Okay, the truth is, I am a pretty dull person. I don’t get into barroom brawls, have a secret heroin addiction, cross-dress, carry a concealed weapon, or plan to overthrow the government in my spare time.
Still, I haven’t lived my life in a cookie-cutter kind of way, and have always hovered proudly outside the boundaries of authority and tradition. I suppose being a lesbian puts me there automatically, but that wasn’t a rebellious choice; rather a core part of who I am, who I have always been. As far as choices go, I dropped out of high school, went to a small alternative college where classes were held in circles and we called the professors by their first names. After graduating from college, I was determined to be a poet, which I guess is its own sort of rebellion. I refused to settle down into “a career”, choosing instead a string of jobs ranging from house painting to delivering pizza (I once even got paid for dressing as the Easter Bunny) to support myself while I wrote.
These days, my little acts of rebellion are small and quiet and hardly count as rebellion at all. I buy local, try not to shop at huge mega-stores, eat organic food whenever I can, and avoid television as much as possible. I use one of those old fashioned reel lawnmowers that go on muscle power, not gas and oil. I walk to do errands when weather permits. I make it a point to occasionally send real letters and cards to people instead of the oh-so-easy email.
But you know the thing that I do that makes me feel most like a rebel; the most like I live on the fringe? I write. I don’t do the nine-to-five, get-dressed-up-and-go-to-the-office thing. I stay at home in my ripped jeans and make my own schedule. I get a coffee break whenever I want. I am in charge of my productivity. (Well, me and my two-year-old, anyway…)
And you know when this, Oh, you rebel you, feeling hits me the hardest? When I tell other people what I do for a living.
There is often a blank look of total confusion and disbelief. “A writer? You write books?” (Said as if staring at someone whose skin is bright green and is wearing a strap-on space rocket thingy on her back.)
Then, once I tell them more and they’ve had a few seconds to settle into the idea, people are usually pretty amazed. And maybe, just maybe, even a little jealous.
I mean, how many people are lucky enough to get to stay home and make money doing something they really, truly love?
So I’m all for not conforming, for living the life you choose rather than one chosen for you. Be a rebel. It’s not always the easiest path, but there’s no question that it’s the most rewarding.
I’m not a rebel–that’s too glamorous a title for me. I’m more of a common brat. The moment I hear I’m supposed to do something is the moment I’ll refuse. From wearing skirts as a kid, to trying out for cheerleading, to buying a minivan for carpooling–I wanted nothing to do with it. When other kids were attending Friday night football games in high school, my friend and I were swiping on silver lipstick and wrapping ourselves in my uncle’s Planet of the Apes capes and sneaking into clubs in Hollywood.
And while my brattiness might not be the reason I write, it certainly made me fit for very little else.
My first job was working at a pizza restaurant in Orange County. The other employees showed up and worked. I worked too, but in between pizzas, I made cockroach motels out of pizza cartons, wrote pepperoni messages on people’s pizzas and made dough figures of my bitchy boss’s enormous breasts–just to see how big they’d get in the microwave. I got fired.
Then I worked at a pet insurance company–the first in California. Our first client was Lassie. Another girl and I were hired together–she had super long red nails and could type a zillion words per minute, I had stubby nails and no skills whatsoever. While my speed did improve over the months I was there, I refused to let anyone know it, slowing down so I could languish in the jokes people made as they walked past me while I pecked with one finger. Remarkably, the owner didn’t fire me, I quit when I got bored with the jokes.
I quit my jr. account exec job in advertising when, after a McCain’s shoot, my pawsy boss told me I did a lousy job of washing the french fry vats–which I’d had to do with cold water. (Didn’t mind washing the pots, only minded the insults.) Shortly thereafter, I bratted up an art gallery job, a receptionist job and a fitness instructor job.
The real brattiness peaked in my communications job. I worked for an international organization and, once I mastered writing and editing my newsletters, I got bored. I began writing and illustrating children’s manuscripts when no one was looking.
With my immediate boss’s approval, I created an in-house mock tabloid that skewered me, my coworkers, my boss and upper management. The paper came out every two weeks and was called The Tattler. It was meant to boost morale and staff loved it. I wrote it with someone else, and we laughed our faces off as we created article after article of made-up crap. Management despised it (and me) and didn’t seem to remember or care that it had my boss’s blessing. The Tattler was no more. Neither was my career. But that was okay, I’d realized by then that I was unable to conform for longer than a few months without getting bratty and blowing it by having too much fun.
Turned out not to be such a bad thing–having bratted myself out of any type of normal career. It really took being unemployed for me to carve out enough time and focus to write my first (horrible) manuscript. Which, come to think about it, was about a girl who couldn’t hold down a job. A real brat. Coincidence, I’m sure.
You may or may not realize it, but tomorrow is the day you’ve been waiting for–the day our loyal blog reader Patry Francis’s book comes out! Run, don’t walk, to pick up a copy of THE LIAR’S DIARY from a publisher I happen to adore, Dutton. And while you’re at it, grab a handful and create a stunning display at the front of the bookstore. Maybe in the window. It’s a gorgeous book you will not be able to put down. Utterly real characters and a plot that twists and turns in ways you could never imagine.
