Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 12.

So, if you read 'Part 1' of this series, you're just about caught up to me.

It turns out that Jane and her partner really liked my revisions, so -- heavy sigh of relief from me.

They have suggested that I wait until after the holidays to have them market the book. And they want to market it by featuring it in their January 2014 newsletter, which goes to  about 2,000 industry insiders. How cool is that?

In the interim, I received three assignments from them:

1. They asked me to do a conversational bio that didn't look like a c.v.  Yikes. The only other bio I have is the three-sentence deal that I used in my query letter, or the one paragraph thingy that has been used for introducing me at CLE lectures.

Another mental block that I had to overcome ... It took me a week or two, but I did it. It wasn't as bad as writing a synopsis!

2. Next, I needed to draft a sales-pitchy blurb. For some reason, that wasn't as awful as doing the bio, maybe because I know Jane will be editing it.  Blurb is now done.

3. My final mission is to read the whole book again and make sure it's as perfect as possible, without adding or changing scenes. I.e., without messing with it. This one's going to need another week for me to gain a little distance from it.

As to communication methods with my agent, well, right now I'm mostly using email. With my continued lunatic hours, it's the best way for me, and I'm sure I won't be interrupting her day with intrusive phone calls. Besides,  I'm a brand new client of a top tier agent, and I know she's got to be rocking and rolling with year-end deals. I'm not about to be a pain her ass, even though she's welcomed me to call  anytime. I see no need to bother her.

Come her January newsletter, though, I may be more antsy!

My best advice after this incredibly grueling journey?

1. Believe in yourself.
2. Believe in your book.
3. Be open to learning.
4. Be open to criticism, even though it sucks.
5. Finish. A bunch of times.
6. Edit, revise, until it's right, but it'll never be right until you can't do another damn thing to it.
7. Treat writing as a business because it is.
8. Research the hell out of everything.
9. Work your ass off.
10. Don't give up.

And that, dear readers, is the end of this series -- unless/until I have more to report...

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 11

Most of us writers think about getting an agent's offer the same way a romance reader thinks about the heroine getting a marriage proposal from the leading man: 'And they lived happily ever after.'

Except this is real life.

First, I contacted all the agents who hadn't rejected me yet (the 'exclusive' e-mail I had sent around eventually yielded a few 'congratulations and no thanks' from two or three previous non-responders). My email had in the subject line "OFFER OF REPRESENTATION -- CLIENT RELATIONS.'  Can I even describe how awesome that email made me feel? Actually, I can't describe it - I was in a state of suspended animation.

My 'offer' email resulted in a few more auto-responses, plus one or two more rejections. And from the three lecturers? Two agents admitted to 'sour grapes' for lecturing me about the exclusive, another asked me to give her a week to read 'Client Relations' before accepting the offer. And that agent was also fabulous. So suddenly, after all these years of writing, revising, getting smacked around at conferences, attending wild and wooly writers' classes, dealing with faceless Internet comments -- suddenly, I was wanted.

That was beyond disorienting.

Anyway, I agreed to give the other agent a week to read, but you know what? After talking to Jane on the phone, a lot of things clicked into place. I checked her website, Publishers Marketplace, and a bunch of other blogs and sites over and over, giving myself my usual headache. I'm such a pain in my ass.

The next day, I told Jane 'yes' and the other agent 'no.' And sent all the vacationers and remaining non-responders an email notifying them. Which really did feel great. Even better in retrospect, since I can now accept that this actually happened to me!

Then what?

The agency sent me their contract. Back to my usual ways, I researched what clauses to look out for, searched for a publishing lawyer to review the contract, and got one to review it for me -- over Labor Day Weekend, no less. I discussed those comments with Jane's partner the following week, which was far easier than negotiating separation agreements! She finalized the contract.

But it wasn't until I received Jane's countersigned copy that I breathed again.

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 10

So here's where things started getting really cool, really hairy, and really nerve-wracking.

My UPS packet to Jane Dystel was delivered to her office on Friday, August 16. On Monday, August 19, I received an email from Jane, asking for the entire manuscript. Via return email, not via snail mail. And me, being so cool, said, um, yeah, sure, uh, yipppeeeeeeee!!!! No, seriously, I wrote back, 'Thank you so much...' and, anal as I am, asked if docx was okay.

Formatting and technology. I'm such a nerd.

Three days later, she asked for an exclusive.

I wasn't sure what that meant in the agent world, but it sounded damn promising. Normally, I'd research the term 'exclusive' to death. But I was en route to the vet's office, my daughter needed a ride, and I was checking emails on my iPhone. I fired back an email to say I'd queried other agents and hadn't heard anything yet, which was totally true.

Jane then asked for a two-week exclusive, to which I immediately agreed. I mean, what am I, crazy? Hell if I knew exactly what I was agreeing to, but we're talking about a request from Jane Dystel, for crying out loud!! If she'd asked me to jump off a bridge (okay, what mom hasn't used that line on her kids?), I probably would've done that, too. I also agreed to contact all the other agents, to advise them of her exclusive.

Little did I know, until I got back home that night and fired out the promised emails to the other agents, what an 'exclusive' meant (no, I still hadn't researched it -- very unlike me, but sheesh, I was so excited!). I received auto-responses from the vacationing and otherwise-occupied other agents, of course.

I also received three very stern responses from agents, two of whom hadn't even gotten back to me at all over the preceding ten days. Those responses essentially lectured me that (1) I couldn't grant an exclusive when I'd already submitted partial or full manuscripts to other agents; (2) an exclusive inures solely to the benefit of the agent, who is locking out the other agents' ability to compete for the book; and (3) any agent requesting an exclusive is worried about competition, because they aren't A-List agents who can compete without exclusives.

That's when I scrambled to research what an agency exclusive meant. And I found out that, yes, I had screwed up because other agents had, in fact, received my manuscript (reason #1 above). I had therefore committed a big faux pas. But the two-week period, which ran basically through Labor Day, could hardly matter to the vacationers and non-responders, so if it inured to the benefit of Jane Dystel, who'd moved so quickly on my book? Well, more power to her. She SHOULD have an exclusive. And Jane Dystel is on the tippy top of the A-List. So ## 2 and 3 were, as I used to say in my briefs, utterly inapposite.

I clarified to Jane that I'd submitted fulls or partials of the manuscript to other agents whom I'd met at conferences, but that no one had gotten back to me on them yet. I didn't bother telling her that all I'd gotten the far was a lot of grief for granting the exclusive. Certainly no one had told me they had started reading anything I'd sent -- not even the synopsis! So why was I feeling so defensive and worried?

I've since read on many other sites that granting an an exclusive under these circumstances is a bonehead move. And -- something that had occurred to me -- if the exclusive agent rejects the book, everyone else will know about the 'no.' But you know what? NONE of the blogs or posts or comments I've read on the subject has said that the agent asking for a brief, two-week, exclusive, was the amazing Jane Dystel.

