Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Something So Right

Today I celebrate a new story.  It's the story of me and a new collaborator. She goes by the name of Erin Murphy. You can see her website if you haven't heard of her. Her agency is EMLA. Erin has agreed to represent my children's books. That means she reads my work, helps me understand what's working (and not), then gets me to fix it, eventually creating, as Jack London calls it, "marketable goods." Once those marketable goods are polished and ready, they are sent to editors for consideration.
Erin Murphy

"How I found Erin" is a story I keep going over. It began early this summer when I thought I had a closer draft of my MG novel. With that accomplished, I felt happy, yet completely aimless. Eureka! (I didn't say this out loud) I figured out the problem. I wanted a partner in my writing career. Without someone to bounce my work off of (bad sentence) I was in danger. Danger of opening a fruit stand or becoming a babysitter. Doing anything to make a little money! (I do also teach and a few other things.  Just being dramatic here.)

Back to the story:
So what did I want from this partner, anyway? Think, think, think. I thought about my friends Jessie Hartland and Brenda Bowen. They work together as author/illustrator and agent, respectively. Among other unique book ideas, Jessie had a graphic bio of Julia Child in her head when we worked together in the past (me as editor in my previous life).
Brenda Bowen

Jessie Hartland

After I left publishing, Brenda became Jessie's agent. Brenda submitted the Julia Child graphic biography book dummy to Random House. (Or maybe she sent a query. I'm not sure!) Why Random House, you ask? Here's why--Brenda figured out they were Julia Child's publisher. She knew they already had an enormous investment in Julia Child. And wouldn't a picture book biography be perfect for the French Chef's hundredth birthday! Brenda was exactly right. The book was bought by Anne Schwartz for her imprint Schwartz & Wade. It all made perfect sense. And now it's out. It's called Bon Appetit! And it looks great. (Apologies if any of these facts are wrong, but I think it's all true because I know these people.)

I tell this story often--to writer friends, writing students, and others--because it shows the depth of reflection on the part of an agent. As a former editor, I know authors from the other side. They have enough going on for goodness sakes--they're trying to put the words together on the page. It's not easy! They can't deal with money and personalities and publishing houses! YUCK! Finding a home for a book in its early stages is hard work that requires a polished skill set: diplomacy, patience, shrewd business skills, marketing savvy, luck. But it also requires a huge dose of humanity. It requires LOVE! I don't always have all or any of those things! But I wanted a partner who did.

If you're FB friends with Erin Murphy, and you read her posts--you know that she's that person. She reflects constantly, almost daily. She's cheering for her authors--reporting their good news. And she admits when she's tired or busy or says something like this: "Sometimes my desire to be thorough and methodical with my work is not in line with the world's plans for me."

Mmm. Yup. In the sometimes surface world of cyber socializing, Erin is the real thing. So these past months, as I thought long and hard about who might make the right agent for me,  I wondered: Is it someone who'd make me rich? (Um, yes.) Someone at a big agency? (Not necessarily.) Someone with power? (Perhaps. Why not?) I thought of lots of wonderful agents. I even had a really kind agent--but all the time, there was a thrumming in my belly--where all the emotions live. It said: Erin, Erin, Erin. I didn't always pay attention to it, and then one day I just knew. What I really wanted was none of those things above--I just want someone who loves my work.

So I sent her my work.

When the YES e-mail from Erin (prompted possibly by my ever-so-gentle note explaining that I was being  patient) it was a great moment. (Actually, she didn't say YES! She listed nice and constructive things about my work and simply asked: So what do you think?). What did I think? I thought: Hell ya!

Can you tell I felt an enormous relief? I did. I do. I'm very excited.


Not only that, this Erin Murphy moment coincided with the time of my fifteenth wedding anniversary. Because of that,  I was reminded of our wedding song: Something So Right. (Yes, Paul Simon!! But I must admit I first heard Annie Lennox's rendition!)

Well, I won't drag out this story--I'll just say Paul Simon's song was the story of Eric and me, but I think it also had a lot to do with finding Erin. With Eric, it took five complicated years for us to get to the wedding day. It was hard, but thank goodness for that time we spent learning how to be together. Eric taught me the value of waiting--and the risk of rushing into something important. And he showed me. Never told me. I watched him. And I suppose what I learned more than anything is why no one should want another person to do something they don't wish to do. On the other hand, not everyone is lucky enough to be married to a Buddha. But he was a Buddha with his heels dug in deep, so I had my work cut out for me. We had plenty to learn from one another.

At the risk of sharing lyrics without the music, here is the refrain from Something So Right. If you don't know it, it's all over Youtube
My buddha

When something goes wrong
I'm the first to admit it
I'm the first to admit it
And the last one to know
When something goes right
Well it's likely to lose me,
It's apt to confuse me
Because it's such an unusual sight
Oh, I can't, I can't get used to something so right
Something so right

Erin, Eric, I'm so glad for both of you. Someone new, someone old.
Two great partners!
Excuse me, I have to go drink my champagne and do some laundry.