Thirty-five years ago I wrote a story about a young woman named Molly who moved from Manhattan to a canyon in the Santa Monica mountains. I called it “The Rescue.”

Unusually for me at the time, I showed it to someone. That someone was a literary agent who worked primarily with playwrights and directors but also represented prose authors as well. She was highly regarded in the business, so much so that, when she died, colleagues and clients shared things like:

“She’d as soon talk to you for four hours about Thomas Mann as about your contract. But when she was ready to work on it, no one knew contract law better than she did. Her attorney always said she knew more about theatrical contracts than he did.”

“The theatre, and agents in particular, tends to have a lot of people in it who don’t have the greatest characters in the world. So it was remarkable to meet someone with a stainless character and impeccable integrity. She always wanted a contract which was fair to everyone, not just her client. This was very unusual.”

“It had become almost a reflex response for me to think, upon finishing, or half-finishing, anything I was writing, ‘Well, I’ll send it to Ellen and see what she thinks.’”

“Years ago, an agent from one of the top agencies, William Morris, got in touch with me and wanted me to be her client. “But I have an agent,” I said. “Really,” she replied. “Who?” “Ellen Neuwald.” “Oh,” she said. “Well. If you have Ellen Neuwald, you don’t need anyone else.”

“It’s good,” Ellen said after reading it. “I want to send it out.” So in the late spring and early summer of 1989, “The Rescue” went to half a dozen major literary and mainstream magazines, along with a letter from her:

“I have recently come across a writer whose work I like very much and want to acquaint you with. Enclosed is a copy of Ruth Falcon’s short story “The Rescue.” I hope very much that you will find it deserves a place with you.”

No one accepted it, though some kind words were said about my writing. 

During those same months when she kept sending out the story, Ellen was taking care of her husband Lou who was dying of renal cancer. Unknown to us, Ellen was also dying, of lung cancer. Lou died in August of 1989. It was only after this that Ellen was willing to focus on what was clearly a deterioration in her health. We got the diagnosis in early November. She died on January 2, 1990. 

When my life radically changed in 2019, I returned to “The Rescue.” It was time to own the truth of that story, which is that young woman was me, the father was my adored father, I was the one navigating the strange new country to which I had relocated. 

I just reread the original story. The center of it is the same, the writing pretty much what came out of forty-year-old me. The front and the back ends are more developed and, until the day before publication, I was tweaking words. It only got its new title, “Everything Wants to Live,” the week before I submitted it.

Ellen Neuwald was a real pro. Much as she adored her only child, I know she wouldn’t have compromised her professional standards by sending out something whose quality she didn’t believe in. I’ve cherished that belief in me and my work for half my life, held it close to me through the many decades when I, essentially, went underground. I kept writing but didn’t have the confidence to put myself and my words out there.

Having any work accepted for publication is a big deal for an “emerging writer.” I was excited when “Artifacts” was published, another deeply personal piece, that one focused on my relationship with my mother in her non-agent identity. But I am shaken in another way with this one.  The reverberations go deep and it doesn’t feel like I’ve touched the bottom of them yet.

As another of her clients said over thirty years ago:

“I find it hard even to think of you not there to laugh at me and gently tell me that I am being a donkey. Or fearlessly going to battle for me.”

I am now the age my mother was when she died. I feel her still battling by my side. And, sometimes, I can hear her gently laugh and lovingly call me a donkey.

Photo of Ellen and Lou
by Ruth Neuwald Falcon


  1. Thanks for sharing this! Your Mom sounds like a remarkable woman. In October, I am going to be 6 years older than my Mom was when she died. I am grateful for all the memories I have and it sounds like you are as well.
    Take care ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful piece.

    So glad her voice and support have lived in you all these years!

    You are a wonderful writer, and the piece is truly lovely.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow. Powerful piece on a powerful gorgeous piece.

    The comments about the contract made me think about my dad. These are the kinds of comments we heard when he died — had to be a win/win/win for all parties. Somehow I love that these parents of ours were the same in this way and recognized as such in the worlds they inhabited by the people whose opinions they valued……

    Look forward to reading whatever comes next as you dive deeper or ride internal waves to get closer to the “bottom” of whatever this is bringing up and out in you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ruth, I want to tell you how much I was touched by this writing. Your mother was highly regarded and well respected. I can see why you have been so successful in your chosen field. What an interesting education your mother passed on to you. I would agree that you may not have touched the bottom of this yet. I am delighted that you have emerged from underground and are putting yourself back out there.

    Liked by 1 person

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