HELLO my name is: Sue Storm

April 29, 2014

A few years back, I was at a party, as a civilian, not a writer. One of the women there came up to me and said what people usually say, when they hear what I do for a living.

“I hear you’re a writer. I’ve never met a writer before.”

And, since I am completely socially awkward, I responded with, “I bet you thought that it would be more interesting.”

I look back on that and cringe. I should have tried to be a more CIVIL, civilian. The correct answer should have been, (smile) “Why yes, I am.” (smile) followed by a sentence or two about working at home and writing full time.

In short, I should have tried to make normal small talk about my job. That’s not always easy to do when you spend your days having conversations with people that aren’t really there. And when you do have to talk about your job, it tends to be in a performance setting, at a library or bookstore or conference where people are there to see what a real author looks like.

In those situations, I do my best to look like a real author should. Human, that is. I comb my hair, and brush my teeth. I do not go out in my work clothes, i.e. pajamas. I put on a bra, and, if the weather calls for it, socks. I went to the Chicago North Spring Fling conference this weekend, and it was a relief to hear the other authors saying the same thing. Lauren Dane spoke of the need to get out of the house and wear “pants with a zipper”. Kristin Higgins was wearing heals, but missing her normal writing footwear: duck slippers.

But looking human isn’t always enough. Sometimes, you have to be bigger than life to make an impression.

A couple of years ago, I went to my very first writing presentation in my home town. There was a girl who wrote vampire stories, a Russian poet, an older gentleman who wrote Western mysteries. There was also Derek J Goodman, aka, that guy that makes pizzas at Papa Murphy’s.

That was years ago. Derek is now a librarian. There is nothing particularly unusual about this. Writers frequently have other jobs that can actually pay bills and get them health insurance. Who doesn’t love libraries? (or, for that matter, pizza?)

And then, there was me, in my pink writer blouse, with freshly polished nails, and an enormous stack of books, free for the taking.

And then, there was the last minute add to the panel. A screenwriter for the series House. He was a friend of the Western mystery guy, I think. Someone he had met at a writer’s conference.

This guy talked. A lot. He told anecdotes about House, and swore he’d gotten to know the show so well he could write a script in about an hour.

I remember thinking, ‘Well, that explains everything.’

I was not a huge fan of House. The plot of every episode: Someone gets sick. House tries twice to cure them, and almost kills them. The third time is the charm. Subplot, someone does something crappy to someone else. Hugh Laurie goes to his office, pensive. Outside, it is probably raining. Sad jazz plays softly in the background. Roll credits.

Mr. Screenwriter continues talking. When questions are asked from the audience, he fields most of them for us (what a champ). He tells the folks that self publishing is a scam (although this is no longer accurate, because Kindle is starting to take off). He tells us that Hollywood is controlled by a bunch of people who ‘all have the same name’.

I can’t quite decide if he is talking about simple nepotism, or a secret cabal of Jews. Or perhaps both.

And he says that he can’t sell a novel because New York publishers loathe screenwriters.

Like, say Suzanne Collins, who wrote for television before she wrote The Hunger Games. I bet they just hate her in New York, for making them all that money.

But Mr. Screenwriter also says that The Hunger Games is trash, and that children shouldn’t be reading about killing each other. The one novel he sold is about to be made into a major motion picture, by Disney. He wrote it by the light of a single blub, on scraps of paper that had to be smuggled out of his prison cell. This happened, when he was captured while working for the CIA.

Wait a minute… What the…

I can’t remember if he had a copy of the book with him (although it does actually exist). I am sure he didn’t have any scripts with him. At the time, that didn’t seem odd to me. But now that I think of it, how hard would it have been to bring one or two of them.

I do know that he continued to hold court while the rest of the authors there tried to sell their books. I tried to give mine away. Since a fair portion of the audience was from the local Bible College, my sexy romances were about as popular as small pox blankets. I brought most of the sack home with me.

But not before having a couple of really strong drinks, muttering to the DH and #1 son about how the Illuminati are keeping me from being successful in Hollywood. Or ninjas. Or perhaps it is self-flagellating albino monks. New York won’t touch me because they fear my power.

And low, two years pass. And then, I read this.



4 responses to “HELLO my name is: Sue Storm”

  1. Jill says:

    Are writing conferences so desperate for panelists that they knowingly hire frauds ? Seems to me that would harm their reputation as a worthwhile organization. Has anyone confronted him on the spot ?

    • Christine Merrill says:

      I suspect no one has had the nerve to confront him, so the lies just kept getting bigger until they were impossible to ignore.

      And I don’t think it’s so much that the conferences knowingly hire a fraud. The main one he got asked back to probably thought, ‘we know him’ ‘he’s a friend’ ‘sour grapes’ ‘he’ll explain when he gets here.’

      There is always a challenge to get someone with a big enough name who can give good advice. Pausing here to say how lucky we were to have Jenny Crusie, eager to help. Not everyone gets that. But if you know Jack Squat about the business, it is really easy to get fooled by someone who seems to know what they are doing. When I met this guy, I did check his credits after, and didn’t find much. But I didn’t automatically assume it was all made up. I figured he was just inflating his resume, and that there was probably some grain of truth in it. And I will admit to an obvious, sexist reaction. I sat quiet, and let THE MAN talk, instead of thinking that my career writing romance was every bit as important as his.

      Stupid, stupid, stupid. Beat me with the feminist stick until I wise up.

      Of course, when someone came around at RT next year, trying to sell me on this really great conference that James Strauss was putting together (on a cruise, or somewhere tropical. I can’t remember exactly) I smiled and nodded and thought, “I will chew my own leg off before I get trapped in the same place with that guy again.’

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