or Predict the Unpredictable

November 12, 1997... When last you heard from me, autobiographically speaking, it was June. I'd just left a notice on the site to announce that I would be taking a three month hiatus from the Web. I planned to spend most of those months in my hometown of New York, daydreaming, relaxing and intellectually recharging. I had visions of long, sweet, summer days spent scribbling poetry and ogling pedestrians while sipping iced coffee at an outdoor cafe. As much as possible, I wanted to be alone, and not--as I usually do when I go back--to race around, frantically trying to see as many friends and family members as possible. This summer, I thought, would be nothing less than an adventure in private self-indulgence.

Predictably, this vision of a halcyon season, brimming with empty days, was never fulfilled. I had neither privacy nor long peaceful afternoons. That's the lesson in seeing one's plans crash to bits: it reminds us that it's never a good idea to take ourselves too seriously or to count on things we cannot control.

Among the things I couldn't control this summer were, first, the collapse of a book deal which had been in negotiation since late 1996. After writing my crisply cantankerous ode to the dating scene, Where the Boys Are, my editors at Avon were so delighted by how bitchy I could be, they promptly asked me to do another one. This one was going to be THE COSMO BOOK OF SEX. There was only one small hurdle: Cosmo's new editor, Bonnie Fuller, who'd recently replaced Helen Gurley Brown, had to approve it. Unbeknownst to me, Ms. Fuller wasn't in a very approving mood.

Since I was given a firm commitment and promised a contract from the get-go, it was a tad aggravating when, six months later, and with with one hasty phonecall from the snotty and incompetent senior editor at Avon who had strung me along with false promises, the book deal died. Ms. Fuller, I was told, was uncertain about the direction she wanted the Avon/Cosmo book-line to go and was putting it on hold indefinitely. My book proposal was too "old Cosmo." Sic transit gloria. In two minutes, the income I'd been counting on was no longer. And, since the senior editor had basically guaranteed the book deal would go through, I had not attempted to line up any other kind of paying work for 1997. In other words, my dog Bobo's biscuit larder was in serious jeopardy.

Further, this happened just one day before leaving for New York. There I was, packing calmly for the trip, secure in the knowledge that the biggest decisions I'd have to make all summer would be picking a fetish outfit to wear to Leather Pride Night and selecting the perfect cafe to haunt.

And then The Phonecall of Doom. Predictable, n'est-ce pas?

On the other hand, do not think that my summer would have been completely without intellectual challenge. Picking the right cafe is a complicated matter for a writer. It must be convenient to where you live. It must have tables large enough to spread out a notebook, books, a purse, cigarettes, and an ashtray, and still leave room for a coffee cup and a water glass. The light must be good and the chairs must be comfortable enough to sit in for hours at a time. You need a place that is big enough so you have a constantly changing cast of characters to watch as you pretend to read or write. But it must be small enough that the wait staff and management remember you, because the service will then improve on a daily basis until they greet you by name, remember your regular order, and (most important of all) share details about their lives, their boyfriends, their travel plans, where they study, and what they hope to do with their lives.

Collecting stores of useless-in-the-moment but possibly-useful-in-the-future information is part of the writer's job. Just as archaeologists dig up piles of dirt and carry them to the lab to screen carefully for fossils, shards and relics, writers collect life stories only to sift through them at some indeterminate future date for those priceless gems which may illuminate a manuscript.

But to continue, chronologically. My hopes for an uneventful summer now dashed by the necessity of earning money, the first item on the agenda when I arrived in New York was to devise a way to pay my bills this year. My options were either to salvage the original project (a general guide to sex) or come up with a new one, perhaps one nearer and dearer to my heart than instructing women on how to give good blow jobs.

(An art we mastered long ago, and whose techniques we don't think it dignified to reveal. In too much explicit detail. Unless the situation calls for it. Or we're in the right mood.)

Coming up with an idea, actually, wasn't the hard part. The hard part, indeed the unimaginably daunting part, was SELLING an idea in a publishing environment that is, to say the least, wracked with fear, bad profit margins, and general confusion about what people really want to read.

(For more insights into the turmoil in publishing, check out author Vonda McIntyre's observations on the crises in the Science Fiction markets. Those of you who are curious about the impact of the economic crisis in commercial publishing on small presses can also take a gander at A Letter to Sue Neubauer, publisher of ELF which I wrote after one of my trips to New York.)

Nancy, the great freelance editor who worked with me on the first Avon/Cosmo book and was instructed to recruit me for the second, was nearly as upset by her boss's behavior as I was. Partly because we had, by then, become friends, but mainly to exorcise her guilt at the raw deal I got, she took me to lunch at a hot spot in SoHo (where, by the way, I couldn't help noticing that portabello mushrooms seemed to be holding the kitchen hostage. In fact, Portabello Mushroom Madness seemed to have seized all of New York City. No matter where I went, I could not escape that damn fungus).

