Question of the Week: Out-of-the-Box

by Susan Henderson on October 16, 2006

What do you do when the art you create doesn’t easily fit within a particular commercial label? For those of you who are out-of-the-box, tell me your story.


Writers often hear this kind of feedback from publishing houses: We love your book, it’s compulsively readable and I finished it in one night! But, sadly, we have to turn it down because we wouldn’t know what shelf to put it on at the big, chain bookstore, and we’re not sure if we should market it as memoir or a parenting book.

Wednesday’s guest, Candice Night, understands how this works in the music business.

Blackmore’s Night, Candy’s band with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (of Deep Purple and Rainbow), bases their sound in the Renaissance times.

But before we talk about the new music, I must make my confession.

When I was young and used to lock myself in the bathroom to sing and perform into the mirror, one of my favorite songs was Speed King. Here, you can go ahead and click the iTunes button:

Deep Purple - Deep Purple In Rock - Speed King

I did all guitar solos, and until my brother knocked on the door, I was the rock star.

There, it’s out of the way. I used to pretend I was Ritchie. And I bet I’m not the only one here who did.

I have no shame, do I?

Okay, so Wednesday, you’ll see Candy all dressed up and on stage, and she’ll talk about songwriting, collaborating, and combining Old World music with rock ‘n roll. She’ll talk of ghosts and castles and share some opinions about what’s played on the radio these days.

So today, I thought I’d show her dressed down a bit. This is probably my favorite picture ever:

And this picture shows her as I know her when we play soccer together – no makeup and a contagious smile. Candy is a playful spirit who knows all the words to the musical Hair, makes killer spiked orange cremesicles, and loves any occasion to wear a costume.

Stop by Wednesday and say hello to Candy. She has a great story to tell!


ADDED NOTE: Unbelievable. You guys know how I love to give away prizes, and I was going to give away an absolutely HUGE prize to the first person to send me something about the Polamalu hair-pulling. And NO ONE sent me a photo or video or posted a comment about it. I’m shocked.

So I’ll add this link myself. Once you get to the article, click on the slide show on the right, and you’ll see the whole hair takedown of my beloved Troy Polamalu.

Prizes some other day!


Oh, one last thing, but a good one. You remember how Mr. Henderson was in Hollywood last week for a screening of his movie at the FAIF film festival?

Well his film won the BEST SHORT FILM award. Yay for Mr. Henderson! And also for Green-Hand, who let us shave his head for the movie, and Bach-Boy, who played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in it!

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Avital October 16, 2006 at 12:13 pm

Congratulations for the family film production!
Your friend seems like a real nice person.


Juliet October 16, 2006 at 1:11 pm

I self-published the first time because I was so sick of hearing pretty much exactly what you wrote up there.
“I cried, I stayed up all night reading” or “My husband/lover/boyfriend/cat was frustrated because I couldn’t put your book down, BUT…”

(If I’m not careful, I’ll be right back in yesterday’s genre debate.)


n.l. belardes October 16, 2006 at 1:49 pm

I’m impatient. So I started a teensy Indie press: But I don’t just want to publish my works.

We’ve got a lot of growing to do.

I created Noveltown out of a vision of wanting to work with a community of readers… We’re trying to be non-traditional. My blog is part media/part novelist take on the world/part official Noveltown blog. We even work with the local minor league hockey team and have videos that will show on the jumbotron. We’re doing book commercials next. Who does that?

Do you want a youtube commercial for your book? Hit me up.

We’re so grassroots that we carry shrubs in our pockets.

But we can publish what we want, even while I go about collecting rejections from lit agents on my other works. Too numerous to mention on here: fiction, true-to-life fiction, children’s lit… 🙂


Aurelio October 16, 2006 at 2:21 pm

I’ve created my own genre: speculative satire. It’s descriptive of both the content of my writing and its public reception.

And don’t forget the requirement to describe one’s writing as a literary bastard child, to wit: “It’s like a cross between The Joy Luck Club and Marley & Me,” or some such verbal tryst made in hell.

What about, “It was really good. I liked reading it.”

Of course my new book is a tender cross between To Kill a Mockingbird and Forrest Gump meets E.T. ( A literary three-way, don’t that just beat all?)

Hey, and big congrats to Mr. Henderson! BEST SHORT FILM – wow!!!


Lance Reynald October 16, 2006 at 2:58 pm

congrats to the Henderson Guys.
(they’re like the Coppalas of short indy films)!!

and, Juliet & Aurelio just gave me mid morning coffee nose.


