• 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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Mama Said There’s Be Days Like This


I was in the office today and the phone rang.

Me: Hello, DCL Agency.

Caller: I have a kids’ book.

Me: Excuse me.

Caller: I write for kids and adults.

Me: Are looking for an agent.

Caller: Are you a publisher?

Me: No, we are an agency.

Caller: What’s that.

Me: It’s someone who can help you find a publisher.

Caller: You’re not a publisher?

Me: No.

Caller: How does it work?

Me: The best thing to do is go to our website and go to the agents’ page. You will see descriptions for all the agents and you can choose the one that sounds best for you.

Caller: That’s it?

Me: Well, then you send your work in and they will let you know if they want to take you on.

Caller: But you’re not a publisher.

Me: Right, I said, we’re not.

Caller: Okay, thank you.

Me: Good luck.

CONTEST: We used to get these calls all the time. Most people reach out with a little more information these days thanks to search engines. Do you remember the first time you reached out to a magazine, agent or publisher via query letter or call? The best story will get a free book of my choosing. Submissions open until Monday.

11 Responses

  1. Don’t go breaking my heart. I won’t go breaking your heart.
    Hmmm. I sent an excerpt and query re my parents’ ms to a dozen agents a while ago. They’d written a glorious story of traveling in their beloved Italy with each of their grandchildren when they turned 10. Four trips in all. The length and breadth, history and culture, a small(ish) child, old enough to carry their own bags, young enough to do what they were told. Old(er, grumpier, sometime wine-addled carers (carees?).

    Knockbacks, one after the other, so fast I could almost see the keys plinking.

    What’s not to love about generations bonding, Italy, wanting to travel and spend time with their grandchildren?

    Don’t boomers want to spend time now, post-Covid with family? Don’t people want to travel again? Whatever. Maybe I’ll try again. Maybe not.

  2. I was pushing sixty. I’d retired from teaching second grade for thirty-three years. My kids were on their own and my husband was still working. I had nothing to do, so I wrote a book. I had never written anything before, but I thought it was an okay story — a coming-of-age about a girl who was struggling with her feelings for another girl. I had no idea what to do with it. I went to the library and found a book about how to get published. Academy Chicago Publishers was the first house listed, so I sent the ms and a “To Whom It May Concern” cover letter to Chicago.

    A few months later, Jordan Miller (he and his wife, Anita, owned Academy Chicago) called me and said they would like to publish my book. How did I feel about that? I told him that I would like it very much. I had no idea how publishing worked and how many creeps are out there waiting to scam writers. If Jordan Miller had told me that I would have to pay to get my book published, I probably would have fallen for it. In any event, the Millers were legit. They did a great job of editing, choosing cover art (which I love), and sending my book out into the world. We got a bunch of great blurbs (including Betty DeGeneres–Ellen’s mom–and Emily Sailers of the Indigo Girls) and nice reviews. Oh, yeah. And Letters in the Attic won a Lambda Literary Award.

    I’m not especially religious. I stay in touch with God just in case He’s real (kind of an insurance type thing), but I think somebody was helping me out with my writing career. And as weird as it may be, twenty-three years later, I still get teeny tiny royalty checks for that book.

  3. “Do you remember the first time you reached out to a magazine, agent or publisher via query letter or call?”

    You gotta be kidding me. I been doing this almost fifty years.

    I gotta be kidding me. I been doing this almost fifty years? What the hell is wrong with me?

    First time first time first time. They say you never forget your first time. Well, they say a lotta things, don’t they.

    Yes, the choice not to use a question mark at the end of the above sentence is intentional.

    I do not specifically remember any first times as outlined in the initial query. I started sending my poems around to magazines in the last few months of my senior year in high school. I was pretty stoned, but I do remember doing that. Aimed for the top, too. The New Yorker. Never received anything from TNY in those early days other than the little square pre-printed rejection notices they used. They probably had to send them out by the thousands. Strivers like me were flies at a picnic.

    I do remember when, many years later, now moved on to prose and moving into my mid-thirties, I received an acceptance from an editor whose magazine I very much wanted my work to appear in. I opened the envelope, saw the acceptance, and sat down hard on my kitchen floor, sobbing my heart out like an overjoyed child. It mighta been the Oscars, way I was carrying on.

  4. Yes, I remember my first reach out very well. I was sitting in a rented cottage in rural France having just walked away from a lucrative career because I wanted to do something, anything, else. I’d started a blog mostly to let my friends & family what I was up to. Somehow word of my ramblings got around and next thing you know I was writing my fingertips off. It was like mainlining joy itself and I started poking about to see how a writing life was made. Bought a book called Forest for the Trees, then wandered into this room. Took a look around, liked what I saw, and wrote an email that began with “Chère Madame Lerner…” and went on to ask her how to turn passion into pages. Madame was warm and funny and prescriptive. She told me to write like my life depended on it (and fuck everything else). Today I’m sitting in my office in rural Nova Scotia, opening a framed certificate—an award for my debut novel. Merci Madame. Merci bien.

  5. Thanks for asking. Not too many people would appreciate this story. I was so “green” I printed out 17 or so copies of my “debut novel” titled My Mother-in Law The Dybbuk and sent out to all the major publishers at the time…about 40ish years ago with some sort of letter. I never heard of query letters at that time. I got back about 7 or so , each packed in a box with a kind letter, e.g. “Thank you for your submission. We appreciate all the hard work you did. Unfortunately, your book is not quite right for us at this time.” I kept those letters for about 3 decades and finally tossed them. That “debut novel” has morphed into a play, now titled “Raizel’s Journey,” for which I won honorable mention from Jewish Plays Project and got a $450 grant from Alliance for Jewish Theaters to hire a critiquer. The full-length play will be read by Chicago Writers’ Bloc in a few weeks. Now seeking a theater.

