Pearls Before Swine


So. The news from the agent isn’t good.

It’s sad. Not so terrible. But heartfelt and sad.

Dear Jeffe,

Well, this is an unpleasant letter to write. I really do feel that OBSIDIAN is hugely improved with your revisions. You’ve done an enormous amount of work, and I felt that, especially with the ending, the changes were dramatically clear. However, I still have significant reservations about the manuscript, and I honestly don’t know if they can be addressed in yet another edit. Some of this just has to do with your natural way of telling a story, the way that it feels right for you to be telling it. The prose problems that I had in the draft of last spring have persisted. It’s your writing style, and though I know you worked hard on nailing down the nuanced edits I had suggested, you ultimately need to be the writer that you ARE. And who am I to change that in you? Unfortunately, agents tend to have that effect and it’s not always a good thing, certainly isn’t a fair thing. The fact is that we’re just not connecting as reader and writer, you and I, and it’s not something you can change any further from here, I think. Objectively, I can tell you that the manuscript is 200% better now with your revisions– you haven’t wasted time, and I think you can agree with me there. Do you feel that it’s greatly improved? I do believe that. But I’m sorry, I don’t feel confident enough to offer you representation. I don’t personally connect to it enough to think I could sell it effectively. I need that deep passion before I take something on. I do hope that you find it in another agent, and I hope that if and when our paths cross in the future, I will be able to congratulate you on landing a terrific agent
elsewhere.

Yeah, I wept a few tears. And I think I’m over it. She’s right: I believe the book is MUCH better and that I likely can’t change my prose style, even if I wanted to.

There it is.

So, Allison is all about me switching to the sci fi/fantasy agents instead of the romancey ones. The great irony will be that she’s signed (pretty much) with a quintessential paranormal romance agent and she doesn’t really read romance. She digs that my book is full-on fantasy (with big dollops of sex). At least she says so, because she’s sweet to me. 😉

I threw Pearl on here, in tribute to that side of me. That I was the sci fi/fantasy girl from way back. The girl who read Dragonflight long before she read Indigo Nights.

Can I help it that I long for Indigo Dragon Nights?

Pearl, for those who don’t know (which is a lot of people) is my first pubbed speculative fiction story. From Aeon Magazine, Spring 2008. I loved the image they came up with for the story. I like her wistfulness, the hope for something more than her world currently holds. It’s very her.

And yes, it’s very sci fi — with great dollops of sex.

December 1. Never a lucky day for me, the first of the month. Or rather, it’s a day of change.

Which also means opportunity, right?

Such a Lonely Word

People talk a lot about honesty and wanting it.

I’m persuaded to think that they’re lying about this.

Perhaps they lie only to themselves and, since that’s as human as pretending that alcohol has no calories, it’s commonplace. Oh wait. That’s the same thing.

At any rate, a friend of mine from long ago posted on Facebook that a girl he liked who said she “wasn’t dating” turned out just not to be dating him. He lamented that he hadn’t learned this line in 40 years. I attempted to defend my gender saying that we don’t want to hurt a guy’s feelings with the honest answer, which could be “ick.” Another commenter said he’d want the honest “ick” so he could learn what to improve on.

The thing is, I think he got the honest “ick” to begin with and didn’t want to hear it.

There’s “ick” on many levels in life, from the color of a shirt, to the taste of avocados, to your best friend’s new boyfriend. And often there’s absolutely no reason for it. Maybe you got sick on bad avocadoes once, maybe it’s just a texture thing. Maybe you secretly think it makes you interesting not to eat avocadoes, gallantly passing on the tableside guacamole with a wry smile.

I’m not sure there really is an honest reason for rejection.

Writers lament that agents and editors don’t give good reasons for rejections. There’s the nearly universal “full client list,” which is really not far off the “I’m not dating right now” response. If the perfect manuscript came along, of course there would be room. More often you get the “not for me,” which is the nicest way they’ve found for saying “ick.” Just I don’t like avocadoes ick, not I wouldn’t rep you if you were the last author on the planet ick.

