She No Trouble

Two years ago, when my daughter began to devolve psychologically, I was offered a glimpse of the future. At some point- probably in a couple years- this would all come to a head, and some crisis would compel my husband to acknowledge she’s profoundly troubled, and the school would be forced out of denial to recognize this is a young woman in dire need of help. Until then there wasn’t much I could do, since she herself didn’t want help and my husband stonewalled me. I thought that crisis arrived last year when she wandered off campus before the end of a school day, not knowing who or where she was. But she found her way back to school after snapping back to reality, and the theology teacher bought her excuse of rummaging through her locker.

Then she started picking out her hair. By midsummer a third of her hair was gone. Three weeks into the current school year, half her hair was gone. She looked like a bald mannequin with a central mohawk. What little hair remained was gnarled into hopeless tangles. She paced incessantly, up down and around the house, chattering to- I don’t know to whom or what. If we approached her she shrieked to leave her alone. And this morning it finally happened: after 2 hours of pleading that she go to school while she paced, shrieked, and pulled out more hair, I told my husband: Enough, take her to the ER.

To my surprise, he did.

She was promptly admitted to a locked psychiatric unit- no shoelaces, no glass containers, no hoodies with ties. I later brought her some clean clothes, like an offering to a quixotic goddess.

“Hi mommy,” she said, quiet and tired. She was wearing a crumpled hospital gown, slumped in a chair as vitals were checked. I asked the nurse about visiting hours and allergy medication. Then I left.

Some hours later I returned for one of the two visiting hours allowed. Again, Hi mommy! We were ushered into the “common area” by an Indian nurse- yes I asked if she was from India, and told her I’d watched many documentaries about India- and then a Haitian “tech” watched our every move. “She good,” assured the tech. “She no trouble!”

At first my daughter was cooperative. She wanted to know what precisely I’d explained to the school. I described the phone calls with the vice principal- how worried sick they were because they had found her pacing and talking to herself, in weeks previous, in the hallways during classtime.

“Well I told you that,” she said, nervously scratching her arms and rocking back and forth.

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes I did.” Her eyes were darting, like a cat watching bugs.

She then asked what would happen after two weeks. This facility, apparently, is equipped to house patients only for two weeks stints. Her fellow “inmates” had already informed her of a south shore facility that could take on long term residents.

When I de-tied her hoodie I found the following poem scrawled on a piece of paper in her pocket:

I am a person
I am a human being
But can’t but I am
You could but you couldn’t
And but you wouldn’t and
Shouldn’t (shouldn’t)
I am not a violent…
Person but wouldn’t
And couldn’t
And shouldn’t
We be left
All alone

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Advice for Writers

My husband has worked on the business side of publishing for many years; after years of overhearing his work conversations, I believe I’m semi-qualified to offer the following advice to aspiring writers.  Some of this advice applies to artists/ illustrators as well (especially #2). However, allow me to point out the proviso that I am neither a publisher, nor a writer, myself (unless message boards count).

1) NEVER tell a publisher you have a “magnus opus” or a “huge” body of work to show them. They’ll assume you’re nuts and not worth dealing with.  If you do have a magnus opus, extract the best chapters or storylines and submit those (but don’t reveal it’s part of a magnus opus, until if and when they show sincere interest!).

2) If you’re over the age of 28-30ish, and are truly talented, but your success has been hampered by alcohol or drug abuse, be prepared to fake a credible cover story as to why you have not achieved success (make up a fake illness, a non-dramatic crisis, you were busy raising children, etc.).  If a publisher sees very high quality writing or art cross their desk, yet the person is 30+ and unknown, they will immediately assume that person has a substance abuse problem and thus is not worth dealing with.  This is especially critical if you’re looking for work that involves deadlines.

3) Write commercially and track trends.  If vampires are popular, write a vampire story.  If talking pigs are popular, write a talking pig story.  Watch bestseller lists and browse bookstores, paying close attention to the display tables. Publishers pay $10,000 per spot on those flat tables at Barnes and Noble, so you can assume any books placed in the premium spots are trending and worth imitating.

4) Look for ghost writing or anonymous writing opportunities.  Oftentimes publishers will “reverse write” a book, where they come up with the idea, then hire an unknown writer to churn it out. This is less glamorous than publishing your own idea, but it will pay, and afford you some resume-worthy writing experience.  It might even behoove you to send writing samples to editors with a cover letter stating you’re looking for ghost writing opportunities, and you’d be happy to write any ideas that might be in development.  Keep in mind that if the book is a hit, the title to the intellectual properties is still held by the publisher, so you will see little, if any, profit.

5) Submit to smaller publishers; they’ll be less likely to blow you off.  The larger publishers have so much volume crossing their desks that it’s easy to be lost in the avalanche.  If you’re an extrovert, don’t be afraid to cold call editors after you’ve submitted work– but don’t be annoying about it.

6) Be open to different formats and artforms.  Don’t overlook comic books; a comic book script is short, and if high quality can attract the attention of a comic book publisher.  Even if your script isn’t made into a book, you might be tapped for a future project.  Try your hand at screenplays, fiction, nonfiction, and so on.  If you typically write for young adults, try writing for adults.  Try your hand at a self help or instructional book.  Don’t lock yourself into any single format or genre of writing.

7) Be wary of length (see #1).  Anything over 200-300 pages will raise eyebrows.  Most readers don’t want huge volumes anyway (Harry Potter notwithstanding).

8) In general, avoid looking weird and unstable when approaching a publisher.  If you are weird and unstable, do your best to tone it down.  Dress conservatively and don’t say anything ridiculous.

9) Ride coattails and write parody.  Keep an eye on what movies are in production, that will hit movie theaters years from now, and write a similar story and shop it around with a note that the related X movie will be coming out.  Parodies can include character names and plotlines without violating copyright laws, which allows you to feed off the name recognition of the original property.

10) Write for pre-existing captive audiences.  Sci-fi, vampires, and evangelical christianity are good examples of this: built-in audiences that so love the genre or topic, that they will gladly give an unknown a try.  This is especially good if you’re self publishing online.

11) Write erotica for women.  Erotica sales have skyrocketed ever since the introduction of e-readers.  Women can now buy soft porn without embarrassment, and the numbers indicate they’re gobbling it up.

12) Write romance for women.  Romance is the #1 selling genre in the United States (if not worldwide?), and the majority of the romance readers are women.  Women, in general, buy more books than do men.

13) If all else fails, self-publish electronically, but be careful about disclosing your self-publishing past to a real publisher, who tend to see self-publishers as losers.  The exception to this is if a self-published author has managed to attract a large fan base; then a publishing house will be happy to work with him or her.

14) For cold submissions, try something outrageous (but not offensive) that might catch the publisher’s eye.  Publishers tend to see a lot of the same stuff, so if you can produce something unique, bizarre, yet high quality, it might receive more eyeball time than the typical fare.

15) Don’t despair when you read about publishing going the way of the dodo.  While the internet has demolished paper journalism, book sales are still thriving, and if anything, are simply being augmented by ebooks (which, of course, is still a form of being published!). Remember, people thought VHS would mean the end of movie theaters, but people go to the theater more than ever, in addition to buying, renting, and streaming films.  It’s your job to keep an eye on the kind of books that are selling: 50 Shades of Gray, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid have sold untold millions of print and electronic copies, and have made their authors fabulously wealthy.