Peter Exline would tell me not to bury the lede, so I won’t.
I sold a book, you guys.
It’s a big deal. Simon Pulse, an imprint at Simon & Schuster, bought it. You’re going to be able to buy it at Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore. You WILL buy it, right? Right?!? Of course you will.
Selling your first book is a big deal for every writer. Here’s why it’s a big deal for me.
I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort. By 15, I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter. By 17, I knew I wanted to go to USC Film School. It’s the best in the country and the only one with an undergraduate screenwriting program. I didn’t meet the minimum GPA and SAT requirements, which made it all the sweeter when I made the cut.
There weren’t many of us. I think we started with 22 or 24. Either way, people started dropping like flies. The rate of attrition those first two years was pretty staggering and most of the quitters were women. By the time we graduated, there were only five women left. It was survival of the fittest, man. And you know what? I was totally okay with that.
Quick story. We had this awesome production-for-writers class with a teacher named Mr. Ollis. One week, a lazy classmate phoned it in yet again. My friend, Aaron Schimberg, raised his hand. “How long was that?” he asked. The classmate responded, “Three minutes and twenty-three seconds.” Aaron said, “It was three minutes and twenty-three seconds too long.” Ah, man, I’m laughing all over again. Rhino skin. It was required.
After graduation, I didn’t find success. I almost wrote “struggled” – but that’s the wrong word. I didn’t struggle. I was something too close to complacent and entitled. I wasn’t full-on complacent and entitled, but I was complacent and entitled adjacent. I wrote screenplays, but I didn’t know how to network, didn’t know how to get them in front of people. I found that part difficult, so I avoided it. As it turns out, you can’t sell anything if nobody is reading it. Eventually, I moved to South Carolina, to my husband’s hometown.
Many members of the class of ’99 went on to have incredible success. Josh Schwartz made the O.C., Chuck, Gossip Girl and a bunch of other shows. James Vanderbilt wrote The Amazing Spider-Man and a bunch of other big action movies. Ron Anderson wrote features for Disney and Gustin Nash wrote smart indies like Charlie Bartlett and Mikey Ireland produced cool horror films like Orphan and I got a job cutting trails through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But it wasn’t just cutting trails. I worked for a crazy lady who owned pigs and I worked for a crazy lady who owned Arabian horses and I worked for my parents, who aren’t crazy, but unfortunately I’m not crazy about accounting – and that’s the family business. For awhile I worked in marketing, but then the economy fell out. My husband suggested I stay home and write. He’d gotten a job that paid the bills, so I got focus on what I do best. Which was, in many ways, amazing and wonderful. But it was also a strain, as the years stretched on.
Last November, almost a year ago now, I called my USC Film School sister Ana-Lisa Siemsen to tell her my husband had asked for a divorce. Ana didn’t get sad or mad. Because Ana knows who and what I am, she said in a dead-ruthless intonation, “Girlfriend could use a book-movie deal about now.”
She had cut straight to the heart of the matter.
By the time I talked to Ana, the idea that I would ever sell anything felt as remote as the South Pole. It had been a long, long fourteen years of wandering in the wilderness. It sounds dramatic, but the truth is, I no longer experienced hope. For me, hope became an intellectual choice, a decision that I acted upon. But it was not something that I experienced. I did not feel hopeful. Not about anything.
This is not to say I was miserable. I had a great time performing stand-up comedy, enjoyed my friends and family, went on long walks with my dogs. But I lived wholly in the present. I did not dream about the future.
I kept writing, because writers write. One friend, Debbie Vaughn, read my third novel early on and her enthusiasm kept me going. A second friend, Danielle Stinson, read it halfway through, and her enthusiasm kept me going. A third friend, Tom Emmons, read the final draft, and his enthusiasm gave me the impetus to query agents. Through it all, my mom remained perfectly confident that things would turnaround for me. During this time I learned the importance of having cheerleaders in your corner. They are invaluable.
Mandy Hubbard was one of a handful of agents I queried. In addition to her obvious attributes, we had similar childhoods – showing horses in the Enumclaw area, growing up with the specter of the Green River Killer, living with 300 days of rain a year. I felt like she’d get me.
She did get me.
A week after she offered representation, we went out on sub. Five days later, on a Friday, Simon Pulse offered. The following Monday, we officially went with Annette Pollert at Simon & Schuster. In case anybody missed the obvious, Mandy Hubbard is made out of magic. MAGIC, I TELL YOU.
Last January, I went to LA for a visit. A bunch of us from the class of ’99 got together at the Burbank Hooters. Why? Because the Burbank Hooters is inherently funny and we are nothing if not a bunch of comedians. We talked for hours. I hadn’t seen them in ten years. It felt like no time had passed. Two months ago, at the height of my hopelessness, I decided to go back to LA. I stuck with my plan, which meant the day after Mandy and I decided to go with Simon & Schuster, I got on the road and headed west. Right now I am in a coffee shop in Burbank. Nash is about to come over so we can write together. While I’m waiting on notes from my editor on RUTHLESS, I’m revising another novel.
In the end, I am glad I wandered for as long as I did in the wilderness, both literally and figuratively. I learned how to work hard and I learned to love working. I’d always been a survivor, but I learned that in order to thrive I needed to get over myself. Life is too short to hold onto security blankets. Most importantly for the purposes of this post, had I not lived through all that I did, I would never have met Ruth Carver. I can’t wait for all of you to meet her, too.