One hopes, anyway.

That’s the beauty of a little fudging, a gentle dishonesty: you don’t have to elucidate the level of ick. Believe me, I’ve been rejected, too, both as a writer and as a female. The honesty of some of those male rejections left me bruised for years. I didn’t need to know how deep the ick ran.

Because, in the end, it didn’t matter. “Not for me” is really the most honest explanation there is.

(And no, I haven’t heard back from the agent yet. Here I am, sitting by the phone, hoping she meant it when she said she’d call…)

Thanks for All the Fish


I had this vague Idea that I would write a Thanksgiving post.

I mean, I didn’t do the whole Facebook thing of daily posting what I was thankful for, because, hey I have a blog and would write all about that. In my own time.

Which turns out to be days later.

I did post that I was considering just reverting to childhood at my mother’s house, which would consist of lying about reading and generally being a parasite.

The beauty of the adult version of this is, you get to drink beer, too!

So, yes, this is what happened to my Thanksgiving post. I was sitting in the sun on the patio, drinking beer that my wonderful Stepfather Dave stocked in his special Corona cooler, reading and being a parasite. Here is my list of thankfuls for that:

To my mom, for making sure I got to relax;
To Dave, for being a great host and for putting up with HER side of the family;
To David, my love, for being the kind of guy who loves to sit and read on the patio with me;
To the sun, for shining.

I wasn’t a complete loser, but I came quite close. Somewhere around the Monday of Thanksgiving week, between emails and phone calls, it occurred to me that my mother hadn’t even mentioned the dinner menu, much less asked me for input.

This is what’s known in the business as a Bad Sign.

When I asked my mom about the plans for the holiday meal, she replied that Thanksgiving is a slam dunk, she and Hope had it handled. So, while I did make my cranberry/pear chutney on Thanksgiving Day, it was an afterthought. Here’s me, in my desultory cooking, laptop at the ready. And no, my mother’s kitchen is never that cluttered. That’s my fault, too. Thus I am thankful:

To Hope, best stepsister anyone could ask for, for stepping up when I didn’t;
To my mom, who never once bugged me about the dinner menu and who just wanted me to relax.

So, while I managed to make chutney, consult on the stuffing and set the table — yes, I was totally 13 again — I was worthless this Thanksgiving. Even for giving thanks.

In the end? Hands-down winner: I’m thankful for my mom. Who promises that I get to make it all up by hosting Christmas. And she won’t do anything, especially not scrubbing my stove top in the middle of the night.

I love you Mom!

Girl Stuff


So, we were kind of dorks yesterday.

Which Hope says is okay, because the guys already know we’re dorks.

What happened was, my mom, Hope and I indulged in the great American tradition of shopping. We had fun and all was reasonably predictable, until we hit Ann Taylor.

Where we pretty much lost our minds.

So, yes, we all bought the same shirt in a slightly different shade, and all wore them out for Mexican food last night. Mexican food is the Beck family tradition for the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Brett, Hope and Galan’s older son, decided that the girls wearing the same shirts should also be part of the tradition now, which might be kind of difficult to sustain in the long run.

That, and tales of Xerodeupopods.

My mom’s camera was accidentally set to video for the photo of the boys, so you get the full photo-taking experience here, complete with Mariachi music in the background.

I know. Doesn’t get better than this.

Girl Stuff


So, we were kind of dorks yesterday.

Which Hope says is okay, because the guys already know we’re dorks.

What happened was, my mom, Hope and I indulged in the great American tradition of shopping. We had fun and all was reasonably predictable, until we hit Ann Taylor.

Where we pretty much lost our minds.

So, yes, we all bought the same shirt in a slightly different shade, and all wore them out for Mexican food last night. Mexican food is the Beck family tradition for the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Brett, Hope and Galan’s older son, decided that the girls wearing the same shirts should also be part of the tradition now, which might be kind of difficult to sustain in the long run.

That, and tales of Xerodeupopods.

