Nola began writing stories at the age of eight or nine, back then mostly stories about rescuing injured animals. As a teenager she wrote longer stories about teenage romances—no surprise there—and thought about trying to get some of them published. In her twenties she supplemented her secretarial income by writing romances for the pulp fiction market but wrote other kinds of stories and even tried her hand at a couple of serious novels.
Still working as a legal secretary at thirty, Nola wrote a story lampooning her second husband, Victor. A popular magazine published the story, and Victor’s literary effigy became the butt of many jokes locally and nationally. That didn’t improve her relationship with Vic, but she rarely saw him and little friendship existed between them. She’d used another name for the character and changed enough details that only their friends knew his real identity.
The success of the story improved Nola’s standing with agents and editors and increased her writing income. She managed to place one of her novels with an agent, who sold it to a respected publisher. Sales disappointed both Nola and the publisher, so she left her other novel in the drawer for the time being. She revisited the manuscript from time to time, making small changes—improvements, she hoped—and, even after a decade, still finding occasional mistakes. She wrote a few romances for the money and a few short stories for the practice and continued earning the bulk of her living as a legal secretary.
Nearing forty, Nola began querying agents about her second novel—actually her first, because she had written the one already published after the unpublished one. After several rejections, she decided she would have a much better chance of selling her novel if she attended some writers’ conferences. One of the disadvantages of life in a small and remote island nation, however, is that any such pursuit required overseas travel involving long, uncomfortable flights and considerable expense.
As she debated the wisdom of investing in such a trip, Nola began thinking about the tyranny of distance and then about other drawbacks to life in her native land. In an idle moment, she began making a list...the Tall Poppy Syndrome, the high cost of dental treatment, the high cost of books, the high cost of Internet service, … the high cost of almost everything, come to that—hardly surprising in a country with a smaller population than more than fifty individual cities around the world—and don’t get me started on sandflies.
The list seemed to take on a life of its own...the tiny market for art and literature and the woefully meagre selection of live music styles—“Do you prefer pop, rap, or heavy metal?” “Swing? Isn't that something kids play on at a playground?” “No, I don't know anything about blue grass. A friend of mine brought some amazing purple stuff back from Mexico, though.” … the absurd posturing of junior colleges attempting to re-brand themselves as universities … the equally absurd pretensions of denizens of the country’s largest city, as if they were somehow superior to those dwelling in what the urbanites called “the provinces”. New entries for her list occured to Nola daily.
What about … the absence of street signs … arterial streets that change their names three or four times between one end and the other, … the embarrassing leader of the party in government, and the rest of his party for that matter, … the extremely limited job market and career options—again, what one would expect in a country smaller than four or five dozen individual cities … the way the whole country shut down for two or three weeks or more at the end of every year …
Nola didn't even want to think about Shore Boys, the poor quality of most houses, the leader of the opposition party, ... bare bulbs—why do most houses have bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling instead of pretty ceiling fixtures? … non-mixing taps—why was Nola the only person she knew who had hired a plumber to install a mixing tap for her bathroom basin? Among several dozen friends, she didn't know three who could wash their hands in warm water instead of either cold or scalding. “My grandfather didn't need a mixing tap, so why would I?” Every time Nola sat down, she seemed to think of more items to add to her growing list.
Nola loved her compatriots, loved her country, loved living there, considered it the best place on Earth to live. For her, the list was almost a joke, an outlet maybe, not a condemnation. It was more like a list of a loved one’s endearing foibles than an indictment, something she and her fellow citizens could chuckle over together. That last thought gave Nola an idea: maybe she could work her list up into a saleable magazine article, share it with her compatriots and at the same time maybe make enough money to buy an airplane ticket to a writers’ conference. A new project was born.
