That’s where we were when I last left off. In case anyone doesn’t remember (and really, why would you), a legendary editor had just called my first agent, who’d just submitted my first novel. (To make things a little extra confusing, my first novel was subbed second, after my second novel didn’t sell. Yipes.)
Heck, I’m just going to name Legendary Editor. Sadly, she has died, and I never got the chance to work with her. It was Leona Nevler, who discovered Jean Auel’s CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR among other hits, and was at Ballantine by the time she made it onto that city bus.
Getting Leona Nevler to stay up all night reading still counts as one my most precious accomplishments, even though this was now nine years ago.
I still remember hanging up the phone with my agent–before we knew this outcome–and her saying, “So that’s all the news I’ve got at 9:30 on a Monday,” and me replying, jubilant, riding a crest of adrenaline, “That’s pretty good for 9:30 on a Monday.”
But even Leona Nevler couldn’t get her board behind my first novel, and no offer was made.
I wasn’t heartbroken upon learning this for one reason. Not one but two other editors were also interested in my book. One was at Berkley and has since left to be a literary agent. The other was at William Morrow, and when she too couldn’t get permission to make an offer on my book, she asked my agent if we could meet.
Man, how this whole thing was dragged out, huh? It’s like Someone was having fun with it.
I was in the bath when my agent when called with this piece of news. “I’ve never had this happen before,” she told me.
Because publishing is a small world, it wasn’t possible for Jennifer Sawyer Fisher to take me to one of the typical spots the literati might dine at. “People would buzz,” explained my agent. “They wouldn’t understand why we were there when no offer had been made.”
My agent–a generous and devoted soul–offered to host us at her apartment for lunch.
Oh, how I prepared for this meeting. I spent hundreds of dollars on an outfit, exchanging my first, labored over choice on a second shopping trip. My husband drove me into the city so I wouldn’t have to stress alone over traffic. Except that we left early enough so that the most tangled, ensnared metro area traffic couldn’t have made us late.
A spring cold was coming on the day we finally met, so I had to hope my nasal intonation didn’t turn anybody off, but oh, what fun we had. I had, anyway. I got to hear the editor say things like, “So since my publisher would like this to be a big book, I thought about adding a subplot,” and then toss ideas around with her.
I felt creative.
I felt important.
I felt real.
I rushed right home and–cold or not–got immediately to work. Adding a subplot. Tearing the novel into tiny shreds, and piecing them back together again. Thanking the stars that the first version didn’t sell, since this one was oh so much better.
Way back when Jennifer Sawyer Fisher first contacted my agent, she’d told her there might be an issue with the title. (Which my agent put to me as: She hates the title.)
I first spoke to Jennifer–before we met–at 4:32 in the afternoon (yes, I remember the minute) and at the very end of the conversation she said something like, I hope you won’t mind me saying this, but if the title was less than perfect, would you mind…
Or words to that effect. Careful, almost tiptoeing words. In a business that doesn’t often scruple with the writer’s feelings, let me just say that Jennifer’s manner endeared me to her greatly.
So it was doubly upsetting, after I finally got that new version ready for submission, to hear from my agent that it had been passed on to a new editor at Morrow for consideration.
Jennifer had moved west to start a family.