Part IIAnd then there were --- sunt lacrimæ rerum --- the hand-written or typed, thoughtful, and mostly appreciative letters of regret. With the cold rejections, we can sneer, "Their loss!" or "Who would want to work with Charlotte Gusay anyway?" But the appreciative ones: perhaps they smart so because success comes and perches on our shoulders for a moment ... and then up and flies away.
It's the poignant knowledge that we've found a soul-mate, someone who had the wit to read and react ... and then return all this hard work with sincere regret. So it takes you up for a moment, and then, a second later, dumps you on the floor.
Along with the agents, I had sent out copies of the manuscript to a few likely publishers. Poorly Xeroxed "we-don't-read-
out-of-the-blue- submissions" dribbled back from the likes of Random House, Farrar Straus Giroux, and Little, Brown. But the slush-pile lady at Viking- Penguin allowed as how the writings were "charming" and the University of Washington Press said, with their letter of regret, that they were "wonderful vignettes:"
Believe me, it was a delightful interlude from the turgid prose we are required to review.
Agent Ruth Cohen said, "I like what you say, I like what you write, I wish I could help." Mary Brown of New York sent a long letter, summarizing each of the chapters I had mailed, including "Happy Bird Day," which
celebrates the arresting quality of children and appreciates friends who, even though they work for you, love you nonetheless, and extols life because it is so fine and short and yet indestructible.
I enjoyed reading them all...but I cannot represent you at this time.
Candice Fuhrman said "Your humor is much appreciated," and Henning Gutmann said, "There is a certain kind of ass-kicking and death-defying humor in your writing...[but] I don't see how I could sell it to a commercial publisher."
Of them all, the ones that most turned my head (and broke my heart) came from Jody Rein in Colorado, and The Robbins Office.
We loved your stories here at Jody Rein Books, Inc., and we loved your cover letter. I wish I could be your agent, but I can't. Your stories are original, fresh, and damn hard to publish and sell. I'm usually very adamant about the fact that a good agent can be a good agent anywhere in the country --- in eight years as an agent this is the first time I've ever said this: I think you need someone in New York. I think you need an agent who is having lunch with editors every day, and over lunch can mention you and your work and pitch your stories personally in a manner that I can't on the phone or in e-mail. You need just the right match in an editor, and I think that match is going to be made in a face-to-face meeting or an unscheduled conversation.
She then went on to suggest five agents, and concluded
I'm sure you will find a good agent and enthusiastic publisher with little trouble, and I wish you all the best.
Great letter ... but no cigars: no nibbles whatsoever from any of the five.
The last, from Summer Ostlund at The Robbins Office --- a real, full-time, well-known, well-respected agency in New York City --- asked for the full manuscript. Then, after six nail-biting weeks (my nails, not theirs), "I was particularly impressed with the work's honesty --- you've captured the lives of a simple, hard-working people with humor and poignancy."
That said, I am going to disappoint both of us by saying we are not the right representatives for his work.
Oh, woe. I'm getting out of this stupid writing business forever. You hear me? --- I'm getting out now! I will not put up with this rejection nonsense any longer. Work and write and sweat and slave and pull these words out of the hot beast of fire and then send them out and from 364 mailed out there are a couple a hundred or so who even bother to write back and say "Sorry," and then there are a few who say, "We're very sorry," and then there are these soul-grinding eat-em-
up-spit- em-out excruciating "You-are-a- great- writer-but- sorry" near misses. This is something up with which I will no longer put. You hear?
Except ... those three agents out there, still holding onto the manuscript, no word so far. And the two University Presses. And that dratted miserable disgusting humiliating irresponsible egregiously wretched gut-wrenching heart-robbing Jesus-bitten hope. Which drives us ever onward in this ridiculous foolishness, so that every time we open the mailbox, or every time the telephone rings...--- Carlos Amantea