Saturday, August 05, 2006

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Agent Kristen over on Pub Rants recently posted about being suddenly and unceremoniously fired by one of her clients via certified letter. Apparently, she'd worked hard for this client and rightfully felt she'd at least deserved some warning that things were going awry.

The majority of comments on that blog entry concurred that it is the height of rudeness and incivility for an author to drop an agent via certified letter without first having a "Let's fix this" conversation. And many opined that authors who go this route are "extreme introverts" with "confrontation issues" that are obviously so pronounced, all they can do when it comes to the Big Breakup is completely forget their manners and toss certified letters at their unsuspecting agents ("Duck and cover! Fire in the hole!") as they scurry on their cowardly ways.

Agent Kristen does note that if your agent "isn't returning calls and e-mails, has embezzled your money, or is a drunk," then by all means, one should go the certified letter route and forget about firing a warning shot.

You know, if I were an agent--or if I were about to be fired by an agent--I'd want a letter and ONLY a letter. Letter, e-mail, Post-It, whatever. Because to me, the distance words on a page offer is infinitely preferable to a "civilized," in-your-face phone call delivering a painstaking blow-by-blow of all my transgressions since I thought wearing an oversized turtleneck and leggings was hot (What can I say? It was the eighties). Sure, I would want to know what led to my untimely demise, but seriously, does anyone need to listen to someone pontificate endlessly on the subject? By the end of any such conversation, I'd be hard-pressed to pretend to be sweet and understanding. At the very least, I'd be giving the phone the finger many times over and then angrily crunching the receiver back into its cradle in a final, passive-aggressive goodbye. (I'm not normally passive-aggressive, but in a business situation, you mostly have to be. If you want more business, that is.) Whereas a letter I can scan, shred into little pieces, and try to forget about is less ego-crushing.

To me, it's like ripping off a BandAid (a cliche', but a useful one in this case). Look the other way, do it fast, and eat some chocolate afterward--job well done. (If you're my daughters, there's a goofy little Spanish song about healing that goes somewhere in there, too.) In the case of dumping an agent or client (or even a clingy boyfriend/girlfriend for that matter): Don't draw it out, don't leave the door open to the possibility of getting back together, and don't give the agent or client (or clingy significant other) the opportunity to talk about what a weirdo you are because you took three days to deliver your "How much do I want out of this relationship? Let me count the ways" speech. But that's just me.

Another blog I read on the subject awhile back suggested TAKING YOUR AGENT OUT TO DINNER to do the dumping. Then, the author pretty much pointed out the flaw in his own advice (though he still stuck by it) by noting that the last time he did that, his agent talked him back into staying in the relationship.

Dude. Agents are persuasive individuals. That's why they are agents--they persuade others to buy their clients' work for large (or not so large) sums of money. If they don't want you to leave and you give them an opportunity to talk you out of it, you may end up NOT LEAVING. (And if you do end up leaving anyway, wouldn't that be the Most Uncomfortable Dinner EVER? For both of you? Something to replay in your mind over and over again while you crawl out of your skin with embarrassment on an hourly basis?)

Amusing, semi-related digression: When I met my current agent for the first time, before we officially launched our partnership, I was impressed by his credentials, his client list, his warm emails and seeming interest in my work. But I knew from talking to other clients of his that he was going to strongly suggest I write THE WHOLE BOOK for any single titles I was thinking about doing before he submitted them. That, my friends, was something I considered a deal breaker--I've always sold on partials, I know other people who broke out on a partial, and there was no way I was sweating over a full--possibly for nothing--with two kids under three underfoot when a partial could sell just as well, thankyouverymuch.

Well, I met him face-to-face before we both made a final decision about each other, and a few minutes into our conversation, he broke into his "A full manuscript is a gift to an editor" spiel. I can imagine him giving this one often and well, like the sports psychologist in the film The Natural doing his "losing is a disease" schtick, except the "full manscript=gift" talk was much more effective. By the time he got to the wrap-up, I was nodding my head, thinking, "Yeah! I'm going to write the whole manuscript! It's a gift! Why didn't I think of that? Can't wait!" And I'm hardly a pushover--overcoming my stubborn streak is somewhat like getting a large grizzly bear to go vegan. Consequently, once I realized what had happened, I knew we were a great match. (I'm imagining editors all over NYC responding to his powers of persuasion like I did: "I love your client's work. It's better than Cats. I want to read it again and again." What's not to love about that?)

Anyway, all that said, I do see Agent Kristen's point of view--if your agent has been responsive, working hard for you, and is generally a decent person, then giving her some sort of warning is the civilized way to go. But it can't be said enough that if your reason is troubling behavior--"My agent doesn't return my calls or emails/doesn't seem enthusiastic about my writing/won't tell me where she's sending my stuff/is mean to me/etc." (I haven't heard anyone say her agent is embezzling money or is a drunk, but I would include those excuses as well.)--I think avoiding an in-person or telephone cataloguing of said agent's transgressions is the best course of action. Write that letter, toss it with all your might, and scurry away to your happy place as a writer.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Spider Armageddeon

So the end of the world is obviously at hand.

