Jigsaw and Jane Hit the Big Apple
November 30, 1983. I sat with John St. John in a New York Yellow Cab headed to our first appointment of the day: M. Evans, publisher at Contemporary Books on 49th Street in New York. St. John was in the Big Apple at the invitation of the New York Police Department who were working a complex serial murder case and wanted his input. He and I had just completed a formal book proposal on our work-in-progress. Our agent offered to set up meetings with agents so we could pitch the story, so we added a few days to our itinerary.
The NYPD detective who met us at the airport asked me if there was anything I wanted to see on our way into the city. When I asked to see a few publishing houses, St. John said, “Jane’s a writer. Her idea of church is a publishing house.” While our tour guide drove us downtown, I gawked at the buildings that housed the men and women whose work was books and writers.
Days later, I was ready to meet the first agent on our list. A polished, handsome gentleman dressed in a tweed coat and silk tie ushered us into a meeting with their development team. I noted the stack of books on an antique table about to get a thumbs up or thumbs down. Jigsaw dazzled the team for fifteen minutes with his stories about his biggest cases.
Next stop: M. Evans Publishing. A ruddy-complexioned, white-haired agent greeted us, pulled a chair into the middle of the room, and asked St. John to talk about his career. The small, wood-paneled office was exactly what I expected: manuscripts stacked to the ceiling, overflowing desks and books piled high in every nook and cranny. Hours passed. By the time we left, Mr. Lydell and Jigsaw seemed like old fishing buddies who hadn’t seen each other in years.
Walking into the offices of New American Library felt like stepping inside an engineer’s studio: tidy desks, books shelved, employees humming with efficiency. The young agent who met us could have stepped out of a Brooks Brothers ad: clean-cut, pressed slacks, blue tie. He asked more questions than the person who interviewed me for my stewardess position, but after fifteen minutes our time together seemed free-flowing. But not as comfortable as the last interview.
The final interview of the morning with Arbor House was the best. The agent was gracious, whip-smart, and thrilled to be in the presence of a master sleuth. We chatted, drank strong coffee, laughed, and ate English biscuits for two hours. No one wanted to end the conversation. When we did say goodbye, he shook St. John’s hand and gave me a fatherly hug.
The following month, the rejections came. From Contemporary: “The market may have diminished.” From M. Evans: “Story lacked touches of color and atmosphere.” From NAL: “Not enough flesh and blood. Not enough color.” From Arbor House: “It was such a pleasure to meet the venerable St. John and his plucky sidekick, Jane Howatt. They were both so engaging and affable I almost feel as if my affection for them and their story was what kept me from responding earlier with a rueful pass. There is no question that St. John’s wonderful quirkiness, detective’s savvy and charming personality comes shining through in these pages. Nor do they obfuscate his master sleuthing experience.” The Big Apple had just taken a big bite out of me.
I put the letters into my stack of rejections. Someday the answer will be yes.