A Writer’s Diary – Page 2

After luxuriating for months in the warm mud of the creative process, writing longhand on a legal pad on my back porch, I had to force myself out into the cold. It had to be properly typed in the correct form, packaged with SASE enclosed, and sent out to publishers or agents whose business was business (not warm, sentimental mud). I bought a book telling me how and a Writers Market telling me where. A friend offered to type it for me cheap. I was delighted until I got it back partially typed, full of mistakes, and on cheap paper that curled and dented if you touched it. I smiled, paid her and then dumped it in the garbage after she left.

I finally found a good typist at a reasonable price who was pleasant and easy to work with. I sent the manuscript to Alfred Knophf after talking to one of the senior editors on the phone. That was nearly 25 years ago when you could still do that. Now no large publisher will accept an entire manuscript or even a query unless they come through an agent. Most agents will accept only a query unless they like what they see enough to ask for the manuscript (and that is rare).

I waited several months, assuming Knophf would be thrilled with this modern masterpiece and would call any day to tell me they were publishing it with a star build up and would soon be negotiating a picture deal with Warner Brothers. I had recently gone through a devastating break up with my long-time boyfriend. Now I visualized myself replacing him with a matinee idol or some swanky guy among the Manhattan intelligentsia. Maybe there was a reason for everything after all.

Then late one cloudy afternoon on my day off, I hear a thud at the front door. I went out to find the box containing my manuscript had been tossed against the door like a sack of potatoes. I lifted it up into my arms like a dead child and wept until I began to choke and wretch. I now envisioned a long, grim plod toward publication, begging like a pauper, scorned by editors as an irritating intruder while they were in the middle of important plans for publicizing star writers. There was no promise of success even then. But even if it came, would I be too old to enjoy it?

It took all the courage I had to re-submit my manuscript, but I did (again and again) to other large publishers. The rejections were painful, but were not attended with the melodrama of the first one. Now I began writing more novels and sending them out (again rejected). Finally I decided to temporarily lower my sights and sent one of them to a small publisher (possibly a one-man operation). If he liked what he saw he might champion my work as a sort of mentor. When we both made it to the top, I would have done him as great a kindness as I had done myself.

Months passed when I heard nothing from him. I called and wrote, but with no response. I do not recall him having even an answering machine, much less a secretary. Maybe the manuscript was lost in the mail or arrived so damaged he could not read even who it was from. Maybe it lay moldering under a stack of other unsolicited manuscripts. Maybe he had such contempt for it that he refused to return it or even reply. – Then there was another possibility – Maybe he saw its literary and financial potential at once and stole it! Probably it had a different title now and he had just purchase a castle on the Riviera with its proceeds. I had not bothered to get registered copyright on it. I panicked.

Finally I reached him on the phone. I had either awakened him from a sound sleep (mid-afternoon) and he was groggy or he was intoxicated. At last he grasped who I was and what I was asking. He said that his reader had been very enthusiastic about my project and said it was evocative of A Streetcar Named Desire. – Still he could not publish it. Why he did not reveal. Still he would return the manuscript at once and wished me good luck.