No Tea For The Fever…

by

bordesholm

On October 30, 2006, I was in Los Angeles, writing  a story on Puffy for GIANT magazine. I was staying at The Standard in West Hollywood, a spot that’s supposed to be fancy but never feels that way to me. (There’s often a woman dressed in all white encased in glass behind the front desk. Livable art. Yawn)

Puff kept stalling. Editor had to keep tacking on more time to my stay. Day after day, waiting…

While I waited, I worked on a novel I’d started writing. It was born out of a conversation with my agent. A few months before, I wrote a piece for Vibe that haunted me. It was about a group of women who lived a lifestyle that was both glamorous and depressing. I told my agent I thought their lives could make a good non-fiction book.

He scrunched his eyebrows up, shook his head and said: no. fictionalize them. Then you can take the stories as far as you wanna go. It would make a good novel.

I wrote a novel a few years back. Like most first novels, it was autobiographical to a fault: a girl who lives in a brownstone in Jersey City teaches by day and writes about hip-hop celebrities by night. And she’s torn between both worlds. And she loves teaching but hates the administration. And she loves writing but hates the drama in the music world.

Um. Yeah. That was me all day.

I finished the book. Did a gang of rewrites with my agent. It was sent out. I crossed my fingers.

Annnnnd. Nothing. Twelve very nice rejection emails. (Emails! Not even letters I could keep and hold on to. Emails! Sob!)

I didn’t try a novel again. Didn’t even think about it. Until my agent urged me to think about fictionalizing the Vibe story.

I went jogging the next morning, his words in my head. And that night, I started writing. And the next day, I wrote more. And the next day, even more.

The characters talked to themselves in my head even when I wasn’t working on the story. (I hope some of my fellow writers will co-sign on this so I don’t sound completely nuts.) I wrote every day, without fail. And sometimes my heart would quicken as I wrote. I didn’t have a plot outlined but it seemed like everything the characters said and did just made sense and things began to fall into a linear story.

Here’s how it felt:  like the story was already written. And I was just the vessel to get it on paper.

Okay. I know that is roll-eye dramatic and extra. If someone else wrote that, I’d log off immediately and never visit their blog again.

But I can only tell you that’s exactly what I felt.

So on this trip to Los Angeles, as I sat in the lobby of The Standard and ate burgers and watched people go to the pool, I continued working on this new novel each day. Sometimes my cell phone would ring and I would look up and three hours had passed and I’d been writing straight through, not even aware of the time.

And this scared me.

I was scared because every time I read it back to myself, it was good. And it intrigued me and made me want to read more.

I was also embarassed.

Because when I wrote unfiltered, the result was chockful of graphic sex scenes. And characters who did things I could not relate to at all: women who stayed with drug addicted husbands. Women who made poor parenting choices. And in general, a cast of characters who were over the top. I was channeling Jacqueline Susann instead of Alice Walker and I was afraid of what that meant. I want to be a Serious Writer. And the book pouring out of me had a mind of its own.

It wasn’t literary. It wasn’t highbrow. It was gritty. It was disturbing. And it was what it was. Nothing I could do about it.

So I abruptly stopped writing for a few days.

I had somehow managed to intimidate myself. How sad is that?

This has happened to me more than once before. I have several unfinished stories that I read occasionally. And I get pissed off at myself every time I re-read these pieces. Some are good. Some not so good. But I always stopped at some point, afraid of what finishing might mean.

This time, while in Los Angeles, I decided to reach out to my agent for help.

Hello Ryan!

I have a work-in-progress… It’s called No Tea For The Fever. It’s a novel, inspired by you–and that story I wrote for Vibe. So far it’s 93 pages. (about 25,000 words). It’s going well. But I’d really like an early opinion. I totally understand if you’d rather I wait until it’s complete. But let me know…

Talk soon!
-A

My agent told me to send what I had so far. I did. He told me to keep writing. And to finish the damn thing.

“You have something here,” he said. “Finish it.”

And then Faith Evans called, out of the clear blue sky. Talking about collaborating on a book. I said, “But I’m 7 months pregnant!” She said, “Girl, please. So am I. Let’s get to work.”

We gave birth within two weeks of one another. And we were on the phone for our thrice-weekly bi-coastal phone calls a month later. And the whirlwind of collaborating on my first book made me just look wistfully at my Book I Want To Write folder every once in a while.

Skip ahead a year or so. The Faith book is done. I’ve even started collaborating on book two with the illustrious Frank Lucas. And I’m freelancing my butt off. And every so often, I click on the Word document with my novel and I feel a rush of something.

