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Confessions of an Author: Feeling Like an Imposter


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See my Confessions of an Author page



Filed under #OnBeingAWriter, Books, Confessions of an Author, Creative Writing, Indie Publishing, Memoir, Poetry, Publishing, Real Life of a Writer, Self-Published Authors, Stories, Storytelling, Traditional Publishing, Writing

Make NaNoWriMo Last All Year


Photo by Christopher Campbell © Unsplash

Every November, hundreds of thousands of people around the world do something that might break them spiritually, psychically, or psychologically — though probably not physically: they attempt to write the first draft of an entire novel in 30 days. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (175 DS manuscript pages, based on a count of approximately 300 words per page) in thirty days. That’s about 1,700 words (or six DS manuscript pages) a day. Besides training for and entering an Iron Man Competition, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s known to participants, has to be one of the most challenging and demanding tasks anyone can voluntarily give himself.

Participants are not supposed to publish the book they write during NaNoWriMo as is. The NaNoWriMo book is the first draft. Writers have to revise, edit, get feedback from readers, re-write, edit, revise more, have some coffee, then decide whether they want to Indie publish or attempt to get an agent and try for the traditional New York publishing route.

NaNoWriMo is not about getting published or about being an author.

NaNoWriMo is about being a writer.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo, you probably learned as much about yourself as you did about your novel.  Even if you didn’t manage to complete the requisite 50K, even if you only worked on an outline for your planned novel, you did something important. If you learned nothing more than how difficult it is to write full-time, then you learned the most important thing NaNoWriMo could ever teach you about being a writer. Here are some tips for helping you continue to write full-time, all year long.

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Pretend It’s Your Job

As I wrote in another post, some of the best advice I ever got about writing came from a friend when I took nine months off work to write my first novel — 9 months without pay, after having borrowed $11K from the bank (at 17 & ⅞% interest, for a total loan repayment of $18K). At that time, though I’d been writing regularly and been extensively published in literary and university journals for over 10 years, I’d only written when inspiration struck me, i.e., in short, intensive bursts every few months. I’d never been paid for writing, had never published a book, and had never done it every day, all day long, for an extended period. I’d also only written poetry, which is easier to write sporadically since poems are quite a bit shorter than novels.

After almost a year trying to write my first novel while working several jobs, I’d gotten the bright idea to borrow money from the bank to write my book. To my shock, the bank approved the loan, based on my extensive publications and literary prizes. During the first month of my sabbatical, I didn’t write anything at all: instead, I spent my time thinking about my novel, all day long, every day. When I realized how much it had cost me to think for a month, I panicked. That’s when my best friend suggested that I think at my desk, with a pen in my hand, holding my pen over a tablet of paper. Further, she suggested that I pretend writing was my job, which meant getting up, getting dressed, going to my desk, and writing at the same time every day.

Pretending that writing was my job changed my life.

Celebrity authors are not the only full-time writers in the world: all of us who eventually got published had to write for a long time before our books received contracts. Full-time writers, including traditionally published authors, almost always have other jobs: they rarely can support themselves and their families solely from writing income. Full-time writers are those who’ve made a serious and long-term commitment to writing, no matter what their day-job is, how long their daily commute, how small their writing or office space, how large their family, or how extensive their outside obligations.

A full-time writer writes like it’s his job, even if he’s never gotten paid for his writing.

If you want to make NaNoWriMo last all year long, treat writing as your job.

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Get a Calendar and
Schedule Writing Time

When you have a job as a writer, you don’t merely write the time you have already spent writing on the calendar: you write down the time you are going to spend writing. Like it’s your job. You know what time you have to be at your job, and if you have multiple jobs, as I’ve had almost all of my life, you write down where you have to be and the time you have to be there. When I wrote for that year that I took off work, I wrote down, in advance, the times I was supposed to be writing, and I continued that practice after I went back to my paying job.

That’s how I got into the habit of getting up and writing by 5 every morning. I scheduled [Name of Book] on my calendar from 5-7 every morning. That meant I had to be at my desk writing by that time, not just getting out of bed, or lying there hitting the snooze button. I did it on the weekends, too, but scheduled my writing for at least 8 hours on weekends and holidays. Since I was used to getting up and working by 5, it was no inconvenience to continue doing that after I went back to work at my paying job.

For NaNoWriMo, you planned in advance to write the entire month, and you planned to get a certain number of words written a day. To continue the NaNoWriMo experience, get yourself a calendar and schedule your writing time in advance, just as you would your job, your vacation, holidays, or any doctors’ appointments.

