Due to my husband’s line of work I meet a lot of celebrities. I’ve hung out with Barbra Streisand, chatted with DiCaprio, hosted James Woods at my home, had long conversations with Cynthia Nixon, shaken the hand of Mick Jagger etc. etc. Meeting these people is always cool. It’s interesting to find out where public personas and personal identity split. Very few people are who they seem to be in the tabloids or even on social media. All that said, I’m not a celebrity fan girl. Celebrities/actors are nice people, talented people, very successful people but in the end, they’re just people like the rest of us. It’s rare that meeting someone famous gets me all a flutter.
But when I found out my husband and I were going to be having dinner with George RR Martin, the author of Game Of Thrones, I’ll admit, I got a little fluttery. This man is a literary giant. His writing prowess is undeniable. He paints pictures with his words and stories that have captured the imagination of readers all over the world (mine included). Sitting down with him was a true honor.
And as it turns out, he was not only an extremely kind and affable man he’s also an inspiration. Not just because of his successes but because of his stumbles. He talked openly about how he started off strong in his career. In the early 70s he was getting his short stories published in magazines and they were getting lots of acclaim. His first book, published in 1977 also did quite well. In 1983 he published Fevre Dream which was universally loved by the critics…and was also a total and complete commercial flop. Its lack of sales almost ruined his career. He couldn’t get another publishing contract. So he moved on to Hollywood. There he had another string of good fortune. He was writing for the Twilight Zone and his scripts were making it onto the air. And then, as he branched out beyond that show he found that some of the new scripts he was writing weren’t getting on the air at all. He found himself frustrated by having to say goodbye to characters and stories that viewers and readers would never even get to meet.
And so he went back to books. It’s a good thing he did because that’s how we got Game Of Thrones. The first two books of that series did well but didn’t initially make the New York Times list. The third and fourth most definitely did. And that sparked HBO’s interest. The rest is history.
So, you may be asking, why am I giving you a rundown of Martin’s career. Well, I’m doing it because it’s a good reminder that we all have our peaks and valleys. We like to think that our trajectory will always be upward but that’s not how life works. But a major setback doesn’t mean that a major triumph isn’t attainable if you’re willing to persist and put in the work. It’s important to remember that because the failures, well, those take work too. And it’s painful to see something you work incredibly hard on go nowhere. It’s tempting at those times to throw in the towel. It took Martin 30 years to come even close to the level of success he’s at now. But he never, ever gave up. He learned from his setbacks and took heart in his successes. It’s a hard lesson but one all of us would do well to learn.
As for me, I’ve certainly had my fair share of setbacks. I’ve been writing for about fifteen years now and I’m not where I want to be in my career. Yes, I’ve been on the New York Times list a few times but that was four years ago. It was frustrating seeing what I and critics believe was my best book (JUST ONE LIE) not match the sales of many of my other titles. I worked extremely hard on that one and fell in love with the characters. I’m the first to admit that I allowed its lack luster sales to get me down. But I’m still here, still writing, this time another Sophie. and I do still love my Sophie. I hope you do to, because she’s coming back and I’m not going anywhere.
And with that, here are some more pages from the new Sophie book CHAOS, DESIRE & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE.
“The smart choice is almost always the cautious one. I’m proud that I’m just stupid enough for bravery.”
–Dying To Laugh
“I’m the devil.” I gripped my third Cape Cod in my hands. Dena, Mary Ann and I had found a small table in the corner of the dimly lit bar. The place was vibrating with the grating laughter of the Silicon Valley infiltrators, all decked out in the cheapest looking expensive clothes they could find. A virtual sea of white faces peering out of Nordstrom-bought hoodies. I had made a point of feeling superior to these so-called innovators for years. They were completely screwing up the vibe of my city. But as I watched them I couldn’t help but think that their analytical brains would have found a much more effective way to handle the whole London thing than I had.
Mary Ann toyed with the leaves of sage sticking out of the artisan cocktail she had been working on for the last forty minutes. “You’re not the devil, Sophie.”
“Of course not,” Dena agreed. “For one thing, Satan would have a better sense of what the fuck is going on. You were an innocent, clueless bystander. That’s all.”
