Fifteen Minutes


May 2007

She’d brought a small alarm clock to the writers’ convention, and now she set it for fifteen minutes. That’s how much time she was allotted for each critique, she said.

We were sitting side by side on a low stone wall in the college’s quad. It was a beautiful spring day, the sun warm on our backs. I flipped open my narrow notebook, uncapped my pen, and waited for her to begin critiquing the first ten pages of my first novel.

Her name was Jennie. She’d told me her last name, too, but I’d promptly forgotten it. I figured she was an aspiring novelist like myself, that this critique was a peer thing, and I’d already taken a big grain of salt in advance of what she was about to say.

Because what was she going to say that I didn’t already know? I’d been a newspaper reporter and columnist for nearly twenty years. I’d won a dozen or so awards for my writing. Could Jennie claim the same?

She began by saying that of all the pages she’d critiqued that day, she thought mine were the best. She liked the voice of my main character, she liked that my main character was homeschooled (something she said she hadn’t run across yet, whatever ‘yet’ meant), and she liked the gentle humor I brought to my writing.

Her alarm rang and I capped my pen and flipped my notebook closed.

“That’s okay,” Jennie said, “we can take a little more time.”

So we sat there in the warm spring sunshine and talked. We talked about the unconventional type of homeschooling I did, which was called unschooling, and we talked about my two kids and her two kids, and we talked about the many and varied challenges and rewards of parenting.

Then she said she’d better get going. She asked me if I’d like to send her the entire manuscript for my novel, and I thought, What would be the point?

And I thought, She’ll read my manuscript, then she’ll probably want to send me hers.

And I thought, I don’t want to read hers.

Then Jennie handed me her business card, and I saw that she wasn’t an aspiring novelist like me. She was a literary agent from New York City. She was every writer’s dream, and she wanted to read my manuscript!

That’s when my hands began to shake.

To be continued . . .




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