Category Archives: Memoir

At the First Meeting of The Liars’ Club

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Trigger Warning
#CSA

I stood, mortified into silence, in front of my second-grade class. My teacher, a tall thin woman with size 17 feet, held me so hard by the shoulders that later that day, when I got home from school and changed out of my uniform, I would find bruises from where her fingers had gouged me. The rest of the class was sitting at their desks, hands folded on top, listening to Miss Slewinski, but staring at me.

“This little girl here,” said Miss Slewinski, “is a liar. She makes up stories about her Mommy and Daddy…”

“He’s not my dad,” I said. “My real dad isn’t allowed…”

Miss Slewinski cuffed me on the side of the head.

“I called Sascha’s mother yesterday and asked her to come in and talk to me,” she said. “Her mother is a very nice woman. Do you know what she did when I told her all the terrible things Sascha has been saying?”

The entire class obediently shook their heads.

“What did your mother do when she heard about your lies, Sascha?” said Miss Slewinski, digging her fingers even deeper as she shook me. “What? Say it louder. So the whole class can hear you.”

“Cried,” I said.

“Yes. She cried. Sascha’s mother, one of the nicest women I’ve ever met, sat right here in this room and cried like her heart was broken. All because of this girl. This liar. She’s such a liar that I’m naming her the president of The Liars’ Club.”

She let go of my shoulders and stood there, glaring down at me, her arms crossed over her flat chest.

“Sascha’s going to stand here for an hour. Because she’s such a liar. Because she tells such awful stories about her parents. The rest of you aren’t going to do any work: you’re just going to sit there and stare at this terrible liar. But anybody else who wants to join The Liars’ Club can come right on up here and stand beside her.”

Miss Slewinski sat at her desk. I stood perfectly motionless in front of the class while they stared at me. Some of the girls in the class made faces at me whenever the teacher turned around to write something on the board. My hands were in such tight fists that my bones ached. My teeth were clenched so hard that my jaw throbbed. I wanted to die. I wanted them to die. I was so filled with rage that I wanted to get hold of a knife and stab every single one of them to death. Especially Miss Slewinski.

What were the terrible stories and lies I’d told which got me inducted into The Liars’ Club?

That my father did bad things to me. (I was too young to know the word “rape,” so I called it “bad things.”) That he wasn’t allowed to see me anymore because he’d done bad things to me so many times. That the judge had believed me when we were alone in his office and had asked me to show him, by pointing to my body, exactly where my father did bad things to me. That my father wasn’t allowed to even be in the same room with me when I visited his parents — my grandparents — though he’d gone back to live with them after the divorce.

What else had I told my second-grade teacher after she saw my inner thighs and asked me how I got all those terrible bruises?

That my mother’s boyfriend — who wouldn’t become her husband for at least three more years — did the same bad things to me every single night. That my mother knew all about the bad things my father and her boyfriend did to me. That my mother said it was all my fault, that she said I acted like a “cockette,” but I didn’t know what that word meant. That every time my mother caught one of them hurting me, she hurt me even worse than they did.

Miss Slewinski had promised me that she’d never tell anyone what I told her, she’d said she would help me find a new home, she said she’d do whatever it took to protect me.

Then Miss Slewinski called my mother into school and told her all the things I’d said.

“She’s such a storyteller,” said my mother, as she burst into tears. “She’s been a terrible liar since the day she was born.”

So, next day, there I was, in front of my second-grade class, during the inaugural meeting of The Liars’ Club, where I was the only member.

That first meeting lasted just an hour, yet it haunted me the rest of my life. Liar, said the girls in my ear when we were in line for religion class. Liar, said the boys when I passed them on my way to the locker in the hallway to get my coat after school. Liar, they all said when were out on the playground every day after lunch. Liar.

In that first meeting of The Liars’ Club, I learned everything there is to know about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Probably more than Einstein himself ever knew.

And that’s the truth.

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Filed under #CSA, Childhood Sexual Abuse, Memoir, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence

On Being a Writer

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Filed under #OnBeingAWriter, #WritingTips, Creative Writing, Memoir, Real Life of a Writer, Self-Published Authors, Writing, Writing & Revising

Head-Banger’s Ball: Escaping Abuse the Hard Way

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Trigger Warning
This post, though not graphic,
openly discusses childhood sexual abuse.