But I still don’t start writing again.

And then, I get an assignment to visit the island of Anguilla and report on its loveliness. Sweet!

I packed my bikini–kissed my babies goodbye and got ready to go. I also printed out my novel. I read it on the island. Slowly. I marked it up and made a bunch of notes and hard edits. Certain characters were corny and needed to be cut out completely. The whole book was missing a bit more speed in the pace. Needed more conflict.

I edited throughout my trip and came home with a promise to myself to finish the damn thing.

That was in June.

By December, I finally sent the novel to my agent.

And then. One wintry day, I was standing in my living room looking over the mail, when my cell phone rang. It was my agent. And my heart started racing. We hardly ever talk on the phone. It’s always email.

Hey, I said.

Hey, he said.

Let me tell you about my agent. I met him in 1998 when I went to a program called the Radcliffe Publishing Course in Cambridge, Massachusettes. It’s a program designed to help people prepare for careers in book or magazine publishing. (Today, it’s affiliated with Columbia. I still highly recommend it to anyone who is just graduating from school and wants to go into publishing. OR anyone who wants to transition from another career into publishing).

So. I move to Cambridge for the summer. And each day in class, we had to sit in alphabetical order. So I sat next to Ryan, whose last name started with H.

I was a smarmy, smartass Black girl with an Afro. Ryan was a laidback white boy who spoke in a whisper but had a cool, sardonic wit. Ryan was a book guy. I was a magazine girl.

We got along like gangbusters from day one.

If Ryan ever decides to write a tell-all memoir, I’ll be chewing my nails nervously. Cause he’s got some stories on me from my wild and crazy 20s. Oh. And vice-versa. (You got that Ryan?!)

So anyway. That’s my peoples right there. We didn’t stay in touch much after the program ended. But he was one of those people you never have to talk to. It just is what it is and always will be.

Years and years later, I was looking for a new agent. I’d heard that after a successful stint as a book editor, Ryan was now working as a literary agent. I had lunch with him to ask for help finding an agent. He said, “I want to represent you.” I said, “Ryan, you don’t even know what I’m capable of.” He said, “I’ve been following your work. I read the Al Green story in Vibe. I know what your capable of. And I want to represent you. Now I will give you other names. Because you’re my friend first. But I want you as my client.”

And that was that.

So here we are, back in my living room. Ryan on the phone instead of shooting me a quick email.

“I got an offer for your novel today Aliya.”

I felt like someone had socked me in my gut. I dropped to my knees and burst into tears.

“Are you crying,” Ryan asked, laughing.

“Yes! I’m crying!” I said. “I’ve waited all my life to hear those words!!”

My throat was tightening and I couldn’t catch my breath. It was thrilling.

The next few days were a whirlwhind of interest from other editors, going back and forth, me biting my nails, rocking back and forth on my sofa, dying to hear the end results.

And finally, it was over.

Sulay Hernandez, the editor of Simon and Schuster’s Touchstone Fireside imprint, just bought my first novel.

And how did I deal with this news?

I didn’t.

I called TH and screamed his ear off. I called my mom and screamed her ear off.

And then, I said nothing else.

I didn’t believe it was real. I thought I would wake up and my agent would say Sulay changed her mind.

Dear readers, I couldn’t even bring myself to tell all of you. And I know how supportive my dear readers are.

But I could not deal. It was not real.

I finally got a chance to talk to Sulay on the phone.

“I loved this book,” Sulay said. ” You made me miss my stop on the subway while I was reading it.”

(Tears are streaming down my face as she says this).

All I could say was thank you.

She said. “This is real Aliya. This is very real.”

Sulay, I said. After I caught my breath. I have this blog…

Sulay laughed. Yes, write about it on your blog!

But I couldn’t.

Not until today.

Yesterday, I opened my front door, ready to go out and shovel the snow.

photo

My contract. Vetted by Ryan, ready to be signed.

Now this is real.

And if you all will have me, I’ll promise to take my dear readers with me every step of the way from contract signing to bookstore stocking. (Yes, I will stock this book myself at Barnes and Noble if they’ll let me!)

I am awed. I am humbled. I am proud.

I am scared out of my wits.

And now, I sign my life away on four copies of the contract (with a Uniball pen!) and drop them in the mail. And then the fun begins.

I have no idea what I’m in for.

...and you want the rights to my first born child? no problem.

...and you want the rights to my first born child? no problem.

