A dumb dumb dumb book. Why did I write that long first chapter with thirty-four pages all about soybeans? And then in Chapter 2 the agronomist, Danny Montalban, suddenly is no longer in Fargo, he's in Fresno, and we're at a lesbian commitment ceremony at a pimento ranch with ladies in denim caftans whanging on little drums and chanting Sapphic things and Cathy and Denise affirming their love for each other and riding away on a piebald pony and then there's that whole thing about the transcontinental railroad and the driving of the golden spike—where did all that come from?
Suddenly I was a joke. I walked down Forty-third Street and heard the word "soybeans" whispered and people tittering.
I was on Seventh Avenue in the Thirties, walking fast to make a lunch date with a woman named Shahtoosh, and a construction guy passed me pushing a handcart piled high with lumber and the cart tipped and a half ton of lumber brushed against my pants leg and crashed to the sidewalk. Had it fallen six inches north it would have snapped my left leg in two. And then Shahtoosh wasn't at the restaurant. She left a message: Sorry. Something came up.
Soybeans. That's what came up. The word was out: Larry Wyler Laid an Egg. Wyler Pissed His Pants.
I was on the B train and a young woman said, "You wrote a book. Right?" I nodded. She said, "I remember your picture from the dust jacket."
"Oh," I said. "Sure."
She said, "You probably get people coming up to you all the time saying they recognize you from your picture."
I said, "No, not that often."
She said, "Really? I would think it would happen a lot."
I said, "Not as often as you might think."
She said, "Well. You learn something new every day."
And we rode on together in silence all the way to Forty-second Street without her ever saying "I loved that book of yours. You're so talented." Nothing of the sort.
My agent, Leona, who had gotten me an advance of a cool one million dollars for Amber Waves of Grain, said that the publisher wasn't ready to discuss an advance for a third book, Purple Mountain Majesties, quite yet. They were re-examining their options at this point.
Oh, go suck a rock, I thought. But it hurt.
I was okay. My candle still had two good ends left, and I flapped around town like a fruit bat, hanging out with socialites and starlets and literati, feasting off the caviar crevettes on the trays wafted around the room by young men in tuxedoes at publishers' parties, hobnobbing, charming the pants off people, and was seldom in bed before 3:00 A.M.
I was famous, or semi-famous. I had loads of offers.
I was invited to be a guest on Jeopardy!, to do the voice of Skeezix in the Spielberg adaptation of Gasoline Alley, to write 5,000 words about families for Good Housekeeping, to write 2,000 words about my most memorable teacher for Reader's Digest, to write about Madagascar for National Geographic, to serve as honorary chairman of the White House Council on Storytelling, to narrate a documentary about the Lewis and Clark expedition, to appear on the cover of Newsweek with children of different races, to tour Europe for the U.S. Information Agency and give a lecture on the American heartland, to host a PBS show about "alternative media" or "really, anything you want to do," to write the text for a book of photographs of childhood homes of American writers, to do commentary at the Winter Olympics, to appear on various TV shows, to host a "Salute to George Plimpton" at Carnegie Hall, to chair the Right to Read committee of the American Library Association, to appear at benefits and serve here and lecture there and write and host and spread the substance of my being like a long grease stain across the breadth of America.