In one of my favorite novels, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a poor girl receives a Christmas gift of 10 pennies that have been treated with oil and paint so they shine. By the end of the day, she has lost one or two, and her mother persuades her that they will be safest in the bank the family uses to save for a piece of property. She will not see those pennies again for almost a decade and they will have blackened in the little tin bank.
What does any of this have to do with my first book deal? Well, it’s a memory that, 19 years later, is still golden and shiny.
In hindsight, I know how lucky I was. But I didn’t feel particularly lucky. I was a reporter at the Baltimore Sun and writing a novel had required putting a lot of life on hold. At the time, I still tried to work in the evening, at the end of long, often draining days. I had finished one novel and it had taken me almost a year to find an agent, and she had put me through a rigorous round of revisions, then told me the book would not be submitted until after summer’s end. “What if no one wants it?” I asked. She said she would submit to a second round of editors. But I kept worrying about the item in our contract, in which I was responsible for photocopying costs. I would lie in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, trying to multiply 10 (the number of editors) X 310 (the number of pages) X three cents or four cents or whatever it would cost someone to photocopy in bulk.
Then I got off the bed and went back to work.
The next morning, I had been at work less than 30 minutes when my agent called to say there was an offer. I celebrated by going across the street to buy a cup of coffee. A colleague was there, a guy who knew a thing or two about books; he had written one that had become a popular television series. He treated me to a cup of coffee. Eleven years later, he married me, but that’s another story.
By the end of the day, there were three offers. The best was from an editor who wanted to know if I had started the second book and wanted to hear me describe it. Yes, yes, yes, I had a second book! It was a little worrisome that she was four months away from maternity leave, but I signed with her. Nineteen years later, she’s still my editor. And the memory of October 12, 1995, is still golden and shiny.
Laura's latest book, After I'm Gone, is out now.