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February 27, 2009 / Brittany Hendrick

‘What book proposal?’ The one that led some guy to call me a jackass. *NOW WITH 54.2% MORE JACKASS*

Several people tell me that I should write a book.  My response always is, “I don’t know what to write about!”  I have a hard time coming up with a topic.  I’m definitely not interested in writing a fiction novel– I’d go crazy.  However, I do know that I’d like to write a humor/satire book… or go the other way and scribe something academic.

I always joke (to anyone who will understand the joke) that I should name a literary theory after myself.  I think anyone can declare a literary theory in his namesake.  I’m having a hard time deciding if the suffix for mine should be -ist, -ism or -ian.  And should I mutate the “ck” in my surname to a “t” or “g” to make it more pleasing to the ear?  Kind of like how Foucault becomes “Foucauldian” instead of a mangled mess of vowel sounds.  Things to consider.

Hey, wouldn’t that be funny– write a book, as serious as can be, outlining the newest literary theory– named after me– that doesn’t exist.  It’d be satire in itself.  The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Late last year, I had a real chance to straddle the line between humor and academia.  There is this series called 33 1/3, published by Continuum, which puts out books about music albums– one book per album.  I’d never even heard of these books, until 11/08, when my attention was brought to the publisher’s call for submissions.  The proposal guidelines weren’t strict– have a clear, purposeful angle; and keep it under 2,000 words.

I was at a disadvantage against those who had been keen to this for years– they’ve had time to think and write.  I had literally TWO MONTHS to come up with a book-worthy album and a solid angle.  That’s not a lot of time.

My mind instantly went to Catherine Wheel’s Adam & Eve album, released in 1997.  It was a natural choice, as it’s one of my favorite albums, all-time.  But also, the band (and that album especially) were critically lauded but never commercially successful.  This posed a problem, because the book would have to sell at least 5,000 copies.  Would I be chosen to write about a little-known defunct British band?

Yet I had access to invaluable resources– over the years, I have exchanged emails with every CW member, new and old, and manager (a few emailed me [and Mike] first, mainly because they genuinely loved this literary project we did).  I’d have all the insider information I could ever want… but what would my purposeful angle be?  I could write about the recording process– GGGarth Richardson and Bob Ezrin produced– which is interesting, if you know anything about those guys and what they’ve done.  But I’d need more than that.  I could talk about song meanings, blahblahblah.  But that’s not special.  Who cares how I interpret the lyrics?  I couldn’t make the book anything more than a lyrical analysis.  That’s not what I wanted to do.  I had to move on.

My next choice was Super Furry Animals’ Phantom Power album.  Just as risky in terms of little-known bands.  It was also iffy because the album is fairly recent– released in 2003.  But I couldn’t escape this one.  Despite its nascence, I could apply a cultural perspective to Phantom Power and favorably argue its weight and relevance– easily.  There is a TON going on with that one.  Plus, the band is still active.  I reasoned that at least more people in the year 2009 know about SFA than CW.  I was inflexible to considering anything else.

I had a strong general idea about what I wanted to do with Phantom Power and my proposal, how I wanted to structure it, what I wanted to address.  But I needed focus– I was too broad– I had to zero-in on something.  This was the most difficult part of the process.  I knew, once I found my narrow angle, writing the proposal would be easy.  For all of November, and most of December, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about how I’d approach Phantom Power.  I thought about it on my work commute.  I thought about it while having dinner with friends.  I consulted my aforementioned friend, Mike Garcia, over email.  I scoured the internet for information.  I listened to the album, over and over; sometimes acutely, sometimes haphazardly, putting my subconscious to work.  Phantom Power pervaded my brain.

Finally, a few days before winter recess, when I planned on writing the proposal anyway, it all came together.  I found my angle… at 3:00 a.m., no doubt.  I had a clear plan on what I wanted to say, and how.  I had everything planned out for the book– from the flow/layout to the tone and style in which I’d write it.  My goal was to write informatively, of course– but also humorously, to entertain.  I wanted the book’s tone to reflect the band’s approach to the very issues I was addressing.  Very inter-connected layering there.  “Serious, yet humorous, yet serious,” is how I put it in my proposal, I believe, “…without slipping into pedantry… without sliding into buffoonery.”

