It’s hard to adequately describe, to limn the sense of ecstacy, reward and pride that comes with the knowledge that you’ve become a published writer, or in my case, about to become a published writer. You’re suddenly legitimate; you have credentials, credits beyond the blog, the on-line content, and the volumes of television and radio commercial copy you’ve dashed off over the years. A book – a book you’ve written, re-written, revised, revised again, sliced mercilessly and finally finished, has had an offer. You can now say –truthfully- ‘…me…? I’m a writer.’
The after-effects of the meeting with Jonas Kelson had kept me groggy for most of the day. I was in a kind of euphoric state; hovering somewhere between disbelief, intoxication and elation. I was on a literary contact high. At my desk, I took the mock hardback I’d fashioned some months before, taking the cover off Oleg Cassini’s biography, and replacing it with the cover I’d designed of my book, opened the book and inhaled the scent of ink on paper. If I closed my eyes, I could smell the unmistakeable scent of a bestseller. I picked up the phone and called our family company’s heads honchos Jim Loakes and Paul Corbin, walking them through a play-by-play of the meeting from start to finish. I went through it a third time for Murph. We were packing our proverbial bags. Our proverbial ship had come in.
Late in the afternoon, I called Sharlene at the Sheraton. “I’m bringing a DVD of ‘The Mikado’ for you,” I said. “I know you’re going to have a drink with Declan, and then dinner with Lisa Wysocky, so I’m going to just leave it at the front desk. I’ll call tomorrow before you board your flight home.”
At my laptop, I opened the manuscript and began reading. Three hours later, I’d reached page 189. I closed the program, hit SHUT DOWN and closed the computer. Murph’s words from three days before were ringing like tiny, silver bells in my ears. “It’s fine. It reads fine.”
I smiled. She’s right. It’s o.k….it’s fine. It’s good.
For the first time in many months, I slept soundly.
At around eleven the next morning, I called Sharlene from the car, hoping her morning meeting was done, and I could spend a few minutes with her. She answered on the first ring of her cell.
“When this whole thing got under way, you told me you were giving Kelson an exclusive until today,” I said. “I know you heard Declan tell everybody at the table he wanted to be able to give you a final answer by this Friday.”
“Right,” she answered. “I heard the same thing.”
“My question is…are you going to hold to that, or give them some latitude?”
“I think we need to give them the latitude,” she said. “I don’t think it’ll do anybody any good if I hardball them now, because I think this is on a fast-track. I don’t want us to be over confident, you know…but you don’t bring the heads of sales and publicity and marketing into a first meeting unless you’re serious. I think they’re going to make us an offer – I’m just not sure what the number’s going to be.”
“How did drinks with Declan go?” I asked.
“Fabulous,” she said. He’s totally sold on the synergy thing – the book being the anchor product, marketing Ford Show DVD’s with it – doing QVC – he’s excited. Oh…I forgot. I had a thought, and gave him the operettas DVD with The Mikado that you’d left for me at the front desk. He was the only one at the table that didn’t get a Christmas DVD, you know…so I told him you made a special trip out here to drop this off for him.
“He was blown away. He loved it. We scored. It was way cool.”
God, I love this woman. “You’re too good, Sharlene. That was strong. I’ll put a copy for you in the mail right away.”
I was still walking on air, still couldn’t believe I’d queried her less than a week ago. “This is like a dream,” I said.
“I know,” she answered. “I want to wake up at the bank. Gotta go. I’m packing and off. I’ll e-mail you on my layover in Dallas if I hear anything.”
When I got back to office, I logged onto MartinLiteraryManagement. I wanted to read through the testimonials from her other clients, get an idea of length, form, etc., and have something in her in-box by the time she landed in Burbank that evening. I wanted to give something back. Something besides dinner and one night at the Sheraton. A testimonial that would be different from anything else on her site. A testimonial that would let her know I was a writer now. A published writer –or, soon to be. Something that would let her know how grateful and proud I was. I opened up Word, and typed THE QUERY. The first chapter of this essay poured out onto the screen over the next hour.
At 5:02 central, I hit SEND.
At 7:48 my laptop informed me I had mail. The sender was Sharlene. She’d read THE QUERY. I opened the e-mail.
Subject: RE: From Jeffrey Ford
Date: 05/08/07 7:48:01 PM Central Daylight Time
To: JBF Sent from the Internet (Details)
You may call me when you receive this. Oh my, this is fabulous!
Fifteen minutes later, she called the office.
“I just got Chapter One of your new book,” she said.
“Well…it isn’t really a…”
“It’s fabulous. I want you to keep this under wraps. It’s not finished yet. It’s an ongoing story, you know.”
“It was really just a…”
“I think when this whole thing is done, when we get the deal, you write the final chapter, and we sell it to MediaBistro, or one of the literary mags. A diary of the whole process, you know – from query to deal.”
