Blurry Morning

June 6th, 2011 § Comments Off on Blurry Morning § permalink

Who filled my house with a swimming pool? At least, that’s what I assumed happened. Because I feel like I’m trying to walk through water. Slow. Sluggish. Not moving very fast. Time is crawling. My revision doesn’t seem to be revising itself.

Those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook already know that my weekend in NYC was, um, shall we say eventful? I’m not sure how much of it is interesting to all of you, but I’ll tell you anyway, breaking it up into multiple posts, as I do need to be revising!

Thursday morning was freakin’ jam packed. Woke up extra early so I could cram everything in: I wrote the school newsletter, ran 6 miles, volunteered at the before-school PE program, showered, volunteered for an hour in kindergarten, packed, and still showed up at South Station an hour early for the Acela (why an hour? I have no idea what I was thinking except that I wanted time to buy food). Train ride was uneventful—napped, worked, read. Fast ride—train was only 15 minutes late.

Walked to my folks’ apartment, and did the first thing one must do in New York: Meet the Tweedle Twirp for a pedi and a cosmo. After we had a French dinner outside with my parents and the Tweedle Twirp’s boyfriend/partner/other half (we had discussions about what to call the Tweedle Twirp’s legally-recognized domestic partner of 18 years, and I don’t think we ever came up with a satisfactory title, so I guess we’ll stick with Tweedle Twin) that was delicious even if we did have to keep picking leaves out of our wine. I had requested we go anywhere that was not kid friendly and the place fulfilled! (No chicken fingers on the menu and tight quarters.)

Went to bed fairly early and woke up at my normal 5 a.m. on Friday. Had a lovely run on the Hudson River Park and the High Line Park. Got dressed and walked on down to…

my agent’s office! The office is on the top floor of a small building in the West Village, and I’m kicking myself for not sneaking a picture or two, but—as you can guess—I was so excited (and, yes, a little nervous) about meeting Laney that thoughts like “pictures” weren’t in the forefront of my mind.

The office was exactly what I imagined an agent’s office to look like—it was pretty old school. Desks in nooks and crannies and books everywhere. It’s a small office, but it looked like the kind of place you’d want to just pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and talk books. It was 9 a.m. so not many folks were in yet. Laney and I headed downstairs for coffee.

Talking with her was both reassuring and a little scary. First, having a face to put on e-mail is fabulous. Second, I genuinely liked her as a person. The scary part was when we talked about the state of the publishing world—it’s tough out there and having an agent is no guarantee of a sell, so she’s really working hard to “bullet-proof” my manuscript. I was reassured when she told me she keeps her list small and she only takes on projects she truly loves. But it’s daunting to hear how much work this is going to take!

We talked about ourselves a bit; the only awkward moment was when it came out that my family is serious about the Red Sox. As a native New Yorker, she’s definitely in the Yankee camp, but I think it’s something we can move beyond.

This may be of interest for those of you who are writers in the querying process: I mentioned to Laney that I had tweeted another agent’s blog post and that the other agent had looked at my profile and commented that she really loves Laney. Laney had high raves for this other agent and she said that every now and then (not too often I gathered), if she got a query for a project that she thought had merit but wasn’t in a genre she reps, she’d pass it on to the other agent. Nice to know there’s some camaraderie out there!

Finally, I asked her about my name. Seriously. I have great angst about how common my name is (my father prefers to call my name “popular,” but really, let’s call it as it is: common). So the question is: What name do I publish under? When I first started publishing in literary journals, I went with initials: J. S. Brown (I was a huge fan of A. M. Homes at the time, which most likely influenced me). But given that it’s women’s fiction I’m writing, it makes more sense to have a more identifiably female name. Jenny Brown is so common, although I do generally come up in the top 3 in a Google search. But the domain for that is owned by someone who sells “cheap homes.” I do own the domain www.jennifersbrown.com, which I’ve used basically as a placeholder. As much as I detest “Jennifer,” it looks like that might make the most sense. And it’ll weed out those I know from those I don’t (e-mails and phone calls to “Jennifer” always mean you have no idea who I am).

Okay, that takes us up to 10 a.m. on Friday morning. And with that, I’m going to go revise. More later. If I can make my way out of this swimming pool daze, that is.

Writing Life

May 26th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Insomnia sucks. I have my rewrite dancing in my head and it won’t go away, so I’ve decided to just get up and obey the force that says, “Work on it already, damn it!” Which would be fine if I weren’t working on it every day as it is. My agent marked it up all nice and pretty with lots of red marks and comments, which wouldn’t bug me so much if she weren’t so right. Reading her comments all I can do is scratch my head and think, “Duh! Why didn’t that occur to me!” Reason number one why an agent is so valuable.

