The Yellow Brick Road came into sight again when I landed my first agent. She was a good agent, had good contacts in the industry, was well respected, and knew her stuff. She thought my work showed great promise, and that the novel manuscript I sent her had the sweep of GONE WITH THE WIND. But it needed a little more work.
This time I was willing to cooperate at all costs, even if it meant learning the craft all over again, using strictly conventional methods. I was determined to be conventional. I was willing to put a cap on my opinionated brain, listen to my betters, and – above all – no more shortcuts. Really. So, we set to work. I rewrote a couple of times, added a few scenes that she "would have liked to see included," and took out a few others she "didn’t quite care for." At last, it began to make the rounds.
First response: they liked it. But the dialect was a bit too laborious – could I cut back on it? Or – better yet – take it out completely. Which I did. After another rewrite, it went back to them. Sorry, no longer interested. Twenty-seven times it went out, with a total of about eight additional rewrites, many of which included putting things back that others had requested be taken out. Or vice-versa. The eighth time was a real doozie.
As a family, we were not made of money at this point. One does not grow rich in the teaching trade, or even working as a stringer on some local newspaper. Especially when you are turning over fifteen percent of your salary to an agent who might sell the great American novel for you one of these days. Not that she wasn’t worth it. I’m sure she was hard pressed to break even on submission costs without it, and she was banking on the "big break" as much as I was. I had a lot of confidence in her. But there were times when I had to choose between making a back up copy (this was before PC days, when such things take only minutes to transfer files to disk) or a pair of kid’s shoes. Most of the time I was lucky to scrape up more typing paper and postage money. After all, how many times did things get lost in the mail?
Not half as often as they get lost at large publishing houses. The eighth rewrite was done from memory and original research notes because the worst case scenario had happened and the only copy had disappeared into the abyss of one of the larger houses. No, I did not save old manuscript versions, because we lived on a forty-three foot sailboat at the time. Besides being limited for space, you wouldn’t believe what effect water could have on twelve copies of a five hundred page manuscript that would have to be stored in plastic containers down in the bilge. It was hard enough to keep a new ream of typing paper from starting to mold before project’s end, much less not to smell like diesel fuel.
Starting over from scratch practically killed me, but I did it.
It took months. But in the end (as with most rewrites) it was a better book because of it. The first time out after that we hit pay dirt. A direct call from a top-notch editor at a big time house who… wanted another rewrite. Other than that, she loved it. The first thing out of my mouth was, "I’m not doing another rewrite without a commitment!"
I should have remembered the frozen vegetable experience. Because after all these struggling years, I still could not tell the real opportunities from the false ones. What’s more I didn’t even have enough discipline to put a "safety cap" on my inappropriate responses that would have at least kept one in reach long enough for me to recognize it. In all twenty-seven submissions that was the only one that could have amounted to anything if I had seen it at the time. But I didn’t.
In the meanwhile, I was selling freelance articles to national magazines and writing other novels. Trying my hand at any and all genres even if I didn’t like personally reading them, and changing, changing, changing. More graphic. Less graphic. This may have happened in true life, but it’s not politically correct – has to be changed, etc. etc. Rewrite after rewrite. Nothing ever sold.
Seven years went by.
My children grew up and all left "the nest" in the same year, and suddenly my entire life seemed less than worthless. I began to wonder if it was my destiny to be a wilderness dweller all my life, why I kept dreaming of the Emerald City. Now, even the Yellow Brick Road seemed impossible, because every time I came near it, there was always some great crevasse that kept me from crossing over. What if I had already used up my entire allotment of Life’s opportunities? What if there was absolutely nothing left for me in the world? So – in the face of such catastrophe -- my husband did the only thing that could be done with a wife in such a state…
We embarked on a grand adventure.
What’s happening on the farm today: Tilling the garden, adding ashes to the peach tree soil, planting all manner of seeds in pots inside the house, and keeping the fire well stoked because it’s still ABSOLUTELY FREEZING AROUND HERE. I think I have spring fever and it’s such a long way off, yet…
Value status: Day 1 (if nothing else, I’m going to save money on psycho-analysis)