We have lift-off! Not just the space shuttle, but my career, which has been back rumbling on the launch pad these last several weeks. Those of you who have been waiting for word with bated breath? Fearing the worst for poor
Nancy? Well, I finally have a new book contract. I will be writing two more Blackbird mysteries for NAL/Signet, an imprint at Penguin.
I wrote a proposal, and my agent took it from there. She is tough. I mean tough!! But she’s also hilarious, not to mention very smart, very widely read, and I’m lucky to have her on my side. She has a very good sense of what’s new, what people are looking to read, how to out-smart the trends, not be a clone, how to give good ideas an even fresher spin. She’s bored by repetition. Irritated by explaining. Likes to read the ideas on the page, not listen to anyone blather. She challenges me. Urges me to take chances, write more layers and nuance. Like the good strategist she is, she bided her time with the publisher, waiting to strike at the right moment.
That moment came when my editor—gearing up for the RWA conference and stymied by a Power Point presentation--was too distracted to put up a fight, so we feel we got the best deal we could. It’s a hard/soft deal with a nice bump in my advance and included an increase in my royalty rate, some bonuses attached to sales performance. Best of all, it’s a chance to write books I love to work on. I can’t wait.
My editor is a gem, too. We share a common sensibility, and I trust her story judgment, her obsessive perfectionism. (I know I’m going to shock her when I write certain kinds of scenes, which gives me great delight as I work.) She knows I always want to improve myself and my books and am willing to work very hard, so she’s demanding, too. We’re a good team.
So. New contract. Now what?
Well, maybe I’ll go to a baseball game. (Your cue to roll your eyes and say to yourself, “What roundabout nonsense is
Nancy going to take us through this time before making her point?”)
Let me assure you I’m not a real baseball fan. Barely understand the game, in fact. It’s un-American, but there you have it. Ask me about polo, show-jumping or even dog shows, but I just don’t have the baseball gene.
But I love going. Particularly because…and I know I should be ashamed to admit this….we watch baseball from the luxury boxes.
My husband is a banker, and he gets the bank tickets once in a while to entertain (woo?) customers because that’s what the tickets are for. If somebody cancels at the last minute, I’m the stand-in. From time to time, we are also invited to another box by my college roommate who’s now a VP at a Fortune 500 company that isn’t officially the owner of the team, but they are part of the owner’s consortium (you don’t really believe one guy can own a whole team, do you?) so we get to hang in the owner’s box right behind home plate.
They aren’t boxes at all, really, but more like rec rooms high in the stadium on a level where you can stroll to the really nice restaurants they have hidden up there or to the upscale ice cream stand or the bars with umbrella tables that overlook the field. That’s if you feel like rubbing elbows with other people. If you’re in the mood to be cozy, you stay in the box and chat up the 11 other guests who’ve been invited.
The box itself has a cherry-paneled living room with a buffet, a kitchenette, a very nice private bathroom (manly with marble and brass, no flowered wallpaper, thank you) a coat closet so you don’t clutter up the place, leather sofas and upholstered chairs where I sometimes lounge to read the newspapers (they’re free) or look through the lovely books of photographs lying around on the coffee tables or watch the big screen TV. (I’m perverse.---I like to tune the channel to a soap opera or maybe Oprah.) The host of the box usually has a meal catered---ribs, pasta, sometimes steaks, a cheese plate, a fruit display, maybe ice sculptures if the guests are bigwigs, but also hot dogs with kraut and big Dagwoods and of course fresh popcorn. Beer and soda in the fridge. Sometimes there’s waitstaff, but not usually. Help yourself.
At the big window, there’s a bar with stools for watching the game in air-conditioned comfort, or you can stroll out through the sliding glass doors to the seats, which are pretty much like the ones in the rest of the stadium except adjacent to other boxes where the women carry Gucci handbags and well-behaved men wear pressed khakis and loafers with tassels. The kids are all giggly, though, darting back and forth to the fridge to grab more Pepsis. They often wear their Little League shirts, and they have sunburned noses.
Halfway through the game, a truly handsome young man comes knocking on the door. The look in his eye says he has even more temptations to offer besides his splendid body. With a seductive smile, he invites us out onto the walkway to see---take a deep breath, now---the dessert cart. You have never seen such a sight as the stadium dessert cart. I’m talking about a vehicle the size of a pickup truck and with more oozing chocolate than…well, my pantry. Just looking at it can be an orgasmic experience. Everybody gets something gooey.
The last time I was there, one of the kids—he was maybe 10 and having a wonderful day--chose the most gigantic candy apple I have ever seen. It was more like the size of a small pumpkin and coated in a thick layer of caramel, then rolled in M&Ms and dusted with sprinkles. The kid’s eyes were spinning as he took his first bite, his grin full of delight. When I asked him if it was delicious, he clutched it with both hands, caramel stuck to his cheeks and cried, “It’s INSANE!”
Here I find plenty of good material for my books. Our fellow guests are always interesting people. Good conversationalists. They discuss ideas. Cutting-edge insights into business, politics, social issues. They’re smart. Witty. Sure, there’s the occasional vapid young trophy wife, but you might be surprised to discover that there are very few assholes in the boxes. We all talk about our kids. Who’s going off to college, what their summer jobs are. How their parents are enjoying retirement, how they volunteer in the community, the special events they organize to raise money for good causes. Sure, we watch a little baseball, but that’s not the only reason to be there. It’s social. It’s business. It’s stimulating. It renews your appreciation of your fellow man.
Flashback to a September Saturday long, long ago: My parents requested I put on a tweed pants suit (I was 15! Who owns a pants suit at that age, you ask? Well, that’s another blog.) and we drove several hours to a famous hunt club. We spent the day watching steeplechasing. People tailgated with linens and crystal and silver. Bentleys parked in the grass. Beautiful horses. People speaking other languages. At least one private helicopter.
The previous night I had been drinking MD 20-20 with my hometown pals, probably smoking something too, out in an abandoned strip mine doing stunts with 4-wheel vehicles that luckily didn’t get us killed. As I recall, my “date” had recently lost his front teeth in a motorcycle accident.
The steeplechase was another world. And once I glimpsed it, I knew which world my parents wanted for me. Like that kid with the caramel on his cheeks, I was dazzled.
Also challenged. My family is not big on giving stuff to children. I received a college education for free, for which I am very thankful, but mostly they showed me possibilities. The rest was up to me.
So I’ve worked really hard to get this new contract. I’ve been to the lux box. I want to stay there. I know The Big Time doesn’t come looking for me, that I have to make it happen. I’m setting out to write the best two books of my career because it’s not luck that got me where I am. It’s hard work that puts all my wits and skill to the test. Fortunately, it’s work I love, love, love to do.
Thanks to NAL/Signet, my editor and super agent Meg for allowing me to do it again. I’m gonna knock your socks off.