Thursday, January 9, 2014

True Confession: My Rookie Year as an Author

by Norb Vonnegut

Congratulations, debut authors.

This is a story I tell book clubs. I wished I had told it during my Debut Breakfast, which is why I’m writing it for The Thrill Begins. Every word is true. And if you’ll pardon me for the unsolicited advice, I encourage you to have some fun when you’re presenting to our fellow authors this July.

In 2009 I was living the dream. I had left the relative obscurity of my career as a financial adviser and was writing full time. That September I traveled to Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane to promote the Australian edition of Top Producer. It was there—at the Brisbane Writers Festival—I began to understand the meaning of primetime.

Or not.

First a little background: Wall Street runs from publicity. If you make the news, there’s usually a pink slip in your future. I had no experience with the media or ginning up publicity. I was ill prepared for life as a “book slut,” which is the expression my wife uses when I ask people to like Norb Vonnegut Books, my page on Facebook.

But Brisbane. Lovely Brisbane. What a place. What a ride.

During my first week as a published author, I signed books until my hand went numb. I joined several panels of celebrated authors, taught a “master class” on writing, and was quoted in leading Australian newspapers. After three or four radio interviews and at least one television appearance, I began operating under the delusion that I had become an overnight celebrity.

Yeah, an overnight celebrity.

Near the end of my stay in Brisbane, I woke up at 1 AM one morning—both literally and figuratively. My publicist had scheduled an interview with Buddy Cianci (RI talk-show host and former Mayor of Providence) at 2 AM Brisbane time, which was noon on the east coast of the United States.

I set my alarm for 1 AM because, after ten days of big parties and late nights, I knew I’d be a wreck. It’d take me an hour to pull myself together. And this interview was important, my first with an American radio station. 

         Sure enough, I woke up groggy. Bed head. Sleep creases. I pulled on a pair of old shorts but stayed with the flannel pajama tops that have been part of my wardrobe since last century. Not a pretty sight.

It was balmy outside. I tried to wake up by replying to e-mails. I really didn’t care how I looked—the ratty old shirt, the hair on walkabout, the bags under my eyes. I assumed nobody was outside at that hour.


I sat on the bench in front of my hotel, slowly gaining consciousness before my phone call to the station. That’s when a woman and two guys approached me from the distance. They were returning from a big night out, Aussie style.

She pointed at me.

Not now, I thought. My bed head. My nasty PJs.

The trio drew closer, and the woman pointed again.

She wants to talk. She wants my autograph, I thought. Not the way I look.

“Look,” she said. “He’s homeless.”

I glanced back over my shoulder and, finding no one behind me, realized the woman was talking about me.

She persisted, shredding my ego, tearing out my heart. “Do you think he needs money?”

I felt helpless, trapped—like a deer in the headlights. My hands rose involuntarily, up, up, up. I didn’t know what to say.

You have me all wrong.

And the woman sighed, a note of relief in her voice. “It’s okay. He has a BlackBerry.”

Oh well. So much for celebrity.

The truth is, I loved being an author then. And I’m still living the dream today. Janet Maslin of the New York Times described The Trust, The Gods of Greenwich, and Top Producer as “glittery thrillers about fiscal malfeasance.” End Game is the working title for my fourth novel. It’s about a cold art heist that heats up after thirty years.

There’s nothing I like more than stories from the road. You’ve heard one of my mine. What’s the best, craziest, weirdest, most shocking thing that’s happened to you during your first year as a published author?

Come on, out with it 

The NYT describes Norb Vonnegut’s novels (The Trust, The Gods of Greenwich, Top Producer) as “money porn” and “a red-hot franchise.” When he’s not working on End Game—a forgotten art heist heats up after thirty years—he’s writing about wealth management for the WSJ. 
Published in nine languages, Norb is a trustee at the American Foundation for the Blind. LIKE Norb Vonnegut Books on Facebook for more.

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