LaurenBaratz-Logsted October 16, 2006 at 3:06 pm

Out of the box – that be me; even when they put me in the box, I’m out of the box.


Carolyn Burns Bass October 16, 2006 at 3:48 pm

My novel THE NEXUS was passed by eight houses. It’s not literary. It’s not historical. It’s not paranormal. It’s not romance. It’s not contemporary. It’s the story of a breast cancer surviving, 20th century medieval studies professor who is swept back to the 12th century where she joins a Knight Templar in quelling a Saxon uprising, while discovering the mystery of her time-swept displacement. It doesn’t have a fairy-tale ending; it’s bittersweet. I tell people it’s a time-swept romance with literary panache. But apparently, it’s not what editors are looking for.


Susan Henderson October 16, 2006 at 5:44 pm

Avital – Thanks! It’s great to see you here!

Juliet – Hee, I hear you about not wanting to start another thread that size – incredible as it was. Those letters are murder, aren’t they? I used to have some fondness for gushy rejections, but now all I think is a no is a no.

n.l. – I’m so grateful for indie presses, indie music labels, and all of the small guys who want to preserve non-traditional work.

Aurelio – You made me laugh so hard!

Lance – HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!

Lauren – Me, too. Put me in a box and something’s sticking out.

Carolyn – What an absolutely fascinating and original story!


Robin Slick October 16, 2006 at 6:00 pm

Ho ho, it’s why I signed with Mundania/Phaze and even left agents who wanted to take me on in the dust. I wrote Three Days in New York City as an erotic comedy. A soccer mom gets her bluff called when she develops a dark, erotic sexual persona on line and meets a man from England who has those tastes for real. She never dreams in a million years that he’s going to visit the U.S. and lure her into doing all of the things they’ve talked about on line, but it happens and she decides to go through with it.

All agents said the same thing. “Robin, if you want to sell this book, you must take out the graphic sex.”

Well, what was the point of the book if our heroine didn’t have sex? And it had to be graphic, because it was so out of the box for her. And…it’s where all the comedy comes in.

Then I tried sending it to erotica/romance agents, who told me that “The two lovers had to end up together in a happy ending for us to sell this as erotic romance.”

Huh? Who said anything about wanting this sold as a romance?

So I decided to go out on my own and subbed without an agent to indie presses and that’s how I ended up with Mundania/Phaze. But a lot has changed in the three years since I first wrote the book and now erotica is apparently a big seller. Which takes us back to that label thing again. Just because I wrote two books with graphic sex, I’m now considered an erotica writer. Arghhh…well, I’m attempting to beat the system. My new novel has no real sex at all (just sexual situations) and there’s been interest on the mainstream front because both “erotic” books have been best sellers.

And today I learned that the anthology in which my short story appears, “Rebellion: New Voices of Fiction” which is the basis for said novel, Daddy Left Me Alone With God, was a finalist in the Best Books 2006 Awards.

So hooray for outside the box! And I love that line, Lauren and Sue…”Put me in a box and something’s sticking out”. Ha! I’m stealing it…

P.S. This really sounds like a self-promo post but it really isn’t meant to be at all. I went through torture getting Three Days published and I wanted to share the story. N.L.? I want a You Tube! Where do I sign up?


LaurenBaratz-Logsted October 16, 2006 at 6:27 pm

P.S.: Congratulations, Mr. Henderson!!!


elen cristina October 16, 2006 at 6:41 pm

ok! of course i ‘m wating for the interview with candice! she is a really beautiful soul!


Robin Slick October 16, 2006 at 7:18 pm

Ditto on the P.S. Congratulations Mr. Henderson! Is that the actual award statue? If so, it’s way way cool! And does this mean it will get any exposure in theaters? I have no idea how these things work but in any event, I’m thrilled for you and your family.


n.l. belardes October 16, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Robin: You are out of the box! I guess a jack-in-the-box is the only way to be in the box… Just send me an email. Our first commercials are going to all rip off and lampoon the LonelyGirl vids as a young girl obsessed with books. Heh. And I love how you felt comfy writing about your books, and then wrote: “this really sounds like a self-promo post but it really isn’t meant to be at all.” That’s why I didn’t write about my books. OK, here, I will be brave and write about a couple of them that publishers might blink at because I’m such a regional writer. I set my stories in Bakersfield. So what?:

Lords: Part One: based on the urban myth/conspiracy, “The Lords of Bakersfield” written about in 2003 in the Bakersfield Californian. Set in 1977-1978, the novel is about a 13-year-old kid who pimps himself on the streets of Hollywood and then ends up in Bakersfield, CA, where he hooks up with decrepit (and prominent) folks living dualistic hidden gay murderous lives, including the newspaper publisher (The real publisher died of aids, while his sister runs the paper now). You can buy this one here: and learn all about the creepy Lords of Bakersfield on my homepage:

Cubicles: Office Space with philosophy woven in. Based on my own corporate adventures in downtown Bakersfield. It’s a love story. ha.

