Why would you do that to yourself? Why seek out happy couples – couples that seem happy to you at least – after a painful divorce? Not many of my friends understood. I was not the only one going through this. It seemed like one of those wave things people do at a soccer match. Or a game of dominoes. One couple after another broke up, for depressingly similar reasons – or shall I say depressingly similar looking reasons? It was so easy to fall into the trap of mindless rants: “All men are the same! They all cheat, they all lie, they all want younger women!” I’m not saying I was above that, I’m not saying it didn’t feel good once in a while, especially after a glass or two of white wine. But in my heart I did not really want to believe that. At fifty, after two failed marriages I was still a romantic at heart and an incurable one at that. I am a blue flower, a “coeur de midinette” as they say in french. Someone who stubbornly insists on believing in true love, despite all evidence to the contrary, despite all personal experience too, over and over again. But the end of my marriage had shaken those beliefs, weakened them. I pictured my inner romantic looking a little like Greta Garbo in Camille, pale and waning, reclining on a chaise longue, handkerchief pressed to forehead. I had to do something to get her back on her feet. So I took three months off and went on a trip across the United States, visiting happy couples along the way. I needed to see it with my own eyes, feel it, witness it: True love exists. In many forms. It may not look glamorous or spectacular. If there is drama, it is thrown at them, not created by them. It is based on friendship, and on respect. I realised I had raised my inner romantic all wrong, on a steady diet of french movies and Russian novels. No wonder she was so exhausted! She had to be reeducated more than revived. Every couple taught me a lesson. And eventually, their happiness did rub off on me. And I even fell in love again. Twice. With a house, and then with a friend.
Here I was, 21 years old, on a train ride from Paris to Munich where my father was dying in a huge hospital. I distracted myself by writing – the novel I had started on a dare was almost finished. I didn’t have my clunky travel typewriter with me, so I wrote by hand on the back of the last pages of the manuscript. The pages were crumpled and stained. I took it everywhere as if to prove to myself that I really was a writer.
Then it hit me. Munich was where Klaus G. Renner lived, the publisher of Walter Serner. The german dadaist who had published the irresistible “Handbook for Con-Artists“? I put my almost finished manuscript aside and started a hand-written letter. Since my admiration for Walter Serner had turned me into some sort of con artist myself, I argued, it was his, Walter servers publisher’s responsibility to publish my book too and thus make me respectable again. Otherwise my friends and everybody else I boldly told I was a writer would begin to doubt my word. And he couldn’t let that happen, or could he?
I was a weird, nerdy 21-year-old. My friends were rockers and punks but I dressed like something out of a Raymond Chandler novel – wobbling along in pencil skirts and high heels, reeking of the Sandalwood Essence that always marked the entrance of a femme fatale in those books I loved so much (It’s so cheap that I can use a lot of it, was my thinking then.)
This, of course, was before the internet and before cell phones. As the train stopped in Munich, I wasn’t crying about my father anymore. I was determined, a woman with a plan, right out of a film noir. I stumbled into a phone booth and found the address of the publisher. On the way to the hospital, I dropped my letter into his box. Since he hadn’t answered by the next day – how could he have? – I took a taxi I couldn’t afford (heels oblige) to his office and rang the doorbell.
“It’s me, Milena Moser, I wrote you a letter”, I told the intercom. It took quite a while for the door to open. Poor Man! But he let me in, offered me a cup of coffee. He even made a copy of my manuscript and gave me some useful tips: Never hand in handwritten pages. Don’t stalk potential publishers.
That was enough for me to refer to him as “my publisher” for years. Although I never heard from him again. He must have changed his name and grown a beard – I wouldn’t blame him
I wrote two more novels. I sent all three of them to every publisher listed in the yellow pages. No one thought they were publishable. Finally, my friends took pity on me and published my next three manuscripts. One of them went on to become a best-seller.And the rest, as they say, is history…
And still – today I am doing the same thing. A few months ago, the Swiss Embassy invited me to readings in Washington DC and Atlanta. “It would be much better if your last book was translated into English”, they said. And without thinking I answered, “Oh, don’t worry, it will be!”
I enlisted my friend, fellow writer Magdalena Zschokke to translate it. The English Professional Annette PonTell did a very thorough editing. Lili Tanner provided a cover photo in a matter of minutes, in the middle of an open studio. And now I have it in my hands, my first English translation, just days before the readings. This is how it should be. After all, that is how I got started, all those years ago: With a little help from my friends.