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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Writing "AmericanaRama, Part 16: And now, the envelope, please: The literary agent has written back.

"... it kept me interested, but I
did not jump out of my chair with super enthusiasm."

By Hugh  Gilmore

In daring to make public my quest to write a novel and then describe the grueling process of trying to find a literary agent to represent it, I remind myself of Emily Dickinson's line, "How public, like a frog." (From "I'm Nobody, Who Are You.")
            When I last reported on my progress via this column, an agent had read my query letter and synopsis and written to me: " ... sounds strangely fascinating." And he asked me to send a complete manuscript right after the 31st of May. Day of days! Joy of joys! In the infinite progression of stages to being published, I had advanced about three rungs on the hundred-rung ladder.
            I spent eight days tightening up that book (now called "AmericanaRama") and then mailed it off on June 1. All excited on the way to the post office, I was suffused with post-partum depression on the drive back home. I resolved to keep busy, very busy, to make the time pass.
            Silence followed. I resisted the urge to phone or e-mail to ask if the package had arrived. It must have. I'd sent it first class, return receipt. Nothing to do but wait and keep busy. In fact, I wrote a short story that week. A mere seven pages! What a lark, after wrestling a 315-page alligator for two-and-a-half years.
            Then, June 7 arrived. I had just plunked into my chair to watch the opening inning of the Phillies game and decided to check my e-mail via the laptop I keep next to my living room chair.
            There it was — from "him," Mr. Goodtaste.
            I didn't want to open it. I knew the answer would be a digital Yes or No.
            I wanted to go take a walk instead. Or shut off the computer. Or read "The Consolations of Philosophy," by Boethius. I settled for a cool sip of the dry Riesling I'd poured a moment ago. Then I squared my shoulders, balanced the iBook in my lap, held my finger poised in the air, and slowly brought it down to tap out the potentially life-changing command. Open!
            Dear Hugh:

Thanks so much for sending AmericanaRama.  I like the writing very much and the way the story unfolds in a Pulp Fictionesque way.  I also like the insights into the book world and the setting is very defined and clear.  Unfortunately, though, in the end, the story did not quite stand out enough for me...it kept me interested, but I did not jump out of my chair with super enthusiasm.   
Thus, with regret, I am passing, but I like your writing so hopefully you will contact me in the future.
Best of luck,
"Mr. Goodtaste" (pseudonym I've assigned him till he agrees to become my agent — no free publicity).
            "Oh, that's okay," I said to Janet, my wife and editor, "It's a learning experience."
            And despite the calm I showed, I sank further into the chair than I ever thought I could. Maybe this means my synopsis had sounded more thrilling than the book actually was. Maybe I should pitch to a different kind of agent. Maybe I stink! Maybe I can write good columns occasionally, but don't have what it takes to write a publishable novel. Well, I can self-publish. Yes, but maybe I stink.
            "I need to take a walk," I said. And I left and walked around the track at CHA because there is a huge oak tree near the pole vault pit that I pour my heart out to as I walk past it. And from which I get perspective.
            I rounded the first curve, saw the tree's magnificence, touched my heart with my closed hand and said the names of the persons most important to me who have died, including, most recently my dear mother-in-law, Jessica Goodman. I wished them well and reminded them that I was still here to remember them fondly and keep their names alive.
            And I reminded myself that they'd probably love to trade places with me, even if it meant they'd have to take on my petty problems.
            And then I was past the tree, nothing but blue sky ahead, like a blank slate onto which I could write my future. I had touched the past and now would go on.
            Except ... except ... what the heck did that darned agent mean? What does "...it kept me interested, but I did not jump out of my chair with super enthusiasm" mean ? Gosh, all this beauty surrounding me and my mind couldn't get past that statement of his.
            Is that what it takes? I must write my stories hoping to make someone "jump out of his chair with super enthusiasm"? I've always aimed to make people sink lower into their cushions. Or curl up in nervous suspense. Or cry. Or say, "yes!" I don't know if I've ever jumped out of my chair while reading. Maybe I stink as a reader also.
            What did I do the morning after the night before? I arose early, determined to give the book another month of dedicated work. Add some plot twists, eliminate some distractions. Streamline it. Unite some disparate elements. Then query some more. And possibly self-publish a small edition for all those of you who have followed me through this long ordeal.
            If it were my life-statement novel, I'd work for another ten years, but gee whiz, it started out just to be an entertainment. Now, like Tar-Baby, I'm stuck to it.

Hugh Gilmore can be reached at Gilmorebookshop@yahoo.com  

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