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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Searching for Wonder in a Literary Career

Growing up, I cherished free weekend mornings when I could be in bed with a book on my knees and my head propped up with pillows. In those days, the books were magical, with such things as a wardrobe door to Narnia, a jungle with Mowgli, musketeers, Sherlock Holmes, Gandalf the wizard, the real lives of Houdini and Einstein, and three laws of robotics. My bed, comforter, and pillows were like clouds I floated upon and that gave me warmth and comfort. Who needed cotton candy? This was better.
Most writers and literary agents, no doubt, had similar “who needs cotton candy?” reading experiences when they were children. The memories of such pleasure propelled them into their literary careers. Agents not only hope to find such sense of wonder again, they also dream of developing and helping to publish such gifts to the world, so that others may share that joy.
After settling into their careers, though, they find their eyes blurring over run-on sentences, boring beginnings, endless weak adjectives, plots that go nowhere, and characters with no character. This happens in book after book after book. Here and there, agents find books that may not be wonderful but that they can sell. Being an agent may not be a great living, but it’s a living. It may become a satisfying career, but it still is painful that one cannot recapture the enchantment. This comes through in rejection letters agents write. It carries forward to inflame the existing fears of authors who doubt we can create the wonder we experienced as youths with our own “who needs cotton candy?” reading experiences.
Agents and writers all ask ourselves the question, “Is it me, or is it the book?” Did our youthful naiveté allow us to be thrilled by writing that had major flaws that we just did not know enough to notice? Or did we really read great books as children and today find very few that are so great? It probably is a little of both.
Our hopes and dreams fade with time as we create families, buy homes, and burden ourselves with mortgages. We do our jobs. But agents, especially, always keep the dream alive. The next manuscript may be magical. It may bring back the ecstasy we experienced in reading as children. It’s a pipedream. We know it won’t occur again. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing but expecting a different result. It just doesn’t happen. But it might, right?
If it’s a delusion, let’s keep deluding ourselves. It helps to drive us onward.