Saturday, October 25, 2014

Power Shift

Funny how some things transcend age. 
The world might look at grey hair or a lined face and judge that here is a person who is a completed being, or at least someone who has all her stuff together. Not necessarily.

Last weekend I attended a local writer's conference. There were panel discussions and sessions that I was looking forward to, but my driving motivation was ambition. I was scheduled to meet with an agent to discuss my second book, a mystery, and even though the realistic half of my brain was industriously throwing water on this thought, the other half of my brain had dreams of representation. I would walk in to a beaming agent who would be breathless after reading the description of my book. She would lunge across the table to shake my hand and immediately whip out a contract.

The week before I had been given the time for my appointment - a parsimonious ten minutes.
-  I prepared by printing out a fresh copy of the letter I had already submitted.
-  I struggled to compose a summary of my mystery into one sentence.
-  I wrote and practiced my "elevator speech", a two minute summary of my book.
- To show how knowledgeable I was of my genre, I made a list of mystery writers I read and admired.

 What to wear? Nothing dowdy - the goal was to look like the dynamic individual with the unflagging energy needed for all those bookstore signings and library readings that were certainly in my future.

The big day came. First I attended two workshops, but my attention was a bit patchy.   I was silently practicing my elevator speech like a personal mantra. Then it was time for my appointment. I joined all the other aspiring authors with their sweat-beaded foreheads who kept sorting through their papers and checking to ensure that they were there at the correct time. We all stared intently at the room where our dreams would be realized or destroyed. As those before us exited, we strained for any snatches of conversation about their experience, hoping to gain some insight before it was our turn.

I had seen a photograph of the agent I'd been assigned. It had surely been taken when she had just joined the firm, before she grew older and regretted her decision to sport a nose-ring and doff a felt hat that looked like a small brown lampshade.

I heard my name called and my stomach immediately went to the place it goes before really ugly dental work. I marched across the room with my phony smile and quivering knees. The table I was directed to held a slight young woman - nose ring intact - of 14 1/2 years old. So what if her bio had said she was a graduate of this selective college hosting the conference?

This was the person who would be representing my book to the world?

But she had the power and I was just one more author.

Suddenly I was no longer the mother of two, (both of whom were over a decade older than this person across the table) grandmother of three. No longer was I the educator who had held sway over classrooms of rowdy 17 year-olds. I was also no longer a woman with a professional life that had included working at the CIA or directing three-camera television productions. I had become a powerless supplicant.

The meeting was clinical, nothing more than a discussion of the composition of my letter. I’ve had warmer exchanges over my former 11th graders’ essays. No enthusiasm, no interest, no exchange of emails.

                   At least now I won’t have to worry whether my nose-ringed representative can get her mom to drive her to my publishing meetings. 


  1. I see. Is she representing the YA branch of the firm?

    1. Joanne, she's probably 30, but it's too bad she can't grow a mustache like men do to look older!

  2. Hey, you're the one who's got the goods. She may or may not be the best one to represent you. Your choice.

  3. p.s. you have a link to Brain Pickings, my favorite website!

  4. it can be daunting, much like sending in entries for juried competitions. but like they tell us, every jury is different and the next one might love your work. so, persevere.

  5. Boy, did you ever give me a quick regression into my past, when I had to compete with others in order to be picked. Well written but very sad at the same time. Oh my. I'm lost in revery, and it's not much fun in here. :-(

  6. I so admire your courage and wish you the best of luck.
    So sorry you got such a whippersnapper to deal with. I hate it when my doctors look like great grands. Hard to place confidence in them.

    1. I don't always react to those fresh-faced types by doubting them, but I do wonder if the reverse is happening - am I being lumped into the preconceptions they have of people of a certain age?

  7. It's ridiculous how young some people in authority are. It seems they pluck them straight out of primary (elementary) school.
    So have you heard anything back about your book? Is it getting published?

    1. Hi River -
      Book one is still under consideration by an agency. The wheels of publishing grind agonizingly slowly.
      I'm currently editing book two, the one I was flogging at the conference.


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