Life is unbearable,
but death is not so pleasant either.
Russian Proverb

I was dancing when it happened. After almost four years, I’d just had the braces removed from my legs and, in my joy at being free, I was dancing all around the kitchen and the empty dining room, wearing nothing but my panties and a camisole. My father was there, drinking beer, watching me, following me all around the house. I thought he was impressed with my improvised ballet skills. I don’t remember where my mother was, though I do know that it was late at night.

When my father grabbed me and began kissing me, I squirmed and twisted away. I wanted to dance, not kiss. Besides, I didn’t like the way he was kissing me, putting his nasty tongue all over my face and mouth. I fought hard enough to make him lose hold of me. When he tried to grab me again, I ran to the kitchen and got under the table, trying to hide.

Unfortunately, he found me.

My biological father first raped me when I was 3. My mother walked in when it was happening, and had to beat my father over the head to make him stop. Instead of taking me for medical attention, my mother told me I was a “bad girl” and locked me in the closet until I stopped crying. I don’t know how many days I was in that closet, but it seemed longer than any lifetime. I couldn’t understand what I’d done, but I vowed never to forget.

As soon as I earned my freedom from that closet, I  began telling people that my father had done something bad to me. I told family members, neighbors, doctors, nurses — anyone I thought could punish him. Anyone I thought could make him stop hurting me, which he continued to do. No one listened until I was 4 or 5 years old, when a Judge, in his chambers, asked me to show him — by pointing to my body — where my father was hurting me.

I don’t remember what events led up to that encounter in the Judge’s chambers, only that he was kind and patient, that he actually listened to me, and that after I talked to the Judge, my biological father lost all visitation rights. Furthermore, though I visited my father’s parents each weekend and though he now lived with them, he was not even permitted to be in the same room with me. I never saw my father again.

After my mother divorced my father, I thought I would be safe from men’s violence. Unfortunately, by the time I was 5, my mother was already dating a man who was sexually abusing me in every way imaginable, doing more atrocious things than my biological father had done. At the ripe old age of seven, after an entire lifetime of abuse from my mother, my father, and my mother’s boyfriend (who later became my stepfather), I decided that life was unbearable, so I decided to kill myself.

My only problem was that I wasn’t exactly sure how someone did that. During the last violent fight with my father, my mother had slammed him in the head with a cast-iron skillet. I’d seen him lying motionless on the floor, surrounded by a pool of blood. When the police arrived, my mother told them she’d killed her husband because he’d killed me. Though my father actually survived the assault, he was seriously injured. Because I never saw him again, I thought he was, in fact, dead. Since my mother had “killed” my father by bashing him in the head with the cast-iron frying pan, I decided, at the world-weary age of seven, to become a head-banger.

Swing-sets, telephone poles, brick houses. Fence posts, church pews, marble statues. Bang, bang, bang. Walls, bedposts, porch supports. Basement floors, steel pipes, tree trunks. Bang, bang, bang.

I hit my head so hard so many times in a row that mostly I walked around in a daze. Sometimes I hit my head so hard that I fell asleep. Each time that head-banging numbness rushed over me, I was convinced I’d successfully killed myself, and I was so relieved and so grateful that I could never be hurt again that I slipped into that deadened sleep with something like joy.

Each time, however, I woke up.
Disappointed.
With an unbearable headache.
And with dreadful pressure in my skull.

Although many people know that a baby’s skull plates move — to allow it to pass through the birth canal — they don’t realize that the plates of the skull remain mobile throughout life. The brain and the spinal cord, furthermore, are surrounded by their own pulsing, hydraulic system that does not match the rhythm of the heart, breathing, or any other system of the body. Dr. John Upledger discovered this brain-spinal-cord hydraulic system and named it the “craniosacral system.” Upledger went on to develop a medical massage therapy designed to put the craniosacral system back in proper alignment.

When the plates of the skull are not in their proper position, as from any common injury such as bumping the head hard, then headaches and pressure inside the skull (from the non-circulation of craniosacral fluid) may occur. A severe head trauma, or even a minor fall from a slide or swing, can shift or jam the skull plates, preventing the craniosacral fluid from moving as it is designed to do, creating a tremendous build-up of pressure — and pain — inside the skull. The pain and the pressure will only stop when the skull plates are restored to their normal positions, something that may take many sessions with trained craniosacral therapists, especially if the skull plates have been jammed for years after some serious accident.