***about the title: one day, I was talking to my dad. and he was telling me about a family member I never met. he said, “ooooh, she was tough. She didn’t take no tea for the fever!” I said what does that mean? He said he didn’t know. But he said it was just one of those things old folks said about strong people. And then, the very next day, I was visiting my mother-in-law. And she was telling me about one of her relatives. And she said, “She didn’t take no tea for the fever!”

It struck me to hear this expression twice from two different people. And it stuck with me. Who would be the type of person who would earn this distinction. What would it take to be strong enough to take no tea for the fever?

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68 Responses to “No Tea For The Fever…”

  1. felicia Says:

    Congrats! And you’re in great hands with Sulay!!!

  2. marc Says:

    Aliya,

    Ryan told me the great news last week. I have seen (some of) what you are capable of on Faith and Frank (and hopefully again on you know who) and can’t wait to read your full-length. Congratulations! Marc

  3. RtG Says:

    Aliya, I’m so happy for you. Love how you took pictures of yourself SIGNING YOUR CONTRACT! lol Priceless. And yes, Felicia’s right; you’re in excellent hands with Sulay.

  4. Toya Says:

    CONGRATS Aliya!

  5. Tremaya Says:

    Oh wow, congratulations! I love the title and I can’t wait to add my second Aliya S. King book to my collection (this time I’ll even pay for it)! :) Oh, and I am officially putting in the first request for you to come speak at my book club meeting. :)
    P.S. Now that we are past the “cyber-honeymoon stage”, and I realize you already blogged about this, and you know I love you girl but, I just have to tell you, that hat is killing me! LOL!

  6. Yani Says:

    I am SOOOOOOOOO happy for you!!!!!! Congratulations!

  7. Del Says:

    Finally! I’ve been waiting for you to share the news with the world! As your self-centered assistant, I can’t help but wonder what this all means for me. LOL! Congrats Nytba. Super proud of you! I’m telling you, WB Inc. is on the come-up son!

  8. Paula Says:

    CONGRATULATIONS Aliya!!! Soooo freakin’ happy 4u. Whooo-wooooo! Signed my book contract for my novel about 3 weeks ago. The characters in my novel were speaking to me so often when their voices got too loud to concentrate I had to leave the daily office grind to set them free (well, that & to get my daughter NYU-ready). I’m toasting a freshly-brewed cup of Pike Place to you in my writing nook @home. Cheers!! Mwah!!! Love the blog btw!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    congrats!

  10. Thembisa Says:

    *Screaming*

    Awesome. Simply awesome. Love the title. I can so relate to the caption on the signing photo lol! I have to give it UP to you fiction writers. Maybe I’m one too, but I don’t think so…at least not yet~

    I am totally inspired by this and really appreciate you sharing it. Sometimes I wonder if I evenn HAVE another book in me after spending 7 years on the first one (I shoould have a 2nd grader by now to go with my 4th grader!).

    I’m along for the journey to the shelf! BTW thank you SO much for being so supportive of my book as well.

    And YES people, the voices scream and wont’ stop until you get them on paper!

    Love it and love you!
    T

  11. MsQuiche Says:

    Congratulations Aliya that’s fantastic news! I’ve only been following your blog for a few weeks but it’s evidently clear that you are a super talented and engaging writer. Look forward to the updates on the book release. Love the book title too.

  12. Dani B Says:

    congratulations!

  13. Robyn Curry Says:

    Congratulations Aliya!

  14. carlito Says:

    asking, long past our first fight, when i brought all fire and fury out of my infamous red pen and down upon that brilliant-yet-needed-to-be-edited RR piece, you continue to inspire me, to spark my own passion for story with so many dope stories of your own.

    congrats, kudos, props, accolades and a handful of jolly ranchers to you, my love. your success is a loud-ass testament not only to your talent, but also to your extremely hard work.

    and finally, this is NOT about me at all, so i apologize if it appears so, but THANK YOU for this post (shit, for ALL of ’em, really); you’ve changed my life. (be on the look out…)

    =)

  15. aqua Says:

    Congrats Aliya! Very, very inspiring. Now excuse me while I go get my life together. :-)

    P.S. You need to start designing those “No Tea for the Fever” t-shirts stat!

  16. Hassan Munford Says:

    WOW CONGRATS ALIYA!!!

    YOU ARE TRULY AN INSPIRATION!!!

    I CANT WAIT TO KEEP READING ABOUT THE JOURNEY!!

    btw I saw Mom’s Sunday at the Brunch! We did the 2 step EO Style!!!

  17. carlito Says:

    @ paula: didn’t know re: your novel!! congrats!!! very, very happy for you, p!! hard work INDEED pays off, luv!!!