Keep that scheduled commitment and be there writing.

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Consider Writing Time
as Your Apprenticeship

You have to pay your dues in practically any job. Sometimes you have to do volunteer work in your chosen field in order to have experience. Often, people educated in a particular field have to complete an apprenticeship, internship, or residency to get sufficient practical experience to qualify for a paying position in the field of their choice. Being a writer — and eventually an author — is the same as any other field. Everyone puts in plenty of time writing without getting paid or having any guarantee of publication.

Consider any time you spend writing before publication as your own apprenticeship,  internship, or residency until you get really good at it.

If you are traditionally published after you finish your book, it is unlikely that you will get a large enough Advance to live on. You may become a bestseller, but, given how long it takes for a traditionally published book to reach bookstores after it’s sold to the Publishing House, you won’t get rich immediately. That means you’ll be writing your subsequent book with no guarantee of additional money or of another publishing contract.

Think of NaNoWriMo as the beginning of your internship.

Now extend that month of your writing internship for the entire year.

After you’ve published your first book, you will be an author, but all authors still have to write, and they write all year long, not just in November.

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Choose to Write

You are not super-human, so you will have to make choices if you want to include writing in your life. For me, it meant delaying children because I needed all my time for college, grad school, teaching, retail jobs, and writing. If you really want to be a writer, writing should always be at the top of your list of priorities and commitments. If it’s not, stop reading this post and go do something else: you don’t want to be a writer bad enough.

Next on your list of priorities, put your paying job since you have to support yourself and your writing, which costs money even if you don’t Indie publish. Put your family or permanent relationships after that. Anything else can be considered superfluous and can be eliminated.

You need to make choices in life, especially if you want to be a writer: it is such a time-consuming career. If you want to be an author, which is a published writer, you will still have to write.

If you want NaNoWriMo to last longer than the month of November, you have to establish your priorities and make conscious choices that will guarantee you have sufficient writing time.

Photo by Arno Smit © Unsplash

Be Ready to Open the Door
When Opportunity Knocks

To unpublished writers, being traditionally published is like being in the Garden of Eden, but nobody wakes up already in Published Author Paradise. You must always be writing, revising, editing, writing more, completing your books, improving your craft, searching for agents, submitting your work to editors and agents, and writing even more. That way, when the Getting Published Opportunity knocks on your door, you’ll be qualified to answer the door with (at least one) polished, finished book in hand.

NaNoWriMo gives you a taste of what being a writer is like.

If you want to be a published author, use your NaNoWriMo experience to continue being a full-time writer, whether or not you have another paying job. You’ll be writing more than one month out of the year, and you’ll also be finishing your books so that you’ll have something to publish when your opportunity to become an author arrives.

Photo by Christine Roy © Unsplash

Don’t Expect Fame & Fortune

As any artist in any field can readily tell you, there is a very small number of celebrities in any field who are well known to everyone, get any job they want, make most of the money, get all the attention, and make most of the money.

Don’t expect fame. Don’t expect fortune. Those things cannot be controlled.

The amount of time you spend writing is the only thing that can be controlled. Expect, therefore, to write, write, write. And then to write some more.

If you’re lucky, you might get some prizes, or a big Advance from one of the traditional publishers, or an option on your book that actually leads to a big movie deal, but don’t expect or plan on any of these things because that’s just not the way the artistic world works.

Expect to be a writer.

You experienced that during NaNoWriMo, so you already know what it’s like to write.

Now, go write.

Photo by Christopher Campbell © Unsplash

Take Care of Yourself
Spiritually, Emotionally, & Physically

Writing is a taxing business. It’s much harder than any job you leave behind at the workplace when you clock out at the end of the day. For that reason, you need to exercise, eat healthily, and should probably do some form of meditation daily.

You also need to keep negative people away from you: there’s enough rejection in this business. You don’t need negative people “rejecting” you as a writer in your personal life as well. Eliminate the negative people in your life even if they are family members, friends, or spouses. Surround yourself instead with loving and supportive people who encourage you to be a writer. Additionally, find writing-support groups, reliable beta-readers, and good editors.

Rest when necessary.

Don’t forget to play.

After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to write.

Photo by Raw Pixel © Unsplash

If you truly wish to be a writer, you can’t just write when you feel like it, or when inspiration hits you, or when your muses are singing to you, or when it happens to be convenient. You have to make a commitment to writing. You have to make conscious choices to have the time to write. Despite NaNoWriMo, which I think is a wonderful idea, you cannot spend only one month a year committed to writing as a priority in your life.

