• 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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I HOld My Head Up High and WHistle a Happy TUne

The Fall is always a time when projects are flying fast and furious around town. Publishers and editors are in a buying mood with the back to school snap in the air. Foreign publishers are criss-crossing Manhattan in search of a big book to bring back in their suitcase. Scouts are chasing down every lead so that their publishers are pre-Frankfurt ready. So how do you feel if you’re an agent without a big Fall book to sell? How do you think?

You remind yourself of all the books you are working on, developing, that take time. You remind yourself that it’s cyclical. You remind yourself that you sold five books in the Spring. You ask yourself if you’re really cut out for this. You tell yourself to man up. You can’t have a big book every season, or can you? You think about all the other agents, the good, the bad, and the vile, and you imagine them dunking a fat shrimp in cocktail sauce at the Four Seasons, or sharing a round of golf with Bill Murray.

How do you keep your nose to the grindstone? HOw do you stay focussed? Blinders on? Stay the course?  When some young MFA brat is getting a half million dollar deal? When a writer you loathe gets a rave review, is on NPR, and The Colbert Report. How do you not write about zombies or vampires. How do you just do your work, when all around you are eating shellfish?

45 Responses

  1. I watch a lot of soccer and football. I snap at people who piss me off. I write emails I’ll come to regret. I do anything but read those books you mention and I start yet another project that is destined for the Rubbermaid archives.

  2. I remind myself that I don’t like shrimp, golf is a good walk wasted, and recite as needed Clive James’ therapeutic mantra:

    The book of my enemy has been remaindered
    And I am glad.

  3. You believe that what you’re doing is right.

  4. fuck me, i could do with some venetian shrimp. and crusty bread. and wine. a lot of it.

  5. This is what the dogs and blogs are for. Mornings, I walk the dogs, read the blogs. and work. I have something with cheese and fat for lunch. I work some more. I walk the dogs again and re-check blogland. Then I run errands and play with the dogs and think about the work I did today.

    And I ignore New York.

    Simple. Wash rinse repeat.

  6. I write late at night.

  7. You remember that New York isn’t the center of the universe, as suggested above. It’s really hard to believe, and it takes some time out of it to start believing it. Once you do, though, you’ll be fine enough to get back to work and remind yourself, crap, it’s art, and it doesn’t always follow the calendar.

  8. I love getting back to work in September. I love the crispness in the air that brings discipline and porridge for breakfast, no more flies and the grapes off the vines, blood-red Barbera at night.

    I’m with whistling.

  9. I gently remind myself that I’m not in it for the delicacies or the paparazzi or even the dust wrapper. And I ALWAYS remember that no matter what it LOOKS like from where I teeter, it’s never ever ever greener on the other side.

  10. I could say I don’t have anything better to do, but that doesn’t sound quite the way I want it to. It just takes what it always takes. Discipline. Confidence. Steadfastness. Those three things, in fact, to the point where to an outsider they may seem pointless or unbalanced.

    But I honestly don’t have anything better to do. I didn’t follow any of the other roads I may have taken along the way: army officer, journalist, public television producer, hotel manager, college professor, commodities trader, attorney. Those roads all branched off, roads not taken, and I stayed on this one. It’s too late to turn back now.

    That’s how I just do my work. There’s nothing else left to do. As for sustenance, let the others eat what they will eat. I will have a grape, a half a macaroon, and a small glass of water, thank you.

  11. Kipling, if you stitch him together right, said much the same thing, Betsy:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

  12. We could talk about Hanna. Would that cheer you?

  13. I get the fuck off the internet.

  14. I remind myself that each and every one of those deals started because the writer sat down alone and put her thoughts on paper. She found the time, she made the time. No one was given a lottery ticket. They wrote, they submitted. Someone liked it.

    Then I get back to work and shut the nonsense out.

  15. Betsy,
    How do I find out what books will be reviewed on NPR before hand – like, at least a week or two before?

  16. My job sucks and I like to write. My little girl’s smile melts my heart. At 4am when I wake up and wonder what it’s all about, I reach over and touch my wife’s thigh. She sighs and snuggles closer or sometimes just places her hand on mine. Will what I write get published? I don’t know, but I’m nothing if not persistent. And I love it when words flow and come together in a world otherwise made up of toast landing jelly side down and cars that won’t start no matter how many times you pump the gas pedal and turn the key.

