Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Auction and a Funeral

It was the second week in January 2008, and I was having a strange sort of week. My grandfather was in the hospital, which was, really, not all that strange at first. He was in his eighties and had been in and out of the hospital a lot the past few years. I talked with him on Sunday night, January 6th, when he was in his hospital room. Though I’ve never lived near my grandparents, I always talked to them every Sunday, no matter what. He assured me that he was fine, and then he asked me whether my book had sold yet – something he asked me every time I talked to him, since I’d told him about getting an agent back in the fall of 2006. Each time, including that night, I said no, and he said that he had faith in me, that he knew it was going to happen soon. He absolutely believed it would, despite the fact that I’d pretty much stopped believing.

On Wednesday morning, January 9th, I was feeling oddly giddy. The night before, my baby had slept through the night for the first time, and I’d gotten to sleep six hours in a row for the first time in months. My dad was also at my house, visiting for a few hours. He lives 3000 miles away, and I hardly ever get to see him, but he was on a business trip to Nevada, and he’d missed his connection in Phoenix the night before. I’d just put the baby in for a nap, and my dad was playing blocks with my older son, when the phone rang. I saw on the caller ID that it was a 212 number, and I knew immediately it was my agent.

See, in a way, I’d been expecting her to call with news, either good or bad. Back in September of 2007 an editor at HarperCollins had read my book and really liked it, but she thought the book needed more revision. I revised and my agent had sent it back to her in October. In the beginning of December my agent let me know that the editor was taking the revised book to her publisher and the editorial board in January.

Someone else may have seen that number on the caller ID and immediately thought that the book had sold, but I’d been through 15 months of rejection – most of it incredibly complimentary of the book – so I was expecting this to be yet another one. And I had this idea in my head that this was my last shot, that if this one didn’t work out, the book was probably going to end up in the trash can. As I picked up the phone, I felt like I was going to throw up.

My agent said hi, and she asked how I was doing. “Fine,” I said, barely breathing, waiting for the bad news. “How are you?”

She paused for a second and said, “I’m great, because we just got an offer.”

She told me all the details, but I couldn’t digest them (so luckily, she also e-mailed them to me!). After “offer” all I heard was “two-book deal,” and that she’d given the other publishers who were still considering the book until Friday to make offers. Then she said, “If that happens, we’ll have an auction.” I laughed at that part. Yeah right. 20 some rejection letters, 15 months of no’s, and we’d have an auction??

After we hung up, I screamed the news to my dad. It was so amazing and surreal that he was there, especially since he’d always been on my case not to give up on writing every time I insisted that I should. Then I called my husband at work and my mom back in Pennsylvania, and next I wanted to call my grandfather. But I couldn’t. When I called my mom she let me know that he’d been moved into intensive care so he could be watched more carefully, and he didn’t have a phone in his room.

As the week went on, two things became imminently clear: other publishers were going to make offers, so, unbelievably, the book was going to sell at auction, and my grandfather was not going to get better. On Friday, my agent let me know that we would know the details of two other offers on Monday. On Saturday morning, my grandfather died.

I spent the weekend alternating between these crazy feelings of jubilation and sadness. The words auction and funeral tumbled around aimlessly in my brain. Both seemed like incredulous happenings.

The funeral was on Monday, and I wasn’t able to get there because it was so quick and so far away. Everyone in my family told me to write something for someone to read instead. This is what happens, when you are seen as the writer in the family – people expect you know how to say things in words, even when you don’t. I’ve always hated it, and living in a sea of rejection for years, I’d felt like I wasn’t a real writer, anyway. But my grandfather had loved to brag to his friends that his granddaughter was a writer, and I could just picture him, bragging about this with a smile, that his granddaughter, whose book was going to sell at auction, wrote his eulogy. So I spent the weekend attempting to write something meaningful, something that would’ve made him proud.

In the week after his funeral, I got to talk to all three editors who’d made offers. It was the oddest feeling, to know that more than one publisher wanted the book, after so many had said no. And all three of the editors were so lovely and seemed like they’d be absolutely terrific to work with. I was on the other side of things – I was the one in the position to say no, and, though, it was something I’d dreamed about, it was actually a rather terrifying place to be. I kept thinking that I wanted to get everything wrapped up quickly, to accept one of the offers before all three of them changed their minds.

I had several phone calls with my agent, discussing the different offers. I learned a lot about different rights and what all the terms of the three deals meant. It was a tough decision, with so many things to consider, but in the end, I chose the editor at HarperCollins who’d made the first offer. I loved the fact that she’d seen my book before it was in its “auction-able” state, and that she’d still seen its potential.

In the weeks and the months after, I still have these strange mornings where I wake up, and I think I can’t believe my book sold! And then immediately after, I think, I can’t believe my grandfather’s dead. I guess sometimes the universe puts it all out there at once, the elation and the sorrow, as if one is supposed to temper the other. Both things I knew for so long could happen, but I never really believed either one of them would. You get enough rejection letters, you come to expect only rejection, and when you watch a man survive cancer and chemotherapy and heart disease and vascular disease and losing a limb, it is hard to imagine that he won’t keep on surviving.

I hope that I will write many other books, that I will have many more sale calls. But this one, this first book, will always make me think about my grandfather.

And that’s exactly why I dedicated the book to him.


Jolene said...

Just beautiful Jillian! And for those of us waiting-for-the-call, thank you for the inspiration :)

Maureen Lipinski said...

Such a great post, Jillian. Sounds like you certainly have someone pulling some strings for you up there!

And isn't it amazing how one minute you're so ready to let go, move on, and then next--you're celebrating and completely flabbergasted?

Rachel Cantor said...

Jill, I'm so glad Grandpa's memory is able to live on through your book. He would have been so proud of you.

Jillian Cantor said...

Thanks you guys!

Jolene, I hope you get the call soon!

Maureen, It absolutely is amazing!

Rachel, I know you're right, but it would've been nice to have him stick around a little longer instead.

Tracy Madison said...

Oh, wow, Jillian. Amazing post, amazing memories. You totally tugged at my heartstrings.

We have something else in common--my book is dedicated to my great-grandmother (and there's actually a character in my book named after her), mostly because of her solid belief that I could really do anything I wanted to do. I hope, somehow, she knows that some of my dreams are coming true.

Huge hugs!

Lesley Livingston said...

Beautiful story, Jillian.
Beautifully told.

Jillian Cantor said...

Thanks, Lesley!

Tracy, very cool idea to name a character after your great-grandmother! What a great way to honor her!!

lisapatton said...

Oh Jill, this is such a beautiful story. I am so happy for you on one hand and so sad about your grandfather on the other. And an auction after all you've been through is surely poetic justice!