What I learned naming characters in my novel and TV pilot

Owen Meany. Daenerys Stormborn. Katniss Everdeen. images

As a reader, I love a great character name. When they’re done right, the name infuses the role so completely in my mind that they’re forever inseparable. How can Jane Eyre be anything but?

When I became a fiction writer, it dawned on me that I’d be the one who’d have to come up with the names. I’d be inventing a person, after all: the color of her eyes, the way she talks, her earliest memories. Of course I’d have to give her a name.

You know how you agonized over the naming of your children? Yeah. It’s like that. A terrifying responsibility, if also a joyful opportunity.

In writing my novel, “Pastors’ Wives,” I turned for inspiration to the Bible. That made sense to me, as the story is set in a church and is about what it’s like when the man you married is married to God. Also, the Bible is a great source for names, as parents the world over can tell you. Bible Book of Ruth

“Ruth” is named after the Ruth in the Bible who pledges loyalty to her mother-in-law. Like her, my Ruth is helped by an older, wiser woman who counsels her on matters of love and marriage.

“Candace” is mentioned in the Bible as queen of the Ethiopians. Scholars surmise that it may derive from a Nubian word meaning “queen mother.” My Candace is indeed that of her megachurch flock.

“Jeremiah” is a Hebrew biblical name meaning “appointed by the Lord.” The Jeremiah in my novel, called Jerry, hears a calling to serve the church.

“Aaron” means teacher or mountain of strength. I thought that was an appropriate name for the charismatic leader of my fictional megachurch.

Not all my characters’ names have such lofty origins. Some I threw in for fun. For instance, in my story, the megachurch leader forms an alliance with a local imam. The wife of that imam is a blue-eyed American named Kristin Chaudry. That’s the name of my bff growing up (though her real husband is a telecom exec…you’re welcome, Kuri!).

Naming characters in my TV pilot, CBS’s “The Ordained,” was in some ways harder. Those names had to have a certain ring and resonance when spoken aloud. And what I learned when my pilot was produced is that every single name—even those scribbled on a white board in a law office—have to be vetted by the network. They check exhaustively for living people who bear the same name.

Interestingly, if there are a lot of people with the same name—say, John Smith—you’re fine. If there’s only one, you have a problem. Why? Lawsuits. That one person could decide to sue for defamation or some such. I lost out on some of my beloved character names because of this. One name had become so ingrained in our minds of our crew that they refused to remember the new one.

It’s okay. I got to keep the most important name of all: Tom Reilly, the main character. He’s named after my late father, who also inspired the character and the story.

How to approach a book agent, how to recognize a book idea, and other things I learned on a panel yesterday

Yesterday, I sat on a panel titled, “Secrets of the Book Biz!”

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I didn’t actually know any secrets, so I was relieved to learn my fellow panelists did.

Alison Singh Gee is the author of a memoir called “Where the Peacocks Sing,” about meeting her now-husband and finding out he grew up in a palace in India. She got there in great anticipation to learn it was “a total tear-down.”

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Is that a gorgeous cover or what?! I think the subtitle is important to note: “A Palace, a Prince, and the Search for Home.” Alison said that while it’s a love story and a travelogue too, in the end it’s really a woman’s search for home.

Our moderator, Julie Dam of People magazine (and author of “Some Like It Haute”), asked how our books came about. I told my crazy story about my magazine article turning into a TV pitch turning into a disaster turning into a novel.

Alison said something far more useful: that her story made all her friends lean forward. When she updated them on the situation with the loser boyfriend and the magazine job and this prince from India, they all leaned forward, wanting to hear more. That’s when she knew she had the makings of a book.

The other person on the panel was Kirby Kim, a literary agent at William Morris Endeavor. His takeaway was basically this: when you approach an agent, be ready. Write the best damn pitch you could possibly write. Sweat over that query letter. Bleed over it.

But don’t stop at the query: be ready with your work. Because if and when the agent professes interest and asks for a few chapters, you want to send him a version polished so bright he could brush his teeth off its reflection. Biggest lame-o mistake: sending an agent a draft, and then, a couple weeks later, sending another, “better” draft. That’s sure to land your ms in the bin.

My novel published yesterday. Here’s why I wrote it

My novel debuted yesterday. Here’s a post I wrote for SheReads:

If you’d told me five years ago I’d publish a novel and shoot a TV pilot in the same month, I would have laughed.

If you’d told me they’d both be about faith, I’d have laughed so hard I’d have the hiccups for hours.

