Miss Gail Godwin
The Miami Herald
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Dear Miss Godwin:
Haven't I seen this novel before? You say you have just finished it, but I'm sure I recall the kindly southern senator and I'm sorry to say the plot is still as implausible as ever. Regretfully, I am shipping back The Otherwise Virgins to you under separate cover.
How could I have been so stupid? I thought my mother's agent was Ann Elmo. But obviously, at some point, she must have switched agents. Why can't I pay attention? What a stupid, self-defeating thing to do!
To: Gail Godwin
From: Keith Blackledge, Fort Lauderdale Bureau
Chief, The Miami Herald
...I have spent more time working and worrying over your future than I have spent on the entire rest of the staff combined. I must confess I've been a failure. I apologize for my mistakes. But the fact remains that I cannot see any further benefit from my efforts or yours and I am convinced it would be to your benefit to find someplace to "start over." This has been harsher than I intended it to be. I really feel badly that I have failed to make a good reporter out of obviously promising material. I hope you can use this experience somewhere but I'm afraid you won't do it successfully until you look facts in the face and at the same time quit expecting to get to the moon in one day.
Failed! A failed writer, a failed journalist, at twenty‑three, I don't know what to do. I'd rather die than tell my mother I was...fired. I'm afraid to kill myself, though. I don't have his nerve. I'll get married.
Divorced and twenty‑four, I used the slow hours at my job at the U.S. Embassy in London to work on my novel Gull Key, about a young wife left alone all day on a Florida island while her husband slogs away at his job on the mainland (he is a newspaper photographer). Her discontent swells like a tidal wave...neighbors bicker and age and are held back by their children, making her wonder if marriage and motherhood are for her...a tryst with a sensitive man met in the art section of the public library provides the denouement in which the husband "finds out" and his fist comes crashing through the glass door which she has locked against him and she bandages it up and they decide to separate. The final scene shows the heroine, chastened but reenergized, driving north on A1A, a modern Nora fleeing her doll's house in her own compact car.
After a dozen English publishers turned it down, I sent it off to an agency I'd seen advertised in a magazine: WANTED: UNPUBLISHED NOVELS IN WHICH WOMEN'S PROBLEMS AND LOVE INTERESTS ARE PREDOMINANT. ATTRACTIVE TERMS.
Many months went by and no response. I called directory assistance. The agency had no phone. I went around to the address. It was an empty building. I had made only one copy of Gull Key.
The City Literary Institute was located in a cavernous old building in north London. Somebody said it had been a prison in Dickens's time. But once I discovered it, I attended it every Tuesday evening with the desperate faith of an afflicted person attending a religious shrine. I was badly in need of a miracle. I was twenty‑seven years old and had not yet become what I had wanted to be since the age five: a writer. True, I wrote every evening, long exhaustive entries in my journal, to compensate for boring days. I had stayed for three years in my cushy government job ‑ helping the British plan their holidays in the United States ‑ though I had intended to stay one year. I had begun countless stories and novels but there was something "off" about all of them. Either they had the ring of self‑consciousness about them, or they started too slowly and petered out before I ever got to the interesting material that had inspired me in the first place, or they were so close to the current problems of my own life that I couldn't gain the proper distance and perspective.