Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Writer's Moment of Truth

by Julia Buckley

I remember waiting to find out whether or not I was going to be published by Midnight Ink. They had been discussing my manuscript and keeping my agent apprised of its progress; I got occasional e-mails saying “It’s still under consideration.” I was granted a lot of time, therefore, to contemplate how much I wanted it. I was about to turn forty. I saw this as my opportunity to accomplish something pretty big before leaving my thirties.

This is a pattern with me; a week before I turned thirty I bore my first child, so I got in just under the wire at the end of that decade, too. Now I can say that I had Ian “in my twenties,” but just barely.

The book, as I saw it, was another kind of baby, and I really wanted it to be born with Midnight Ink. It was December (my birthday is on the 30th), and I was waiting for a call from my agent, who was expecting word any moment. However, it just so happened to be my husband’s day off, and I had to go to work, so I told him to keep track of any messages.

My husband picked the boys up from school and then they came to get me at work. He didn’t say anything when I got in the car, so I assumed he had no news for me, good or bad. We drove for a time, talking about the day and wondering what we’d do for dinner. Then I noticed that Jeff was looking at me warily, out of the corner of his eye.

“If I knew something,” he said, “would you want to know that I knew?”

My heart began an uneven stacatto. “Do you THINK I might want to know what you know? Otherwise I’m not sure.”

He paused. He didn’t want to mess this up, for fear that later I would say, “You totally destroyed the moment!” (Which I might, in all fairness, have said). “I’m just wondering, if you had some kind of phone message, if you’d want me to tell you what it said, or if you’d want to listen to it yourself.”

The uncertainty was killing me, but I didn’t want to risk bad news. “Uh—do you THINK I’d want you to tell me the message?”

My children were getting annoyed in the back seat. They had long since left sweet, chubby babyhood and entered into a rather sarcastic adolescence that required them to ask “What’s your point?” on a regular basis.

“What’s your point, Dad?” asked my eldest with no small amount of scorn.

My husband caved in. “I’m talking about Mom getting published! Mom is going to be a published author!”

Burdened as I am with the German reserve, I didn’t hoot and holler, but I enjoyed a moment of quiet pride. “That’s good,” I said. That was the understatement of the year, but I never have been the screaming type. The boys congratulated me and asked if this meant we were going to be rich. I said no, and then, understandably, they sort of lost interest.

Still, it was a great moment, and I recall it with happiness, just as I do the birth of my babies. I made sure to tell friends, family and colleagues the news BEFORE the New Year, though, so that I could officially say I sold a novel while I was in my thirties. Now I have to decide what I must accomplish before I turn fifty. Seeing one of the books become a movie? Singing the National Anthem at the World Series? (Hey, it could happen). Feel free to leave your suggestions here. I will take them under advisement.


Mark Terry said...

I always said I was going to make a living writing by the time I hit 30. Didn't happen. But it did happen around 40. I guess you just need to be flexible about these sorts of things.

Great cover. Who did it?

Candy Calvert said...

What a fabulous story, Julia! And you're SO right, receiving "The Call," about having your first book published is right up there with the birth of a baby--without the labor pains and exhaustion. Wait . . . revisions, submissions, rejections, critiques, long hours at the keyboard, tendonitis . . . there IS pain and exhaustion. Maybe "The Call" should be celebrated with cigars instead of champagne? Cubans all around!

Joe Moore said...

Julia, great post. I agree, getting “the call” on your first book is monumental. Because I co-write with Lynn Sholes, I didn’t get the call, she did. It was from our agent. So how did I find out? Lynn and her husband are avid fishermen. Quite often, they call us and say they are coming by to bring us freshly caught red snapper or grouper. They called one afternoon in the fall of 2004 saying they were coming back from the Keys and had a red snapper for us. When they arrived, they walked in with a small ice chest. Setting it on the kitchen counter, they said to open it and see what’s inside. It was a bottle of Champagne. Midnight Ink had bought THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY. We quickly forgot about eating fish as we popped the cork and celebrated.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I agree, Mark, The Dark Backward has a fabulous cover!

