The Kiss Up

A writer and his agent discuss literary strategy.

Topics: Books,

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3 March


Greg:

thanks for the proposal for the next book — read it over the weekend. Don’t hate me, but I think it’s time to mine a little deeper. I’m not trying to denigrate or minimize your life experience. You clearly feel it deeply, as we all do, and it informs your writing with a real sweetness. But perhaps too sweet? Tolstoy got it almost completely wrong: All happy families are not alike because most families aren’t really all that happy, are they?

In that vein, have you read “The Kiss” by Kathryn Harrison? Amazing memoir of her long-time incestuous affair with her father. Talk about lemons into lemonade; the advanced reading copy is gorgeous with a fabulous quote from Toby Wolff. Saw her eating at Michael’s the other day. This is going to be very, very big for her.

Anyway, think of what I’ve said and take it in the spirit in which it’s offered. Call me with any and all thoughts. I am your agent, after all.

Dorothy

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March 6th

Dear Dorothy:

i must say, your letter seemed out of left field, but I’m at least glad for the honesty. Personally, I find lots that’s universal in the Camp Young Israel of the Poconos stories, but that’s neither here nor there. You can’t sell what you don’t really want to get behind, right? I am a little confused, however, about “mining deeper.” Is a well-adjusted, relatively tragedy-free childhood now a literary liability? What ever happened to a voice and keen observation? Does anybody remember whether the Brönte sisters were abused or in recovery? What would you have me do? Make things up, recover false memories, undergo something traumatic? Actually, Dorothy, I guess I am a bit angry about all this talk of marketing and advances, but I value our relationship and your opinion, so I will think seriously about what you’ve said.

Greg

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14 March


Greg:



i‘m very sorry my letter upset you, I merely meant to encourage you realistically, but I will also admit that I am thrilled by your anger! It’s exciting and raw and I hope you can channel it. While we’re on the subject, re: your suggestion of undergoing something traumatic that pushes you out of your “comfort zone,” I can only say yes yes YES! Why not? You have an artist’s sensibility and I’m sure you’d make beautiful hay out of it, plus you’re a trooper and I dare say could suffer some of life’s slings and arrows with real style.

Love,

Dottie

P.S. Sat a table away from Kathryn H. at Aquavit, couldn’t make out what she was saying. She was only picking at her gravlax. The buzz is Winona and Mel for the movie (although folks are joking about a comeback for Ryan and Tatum, ho, ho.)

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March 19th

Dorothy:

been doing lots of thinking. Some things maybe coming to light, others still hazy.

Let me run this by you. Did you know that some Jewish mothers — mine, for instance — call their male children “tateleh”? It means “Little Father” in Yiddish, begging the question, of course, about the presence of the Big Father. Ditto the old Catskills joke, “Oedipus, Schmoedipus, a boy should love his mother.”
Pursue?

Greg

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21 March

Oh, Greg!

pursue! Absolutely! Potentially really rich terrain. So gratifying to have my faith in you corroborated. Spoke to Sonny about it. Very interested. Dinner at Independent — vaguely lousy steak fries — and saw K.H. at a table for five, including — I think — John John. Almost went over to say congrats but saw she was also sitting with Seth, to whom I’m not talking.

Baci,

Dot

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April 4th

Dottie:

saw the parents on the weekend. Tried planting the seed by telling them how much I needed to break out with the next book, etc., even mentioned “The Kiss” and its success, but no suggestions or offers forthcoming.

Remaining hopeful,

G.

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12 April


Greg, my own:

things speeding up here. Talked to legal at Knopf today. They need something to read by Memorial Day without fail, so I hope plans are proceeding apace. Went up there for a preliminary marketing brainstorm. There’s talk of you attending Sales Conference and meeting the Reps.

Mwaahh!

Dorothy

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April 14th

Dorothy:

beachhead established! Weekend out at the parents … again! They’re thrilled with all the attention. Told Dad I was thinking of writing about having a relationship with Mom, but I don’t think he got it entirely. He will soon enough, I suppose.

Finally, Sat. nite dinner, I put my hand on my mother’s ass in the butler’s pantry when we were getting the dessert plates. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she screamed, but there was that all-important catch of ambivalence in her tone.

Greg

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16 April


G:

a quick note. Did some wheedling, Yaddo has a room for you in two weeks. They bumped Oscar Hijuelos! Word is getting around in a very big way. Mentioned your hair quandary to Nina at the Harper’s party the other night. Apparently there’s some Fred Fekkai Leave-in Hair Balm that will work. I’ll pick some up and send it along.
Now, get down to work and write (you star, you!).

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April 19th

Dorothy:

really pleased to hear about the British sale, and the Elle Decor contract arrived yesterday. I know you already talked to them about it, but there’s still no mention of the Mondrian under the accommodations clause. Home for “the big weekend,” sending Dad off to the auto show. I’ll probably be in touch some time later next week. I’m as nervous as a bar mitzvah boy.

Thank you for all of this, Dorothy; your faith, persistence and support. I finally know now why I got that M.F.A. It’s really a dream come true.

Much much love,

Greg

David Rakoff's forthcoming book is "Half Empty." He lives in New York.

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