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Once upon a time in New York state, a sort-of young Jewish girl sat slaving away at her computer writing stories of love and happily-ever-after. While she dreamed of one day making it to the exalted New York Times list, she knew that it only happened to other girls. Still, she dreamed.
APRIL 11, 2002 was on deadline. My only indulgence was to watch my all-time favorite actress Kelly Ripa on her daytime shows, All My Children and as co-host of LIVE! And let’s face it, my muse will use any excuse to be lazy. But still, I’d been watching Kelly Ripa for years, and admired her ability to bring realism and depth to a soap opera character. Not an easy feat when faced with plots like a wacko mother who tried to bed her boyfriend. This actress had inspired my creative juices for so long that I’d even come up with the name of my current characters from her soap family-The Chandlers. I loyally watched her. I felt as if I knew her. I didn’t, of course. I was just a huge fan. So I was taking yet another break from work and turned from the computer monitor to the television screen to watch Kelly Ripa on LIVE!, sparing an occasional guilty glance at my work in progress. Whose idea was it to put a T.V. in my office anyway, I wondered, when I heard Kelly say, “Oprah’s given up her bookclub.” She exchanged a few one-liners with Regis and then came the dialogue that changed my life.
“Hey, Pippa (as Regis often calls her), you should have our own bookclub.” Kelly laughed. “My bookclub wouldn’t be intellectual. I’d want fun. Sex. Smut. Beach trash. And Fabio on the cover.”
Inside I was shaking. This was it. Karma. Kismet. Fate. My fairy godmother was calling to me? Me the girl who played the Bippedy, Boppety Boo Cinderella song over and over as a kid. All I could hear in my head was a voice yelling, I’ve got the book for you!
Okay that’s really melodramatic, but it’s the honest to goodness truth. I felt it. Enough to call my publicist on that early April day and suggest we send my book, my first single title, THE BACHELOR, to Kelly. Enough to prod and bug her to follow up. At some point, I even decided, as only a writer could, that the book was laying in a slush pile somewhere and I thought, we needed to get Kelly’s attention. We need to do something special!
Some brainstorming, laughing and a good deal of phone time later, the idea of the Cookie Basket was born. It was a specially crafted cookie basket in the shape of the lips from the book’s cover. Each lip had a different saying. “A panty thief.” “A foreign correspondent hero.” “An erotic lingerie store owner.” And a quote from the book along with yet another copy of the book? In case the original had been lost.
We sent it with fingers crossed. And then … nothing.
Kelly picked a fantastic mystery-hardcover for her first book, and a trade-paperback for her second. No true romance in the bunch. I put it behind me.
As I was getting the kids ready for a quickie meal at McDonald’s one Thursday around 5 PM, my six year old answered the phone and yelled, “Mommy, it’s your friend.” It was my editor at Warner, who said, “I have great news. Sit down.” Okay well, writers KNOW when they have a full manuscript waiting to be bought, or other things under consideration. I can honestly say, I had no idea what this great news could be.
“Kelly Ripa picked The Bachelor for July.” Now that was big news and I screamed. Since I am not a screamer, at least not unless I’m yelling at the kids, this was unusual and they came running, asking what was wrong. Of course, I told them! Keep in mind, this is a six year old and a ten year old who just heard, “Mommy’s going to be on Regis and Kelly.” At that moment my editor said, “And you can’t tell anyone until Kelly announces it on Monday or they might pull the book and use their second selection.”
You can’t tell anyone became, you can tell people on a “need to know basis,” and thus began the longest weekend of my life. I felt like I was an undercover operative. Too bad I don’t look like Jennifer Garner from ALIAS. But I did tell my husband, the kids already knew as did my two life-saving friends, Janelle Denison and Shannon Short, my parents, my publicist, Theresa Meyers, Blue Moon Communications, and my webmistress, Barb Hoeter from Romance and Friends, who needed to update my website and have it ready to go by Monday at ten EST after Kelly’s announcement. By Sunday night, I’d also informed a few more select friends and family members. Somehow, I survived the long weekend: the night at McDonald’s with friends without revealing the news; a neighborhood party on Saturday night, with everyone I knew asking, “How’s the writing going?” I kept mum. For anyone who knows me, this accomplishment was HUGE.
