Here’s a fairytale:
A woman writes for years alone in her room. Like Penelope, she weaves her stories in the day and rips them apart at night. She doesn’t tell anyone she is writing. This writer doesn’t imagine she will ever be published, but it doesn’t stop her from writing. Nothing stops her from writing.
Then one day, the queen announces a very special writing contest. (Brenda Drake of PITCHWARS fame, you get the idea). The writer enters the contest but she isn’t chosen. Sadness and despair! Then a fairy godmother (Marty Mayberry) appears and offerss to help edit her work. And when the fairy godmother is finished with the novel the lovely queen decides to let the writer into the competition after all.
The writer wins! Everyone loves her book. Eight agents read it and want to talk to her on the phone. Eight agents! Eight super special, powerful agents want to talk to the lowly writer…
On the phone.
On the phone.
And this is where the fairytale ends.
I don’t talk on the phone. I have a hard time focusing on conversation in general. When I’m on the phone, it’s practically impossible. My phonological processing isn’t great. My attention is, to be kind, limited at best. I get about twenty percent of what I hear over the phone. Ten percent, if the conversation is detailed and specific. And to be perfectly honest, my retention drops dramatically after ten minutes.
And I had to talk to eight agents in the space of three days.
I mentioned this problem in bed with my husband.
“I’m thinking of going back on SPLARG, just for a few weeks, while I’m conducting business,” I said.
“No,” he replied, not bothering to look up from his Kindle. “Absolutely not.”
“Just for a couple of week…”
“SPLARG is a terrible drug. SPLARG makes you long for an early grave.”
My husband was right. SPLARG is a terrible drug. SPLARG is an antidepressant that increases attention span by killing all random impulses. Turns out, most of life’s joy comes from following random impulses.
When I woke up the next morning, my husband had hidden all my remaining SPLARG.
So I was on my own.
I decided that I need to be very proactive about my conversations. I printed out a list of “Twelve questions you absolutely must ask an agent,” and left it on a table near my favorite chair, along with water and coffee, and a notepad and several pens so I could take notes. I instructed the agents to call me on a landline, not my cell phone. I decided that I would start each interview by announcing that I am ADHD, and don’t gather information well over the phone calls should be limited to twenty minutes, tops. Great adaptive strategies.
None of it made a difference.
On one of my first calls, I heard about the legalities and percentages of a multi-agent transaction in foreign markets. It had never occurred to me that my novel could end up translated in different languages. This lead me to wonder how you would translate “craptacularness” into French. Or German. I can speak a little Spanish because I live in Texas and I have failed French enough times to have a limited grasp of that language. I’ve edited it so many times, I'd probably know the exact placement of every sentence. I could read it in French. My own novel could be my personal rosetta stone, allowing me to read in every non-pictographic language it was translated into.
I’ve been to the Netherlands, because my sister lives there, but never France. What would it be like to wander down a street in Paris, and find my novel translated into French. “Les Lettres d’Amour d’Abelard et Lily.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
Because I’ve never been to France I imagined a little sidewalk bookstore, like something from a fifties movie. People with flowers and baguettes, small clever children roaming the streets. And dancing. Most of my ideas about France come from An American in Paris.
My ideas about publishing also come from old movie— Hope Lange sitting in a cubicle reading novels, Joan Crawford, chewing nails and looking fabulous. Novelists in tweed jackets getting paid real money to write novels.
I don’t leave my house as often as I should.
“Do you have anymore questions?” the agent asked.
“No,” I replied. I’d already asked questions 1, 2, 3,5 and 8 from the list of “Twelve questions you absolutely must ask an agent.” I’d asked the questions, but I hadn’t listened to the answers.
This was one of my first phone calls. Things went downhill from there. Perhaps suspecting that I wasn’t quite paying attention, most of the agents told me that my novel was wonderful, that I was wonderful, that everything was wonderful.
They were all so nice.
Too nice, as a matter of fact.
About four phone calls in, things went seriously awry. My brain turned on me because my brain does not know how to process good fortune. I’m not used to praise and I had to wonder what the hell was going on with these crazy agents. I couldn’t imagine that so many agents could be interested in my work. I sat in a darkened room drinking gin martinis, contemplating pulling my work from submission before the inevitable rejection and humiliation phase began.
If I gave up I wouldn’thave to answer the phone.
If I gave up, I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone else.
And here is the dark, deep truth of things. I am Bugatti Veyron of personal failure; I go from zero to “fuck this, I'm out of here” in 2.8 seconds flat. ADHD? Maybe.
I decided to do the sensible thing.
I decided to call a Neuro-typical person and ask for advice.
I called my sister.