• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow

A client called the other day to say that whether his book sold or not, he was very grateful for all I had done. This is a Code Red. This is when the machine hooked up to the patient starts to flat line. These, my friends, are the words of a dying man. Get the paddles! Some agents may take those words at face value and appreciate the sentiment, but not this pig. I told my client to take it back. It wasn’t time to sign the DNR.

It’s always unsettling when the first few responses to a submission are negative. Suddenly, there is a metallic taste in the air. You smell the milk, unsure if it’s turned. You reread your cover letter, maybe the first chapter. And the client smells it, the blood in the water. No matter what happens, I’m very grateful. Just sell the book, bitch!

I’ll tell you when to panic. It’s too soon to panic. I’ll tell you when the last few sands are caroming down the hour glass. When it’s the 18th hole and your skirt is stained. When you’re near dead in a nursing home with no one to pluck the final hairs from your chin. When the recurring dream involves a white wall and a man who betrayed you. When you leave something on your plate. When you carry your shoes in a brown bag. When the clown swallows the ball.

When do you give up?

58 Responses

  1. When do you give up? Mmm… when you are not even in the house, but standing outside in the cold rain, praying for an umbrella….
    (If this is too criptic – when you are looking for a agent and the door has been slammed in your face a few too many times. Luckily I never stay negative too long, but when I am, I do a good job being that way)

  2. I don’t know when I give up (I haven’t yet), but this post made me laugh so hard. “No matter what happens, I’m very grateful. Just sell the book, bitch!”

  3. I don’t give up. I have pac man in my head.

  4. When you show up to the party unintentionally naked.

  5. You are awesome.

    I just wandered over from Nathan’s site, and I’m excited to read more.

  6. I’m pretty sure I’ve been having that dream about the white wall and the man –

    But on the other hand, what a lovely blog this is!
    Cheered now.

  7. Lordy, not yet.

  8. Not until I’ve hacked the corpse of my book up into tiny pieces and sold the shit out of each one. Not until the rejection slips from Reader’s Digest and Southwest Northeastern New Hampshire Bi-Annual Magazine and Joe Bob’s Technical College Literary Magazine fuel my woodstove for a winter.

    In other words, it’s almost over for my first book, but not quite. Joe Bob requires an exclusive and he has three weeks left. to respond.

  9. I’ve had three books published. The last one I wrote went to the submissions party, but nobody asked it to dance. I thought it was pretty. I even sent it to a fantastic freelance editor to have its hair done. It didn’t even get to do the bunny hop.

    For about two days, I thought it’s so much work. I can’t do that again. What if my next one turns out to be a wallflower?

    The book I just finished is about to head off to the dance. It’s getting its hair done right now. It’s almost time for the corsage. I think it’s pretty.

    If nobody asks that one to dance, I have this younger one that’s half finished…

  10. Code Blue, actually, I think is what it’s called. Blue, so blue, so blue and forlorn, another day when I wished I weren’t born.

    I give up when the putrescence sets in. Then I plow the corpse back into the garden, grow something new out of it.

  11. I never give up on my stories.

    I might show them tough love, we might be estranged, I might have changed the locks on a few of them, but someday we might reconcile . . .

  12. Fucking never. Nor do my agents give up.

    Both of my NF books got 25 rejections each….then sold to major NYC houses. No agent worth their name should give up on a client or their project. Pick the right ones and fight to the death for them.

  13. I’m counting on you to tell me.

    Being that you don’t represent what I write, I’m going to assume if I don’t hear from you, I should keep going.

  14. I guess I haven’t gotten quite that much mileage in the submissions process. Got our first rejection. Like you said: unsettling, to say the least. But when do I give up? When my agent does. Heck far, left to my own devices, I’ll keep on going until the juices dry up, the crows pluck out my eyes and Sisyphus says: that’s it, I’m sick and tired of pushing this mutherfucking rock up this mutherfucking hill. Maybe then.

  15. I spend half my time giving up. I’ve abandoned the first book of a mystery series featuring a brilliant crime scene tech (pre-CSI) who’s afraid of blood, a sweeping historical romance featuring bosoms, a gory police procedural, five screenplays, a YA series proposal with a Big Name attached, at least six nonfiction proposals, a middle-grade novel, a retelling of a Kafka novel (which sucked with a rather alarming completeness), a thriller that an editor said was ‘too weird,’ the unpublishable experimental novella that I posted online, four half-assed picture books I wrote to annoy my agent, a proposal for a vaguely literary gift box (the manufacturer had me fly to Houston to discuss the idea in person before saying no), and four or five fiction proposals with chapters and synopses.

    I’ll give up the day I find a better-paying job that I do half as well. So never.

  16. When I stop caring. Which usually means it’s the right time to give up on that particular project anyway.

  17. During a recent sports match, I went down with a calf cramp, then my opponent cramped, then I went down with both calves. Her friend demanded she leave the court. “You’re going to get hurt!” My husband nodded from outside the chainlink and sat down on the grass. He knows I’d rather drag myself off the concrete by my elbows than quit, and would never suggest otherwise.

