A Dispiriting Project Update
Over the last year, my former literary agent sent me outlandish descriptions of the various reasons publishers gave for rejecting my book. Frankly, I always had it in the back of my mind that he was making them up. When publishers told him that in “this political climate” a book about a queer topic was inadvisable, or when an editor claimed that there was no reason to ever mention James Dean’s sexuality again because it had been discussed in 1975, I wondered if this could possibly be serious. Then this week I received the most dispiriting of rejections, one that left me flabbergasted.
Keep in mind, I have published many books and received countless rejections. This was something completely different.
The executive editor of a very large press was impressed with my book proposal, thought a book looking at the history of 1950s crackdowns on homosexuality through the lens of James Dean’s experience was a worthy topic, and was ready to make an offer pending approval from the editorial board. They sent the proposal to an “outside expert on gay history,” and, after overruling the executive editor, sent me a three-page critique of a book that they did not read. I know they didn’t read it because I hadn’t sent the manuscript to anyone at the press. They saw a one-page summary, a chapter outline, and a sample chapter that did not cover the material they criticized.
The editorial board informed me that they felt I had insufficiently considered evidence that James Dean was straight and that—in a book that they had not read—“you are treating every clue suggesting Dean’s gayness as reliable and every piece of counterevidence as not.” The book proposal specifically laid out the many reasons that I feel it is impossible to assign definitive labels to dead people, but what rankled me more than anything is the implication that I am a poor researcher and lacking in critical judgment, all without considering anything I actually wrote, or any of the evidence supporting it.
The critique went on to assert that my description of Rebel without a Cause as purposely including homosexual themes is obviously incorrect because—and this made me laugh bitterly—Vito Russo, writing in 1981, did not discover explicit homosexual themes in the movie in his book The Celluloid Closet. Russo, however, actually did find that (“Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause contained broad hints of alternative sexual behavior…”), but anyone who can read also knows that Russo wrote that he conducted no research into the production of the films he surveyed and commented only on his reading of the surface text. Rebel screenwriter Steward Stern stated with remarkable bluntness in a 1959 interview that he intended the movie to have “homosexual overtones” and had modeled it on homosexual relationships he had learned about among young WWII soldiers. He was, of course, revising Irving Shulman’s draft script, which was even more gay, with a predatory homosexual Plato instigating a murder plot to seduce the sexually confused Jim. But of course no one trusts me enough to accurately quote what the people involved said, not when someone offered a secondhand opinion four decades ago that can be misquoted.
They even criticized a passing reference to another celebrity in a chapter summary, writing that there was no conceivable reason to bring in that person and that it was inappropriate to do so. Had they trusted me enough to actually read the book, they might have learned that he and Dean lived a couple of blocks from one another for half a year, walked the same streets on the same nights to the same gay cruising ground where witnesses saw them (separately) watching the young men on beach, and that one of them was arrested there. This is documented in contemporary records from the 1950s.
But everyone knows better than me.
I won’t bore you with the rest. I don’t consider literary criticisms made without reading the book to be legitimate. Suffice it to say that I have a good idea who the “outside expert” is and why he disapproves.
Nevertheless, I can’t fathom why after all these decades we are somehow more censorious about James Dean than in the 1990s, the 1970s, the 1960s, or even the 1950s. I have copies of contemporary notes from the 1950s and 1960s in which famous folks discussed Dean’s sexuality (which, I remind you, does not fall neatly into modern categories); it was no secret, even if the media conspired to cover up what everyone in Hollywood already knew.
I am sorry I stumbled onto this topic. It would never have occurred to me that so many people are so heavily invested in preventing me from writing about it. It’s dispiriting, and it makes me not want to write anything for a good long while.
4/23/2023 11:25:10 am
Flabbergasted by such shoddy editorial malpractice. I can only suggest you focus on publishers specializing in Queer content. Can't imagine why anyone in this day and age can possibly maintain Dean was 100% when even in his own time virtually no one took on that lost cause.
4/23/2023 03:18:54 pm
I suppose you could bring in some of the hypocrisies. With all the anti-drag rhetoric going on, maybe MASH will finally get canceled. Corporal Klinger has been corrupting America's youth for generations. Bugs Bunny even longer.
4/23/2023 03:39:55 pm
Try UK publishers, maybe, the wind appears to be turning there. Good luck.
4/23/2023 03:53:44 pm
I’m so sorry to hear this Jason, dispiriting indeed. However I am more distressed that you may decide to give up, for awhile at least. We both have had manuscripts rejected, and we know it’s part of the game. I’m sure that after some additional reflection you’ll reconsider. In the mean time know that corporate drones aside, your work is important to many. Stay strong.