No one I know would describe me as religious. I was raised Catholic and practiced into my 30s, but Catholics—we’re private about our faith. Forget the yells and bells of more expressive denominations; we barely manage to mumble the liturgy in Mass. We don’t thumb the Bible on the subway. We don’t praise Jesus in polite conversation. We’re outed once a year by that smudge of ash on our foreheads.

And yet.

In 2008, my mother died. She died after a long and valiant battle with cancer, each step of which my siblings and I witnessed in ever heightening despair. Nine months later, our father died of a broken heart.

My parents were the root of my faith. My father was a former Catholic priest who removed the collar to marry my mother, who had in turn converted from Buddhism. They taught me all I knew of faith and love. They remained devout till their last. As I sat weeping by her bedside at the hospital, my mother said to me: “Remember this. You are not alone. You always have Him.”

When they died, I felt forsaken.

I quit my job as a staff writer at Time magazine, and my career in journalism. Inspired by an article I had written for Time, I began Pastors’ Wives, a novel about three women whose lives were defined and dictated by faith, married as they were to pastors at a Southern evangelical megachurch. I imagined their dreams and frustrations, their trials and triumphs.

After the novel sold to Penguin/Plume, I wrote a TV pilot inspired by my father called “The Ordained.” It’s about a priest who becomes a lawyer in order to protect his family, a New York political dynasty. It was bought by CBS last fall, and we just wrapped shooting in April. We’ll find out in mid-May if it will be picked up for series.

We writers have the great privilege of writing through our issues. My crisis of faith led me to write stories that, in their recording, led me to a kind of peace.

But I’d gladly trade that for just one more sunset at the Jersey shore, joking and laughing with my family, holding my parents’ hands.

Mom and Dad

This is my mom and dad. I miss them every day.

Yet another post in which I promote my novel, this time under the guise of an author Q&A

I hate chain letters. I mean I really hate them. I find them obnoxious and annoying and creepy. Also I resent the threat of eternal damnation for breaking the chain. I may be damned, but it sure as hell isn’t for failing to forward some stupid letter.

But this chain letter is different. Different because it came from someone I respect: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” her memoir of growing up and cooking in Singapore. She was also a fashion reporter for the Wall Street Journal. So she cooks and dresses fancy. Some husbands have all the luck.

Why was this lovely and accomplished person forwarding me a questionnaire about my work habits? Because writers need help. Let’s admit it. We spend day after day shut in from society with our weird ideas and delusions of grandeur, but at the end of the day we need to sell what we produce. And that’s the point of this exercise.

So I will continue this chain without complaint. Without much complaint. It’s called The Next Big Thing. I don’t know who started it, and I’m too lazy to find out. Following is the Q&A, in which I, like many writers before and after me, answer questions nobody asked me about my current work. If you value your time, please skip it and go straight to the part where I tag five other writers I like very much.

What is your working title of your book (or story)? “Pastors’ Wives.” Pre-order on Amazon!

Where did the idea come from for the book? It was inspired by an article in TIME magazine. That I wrote. I am not yet good at lifting other people’s ideas.

What genre does your book fall under? Women’s commercial fiction. In other words, if you only read Hemingway and Vonnegut, keep moving.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oooo. As Ruthie, the skeptical outsider new to the Southern evangelical megachurch that hired her husband: Emma Stone! As Candace, the fierce, powerful wife of the senior pastor: Alison Janney! As Ginger, the lonely wife with a hidden past: Jessica Chastain! Wait a minute. That’s the cast of THE HELP. (In truth: any actress with her own production company, the funds to option and with the clout to get a studio to greenlight.)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? “Pastors’ Wives” follows three women whose lives converge and intertwine at a Southern evangelical megachurch. No, no, that’s boring. Let me try again: “Pastors’ Wives” is a passionate portrayal of the private lives of pastors’ wives, caught between the consuming demands of faith, marriage, duty and love. There.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? My publisher is Penguin/Plume.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The date on the Word document titled PASTORS’ WIVES FIRST DRAFT is September 2009. Many complications ensued. I turned in a final draft to my agent in December 2011. I would say most of it was hacked out over 2011.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? “The Help,” by Katharine Stockett. “Fly Away Home,” by Jennifer Weiner. “Belong to Me,” by Marisa de los Santos. All of those books alternated the story lines and perspectives of three characters. It is mere coincidence that they also sold like hotcakes.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? While reporting for TIME magazine, I met and interviewed pastors’ wives whose stories stayed with me. What struck me most was their honesty. They shattered my preconceptions about these sweet ladies who supported their minister husbands above all. No—they were lonely, intelligent, wistful, opinionated. Almost all of them wished their husbands weren’t pastors at all. Yet they remained devout. I marveled at their faith, their sense of duty, their love for their husbands and God. The question that became central to my novel popped into my head: What’s it like when the man you married is married to God?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It is told entirely in limericks. No! It’s not. It’s set in a world you may know well or not at all, about women you may recognize or not at all. I love my Ruthie, Candace and Ginger with all my heart. It would make me so happy to introduce you. (Pre-order on Amazon!)

