Not Exactly A Love Story
Updated: May 20
For one thing, this story is half true. I held an anonymous desktop discussion with a boy for about three weeks in the first year of high school before we ran out of desktop and had to resort to notes. This was possible because it was a NYC school with staggered shifts. I remember it as three shifts or perhaps two overlapped. All I can be sure of is I was released at 12.30 that year, early enough to work a part-time shift at Alexander’s Dept Store and Barry attended the afternoon school shift that let out last, maybe 5:30 (there must have been three shifts-the middle shift overlapped both).
When I missed finding a note one morning, I didn’t know what to think. And when a friend of Barry’s swiped the note to share with him, not realizing Barry wrote it, he got a surprising reaction. So yes, other students had been following the conversation but only this kid was dumb enough not to refold the note and put it back in place. The next note still didn’t offer a name, just a place to meet. No time.
So the next few days I passed the study hall door between each class. And one day I realized there was always this same kid standing there at 11:40 and 12:30. So I went up to him and asked the first line I had responded to on the desk, “Do you hate this class or is it just me?” and he said, “My name is Barry. What’s yours?”
For another thing, it’s actually the second book I wrote, waaaaay back in 1986. I had an agent at the time who didn’t want it because he didn’t want to do kids’ books. He’d mistaken my first published work for a foray into Mary Higgins Clark territory.
So, new agent. He sent it around to several publishers, all of whom had nice things to say about it (two of them wrote two pages about what they liked! Interesting idea, realistic characters, snappy dialogue, one editor said she loved it) but couldn’t publish it, didn’t know how to place it. It wasn’t for the average 12-14 year old and it wasn’t quite for adults. YA was a vaguely outlined cloud of discontent at the time.
The new agent suggested non-fiction, which he felt made better money. I did try and a book sold three times and failed to make it to print, often enough to discourage further efforts.
Fast forward to another agent and getting near to baby has won a Newbery Honor. She didn’t like it and wouldn’t send it out.
Some number of published books later and yet another agent and a new editor who loved Vinnie and finally! Troubled Waters was retitled by Shana Corey at Random House and, are you ready? Was reviewed in the NYT book review. Sometimes a writer just has to wait long enough and definitely be persistent in showing work that has not garnered any love (Well, there were those nice comments, but that was not love, not enough anyway) and find a fellow sensibility to share the work of getting the book out there.
Not every reader is sure they love Not Exactly a Love Story, even now. But it makes them think about what they want or need to find in a book, which is good enough for me.
And like Barry, it’s full of surprises. A few weeks ago I checked in with my insurance company and when I gave my name, the woman on the other end of the line said, “Your name is familiar. Have we talked recently?” and I told her I’d never called before. Then she said, “I know where I’ve seen this name. Do you write? Do you have a book with a dark cover, two houses?” and I’m saying yes. She said, “My mother loves your book, she just gave it to me last week, but I haven’t read it yet.” So I said, “I hope you like snappy dialogue, that’s what one editor who turned it down liked about it.”
She did like snappy dialogue and just like that, I have a new friend.