Sorting Through my Misspent Youth

As you know, I have been cleaning my attic for some weeks now, in the attempt to put it in shape as a comfortable guest room for company we're expecting this summer. Lambertville is a tourist town. We should have a guest room. What I didn't tell you is exactly what this exercise involves, and how it's not really about Martha Stewart's idea of a guest room, or even the guests, or having an orderly room up there.

No. It's about sifting through every item of memorabilia from my past and choosing what to keep and what to throw away.

I told you about editor Ray Roberts' exhortation to keep the original manuscript of UNBALANCED ACCOUNTS, my first published novel, in a safe place because it would be worth money someday. Or scholars would come around looking for it. I didn't tell you how disappointed he was with my second effort, how he made me rewrite it completely, which took so long that it didn't meet Little, Brown's publishing schedule and had to be postponed for months. THE DEATH TAPE in its final, approved form finally came out in July of 1987, somehow a bad month for a book release, and was reviewed only once, by Henry Kisor of the Chicago Sun-Times (Thank you, Henry). At least he liked it. I liked it, too. In fact I completely forgot about the crappy job I did on the first pass until I came across it yesterday morning while rummaging through the stuff in the attic.

I decided to keep it, just to remind myself. Or maybe I should pitch it out. Why am I hanging onto my old failures? What about this pile of Christmas cards from people who are now dead? Here's a first draft of the autobiographical novel I started. Some of the stories in it are killing. The time I mustered out for the interview for a job as a guard at Trenton State Prison, at a fighting weight of 107 pounds. The time I went to New York City disguised in a gray wig and a funny-looking polyester shirt to eat a steak dinner with my Manhattan bachelor lover. The time I sat up all one foggy night in a car with a private detective outside the apartment where my first husband and his mistress were living.

What rich fare that manuscript would offer the scholars. But there are no scholars interested in my work. The price of that manuscript Ray Roberts returned to me wouldn't send a dog through obedience school, much less put the baby through Harvard. As for the autobiographical novel—THE BODICE RIP'T, I called it; at least it had a great title—nobody is going to want it, no matter how funny it is. Or how horrifying. Mostly it's a horror story. My first agent said, "Katie, no one is interested in reading about your divorce unless you're Nora Ephron or somebody famous." So. Pitch it out? I do have children, after all. There's a lot of stuff in that book I'd just as soon they never found out about.

And so it goes. I really, REALLY want to get rid of the detritus in the attic, but as time passes it looks more and more likely that I'll put it in cardboard boxes and hide them out of sight for another twenty years.

Kate Gallison