Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A TALE OF TWO AGENTS

A year or so ago, clicking on the desktop folder that housed my manuscript  THE WITCHES OF DORKDOM released a few personal demons I was still battling. The book itself was finished, but the disappointing attempts at getting the book published, and then failing utterly, was not yet laid to rest. I was still choking  and sputtering about the “what could have been” in my life.
Great expectations, when not met, will do you in…but mediocre expectations when not met destroy you even quicker.

I originally wrote the tweener’s novel (age 10 and up) in 2006, over 6 years ago. I asked a friend to read it,  now a New York Times bestselling author, to read it. Not only did this author read my unpublished tome but suggested it to their own personal agent, something he rarely did. I was thrilled, humbled and speechless to the point of immobility. All I could do was to sit around and wait  for his agent’s response.
It would surely be positive, wouldn’t it? After all, this was of the agencies bestselling clients who praised my work. The agency was bound to say yes.

I began to daydream, and soon fantasies of success enveloped my every day. To be honest, daydreaming is something I never allow myself to do, to feel good about my future. I am usually consumed on a daily basis by the failures of my past.

Color me doom and gloom because any fantasy of mine is likely a nightmare of the inevitable personal destruction. And I have a lifetime of observation to prove it (as Abed so wisely pointed out about himself on the television show Community.)

So, thinking about the possibility of being successful was new to me. Although I do well in corporate comedy, I don’t actually work a lot…usually my agent has to track me down and ask me a few times if I’d like to do a show. I either have my head in the clouds, in a book, or sometimes, up my ass. But if THE WITCHES OF DORKDOM sold to a major publisher, I could finally pay off my car and be debt-free. It took me to my mid-forties to pay off my student loans. Why not be able to pay off a car in my late fifties? Wait a minute! Maybe it would even sell to the movies! (By the way, this thinking positive thing is very addictive and likely dangerous). Or maybe I could prove everyone single person who had said I had no talent or told me “to be quiet and not talk about my writing” even at family events, was wrong. Maybe I would finally look good in their eye. Maybe I would …

How na├»ve I was. Most authors are. It’s why we writers are able to write stories in the first place. We unconditionally believe in happy endings.

Around a year after I submitted it (it took that long for the agent to finally tell me her agency was not going to sign me) I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Supposedly, it took that long because the agent was dealing with business issues, reduced staff, etc. My manuscript was at the end of a long list of To Do’s. But the real reason, in my opinion, I was dropped? I was asked if I would change it to third person in case a publisher asked for that to be done. Foolishly, I said no.

I wrote it in First Person for a reason.  I couldn’t see it in another voiced than the one it is and I had all these books planned. I know realize how pathetic that made me look. Here I was, an unknown writer saying no to a suggestion.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have said yes, and prayed that the publisher would even think to ask something so stupid. And if they did, I would have rewritten in third person until I was so famous I could tell publishers everywhere to go do to themselves what many couples do for pleasure.

But I didn’t say yes, I said no. The relationship with the agency ended and that was that.

But my pity party doesn’t end there. Almost immediately I signed with a very large New York agency. I was assigned a young agent, around 23 or so I think by the sound of her voice who called me and thanked me for writing such a ‘brilliant book’. She said they never get ‘books like the one you sent.’ I truly believe she was convinced that the book would be snapped up almost immediately, maybe even go into auction.

Actually, it didn't go anywhere except to a few publishers. When it was rejected by 5 or 6 of the top publishers my agent, who was younger than many of my shoes, immediately dropped it and refused to send it smaller publishers, or even to the other larger ones. In my opinion, she was more devastated than I was. If I remember correctly. I had to console her on the phone after each rejection…or that may be just the memory this aging brain has created. All I know is that I didn't feel consoled, at all.

Finally, I received an email stating she felt it wouldn't be worth it to continue to try to sell the book.
I never heard from the young  “agent” again until a few years later when out the blue, I received what I was assumed was a mass emailing to all of her email contacts in her online address book, informing anyone who might be interested that she was now working as a freelance editor.

I wasn't interested, at all.

At this point, I didn't know what to do.  So I did what I normally do, nothing. And yes, I know now that even a mistake is better than no action. Just like I know that it would have been better to say yes to the third person rewrite. And I should have knocked on every door out there. Instead, I put the folder into another folder on my computer and didn’t look at the manuscript again. I didn't want to self-publish it, not this book. Not after all the hopes and dreams I had had for it. Now self-publishing has been very good to me, especially my book HOTDISH TO DIE FOR, but, like a lot of authors, I wanted the big guns behind me. Maybe if for nothing else than the bragging rights that come along with saying, “Why yes, I've been published.”

And finally, years later, I am publishing the book on my own. With the help of Marilyn Victor who did the incredible cover illustration on THE WITCHES OF DORKDOM, and Donna Seline, who formatted the book, THE WITCHES OF DORKDOM is now for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in one book store in the United States, actually the best bookstore in the entire world, Once Upon A Crime in Minneapolis.

