Tom Guinzburg saves my life
When I first submitted my manuscript for Gates of Fire, it was eight hundred pages long. It was as big as a Manhattan phone book. My agent, Sterling Lord, told me flat out, “Steve, I can’t sell this. You have to cut three hundred pages.”
Three hundred pages?
I was paralyzed. This was only my second book. I had no idea how to delete almost half of it and have it still work. I was shell-shocked; I fell into depression and despair.
Then I got a note in the mail—a hand-written note on personal stationery. The note was from Tom Guinzburg, who was then the president of Viking Press, one of New York’s most prestigious publishing houses. Tom Guinzburg had been one of the founders of the Paris Review, along with George Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen. He was literary royalty, light-years above a novice like me.
It turned out that my agent Sterling had a weekly lunch with Tom and Larry Hughes of Wm. Morrow and other big guns of the New York publishing world. At Sterling’s request, Tom had read the manuscript of Gates of Fire. His note to me said, among other kind things, “There is a first-rate novel in here. I am confident you will pull this off.”
I can’t tell you how much that note meant to me. Tom Guinzburg barely knew me. There was no profit in it for him to reach out. He did it because he was a good guy with a generous heart.
That note changed my life. I taped it to the screen of my eight-bit Kaypro and took courage from it every day of the six months it took me to get three hundred pages out of that manuscript.
When you and I put our ass where our heart wants to be, the universe responds. We change. We see ourselves differently. But others, sometimes those we are not aware of (and whom we have no idea are aware of us), see us differently too. They may come to our aid in ways we could never have predicted and by some word or act of kindness change everything.