I learned a very valuable lesson that fateful day, one my agent, Adriana, had tried several times before to instill in me:
Don't pitch an unfinished story! Wait until you have taken a story as far as you can, within your own abilities, before presenting it, especially when you're meeting with an editor.
So like any normal child in a classic fairy tale, I did not heed the warning of the wise traveller. I took the shortcut through the woods, and I pitched my pudgy, gooey, infant of a story to the last of the three editors I met that weekend in New York. And the editor responded like this:
"So it feels like we're just going from one point to another. It's like, ok, I'm on a pirate boat. Now where can I go? How about over there to that island? Now where? Let's follow that path to the treasure."
After this response, I thought, "Ok. Time to regroup. Let's salvage this pitch." So I read him the outline of my story, thinking that if he sees the bigger picture of what I'm trying to say, he'll see the genius of it all—ah, I laugh at my former self as I write this. The editor listened patiently, smiled, and asked if he could pitch the story back to me. It went like this:
"This is a story about a little boy who alienates people. He alienates his little brother and sister. He alienates the pirates, and when he realizes that he has alienated everyone he's ever met and that he's now all by himself, he returns home."
And guess what, he was right, even though those weren't my intentions for the story that was all I was getting across in my pitch. And the editor wasn't being callous. It was just such a very honest conversation about story with an experienced individual that understands the iterative process of creating a story worth telling. And I learned my lesson that day, never share a story until it has a strong enough foundation to withstand a real critique, no pudgy babies.
And despite these notes, the editor clearly expressed the sentiment that he thought my future was bright and that he would like to work with me. So in conclusion, I was struck by a double-edge sword. One one side, I saw the death of my fledgling story, and on the other I met a thoughtful, individual with the power and willingness to start and nurture my career as a storyteller. And my conversation that day with him lead directly to the development of a completely new story, the story that I will share with you in the following chapters.