The Image Pill

Who’s that person in the mirror? What do they say about you as a human?

Do you like how you look? Really?

If so, awesome. More power to you. (Like it or not, the rest of us are more or less stuck with how we appear–if only to ourselves.)

I bring this up not to be so existential or deep–I’m more comedian (unpaid) than philosopher–but because it’s an issue that pops up in various forms for me (who isn’t too self-conscious) almost daily.

To wit: I just received the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (I didn’t think to decline it, though it holds little real content of interest). I don’t need to share the cover image. Suffice to say the cover model is attractive and is “wearing” less than what you could craft with a handful of bleached spaghetti noodles. She and her fellow subjects arguably represent the feminine ideal (sprawled in exotic locales, Photoshopped to blemish-free copper tones, un-apologetically sexualized to help market $400 bikinis).

Wait, dude, you’re a guy. Why do you care?

(There’s a lot of reasons to care–including the ongoing objectification of women–but I’ll get to those in another blog.)

Now, the flip side to the Swimsuit Issue’s arrival in my house is something I’ve noticed every time I walked through a bookstore or looked online. (I offer this simply as food for thought.) There must be a few million romance or historical romance novels on the market. In each and every one of them is a guy (usually bare-chested and rugged) who doesn’t look like me. I don’t ride horses or motorcycles. I’m not ripped (even 30 pounds lighter, you’d need a loaded gun to get me shirtless in public). And I’d look utterly stupid in a cowboy hat or sporting tattoos. My wife (who peruses romance novels) would agree.

Truth be told, I’m not unhappy with the way I look. Yes, I could be lighter/more fit. Yes, I could do without a droopy left eyelid (I have something in common with basketball star Dwyane Wade!!!). My face is, well, just a face-in-the-crowd mug. When I run or workout, I grimace. When I play soccer, I’m back to that comedian look. Writing in public (yes, I do that) I probably resemble Curious George trying to concentrate on a puzzle. In other words, there never has been (and never will be) a time in my life when someone’s approached me about being on a brochure or the cover of a novel. (The lone exception is that I “modeled” for part of the image for The Churning, as it was a hell-of-a-lot cheaper than paying someone else to stand in. I even joke about this on Twitter.)

The not-so-bitter pill to swallow here: “I yams what I yams,” as Popeye said. Stuck with me. How people see me is probably more “tired dad” than anything. C’est la vie.

Justin Edison in a silly pose.

The author, striking a silly pose his daughter requested.

(These book covers, of course, are equally guilty of pushing the ideal of a gorgeous, curvy and often compromised woman.)

So, rather than a boo-hoo epiphany for Ol’ Justin (knowing that untold tens of millions of women would rather look at a tall, strapping rake than myself) it begs a few questions. First, how much power of perception have we–the general public–handed over to various marketing departments? Conventional wisdom tells us that nobody in their right mind would put my face on the cover or in an advertisement for anything. Is eye candy the almighty gatekeeper for escapism?

Author Justin Edison after a run

Aren’t I a hot one? (Post-run and thrilled.)

Two, speaking of my fellow men, where are the other guys? A number of gentlemen I play soccer with are fitter and better-looking than me. They’re not making it onto glossy covers. And, clearly, you can forget about any of the local technology managers (actually in possession of power and prestige) who look like they couldn’t complete five real push-ups if their life depended on it. They’re not book-cover material, either.

Three, given the various identity crises and image problems we Americans clearly have (see recent election) isn’t it about time we, the general public, start paying a little more attention to who we are, rather than constantly run to a voluptuous or chiseled ideal for a hero/heroine? And what could it hurt to do so?

For the cover of Endgame, the book designer and I selected a woman’s eye rather than the whole “pretty” face. It works, as my heroine is, in fact, a sharpshooter. But it also kept me from having to add a concrete face to my main character. It should hardly matter what June Vereeth looks like (sparsely described as athletic and short-haired). (No, she doesn’t resemble model Kate Upton.) In public, she probably wouldn’t turn heads. But for the story, she’s level-headed, egalitarian and she’s got a sharp eye on the battlefield. She’s who I need her to be, and she gets three more novels to try and preserve her humanity in wartime. (Here, too, I’ve noticed that women on sci-fi covers often appear sack-ready voluptuous, as well as world-wise and confident.)

