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Ask a Book Buyer | December 6, 2013 4 comments
At Powell's, our book buyers select all the new books in our vast inventory. If we need a book recommendation, we turn to our team of resident... Continue »
Going Up Up Upby Victoria Zackheim (2007)
Fast forward to December, 2005. I heard the phrase the other woman on NPR and thought what a great anthology that would be. I didn't have an agent and was still disheartened enough to believe I might never get one. But I'm tenacious the puppy with her teeth gripping the pant leg so I emailed Sandra Dijkstra, my dream agent. "It's an anthology," I explained. "It's called The Other Woman and authors will write about having been the mistress, or having been the wife who suffers from her husband's infidelity." There was a brief pause into which old fears arose, and then she said, "I love it!"
Sandra connected me with her associate, Jill Marsal, a no-nonsense young agent who outlined what I needed to do before publishers were contacted. Step One: research libraries and the Internet to be sure that a similar anthology wasn't floating out there. (To our great surprise, it seemed that an anthology on this subject had not been published.) Step Two: compile a wish list of authors. (Names like Lynn Freed, Caroline Leavitt, and Susan Cheever ran through my head.)
I quickly discovered that the challenge was not to contact writers, but to find the most tactful way of asking New York Times best-selling and notable authors, Have you ever had an affair with a married man? Was your husband or partner unfaithful? If the answer to either question is Yes, would you write about it for the world to see? I emailed the invitation to the first names on the list. Word of the anthology passed through the writing community and I was soon inviting Jane Smiley, Susan Cheever, Connie May Fowler, Diana Abu-Jaber. As their responses arrived, I opened each one with nervous anticipation. What follows is a sample:
How could I not!
So here I was with a terrific idea, excellent writers, and recurring nightmares about everything collapsing into a heap. When it was time for my agent to pitch The Other Woman to the editors, I was terrified. They'd hate it; they'd hate me. When Jill called to inform me that the book had attracted so much attention that there was going to be an auction, I became dizzy with excitement and disbelief.
Auction Day arrived and Jill called hourly, beginning at 8:00 AM (California time). The editors were all in New York and had until 5:00 (their time) to make a bid. "Nothing yet," was her repeated message, to which I'd release a little moan, thank her, and hang up. The day slid by and my adrenalin level plummeted. Every time the phone rang, I heard "Nothing yet" and a sympathetic sigh. As the deadline approached, the phone rang again. "Don't be discouraged," said Jill. "Editors often wait until late afternoon to respond," and then she launched into an explanation of the ins and outs of publishing. On any other day, I might have wanted to hear this, but not then, not while my heart was in my stomach and my future was on the line. (In my imagination, I saw editors sitting around, saying things like, "Well, it's a great idea and the authors are exceptional, but who's this editor? Oh wait, isn't she the one with the self-published novel?" and then they exchange knowing glances.)
I was relieved when she started to ring off, and was caught by surprise when she added, "Oh wait, did I mention that Warner submitted a bid?"
It was said so casually that I nearly missed it. "Excuse me?"
"A bid," she repeated.
I figured that, mentioned as an afterthought, the offer had to be very low. I didn't care; I wanted to sell the book. "How much?" I finally asked. And then, through her delighted laughter, she gave me the figure. I can't be sure, but I think I screamed. And I distinctly recall trying to sit down, but involuntarily leaping to my feet. I repeated the offer several times, made her swear that she wasn't joking, and then hung up and called my children, my mother, friends living in time zones so far away that they were roused from deep sleep. I tracked down my sister in a village in Spain and had the innkeeper drag the poor woman to the phone. She was certain someone had died.
When I talk about this, people assume that the big news was the amount Warner paid for the book. But if I were asked to write a headline, it would read She Sold a Book!
The next step was to ask the authors to write their stories. As each piece arrived, my excitement for this project was elevated one more notch. Mary Jo Eustace's husband leaves her for Tori Spelling. Katharine Weber meets her father's mistresses and her life is shaped by the experience. Lynn Freed is caught in flagrante delicto by an enraged wife. University professor Diana Abu-Jaber receives an unsigned note from a student who is sleeping with her husband. Maxinne Rhea Leighton has a beloved uncle whose abuse turns her into the other woman at the age of six. Kathleen Archambeau falls into despair when her lover leaves her for another woman. Connie May Fowler delivers a scathing, and often funny, diatribe against women who steal men from other women. Caroline Leavitt is betrayed by her husband and his sister, her dearest friend. Like the clichï¿½d review says, I laughed, I cried. And I knew that we had something exceptional.
Fast forward once again, to today.
Peter Allen sang "Don't wish too hard for what you want because then you might get it." Wise man, the late Mr. Allen. Please do not misunderstand, I am thrilled about The Other Woman, thrilled and proud. In truth, I can almost laugh at the Associated Press review that mistakenly labels me the mistress of a married man. I am grateful to the women who told their stories with eloquence and honesty, some with great humor, and all who entrusted their writing to me. But this does not negate the sensation of being on a roller coaster that's going up up up, and can just as quickly go down down down.
A few weeks ago, I was on The Today Show. My friends, family, agent, editor, publicist all swore I'd be fine, but how can you be fine when you keep imagining a bout of projectile vomiting? As it happened, I did not puke on Ann Curry, and I did not embarrass my children. My agent did not dump me and Warner did not cancel the book.
A few days ago, Jane Smiley joined me on View From the Bay, an ABC talk show that airs in northern California. I was relaxed and Jane was, well, Jane: accomplished and hysterically funny. We were invited back.
The Other Woman was released two weeks ago and is in its second printing. The reviews are excellent. Perhaps I can finally slip into that persona of the mature woman, a woman in charge and confident. Oh sure, I still worry, and it takes concentration to keep the excitement level above the fear level. And I do admit to an occasional shroud of insecurity drifting over me. However, when my little voice whispers that it could all be taken from me, I'm usually able to push it away. As for the writers' group that dumped me: perhaps one day they'll ask me to join, but I'm just so busy.