And, given that it was Jane, well. I'd do it all over again.

Between August 23 and August 27, all I knew was that Jane had been reading the book. It was a hell of a longgggg weekend. I checked email incessantly. Nothing. I went back and forth with the other three agents, apologizing for my breach of etiquette, wondering if they'd still read 'Client Relations' once Jane nixed it.

On August 27, Jane sent me an offer of representation.

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 9

When's the best time to query? Hell if I know.

I had planned on the spring, but I wasn't ready. The months passed, and I still wasn't ready. Come early August, I wondered if my work would be reviewed by summer interns still in college.

I figured most summer interns would be gone by mid-August. I figured agents would be going on vacation, too. But if I waited until Labor Day, when the publishing world lurched back into high gear, I might get a brand new batch of completely inexperienced interns, and agents would be far too busy getting back to piled-up desks and in-boxes to want to deal with me.

So I decided to send out my queries and pages in the August 10 - 15 range.

I basically went in order of my list. As each email went out, I updated the status. I contacted a total of fifteen agents, ultimately, and I'd say a dozen or so were agents I had met at Query Roulette, conferences, or through webinars. The last few were 'cold' queries, including the agent I ultimately signed with -- Jane Dystel.

Most of my queries and pages generated auto-responses, like 'We will only respond to those queries in which we are interested,' or 'I am out of the office through Labor Day.'

Two came back with personal responses (both from Query Roulette agents): First, 'Hi Terri, Thanks for the email. I'll try to read this before I go away for vacation, otherwise I'm back after Labor Day...' and the second, 'Terri, please let me know if you receive an offer of representation...'

I really liked the first agency, and was delighted that the agent herself actually promised to read what I'd sent. The second response was from another agent I'd also liked tremendously, but it had me baffled. She wasn't making me an offer, she hadn't indicated she was reading anything. Was there some hidden meaning I didn't understand? (The answer came, about two weeks later.)

Email queries and submissions are soooo easy to do, really. Once you have all the shit out of the way (see my previous posts re the manuscript, the query letter, and the synopsis), all you do is follow the agency submission guidelines, block and paste into an email, and swishhhh. It's off into cyberspace. Along with the screwed-up 'Dear Agent X' query that goes to Agent Y's email address... 

Certain agents, though, don't take email queries. I noticed that with some agents who were either closed for queries, or the head of their agencies. And for someone with mobility issues like me, well, the idea of snail mail - like going to the USPS for Priority Mail, or the UPS Store - makes it even more discouraging.

Everyone I was querying took email, either because their sites allowed it, or because they had given me their email addresses, so no biggie.

Except for one agent.

This was someone I really wanted to query, albeit as a 'cold' query. She had gone to Georgetown Law School (like me); she wrote on her agency site that she wished she saw more 'great story telling;' and her bio said she had 'an abiding interest in legal subjects.' I believed 'Client Relations' would fit the bill, with its plot lines, and strong legal theme. I read all of her interviews, including a few where she discussed self-published books. Her openness to spotting new talent had caused her to sign a few best-selling self-published writers.  Although I never wanted to go the self-pub route, I liked how this agent embraced the reality of self-pub and technology, instead of denying its influence (like so many other agents).

On the other hand, the agent was Jane Dystel - and she's one of the top agents in New York. Which is to say, the universe. (Hey, I'm a New Yorker!)

I discussed the snail mail hassle with my husband. You know, like, 'Should I bother? She's never going to take me, anyway. Everyone else takes email. Maybe I should wait for the others to get back to me....' But, with his encouragement, I headed to the UPS Store the next day with my submission packet: Query letter, synopsis, and Chapter 1.

Around bedtime that night (of course, when else?), I realized I'd forgotten to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope per the agency's submission guidelines. So I sent that out to Dystel & Goderich Literary Management under separate cover, the next day, expecting to hear nothing for a really really really long time, and bracing for the worst in the interim.

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 8

Since I'm reliving this summer's painstaking steps, here's another one:

I wrote a two-page synopsis.

The idea of that makes me shudder all over again. Yup, boiling an 88,000+ word book into roughly 700 words, omg.

I turned to Writers Digest and Chuck Sambuchino again. Chuck has some great examples of effective synopses, using mostly movie plots:

Formatting, again, rules the game.

Same set-up at the top of the page:
    Single space, on separate lines, left align:
    Telephone number

And across from that on the top, single space on separate lines, right align:
    Word count

Start double space, then all caps center:

After you're done staring at your blank screen, start with a zippy hook that mentions your protagonist immediately. The first time a character is mentioned, use all caps for the name. (I mentioned a total of four main characters in my synopsis.)

Leave out the subplots, use the present tense, and TELL THE ENDING. The synopsis is pretty much all telling, no showing, unlike the book.

Which is why it sucks to write it.

But you have to. Work hard on it. Take your time. Again, I ran mine by Chuck (using his editing service - he was fastttttt!),, and Laura Kingsley (the freelance editor I hired near the tail end of the whole process).

I sent my synopsis with ALL my queries and pages, even when it wasn't requested.

With my agent research in place -- well, actually, it was a never-ending process; my manuscript theoretically done (again) and properly formatted; my query letter finalized (again); and my synopsis finished -- I was as ready as I would ever be.

And I thought, if I didn't land an agent in August, I never would. In which case, I'd crawl into bed, cover my head with pillows and blankets, and never get up again.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 7

Before I sent out my queries and submissions per the agents' guidelines or specific requests, I did some incredibly mundane crap.

First, I checked my manuscript formatting. There are websites and blogs on this. I think I relied a lot on, but I also used,, and a few other sites.

Ultimately, this is the formatting I used for the manuscript of 'Client Relations:'

TNR 12 point, double-spaced
Title page
   Upper left align -- single space, separate lines: my name; address, telephone; email
   Upper right align: Word count, rounded to the nearest hundred
   Double space down six times, center align:
          TITLE (all caps)
   Then one double space, center align:
          By: (initial cap)
   Then another double space, center align:
          Author's Name
Page break
Now for the actual manuscript, that starts on the next page after the title page -
    Page 1: Start page numbering here, but no page number or header on this first page
    After page 1: Headers on every page
          Upper left align: Weiss/ CLIENT RELATIONS
          Upper right align: Page x
Before every chapter, including chapter 1:
   Start each chapter on a new page
   Skip six double-spaced lines down to insert the chapter title, even if it's just a number
   Skip three double-spaced lines down to start the text

After the drudge of formatting? Spell check the damn thing! You're probably so blind to the book, even after all your beta readers etc., that you can't see any goofs, right? So then save the spell-checked version as a new document and compare it to 'final' version. Do that about another ten times. : O

How boring is all this? I know, I know, it made me totally crazy, too. But the look you'll give your manuscript when all this is done will be so awesome. You'll look like such  a professional! Which is, after all, what you want to be.

