Two years ago when I approached Joel Fletcher about this project, he recommended I contact Louisiana artist Elemore Morgan, Jr. who had lived in the apartment above Toole in Lafayette from 1959-1960. I delayed and I missed my opportunity to speak with him before he passed away.
But yesterday I enjoyed a lovely conversation with his wife. She is now going through many of her husband’s papers and there is a good chance she will find more material that could help me bring readers into the moment of Toole’s life in Lafayette in 1960. Toole formed many lasting friendships in that year. And in his friends he had an audience that enjoyed his short tales of New Orleans life.
Here is a short video about Morgan’s work.
After several revisions my agent has placed his seal of approval on the book proposal. How nice the title page looks with an agency logo at the bottom! He will begin pitching it to major publishing houses next week.
I now stand on the margins of the modern publishing industry, closer than I have ever been before. But from my limited vantage point, I have gained some insight into this most elusive world. And it has given me some perspective on Toole’s struggle with publication.
I sympathize with his two years of revisions, as Confederacy was under consideration by Simon & Schuster. But how fortunate he was to send a manuscript directly to Simon & Schuster, have an editor read it, and then engage in an elaborate correspondence with the particularly brilliant editor, Robert Gottlieb.
Thelma Toole was wrong to blame Gottlieb for her son’s mental collapse. She made him the scapegoat for her son’s mental illness, which had elaborate underpinnings, including his homelife with his mother. Ultimately, Gottlieb mentored Toole–offering advice and criticism. And he did so with compassion, as his letters testify.
For better or worse the major publishing houses of today are much larger than in Toole’s day. For a new writer to step into this world it takes precision, a balance between the roles of artist and salesperson, and the crucial services of an agent.
I have been fortunate to have such a patient and dedicated agent. Thus far my first few steps have been challenging, but enjoyable. Of course, I recognize the road ahead will have significant trials. But like any aspiring writer, I have some degree of faith that it will end in triumph.