In any event, Nancy said she thought I should rework my proposal and consider writing a book about D&S; sex. When I pointed out that I already had done just that, she said she meant a very different kind of book: one which had the same upbeat, wise-cracking, friendly style I used in the dating guide and which covered questions that a more mainstream audience would have.

I met with my agent the next day. To my surprise, she had a similar idea: that I write a book which drew on letters I've received from readers of DIFFERENT LOVING and which offered advice on all aspects of kinky sex--from "what is normal? to how to meet someone who shares your interests to what kinds of scenarios you can enact. She too thought a more reader-friendly, personal style was the way to go. So, in the course of a three-hour meeting, we developed the concept.

And thus began the huge push this summer to sell a new book. Although I did settle on the perfect cafe--Vivaldi's on Jones Street--more days than not, I stayed indoors at the house of the friend who was putting me up (or putting up with me, depending on your point of view), glued to the PC, making notes and outlining a new proposal. While I typed, my agent phoned. She called a number of editors who she felt would be interested in the project, and--to my amazement--cajoled five of them into meeting with me in person on my next trip up. (Note: complete details of these meetings will appear in a future installment, titled: "Chesty Vampyra Rides Again.")

One of the odd things, you see, about being known as the author of an SM book is that people form very interesting ideas about you long before they've met you. Often these ideas are so colorful that people are afraid to have truck with you. This can work to one's advantage, of course. It winnows out the wienies right away. But when it comes to publishing, being able to reassure potential editors that you are not actually the spawn of Satan is a plus. I had just, in fact, had an educational contretemps with an editor at a famous business magazine. He called me on the phone and hired me to write a short piece for him on poetry and business. Until he visited this site, that is. I've never been hired and fired so fast in my entire life.

So a face-to-face meeting would allay any fears editors might have about my presentability and (dare I say it) my moral fiber. Because, after all, while I may well be one of the most polymorphously perverse people ever to walk the earth, I am still a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn. Something which is easier to believe in person than in print.

As noted above, I'll be writing a complete description of those meetings sometime soon. For now, in a nutshell: I ultimately met six editors. One changed firms a week after our meeting so that was that. A few weeks after that, two who wanted to bid said they couldn't get their marketing/editorial colleagues to agree. So my book died in meeting as being too controversial, too risky.

Now, if you've gotten to this page from the Different Loving site, you're probably wondering how a book on kinky sex could be too controversial in this day and age--especially since every major magazine seems to be hopping on the kinky sex wagon, and publishing articles about how trendy and mainstream SM has become.

Well, some of it is economics. The publishing industry is in an advanced state of fear and trembling over their lousy profit margins. Books perceived as risky, books in market niches that don't generate huge profits, books that step outside familiar territory are not the kind of books that publishers want right now. They want steady, reliable income from safe, dependable titles.

Many publishers also remain rooted to fixed Puritan Eliterati notions--for example, that, even in 1997, certain subjects aren't quite proper for printed discussion. For example, nice people just don't talk about fetishes and kinky sex...even if they fantasize about them obsessively. Or, as one publisher wrote in a rejection letter on my first novel (and I quote):

SM and cyberspace are too ambitious for our list.

Ambitious? Is that really the word he was looking for?

While editors were existentially roiling over the nice/naughty dialectic, I was doing a bit of roiling myself. First, I had never "pitched" before, at least not so directly and aggressively. Where oh where had my literary morals gone? I went to those meetings fiercely determined to sell not only my book but myself. Several friends in the business warned that editors would be looking me over to see if I was the sort of person they could put on television. And I hate television. They would want to feel reassured that I am normal. And, let's face it, I'm not normal. I'm a sadomasochist, for goodness sake.

So chant along with me, this mantra that silently played in my head as I meditated on the cases of gourmet dog chow I could buy for Bobo if I succeeded and the empty bowl which he would disconsolately lick if I did not.

Marketing is fine.
Marketing is peaceful.
Marketing is zen.

Next, in the last two years I've written a complete novel and about 3/4s of a second one. My first novel lies, a lonely orphan, on a shelf. Maybe my book is just lousy. At least a couple of editors thought so. But what I was told, repeatedly, by my agent and a few editors who claimed to love it, is that people were afraid (or embarrassed) to bring it to their marketing people. For, like the mega-bureaucracies which now govern their budgets, editors must focus on the bottom-line and choose projects which their marketing departments like. And, as we already heard, SM and cyberspace are...ambitious.

The day of my three-hour meeting with my agent, I was waiting for the elevator when a dapper gentleman with a New York Post rolled up under his arm walked up and smiled.

"Hello." He spoke with great dignity and extended his hand. "I am Sterling Lord."

I'd heard much about Mr. Lord--a literary legend, who represented Jack Kerouac and many other important figures in American letters--but had never seen him.

