Sunday, May 23, 2010

Heart's Desire

You do not expect to be asked so directly, and so you more or less carry it about on ice, preserving it, sometimes even worrying about its use-by date. But then she sends you an email and flat out asks you, in so many words, What is your heart's desire for a publisher for this project?

The answer is there of course, and it quickly swims up to the surface for air as you react to the import of the email, reminding you how you carry it about with you, how you are reminded of it every time you enter a book store, how there is always a wind chime tingle sounding in your idea box when you come upon the publisher's name on Twitter or see an announcement for one of their titles.

Most of the time, it is swimming underwater, an abstracted yearning mixed with visions of future projects dancing in radiant succession,like a surprised school of exotic tropical fish. Sometimes, when you least suspect it, the name emerges, energizing your need to work, to find the focus you so often experience when the work is going well.

You keep it nourished by work, by practicing the craft, by reading, by attempting to make connections between things not obviously connected.

The obvious heart's desire is to produce something you feel worthwhile for publication, something emblematic of you and, of course, of you truthfully with it.

"I don't know anyone there," the agent tells you after reading through the two lists you sent her, one for trade publishers, the other for university presses, "but that's not such a big problem. Isn't it interesting that you feel so strongly about them?"

Interesting? Back in the day, when what is now called BEA, Book Expo America, was called ABA for American Booksellers' Association, and always held at the Shoreham in Washington DC, you were presented to Roger Straus. And in a scene reminiscent of that photo of a young Bill Clinton grinning with admiration at JFK, you told Straus that some day, his house would publish you. Meanwhile, your number one choice for a university press rang a bell, recalling someone who'd worked for your agent when she was editorial director at St. Martin's and who'd moved over to Oxford and had since moved on yet again. Nothing unusual in that; in publishing, promotions are accomplished through job changes. You'd done that a few times yourself.

Being reminded of your submerged hopes and pleasures for this project was the end in itself,the lagniappe was in your feel for it being shared by someone who represents you to the book trade. Your true heart's desire goes one layer deeper than Farrar, Straus and Giroux, into that wide Sargasso Sea of the wisdom of Sam Becket, when he spoke of failing again, only failing better next time. You want always to love the work to the degree that you always do what is best for it.

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