Maybe it’s because of my pesky brain tumor that was discovered this spring, or that the fact that I survived a mild stroke, that I have this urgency for this book to be out there is the universe, not just sitting in a file on the computer. I want this sweet and funny story .to be a legacy of sorts. It really is a good book,  and would make a terrific gift (insert smiley face here)…but by getting it out there it allows me to not only bury my past, but to begin to believe again in possibilities and happy endings.

I need to let it be the book it was meant to be, a pretty darn good tale that will entertain and daughters, sisters, nieces, mothers and grandmothers…something I have been trying to do all my life.


I published “The Witches of Dorkdom”  under the pen name Nora England, a combination of my grandmothers’ names. If I can’t make me almost famous, maybe I can make them.

And in case you're interested.....




Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Stroke of Luck



A bad heart, a stroke, and a brain tumor walk into a …..the beginning of a really bad joke?  You betcha, especially when it happens to you. 

I’ve had mild congestive heart failure for quite a few years. It was a direct result of my sleep apnea, which in my case, was  a result of my weight. A friend’s husband however, who is as slim as a Jim, has sleep apnea as well. But, I am a gambler and I always go with the odds. Odds are, being morbidly obese  is at the root of all my evils.

As many of you know, I’ve  struggled with weight for most of my life. It’s amazing how someone can be totally aware of a situation, yet bathe themselves in the river of denial at the same time. Unlike many of my fellow chubbettes, who rage against anyone who brings their weight up including their doctors, I agree when my critics. Yes it is bad, I mumble as I start to drown in guilt and shame. And then, like any good backslidden, former Fundamentalist Christian, I trudge home, feeling worthless as I beat myself up with a Krispy Kreme.

But to me, there was a silver lining of sorts, to having CHF. It meant I would probably die quickly from a heart attack. Here one minute and gone the next, sort of like a bad sitcom on NBC.

I had no idea a bad ticker could lead to a stroke, which was the biggest fear of my life. Like most fat girls, all I had was my brain – take that away and  no one will invite me to the prom and no one will want to hold my hand, kiss me, and no one will especially want to....wait a minute, I don’t have to worry that anymore. I keep forgetting. Twenty-eight years ago I married a gorgeous man who is madly in love with me to this day.  So I should stop complaining about  my high school woes and get right to the point. 

On May 9th I suffered a mild stroke. A pain shot into my head, clinching it tightly and then disappeared. Then it did it again. The vision on my left side was also gone. Suddenly, the world became pixilated. Did I call the ambulance like I should have? Of course not, because I could see out of my right eye enough to Google Web MD. According to my virtual doctor, I suffered a stroke on the right side of my brain.
After lecturing me on calling an ambulance immediately, my real doctor verified the stroke with an MRI. She also verified, something else, something I expecting. She discovered a brain tumor, benign. It is a slow growing meningioma that is attached to the membrane that covers the brain. But, even though it is benign, there is only so much room up there. If it keeps growing, it will have to be removed.
So here I am, at what should be the happiest time in my life;  my first novel, Murder by Chance, published by a wonderful publisher (Forty Press) ,  basking in the glow of extraordinary reviews from strangers, relived to know that Forty Press wants another Betty Chance book,  ­­­and well, now this. 
I have to admit, the totality of it all stopped me in my tracks for a bit.  I’ve always been used to struggling against the odds, but this seemed monumental even to me. But then, as happens in life, I adjusted to my new reality, and started to count my blessings.
I didn’t die of a heart attack. My stroke was mild, and on the right side. None of my motor skills were affected. My vision has mostly returned.  And although it was the right side, my creativity seems fine.  The brain tumor is benign.  And I may out live the slow growing thing anyway. I’ve managed to get Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein out of my mind, and realize modern brain surgery is state of the art. There are even surgeries being performed by a virtual scalpel on an outpatient basis.
But more than anything, I am grateful I am still alive.  Before my stroke, I  normally wallowed in suicidal thoughts and depression, only emerging to make other people laugh or take care of them. Now suddenly, I realize I do want to live. Suicide is not even an option or a want.  For the first time in years, I actually wake up happy with a smile.  Yesterday a store clerk called  me a ray of sunshine. Do you know how many times that has happened to me before?  Ah, like never.
So, because I am on such an upswing, in what could be considered a bad time, I decided to blog about what I will be struggling against, and hopefully conquering over the next few years.  Reading other people’s blogs and books, have helped me so much during this time. I am hoping to do the same for others who might be facing what I am facing… bad heart, recovery after a stroke, a brain tumor that has to be checked every six months, and maybe the hardest of it all, losing the 85 pounds because I promised my doctor I would.  Please feel free to share this post, and others, with someone you know who might be dealing with any of these issues.
I won’t be blogging every day. Just a couple of times a week.  For a while I will writing about some of the procedures I’ve had to endure, like having an MRI and then having a camera meander down the inside of my throat into the cavities of my heart while I was still conscious. Or I will be writing about writing, and tackling creative projects against all odds. And, as per my nature, all of my reporting will undoubtedly have my rather twisted and screwy perspective on things…but hey, that’s one of the good things about having a stroke. Like Sophia, from Golden Girls, I get to play the stroke card. No matter what I say, or write, you can’t hold it against me.  After all, I had a stroke. I don’t know what I am saying, or writing.  :)