That's why you want an agent in the first place.

Keep telling yourself that as you view the document in full page mode for the twentieth time, and find all the places where a new chapter begins six double-spaced lunes down on the same goddamn page as the last one.

Okay, still awake and with me?

Using my query list to check off whom I had queried and what I needed to do (send pages, mark them off as 'no response' or rejected, etc.), I went to each agent's website to check their submission guidelines. Unless I had received a request for pages, and a personal email address from the agent (either at a conference, Query Roulette, or a webinar), virtually no agent will open any attachment.

That means copying and pasting your query and the first whatever pages or chapters of your  work - exactly in accordance with THAT agent's guidelines - into the body of the email. Then check the block-and-paste job in the email for spacing, para tabs, etc. in the text of your email Yeah, after all that formatting grind I just told you to do.

Because, trust me, if the agent wants the whole book, you'll be so glad you did such a professional formatting job.

And try to quadruple-check that Agent A doesn't get Agent B's letter (sigh).

More to follow...

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 6

Now for the query process in August 2013...

I had kept track of those agents I'd met at conferences who had either requested a query or pages, along with those I'd met at the WNBA-NYC Query Roulettes, and those who'd expressed interested in 'Client Relations' following the webinars I'd taken.

In fact, I had a list of every agent I'd met, queried, or wanted to query, using a fantastic free internet site: This site allows you to keep your own private query list, with notes on each agents (i.e., I noted when and where I'd met them, what they'd asked for, what they were like, etc.). You can track when and how they were queried, when they responded, etc. This really kept me organized.

In addition, I used to look up other agents whom I hadn't met but wanted to query. The site has direct links to agency websites - very smooth and easy.

I didn't query any agency without reading their blogs, reviewing their agent bios to see who might be a good fit, then Googling all interviews given by each agent I liked, to be sure that querying them made sense for my book and for me. Checking the agents' book/client lists for genre and any writers I recognized was also mandatory.

Other places I looked for agents to query? Chuck Sambuchino's Guide To Literary Agents blog (, Publisher's Marketplace (you can see who does deals frequently, what genre/s they sell, how they pitch books, etc.). Also Twitter runs a 'what I'm looking for right now' day for agents to post their wish lists. I read the 'Acknowledgements' pages of my favorite writers. The 'Absolute Water Cooler' website also has an extensive library about writers' experience querying agents, as does ''

Basically I researched the hell out of agents to determine which ones to query.

So how did I write the actual query letter?

I read a zillion blogs -- including a few agents' blogs that ripped queries apart; I took a few Writers' Digest query-oriented webinars; I went to agents' presentations about queries at the writers' conferences I attended; I took my query letters to the WNBA Query Roulette for agents' reviews and comments; I had Chuck Sambuchino (one-on-one meeting at the 2011 Writers Digest conference) review it; I posted it online at; I edited and revised and gave myself headaches... and honestly, I was still catching mistakes and tidying it up through mid-August 2013.

Of course, my biggest fear happened: I sent a query to Agent X in an email addressed to Agent Y. Inevitable, when I was sending out about fifteen agent queries in one fell swoop, but nonetheless embarrassing.

Oh, I need to tell you more mechanics before I actually sent out my stuff.

Coming up next!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 5

Here's how I knew the book wasn't ready yet.

In November 2011, I joined an online writer's workshop that I had been referred to by a SEAK attendee:  Despite the grandiose name, the SEAK person had told me it was a supportive group -- and she was absolutely right.

The first person who reviewed me became a good friend, and we have remained so to this day. John Hamler, wordsmith extraordinaire and my nighttime buddy -- may he soon finish Antagony and be the next literary rock star. And then there's Jenn Nissley, an incredible literary fiction writer, who I am convinced will win the Faulkners and go on to superstardom.

Some of the others? Graeme Lipper, another SEAK doc and a great med thriller writer; Simi Monheit, fabuloso unabashed chick lit writer; Teri Taylor, hilarious creator of the 'Trailer Girls' books; Christina Michaels, Jeni Decker, Cathy Jones, all terrific crime novelists; Deedra Climer, intense as they come; Carlyle Clark, one of coolest guys ever; Terry McDonald, John VanCott, C Brass and Nathan B Childs, who were amazing reviewers; Felix Ulrich, who taught me a valuable lesson on 'filtering' verbs... see what I mean?

There are a lot of good people out there in cyberspace, not just stalkers who want to sell you Canadian drugs and sex tools, and want to invade your bank account...

I also hired a writing coach, Diana Amsterdam, who had come to my attention by way of a really excellent lawyer-writer friend, Allison Leotta. I'd never met either of them in person until mid-2012. Diana used the Socratic Method - something that drove me crazy in law school, as well as in Diana's  lessons, but damn, it worked! She and I differed on several major issues - most significantly, Casey's family history - but she really made me think hard about what I was doing, and more importantly, she helped me figure out how to do it.

I workshopped online with TNBW through about May 2013, which brings me to the four-year mark since Bob Dugoni told me to make the lawyer my lead. I spent the summer of 2013 polishing polishing polishing, and hired an editor that someone on TNBW referred to me  - Laura Kingsley, what a great pair of extra eyes!

By August 2013, I felt like I was ready to query/submit. I also felt that if I wasn't ready by then, I never would be.

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 4

Okay, I'm in the middle of the story, so I'm not ready to sign off right now.

Casey Lang, now my lawyer protagonist, was a shitty to non-existent character. I'd made her a lawyer handling a case, and nothing more than that. Now she needed substance. Not just physical characteristics, but a personal background, a unique voice, quirks, traits, things to make the reader root for her (versus rooting for her client).

I spent the next two years developing her, and developing her story. I went back and forth with her. I won't even describe some of her initial character traits.  Let's just say she was dreadful.  Her first name changed three times before she became Casey. Her background changed even more. Her voice wasn't really fixed until late 2012.

Meanwhile, as I wrenched through her character and the story itself, I braved another Backspace conference, two Gotham Writers classes in NYC (where I met some terrific people), one Algonkian 'pitch and shop' conference (not a high point, although the attendees were great), an online Writer's Digest class, a few Writer's Digest webinars, and a Writer's Digest conference (yet another disaster for me!).

Steven King's 'On Writing' was one of my bibles. Another was Strunk and White's 'The Elements Of Style.' Also Turow's 'Presumed Innocent.' And always at my side was James Scott Bell's book, 'Revision And Self-Editing.'

During that time, the book had at least four titles, none of them very interesting. I think I came up with the final title, Client Relations, sometime in late 2010, while I was taking a shower, or maybe when I was half-awake/half-asleep. I thought of it, with its nuanced meanings, and said to myself, 'Whoa, this works.'

