In Alaska, I landed in a love triangle with two alcoholics, so when I was thirty-five I ran away to backpack around the world alone. In Thailand, I shared a bungalow with a roommate who crouched near my bed, following my every move with her bulging eyes: a praying mantis. What did she have to do with my story?
The female mantis bites the head off the male after sex. This lack of boundaries disturbed me, so I asked a German neighbor if he thought she’d bite. His opinion: “…I don’t think so. They only eat their husbands.” A single female with no regrets, the mantis gave me something to think about: no, not cannibalism, but detachment. They Only Eat Their Husbands became the perfect metaphor for my memoir, in which the search for romantic love becomes a search for self. I worried that publishers might think it sounded like a horror story, but they loved the title.
Still, it took years to make the connections required to find my story a home.
I met the mantis in 1999, returned to Colorado and started my memoir in 2000, married my husband in 2003, refrained from eating him, and finished my memoir in 2006. I queried fifty agents before landing one in 2007. He queried the major houses, and we had one nibble. “This is it!” I told my husband. It wasn’t. In 2008, I queried two-dozen small presses. Nobody bit.
In 2009, I met with an independent local publisher at Denver’s Lighthouse Lit Fest. Authors warned me that nobody lands a publisher at a conference. But this guy said, “I’m prepared to offer you a contract today.” Ghost Road Press was well respected, and it was all I could do not to hump his leg like an excited dachshund.
It didn’t end there…
Shortly after that, my editor dropped a book on his eye. No joke. He was lying in bed reading a 900-page book—no good could come of that—when he dropped it and the corner tore his cornea. He couldn’t read, so he couldn’t edit. We postponed the release for months. During that time, his cornea re-tore several times, and the publishing industry fared little better. Many presses folded in the wake of recession. In 2010, my memoir became Ghost Road’s last book.
Once the publisher moved on, he had less time to support my book. So I found a new home at Colorado’s Conundrum Press, where a former editor from Ghost Road now works. Conundrum’s editors have treated my book as their own discovery: re-editing and repackaging everything for a new edition. Now, in 2014, They Only Eat Their Husbands is receiving the red carpet treatment I’ve always wanted for it.
I had worried that transferring rights might be a problem. It wasn’t. I sent a letter asking my first publisher to release my rights. He sent an email wishing me the best. That’s all it took. That, plus twenty-five years of perseverance, waiting for all the connections to click. Easy-peasy.
|Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands: Love, Travel, and the Power of Running Away, which you can now buy from Conundrum Press. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times , Denver Post, Connotation Press, and Rivet Journal. She’s a book editor, a writing coach, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. She has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Denver.|