Of course, in my case, it was many accidents, some of them caused by my repeated head-banging at age 7, some of those accidents caused by my mother from the time I was born, but one of the most serious head injuries caused by my father during an argument with my mother.

My parents were both drunk the day it happened. They were standing in the living room, quite close to each other, screaming and shoving and hitting each other. My father suddenly shouted something that made my mother jump at him, clawing at his face. Then he began choking her. Since what he’d shouted had been about me, I must have felt, even at three years old, morally obligated to separate them. So there I was, shoving myself between their knees, trying to push them apart so they wouldn’t kill each other and leave me all alone to be sent to an orphanage.

In his drunken rage, my father must have perceived me as quite a pest, something you just fling away from you. So that’s what he did. He grabbed me under the arms, lifted me as high as he could, and flung me away. I remember the sudden rush of air as he swept me upward, the terrible, mind-numbing fear, the choking sensation I felt as he released me and I flew, without a net, across the room.

I remember the horrific jolt of pain as I smashed the upper right side of my head against the marble mantel of the fireplace.

I remember, too, the cold blackness that descended on me in an instant.

By the time my migraines got so debilitating that my family doctor recommended I go to craniosacral therapists, I was over forty years old. As soon as they touched my head, the medical therapists informed me that the right frontal skull-plate was “significantly jammed” under the left one. It was wedged under the other one so tightly, they couldn’t fix it in one treatment. Also, since it was a long-standing injury, they informed me, the muscles of my face and head had gotten used to holding the plate in the incorrect position. They agreed with the doctor that, though my tendency toward migraines was probably hereditary * as well, the jammed frontal skull plate wasn’t making the migraines any better.

The therapists warned me that, as they attempted, over several sessions (which turned into several months), to free the wedged cranial plate from under the other one, my migraines might get much worse before they improved. They were absolutely right. I’d been having about seventeen migraines a month when I went to see them. The first month of treatment, I had twenty-seven migraines. It took them five months of three-times-a-week sessions to get the jammed skull plates back into place.

When the skull plates moved back into their proper positions, the intense and unremitting pressure in my head disappeared. The pressure that I’d grown up with and assumed was normal had been caused by the craniosacral fluid’s inability to circulate freely around the skull plates and the spinal column. As soon as the right frontal plate slid free of the left one, the crushing pressure inside my head disappeared. I lay on the massage table and wept in gratitude and relief.

When I told my psychologist about all the times I’d banged my head when I was a little girl, trying to kill myself, she said she doubted that I’d really been attempting to commit suicide. She said that since I was so determined and so successful in other areas of my life, if I’d really been trying to kill myself, I probably would have succeeded. She said that I’d been in so much emotional and psychological pain that I was merely trying to medicate myself. Since I didn’t have any healthy coping skills, I’d banged my head against the hardest things I could find, to “numb” my pain.

I still maintain that I was trying to kill myself in order to escape the incessant torture from my mother and my rapist stepfather, and to atone for my father’s murder, which I believed I’d caused since my parents had been fighting about me when my mother “killed” my father with the cast-iron skillet.

You see, that day, when my mother killed my father by slamming him in the face with the skillet, they were fighting about me. That day, when my father said the words that sent my other into her uncontrollable rage — making her scratch his face, which then made him choke her — he was talking about me. The words he said were what I myself had been saying to my mother, family members, neighbors, and doctors for some time, though I said it like this: He does bad things to me.

That day, my father said it to my mother himself, despite her already knowing what he was doing to me, but he said it in a way that she couldn’t ignore. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I always remembered his exact words.

“Sascha’s a better fuck than you are.”

Bang, bang, bang.

Related Posts

When is Rape NOT Rape?

Rape is Rape, No Matter the Victim’s Age or Gender

Kevin’s Mother & The Pedophile:
Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse
(guest post on OTVmagazine)

I Survived a Serial Killer: My Own Mother
(guest post on RachelintheOC)



* Familial Hemiplegic Migraines (FHM) are caused by a genetic neurological disorder. I have FHM as well as from Complex Migraines.
(back to post)

Note: a different version of this post was published in March 2017. This version has been updated.

a small portion of this post is adapted from my true crime memoir M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door © 2002, 2007, 2014, 2017 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved. No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author. Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.