    =)

  18. Katura Says:

    Fabulous title. I love titles, and your is a great one. Too often titles get me all hyped, then the book lets me down. But I really enjoy your writing, so I know it will be great. Congratulations.

    And yes, I co-sign that characters talk and do stuff in my head when I’m not writing. Sometimes I take that as a sign I should grab a pen. Other times, not. And I can’t tell you how many unfinished passages I have saved on my lap top. I don’t know what they are, what story they belong to (if they even belong to a story), but I love the words and wanted to keep them. So I did.

  19. clove Says:

    you inspire me. like, endlessly

  20. tmpringl Says:

    Oh, I can’t wait to read it. I need a copy, like NOW. Congratulations! You’ve added yet another thing to your impressive list of life accomplishments that I will one day emulate. Congrats again! Couldn’t have happened to a better writer. In fact, I can’t understand why you didn’t already have a few books. :)

  21. Brian G. Says:

    Congratulations Aliya,

    I’m looking forward to reading your novel.

  22. PB's Milf Says:

    Beautiful… And inspiring! Congratulations Aliya!!!

  23. SoSoulfull Says:

    This is wonderfully good news Aliya! What an inspiration you are – Congratulations! :)

  24. Dimitry Says:

    Wow. Take a bow. A. YOU DID IT. You are living the dream. SAVOR this moment for as long as you can. Congrats.

    Dimitry

  25. Peanut Butter Says:

    Congratulations!

  26. ak Says:

    congrats girl. of course you did it. only person who doubted it was you.

  27. la negrita Says:

    Congratulations Aliya. I, like Thembisa, give you many props as a fiction writer. Save for an honorable mention I received in grade school from a children’s theater company for “Funny Bunny,” fiction writing is not my forte. It requires an immense amount of creativity that I just don’t have. At least not now, anyway. But enough about me and my shortcomings.

    Aliya S. King…I salute you!

  28. Celia Says:

    Congrats, lady! Have I ever told you you’re my hero? Like, seriously…. You’re the illest!

  29. heather Says:

    Sweet AK! Don’t forget my shout-out in the dedication :D

  30. lipstickpunch Says:

    Wow, this had me on the edge of my seat, and it’s just a blog post. (I don’t mean just a blog, but you know) Can’t wait to read your book! Congrats!

  31. Bridgette Says:

    CONGRATS! You have no idea how inspiring this post is. Like, I need to print it out and put it on my fridge inspiring. Many blessings to you.

  32. Southern_Lady Says:

    Congrats, Aliya!!! I know it’s going to be great because you’re such an intense writer. Wow. It’s a great feeling to see someone who is so accomplished STILL moving to higher heights. I can’t wait to read it.

  33. demetria Says:

    OMG! CONGRATULATIONS! this is like the moment every writer waits for. it’s great to tell other people’s stories, but IT’S AMAZING to be able to tell your own.

    you’re like, my heroine!

    Can’t wait to read it!

  34. Thurselle Says:

    Aliya, Congratulations! The Blessings of the Lord hath made you rich and He adds no sorrow to it!

    Buffy

  35. TLAWrites Says:

    I’m so happy for you Aliya. This is so inspirational! I can’t wait to check the book out. Your blog is exciting so I know the book will be fantastic. CONGRATS!

  36. Hanif Says:

    مبر وك
    That is amazing News. I’m a very happy for you. I can’t wait to read it. Spaniard! Spaniard! Spaniard! I think you were being coy about your reaction. I know you did some crazy dance, back flip, moon walk, let’s us hear it.

  37. Cori Says:

    Hey Aliya… congrats!!!!!!!!!!

  38. Jamilah B Creekmur Says:

    YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I mean really, did you expect otherwise Aliya! I am so freakin’ proud of you girl… and again, I am so glad I “got you” when I did! LOL…

    Very exciting Ms Lady!!! glad to have my connection with you…

    xoxo
    *jamilah*

  39. Aliya S. King Says:

    @everyone: Just came back from the post office. (sent those contracts overnight!). Just took a minute to read these responses. And you all have tears streaming down my face.

    For real.

    I’m fricking sobbing.

    Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement. It means a great deal to me.

  40. kim osorio Says:

    Congratulations Aliya. There isn’t another writer amongst us that I can think of that deserves it more…seriously. I know I will piss some of my own friends off by saying that.

    by the way, i want my starbucks card, but really that’s just a disguised way of saying that I REALLY want to catch up because there are things that I just can’t get into here on the comments section of your blog…that would be desperate!