“Wrong. I’m a guilty bystander. A nefarious bystander! He asked me to get involved and I rejected the idea out of hand.” I slammed the rest of my drink.
“There was nothing to get involved in!” Dena insisted. “This London guy was sick and refused to get treatment from a doctor. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And there is no such thing as a nefarious bystander. You’re drunk.”
“Not yet,” I retorted signaling to our passing cocktail waitress that I wanted another.
“Perhaps if you wait a few weeks and then call the daughter back,” Mary Ann suggested, “maybe she’ll talk to you. When she’s, well, not less sad, but more calm.”
“And after she’s over the shock of finding out about your affair with her dad,” Dena added with a humorless smile.
“And when they find he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring they’ll think it’s more proof of that!” I moaned. “I have to straighten that out.”
“Think that’s a dilemma to ponder out tomorrow,” Dena suggested, leaning back in her chair.
“Tomorrow!” I exclaimed. “Tomorrow? Who am I? Scarlett O’Hara? Annie? Fuck tomorrow!” Okay, so maybe I was a little tipsy. They were strong drinks. “I should have dealt with things today. I should have helped him somehow! I was so thrown by all the crazy conspiracy stuff…I just screwed up!”
“Jason always gravitates to the conspiracy theories out there,” Dena noted, referencing her boyfriend and primary lover. Dena always had a secondary or two on hand. It was an arrangement Jason seemed almost grateful for. After all, Dena might be a bit much for any one man to handle. “But you know Jason,” Dena added. “He’s a little eccentric.”
I pressed my lips together and Mary Ann coughed softly as she stared pointedly into her cocktail. I had no problem with Jason. He was fun. But saying he was “a little eccentric,” was like saying Muammar el-Qaddafi had been a little erratic. There were some seriously weird stuff going on in that man’s head.
“London had all these weird theories about how hospitals were performing needless medical procedures on the homeless,” I began but was interrupted by the arrival of my drink, which required immediate drinking.
“Like Medicare pays out enough to be worth scamming,” Dena said with a scoff.
“Mm,” I put down my drink after downing a little over half of it. “London was also really concerned about a New World Order.”
“Oh yeah, Jason’s always going on about that,” Dena noted as the waitress walked off. “Oligarchs creating a secret society and taking over the world or some such bullshit.”
“Wait,” Mary Ann asked as she raised her martini glass for another sip, “What’s an oligarch? Are they, like, a kind of ogre? Like in The Hobbit and Shrek?”
Dena took in a sharp breath and I could see her fist clenching by her side. She never had a lot of patience for what we euphemistically referred to as Mary Ann’s unworldliness.
“Sort of,” I said, giving Dena a subtle kick under the table before she let loose with something biting. “But these kind have money, so more in line with the ogres in Shrek II.” A group of guys at the next table broke out in laughter. San Francisco had become one of the rare cities where even the straight guys traveled in packs. Dena called the PGP, Proud Geek Packs. I shifted in my seat and brought my attention back to my own table. “London also thought the government is trying to kill us.”
“Same with Jason,” Dena noted.
I stared down at my drink. “I like Jason,” I said slowly. “I mean he’s crazy but I don’t blow him off when he asks for my help.”
“Yeah, well that’s because he doesn’t ask for your help,” Dena said before taking a quick sip of her whiskey tonic.
“Okay, but I mean, I wouldn’t,” I explained. “And I don’t treat him like he’s a lunatic who needs professional help.”
“Well,” Mary Ann said, delicately, “I don’t know if Jason getting a little professional help would be the worst idea…”
“I treat Jason with respect,” I continued as Dena shot Mary Ann an icy glare. “I don’t think I treated London with respect,”
“If I remember rightly, the first time you met Jason you didn’t treat him with a lot of respect,” Dena pointed out. “It wasn’t until you got to know him that you came to respect the man under the conspiracy theories.”
“Yeah, but I should have learned from that! We’re in San Francisco! Half the people here think our government is homicidal!” My words started picking up speed until they were practically bumping into one another. “Every time there’s a drone strike there’s a protest on some street corner railing against government sanctioned killing! We can disagree with them but that doesn’t mean they’re irrational. Or even when they are it doesn’t mean we should act like their concerns are stupid or silly. And that’s what I did with this guy! I dismissed him! Why did I do that?” I fumbled around in my purse until I found the ring. I pulled it out and held it reverently in the palm of my hand. “I screwed up. I really, really, screwed up.”
