I’m sitting in the car on the way home from our 2012 spring break. We drove from Evanston, Illinois to the Florida panhandle with several families, stopping along the way to stretch, top off our gas tanks, re-caffeinate, and eat. I spent the majority of the drive texting the other mothers in our friends’ cars, inquiring about rest breaks, getting updates on someone’s flat tire, and, every once in awhile, offering to swap husbands when mine applied the gas pedal too liberally.
Once we finally arrived in Florida, after almost 20 driving hours filled with texting, I tried my best to unplug from technology during our time on Cape San Blas. I took very few photos, wrote very few words, and spent almost zero time on the phone.
Instead, I applied copious amounts of sunscreen to my children and myself. I spent time watching my children dance in the living room of our rented home. Read books on the beach while others fished for shark, puffer fish, catfish, whiting, and stingray. Watched dolphins jumping 50 yards from the beach in front of the house. Slept until I woke up. Built fires in the sand. Explored the towns of St. Joe and Apalachicola, including an amazing nautical antique shop called The Tin Shed. Sailed a boat (and floated on its bottom with friends in the sunshine). Sang songs. Played Pinochle. Listened to Al Greene while doing dishes (it's the best). Did a bit of laundry. Drove a golf cart on the beach…
In the middle of the week, while playing cards, I peeked at my email while someone else dealt. To my utter surprise, I’d received a message from a literary agent to whom I’d sent a copy of my manuscript for MY LIFE AFLOAT.
Until now, I’ve received a balanced mix of feedback from the literary agents I’ve queried so far. One said the story is too young for her list of titles. Someone else loves how Chicago is a fully-realized character in the novel. Another agent felt the message was a bit too preachy but not impossible to scale back. One used the word charming and said she’d be rooting for me from the sidelines (but politely passed). One agent said he only takes stories that send him over the moon…and that most of the houses he deals with (big NYC publishing houses) want a certain amount of “entertainment” added to stories with my kind of message.
The email from this agent said she shed a tear reading my novel. Granted, she also said she cries at telephone commercials, but she said my writing had brought a tear to her eye...in a good way.
She suggested some very doable edits, including cutting out 50-60 pages (which might sound like a nightmare but, because I tend to overwrite, shouldn’t be a problem).
She thanked me for sending her a copy of my manuscript and said that, if I think I can address some of her other suggestions (referencing specific page numbers in my 300+ page manuscript), she hopes she can send the manuscript to a few houses.
Those last 11 words were the ones I couldn’t believe I was reading.
What those 11 words tell me is that I’m not the only one who sees the importance in the story I’ve lived and breathed these last 4 years.
I shook as I read her email.
When I shared it with my husband and friends, they were ecstatic. I was in shock. I explained how writers often celebratewhen agents bother to send rejection letters…and that I didn’t even know how to react to this news. Their reactions? Hugs, kisses, more hugs, smiles, and champagne.
I college friend of mine, who's also a literary agent, read the full manuscript and shared mostly positive feedback, as well. The comments from both agents were very consistent -- in fact, they were nearly identical. When he shared his comments with me, he said, "You know? You're a real writer," which I interpreted as, "I wasn't sure if you were, but gosh darn it, you are." It was a fantastic moment for me. In a dream world, I'd have to decide between these two (if not more!) agents -- as if!. My friend the agent has known me for almost 25 years...he knows my humor and my emotions...he "gets me". He's an established agent with outstanding credentials. After he read my manuscript and offered his comments, we discussed our mutual concern that our friendship might suffer if we ever hit a bump in the road, but as another friend recently pointed out, "having your friend as your agent is simply a bonus." I'd wondered if he'd given me positive feedback just to encourage me as only a good friend can, but after receiving the response from the other agent while in Florida, I'm more confident that I'm on the right track and one step closer to publication. I've been told countless times that getting your first novel published is like running a marathon, and I couldn't agree more.
Perhaps my edits will disappoint both of these agents and I'll start the search over again. Or, maybe they'll both love them and offer representation...
I’ve already begun working on the revisions. Spent almost ten hours from Cape San Blas to Bowling Green Kentucky slashing scenes and phrases that don’t enhance the story. I have so much more to do and I cannot wait to get back home to do it.
And now, as my husband drives and I sit in the back seat of our minivan with our children, driving through windmill farms surrounding this Indiana interstate, I want to record this feeling. My 6th grade daughter weaves a friendship bracelet, row after row, mile after mile. My oldest son sleeps in the front seat, likely dreaming of next year when he’ll be old enough to join the ranks of drivers on a trip like this, and my youngest child sits squished in the third row, surrounded by sandy luggage and beach chairs and boogie boards, giggling over a cartoon he’s watching on an electronic device. Carloads of friends are ahead of us, while another follows several hours behind. Yesterday, on my birthday, I received phone calls and texts and Facebook messages and emails from family and friends across the country. I’m literally surrounded by good vibrations, and I feel quite certain that none of it is a coincidence.
P.S. As I submit this post to ChicagoNow, we’re driving into Evanston on Sheridan Road. For the record, the bluish-green colors of Lake Michigan’s shoreline are prettier than anything we saw in Florida…