In June 1997, Joyce and I were going through some changes while I was reading Mary’s final novel, Falkner. As I’ve mentioned, I had retired from my thirty-year public-school teaching career in January. Joyce’s mother had died on February 5, 1995, after a long, long battle with Alzheimer’s. Joyce had recently published a book about her mom—In a Tangled Wood, which appeared in 1996. Our son had recently graduated from college and had begun his career as a journalist at the Akron Beacon-Journal. And we were beginning to realize that we wanted to move back to nearby Hudson, Ohio, where we’d lived most of our marriage. So our old house (1826) in Aurora was now for sale—yes, the “bat house” I wrote about the other day. Joyce had already found another century home she liked near Hudson’s “downtown”; we are still living there as I write this (April 2017). I’ve loved the place, too.
And in June 1997 I was charging ahead with my work on Mary Shelley—had even contacted an agent about representing me. I was inflated with confidence because of recent successes in publishing—an annotated edition of The Call of the Wild (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995) and a YA biography (Jack London: A Biography, Scholastic Press, 1997). Both had been well reviewed. I thought that surely some YA publisher would be interested in a biography of the woman who wrote Frankenstein! And surely eager literary agents would queue up to battle one another for the opportunity to represent me!
Uh … no.
Scholastic Press was not interested—though they did ask if there was anyone else I’d like to write about. I said no. Good-bye, Scholastic, who by then had found some unknown writer by the name of J. K. Rowling, whose books would sell moderately well. I did eventually find a literary agency—a good one—to represent me. And I kept them informed as I proceeded through my research. Then—out of the blue (to coin a phrase)—as I was about to commence writing, the agency decided they were no longer interested. I’m not sure why. But I do know that I have wished them ill the past twenty years.
I just this moment checked Google. The agency is still in business. So my maledictions and malevolence have not had the desired effect. I will not mention the name. But they seem to be flourishing … whereas I …