It was when I was a freshly minted university graduate at the ripe-old-age of twenty-one that I experienced New York City for the very first time. My friend, Sarah, and I had travelled over the ‘pond’ from Scotland to Richmond, VA to meet up with another friend, Jacqueline, from uni – an American none-the-less – whom we had met and become BFFs with during her JYA studies in St Andrews. Although we’d all know each other for a couple of years, Sarah and I waited until we turned twenty-one to make the trip to see Jacqueline in her native country for the simple fact that we wanted to be able to sit around and have a cocktail or three during our “Great American Adventure”. After some time in Virginia we all hopped on the train to The Big Apple. We arrived at Penn Station (which is directly below Madison Square Gardens) around 9pm on a weekday evening and as Sarah and I followed Jacqueline up to street level we felt like we’d been whisked straight into a movie set.
We were suddenly surrounded by skyscrapers taller that we could fathom, yellow cabs with drivers leaning on their horns, police in ‘funny’ outfits with ‘funny’ squad cars, steam pouring out of manholes, people going in all directions but miraculously not bumping into each other, and a city buzz that instantly intoxicated us. I fell in love with NYC right that second and it is a love affair that has lasted almost twenty years. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to return to the city countless times in the intervening years and I always assumed that I would one day live there. This weekend I was again in the city. The reason for going was bittersweet but I always cherish time with my Jacqueline regardless of what brings us together. I also got to go solo leaving my toddler in Ohio with her Dada. Again I fell under the spell of the city. Of course, when you are staying in a delightful apartment on the Upper East Side with family and your wonderful host is, frankly, one of the best cooks you know, it is easy to drift off into a lusty haze and imagine you actually live there for real.
Although I was away from Ohio for the weekend I couldn’t completely tune out my life here for three days – aside from putting calls in to speak to the toddler and her Dada I had a homework exercise to complete for class. The exercise was simple, write a mock query letter looking for representation from a literary agent. To make it even more fun we were tasked with finding an actual real live, living & breathing agent that would be interested in the type of fiction we write. I first thought about Ian McEwan – cause who wouldn’t want his career! – but after some internet snooping I learned that the agent he worked with passed away last year. I poked through the company of the late agent but didn’t see a ‘perfect’ fit with any of the other agents.
Contemplating other authors I like I decided to be more “realistic” and pick a new, young author whom I have just discovered. Maggie Shipstead has two novels out and I recently read her second – Astonish Me. I like her style, it is approachable but her language is more lyrical (and by that I mean, better!) than most ‘best sellers’ and I am an absolute sucker for flowery language that wraps the character’s world around me as I read. The novel is a family drama set in the professional ballet world and since in another life I’m totally a prima ballerina it was right up my street. Researching her literary agent came up trumps too and so off I went to write my query letter to Ms. Gradinger of Fletcher & Company whose offices, of course, are in New York City, New York! Fifth Avenue between 13th & 14th street to be precise – only a short(ish) bus/subway ride from where I was staying in the Upper East Side.
And so my brain took off and really launched itself into a fantastical dream-world where I am a celebrated author, represented by Ms. Gradinger (who I meet with often to have business meetings over a martini), and I live in a beautiful apartment on the Upper East Side (or Upper West Side, I like them both, I’m not picky). Of course, in this fantasy world you can totally afford to live in a palatial apartment in NYC off the proceeds of selling one novel … it is fantasy, people, fantasy!!
Needless to say re-entry back into my at-home-mama-mid-west-america-suburban actual life has been a little bit bumpy this week but it has been made easier by toddler (and her Dada) cuddles and kisses. But the really great thing is that I now have this query letter sitting on my computer ready to go – should I ever feel brave enough to send it out (and brave enough to receive the rejection that will follow). I may never get to live in The Big Apple, and I will certainly never have the bank account that would be needed to live in the style that my fantasy paints, but one day I may be a bona fide author that is represented by a literary agent with a publishing deal under my belt… maybe, just maybe…