Taking advantage of being close to the NYC publishing world, I also joined the National Book Women's Association, NYC chapter, and went to three 'Query Roulette' nights in three separate years, most recently last May (2013). I can't say enough great things about WNBA's Query Roulette. Basically, you sign up for one-on-one pitches to up to ten agents for, like $20 a pop. The agent reads your query letter and asks you to talk about the book. If they're interested, they ask for pages. The atmosphere is charged but very personal, and I met some incredible agents there like Jenny Bent, Katherine Sands, Bill Contardi... really awesome, A-list agents.

I received quite a few requests for pages the first time I went, and my submissions met with one polite rejection and...deafening silence.

The second and third times (2012 and 2013), I received more requests, but decided to 'bank' most of them until the book was really really ready.

Whenever the hell that would be.

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 3

Here it was, November 2008, and I'd more or less finished licking my wounds from the Backspace conference, although I certainly wasn't finished whining. Not that I'm ever finished whining.

Anyway, I spend the next six months working on my novel at a grueling pace. No kidding -- I was doing all nighters, sometimes thirty-six, even forty hours at a stretch. And I hate to admit it but, having always been a night owl ever since ever, those hours never changed for me over the next 4 1/2 years of writing. I doubt they ever will, either.

Anyway, come March of 2009, I thought I was done! I felt great. I signed up for another, much smaller, SEAK conference, this one held in Chicago in April 2009 with Robert Dugoni as the featured lecturer. 

Of course, this draft manuscript got totally trashed, too (albeit not quite as brutally as before).

However...the conference was probably the best I've ever gone to, for two reasons:

First, the attendees (mostly doctors writing medical thrillers) were a fabulous bunch -- fascinating, erudite and fun fun fun, and yes, I'm talking MDs here, mostly 20+ years into their practice!

Second, and even more important, Bob Dugoni changed my writing life.  

Let me tell you what Bob Dugoni did: He told me to make the lawyer the protagonist. As Bob explained, I'm a lawyer, people are interested in lawyer stories, I have a story to tell, and my lawyer character should be the one to tell it.

That meant a total rewrite of my novel, because the client, i.e., John Zambelli, Celebrity Chef, had been my lead. 

Back to the drawing board. 

Except I didn't want to abandon my chef.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 2

So now, step back in time to 2005 or thereabouts....

That's when I decided to write a book about how custody cases affect lawyers. I wanted it to be an insider's look on the process of what we do, why we do it, and how we live and breathe these cases. Except I couldn't -- the attorney-client privilege forbids revealing client confidences except under certain, very narrow circumstances (i.e., to prevent death or significant bodily injury).

That's when the notion of my writing a novel about a custody case took root.

There was a problem: Although I'd written a lot of professional articles, I hadn't written fiction since, oh, maybe high school... And writing fiction is light-years away from writing affidavits, briefs, and all other papers that I routinely crank out in the course of legal representation. (I wrote here, on this blog, about how different the two forms of writing are:

In a nutshell, the fiction writer SHOWS a character's feelings, both physical and personal; shows actions and scenes through dialogue, movement, description; paces the story to avoid glossing over nuances, and to ensure logical connections (i.e., someone has to actually get from point a to point b).

The legal writer recites factual information more objectively (albeit with the perspective and interests  of the client first and foremost), stating the facts and then weaving in the law to demonstrate how it applies to those facts.

It took me ten or fifteen years to master the art of legal writing. And then? I had to unlearn it -- completely -- in order to learn the craft of writing fiction. That process took me at least three years.

I started by taking a four-day writing conference designed to help lawyers learn how to write fiction. Every lawyer there wanted to be Grisham or Turow -- that was the essential concept behind the conference, anyway. The course was run by SEAK, and the featured lecturers were Stephen Horn and Lisa Scottoline. (Lisa is fabulous in person, by the way.)  Both are criminal lawyers who write  terrific thrillers, which is not my background nor was it my intended genre. That didn't matter at all for purposes of the conference -- these two excellent writers/instructors made me realize how much I needed to learn.

Over the next three years, I waffled about, then gradually drafted a shitty, cathartic manuscript (that looked nothing like Client Relations) in which I struggled to put my limited knowledge of fiction-writing, based on that one conference, to work.

I then went to another writer's conference, this time hosted by Backspace (an online writer's group), in May 2008, thinking I knew what I was doing. Wrong. At the conference, the opening pages of my draft were blasted into shards by breakout groups. The agents and attendees in my breakout groups were pretty merciless -- they'd use my (lousy) draft, and those of other aspiring writers, read the first paragraphs aloud, and then say how terrible they were. And they explained why. It was a disheartening, miserable experience. After I returned home, I cursed a lot and told myself to forget the whole damn thing.

It took months to get over that conference. Looking back, I believe that the conference itself was really really good. Being publicly drawn and quartered was quite a learning experience  - although I still wish it hadn't been so, well, PUBLIC.


By November of 2008, I braced myself for another attempt at the manuscript...

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Great Literary Agent Race: Part 1

I've decided to do a series of posts on the logistics of getting a literary agent. There are a ton of blogs on the subject, some more helpful than others. Many are by agents, some are by publishing professionals, others are by established writers.

This series is based on my personal experience as a new writer: I'll start at the end, i.e., where I'm at right now, then move backward in time to when I began to write fiction, in separate posts...


I just sent out the revised draft of Client Relations to my agent.

I pored over the draft for the zillioneth time, eliminating excess words, duplicative words, unneeded adverbs, repetitive sentence structure, missing prepositions, etc. --- after zipping up a plot point or two. Oh, did I say this was for the zillioneth time?

Imagine my bleary-eyed condition. Imagine how elated I am, too - because, day-um, I have an agent! And not just any agent. I have The Ultimate Agent.

So now? It's hurry up and wait (a) for my agent to approve of my edits; (b) for her to shop the book, assuming she thinks it's ready; and (c) for the rights to be sold.  I'm not thinking past that yet!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Client Relations Is Now Off-Line

Hi all,

I have an offer of representation from a top literary agent now, so I've deleted my posts that had excerpts from various stages of drafting.

I'm way too thrilled to blog more about it right now... more soon!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Another Awesome Woman's Life To Celebrate

A truly kickass woman, who not only spearheaded women's power on Wall Street, but paved the way for the end of discriminatory practices against women in the business community, died at age 80 on Saturday.

Her name? Muriel Siebert.

She had a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, back when women weren't even allowed on the elevator at the Union League Club. She was the first woman to become New York State Superintendent of Banking. She formed one of the first discount brokerage firms. She spent millions to help other women in business. She developed a curriculum for high school students to learn personal finance. She used a bit of her money to buy furs and learn to fly. Oh, and she made the Stock Exchange install a ladies' room on the seventh floor.