Now here’s the part where I tag other writers. Not it!

I met Julie Gray when I fan-mailed her after stumbling upon her website. Julie is a screenwriting guru to students and writers around the world. So I was delighted and surprised when she replied and invited me to lunch on my next trip to L.A. We cemented our friendship over martinis in New York. Her website is called Just Effing Entertain Me, and it’s an awesome resource.

Julie recently introduced me to Margaux Froley. Margaux is a Los Angeles–based television and YA fiction writer. Her first novel, “Escape Theory,” comes out March 12. Margaux says that when she’s not writing, she can be found “hiking in the Hollywood hills and practicing Tae Kwon Do with her nunchucks.” I have no idea what that means, but I like the way it sounds. Check out her work here.

I think I fan-mailed Rebekah Sanderlin too. (For someone who hates chain mail, I appear not to have any compunction about cold-calling other writers with gratuitous gushing.) I admire the blunt and candid style with which Rebekah writes on military and family—and military family—issues. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Self, Maxim, and a whole slew of impressive titles. But I think the medium where she proves her genius is Facebook. This is her website.

I met Lauren Sandler at this kaffeeklatsch of writer moms in New York. Which sounds cozy, but honest to John it’s the most high-powered group of writers, and I’m always thrilled but utterly intimidated to attend. Lauren was warm and high-larious and we hit it off right away. That’s not to say she’s not scarily accomplished. Her new book draws on her experience as an only child and the mother of one. Because it’s Lauren, you know it’s going to be brilliantly reported, beautifully written—and controversial. Her book comes out in June. This is her website.

Bee Ridgway I met through our mutual editor at Penguin. Her time-travel novel (!), “The River of No Return,” will be published by Dutton/Penguin this spring. Lauren Willig, author of “The Pink Carnation” series, describes the novels as “A compelling race through time in a historical world turned upside-down. Take time travel, intrigue, a vast conspiracy and a wicked way with words, shake and serve.” Here’s her site.

 

What I wrote in the farewell letter when I quit my job in 2009

One thing that happens when you have big news is that you hear from people you haven’t heard from in never. For a shut-in, this is a nice change from the usual inbox garbage. It’s pleasant to be thought of, isn’t it?

If it’s someone I once knew, it’s interesting, archeologically speaking, to read the correspondence that preceded this one. That’s how I came across the farewell letter I had e-mailed to colleagues at TIME magazine when I departed in 2009.

Let me set the scene. I had worked on staff at TIME for eight years, and before that at Money for four. Which means I’d called the Time-Life Building my work home for 12 years, minus the two I spent in the Tokyo bureau. I knew everyone in the building, including the guards and the daycare workers. (Time Inc. had emergency daycare. I know!)

Time-Life Building

This is where I worked for 12 years.

I loved my job as a staff writer at TIME. I still believe it was one of the last, great jobs in journalism. (Not to mention the emergency daycare. Come on!) And yet, it was time to go.

For the last few of those years, I’d had my own blog on Time.com, one covering work-life topics called Work In Progress. It’s fair to say it had become the highlight of my job. It’s even fair to say that in writing the blog, along with my first book, I learned how to sound like me.

I had no flipping idea what I was going to do next. The TV drama I had been developing had gotten pitched and sold by my producer—without me. I had a flurry of offers—one of them, inexplicably, an on-air gig at CNBC—each for a whole lot less money, each requiring a whole lot more work.

Meantime, a lot of life stuff was going on. I’d just had my second child. Then my mother died. And my father was on his way.

What could I have been thinking, quitting the cushy job with which I kept my growing family off government cheese? What kind of farewell letter would such a desperate slob have written?

This, it turns out, is what I wrote:

“I want to let you know that I volunteered for a buyout from TIME. I shall now answer your FAQs:

Q: Why are you leaving?

