by Wendy Keller, bemused, incredulous literary agent
LOS ANGELES — How in the world do people come up with these stories? I rarely get personally involved in screening queries, but every now and then, something happens like this morning and I am left astonished that this kind of thing exists. It’s part funny, part sad and wholly wacky.
When we got in this morning, there were three phone messages in rapid succession from the same guy, who had called hours before we open. The first two, he didn’t give his name but launched into a diatribe about how I had spoken to him “about a year ago” and told him to send me his manuscript “the second it was done.” He said he was just about done working with his two editors. Anyone who knows me knows that I never ask for full manuscripts. I can’t sell a full manuscript, only a solid book proposal with an impressive marketing plan. Further, I don’t remember projects I saw a month ago unless I liked them, much less “about a year ago”. Summary: one eyebrow raised.
In his third rambling voice mail, he finally included his name. Yes, he’s in the database and yes, we invited him to send his proposal about a year ago. I don’t recall ever talking to him. While listening to his voice mails, he called Elise on the other line and warned her that she had better tell me that he’d called, because I was waiting for his work, and if she failed to do so, her job might be at risk if I found out. Summary: two eyebrows raised.
I called him myself, because it is remotely possible his story is accurate and I have memory loss (or am merely overworked!) He immediately launched into telling me that I wanted to represent him, but he has another agent who sent him to an editor who doesn’t work for any publishing company who might edit it and then I could see it but maybe that agent will want it more than me but maybe not so I can see it now or after the editor works on it, if he or she does because he does not know the editor’s gender but… <I interrupted him here. Huh??>…
By now, I was leaning toward a strong No.
But then again…it’s my job to find good stuff. So I made the error of asking him what the book is about. “I told you before when we talked, you don’t remember? It’s highly confidential and I could get killed for telling you, but I have to reveal it to the world, like I did in front of <famous spiritual author> when he came to my performance. In fact, he had an A-ha moment in my audience which is why he began writing his books and is now world-renown. Anyway, I was sexually abused, well, not abused exactly because I got away, but my life was threatened unless I had sex with an art dealer who became an important government official eventually. So I told a rabbi I knew and he tried to rape me too. I reported it to the authorities, and from that I ended up being attacked by a man who became a cabinet minister here in <his country>, but I am friends with Prince Philip of England and he said he’d never heard as tragic a life story as mine and he said he would help me with the book when it is published. I told you when we last spoke that they wrote <a famous Broadway play> based on my life. The LA Times ran a three page article about me, saying I was the person they based that play on, and because of that, one of the KGB agents whom I met on the street, which I later found out was not an accident because they had been following me all along, the KGB agent said it was me who had the secret to changing the entire way the world is run and if my book doesn’t get out there soon….” Summary: jaw dropped. This guy’s got to be kidding, right?
I interrupted again. I said, “I don’t think we’re the right agency for you, and you already have an agent interested, so you should stick with that person.” I didn’t listen to the rebuttal he was starting when I hung up.
This poor man has obviously got some issues, which is really sad. But I wonder who he’ll pursue next as he weaves his strange tale? And will he tell the next agent, publisher or even Prince Philip that I’m secretly in cahoots with, oh, the Obama administration and Donald Duck, to prevent his noble life story from ever being revealed to the masses and “changing the entire way the world is run”?
Sometimes, it’s probably better not to pick up the phone.
*PS – All confidential data has been <omitted> from this true story to make sure this poor man is not embarrassed. You don’t know who he is, and I’m not sure he even knows who he is.