Writing has to be your life.

And you have to take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically so that you can continue to write. That way, NaNoWriMo can last more than a month: it can last all year, every year, for the rest of your life.

Related Posts

Creative Writing

Urgency in Fiction: Part One

Urgency in Fiction: Part Two

No Demons, No Saints:
Creating Realistic Characters

Writing Effective Dialogue

Who’s Afraid of Point of View?

Myths About Point of View

How to Write a Novel Without an Outline

Publishing & Writer’s Life

How to Pitch Your Book

Long Day’s Journey Into Publishing My Second Book

A Week in the Life of a Writer, and a Peek Inside my Office



Filed under #WritingTips, Authors, Creative Writing, NaNoWriMo, Real Life of a Writer, Writing, Writing & Revising

Bernard Rejects Rejection


Writing is very hard work. Being an author is an incredibly difficult job, one fraught with constant rejection. The only career I can think of that probably has even more rejection than being an author is being an actor. Still, if you are to survive as a writer, you must constantly write, improve your craft, and deal with rejection: from family, friends, colleagues, grocery clerks, neighbors, and even strangers.

If you wish to go beyond the “career” of writer and become an author, you must deal with rejection on an exponentially larger scale, experiencing rejection — and sometimes insults — from agents, editors, publishers, readers, reviewers, family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, the person who bags your groceries, and even strangers.

Bernard is a writer who wants to be an author, and he found a unique way to  deal with all the constant rejection in an author’s life. Bernard rejects rejection.

I advise every writer and author to follow Bernard’s example.

You’ll feel so much better after writing that letter.

Just don’t ever mail it.


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Filed under Authors, Creative Writing, Editors, Humor, Indie Authors, Real Life of a Writer, Self-Published Authors

Hungry for that Sweet Life: Myths about Being an Author & Selling Books



Despite the Revolution in Indie book publishing over the last few years, especially with the advent of Print-on-Demand (POD) paper-book availability and with instantly accessible e-books, many self-published and Indie authors are still operating under ubiquitous myths about selling books – to their own dissatisfaction and disillusionment. There is, however, good news for all authors, but first they must become familiar with the business of selling books and be realistic about their expectations.

Myth #1
Traditional Publishers Pay for All Publicity and Promotion,
and Always Send Authors on Reading Tours

Unfortunately, it is simply not true that traditional publishers pay for the publicity of all the books they purchase. In fact, approximately 98% of all traditionally published authors must do all their own marketing, promotion, and publicity. If the authors are wealthy enough to employ their own publicists — such as Joyce Carol Oates, who earned, at last check, almost $200,000 annual salary as a professor — then those publicists do the work of promoting and marketing the authors’ works. It is only when an author is a proven bestseller that the publisher itself puts any money into promotion.

When my first novel was published by HarperCollins 20+ years ago, I was informed that I wasn’t “important enough to warrant any publicity money” — this despite having gotten good reviews from such prestigious publications as Publishers Weekly, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Book Review – and I was asked if I could pay for my own book tour. On my Professor’s salary, it took me almost a year to save enough to do 10 stops, taking cheap flights, staying at Holiday Inns, and supplying my own food. Not very glamorous, I can assure you. Did it sell books? HarperCollins never reported any sales, so I never earned any additional royalties, in spite of selling and signing books at the stores I toured.

When my second novel was accepted, I was once again asked to pay for my own reading tour. In traditional publishing,  critical acclaim and prizes do not equal being “important enough to have the publisher pay for a book tour.” My experience is typical for most traditionally published authors who are not already bestsellers.

Now, however, even for NY-published authors, bookstores rarely sponsor readings, and any readings they do schedule are (1) in large cities, (2) only for bestselling authors, (3) must be arranged by the publisher’s publicist in conjunction with each bookstore’s Special Events Coordinator, and (4) must be approved by Barnes & Noble’s Corporate Headquarters. Independent bookstores have largely been put out of business by Chain and Online bookstores, though there may be a few remaining which will sponsor readings, especially for local authors.

In brief, even traditionally published authors always had to do their own publicity and promotion. Bookstore readings have basically gone the way of the dinosaurs. Traditionally published authors usually have their own websites, blogs, Twitter and/or Facebook accounts to promote their own books, to connect with readers, and to keep their names in the public eye, so to speak.