  18. When my child folds her arms defiantly and announces she is NOT going to eat her vegetables and then later has a tantrum when I tell her it’s time to pick up her toys and go to bed, do I say, well, that’s it; I’ve done all that I can do? If my wife and I argue about furniture placement, is it time to call the divorce lawyers? If I go out and shoot a 108 even though the wind is at my back on every hole and putts funnel toward the cup on the easiest pin placements I’ve seen in years, should I sell my clubs on ebay? If I blow the lead on an Allman Bros. song, should I trade in my beloved Les Paul for a ukele? Same answer for my writing.

  19. Every single fucking day.

    • me too.

      i give up. and then i start another project. and then i get past the honeymoon phase and start to hate it and go back to the first project. and then i give up again. and then i write a column. and then i eat.

      and i eat some more. and i download music and i comment on other people’s thoughts.

      and i go back.

      and i give up.

      (it occurs to me that this process is much like my love life before 20 years of therapy.)

  20. I only give up when I’m down to plan Z.

  21. I feel like it I think about it but I don’t it’s that simple.

  22. I think it’s when the fat lady sings… oh right, that’s me. Maybe it’s when she stuffs donuts in her face.

  23. I said something similar to my agent but not until I knew and she knew and even the fencepost knew that it was over. And for the record, I meant it. I wouldn’t call that giving up but rather moving on. There are two kinds of tenacious people in the world: the kind that switches methods or projects when something is clearly not working and the kind that just keeps beating a dead horse. At some point you just have to go write another book.

  24. Well, I wrote a vampire novel about five or six years ago. It started out as an experiment and morphed into a hundred thousand words. Right about the time I finished, Twilight emerged. It was nothing like Twilight, and I did receive two requests for the full manuscript (no, thanks), but ultimately I sent the manuscript to rest in the Great Box under my bed, because I was pretty sure the world didn’t need another vampire novel. I was very attached to some of the characters and it was hard to let go. They still, from time to time, talk to me. (Is this unusual? Does this happen to other writers, or should I up my meds?)

    And then my New Year’s resolution this year was to not write for a year. I wanted to give up completely, but the thought reduced me to tears. A year seemed manageable. Read, study, live – anything but write. I lasted until March.

    Take a break now and then? Yes. Move on? Eventually. Give up? Nope. Can’t do it.

  25. Dear Ms Lerner,
    I’d like to propose a book: Questions for the Modern World.
    I love your blog posts that end with a question. I don’t try to answer them, that doesn’t seem the point. They just lead to a self revelation.
    When do you give up? Sheesh, brilliant.

  26. There’s not a one-size answer. It’s an individual thing, giving up. When you realize something isn’t meant to be, you’ll know in your heart it’s time to move on.
    Simple as that.

  27. Agent gave up on me after 10 subs. So what did I do? Published the book myself, and now it’s getting great reviews. The time to give up on an idea is in the early stages. If it works, I’m committed!

  28. Say – have you been following me around the past few days? I gave up on an artist that just couldn’t get around to the work I commissioned to him 2 years ago; I gave up sending nice reminders to the client that owes me alot of $ (let’s see how they get along with my attorney) and I gave up expending any more emotional energy towards an ingrate.

    But I don’t give up on myself or my work (whether day job, writing or life joys). A WIP may be amended, taken apart or allowed to sit on the shelf for awhile, but eventually, its core becomes Something.

  29. I wish I had known some forty years ago that we were even allowed to give up.

  30. I’ll give up when the twitching stops. In the mean time, put your ear to my mouth. What a strange life you live, Betsy. Trying to get artists to produce, well, art. Art? At least entertainment, right? I’ve been finding, lately, that entertaining is good enough for me. I’m a total TV and Movie, and Novel, junkie. I get pissed when I don’t have something in front of me that is entertaining. Thank god for Dickens. I pretty much figure there is probably no more complicated plots than Gunsmoke. I can accept that. I can imagine the either sick feeling or gonna kick someone’s ass anger when you get a message of thanks for all your work but I give up and now I’m gonna jump off this roof because no one loves me. I pretty much only live in my imagination, when I’m not endangering people’s lives on the freeway, but I would want to go over to that persons house and slap them a good one across the back of the head. You already let ’em through the first gate. Man, oh, man. If you need some muscle, let me know. Me? I’m stuck between total insanity and a notebook called plot points. I’ve cajoled myself, today, to just write and it all seems to be taking shape. But fuck, this novel writing business is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. That’s what I get for thinking that thinking is enough. The rest, I can’t even think about. I don’t want to grow up, from the what I’ve heard. Anyway, you’re the best.

  31. I love that you not only rep the client, but slap some sense into him, too.

  32. When do I give up? Depends on the matter at hand. On men, not soon enough. On writing projects, far too soon. On diets, usually by day three.

  33. I don’t give up, but I’ve been known to reframe.

  34. I find it best to give up in advance.

  35. I’ll give up when I die.

  36. I give up when I realize I’m trying too hard to be clever.

  37. […]  People other than you have a lot to say — sometimes what they say is incredibly funny, or inspiring, or […]

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