review of the book here. My thanks go to Sam from Headline, and to Jeff for writing the article!
"She was late. I was tucked back in a corner of the empty restaurant that the conference had appropriated for agent/writer meetings – I was here as a guest of the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference in Homer, Alaska, and part of my duties was to meet, one on one, with prospective writers. Now, between the lunch and dinner crowds, the restaurant was empty – from where I sat, I could watch the sunlight play over snow-capped mountains towering over the bay, count bald eagles gliding in the wind.
I’d met with a bunch of writers already – this next one, clearly, had stood me up – either forgotten, or got too nervous, or misunderstood the time. Just as I was ready to pack up and leave, a woman appeared – flustered, nervous, out of breath, apologetic, Eowyn Ivey. She sat down across from me – brown hair, bright white teeth – and I tried to figure out what to say to put her at ease. So of course I gushed about her name, how I wished my parents had come up with a cool name for me – although I’m really not a Meriodoc; and Sauron or Glorfindel don’t really go with the “Kleinman”.
Finally we started talking about her manuscript. A lot of writers want to talk – they want to tell you about their book, what they were trying to accomplish, what they hoped the book could do. Others think it’s some sort of a Hollywood pitch session – have a great log-line and I say, “Sold!” and somehow magically conjure up a publisher and a six-figure advance out of the blue, all based on that thirty-second pitch. For me, though, it’s all about the book itself, about the words on the page. So poor Eowyn was a little flustered when I asked her if she brought any pages of her book with her. She had, but not the book she was working on – she wanted to tell me about a novel called The Snow Child, but didn’t have any of those pages, just pages from another novel that wasn’t working. But maybe I could look at this other novel, anyway? She fumbled in her backpack, pulled out the opening pages of the Other Novel, and chattered about the book as I scanned the opening pages.
She could write.
Writers conferences can be deceptive: a lot of hopeful writers attend, but most are still learning the rudiments of novel-writing – how to craft realistic characters, how to develop the narrative voice, how to write effective dialogue, and so forth. I generally go to half a dozen writers conferences a year, but I rarely find clients from these events – they’re good networking opportunities, and if I can provide some guidance and advice to new writers, then it’s a successful conference. Very very rarely can writers really write.
Eowyn was one of them, though. I could tell immediately from her opening sentence that she knew her way around a page – that she could tell an interesting story that I wanted to read more about. So at the end of our ten-minute session, I asked to see The Snow Child (rather than the problematic manuscript) – could she email it over to me? I’d love to see it sooner rather than later.
Uh, the manuscript wasn’t done. She had about three-quarters finished. Was that enough? She knew she shouldn’t be taking up my time. Her mom, who was there with her, really pushed her to do the meeting. Maybe she should just leave now.
Generally, we agents only want to see manuscripts once they’re completed – how else can we know if the characters continue to develop, if the author can maintain the action, if the novel concludes intelligently? But I liked the premise of this. Here, incidentally, is the description that Eowyn sent me:
Based on a Russian fairy tale about an old man and woman who build a child of snow that comes to life, “The Snow Child” weaves enchantment through a landscape of savage beauty. Aging and desperate, Jack and Mable struggle to homestead in Alaska in the 1920s with no hope of having their one wish fulfilled – to have a child of their own. But one magical night they shape a heap of snow into a little girl. The next morning they see her running through the forest and discover a gift of a dead snowshoe hare on their doorstep. Can a child embodying the fragility and brutality of Alaska’s wilderness be the answer to their great sadness? Does happiness come through wishes fulfilled, or through the hard work of everyday life?
So. Sure I’ll take a look at the first hundred pages or so. Can she send them over?
Of course, she said, and we shook hands and talked a bit more and she left.
Only later did I learn what consternation I’d caused: the file was on her computer, six hours away. Her husband couldn’t get the file. She couldn’t email it. Smoke signals were not an option. Finally, somehow, she sent it late that night.
If you’ve never been to Alaska, here’s a thing to remember: there is no such thing as “late that night” in June in Alaska. The sun never quite goes down. So, despite thick shades, light leaked in around the edges of the window-frame and I was having trouble sleeping. The published book I was reading – one of those oh-so-brilliant literary novels that all my friends were telling me that I needed to read – bored me to distraction, but I wasn’t sleepy.
I checked my email. Eowyn’s manuscript was there.
The next morning I had to give a talk to all the conference attendees – a hundred or so eager writers packed into a slightly-too-small hotel conference room. I rambled on, scanning the crowd anxiously. No Eowyn. Had she left, driven back to Palmer, Alaska? Had her car broken down? Had she gotten bored, disgusted? Had I been tactless and rude, scared her away (my wife is always accusing me of this, and she’s usually right)?
Finally she came in – late, but she was there.
So. Keep in mind that I was the only agent at the conference. There was no way that another agent could have swooped in and captured her. It wasn’t a possibility. But what if …? What if she’d already sent the pages to a friend, and the friend forwarded them to another agent, or to a publisher? What if she’d just won a huge literary prize and all my colleagues were beating down her door? Yeah, these were ridiculously remote possibilities, but you know how it is when you fall head-over-heels in love and you’re sure it can’t last, you’re positive that something will go wrong?
The moment I was done speaking, I was off the podium making a bee-line for her. Writers with questions and manuscripts loomed in but I dodged them. Caught up with Eowyn right outside the hall.
Handed her the retainer agreement that I’d printed out, begged her to sign it.
Reality check: agents very rarely sign up authors at writers conferences. Handing a writer a retainer agreement, in the middle of the conference, is something out of Hollywood that just doesn’t happen in the real world. Especially not for an incomplete manuscript. It was my big Hollywood moment, though.
When I handed Eowyn the retainer, she asked to sit down. She was afraid she was going to faint. And then she signed the document.
Wow, was that a good day."
You can buy The Snow Child in paperback format right now!