“Great,” I said. “But I really just wanted to—”
“–Tell Murphy I so enjoyed meeting her. She’s a doll. I’ll keep you posted. Bye.” And she was gone. I let the dial tone drone for a few seconds, and then hung up.
A few minutes later, Murphy came back to the office. I was in my chair, holding the receiver in my hand, staring blankly at the keypad.
“Was that Sharlene?” she asked.
“Did she like the testimonial?”
“I’m not sure about the testimonial,” I answered. “But she loves the new book.”
Wednesday passed. Thursday’s sun rose and set. Murphy and I occupied ourselves with normal business. I finished sending e-mail notes to all the other agents I’d queried, including those with, or who’d requested partials, informing them I’d signed with Sharlene. In hours, my inbox was filling with responses.
“Congratulations. Sharlene’s great.”
“Best of luck. She’s a great friend…great agent.”
“Damn. I guess I missed the boat. Good luck.”
And a score or more of similar good wishes. Each was a testimonial to Sharlene Martin in and of itself. But she didn’t just have this effect on her clients, she’d shined the whole damned industry. In three years. She wasn’t anywhere near her peak, and I’d been lucky enough to get a seat on the bus…damn.
Friday came and went. No word. Murph was nervous. I told her it was fine…normal, par for the course. Not to worry. “There were seven department heads in that meeting,” I told her. “I really don’t expect Sharlene to hear anything until Monday.”
I was scared shitless.
Monday came and went. Nothing. Tuesday, an e-mail from Sharlene.
‘I know this must be dreadful for you. The waiting is always the hardest part. I’ll let you know the minute I hear anything. Try to stay distracted.’
Oh, Jesus. She’d italicized anything. That meant she wasn’t sure. Now she was expecting anything. Including…oh Christ. Including a negatory.
I tried to stay distracted. Do what your agent tells you. I called Corbin on TEF business.
“Hell, I want to know what’s happening with the book!” he said.
“This is the norm,” I said. “We’ll probably hear by the end of the week.”
Loakes was fidgeting in Palm Springs. He’d left seven messages on the machine. I couldn’t bear to call him.
For two days, I was tempted to e-mail Sharlene. Murph was adamant.
“Do NOT e-mail her. She’ll let us know as soon as she hears something. Do the laundry. Bill your karate students. Work on the screenplay. But do NOT e-mail her. She’ll think you’re stalking…that you’re not stable. Promise me.”
The next day I finished Chapter Two of The Query, and ran a copy of the operettas DVD for Sharlene.
“Can’t I just let her know her DVD’s on the way?” I asked Murph.
“What do you think?” she countered. It smells –no, it reeks of fishing. Let it go. Do NOT e-mail her. Jesus.”
“O.k., honey.” Murphy left the office. I opened AOL and clicked on SEND MAIL.
A quick note to let you know that your DVD copy of ‘Gilbert, Sullivan and Ford’, with The Mikado and HMS Pinafore went out today. Sorry for the delay…we had some tech issues to resolve.
Best to Anthony…
Thirty minutes later, my in-box rang. Sharlene
‘Thanks, Jeffrey. I’ll call Declan today and find out where we are.’
That was Wednesday, 4:08 in the afternoon – central daylight.
Thursday afternoon was busier than normal. The public school I was involved with as a martial arts instructor held its annual day-long Field Day, and, as it’s been for the past nineteen years, I was there from morning until the end of the school day. At three o’clock, I said goodbye to the kids and the staff, called Murph, and started the short walk home. It was a beautiful day, cloudless, seventy-five, a light breeze from the west. From inside my hip pouch, my cell rang, twice, three times, a fourth, and then fell silent. Whatever it was would keep, I thought. And as soon as the thought passed, Murph did likewise, pulling about, and swinging back to pick me up.
I was looking forward to a couple of hours down-time before heading to the Dojo for the evening’s classes. Life was good.
As is my custom, I headed for the office as soon as we got in the house, opened the screen on the HP, hit the power button, went to the kitchen and nuked a cup of joe from the morning’s pot while I waited for the laptop to power up. I set the cooking timer for fifty seconds at high. Got the milk out of the fridge, opened the dishwasher, retrieved a clean spoon, and watched the timer count down the last fifteen seconds on the microwave. Three beeps. Warm mug. Dash of milk. Too much sugar. One semi-fresh cup of coffee. I love technology.
On the way back to the office, my cell played the Chopin piece that lets me know a message is in voice mail. I pulled the phone out of my pouch, flipped the lid and checked the read-out. It was from Sharlene. At my peak of multi-tasking skills, I keyed in my password on the phone as I loaded AOL. The e-mail opened at exactly the same time her voice-mail began on the speaker-phone.
Kelson had passed.
© 2015. J Buck Ford