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Filed under #CSA, Attempted Suicide, Childhood Sexual Abuse, hemiplegic migraines, Memoir, migraines, PTSD, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence, Violence

Using Photographs to Teach About The Holocaust

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When I was in school, we never learned about the Holocaust. Not in grammar school, not in high school, not in college, not in grad school. Despite all the schools’ and teachers’ claims that we students were being prepared for “the real world,” they neglected to tell us some of the most important parts of world history. Granted, I spent most of my life attending Catholic schools where the nuns and priests never mentioned Jews except to say that “Jesus used to be one.” Those nuns and priests certainly never mentioned The Holocaust, the concentration camps, or even the Nazis.

My great-grandparents, Aloysius and Stella (née Lili) Hirsch were trying to protect the family from anti-Semitism by sending us to those Catholic schools. It didn’t help. Despite the fact that all of us inherited my grandparents’ strawberry-blonde hair and green eyes, I got called “Kike” and “Yid” and lots of other racist names from the time I was in first grade. When I asked my Grandpa why we couldn’t talk about being Jewish, it was my Grandma who interrupted us, telling me that I must always say, “I was baptized and I go to Catholic schools.” Since I was only 8 at the time, I did what she told me.

It wasn’t till I was an adult and able to research the family genealogy that I learned the source of my great-grandparents’ fear: during the War and the Holocaust, they’d lost all their family members in Germany. All those German members of the Hirsch and Wekesser families have their dates of death listed as “1940-1945?” with no places of burial. I have few photographs of my great-grandparents, and none of their family members who remained in Germany. That saddens me, not only because my great-grandparents feared telling us any stories about them, but because we have nothing to recall them to us.

Photographs are an important aid to history, even if we do not know all the names of the people in the pictures. Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has several videos resources to help people learn about the Holocaust, and to teach it, using photographs. I have included them all in this post for your convenience, but these are all Yad Vashem videos.

Part One:
Teaching The Holocaust
Using Photographs

In the first video of the Yad Vashem, Teaching the Holocaust Using Photographs, Franziska Reiniger, staff member for the International School for Holocaust Studies (ISHS) at Yad Vashem, discusses some of the important things to bear in mind before using Holocaust photographs with students.

  1. Who is the photographer?
  2. Why was the photograph taken?
  3. Was the photograph staged?
  4. Where was the photograph found?

Photographs, like all historical documents, have limitations and are open to interpretation. These things need to be taken into account before using photographs to teach others about the Holocaust.

Part Two:
Photographs as Propaganda

In Photographs as Propaganda, the second video in the Yad Vashem series, Teaching the Holocaust Using Photographs, ISHS staff member Franziska discusses the Nazi photographs and films that were made to promote their anti-Semitic ideology. In fact, she states, the Nazis used the camera as a weapon against their Jewish victims, starting in Poland in 1939 where the soldiers first encountered Jews who were not fully assimilated into their non-Jewish society.

Part Three:
Documentation of Atrocities

Official Lodz Ghetto inmate and photographer Henryk Ross and his photos make up the third part of the Yad Vashem Series Teaching the Holocaust Using Photographs. In  Documentation of Atrocities, Ross demonstrates how he surreptitiously photographed the Ghetto Jews and then secretly developed them. Later, Ross served as a witness against Adolf Eichmann in his trial for Crimes Against Humanity.

All three of these films are part of Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Education Video Toolbox. Please visit their site for additional video resources.

Related Posts

Photographic Introduction to the Holocaust

Holocaust Days of Remembrance

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) 2017

Holocaust Days of Remembrance Survivor Testimony:
Elie Wiesel & Yad Vashem

Holocaust Days of Remembrance Survivor Testimony:
Urbach & Schindler, Goodkin & Wallenberg

Learn about The Holocaust on USHMM
(United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

For more information on the Holocaust database
or to fill out Pages of Testimony, visit
Yad Vashem‘s Central Database of Shoah Victims

Anna’s Tattoo

The Symbolism of my Tattoos

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Filed under Documentary/Historical Video, History, Holocaust, Holocaust Days of Remembrance, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust Survivor Testimony, Memoir, Yom HaShoah

Long Day’s Journey Into Publishing My Second Novel

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I was 40 years old before I became an overnight success,
and I’d been publishing for 20 years.

