From Ed Brecher, editor
May 13, 1988
May 13, 1988
Now I know what a lobotomy feels like. My computer died forever; living without it was like losing not just a lobe but a whole cerebral hemisphere. I got my new one booted up last night, and this is one of the first letters on it.
The only good part of the experience was that it gave me plenty of time to read everything you have sent me, and think about it, and cool off a bit. My initial reaction was enthusiastic enough to be labeled manic; I saw How to Manage Your Husband as a year‑long occupant of the top slot in the NY Times best-seller list. Now that I've cooled off, my opinion of the book has not changed—but reconsidering the nature of the book market, I'd say you now have less than a 50‑50 chance of hitting the top.
But don't take my opinion as gospel. The only prior experience I've had with a potential best‑seller was a disaster. Random House signed a contract with a $650,000 advance for my Love, Sex, and Aging when it was half written—and actually paid a quarter of it up front. By the time the book was done, the book market had collapsed and the editor who signed the contract was fired. His successor welched (which is very easy with book contracts). Keep this story in mind as you read on.
What I'd like to do in this letter is establish a modus operandi. It seems to me that a number of steps should be taken one by one.
Step # 1: Pick a title and write a one page summary of the book.
Having read the whole thing, I'm utterly convinced that you were right the first time: This has to purport to be a book about Ed and your marriage and divorce and what followed.
Forget everything I wrote earlier about form and tone and not publishing in letter form and all that nonsense. What you have here is a love story that may well be unique in the history of love stories because its course is documented by what you wrote at each stage. That flavor of a contemporaneous account must be preserved at all costs; you are not a woman of a certain age remembering your affair with Ed when you were 17, you're an 18‑year‑old, and so on through the book.
Further, the form of a book is not a strait jacket; it's an empty frame. You can include letters, diary entries, reminiscences, or whatever you please as you go along. The changes of voice and tone are part of the reader's delight. Readers (mostly women) will identify with you and grow along with you. You'll need a one line explanation at the head of each item, as "Letter from A to B" or "Diary for 5 June 1966," but that's easy.
I suggest Great White Eagle as a working title and append a one-page blurb describing what the book is (or should be) about. Write your own, or amend mine, as you prefer. But both of us need that working title and one-page summary to keep us on the right track. We can retitle or rewrite the blurb as necessary from time to time.
Step # 2: Put the chunks of text you already have into the most effective order.
The story, obviously, begins with your meeting of Ed, falling in love with him, getting pregnant, marrying, separating, and reuniting. But you can't start the book there because no one will read beyond that.
The book, I currently believe, should start when things are at their very best‑‑every woman's wish fulfillment fantasy of a loving partnership‑‑which means starting with the boating chapter followed by the flying chapter. Specifically, the book should start with the "Dear Mr. McClure" letter dated 10/21/54.
This is romantic escape literature at its most appealing; readers will get all warm as they share that with you, including life at an economic level that heightens their interest. There are many books about the rich and near rich, mostly written by outsiders. Those chapters, written from the inside, present both Ed and you and the marriage with crystal clarity. All they need is some cutting down to 20 pages each, for example, for boats and planes. This will simultaneously intensify them. But that's not a part of this step.
You should also include up front here the exchange between you and Ed about divorce, where he fantasizes about your going right on loving and caring for him after the divorce. (I've forgotten where it is now; but it is needed up front as a harbinger of your central theme.)
After the boating and flying chapters comes the one major flashback in the book: perhaps 30 or 40 pages on meeting Ed, falling in love, getting pregnant, marrying, separating, reuniting, etc.
Incidentally, I don't recall in the material I've read any indication of why you left Ed and went back to your mother. Did I miss something or is that in the 175 pages I haven't seen? No matter; you'll need some explanation in the book.
The economic material, such as your mother's worrying about the $7 it would cost to feed Ed for three weeks, will be a real whammo after the boating and flying sections. Readers will be hooked solid. Then a family chapter, not too long, about the children, etc., but still focusing on Ed (and you, and the marriage). The chief problem here will be Kathie, who will steal the show if you aren't careful. Don't let that happen. She needs a book for herself.
Then comes finding the letter.
After that, it's all clear chronological sailing.
How many copies do you have? I see two alternatives:
1) You can leave me with the copy I have and try your hand at rearranging the big chunks of some other copy, either in the order I suggest or in any order you prefer.
2) You can authorize me to cut up and rearrange the copy I now have.
Step #3 will be to edit first half or less of the book, readying it for an agent. At a minimum you should probably have the boating and flying chapters, the flashback, finding the letter, and one post divorce chapter. Probably the one where you advertise for a partner for Ed. A hundred or perhaps 150 pages in all. Leave agents and editors panting for more.
I'd like to be useful in any way I can through Step # 3. From there on, an agent or editor should take over‑‑one who knows a lot more about these matters than I.
I have remarkably few other projects in the fire at this moment, such as lectures in Toronto week after next. Most of the summer is free‑‑though something else may, of course, come up. At the moment there is nothing in my life that fascinates me more than getting this show on the road.