It all started with the buffalo overalls.
My mom thought they were the most adorable thing an eight-year-old could wear but I knew that a tan corduroy jumpsuit with a zipper down the front and an enormous buffalo on the front was hideous.
She begged. I refused. She tried to force. I cried. She bribed. I acquiesced — and wore them to school one day, where during recess a little boy promptly pulled the zipper down, scarring me so deeply that once I reported the incident to Mom, the buffalo overalls disappeared from the closet and were never mentioned again.
It probably hadn’t been the first time, but it’s the first I remember. The truth is, I don’t think I’ve never not been rebellious. I didn’t want to wear the clothes my mom bought for me. I smoked pot before every French class my senior year in high school, never spoke up in class, bought all the books we were reading (Candide, Madame Bovary and the like) in English, wrote my papers using a dictionary and managed the nearly impossible feat of draining my brain of the entire 10 years worth of classes I’d taken on the language. (I got a 2 on the AP test, which I believe you are granted for signing your name.)
When the girls I grew up with all started marrying and procreating in their early twenties, I was entering into my wildest period. (Mom gave up on that speech she started perfecting when I was about 16 about how we would put a dance floor over the pool for my wedding after roughly the 10th wedding that took place at her house that wasn’t mine.) When I took jobs working for people I didn’t respect, I talked back to them. Respect, I felt, was something you had to earn, not something you just got, and it certainly wasn’t easy to earn it from me. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been fired from jobs for all sorts of random reasons — once for not being able to swirl the frozen yogurt correctly during a summer job on Martha’s Vineyard.
I’m still a rebel today, though I’ve somehow found a way to listen to that part of me without using it to cause myself and other people pain and misery. I’ll never be good at conforming but I now see that as something to celebrate. Following the path less traveled has led me here, to this life which is far beyond what I could have ever dreamt possible if I’d stayed on the treadmill I thought I had no choice but to be on. And I’ve learned that being rebellious isn’t always such a great thing; bosses, it turns out, should be respected not for being perfect people but simply for being responsible for your hiring and firing. And it’s pretty clear to me now that smoking pot — and giggling in the back of the classroom with friends over how it seemed like the ink from the pen I was writing with was flowing right out of my fingers — really wasn’t such a great trade-off for forgetting a language I’d kill to be able to speak today.
Though here’s something I promise: you’ll never, ever talk me into a pair of buffalo overalls.
Deb News! Debutante Jennifer McMahon’s novel, Promise Not To Tell, has been chosen by Borders for placement on the 3 For 2 table! This is a real, and well-deserved, vote of confidence in Jennifer’s debut. Congratulations!
Deb Friends! Gail Konop-Baker, author of the acclaimed Bare-breasted Mama column on Literary Mama, has had a stellar week. Not only has she signed with a brilliant agent, but she was given the “All Clear” at her one year check-up! I know our readers join Gail in celebrating both of these milestones, and wish her success and continued good health!
Oh, and have we reminded you about the new contest yet this week? Check it out!
I hate the phone. It runs in my family. I am genetically predisposed to distrust all forms of instant communication. And yet for a writer on submission, the phone takes on a level of importance only slightly above oxygen. Every time I was at my lowest point on my road to publication, by some bizarre cosmic coincidence, that phone rang.
Posting each instance of this would take an entire page, so I will present you with the first and the last time the phone saved my writer’s soul. Author psyche bookends, if you will.
The first really down moment came with my first novel, the practice novel, the novel that will never see the light of day. Just finishing it was such a strange feeling. Pride competing with terror, with a massive dollop of ISUCKITIS thrown in there. Then trying to track down all the information I needed to learn– how to compose a query (to even know I NEEDED a query!), researching agents, learning everything I could without benefit of a knowledgeable friend or the plethora of websites that exist now– was nearly as exhausting as writing the book.
After sending out so many queries and getting so many form rejections, or no replies at all, I was truly at the end of my Rope of Sanity (closely related to the Cliff of Despair) one Saturday. My husband was at work, the dog was ignoring me, and I was draped across the sofa with tears rolling down my face, telling myself, in excruciating detail, exactly how stupid I was for ever thinking I could do this. I cried calmly at first, but it soon took hold, and then I was sobbing in great heaving gasps as only a fellow panic attack sufferer can identify with.
And then the phone rang.
I am also genetically predisposed to be able to answer a phone in a perfectly reasonable tone of voice no matter the situation, and so, through my sobs I picked up the phone and brightly said, “Hello?” Yes. It was an agent. An agent’s assistant really. Calling to say that the agent really liked my sample pages and would like the full manuscript. THE FULL MANUSCRIPT.
Thank you, phone.
I wrote three more books after that first one. Got an agent on the second one, and that was a fun week, filled with phone calls from several agents. Loved that phone that year. But that book didn’t sell, and now my fourth was on submission. I’d gone through this enough times by now that I was just living my daily life.
