Diary of a Rural Writer
|Posted by Christina Lynch on October 7, 2010 at 2:01 PM|
I wrote this after having lunch with my book agent, during which I offered to rob a bank if it would help her sell my novel.
Pride and Prejudice and Publication
From Publisher’s Weekly’s deals page:
"Jersey Shore" star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi's A SHORE THING, about a girl looking for love on the boardwalk (one full of big hair, dark tans, and fights galore), to Jeremie Ruby-Strauss at Gallery, with Lauren McKenna editing, for publication in January 2011, by Scott Miller at Trident Media Group (world).
After getting my forty-seventh rejection from New York’s three surviving publishing houses, I received an invitation from my book agent. This time it wasn’t to lunch at fancy Five Points on Great Jones St., where we had met excitedly over truffled potato pizza and local escarole to choose the forty-seven elite, skeletal, Prada-clad editors we would send my manuscript to. This time the invitation was to stand in the rain outside Gristedes eating red hot Cheetos and talking about “our next step.”
“I’m happy to rewrite it,” I said, lying through my teeth. The book had taken me ten years to finish, and cost me an engagement, my youth, my waistline, and a favorite hog I’d had to barter for printer ink.
“No, Jane, your book is brilliant,” she said. “Definitely Pulitzer and possibly Mann Booker material. Every single rejection describes you as the love child of Nabokov and Eudora Welty after a particularly passionate night of exchanged verbiage. That’s not the problem. Although your title ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a little seventeen-nineties. You might think about calling it ‘The Taxonomy of Porcupines Eating Freedom Cake While Racing Calamity Physics in the Rain.’”
I began licking the spicy red cheese-ish powder off my fingers, then noticed all the other unpublished writers standing around begging for alms from passersby. I felt selfish and offered my fingers to Emily Bronte to suck on. “I’ll take that under consideration,” I told my agent after shooing Em along. “But if the writing is not the problem, what is the problem?”
“You’re the problem.”
She asked me to describe myself.
“Well,” I said, “I guess I’d say I’m a simple country girl of good sense and sensibility.” That’s how I’d described myself on match.com.
“Mmmmmmm yes,” she said cryptically, gently chewing the straw of her pumpkin latte. That was about the response I’d gotten on match.com, too, where only one man, who had the rare good fortune of actually having three arms, had been my only suitor.
I didn’t want to seem desperate, so I swallowed the universally acknowledged truth that if I didn’t publish something soon, the Bank of America would be exercising their entailment of my little farm in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. I had ended up in rural California after giving Hollywood a try. My Two and a Half Men spec script got me a round of meetings and sixteen small bottles of water but no jobs. I had hung around for a while, waitressing at Drago and selling silky unmentionables at Fred Segal, hoping to option a romantic comedy idea I’d worked on called “Emma,” which I’d felt inspired to write after seeing “Clueless.” Then a bout of consumption I got from a bad shrimp at Spago sidelined me for a couple of years, and when my WGA health care coverage ran out, I had turned 40. That’s the age when you drive your pony cart out of Hollywood and they raise up one of those tire-shredding spiky things behind you. There was no going back.
My agent sighed. “Jane, Jane, Jane. In the old days, getting a book published was a simple matter. You needed only to be born with a smidgen of talent, attend an Ivy League school, write two or three hundred pages with at least one repressed emotion per paragraph, throw in a bear riding a bicycle, and then casually mention the manuscript while riding horses or sailing with the scion of a prominent publishing dynasty. Sometimes the writing itself was optional.”
A skeletal woman in thigh-high plaid boots walked by. Seeing us, she averted her eyes, whispering into her iphone: “Writers, they’re everywhere, hollow-eyed, gaunt, cluttering up the sidewalks. Pestilence.”
“I don’t have a bear in mine, but there are some carriage horses and a rather silly younger sister,” I said to my agent, trying to seem like a team player. “Do you want me to make her a bear?”
My agent said, “Nah, but a zombie or two wouldn’t hurt.”