How about you? I can sense how much effort you've already expended on this, and how many setbacks there must have been along the way. Are you sick of it? Will it be an effort to clear time for it? Do you wish now you'd never sent me that damn manuscript? If so, now is the time to say so. (Actually, you didn't send me that damn manuscript; you sent me a short one about your mother's poetry and I wormed this one out of you.)
P.S. I enjoyed the Rocking Loveboat episodes, which are prime examples of your knack for having fun with human follies, including your own.
BLURB ‑‑ Draft # 1
This love story is unique in several respects.
It chronicles a love that has endured through half a century‑‑even surviving divorce.
It begins with the plight of an inadvertently pregnant teenager, as that teenager herself recorded it at the time. It continues, decade by decade, to unfold through letters, diary entries, and other contemporaneous accounts.
It describes a marriage in which the family yacht and plane are not status symbols but the scenes of rapturous adventures and the sources of mutual delight.
Here is a couple whose divorce marked a turning point, but not a termination of their love or their life together.
Here is an ex‑wife whose ex‑husband's women are among her best friends‑‑indeed, an ex‑wife who makes sure that she likes her ex‑husband's women by selecting them for him herself.
Perhaps most important, here is the story of a woman who, typical of her generation, sought (and found) a man to whom she could happily devote her life‑‑but who later, like many in her generation, found that having a man plus your independence is even more rewarding than hanging on to your man.
[BARBARA: This blurb is designed to annoy you enough so that you'll now sit down and write a good one. Remember that while it purports to be addressed to readers, it should actually be drafted to pique the interest of agents and editors‑‑and, incidentally, to tell me the kind of book you want to make out of the material on hand.]
Dear Most Awesomely Generous of Men:
Your letter has overwhelmed me. I love the amended title, the Blurb (with a couple of minor reservations), and you (without reservation). More than once in the past few weeks I wished I had the gall to ask if you'd consider being my editor. Now that you have volunteered to cut and paste, rearrange and condense, my gall knows no bounds. Would you do me the honor of being the official editor of Great White Eagle? Although I appreciate your willingness to help purely for reasons of friendship, I would feel better if you would accept the offer of a contract.
In addition to everything you have already offered to do, I visualize you signing your name to the Blurb or preface. I already feel more comfortable about revealing so much personal history, knowing that you could be a buffer between me and it. (I'm talking as if publication were a sure thing, but never mind, let's humor me.) In your letter of March 28 you spoke of being impressed by the way geriatric stereotypes were destroyed "without even hinting at the issue." Might this "ethical significance" be something you could touch on in a preface? I'm taking a helluva lot for granted here and count on your indulgence.
Now that my misbehaving computer is fixed, I will run off a copy of Great White Eagle for Ed. There must be nothing in it that would be an embarrassment to him. I met him and Aliceann at the airport day before yesterday. She is going to a doll convention; he is here to see his doctor and his family. Yesterday the dear man drove to the Bit Bucket and collected my computer for me while I played golf in the rain.
I am reluctant to admit to a non‑golfer that I'm an addict (Darrell McClure used to shake his head in bafflement); but the game is a time consuming heartbreak and delight, especially when you're at long last flirting with breaking a hundred. Yes, I'm a duffer, as well as an addict. There are weekly tournaments and Club Championship tournaments and the Summer Cup and a "four‑ball" partnership that requires the constant rearranging of matches and dates. What I miss most, however, is the outdoor exercise. Off season I have an electric treadmill to keep me in shape, but golf is much more fun. And summer is so short.
Under Step #2: I would happily go along with cutting and intensifying the boating and flying chapters. They are far too rambly (one of my worst literary vices, as you well know, poor man). I have every faith in your ability to extract their most readable essence.
The harbinger of the central theme, Ed's fantasizing about a divorce, is dated Feb. 20, 1961 and was written to Kathie, so it begins "`Dad' read an article last night" (instead of "Ed," as it would in a diary entry). Any time you think the letter form is preferable, I can tell you who received it. It was almost always Mom, Kathie, or Darrell McClure.
For the major flashback I am enclosing more material than you ever wanted to see in ten lifetimes. The thin envelope contains a fraction of diary entries and letters, starting with meeting Ed at seventeen and ending with pregnancy at Smith a year later. Omitted are numerous accounts of quarrels, attempts to be platonic, false pregnancy scares, and dates with other boys, all of which inflict a broken record boredom. At seventeen our heroine is too shallow and self centered to be anything but a royal pain. I'll be darned if I know what Ed saw in her.
In the fatter envelope are 175 pages that explain why she left Ed and joined her mother in Florida. His letters to Coral Gables strike me as remarkable and move me as much as they did fifty years ago. I marvel that she held out for so long.
I understand that length is a problem. This isn't, after all, GWTW II, WW II, or Proust. Trouble is, I am too close to the material, too emotionally involved to know what to leave out. HELP!!! I'd better program that word into the computer‑‑you're going to hear a lot of it. Feel free to start cutting or discarding any time.
Darling Ed, you have submitted with grace to my bombardments, but by now you must feel like the chap who used to get pelted in amusement parks. Your poor head! I promise this archaeological dig has reached its last layer: the Ed and Barbara love story is complete. But not ended, I think, as long as we both shall live, God and Aliceann willing.
