Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Toe in the Water

Fact is, my manuscript has found an agent in New York! (I am allowing myself one chaste exclamation point.) Yesterday, it happened.

I admit I'd been hovering by the phone all day the day I expected his call, as I blogged about previously. So yesterday, in a more resilient frame of mind, I went into my office, and there was a message from him on the office voicemail. (Note to self: check the frigging voicemail more regularly.) He had called, just as he said he would--but he had called on the number I put on the submission, rather than the two I put in the email saying I'd be available. Perfectly reasonable, of course.

So I called him back. The young man who answered his phone seemed unsurprised. He even pronounced my name correctly. (Always a positive sign, I find.) He put Philip on the line and bingo. The most charming conversation, on his end.

He's an established, successful agent who said some amazingly kind things about the writing, aggregations of nouns and adjectives that I will cherish forever, no matter what happens.

Fiction is indeed hard to sell these days, but he'll have a shot. And I only have to address one little area, a small item that previous readers have raised questions about, in fact. Addressing that will be my task for today. It has to do with a psychic who wandered into the Santa Fe section of the book, pretty much as a plot device. Psychics can be uncannily accurate once in a while, he mentioned (a story resides within that simple concept, I suspect), but it's more difficult to make it work in fiction.

OK. I accept that.

When I began this blog's recent thread, I thought I would be chronicling a long and sorrowful process of sending out queries and receiving rejections. In contrast, this acceptance feels like a coup de fou--the kind of lightning bolt of good fortune (in the French case, love at first sight) that one dreams about. I feel better, knowing I still have work to do. Also knowing that I have two other ideas for books worth pursuing. And a manuscript from the past that may actually have a life, now that I understand something about the structure of a novel.

A thirty plus year apprenticeship--but it's still an apprenticeship, because gaining representation from an agent doesn't mean publication is guaranteed. It never did, and especially not now, but it gives one a fighting chance.

The last time an agent accepted a manuscript of mine, we received 23 elegantly phrased and complimentary rejections. That was twenty-seven years ago, give or take. Tough business, writing. Takes perseverance, I'm told.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Labrahund or Dachsador

Yesterday I received an email from the agent who had agreed to read my manuscript. He said it was "fascinating and beautifully written..." Let's pause a moment to savor those words. They taste delicious, I have to admit.

After that, however, he mentioned that he hasn't had a great deal of success selling fiction recently, but that he'd like to talk to me anyway, tomorrow. He wondered when I might be available to talk.

All day and all night, I wanted to say. And did, actually, at least the first part (except for a lunch connected to my job).

So you know what's happened, right? He hasn't called. It's 5:22PM in New York and he hasn't called. I feel like a girl with a crush, jumping every time the phone rings. Trust me, it has been a long time since I felt like that.

So back to the delicious words and their delicately phrased "but":

Fiction has been trending--as the phrase goes--downhill ever since 9/11. I think it's true for all fiction, but I know it's true for literary fiction. I can understand why, too. The 21st century slapped our faces hard that day, and most of us have been fleeing ever since. The financial meltdown of 2008 only pushed the accelerator.

No doubt, this accounts for the fictional popularity of broomsticks, vampires and a thousand non-fiction examinations of the Middle East and Islam.

Realistic fiction dealing with women's lives has a market--five million Americans belong to reading groups, I'm told--but many of the books have tunneled a new genre: past chick lit to Mom Lit. Check out Katherine Center for a particularly well written variety of the latter--and she works, too: she blogs, videoblogs, Facebooks, all the new ways writers need to labor on behalf of their careers. Plus, as goes with the territory, she has young children. I am agog with admiration.

(My poor manuscript might be called ambivalent mom lit or scared mom lit...)

What's that got to do with the dog reference in my title above? Well, I was thinking of a dog I saw once, that I now know was a Bassador, not the ones mentioned above. That is it had a black Lab head and body and Basset hound legs--an animal that was neither one thing nor the other, but a very nice creature all the same. Rather like the email from that terribly kind literary agent, I thought.

Monday, April 5, 2010


While I wait to hear something about my manuscript, I've been at loose ends as far as writing goes. I've started a story, but it languishes, needing research. Instead I've been reading. On my bookshelf, I found Andrea Barrett's story collection, Servants of the Map, and enjoyed it very much. I like the way she interweaves related characters over a long span of time, although I wish I'd kept a note on which ones belonged to which story. By the end, I discovered that the characters were surprisingly interchangeable, except for the one named Nora. I don't usually consider that a plus, but it was shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 2003, so my cavil is a minority vote, I think. The tone is wonderfully sustained throughout, a thoughtful acceptance of life, tinged with sadness.

Next I started Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence, to which I found myself curiously immune. There are some fine elements, but the author wears a perpetual smirk that irritates me so much, I don't appreciate all the pyrotechnics going on. (Sigh.)

Earlier today, I finished Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro and am still trying to shake off the mood created by the eponymous last story. Really fine, I thought.

I've picked up Let the Great World Spin for bedtime reading and have completed the first two stories. Will take it nice and slow. Reading prose written by Irish writers always seduces my ear with the music, and does not help me write. Imitate, maybe, even though I don't want to. But not use my own voice, such as it may be.

I can hope that I will hear something positive about my venture into these waters. I realize that they are choppy for anything realistic and it's interesting to speculate about why. I would suggest that it isn't because there are no fine realistic writers working. Instead, it's we, the reader, who are responsible. We do not find that the real world possesses sufficient mystery or hope. We have discovered ourselves devoid of wonder in the face of all we have learned about ourselves, our country, the earth. We want an escape from these realizations, even if that requires flying brooms and apocalyptic vampires, or invented enchantresses of Florence (at the very least a great title).