“No, you didn’t,” Dena said, definitively. “You were kind to an irrational man without encouraging his insanity. That’s responsible. You did everything right…except for the girlfriend part.”
I groaned again and made my hand a fist around the ring. “I can fix that much.”
“How?” Mary Ann asked.
“I was going to ask if your nurse friend might be able to sneak…”
Mary Ann was shaking her head before I even got through my sentence. “Jenna doesn’t sneak,” she said, firmly. “She doesn’t even jaywalk. I think it’s because she’s a really devout Christian.”
As a Jew I was hardly an expert on these things but I was pretty sure jaywalking wasn’t on Jesus’ list of concerns. But whatever. “I don’t need her to sneak anymore,” I assured her. “It’s too late for nurse sneaking. But, I mean, if it fell off his finger, and that’s got to be what happened, he probably had been losing weight. His clothes were too big and everything. And his weight loss, his family would know about it, right?”
“I would think so,” Dena agreed.
I jumped to my feet and waved my arms in the air to get the waitress’ attention.
“What are you doing?” Dena asked.
“I’m getting the check. We have to go to Aaron London’s place.”
Mary Ann and Dena looked at one another. “Um,” Mary Ann said, running her fingers nervously back and forth along the edge of the table, “I don’t think he’s home.”
“Of course he’s not home,” I replied. “But I’ve got to make it look like his ring fell off somewhere around his place! Or better yet, in his home!”
“I’m sorry, what?” Dena asked, flatly.
“I might have his house keys. I could just—“
“Yeah, no!” Dena said, cutting me off immediately. “You are not breaking into his house to return a ring!”
“Why not?” I demanded.
“For one thing, his wife and daughter are probably already there,” Dena pointed out.
“But what if they’re not? They could easily have gone to a family member’s home while they process this. That’s what my mom did when my dad died.”
“Sophie.” Dena said my name like it was a condemnation but I simply ignored her as I continued to make my case.
“It would be the opposite of a burglary! I would be like Santa Claus…if Santa gave you stuff that already belonged to you.…and if he had a key instead of having to mess around with chimneys.”
“Um,” Mary Ann said again, “Dena may be right…about you’re being a little bit drunk.”
“Of course I’m drunk! You think I want to deal with any of this while sober?” I retorted. “And look!” Again, I searched through my handbag until I found London’s car insurance failed-payment notice, his name and address clearly printed in the corner. “See!” I slammed the paper down in front of my friends. “I have his address!”
The waitress came over with our check and I triumphantly put my credit card on top of it before she could even leave it on the table. “Drinks are on me,” I declared. “Mary Ann, you’ll have to drive us over there.”
“Listen to me,” Dena wrapped her knuckles against the table, “this isn’t Christmas and nobody wants you busting into their living room no matter how jolly you are. We are not doing this!”
“Do you even remember what happened the last time we tried to sneak around someone else’s home?” Dena pressed. “That was at that guy Alex Kinsky’s house in Vegas. The night ended when he held us at gunpoint and set the whole building on fire.”
“That’s really not fair,” I countered. “The fire was a total accident.”
“Fine!” I threw up my hands in mock surrender. “Then I’ll…I’ll just drop the ring by his doorstep.”
“That’s stupid!” Dena insisted.
“It’s a free country! I can be stupid if I want to be!” Mary Ann and Dena looked up at me doubtfully. Frustrated, I put my hands on my hips. “I swear to God you two, I will go on a full sobriety boycott until you agree to help me handle this! Right now, the only important thing is the ring!”
“Oh make up your mind, are you Santa or Golem?” Dena muttered.
I stared her down, letting her know I was not going to let this go.
She sighed and shook her head. “Let me just ask you this. If we drop Precious by his front door, like, by the matt or something, will you let this go?”
“Yes,” I said, without really thinking about it. “Sure.”
Dena and Mary Ann exchanged looks. As the waitress came back with a receipt for me to sign, Dena gave a little shrug. “Okay. Looks like it’s time us hobbits to go on an adventure.”