Humor had never distinguished Nola’s prose. She possessed a good sense of humor—people remarked on it in conversation—but she’d never incorporated it into her writing. Until now. Nola began writing humorous notes next to each item on her list, even as that list continued to grow. After two weeks, she typed the list and all her comments into a document on her computer, because she’d run out of room for notes in the margins of her paper. After two months, she began writing the actual article; after four months, she realized her article contained over thirty thousand words and continued to grow. This was not an article, this was a book—but would anybody buy it. That didn’t matter—the project carried her forward as much as she carried it. Using a gentle and often self-deprecating humor, Nola skewered her compatriots’ foibles and pretensions.
Eight months of steady work left Nola with a completed first draft. After fine tuning a sample chapter and a table of contents, she put the manuscript aside and concentrated for a month on querying agents. Two agents expressed interest in looking at the manuscript even before she went back to edit it. Two more expressed interest in the course of the two months she spent editing. A year after beginning the writing, Nola had a polished sixty-six thousand word manuscript and three offers of representation.
For nearly two decades, Nola had despaired of getting even one agent interested in her work. Now, she face a new problem: deciding which agent to entrust with her non-fiction debut. She asked writers she knew, haunted writers’ Internet forum sites, looked up sales statistics for the three agents, even asked her boss. In the end, Nola made the straightforward commercial decision and went with the agency that sold the most non-fiction to the major publishing houses.
Nola’s new agent was a canny woman, who began her campaign with three specific editors in mind. She managed to get all three interested in the manuscript and to develop their interest into a bidding war. Her efforts paid off with a six-figure advance and front-of-the-catalogue marketing for Nola’s book. The winning editor’s bosses weren’t disappointed: Nola’s tongue-in-cheek dig at her compatriots became flavor-of-the-month and sat at the top of the bestseller lists for three full months and in the top ten for most of a year.
Perhaps fueled by a U.S. election that made many people think about emigrating, Nola’s first non-fiction work became the most popular book of the year throughout the English-speaking world and made the publishing house and Nola a good deal of money. The book didn’t achieve the same popularity at home, but Nola nevertheless became the best known writer in her country. So successful was her book, the taxes on her royalties helped lift the government’s budget out of deficit. Despite the seemingly negative slant, the government department that deals with tourism calculated that her book alone increased visitor numbers by almost ten per cent.
Unfortunately, most of her compatriots didn’t seem to take her writing in the spirit with which it was intended. Many people failed to understand that Nola wrote the book as affectionate badinage toward a land and culture she cherished, a people she loved. She didn’t receive death threats or get spat on in the street, but neither was she praised in the press or other public forums. Store clerks, gas station attendants, supermarket checkout operators recognized Nola but rarely seemed enthusiastic. Such people seemed to be nice to Nola because they felt obliged to rather than from genuine friendly feelings. Her income might be keeping the country afloat financially, but she was not popular.
Fortunately, not all of Nola’s friends abandoned her—indeed, almost none of them did. A few teased her but most accepted her book in the way she intended it. Nola didn’t much like the image she seemed to have in the public eye, but her increased income helped assuage her discomfort. Making Nola feel even better, her agent also sold the languishing novel to Penguin Random House for six figures on the strength of Nola's name recognition.
The novel sold well, as did a third, enabling Nola to leave her job and make a better, if less secure, living as a full-time writer. Nola didn't like that some of her countrymen looked down on her, but she could live with that.
Educated as a scientist and graduated as a mathematician, Cora Tate has been a full-time professional entertainer most of her life, including a stint as a regular performer on the prestigious Grand Ole Opry. Cora’s repeated attempts to escape the entertainment industry have brought work as a librarian, physics teacher, syndicated newspaper columnist, and city (land use) planner, among other occupations. Cora lives, writes, and continues to improve her dzonkha vocabulary and pronunciation in Bhutan but visits the US and Europe to perform and thereby to recharge her bank account. Cora has written four novels, three novellas, three novelettes (two published), and forty-some short stories, of which nearly thirty have been published in six countries. Her work has appeared in the Galway Review, Indiana Voice Journal, Red Fez, Veronica, Scarlet Leaf Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, and more than thirty other literary journals. Her short story “While The Iron Is Hot” won the 2019 Fair Australia Prize.