Fact: Connecting with readers, regularly and consistently – not just by shoving commercials down their throats – is the best way to promote and sell books. Making connections with readers, however brief,  has always worked well: that’s what bookstore readings and participation at writing conferences were all about. Now, through effective use of established social media, blogs, and author websites with contact information, all authors have a better chance of promoting and selling their books than they had in the past.

Myth #2
Authors Earn the Full Cover Price of Each Book Sold
so Authors Get Rich Quick

This is one of the reasons most readers believe that all authors are rich, but many new authors themselves, unfamiliar with how the market operates, are angry when they do not become rich within a few months of their book’s publication, or are shocked to discover that they do not earn the entire cover price of a book when it is sold.

Typically, by contract, a traditionally published author will earn 3-10% of the cover (or list) price of each book sold. (Out of that 3-10%, the author then has to pay his agent 15-20% of all monies earned, as well as pay Federal, State, Local, and Social Security Self-Employment Tax [approximately 18%] on his book income.)

Bookstores, who actually sell the books, acquire them at discounts of 35-55% of the cover price, depending on the number of titles/authors sold: the difference between the wholesale and cover prices is what the bookstore “earns” for selling the book to the public.

The distributor, such as Ingram or Baker & Taylor, who is in charge of getting the books from the printer to the bookstore, usually earns at least 15% of the cover price. (Some smaller, regional distributors charge a higher percentage: to make up for smaller volume.)

The cost of printing the book is then subtracted by the printer, and the remainder of the money is sent to the publisher. The author gets his percentage, and, theoretically, the publisher gets the remainder. Unfortunately, in actual practice, the publisher often reports no sales and keeps all monies.

The formula works like this:

Cover (List) Price of Book
– 35-55% for Bookstore
– 15% or more for Distributor
– Actual Printing Costs
= $ that goes to Publisher

who then is supposed to give the Author the contractual percentage
(usually 3-10%) of the book’s cover price.

Let’s say a book’s cover price is $19.99. The bookstores purchase it for $8.99/book (average 45% discount), keeping the difference between wholesale and cover (or in-store sale) price for getting the book into the customer’s hands, earning $10.99/book, which is only reasonable since the bookstore is doing most of the work. The distributor keeps at least $2.99 (15%) for getting the book from the printer to the bookstores. Printing charges depend on the physical size of the book and its number of pages, since most printers charge a per-page-printing-fee. But let’s say the books is 275 pages, in a 5×8″ Trade Paper size: printing costs would be approximately $5.00 per book. That leaves $3.01 that goes to the publisher, who pays the author $1.99/book (10% royalty rate), keeping the remaining $1.02 for itself.

To put it more simply, the publisher gets approximately the amount the bookstores pay for the book minus the printing cost ($8.99-5.00=3.99). Of course, since some major online booksellers get a 55% discount to sell books on their sites, the publisher gets less money per book although the author should not.

Also, bookstores can return any unsold books at any time for no reason. If the publisher does not pay a substantial fee ($2-4.00/book) to get the entire book back, then the bookstores tear the cover off the book and return only the cover, get a refund for their entire purchase price, while supposedly destroying the book itself. However, as the warnings on the copyright pages of many books indicate, booksellers often return the covers, get their purchase price back, then sell the book, keeping all monies for themselves. Thus the warning on the copyright pages of many books:

If you purchased this book without a cover, please be aware that neither the author nor the publisher received any monies for its sale. Please support authors’ rights, and do not support piracy of intellectual property.

Fact: Though an author may never get rich, may not earn substantial amounts of money until he has several titles in print, and is extremely unlikely to become wealthy off his very first book or within a few months of publication – if ever – an author at least has more control over promoting and selling his works by connecting with readers through current social media than he ever had in the past.

As long as the author realizes exactly how much money he’s going to actually earn, he can keep on doing the only thing he can control that might eventually earn him more money: keep on writing good books.

Myth #3
All Bookstores Support
Indie & Self-Published Authors

Perhaps a local, independent bookstore who is familiar with the author might order books for sale to its readers, but the bookstore would still have to order through a distributor, have the right to return any unsold books at any time, etc.

Corporate bookstores are another story completely. Let me use Barnes & Noble as an example, since Borders has gone out of business, and most of my dealings, as an author and a publisher, have been with those stores.

First of all, Barnes & Noble does not make recognize the term “Indie” Author. There are either traditionally or self-published authors. That is all. Authors who have been previously published by traditional New York Houses, had their books taken out-of-print (OP) and put their own OP books back into print through Amazon’s Create Space, for example, are considered Traditional Authors, not “Indie” Authors. Anyone else, according to Barnes & Noble Corporate Headquarters and its local bookstores, is a self-published author.

