Recently, a thread in an online writer’s community popped up, beginning with someone (who hadn’t begun querying) asking why folks sent query letters to so many agents.
Did they have that many “dream agents?
Why not send to just one or two top choices?
And, really, how long does it take?
Answers flew in—achingly honest and reminiscent of everyone’s distant and not-at-all-distant (often painful) publishing journeys. I thought back to how long it took me.
The answer? You got some time?
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln
Selling–the worst part of writing. Writing a book takes a certain set of skills: intense concentration, imagination, the ability to read the same 400 pages time after time, and the fortitude to take criticism (excuse me, ahem, critique) without weeping. You must learn to shut out all noise at a given moment and you must love solitude.
“The library was a little old shabby place. Francie thought it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church.” A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.
Some books etch themselves on your soul. I don’t remember how old I was when I first read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Perhaps eleven? (Francie’s age when the book begins.) How many times did I read it after that? Ten? Twenty? Enough so that every scene, every character indelibly marked me.
Before there was the movie, and the other movie, there was, The Book.
I liked the first movie.
I loved the second movie. Denzel Washington. John Travolta. Luis Guzman. What’s not to like?
But the book, ah, I loved the book.
“Steever stood on the southbound local platform of the Lexington Avenue line at Fifty-ninth Street and chewed his gum with a gentle motion of his heavy jaws, like a soft-mouthed retriever schooled to hold game firmly but without bruising it.”
Being invisible is pretty hard for a kid. Crummy childhoods take many forms and usually it’s an amalgam of yuck. Smacks and screams thankfully have a time limit, but neglect is the evil gift that never stops.
Even the most benign neglect—like being a latchkey kid—can foster loneliness.
When trouble fills a family, kids are pushed to the background. I lived in a land of my own imagining, where I believed my real parents, President Kennedy and Jackie, had left me to fend for myself, testing a ‘cream will rise to the top’ theory. Meanwhile my beleaguered sister, by nine, was trying her sullen best to cook me supper.
I never met a book by Ruth Reichl I haven’t loved, and my adoration continued with this book. Where others were hearty meals, Not Becoming My Mother (retitled for the paperback as For You Mom, Finally) was a deceptively simple snack. (I’m certain that Ms. Reichl, editor of Gourmet Magazine, would find a more elegant food analogy, but I, alas, am but a quick and dirty cook, though one who loves reading the work of educated ones—like Ruth Reichl)
Two years ago ago, at an event at the incredibly wonderful Reading Public Library (in Reading Massachusetts) one of the librarians bought my second novel book, The Comfort of Lies, for her mother. For Mother’s Day. Using a large amount of not-usually-available-to-me control, I didn’t say any of the following:
“Nothing says Happy Mother’s Day like a cheating, anger, and hating-being-a-mother book!”
In fact, that’s true. Who the heck wants to get Little Women on Mother’s Day? Not me. Does anyone want to psychically compete with Marmee?
No. I. Don’t.
I want to be feted with a pile of books that say:
Years later (no more experienced) with my debut book launch looming, I had to do better. Pre-publication months were spent attending bookstore events with a notebook (and money*) in hand.
Many of the ‘rules’ below I learned from either the awful readings I attended or the great ones. My first lessons in how-to-not-bore-people-to-death came from listening to and watching Boston (and Grub Street) authors Steve Almond (enormously funny, edgy, and self-deprecating) and Jenna Blum (extraordinarily entertaining, honest, and generous.) Learning by watching was invaluable.
(first published in 2011)
Originally, I tried to resist writing this—especially after my plea against categorizing authors. Plus, so many of us hide our age in this world of never-get-old, unearthing this information, even in our Googlized world, was difficult.
But when , along with the plethora of lists of writers under 40, I was faced with the declaration that, as headlined in a Guardian UK article about writers, ‘Let’s Face It, After 40 You’re Past It.”