publishing part II
I didn't think about the novel. I worked at the fish restaurant and went on some really bad dates. I applied to an MFA program at Brooklyn College which was the least expensive writing program I could find. When I told my father I was going back to graduate school he told me I was a loser. They gave me a fellowship and I got a Pell loan and somehow managed to afford it.
About three weeks after the agent said she was submitting the book, I went out with a guy I swore I would never go out with. He was very good looking and not smart and he had a terrible attitude about women and awful taste in music. We went out to dinner and all of a sudden I felt sick. Like I'm -going-to-die sick. But it was weird. I couldn't identify what the malady was I just knew I needed to go home and faint.
We got back to my teeny rent-controlled Manhattan apartment that I was subletting and my answering machine was flashing. People used to have answering machines with messages that tried to show how cool or arty or sexy they were. My message usually had some Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell music and my mom was always complaining about the music and that the message was too long to the point she was cut off before she said anything. This message was from the agent who said Harper & Row wanted to buy my novel which was called Parting is All We know of Heaven:
My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If immortality unveil
A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.
It was impossible for me to believe what she had said. No one even knew I was writing anything. I also still felt like I was physically dying. My date tried to kiss me and I pushed him out the door. I realized all the pain was focused on a place in my mouth and I called the emergency number for my dentist and had three hours of emergency surgery the next morning. Evidently I had an abcess in my tooth so impressive the dental surgeon's friends came to look at it. They sent me home with a prescription that resulted in an unconscious 24 hours. I woke up and played the message again. I was to be published. I had a single article on bike repair published and I had copied the directions for changing a tire from a bike book. I had never changed a tire in my life. If you followed my directions I doubt anything but mayhem would have ensued.
I called a few friends and told them what happened (told their machines) but I didn't call my parents. They could wait. Then I stopped answering my phone, I went to Zabars and got this big piece of coffee cake and I hid in my apartment for two days. I had called the agent (my agent) and agreed to go to the publishers with her the following week to sign the contract and discuss changes they needed. More typing. I finally called my parents and told them about the book deal. They were speechless.
We went to Harper&Row and were ushered into a senior editor's office. She had a Manuscript in the dead center of her desk which had my title page on top. I was sure they had made a mistake and someone else's book, maybe Stephen King's, would be underneath that page. When my editor & agent went to look out the window, I snuck a look and sure enough, it was my novel.
"Where else have you published?" my editor asked.
"Uh, well, a Bicycle Magazine," I said. "An article about changing a tire."
They both looked at me.
"She's very fast," my agent said. "She'll meet every deadline."
I just stared at my Manuscript wondering when I would go back through the rabbit hole and be in my proper place listening to an incensed cook screaming in Mandarin Chinese because the fish order was sitting for too long.
There was a brief honeymoon. I met the art department and everyone had read and loved my book. I met publicity and they were very excited. I was given free books and told to get ready for my life to change. They commissioned an artist to paint a picture to grace my cover. people kept talking about my characters as if they were real. Some of them were sort of real. Realish. I knew there was going to be fall-out with my family and maybe an ex-boyfriend or two. Also, there was sex, quite a lot of highly charged sex.
I started the MFA program and began writing something new. The secret to writing is always start something new. I saw a depressed girl trying to train a dog and suddenly I knew what to write about. I also ran into an old boyfriend who had been the model for the married, sadomasochistic, lying rich guy in the book. Whole conversations had been recreated. I was running in Central Park and realized he was running towards me. For some reason I had imagined him dead. Not that there was any reason to think that but it made it easier to put him in the book.
But he was very much alive, had bought a townhouse in the west village and he ran after me and caught me. We started dating again. It was weird. I kept thinking I should let him read the book but he was so delighted his new lover was a novelist it didn't seem like a good time.
I had five editors in one year. The book was handed from one to the next because people kept leaving or getting promoted or something. It sold in London. The movies didn't buy it but someone wanted to turn it into a script. I still introduced myself as a waitress at parties. I started studying 19th century novels and was aghast at how badly I had interpreted what Hardy, Elliot and Austen created with such perfection. I feared my father's criticism, heck, anyone's criticism and also my sister's reaction to the mean sister in the book. There is one perfect dead sister and one mean one and the heroine, Cordelia, is the youngest and, of course, best of all.
Then it was published. Some reviews were very nice and some were vicious. It was fascinating how personal the bad ones seemed. People called me and said they were having sex to my book. I had a huge book party and my sponsee kept trying to steal things from my Aunt's fancy Upper-Westside apartment. A few famous writers came. It was overwhelming. I ended the evening huddled in a fetal position in my angry jewish boyfriend's bed. the other rich one who had mentioned wanting to marry me had finally read the book and never spoke to me again.
"How can you be this depressed?" my angry Jewish boyfriend said. "You have a novel."
"I want to die," I said. "It feels terrible."
No one prepares you for the other pain, the pain of getting what you wanted most in the world. Also, it wasn't what I wanted. What I wanted was my sister.