I'm also enclosing a brief essay on golf, sent to my mystified friend, Darrell. I'm sorry to say it didn't cure him of his head‑shaking tic.
For a day or two this technique works perfectly. Then, as the formula loses its efficiency, she starts getting zapped. No matter what gymnastics she performs, she is unable to recapture that magic feeling. She becomes depressed and frustrated. Then she happens to scratch her right ear before she scratches her left ear, and accidentally turns around only twice. Once more she is filled with euphoria. Again it is all too brief, and our wretched chimp is morose and unfit to live with.
One glorious day she discovers that she can forget all that nonsense about scratching ears and turning around in circles. All she has to do is rub her stomach counter‑clockwise and pat herself on the head while jumping from one foot to the other. At last she has The Answer, she thinks. The scientist who has rigged the machine observes the psychotic behavior of his once normal subject and rubs his hands with glee. (He is totally mad, of course.)
And so it goes with golf. We poor chumps persist in our bizarre gyrations, convinced we can beat the machine. Moments of ecstasy alternate with sloughs of despair. Do you now understand, dear friend, my lack of accessibility from spring's last downpour to winter's first blizzard? I am out there on the golf course, pitting my intelligence against the machine. Perhaps I imagine it, but every now and then I could swear I hear a fiendish chuckle.
May 25, 1988
Once again I have a feeling, akin to a deja vu feeling, that I must have dreamed you up. I write you a long letter in which I propose to cut your manuscript to bits and mutilate it in other ways; and instead of ignoring me or blistering me, you say go ahead.
I'm off for Toronto shortly, so this will be brief.
First, I understand you to say that the copy I have is replaceable and need not be treated with respect.
Second, it may take me a few weeks to clear out other business; don't expect service by return mail. I learned this morning, moreover, that the publishers are planning a revision of my Licit and Illicit Drugs, which may take some of my time during the coming year.
Third, while I volunteered in good faith, I agree on reflection that it makes sense to draft a simple letter of agreement with which we can both be comfortable. More anon.
I'll not write again, probably, until I've read the chunks just received.
June 1, 1988
Dearest of Eds and editors!
I'm elated for you and for the public that Licit and Illicit Drugs will be revised and reprinted. Its message is more urgent than ever. I was surrounded by three chain smokers at the golf club Sunday night—sheer asphyxiation. I had to excuse myself early and go home to fresh air.
The nicotine attack triggered a crazy dream about Ed. It was so real I could have pinched him. Should have pinched him, come to think of it. I don't know if we were married, divorced, or living in sin. One of us was living in sin, I knew that much.
He had waltzed into the house after being away for a few days. As he settled into his chair, I was full of curiosity. Where had he been all this time? What did he do? Who did he do it with? Ed looked non‑committal. I could see he was prepared to deny everything.
"Come on, you can tell me," I said. "It won't bother me. What did she look like?"
"Well," Ed said, "she was very unusual looking. She was six feet four. Everywhere we went, she turned heads."
"And stomachs," I would have said if I'd been more alert. I don't think that fast when I'm asleep.
"Was she pretty?" I asked.
"Is the Pope a celibate?" Ed said.
"What color was her hair?" Blonde, I would have bet on it.
"Chestnut," said Ed.
"Chestnut?" My dream self gave a scornful laugh. "That's what she told you. You'd never come up with a word like that."
"Long, flowing chestnut hair," Ed said reminiscently. "And a chest to go with it."
Long flowing boobs? The man had strange tastes.
"So what happened? Did you use a step‑ladder or what?"
No, it seemed there was a friend in the scenario, giving him a helping hand. As Ed began supplying details I can't repeat, I saw him light up. Not his face. Not a cigarette. A cigar. He was leaning placidly back in his chair, blowing noxious smoke rings. Clearly he assumed that since I was taking his sex life in stride, I would be equally tolerant of his cigar. The hell I would; I was outraged.
"How could you?" I fumed. "I've got to get out of here!"
Flouncing out of the room, I could hear Ed still talking. I turned back and peered through the doorway. He was sitting on the floor in a sort of reclining lotus position. This, it seemed, was the passive role he had played with the tall one and his faceless friend while they did nameless things to his body. Ed's description was getting quite interesting, but I was choking on his damn cigar smoke. I woke up coughing.
I hope your trip to Toronto was successful, pleasurable, and anything else you wanted it to be.
June 17, 1988
I'm retreating to "Dear" solely to keep this businesslike.
I'm back from Toronto, which was even more of a delight than I anticipated; and I'm also back from Sunny Nook, a nudist center in the Poconos where I spent three days that only your sardonic prose style could do justice to, so I won't try.
I have read the contents of the slimmer envelope, the high school/Smith material; and think that with cutting they will make a good Chapter Three (after the boating and flying chapters).
I enclose a draft "Preliminary Letter of Agreement." As you will see, you can terminate it, for any reason or no reason, by informing me in writing.
I hope you win all your golf tournaments and have smoke-free dreams about Ed.