I remember when I had my job interview at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, and my soon-to-be mentor took me to lunch at the University Club. Women were't allowed to be members, and he had to take me to a special ladies' dining room for lunch. I couldn't even peek into the main dining room. By 1987, the University Club barriers came a-tumblin' down. But so many other, more insidious barriers remain, even today, against women attaining equality, prominence and power inside diehard male bastions of the business world.

Women in business, women in the professions, women in the arts and in the trades. We still tend not to climb to the same levels as men when it comes to money, position or clout. Still, we owe a huge thank you and a moment of celebratory silence in memory of a woman who put her energy, her time, and her money, where her heart was: Toward equalizing women as power-movers and money-makers and, for heaven's sake, as people.

Away, But I Have An Excuse

I have been a total bum here, ignoring my own b-to-c blog.

My reason?

I finished Client Relations (again), and have been on the hunt for literary representation. I scour published writers' bogs, hoping for pearls of genius on How To Do It (or 'How I Did It' a la Young Frankenstein). I read their stories, and, I dunno, it's such a long shot, no matter what... : /

So I've done my best, and now it's an excruciating, tortuous wait. Actually, let me re-word that: I'm scared shitless.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Making It Stink Less For The Kids

I've been reading a bunch of blog posts about how screwed up kids get (i) when their parents are divorcing or divorced (e.g., kids feel pressured to take sides); or (ii) when their parents are - well, just a mess.

So I'm thinking, okay, everything thinks divorce lawyers make it worse, by pushing people into being even more polarized. They only care about the money and don't care how screwed up the kids get. Right?  


The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (I'm admittedly biased since I'm a Fellow) has a some terrific cheap publications, and even a couple of free links on their web site which are amazing, all of which are instructive, informative, and designed to reduce friction and tension.  I've shared the links on a few blogs, and thought it only right to post them on my own:

With all that collective knowledge (from the top 1600 divorce lawyers in the US) of exactly how rotten life can be for the kids who are in the midst of family upheaval, the AAML was able to create a Children's Bill of Rights.

Yes, it's that good.  Please judge for yourself.

Monday, May 20, 2013

When I Say I'm A Divorce Lawyer

Gloves off.

These are the reactions I get when I tell people I'm a divorce lawyer:

1. Shudders and disdain: Usually that's the response from my corporate brethren and sistern, you know, the tax lawyers, commercial litigators, mergers & acquisitions specialists, intellectual property gurus -- virtually all lawyers except personal injury and criminal lawyers. Because their rep (that of the PI and criminal bar) is as bad as ours, maybe worse. They get down and dirty, too, just like we do: Sex, drugs, violence...  : )

2. Pity: Usually from the corporate crew. Because they assume divorce lawyers are too stupid to go into the more high-falutin' areas of the law. Revealing I'm a Georgetown Law alum, and a former Morgan, Lewis & Bockius lawyer, usually shuts that one down fairly quickly. Along with asking the M&A lawyer if s/he knows what a QDRO is. See, most other specialities don't realize that matrimonial law requires a breadth of knowledge. In order to be any good at it, we need to know a lot about contracts, tax, real property, pensions, and estate law. As well as how to get down and dirty, of course. ; )

3. Requests for advice: Because everybody has either had a divorce, or post-divorce issues, or their brother or sister or cousin or best friend is in a pickle. And I'm, like, do I really want to give free advice on a case I know absolutely nothing about, second-guessing the lawyers in the trenches? On the other hand, can I stop myself from butting in and pontificating? Sigh.

4. TMI: That's short for 'too much information.'  A whoosh of disclosures about the person's personal life comes flying at me. It's as if I were sitting next to a stranger on a plane who has to unload on somebody and that somebody is lucky me. It usually takes me a good fifteen minutes to extricate myself. I don't want to be rude, ya know? And the thing is, the person is usually not a stranger. So repeat encounters and additional disclosures are likely. I learned a long time ago: It comes with the territory.

5. Hostility: Okay, I saved this for last because it crosses age, gender, religion, race, occupation and socio-economics. And how can I respond when I'm barraged with what creeps divorce lawyers are?How we should be ejected from the planet, or banished to the swamps of Borneo without mosquito nets? I AGREE. Because if it weren't for the damn dabblers out there - the lawyers who toss 'divorce' on their list of practice areas (along with traffic tickets, wills, worker's comp, accidents, house closings, bankruptcy and criminal defense) on their website or on those paper placements in the local diner - the world would be a better place. My internist shouldn't attempt brain surgery. Not that divorce lawyers are the equivalent of neurosurgeons, but you get my drift. Dabblers make me soooo mad. Grrrr.

Being a divorce lawyer was my choice. No one forced me into it, and honestly? It has had more than its fair share of stressors and hassles.

But it has also been intensely gratifying. Like helping someone move on with his/her life to a far more positive place; getting kids to live with the parent who is providing them with a stable, safe home and learning, years later, that the kids are now successful and happy adults; unraveling the mess in someone's life efficiently and with a minimum of anger; cleaning up a post-divorce disaster so there's no room for future uncertainty; closing a deal that provides financial security and logical parenting arrangements in a nice, tight  agreement...

Granted, the good moments occur less frequently than the grueling ones, but when they do? Ain't nothin' like it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Lean In/Have It All Debate -- And Hope

This is a long post, but it's about two topics I'm quite passionate about: The near-dearth of women in leadership positions, and the so-called 'have it all' work-life balance debate, which isn't as gender-oriented as many claim.

Although these two related issues are easily melded into one, they should remain discrete.

Over the past few weeks, Sheryl Sandberg's book, 'Lean In: Women, Work and The Will To Lead' (you must have a subtitle in non-fiction!) has caused a gargantuan media splash, and even a 'catfight' among some prominent women. And in the midst of the brouhaha, I see a confusing blend of 'leaning in' advice with (I'm  grimacing) 'having it all' proclamations.

Stop the noise.

Ms. Sandberg's book (co-written with one of her fellow Harvard graduates, writer Nell Scovell), focuses on women at the top. It's about the hackneyed 'glass ceiling' and what we, as woman, can do within ourselves to break it. Ms. Sandberg does not disregard societal and corporate impediments to gender equality. She does not suggest that women are solely responsible for the scanty number of women in the 'C-Suites' and corner offices. Instead, she seeks to raise awareness about thoughts and actions -- even subconscious ones -- that can be altered by women themselves to start increasing our numbers at leadership levels.

Everyone knows the number of women leaders -- in business, politics, the professions, the trades, even the arts -- has flatlined, despite our 50/50 + numbers in colleges and graduate schools, and our oft-hailed academic superiority over the brawnier sex. Ms. Sandberg, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, is a staunch believer that women can work to improve their chances of becoming leaders if we are more self-aware of certain gender-based stereotypes, assumptions, internal behaviors, and societal expectations that hold us back. And then take action to change those biases in specified ways.

