I have been working on a memoir about relinquishing custody of my daughter so that I could be a writer, essentially surrendering my procreative life for a creative one (working title Mommy-A-Go-Go). Recently, I was invited to a baby shower for an expectant writer/editor friend. The guests were like fairy godmothers, each with a special gift to bestow. Well into the event, I learned that one of them — a literary agent with William Morris Agency — had something for my little work-in-progress, too.
After the shower wrapped up, a few of us, including the mom-to-be and her agent friend, decided to head out to a Fort Lauderdale pub. The bar’s dim lighting and dark wood felt like the perfect setting to discuss my project. I casually gave the “elevator pitch” (a description of the project in the short time it would take to ride an elevator) to the group.
“How far along are you?” one woman (not the agent) asked.
I winced inwardly. The unborn baby we’d just showered was a lot further along in its gestation; mine was still a mere embryo. I admitted I’d only gotten about 40 pages in, and I could feel whatever interest I’d piqued during my pitch immediately wane.
“Wait, this isn’t a pitch,” I silently corrected myself. “It’s a friendly conversation.”
So I explained some of my challenges: my memoir on being a noncustodial parent was presenting as vignettes rather than cohesive narrative and I’d spent a lot of time digging through boxes of memorabilia to reconstruct the events surrounding my decision to give up custody of my daughter two decades ago. And then there was that monkey wrench that got thrown in after I’d begun writing the story:
“Her junior year of high school, she jumped out of the bedroom window at her dad’s and came to live with me. I was suddenly a full-time mom,” I told them. “I’d quit my nightlife column and was working to change my lifestyle to a healthier one, so you’d think it would be a perfect time to have her move in. But it wasn’t easy. During a yoga class a week into the new arrangement, I kept trying to give my self a silent pep talk, but on the way out to my car I began blubbering to myself, ‘I don’t want a growth experience.'”
I told them about how over the course of a year and a half, my daughter and I became closer and our relationship nourished both of us, allowing both to heal the wounds where we’d been severed from each other.
The agent wasn’t excited about my story (I bet people tell her all the time about the book they plan to write), but she was supportive. She suggested that a better approach would be to focus on the time that my daughter lived with me until she left for college and to use those vignettes I’d already written as flashbacks. Our conversation provided me with feedback that has helped me further find the shape and heartbeat of the story.
I feel good about the experience. While I don’t have a literary agent and I am not yet ready for one, I got some much needed feedback from someone in the industry. I’m going to take her advice and start in the middle of the story — in medias res as the conventional wisdom about storytelling has it — and see how it goes. Maybe next time I have a similar opportunity, my literary baby will be ready to be showered with love and attention, too.