It turns out that the first manuscript I wrote was “written for the universe.” So said my agent at the time.
We were in a bar on Third Avenue.
He had submitted the manuscript to William Morrow — big outfit.
He showed me the letter they sent him:
Thanks for sending along In Mudboots Fast Runner. It is certainly well written and the writer has mastered the use of dialogue to move the action along. Unfortunately, the novel never goes anywhere.
“Well written, mastered dialogue,” I repeated, “but they don’t want it.”
“They want plot,” said the agent.
“Plot, and all that tommyrot,” quoth I, “as Henry Miller once said.”
“It has nothing to do with your ability,” the agent said. “It’s simply that the publishing business is fucked up.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
“I liked it,” he said. “That’s what I meant when I said you wrote it for the universe.”
“I don’t even know what the hell that means, man.”
“I could say you wrote it for yourself,” he clarified, “but it’s better than that. I could say you wrote it for your family and friends, or for the world, but it’s better than that. It’s universal — ergo, you wrote it for the universe.”
“So, ergo old pal, submit it to the universe.”
“My territory is strictly New York City.”
I downed my gin and ordered another.
“Therefore,” I said, “the next novel I write will have to be written for the public.”
“If you want to make any money from it.”
“I don’t know how to do that. I’m not Lee Childs or James Patterson or Nora Roberts. I wish I was — well, not Nora Roberts.”
“So who do you think you are? Henry Miller?”
“Never in a million years.” My gin arrived and I took a gulp. “So what do you think I should do, man?”
He finished off his beer and got up to leave. “Write for the universe.”