Sunday, June 5, 2016

FAME, LANA TURNER AND ME


For a minute I felt a little like Lana Turner must have felt as she sipped her Coke at a Hollywood drugstore counter and heard the guy sitting next to her say, “Would you like to be in movies?” I’m guessing she turned, smiled brightly, said “Yes,” as he took her by the hand and led her away to fame.

I sat in a wicker chair, so dry-mouthed I had to force my lips to open. No drugstore, only the Pacific mumbling below us. “I like the sound of your story.  Will you send me the manuscript?” I licked my mouth, tried to curve it into a smile. “Yes.” The NY agent walked me to the door and into a life of fame. But first I had to find a glass of wine or at least a Coke so that I could celebrate, tell the news to my friend.

We had spent the day at a writers’ workshop listening to a speaker tell us how we should write our next novels. I fidgeted. I couldn’t relate. I had finished my next novel and I had paid the fee to pitch it to the guest agent. I waited two sweat-palmed hours for my fifteen minutes with her and with destiny. “Send me the manuscript,” made the year of writing, the long workshop, the wet hands, the dry mouth all worth while.

I went over each page one more time, incorporated some of the changes one of my Beta readers had suggested, and created a title. The Long Road, I decided late one night. Done. Punched “Send” and flung my book into the world. Then I waited for fame––or at least a response from the pleasant young woman who had nodded through my halting synopsis in that ocean-fringed room.

“We get three hundred queries a week,” she had warned. Then she added, “We are a small agency. We bring out about four or five books a year.” For days I tried not to think of the odds. I went for walks, drank a little too much white wine, was so crabby that my husband escaped regularly to the bakery down the street for a little peace and his New York Times.

On the tenth day, I opened my emails and her name appeared.

It was not a standard everyday rejection. She referred to the great weekend at the beach. She had read The Long Road, liked it, but. . . “But I’m afraid that I just didn’t get that breathless sense of connection while reading your pages, and that’s the kind of enthusiasm that I need to summon when I decide to go to bat for a book.”

Fair enough. I know about that breathless sense of connection. I’ve experienced it in books I’ve read and loved, the ones I wished I’d written. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, the first half of Penelope Lively’s bio Dancing Fish and Ammonites, come to mind. These stories are my kind of stories, about the lives of older women. Perhaps I’d do better with an agent over sixty instead of a smiling twenty-something.

But I’m questioning whether I’m brave enough to risk further attempts to find an agent. Or tenacious enough for more rewrites of The Long Road, breathless connections in mind. When I decide,  I’ll have my summer’s work laid out.

Jo Barney Writes
Website: www.jobarneywrites.com
Blog: breakoutnovelarace.blogspot.com

4 comments :

  1. Rejection is never easy, not matter how many times you face it. I will always admire you for putting everything you've got on the line. Take care.

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  2. Now at 70, I can understand your feelings. If and when I complete my memoir, I don't know that I'll be brave or courageous enough to even go as far as you have as written in this post. Thanks for being an inspiration to so many!

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  3. Sherrey, the one way for me to recover from rejection is to get back to what I love––writing. I'm working on the next book and loving the time I'm spending dreaming and planning. Courage to try to find a publisher or agent will come along quite naturally as I regain my confidence.

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