You, Me and a Lot of Shampoo – the hairdresser porn that got dumped and scored me a contract

By the mid-90s, my writing career wasn’t exactly resembling a career. I’d had a collection of short stories published that reviewers had persuaded everyone but my mother not to buy, but my agent was working hard to get me any break she could. Mostly that meant stories for anthologies, while I worked away at two novels and a part-time medical editing job.

Random short stories would beef up my CV, perhaps catch the eyes of publishers and at least see me putting something out there while I worked out how to be a novelist. (I had already worked out several ways not to be a novelist in the 80s and early 90s.) And maybe the writing would sometimes feel good, and maybe I’d learn something.

Every commission counted, and a copy of any book I appeared in was lovingly filed away (thank you James Bradley, Drusilla Modjeska, Beth Yahp, et al). From all those commissions, I can recall only one rejection of the finished product. It was for an anthology called ‘Men Love Sex’.

I don’t think the briefing I got extended much beyond the title. Or maybe it did and I just skim read it, already thinking ‘yay, another anthology, more (somewhat) paid writing, another chance to get noticed, men, love, sex, hmmm’.

There were some big-name writers involved and I thought my only choice was to stake out my own little piece of turf and try to write a story no one else would be writing. Cue loser guy with elaborate fantasy life and hairdresser fetish. Go to town. Let no opportunity for a laugh, cheap or otherwise, go by. Make him way hairy and truck in loads of shampoo. And find a story somewhere in there and tell it. An undercurrent of tender apparently unrequited love might be nice.

I wrote it. I took no prisoners, I rarely took his mind out of his pants or off his hairdresser, and I wrote it. And sent it to my agent. Who called me while still laughing. We both though I was set.

Then, weeks later, the letter came from the editor rejecting it. He said it wasn’t right for the book. He said he’d wanted ‘blood on the page’. I looked back at the commissioning letter. No blood. My story had a man, love and sex. All three boxes ticked and it overlapped with nothing in the book. But it wasn’t to be.

I just saw this today in a recent online bio of the editor: ‘To satisfy his curiosity about how other men write about their relationships, in 1995 he also edited the acclaimed anthology Men Love Sex (Random House 1995) which remains a benchmark of male writing about the emotions.’ He probably said something along those lines in his letter, but I wasn’t in a place to read it properly. The anthology was acclaimed, my story didn’t fit and I bear no grudge.

Because, at Brisbane Writers Festival in 1995, that story got me far more than a spot in an anthology.

I was programmed onto the cool young writers night-time event, which was called Spoken Like a Savage. It sounded like blood on the page again, and again I had no blood. But it was okay. It was a live reading and no one would or could stop me once I’d got going.

My agent told me there would be a publisher in the audience looking for talent for a major new fiction list and that I should read a piece that would really stand out. And nothing was likely to stand out more than my first person lewd hairy-man hairdresser fantasy story. So I practised and practised and practised until I could work it like a monologue. I practised and practised and got a migraine and vomited and slept, and then showered and went to the club and gave it everything I had.

And the next day the publisher came up to me and said, ‘I hear you’ve got a novel manuscript. I’d like to read it.’ She published the novel a year later.

Once the novel was out, the story had a life as well, in an anthology of contemporary Australian writing published as part of the cultural program connected with the Sydney Olympics (yes, seriously). It also appeared in my collection Headgames. And now it’s back, as a stand-alone ebook. Weirdly, it seems to be being bought by people also buying other books with ‘Haircut’ in the title. I didn’t know that was a thing but, if they’re over-attached to the idea of haircuts, they should surely get my guy.

For the next few hours, it’s free for Kindle/Kindle app on Amazon. After that it’s US99c, which amounts to a tiny fraction of a hairdresser experience these days. Want one? Click right here.

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3 Responses to You, Me and a Lot of Shampoo – the hairdresser porn that got dumped and scored me a contract

  1. What a great genesis story, Nick. Will definitely click right here – someday I’ll buy some kind of digital object that will enable me to read your stories 🙂

  2. Taryn says:

    Headgames……! That is where I got ‘There Must Be Lions’ from 🙂
    That had actually really been bugging me.

    • nickearls says:

      Glad we’ve got that one sorted out. Various stories from Headgames are cycling in and out of free days for Kindle at the moment, so if you have a Kindle (or an iPad etc with the Kindle app), there should be opportunities to pick those up, if you want to read any of them in a more friendly format than Word. I may eventually bring back a version of the Headgames collection, but that’s all a bit over the horizon at the moment. Individual stories will certainly be around though.

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