Friday, December 21, 2012

Getting Published


The cover of my book might look something like this.

Firstly, thank you all you wonderful readers – thanks for taking the time to check out AWFUL GOODNESS, thanks for your comments, and thanks for your support.  J'adore.  I do wish more of you would post comments on the actual blog, rather than email them to me under the veil of discretion, like a straight man sneaking out of a gay bar.  Your comments are insightful and witty – why not share them with the world?  And why not bolster my blog by showing that you actually read it?  You have nothing to be ashamed of.  And if you did, I would tell you – don’t worry.

Many people I’ve met, friends and strangers both, have expressed interest in how I sold my first book, One Man Guy (in bookstores in spring 2014).  So instead of dedicating this post to my Paradise Lost project, I thought I’d write about that instead.  My friends, many of whom are incredibly successful and accomplished, appear very impressed by my sold book, but to me, it’s like being a chimera in a field of unicorns.  I’m sure if most of my friends were writers and I ended up on Broadway, the response would be the same. But here’s what happened, for those of you who are interested.


Rafa dancing with Julia.

Joy Peskin was Linsay Firman’s roommate senior year at Vassar (they were one year ahead of me).  Linsay Firman was my last girlfriend before I came out fifteen years ago, continues to be one of my best friends and most amazing people I know, and is married to Shane Rettig, a composer and sound designer of the highest caliber.  She is also the mother of my god-daughter, the unbearably beautiful Julia Rettig. 

Joy and I would run into each other at Linsay’s various functions after college (such as her 30th bday, for which I cooked up an amazing Cuban feast, hired salsa dancers to teach us some steps and went dancing until the wee hours, ending up at Cafeteria after the wee hours before it was SEX IN THE CITY popular).

Around seven years ago, when Joy was at Penguin, we were hanging out at one of said Linsay’s events and she said to me, “You should write me a gay young adult novel.  It’s an up-and-coming genre.”  I was between directing gigs, and I thought, “Why not?”  So I wrote around fifty pages, sent them to Joy, she gave me feedback, I re-wrote them, and we worked that way for around two years until an entire novel existed.  As an editor, Joy taught me so much about writing and how to work with writers, experience invaluable to me as a director when I’m working with playwrights.  Once we felt the product was as good as it was going to be, Joy sent it to her publishers.  We couldn’t get them to bite, and as disappointed as I was, I figured that was the end of the book (at the time called THE SUBURBS SUCK).   

Maybe the point of this project in some large, cosmic sense, I thought to myself, was just to start me writing, and I was thankful for having done it for that reason.


A few months ago, I got a call from my agent, Josh Adams at Adams Literary (Joy hooked me up with them when we couldn’t sell my books all those years back).  I figured he was calling to drop me, because with the exception of a proposal that I hadn’t actually written and a few chapters of an aborted YA Shakespeare project, I had been totally unproductive as a novelist. 

Joy had since moved to Farrar Strauss and Giroux, at Macmillan, and had expressed interest in working on my old book at her new home.  “Would I look at the manuscript and see what I thought?”  Josh asked.  I remember the call came in late March:  Rafa and I had traveled to Mexico City because his father had passed away, and it was exactly the kind of buoyant news one wants during sad times.

I read my manuscript.  Because I hadn’t looked at it in five years, I could read it with clarity, almost as if someone else had written it – the kind of objectivity every artist wants, the kind directors strain for as they sit through their second week of previews, trying to remember what it would be like to be an audience member who’d never seen this show before, sitting in the house for the very first time.

I understood why Joy and I hadn’t been able to sell it all those years back.  The manuscript was bad.  The sentences were clumsily constructed, big lumbering trolls, crashing into each other as they tried marching to a common cause. 

This wasn't the kind of image I was looking for, but I thought it was so weird I should post it.  What's Spidey doing hanging out with a bunch of trolls?

And yet, the characters were interesting, and most of the structure was somewhat salvageable.  And more importantly, Joy had faith in the project, faith that I didn’t necessarily have myself.  Every time I’ve directed a play or written something, I’ve reached a point of utter hopelessness, and the person whose faith I can substitute for my own becomes someone to whom I am deeply grateful.  Joy was that person, not just because she told me to write it in the first place, but because she believed in me and it from the get-go.

I tried to read through without a pencil in my hand, but the editor in me (I worked as Wendy Wasserstein’s typist for five years, often editing her work as I went along) couldn’t help himself, and I began marking as I went.  Sometimes I’d re-arrange on a micro level, sometimes I’d re-order on the macro.  As bad as the manuscript was, I could see a good book inside, trying to get out, trapped by my inexperience as a writer all those years back.  But that was then.  And this was now.

Joy and I agreed that I’d re-write the first fifty pages (I ended up deciding to do sixty – the entirety of the new Act I) and she’d show them to the powers that be at Macmillan and see what they said. 


Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir
Re-visiting the material was joyful for me.  I felt more confident in my abilities, and the distance I had from the old stuff allowed me to re-write it without sentimentality or preciousness.  I came up with a new first scene, showing the main characters, an Armenian family, going out for dinner, because Armenians in a restaurant is a recipe for comedy (see Peter Balakian’s BLACK DOG OF FATE). 

I worked on those pages, gave them to Joy, got her notes, worked on them again, then waited anxiously to hear what the powers that be at Macmillan thought.  The pitch meeting, where editors present their projects, kept on getting postponed, until I finally received the news that they responded to the material, and the project had received a green light.  Joy and I celebrated by going to Almayass, the first Armenian restaurant to open up in New York in years, coincidentally around the corner from Joy’s office in the Flatiron building.


What’s the take-away here?  The first is to let other people’s imagination of you surprise yourself.  Joy looked at me, and instead of seeing a marginally employed theater director between gigs, saw a potential gay young adult novelist.  And as thrilled as I am that ONE MAN GUY (new titled) is going to exist in the world to be read, the most valuable outcome of writing it is not that it will get published, but rather, that it got me writing in the first place, and without that, I’d never be writing this blog, for example, or THE AETHER WILD, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy adventure novel I’m working on with Rosemary Andress and Suzanne Agins.

Isn't this image great?

We’re all in it for the long haul, so take your time and have faith. 

I’m going to end this post before I choke on my own sentimentality.  

Next up:  I'm going to switch gears, get into food, and post about my killer tofu scramble recipe.  Then I'll get into some juicy gay marriage stuff.


  1. Awesome Blog Michael! I can't help but read it in your distinctive speaking voice. It's so engaging, so you! Thanks! More!

  2. Thanks Will - it's a joy to write, I confess, and I find it so much easier to write in my own voice than I do in someone else's (like a character, for example). Part of the process, I'm also finding, is getting over the need for perfection I feel so acutely. Knowing there will be typos and that people will read it and them and life goes on is liberating.

  3. I truly cannot wait to read this book. But in the meantime I will console myself by trying to find out more about why Spiderman hangs out with trolls.

  4. Bravo! Love that you're demystifying the success story. We need more of that in life, I think, as opposed to the blase 'well of course I sold my book' that one might expect from a writer.

    Oh yeah, and "Every time I’ve directed a play or written something, I’ve reached a point of utter hopelessness, and the person whose faith I can substitute for my own becomes someone to whom I am deeply grateful," made me tear up.

  5. Just wait until I get around to telling the story of how I proposed. . .