Am I unique?
I used to start query letters for my books with this line: “I am the only person on earth who is a published novelist, a filmmaker and an International Master of Chess.”
Then I would get the usual answer: “Dear Author: The unpaid intern at this literary agency who has not read your novel did not recognize your name, and she is known to read both People and Us! Therefore we are not returning your manuscript, but throwing it in the garbage where she thinks it belongs, because she got a psychic wave while she was carrying your manuscript to the aforementioned garbage can that you hate Jennifer Aniston—when in fact Jennifer Aniston is pregnant this week and therefore all right thinking People and Us too love her. Good luck placing your manuscript with another agency where the unpaid interns only read News of the World!”
Actually the letters read—all of them are the same—
We cannot use your manuscript at this time.
Good luck placing it elsewhere.
So I stopped using this claim, though I still like it—and as far as I know, it’s true!
But let’s define my claim a little more precisely: I say that I have done three things:
3.International Master of Chess
And that I am the only person on earth who has accomplished all three of these. Note that a fair number of people have managed two, which as Meatloaf might say, is not bad (let’s just cite John Sayles here, filmmaker (Return of the Secaucus Seven) and novelist (Union Dues). But he is not an International Master of Chess!
Now let’s define the three precisely, one at a time:
1.Published novelist: By this I mean you wrote a novel, a work of fiction that you made up all your own self, and got it published—by someone else. Nowadays you can write whatever you want, call it a novel (whether it’s War and Peace or pure drivel) and “publish” it on your computer or get Amazon to do it for you—but no, this doesn’t count. You have to get it published by an actual book publisher. A real publisher, one who pays you, not a vanity press where you pay them!
In my case, I have this one nailed down: My novel, Amanda, was published by Blue Moon Books of New York; the publisher, Barney Rosset, also published with his former company, Grove Press, writers like Henry Miller and William Burroughs. I received a modest advance and earned some royalties. My book was for sale throughout the US. In short, I am a published novelist. Are you?
2.Filmmaker: This is a little tricky, as film is a collaborative venture. I would be the first to say that I could not have made my film without my wonderful actors and actresses, and I am deeply grateful for their help in bringing my vision to the screen—but it was my vision to begin with. So by filmmaker I’m saying someone who both wrote and directed a feature film. In other words someone who came up with a vision, wrote that vision down, then guided that vision onto celluloid.
This brings up a second point: celluloid. Today anyone can go out in their backyard with their cellphone, write a script on a matchbox “Run Spot run!” and then “film” a 25 second digital video of their dog running. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not filmmaking.
By filmmaker I mean someone who shot on film, gorgeous, light through the frames film. My film Confederate Saber (aka DVD title Wicked Pursuits) was shot on 35mm film with a 2:35 – 1 aspect ratio—in short, a real movie, a real film.
Finally, for “filmmaker” the film has to be distributed, just as a novelist has to have his book published. My film was distributed by Echelon Entertainment and York Entertainment, and it was distributed on DVD and VHS throughout the US and the world in Blockbuster and Hollywood video plus many smaller chains. And if Quentin Tarantino is reading, I’d love to have it make its big screen premiere at the New Beverly—Quentin, I’m telling you, this is the best interracial ménage a trois movie ever made, and the only movie in history with a biker gang/shoot-out/nipple ring scene! (Sorry, carried away with the advertisement for myself).
But back to our qualifications: if you consider yourself a filmmaker, then you wrote and directed a feature film, you shot on film, and your film was distributed in the marketplace.
3.International Master of Chess: this is an easy one. To qualify, you have to have the FIDE title of International Master or higher—and there’s only one title higher, Grandmaster. So if you are an IM or a GM, you qualify.
But note, someone like World Champion Garry Kasparov only qualifies in one of my three categories. He is a Grandmaster, so he’s obviously IM or higher, he’s got that one down. But novelist? Not at all. He is the author of many excellent non-fiction books like the “My Great Predecessors” series, but there’s not a novel in the bunch. Furthermore, while he starred in a film (Kasparov vs. the Machine) he did not create the film, neither as writer or director.
I am quite curious: am I the only person on this earth who meets all three of these qualifications? I think so!
And that’s enough about me for right now.