Monday, August 22, 2011

Betsy: On (Un)Coolness: Getting to Know My Writer Self

Do you ever get the notion that once you achieve some particular goal, you’ll finally be cool?

That was how I felt about getting an agent. I’d spent my whole life wanting to be a writer, years working on my manuscript, months querying. I clung to the belief that if I could finally break through, finally get a good agent for my book, I would somehow become a real person—not the stumbling geek I’ve been since birth. I would be cool.

At first, the way Sara became my agent gave me hope that that might actually happen. I moved to New York City on June 1st for a summer internship, and that very day I got my full request from Sara—and a representation offer from another agent. A few days later, Sara made an offer, too. After those months of rejected queries, I was beyond elated. I admit it: I felt pretty cool. Sara and I agreed to meet for lunch in Soho to talk about my book, and writing that lunch down in my planner gave me a “could I be a real writer now?” tingle. I couldn’t quite believe it was happening, but nonetheless, I wanted to be ready.

I woke up the morning of our lunch and pondered over what to wear. Unfortunatel, my clothes all belonged to my previous geek self, not the Super Cool Writer I was about to become. Still, I managed to select an outfit, and carefully elected to eat cereal for breakfast so nothing stain-causing could get on my clothes. (My clumsiness is a family legend.) Between the heat of the subway stations and the dry AC in my office, it was shaping up to be a bad hair day, but nothing was going to get in the way of my fast-approaching coolness.

I showed up at the restaurant way too early—the calling card of the uncool—afraid I would make myself late trying to find the right address. I walked up and down the block a few times, dawdling, trying to look like I had a destination. Finally I trotted inside, asked a hip, bearded waiter about the reservation under “Crowe”—another odd thrill—and followed him to a small table.

I slid into the booth side and sipped a tall, slim glass of ice water, trying not to freak out. I knew my own shyness and awkwardness too well, and I was slightly terrified that Sara would see right through whatever veneer I’d been able to paint in our e-mail correspondence, and would know at first glance that I wasn’t a real writer after all.

But then Sara actually arrived, and right away her presence made me feel better. She was sincere and thoughtful, not like the ultra-slick and aggressive agent image I’d built up in my mind. We talked easily about my writing and books we loved, about publishing and editing, about New England islands and Irish nicknames (relevant to my book, I promise). We ate a lovely lunch, and I’m pretty sure I was using the right fork. I didn’t even get quiche or salad dressing on my shirt.

Basically, I was doing it. I was being a real writer. I was a grown-up! I was cool!

(Can you hear the evil cackling of Fate yet?)

As lunch hour wound to an end, I knew I had to get back to my internship, so Sara and I said goodbye. She fished through her bag and offered me two things: her rights guide and an ARC of Frost by Marianna Baer (a brilliant book, by the way!). I was just sliding my way out of the booth seat, and I leaned over to accept the papers in her hand.

And I knocked over my just-refilled ice water with my boobs and it splintered over the table with a spectacular crash, soaking Sara’s pretty, full-color rights guide and sending death-shards of glass out over the floor.

Cool? Yeah, no. Not in this lifetime.

I stood there frozen for a moment, taking in the fact that this had just happened. Hip, Bearded Waiter rushed over to clean up the table and floor. I laughed my best “they always say to laugh at yourself when these things happen, right?” laugh and tried to control my blushing levels by sheer force of will. Sara took it all in stride, and even hugged me goodbye in spite of my water-spattered skirt.

The next day I wrote to her and accepted her representation offer. I signed the contract, my signature looking pretty much the way it has since I was in sixth grade and I used to practice it all up and down my doodled notebook margins. Swirly and round and a little childish. (I could draw parallels between my signature and myself, but that’s a little too on-the-nose even for me.)

So I had achieved this goal, but I was still the same person. Still as uncool as ever. That’s been a strange realization after almost every milestone in my life—that I still inhabit the same brain and body and self, even if something really important seems to have changed.

I suspect that no matter what other dreams I might reach, I’ll still be clumsy, still awkward, still fighting the terror I feel whenever I force myself to talk to someone new. And that’s really annoying, but in a way it makes me feel better, too. I have no idea what’s going to happen in my writing career—or in the rest of my life, for that matter—but at least I’ll be there, tripping over myself, making awkward conversation, and spilling drinks with my boobs. It’s nice to know I’ll have a friend at this party.


  1. This reminds me of my first day of high school. I was playing cool and had a fine day. I was walking passed the bus stop, where it seemed everyone stood. And my backpack failed. My books, pens, and papers all came crashing to the ground, and kids were actually pointing and laughing. Oh, the evil cackle of fate! I always hear it way too late. You're lucky though. I usually don't have a very understanding audience to my clumsiness!

  2. Love this blog post. Thanks so much for sharing :) I know that feeling! @christycoal

  3. I love this post! It makes me want to meet Sara -- who I've still haven't managed to see face-to-face -- even more than I already did. I really need to schedule a trip to NYC!

    But the whole "I'm still me" bit really resonates with me as well. An agent, a book deal, the label "author" -- none of it changes the fact that you are still you, and I sort of love that. Lovely post!

  4. How funny! I think I'll check out that book on GoodReads...

  5. Sometimes I think the only way we can write with any authenticity at all, is to stay uncool. But after awhile you come to love your uncoolness.

    What a great post, Betsy! When does your book release?

  6. Great post, Betsy, and thanks for sharing your moment of awkwardness. It's awesome to hear nothing changed in your relationship with Sara. The funny thing is, I rather suspect others think you come across as much cooler, and they're all looking at you wondering how they can be cool like you are :D


  7. Great post! You have no idea how much I can relate to your first paragraph. Good to know the uncoolness stays with you. If I ever became cool, my D&D buddies wouldn't like me anymore. :)

  8. Thanks so much, everyone! It's good to hear so many people can relate. And yes, uncoolness does become a point of pride in a way. Erin--definitely schedule the trip to New York! I just moved back to grad school and I miss it so much. Meeting Sara will be wonderful too, of course!

  9. So glad I'm not the only one that knocks things over with their boobs. :)

  10. I so loved this, and boy can I relate! I'm the girl who pulled off cool by walking through a fancy schmancy restaurant in NY with my skirt tucked into my nylons, and my bottom in full view. The waves of laughter follow me still after all these years. Shrugs. There's been worse!
    Congrats on Sara! You must be very excited!
    All the best.
    Linda Mc

  11. Oh my god, Betsy - I love this post! You are hilarious. And, frankly, being funny is about the coolest quality there is.


    ps - thanks for the shout-out! :)

  12. I would like to read your manuscripts. I bet that it is a great plot and story.