If a traditionally published author who puts his OP books back into print convinces the Special Events Coordinator at his local Barnes & Noble that he can bring in enough readers to do a successful event, and if the author has multiple titles in print, and if the author has a good relationship with his local bookstore, and if the Corporate New York Office approves, then the local branch bookstore may schedule a reading, ordering — through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, or another established distributor — perhaps 10-20 books. More likely, the bookstore would order 5-8 books. If the author had multiple titles, the bookstore could conceivably order 2-3 copies of each title.

If the previously traditionally published author sold well through Barnes & Noble bookstores while his books were still in print with the New York publishers, then the local store may keep 1-2 copies in stock. Any other books not sold the night of the reading would be returned to the distributor (then to the printer, and ultimately to the “publisher”, which in this case would be the author) within a few days. The 1-2 copies put on the shelves in the hopes of future sales may be returned at any time, even years later, for a full refund, which is subtracted from the publisher’s [OP author’s] account.

Barnes & Noble cannot and does not order books from Amazon’s Create Space directly (nor from the Ingram-owned POD-printer Lightning Source, for that matter) since it is a printer, not a distributor. A printer merely prints books: it does not ship or distribute them for sale to bookstores. Distributors such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, or regional distributors who have contracts with B&N order books from the printers and send them to the bookstores.

Barnes & Noble does not order books by self-published authors.

Not even one copy.

Not even for local authors.

If a local self-published author  has a good relationship with his Barnes & Noble bookstore, and if he convinces the Special Events Coordinator that he can bring in a good sized audience for a reading, and if Corporate New York B&N approves, then the self-published author can pay to have a reading. (That is in bold to ensure that you do not mis-read it, but for emphasis, I will repeat it: if all the above conditions are met, the self-published author can pay to have a reading at his local B&N.)

It costs anywhere between $600-$1,000 for a self-published author to have a reading at a B&N, depending on the location and size of the bookstore itself.

The author must provide all copies of books to be sold by the local Barnes & Noble at his own cost. Since the author is purchasing them directly from the printer and delivering them to the bookstore himself, the author will earn no royalties on any books sold during said reading.

The local B&N which is sponsoring the reading keeps the entire cover price of each book sold. All of it. Every single penny. Nothing goes to the author. Barnes & Noble considers this only fair for allowing the author to use its name and space to advertise his self-published book.

And if, as sometimes happens, no one comes to the author’s reading, all books are returned to the author before his departure from the store, and no portion of the fees paid for the scheduled reading are refunded.

Even if an audience does show up and purchase books, any books not sold the night of the reading are returned immediately to the author. The store will not stock them since bookstores have a “return any time” policy with publishers and it does not consider a self-published author a publisher, whether or not the author has created a name for his own “House”.

Fact: An author needs to be aware that bookstores are largely controlled by Corporate entities, who are often owned by larger corporations, whose objective is to make as much money as possible with as little effort as possible. Whether traditionally, Indie, or self-publshed, an author needs to look beyond bookstores for sales.

With e-books, any locale that offers Wi-Fi can become a place to sponsor a reading. Many Starbucks, for example, do “open mic” nights, where they allow local artists – singers, writers, poets – to perform,  free of charge, because the store will make money from food and beverage sales.

(The author should be a regular, well-known, and well-liked customer of any Starbucks he approaches with such a proposition; he should also be able to produce an established audience of family and friends whose food and beverage purchases will provide incentive for the local manager to grant permission for the reading.) With e-books and Wi-Fi, any audience member present who has a Smartphone, laptop, or e-reader can purchase an author’s e-book during or after the reading.

An author can also video-tape dramatic readings of his work — not commercials, which have been proven ineffective — create his own channel on YouTube free of charge, upload videos of his readings, then regularly promote those video-taped readings on social media to encourage readers to enjoy his readings, which may lead them to purchase his books, whether in electronic or paper format.

Of course, if you’re a bestseller, then traditional publishers will probably pay for you to go on tour and do signings. Then again, they may not: after all, you’re already a bestseller and you’ve got better things to do, like write another bestseller.

Also, bookstores will be more than happy to carry your books. Because you’re a bestseller, and they’ll be making up to 49% of the cover price of every single book they sell.

As far as the Royalties go, I’ve never heard of any author — not even a bestselling one — making more than 20% off the cover price of their books. Bestselling authors make their money on large Advances for future books, with the traditional publishers banking on the previous book’s bestselling status to justify the amount of the Advance. If the next book is not a bestseller, the future Advances drop. Traditional publishers only have memories for the most recent book’s sales, it seems.