4/24/2023 11:58:17 am
4/24/2023 05:57:34 pm
I uppose there is amazon's print on demand service if all else fails. good luck
4/25/2023 01:04:01 pm
I'm not sure what I'm going to do for a cheap laugh anymore. Tucks no longer has a job. I'm going to miss the occasional picture of Tucks posted by Jason Colavito. Tucks always has a look on his face like he's playing with gas. Either a just farted smirk, or the slight shame of accidentally shitting himself. More often than not, he looks like he just shit himself.
4/28/2023 04:22:27 am
Your fascination fascinates me. Tell us more about the soiling.
4/25/2023 04:10:58 pm
Frankly, I find this report difficult to believe. I know little about Dean's sexuality beyond hearing the usual rumors when I lived in L.A. I will certainly bow to your expertise on that topic.
4/26/2023 12:24:14 pm
Since 1975, each new biography of James Dean from a major publisher has been progressively "straighter," despite the increasing evidence to the contrary. This culminated in the last, the 2005 "official" biography, which excised all references to same-sex relationships and presented Dean as 100% heterosexual.
4/26/2023 04:29:18 pm
Few noticed or remember that Ed "Kookie" Byrnes the parking lot attendant from i/ 77 Sunset Strip /i openly acknowledged ("admitted" is kind of pejorative, don't you think?) that he ran an oral service station in his early days in Hollywood, and his clientele wasn't Hollywood housewives.
4/28/2023 11:33:49 am
I though the game plan was to do a book on post-WW2 panics over homosexuals, commies, and UFOs? If it has now narrowed down to a niche concerning whether a 50s icon was kon sa in terms of sexuality then might be time for another return to the niche press well?
4/28/2023 01:01:05 pm
The original version of the book met with universal rejection. Every publisher had the same response: UFOs are for crazy people and shouldn't be part of a serious book. They all liked the other material. The revised book is not about whether someone was gay; it's a narrative about the post-WWII gay panic told through the eyes of someone who struggled to navigate the trauma and confusion it created and who, in death, served as a rallying point in undoing it.
4/28/2023 05:22:26 pm
Right, because this version hasn’t been met with universal rejection.
4/28/2023 05:33:21 pm
Not sure I see the "rallying point in undoing it" but if you're book lays that out I'd love to read it.
4/28/2023 06:56:08 pm
Gay/queer/homosexual is used about a dozen times above including presenting your side of the story. While at the same time you are emphasizing avoiding assigning labels. While at the same time the outside reader seems to think that you were overzealous about asserting JD's gayness. It seems to me that whether you like it or not you are producing a book that in a very big way is about whether or not JD was gay.
4/29/2023 02:31:03 pm
I am getting a bit tired of people who haven't read my book complaining about what's in it. There was no "outside reader" since the publisher did not have the manuscript, only the proposal. A proposal is designed to sell a book, not to provide a full and substantive argument.
4/29/2023 03:33:42 pm
Outside gay expert that read and commented on the materials in the proposal= Outside reader.
4/29/2023 10:21:01 pm
"Just my two cents worth that now pretty much exhausts my interest in any and all thing James Dean. As a senior colleague once told me about one of my projects, good luck with it whatever it is."
4/30/2023 08:52:49 am
Let me try one more time to clarify my point, Doc:
4/30/2023 07:29:56 pm
Liberace was straight and Alec Baldwin is qualified to handle firearms. And Anthony Warren reads two to five books a day every day. And OJ Simpson travels the world as a private detective and Chief Grondine revels in gay orgies with 7 foot tall Injuns. No cameras allowed.
5/2/2023 09:42:52 pm
5/3/2023 04:11:34 pm
So far, my record is almost 10 years. I started seeking a publisher for "The Mound Builder Myth" in 2011, and it was published in 2020. This book, in its current form, is nearing the one year mark, so it has a ways to go to beat that.
5/4/2023 01:06:58 pm
"I am getting a bit tired of people who haven't read my book complaining about what's in it."
4/30/2023 06:26:06 am
Is this the most important topic in the world?
4/30/2023 12:20:43 pm
“Is this the most important topic in the world?”
4/30/2023 04:22:14 pm
I was referring to the topic of the book, not the blog post.
4/30/2023 11:33:19 pm
“I was referring to the topic of the book, not the blog post.”
5/1/2023 05:24:17 pm
US fertility rates are down by half if compared to 1955 when James Dean was alive. The rate is now well below replacement level. I would write a book about the importance of family values.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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