During a Book Event via Zoom for my novel-in-stories, Floating in the Neversink, one of the attendees asked me to recall the worst thing that happened professionally.
What could I answer? Should I mention the rejection letter I received from a writing contest addressed to Miss Wilson, wondering if the real Miss Wilson received my acceptance? Should I mention my first agent, a top-tier professional representing the finest authors, who retired two weeks after signing me? Should I point to my completed manuscript about a female photographer whose son was kidnapped, which I submitted for representation just when Oprah’s first book club selection had an identical theme? Should I mention the three times soldier was misspelled in the first edition of my historical novel Esfir Is Alive?
No, I knew what it would be. I excused myself, ran to my bookshelf, and took out a copy of Floating on the Neversink and held it in front of the computer’s camera.
“Here is my book,” I said. “See the familiar cover?”
The attendees nodded with quizzical expressions. Then I opened it to the inside title page and raised it toward the camera. It said, Severe Behavior Problems: A Functional Communication Training Approach. I didn’t turn to the copyright date of 1990, thirty years before, but flipped through the pages, revealing numerous graphs, charts, questionnaires, and other indices of aberrant behavior. My attendees continued to shrug and form muted questions with their lips.
With the book in hand, I said, “When I received my first carton of fifty author books, there were eleven copies like this, with the correct book jacket but this totally different inside book.”
Ever open to the prophetic nature of irony, I thought it strange that my story of dysfunctional family life would be unknowingly replaced by studies of severe behavior problems, but immediately appreciated the shock value I would have at moments like these. This was a perfect visual aid. I didn’t need a graph to prove it.