“Your personal story could really cover a lot of territory, go a lot of different directions.”
“Oh, a million directions.” That’s one thing about me. I’m always in. All in.
The agent sent out a proposal pitching a story chronicling the trial and tribulations of my unemployment, and one publisher immediately responded enthusiastically by relating, “You know, unemployment is kind of a downer. Would you be willing to turn it into a novel?” I didn’t really get where she was coming from. On the one hand, a book about real unemployment: “Uhhh, too depressing.” On the other, a book about make-believe unemployment: “Oh, that could be good.” I didn’t get that at all. I had never written a novel before — didn’t know if I could write a novel — but I immediately said, “Yes!”
I was unemployed. The publisher could have asked me to turn it into a musical, and I would have said, “Hold on, I’ll get my xylophone.”
I was writing at a frenzied, heightened pace. I couldn’t wait for all the former co-workers I fictionalized to laugh their fool heads off about how they were portrayed. I envisioned having an esteemed real actor — one who could make all kinds of marvelous faces — play the lead in a 96-minute motion picture. Invitations to international book fairs were already coming in.
Shortly before publication, a book reviewer who received an early copy of “Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You” called me to gush about the characters and the climactic sex scene. I had friends I had never heard of piling up on my new Facebook page, and the publisher set me up with my own blog, where the unemployed masses would soon gather. Everything was going fantastically.
Then the book came out. If all the initial excitement about the book was the fantasy, this was the reality:
1. All my former co-workers hated me for how they were portrayed. “But it’s a novel. I was just. ...” Click. People whom I had spent nearly 20 years gaining the respect of now thought I was a jerk.
2. The blog was hijacked and turned into a porn site. It’s not even a good porn site.
3. One Amazon review called for Louis C.K. to play the role of the main character, which was quickly followed by one tweet and one retweet. My tweet spelled his first name Louie, and the campaign ended there.
4. The gushing reviewer got laid off before his review hit the presses.
5. Nobody bought the book.
I racked my brain about where I went wrong. “Maybe you shouldn’t have made fun of Bruce Springsteen in that one part,” one friend mentioned.
But I wasn’t making fun of him. I was just making note that the main character wouldn’t want to be Mr. Springsteen because of the unsanitary way Little Stevenalways comes over to share the microphone during live performances of “Glory Days.”