FAILING FORWARD, memoir of a writer: CHAPTER 1

Three months passed, and after enough “thanks but no thanks”, I begin to reconsider the whole agent thing, and then I got one yes.

Once upon a time, in 1998, a young woman of 23 decided to take 80 handwritten pages of a novel she began when she was 15 and type it into her computer. She was inspired by an intense feeling of I’m-running-out-of-time, because at the ripe old age of 23, she was about to become a bride to her college sweetheart and knew her life would soon be taken over by wifely duties, those of which she really had no idea about. She couldn’t iron (her grandmother told her that the reason why her parents divorced was because her mother didn’t iron her father’s shirts). She hated to cook (luckily her husband-to-be was Italian, and cooking was practically a religion). She did love to clean. She loved to organize. She was vaguely interested in decorating. These things would take up a lot of time, she figured.

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The notebook that contains the handwritten version of the first 80 pages of My Sister’s Wedding, circa 1990.

That young girl was me, 17 years ago, when I set out, just three months before my wedding and just a week before my 24th birthday, to type all the handwritten pages as well as finish writing the novel I entitled, My Sister’s Wedding, a story loosely based on the most significant relationship I had with a boy when I was a teen. I knew very little at this time of publishing except that I wanted to be the next Judy Blume and that somehow it was going to happen with this book. I was absolutely, 100% convinced of this.

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First page, handwritten, of My Sister’s Wedding, my first (of many) failed novel

Fast forward to my wedding—an epic evening people are still talking about because it inspired others to get married, break up, and even get pregnant (actually not certain about that last part but some of those dance moves that night really convinced me that some conception was about to go on).

Party like it's 1999...actually, it was.
Party like it’s 1999…actually, it was.
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Such a pretty bride and handsome groom. They have idea what’s to come.

As I predicted my life changed once we were married. No ironing or cooking but we purchased a home in the vein of The Money Pit and promptly almost got divorced during renovations. Then, there was my job as a 7th grade English teacher and my husband’s job at a financial institution. I schlepped home piles of papers to grade, and he was nursing a bit of the disenchantment-post-college-quarter-life-crisis blues. In fact, these first two years of marriage are a bit of blur. At some point, I edited the manuscript, and at some point, I told people I had written a book.

Sadly, our bedroom in our first home, a.k.a. The Money Pit
Sadly, our bedroom in our first home, a.k.a. The Money Pit

I was so green, I hadn’t even heard of “young adult” as a genre separate from adult fiction. It wasn’t until I started showing the manuscript to some curious colleagues that I realized I had written a novel for teens. Their feedback inspired me to finally think about how I would break into publishing. I did know about The Writer’s Market and that getting an agent would most likely be the way to a publisher; as a teen, I had gone to various writing camps and programs and was schooled in those basics.

I bought a copy of The Writer’s Market and began to scour the pages for an agent who specialized in teen fiction. Then, I methodically created a chart to organize my submissions. This is when submissions were rarely done through email, and so I made copies and stuffed manila envelopes and collated and stamped and took many trips to the post office.

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Three months passed, and after enough thanks but no thanks, I begin to reconsider the whole agent thing, then I got one yes.

The one caveat was that this agent wanted money; it wasn’t a lot, and it was for what she called “incidentals” on the behalf of the “client”—postage and copies, etc. I really didn’t care because I was razor-sharp in my focus, tunnel-vision sharp. I cut a check for $150 and signed a 6-month contract. Who cares how it happens, I thought, I just want it to happen and I was still 100% convinced it would.

When the 6 months ended, the agent and I spoke on the phone for the first time, and she seemed very nice, in a grandmotherly way, and she produced a long list of rejections we had accumulated. So, the good news was she did, in fact, earn that $150, but the bad news was no bites. Yet, her reassurance that 6 months in the publishing world was akin to 1 day in the real world made me sign for another 6 months with her.

And this was the very beginning of what would become almost two decades of failure.

Chapter 2…where the name “Jennifer” becomes significant…(I write these chapters as I go so my clues are going to be intentionally vague and mysterious…)

 

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