Escapism is wonderful. Obviously, I’m all for it. It’s what we writers do best. Sometimes, though, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if we could actually recognize some of ourselves in the escape. Plumbers and teachers and school administrators and server gurus can all be exciting heroes, too.


Shortest Rejection Wait, Ever

Yesterday, at 11:18 AM, I fired off a Hey-you-should-represent-this-blockbuster query email to the lone Hollywood agent I’ve ever been in contact with. (I don’t know him, of course. I think an old family member did via New York, or something.)

At 1:06 PM, I got his kind brief rejection (sent with the brevity of stoplight iPhone responses). At one hour and forty-eight minutes, this is a record for me. Woo-hoo.

The lovely Internet (which The Onion believes we should consider shutting down, for a time) is both a blessing and a curse, in this regard. The curse: Rejection (inevitable or not) now gets an Express Lane pass w/ a Ferrari engine. The blessing: Not having to wait.

The first time I really went through the query-response-waiting cycle was seven years ago. I’d finished my first novel, “Watching the World Fall” and felt it had potential to merit at least a chat in New York. Wrong. But of the dozens of queries I sent out, maybe a quarter of them got back to me with all, and it would take months. With some, I waited so long that I’d mistakenly already crossed them off my ‘tried’ list or didn’t recognize the name to begin with. Fewer agents did it via email. Throw in agent-penned tales of slush piles and desks caving underneath towers of manuscripts (two-thirds of them written, apparently, by high-schoolers) and you get a woe-is-me picture of this game so many of us play (or would like to play) which equates to an In.

I don’t have an in. The gentleman from yesterday was my best shot as a leg up. So, because I feel “Endgame” (and others) are worth a try, I’m tossing my hat into the ring once again. While I don’t anticipate the crushing rejection I recently wrote of (too many people have told me they enjoyed the story) I also don’t anticipate success. But at least the Expressway is open.

Scope view of gray-skinned Mitasterite in June Vereeth's crosshairs.

And, for S and G, here’s my letter:

Dear ___ ___,

You may not remember, but we swapped emails a few years ago when I self-published my first novel, “Watching the World Fall.” I’m not writing to bug you about that or my second, “The Churning” (a soccer-hostage story). However, my third novel, “Endgame” is something that everyone agrees has massive commercial appeal.

As the first of four novels about a fictional war in a sci-fi setting, the story takes place on a frozen world. My heroine, a sniper captain, and four colleagues become stranded following a winner-take-all battle over fuel. What follows is a week-long forced trek through the hostile wastes of an uninhabited snowy world. Along the way, they encounter several surprises, dangerous local wildlife and, of course, their hell-bent opponents in the war.

Though the work was written as a stand-alone story, it lends itself well to both feature-film and TV series possibilities. With the increased hype regarding “Star Wars” and “The Martian” and real-world efforts to get people into space, I think Amazon, Netflix, and AMC would all be interested. The story has plenty of action sequences, solid characters and countless visuals (the sky changes from light green to purple at noon, huge warships blown out of orbit, whales that “walk” on land, colorful alien characters, etc.) At 34 chapters, the novel could also be broken up easily into ten or twelve hour-long episodes.

The main character, June Vereeth, is also a huge draw. She’s athletic, about 27, a highly-skilled marksman, and a reluctant leader. Rather than another cheesy coming-of-age story, we have a lead who, like her fellow soldiers, has been thrust into a war she didn’t ask for. So there’s an everyman quality about her, her alien best friend (along for the ride) and three others (including a one-armed non-soldier) set against the backdrop of a war with an empire which would rather use brute force and numbers than strategy and guile. June’s quest to retain/regain her humanity is the overarching theme of the whole series (tentatively titled “Woman at War”).

So, there we are—my super-long elevator pitch. I hope you find the project appealing enough. At the bottom is a link to the Amazon page.

I will actually be in the LA area in the coming weeks (Disneyland with the family) if you have time to chat. Otherwise, I’d be happy to fly down and meet you.


Best Regards,

Justin Edison