Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Almost Giving Up

Dulcy’s manuscript came to 44,000 words, plus the poems that now enhanced the text. So with renewed energy I wrote to still more editors at those New York publishing houses. Weekly I received form rejection letters. Discouragement hovered.
            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 . . .)


  1. Dee, you express very clearly the frustration and dogged persistence of the writer trying to find a publisher. I think it takes real courage and determination to manage it, as well as a good helping of luck, and you quite obviously had all three. I await the next episode with bated breath....

  2. Oh, I'm loving your story of your road to getting published, and that photo of you in '72 is wonderful! Thank you for another peek into your life.

  3. Those moments when we give up, then something happens; a premonition, a wise cate named Eliza, the teakettle whistling. Ah, those moments when day turns to night are so precious, aren't they, Dee. You story and your tenacity give me hope that someday, maybe someday, I, to can . . .

    What fun it is to see you in '72.

  4. I'm so excited to read more of this. I can't imagine how excited AND anxious you must have been.

    Great pictures! :0)

  5. Ah so much work and hard decisions. You are much more dedicated than I am. I'm so proud of you and proud to call you friend.

  6. Terrific photos!

    To paraphrase Dr. Seus--"I meant what I said & I said what I meant. A fishducky's faithful, one hundred percent!" Love you, love Dulcy & LOVED THE BOOK!!

  7. It was nice seeing Dee and Dulcy through the years.

    What patience and fortitude you have and it is so nice that it paid off for you.

    My maiden name is a form of Meara. My grandfather changed it because he was Irish in Boston at the turn of the 20th centruy and the signs in front of stores all said that "no Irish need apply."

  8. So much fun to see pictures of you and Dulcy from back then! :)

    Editing is also a skill. Sounds like you made some hard decisions and did a good job of it. Be waiting to see what she said. :)

  9. I am so looking forward to my book, so I can be "in the know." I believe that Dulcy and you are somehow important to the development of my next phase. And I too love the pictures from the past. :-)

  10. Perpetua,
    Yes, I had all three with Dulcy's book. In the twenty years since something's been missing, however, because I haven't been able to get published again. But 2012 may be the year!

    Glad you like the 1972 photo. I'd just turned 36 and was into my hippie phase. I had long hair that I often braided as in this photo. I'd just learned to drive that year and had already had an accident that left the red car demolished. So I got a green one! She and I had better luck and lived together--quite happily--for 13 years. Her name was Elaine.

    I hope getting published happens for you. I truly do. Writers want to communicate, not put their manuscripts in a drawer and forget about them. I hope you can believe in the power of possibility, Penny.

    As they say in the South, I was as antsy as a cat on a hot tin roof!

    And I'm proud of you. You just got a short story published. In today's market that's big. I mean BIG!

    I feel as if Dulcy and I have the best fan in all the world: YOU.

    You'll learn more about Jane Meara's name in another posting. I think my grandad encountered those signs also.

    I'm still editing for clients. In fact, I'm working on a copyediting project right now that's taking a lot of concentration. One has to be so alert. Writing and then editing demands switching from one side of the brain to the other. I think that's supposed to be good for keeping the brain young. I do so hope so! But even if switching wasn't good I couldn't give up writing. For me, it's prayer.

  11. Djan,
    Are you feeling your next phase? Is it burgeoning with you. A blogger I follow--Manzanita is in her eighties and she recently blogged about the feeling growing within her that something good was about to happen.
    Here's the site if you'd like to read it, DJan.


  12. Isn't it strange the way things happen in life? What a blessing you found this woman. I wonder what happened to the other 22,000 words -- can they become another book? Finally, Eliza Doolittle looks just like the last cat who lived with us for 18 years. His name was Sindbad. Some day I will show you his picture.

  13. I love that you listened to your inner wisdom and kept what you knew could not be deleted without diminishing the story.

    I'm curious about what you did with all the clipped pieces. Discarded? Saved to use again? And how did you feel about the book after you whittled it to suit the editor? Was it an improvement? Would Dulcy approve? That's a lot of questions, I know. I hope you don't mind my asking.

  14. Still hanging in here with you, Dee and enjoying hearing all about the process, knowing of course that you were eventually successful. Eliza Doolittle was also such a beautiful cat, Dee. She just leapt off the page for me. Like Inger, I'm also wondering about those 22,000 cut words. That's an awful lot of writing to just have vanished into the ether. It would be wonderful to hear what stories they told :)
    I, too loved seeing the pictures of you, especially with your long, braided hair. You still looked so young at 36! Hearing all about your Hippie era is going to be fun when you get that far.

  15. I can hardly wait for the next installment, Dee! Writing professionally is so difficult, filled with so much rejection and disappointment. But thank goodness you went back and retrieved that letter from the waste basket! As my agent says, all it takes is just one editor who believes in your book. I'm so anxious to hear what happens next!!

  16. Inger,
    I'd love to see Sinbad's picture. Please do show it to me. As to the other 22,000 words, I still have them. I wrote another book using Dulcy's words followed by my own. But I haven't been able to find a publisher for it. I'm thinking of making it into an e-book. But what about people who don't have Kindles or iPads or iPods? I don't have any of those new inventions, so I couldn't even read the book!

    Kathryn Grace,
    In my response to Inger, you'll find an answer to one question. As to Dulcy's story--I like it better. Making our relationship be the thread holding all the stories together focused the book. And yes, I think Dulcy would like it. She had no objection to being edited, just so long as she had her food, a slant of sun on the dining room carpet, and my lap to nap on.

    Ah! My hippie years--Vietnam protest, Civil Rights protest, folk songs, and learning how to drive!

    I just finished writing and posting the next installment. Your agent is a wise and helpful professional. You're lucky to have one another.

  17. While I'm enjoying the installments, Dee, I'm also eager to to keep going! What a testament to how insistent Dulcy's voice was in making sure you didn't give up. I have just finished reading Dulcy's story, and it is simply wonderful. It is perfect as is! You did have a fine editor indeed. Debra