My Brilliant Career
Good work, girl! You're in Hollywood now.
Right before Labor Day weekend, 2007, I got this email:
I’m a Movie and Television Producer/Director based in Los Angeles. I recently read your book Three Days In New York City and wanted to discuss with you the possibilities of adapting it for Film or Television.
Please contact me.
I read his email fifty times and somehow missed that it said “Michael” Spielberg, not “Steven”. After finally realizing that Steven Spielberg would not contact an unknown writer and include his personal cell phone number, my next step was to check Google. Were Michael and Steven brothers? Hell, I’d settle for second cousins.
No such luck but there was a listing for Michael at IMDB.
He was the former vice president of Miramax Films.
“After discovering the well-known film, Sex, Lies and Videotape at the Cannes Film Festival, he became instrumental in the acquisition of the film. He was president of Monument Pictures, which included co-producing South Central with Oliver Stone.”
This guy wanted me to call him? What do I say? Why oh why did I not have an agent to help me with this?
Hang on. Maybe I did.
When I first wrote Three Days in New York City, I didn’t know I had to play by any rules. I had an idea and went with it. An American woman, age forty and facing empty nest syndrome, was unhappy in her marriage and career and terrified of losing the hip factor. So she dealt with that by striking up a relationship on the internet with a man from England who, at first glance, was going through a similar mid-life crisis but in reality, was a guy with kinky sexual tastes looking to have an affair. What she didn’t know, as she developed a dark sexual persona online to keep him interested, was that he was coming to America to meet her. She agreed to spend three days with him at a hotel in New York City with comedic results. In one scene he bound her wrists to her ankles with bondage tape and she vacillated between worrying about her cellulite to whether he was a serial killer.
I sent out query letters and received immediate replies. Yes, send the first three chapters. Oh, that was wonderful, you are so brilliant, please send the entire manuscript. I couldn’t believe it. This getting your novel published stuff was easy! Why did I waste the last ten years trying to get short stories into the New Yorker?
And then there was silence. I knew what that meant. Every single author friend of mine who had a book deal heard back from their agents practically overnight once they sent the full manuscript. How could so many agents want to read my whole book and then disappear?
Finally, I got “the call.” A really good agent with a great reputation.
“Robin, I love this. I would take you on but your book is simply not marketable as is.”
“What do you mean?”
“The sex is too graphic. And your protagonist is married. Adultery is a no-no in a romantic comedy.”
“But I didn’t write a romantic comedy!”
“Well, actually, you are correct. It’s really borderline erotica.”
“I don’t write erotica,” I protested.
“Then the detailed sex scenes have to go. And the narrator must be divorced or widowed.”
“But the whole plot of the book would change! And the graphic sex is germane to the story. This guy is a pervert and her reaction to all of his insane fantasies are what provide the humor!”
“I’m telling you that you have to make a decision. If you decide not to take out the sex, you don’t need me. Most publishers of erotica take unsolicited manuscripts. Make the changes and we’ll talk.”
I hung up the phone totally demoralized. So that’s why I’d gotten the cold shoulder from twenty agents requesting the full manuscript. I’d written something unmarketable.
I decided to submit Three Days to indie publishers on my own.
I sent it to Mundania Press, a respectable small company who published mostly science fiction but had a viable presence in brick and mortar bookstores. What I didn’t know was that they’d just introduced an erotica line and hired a thirty-year-old editor to run that division. She read Three Days and sent me a contract despite the fact that I still insisted it was not erotica. Actually, I would later learn I was correct. It wasn’t erotica because the narrator had children and talked about them and there was no mention of any glistening shafts nor the word “cum.” Just a poor neurotic woman who worried about farting in front of her lover.
The book went on to be a best seller for Mundania and they asked that I write a sequel. This time, though, they wanted it to be more in conformance to standard erotica.
While I was busy working on a commercial fiction book to prove I was a “real author,” erotica entered the mainstream and even Random House was buying it. But I was desperate to be legitimate. I wanted to be a Random House author, alright, but not if it meant writing graphic sex.
And so once again, I queried agents for my new book. I found one right away, we hit it off, and then right in the middle of edits, she decided to leave the business.
So now I’d been through two agents and after sobbing uncontrollably and banging my head repeatedly on the desk, I queried like a madwoman.
Much to my shock, I was contacted by a mega-agent, a man who represented super powers. His assistant read the first three chapters of my new book but he didn’t ask for the complete manuscript, he instead inquired about the foreign rights to Three Days in New York City and its sequel, Another Bite of the Apple. Did I own them? Yep. Would I like him to sell them for me? You betcha. But was he interested in my new book?
Of course, he said. Just give me time. In the meantime, how about sending me the paperback versions of your novels.
He emailed me back three days later. He loved them. We became email buddies. And there was even a little flirting because hey, I write erotica, but every time I asked him about the new book, he didn’t reply.
He did, however, send me a blank contract. There were spaces for my name and address, but what about “name of book”? Was I supposed to list every title I’d written since he was interested in selling the foreign rights or just the new one?
I emailed him and asked.
He responded with a one-liner.
“Just be patient, Robin.”
Just be patient? What did that mean? Oh God, please don’t let me mess this one up. I mean, here’s a blurb right off his agency’s website: “Representing authors for over 30 years resulting in excess of $1.3 billion in sales.”
I wrote back, replying that I knew the publishing industry was tough and I had to be patient, but I honestly was unsure of what he wanted me to do with that contract and was he or was he not representing me?
I received another one sentence reply.