By Monday morning, I had knots in my stomach and I was absolutely convinced Kelly would hold up someone else’s book. I sat with my parents and one friend, and watched through the longest hour of LIVE! I’d ever seen. Finally, Kelly got ready to discuss her pick. I was so nauseous I couldn’t stand it and then the segment started. “You asked for it, Ladies and I’m going to give it to you,” Kelly said. I saw smoke, I think I heard a drumroll … and then I saw my book! Kelly began to give her ratings on a scale of 1-5. 5 for Fun, 5 for Sex (she’d give it a 6 if she could), 5 for Easy to read, 1 for Suspense and 3 for Romance. Okay I could forgive this, I thought, since afterall, she’d just made my career!
As a side note and in retrospect, let me say I was not prepared for anything that came next. My critique partner and best friend, Janelle Denison had predicted life was going to change forever. “Come on,” I remember saying. “Get real. It’ll be a quick fifteen minutes of fame and be over.” Hah! Famous last words. Once the insanity started, it quickly steamrolled. Phone calls, emails? hundreds and hundreds of them. I can’t begin to remember but still owe thanks to the people who contacted me just to say congratulations, to support me, to remind me that no matter how crazy things got, I had my friends. But I digress and so …
So Cinderella’s fairy godmother picked her out of the slush pile and elevated her to Kelly’s pick; To # 1 on Amazon, Barnes and Noble online within six hours; To a six-week stay on the New York Times Bestseller List, topping off tied for # 4 with the ultimate writer, Nora Roberts! (It was ten weeks on the NYT if you add the time on the Extended list, but who’s counting?). To # 2 on Publisher’s Weekly, and extended stays on both PW and USA Today.
I joined the ranks of the RWA Honor Roll Authors. And all along, I kept asking myself, “Whose life is this?” My publicist, who I couldn’t live without, said, “It’s yours, darling. Fate gave it to you. Enjoy it!” Meanwhile I wondered, if fate had bestowed all this, what will Fate demand as payback?
Shortly after the announcement, I discovered I was going to be on National T.V. Now that’s a concept I just didn’t deal with. I wasn’t ready to cope, so why think about it? Denial seemed the best answer. At the same time, the neighbors finally caught on that I am a writer. A serious writer. A writer who writes “those” books and is, was and will always be, proud of it. All of a sudden, people wanted to buy my book! Unbelievably, these were the same type of books I’ve always written. The same books I used to mention were on the shelves, and the same books they forgot to buy the month they were out. But now, Kelly? my fair godmother said “Read Carly Phillips” and people were reading! My meager 47,000 print run on my first single title went back for multiple reprinting and was up to 500,000. I sent cookie baskets to my publicist, my webmistress, my editors and my agent. It still felt surreal.
I sadly discovered the fairy godmother doesn’t supply clothing, hair or makeup. Not even eyeglasses! I was on my own. So the intrepid Cinderella I went shopping with local friends for an outfit. I made certain I was happy with my makeup and I even bought new eyeglasses for the occasion. I took digital photos and sent them to my publicist and friends for approval. It cost a small fortune to be a Kelly pick, but it was worth it!
Warner sent me champagne, Harlequin sent me flowers, my publicist sent me a pampering spa basket and more flowers poured in from family and friends. My kitchen looked like a floral shop.
As the days counted down through July, Mondays became Walden Mondays, the day I’d find out my new ranking. Wednesdays became known as NY Times Day, the day I’d find out the number for the following week, and Thursday was USA Today Thursday. The highs were so high and the lows when they came, were even lower. I was riding an emotional roller coaster I couldn’t begin to understand. And everyday, I’d remind myself this was temporary, and prepared myself for the inevitable letdown that was sure to come. After all, nothing lasts forever.
Warner threw a get-together for me, a celebratory party where I met everyone in the office and did an impromptu booksigning for people there. Not only was I getting spoiled, but I had a new appreciation for friends? Those who loved me before, during and after, who stood by me when I couldn’t return phone calls because life was insane, and those who called to say, “I love you.”
At this point, although I was not “dealing” with the concept of live T.V., I wasn’t stupid and discovered I was a bit vain. I made sure I had manicure, pedicure, haircut and color appointments all set before national conference. Thank goodness I am good friends with my stylist, who also happens to live in New York City and convinced her to wake up at 5 AM to do my hair for the show. It didn’t take that much convincing, since she’s one of my biggest supporters and always had my books out at her station.