A: A staff writer post at Time Inc. is one of the last, great journalism jobs, and I had a 12-year run. I’ve written about wacky funerals (which led to this book) and fried-chicken empires and how I find environmentally correct behavior a huge pain in the butt. I’ve tried absolutely every item in the cafeteria salad bar. It’s time to venture out of Rock Center.

Q: What will you do next?

A: I have one skill: writing. That’s it. I can’t add. I can’t tap dance. I can’t lift heavy objects. I’m hoping someone somewhere will pay me to write something. Limericks. Eulogies. Subtly poetic menus.

Q: What about your blog?

A: “Work in Progress,” my beloved if under-appreciated Time.com blog, shall not be reincarnated as “Out of Work in Progress.”  If you’ll indulge me, I’ll send another shameless promo when I find my new blog a home.

Q: How should I contact you with congratulatory food stamps or suspiciously lucrative opportunities?

A: Please write me at lisa dot cullen at gmail dot com. If we are not Facebook-linked, please friend me. I need friends.

I’m wishing you a very healthy, happy and rewarding 2009. Your friend, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen”

That was it. Phew.

My CBS pilot was inspired by my dad. This is him.

In case you haven’t heard me hollering, CBS ordered my drama pilot, THE ORDAINED. Here’s the write-up in Deadline by Nellie Andreeva (“The back story of Cullen’s project is the kind aspiring writers dream of”—if you dream of ulcerative colitis!) and the one from the Hollywood Reporter.

As Deadline reports,

the essence of the lead character inspired by her late father, a former priest.

This is true. So I thought I’d introduce you to my dad.

His name was Tom Reilly, and he was an ex-priest. My character’s name is Tom Reilly, and he is an ex-priest.

I am not yet so good at making stuff up.

Thomas J. Reilly, priest

This was Father Tom Reilly, before he became MY father.

My dad was born in 1933 in Philadelphia, the second of six children. My grandfather, his father, was an Irish-American lawyer who ran for district attorney but lost. My grandmother, his mother, was of Cuban descent.

In my pilot, Tom’s father is an Irish-American former governor of New York who ran for President but lost. Tom’s mother is of Cuban descent.

Making stuff up is hard.

My dad left the priesthood in his mid-thirties to marry my mom. In my show, Tom leaves the priesthood in his mid-thirties to try to save his sister, the mayor of New York City, from an assassination plot.

So I made THAT up.

After he quit the priesthood, the real Tom Reilly went into advertising. The made-up Tom Reilly goes into the law.

See the difference? I can do this.

Tom Reilly spent the next forty years in Japan, raised four kids, ran his ad agency, made everyone he met laugh, and remained a devout Catholic to his last. That last came in 2009, nine months after my mom died of cancer. Near as any of us can figure, he died of a broken heart.

I don’t know yet what the future holds for my Tom Reilly, the one in my head. I have so many adventures plotted for him, twists and turns, tragedies and triumphs, maybe a broken heart or two. All I know is he’d be damn lucky to live a life as rich as the real-life Tom Reilly’s. We all would.

So here’s to the resurrection of Tom Reilly. May he yet live.

How I met my TV agent (and my manager, and my lawyer)

Breaking into TV writing is about as mysterious a process to most of us as nuclear fusion. The biggest mystery of all is how one goes about getting an agent.

Here’s what knowledgeable people will tell you to do:

1. Enroll in film school.

2. Move to L.A.

3. Grovel till you find work as an assistant in a writer’s room on a show.

4. Grovel till one of the writers takes a look at your specs.

5. Pray your script will make the writer laugh/cry so hard he’ll introduce you to his agent.

That path only works if you’re 18. What if you’re not? And have a full-time job doing something else entirely, plus a mortgage, plus a husband and kids, and you live 3,000 miles from the Hollywood sign?

Here’s a short version of what happened to me.

Jeremy Piven Entourage

My agent is not this guy.

In 2007, I was a journalist, a staff writer for Time magazine. I had just published an article I thought—for no good reason at all—would make a super cool TV series.

My book agent—who had hoped the article would turn into a super cool book—sighed and introduced me to her friend, a TV agent in Hollywood. He called. I pitched the idea. He totally got it. He asked for a treatment.

I said, “What’s a treatment?”

I could say that was the start of my brilliant career as a TV writer, but that would not be true. That pitch died a gruesome death, but not till two years later, during which I continued to work at Time. Meantime, I took classes and workshops and read everything I could on how to write a TV script. I finally quit my full-time job in 2009.

