An old manuscript of mine has been in my thoughts a lot lately. It’s one of five that I sent last week to my new agent. As with the other four, I’m counting on her to be rational and objective about its quality and sales potential in a way that I can’t. But it’s also very different from those other manuscripts, and from everything else I’ve ever written.
In June 2002, when our son S was 3 1/2, his little brother D was stillborn. Within a week I was looking for a picture book that might help S make some sense of what we were going through. While some came close — including one by my friend Annette Simon that has since brought S comfort — none of those books quite fit our awful situation.
So I wrote one myself. And my story did what it was supposed to do. It played back for S a lot of the things he told us he was feeling, and a few things that I could assume he was feeling. It made him feel better. It made me feel better. By the only measure that mattered, it was a success.
But every year in the United States, there are about 30,000 stillbirths, and in many of those cases there are big brothers and sisters whose expectations are crushed. I wanted there to be a book for those children, too. So, I began shopping my manuscript around. And while I knew it would be the toughest of sells, I found it surprisingly therapeutic to let editors know what had happened to my family.
The rejections I received were kinder and more empathetic than usual. “It’s a worthy subject, but just too sad” is how I remember one typical reply. After a while, I stopped sending the manuscript out. I probably haven’t submitted it in at least a year and a half. But the need — the need in me to share my story, the need for families unlucky in this singularly horrible way to know that they aren’t alone — is still there.
That’s why I’ve dusted the manuscript off, but now I’m nervous about what will happen next. What if my rational, objective reader thinks the piece has potential? Am I really prepared to reacquaint myself with the intense pain that yielded the story in the first place? And what if she thinks that this manuscript is best placed gently back on the shelf? What if that comes as a relief? What would that say about me?