Free Agent by Joe Clifford

It makes Mondays so much easier to deal with when they can be met head-on with a kick-ass guest post, which is why I am so pleased to welcome the incredibly talented – and busy – Joe Clifford to the blog. Joe already has one release out this year, Choice Cuts, has another on the way before the ball drops in Times Square, and yet a third lined up for 2013. And you know what? He still wants more. I sure hope he gets it.

Joe Clifford2012 was a pretty good writing year for me. I saw three books accepted for publication: Choice Cuts, my short story collection, which was released in August (to better-than-expected sales and reviews); Wake the Undertaker, an old-school, comic-book detective novel, slated for later this year; and Junkie Love, the darling the trifecta, my autobiographical drug novel and a book very dear to my heart (for obvious reasons), which will be coming out in 2013.

The first two are with the upstart home for noir/hardboiled authors, Snubnose Press, that last one with Vagabondage Press. Both publishers have been supportive, making me and my work feel welcome, wanted, and loved; and I feel fortunate to be associated with the other terrific writers at these houses: Court Merrigan, J.A. Kazimer, Ryan Sayles, Heath Lowrance, Eric Beetner, C.S. DeWildt, to name a few, and of course my former partner in crime (literally) and current co-editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive, Tom Pitts. Still, I want more.

I don’t think that’s selfish. That’s what we’re all in this game for, right? Yes, there’s the love of reading and writing, the prerequisite to even suit up and take the field, but the drive for success dictates that we continually strive for the greatest heights, make attempts to reach the greatest audience; it’s natural to want to more.

Both Snubnose and Vagabondage fall into the indie publisher category, and I submitted my work to them independently, meaning without an agent. When I completed my MFA at Florida International University in 2008, I landed an agent almost immediately. Although it certainly didn’t feel that way. The eight months I spent sending out queries, awaiting responses—getting responses requesting changes to a manuscript, the time spent making those changes and resubmitting, only to continually come up short—felt like an eternity, but it was still only eight months.

I’ve done several interviews for Choice Cuts, and one question that seems to come up repeatedly is a variation on “What was [my] best moment as a writer?” And it was landing my first agent. Without a doubt. Not the publication acceptances. The agent.

I’ve been wondering why as I wade back into the agent pool, which was, ultimately, fruitless that first time. I had an agent I loved, and who worked tirelessly on my behalf. We had several hits and near misses on Junkie Love, and I don’t fault her for failing to land me that lucrative six-figure deal (I mostly blame James Frey for lying about his addiction and tarnishing the respectable junkie memoir genre). But in the end, the agent did not get that book published; I did.

Choice Cuts by Joe Clifford It’s always dangerous with the universal “we,” as in, “As writers, we…” I don’t know why most people do what they do, and I don’t feel comfortable speaking for them. Don’t understand their politics. Don’t understand their love of vampire soap operas or singing competitions. Can’t fathom Nicki Minaj or leaving the house after 11 p.m. to willingly surround oneself with people. But I’d like to believe I know writers.

When I posted the other day at The Office (i.e., Facebook) that my (thus far only) query for my latest novel, Lamentation, was turned down by a particular agent, Chris Walter, writer and publisher of his own indie house, GFY Press (or Go Fuck Yourself Press), responded simply: “Agents suck.” I admire Chris’s punk sensibilities and ability to tell the established machination of traditional publishing to, quite literally, go fuck themselves. Chris put his money where his mouth is and has forged a successful career without kowtowing to The Man. I don’t think I am that strong.

As well as this last year has gone, there is still that part of me that buys into the traditional publishing model, even if all indications are that model is crumbling and changing for good. Or maybe, without undermining something as serious as domestic violence, in the truest sense of the term, I play a part in an abusive relationship, feeding an underlying self-loathing that forever seeks acceptance from the places least likely to give it, which in turn allows me to pursue my real goal: hating myself. I know. Seriously fucked up.

Maybe the best way to end this is to borrow a page from Chris Walter and go a little punk with some “Bastards of Young” by the Replacements:

The ones who love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest /
And visit their graves on holidays at best /
The ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please /
If it’s any consolation, I don’t begin to understand…

Joe Clifford is the editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive and producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. His short story collection, Choice Cuts, is out now, and his hardboiled novel, Wake the Undertaker, will be published later this year (Snubnose Press). His novel, Junkie Love, is slated for 2013 release (Vagabondage Press). Much of Joe’s writing can be found at He has been to jail but never prison.


  • joe clifford

    December 30, 2012 - 2:13 PM

    Jan, so glad you stopped by to check out my work (and Elizabeth’s awesome blog [she does a great service to all us crime/mystery writers). I’m very excited to be working with your daughter! I am pretty Mr. Sayles means “Barnes & Noble,” which is, of course, one of–if not the–biggest booksellers in the country. (Mr. Sayles’s faith in me is humbling.)

  • Janet McGinniss

    December 30, 2012 - 1:59 PM

    Great blog, totally new to me, heard of Joe from my daughter, Liz Kracht at Kimberley Cameron. I’m old and though I’ve been called “Granny Flash” I would like to know what “B&N” encap means….already blushing just in case I should know and this term ignorance labels me down for the count.

  • Ryan Sayles

    December 3, 2012 - 3:52 PM

    Joe lifts up every writer he runs into. I can greatly attest to that, maybe just a little less than Tom Pitts can. And that’s why he’ll make it. In most respects, he already has. What he’s missing is the six-figure deal and promotional space on a B&N endcap. That’s about it. I’ve heard and read and been told that truly successful people never step on folks during their rise to the top, they instead see how many people they lift up there with them. Joe does that. Which. Is. Why. He’ll. Make. It. He’s too good of a man not to.

  • joe clifford

    December 3, 2012 - 11:14 AM

    Thanks so much for the opportunity, Elizabeth. Love what you do over here!

    • Elizabeth A. White

      December 3, 2012 - 8:21 PM

      Thank you for the wonderful guest post and storytelling.