In the last week of April 1991, nearly a year and a half after Dulcy’s death, I decided to make one last-ditch effort to get Crown interested. At the Stillwater Public Library, I looked at a reference book that provided the names of all Crown’s editors. I waited for one to leap out at me.
No. No. No. No. No.
Yes! The name Jane Meara was Irish. I was three-fourths Irish. It was a sign.
I made another important decision that day. I’d read that writers should send out only one-page query letters. Only if editors expressed interest should writers send a sample of the manuscript. That advice hadn’t worked in six months. So this time, along with the query letter, I enclosed four chapters of Dulcy’s manuscript.
Dulcy and me in 1980 in our side yard in Stillwater, Minnesota.
The following week I received two more rejection letters. The week after that three. My spirits drooped. So when a letter came from Crown on May 10, 1991, I couldn’t abide reading one more rejection. I simply tossed the unopened letter in the wastepaper basket. Then I brewed a cup of green tea and sat drinking it on the porch with Eliza Doolittle on my lap.
Eliza Doolittle gazing at me.
I told Eliza how disappointed I was in myself. Dulcy had given me a gift, and I wasn’t able to get it published so people could meet her. My tears dribbled on Eliza’s long gray fur. She gazed at me and miaowed. She seemed to say, “You’ll never get the manuscript published by quitting.” As usual, Eliza was right.
I set aside my teacup, placed Eliza gently on the floor, and retrieved the Crown letter from the wastepaper basket. Opening it, I discovered, not a form rejection letter, but a personal letter from Jane Meara.
A. Personal. Letter.
Oh ye jigs and juleps!
Hands trembling I read the three-paragraph letter in which Ms. Meara informed me that I’d reached the right editor because she “loved cats.” She then said that Dulcy’s story, while appealing, was too long. If I’d cut it in half and concentrate just on “the relationship” between Dulcy and myself, she’d be willing to look at the manuscript again.
Did you get that? She’d be willing to look at the manuscript again! All I had to do was cut it down to about 22,000 words. Could I do that?
You bet your bottom dollar I could. Relationship was the key. For the next three days—Friday, Saturday, Sunday—I cut. I simply looked at each paragraph on the computer. Was it about Dulcy and me? Keep that one and the next and the next. Oops, a paragraph on what Dulcy thought about the car. Cut that.
The only difficulty was that Ms. Meara had also asked me to delete any mention of other cats. I could delete Ishmael, who was Dulcy’s brother, because he’d been in our lives such a short time. But to understand Dulcy a reader needed to know how she’d reacted to Bartleby and Tybalt. I took a chance and kept both of them, but ruthlessly cut extraneous stories and happenings.
Ishmael, Dulcy, and me in Dayton, Ohio, in April 1972.
On Monday, May 14, I mailed the completed 22,000-word manuscript to Jane Meara. Then I waited. And waited.
To learn what happened next, you’ll have to wait too.
(Continued on Thursday . . .)