No, it's not because of the frightening conflicts in the Middle East, nor some obscure Nostradamus prophecy coming true. It's not a passage in the book of Revelation that's eerily mirroring reality, or a psychic reading I had lately foretelling our impending doom.

It's because the spiders have invaded.

See, the AP just released a story under the headline "Spider Invasion Creeps Out Austrians." They're nasty, they're flailing, and they've come to claim the planet as their own. I knew it. It was only a matter of time.

Apparently, there's been an epidemic of people in Austria being bit by the creepy, ugly, twitchy yellow sack spider, whose bite is poisonous and painful, though "not deadly." Oh, no. Victims merely have headaches and nausea that can last for eight, count them, eight weeks, plus they get to live with the cheery knowledge that THEIR COUNTRY IS BEING INVADED BY YELLOW SACK SPIDERS.

The AP claims that the Austrian press is fueling mass spider hysteria, slapping so many stories of a country-wide arachnid infestation on the front pages of city newspapers that 182 people erroneously went to the hospital with psychosomatic yellow sack spider bites. (Thereby making the eight people who were actually bitten by yellow sacks wait in interminable lines to be seen by undoubtedly bored doctors.)

The yellow sack is known in German as "Dornfingerspinne," which is way too pleasant for such a nasty creature. How about "dornnastyasscreepymeister" or "dornvomitousvonpoisonousspiel?" Dorningerspinne sounds like something to name a nice ladybug variation, or a pretty butterfly, people. You all in the EU are way too nice, even to spiders.

Christian Komposch of an animal ecology institute in the southern Austrian city of Graz told the Austrian public "the most important thing is: Don't panic!"

Yeah, whatever, Christian. I don't need a PhD to know that every person on this planet is deathly afraid of either snakes, spiders, or rats. Pick your poison, and I'll come to your house and dangle it in front of your smug, know-it-all eyes. We'll see how non-panicky you are when I show up with a Burmese python and a couple of sewer rats from Brooklyn, and then I'll throw in a few newspaper stories about how one or the other is infesting the country for good measure.


Because this is how my brain works when it comes to spiders (AAAAHHH! AAAHHH!), I was thinking it's only a matter of time before the yellow sack starts migrating into other countries in the EU, drifts down to Africa and the Middle East, and eventually hitches a ride to the US on a boat full of cocoa beans, creeping into a port city and then infesting our unsuspecting country in a miniature yet no less creepy arachnid version of War of the Worlds. Further following this train of logic, I was also thinking it might be time to start investing in a high-quality moon colony I could rocket launch myself to when that dark day dawns. But then I got to this sentence in the AP article: "Collectors are willing to fork over more than $255 in U.S. dollars for a single [yellow sack] specimen, according to Kurier, an Austrian daily."

People out there collect spider specimens? Maybe we should rocket launch THEM, because that is just sick and wrong.

Although I wonder how much they'd give me for a yellow sack squashed under an ottoman?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

And This One Time. In Atlanta....

So, like many of the people who may read this blog (at least, I HOPE that's why my hits are way down last week), I was in Atlanta for the Romance Writers of America conference last week--along with my kids and my sainted mother, who tagged along to help me watch them. Seeing as I'm behind on posting, I thought I'd just vomit out all the pertinent details of my conference experience, and you can decide whether it's worth reading or not. I'll try to be more interesting tomorrow....

All in all, the conference was fabulous, though like at RT, I didn't learn a whole lot. (I bought the workshops on CD, so I'm DEFERRING the learning until later. Or so I tell myself.)

The first day was the big booksigning, and we screeched into the hotel (which had a usurious overnight parking rate. Losers.) a couple of hours before it began. Instead of going to my seat and pelting unsuspecting passersby with copies of the Mission series, I jumped right into Meg Cabot's line to get signed books for Maggie and Marin (I'm such a fangirl). While she was signing The Princess Diaries vol. 7.5, I was chattering about how my kids were a little young to read them yet, but I'm sure they'd love me for getting these in the future. So Meg says, "Oh, they can read this one. There's no french kissing in it."


Briefly wondering if my ten-pounds-to-go post-pregnancy clothes were starting to make me look like Ms. Moral Majority, I quickly clarified that no, it wasn't that the Princess Diaries books were too racy--it was that my kids were both under 3 years old. And then, clutching my tiny pink hardcovers autographed to Princess Maggie and Princess Marin (How did she know?), I ran back to my seat cracking up.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten to pack my leather pants, but I managed to sell pretty well on a Tracy scale. I sat next to RITA finalist Mary Alice Monroe, who was not only gracious (though disappointed) about the bookstore not having her books to sign, but she offered to read my Latina lit manuscript when I finish it. (I'm not sure how this happened, but let me just say that I did not start pelting her with manuscripts or awkward requests. She just offered. Did I mention that she's lovely?)