And you're right about being flexible. I set a goal to be published by the time I was 45. Didn't happen, but I did have 2 finished novels and an agent, so I definitely had progress I could track. And I was published before I was 50.

I celebrate the release of each new book with a special purchase. The Curse of the Holy Pail was memorialized with a red leather Dooney Burke tote. I know, it's such a girly thing to do, but oh so fun!

Julia Buckley said...

Mark and Sue Ann, Kevin Brown designed the cover, and Wade Ostrowski was my editor.

Yes, Candy, there are definitely labor pains, now that you point it out!

Good to see that you all have similar milestones. But champagne, Joe? I thought times like these were made for Taster's Choice. (Just kidding. I don't even drink coffee--I just watch commercials).

Anonymous said...

Hey all,

I was going to make a comment about how you can totally tell a "Kevin cover" (he did Mark's, Lynne & Joe's, and Julia's). He has a definite style that comes naturally to him and is a genius with layers. But he's a professional and can do any style with, well, style. For example, he does Candy's. You can't get much more girly and sparkly than those!


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Barbara, our Barbara, is that you?

Mark Combes said...

My goal - and it's a lofty one - is to spend one week in every country on the globe before I die. I figure you gotta aim high or you've got nothing to strive for! But this one might be a wee bit out of reach....

And I wish my wife was as excited about me being published as your husband Julia. Her comment: "Don't get a big head about this now." She knows me too well....

G.M. Malliet said...

Julia: It is a memorable cover. Midnight Ink has terrific artists.

I celebrated with champagne, too: a tres expensive bottle a friend had given us for a house-warming present, and which we had set aside for some unspecified special occasion.

I don't think it gets much more special than selling a book. It still seems unreal to me.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I'm feeling very sorry for myself. I found out about my Midnight Ink contract, and well, domestic problems precluded a celebration.


But here's the deal. How about if I get a bottle of champagne and bring it to Malice--and PRETEND I'm hearing about my MI contract for the first time? You can all PRETEND the same thing is happening for you, and we can toast!

After all, we're very, very good at PRETENDING...


Mark Terry said...

I was pretty sure it was a Kevin Brown cover. He seems to focus on a central motif (if you will), like the clock on Serpent's Kiss or the biohazard sign on The Devil's Pitchfork. Joe and Lynn's books have similar organization. I will admit, however, to being uncertain with Tim's Stealing the Dragon, which was not designed by Kevin.

I think MI's covers are fabulous, in general.

Jess Lourey said...

You're a great storyteller, Julia! However, I don't think you can write about The Dark Backward without mentioning that it has one of the most original and kick-assingest first chapters EVER!

Tom Schreck said...


I absolutely loved your story!

I might've killed your husband for bing coy though.

As for covers us Inkspotters are very lucky--just go to a bookstore.


Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, everyone. It is a great cover.

And Jess and Tom, thanks for your praise of my storytelling. I suppose we all share that trait, but still, one never hears enough praise, does one? :)

Hi, Barbara! You'll have to tell Kevin to stop by the blog and see how much his name gets bandied about.

GM, you're right--it's pretty special. And Mark, that's a fantastic goal. If I had money and no plane phobia, I'd make a similar one (although not EVERY city. There are some I wouldn't mind missing).

And Joanna, sadly, I will not be at Malice, so here's a tiny champagne glass for you: Y


Bill Cameron said...

Well, yes, they are great covers, all of 'em. But I just hafta offer a shoutout to Lisa Novak! Woot, Lisa!

Karen MacInerney said...

What a great story, Julia.

Definitely a moment to remember.

And even though whenever I've got a proposal out I'm always glued to my cell phone (just ask my walking/running buddies, who have watched me fumble for mid-run about four thousand times), "The Call" invariably comes the one time I've left the darned thing in the car.

Why is that?