My mom’s camera was accidentally set to video for the photo of the boys, so you get the full photo-taking experience here, complete with Mariachi music in the background.

I know. Doesn’t get better than this.

If I’m a Prick, Do I Not Still Bleed?


David is studying acupuncture and oriental medicine, as some of you may or may not know.

The upshot of this is, there’s all these diagrams around the house for identifying various characteristics or the location of acupuncture points and meridians, etc. What’s funny is they all have this look that I find particularly creepy. It’s kind of like attack of the zombie patients.

I think it’s because the drawings are meant to represent people realistically, but without ethnic characteristics or any kind of emotional color.

Which, of course, isn’t realistic at all.

So you get this curious combination of something meant to look human, that isn’t human at all.

People have been sending me notes, concerned that my blog posts show that I’m under pressure or overloaded. And I start to think about how can I edit them so as not to put that so much on display. I suppose that’s my first instinct — to try to gloss that over. Then I wonder why I feel like no one knows when I need support. Therefore, I’m making a concerted effort not to gloss and to ask for support when I need it.

After all, it’s the human thing to do.

(Today is the official last day for the label “Ruthless Revision” — it is DONE! I’m lousy at keeping secrets.)

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Flesh


So, the last few days turned out to be crazy.

Par for the course in my life, you say? Yeah yeah yeah.

There’s this idea that the more something is worth doing, the more difficult it is. That the universe makes you pay for what you want, in sweat and pain. The old idea of blood sacrifice: if you truly want something you have to sacrifice your life blood to it. Sacrifice, of course, derived partially from the word for blood, for you word whores out there.

The idea is that if you are trying to do something, the universe will throw obstacles in your path, to see if you can be distracted.

If you can be? Alas, you are unworthy.

I’m not sure I believe this. But I’m so close to finishing the Ruthless Revision. Within ten pages, I think. And every time I think I’m there something happens to stop me.

So Jeffe, you ask, why are you writing this blog post instead of those ten pages?

Because I’ve got to be at full power to wind everything up in the elegant way I envision and the meter is running low today.

After a few days in New Jersey and another day downtown working with new clients, I thought I was in striking distance of finishing. And then a big DC muckety-muck had to call a state muckety-muck and I had to be called in. All very exciting and now people are sending glowing emails about how admirable I am.

It’s great to have the career validation. It truly is. And I’m not just saying that because I know my boss reads this blog.

The invidious thing is, nobody asks if I’ve finished the book yet. At least, not because they need it and are anxiously waiting for me to deliver it.

I’m really the only one who cares that I haven’t.

I’ve talked about this before, haven’t I?

At any rate, Allison has had a crazy few days also, with an offer of a book contract and four agents now circling her juicy self. It’s a great problem to have, no doubt, but she’s overwhelmed, sorting details and doing her best to make the best decision, not just for now, but for her foreseeable career.

Which brings me back to something I’ve also said before, that the most rewarding part of writing really occurs between you and your work. That’s the most uncomplicated thrill. It’s intimate and lovely.

Maybe I’ll finish tomorrow and keep it a secret.

Who the Hell Cares What Posterity Thinks, Anyway?


Those who check in for the “Where Is Jeffe?” updates know I was in New Jersey last week.

Land of mullets and IROC, I’m reliably informed by Allison, who spent the 80s growing up in that state. I had to ask what IROC meant. “Camaros,” she replied, while someone else said International Race of Champions. No dissent over the meaning of mullets.

Though neither was particularly in evidence.

Of course, evidence to the contrary, the 80s are well and truly over. Ann Taylor might be showing decidedly Madonna-wanna-be fashions –it’s true! think frothy lace and big bangles, possibly fingerless gloves — but theoretically mullets and camaros will just never be hip again.

We had dinner at a great place in Princeton, Mediterra, which was lovely and festive. Just the right amount of shine for early onset holiday season. For a Westerner like me, Princeton is old. The whole quaint colonial thing. Gives me a thrill every time. Cobblestones, narrow buildings, boutiques and bright Ann Taylor windows, with 80s-feel outfits. The eras blend.

