Hi, I’m Lara (rhymes with mascara). This is my story.
Once upon a time I was living in a suburb of Boston, attending the MFA program at Emerson College, and working full time for a textbook publisher. What I wanted then – one of the only things I wanted then – was to be a published author. More specifically, a published YA novelist.
I was hungry for it, so I worked my ass off. I wrote two novels while at Emerson, sold the first one two days after graduation and the second four months after that. These books are no longer in print, because let’s face it: While I was a decent novelist, got some good reviews and a few awards, I never really rocked the sales.
They call people like me mid-list authors, but I’d venture to say that I was more a lower mid-list author. I had (have?) a tendency to get in my own way. For instance, in the early 2000s, I sold two books to a new commercial imprint of Penguin. They were intended to be breezy, high-interest novels that would sell a lot of copies. But apparently I can’t write breezy; I always have to inject some deep-seated pathos into the process. My editor at the time made a comment how she hadn’t expected something with so much substance and heart. But once the book hit the shelves, that substance was what sank the bugger.
And here “sank” is a relative term; if my math is correct (and I’m a writer, so it totally may not be), that “breezy-with-substance” novel sold more than my first three books combined. An executive at the commercial imprint considered it a failure anyway, despite the Lifetime movie adaptation (in fact, he hated the book so much, he didn’t even bother to put out a movie tie-in version).
So there I was, killing myself to write and publish, cobbling together a living through book projects, speaking engagements, freelance assignments, and my meager salary as an adjunct college professor. I was watching all of these people I’d known way back when turn into superstars as YA got its rightful due. Watching myself matter less and less. I’d chosen some author friends unwisely, and one in particular took delight in beating my self-esteem to a bloody pulp. Eventually I wised up and cut her out of my life, but the damage was done.
I hated the business.
I hated the work.
I hated myself.
So after I got a full-time job with the International Reading Association, an organization that supports literacy educators worldwide, I made the conscious decision to “retire.” For the most part, nobody blinked. But the very last post I wrote for my once-popular blog, “Girl, Uninterrupted,” announcing this so-called retirement resonated with a core group of fellow authors who felt similarly frustrated by the high school-esque microcosm of the YA publishing world. This was gratifying – to learn I wasn’t alone in feeling like a failure, no matter how many successes I achieved, and that the business of being author could really drain all of the joy from it.
That was December 2010, and for the next couple of years, I didn’t regret my decision. Not even for a second. “Retiring” (and I apologize for the overuse of quotation marks, but it seems kind of absurd for a mid-thirtysomething to retire) was like releasing this enormous weight from my shoulders. I was free! I didn’t owe anybody anything, including myself! I broke up with publishing before publishing officially broke up with me!
And then in November 2012, I attended NCTE in Las Vegas, as a representative of IRA. I ended up at a publisher dinner with Walter Mayes who, after I introduced myself, bellowed, “The Lara Zeises? As in the published author Lara Zeises?” It had been a really long time since I thought of myself that way, and I blushed deeply. Joan Kaywell, who was also at the table, later remarked, “You really don’t like to promote yourself, do you?”
Well, no. This is part of the reason I retired to begin with.
I also ran into my agent who was receiving an award. We had a quick but lovely chat. And I spend more time with my speaking agent, the incomparable Catherine Balkin, whom I adore deeply. All of this kick-started an existential crisis of sorts. It felt like too many signs in too short a time.
And then she happened.
My lovely and talented editor for the breezy-with-substance commercial failure, who had also retired from the publishing game for a while, decided to dive back in. She set up shop at a new house and, in January 2013, sent me a Facebook message telling me this – and that the two of us needed to talk.
A couple of months later, we finally had the conversation. She had this project, she said, that I was perfect for, and that she’d really like to work with me again, and was I interested?
I was scared. While my public exit from the publishing world was graceful, the behind-the-scenes of it was anything but. The meat of it went down during one of the most harrowing times in my personal life – things I refused to discuss then and continue to keep private – but still. Burning bridges? I took out an entire city block.
But I loved this editor. We were Facebook friends for a reason. She is a pop culture goddess and so much fun to work with. And – OH MY GOD – who gets a second chance like this? What if I passed and never got a third one?
So I swallowed my fear and signed the contract. And come spring 2015, I will officially come out of retirement. For the first time in almost six years, I’ll have a new book on shelves. (Technically, my alter ego Lola Douglas will, but y’all remember that’s me, right?)
As for this blog: I’ve really, really missed having a place to write random things. In the summer of 2013, I deleted “Girl, Uninterrupted.” I felt like that was a part of my life that I’d left behind, and I didn’t want the digital footprint following me around. I’m on Twitter, but as an individual I suck at it; 140 characters never feels like enough. (I feel the need to qualify that statement because part of my job at IRA includes overseeing the social media program, which my team and I have spent the last 15 months turning into something pretty amazing.) I know that Tumblr is popular but have a difficult time understanding the appeal. Out of all of the social networks, Facebook remains my favorite – possibly because I now fit snugly into the “old people” demographic.
So, here we are. Bloggity blog 2.0. A new beginning, a fresh virtual page.
Here’s what you’re likely to see on “Rhymes with Mascara”:
- Musings on pop culture, including my current TV obsessions
- Stories about my culinary adventures, both in the kitchen and out in the world
- Rants about the corrupt nature of the student loan industry
- Tales of my nerdalicious husband and criminally cute schnoodle
And, okay, there may be some stuff about books and writing. But probably not a ton, because MY GOD, do we need another pretentious, navel-gazing blog about the Art of Writing Semi-Disposable Fiction?
No. No, we do not.