Absolutely. It's been said countless times before in recent decades. But NOT by a major corporate leader with a huge media platform, who also happens to be a woman.  Finally. A prominent female COO with the brains, power and visibility to ignite the fire under an issue that should have been in the forefront of workers and management, instead of hidden on the back burner.

So why would Ms. Sandberg's book lead to so much back-biting and anger?

Because the issues of gender-leadership lag, and 'having it all' work-life balance, are being wrapped up together in one untidy, imbalanced package. Except Ms. Sandberg barely touches on the 'work-life balance.' Is that because she 'has it all?' I'll get to that in a minute.

A phony, media-touted 'catfight' has been fabricated -- where none actually exists -- between Ms. Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter, who is a lawyer, Princeton professor and former senior State Department official. In July 2012, Ms. Slaughter wrote an article in The Atlantic entitled 'Why Women Still Can't Have It All,' which noted some of the major institutional obstacles to raising a family while working, including overwhelming travel commitments.  Some have latched on to Professor Slaughter's article as a rejection of the feminist working mom ideal, when, in fact, the article was written after Professor Slaughter faced a family crisis and turned down a promotion in order to handle it.

In fact, in a recent interview at Wharton, Professor Slaughter acknowledged the validity of Ms. Sandberg's exhortations, and reiterated that external change was also needed to ensure that both women and men need to pursue a proper balance, both within themselves and via organizational changes, as they attained leadership positions. Or as she put it: "[Women and men need to] own what we want and recognize that if we want both the power and dignity of a profession and the love of family -- however family is constructed -- that is entirely legitimate....[And then] have the courage to both talk about it and ask for change.

Neither Ms. Sandberg nor Professor Slaughter ignore the need for systemic change, either, as stated beautifully by a Latina psychologist: "Companies and organizations [must] begin to implement major structural and policy changes designed to promote leadership among women."

I can't omit to mention the searing essay written by former Lehman Brothers CFO Erin Callan, who mulls over her empty personal life during her hard-charging Lehman days: "I did have relationships - a spouse, friends and family - and none of them got the best version of me. They got what was left over." She ends her essay with a terrible lesson: If Lehman hadn't gone down in flames, she may never have discovered that she needed to learn to appreciate her life.

In the aftermath of Ms. Callan's essay, she has done some back-tracking, insisting she isn't sad at all. She says her essay was just a cautionary be-careful-what-you wish-for tale. A 'do what feels right, but think about it first' kind of piece.
That makes me raise my eyebrows a little. Her words in the essay, "I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did," and "I can't make up for lost time" are laced with incredible sorrow and regret. I think her interviewer, Ann Curry at NBC News, summarized Ms. Callan's current views better than Ms. Callan: "Just look before you lean."

Ms. Sandberg, who doesn't focus her 'Lean In' initiative on the 'work-life balance' at all, is not at odds with Ms. Slaughter. Or with Ms. Callan. Their credos are complementary: Internal initiative - if you want to 'go for it ' - plus institutional change will yield a new, more positive dynamic between work and personal life. For both women and men.

Honestly, I'm appalled by the reactions of Ms. Sandberg's critics -- mostly women -- who mistakenly combine Lean In's leadership self-help suggestions with the 'having it all' issue. Maureen Dowd lambasts Ms. Sandberg personally for 'having it all' and ipso facto unqualified to write about the gender leadership gap, denigrating Ms. Sandberg as a "PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle boots reigniting the women’s revolution." She snarks away with tart lines like: "[Sandberg] seems to think she can remedy social paradigms with a new kind of club — a combo gabfest, Oprah session and corporate pep talk. (Where’s the yoga?)"

I find Ms. Dowd's insults patently offensive. (Ms. Dowd had to correct one of her comments, post-publication, for quoting something from 'Lean In' completely out of context to support her ridiculous thesis.) What an counter-productuve non-sequitur, by a journalist I used to respect, to an incredibly important conversation. Another reason I'm glad I cancelled my subscription to The New York Times.

Other critics similarly have blasted away at Ms. Sandberg's wealth and background, again confusing her leadership focus with lifestyle issues. For example, her book is referred to as a 'privileged manifesto'  (e.g.,  Even self-styled critics on Amazon lob these kinds of grenades at her, instead of leaning BACK in their armchairs to read what Ms. Sandberg actually wrote.

All these critics completely disregard the positive impact 'Lean In' is already having -- It's bringing the gender-leadership lag in issue back into the limelight. Okay Ms. Sandberg may have it all: Brains, money, looks, power, platform, position. But none of that dilutes the power of her message, and her insights ito how woman can help empower themselves.

Forbes writer Anne Doyle got it right. I totally agree with her statement: "[Sandberg] has the vision, the skill and the pure guts to pour gasoline on the cooling embers of the women’s movement."

But... if the conversation is going to be about both leaning in and 'having it all,' because the gender leadership gap and work-life balance are inevitably connected? Well, maybe that's inevitable. Maybe my attempt to keep them discrete is artificial.

In which case, the perspective of a 'Millennial' professional woman -- the audience to whom Lean In is really addressed -- may have the greatest validity and poignancy yet. Valarie Kaur, a thirty-something activist-writer, acknowledges that 'leaning in' to careers requires female and male professionals, of all backgrounds, to 'lean on' others to perform household services. That systemic change is required, to revolutionize and innovate the workplace, in addition to personal ambition.

But, most important - and what gives me hope for the next generation of leaders, Ms. Kaur suggests that 'leaning toward' is what should really be the focus of this conversation. She writes that 'having it all' (i.e., having a fabulous career and a wonderful family life) was never part of the equation for her many many of her peers.  She writes: "We never wanted to 'have it all' for ourselves. We wanted to have enough for everyone. And that is what we’re leaning toward."

Ah. Hope. Now that's something we can all agree on.  

I hope!

This article has been published in  Huffington Post Women:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sex Shop Valentine: A Short Story

Okay, I just wrote another short story, just for fun, in honor of last week's plasticine holiday. Sometimes the day meanders by uneventfully, and sometimes it's a make-or-break celebration. It all depends, I guess, on the status of your romantic relationship(s) or lack thereof!

