What causes two up-and-coming litigators at an international law firm to morph into angst-ridden artists? I think Laura and I can soundly blame New York literary agent, Liza Dawson, for the the fact that we now embody the cliché of neurotic aspiring writers. Were we not also room mothers, soccer coaches, yoga junkies, and nutrition freaks, I’m pretty sure we’d both be cloaked in black with cigarettes wedged permanently between our fingers. We would no doubt pass hours in a gritty coffee shop debating existentialism and mocking the mainstream. On the other hand, had no one shown interest when we sprinkled the literary world with our The Pecking Order query over 4 years ago, we likely would have cashed it in and dove back, headlong, into the billable hour abyss. We would have continued killing ourselves for the large law firm . . . continued whittling away our souls . . . but at least we would have been the richer for it – Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin richer, not Deepak Chopra or Eckhart Tolle richer. Oh, and how a new pair of heels rivals a deep downward dog any day of the week. But someone did show interest. The “I’d be happy to read the first 100 pages” Liza scribbled in the upper right hand corner of our query letter sucked us in like Facebook and there was no turning back.
It turns out, though, that Liza Dawson is like my high school boyfriend. Technically, I’m still going out with him (and therefore cheating on him with my husband of 10 years) because we never officially broke up. Instead, we simply stopped speaking to each other after five years of dramatic, adolescent love. The break-up is clearly implied and/or understood, but I’m a lawyer, and I can’t help but stick to the formalities. It’s the same thing with Liza. We readied the manuscript, held it like a newborn as we handed it to the post office employee, and then proceeded to check e-mail and cell phone messages incessantly. We calculated time down to the last minute, trying to guess who opened Liza's mail, at what time, and what would happen if the manuscript arrived on a Friday. Did she work on the weekend? Would she shove her desk clean when it arrived and devour our manuscript like the delicacy that it was? We built a one-sided relationship with this woman – one in which we swept off to New York to sign papers, sip champagne, and mingle with Liz Gilbert and Lauren Weisenberger, because that is clearly what happens when you actually land a literary agent. As time passed, we began to spin out scenarios that became less like new love and more like a desperate break-up. We were the raw and rejected, the what-not-to-do girls, the How to Lose an Agent Who Never Actually Represented You in 10 days girls. We refreshed our e-mail incessantly, counted the calendar days obsessively, called and hung up, called and left messages. We even spoke to her once. She was very kind, said she was looking forward to reading our work and would be back with us soon. Four years later, we have yet to receive a clear message from Liza.
But for all the insufferable waiting, the rejection, and, most importantly, the initial interest, we thank her. Oh sure, there have been agents since Liza. Agents who summarily rejected us, agents who praised our work, even an agent who gave us detailed, constructive criticism and then was kind enough to read the manuscript again after we re-wrote it entirely. Those agents have shaped our work, certainly. With them we have had our hopes raised and dashed and raised again, enough to continue writing despite full-time jobs, to continue sending The Pecking Order into the world, continue churning out short stories, blog entries, and the beginning of another novel. But it all comes back to Liza and those few scribbled words - "I'd be happy to read the first 100 pages." With her came the genesis of hope, the pursuit of a dream. For that we thank her and from her we need nothing more.
We did finally receive an e-mail response from Liza Dawson, just a few months ago. After living a lifetime of emotions in milliseconds, we opened the e-mail to find nothing there. It was as if someone just hit reply and then send, without writing any text in the message. I suppose one could argue that rejection was implied, kind of like with my high school boyfriend, but on the other hand, someone who’s really inspired by the work might actually have been too excited, too anxious, and accidentally hit send before crafting the e-mail, right? So we wrote her back. Just to make sure. And I’m sure she’ll e-mail any day now.