  17. Lyra calls it. You put your ass in the chair and avoid the whiny self-indulgence of “It’s not fair!” No, it’s sure as hell not. Never was and never will be in a world of totally subjective judgments.

    But oooooh the satisfaction of knowing my new book is steadily outselling the memoir that won the $750,000 advance and sold 900 copies.

    If you waste time worrying what others are doing, you won’t get your work done, or done well enough to kick their ass. Keep at it!

  18. Go to the Bayou and get my own damn shrimp. Course, that isn’t really the point. But, it can help.

    My frame of reference is very different from the world of publishing, but if I don’t have an immediate deadline, I usually just give in to my not-wanting-to-work phase. I grumble, and grouse, and regret, and write in large loopy scrawl and fold the pages into tight little bundles and staple them shut with a dozen staples. And then one morning, usually not too many days later, I wake up newly energized, with a renewed awareness of the things that are good, and surging confidence in my strength.

    I’ve quit fighting it. I’ve decided it means that my spirit needs a rest. Course, I am aware of the risk — that the time may come when it is too many days later, and I’ll need to revamp and come up with another plan.

  19. Interesting, to consider that agents feel the same pressure to find quality books as I am to turn one out, or get another decent blog post up. I put blinders on, neglect whatever doesn’t absolutely, positively have to get done (which leaves me feeling chaotic) and write, promote, revise. It’s a compusion as much as it is a job.

    Thank you for your post.

  20. I don’t. I do self-destructive things instead. Drink more, run less, bitch more, write less, eat crap, cook less, until trying to annihilate myself becomes so tiresome I surrender and kick back into high gear. What I’m best at is trying to claw my way out of a pit….have to descend to ascend…

  21. I woman it up. Shrimp aren’t kosher. Zombies are boring. The air is sparkling. So it’s easy.

  22. I try to console myself with the idea that one day, it’ll be my turn. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but it’s what I tell myself.

  23. I think of them as affirmations of possibility.

  24. AIS every day. Though when summer is over, I can at least move the seat out on the patio. A little change of scenery is good for the soul. I’m sure even the MFA dilettante would agree with that.

  25. <– attempt to close italics tag.

    To deal with all those things, I read a lovely little book called The Forest for the Trees, and another good one, Bird by Bird.

    After that, I complain to anyone who will listen. Then I go to bed and the next morning I feel a bit silly about the day before.

  26. What about the not-quite-so-big books? Are the agents running around trying o sell those too? What is someone’s agent is not running around with their book? Does that mean they don’t think anyone will buy it?

    • Yes, we are running around trying to sell medium sized books, too. I’ve been known to bust my ass for some very esoteric books. Once I love something, it sort of doesn’t matter to me. That said, I have to pay the bills, too. If your agent isn’t trying to sell something, that’s a problem.

  27. I live in the land of shellfish (via etouffee, jambalaya, gumbo) making the well-aged steak a more exotic dish around here. The weather is still humid, I’ll be pulling weeds in December and the only crispness I may encounter are the next batch of rejection letters. Such daily occurrences do not stop my need to write.

    Instead I am recently inspired by my friends who, in their middle years, are just now getting their band into some nice gigs. Their honest efforts and gracious happiness for the little recognitions reminds me to appreciate those small advancements. Their “groupies” – all two dozen of us – cheer on their success and we are having a great time.

  28. I don’t base my life on others sucksess. I mean, really, what is it you want? Having a very attuned mind, which is often only satisfied by writing because I am not a warrior, I”m a little horrified by violence, I should probably get over it, But! I’ve noticed lately that keeping my own council when among my pears is wholesome and gratifying. Why? The fact that there is anything at all is far more fascinating than anything that could happen. And my misery, thank you Buddha, is rooted in being someone who changes the very nature of people. This life sucks, because we take the path of least resistance, and! it sells. Everyone loves revenge. I could write a book on the revenge I have seen. Subtle, yet, very alive. And now, for the music behind the thought:

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