So here it is :

Sex Shop Valentine
By: Terri L. Weiss

So I’m always the one who changes the toilet paper roll. Always. Because two or three little sheets are stuck to the cardboard on, like, every roll, after my boyfriend’s done. Sorry, but I’m definitely not a guy. I need more than that to get clean, you know? And another thing? I don’t understand why he thinks bottle caps need to be screwed on so tight I need a pair of pliers to open them. I mean, peanut butter doesn’t evaporate. And omigod, can’t he stick with watching one show from start to finish? I wish he’d hand over the remote to me, cuz at least I know how to be decisive. I think the only reason we’re still dating after a whole year is, well, you know. Some things make us more tolerant.
I have to admit, I’ve been feeling a little guilty about something I did two weeks ago. Okay, it was 
pretty bad. Not like he didn’t deserve it. He’d dropped his clean laundry basket on the floor, right near the bed, a week earlier. Then, instead of putting his things away, he used the basket like a dresser. Because his actual dresser is a disaster. I know, I know, more typical guy behavior, right? But an entire week? Really?
Maybe I went a teeny bit far when I dumped the cat box in the remaining pile of clean underwear and socks in the basket. I told him, “Slob doesn’t work for me, dude. Next time, put your laundry away like the rest of the world.” The thing is, the rest of the world was hanging out in our apartment at that moment, watching the Superbowl. Awkward. Not for me, but definitely for him. I suspect his friends were embarrassed for him, too, even though they know what I’m like. Hell, I've dated half of them, which is how I met him in the first place. All the tech guys at get take-out from the deli where I work.
As I said, slob doesn’t work for me, but full-out psycho isn't gonna work for my boyfriend once he stops thinking with his dick. Cuz, to be honest, I’d crawl into a hole and never come out if he dumped me. He might be The One, as dumb as that sounds.
With Valentine’s Day looming, I decide it’s time for me to turn over a new leaf before it’s too late. I don’t want to hear it’s a Hallmark holiday, blah blah blah. For me, Valentine’s Day is gonna be Terminator Salvation Day. The big question is, exactly what do I do? A sudden burst of supercali sweetness would make my boyfriend suspicious, like I’m insincere or up to no good. Plus I don’t know if I could live with myself if I OD on sugar. On the other hand, gradual reform would test my resolve to the breaking point, and he might be long gone by the time my transformation from the Dark Side is complete.
No, I need to do something übercool, and make it count. How ‘bout Yankees tickets on Opening Day? Nah, his boss would never let him take time off work. Besides, that’s over two months away. Suppose I cook him an amazing meal? Boringggg. I do that already. Umm, take him to the zoo, cuz he loves animals? It’s February in New York. Fuggedaboudit.
I have a brain flash, unoriginal but totally appealing: buy a great sex toy online to make Valentine’s Day something special. Then, after an incredible night, I’ll stay motivated to behave myself, and he’ll be so blown away by our tremendous feats of magic that he’ll never realize I've been kinda over the top. To keep it a surprise, I’ll do my sex toy research when he’s working late or asleep.
Life between the Superbowl kitty poo event and Valentine’s Day goes on as usual. Work, dinner, tv, sex, sleep, rinse, repeat. Then Thursday rolls around a week earlier than I’d expected. Don’t ask me why I thought I had more time. It must be from slicing all that meat and cheese. One too many ham-and-swiss-on-rye, hold-the-mustard, sandwiches. Cuz here it is, Valentine’s Day, and, except for a bunch of e-cards, I’m empty-handed after I finish work. I’m actually terrified that my boyfriend will come home with flowers when I have nothing for him.
Talk about feeling like a total loser. It’s too late to order something on the Internet. Unless it’s an instant download, like a video stream, or movie tickets, or an e-book, none of which is exactly übercool. I want to give him something amazing that he can hold in his hands, besides me, of course.
There’s only one thing I can do now: Go to an actual sex store -- for the first time since I turned 18 and thought I was so badass -- and buy something for tonight. As per my original plan. So I Google ‘sex shops New York’ and add my county. In an Adobe flash, three stores pop up. One is only eight miles away. I vaguely remember commercials for the place on a local cable station.