  6. Cable Street Studios weren’t as grandiose inside the building as to the exterior would suggest. We trekked up the three flights of stairs behind Luke. Every room was numbered in what looked like a child’s handwritten scrawl and had two doors. The outer door was a hinged steel frame which protected the inner door, which was made of the cheapest composite wood. As an added security measure an external Yale lock had been fitted on the communal toilet on the landing we passed, but a hole had been punched in the lock suggesting that someone really needed to get into the toilet or the landlord took protection of toilet roll very seriously. This showed London’s population density when toilets had to be protected from potential squatters. Messages like Colin likes cock and an appended phone number etched in marker pen made me think of the public toilets that used to exist in the 1980s, before the cutbacks.
    The metal cage we were searching for wasn’t pulled over or locked, and Luke pushed open the door. Laurie and me followed him inside.
    Our studio space was a room with high ceilings and plenty of light from the small-paned-picture windows. There was an old-fashioned tub with hot and cold taps wedged in at the window, a sink, hotplate and microwave. A wooden table and six rickety wooden chairs crowded the room. With estate space at a premium, a canopy had been constructed in the corner of the room with a bed above our heads. Laurie was much taken with a painting of a woman on one of the high shelves full of bric-a-brac, an English flavoured copy of the Chinese Girl print that haunted student flats in the 1970s, but this framed picture had been slashed and torn. Laurie thought it might have been a good prop for filming.
    Luke introduced us to Tim, our cameraman, soundman, director and editor. He was much the same age as Luke, kinda trendy in his cut-off hotpants. They bickered like husband and wife about itineraries and shooting schedules.
    Tim didn’t think taking the picture with us would be a good idea, but he offered it to Laurie. ‘You can take it if you want,’ he said. ‘I got it out of a skip.’
    Laurie wasn’t sure. He liked it, but thought his wife might think it was junk.
    My way of thinking was everything in the room had come from a skip, with the exception of the Apple computer for editing films and Tim’s camera and tripod.
    Ewan Lawrie was sitting at the table waiting on us. He was the only one of us formally dressed with dark-suit jacket and trousers. I shook his hand and slapped him on the shoulder and explained although I didn’t know him, I felt as if I did. I didn’t explain that I kinda looked up to him as a writer when I was younger, because I was never younger. Ewan with his long grey hair looked a bit like Buffalo Bill, without the stetson, without the gun and without the buffalo shit.
    He commented on my broad accent. ‘I want one of those Scottish accents,’ he said, mimicking the burr, ‘like Jack,’ with the emphasis on my name. But, of course, it was only an accent in a foreign country that occupied our nation, but as an ex-serviceman, I’m sure he understood.
    Ewan, Laurie and me sat waiting for Luke and Tim to decide on an itinerary, but there weren’t any of those awkward silences that sometimes happen amongst strangers and family. Luke offered us a glass of London tap water, which is a bit like drinking out of a warm puddle. It had been a long time since I’d worked on building sites and my drinking cup had been a jam-jar. That’s when I admitted to my smuggling racket.
    ‘I’ve got cheese sandwiches in my bag. Does anybody want one?’
    That was when there was an awkward silence. At London airport prices they were worth more than a suitcase full of cocaine. Nobody admitted to wanting one, although Tim said, ‘I might take you up on that offer later’.

  7. For awhile I lived in an old schoolhouse a half mile from a roadhouse bar. We had electricity and an outhouse but no running water. It was quiet and on cold winter nights I would go outside and watch the northern lights dance in the sky. The bar was run by a nice older couple and the clientele were pretty much redneck. My favorite magazine at the time was Country Journal. I think it was actually called Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal. I liked their idyllic stories about country living, baking bread, establishing a chicken coop and how to put a dress on a pig. I decided a magazine about country living should include the other side of country living, too — the drinking, partying and general cutting loose at the end of a hard work day/week. I wrote a story about a glorious day skiing in the woods while tripping on acid. At one point I fell and slammed into a small tree head first, resulting in a swollen face and a hell of a shiner. I kept putting chunks of snow against my throbbing face and panicked when each chunk came away red with blood, It was not a good thing to have happen while colors were so bright and vivid to me. My skiing partner said it didn’t look too bad and thought we should go to the bar for a few drinks. The bleeding eased up, but I was hesitant because of our frame of mind versus that of a redneck mindset. Sure enough when we walked in someone asked me, Who punched you in the face? I felt a bit self conscious at first and was horrified when I saw my puffy, bruised face in the bathroom mirror. After awhile i just sat back and listened to the jukebox while drinking a few beers. At one point when the bartender left the room, the guy next to me at the bar pulled out a sheet of blotter acid and cut it up on the bar with his hunting knife. He distributed it to his friends, asked my friend and I if we wanted any and said he and his buddies had been tripping and drinking all day. Further down the bar someone was laying down a line of cocaine and searching for a rolled up fifty to snort it with. I realized I had some catching up to do if I wanted to keep up with these yahoos, but overall it was a pretty typical night, one that I was sure country folks would enjoy reading about. I sent the whole story typed on super thin onion paper out to the magazine without much of a query letter but with a SASE and the magazine sent me back a form rejection letter informing me the story was not right for them.

  8. I was really surprised to hear that an agency like DCL Agency doesn’t work with publishers. I’m sure there are many great opportunities out there for writers, so I’m glad to hear that we can still find a publisher for writers regardless. I’ll definitely be looking for their website when I’m looking for an agent.

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