There are many more myths about being an author and about selling books that need to be examined, but for every myth, I assure you, there are facts that can help you sell your books and realistically achieve your dreams of becoming an author, not just a writer.

The most important thing you can do as a writer is to keep writing — every day — keep reading, improve your craft, and learn to connect with others (even other writers and authors are readers) on social media — not with an endless stream of “commercials” for your own books or for the books of other authors.

In the meantime, Stay Hungry, My Friends.

Related Posts

Creative Writing

Urgency in Fiction: Part One

Urgency in Fiction: Part Two

No Demons, No Saints:
Creating Realistic Characters

Writing Effective Dialogue

Who’s Afraid of Point of View?

Myths About Point of View

How to Write a Novel Without an Outline

Publishing & Writer’s Life

How to Pitch Your Book

Long Day’s Journey Into Publishing My Second Book

A Week in the Life of a Writer, and a Peek Inside my Office






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Filed under Authors, Blogging, Books, E-books, Indie Authors, Music Video, Music Videos, Music/Song, Self-Published Authors, Videos

My Dinner with Patrick (Stewart)

The meeting of two personalities is like
the contact of two chemical substances:
if there is any reaction,
both are transformed.
Carl Jung, Swiss psychologist (1875 – 1961)


“Patrick Stewart called,” said my Hollywood agent one day after I got home from University. “He wants to know if you can swing by Los Angeles on your book tour so that he can have dinner with you.”

I was flabbergasted. Though Patrick and his production company, Flying Freehold, had held the option on my first novel — The Kommandant’s Mistress — for a few years, and though we had often spoken for long periods on the phone — about all sorts of topics, including my novel — I never dreamed that I would meet him, let alone have dinner with him.


I was also stressed. Not being a famous author, my New York publishers had always asked me to pay for my book tours: I had saved a long time on my English Professor’s salary to do the tour for my second novel; all the flights, hotels, and bookstores had already been set up.

How could I add another city at the last minute?

The expense would be tremendous.

After I explained the situation frankly to my Hollywood agent, Lisa, requesting that she not ask Patrick for the money, she called my New York agent, who called my publisher, who called the publicist. Three hours later, Lisa informed me that the publisher would pay for the Los Angeles part of the tour — flight, driver, and hotel — if I would be sure to promote both books — The Kommandant’s Mistress as well as Only with the Heart — while I was in Los Angeles.

H cover web 2012

Especially at the reading that Patrick and his (then) wife Wendy would be attending.
“Patrick’s coming to the reading?”
“How else is he going to meet you?”
“At dinner.”
“He’ll take you to dinner after the reading. But he said he’ll meet you at the bookstore cafe beforehand.”
“Before the reading?”
“It’s in his neighborhood,” said Lisa. “So, I’ll be there, too.”

I was more nervous than I’d been at my very first public reading several years before, in New York. You see, I don’t just “read”: I perform. Like an actor. Except that I’m a writer.

Patrick Stewart is the actor. A fine actor. Now he was going to be at my reading? How could I possibly perform in front of him? I already couldn’t eat anything before a performance (neither can he, as I discovered). How would I be able to eat anything afterward? I had no idea.

Somehow, I got through the reading/performance, with Patrick sitting right in front of me, so close that our knees touched, with the all-female audience visibly swooning each time anyone looked at him or he asked me a question in that magnificent voice of his. While I signed books afterward, Patrick and Wendy went to the restaurant to get a table. My agent Lisa waited at the back of the bookstore to take me over to dinner.

The driver who’d been assigned to me was very annoyed. She wanted to know what she was supposed to do. Her job was to take me to the bookstore readings and back to the hotel afterward. Was she supposed to just sit in the car the entire time I had dinner, or was she also invited to dinner? I signed books, chatted with my fans, and anxiously sought any sign of Lisa, who had disappeared. 45 minutes later, I’d signed the last book, thanked the bookstore owners and employees for sponsoring the reading, and discovered that the driver was gone.

“She said to tell you she’ll pick you up at the hotel tomorrow morning at 10 to take you to your four readings,” said my agent Lisa, who had returned. “Patrick will take you back to the hotel after dinner.”
“Patrick?” I said. “Not you?”
“No, I have to leave dinner early. I’m going to New Orleans tomorrow and I haven’t packed yet. Don’t worry. Patrick knows where the Holiday Inn is. He drove instead of walking in case you needed a ride back afterward.”