The Citrus Girl: Angst-ridden book of counterculture Bakersfield in the mid-1990s. Another love story mixed in with what makes Bakersfield tick and a narrator with a strange intellectual bent on historical forces and even, hockey. This story is more like a memoir…

Thick White Crust: A Chicano West Coast 9/11 experience set in… Bakersfield. It’s very much about visions, ghosts, and rebuilding lives. It’s about me. I admit it. I was going to hitchhike from Las Vegas to Bakersfield on 9/11 after leaving an old girlfriend. And I had been working on a novel about terrorism the summer before, even mentioning Bin Laden as the martyr who never dies…


Susan Henderson October 16, 2006 at 9:34 pm

Robin – Your post about your book illustrates exactly what I wasn’t able to communicate during the weekend’s marathon debate. A lot of writers, when they stick to their guns about their books, simply find themselves unread. I’m so happy for you and all the success you’ve had. You write self-deprecating comedy like nobody’s business.

Lauren – Thank you!

Elen – Welcome! And I agree – Candy is beautiful in every way you can measure. You’re going to LOVE the interview on Wednesday! LOTS of photos plus music you can play while you read.

Robin – That’s the actual award statue. The main and unfortunate result of the movie awards is that Green-Hand has become overly fond of signing autographs.


Betsy October 16, 2006 at 9:40 pm

Hoo boy, this litle comment box is way too small for me today. I think it’s fair to say that even if I were a short story writer who wrote nice, clean, straightforward stories, given the fact that I write stories, only stories, is hard enough a sell, in spite of by and large positive press. But I write way out of the box stories, and I have had rejections exactly like you say – in my case, several along the lines of “Her best work ever… if she were writing a novel, maybe, if she were a debut writer, maybe (can anyone make sense of that for me? in real world terms, not publishing ones? I say it’s not possible.) I have been extremely lucky in my career so far, but the business aspect of mainstream publishing can be extremely frustrating.


Juliet October 16, 2006 at 10:08 pm

I got my first rejection letter when I was twelve. (From a literary agent. I’d say the boys who were blind to my special sarcastic charm were probably sending the “check yes or no” notes back with a “huh?” many years earlier already).
I hung it on the wall.
Years later, working at the Publishing House, it reminded me to take the time to actually see the heart of the person behind the words. All the tender offering of nakedness of self, saying “here, here are the words I’ve birthed like scared children beneath my skirts” should never be met with Form Letter A-7.


Lance Reynald October 17, 2006 at 12:19 am

I so woulda checked the “yes” box, but I also might have tricked ya into something on the monkey bars……so it all balances out.


Juliet October 17, 2006 at 1:05 am

Lance: I KNEW it was you on the monkey bars, and trust me, you didn’t trick me. You fell into my clever scheme. 😉


Lance Reynald October 17, 2006 at 2:09 am

(yup, right how I like to play it.) 😉


n.l. belardes October 17, 2006 at 5:23 am

Juliet: I think if I hung rejections on a wall I would start throwing too many darts… and that’s just rejections of me, so why not just a picture of myself in a bullseye? That way I could at least play cricket… I’d make the bullseye worth double though.


Julie Ann Shapiro October 17, 2006 at 6:52 am

I’m out of the box in my career and in the literary realm. Most of my career I’ve worked with entrepreneurs or been one myself. With my first novel getting rejected for being too arty i.e. not commercial enough and my second novel just out the gate (in submissions land) I received an offer to submit my story collection, Flashes of the Other World to Pulp Bits. In July when the invite came in I had barely come out of a contract with another publisher for the collection. I didn’t like the other pubilsher’s contract. I debated back and forth if I should go with Pulp Bits and have a digital collection or wait for a print publisher.

I decided to go for it with Pulp Bits. I also lined up a distributor that is very marketing savvy, Digital Pulp Publishing. Today is the first day they have my story collection on their site. I’m very excited to see it there. If anyone does a review on their site they get points towards free books. It’s just one of the cool marketing things they are doing.

I view my digital collection as a chance to build leverage while my second novel is making the rounds of traditional print publishers. I talked more about this marketing approach in the Author of the Week interview at Jennifer Prado’s blog.


