“Do you have a novel?” the agent asked. I was doing some work on a documentary about WW2 pilots for him, and he liked my work. This guy was known for getting local authors big contracts. If he wanted a novel, a novel he’d get. So I started writing.
I wrote the first part of the book at 718 4th street on the outskirts of Dinkytown, handed it in, and waited. Had a list of all the publishing houses to which it had been sent, and as the weeks went by I scratched off one name after another. It was bad to get a call from the agent saying “Simon and Schuster passed” and just as bad to get no call at all. The last name on the list, I believe, was Dutton.
Dutton bought it. I did a stupid thing and took my advance and spent on a plane ticket to go to New York and meet my agent. This is what you did, right? Went to New York, got taken out for drinks, feted as the Next Thing? The editor was a blunt and breezy fellow who told me he liked my style, kid, but if I wanted this book to work I had to kill someone in the first chapter. Anyone. Didn’t matter. Well, not this guy, he liked that guy. But start it off with a bang. Okay? Enjoy New York.
No cocktails? No dinner?
His secretary took me down to the cafeteria for coffee, though.
I went home and wrote the book in my new apartment in Uptown, windows down, the midnight train rolling through every night. That’s about as good as it gets when you’re a young writer, I think. You’re John O’Hara, banging it out. You have a job to do. The novel depends on you and you alone. I printed it off and sent it away and it came out, and I waited.
Oh, Kirkus liked it. Carolyn See liked it a lot. Got some nice reviews, but there was nothing about the cover that said “you really will enjoy this.” It was one of a hundred others, thrown like chum into the bookstores. The sharks were busy elsewhere.
Ah well: their loss. Would have made a great 80s movie with Griffin Dunne, I think. Still holds up, and from all the recent feedback i gather it’s a funny book with a rather prescient little mystery. I have to note that the formatting gets a little wonky in spots - the hours I spent on the conversion! So many - but then I again I recently read a big-named book where every other “I” was the number one, so it seems to be a hazard of the genre for the moment.
Bottom line: do you like my writing? You will like this book.