Monday, July 6, 2015

My First Time: Naomi Elana Zener

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Naomi Elana Zener, author of the novel Deathbed Dimes as well as satire fiction, which is posted on her blog Satirical Mama. Naomi blogs for Huffington Post and her articles have been published by Kveller, Absrd Comedy, and Erica Ehm’s Yummy Mummy Club. She’s currently working on her second novel. You can connect with Naomi on her website or on Twitter @satiricalmama.

The First Time I Discovered Someone
(Other Than Family) Had Read My Novel

Six years ago, when I embarked on the journey to write my debut novel (or as I lovingly think of it as my third child) Deathbed Dimes, doing so was never more than an exercise in checking off a bucket list item. It was an attempt to do something outside of my wheelhouse—I’m an entertainment lawyer by day—something that I thought would be nothing more than a futile attempt to try my hand at an endeavor that would never see the light of day. After my beta readers (i.e., my husband, mother, and father) read an early draft of my manuscript and obviously gushed all over it (i.e., thought I had a modicum of talent but had to do considerable work to get anyone else to read it), I passed it along to an editor friend of my husband’s who advised that I “had talent” and should pursue eventual publication of the novel. After spending five dry years toiling on draft after draft of my book, much to my surprise, Deathbed Dimes was published, by a bona fide independent publisher. Besieged with a surge of postpartum hormones raging through me—I’d given birth to my second child during the pre-publication editorial period—I wondered, like any mother would, whether when my book breached the cold, harsh light of day of this cruel world, would anyone be kind to my literary child. Moreover, I questioned if anyone, other than those obliged to read it by virtue of their kinship to me, would actually read it.

Leading up to my baby’s publication date, I held readings for audiences, atheistically praying that at least one of the attendees would eventually buy my book, or at least invest the effort into borrowing it from the library, when it came out. To describe the groupings of people in attendance, as “crowds” would be an embellishment of elephantine proportions—after all, my small, independent publisher was woefully plagued by the similar anorexic marketing support experienced by authors at many independent presses—but nonetheless I was and am grateful to these blood-unrelated individuals who came out to support my effort. I was delighted when some even asked me questions about the actual book and writing process, instead of the usual questions I did my best to dodge about what I was paid as an advance, or whether I’d sold the film rights to Deathbed Dimes, or how well I thought the book would do. I remind you, I’m an entertainment lawyer, not a swami. I celebrated my novel’s release with an intimate launch party, where I did not sell copies of my book, mostly because I had nary a clue as to who reads paperbacks versus e-books, and didn’t want to turn off any potential consumers by not having the format they preferred. Thus, apart from the editorial team at my publisher and my obliging family members who had no choice but to read version upon version of my pre-publication manuscript, I had no guaranteed book buyers. Again, I found myself wondering whether anyone would read Deathbed Dimes.

Then one magical day, not long after my book’s release, I was waiting in line to pay the cashier at Toys R Us, blowing through the non-existent royalties I had yet to receive on non-descript “Made in China” toys for my kids, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. My kids were off somewhere destroying the place with my husband, so I had no clue who would be invading my personal space when it clearly was not yet my turn to pay. I turned around to face a smiling woman. I didn’t know this person.

“Hi,” I offered with trepidation.

“Aren’t you Naomi Zener?” she asked.

“Yes. Do I know you?”

“I was at your book reading!” She tugged at her husband’s arm. “It is her, honey.”

My sceptical scowl, the one strangers are generally met with as my mother always taught me not to talk to strangers, vanished and was replaced by a goofy grin. My first fan, I thought to myself.

“I just loved your book.”

“Thank you so much. That it entertained you means I did my job.” I began to rummage through my purse to see if I had a pen, not bothering to stop and realize she probably didn’t carry my novel with her everywhere she went.

The man standing in line with her spoke up: “See, honey. I told you not to be afraid to ask her if it was her. Writers like to know people are reading their books.”

“Your husband’s absolutely right,” I said.

“I just really loved the characters and the story,” she went on. “Oh my god, that Coco. When can I read the sequel?”

“Next!” the cashier bellowed. It was my turn to pay for my items. But, who was I to cut off my sole reader from asking me questions simply to allow the cashier to do her job and not piss off everyone in the ten-person deep line? I shifted uncomfortably. My fan continued to rattle off a litany of questions, but I was distracted by the cashier’s need for me to pay for my stuff.

“How did you come up with the idea for the estate case? Did you do a lot of legal research? Are you Joely? What’s going to happen in the sequel?”

“Sequel? Oh, I haven’t thought that far ahead…”

My eyes darted around, searching for my husband to take care of the pesky matter of paying for the toys, but he was nowhere in sight. I turned to face the cashier. Hastily, I dumped the contents of my cart on the table without first sorting through the crap my kids had included in what was originally supposed to be a one-item per child haul. I then turned back to my first fan.

“Ma’am, do you think you could focus?” the cashier asked. She tapped her nails on the cash register as she masticated her gum.

“Um, sure.” I returned my attention to my fan. “Listen, I’m sorry, but I have to sort through the stuff my kids threw in the cart.”

“No problem. I totally understand. I’m a mom, too.” She pointed to her kids in the cart behind her being attended to by her husband.

“Thanks for understanding. Listen, once I’ve finished paying, I’d be happy to sign your copy of my book if you have it with you.”

Suddenly, it was her turn for her grin to evaporate and be replaced with a grimace.

“Oh, it’s okay,” I said quickly. “I shouldn’t have expected you to have it with you.” I’m such a schmuck, I thought.

“It’s not that. I bought the e-book. Sorry.”


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