Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Joshilyn Jackson: 39 True Things About My Agent

1) His name is Jacques de Spoelberch.

2) You say his first name the same way you say “Jack,” but with a soft J. There is no ah or aw sound in it. Just a regular A. This is because it is the BELGIAN kind of Jacques, not the French kind.

3) You say his last name like a roll of thread meeting a grizzly: “Spool Bear.”

4) He is well over 6 feet tall in reality.

5) He is about 11 feet tall in my mind.

6) He is slim as a blade and he scythes through the air all decisive with his hair swept back in a dashing fashion; in New York I have to run to keep up with him.

7) It is not easy to run in the kind of shoes I like to wear in New York.

8) He is over 70 and has no intention of retiring any damn time soon, thank you.

9) I first came across his name in the Writer’s Market Great Big Book O’ Sprouncy New York Style Agents when my friend Lydia and I were querying for a series of children’s books we wanted to sell about the upright, virtuous and Victorian Mr. Bungaloo and his all-ID, no super-Ego dog Horace.

10) Lydia and I sent out 178 queries, and then, in about 3 months, got hit with a positive avalanche of NO THANKS and SUCK IT, NOT FOR ME notes that made us suicidal. The only agent who fell sufficiently in love with the project to take it on was Jacques.

11) It didn’t sell, and he was representing the project, not US, so that ended our relationship. But I came away respecting the hell out of him.

12) I also came away terrified of him.

13) Because he edited James Dickey’s Deliverance.

14) Because he had a rich deep voice that rolled out long fruited-brandy-coated sentences that included words like Prognostication and Effluvium with no provocation whatsoever. Just like, these were words he used as regularly and with as little thought as I used Kleenex.

15) Because he had a glamorous and gorgeous artist wife in South Norwalk and they had a million beautiful grown sons and kept those kinds of hounds that have the back hair that stick up.

16) Because he was golfing buddies with John Updike.


18) He met an acquaintance of mine at a conference once and from then on he referred her to her consistently as, “The emaciated yet still lovely Sharon.”

19) Years later, when I sold a story to TriQuarterly that caused three agents to offer my first novel representation, I told them all maybe and immediately called him to see if he wanted me. He was my first pick, because he had picked me out of the slush pile.

20) I was SO terrified of him that I had to drink two shots of Jack, neat, before I could dial.

21) He did not offer to rep my forst novel. Instead, he asked me to send him the magazine, saying in a voice that was too good humored to be withering, “Let’s see this short story that has apparently set New York on fire.” To this day I have that short story up on my website.

22) He loved it. He loved it so much he asked to see my novel.

23) That would have been AWESOME... if I had ever written such a thing.

24) I had a brand new nursing baby, but I found time to write the novel I always threatened to write because I knew HE was expecting to see it on a specific deadline. And I was scared of him.


26) When gods in Alabama launched in Birmingham he came down for the event and stayed at my parent’s house.

27) My mother keeps a VERY traditional (and by traditional, you understand I mean, HUGE) bridal portrait of me. It is almost as big as the actual me. It has a gold Louis the 14th frame. It dominates the room. My agent and his wife stared it, quite nonplussed, every time they passed it. Apparently Bridal Portraits are a Southern thing. They do not have them in New York. Or Belgium.

28) He did not sell my first novel. Though he loved it and believed in it and tried like hell.

29) He did not sell my second novel. Though he loved it and believed in it and tried like hell.

30) We ended up in a 5 house auction for my third, finally signing with the woman who is still my editor, 4 books later. That was a good day.

31) I watch my friends get agents who throw their novel at a few houses and if it fails to sell for gigazillions, the agent drops them and moves on, and it makes me weep with gratitude for the care Jacques took with me, reading editorially, encouraging me to write another book, telling me all the while he had such faith in my talent and we would try again and again until we found the right editor on the right day.

32) He and I have never had a contract. He told me what he would do, what he expected me to do, and we shook hands.

33) I have never broken any aspect of that deal and neither has he.

34) At first because I was SO FREAKIN SCARED OF HIM. (Deliverance...!!!)

35) But now I just love him. He is my good friend as well as my colleague.

36) He sent a novel of mine to an editor early in that particular book's shopping process, and some of the content REALLY hit her buttons. She rejected it with prejudice, in a very cruel note, the only rejection letter EVER that he refused to show me. He won my heart forever when he said, “I forgot one very key thing, Joshilyn, when I sent that particular manuscript to her...I forgot that she was SUCH a bitch.” He said this in his usual fruited-brandy, relaxed, confident voice, spreading his hands in polite apology for her failure to not be such a bitch.

37) I STILL love how he TALKS. He once got me on the phone after a weekend I had spent on a prayer retreat and greeted me by saying. “Joshilyn, how nice to catch you today in your state of considerable purity . . . “

38) He loves dessert. He will share his appetizer and his main course, but really, he wants you to get your own dessert. Paws off his.

39) He has my back. Always. That’s the best you can hope for in an agent.

Joshilyn Jackson lives in Powder Springs, Georgia with her husband, their two kids, a hound dog, a scurrilous Boggart-kitten, an unkillable beta fish, and a twenty-two pound, one-eyed Main Coon cat named Franz Schubert. She wishes their neighborhood was zoned for goats. Both her SIBA award winning first novel, gods in Alabama, and her Georgia Author of the Year Award winning second novel, Between, Georgia, were chosen as the #1 BookSense picks for the month of their release, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to have Number 1 picks in consecutive years. Her latest, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, was a NYT Bestseller. Her fourth novel, BACKSEAT SAINTS, launches June 8th.


Heather said...

That man sounds truly awesome.

rockconner said...

This piece makes me want to write just so I can have such a wonderful confederate and taskmaster.

Levi Montgomery said...

"He is slim as a blade and he scythes through the air all decisive..."

Now I have to go buy your book.

Bette Lee Crosby said...

He sounds like someone who is not simply an agent, but a true friend, the kind that are extremely hard to come by.

Anonymous said...

Wow, he sounds fantastic. What luck to have an agent like him!


cynthia newberry martin said...

This is an amazing story from so many angles--that you sent out 170+ queries, that you went back to Jacques after receiving offers of representation, that you didn't even have a novel then, that you didn't sell your first or second novel but sold your third one in a big way, that he couldn't sell your first or second novel but sold your third in a big way. I LOVE this story. Thanks for posting about it.

Anna Elliott said...

Oh, I loved this--especially since Jacques happens to be my agent, too! That is the best description of his voice EVER. Can I add my own true thing? When he had read my manuscript and we were going to meet to talk representation, he knew I had a tiny baby and asked, Are you still nursing? I said yes, and he said, Oh, well, then I will drive to see you, because that will be much easier for you. I love this man!

hard drive recovery said...

It's lovely to know 39 truth about your agent

Sildenafil said...

The girl who stopped swimming is one of my favorites, I ignored who the author was until I saw this blog, I mean, I got a copy not the original book.

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Genevieve Graham-Sawchyn said...

I just found this and am loving it! Jacques is my agent and my first of two novels is coming out with Berkley in
January 2012. I'm meeting him face to face this June - can't wait! He has been incredible with me. When everyone else said cross-genres didn't sell, he chatted with me, we worked on the novel back and forth a few times and he sold it to the very first desk he went to. What you said about his being a gentleman is so true, and his use of beautiful words is also bang on. His brief and colourful emails are such a treat to receive! I had no idea of his height or age - looks like I'll have to get in shape before I run along behind him in NY!

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