The Great American Email
Graduating from UC Berkeley’s English program, I had every intention of writing the next Great American Novel.
It hadn’t occurred to me that no one would pay me write it.
The reality of rent and bills sent me scurrying toward the nearest job that seemed to value writing skills: public relations.
There were perks—parties, free products, expense-paid trips—but as I climbed the corporate ladder, I confined my writing output to press releases, client presentations, emails. The last thing I wanted to do at 9pm was sit at another computer and work on a story I’d started years ago that really didn’t seem so brilliant anymore. I knew my writing lacked a voice—a compelling one anyway—and I was daunted by the work required to find it.
Nine years after graduation, I suddenly lost my husband.
Nine years after graduation, I suddenly found my voice.
Writing became my friend, my therapy, my method for preserving the four years of married memories that I was terrified of forgetting.
Writing also enabled me to get through the night without drunk-dialing friends.
Three months after the funeral, I realized I had written 20,000 words.
I had never written 20,000 words on a single topic, let alone something that resembled a memoir.
I kept at it.
I wrote on lunch breaks, on airplanes, and some nights, until 7am before hopping in the shower and going to work.
Three chapters from completion, I knew how the book should end: spreading my husband’s ashes on the one-year anniversary of his funeral.
My office had been gracious about granting me time off, but three weeks in Havana? A place where my cell wouldn’t work and Internet was something magical that happens for an hour a day? Every other day?
Not so much.
And so I resigned.
In hindsight, it seems ballsy.
At the time, it seemed necessary.
Necessary to complete the book—and to determine what the next chapter of my life should look like.
The next chapter was harder than expected.
After finishing the memoir in Cuba, a professional editor shaved 17,000 words off the manuscript and required weeks of rewrites.
The IRS hit me with serious back taxes from the years I was married.
I drained my 401k and started freelancing to pay bills.
My first round of email pitches to agents went unanswered.
I began to question my writing ability—and the madcap decision to quit my salaried job—so I solicited advice from friends who were successful writers.
I started a Tumblr with original content.
Wrote a professional book proposal.
Read blogs by lit agents and joined writing organizations.
Networked at literary and blogger events.
Rewrote my standard email query to agents.
And rewrote it again.
Six months later, my agent queries were more often answered with requests for sample chapters than thanks-but-no-thanks.
I kept editing the book.
I kept blogging.
I kept e-pitching.
This summer, the networking and blogging and honing of the Great American Email landed me several meetings with agents.
In early September, I accepted an offer of representation from a NYC agency with an excellent track record in memoirs.
Two weeks ago, my manuscript went out to several publishing houses—more than a year after I finished the first draft in Cuba.
It’s been a hard, humbling, patience-testing process.
But I am proof that you can find your voice.
Proof that if you can write 250 words a day, you’ll have a full-length manuscript in a year.
And proof that nine years of writing Great American Emails can actually be a dress rehearsal for writing the next Great American Novel.
Tré Miller Rodríguez lives in Manhattan and her first book, “Widow in a Party Dress: A Memoir,” is currently under consideration by publishers. To read excerpts, please visit WhiteElephantIntheRoom.com.