Mary Karr
The Liars’ Club

When my first novel was accepted by HarperCollins — the HarperCollins, formerly Harper & Row, publisher of so many authors whom I adored — I thought that all my days of rejection were over. When my book began to be sold to foreign publishers via Harper’s Foreign Rights division, earning out the HarperCollins Advance within 6 months of acceptance, i.e., earning out its Advance before the book was published, I thought I was on the road to full-time writing. When the pre-publication and publication reviews for the first novel started pouring in — all good, and some absolutely stellar — I thought that all my years of hard work and ceaseless rejection had finally earned me a somewhat easier writing life.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The subsequent rejections started almost immediately.

With my editor.

Despite all her claims of loving my work, of wanting to be my editor for the remainder of my writing career, of wanting to publish all my books, etc etc etc, my editor did an abrupt about-face when I submitted my second novel to her.

Though my first novel was on the Holocaust, my editor found the second, on serial killers, “too violent.” She rejected it based on the violence.

If you know my work, you know I don’t do graphic violence. I was briefly hurt, and I wondered where all the “love” for my work had gone, but resolved, on my agent’s advice, not to take the rejection personally.

Despite the fact that my agent loved the second book and didn’t understand the editor’s rejection, we couldn’t take the book anywhere else because Harper had an “Option” on my next book, meaning that they had the right of first refusal. Further, if they rejected the book and another publisher accepted it, Harper had the right to match the other publisher’s offer on the book.

I’d thought the Option clause was a guarantee of future publication by Harper, but it was really just the publisher’s hedge against the ever-unknown-and-unknowable market. If the book did well financially, the publisher would have its own guarantee of publishing my next book. If the book didn’t do well in sales, the publisher could simply reject it and be legally free of any future obligation to me and my work.

Oh, the things you don’t know when you’re new to traditional publishing.

Because my agent loved my second book (though not the title), I assumed that she would simply sell it to another publisher. Granted, it might become my third book published instead of my second, but that didn’t bother me. I was already working on my third novel, so it didn’t matter to me which order the books were published in. I asked my agent where she would be sending the second novel.

“Nowhere,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Harper has the Option.”

Publishers don’t usually want books under an option clause with someone else, she informed me, because no matter how much the new editor wants the book, if he makes an offer, it’s likely to be “taken back” by the publisher that has the option. Though the first editor didn’t like the manuscript originally, most have a tendency to change their minds the moment another publisher makes an offer.

The Option clause in practice seems to work something like this: Editor 1, who is at the first Publishing House and who bought the rights to publish your previous novel, doesn’t think the next book you’re offering will sell, so Editor 1 rejects the manuscript. Editor 2, from the second House,  thinks the book will sell, and he makes an offer on your new book. Editor 1 now thinks that Editor 2 sees something she missed. Editor 1 then “re-evaluates” the book by simply buying it — for whatever price Editor 2 offered — hoping that Editor 2 was right about the book’s potential market.

Does that mean the book ends up with an editor who doesn’t really like the book?
That’s exactly what it means.
So why does the editor who originally rejected the book then accept it?
Money.

As in, the money the editor believes the book might earn despite the fact that she didn’t like it enough to buy it originally but which the second editor did think the book might earn.

What a convoluted process, and what a headache for the author.

My agent didn’t want to “shop the second novel around” because of the Option clause, but she had yet another reason not to shop the second book around: my first novel hadn’t even been published yet, so we had no sales figures. Further, no reviews had come in, not even pre-publication reviews.

That’s how early we were in the publishing process when this rigmarole was happening. The first novel had just been sent to the printer (about 3 months after acceptance, since the printing took about 6 months in those days) and no galley copies were available to send out to reviewers, who usually want the books about 6 months before the book’s publication date. We had no reviews or sales figures. My agent suggested we wait and see how the first book did before we shopped the second novel around. She suggested that I continue work on my third novel, which I did, erroneously assuming that the second novel would soon find a home.

Meanwhile, HarperCollins still had the Option clause on my “next” novel.
I was floored.
Hadn’t they just rejected my second novel?
Why was the Option clause still in effect?

“Because we don’t want to hurt the editor’s feelings,” said my agent. “If she doesn’t get a chance to publish the next novel you write that she’s madly in love with, she’ll be hurt, then angry. We don’t want an angry editor.”