RWA’s Conference arrived and with it, the online Chat with Kelly Ripa. It was scheduled during conference so I had my publicist reserve a computer and phone in the business office of the hotel. Imagine my shock when I checked out the location and saw the glass windows that were viewable from the hotel lobby! No way was I doing this chat publicly or becoming a spectacle.
Thank goodness there was no need for me to be on a computer. My publicist called to tell me LIVE had a typist who would create a transcript while Kelly and I were on the phone. I sent my roommate downstairs to watch the chat on the reserved computer while I talked on the phone from the room, with my longtime idol, Kelly Ripa! I had never been so nervous. I thought I was going to faint. I almost did when Regis called in during the segment. He’s never done that before or since and I nearly fell off the bed when I heard his voice. “Hi, Reeg!” (I still can’t believe I said that.) Adrenaline kept me going and I not only survived, but I enjoyed the experience! Needless to say, RWA was the greatest conference for me this year.
I realized my family was eating worse than usual this summer and they were getting used to phone calls during dinner. I can’t remember who called when or why, but there wasn’t a quiet time throughout all of July or August. I love my family and appreciated their understanding. It was hard on the kids, but they’re troopers and they’ve learned a valuable life lesson? Follow your dreams, they can come true.
Before I turned around, it was the weekend before my TV appearance. Thank goodness Warner agreed to fly my publicist in from Washington State to prep me. We did hours of media training practice sessions where she asked questions while video taping me. We played it back, critiqued, and went back to try again. I discovered there’s nothing more painful than watching yourself on television. It Hurts! But I stopped fidgeting. I stopped looking down. I kept smiling. I spoke clearly, confidently, or so she assured me. I was determined not to make a fool of myself, and oh so grateful I’d already be seated when the camera went on, since I could envision myself tripping onto the stage.
I went online and looked at the week’s guests on LIVE. Tuesday, August 6th: Antonio Banderas and author Carly Phillips. I was listed along side Antonio Banderas. For the first time I thought “I am somebody.” Then I wondered if I would actually be in the “Green Room” with him or if they’d give him his own dressing room. The bigger question that loomed in my mind was, could this be the guest celebrity they told me would be present at the round table discussion? Not taking any chances, I packaged autographed books for both Antonio and his wife, Melanie Griffith. I made sure that when Kelly asked who I envisioned casting as my Chandler Brothers, I added Antonio to my answers. I was primed, I was pumped, I was ready.
The day before the show, my manicurist came to my house as a favor since the salon was closed on Mondays. I was sitting in my kitchen, toes in a bowl of warm water, hands being manicured, phone ringing and my publicist answering my calls in between drilling me with my message points, and holding the phone to my ear like the pampered Starlet I was pretending to be.
One call couldn’t wait. The day camp nurse was on the phone. My oldest daughter fell in gym. Her arm was swollen, her knee hurt and she needed to get X-rays. I looked down at my bare feet in the bowl of soapy water and did what any Jewish girl would do. The heck with fairy godmothers, I called my Mother!
While making arrangements to have Mom pick up my daughter at school and take her to the doctor, where I planned to meet them, my publicist was massaging the muscles in my neck. “Relax. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to.” Hah.
Hours later, my daughter was fine, a mild sprained wrist, lightly bruised her cheek and a sore knee, but fine. We all returned home and reality began to set in. LIVE television awaited me.
“What are you going to wear?” my publicist, who was staying at my house asked. “We need to go over the little details.”
I proudly pulled out my clothing, a mini flowered skirt, turquoise blue shirt, funky sandals, and house-wife-with-an-edge purple glasses.
“Great! How about jewelry?” she asked.
I showed her.
“This won’t work. You need to convey an image. You’re a New York Times author. What else do you have?”
I sighed and ten minutes later, dressed in my clothes for the show, we climbed into the car and headed for Mom’s to borrow from the crown jewel collection. I looked down and what did I see?
“There’s grease on my shirt!” Not just a light color smear, but dark, thick, grease!
