the dodgeball diaries

5/20/08

I would like to begin today’s blog with the first page of a book proposal I wrote five years ago. Here it is:

Hey you!

You’ve never been comfortable in your own skin. You’ve always looked upon the world as a strange, uninviting place where your talents are not fully appreciated. You’ve been late to class, perhaps multiple times, hand frozen on the doorknob, terrified to draw any attention to yourself as you walked to your desk. There may be one, perhaps two things you master that set you apart from the unwashed masses, but they sure as hell never got you a girlfriend. You look into middle distance during dinner and a half hour speeds by. You fret about your physical appearance, but always get distracted en route to doing something about it. You know the Midpoint Formula, or Clytemnestra, or the capital of Chad, or the THACO of a White Dragon, or C++. You know that Sappho was actually a bisexual.

You smell, or at least you once did. You still hate your 3rd grade P.E. teacher. You lusted after many; most did not return the favor. Nobody gets you. Or if they do, they are of a small, disturbed following. You masturbate brilliantly. You are capable of infinite sadness and unbelievable ecstasy. You wish to be left alone; you wish to be discovered.

Revel in it, plant your flag in it, do not shy away from it.

You are a DORK.

You may never be happy. You may save the world.

And this book is for you.

What followed was a proposal: nine mapped-out chapters, the book’s audience, the tone, the logistics, everything you needed to understand both scope and humor. I’d been doting on this idea since about 1996, collecting newspaper clippings, taking notes, writing bits of chapters, interviewing great geeks of our time. I even designed massive graphics, including a chart of every kind of nerd (Dungeon Master, 2nd violinist, car enthusiast, ham radio operator, college radio DJ, etc) placed on a spectrum with cool visuals.

I’d gone back into the 19th century and mapped all dorks and their journey to the present, touching on racial stereotypes, the blessing of being ostracized and the curse of being loved. I was going to write the history of dorks in America.

Elizabeth Wurtzel’s then-recent cover of her book “Bitch” looked like this:

bitchfullsize(bl).gif

So we thought it’d be funny to make a book called “Dork” with a cover like this:

dorkprop(bl).jpg

and yes, that is a slide rule and a calculator watch

It’s always good to accompany a book proposal with one of your articles appearing somewhere else, so I pitched a nerd-flavored idea to Salon, which ran a week later (see a less-funny edit here). My awesome lit agent sent the proposal to the big publishing houses, and… well…

“Hasn’t this been done before?”

“We really don’t think a book on ‘nerds’ will sell at this point.”

“It feels like familiar territory.”

“We don’t really know what this book is about.”

This was during my Year of Career Failure™ anyway, so the responses were unsurprising, but INFURIATING nonetheless. No, there was no other book on dorks/nerds/geeks released in the last decade, certainly none with my angle. And they “didn’t know what the book was about”? What part of “the peculiar history of dorks in America” was so fuckin’ hard to understand?

Here we were, in the middle of a huge culture tectonic-shift that gave the technically-minded and socially-inept more power than any could ever imagine… and they didn’t see a book in there? In disgust, I threw my proposal in the drawer, and within weeks, we were summoned to Los Angeles to do this fascinating thing called “write for television”.

I have oft whined about getting scooped on my projects, a phenomenon that has happened so many times now that I’ve almost stopped caring. But yesterday I saw something that made me actually clench my fists: one of the hot new bestsellers on Amazon is American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent. Currently ranked #2 in the Social Sciences bestseller list, and the subject of a glowing article on Salon, the place that had run my nerd story so many years ago. My article is even linked at the bottom of the page.

The only sound worse than sour grapes is a kitten being strangled. So I’d like to err on the side of graciousness, as it’s obvious Benjamin Nugent is a very good dude and has written a great book. And there’s some succor in knowing I was right: there was a book there, and it was going to be a hit.

But for chrissake, what does a spaz gotta do to get a blowjob around here?!?

0 thoughts on “the dodgeball diaries

  1. Anne

    Oh dear! Bad timing… bad karma… bad publishers. That’s too bad, Ian.
    Love the cover mockup. :-)
    Slide rule: now *that’s* an artifact. From my own high school days, actually. I used my dad’s. He was an engineer (trained at WPI in the 40s) and his slide rule was beautiful, smooth like ivory, big, with a nice heft to it. The panels glided silkily. It didn’t help me do well in chemistry, but I still appreciated how wonderful it was. I believe I still own it… in storage somewhere.

    Reply
  2. wyatt

    A dork wouldn’t have those intimidating guns, Ian. Best to Photoshop/morph some surgical tubing with your upper arms. Maybe throw in some backne.
    I suggest Nugent got published by including the Aspergers/autism angle (all the rage of late) and his historical diagnoses of famous figures (described in the Publishers Weekly review on Amazon; I haven’t read the book). That’s hardly original (see Grandin; Nazeer; Robison, etc.), but perhaps he’s done biographical research that I haven’t encountered in other reading. I’ll see if the library has it in yet, and report back.
    Your “nerd spectrum” is intriguing, and was prescient in the “spectrum” sense of autism. I’d like to see it.

    Reply
  3. CM

    It’s a great cover and a great premise.
    Being scooped by others is familiar and frustrating to all of us who write.
    Anne is right – It just has to do with the timing, editors, zeitgeist…
    I bet you will use parts of it in other ways, anyway.

    Reply
  4. kjf

    ask your agent to find out who optioned that book (surely someone has) and go pitch yourself to write the screenplay!

    Reply
  5. Lisa Villiarimo

    I still want to read your book. Why can’t there be 2 nerd books?
    Being scooped happens in more than just the writing genre. Heck, I invented XM radio 2 years before they debuted it…cause I despise radio commercials. Esp. the same ones every single break. Advertising by repeating irks me b/c it precludes them from having to actually be clever and/or creative, instead, just bashing it into our heads. Baaa…are we sheep? Not me, thanks.
    Can’t think of the term right now but basically, once you say your idea out loud, someone else is working on it too. It’s survival of the fastest at that point.
    Who will play you in the movie version?
    Aloha,
    lisa

    Reply
  6. kaz

    ian, you make the rest of us feel better…and OF COURSE we wish you’d written your version. frankly, i think a huge poster of your nerd chart would sell instantly on etsy.com if you still have it!

    Reply
  7. oliver

    You have to admit he has an edge in the credibility department with his last name being Nugent. Just to subtly evoke “Double Live Gonzo” is to cry “dork.” I know I had a copy.

    Reply

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