Another blogger, Writer Unboxed, wrote a piece on living the life of a professional writer. She writes that she thought writing would be “me quietly pursuing my stories under cloudy skies. There would be a cat on the windowsill, a dog by the fire.” And it brings me right back to my own memories of what I thought my writing life would be. I pictured a three room house in a Key West–type location. The kitchen is charming, in a colorful, Caribbean-kind of way. Next to it, the bedroom room is small and cozy. And running the length of the two rooms is a long living room, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, French doors that open to a stone patio, my desk with a non-Internet-connected (although Internet didn’t exist when I originally created this fantasy) computer. No TV lives in this house. Just a radio for connection to the outside world. With the doors open, the indoors and the outdoors were seamless, and sometimes I’d sit on the patio table to write and other times I’d write surrounded by my books, only a cat for company. If I need something—say more wine or cheese or chocolate—I’d hop on my bike and get it. But otherwise, it’s a very solitary existence of which I dreamed.

Let’s contrast this with the reality: At the moment, my computer is perched on my lap while the rest of the family sleeps upstairs. This is as good as it gets. Normally I’m hunched on the kitchen counter or hiding in my office, trying to cram in quality sessions in between having to write the school newsletter, get into the kindergarten to volunteer, bake cupcakes for the Cub Scout barbecue, write an op-ed for our local override, or any of the other million things that have to be done in the six hours the children are in school. When they are home, there’s “What are you doing? What are all those marks on that writing? Can you get me a snack? Can you get my Shrinky Dinks down? Will you play Go Fish with me?” There is nothing romantic about this writing life, although I do have almost floor-to-ceiling book shelves in my family room.

But at least I’m writing. That part of the fantasy remains true. And to be honest, that’s all of the fantasy I really need. The rest is, well, just a fantasy. And it’s not even what I want anymore. Now I want, “What are you doing? What are all those marks on that writing? Can you get me a snack…?” The writing life needs a few challenges in it to keep it interesting, no?

And now, the fantasy is merely that I continue to write. So on that note, it’s back to the revision before the rest of the world wakes up….

A Writer’s World

May 16th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

One thing about being a writer is that when you’re not actively in a project, you feel unmoored. I had been feeling this way since I turned in the revision of my novel to my agent. Sure, I got a lot done. I co-chaired Teacher Appreciation Week with Beetle. I’ve been writing for our town’s overide, the Yes for Arlington campaign. I organized the spatula drawer in the kitchen. It’s a great spatula drawer now, by the way: quite pretty and crumb-free.

But none of these were a worthy substitute for the high you get when you’re lost in writing. I actually thought, “That’s it. I have nothing left to say. Maybe I’m a one-book author.” (Which the other three novels in my bottom desk drawer would belie; the novels I wrote but deemed not worthy of being released into the world.)

But then, one thing led to another. I re-discovered the album Red, Hot + Blue on iTunes, which put me in a Cole Porter state of mind. I began playing around with Ancestory.com, which put me in a historical state of mind. And on my runs, I let my mind go into free fall, refusing to make my to-do lists or sort out the day’s calendar while I ran.

And it happened. I got an idea. I got an idea I really liked. I don’t believe in talking about story ideas before the book is complete, but I will say that it’s a historical novel (taking place in the 1930s—if anyone has any good research materials on this period in New York/New Jersey, let me know!). As fate would have it, I was looking at the Grub Street web site and they were offering a class called Encountering the Past: How to Research and Write Your Historical Novel. Fate, no? With Adam’s blessing (blessing required because the class was for a full 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both a Saturday and a Sunday), I signed up for the class.

That’s it, right? Now my head is spinning. I’m starting my research. I’m becoming immersed in 1930s New York. I’m finding books at the library, buying issues of magazines from the 1930s, finding people to interview. I’m taking a class that’s helping me expand my research ideas. I’m so in the mindset…

Until. Always an until. Until I get an e-mail from my agent: “While I’ve got your manuscript, maybe you want to start on the other components that I’ll want from you… I’ll want a brief synopsis, about the author, reading group guide, marketing/publicity and comparable titles.”

Nothing like a dash of cold water to jolt you from your writing reverie. Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited to be working on this. I’m a writer! This is real stuff! But the thing about noveling is you immerse yourself so completely in the world that sometimes you look up and are surprised to find your real life around you. My novel (which is titled, at the moment, Continuity, but that’s subject to change) takes place in the world of Orthodox Jews. To write the novel, I read books, both fiction and nonfiction, newspapers, blogs, articles. It also has a strong film element. So I watched movies. Like crazy! I scoured IMDb for movie tidbits. It’s about adoption. I read adoption blogs, researched how adoption works, how it affects children and parents. I listened to the music my characters would listen to. I tried to think as they would think. I was completely in that world. And now I’m in another. But I need to take a vacation from the 1930s and head back to Yiddishkeit.

