My Top 5 Most Embarrassing Moments As a Writer
Being a writer is great. I wouldn't want to do anything else, other than maybe be a game warden if I were younger and could start all over again. But even then, I'd be a game warden and a writer. That said, there have been some not-so-great moments in my 25-year career. I've narrowed them down to the top 5, for your enjoyment.
The Big Fall
Several years back, I got a Hollywood meeting with a very cool movie studio. They were interested in maybe making a film out of my first book. I was still young enough and foolish enough to wear high heels to Hollywood meetings, still operating on an East Coast work-wardrobe mindset. I wore three-inch heels to our lunch in LA, at a restaurant in an outdoor mall with lots of stairs. No one else dressed up really at all, because it was LA, where the richest people try to look the most casual. The lunch went great. But as we were all headed back to the office, my heel caught on one of the steps and I went tumbling down an entire flight of stairs, in front of everyone. It was positively mortifying.
I Killed a Film Deal with a Tweet
I probably shouldn't admit to this, but I managed to kill a multi-million-dollar film deal with a single stupid tweet. I tweeted something negative about the racist things someone I'd once worked with said to me. I had no idea that person was friends with the producer who wanted to buy my script. The producer saw the post the day before we were set to sign a deal, and let my agent know he wanted out. He said it was because of that post. My agent told me that it was fine to call out racism in Hollywood, but not to name names. Hollywood is a small town. Everyone in Hollywood knows everyone else.
As a former journalist who made a living for a decade by calling out injustices like racism in two of the nation's top newspapers, it has been a painful adjustment to become a novelist and screenwriter, to go from being the observer of things to being in association with those I used to observe.
More than once, I've burned bridges in Hollywood by speaking my mind about injustices. It's at the point now where I am all but blacklisted, not because people in the industry disagree with me but because they don't trust me to be discreet.
So, this one hurt. And keeps hurting. I was on the cusp of finally realizing my longtime dream of being a writer and producer on a film based on one of my books, and I burned it to the ground with a fucking Tweet that hardly anyone saw or cared about. I've done this kind of thing more than once. So dumb.
Someone Asked Me For An Autograph When I Was in a Bathroom Stall
Every writer dreams of being recognized and asked for an autograph when you're not in a book signing. Or at least I did, at one time. How great it would be, I thought, to reach that level of fame as a writer. Except that when it finally happened, it was in a restaurant bathroom, and the reader/fan had followed me in there to ask me to sign a piece of paper. She shoved the paper and a pen under my stall door. Pretty embarrassing, and, if I'm being honest, scary.
Agreeing to Read from the Spanish Translation of My Own Novel in Public
At the Miami Book Fair one year, I was weirdly placed on a panel with some great writers from Latin America. They all write in Spanish, their native language. I am an American writer who writes in my native tongue: English. But my book had been published in Spanish, too. The Spanish version was a translation. I didn't translate it, because I don't speak Spanish that well. The panel was completely in Spanish, and each of us were expected to read a few pages from our work, so the audience could get a taste of our writing. I should have said no. But I thought I could pull it off. I speak decent Spanish, and can get by in the language. But I'm not a native speaker. I have an accent, in Spanish. And my delivery is far from smooth. As I read, the other panelists shifted in their seats like they wanted to laugh. I must have sounded like an idiot. The audience seemed horrified. They didn't know why I was there. And you know what? They were right. I shouldn't have been there. I'm not a Latin American author. I'm an American author. The organizers didn't differentiate.
When I Used Notes at a My TEDx Talk
I was asked to give a TEDx talk once. As usual, it wasn't about the only thing I know anything about: Writing. It was about ethnicity. I wasn't familiar with TEDx talks at the time, and just thought it was another public speaking engagement like so many others I'd done. So I wrote a speech, and read it. I didn't realize TEDx talks were very specific kinds of talks, that people TRAIN to give them and deliver them WITHOUT NOTES. Jesus Christ. The whole thing was an unmitigated disaster, and I wish it could be scrubbed from the Internet forever. For what it's worth, I no longer agree to talks about anything other than writing. It's unfair for people to constantly ask people like me about race and ethnicity when that's not our area of specialization. That said, I was also just plain stupid and ignorant about TEDx talks, and really made a fool of myself.
The good news about all of these things? I learned. The lesson was hard, but I learned. I don't wear heels anymore. I don't call anyone in Hollywood or publishing out by name on social media or anywhere else anymore. I don't do interviews or readings in languages other than English anymore. And if I ever get asked to give another TEDx talk, I'll memorize it.