Frank Daniels October 17, 2006 at 12:23 pm

Sorry I’m late. Don’t guess I need to explain what I’ve done about being outside the box with my writing. But thought I’d make a go at the prize by giving you this youtube link to Troy’s nasty hair tackle:

For the record, you can tackle someone by their hair. Still looked bad though. What’s interesting is that just last week the same guy who tackled Polamalu, supreme Cjiefs running back Larry Johnson, almost got his head taken off by a tackler, as seen here:

Congrats to Mr. Henderson’s for his film! When do we get a peek at it?


Juliet October 17, 2006 at 12:50 pm

Please pre-purchase my new “Memoir”

I knew it all along
My years of monkeying around with Lance Reynolds.

(Now with pictures)


Frank Daniels October 17, 2006 at 1:44 pm

Wait a sec….I just had the horrifying realization that since I work here and all I’m probably not eligible for the prizes you graciously hand out on occasion….CURSED RULES!!! No matter. The videos are still cool. And I would have posted them anyway. 🙂 ‘Cause I like you Susan. I like you a lot.


Patry October 17, 2006 at 3:56 pm

Oh god, does this one resonate with me. For years, I heard that my work was too plot-driven to fit in the literary box, and too
character-driven to make it in the commercial one.

What did I do? I got old enough that I didn’t care how I’m labelled, and just kept telling the best stories I had in me to tell.


Patry October 17, 2006 at 3:58 pm

P.s. Almost forgot–major congrats to Mr. Henderson. Can’t wait to see the film.


Myfanwy Collins October 17, 2006 at 4:20 pm

Congratulations to Mr. Henderson!


EminemsRevenge October 17, 2006 at 4:46 pm

IF you put in your address bar it will redirect you to Grumpy Old Bookman, a dude (who what I assume to be) ‘The Manchester Guardian’ considers one of the top ten literary bloggers in England…HE was the only one who gave my book a fair shake…although that’s not entirely accurate.

I had submitted it to an agent who was just starting her own company, and SHE said it would be a hard sell and being that she was just starting out, she was looking for more commercial material, but she did reccomend the print-on-demand firm Lulu to me since she knew I had a small audience and was eager to get it out to them!

A Black man doing a James Joyce like novel is NOT something that publishers are rushing to put on the shelves…WE are supposed to talk in hip-hop and write in ignorant rhymes…Amerikkka’s greatest nightmare has always been a Nigro with a brain—look at how all of you shuddered when confronted with the intellectual prowess of Malcolm X.

So whilst I could pat myself on the back of how so ahead of the times I am, a Coltrane playing to the Andrews Sisters crowd, Grumpy Old Bookman links to my problematic bulletin board where people who have actually read the book have commented on it…and unlike Fox “news” I’ve employed a really FAIR and BALANCE approach there…I’ve included all the naysayers comments as well.

I FEEL like a Bobby Zimmerman without a John Hammond, a Jimi Hendrix without a Chas Chandler…but there’s always the hope for posthumous recognition. Or not:(


Sarah Roundell October 17, 2006 at 8:19 pm

Congrats to Mr. Henderson and the boys for the short film! I’m so far in the box with things I’ve written thus far, but I do aspire to one day be my very own category… Looking forward to the interview Wednesday.


Juliet October 17, 2006 at 8:22 pm

Hooray for Henderson!


Jordan October 17, 2006 at 9:17 pm

21 rejections of my latest novel later, with comments like “Even after I knew we couldn’t sell this, I couldn’t stop reading” and “I love it but my sales reps won’t know what to do with it” I’ve decided that I shouldn’t be surprised I have trouble fitting a commercial niche. It’s the story of my life. Do I feel better that I’m not alone? Not really. Do I ache for commercial success? You bet your bippy. I’ve always wanted to be one of the popular kids, and I doubt that feeling will ever go away. But I feel as though I’ve just undergone the test that all artists go through, the one that asks: so you didn’t see fame and fortune…what’s it all still worth to you at the end of the day? I gotta write, so I will (and revise it for the couple of eyes that said they’d take a second look after I gutted it, bled it, and transformed its gender).



Pia October 17, 2006 at 10:21 pm

Cool news re: your filmmakers!! Can we see the piece?


marta October 17, 2006 at 11:11 pm

This isn’t meant to sound pathetic, but I just keep my art and my writing in a box. I know my friends love my stuff because they love me–but strangers wary of plunking down hard earned dollars on any of it? No. I keep my stuff at home.


