Want to hear about my big American boob dream?
Yesterday, a handwritten note from my breast cancer surgeon at Cedars Sinai Hospital arrived in the mail. This renowned doctor was thanking me for an advanced copy of A Boobs’ Life. I burst into tears. The whole freaking book is a thank-you note to him! Only two of nineteen chapters reference the disease, but without Dr. G, I would not be alive to write them.
Today I get to share A Boob’s Life – complete with 16 pages of color photos, 18 pages of fun facts and 8 pages of footnotes – with the world. The journey to get here has been rocky. You’d think a book about boobs would be a sure thing, right?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d ever write another book. After those lifesaving surgeries, I had chemotherapy to prevent reoccurrence. My analytic skills returned quickly, so I got back to work helping other writers. But Chemo Brain lingered, fogging the creative side of my brain through radiation and immunotherapy, years of hormone-blocking meds. A specialist at UCLA said I was like a professional athlete complaining about a muscle that didn’t fully recover. I counted my blessings and waited for inspiration.
After my NYT Modern Love essay, I swore off writing about cancer. I never kept a journal or allowed photos of my bald head. I didn’t want cancer to define me. More than that, I wanted to forget.
But one night in 2016, I got out of the shower, became furious that my boobs didn’t match, and my husband accused me – a proud feminist – of being obsessed. I had to defend myself!
It wasn’t easy. I started by studying my old scrapbooks. Then I made a list of every topic that related to breasts: boob envy and boob jobs and teenagers and Victoria Secret and Playboy and breastfeeding and fashion and laws and health. I did a ton of research, from newspapers to magazines, to music and movies. And I saw a pattern that emerged just around the time I was born. Sounds crazy, but I was the ideal person to tell this story.
I pitched it to my agent, but she was leaving to represent celebrities at a bigger agency. I found a fabulous new agent, Lisa Leshne, who loved it. But big commercial publishers weren’t interested in a memoir by a novelist. Boutique publishers felt the topic was too racy. A few months later, we had a First Lady whose bare bosom could be ogled by anyone with an internet connection. Boobs had gone from racy to no big deal.
How could no one be interested in exploring the first thing a man sees when a woman enters a room – over the course of her entire life? To compare a woman’s personal and emotional experience in relation to the wider lens of our nation? We can’t change biology, but isn’t it important to understand how the way we react to it can change how we live?
I revised the proposal again. Every six months, my agent submitted it to another round of publishers. (Note: The publishing world is actually very small. A few large corporations control the majority of imprints. Editors move around a lot. And you can only submit to one editor at each place before it’s old news.)
When my agent said she’d never had a project get so many rejections, I was ready to give up. I confided in my husband. I confided in my therapist. I even confided in my mother, who hadn’t read it yet. Finally, I wrote the whole damn book.
I kept updating the footnotes and fact pages; I even toyed with changing the title. I combined two chapters and added a new one. I addressed #metoo and #timesup and added material as my daughters faced challenges that echoed mine. Finally, I researched independent publishers. I took on extra clients and worked nights and weekends to finance publishing it myself. There are many ways to publish today. And I couldn’t give up on this book.
At the start of 2020, my agent submitted it to a publisher that wouldn’t seem an obvious fit, a prestigious literary publisher with an excellent track record and wide distribution. In February, the editor at Pegasus Books called with an offer. Not only that, but they agreed to delay printing until after the Presidential election so I could revise the last chapter and stay current. Release was set for International Women’s Month, 2021.
Then the lockdown began.
Amid the other challenges of a pandemic, the end of publishing as we knew it seemed minor. Offices closed, book tours were cancelled, bookstores went bankrupt, and limited staff and social distancing delayed printing, warehousing, and distribution. After a few rounds of copyedits, my editor left for personal reasons. Her boss, the Deputy Publisher, stepped in. She took on editorial, sales, and promotion for my book as well as others, all while working at home and caring for two young children. (Because boobs.)
So today, all the years of research and writing and revisions and all the help that so many people provided to make my idea of a book about boobs come true… makes it impossible to finish typing this sentence without crying. A Boob’s Life is here in my hand, a gorgeous hardback with vintage Americana art on the cover. Audio rights sold, NPR called, and Salma Hayek is making it into a TV comedy series for HBOMax.
Am I bitter about the long journey? Hell no. Success is the best revenge. I’m grateful to be alive and to share my story.
This book proves that boobs are important. And that dreams can come true!