My nerves, already jangled, were now stretched even tauter. As we walked across the street to the restaurant, I asked Lisa if Patrick and his wife had been pleased with the reading. She told me she hadn’t been paying attention to them, but, rather, to me, and that she had been very impressed. Instead of being reassured, my feeling of foreboding increased.


At the crowded restaurant, Friday night diners packed the lobby and bar. We struggled through the group until someone grabbed my shoulder from behind: Patrick. Before my glass of wine had even arrived, the maitre d’ sidled up to Patrick to quietly inquire if his entire party had now arrived. He informed him that it had. Before all the others, we were taken to a table which had been reserved — empty — for at least the last hour since no one had known how long my reading would last and thus had not known what time to make the reservation. My cheeks turned redder than my hair as people openly stared while we were seated at the table in the center of the over-full restaurant.

The table was unbelievably small. It reminded me of those tiny, outdoor tables in Paris at the sidewalk cafes. When I wasn’t bumping my knees against Patrick, on my left, I was banging them into his wife Wendy, on my right. I suddenly wished I’d ordered something stronger than a glass of wine. Before I had another sip, however, Patrick began his “performance.” Charming and gracious, he began telling me a story.

Clearly, he meant to entertain me.
It wasn’t just dinner: it was a dinner party.
For the first time that evening, I was relieved and began to relax: I do “dinner party” well.

“Did you know,” said Patrick as he speared a forkful of Caesar salad, “that when Joseph Conrad was dying, he spoke aloud to his characters as if they were in the room?”
“Really?” I said. “In what language?”


Everyone at the table except me froze.
Patrick’s fork was mid-air, dangling salad.
My agent’s eyes were wider than an owl’s.
Wendy’s mouth was hanging open, literally.
My first faux pas.


“What language?” said Patrick, who is extremely well read, and not just in Shakespeare.
“Polish or English?” I said, though my agent was shaking her head at me for some reason. “Did he speak any others?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” said Patrick, his fork still poised between his plate and his mouth.
“So, in which language did he speak to his characters?” I said, eating some of my own salad and taking a sip of my wine while awaiting his answer.

Patrick’s wife Wendy began to laugh.
He put down his fork.
My agent closed her eyes momentarily.
I bashed my knees against both Patrick’s and Wendy’s, apologizing repeatedly.
Patrick gazed at me.
I returned his look.
He leaned slightly toward me.


“You know, in all the years I’ve told that story,” he said, “no one’s ever asked me that question.”
“You’ve told that story a lot?”
“Only about a hundred-million times,” said Wendy, “and that’s just in the ten years we’ve been together.”
“You’ve told that story a hundred-million times and no one’s ever asked you what language Conrad spoke in?” I said, completely forgetting my manners and whom I was addressing.
“Not a hundred-million times,” said Patrick.
“Close enough,” said his wife.
“And no one’s ever asked you that question?”
“Not once.”
“It’s probably not important,” said my agent, Lisa, smiling pointedly at me.
“It’s not the most important question, no,” I said. “I was just curious.”
“It’s not the most important question?” said Patrick.
“Not to me,” I said.
“What is?”
“First I have to know what language he spoke in.”
“What language do you think he spoke in?” said Patrick, moving closer.
“Because he was dying.”


Patrick looked around the table.
His wife and my agent both busied themselves with their food and drinks.

“Studies have shown that people have the accent of the area in which they lived when they’re 5-7 years old,” I said. “Other studies have shown that no matter how many languages they become fluent in, people always count in their native language. Unless they grow up bi-lingual. Nobody knows why. They just know that they do. So, if Conrad was dying, he’d be speaking in his native language. Not in English.”

“Now, what’s the important question?” said Patrick.
“If he was speaking in Polish, and we know none of his characters spoke Polish, even the ones who were bi-lingual,” I said, not even noticing my agent’s deliberate coughing, “was it like God speaking to His creations, who were unable to understand Him?”

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Patrick swallowed and put down his fork. Everyone at the table stared at me. I blundered on, wanting to know the opinion of an artist I respected so much.

“Even if his characters could hear him, did they realize who he was? Did they know he’d created them, given them the lives they’d led, forced those difficult moral dilemmas on them, let them suffer, killed them? Did they try to answer him, like humans praying to God, not understanding anything He said back to them? Did he feel abandoned? Betrayed? Did they feel the same way?”

