The Author Who Went AWOL

Dear writers and proofreaders who happen to read this:

I’ve got a strange story to tell, and wouldn’t mind some advice. Apologies in advance if this comes across a bit rant-y – I’ll try to keep it to a minimum and stick to the essentials.

So. In March 2011 (some of you might have read this), a woman I knew from university – and with whom I keep sporadic contact – contacted me out of the blue, asking if I could proofread her thesis. Which I did.

A few weeks later (in April), when we met in person (she wanted to thank me), she asked if I would help her out by proofreading a manuscript for her first novel.  She was going to self-publish, and was looking into particulars like cover art and even an ISDN number.

To me, she seemed excited. Heck, I was a little excited for her.

As someone with my own interest in literary fiction, I thought it might be a good exercise to try. So, I took a week to decide and told her I’d do it.

We discussed details such as a payment rate (which she asked me about), and what precisely she needed me to do (read for grammatical and structural mistakes, not for tone or character profile).

I didn’t actually receive the manuscript until roughly one year later – in late April, 2012. She asked me to wait for her to re-read and revise it until she felt she had a decent-enough version ready for proofreading.

Due to my own busy schedule, I didn’t start my part of it until late May, and completed proofreading at the end of July.

In all honesty … her book wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. But I absolutely commend her for writing this while working and going to school.

After letting her know I was done, we exchanged a few e-mails about meeting to discuss her work, before I went away on vacation in September. The meeting never happened, as our schedules just didn’t seem to align.

When I returned from vacation, I sent a message to her (in early October 2012) to see if she wanted to meet. She had family obligations and three papers to write for school, so she suggested after Thanksgiving. Post-holiday, she reached out to me, and this time, it was I who had prior engagements I couldn’t re-schedule.

I contacted her a couple of days later. She was working on another paper, and proposed perhaps meeting the following week.

I didn’t hear from her for six weeks.

I didn’t press the matter, as I figured she had schoolwork to complete. So I e-mailed in November with my phone number. I believe I also tried phoning her a couple of times.

Then I sent her another message in February 2013, with my schedule, to give her options for meeting up.

Then again in April.

And once more – with feeling – at the beginning of August.

Three days later, she responded.

She said she was moving soon (she promised to send her new address) and that her e-mail address had been infected with a virus. She added she did use Facebook to keep in touch for certain people, and finally apologized if I had been trying to reach her.

So I wrote her back and included both my snail-mail and e-mail addresses.

That has been the last time I’ve heard from her. No address has emerged. No new e-mail address has surfaced.

I sent her one Facebook message apiece in October and November.

This past Wednesday, I was checking Facebook and noticed she was online. (She’d commented on a friend’s Facebook status.) So I simply sent her a couple lines, wishing her well, to see if she would write back.

She hasn’t.

Meanwhile, her manuscript – the one I received in April 2012 and completed proofreading in July of that year – is sitting on one of my end tables, collecting dust.

I completely understand that trying to write while navigating life’s responsibilities – work, school, family – isn’t easy. For first-time authors, it can take years to get that labour of love in the hands of a publisher, and into print. I know colleagues and friends who have gone through this, or are going through this right now.

But … and perhaps this is a dumb thought … wouldn’t someone who’s talked of all these plans of being a published author (by whatever means), want his or her work back so he or she can get it published?

I’ve wondered whether it’s about the money and she’s trying to figure out how not to pay me. But judging from her Facebook profile (which, again, could be portraying a false sense of reality), she’s not in the poorhouse. And it’s odd that someone who offered to pay me for this task would then want not to hold up her end of the bargain, or negotiate if she somehow found the rate too high.

I’ve pondered whether – despite telling me she was prepared for whatever criticism I had for her work – she actually doesn’t want to hear what I have to say.

It could very well be that she’s very busy. But I don’t buy that, either. If she’s the type of highly effective human being who can write book manuscripts (she’s got more than one, apparently) while working, going to school and being present for social events – even travelling! Again, Facebook has shown me this – surely she can reach me if she wants.

Of course, I could reading waaaaay too much into this. But I find it bizarre.

Despite our agreement (which is in writing) this isn’t about the money. Yes, she should honour the agreement. But I work full-time, so I can pay my bills. And I simply saw this as a fun favour. So I’m willing to cut my losses.

I just want this manuscript out of my apartment, and returned to its rightful owner – especially since I’m moving in less than two months.

A while ago, I mentioned this woman’s radio silence to a friend, who suggested that I just stop e-mailing.

Which would be fine. But there remains the unresolved issue of being in possession of a piece of work that doesn’t belong to me.

Part of me thinks about how much time this probably took to do and that I should perhaps wait a bit longer.

But another part of me wants to send her a note with a deadline, and if she doesn’t claim it, dump the manuscript in the recycling bin.

Has this ever happened to you? What did you do about it?

Or, is there another solution I’m not seeing?