In 2010, I went to L.A. for staffing season. That’s the month or so in late spring when new TV shows hire their writing staff. My agent set up a ton of meetings, but I wound up not staffing because all, and I mean all, the jobs that year were in L.A.—which is kind of a long commute from New Jersey.

But it wasn’t all for nothing. Because the most important meeting my agent set up was with the guy who would become my manager.

Whoa, whoa, you’re saying. Why would a broke-ass writer without a single credit need or deserve a manager? And what’s the difference between an agent and a manager anyway?

That’s a timeless question, and a tricky one. I can only speak for myself: my agent is my connector and negotiator. He’s my link to networks and producers as well as the other people and projects his powerful agency represents. My manager represents me. (Think Ari and Eric in “Entourage.” Without the drama.)

So that’s how I met my TV agent. I now have two at the same agency. And my manager. They hooked me up with my lawyer. They’re all great guys.

That’s a lot of commissions for said broke-ass writer, you’re thinking. But you know what? Ten percent of zero is zero. If I earn nothing, they earn nothing. I hope to earn them a little something someday.

 

The difference between selling a TV pilot and selling a novel

…is that one will eventually see the light of day. The other may not. Ever.

Last year, for the first and maybe last time, I did both. I sold a novel to Penguin, and a TV pilot to CBS.

In both cases, the sale is only the end of the beginning of the process. You get paid, partially; the rest comes in increments, after you hand in the next draft, et cetera. You and your people edit the hell out of the thing. You prepare. You strategize. And you wait.

In the case of my novel, “Pastors’ Wives” (pre-order now on Amazon!), we have a publication date: May 2013. Since we sold the manuscript in February 2012, it’s gone through two edits by my main editor, a copy edit, and something called a pass, which is kind of like a proof. We rejected two cover designs before we landed on one we loved. I begged other authors for blurbs. We’re currently circulating it among book bloggers and reviewers. Next week I meet with my agents, editors and publicists to devise an all-out marketing strategy.

And whatever happens, it will publish in May. If the only people who buy it are related to me by blood, it will still exist in the world.

Not so my pilot.

So far, the 66 pages I bled over have been read by under two dozen people: my manager, my agents, our producers, our studio execs, and our network execs. I made my husband read it. Also a very few people with expertise in my topic, for fact-checking purposes.

That’s it. And that may be it, ever.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll know if mine is among the seven or eight drama pilots CBS will decide to shoot, among the 60 or so it has bought this season. I mention this so you know my odds are loooong.

If it should happen to hit the jackpot, then, yes, many more people will read the script. And if it should happen to win the whole lotto and get sent to series, even the tiniest broadcast TV audience would dwarf a bestselling book’s.

And in the likely event it doesn’t? Then into the bin it goes. No chance of selling it elsewhere, as the studio now owns the rights. The Writer’s Guild stages readings of unproduced teleplays, but that would just be weird.

So here I send my two babies into 2013, their fortunes already set. I love them both. I hope they make it.

How I met my book agent

I walked up to her at a journalism conference.

Books by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

How I met the agent who sold these books.

I don’t actually remember this. I could swear I cold-queried her after finding her name in the copy of “Guide to Literary Agents 2000,” which I still have on my office shelf.

No, she says, I walked up to her after she spoke on a panel about nonfiction books. I just waltzed right on up to this A-list superagent who reps some of the bestselling authors on God’s green earth, apparently, and introduced my unimpressive self.

There’s no way I would do that, I tell her. I don’t have the balls. But she insists. And she’s always right.

I do remember she said my pitch sucked.

That was after the conference, over lunch, after I had with great excitement pitched this idea I had about a reported memoir of my parents. And she didn’t actually say it sucked, because she doesn’t use that kind of language. But I got the message.

Crushed, I went back to my job as a staff writer at Money magazine. Then I did this fellowship, after which I became a Tokyo correspondent for Time, after which I transferred to Time in New York. Through it all, I kept in touch.

I mailed her copies of my splashiest stories. Occasionally, I dropped her an e-mail. Sometimes she responded; sometimes she didn’t.

Then I got a call from a publisher.

It was when I was back at what we call the Mother Ship, or Time headquarters in New York. I had written a feature story about how Baby Boomers were reinventing funerals as celebrations of their lives. A young woman called to ask if I had considered turning the article into a book.

I had not. But now I did.

I told the agent. She read the article, thought about it, and agreed it could work as a book. I can’t remember ever signing anything. But at some point, the agent became my agent.