  41. Yolonda Says:

    As always, you are inspirational to me on very different levels. You have given me ANOTHER reason to read your blog.

    CONGRATS!!! I am looking forward to taking this journey with you and, believe you me, I will be at the book signing in whatever the nearest city will be to me.

  42. G.D. Says:

    Congrats.

  43. jay1 Says:

    you rock. also, i call dibs on adapting the screenplay.

  44. Gigi Says:

    Wowzers. Congrats!

  45. jackieholness Says:

    I mean…congrats, but I’m jealous…

  46. KJR Says:

    Absolutely fabulous! Bravo!

  47. OfficeSupplyGeek Says:

    I hope that is one of the Uniball 207 pens so that its fraud-proof. ;)

    Congrats! :)

  48. Shirronda Says:

    I knew you were the shiznits….I don’t know what took them other folks so long to find out. CONGRATS

  49. Timothy Says:

    Wow…I KNEW YOU WERE SOMEONE SPECIAL WHEN I READ THE FIRST BLOG!!!…thank you for sharing and yes, “No Tea for the Fever” is a great title for the book. It also sounds like a future movie title too…and im not talking one of those TP movies either!!!…oscar worthy, i’m sure!!

    I would love to hear about the important sticking points of your contract…NOT THE PRICE POINT(s)…but some of the issues that you compromised on, or didn’t compromise on…in order to keep your first born. That would be very interesting to me and others as well i’m sure. What contract advice would you give?

    Congrats again from an avid supporter and reader. PS, i’ll stock all the Barnes and Nobles in the greater ATL area for you!

  50. kendra Says:

    congrats, lady!!!

  51. Ashley Says:

    Congratulations! great news. Good luck and God bless

  52. Anonymous Says:

    YAY! Sulay is the editor of my book with P as well! We were close friends in college. Love how it all comes full circle.

  53. lchecks Says:

    oops dunno why I came up anonymous xo

  54. Marcus Reeves Says:

    Hey Aliya,

    A Huge Congratulations! You so deserve it and earned it! Take a bow, and enjoy the ride…lol.

  55. Jovi Says:

    Congrats girl. I got goose bumps of excitement while reading the blog today.

  56. Ann-Marie Nicholson Says:

    Congrats Aliya. Can’t wait to read your baby!

  57. Cuzin Erin Says:

    ** Confession ** your momma told my momma about this months ago…and of course my momma told me and Al but we was sworn to secrecy not to say anything.

    So now I can say something: CONGRATS!! And can you let a sistah hold a few dollas til payday? Just askin’..

  58. Aliya S. King Says:

    @everyone: again, I am truly humbled by your love and support. thank you so much….and @cuzin erin: oooooh, I’m a get my momma! She can’t keep no kinda secrets! =)

  59. Lashonda Says:

    Congrats!

  60. Thembi Says:

    Congratulations left and right! I must be psychic because I aas just about to ask you how to get a book published and if you could share some insight around that on your blog and voila! More journeys through the A.S.K. writing world. What youre doing is FANTASTIC!

  61. Michael Says:

    What a great entry. Congratulations. I love your work and I’m so happy you’ve accomplished a life-long goal. So inspiring. I cannot wait to purchase (and have my copy signed)! Yay.

  62. slb Says:

    hey! i was out of town when you wrote this entry, but i read it at the airport this afternoon. congrats! i’m really looking forward to purchasing a copy! :-)

  63. Aunt Janna Says:

    Nytba, I am so happy for you and proud! Writing is such a tuff enterprise. You have to be incredibly self-absorbed to think anyone would be interested in what you have to say, and humble to just put yourself out there for God and all the world to see and critique. One day I sat down and destroyed everything I had ever written. I couldn’t read it, it was like wearing my soul on the outside of my clothes! It made me want to cry and I just couldn’t stand to look at them any more.

    Keep on keeping on; dreams were made to be realized!

  64. Victoria Says:

    Congrats Roomie! You are such an incredible talent! Love you.

  65. A all day! Says:

    OMG!!!!!!!!!! WTF!!!!!!!!!!! That’s my matha f-ing!!!!!!! A!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  66. brook Says:

    yo! vif you make it a kid from detroit that’s my story too!
    b

  67. Luvvie Says:

    I have a busy week and can’t get to Google Reader and HERE is what I missed??

    This is sooooo AWESOME!!! Congratulations, Aliya!!! *does jig* :-D!

  68. Megademus Says:

    I know I’m always late with the posts, but the realness is right here. God has shown you favor. Congratulations, I’m looking forward to reading and discussing. Very curious to see how you write fiction…

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