The next day, I had lunch with some writer friends who have been on an AOL message board (now turned Google listserv) with me since the beginning of time. It's always fun to meet and talk with everyone in person, although I kept getting distracted by the cheesecake next to my plate. (Sorry, you all. I'm usually a better conversationalist when cheesecake isn't involved.) I'd been a good little dieter for the past couple of weeks, so I THOUGHT I could just taste a couple of bites and run away, but noooooo.

It was ugly. Graham cracker crumbs flying everywhere....

So after the Egregious Cheesecake Incident, I went to Kimani author Michelle Monkou's birthday party, which was beyond wonderful. She held it at her brother's house near Stone Mountain. The house and yard were lovely, the food was SO good (shrimp kabobs flying everywhere), and her family was warm and wonderful, as were the other friends she invited. Now I just hope that my anonymous face doesn't curse me again, and Michelle's fun and fabulous friends remember me when I approach them all next year to say hello. (I have this problem in that I remember names and faces REALLY well, so I'll be all, "HEY! Josephine Schmo! It's great to see you! How is your husband Joe and your cat Mittens? And I'm still looking in the stores for those earrings you were wearing last year! Have your headaches gotten better?" to people who no longer have the Slightest Idea Who I Am and are consequently often tempted to call the police. I've lost it a little since having Marin--just TRY telling me pregnancy hormones don't jack with your memory--but it's coming back.)

Attended the Death by Chocolate party that night and cheered loudly when my friend Dana Marton won a well-deserved Daphne for Best Series Suspense for her Intrigue Camouflage Heart. Drank some awful wine afterwards with HQ authors Ann Voss Peterson, Cynthia Cooke, and Nina Bruhns--the wine was terrible, but the company was fab.

Let's see.... Friday was my busy day. Had a celebratory breakfast with Dana over her Daphne and met her adorable daughter and husband. We went to a PAN workshop on blogging (Will it help? You decide.), and then I ran into Latina lit author Berta Platas, a fellow Encanto survivor. We had lunch, and then I had a business meeting that I can't yet talk about but yielded some exciting results (for me, at least).

Mom and I took the kids to the Georgia Aquarium next, which is GORGEOUS. Oh, and CROWDED. You can't take strollers into the exhibits, so both of us were charging through as fast as we could with my flailing children in our arms. Fortunately, the tanks were quite tall, so we didn't have to jump up and down to see anything over the heads of people taller than us (which is most of the population over 15.) The main draw of the aquarium is a gigantic tank about the size of an Imax screen cubed, which boasted schools of sting rays, a hammerhead shark, sea turtles, a couple of black-tipped reef sharks, several pretty fish, and a few whale sharks (!!!!). Maggie made everyone around us laugh by waving at her favorites whenever they swam by, shouting, "Hello, whale sharks! We love you, whale sharks! Hello, sting rays! We love you, sting rays!" She also gave the jellyfish and the otters, who were not in the giant tank but in their own enclosures, some love.

That night was the Harlequin party--always a blast. They made these delicious champagne cocktails with raspberry liqueur, and I guess my friend Tierney Linn (I'm linking up to the websites so I don't have to explain who everyone is, and I'm realizing that a lot of my friends have websites.) and I had a few too many, because we ended up next to the chocolate fondue fountain DRINKING the chocolate out of shot glasses and telling everyone within hearing distance that we were doing our civic duty by preventing said chocolate from ending up in a landfill. Needless to say, I'm going to be having a glass of water and a toothpick for lunch. (Not really.) I must have been doing a lot of shouting over the music, because I wound up losing my voice for two days, which prompted my brother Tom to ask, "Is this Lindsay Lohan?" when I called him from the road the next day.

Saturday I had breakfast with Leesa Whitson, and Maggie somehow wound up in the funny and talented Holly Jacobs' lap. She also hammed it up for Kris Fletcher for a few minutes (FYI, Kris did NOT look even a bit Frumps R Us in her ponchos, which were colorful and lovely.) Then I had a nice lunch with my Intrigue editor and fellow Intriguers Ann Voss Peterson and Alice Sharpe, where we had a waiter who absolutely refused to smile, even slightly. Ann and Alice thought perhaps he was a robot. I expected him to peel off his face at any moment to reveal a lizard-like alien underneath. A rather bored lizard-like alien.

And then we drove home. And then I collapsed on the couch.

Anyone else go? Did you actually learn anything? Because I probably won't until my workshops-on-CD arrive in six weeks.

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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