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This Could Be Love Because I’ve Had the Time of my Life

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I’m in Paris, MO with my dear friend and client George Hodgman. George and I were editorial assistants at SImon & Schuster a hundred years ago. You may remember that I was a ripe 26 when I “broke into” publishing. I was so determined to “make it” that I didn’t want to hang out with the assistants who really didn’t give a shit, or were chronic complainers, or headed to law school. I wanted to befriend the ones who really wanted to become editors, and I wanted to learn from them.

I knew George was a brilliant writer when I read his flap copy. He had flare. He turned a phrase. In that single column that graces the inside flap of a book, he could make you want to read a book about mitochondria. I stalked him and we became friends. He went on to become an editor of prize winning and bestselling books, an extension of his instincts and brilliant editing.

When George finally produced some pages of his own, I wasn’t surprised to find them moving, hilarious, elegant. Those pages became the beloved memoir, Bettyville. Last night in Columbia, MO, as the centerpiece of a monthlong “One Read” program, George gave a keynote speech to a packed auditorium. He told the crowd of 600 people what it was like losing his beloved mother, Betty. He talked about caregiving and aging and community and kindness. He did it all with flare and sweetness and his wicked sense of humor. Being part of the standing ovation was a singular thrill, watching my beloved friend embraced by his community. At the Q&A, a woman came up to the microphone and asked if she could give him a hug. “No!” George said.

If you haven’t read Bettyville yet, you are in for a treat. Love from Paris, MO.

What’s your favorite memoir?

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Ain’t These Tears In These Eyes Telling You

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I gave a reading today. During the q&a, there’s always one person who asks what you’re writing next. I’m working on not getting depressed. I’m working on my waistline. I’m working on my attitude. I’m working on my sleep. My flossing is already tip top. I’m working on my hair. I’m working on my vocabulary. I’m working on my self-esteem. I’m detoxing from social media, I’m working on my Bridge game, I’m working on being a kinder, gentler nation. I’m working on two pages a day if we are going to be completely honest is two pages a week if we are going to be completely honest is a page a month.

What are you working on?

Everybody Plays the Fool Sometime

 

the-intern-760x472My intern accused me of being jaded. How can you not be jaded after doing something for 30 years. Then again, I’ve been jaded since the sixth grade. I knew then that life was predictable and wearying. I could tell what every teacher was going to say before they said it. I knew that nobody meant what they said. I knew that I was always going to be too sensitive and angry and sentimental and sorrowful. True excitement always seems manufactured to me. Happy people make me nervous and jealous if I thought it was real.

Are you jaded?

 

Ground Control to Major Tom

 

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Sometimes one of my writers will fall into a hole. If they are writing a book about blankets, suddenly the whole world, they are convinced, is obsessed with blankets. They will see something in the newspaper about horse hair blankets and send me the link. The craft museum is staging an exhibit about quilts! See! A famous designer is using old blankets to make ponchos. Every conversation they have gets steered toward blankets. Guess what was on TV last night? Yup, Beach Blanket Bingo.

I call this rapture of the deep. It’s something that happens to divers when they have either gone too deep or don’t get enough oxygen and their thinking is impaired. I call it rapture of the deep because it’s all consuming. I’ve worked with writers for long enough to know that rapture is part of the process of immersion. It’s always a relief, however, when they start coming back up for air.

Have you seen the rapture?

The Words She Knows the Tunes She Hums

 

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When I was eight years old, I met a girl at camp and we became inseparable for the entire summer. I loved her. A month after camp ended, I ran into her in the stationery store where we shopped for back to school supplies. She was looking at some notebooks when I spotted her. Instead of running up to say hi, I pretended that I didn’t see her. Then when she noticed me and ran over, I acted very cool as if she were an distant acquaintance.

To this day I don’t know why I did that. Any theories? Any similar experiences?

Someday We’ll Be Together

 

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Once when I was at a writer’s conference, on an agent’s panel, a participant asked how we chose which editors to send our projects to. My answer seemed cheeky: lunch. But it’s the accumulation of hundreds of lunch dates over many years when you sit down with editors and find out who they are, what they like, what makes them tick. Pairing a project with an editor is a lot like fixing up two people on a blind date. Sometimes you put them together for superficial reasons: she’s from Maine! He’s from Maine! She’s an athlete! He used to coach! She’s a foodie! He’s a gourmand! Sometimes it’s more nuanced. You know an editor loves a certain literary style or author, and you feel your client’s work has those qualities. Sometimes, the subject matter links up with an editor’s taste. But how you know all this, for the most part, is lunch.

Sushi?

An Ocean of Violets in Bloom

 

0491d83ae06af501b9a4075e2d3877ccWHen I left the world of editorial to become an agent, the most asked question I received was: where are you going to find clients? All the usual places: under rocks, in dives, in Nova Scotia, in their parents basement smoking crack. Or like Wallace Stevens in Hartford, or Paterson NJ, or the Keys. Don’t kid yourself, writers are everywhere, like faeries, you just need to know how to look. And then you have to have the right blend of blossoms and honey to get them to come out and play. How do you get clients. #1 way for most agents is referrals. #2 write letters to interesting people who you think have a story or some message #3 writers conferences and MFA pogroms. You could also steal other people’s clients. I worked for a man who read every literary magazine there was and wrote to the writers whose stories he admired. He called them friendly fan letters and that’s the kind I write. Sometimes you hear back, often you don’t. That never stops me from trying again. Sometimes, like many things in life, it’s a matter of timing.

Where can you be found?

Tomorrow Part III: How do agents put a submission list together?