I wrote my proposal in this way.  Bursting with personality where it fit, yet formal in a lot of ways.  As with any type of writing where an argument is presented, the opposition must be recognized and cut off at the knees.  So, here is an example of that, also demonstrating “serious, yet funny, yet serious.”  On why I chose Phantom Power over other SFA albums (in case there were submissions for the others; I’d have to snuff out those people):

Fuzzy Logic: Debut album, post-grunge era, what’s to say.
Radiator: The year was 1997– I graduated high school, moved out, started college, and the world was still “good.”
Outspaced: I am not dealing with b-sides today, sir.
Guerrilla: Gruff Rhys profusely namechecks the band in one song.  I do not think it is meant to be ironic.  That makes me feel uncomfortable.
Mwng: Gwna mo areithia Cymraeg.  Sowwy.
Rings around the World: I cannot very well write about the album that did not win the Mercury Prize that year, can I.
Love Kraft: Phantom Power’s fraternal twin.  Fraternal, I said.
Hey Venus!: Hey no!

“Ooooh, no she di’in’t!”  I did.  There is an element of satire there, which is fair.  Besides, I put that phrase through a translator, so it may not be grammatically correct and the joke’s on me.  While I’m at it, check out The Onion‘s new book, Our Dumb World, and read about “The Land of Consonant Sorrow.”  Too bad I wasn’t on staff– there are some glaring omissions for that Wales entry…

Anyway, the point is, this aided me in proving Phantom Power‘s worth.  I love all the albums (Fuzzy Logic is my least favorite, though).  But I had to pick on each album to “devalue” it.

I sent in my proposal and felt good about it… sometimes.  Sometimes I thought, “This is inarguably interesting.”  Sometimes I thought, “Awww, no, that was stupid!”  Sometimes I thought, “Mmm, maybe I wasn’t clear on that point.”  Sometimes I thought, “This has universal appeal, no matter what the album is.”

So, the editor posted the longlist of submissions on his Blogspot site.  People could comment on their likes, dislikes, what they’d like to see become a book, etc.  I learned something here, from both the longlist and comments: the 33 1/3 reader demographic is older and more mainstream than I anticipated.  In other words, Phantom Power didn’t have a good chance.

No one posting comments had anything positive or negative to say about the prospect of a book on Phantom Power.  Perhaps I could find something elsewhere.  I did some Google searching and found the golden goose egg.  It’s on a message board for Coachella, people discussing the list of submissions.


Hey, that guy’s talking about meI’m the jackass!  This is awesome!!!  And non-sensical.  Yeah, man, obviously.  Because, you know, SFA is that kind of band in which someone might own one album from the middle of the catalog.  A casual SFA fan who doesn’t own the entire catalog would want to write a book on Phantom Power at his whimsy.  My choice in Phantom Power is totally reckless, without reason.  Obviously, I do not own Rings Around the World.

After seeing this, it didn’t matter to me if I got picked for publication or not– this, alone, made me feel like I’d done my job.  If I could incense somebody so much– some random guy who doesn’t know my name, face, gender, location, email, nothing–who could disagree enough to call me a “jackass,” without a single word of book printed, that is a HUGE accomplishment.

The irony is, I own three copies of Rings — it took that many attempts to get CD2 (SHUTUP).

It gets better.  In my previous post, I mention that I never received the mass email rejection letter– after all, there were almost 600 submissions, so it had to be mass email.  It wasn’t THAT big of a deal– most publishers ignore you altogether.  But since that is how this guy chooses to run things, by letting people know, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t overlooked.  Well, I raised my hand again, politely, of course.  I told him, I cannot allow myself to be “lost in space.”

We sorted it out, he was humbly apologetic… and I got an exact reason on why my proposal was rejected– a service he was offering to people anyway if they emailed him and really wanted to know.  I didn’t even have to ask!  Basically, he said he enjoyed reading my proposal but wasn’t convinced it could sell at least 5,000 copies.  Oh, that’s it?  My thesis wasn’t unfocused?  It wasn’t poorly written?  He didn’t have trouble extracting my point?  I anticipated tweaking my proposal for the next time, but… I guess I don’t have to tinker with it as much as I thought.

The editor probably is right– and I knew the risk I was taking with my choice.  So, the rejection did not surprise me.  I was OK with that.  I have been rejected for writing gigs before, but I’ve also nabbed some extraordinary ones.  I’ll just do it again in 2010.

All I have to say is, there is a lot riding on SFA’s upcoming album! 



Leave a Comment
  1. Brittany Hendrick / Jul 17 2009 3:44 pm

    By Jove! I think you’ve got it! My own Fronk-en-steen.


  2. the colonel / Jul 17 2009 2:34 pm

    Pffft. Here’s your book:

    Woman donates her eggs. Creates psychopath. Or, a superhero. Eh? Eh?? Gold.


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