Monday, July 6, 2015

Agenda 21: Introduction

My name is Andrew Johnston, and I can't believe I'm doing this shit.

I should be off writing a novel. Another one, I mean - I'm sitting on five, three of which I have tried to pitch and failed. I should be doing something constructive, not writing potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of words on a trainwreck novel written by an infamous crank/cult leader.

So why am I doing this? Why am I doing something that will only serve to stoke my seething rage at the publishing industry?

Because of Left Behind. Because, like everyone else who shook their heads as that atrocity of a series crowned the best-seller lists, I've read Fred Clark's series on those books. I've been reading that series since high school, through college, two stints working overseas, and numerous stretches of unemployment. I read them through three query rounds that resulted in an average request rate of 3%.- Now I need to spit fire at something. A Glenn Beck novel seems like a good target.

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I've become a real connoisseur of bad literature over the past few years. Can't say for sure where it came from. It might have started as some attempt to educate myself on what not to do that evolved into a perverse masochistic glee. Perhaps it's some sort of defense mechanism, an evolutionary perk in a world where we're inundated with tremendous amounts of crap.

Regardless, I've reached a point in my life where bad writing has a greater allure than good writing. I get some kind of rush out of taking ill-conceived plots, stilted dialogue, one-dimensional characters and expository trainwrecks and dissecting them, working backwards as I try to find out what went wrong.

Normally, I get my fill from the world of self-publishing. With hundreds of titles hitting the market every day, there's no shortage, and it's almost all terrible. But these are very easy targets. Is it really fair to go after first-timers, especially when the big publishing houses put out works that - while more polished - are as bad or worse in terms of literary merit?

Glenn Beck's Agenda 21 was published in 2012 by Simon & Schuster's conservative imprint Threshold. It was not his first foray into the world of fiction, having masterminded the Overton Window novels in previous years. Agenda 21 lists a co-author, Harriet Parke. I had originally assumed that the two had a LaHaye/Jenkins relationship, with Parke being a glorified ghostwriter; however, the afterword suggests that Parke wrote this on her own volition (though based on Beck's beliefs) and the Beck's contribution may have been as little as his name on the cover (Future me: Outside evidence confirms the latter).

That's a lot to write without touching upon Beck's notoriously paranoid political ramblings. Well, I'm not going to talk about them. There's nothing original or insightful about calling Glenn Beck a nutjob - everyone who recognizes the name knows this. Most of you already know about the real-world Agenda 21 - a two-decade-old non-binding set of UN guidelines that were largely forgotten by everyone until Beck dug them up and decided to incorporate them into his own delusions. The whole thing is available online; you can read them for yourself and decide if anyone should be terrified of this thing.

The purpose of this little project is to focus more on the writing. Agenda 21 is a terrible novel that likely never would have seen the light of day were it not for Beck's influence. While it's not the worst thing I've ever subjected myself to, it is bad in ways that are actually instructive, particularly for people trying to break into the as-of-late overcrowded dystopian lit market. I will not be touching on the validity of the politics here except where the politics actually inform the bad writing. Note that, much like Agenda 21, this is more of a guideline - I fully expect to break it at some point.- As I said at the start, this is an exercise in venting. That doesn't mean that we can't get something worthwhile out of it.

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Oh, one more thing. Because I'm cheap, I did not purchase this book - I have checked it out from the public library. In a move that's probably very canny given the audience, the library carries only the large print version of Agenda 21. As a result, if (for God knows what reason) you opt to read along, the page numbers won't quite match. You may wish to seek out a large print edition yourself - while it wasn't my choice, I can't deny that it adds to the experience.

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