Friday, January 21, 2011

Then They Came For Me by Norb Vonnegut

     What do authors go through to write bestselling novels? More than you would think, and in Norb Vonnegut’s case, a bit more than most. Here is a story of what happened to him while he wrote his bestselling novel “Top Producer” in 2009.

                                Then They Came For Me

                                       Norb Vonnegut

    Last year I told the following story at book clubs and speaking events as far away as Australia. So you think an author's life is a non-contact sport? Well, think again.

   Top Producer is the title of my first novel and part of a two-book deal with St. Martin's Press. As the release date draws closer, I will post what other authors say. For now, the real story may be what the manuscript survived to reach publication. One hard-drive crash. One kidnapping. One plague from the Old Testament. When reflecting about the last three years, I sometimes marvel the book made it this far.

   There are few sure things in life. With complete confidence, I can report that losing two years and a 300-page draft makes for a completely rotten day. My computer crashed, catastrophically, cataclysmically. The hard drive grunted once and then went silent, swallowing my files and dying on a train while I traveled to see a client. As you might guess, I was a wreck.

Top Producer, a financial thriller by novelist Norb Vonnegut
 My real-life hero was the world's most unlikely computer geek. More native to reggae and ganja than to circuits and chips, he saved every last word of Top Producer. He rescued Grove O'Rourke, my fictional hero, who guides you inside the rough-and-tumble world of Wall Street’s brokerages. I will always remember that techie from midtown Manhattan, his dreadlocks and pungent body odor capable of generating second-hand highs. I will always be indebted.

   The kidnapping, actually a booknapping, proved far less anxious. I wrote much of Top Producer before telling my wife about the project. Mary wondered why I had become such a hermit—late nights, early hours, long disappearances into our home office. One morning, she secretly raided my computer and made off with a digital copy of the book on her flash drive.

   After a day reading and laughing and hiding out, interrupted by occasional gasps of "Eww" here and there, Mary copped to the heist. She is a voracious reader and wonderful editor. She helped work out the kinks. With Mary’s encouragement I submitted a draft to my agent, Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Management.

   The crash and the caper pale, however, compared to the Old Testament pestilence. I kid you not. Killer bees almost ate Top Producer. That fateful day of reckoning occurred late in August of 2007.

   While working at home, I heard an odd, semi-rhythmic clicking. It sounded like dripping water, and I feared our roof was leaking. There was only one problem. No rain. I tapped the wallboard just above my desk, gently at first, nothing too aggressive. To my surprise, a thin fissure spread through the wall. Scores of insect legs poked through the crack. I thought they were flies.

   I retrieved our vacuum cleaner, determined to suck them up. To my horror, a chunk of wall gave way under the suction’s force. And "bald-faced hornets" swarmed into the office. I learned later these yellow jackets sting repeatedly, not just once. They're vicious. Their attacks leave a scent, a homing device, for bald-faced brethren to savage the same spot on the victim. Sheer luck saved me from a trip to the emergency room. The hornets failed to sting me even once.

   With the colony of pissed-off yellow jackets buzzing everywhere, I ran from the room and slammed the office door shut. Using a rolled-up towel, I sealed the crack at the floor so the hornets could not strafe the rest of the house. An exterminator with breathing apparatus and body armor later ventured into the office. There was a pitched battle, knight versus yellow jackets, winged carnage everywhere. And a three-by-three section of wallboard collapsed over my desk, exposing the mother lode of all nests.

   There is no word in the English language that adequately describes the substance from the fallout. I'll go with "gak." Hornet gak – writhing wasps, wriggling slugs, and grey catacombs oozing with larvae and fat, white maggoty things – crashed onto Top Producer. The gak buried Scott Hoffman's redlined edits, his meticulous markings and thoughtful suggestions for improving the story. The gak obscured Grove's efforts to find his way amid the chaos of New York City and the confusion of capital markets.

   Of course, I fished my be-gakked novel from the rubble. Rolled up my sleeves and reached into the slime. As a 50-ish rookie, a fledgling author trying to break into the big leagues, it was a task I had not anticipated. Good news: you won't suffer similar ignominies. The novel will ship in the fall of 2009 free from all trace elements of bald faced hornets. But a word of warning – there are plenty of sharks cruising the pages of Top Producer.

Gods of Greenwich by Norb Vonnegut
  I can hardly wait to hear what happened to Norb while writing his newest and soon to be released novel “The Gods of Greenwich”. Writing can be a dangerous game, yes indeed. Though I would have loved to have been there to see Norb fleeing the angry swarm...