I’ve been reminiscing a bunch lately. And, since I keep seeing top literary agent Deborah Schneider’s name showing up in GalleyCat, I figure, why not? It’s time to break into the Levi Asher memory vault and tell the story of the year Deborah Schneider was my agent.
I bet she’ll remember me, though she won’t remember my name because I went by a different name back then (that’s a whole nother story). Anyway, the year was 1989 (yeah, I am that old), and I had just written a novel called My Dark Ages, which my writing teacher at the New School, the wonderful late Richard P. Brickner, thought highly enough of that he introduced me to one agent after another. I never really felt comfortable with the whole meet-the-agent routine. This was a time when Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney were the two hottest names in town, and I knew I didn’t have the right clothes. I knew my novel was a damn good one, though (and I still think it is).
I had one awkward meeting with an agent Brickner recommended me to, but she was a super-top agent with many celebrity clients and I didn’t feel like she understood why Brickner had sent me to her and our conversation just didn’t click. Another agent said she liked my writing but couldn’t stand my use of present tense, so I switched to past tense, and then she never sent out my book anyway. I was finding the whole get-an-agent routine very unpleasant.
But then I met Deborah Schneider, who simply liked me. She was a junior agent at the John Farquharson agency, and I felt more comfortable with her than most of the other agents I met because she had a more casual and street-smart style. I guess I’d had my fill of “haughty” and of pearl necklaces. Deborah liked My Dark Ages and signed me on as her client, and I felt absolutely great.
Before Deborah sent the book out we had several conversations in her office and on the phone, and she told me a lot of inside info on the “biz”. At this time she was just starting to make her name in literary fiction, and her hottest author was Carolyn Chute, whose book The Beans of Egypt Maine I liked a lot. Deborah also represented Madison Smartt Bell, who I didn’t like as much since he was the kind of writer who tried to look smart by naming his books after Talking Heads and Elvis Costello songs. But I pretended to like him, because I wanted Deborah Schneider to keep liking me.
And she did. She sent My Dark Ages to Ticknor and Fields, where it got a very nice rejection letter of the “we can’t wait to see his next manuscript and he’s a promising young” whatever-whatever type of variety. She then sent it to Viking Penguin, where it got yet another nice letter asking about my next manuscript, which apparently they were all itching to see even though I thought this current manuscript was just fine. Then she sent it to, I think, Simon and Schuster, and this time the letter wasn’t even that nice. She called me up and told me the bad news. Three strikes and I was out. She wanted to see my next novel too.
I have nothing but good things to say about the way she treated me, and I’m very happy that her career has blossomed. I’m sure I’ll run into her at a book party someday, and I’m sure she’ll be confused about why I’m going by a completely different name. The last time I talked to her was in 1993. I was now married with two kids and working a high-stress Wall Street job, and my follow-up novels weren’t working out. I had written a coming-of-age story called Summer of the Mets that I knew had great potential, but I was still figuring out the formula. Then, perhaps under the influence of too much David Lynch and Paul Auster, I tried to write a mystery, though unfortunately I couldn’t take the genre completely seriously and was only able to write a comedy-mystery (a combination that really doesn’t mix).
Like the first draft of Summer of the Mets, The Grisly Game was a baseball novel, this time about a fictional major league baseball team called the Buffalo Captains. It featured an insecure local with a painfully short stature and youthful looks who was forced to infiltrate the team as a batboy (despite the fact that he was in his late twenties) to help solve a murder. If I just made this novel sound good, I promise you that’s an illusion. My heart wasn’t in it, and my mind was on other things. But even though I knew it was a bad book, I sent the completed manuscript to Deborah Schneider. About a week later it came back in the mail with a “sorry” letter.
But I still remember how welcoming she always was when she picked up the phone before I sent the manuscript — “Hi! Is this my old friend?” This kind of agent makes a writer feel good, even when the sale doesn’t get made. And I didn’t care by now, because in 1993 I had a short story accepted by a very innovative internet publication called Intertext and I had plans for a little project called Literary Kicks. I made a decision to dwell in the electronic underground and never send another manuscript out again, and years later I don’t regret that decision one bit.
On September 25 2001, still bleary from the September 11 attacks, I made an impulsive decision to publish a finished version of Summer of the Mets as a free e-book on LitKicks. It was pretty much a family-and-friends kind of offering. But I got some nice comments about it, so I put the book out in paperback under the LitKicks imprint. I did no publicity for it and pretty much blew it as far as marketing goes, but I still think someday somebody’s going to open up this book and appreciate it.
Then maybe someday I’ll publish My Dark Ages, which (truth be told) is a hell of a book. Well, hey, Deborah Schneider liked it. Even though none of those other stiffs figured it out.