People ask if I always wanted to be a writer. The truth is I aspired to be a model but God missed the memo. Or maybe he was very wise because instead of giving me a Sports Illustrated swimsuit body he gave me a great sense of humor and a name people would remember.
My first hint that I was considered a funny writer was when a school secretary confessed that my notes from home were being circulated among the teachers. And yet I nearly blew my first chance to be published, in the New York Times no less.
On a lark I had submitted an essay about neurotic parents and their poor trophy kids who had to put up with them. One night during dinner a woman called from the Times and by then I had forgotten about the essay so I went off on a rant. We were so sick of having our dinner interrupted by phone solicitations and didn’t she know we were already subscribers? Uh oh. She was calling to say the Times wanted to publish my essay. I wanted to throw up but instead I said, “Hold on. I’ll get Saralee.” Then I finished the conversation in a very deep voice.
The piece did appear and taught me two valuable lessons. Give callers a chance to say why they’re calling and secondly, if you are going to depict your neighbors as competitive and crazy, it helps to also say a kind word or two. The story got a chilly reception but the feeling of being published warmed my heart. I volunteered to write a column about parenting and there was no turning back.
For a year I wrote a humorous, honest essays about life in an affluent suburb. One of them was called Down and Out in Baldwin Harbor, a take-off on the Bette Midler film, Down and Out in Beverly Hills. I complained about the phoniness of moms who drove a big Mercedes and wore a diamond ring the size of an ice rink when the furniture in your living room was made by Little Tykes. It created an uproar and though lots of women confessed they agreed with me, I was fired from my volunteer work because I had ruffled too many designer feathers.
Ah. But remember God’s plans for me? While I was pregnant with our second child, my husband mentioned that a client had opened a publishing firm in Florida and was looking for an author to write a book about relocation to the Sunshine State. He wanted me to submit a proposal even though i knew nothing about living there and even less about writing a book. I nearly hit him over the head with a frying pan for telling the publisher I would do it, but I didn’t own a frying pan.
And yet I gave birth to our daughter, Alex, that summer and did start to write a book called DESTINATION FLORIDA: THE GUIDE TO A SUCCESSFUL RELOCATION. It was great timing because people up north were moving down south in huge numbers, And because there was no such thing as the Internet, books were the best source for information. Thus began my unexpected career as a writer.
My next two books, co-authored with my husband, were called 50 FABULOUS PLACES TO RETIRE IN AMERICA and 50 FABULOUS PLACES TO RAISE A FAMILY and they landed us as guests on Oprah. After that appearance the books flew off the shelves and we started to envision a series that could go indefinitely.
Unfortunately I needed a break. We were now parents of three children and the travel was insane. Plus, I had an idea for a novel. My husband asked how long I would need to write it and I said a year, tops. It took three. And another year to find a literary agent… if you’re counting, that was four years without my bringing in a dime.
Almost a year later the agent called with news. My novel, ALL IN THE CARDS, hadn’t gotten interest from a publisher but a Hollywood star wanted to option it.How would I feel about Bette Midler turning the book into a movie? I said I could live with that lol, but after two years of being in the Hollywood spin cycle, Bette and her partner couldn’t get financing and she went on to star in a TV show. I was broken-hearted but already was at work on a second novel.
“How long will it take to finish that one?” my husband asked, hoping it wasn’t too late to go back to writing books that sold. “Another year,” I said. It took three, plus 15 months for my agent to find an editor who loved it. Yay for happy endings!
I was so lucky to have A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE acquired by Lyssa Keusch at Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. She is one of the smartest, nicest, most talented editors in the business and I was fortunate to collaborate on four wonderful novels, including A LITTLE HELP, CLAIRE VOYANT, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD.
Now here’s the kicker. DEAR NEIGHBOR was the reincarnation of my first novel, ALL IN THE CARDS, which was a reincarnation of all those columns I wrote about competitive neighbors and suburban strife.
Mind you, I never gave up the dream to have my first manuscript published, though it languished in my basement next to boxes of baby clothes. And admittedly, it took a lot of convincing to get Lyssa to read it as Avon’s was mostly known for romance novels and chick-lit. Then came Desperate Housewives and suddenly it was get me stories about suburban moms at war.
Timing is everything.
And now on to my latest project, a novel for middle school girls. I was nervous about writing for younger readers because I wasn’t sure if I could compare to my two favorite children’s writers: Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. Hopefully THE MIDDLE SCHOOL MEDIUM will find an audience as it’s a hilarious story with tons of heart. I hope that when it too finds an editor who loves it, girls will connect with Stella Jacoby and her crazy, mixed-up life.
As my readers know, I love a happy ending and I’ll do anything to get there!