Saturday, July 7, 2012

"I've Promised My (Fill in the Blank) You'll Get Their Book Published...."

In my previous post, I wrote about authors being approached by friends, family members and others who expect us to write their books for them. There's one incident, however, that I didn't mention.

Years ago, when I was at my lowest point, unable to write and trying to take care of my mother following her stroke, I was levied by the IRS. I could not access what income I still had coming from my books. Thankfully, our Congressman at that time, Dick Gephardt, came to the rescue and got the levy removed, but it was tough for a while--so tough that we had to go to a food pantry.

The pantry was within walking distance, so Collin and I went once a week, when we had someone to stay with Mom. We got fresh fruit, vegetables, and a pizza. In applying for the pantry, I of course had to tell them what line of work I was in. I didn't forsee a problem. I assumed that, being affiliated with the United Way, they had to follow the rules regarding client confidentiality.

I assumed wrong.

The people who worked there always seemed professional to me, and the woman who ran the place was always asking questions about my books and writing. Idle interest? Not exactly. When Collin and I arrived one afternoon, I was handed a slip of paper with a name and a phone number on it and informed that this person was waiting to hear from me.

The woman whose number I'd been given was the secretary of the pantry manager's husband. She had been promised I would get her book published! I was to phone her ASAP. It was difficult not to laugh. I hadn't been able to produce anything remotely publishable myself in some time. I was getting help from a food pantry, for crying out loud! But I was supposed to be able to open doors for this woman I didn't know? I had no idea if she could even write.

The next time Collin and I went to the pantry, the pressure was on. The manager said the would-be writer had told her that I hadn't called yet. She demanded to know why. I explained that I had not been able to--we had no phone then, and I couldn't just go off and leave my mom for something that wasn't urgent. I realized this was going to be an issue as long as we kept going to the pantry, so I decided we'd just have to get by without it.

But it didn't end there. One day, several months later, I decided to drop off some plastic grocery bags we'd accumulated. I knew they needed them, and I thought I could just slip in, give the bags to one of the staffers, and leave. That would have been nice, but no--the manager must have seen me coming. She confronted me in front of everyone the minute I walked in the door, berating me for not dropping everything to get this unknown book published. "How would you feel if I had refused you food when you needed it?" she demanded.

I pointed out that the two circumstances could hardly be compared. And walked out. I gave serious consideration to contacting the United Way, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. I never went back and never saw her again.

I wonder if that book ever got published?


  1. Good grief! That's just ... I'm trying to pick my jaw up from the floor. Unbelievable!

  2. Completely uncalled for, that one....

  3. I should be shocked but I can't say that I am.
    I think when some people get even small amounts of power, their self importance goes to their head and they go over to the dark side.
    I am so sorry you had to go through this.

    cheers, parsnip

  4. My gut feeling is that the answer to that last question is no.

    There's a food pantry less than a block from my house; my mother and grandmother go to it when they're well enough. They're completely local, and I can't imagine anyone there acting at all like that. But then, I guess you never know.

  5. Unbelievable!! It's sad people like that really exist:(. I'm sorry you had to go through that, especially at such a difficult time.

  6. How awful! I've worked in non-profit before, and I've discovered that many who work in the field feel entitled to special privileges because they're Good People. I can't tell you the number of times I have found out about coworkers abusing their positions to get favors from the people they serve.
    I am always happy to help out another writer - provided I actually _know_ that person. Generally, however, help comes in the form of my politely telling them what they don't want to hear. Often it's something like "This is great. Now you need to go buy a grammar and style guide and go back over this with a fine-toothed comb or no publisher will even touch it. Next you need to find a copy of 'The Writer's Market,' learn how to write a query letter, compile a list of publishers who publish things similar to what you've written, send off the query letter with the manuscript, wait a few months, hope that your rejection letter comes with some constructive criticism, rework your manuscript, submit it somewhere else, wait a few months..."
    Once people learn that being a writer involves actual work beyond the writing, they tend to head for the hills.

  7. Norma, You rock, you always post something that make me smile and even uplifts me. I enjoy coming to your blog each week and I am grateful to have you as a blogging friend.


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