Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jeanne Birdsall: inspiration or warning?

Publishers Lunch led me to a story in the Boston Globe about Jeanne Birdsall, winner of the 2005 US National Book Award for her first children's novel The Penderwicks.

This is a story which will fill many writers with hope. If she can do it, they will think, I can too.

Well, maybe. And then again maybe not. And even if you do, the way to success is about as comfortable as walking on razor blades in bare feet.

'Before Birdsall had an agent,' says the Globe, 'a book editor saw early chapters and held out the possibility of a contract but wanted major changes. ''I didn't have enough self-confidence or savvy to hold on to my own book," Birdsall said, ''so for a year and a half, I tore it up and rewrote it completely, and wrecked it. The editor said, 'You wrecked the book and we don't want to deal with you anymore,'and I felt that my life was over."'

A really happy experience, no? Can't wait until it's your turn, right?

Fortunately for Birdsall, she had found an agent, Barbara Kouts of Bellport, N.Y., who urged her not to despair but to go back to her original story. Which she did, and everything turned out right in the end.

It doesn't always.

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