On this day, one of those daily life things was my annual exam. Yep. That one. But of course we’d sold my car a year before so that I could continue to pursue this through the one last book. And so my appointment was over, but I was waiting. Waiting for my husband to get a long enough break at work to come pick me up and take me home, like a child. Lots of women came and went, driving their damn cars just like it wasn’t something to be incredibly grateful for. And sitting there, waiting, I admit that my frustration got the best of me.
I stopped smiling at women who walked by me, jingling their car keys with their manicured nails, walking around in their new shoes. The feelings I was having were very unusual for me. They were ugly, and I didn’t like myself much right then.
And then the phone rang.
And, much like Mia, my agent told me that Leona Nevler, a legendary editor, loved CATCHING GENIUS and was calling back with an offer. My husband arrived right then, smiling so very sweetly at me through the windshield, and two women walked by, and they smiled at me too. I smiled back at all of them.
Thank you, phone.
Every writer I know imagines “The Call.” I had plenty of time to imagine the call; I anticipated that I would be doing any of the following when it happened:
- Working: my cell would ring, it would be my agent! I would give a squeal that would alert my co-workers that something had happened. They would rush to my office where I would share the news. Celebration and jubilation would occur.
- Out in a Public Place: This could be the grocery, shopping mall or on public transit. The cell would ring- it would be my agent! Again with the squeal- along with announcing in a loud tone “I’ve sold my book!” Celebration and jubilation would occur with total strangers who would, of course, all write down my name so that they could buy the book at a later date.
- Hanging out with my husband: cell phone rings- it is my agent! Squeal (again) Celebration and jubilation (again- only this time including kissing) Champagne optional- but preferred.
Each morning I would get up and one of my first thoughts would be “today could be the day.” I played the song Fame over and over in my car. I was ready-but the phone didn’t ring. I was never separated by more than three feet from my phone at any given time. When it would ring I would leap as if a nuclear device would go off if I didn’t answer it before the next ring. I was the Jack Bauer of cell phone response. No calls from the agent. There were plenty of emails where my devoted agent would talk me down off the ledge, but no call.
One cold January day my car had gone in for repairs so I was working from home. When the cell rang I assumed it was work.
Devoted agent: Eileen? It’s Rachel.
Me: Who? (No one named Rachel works at my office)
Devoted agent: Rachel Vater. Your agent. (although she didn’t say it aloud I am fairly sure this was followed by the thought- “the one you email on a near hourly basis wanting news from- that Rachel” )
Me: hi (still processing that this isn’t a call from work)
DA: We’ve got an offer!
DA: Let me give you the details. (details inserted here) Any questions?
Me: No. I guess not. Thanks. Goodbye.
Then I sat down. Then I stood up. Then I sat down again. I tried to give a squeal. The dogs looked over annoyed- they thought I was doing a squeaky toy impression. Turns out it is no fun to squeal by yourself.
I called my husband- he was in a meeting so I left a vague message.
Then I called back:
“It’s important- call as soon as you can. Life altering important. Call!”
Then I called one more time:
“I mean I’m not dying or anything, it is good news. But call me. Seriously. Call.”
Then I waited for him to call me back. The Call wasn’t the way I imagined it, but I wouldn’t trade the memory.
When a literary agent for GOOD THINGS called to offer me literary representation, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of Sears in Hilo, irritated beyond belief. For starters, I had made my husband and four-year old daughter drive all around the island in search of the right infant car seat (I was pregnant and on a mission). No luck. I was trying to save money by not ordering online (shipping is killer to Hawaii, a”non-contiguous” state which means that all the good deals don’t apply to us), but realized that I had pretty much blown any potential savings on gas, plus I had a grumpy, semi-car sick child in the back and a grumpy, semi-car sick spouse in the front. Great. Me and my big ideas strike again.
So when the lit agent called saying that she loved GOOD THINGS and wanted to represent it, I was both in shock and tremendously relieved. FINALLY. Now we could get this ball rolling. I had no doubt publication would come. I could sit back and relax.
But as one house after another passed (unfortunately I didn’t have a 24-hour turnaround story!), I began to have serious doubts. And I had ordered a car seat online, spending a part of my future advance. I began to feel desperate. My intuition had failed me. I had spent all this time on this damn manuscript and nobody was going to buy it, much less read it.
Then one day, I was standing in front of the magazine rack at KTA, our local grocery store. I was staring at the rack of mass market titles that sit next to the magazines, thinking, “GOOD THINGS would go great there.” I was feeling morose. A little mopey. A little depressed. But oddly confident that I wasn’t too far off base, despite the small pile of polite rejection letters.
And then my cell phone rang.
It was my agent, with an offer from Berkley. Leona Nevlar loved it. They wanted it. There would be an auction tomorrow (just kidding). But Leona, one of the best in the business, wanted it! She wanted, in fact, a sequel as well, which we would discuss separately from this deal. This deal. I had a deal!
I thought I would be prepared for this moment, but I wasn’t. I was elated. I was floored. I was stunned beyond belief. I had no idea what I was even doing in the grocery store before she called. Was I buying groceries? Did I have a cart? Was my daughter with me? Where did I park the car?
It was one of the best moments of my life.