- Thoughts on the eve of a Red Letter Day
It was… a dark and stormy night, that Friday the 6th of November 2009, a night I was bored, couldn’t settle down, couldn’t sit still.
So I went through my browser history and located a link to a image I found a few days before that stuck in my mind, mostly for reasons I can’t possibly repeat, but I’ll tell you this:
It was some picture!
I still don’t know how long I simply stared at that picture when some diabolical voice whispered in my metaphorical ear:
Any writer can tell you – all stories, one way or another, begin not with Once Upon A Time, but with What If.
Lo and behold – an idea arrived! I had no idea what sort of idea, nor even where it came from, but in about two hours and typing as if taking ectoplasmic dictation, I had a short story about a woman in a café at midnight, a woman who had nothing at all and even less to lose.
Because I’m the sort of reckless, hapless person who does this sort of thing, I next posted it as an incidental short story on the virtual soapbox I had at the time – a blog about music, madness and feminism called MoltenMetalMama. I expected absolutely nothing. I did not even expect anyone to actually read it, for all I had 13 (!) blog followers at the time. Then again, you never know…
Yet the following morning, a comment landed in my inbox. One faithful reader had read it. Liked it. And even taken the time to comment my (lack of) storytelling abilities had blown him away! Right before he asked:
“So what happened next?”
What happened next was this: before November morphed into December, I found out I was writing a full-blown novel, wtf. No game plan, no idea how it would end or where the story would go, yet I completed over a fourth of it by the end of December.
And kept going. Going on the days the words flowed like champagne and bloomed like perfume, going on the days it seemed more like squeezing dried out toothpaste from an empty tube, and I had many of those, too.
Which is why Quantum Demonology is (also) dedicated to Portland OR resident and all-around fab fella Phil Hanson, because without him, I would never have had the courage to keep going, even as I fell through the rabbit hole of my own subconscious into very scary and very dark places I never even knew I had.
Four years later – a year ago today – I came out of the closet as what I totally thought was a dream come true: a soon-to-be-published writer, of a rather curious novel called Quantum Demonology.
This happened because of two things: One, after finishing the book nine months to the day later, I became a perfume blogger to satisfy my girlie itches and aesthetic inclinations, but mainly to become a better writer.
After a while, I ventured on to other perfume blogs and made connections and comments with other bloggers. One of them had a dream to become a publisher. She had read the original draft of QD (with more plotholes than even I could count) and thought it had the potential to become a book that would sell.
Would I like to publish it with her?
I couldn’t say no.
So on December 17th last year, and with a great deal of trepidation, the book was published by Nigel’s Flight of Austin TX to modest fanfare on the social media outlets of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere.
And then. Then came that cautionary tale of all debuting and vainglorious writers everywhere.
Well, I thought, give it time. These things take time.
Understand, this was and is in many multilayered ways a very personal book. It was a book that ended up costing me my marriage, a dearly beloved son I have no idea when I’ll see again, and virtually everything I had. It wasn’t just a book, it was in so many ways the story of a life that could very well have been my own if only things never happened the way they did.
Review copies were sent, press releases sent out. Contacts were (likely) bombarded with alternate, counter-culture versions of
‘So how do you love it?’
Three months later, I was informed about my first royalty check – also the only money I’ve ever made writing in my life.
And still nothing. No one was curious, no one wanted to find out something about the inspirations behind it (for all it’s very much a Goth(ic)/post-punk/metalhead story), no one was interested in the figuratively naked writer across the Atlantic, shivering in the social media blast of Being Utterly Exposed As A Potboiler Writer.
Do you know, that would be perfectly OK, if not for the occasional emails from my publisher feeding me pablum about future hopes and possibilities that usually kept me off my local high-rise bridge that day.
Stranger things have happened!
Just like my protagonist, I had/have nothing at all and even less to lose. Unlike my story, all those so-called “possibilities” were nothing more than pie in the sky.
So I stepped up my game and thought long and hard about what we could do to move the merchandise a bit higher up on the Amazon food chain. I came up with alternate ideas on how to market it, came to discover thanks to a New York PR maven (bless her!) I had a unique angle to market it with and wrote all my ideas down for my publisher’s delectation in a future Skype conversation.
Except – this was in May – my timing was lousy. My publisher told me in exquisitely hyper-polite language to fuck the hell off.
Well, I did.
She never wrote me back again.
Some time later, I was more than a little outraged to discover she was working on another book with another writer – this one, I gather, slightly less of a hard sell, maybe? Or was it since I wasn’t an overnight sensation I had been dropped like a hot potato to rot in that infernal pit of Hades reserved for failed loser writer wannabes?
Before I shoot myself in the foot even more than I already have, I’d like to say that I was gently raised to be polite, nice and grateful at all times. I was also raised to answer all letters, emails and private messages promptly.
In the six months since I’ve fucked off, I’ve sent her five emails and two letters requesting to terminate my contract, so I can have my pathetic little nightmare back more or less intact.
On the two social media outlets I have left for her, I sent her a PM/DM today, asking nothing more than she contact me at her earliest opportunity today, in the hopes of at least hearing from a human being again, but really <evil snicker> hoping this blog post wouldn’t be necessary.
Here’s the thing: this woman, who I once regarded as a dear friend, spent quite a bit of money to get my book published, money I never asked her to spend on my behalf no less and money I certainly don’t have. For that and quite a few other things beside, I’ll always be grateful, just as I’ll always be grateful to know what I learned in the helter-skelter two months it took from ‘start revising’ to ‘publish’.
I can understand the shame of a miscalculation, the chagrin of a failed marketing approach, the embarrassment of not being able to deliver a nicely tied up dream on a silver-screened platter, or the lies fed to an isolated, dissociated misanthrope misfit to keep that dream alive.
Most of it, I can even forgive. I’m human, too.
What sticks in my metaphorical craw, however, is not being deemed worthy of the honesty I told her in our very first Skype conversation was my one and only demand. And a disturbing and very unsettling feeling of being violated in some indefinable way, since that dream was not really hers to sell, but mine.
According to the terms of our contract, it will expire on December 17th this year for non-payment of royalties accrued in the past six months. Not that I expect any, you understand. Still, it burns me no end if this is how it ends.
This is not, so far as I know, how any professional publisher does business.
I will likely never see a dime off Quantum Demonology ever again, unless (as I also hope), I either prepare a new edition or another publisher bites, one with a better work ethic and hopefully infinitely better communication skills.
Meanwhile, most US literary agents won’t touch me or my manuscript with a ten-foot pole so long as I’m still under contract.
Meanwhile, the blood on the metaphorical floor is all and only my own.
Sic transit gloriam scriptori.