Yes, I Am An Idiot

My screw ups are legendary and monumental.  The most recent ones were relatively small but numerous just yesterday.  I wrote about Moonrise and writing through grief when it was actually Ritual Sins that was free for the day.  Then I put up some strange link.  (This was after starting to talk about mistakes and then losing the post).  Then I panicked.  Then I went to visit my new granddaughter and told my son it was so lovely that his son looked like him.   Everyone looked at me strangely and I said "What?"  I came home and went to bed, the safest place for me.

Another mistake was today's special treat.  I wanted all three Maggie Bennett's for free, as a bundle.  Well, it turns out you can't have the same title as a freebie more than once in 90 days at Amazon.  Okay, well then I wanted all three for $1.99.  I meant I wanted them bunched, but I didn't say that.  So they're individually $1.99.  Since I hope most of you got them earlier this week I won't bother to list the links -- oh, maybe I will if someone missed one.  Here they are: 

If those links send you someplace strange, mea culpa.  With luck it'll be someplace interesting.

So, mistakes.  I made two kinds of mistakes -- the ones that stretched my talents and creativity, even if they hurt my "career" and income, and the kind that accidentally hurt other people.  We'll start with the first kind.

I already told you about the Maggie Bennett's.  Here are some more choice screw-ups.

When my first agent didn't sell my first book in six months I wrote him a haughty letter demanding what was taking so long, and if he couldn't sell it I'd take it back and sell it myself.  (Hiding my head in shame).  He did NOT ditch me and sold it a few months later, for $2,500, which wasn't a bad advance forty years ago.  In fact, I think people still get advances like that in some quarters.

When Ballantine, who published the first book, turned down my second one, the option book, I airily said "Oh, well, let's not bother about it.  I'm in the midst of something I like better."  I wonder if I could still find that old mss.

I wrote gothics.  In fact, that was part of what made me pack up and move to our old farmhouse in Vermont -- there weren't enough books being written for me so I figured I'd better write one myself.  I wasn't wise enough to know that the reason there weren't very many gothic romances around was that the market was dying.  Even when I got my favorite rejection letter, saying how good I was but that gothics were "dead as a doornail" it didn't give me a clue.  I just kept writing them.  Fortunately I had a regency idea stuck in my head and wrote that in a white-hot heat (and it's my best regency) so it was ready when we had that short period when regencies were the hottest thing on the market (yes, there was a time).  I was left with one gothic, my only modern one, and I don't even remember if my agent tried to sell it.  He was fairly sleazy, and he never told me about submissions or rejections.

I refused to have a career plan.  The idea still makes me uneasy.  I always resisted doing the "smart" thing.  I wanted to lead with my heart, not my head, and it worked in the beginning.  I wrote a bunch of regencies and by the time they sold (this time at $6,000 a piece) I was already working on a category romance for Dell or Silhouette.  I'd never liked series romances, but once they added sex it made things much more interesting.  (Hey I was a healthy young woman in my twenties -- why not?  Now I'm a dirty old woman in my 60's.  It's the force of life, the … well, I guess I'll talk about sex another day).  

So following my gut, everything had worked out fine, and my agent's career advice was idiotic. He suggested I write a book like Helen Van Slyke, which was most definitely not my style.  Then he suggested I write a book like Rosemary Rogers or Kathleen Woodiwiss (those were just out).  Also a negative.  I did write one.  I don't know where he submitted it but it never sold. Must be a copy of it down in the basement.  In fact, for a long time I had three that never sold -- my second book, a western gothic (don't ask me why), my sixth or seventh book, the modern gothic, and my big historical romance.  It was written in first person and I don't think it had nearly enough rape, so that lingers in the gathering mold.  Which is probably where it ought to be.

Working with Harlequin was always a challenge.  For them.  I never behaved myself.  I kept wanting to move over to Silhouette Intimate Moments and write for Leslie Wainger, but I could only do that if Harlequin American and Harlequin Intrigue rejected something, and they never did.  I managed to get around it twice, and both were RITA finalists which should see the light of day once more later this year.  But one time my junior editor was on the phone, giving me shit about the book I was writing, and I cheerfully said I could take it back, write them something different and sell this one to Silhouette.

My editor went ballistic, yelling at me over the phone.  I calmly said "you can't talk to me like that" and hung up on her.  <shudder>  Hanging up on an editor?  Sometime I'll talk to you about my incredible chutzpah.  Or hubris.  Or both.  

Then I called the senior editor and said I need a new editor.  Senior editor went into triage mode, said let me call you back.  She called back, asked me to give my editor another try (we'd already done a couple of books together).  Then my editor called apologizing.  And from then on she was my slave, which caused no end of ill-feeling among the other Harlequin American writers.  She would go fetch me drinks at conferences and walk on tiptoes around me.

I wrote books about the son of a mass killer, a superhero who could become invisible from seven to eight every morning and evening (made for some interesting sex), a gangster killed in the St. Valentine's Massacre who came back to Chicago every Valentine's Day to find true love.  I got to break all the rules as time went on, and I got away with it.

But when it came to single titles I refused to commit.  One editor sat me down and asked me point blank -- did i want to be a suspense writer or a historical writer.  Picking one and focussing on it might have propelled into mega stardom.  Might have.  But I said I needed both, and I do.  Romantic suspense for the darkness, historical romance for lighter, frothier stuff.  Turns out my idea of light and frothy isn't anyone else's, and my historicals are considered edgy as well.  I don't know -- I find them funny.  But I needed to write both, and still do, no matter what it does for my so-called career.

And I think it's interesting that I refer to my career in quotes or sarcastically.  I think I feel guilty saying it's a career.  For me it's a calling, like a nun's call (I like nuns).  I did it all my childhood, I'll do it until I can't write any more, and selling books or not won't stop me.  I'm a writer, it's not just what I do, it's who I am.

But there goes that hubris again.  It's a useful way to avoid dejection over all the pitfalls and arrows publishing throws at you.  But it can get a little overbearing.

More mistakes?  I got huffy with Avon when they hadn't made me a star in three books and refused to entertain an offer from them.  I was up for auction and took an obscenely large offer, thinking I could take the money and run.  I couldn't.  (You'll get the details of that one later).

I almost walked out on a lunch with an editor I liked very much when she told me my books weren't selling.  I believe I pointed out that my books were brilliant and it must be the publisher's failure.  Oh. My. God.

But really, I'm awfully sweet, and nice, and caring.  Just the tiniest bit full of myself, which is almost essential to surviving in publishing.  In fact, that very well might be what's made me hang in so long.  That, and the fact that I simply have to write.

And i haven't even gotten to my more recent, horrifying mistakes.  You'll have to wait for them, but they're doozies.