Monday, May 2, 2016

The Good Ol' Days

The Flatiron Building. I walked past it every day on my way to work.

I just returned from a trip to New York City. It was mostly a family vacation, but I took a little time out to visit some friends at my old workplace. It's been over ten years since I've visited and the experience was a little overwhelming. New York has changed so much that during my visit I often felt a little disoriented. Once-quiet downtown neighborhoods are now as bustling as midtown. Every parking lot I remember now has a high-rise sitting on it. Once in a while, though, I'd see something completely intact, exactly the way I remember it, and it brought me such delight. My connection to the city--though tenuous at best--is still there.

My husband and I drove our daughters batty pointing out our old haunts. We had a persistent need to press our history upon them. I wanted them to know I was not just someone who drove a minivan and cleaned the house, that I had a few experiences before they came along. But, alas, the girls didn't seem to really care all that much. To them, I'm just Mom and they're more impressed that I make waffles in the morning than the fact that I once crashed a swank party at The Plaza for the President of Ireland. (True story--and yes, Ireland has a President.)

Union Square -- my old neighborhood.
Also while in NYC, I met with my agent. We discussed the next steps in the submission process for my manuscript. He is developing a list of a dozen or so editors he thinks would be interested in this type of novel and will send out a copy of the manuscript along with reviews from my last book. For those of you who are on the fence about getting an agent, here's reason #457 why you should: multiple submissions. Writers acting on their own are often discouraged from this practice as negotiating can get sticky if more than one publisher is interested, but agents do it all the time. In fact, it's expected. So while the unrepresented writer sends out to one editor, waits two months or longer for a response and then sends out again, the writer with an agent gets a bunch of editors looking at their manuscript at the same time. Instead of waiting months or years to find a publisher, the writer with an agent can hear back in a matter of days or weeks.

My earlier excitement has mellowed into a nervous resignation. I've set my expectations so low as to almost be devoid of ambition. When we sent CEDAR HOLE out my mantra was "Knopf or bust!" (That didn't happen, but Simon & Schuster's no slouch.) Now I'm going around thinking, "Whatever happens, I can always self-publish." I've become just as nervous about success as failure. Walking around New York, feeling the once-familiar manic pulse of the city, I kept thinking, "Can I do this? Am I up for it? Do I still have it in me?"

Over vacation I finally got around to reading BENEDICTION by Kent Haruf, the last book in his PLAINSONG trilogy. It was just as elegant and absorbing and heartfelt as I hoped it would be. It will forever have a place among my favorite books. On a related note, my writing mentor, Richard Russo has a book coming out May 3rd, the sequel to NOBODY'S FOOL called EVERYBODY'S FOOL. I will be running out posthaste to my local bookstore to buy it. In a recent BookPage interview, Russo calls out Kent Haruf as one of his literary role models:

"He was not only a great writer, but also a great man. He went about his work with great seriousness and modesty, caring not one iota about fame or fortune, but only the work, always the work."

Great advice to live by.

You can read the full interview HERE.

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