I wasn’t happy about putting my second novel in Limbo, but what could I do? In traditional publishing, authors are not the ones with any power. Only bestselling authors have any power, and they only have it as long as they remain bestsellers.

It’s the traditional publishers who have all the money for Advances, so their editors have all the power. The agents earn their livelihood by pleasing the editors and bringing them books that they want to publish. No one in the traditional publishing system is going to buck the system.

Especially not 25 years ago where there were no other viable options for writers who wanted to become authors.

I returned to work on my third novel, assuming that, since it was not about serial killers, my editor would once again “love my work.”

She didn’t.
She liked the book.
Or, rather, she liked the idea of the book.
She thought the book itself needed some work.

“What kind of work?” I said, since she was talking directly to me about it, rather than through my agent.

“I found Claudia’s childhood scenes somewhat unnecessary,” said the editor. “Can you cut all of them out?”

I didn’t think Claudia’s childhood scenes were unnecessary, which is industry jargon for “boring.” I thought the childhood scenes were an important part of her character, her interaction with her husband, etc. I talked to my agent, who agreed with me about those scenes, but suggested I delete them anyway, to make the editor happy.

“After all,” said my agent, “she likes the book, which is more than we can say about the other novel.”

I agreed to the revisions without a contract.

What did I know?

Though I’d been published in prestigious literary journals and University magazines, I’d never had a book published. And lest you think that there were a great many options in those days, let me make it clear that there were no other options for writers to become authors 25 years ago.

There weren’t even any viable options as recently as 10 years ago. My last traditional publishing contract was issued in 2007, for my collection of short stories, which won the Grand Prize in an international writing contest, and that contract had no “electronic book” clause because ebooks hadn’t been invented yet, and without ebooks and portable e-readers, there was no way to self-publish and get your books in front of an audience. Period.

So, I spent another year revising my third novel, taking out all the childhood scenes involving the protagonist. My agent liked the new version of the book. She told me that she missed the protagonist’s childhood scenes but said that if she’d never read them in the first place, she might not have noticed that the book seemed “a bit less good than the original version.” She happily sent it to the editor, anticipating an offer.

My first novel had been published by then, and been out of stock for 6 of the first 8 weeks it was in print due to unanticipated demand. Editors were the ones who decided print-runs in those days before print-on-demand publishing, which means “print the books on demand” when the bookstores or consumers want them rather than trying to anticipate how many books need to be printed and warehousing the printed books until the bookstores order them.

After sending my newest version of the novel to my editor, my agent was happily preparing her negotiating stance, anticipating getting at least the same Advance for the second novel as she’d gotten for the first.

The editor promised to get back to my agent by Friday of the week she received the novel. Since the acceptance for my first novel had happened relatively late in the day, I waited all Friday to hear from my agent. When I called her around seven in the evening, she said she hadn’t been able to reach my editor all day.

“Not to worry,” said my agent. “I’ll get her first thing on Monday morning.”

Then, on Saturday afternoon, I got the letter from my editor.
Rejecting the second, substantially revised version of my third novel.

“I was wondering if you could do a bit more revision,” she wrote, “and put in something about Claudia’s childhood.”

“WTH?” I said, although that phrase wasn’t widely abbreviated at the time.

First thing Monday morning, I called my editor, certain that she didn’t mean what she’d written.

She did.

I reminded her that she’d been the one who’d asked me to delete all those scenes. I read her the letter that she’d sent to my agent, rejecting the novel the first time I’d submitted it to her. She told me that she remembered not liking the childhood scenes but that, upon reading the new version, she found herself “wondering what Claudia’s childhood had been like” and realized that she “missed those scenes and wanted them back.”

This time, I was furious.

I didn’t care how important an editor she was or that she was in line to become a VP at HarperCollins. I called my agent and told her about the rejection letter and the phone call with the editor. My agent was stunned: she hadn’t even heard from the editor though she’d called several times that morning (apparently, while I was on the phone with the editor myself).

My agent insisted that I fax her a copy of the third rejection letter: I don’t know if she was more upset about the rejection or about the fact that the editor had written to me directly instead of telling my agent that she didn’t want the book.  All I know is that my agent was livid.

My agent also wanted me to send her copies of the first two rejection letters from the editor: the one for the serial killer novel, which mentioned the book and its characters by name, and the letter for the first version of the third novel, which mentioned the characters by name and asked me to delete the protagonist’s childhood scenes. The newest rejection letter again mentioned the characters of the third novel by name and suggested that I put all the deleted childhood scenes back in.

