Category Archives: poles apart

Frieda cooks

In my novel, Poles Apart, Frieda cooks. A lot. Now this is in no way surprising because Frieda is Jewish and Jewish women cook. It’s required – in the DNA or something. And Jewish women are good cooks. Very good cooks. I’ve never actually heard of a bad Jewish cook. Oh, you hear of the occasional badly made dish… For example, I had an aunt whose matzo balls were so hard I heard they were licensed by the American League for  world series play. But I digress.

So Frieda cooks because her family needs to eat. But that’s just the beginning of why Frieda cooks. Frieda loves to cook and she knows that the mere mention of her cooking sets the mouths of those who know her to watering. She’s that good. People don’t even need to catch a whiff of the aroma. She loves that. But she also cooks because there is no Jewish culture without food. Food is used in religious ritual but it’s more than that. It’s about coming together around the table. No matter what else is happening in life, in the community or in the world, everyone has to eat and you might as well make it a celebration.

But my favorite reason that Frieda cooks is because Frieda loves. Deeply and completely. No matter what she’s up to, matchmaking, meddling in her family’s lives, or creating a feast, Frieda gives her love through the food she feeds them. And they feel the love in the eating. And that’s what really makes Frieda’s cooking so delicious.

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Christopher Moore Totally Gets Me

It’s funny, too, because he doesn’t actually know me.  But a while back he said, as I’ve mentioned before, “Being an Author is a complete cycle of “I’m a piece of crap/I’m the king of the universe” that oscillates on a minute-by-minute basis.”  So, like I said, he totally gets me.  That statement is an accurate description of my life these past few … well for a long time but especially these past few weeks.

When I started sending out queries in an attempt to secure representation I was completely logical about it – or as logical as I get, anyway.  I understand this business, I know how it works, my eyes are open to the reality of the process, blah, blah, blah.  The true reality is that impatience sets in quickly, which is a direct path to Christopher Moore’s prescient understanding of where I’d end up.

One of the first queries I sent was to an agent in the west that I respect.  She’s notoriously picky.  Within twenty-four hours she asked me for a partial (meaning a limited number of pages for you non-writers).  I was ecstatic, but still a realist.  I remember telling my husband that even if she doesn’t offer representation she has framed my entire experience more positively because my first response was good.  Yeah, that was two weeks ago.

Since then, I’ve received her rejection, two other rejections and one other request for a partial from an agent with a prestigious  New York firm.  Besides that, nothing.  Now, I understand the reality, which is that it’s way too soon to hear.  And I also understand that on the strength of a one page letter, half the initial responses have been positive, which is huge.  Doesn’t stop my minute by minute oscillations, though.  Doesn’t even slow them down.

Hopefully, I’ll find another quote, from another author who’s been where I am, that helps me keep things in perspective.  In the meantime, for any editors who happen upon this post, I offer this quote from Erle Stanley Gardner, “It’s a damn good story.  If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.”

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81,187 Words Later

The process of trying to shepard a novel through the sale/publication process is fascinating. But that’s an academic assessment made by someone who has never done it before. It’s also frustrating, agonizing, daunting, likely foolhardy and, hopefully, rewarding.

Christopher Moore once said, “Being an Author is a complete cycle of ‘I’m a piece of crap/I’m the king of the universe’ that oscillates on a minute-by-minute basis.” Nowhere is that sentiment more true then in this part of the process. The highs and lows come so quickly that your head becomes a spinning top, most closely resembling Linda Blair in The Exorcist. 81,187 words later, I find myself having no choice but to move past the manuscript and on to phase two: The Query.

In this stage I write a one page letter to an agent (they can occasionally be two but brevity is rewarded). An agent/author relationship is a funny thing; the agent works for you but you’d dance with the devil to get a good agent to let you hire them. But back to the letter. I have somewhere between a nano-second and five words to wow the agent, totally mesmerizing her or him into begging to read my entire novel before the sun sets that very day. Now, to put this in perspective, Kurt Vonegut was rejected more than 800 times before he was published. And he was Kurt Vonegut the entire time. How different would our cultural discourse be without him? I can’t even think about it. Hopefully, inspired by Kurt’s determination, I whip out a brilliant query letter. On to phase three: The Synopsis.

In the synopsis I get a full five pages (sometimes more, sometimes less) to tell the agent the entire plot of my novel — including the ending. That’s right, it’s like Cliff’s Notes for the time-challenged. Not only do I have to condence 448 pages down to five, but I have to be riveting, show the agent my writing style and the tone of the book and, oh yeah, it better be damn good. Every time I’ve ever accomplished this I’ve celebrated with a simulated wrist-slitting. Once that’s done it’s on to phase four: The Approach.

This is the part I’m looking most forward to. Here’s where I send my obviously pithy query (with or without my brilliantly riveting synopsis, as they command) to agent after agent after agent. These days many agents take e-queries, so that, at least, cuts down on the expense. But it certainly doesn’t save me from having minute pieces of my soul dug out of me with a dull spoon. I’ve been published so I’ve had rejection. Lots. Some have been complimentary. The worst told me to study craft and then compared me to Faulkner, Kipling and London. Go figure. I can’t wait to see what new forms of rejection I’ll receive. I’m thick-skinned so I can handle this process. Especially because at the end I know, I just know, beyond all doubt, that I’m going to get a letter offering representation. And then the craziness begins anew.

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