“Calm down. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to,” Theresa said. I think I actually laughed in her face. Was I supposed to go on Regis and Kelly with … not grease but what I realized was my six year old’s chocolate ice cream stain on my shirt?!?!?
“At least it isn’t grease,” she said lightly.
We picked jewelry and moved to Plan, or should I say, Shirt B?a pink tank, identical to the blue except for color. I can live with this, I remember thinking. I’ll be calm. No I was hysterical.
The alarm rang at four the next morning, not that I got any sleep. I showered and washed my hair and planed on letting it dry so my hairstylist could fix it later that morning. While drying off, I started laughing hysterically because I was moisturizing places I didn’t know needed moisturizing. Looking back, I wonder why I thought anyone would see my elbows, but they were silky smooth and ready for an appearance on LIVE.
We were picked up by a limo from the studio and driven into the city to my hairdresser then catch a yellow cab to the studio. By the time I walked into ABC, I was in “Carly” mode. As anybody who has been to a conference knows, this would be “Conference” mode. I told myself I was “On” and “Ready”. That worked until I saw my family and friends who’d come to be in the audience for the show. (Because I live in New York State, getting on LIVE was fairly easy for family and friends who had only a half hour trip downtown). At that moment, I was certain I turned from media-trained, consummate professional, author Carly Phillips, into Karen and her bundle of insecurities, going on live television!
Cinderella might have been ready for the ball, but the ball wasn’t ready for Cinderella. The security guards didn’t know who Carly Phillips was, and didn’t want to let us inside. It took some maneuvering and foot stamping … but we got in. But once I was inside the infamous “Green Room”, nobody knew I was there and worse, nobody seemed to care! I’d been told that LIVE would do makeup and hair touchups, but it quickly became obvious they wouldn’t notice if I was wearing a facial mask or a brown paper bag. This was a quick, in and out production, so I tried to get my mind set around the idea, while convincing myself that I was going to enjoy it and be fine. And pigs fly. I was scared to death.
Nobody famous shared my breathing space except for my editor, Karen Kosztolnyik and my publicist, until a girl wearing very little clothing walked into the room. I wondered who she was. “She” turned out to be Ryan Star from the television show, American Idol. The men in the audience would be happy, I thought, while the women had Antonio to look forward to.
Over time, the green room grew more crowded, as readers who were selected to be on the round table arrived. The producer finally joined us and handed out last-minute instructions. The ten readers were given pre-written questions on blue cue cards and told to memorize them. I was happy I got to go with my own, wing-it answers rather than be pressured to memorize something I might forget. My publicist asked the producer if I could show my ARC of the next book in the trilogy. The producer turned to me and said quite clearly, “No blatant promo, no websites and do NOT under any circumstances mention the upcoming books in the trilogy.” So much for The Playboy, The Loner, and the Harlequin single title I’d brought with me, and I shoved the carefully prepared books back into my bag.
I turn to my publicist and asked, “Now what?” She smiled. “Everything happens the way it’s supposed to. We go with her instructions, stick to your message points and remember Raina Chandler. Every mother would do anything to see her children happy.” With that I was shuttled out the door with the rest of the readers, and directed onto the set for a quick look around. I looked around, but I didn’t see Regis and Kelly.
Next thing I knew, I was once again being ushered onto the stage for a test run, hooked up with a microphone and headset, and seated at the round table. Michael Gelman shook my hand and congratulated me on my success. He was thrilled that the book has hit the NY Times and stayed there, as well as excited by the number of copies printed. I was happy too. But I couldn’t shake the butterflies in my stomach and suddenly felt like I had something on my face and no mirror with which to check.
I glanced around, looking for Regis, Kelly and the guest celebrity. I remembered the last one had been Regis’ daughter. Finally a large man sat next to me, shook my hand and introduced himself as Art Moore. Gelman told us he was the celebrity Bachelor chosen for this show. In reality he’s one of Regis’ producers, which I discovered later, when I got home and did my research! Not the kind of celebrity I’d anticipated, but it turns out he’d read my book, had valuable comments, and thought it would adapt well into a movie. I liked Art Moore.
At the last minute a heated debate broke out between the producer and Gelman. “I want name cards. Regis needs name cards!”
“We don’t have time!”
“He doesn’t remember names. Just get it done.”
“Do you want them handwritten?”
