Stories. Questions. Sometimes Answers. Good Luck. Bad Luck. Explanations. Life is…
From USA Today & New York Times bestselling author, Stephanie McAfee, comes another Ace Jones adventure. The fourth novel in the Mad Fat Girl series, Lord Help Us All is a story of friendship, heartbreak, & perseverance set against a backdrop of old Southern gospel hymns, an embattled flag, & flowering dogwood trees.
As many of you already know, I originally self-published Diary of a Mad Fat Girl on December 26, 2010. During the first week, it sold nine copies. Nine copies! I was beside myself excited and spent a considerable amount of time hoping those nine people were getting some good laughs and enjoying the story. And it wasn’t my friends who were reading those nine copies either because my friends had no idea that I’d published a book. I hadn’t told anyone. Only my husband knew. Which was totally the wrong way to do things, but thanks to those first nine people, it all worked out in the end.
So it was nine copies the first week. A few more the next week. And even more the week after that. That crazy little book kept doing better and better and selling more and more copies until, on March 17, 2011, Diary of a Mad Fat Girl showed up on the USA Today and New York Times Bestsellers List. Let me assure you that no one was more surprised by this than me. I knew I’d been selling a lot of books but had no idea that I was anywhere close to making either of those lists. But I did. And after that, things started to happen very fast. Within a matter of weeks, I had signed with literary agency who promptly negotiated a three-book deal with the New American Library imprint of (what was at that time) The Penguin Group. Again, I was beside myself excited. Beyond excited, really. I literally could not believe what was happening.
How my book had sold so many copies that my name had ended up on those two very important lists was pretty much a mystery to me until I arrived at my first official author event for Penguin/NAL. It was January of 2012, a few weeks before the re-release of Diary, and the event was Kathy L. Murphy’s Girlfriends Weekend, where I had the esteemed privilege of meeting author John Berendt…while wearing a clown suit. But that doesn’t really have anything to do with my story; I just wanted to share that as kind of a fun fact. Okay. So, in addition to meeting him and a host of other supremely interesting people, many of whom became great friends of mine, I also had the esteemed privilege of meeting Darla Upton McCorkle. In the kitchen of her charming B&B in Jefferson, Texas, Darla explained to me how, after she’d read the self-published version of Diary on her Kindle, she’d simply pressed a button to recommend it to all of her friends. When she showed me how that worked, it all became crystal clear. I’d understood all along that I had about 140,000 people to thank for the success of Diary, but up until that very moment, I hadn’t known just how much they had actually done for me. The words eternally grateful best describe how I felt then and how I feel now. Those same words also describe how I feel about each and every single person who read the books released through Penguin/NAL: Diary of a Mad Fat Girl, Happily Ever Madder, Mad Fat Adventures in Therapy (a Mad Fat Shorty which includes, in my humble opinion, the funniest scene I’ve ever written), and Down & Out in Bugtussle. I also appreciate everyone who read Mad Fat Adventures in a Winter Wonderland (also a Mad Fat Shorty) and the first book from my Bluebirds project (which I love with all my heart but has been shelved temporarily for rebranding, so thank you for your patience with that).
Okay, so let’s talk about that book deal for a second and why I didn’t even try to get another one.
To be clear, being under contract with Penguin/NAL was a dream come true for me in every sense of the word. It was something that I had always wanted but never thought would happen, and when it did, I wasn’t prepared. I had no idea what to expect or what to do or what to say or how to act or if I should hit reply all on all those emails or just reply or what, so, yeah, I was lost and confused. A lot. Regardless, the entire experience was, quite literally, the opportunity of a lifetime for which I was and will always be so incredibly grateful.
I often compare my experience with Penguin to spending two years on the most luxurious cruise ship in the world. It was massive and intimidating, with the absolute finest of everything, and everyone was so professional, so formal. I often imagined my editor, God bless her gentle soul, holding her phone at arm’s length during our conversations and then hanging up and wondering how someone like me got invited aboard. I often wondered the same thing. Because you made the list, I would think to myself. That is the only reason you’re here. But she was very nice to me, as was everyone else, despite my obvious ignorance as to how to properly conduct myself aboard their fine vessel.
It was an amazing journey, nevertheless, and one with an impressive itinerary. At one stop, I was told that I should tell people that my book was “like a story your girlfriend would yell at you in a bar.” Like a story, I thought to myself. That someone would yell at you… in a bar. There were other times, too, when I knew that this trip was the only one I’d be making aboard the most luxurious cruise ship in the world. Like when I was asked, “Are you sure Ace Jones isn’t a size 12?” I didn’t give the correct response, so I was asked again. Later. And again. Once I went so far as to explain that calling someone who is a size 12 fat would be an awful mistake to make in Mississippi. Or any of her neighboring states, or perhaps anywhere else in the country, outside of New York City, of course, but I didn’t say all that; I stopped at Mississippi.
In addition to our conflicting definitions of fatassness, there was the ever-present issue of my excessive southerness. You see, I understood very well my position as a guest on such a magnificent vessel, and I had nothing but the utmost respect for their rules and regulations. This was not my ship to command; it was theirs. Yet as much as I enjoyed being aboard, I did not ever wish to become any less of a redneck hillbilly heathen than what I was to begin with. And the language of a redneck hillbilly heathen has a rhythm to it. A rhythm that sounds like home. But only if it’s honest and true. And random insertions of way-too-proper (read: boring) grammar tend to fuck up the beat in a big way. And that really, really bothered me. I mean, I didn’t expect for my fine hosts on this luxury liner to use (or even be familiar with) phrases like tore up from the floor up and she really showed her ass, and I didn’t mind explaining (and sometimes changing) a line or two here and there. No problem.
But somewhere in the midst of the 10,000 people who read a manuscript before it goes to print, there was this one person who just didn’t get it. At all. And when I read this comment, I lost my shit. Completely. I mean, I went balls-to-the-wall batshit crazy. Because, let me tell you, it was one of many…
Many, many things crossed my mind as I read and reread that comment. Things like Has this mother-fucker never had take-out?! What kind of mother-fucking bubble do you mother-fucking have to live in that you don’t mother-fucking know what a mother-fucking take-out container is mother-fucking made out of?! There were other questions, too. That I yelled. About tailgating at football games, having picnics or going camping. Family reunions and potluck dinners at church. You know, just a whole big long list of places and events that would present one with the opportunity to eat and drink from plates and cups made out of toxic building products. When I’d finished screaming at my computer screen, which is a ridiculous thing to do, really, I knew the dream was over. I knew that I had to jump ship. In the end, I’m sure they were as happy to be done with me as I was to be finished with them. And that’s okay. Sometimes things don’t work out like you planned. Or dreamed. Or hoped. And I know that goes both ways, too.
No voyage is ever perfect. Nor will it ever be.
But a great adventure is still a great adventure. Just because I wouldn’t choose that path again doesn’t mean that I don’t have a lot of fond memories, nor does it mean that there aren’t things I miss. Like my editor, God (please continue to) bless her gentle soul. I liked her a lot. And the super fly chick from my literary agency who patiently counseled and thoughtfully coached me through the whole entire ordeal. She was truly the best. It was a fine and fancy privilege to be invited aboard the illustrious SS Penguin, but to be perfectly honest, I’m more of a pontoon person myself.
So that’s how we arrived here. Today. Full circle. Seven years in the making.
Lord Help Us All is a self-published eBook. Honest. Raw. Fat. Authentic. It’s only available as eBook; there will be no print version. And it’s 99ȼ because why not?
And as always, thank you.