          Okay, even with my navi on, I have to do two u-turns to find True Blue Rendezvous. So how weird is it that a shop could be right on an entrance ramp to the highway? There it is, along a little squiggly bypass road. Easy off, easy on, for the horny people who go to these stores. Buy a dildo, throw it in the car, head to the Super 8 motel at the next exit. Damn. I can’t believe I’m pulling into the parking lot to join the Super 8 crowd.
I wait in my car for a few minutes to check out the customers. The other cars could’ve been parked at Dunkin' Donuts. Nothing skanky. A Camry, a Civic, a Wrangler. One beaten-up Econoline with an NRA sticker --  well, there’s always somebody like that around. Although, in all fairness, if I were in Tennessee with my New York plates and my ‘First Amendment First’ decal, the locals would think I was a flaming crazy. But this is New York -- who says I gotta be fair? 
An average-looking blonde in average-looking clothes wanders out of the store. She disappears into the Civic, and drives off. Hopefully I won't be the only woman in the store now. I’m in the middle of zipping up my jacket when a black car pulls into the lot. Two swarthy guys, probably in their late 20’s, like me, pop out. They laugh as they go into the store, Clickkk, off goes the engine. I grab my handbag and slam the door behind me.
There’s a bzzzz when I climb the stoop, push open the door and step inside the store. Behind the front counter is an array of bongs and pipes. A surly-looking Indian guy slouches by the cash register.
“Excuse me,” I say. My voice sounds squeaky. “Can I ask you a few questions?” What am I, an undercover cop?
The Indian guy points at the door. “No questions, no answers. Get this clam, then maybe. You leave now.”
Huh? C‘mon, I need help, give me a break, I think. “This clam?” I ask.
“This clam-UH’” he says. “No liability that way.” For a guy who’s English-challenged, he sure knows how to turn a legal phrase or two.
“Disclaimer?” I ask. “I’m not suing anyone.”
He shrugs and turns his back to me.
“Lookit,” I say. “I want to buy something for my boyfriend, that’s all.”
He busies himself with the bong display. Hell with him. I march toward the center of the store where I spot the two guys from the black car.
“Nothin’ good left,” says the taller one. He points to an empty metal rack. “Fatty Patty’s gone.” There’s a blow up display doll above the rack. She’s obese and red-cheeked, say, two feet tall and just as wide. Taped to her belly, a torn strip of paper proclaims, 'Love my fat.' Right next to her dangles a single pair of plus-sized crotchless fishnets. The tall dude pulls the fishnets off the rack and frowns. “Wrong color.”
The shorter dude hands him a package. “Think she’ll like this?” he asks.
"Absolutely." Mr. Tall grins, and tucks a plus-sized schoolgirl costume under his arm. “See anything else?”
I edge past the big girl teddy rack -- also empty, I’m afraid. I want to tell Mr. Tall there are plenty of Judy inflatables, but Judy is an average white girl, probably unappealing to a dude like him. Maybe he’d like a blow-up Guidette, The Whore From The Jersey Shore. There are two packaged Guidettes left on the rack, with a logo that says: ‘I want your friggin’ sausage.’
Wait a sec, who am I shopping for?
I pass the video department. Why would anyone buy videos in this day and age, with free porn all over the Internet? An old guy, that’s who. A grey-haired guy in a suit looks frazzled in front of the ‘Big Tits’ section. He flags down a girl with a nametag on her sweatshirt. “Miss? Do you have a searchable database?” he asks.
I don't hang around for the answer. In the near-empty BDSM section, a lonely pair of panties with an attached leash lies in a heap on the floor. I hurry past the handcuff shelf. There's a rhinestones studded pair that catches my eye. Nah, I'm not into that stuff anymore. In the back of the store, the dildo aisle beckons. I‘m hoping to find something there, even if it’s just for laughs. Lots of six-inch white-guy ‘American Topper’ dildos stand nice and perky, all in a row. Labels for ‘Antonio,’ ‘Juan’ and ‘Leroy’ are taped above empty shelves. Sold out. I glance at the photos: Seven, eight and nine-inch Hispanic and Af-Ams. Plain vanilla is definitely lameass at True Blue Rendezvous.
The girl with the nametag dashes over to me. “We had a run on these for Valentine’s Day, sorry. But I just found one Suavé at the register, if he'll do.” She pronounces it ‘Swah-vay’ with an authoritative accent, and hands me a twelve-inch Hispanic model.
“Not quite what I was looking for.” I head toward what I think is a locked jewelry case with a side-mounted spotlight. ‘Vibrators, $199.99 And Up.’
“I know, they're expensive, right?” I jump, because I didn’t see the girl following me. “How 'bout these? They start at $99.99, made in the USA and guaranteed safe.” She tugs a sealed plastic box from a metal rod. It looks like it contains purple jumper cables. ‘Vibrating Nipple Clamps.’ The purple control box has a red, heart-shaped button. 
The plastic casing looks strong enough to house a rocket-launcher. I mean, it would take so long to break open the package, my nipples would fall off. I guess that's where pliers, aka bottle-opener, would come in handy again.
“Um, thanks. I think I’ll need to come back here with my boyfriend.” This isn’t working out like I planned. I’m not buying anything, just wasting my time. When I don't have time to waste. I hear the same bzzzz as I push through the front door and unlock my car.
What the hell am I gonna do?
On the way back to my apartment complex, I pass a Barnes & Noble. I make a U and head in. Even though the store is deserted, I hope I’ll find a cute card or something. Most of the Valentine’s Day cards at B&N are gone, so it won’t take me long to scour the leftovers.
A cue-ball dude with a soul patch appears by my side. The green apron he’s wearing looks pretty silly, but I know it’s not his choice. I mean, my yellow-and-white uniform is totally idiotic, but that’s what all the deli clerks wear. So who am I to judge, right?
“Can I help you, miss?”
“Just browsing,” I answer. “Looks like you’re pretty cleaned out.”
“Who are you shopping for?” he asks. “Boyfriend, husband?”
“Boyfriend.” Lucky for him I’m not a lesbian.
“Follow me.” He crosses the store and stops in front of a table stacked with glossy, all-black books. No writing on the black covers, just thin blue lines along the inside edge. He hands me one of the books, and when I flip it over, I see the back is solid black, too. As well as the spine. There’s nothing on the book flaps, either. No title, no author, no description. “We just got these in,” he says. “They’ll be sold out by tomorrow night. Can’t keep ‘em in stock.”
“What is it?” I ask. I flip the pages, expecting it to be a sex manual, but all I see are words. I peer at one of the pages. The first sentence has big words I don’t understand. Except for the word ‘cock,’ which shows up like twenty times. Mmm-hmm, must be a sex book.
“Bestseller," he says, "There are seven books in the set. One blue line is Book One, two blue lines for 
Book Two, and so on. You can read them separately, or pick one or two. It all works, no matter how many you have. You choose to read them whatever way you want, in whatever order you want.” He opens one of the books to the title page. ‘Book One. Military Confusion.’
“What’s the book about?”
“Nothing, really. Absurdist flash fiction is the best way for me to explain it. It appeals to men much more than women, which is why I’m suggesting it to you."
I rummage through the stack of black covers for two, three, four blue lines, for each of the books.
‘Book Three. Family Inclusion.’ I flip to a random page toward the middle of the book. Besides having a penis obsession, whoever wrote this has a sick vocabulary. Sick as in unbelievable. Like “lissotrichous,” I mean, is that even a word? And “a quasi-compendium of flaggelating paramecium illuminated by phosphorescent lampyridae…” This stuff’s way over my head.
There’s ‘Book Two. Criminal Delusion.’ On page 3, I read, “Busted piston and all, the cannibal rattled south on his 1979 Honda CBX six-cylinder superbike, with a large order of McDonald’s fries wedged in his pocket.” Kinda cool, I could understand this one, I think. I find ‘Book Six. Literary Seclusion.’ Another stack teeters on the edge of the table: ‘Book Five. Cerebral Occlusion.’ The hell? What’s with all the ‘shuns?’ There are only three books left in this pile: ‘Book Four. ‘Sexual Intrusion.’ Ah, finally, there’s a sentence I can figure out, even if I don’t understand every word: “Entry from behind increased my erection to quadrinomial proportions, but the sound of ‘Macarena’ blasting from the kitchen perniciously pounded ten minutes of pump and hump into a Sisyphean waste of energy.”
I can’t find Book Seven.
“Here you go, miss.” The clerk hands me a black book with seven thin lines along the side. The title is ‘Book Seven. Attribution.’
“I don’t get it,” I say. But my boyfriend, who’s a whole lot smarter than me, might. At least I’m coming home with something. I buy the lot and have them gift-wrapped.
The apartment is a ten-minute drive away. When I pull up to our building and pop the keys in the front door, my boyfriend is already home.
“Got out of work early, baby,” he says, and gives me a hungry kiss. “Happy Valentine’s Day.” He presents a dozen long-stemmed roses to me with a flourish.
I pass him my Barnes & Noble bag. “I hope you like it. I didn’t know what to get you,” I say. As I put my roses in a vase, I hear him tearing off the giftwrap.
My heart sinks. I should’ve gotten the electric nipple clamps. Or twelve-inch-long Suavé.
“Baby, you outdid yourself this time, you know that?” He runs over to hug me, and relief washes over me.
“I did good?” I ask, smiling.
He gives me a kiss so deep I can hardly breathe. When he releases me, he says, “The guy’s a fucking rock star. We’re trying to land an interview with him, but he’s booked solid for the next month.”
“I didn’t think people read books anymore.” Oops.
He raises his eyebrows at me. “People read this. When they can get their hands on it.” Then he points to charcoal gray letters on the back cover. So dark I never noticed them: Caliban.
I still don’t get it. “Wasn’t that the name of some metal song?”
“Metalcore, lust, and Shakespeare.” He leads me into the bedroom. “Power of words, baby. It means there’s hope for the world.”
We peel off each other’s clothes. Even without vibrating nipples and Suavé, I guess there's hope for me, too. Although those rhinestone handcuffs did look pretty nice.