“Get me an intern!”
I was a bit panicked. If the producers didn’t have this down, what was going to happen when the cameras started rolling? They made a few other last minute adjustments to the set and the cue cards Regis was suppose to read and sent us all back to the Green Room to wait.
It was almost show time. On the large TV in the Green Room we watched Regis and Kelly make their way on to the set and the audience applauded. They sat down, drank coffee and chatted, talking about Regis’ pulled groin muscle. At this point we’d seen nothing of Antonio and figured he had his own private Green Room. In between autographing books and chatting with the readers waiting with me, we quickly discovered that Antonio had been taped last week, and his segments were to be shown on video. All planned production, Regis and Kelly’s clothing matched what they wore when they taped the show, as did the jokes and comments. So much for meeting Antonio and presenting him with autographed copies. One again, I shoved the carefully prepared books back into my bag.
From the direction of the stage, I heard the audience boo. They had just found out there’d be no Antonio. Great, now I was not only facing a crowd, but an already disappointed crowd. At this moment, I was grateful for the friends and family who came to support me, whether or not they made me more nervous.
The time finally arrived. The producer came back and we followed her into the studio. I managed to be calm, and when I shook Regis’ hand, I found I was composed. Not only that, but he was warm, friendly and seemed very appreciative of the fact that I’d written this book. Who cares if he hasn’t read it? I could tell he’s a good guy. A good guy who was about to call my book beach trash and smut on National TV ?because that’s what was written on the cue cards. But I have to say, it was all part of the show and what they call, Entertainment. Regis Philbin does his job well. He remembered my name and I, for one, was impressed with him.
Kelly shook my hand too. She was warm, gracious …. and gorgeous. I thought, “How can I sit at this table with someone who looks like she does?” The reader chosen to sit at the table, a pretty Sandra-Bullock look-a-like, only added to my insecurities. But it was OK because they were counting down and soon I had no time to think at all! The red camera lights came on and Regis began to read the cue cards.
I survived the first segment and they went to commercial. Later that afternoon, at home, I discovered that the nice gentleman sitting next to me was actually blocking me for a good part of the time! If not for my neighbor and friend in the audience, who screamed at the cameraman at the commercial break, I might have been the invisible author for a good part of the show.
I have a vague recollection of sparring with Regis over the title. He asked, “If the mother matchmakes so much in the book, why not call the book, “The Mother”? I replied, “Because women want to read about The Bachelor!”. For the moment I held my own.
Three … two … one … we were back on the air. Message points, I thought to myself. Remember my message points. We discussed romance and the Sandra Bullock look-alike said she’d never read one before The Bachelor, but she loved it. There it was, the prime opportunity to let the audience know, Romance authors write substantial, important books! As an author, I provide happy endings and escape from daily reality. And this woman, who’d never picked up a romance novel before, gave me the chance to say, if a reader enjoyed The Bachelor, they just might like other romance novels too. I hope I’ve broadened our audience and done my fellow romance writers proud.
“And we’re … off.”
It was over. I took a deep breath and realized I survived LIVE television. They quickly shuffled us back into the green room, asked us to pick up our things and leave. All within ten seconds. No down time allowed. I shook wondering, How’d I do? In the end I decided I was proud of myself. After all, I’m Karen, wife and mother of two, the same Karen who couldn’t handle moot court in law school, and hated speaking in public. I dealt with Regis on television and met my soap opera idol, Kelly Ripa. And now, I’m a New York Times Bestselling author with her first hardcover novels coming out. I’m not just Karen Drogin aka Carly Phillips, I am Carly Phillips. And proud of it.
Not bad for one short summer and I owe it all to my fairy godmother, Kelly Ripa.
Or words of wisdom I’d like to share:
Take chances. Trust your judgment and follow your gut instinct. Don’t worry what other people think, but reach for your dreams in ways only your heart can dictate.
You can’t afford not to have friends. Value them. It’s easy to be a friend when times are bad, but it’s the good times when you learn who your best friends are.
You can’t afford not to have a publicist. It’s something every author should consider when they feel they’re on the cusp of something big in their career. Thank goodness I’d already been with Blue Moon when the idea for sending a book to Kelly came to me.
Always carry a mirror in your purse. You never know when you’ll need it.