"Oh!" I gurgled, my tongue instantly turned to mashed potatoes, "I'm Gloria Brame."

He gallantly ignored my stupidity. Or maybe he was distracted by my see-through pants.

"When I first got into this business," he began chatting convivially, as we soared to lower depths, "editors really cared about literature. If they liked a book, they bought it. Nowadays, editors have become marketers. If their marketing departments don't think a book will be a big commercial success, the editors won't buy it. They leave the decision-making to marketers."

Thanks, Mr. Lord. It's seldom that a living legend will take the time to stop and say something to an author that is both reassuring and provides some insight into the business. Most writers, unfortunately, are totally in the dark about the way things really work in publishing. And, more unfortunately, when we find out, we are devastated.

Anyway, to continue the digression that led to the digression that led to this digression: I was existentially roiling about the new book project. If the truth be known (and why not?) the greatest ambition I had for myself ten years ago was to be known as a poet. Poetry was my everything: the only thing that made me truly happy. Then I began trying my hand at fiction. I was lousy at it, but it too made me very happy, and I kept writing and rewriting and finally, these days, I'm not too bad.

For a living, though, I've always written non-fiction of one kind or another--from articles and brochures and newsletters for corporate clients to funding solicitations for academia, to just about anything else that someone would pay me to write. Thus my career writing articles for women's magazines. And thus the first Avon dating guide.

It was different with DIFFERENT LOVING. DifLove was an ideal project, one that perhaps comes along only once in a lifetime. It married my financial interests with my personal interests. I got an advance which covered a year's living expenses; and it was a labor of love, a book I believed, deeply and spiritually, needed to be written. It was the book I wished I had been able to find when I was first grappling with my own sexual identity.

But now I've done it, and I would like to write about other things that are important to me. Although I myself occasionally find this hard to believe, there are subjects outside of sex which concern me and take up considerable amounts of my thought. I've never desired to be an SM specialist, simply a person who, being a sadomasochist herself, wrote about what she knew in hopes that other people would get something out of it.

Frankly, when I think of terms to describe myself, I think of "writer." "Woman," "Jew," "sadomasochist," "Bobo's Mommy" and all the other things I am fall further down the list. Well, maybe not "Bobo's Mommy," but you know what I mean.

So I was a little ambivalent about writing another big non-fiction book on kinky sex, particularly since my poetry manuscript and now novel remain unpublished. This is like seeing your adopted children become doctors and lawyers while your biologicals live in trailer parks. You're proud of the adoptees and love them dearly. But you can't quite understand why your flesh and blood can't even hold down jobs with the Salvation Army.

Maybe it was a sign from above that the Avon deal had crashed. Maybe, at long last, it was time to shift my priorities back to art. I had been so busy with non-fiction assignments for so many years that poetry's been the lowest priority on my literary list. Perhaps forces greater than myself were pushing me to focus on serious literature and abandon the unworthy pursuit of commercial success; perhaps there was a divine imperative that I return to my roots and starve, rather than sell my non-fiction soul for dog biscuits.

Apparently not. Predictably, when I least expected it, this book proposal generated major excitement. Much of it was my agent's doing: her loyalty to me and her faith in my work made all the difference. Agents are not known for their personal commitment to clients these days. And authors like me, perceived to be controversial and off-beat (translation: unlikely to produce mass-market blockbusters), seldom receive such loving attention.

Between her spectacular effort, and the enthusiasm with which editors and friends alike greeted my description of the kind of book I'd like to do, it became obvious to me that this was a book I had to do. The more I talked about it and the more I worked on the proposal, the more excited I grew about its prospects.

Perhaps Different Loving wasn't the once-in-a-lifetime book project I thought it was. Perhaps with this new one, I could accomplish something equally meaningful and important. There is still so much to be said about kinky sex; there are still many truths about sexuality that remain unrevealed. The new book will address scores of issues that DifLove didn't explore; it's a book I can write just a little more from the heart than from the head, drawing on my own experiences and personal philosophies.

Or maybe I'm just rationalizing. But, then, that's part of what being successful is about: the ability to summon enormous enthusiasm for--and a total commitment to--the project you are working on NOW. Whatever yesterday's doubts, if today you've decided to undertake the project, you'd best be ready to give it all you've got. Without that enthusiasm or dedication, I don't believe you can write a book worth reading. And I intend to make my new book worth reading.

So I am extremely happy to announce that Simon & Schuster has agreed that this is a book worth publishing.

A Commonsense Guide to Kinky Sex

was sold yesterday, November 11th. It sold for much more than Avon was going to pay me. And the editor I'll be dealing with at S&S; is the consummate professional.

Isn't it wonderful when a plan doesn't come together? Bobo will get his biscuits after all. And, together, we will have a halcyon year.

copyright © 1997
Gloria Glickstein Brame
Reproduction or distribution of any of the
materials contained herein is strictly prohibited
by the laws governing intellectual property rights.