Thursday, October 9, 2014

Here's a Book In Your Eye

Often the best titles, and memoirs, come from seeking connections between seemingly unrelated events. This takes time. In Colorado, a boyfriend threatened to shoot me, so when I was twenty-six I moved to Alaska.


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.

17 comments :

  1. Can't beat a bit of overnight success, eh, Cara?
    Let's hope that now the book is finally up and about, it will succeed for you. A great tale of perseverance. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. PS, I've tweeted this, of course!

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    2. Haha, Stuart, thank you so much - and thanks for spreading the word. It is funny that when I tell people I landed my first publisher at a writing conference, they act as if I am, indeed, an overnight success.

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  2. Publishing can be a long and winding road. The praying mantis roommate could be a good psychological thriller, now that you are done with your memoir. :)

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    1. I love that idea, Diana! Does the mantis whisper to her human roommate what is wrong with each man she romances and then instruct her to kill? Or maybe the human trains a swarm of mantis warriors...

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  3. Quite a story. I hope during all that time you kept writing. Best of luck with the book. Great title.

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    1. Absolutely, Polly. I'm wrapping up revisions on a historical novel I've been working on for several years - another overnight success. ;) Meanwhile, I've co-authored, ghostwritten, and/or edited more than a dozen books, a few of which even carry my name on them. The personal projects seem to take longer.

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  4. Wow, Cara ... and I thought MY backstory was crazy! Best of luck with the book!

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    1. Thanks, Christopher! But hey, I was not born in a log cabin, never tended livestock, and did not learn to read & write by lamplight - unless we're talking electric lamps. Couldn't resist checking out your backstory. Ah, if only we all knew each other's backstories...

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  5. Cara, you are hysterical. Can't wait to laugh my guts out with you in real life! :D

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  6. Thanks, Dani. I feel precisely the same about you. Something to look forward to...

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  7. Good for you, Cara. You've worked really hard to make this happen. If you do a signing up here in Northern Colorado, be sure to let me know and I'll help promote it.

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    1. How kind of you, Patricia! Do you have any suggestions on best venues or organizations to contact? If you do, I'll get the ball rolling on something. On that note, I can also offer fun craft workshops. :)

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  8. What an incredible journey, Cara! Do, please, give serious consideration to Diana's psychological thriller suggestion. It could be a real winner. :-)

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    1. Right? It really does sound great, Linda. A book might take a while, what with two historical novels on the burner, but I might seriously consider a creepy flash-fiction tale. That's a favorite genre of mine these days.

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  9. Oh Cara, you make it look so easy. I had a near-offer from a small publisher that decided to go out of business instead of publishing my novel, so we have that in common. But your editor's excuse was much more interesting than mine.

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  10. Thanks for the perspective, Bob. This is a tough business, and we who stick with it must do it for love. Either that or we're out of our skulls. :D

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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