I’m not sure how this will work, jumping from world to world. How do other writers manage this? And readers’ guides? Marketing plans? My palms are getting sweaty just thinking about it!

If I seem a little scattered the next time you see me, just give me a moment to catch my bearings, figure out if I’m in an Orthodox shul, a 1935 Newark apartment, or 2011 Arlington. And if I look truly befuddled, just hand me a martini and back away slowly.

What Writers Do

April 5th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

I’m revising my novel right now. Can’t you tell? This is me revising. La di da di da.

Okay, I’m not exactly revising. I’m blogging. But for the time being, blogging will have to halt as I really need to revise, now that I’ve gotten the feedback from my readers on my revision.

Is it really only 11:28? Gads. I’m finding this whole Fit Kids thing throws off my day, because it means I go running at 6:15 and then get to school at 7:15, so by the time I’m done, it feels like morning should be well underway rather than the school day just starting.

Am I digressing? I do that when I’m revising. I digress. I put soccer games in the calendar. I make appointments. I’m very productive when I revise. Well, except for the revising part.

Did someone mention gummy bears? No. Hmmm, then why am I suddenly thinking of them? I’m pretty sure I hear some calling my name from the kitchen. Hold on…

…Okay, I’m back. Very, very hard to revise without gummy bears. Perhaps, some might say, impossible!

I went into the kindergartens last week as a community helper. As a writer. I was told to bring my tools of the trade. But the coffeemaker wouldn’t fit in my bag, I will NOT share my gummy bears, and Adam put the kibosh on the martini shaker, so I was somewhat hampered. I ended up bringing in old writing clips as well as the tape of my interview with Harrison Ford. The kids were somewhat impressed by Indiana Jones. The teacher’s assistant was very impressed by Harrison Ford. I skipped the part where he got all snippy with me.

Things I told the kindergartners: I’ve worked as an editor. A copyeditor. I’ve gotten to go to the movies during the work day. I’ve written well over 100 book and movie reviews. I’ve interviewed celebrities.

What impressed the kindergartners: Sometimes I work in my pajamas.

What I learned from the kindergartners: Lots of them have pets. Some real. Some stuffed.

Okay, I’m going to go revise. Right after another handful of gummy bears…

Kvetching

February 18th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

I hate revising. I mean I really, really hate revising. Well, except when I love it. When I love it, revising is wonderful. But today I hate it. Today I feel lost in the morass of words that make up my novel. My novel is now about 6,000 words longer than it was. But are they good words? Are they words that further my plot, enhance the mood, create tension? Or are they just 6,000 more words?

To relieve the stress, I should go for a run. But, really, why? Because complaint number two is that my shot at Boston is gone. Okay, realistically, it was gone a long time ago, but I still had these dreams. My marathon PR is 4:13:46. I’m 42 1/2. At 45, the qualifying time for a woman is 4:00. Before I hurt my foot, that felt doable. Post-foot problems, I still thought I’d get my mojo back and succeed.

Not anymore. Oh, I still think I could make 4:00 by the time I’m 45. But 4:00 is no longer a Boston qualifier (BQ). Because the BAA deemed that too slow. Apparently, just anyone can run fast and the race sold out too quickly last year. So they made the times faster. And created a rolling admission. So even if, by some miracle, I could run the 3:55 that is now the BQ for 45 year olds (which I can’t), they’re going to let those who run it faster in earlier. Those who beat their required BQ time by 20 minutes or more or going to be allowed to enter the race on September 12. Those who beat it by 10 minutes, can enter on September 14. On September 16, those who have beaten it by 5 minutes get to register. On September 19, all those plebeians who just made the BQ are allowed to register. If there’s still room.

Complaint number three? My boy is sitting here and won’t get his finger out of his belly button. He is going to be in braces the rest of his life because he won’t get his finger out of his mouth, either. Seriously. That kid is not going to ever get a date for the senior prom at this rate. Because you can’t dance with one finger in your mouth and the other in your belly button. [He’s reading over my shoulder and says, “I don’t care! I hate the senior prom! Whatever that is.” Maybe I’ll remind him that there are no great rock and roll singers who suck their fingers. At least not in public.]

But it all leads back to complaint number one. I hate revising. Really really hate revising. Maybe I should start sucking my finger. Apparently it makes everything bad go away.

