But what else is new?
LIKE / WANT / NEED
Bonjour! I’m Erin.
Categories & Series
So here’s the thing about blogging, which may seem obvious to the point of not needing to be said, but: if you don’t actually sit down to blog, you, uh, don’t have a blog. The same is true for just about anything, and you’d think I would’ve learned my lesson having finished a novel that didn’t actually write itself during all the breaks I took from writing it, but it’s July and here you are, reading my first blog post of the year.
My last post was at the end of December, and I had every intention of blogging in 2019, but then 2019 actually happened. Here’s the CliffsNotes version: on the last day of January I was fired twice from my job at the auction house, first via an all-staff email and then again the next morning in person to really drive the point home. Three days after that, I received a rejection on my revised manuscript from an agent I’d been working with since the previous August. Despite taking 95% of her feedback to my initial submission to heart and spending the better part of October and November editing the absolute bejesus out of it–I even changed the ending!–the agent admitted they hadn’t even read the full thing but still didn’t want to represent it. A week later, my grandmother was moved into a nursing home. At the beginning of March I contracted a sinus infection. Beetles infested the entire third floor of my house. I spent all of February and March unemployed, bumming around and applying for jobs, with long stretches of pretty serious depression. It was not a good period of time for me, creatively, emotionally, physically, or financially.
Lest you think it was all terrible, there was a weeklong trip to Paris in February, which had been pre-booked and which was absolutely glorious and a wonderful way to run away from my problems. (I have photos, I swear I’ll share them soon.)
Thankfully, things turned around in early April, when I landed a sweet new job at a nonprofit a stone’s throw from my house handling communications and social media. It’s part-time, so I’ve been able to rededicate myself to this novel of mine. It was hard to see precisely how dysfunctional my last job was while I was in it–don’t get me wrong, I was pretty miserable for the last six months I was there and had been planning on leaving in February, after I got back from Paris–but nothing throws it into stark contrast like a new, normal job. At a minimum, there aren’t mice crawling all over my desk in broad daylight.
Anyway, on the second day of the year, I tweeted the following:
Not to shit on my ability to follow through on things, but we’re officially six months into the year, and I’ve accomplished half of one of these five things (#5, if you were curious). I have a three-page outline of my next novel, which is a far cry from even a partial draft. I have six months left to complete these tasks, even though I was clear upfront that I would not be holding myself accountable for completing any of them. My full manuscript is currently out with three agents (!!), so I’m hoping to be able to check off #1 sometime soon. Completing #2 seems lofty, given what I know about the production timelines in the publishing industry. Numbers 3, 4, and 5 are really up to me. Can I do it? Only time will tell.
Book Goal: 35
Books Read: 44 (Smashed last year’s record by 4!)
Books Set in/About Paris: 13 (including one I actually purchased there)
Books Borrowed from the Library: 16
Books from Book of the Month: 9
Nonfiction: 6 (down from a whopping 14 last year)
Favorite Book(s): “The Italian Teacher” by Tom Rachman (I think about this book constantly and recommend it to everyone. Rachman’s “Imperfectionists” was one of my favorites last year.), “A Ladder to the Sky” by John Boyne (I’ve never read a book that long that quickly. It was delicious.)
Least Favorite(s): I don’t think “The Truth About Thea” by Amy Impellizzeri even qualifies as a book, as terrible as it was. I’ve never read something as poorly edited or with such flagrant disregard for punctuation or plot, and may I never again.
Longest Book: “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara at 672 pages
Shortest Book: “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck at 107 pages (the book is physically half the size of a regular one)
Funniest: “L’Appart” by David Lebovitz (I have a signed copy!), because you have to laugh to keep from crying during his torturous apartment renovation
Saddest: I read a lot of books I would qualify as objectively sad, including “The Girl Who Smiled Beads” by Clemence Wamariya, “Small Country” by Gaël Faye, both about African Great Lakes genocide, and “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara
Prettiest Cover: “The Italian Teacher” by about a million miles (everything designer Jaya Miceli touches turns to gold)
Most Overrated: “Feel Free” by Zadie Smith (I’m starting to think Zadie and I aren’t meant to be friends) and “Asymmetry” by Lisa Halliday (sleeping with Philip Roth and then writing a fictionalized account of it will absolutely get you a book deal, FYI)
Most Enjoyable: “A Ladder to the Sky” was one of those books I simply couldn’t put down.
Last year, I said, “I don’t think I’m going to hit 40 books next year” and this year I set a new personal record. Just goes to show you, keep your expectations low and you’re never disappointed! Kidding. This was a big year. In addition to these 44 books, I also finished my own, and read it at least half a dozen times, in digital and paper format. I already have about 10 books in a basket under my night table ready to go. Let’s do it, 2019.
On this trip, I did something I’d never done before: I went to a beach and I enjoyed it. Even if I’d accomplished nothing else in 2018 (and really, I need to tell you all about my latest novel update) the fact that I went to a beach (in a bathing suit and everything!) and my legs and arms did not retract into my body like a turtle has to be some sort of personal growth worthy of bragging about.