My agent was going to break the Option clause.

“Now we have three rejections, in writing, of three different manuscripts,” said the agent. “That’s the end of HarperCollins for you.”

And, unfortunately, it was.

Though HarperCollins had put my first novel into its HarperPerennial line, the book was taken out of print shortly afterward.

“Apparently, Harper doesn’t understand the definition of ‘perennial’,” my agent said.

I always thought my first novel was taken out of print because my agent revoked the Option clause.

And the first novel was taken out of print about a month before Patrick Stewart optioned the novel for film.*

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

It was another three years before my third-written-but-second-published novel was accepted, in part because my first agent had her first child (at age 49) and took an extended maternity leave: when she returned, she would no longer be representing literary fiction. Instead, she was going to “concentrate on nonfiction only” because she could get Advances for her authors based on proposals (novels typically have to be completely finished before traditional publishers make a decision).

My second agent, who was recommended to me by my first, sold my next novel (with the protagonist Claudia who, by then, had all of her childhood scenes restored along with a new title for the book) and then proceeded to attempt to sell that publisher my serial killer novel.

The second publisher insisted on an Option clause on my next book…

But that’s another story, for another post, though the story is almost the same as this one except for the fact that the younger, less politically powerful editors loved the serial killer novel and wanted the publisher to buy it, but the older, more politically powerful editors, though they were “awake all night reading the novel,” felt it was “too scary” to publish “because nobody would read it” (despite the fact that they themselves had been unable to put the book down), and the younger editors who loved the novel didn’t have the political influence necessary to push the novel through the negotiations…

Oy, vey…

Nevertheless, I did learn some important things from all these torturous negotiations and editorial submissions and rejections of my second novel, and I want to share them with you (please don’t think that you have to learn these same lessons from my experiences).

  • There’s no end to rejection in a writer’s life, even after he becomes an author.
  • I don’t want Option clauses. (Even Amazon’s traditional publishing imprints include Option clauses in their contracts.)
  • I won’t substantively revise any novel unless it is already under contract. (Most publishers won’t even offer a contract if the editor wants substantive revisions.)
  • “Moles” operate at both traditional publishers and agents offices: moles surreptitiously pass manuscripts on to Hollywood and get paid for sending them those “stolen” manuscripts. (That’s how my serial killer novel, which was rejected by the HC editor, got pirated, including entire plot, scenes, characters, etc, by a very famous director/screenwriter and made into a film that so closely resembled my book that I found out about the theft of my novel from my friends who saw the movie and said, “OMG, that’s Alexandria’s novel…” My serial killer novel also got stolen by at least two others who made it into less “artsy” film versions of the exact same story, even including some of the actors who’d appeared in the art version, forcing me to revise my own novel so that Hollywood couldn’t say I stole it from them… but that’s another blog… and a seriously angry rant, lemme tellya.)
  • Having a book copyrighted, even with a registered copyright, doesn’t stop piracy of Intellectual Property, and it costs an unbelievable amount of money to hire an IP attorney and get a Cease & Desist against publishers or others who have pirated your work.
  • Traditional publishing, though it depends entirely on writers for its existence, doesn’t give a fig for writers or even for previously published authors because there are so many writers out there who’d literally give their books away to traditional publishers just to see the books in print.
  • Authors should never, ever give up.

Of course, now that authors have the option of publishing their own books at very little cost, as opposed to the previously very expensive and career-killing option of self-publishing, I don’t even think I would want to return to a traditional publisher.

Okay, maybe I’d try traditional publishing again if I was offered a big Advance, but it would have to include a humongous Advance since I never made any money in traditional publishing beyond the initial Advances. Until that happens, I’m happy putting all my out-of-print books back into print myself and doing my new books through the small publishing House I started after I retired from University (originally intended only to help other literary authors get published, not to put my own books back out into the market).

The main thing I learned from all the rejections by HarperCollins after it had accepted and published my first novel is that rejection never ends. Ever.

So get used to rejection, concentrate on writing your books, and never, ever give up.

Because, really, who would have predicted ebooks and the way they transformed the entire monolithic publishing industry?

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* Though the film was fully funded, it never got made… sigh… and authors only get paid when the film gets made… more sighs… (back to post)

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