Saturday, August 7, 2010

When the past informs the future

Back in the early nineties I wrote a proposal that my agent rejected. It was one of those books of the heart, something I really wanted to write. The proposal was three chapters and a long synopsis, plus artwork. It went something like this:

Setting: rural farm
Main characters: female who’d moved away, became an investigative reporter, had a baby, got divorced, developed cancer. Story opens with her in remission, returning to the farming community to rest. She ends up attending funeral of old male friend whose father just died. The male friend draws the wrath of the community because of his stand against pesticides. The two join forces to expose some dirty doings, thus endangering their lives. Murder! Love! A cute toddler! Danger! And more!

My agent turned it down, and I was devastated. Just stunned and shocked, my spirit crushed. Because the story had meant so much to me, and had come from my heart and my life. Fiction, but I was drawing from everything around me. That was the first time my agent flat-out refused to submit. He suggested I work on something lighter. So I put together a proposal for Cool Shade, which is kind of a dark comedy. This was my option material, and the publisher turned it down. They said they were looking for something darker and more mature from me, maybe a story of a divorced woman facing some kind of hardship. Hmm. Sounded a bit familiar, but with the rejection of the option material, the relationship with that publisher was over.

And this is the thing.

I’ve moved several times since writing the agent-rejected proposal, and in later years I’ve come across that proposal while packing. And every time I’m struck by how good it is. And I came to finally understand that it was by far the best thing I’d written during that period of my career, but it took years for me to be able to see it for more than a failed piece of shit.

So when I turned in The Orchard and my agent said it didn’t work for him and it would never work for him, I remembered that other story, a story that was similar in tone, the one I later realized was good. That knowledge led to my decision to move on and try to find another agent. Because I knew we’d made a mistake fifteen years earlier. I knew he could be right this time, but I couldn’t take the chance.

I’d been with my agent for twenty years. He’s a fantastic agent and he made a lot of really good moves for me, so I was out of my mind with the thought of having to leave him. And after leaving him, I made a poor decision, but it was brief and I now have a wonderful agent who is a treasure. OMG. So amazing. But the problem is, you just don’t know until you are in the relationship. You just don’t know. And I keep thinking that if I hadn’t had that earlier disappointment accompanied by the later revelation, I probably wouldn’t have moved on and The Orchard would just be another manuscript to come upon every time I pack and unpack.

I don’t know why I’m rambling about this. Just something that’s been on my mind. I guess it underscores just how without sense and how almost chaotic this business is. How even some of the sharpest people aren’t right all of the time.


  1. Just wow.

    And I can't wait to read The Orchard.

  2. Anne,
    I loved this post. Thank you for sharing. I agree whole-heartedly with Likari--just wow!!

  3. I can't wait to read The Orchard, either.

    I also can't wait for my own personal revelations, for my present to become my past. lol.

  4. Thanks for the comments! This is another of those ramblings that I almost didn't post because I thought people would find it one giant snooze, something only interesting to the navel-gazing me.

  5. Sometimes I think the collective we (the industry) has drifted away from giving the art of writing room to move. Don't we remember the most unique stories, not the regurtated/formula ones? Glad you've found an agent and publisher who are more than happy to give your art room to move.

  6. jason, i've been thinking about this. agents are always giving writers advice. one single piece of advice i would give agents: don't hold your writers back. maybe this is an unfair comment, because maybe writers sometimes simply outgrown their agents comfort zone and writers need to recognize when this has happened.