Fair warning – when other writers hear my story they sometimes scream and throw themselves out their windows. It’s the tale of how I got my first writing contract, and I don’t think anyone had ever had so easy a time of it.
When I was living in New York City, where I was VP of Production for a special effects house, I purchased a loft near Washington Square. Instead of Escrow, as they have in California, a buyer and seller must instead use real estate lawyers to draw up the contracts. My realtor recommended an attorney he usually worked with, a woman by the name of Judy Levin. When I went to her offices to sign the papers I noticed that her walls were hung with posters from the New York Stage. Some of the productions I had even heard of. “Wow,” I said, “you must really love the theater!”
Judy, who was both the most laconic person I’d ever met and, perversely, the most loquacious, merely said, “Oh, those? I produced them.” It turned out that she had started her career as an entertainment lawyer, and handled the legal affairs for a variety of theatricals. When you do that in New York you also get a producing credit. But, as happens to many who work in entertainment, she got burnt out and retired from the fray to become a real estate lawyer.
Well, it just so happens that I was looking to option a book to turn it into a stage play. Judy got me the book in very short order and for a very reasonable price. Having tasted the thrill of the theater again, however remote, she then asked me, “Do you have anything else I could look at?”
It just so happened that I had the first hundred pages of a novel to show her, a mystery set in Ancient Egypt, which I had called generically “Ancient Egyptian Murder Mystery”. She took it and a couple of weeks later told me, “I really like it. Do you mind if I show it around?”
What do you think I answered?
Judy had brittle bones – this is not a segue, by the way – and had broken her foot. She would hobble down to the courtyard of her building in Chelsea and – as I might have mentioned – Judy could talk to anyone in that same even monotone she used with me; a stranger, a dog, the clothes dryer. A gentleman was also in the courtyard that morning, someone from her building who she had never before met. He too was ill and was staying home from work. In the course of their conversation he happened to mention his wife, Carol, who happened to work at Simon & Schuster, where she happened to be secretary to the legendary Michael Korda. Korda, for those of you who don’t know, ran the editing staff of S&S since the 1950s. “Do you mind if I give you a manuscript?” Judy asked Carol when she met her for the first time a few days.
Carol accepted the manuscript in their laundry room. “It takes a brave woman to take a manuscript in a laundry room,” Judy said to me. I could only agree.
But the good news was that two weeks later I had a contract not only to finish my novel, but also to write its sequel. The first novel, Year of the Hyenas, went on to be named one of the five best mysteries of the year by Library Journal, while the second, Day of the False King, debuted on the LA Times Best Seller List.
And all because I bought a place in New York City.
Luck like that can happen only once in a person’s life, but it is also a story that could only have happened in New York. It’s a city where you run into people you know all the time, thrust together as you are on sidewalks, in buses and subways, or by frequenting the same restaurants.
The luck began to change when Michael Korda retired, but I always knew that I had gotten to know him at the end of his extraordinary career. When I was assigned to a new editor, she frankly told me she was not “into” historical fiction and was I interested instead in the chick-lit field…?
We severed our relationship on the spot.
I’ve gone on to write another mystery, but not set in ancient times – instead it takes place in 1957 Hollywood. What would you do, it asks, if you were a studio mogul and your leading man happens to be a serial killer? How would save your studio, your film – and your leading lady?
I’ve decided to go explore the self-publishing route this time; the new publishing industry is as unchartered as the wild west, but I’m game for anything. I guess this is where the REAL work begins.