“We are helping you toward representation.”
And that was the last I heard from him.
It was already late August so I made excuses that the publishing world basically shuts down over the summer but then one week later I received the email from Michael Spielberg.
A brilliant plan began to form.
I would send Michael’s email to my alleged mega-agent in hopes it would light a fire under him.
Within twenty minutes, I received an email back. While he couldn’t help me because he only represented books not film, he knew someone who could -- his co-agent out in LA. She was waiting for my call and she would give me instructions on how to proceed.
I looked at the film agent’s name and phone number and checked Google to see if she had a good track record. Her name was Irene Webb. Imagine my reaction when the first thing I read on her website was that she was the one responsible for bringing The Godfather to the big screen.
I almost fainted.
I went from being scared to call Michael Spielberg to being terrified to call Irene.
I was in so far over my head I was gasping for air it but there it was, right in the email: “Irene is waiting for your call.”
I knew I would hear white noise when I spoke with her on the phone so I grabbed a pen to write everything down. Unfortunately, at the end of our conversation, all I had were pages of illegible fragments but I got the gist of it, which was that I should not talk money with Michael Spielberg and the minute he brought it up, I should tell him to call Irene.
Irene, alas, would not be making any phone calls on my behalf yet. My job was to call Michael and feel him out with certain questions, the most important being, “I see you have had all this success in the nineties, but what have you done lately?” Irene also told me that Michael would probably ask for a six-month free option, like I knew what the hell that was.
Google told me it meant Michael had the rights to my book for six months without any financial obligation. He would use that time to pitch Three Days in NYC to a studio and if they bit, the money would roll in if the film came to fruition.
For someone of Irene’s stature, she was not about to become involved with anything “free”, but she did tell me to get back to her right after I spoke with Michael.
I called him and we clicked instantly. He said “I just love Three Days in New York City. It made me laugh out loud. We’re looking at a feature film, and Marisa Tomei is interested in playing the lead.”
“Marisa Tomei?” I repeated dumbly.
“Yeah, she read the book and loved it, too.”
“Did she also read the sequel?”
“There’s a sequel? Hmm. This makes it interesting. When I first read your book, I thought HBO series like “Sex in the City,” but then changed my mind to film. But if you are saying there’s a sequel, this might change things. Can you send me an electronic copy now?”
“Sure, no problem,” I said, my heart beating out of my chest.
“Well, it’s been nice talking with you Robin. I’ll call you after I read the sequel and I will prepare a proposal for you. Do you have an agent?”
“Um, yeah, and I’m supposed to ask you something. I see you have a listing on IMDB but nothing recent.”
“Oh, that,” he laughed. “I got burnt out in the nineties and turned my attention to buying and selling real estate. I’ve had a great run and now I want to return to producing.”
Good enough for me.
So we hung up, I was too strung out to call her again so I emailed Irene and reported what I’d learned. She wrote back right away.
“Hi Robin, that sounds great. Good work, girl! You're in Hollywood now.”
I’m in Hollywood? A famous producer AND Marisa Tomei love my book? Holy crap!
And then the writers' strike hit. It was early fall, and Michael and I continued to stay in touch but he did not send the proposal. A six month free option would be pointless if the writer strike lasted that long which was how it appeared. Studios were not in buying mode until the strike was over.
When it did end, though, Michael told me that he would pitch it to HBO, and while Marisa Tomei wasn’t interested in a television series, Gina Gerson was because she loved Three Days in New York City, too.
Gina Gershon! She once dated Eric Clapton! Which led to talk about music and we discussed the possibility of my kids’ rock band doing the soundtrack. Could it get any better? Yeah, it could. Michael asked me if I’d be interested in being one of the writers for the series.
In November, I wrote another sequel called Bitten to the Core with the HBO series in mind. I wrote 65,000 words in thirty days. My career was on fire.
And then over the Christmas holidays, I realized I hadn’t heard from Michael in a while so I dropped him an email. He replied a few minutes later, saying that he had a terrible stomach virus which landed him in the hospital and he’d just been released. He said rumor had it the writers’ strike would end sometime before the Oscars in February and he would finally be sending me that proposal.
Time flew after that. My kids went on a cross-country tour during February and March and I was kept busy as their publicist It wasn’t until March that I realized the writers’ strike ended weeks ago and I hadn’t heard from Michael since Christmas.
I sent him an email. He didn’t reply.
I worked up my nerve and dropped Agent Irene an email.
I called Michael on his cell.
A very nice Spanish woman tried her best to get through to me by repeatedly saying “This my number now, no Michael here,” after I rang her up three times.
He went so far as to change his cell phone number to avoid me?
I then wrote Michael a heartfelt email, asking him to just be honest. If he was no longer interested, just tell me so I could stop obsessing.
Minutes later, I received an automated response from his office.
“Michael David Spielberg, age 49, of Los Angeles, Calif., died at Oasis of Hope Hospital, Tijuana, Mexico, on January 29, 2008, after a courageous battle with cancer.”
I almost threw up. A man was dead. A man I talked to on the telephone...oh God.
Over the past several months I’ve had no choice but to see the dark humor in all of this. Only I could be contacted by a producer from Hollywood named Spielberg who was not Steven and only I could have him die on me. Remember the sequel I wrote back in November? It attracted the attention of a brand new agent and I got my hopes up all over again but we quickly parted ways. She wanted me to make all of my characters twenty-five years old. “Write something Kate Hudson would want to star in,” was her final sage advice.
Pardon me if I pass.
Sigh. Back in limbo land...