Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When kids are screaming and an editor calls

A fellow writer fretted loudly on an online forum the other day. She was a nervous wreck.
Her agent had just told her that an editor from a publishing house would be calling her within the next "few days."
No specific day.
No set time.
She has children.
What should she do, she wondered, if the kids start acting up when the editor calls?
The tone of her post was apologetic, embarrassed, like she felt she should hide the fact of her motherhood from the editor and she didn't know how. What she wanted, it seemed, was advice on how to pretend she is not something that she most definitely is.
But here's the reality:
With the exception of John Grishman, Jodi Picoult, the "other" Lori Foster and a handful of other wildly successful authors, most writers either have day jobs or they are home taking care of children, writing on scraps of paper while cooking dinner, helping with homework or hiding in the bathroom.
Editors, if they are experienced and good at what they do, should know that. They should know that if they call unannounced, they are taking their chances. And the author should know that the editor knows he or she is taking a chance.
So why get the jitters?
Now, I have not had the good fortune of chatting with an editor from a publishing house just yet, but I have received important calls while caring for my four children. The older kids can usually be controlled with a stern look, but the twins, like most toddlers. tend to get in certain uncontrollable "moods."
Sometimes, they want me to hand them the phone so they can say, "'ello" about 50 times in a row. And they won't let up. They follow me around, both of them together, tugging on my legs saying, "'ello? Please?" and then screeching when I try to shoo them away.
Other times, they are in the fighting mood--cranky and tired, and tired of each other.
Still more often, they are in the "I want" mood. In this mood, they want something, I give it to them and then they want something else. It doesn't end until either they nap, someone takes them outside or Diego comes on the TV.
So I've developed my own rules for handling such situations.
I start with a bribe--a movie, a Popsicle, a lollipop--artfully and quietly handed off or popped in the DVD player while still talking, uninterrupted, in an adult manner with the caller.
If that doesn't work and I get the feeling that things will be okay if I just have a moment to get them under control, I ask the caller whether I can dial back in a few minutes. If he or she can't agree to that, then why calling in the first place?
What's two or three more minutes?
We could have killed that with awkward silence at some point in the conversation.
If I know it's just going to be one of those days, I ask the person on the other end whether I can return the call at a later hour or on a later date, and I make arrangements for someone to help me with the kids.
Then, when I return the call, I hide in the garage or the basement.
I don't mind chatting with the kids around if the caller doesn't mind.
But there is one thing I will not do: I will not give into intimidation.
No call is important enough.
I have a passion for writing. I keep a notepad in the kitchen because I can't help scribbling down my thoughts throughout the day. In fact, I wrote this post between 3 and 6 p.m. on an old steno pad and here I am typing it in at 12:39 a.m.
But my passion for my children is, and always will be, greater.

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