Noria October 18, 2006 at 1:29 am

Like Betsy, I write short stories, but more than that I write stories that are, in the words of one editor who rejected my collection, “…too weird to market effectively.” I got lucky–after 20 plus rejections, someone finally said, “Marketing be damned.” And then (surprise, surprise) my too-weird-to-market-effectively story collection was selected as a Seventeen Magazine summer must-read–you can’t get much more in-the-box that that. Recently, a YA editor approached me with an idea for a book she wanted me to write, and my initial gut-response was: But I’m not a YA author! I’m edgy and transgressive! I’m too weird to market effectively! And then I thought: I am such a snob. So now I’m about to embark on a deliberately in-the-box endeavor, but inside my head I’m secretly chanting: Crossover appeal, crossover appeal.


Susan Henderson October 18, 2006 at 2:19 am

Betsy – I’m looking forward to your book and I’m so pleased you’ve had luck (and talent!) on your side so far. Don’t feel pressured to write a novel if your heart’s into shorter work. There are plenty of us here who love love love short stories.

Juliet – There’s nothing like the experience of being on both sides of a rejection letter. I don’t know which is worse. Oh wait, yes I do.

Julie – Here’s a link to Jennifer Prado’s site for those who want to catch the interview you mentioned:

Frank – The contest was over as soon as I had to post the link myself. It was a mindreading contest. (I like to play this with Mr. Henderson, too!) But don’t worry, I’ll have another! By the way, I wanted to say here that I love the odd but completely organic and satisfying structure of your book Futureproof. It was really refreshing to see something different for a change.

Patry – I feel like I’m way past due in linking your wonderful blog:

Myfanwy – Thanks, Myf!

EminemsRevenge – Nice to see you here! I admire your bravery in posting the good and the bad reviews. And I agree that it’s a particularly bad time in history for experimental writers. Have you ever tried excerpting a piece at Madhatter’s Review?They’re very receptive to Joyce-like writing and non-tradional work.

Sarah – Thank you!

Jordan – Your story breaks me. (But it’s going to happen. I believe in your book!)

Pia – I’ll bring a copy of the movie to AWP. You’ll be there, right?

Marta – Welcome! For years I kept my writing in a box under my bed. Now most of it is in a drawer or on my hard drive. It feels safer there.

Noria – I love these rare happy endings! All of you will be on Friday’s Weekly Wrap.


Betsy October 18, 2006 at 1:44 pm

Thanks, Susan! I gave up on trying to write a novel a while back. Not that I might not one day – but I’m not going to worry about it. Noria – ha!


Keith October 19, 2006 at 3:19 am

Congrats to Mr. Henderson from here, too! And hello, since this is my first time posting.

My books don’t fit neatly into the mystery genre, but I found an editor who loved them and figured he might be able to sell them to mystery readers anyway.


Susan Henderson October 19, 2006 at 6:49 pm

Keith – So nice to see you here! And congratulations to you, too! I think that’s everyone’s dream, to write what they want to write and then find an editor who believes in them. Why don’t you post a link to your books so folks can check them out?


Keith October 24, 2006 at 3:39 am

Thanks for the invitation. Rather than post all of them, here’s just the most recent (which is my favorite anyway):

Nice place you got here.


Susan Henderson October 24, 2006 at 10:20 am

Thanks, Keith. I’ll put the PW review up because the book sounds intriguing:

From Publishers Weekly
Quirky, whimsical and musical, this fourth Jason Keltner mystery (after 2001’s Trouble Comes Back) weaves past, present and passages from a fictitious book into more of a magical mystery tour than a mystery. The friendships forged in the fires of youth are often strongest, and those formed by Jason and Roberto and Martin, three California boys, have survived into adulthood. A call from a gay friend whose newly opened Brooklyn music store has been vandalized spurs Jason to action. And the likelihood that it was a hate crime calls to mind the events that caused three very different high schoolers to bond years ago. With an assist from Roberto, who flies in from the west coast, Jason embarks on a bizarre quest to find out who was behind the vandalism and determine the meaning of a strange Web site that uses the name of the music shop. The original adventure that brought the boys together and their current challenge are told in tandem with readings from a pulp novel of great importance to them. The resulting search for the mysterious Inscrutable Whom, the restoration of the Magic Music Shop and the resolution of the vandalism make for a “coming of maturity” tale that complements the coming-of-age story of their first meeting. Snyder’s approach to the mystery is highly original, and both his characters and the setting he creates are engaging and effective. This is a title that needs help finding its audience, but it might win cult status when it does. Agent, Curtis Brown.


Keith October 26, 2006 at 1:09 am

I love that review.


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