Friday, January 14, 2011
The magic plum
How could that possibly be a good omen, you ask? Because, my dear friend, our plum tree does not bear fruit. Apparently, there are male plum trees and female plum trees and somehow (though I can’t quite imagine it) the two have to mate in order for any little plums to be conceived. Our plum tree (or “tree-ess”, I’m not sure which) has always been unequivocally barren. Lots of grandiose branches and flashy leaves but, at the end of the day, not a single fruit in the six years we’ve lived in this house.
I think you’ll agree with me when I say that this little miracle plum which – excuse the pun – plummeted at my feet on January 1st is a clear sign that my manuscript will find a publisher this year. And if this connection is not blatantly obvious to you now, it will be very shortly.
Rewind for a moment to December last year. (It was so very long ago, I’m not sure you’ll remember.) December 2010 is when I came the closest I’ll probably ever get to having connections in the publishing business – my Italian playgroup friend’s daughter who works at the Auckland branch of Allen & Unwin, publishers of bestselling authors like Margaret Atwood. I was quietly handed a handwritten note with the details of who to contact, which I immediately memorized before proceeding to eat the note whole, lest it fall into the wrong hands. I do realize that this meager association is not in itself a portent of great things to come in the year 2011. In fact, I was determined to submit a few chapters to Mr. Allen and Mr. Unwin before the end of the year. But then a much more urgent flea infestation in our house put the submission on hold. At the time the critters seemed like a time-wasting distraction. But now I look back and see that the fleas were actually trying to help me. It’s as if they were trying to say, in their squeaky little voices, “Don’t submit in 2010! Wait till 2011!”
But even after the plum dropped, I still didn’t immediately contact the publisher. We were celebrating the new year as a family and it didn’t feel like the right time to be doing work. But when would be the right day to approach the publisher otherwise known as the marvellous Alien Onion? It was essential that I choose the right day to use my one golden egg. Because I’m sure you’ll all agree with me here that most rejections occur because a writer has queried an agent or publisher on the wrong day.
Then one morning this week my toddler woke me from a deep dream, at which I began a version of the morning inner dialogue I usually have with myself:
“Ugh, what time is it?” 6:02 a.m.
“What day is today anyway?” Tuesday.
“What month are we in again?” January.
“What season is it?” Summer.
(If you think I sound profoundly blonde here, try moving in midlife to the other hemisphere and you’ll see exactly what I mean.) But it took me turning on the computer to discover that the exact date was January 11, 2011. “Now that’s a good date,” I thought to myself, “11-1-11.” Like beautiful Roman numerals, those twiggy little '1's were calling out at me, “Today is the day to query Alien Onion!”
However, scepticism crept in after dropping my toddler off at the babysitter’s, as I wandered semi-comatose through the aisles of the garden center searching for a bag of diatomaceous earth that I hoped would suffocate all the living fleas and their descendants. Was I even ready to query today, with my synopsis in the state it was in? Shouldn’t I spend a bit more time preparing? It wasn’t until the drive back home that my initial gut instinct was confirmed. Everywhere I looked, cars bore a 33 – my lucky number – in their license plates. That couldn’t have been a mere coincidence. Today had to be the day.
I hurriedly put together my email query, synopsis and the first two chapters of my memoir. As always, pressing the ‘send’ button was agonizingly painful. What if I’d misspelled 'synopsis'? Had I actually typed 'Alien Onion' by mistake? The angst was so terrible, the hope so acute, that I wanted to fall to the ground and pray.
But I’m not religious so instead I got up to make myself a cup of coffee. Oddly, on the kitchen table was a new pair of gardening gloves, still in their packaging. I couldn’t remember having bought them at the garden center. In fact, the receipt showed I hadn’t paid for any gloves. I panicked. Had I shoplifted them accidentally? Or had I mistakenly grabbed the previous customer’s purchase that she’d left on the counter? It wasn’t until I’d put them in my bag to return them to the store that I finally understood. The gloves were a sign that I did in fact need to put my hands together and pray.
So I dropped to my knees – it seemed the respectful thing to do – facing the garden and the plum tree. Even the fleas stopped to observe a minute of silence.
“Please,” I said, clasping my hands together, “I know I really shouldn’t be asking this. I mean, I already have running water and everything. And my son is so very good-looking I can hardly ask for more. But they say you have to ask the universe for what you want. So please, please, may Allen and Unwin please give my submission due consideration and not just throw it away. Please let this publisher be the right one. No, scratch that! Please let me find the right publisher this year for my manuscript. I don’t need to make money, it’s not about that. I just want to share my story with others. I don’t want to change the world, I just want to make other people feel something they haven’t felt before, that’s all. In hardcover. Please. Thank you.”
Later, when I went to the kitchen windowsill, I noticed that the plum, that stunted green golf-ball, had actually started to ripen. Now there was no further doubt in my mind that this was the auspicious beginning to a year of publishing success. The day in which I got an edible magic plum and a free pair of garden gloves. And if these aren’t good omens, I don’t know what are.