Marsha Parker is a grand example of someone who turned away from publishing and made a different sort of creative life. The passage below is as she wrote it, minus one lovely compliment now marked by an ellipsis. (Thanks, Marsha!) At the start she is referring to a request she made for a very particular sort of poem; I wasn’t sure I could fill the request. The only other cryptic thing is a reference to her life in England. I would guess that her memory may be slightly off in what she says about her agent—yes, they get a cut, but the more painful slash from her paperback rights would have been the customary 50% to the original publisher.
Marly: I’d like to know why you quit the world of publishing, how you switched the focus of your creative life, and what you think about it now, looking back.
Marsha: You . . . warned me that poems don't just happen--neither does prose, least of all digging into those ancient opaque glass jars full of spiders, nettle, coon droppings. Seeing my young face peering back at me from the back cover of the book [Ghosts] only reminds me of where the photo was taken. I was scrubbing freshly dug carrots in the sink at my old farmhouse. A friend, Bruce Williams, a photographer, took the photo. In the first shot I had a big brown egg balanced on top of my head. I wish that Dutton had used that photo. Egghead, trying to hatch a new life.
I wrote two novels after Ghosts, submitted both to my agent, Ellen Levine; her response was tepid. She presented one to Jane Rosenman at Dutton, equally tepid response, so I decided to cut my losses, and found work as a journalist, until The Scarlet Letter took off. It provided a steady income, and I enjoyed designing without anyone else telling me how to tweak this or that. One of my worst memories of publishing was having to be told to put sex into my book. I doubt that my mother ever read it because of that (my father died in 1975, before it was printed in 1982. Thank goodness.)
I've never ever returned to the novel-writing part of my brain once I realized that I could survive off the grid and didn't need New York or Oxford to get by. I felt so awkward in NYC. When Ghosts was published I was back in Wisconsin living on a small farm, feeling a bit high and full of myself, 28 years old, still poor, recently divorced, yet feeling so free and flush with the $10K advance, and then the sale of the paperback to Berkeley for $25K (agent got most of it). I found an old log house to restore, and previous passions for architecture, art history, textiles (love to touch and feel what others touched and felt centuries ago) re-emerged.