Monday, July 16, 2012

My First Time: Lydia Netzer

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 Lydia Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine, a novel about astronauts, hairless women, autism, parenting, and robots.   Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants), read the book and was charmed: "A funny, compelling love story from the freshest voice I’ve heard in years.  Shine Shine Shine picked me up and left me changed in ways I never expected.  Intelligent, emotional, and relentlessly new, Netzer answers questions you didn't know you were already asking and delivers an unforgettable take on what it means to love, to be a mother, and to be human."  Netzer was born in Detroit and educated in the Midwest. She lives in Virginia with her two home-schooled children and mathmaking husband. When she isn’t working as a teacher, blogging, or drafting her second novel, she writes songs and plays guitar in a rock band.  Visit her website and find out, among other things, which 10 movies really need robots.

My First (and Second and Third) Time
in the Big Apple

I have been to New York City three times.  But the first time, I was holding my breath.

The first time I went to New York City, my husband Dan and I were on our way to Connecticut with the kids, and we took a detour to drive through the city.  Dan loves to drive in city traffic (Roman roundabouts are his idea of a good time) so with him zipping around like a maniac and the kids and I staring out the windows, we saw Times Square, Bleecker Street, Wall Street, and Central Park.  There was a parade--it was Puerto Rico Day and we were stopped for a while.  “Do you want to get out of the car?” Dan asked.  “No,” I said.  I may have made excuses; I don’t remember.  I could have said “We don’t have time,” or “There’s no place to park.”  I probably did not say, “No, because I haven’t finished my novel yet.”  But that’s what I was thinking.  And I think Dan probably knew it.  I felt like a foreigner in another country, a country whose language I could already speak, whose customs I already knew, but I didn’t have a passport.  My papers were not in order.  Being Dan, he did not say I was being irrational.  He just kept driving until I had seen enough, and then we went on to Connecticut in the dark.

The second time I went to New York, I did breathe.  And I laughed, even.  Within a few hours of getting off the plane, I was tromping down a snowy sidewalk in Manhattan, laughing my face off.  I was traveling with my friend Joshilyn Jackson, and we were visiting our friend Karen Abbott, having a girls weekend to celebrate Joshilyn’s birthday, and her new book The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.  Joshilyn and I have been friends for 20 years.  I am an only child, and I have always done well in the role of little sister to my friends.  This trip to New York was a safe excursion, because I was with my “big sister” Joshilyn, and she knew her way around.  Not just around the subway, but around this whole New York world.  We went to the offices of her publisher, Grand Central Press, and I met her publicist.  Her editor, Caryn Karmatz Rudy, took us to lunch.  I remember sitting there, listening to Caryn and Joshilyn talk about her book, about numbers and plans and the state of publishing.  I was happy to listen.  Happy to put in a word here or there.  My kids were eight and four.  I had spent eight years working on a novel that I thought would never be right.

Last June I went to New York for the third time.  I had been to Paris, Los Angeles, London, and Rome.  But this trip to New York had me goofy and nervous--fussing with scarves, worried about my hair, indecisive about shoes.  I was worried because this time I was the one sitting in the writer seat.  My novel had sold to St. Martin’s Press one month previous, and I was going to New York to meet with Caryn Karmatz Rudy, who had now become my agent, and my new editor Hilary Teeman.  I imagined that my agent and editor spent their days tip-tapping down the streets of New York, rushing hither and thither and having important conversations, signing contracts, sipping cocktails, and making money.  I spent most days driving my kids to karate and riding lessons, teaching them how to read and spell vowel digraphs, and occasionally stepping out in infinite glamour to pick up dog poop or peel ancient banana peels off the floor of my minivan.  How could I trick them into thinking I belonged in the city?  I took my friend Andrea Kinnear with me on the trip for moral support, but during the business part of that first day, she split off to visit the MOMA, and I was on my own.

The three of us met at the restaurant: Hilary, Caryn and I.  Now, in order to understand the scene, you should know that my agent, my editor and I are all short.  In fact, I think I may be the tallest of us, measuring a staggering 5’1”.  And they are both, like, constantly radiating coolness.  Just effortlessly wise and slick and completely together.  Next to them I felt like a half-drunk wildebeest.  Next to them I felt like a pretender.

We three small ladies all sat down to lunch, and I was tongue tied.  I am not usually a person who is at a loss for words.  In fact, I usually have to be hit with a mallet in order to get me to shut up.  But as we sat there at the restaurant, I listened to Hilary and Caryn talking about publishing stuff, about people they both knew, and I was so charmed by them, and so full of total disbelief that I was sitting there in New York City at a lunch meeting and that the writer they were talking about was me, and that these tiny, smart, interesting women were making it their business to publish and promote my book.  The one that I wrote, that I never thought would be right, but that had strangely, miraculously been sold by this one to that one, and here we were.  I almost felt, for a minute, like I couldn’t breathe.  I just wanted them to continue making words come out their mouths, so I could continue trying to convince myself that this was real.

Then we started talking about that book of mine.  Though it was sold, it was not perfect, and we had issues to work out.  Some characters needed more depth, some mysteries needed clarification, some holes needed filled in.  And as we began to talk about this stuff, I suddenly felt my brain begin to open up.  Before long, we were no longer two New Yorkers and one noob dork from the suburbs.  We were three English majors sitting there trying to fix a novel, using our common language, working out our ideas.  The lunch went on for hours.  I remember one moment, when Hilary brilliantly came up with the pine needles (in the context of the book that will make sense, I promise!) and I knew that I was in the exact right place.  I felt completely at ease, totally happy, and excited to begin this relationship.

What I understood for the first time, sitting there, was that I was only part of the puzzle.  That I had my job to do and they had theirs.  That the noob dork from the suburbs had to write, and that the cool editor chick had to do the editing, and the wise agent had to keep everything on track for the long term, and the marketing person and the publicist and the sales person--we all had our jobs.  And this was no longer “my book” but “our book” and that together we would all make it work.  I walked away from that lunch completely exhilarated.  Andrea and I did some shopping, some strolling, some dining, some celebrating.  We found our way around, tip-tapping around with the rest of them, and when we went to our minivans and banana peels it was with a happy sigh.

As for New York City, well, I can’t wait to go back.


  1. I love this! I'm still hopelessly nervous and still feeling out of place in this publishing arena. This makes me feel less alone and like there's the possibility that one day I'll fit, too.

  2. This is a great first time tale. I especially love the idea of you small people sitting around a little table. I'm 5'7, which I didn't think used to be that tall until I went to New York to my publishing people. I called my husband and told him that I felt like an Amazon woman.

    You nailed it when you said the words are the common ground. That's what brings all of us readers, writers, and pub. professionals together, and I'll remind myself of that when I get flustered over the parts that make me nervous. It's about the words.

    Great post!

  3. Your first time in New York (or, as Frank Zappa once called it, "Manhattan Island City") and you didn't leave your car? Be thankful you didn't have to pee. There are few public accommodations know only to the locals (e.g., the hand-you-a-towel men's (and I presume also women's) room at the Oyster Bar in Grand Station Terminal and the practically bum-free indoor plaza at the Citicorp Building at 153 East 53rd Street maintained reluctantly by the building owner who was required to provide same in exchange for the City's permission to build additional stories to further blight the midtown skyline). Otherwise, you are at the mercy of local merchants who run restaurants and other businesses which are open to the public but guard their foul-smelling lavatories like tyrants as though you were seeking entrance into the Four Seasons without a reservation (which reservation, by the way, must be made six months in advance and must be confirmed promptly 48 hours in advance). Oh, one more thing, “Shine, Shine, Shine” was a masterpiece!