No. 7 in the Kate Lawrence Mystery Series: Margo’s Auntie May is newly arrived from Atlanta. A mystery writer and the publisher of erotic romances, she becomes the victim of a series of dirty tricks. A rejected writer with a wounded ego lurks in the shadows, while a successful author’s husband blames May for his wife’s questionable career. As the harassment intensifies in the weeks before Halloween, Kate and her partners struggle to identify the prankster. Is this a case of trick-or-treating gone bad, or is something more sinister afoot?
“So what’s it like working with authors from all over the country?” I said, returning to our earlier theme. “They must be a fascinating group.”
May’s snort was so much like Margo’s, when amused, that I couldn’t help but smile.
“Fascinating, to be sure, but not always in a good way. Most of the good ones are lively, creative and, just as important, realistic about their gifts. Unfortunately, there are a few whose self-esteem is wildly disproportionate to their talents.”
Strutter looked over. “Forgive me, but aren’t you an author, too?”
May grinned. “That’s why I can tell you the truth, because I’m one of them. I have a healthy ego, too, but I’m able to assess my talents realistically and rein it in a bit.” Her expression turned thoughtful. “I’ll tell you a little story. There’s a gal back in Georgia who tried unsuccessfully for years to get a publisher before decidin’ to self-publish her own stuff. It’s easy enough to do these days on Amazon and Google and what have you. Then she sent a manuscript to me, and I initially agreed to publish it because a mutual friend asked me to look kindly on it; but it was so full of mistakes and sloppy grammar, I wound up spending more than forty hours getting it into passable shape.”
“No good deed goes unpunished,” I murmured.
“Exactly. So while I was already regrettin’ my decision, I sent her a very rough cover concept done by my designer, thinking she would be able to visualize the final version. But this woman turned into a snake, condemned everything from my intelligence to the cover designer’s abilities. Mind you, she’d been a handful to deal with from the get-go, see-sawing between neediness and arrogance, but now she was showin’ her true colors, and they weren’t pretty. So I decided I’d had enough. I terminated her contract before publication, as was my legal prerogative, and returned all rights to her. Want to guess what happened next?”
“She tried to sue you?” Strutter opined, and Margo and I nodded agreement.
“Good guess, but a lawsuit would simply have been dismissed. No, she started e-mailing and calling and whining, beggin’ me please, please to reconsider blah blah blah. She left two messages on my home phone, called my lawyer’s office, drove to my house and left a pleading letter in my mailbox. She even got her husband to e-mail me, implying that his wife was going to have a nervous breakdown if I did this dreadful thing to her.”
“Oh, my god, that’s so weird and scary, and she lived close to you. Then what happened?” I asked.
“I sent her one last e-mail, tellin’ her if she didn’t stop her nonsense, I’d have no choice but to involve the police. She promptly sent another hysterical message, so I printed out every e-mail we’d ever exchanged and called the cops. A nice young officer came to my home and read them. Then he listened to the voice messages on my answering machine and read the letter that had been left in my mailbox and concluded this woman was officially harassing me. He paid her a little visit and told her to knock it off.” May took a deep swallow of her wine. “But that’s not the end of the story.”
“Good grief, what else could there be?” Strutter wanted to know.
“As I said before, she did the only thing she could do, since no agent or publisher would touch her, and self-published the book. Her work background was in public relations, so she knew how to manipulate the truth. She actually managed to attract a small following and made the rounds of the libraries and other local venues, billin’ herself as, get this, a Pulitzer Prize nominee.”
“Wow, that’s impressive!” I said. “Isn’t it unusual for somebody who’s self-published to be nominated for such a prestigious award?”
This time May’s laugh was full-throated. “See, you did the same thing everybody else does, pick up on the Pulitzer Prize part and skip over the qualifying words. She was never really a nominee, just an entrant. Do you know how to enter a book in the Pulitzer competition?”
My partners and I looked at each other, mystified. “Do tell,” Margo prompted.
“You send four copies of your book, along with an application form and fifty dollars, to the nominating committee, and presto! You’re a Pulitzer Prize entrant. Notice the word ‘entrant.’ You’re not a nominee until the prize committee nominates you, but since the general public doesn’t understand that distinction, the wanna-be gets away with calling herself a nominee. Thousands of writers pull that stunt by entering themselves every year. That’s how the prize money is accumulated. They don’t have a shot in hell of winning, of course, and never achieve the status of nominees. It’s easy enough to check on the Pulitzer website, but hardly anyone ever bothers to do that.”
“Unbelievable,” Strutter summed up our thoughts. “Is it working? Are her books best sellers?”
May looked amused. “The short answer is no, and it’s simple to figure that out if you ask yourself a few questions.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like how come, if she’s such a fantastic writer, she’s still self-publishin’? Wouldn’t she have an agent by now? Wouldn’t Random House be beggin’ her to sign with them? Wouldn’t Hollywood want to option a title or two? All you have to do is go on the review sites and see that only a handful of reviews have been posted for each of her titles—all five-star, by the way, which is a dead giveaway they’ve been written by her relatives and close friends. The poor thing has become a joke among those in the know. It’s really pretty sad, or at least it would be if it weren’t so irritatin.”
“Good lord, why do you want to engage with such people?” Strutter asked in amazement.
May smiled with perfect good humor. “There are always a few bad apples in any profession. Fortunately, I work with mostly excellent, ethical writers who are simply a delight. We’re not all loony tunes with delusions of grandeur. Most of us are happy knowing we’re gifted enough to tell a decent story that our readers seem to enjoy, period. Why, some of us can even spell.” She plunked her wineglass on the coffee table and patted her tummy. “Thus endeth today’s sermon on the darker side of publishin’. So are we goin’ out for dinner, or are we ordering in?”