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 Michael Anthony, author of Civilianized, “an intense memoir” (Kirkus) about his return to the U.S. from a combat tour in Iraq. He is also the author of Mass Casualties: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He has written for the Washington Post blog, the Business Insider blog, as well as several others, including a year-long stint as a feature writer and the editor of the “War and Veterans” section of the Good Men Project. He lives in Boston.
My First Book Deal
It was a warm summer night, and I was strolling aimlessly around south Boston. I had just finished a dating class—or, more aptly, a “Pick-Up Artist” class—where for the low cost of $2,000 I could learn “how to attract women.” It was my third such class in nine months.
I was twenty-one at the time, and I’d just returned from a sixteen-month deployment, with twelve months spent in Iraq. I had more money than I’d ever had before in my life. (War pays pretty well, even for a lowly specialist.) With over $50,000 in the bank, and a history as a nerdy, gawky, awkward teenager, I was the anti-Casanova, with the sex appeal and confidence of a tree stump. I had gotten into these dating classes thinking they’d help me integrate better into the civilian world—and hopefully get a few people’s numbers too.
As I walked down the street, I was thinking about something that one of the instructors had said earlier that night. It was something I hadn’t heard in any of my other classes. After spending three days with this instructor and paying him $2,000 to teach me how to talk to and meet women, his suggestion was that I actually “stop focusing on talking to girls...stop trying to get laid,” and focus on improving myself instead.
It was disheartening to say the least, but the timing, I decided, was actually perfect for such an experiment. I had just been working on my first book, a memoir about my time in Iraq, and I needed to spend some time editing it. A program of intentional (key word!) abstinence seemed like the perfect excuse to lock myself away and write for the next few months.
Naturally, about two weeks into this program, I met the woman of my dreams, fell in love, and abandoned ship.
That’s just how the world works though, right?
I once heard someone claim that if there are two pianos in a room and you start hitting the C key on one of them, that the C string will vibrate on the other instrument as well. Somehow in the room the same notes/vibrations can find each other. That’s what I think happened between me and my now-wife.
So, I was a young, struggling writer, who was supposed to be living an austere life of the mind, but instead was in love. And wouldn’t you know it, this woman of my dreams had a friend who worked for a publishing house: Adams Media. Within weeks of meeting her, she had given my manuscript, (which was originally titled Bullshit behind the Glory) to her friend at Adams Media.
Weeks passed. And then months. (I may have been lucky, I wasn’t that lucky.) So I waited. And I waited. It was horrible. Torture. Every writer knows that feeling.
Finally, after several months had passed, and still hearing nothing back, I decided to send my girlfriend’s friend an email: “Hey, I know you’re busy with work, and haven’t gotten a chance to read my book yet, but I’m thinking of sending out query pitches to agents, I’ve got a one-page query letter. Can you give it a quick read for me?”
She sent back an email, apologizing for not reading my book yet, and said she’d read my query letter.
She read my query letter and liked it.
Two weeks later, I signed my first book deal with Adams Media.
Yeah, what the hell, sometimes we just get lucky.