And, at some point much later, she became my friend. More than that: she’s the big sister I don’t have, my sista from anotha mista.

That’s how I met my book agent.

How to ask a famous author for a blurb

You know, a blurb. Those quotes you see on the back of a book (or, if it’s from someone super famous, the cover) that tell you it’s “brilliant” or “insightful” or “the best thing since the invention of EZ-Pass.”

Among the many steps involved in preparing a new book for launch is the gathering of blurbs. (Not to be confused with reviews from newspapers and magazines; those come later.) A lot of authors prefer to let the publicity department handle this. With good reason. No one likes to grovel.

Because grovel you must. Think about it. You’re asking someone famous, or at least way better known than you, to read your entire manuscript, and then say some flattering thing in a pithy manner. It’s a big ask. A big, honking ask.

Some people like to blurb. Take my friend Gretchen Rubin, author of the best-selling “The Happiness Project” and the upcoming “Happier at Home” (pre-order now!). She reads like I worry: constantly, by nature. Plus she has a helpful soul.

The author and journalist A.J. Jacobs blurbs so promiscuously that his editor and agent performed an intervention. He writes in The New York Times Book Review of his “blurbing problem”:

My friend, the writer Andy Borowitz, sent me an e-mail that said: “I had the strangest experience today. I went into Barnes & Noble and saw a book that you didn’t blurb.”

But the Gretchens and A.J.s are the exception. Some big-name authors are so busy churning out their own prose—Lisa Scottoline says she “starts at 9 a.m. and goes until Colbert”—that they’ve instituted no-blurb policies. (I don’t know if Lisa S. has a no-blurb policy. I haven’t asked. Yet.) And who can blame them? Easier to hand out a blanket “no” than to assess and cherry-pick and reject.

So what’s a desperate writer to do? I don’t know about you, but here’s my plan of action:

Make a wish list. I’ve been compiling one for a year. On it are some of the biggest names in women’s commercial fiction. You can probably guess most of them. They’re all writers I admire for their clever narratives and memorable characters and—let’s say it—their muscular sales. You want a name that will resonate with the readers you target: “If you like Brand X, you’ll love Brand Y!” But it’s more than that. It’s an endorsement. When Yogi Berra tells the Yankees to check out a young catcher, they listen. (I don’t know where that baseball analogy came from. I just had to Google Yogi Berra to check the spelling.)

Find a connection. Any connection. I ran my list by my agent and my editor at Penguin. They knew some of the authors, or had useful intel (“that one NEVER blurbs, but she might talk it up to influencers”). One author on my list is the friend of a friend. Another shares my agent. Another blurbed one of my editor’s previous books. None of these are guarantees by any means. But it’s like anything else in life…networks help.

Cain’t hurt to ask. Even when the author won’t know you from George. The worst she could say is no. Which brings me to the big question: who does the asking?

I do the asking. Me. Not my editor or my publicist or my agent. Because it’s my damn book. No one will represent it better. And you know what? It’s easy to say no to a rep. Not so easy to slap a no on the face of a hopeful new writer and crush her dreams forever. And yet I must—

Brace myself for No. Because it’s coming, my friend. Some are polite. Others are like the one I got for my first book from a Famous Author, who strung me along with “maybe,” “I don’t know”…and then finally told me he’d decided he didn’t like it enough. What the @#$$%#^!!! Deep breath. As writers, we’re inured to rejection. I’m kidding. We’re so totally not. Rejection blows. And yet we face it, regularly. And here we are. Still not dead. Still not throwing in the towel to go sell life insurance. When you get the No, swallow hard and accept. Or…

Ask again. Sometimes this works. Seriously! I’ll give you a fer example. I once begged the author Mary Roach to blurb my first book, “Remember Me,” about weird ways we celebrate death in America. Besides being one of the funniest and smartest science writers around, Mary had practically birthed my book with “Stiff,” her book about weird ways we use cadavers in America. She was absolutely Number One on my wish list. I got back a lovely note apologizing that she was so busy and her nightstand so stacked with manuscripts by people she actually knew that she just couldn’t in good conscience add mine. So…no. I sunk into a funk. I kept thinking about it. I couldn’t let it go. She seemed so nice. And I really, really wanted her blurb. So I asked again. And guess what? She said yes! Here’s her quote (on the cover of my book, it was that good):

A must-read for anyone who plans on dying.

And that is what makes it all worthwhile.