Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Was A Client of Melanie Mills Part II

I can't remember if I finished the first draft of "Hack" before or after I was diagnosed with Lyme's disease. I only remember that I was lit up with fever, at my Connecticut desk in my jammies, with the visuals of those final events coming in faster than I could type. (My current editor noted that the ending seemed "rushed". Well, yeah. In more ways than one. Fortunately the Lyme's has not been in play during the endless rewrites so I have been able to slacken the pace a bit.) Of course I did not package up that first draft and send it off to agent-land. It was to be several drafts and several months later before I compiled that first hit list, and why I included Melanie Mills from Myrtle Beach S.C. was, in retrospect, a strategic oversight.  A literary agent in Myrtle Beach was likely to have a very limited scope (ie: needlepoint how-to books), or be semi-retired with a blue chip client list and simply forgot to mention that new authors need not apply in Publisher's Marketplace. However Melanie Mills turned out to be neither of the above. Before I got to her on the list, I hit up "friends of friends" in the biz - good feedback but no takers. So then I did a fairly targeted "mass mailing" and was encouraged by the high percentage of agents asking for samples and in many cases full manuscripts. So when Melanie Mills officially accepted "Hack" part of me was saying I could do better than Myrtle Beach, but the voice of the bird in the hand was louder, so I signed on with Melanie. At first the relationship felt very dry, impersonal and business-like- almost secretive.  She had a few broad-brush changes (make the female protagonist "less of a bitch" in her words), and asked that I send her a ream of a particular type of paper - and that was the only thing she ever asked me to pay for. She shopped the novel to 4 publishers, and, in her typically quirky fashion, scanned their responses and sent me .jpgs. Everything seemed fairly normal, and completely legit. No reading fees or any other nonsense that the vampires in the publishing business typically use to dupe the unsuspecting author.  So after the first four rejections, she came back with some more broad-brush changes and suggestions, and vowed to go another round. This, as it happened, was around the time of the kid's spring break in Ridgefield, CT. Very coincidently, I found an unbelievable condo rental in none other than Myrtle Beach, which in April promised plentiful rays of warm sun, sand, surf and miniature golf on every corner. So, even though it was a 9-hour haul from the still-snowy and frozen lawns of New England, we packed up the family and set out for a truly spring vacation, and, of course, a meeting with Melanie Mills (details coming in Part III!). It was only a short 6 weeks later, after I had established somewhat of personal relationship with Melanie (despite her undoubtedly oddball demeanor), that I was to get the shock of my life - one that literally felt as if someone had dropped a 40 lb bag of Quickcrete on my chest. And of course it was much later when I realized that Hack's exploits - his story as it were - might have been partially responsible for the chain of events that unfolded in the coming year. So stay tuned! The crazy shit is yet to come!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Was a Client of Melanie Mills - Part I

Here is an honest-to-god "truth is stranger than fiction" story that surely must stand alone in the history of artist/agent relations. Melanie Mills (aka Elisabeth Von Hullesem, her true name, along with almost 20 other aliases, one of which - Linda Ray or something like that - was a published novelist) was for a short year or so my literary agent. Ah but she was so much more! So before I go any further, a caveat: I make no claim that my accounting of Ms. Von Hullessem's expoits are factually correct, nor do I endeavor to chronicle her sordid history. Because what I saw of her, and what happened between us, is plenty. More than enough. And though it may leave you, the reader, wanting more, it won't be coming from me. As I said, I am sated. Perhaps the periphery where I stood was about as much real-life weirdness as I could handle. Perhaps the remote chance that she got the idea to do what she did from the fictional events in the novel she was representing for me is too much responsibility. If I thought just a few of my gentle readers were stupid enough to take my stories as some sort of guide to reaping fame (be it behind bars or otherwise) and fortune , I would put down the pen and stick with the brush and the stringed instruments. But the truth is that Melanie Mills, after having read my novel, "Hack", (to be published Spring 2012, Harper-Davis Publishers) about a painter faking his own death to drive up the value of his work, did shortly thereafter mysteriously die in a car crash in Germany, only to show up in Canada a few years later. Coincidence? Cause and effect? I'll leave that for you to decide after you've heard the whole story. So stay tuned. It just gets more bizarre.