Patrick immediately turned to my agent, saying, “Lisa, what do you think?”
“I think I would have to be really drunk,” she said, pouring more wine into her glass, “to even begin to understand what she just said.”
Patrick looked across the table at his wife.
“Wendy, darling, what about you?”
“I think there’s not enough alcohol in the world for me to participate in this conversation,” she said, waving her hand at us. “Why don’t you two talk about the things you like, while Lisa and I discuss the things we like?”

Wendy and Lisa began talking about Patrick and Wendy’s wedding (three months previous) and the honeymoon (on Fiji). Wendy had brought photographs. I looked at Patrick. He looked at me. He raised his eyebrows and waited.


“Sometimes,” I said, horrified to hear my voice begin to crack and to feel tears in my eyes, “I feel monstrously guilty.”
“About what?” said Patrick.
“Because the only life I gave Rachel [in The Kommandant’s Mistress] was as an inmate in a Nazi concentration camp, being raped by Max [the Kommandant], just so I could try to answer the moral and ethical question, ‘What would you do to survive an inescapable situation?’ ”

Patrick was silent for a moment.
“What was the answer to that question?”
“That you never know what you’re capable of until you do it.”
Suddenly Patrick gripped my hand, squeezing it hard, his voice and eyes intense.
“Rachel’s forgiven you,” he said. “Trust me. I know she has.”
When he released my hand, I realized that Wendy and Lisa were staring at us.
So was almost everyone else in the restaurant, including the waiter standing slightly behind Patrick with another bottle of wine.

“Is she always like this?” Wendy said to Lisa.
“You read the book,” said Lisa, shrugging. “What do you think?”

Patrick moved his chair closer, obviously happy with me. I felt a strange sense of peace.
Did Patrick grant me Rachel’s absolution or his own? I don’t know.

I do know that we spent almost 5 delightful, intellectually stimulating hours over that dinner, discussing everything from Moby-Dick to Shakespeare’s plays (both of us prefer the tragedies), from my accent to his homeland (whose dialect/accent he hides), from acting to writing, from novels to films. Patrick was gracious, intuitive, charming, intelligent, incredibly well-read (unlike some actors, who only read scripts, screenplays, or “treatments” and never the actual books they’re based on), insightful, and funny. I knew that he would make a wonderful Max, just as he had made a marvelous Ahab.

Unfortunately, though the film was funded, it was never made (Hollywood politics). Patrick released the option, and we haven’t spoken in over seven years. That’s simply how it works in Hollywood: if you don’t have a project together, you don’t have contact with each other. And in Hollywood, authors are not very well respected unless they’re bestsellers. Most authors who have books optioned never talk to or meet the actors/directors who acquire the rights to make their books into films; most books that are optioned never even make it to the first day of “principal photography,” as it’s called, when the author gets paid.

I got to talk to Patrick the first time on the phone because he wanted to talk to me about my novel. I got to talk to him after that because he’d just finished filming Moby-Dick and I’ve read the novel at least a dozen times, even writing a poem called “Ahab’s Wife”: he wanted to know my take on his Ahab. I got to talk to him many times afterward because I’m a Shakespeare scholar: we could discuss some of the works closest to his heart.

I got to meet him and have dinner with him in Los Angeles simply because he wanted to meet me and discuss what he wanted to do with The Kommandant’s Mistress, the film. My life partner Tom and I then got to spend the weekend with Patrick and his wife when he was doing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because it was being staged only an hour’s flight from where we then lived, because Patrick liked me, and so he invited us up as his guests.

My situation with Patrick Stewart was not customary. Patrick’s desire to have contact with authors whose books he optioned is not the norm in Hollywood. Most of the actors I’ve met since then are gracious, kind, intelligent, charming, talented, and clever, but understandably wary around strangers, even if they’ve optioned their books.

Of course, I was disappointed that Patrick didn’t get to make my novel into a film, and I still believe he would have been a wonderful Max. The fact that Hollywood politics prevented its being made, however, can never take away my first dinner with Patrick. Nor can anything take away our first face-to-face conversation about Joseph Conrad, authors, their characters, moral and ethical choices in unbearable situations, as well as the existence of God, forgiveness, and hope in art.

Me & Patrick
(No, I don’t look anything like this now since I lost over 278 pounds and the dorky haircut — I look like this:
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but I swear, that is me with Patrick Stewart, and, yes, he has his arm around me. Though we discussed many things over the years that Patrick held the option to my first novel, we never discussed Star Trek: TNG or his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard: sorry.)




Filed under Actors, Authors, Books, Classics, Memoir, Writing