I crack up

I become a little bit famous and a whole lot crazy


I tend to think of myself as a failure as a writer. That's probably a bit harsh - I do, after all, make a very nice living from writing, and since this website went online in 1995, thousands of people have read my more personal work and hundreds have gotten in touch with me, some of whom have become my friends. I don't know exactly what it was that I wanted and didn't get.

At any rate, when I moved back to New York in 1990, I gave myself five years to "make it" as a writer. I ended up staying for ten years, and was written up in newspapers and magazines a lot, and went through two literary agents, but I don't suppose I ever made it. Or maybe I did. Strangers at cocktail parties sometimes knew who I was. Is that making it as a writer?



This poster hung in - or was at least requested by - web cafes all over the world.


One of the most frustrating things about 'trying to make it as a writer' was how little it had to do with actually writing.

Writing was the focus of my life: I got up early every morning to write before work, and was constantly scribbling new notes to myself on a little piece of paper in my handbag all day, and sometimes did a session in the evening as well.

But I also alternated my writing time with promotional time. At first, that required endless letters and postcards (email was just becoming popular in the early 1990s), then it required getting up in the middle of the night to put up the posters.

Later, it involved site maintenance and postcards and emails promoting the site. I offered free promotional posters to webcafes all over the world, which was a great if expensive success. I had to look on a map to find Slovenia.


Promotion paid off: there were lots and lots of interviews, for newspapers, magazines, even some radio and TV. In the late 1990s, the internet was an exciting story, and no one was quite sure how it would intersect with literature. (Blogs had not yet been invented). And I was blond, smiling and ready for my closeup.

I was also a hypocrite. While making a great deal of noise about how the Internet would be the new home of literature, and running a literary series for online writers, I was also trying to get my book published in print form.

I couldn't. My manuscript was rejected by 23 publishers. I fired my agent, although she really had done her best. The sad truth is that I didn't really fit in anyplace, not with mass-market genre fiction, and certainly not with contemporary literary fiction, which in the 1990s was heavily influenced by Masters of Fine Arts writing schools at which everyone learned to write in present tense.

I just liked to write my own stuff, and I thought it was good and I wanted to get paid for it. It was a losing bet in which I kept investing more and more.

During my briefly famous days, I am filmed in my second NYC apartment by cameramen from Japanese TV.




The news about the 23 rejections - I didn't know there were 23 publishers - was the beginning of a long crack-up. I had put my career as a journalist on hold because I really wanted to be a writer, and exhausted myself with self-promotion. It takes a lot out of you to put yourself out there again and again. And I was ending up with what looked like nothing.

It had a real breakdown. I was crying frequently at my desk at ABC.com, until my boss suggested I kindly get myself together. I ruined a friend's wedding by disappearing in the middle of it, causing the main topic of conversation to shift from the bride's lovely gown to what the hell had happened to me. Things were going badly in every part of my life. Everything thought I should be was not becoming. The living character I had created for myself - the hip, witty, on-the-go Manhattan writer, just couldn't continue.

But I, the actual person inside the character, could.



By this point, I'd lived in Manhattan for more than a dozen years, counting my time at NYU. And while New York City is a center for all types of excellence, the pursuit of it takes a front seat to all sorts of relationships, friends, family, romantic.

It had been a great run - I was the sort of Manhattanite that really went to Broadway plays, museums, operas, and even fine restaurants when they had their annual summer lunch specials. I had truly done Manhattan. I was ready to leave.

So I started to look for a new home. People like me, young creative people, were supposed to like cities like Austin and Seattle and San Francisco and Atlanta. I visited all of them, but I didn't feel a spark. Most American cities require regular use of a car, and although I think driving a rental car on vacation is lots of fun, on a daily basis I like to walk down the street and look people in the eye.



Then I visited Copenhagen on a weekend trip from Paris, where I frequently stayed with a friend. I liked Copenhagen, which is about the size of Milwaukee. The culture has a lot in common with that of Wisconsin, where most people are descended from Scandinavian and German immigrants. I felt I could live there.

I went back to New York, found a Danish IT job fair in town, and introduced myself to people. I applied for five jobs and was offered two. And here I am.


Next: I move to Denmark and pay 60% income taxes.

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