Snow News Is (Not) Good News

January 31st, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

I know everyone is tired of hearing about the snow. I was briefly enchanted when I heard the snow was being carted off to snow farms–I imagined a red barn and perhaps a petting snow area, tiny snow animals frolicking (because any snow farm I’m imagining is cage-free)–until I learned that snow farms are merely huge lots where they dump the snow. Not so very exciting, is it? And, according to Boston.com, we’re expecting up to 21 inches more. 21. That’s right. On top of all the other snow we’ve got (I assume that everyone has already seen the Shaq/snow comparison?).

Wednesday is pretty much guaranteed to be a snow day. There’s been speculation around the schools that tomorrow could be an early release day or even no school. And if it doesn’t stop early enough on Wednesday, we could have a snow day on Thursday. Without these snow days, school is already in session until June 24. Legally, they can only go till June 27, which is just one snow day away. I don’t know what happens after that. And, more importantly, I’m not sure how I’ll keep my children alive one more snow day. I’ve run out of activities. Scratch that. I haven’t run out of activities. I’ve run out of the will to supervise such activities. And it couldn’t come at a worse time because my agent gave me a ton of suggestions for my novel and I’m supposed to be working on a rewrite. So shoveling snow is not at the top of my priority list, nor is making snow forts, snow shoeing, throwing snowballs, or even making hot chocolate.

Hey, did you see what I did there? How cleverly I snuck in the “my agent” part? You probably didn’t even notice. So I’ll tell you again, a little louder this time: HEY, EVERYONE! I GOT AN AGENT!

That okay? Not too subtle?

For all of you people out there who do not toil in the world of publishing, I will tell you that this is A Big Deal. I know a lot of folks think, “Hey, you write a novel. You give it to a publisher. They publish it.” But unfortunately, it’s not so easy. First you write your book. That’s pretty much the only given here. You write and you write and you write some more. **Then you submit it to your friends, your neighbors, your family, to anyone who will read it and give you feedback. Then you rewrite. And rewrite some more. **Repeat from here as many times as needed, generally at least two times, but it can go on for seven or eight times.

And now you have your novel. But the thing is, so do, oh 30 zillion other people out there. So publishers won’t look at anything you send directly. Once upon a time they did. And people still try. Manuscripts sent blindly go into what is called the slush pile. And once every blue moon, some editorial assistant might go through it. I know. I was once an editorial assistant. Slush was always the last priority. But, as I said, most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. (From the Random House web site: “Like most big publishers, Random House only accepts manuscripts submitted by an agent–the volume of materials we receive is just too large to accept unsolicited submissions.”)

So you need an agent. Ah, the agent. The agent is, in a sense, the gatekeeper. Instead of publishers being flooded with manuscripts, agents are. According to former agent Nathan Bransford, “Most agents receive between 5,000 and 20,000 or more submissions a year.” Writers create a query letter–no easy feat, summing up your years’ of work and hundreds of pages into a single, one-page description that includes any credentials you might have. Then you send them out to agents you’ve researched (are they accepting submissions? is your book similar to something they’ve already done? do they represent the type of books that you write? You don’t want to send a sci-fi manuscript, for instance, to someone who only represents romance). The query letter is as important–maybe more so–than your novel itself. Then you wait. And wait. If they like your query, then they ask you for a partial, which is about 50 to 100 pages of your manuscript. And then if they like your partial, they’ll request a full manuscript (some agents just simply start by requesting a full; my agent requested the partial first).

And then, I got what is referred to as The Call. I actually thought I was being called to be told I was *this close.* Occasionally, an agent will call to give you suggestions and ask you to resubmit to them in the future. This agent who called me had tons of critiques for me. Really good suggestions. My fingers were itching to get started as she was talking. And then I waited for the kind let-down. But it didn’t come! Instead I got an offer of representation! Whoo hooo!

So now, it’s back to work. I have revisions to do! Lots and lots of excellent revisions. Once I’ve revised and submitted again to my readers and then revised a little more, I’ll send it back to my agent. At which point the process, basically, starts all over again, but with my agent doing the submitting. She’ll send it to editors she thinks will like the work and she’ll try to sell it to them. By no means is this a fast process. And there’s no guarantee the agent can sell your book. But the process is started and that’s all I needed for now. Not only that, but having an agent justifies the hours I spend writing. Today I spent a couple of hours in my “office” (my office being the cubicle in the back of the third floor of the library, where I’m not distracted by the crumbs on the floor nor by the siren call of the refrigerator), doing revisions. I am legit!

And I can’t wait to finish my revisions. You know. When the snow stops. In July.

(Did I mention I have an agent?)

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