the course of a year or so, slowly turn your body inside out. It will be painful, yes, but that's art. Once your insides are fully exposed and you are at your most vulnerable, allow your writers groups to rough you up, let 'em really get in there. Scream and holler and moan, but know that it's all a part of the process. Then, once you think you've suffered so much that you can handle whatever comes next, try to boil your entire year's work down to one page. It will be hard, yes, but you're already walking the earth with your insides out, so get over it. Next, you'll have to email that single, unworthy, so-not-representative-of-your-book one-pager to as many strangers as you can. And don't forget the kicker! These aren't just strangers, they're beavers, so they can't survive if they welcome every creature who comes a calling into their den. They have to slap and fight and tell you to get lost just to survive.
The first few slaps will hurt--a lot. But you tell yourself not to take it personally. Beavers are beavers, after all. You knew that before getting into the water. And you also knew--at least you really, really, desperately hoped--that the big branch you dove into the water with would be just the chunk of wood they're looking for. At least, you and everyone you know certainly thinks it's tasty. But then, let's face it: you're not a beaver.
As of this posting, that's all the further I've gotten. My insides are still on the outside and I'm still diving into icy water. That's the point, I guess, to keep getting slapped by beaver tails until you don't. And not all the beavers I've met have been aggressive. A few have offered me a twig before telling me to get lost, but none have welcomed me into the den. Yet ...
The funniest part of that old SNL sketch came at the end when, after a series of men had displayed the garish red beaver tail welts on their backs, one last man stands up and excuses himself from the stage by saying, "Sorry. I thought this was something else."
At least I'm not that guy.
Photo: Svante Adermark