Amazingly, I signed with an agent. Anne Bohner, at Pen and Ink Literary.
The summer started off well enough. I spent most of May, while my kids were in school and I was not, writing, with my faithful dog, Mario, at my side, finishing my book The Geeks Guide to the Writing Life: An Instructional Memoir for the Rest of Us (inspired by my HuffPo blogging) and sending out queries for my novel The Lost Son.
Then came June. I lost a lot of sleep in June and might as well have booked a ticket on the Mars Curiosity because that was where it felt like I woke up one day–it was a surreal and heartbreaking time for reasons I really can’t go into except to again reassure readers that, fortunately, my family is not involved. I somehow taught a class. I managed to get about 30 queries out before we went on vacation in mid-July. I got 3 requests for full manuscripts during this time, all of which were ultimately turned down, and after reading somewhere that the average writer gets ten requests for a full before she lands an agent and doing the math, figured at least another 60 queries were in my future when I got back from vacation.
Then, while I was away, I got another request for a full. I happily sent it off and promptly put it in the back of my mind while I spent time with family and friends vacating in Nantucket, Maryland and Upstate New York and getting my daily gossip fix as l’affaire d’Oxford American unfurled back home (Thank God for WiFi).
Then, when I got back I got an email from said agent wanting to set up a time to talk. Um. What? The “talk” was set for two days hence–which gave me forty-eight hours to speculate and wonder and daydream. Ultimately, though, I ended up steeling myself that this would be one of those “I “might” be interested in this if you do x number of revisions” conversation. After all, an agent interested in my husband’s novel last year had put him through 3 rounds of intense revision and a long waiting period, only to decline representing him because his partner in the agency suddenly died, prompting him to decide he was too old to take on any new clients (he’s in his eighties and actually has a pretty illustrious list).
Needless to say, I did a lot of googling before the phone call, sussing out the probable age of the person who’d be on the other end. Conclusion: younger than I am but not too young. Check! Especially since all I was looking for was “has not outlived most of her clients.”
Still, after everything I’d read about the querying process, a “revise and resubmit and maybe I’ll be interested down the road” was what I was expecting. What I was not expecting was a pretty delightful forty five minute phone call. She said some really nice things about the novel. Really nice–I mean, cue the Sally Field clip-type nice. She was also upfront about what needed fixing, with some very specific ideas about how to do that. And then. . .she offered to represent me. I actually think I made her say it again because I couldn’t quite process what she was saying.
What needed fixing about the novel was that it’s too short. I knew that. I had been despairing about it for almost a year. I tend to write short–ask all the editors who have worked with me in the last ten years. I know it’s a problem. To make matters worse, I’m a hatchet woman when I revise and on the last revision the book lost 5,000 words. I knew it had been cut perhaps too close to the bone and that 45,000 words was way too short for a novel but I couldn’t see any way to add that wouldn’t seem like padding. I was just too close to it. None of my beta readers had any ideas either. Secretly, I prayed I might find an agent who believed in the book and who could tell me exactly how to expand it in ways that would make sense, that would not feel like padding. But I also knew that the chances of that were about the same as winning the lottery.
Yet somehow that was exactly what I found. Her suggestions made complete sense; she is a shrewd and perceptive editor–not surprisingly, since that’s what she was for ten years before becoming an agent. I went back to the novel immediately knowing exactly what I wanted to do and feeling really good about it (knock wood). I’ll have a piece coming out in the Huffington Post this week about all the reasons we should fear a world without editors–this is yet another reason why. I’ll admit it, my name is Stephanie Vanderslice and I’m addicted to editors.
We have a lot in common; her father had a law practice in the Queens, NY neighborhood where the novel is set and where I spent much of my childhood, a place that still obsesses me, which is why it’s also the setting of the next novel. And yes, we talked about that too . . . we talked about a lot of things; we talked about my writing career–in the present and future tense . . . it was a very easy conversation.
(Note: As a teacher, I spend a lot of time talking to students about their future writing careers and I love every minute of it. No lie. It’s one of the best parts of the job. But it was also pretty swell to be in a conversation with someone who wanted to talk about my career too.)
So I had a week to think about it and think about it I did. I thought about when I’d first read the description of the agency and how it had struck a chord even then, in the blur of other agencies, as a place I’d really like to land. I thought, a lot, about how this was exactly what I’d hoped would happen and yes, about proverbial gift horses, until it became absolutely clear what I was going to do.
And then I turned in my ticket.
From the land of revision–