We went into the bar at Nashua Inn, famous for the carvings in the wood tables of famous people. On the wall hang black and white framed yearbook photos of notable Princeton alums. It’s amusing to peruse the long wall, to see the politicians and movie stars. Yes, Brooke Shields is there. And Donald Rumsfeld.

Then, below and to the left of Donald — no significance there, I’m sure — was Michelle Obama

Class of ’85. With big 80s hair.

I remember my own youth in the 80s and how we’d have 50s day at school. Apparently 30 years is the magic number, for fashion nostalgia. My mom dressed me in what she wore in the 50s. All the other girls were in bright felt poodle skirts and ankle socks. They turned up their noses at my pencil skirt and white button-down, but all the teachers said I had the look nailed. Through no effort of my own of course.

But I remember thinking at the time, that it would be hard to do 80s dress-up day, because we didn’t really havea fashion. It seemed like non-fashion to me. It’s so difficult to have perspective on a thing, when you’re immersed in it.

Michelle’s hair screamed 80s at me. I would have known in a glance, even without the ’85 identifier. This isn’t exactly the one they had, but it gives you the idea. I wondered if she’d been back to the bar at the Nashua Inn, to see she’s now on the wall. And I wonder if she regrets the hair. Not so much that she had it, but that it’s now part of her definition. She’s leapt to the world stage and this is the moment crystallized from her college days

The sad thing is, my hair was even bigger than hers and I had to perm it to get it that way.

I suppose we don’t get to pick these things, what images end up defining us. Just like you don’t get to pick what will be the defining moments of your life. Small choices resonate it ways we can’t predict. What seems like a good idea at the time becomes a regret later.

I make a lot of choices in order to avoid regret.

I learned early on about loss and missed chances — and drew a lesson from that. So I slept with men I might not have slept with, just in case I might regret bypassing the opportunity. I’ve tried to appreciate every moment of my life, every person in it, so I wouldn’t regret later that I didn’t.

But the thing is: immersion makes it impossible to know what you might regret. You simply can’t see it in the moment. Hindsight makes it crystal clear.

In the end, I suppose all one can do is foresake regret altogether. We make choices. We hope they’re good ones. Whether it’s the person you choose for a life partner or a hairstyle.

Only time will tell.

Life, Art and Imitation


There’s something to be said for waking up to this kind of view.

It’s like having a Georgia O’Keeffe painting on your wall. Only it’s real and ever-changing. I see now, what she saw here.

Of course, I can’t quite capture the image like she could.

I remember a story I read in her biography (autobiography?). The book is still packed, so I’m pulling this out of memory.

When Georgia was a young woman, she drew and painted. She wanted to be an artist. At one point a teacher told her she didn’t have what it took. That her skills and talent were adequate, but that she lacked that something extra that would make her a great artist.

And really, you have to be great if you want to make a living at it. The Pro-Football player analogy.

Georgia went back to her room — she was living at a boarding school, though I don’t recall now if she was still a student or teaching there. And she took all of her work and hung it on the walls. She papered the walls with it and sat there and looked at all of it.

She saw her teacher was right.

None of it had that extra something that would transform it from image into art.

So, she destroyed it all. Burned it, maybe? Or something less dramatic — perhaps she just stuffed it all in the trash can.

I can’t recall the sequence after that, except that she discarded all she knew and started over. She might have not painted for a while. And when she began again: it was there. The thing that makes Georgia O’Keeffe art instantly recognizable.

Sometimes someone would bemoan the art she’d destroyed. She would reply that it was no loss.

Maybe I’m leaving out the important part of the story here, the “how she did it” part. But I don’t think so. Clearly that’s not the part that stuck with me. The part that did is the image of her, standing in the center of her room, with everything she’d done stuck all over the walls. And what it took for her to see that it wasn’t good. To destroy it for that reason.

Every time I see her art now, I think of that moment. It magnifies my admiration.