FROM THE OFFICE OF VICTORIA VICK
1711 Lavaca St.
Austin, TX 78701
July 5, 2012
Simon & Schuster
1230 Ave. of the Americas
New York, NY 10020-1586
Well, here it is. I never thought I’d type that sentence, but now I have!
This is such a bizarre sensation, Crosby. I have no idea how you’re going to react to what’s here, but I’m exhilarated, terrified, and mentally prepared for whatever is supposed to happen next. Let me reiterate (one last time) how flattered I am by your dogged interest in this project and how grateful I am for your limitless reserve of support, despite the apprehensions of your publishing house, your co-workers, your new boyfriend (!), and every other rational person in your life. If this really works out, it will be a testament to your vision and spirit.
I know we’ve had this discussion dozens of times over the telephone, but I need to say it once more, just to satisfy my own conscience: I am not a writer. I have no further ambitions in this regard, and this is the only manuscript I’ll ever submit to a publisher. I also need to stress (because there seems to be some confusion over this, at least with your assistant and with the woman I spoke with from your publicity department) that I am not a psychiatrist, even though I’ll undoubtedly be described as such if this manuscript is ever received by the world at large. I have not attended medical school and I’m not in a position to prescribe medication. It’s important we’re all clear on this point, because I don’t want to mislead anyone. I received a masters degree in social work from the Univ. of Texas after earning an undergraduate degree in psychology from Davidson College in North Carolina. I do not have a Ph.D. I’ve been a licensed therapist and analyst for exactly twenty-one years, but my roster of clients is small (no more than twelve patients in any given week) and has never included anyone of public interest, sans the lone individual I will describe in the enclosed file. I’m sure my professional credentials will be savaged, but—if that has to happen—I want them to be savaged for the proper reasons.
Is this manuscript ready for publication? I think we both agree it is not (nor does my agent). I have no idea how the fact-checking process works in your industry, but I cannot fathom any system that would accept the majority of this text on face value. Like I said in our very first conversation: I can’t verify the story I’m trying to tell. All I have are the tapes (which prove nothing) and one photograph of a seemingly empty chair. How will this not be a marketing disaster? I know you’re strongly against recasting this work as fiction (and my agent has already informed me that such a switch would force a reworking of the contract’s language and a substantial decrease in the amount of my advance), but I don’t see any other option. Obviously, you understand the publishing game more than I do, and I trust your judgment completely. Perhaps we should revisit this conversation when you’ve finished reading my draft.
Five annotations regarding the structure of this manuscript:
(A.) After my second phone conversation with the Scribner lawyer in June, I’ve elected to use the pseudonym “Y____” in place of the patient’s name or his actual initials. I now understand why using a fabricated name might create more problems than it solves. I initially used a different letter as a placeholder (first “V,” then “K,” then “M”), but my agent explained how those specific letters might cause their own unique dilemmas. I’m still open to your thoughts on this, assuming you have any.
(B.) During the very early phases of my relationship with Y____ (and particularly during the initial few weeks when we interacted exclusively by telephone), I took almost no notes whatsoever. Why would I? At the time, the case did not seem abnormal. The only things I wrote about Y____ were for my own rudimentary record-keeping, primarily so I could reference whatever we’d last discussed at the opening of our next session. These notes were brief e-mails I sent to myself, so please excuse the sentence fragments and incomplete thoughts (I’ve tried to fix misspellings and abbreviations, but I have not altered the language or syntax). Obviously, I had no way of knowing how unusual this situation would become. Hindsight being 20/20, I realize I should have asked him more pointed, expository questions about what was really happening here, but—keep in mind—it wasn’t an interrogation. My intention was to help this person, so I allowed him to dictate the flow of conversation. So how should we handle this? My solution (at least for the time being) was to just print and attach those six self-addressed e-mails for your consideration. The e-mails are included in what’s currently labeled as Part I: The Telephone. Should I try to turn that content into conventional prose, or should I exclude them completely? They’re difficult to read and a little embarrassing, but I think some of the details are critical.
(C.) Once I became aware of my scenario’s actuality, I started recording everything Y____ said during our sessions on audiotape (with his permission and at his urging). Much of this manuscript is a transcript of Y____’s unedited dialogue, augmented by my periodic queries and my (mostly unsuccessful) attempts at steering the conversation toward a reasonable resolution. It should go without saying that Y____ was among the most intelligent, most articulate patients of my career. His ability to speak in complete thoughts and full paragraphs was astounding, often to the point of pretension and almost to the level of discomfort; I will always, always wonder if Y____ had rehearsed and memorized large sections of what he said during our sessions. It’s my suspicion that Y____ (consciously or unconsciously) long believed I would eventually publish the details of our work together and felt an overwhelming desire to be as entertaining and narrative as possible. He was never able to accept the concept of therapy for his own sake. Granted, that troubling view made the compilation of this manuscript extremely easy—much of the time, I simply had to type a transcript of whatever Y____ had said in its raw form. But this chasm between the clarity of Y____’s words and his stark inability to understand his own motives inevitably undermined whatever progress we seemed to make. From a purely therapeutic perspective, I can only classify my work with Y____ as a failure. I wonder if we need to make this clearer to the reader?
(D.) The only other person who has read this manuscript is my husband, John (who, by the way, is doing much, much better and wanted me to thank you for sending us that wonderful book about Huey Long). He mentioned one potential problem: John believes Y____’s behavior and personality is too inconsistent, and that my portrayal of him generates (what he refers to, possibly incorrectly, as) “the pathetic fallacy.” I suppose I see what he means, even though it didn’t feel that way at the time. But if John sees this dissonance, other readers will see it, too. So how do I justify these contradictions? How do I overcome the fact that real people inevitably behave more erratically than fictional constructions? It’s important to remember that—despite his rarefied intelligence and intermittent charm—Y____ was/is a deeply troubled individual without any sense of self, an almost total lack of empathy, and a paradoxical confusion over the most fundamental aspects of human behavior. I suppose it’s no accident that he was seeing a therapist. Here again, I wonder if fictionalizing this story might be the best solution. Perhaps he would seem more believable if we made him more predictable?
(E.) Assuming this manuscript eventually becomes a purchasable book, there are a handful of private citizens who will see themselves in the text, sometimes in embarrassing contexts. I feel terrible about this, but there’s just no way around it. I believe this work is important, and cultural importance often comes with casualties. It has to be done. I also believe the inclusion of those specific anecdotes will be critical to the commercial value of the book, and (as I explained in one of our early e-mails) that’s something I don’t necessarily want but very desperately need. It’s humiliating to admit that, but you know my situation. So if this must be done, let’s at least try to show these poor people the respect they merit. I deserve my humiliation, but they do not.
I think that’s everything. Sorry this cover letter ended up being so long. Please call or e-mail when you receive this package, Crosby. I can’t wait to work with you. Also, I’m curious—does your reception of this manuscript constitute its “acceptance,” or does that not occur until you’ve finished reading and editing? I only ask because our contract states that 25 percent of my agreed advance will be delivered “on acceptance,” and my agent can’t (or won’t) seem to give me a firm date as to when that will happen. I hate to keep bringing this up, because I know it’s not really your department. But—like I said before—you know my situation.