Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Book Deal

The first time I said anything about it was to AR as we walked to see the Dyker Heights Christmas lights in December 2017. We had Chinese food and got cannolis to eat, and they clunked inside their white cardboard box tied with string. I remember how cold my hands and face were. I had had the idea for a few weeks, maybe a month or two, and AR was the first person I told out loud. I knew if I said it out loud I would acknowledge how scared it made me, but it was the kind of fear I’ve never wanted to shake, the kind of fear I run to wholeheartedly because it’s the right kind of fear: one rooted in excitement, the premise of a new challenge, rather than a need to flee from danger. I knew if I said it out loud I would be challenging myself to do it. We peeled off gloves in the middle of a chilly Brooklyn evening to press the cream-filled cookie shells into our faces and I watched the words leave my mouth, the cold turning them to visible swirls in the air. “I think I want to write a book about drag history in New York.” AR approved. It was a good idea, he said.

I thought about it for a few more months, how it would take shape, if it was really something I could do. Then I sat down with FT in Ground Support and said it out loud again. Yes, he said, you are the person to write that book. I felt so encouraged I started that night, making lists, what would the book include, who would I want to talk to. Magically, around the same time, I began doing a drag history column at Conde Nast's them.

My goal was to have the proposal finished by the end of the year, and with guidance from some amazing women, I made it work. They read my proposal, they helped me find agents to reach out to. I had someone bite the same day I sent out the proposal and then...nothing, despite having beat myself into the ground writing a sample chapter, starting to get sick in the moments I hit send. A few months later, another bite, two requests for revisions, a heap of helpful edits from TS, and then...nothing. I didn’t reach out to as many people as I should have last year, but in the new year I resolved to change that.

There were multiple very kind rejections, and then a referral, and then one more. And then a serendipitous flip of a switch in my favor on a Monday, a phone call while I sat myself outside the Metropolitan Opera after working in the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center, but still nothing guaranteed. Pacing around the plaza for 30 minutes, actively trying not to fall in the reflecting pool, voice tempered, measured while sharing the details with my mother, cold enough to need a jacket but forgetting the temperature on my hands. I made myself eat lunch. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. Could this really happen?

Filthy martinis with NE at Cafe Cluny. I told her the news. I feel it, she said. This time it’s really going to happen. I have witchy senses, she said. I am mostly useless the rest of the week. Another email of good news. I take that Friday mostly off. My brain is blank but my body is flipping out. Could this really happen?

Another phone call the following Monday. Preparation. A conference call on Tuesday. Excitement and praise I don’t expect on the other end. I am useless again. I go to the gym, come home, about to relax and watch 30 Rock. Another phone call.

An offer. A book deal.

I weep, but it’s short lived. I call HanOre. There’s a bottle of Perrier-Jouet champagne in my fridge given to me as a thank you for photographing a wedding four years ago, and I’ve been waiting for a special occasion to open it. Tonight is the night. I treat myself to a giant plate of enchiladas and later HanOre joins me to drink the champagne. We laugh and tell stories until it’s too late on a school night. She sends me roses the next day. A book deal doesn’t usually happen like this, the man who is now my agent tells me, but every so often, in a flicker of hope and serendipity, it does.

Two days later, margaritas with my agent, a phrase I’m still not used to saying. “My agent.” How do you feel? Are you still floating? He says. “I...don’t quite know what to do,” I say. I still don’t.

We talk about drag, New York bars nightclubs of our youth, too many nights at Therapy, Bartini, Greenhouse that made it difficult to get up the next day. I remember a drag queen I danced with once named Anna Phalaxis who was a nurse by day. Seeing Peppermint with AS for the first time at Therapy during her new queens show Cattle Call, the lipsync she did that was entirely scat-singing. Being 23 and photographing Yuhua before she performed at The Web, underground right next to Tao on 58th Street, where there were signs in the locker room warning go-go boys not to seek payment for sex acts.

I saw To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, for the first time at seven or eight, I don’t remember which. I saw my first drag show at 13--Cashetta, may she rest in peace, who I watched disappear a feet-long balloon down her throat to much fanfare during her drag magic show at the Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale. When I was old enough, 21, going to Lips on Oakland Park Boulevard with my parents, my mother whispering to me how gorgeous the host, Diva was. Another time, I sat at the bar there and photographed drag for the first time while sipping a frozen Cosmopolitan.

I think in some ways I’ve been working on this book for 25 years. The manuscript for Glitter and Concrete, my book that will be a cultural history of drag in New York, is still years from publication, but it’s on its way.