Friday, March 11, 2005
How I Got Here, part 12
We’re up to almost eight years of my journey—approaching the end of 1997. I was waiting on pins and needles to hear from Jane about Color the Sidewalk for Me. In the meantime I couldn’t bear to just sit around. I’d started looking at the chunk of story I’d cut out of Sidewalk. And at a certain supporting character named Jessie. It occurred to me—Jessie had her own story to tell. A story of how she had come to the town of Bradleyville when Celia was just a baby. It would be a prequel to Sidewalk. The details began to form in my mind. A tragedy would befall the town—a strike at the saw mill . . .
I wrote the book in less than three months. The large section I’d taken from Sidewalk moved into Jessie’s story. Original title for this book: From Ashes to Angels.
Finally Jane’s response to the latest version of Sidewalk came through a long faxed letter. Once more I gathered up an agent’s response from my machine, trembling. This had to be good. I knew the manuscript was so much better.
Her bottom line: It needed another rewrite.
I couldn't believe it. Could not! But what to do? I wasn’t about to quit now. I’m come too far. So back to it I went. I pored through Jane’s letter over and over again, point by point. Did every single thing she asked. The rewrite took a couple months. By the time I finished, my eyes crossed at the mere thought of the book.
But—I also knew in my heart that the book was ready. Really ready.
I sent it off. I also sent off From Ashes to Angels. “Here’s a prequel,” I told Jane. “How about that—you now have two books out of me!” “Great,” she said. She’d look at it.
Dear readers, don’t leave me now. Hang with me. Because here’s the point in the journey when things really get crazy. As if they hadn’t been before. Here begins the period of, shall we say, Unfortunate Time-Killing Events. I look back on this period now and see their fortunate side. God’s hand was in it all. In fact, He orchestrated the whole thing, crafty God that He is. Amazing, the things he’ll do. But at the time, of course, I knew nothing of this.
Jane’s reply came. It astounded me. Utterly and completely astounded me. She was kind in her letter but firm. I had in no way done what she’d asked. Try again.
I stared at the words, open-mouthed. They just weren’t true. I knew I’d done all that she’d asked and more. I’d carefully checked off every point. Every point! What was wrong with her? What did she want from me? I’d tried and tried, learned and learned. Every time I really thought I’d gotten somewhere—that I’d honed my craft. What now? There was absolutely nothing left for me to do to this manuscript. Nothing that I hadn’t already dealt with.
Obviously, I could not work with this woman.
This would be my third failed agent in a row. More than eight years had passed. I really, really felt I was at the publishable point. I could look back at my earlier writing and see how bad it was. I’d learned much. Studied, studied, studied, wrote, wrote, wrote, When I wasn’t writing, I was reading and studying some more. I understood story structure and characterization techniques and theory like never before. I’d written three novels, and I finally knew what I was doing!
What. Was. Wrong. With. This. Agent?
I tried. Really. For a week or two I struggled to think what I could do with the manuscript that I hadn’t already done. And, apparently to Jane's thinking, it would have to be a lot. I just didn’t understand it. Once more, the gut feeling I had about my work didn’t match at all what an agent was telling me. Not at all.
Sick, crushed and weary, I did the only thing I possibly could.
Read Part 13