I couldn’t believe she was serious. “I’m not adding zombies,” I said. “Or vampires,” I added quickly, seeing where her thoughts were going. “My storytelling does not need cheap tricks to make it palatable.”
“Well,” she went on, muttering “diff-i-cult” under her breath, “then there was a rather dull period where talent rose to the surface, which was tiresome for everyone, especially readers, who would certainly rather read about masturbation, bears on bicycles, and boarding schools than about people hanging up laundry in trailer parks while not talking about--” she whispered-- “you know.”
“Death?” I asked.
“Aging,” she sighed, crossing herself and spritzing with seawater. “Now things have shifted yet again. With Snookie’s sale of her debut novel to Gallery, a new paradigm has been established. You need to be famous. Can you do that? Can you be famous?”
I frowned. “I was thinking that if my novel sold well that would make me famous.” The truth was, I didn’t want to be famous. At all. On my Facebook page I still had the spiky headed silhouette in lieu of a photo. I was thinking of publishing my novels anonymously, just to avoid the fame thing. All I wanted was to support myself as a writer. It didn’t seem like it should be this hard. I had been told my whole life I was extremely talented, and I had written six and a half witty, highly-entertaining novels. Longhand.
“No, you need to already be famous to publish a novel.” The phrase “chicken and the egg” crossed my mind. “Have you ever robbed a bank?” she queried.
I said no, although I once took an extra crumpet at tea with Lady Snodgrass and wrapped it up in my hankie for later.
“What about a tawdry affaire de coeur with a political figure?”
I thought for a moment. “I carved ‘JA + anyone’ into a tree trunk once.”
She sighed. “Do you think you could safely land a disabled plane?”
“I survived bovine tuberculosis,” I said. “I was supposed to die at 42. That’s sort of a Lance Armstrong angle, isn’t it?”
She moaned softly and shook her head, and I could see it was my literary career that was dying before it began. I thought fast.
“Does The Bachelor take 45-year-old women with muffin tops?” I asked.
“Good thinking,” she said, “I’ll find out.”
The first night was tough. The other girls, or should I say, the girls, unpacked their rolling bags of beauty products and began bad mouthing each other. I felt like I was back at Groothampton Grange for Lord Bluntbottom’s annual mobbing by the local wenches. I had my hair in a fetching bun and was unfailingly polite. The cameramen kept mistaking me for the mum of one of the contestants.
“No, no, I said heartily. “I’m here to win this thing!” Actually, I was just there to make an ass of myself and get my face on TV so I could get my novel published. I tossed back a snootful of tequila and vowed to get my game on.
For the opening cocktail, the other girls applied their makeup with a trowel, donned mini dresses with plunging necklines, festooned themselves with bijoux which drew eyes downward to fleshy crevasses so deep even spray-on tan couldn’t plumb their depths, and ironed their flowing manes into veritable tsunamis of, well, hair. I wore my usual men’s khakis held up with baling twine, crewneck Shetland sweater with holes at the elbows, with just a touch of Jack Russell saliva at the hem. I had brought a simple cotton Empire waist dress, but felt that somehow that might seem like I was trying.
“I like to read by the fire and take long walks,” I told the Bachelor, whose name I didn’t quite catch. “I’m fond of country dances and cutting out paper silhouettes, but mostly I just like to write.”
“Oh,” he said, as one of the other girls slipped her hand into his trousers. I knew at this point I should jump her and scratch her face and call her Chaucerian epithets, but, dear reader, I am sorry to say that good taste got the better of ambition. I merely headed back to the tequila bar, and downed shots with Emily Dickinson, who had just been kicked off Survivor. After eating a sea slug.
I was eliminated unanimously by four million cell phone texters in round one. This was impressive considering I had had only one second of air time, leaning into the background of two girls talking trash in the hot tub, stuffing a bok choy canapé in my mouth while shouting something about iambs and trochanters.
The next day I met with my agent on the Christopher Street subway platform. She was playing a violin and gathering change, trying to drown out Edith Wharton and her pernicious accordion. I was coughing blood into a crumpet-crumbed hankie.
“How many zombies do you want?” I asked.