Tavira was the second-largest town we visited, after Faro, but was still endlessly quaint and delightful despite its relative notoriety amongst tourists. It was a little more ramshackle than the upscale town of Loulé, and less commercial than Faro, but
if when we go back, Tavira will be high on the list of places to stay for longer than an afternoon. As it was, an afternoon was just enough time to fall in love with its windy streets and chippy shutters, and eat some of the best octopus of my life in nearby St. Lucia, the self-proclaimed octopus capital of the world.
After a week in Almancil, we drove north to Evora, a town once inhabited by the Romans and an entirely different experience after the sun-drenched coast. Oddly, though, it was somehow hotter in Evora than it had been in the Algarve. We stayed in a converted convent for the night and drove into town for yet more octopus and sightseeing. I’ll never get over seeing 2,000+ year old Roman ruins standing in the middle of a mostly-modernized city. After 24 hours, it was time to head to Lisbon.
We may have overdone it one day: we hit Loulé, Alte, Silar, Querença, in one swoop. The latter is the size of a postage stamp, with a church, two restaurants, and a museum about the history of water and irrigation (?! Portugal, I love you). Loulé was perhaps more upscale than the other towns, though located right in the center of the finely manicured center is an ancient castle (admission was €1,60; I couldn’t get over the relative affordability of almost everything in Portugal in comparison to other Western European countries, but the museums and castles were particularly inexpensive). We drove through Silar without really getting out of the car, but the village of Alte was absolutely adorable. Again, it maybe had twenty year-round residents, but it featured a charming canal, a few cafes, and the birthplace of the poet Cândido Guerreiro. It also featured several very territorial geese who did not like it when you tried to get near the very scenic canal. I always forget Jamal dislikes water fowl (also peacocks) but I was reminded when, after cautiously approaching the water’s edge, I turned and saw him walking back to the car with a bellowed “NOPE.”
As happens on vacations, you arrive in a picturesque and thoroughly charming locale and think, “Oh, yes, I could live here.” There’s lots of peering in real estate windows, mentally calculating the cost of an apartment or house, ignoring the logistics of picking up & packing up your entire life and depositing it halfway across the world because, really, did you not see the precious storefronts? The locals who could have walked out of central casting and wave to you from their doorways and ask, “How are you enjoying your time here?” so earnestly? The lack of gun violence and presence of socialized medicine? All of this played out within the first few minutes of arriving in Monchique, settled high up in the hills of the Algarve. What a delight. It’s such a different landscape from the rest of the beach towns and lower-altitude spots in the Algarve. The town is famous for Medronho, a liqueur from a fruit tree of the same name, native to the area and not produced commercially (or anywhere else, for that matter); a kindly Welsh expat shop owner let us sample some. We left town and drove to the scenic overlook at the highest point in the Algarve, before returning to the resort and falling asleep by the pool (I told you there was a lot of that).
We flew to Portugal for two weeks on the last day of September. (And yes, it’s taken me this long to get a post together. A brief, yet valid, excuse: five days after we got home, we bought a house, and the movers came the next day. This sale season at work has been long and exhausting, to say nothing of the fact that I also spent the entirety of the month of November editing my novel–more on that later!)
Despite a bumpy start to the trip–a four-hour delay out of Philadelphia, a missed connection in Madrid, luggage that was lost somewhere in Spain even though we were in Portugal, and accidentally leaving my glasses on the plane–Portugal wowed me from the moment I exited the airport. We picked up a rental car and drove three hours down the western coast to Aljezur, to spend one night in a nature reserve bed and breakfast. Much of that first day was spent sitting by the pool we couldn’t swim in because our bathing suits were in another country, on the phone with American Airlines. We made the quick trip into the tiny cluster of streets that constitute Aljezur’s ‘downtown’ for dinner, which consisted of grilled octopus (my favorite meat) and crisp, cheap vinho verde (my favorite wine), a meal I would end up replicating nearly every single day of the trip, much to my joy.
The next morning, we drove along the southern coast to Almancil, to check into a resort that would act as our home base over the first week. On the way, we stopped at Praia do Amado, a beach popular with surfers, and Cabo de São Vicente, which is the most western tip of the European continent. Standing on the rocky crop of cliffs, it felt like standing at the end of the world. You can imagine how people 500 years ago could think so; the horizon was nearly impossible to locate in the endless expanse of blue. I just stood there, my jaw slack, trying to take it all in and failing. It’s like my brain couldn’t comprehend it. We stopped for lunch in Portimão (more octopus and vinho verde), and arrived in Almancil in the late afternoon, where our luggage was blessedly waiting for us. You’ve never seen someone so happy to be reunited with underwear.
There was a lot of laying by the pool (in the shade), reading, swimming, lazing about in the afternoons, while the mornings were spent exploring the towns nearby. Faro was by far the largest and most touristed of the ones we visited, but for good reason; it’s a gem.
A highlight of the trip–perhaps all of my dozen trips combined–was finally getting to go inside the Grand Palais. Entry was free the weekend I was there, and I’d been longing to stand inside the massive hall, with its iron lattice ceiling, ever since I saw this photo from the turn of the century years ago. It did not disappoint. I spent close to an hour and a half, just wandering from one end to the other, marveling at the vastness of the space. I can’t begin to describe the scale of it. It felt like stepping back in time, and if there’s ever an excuse for me to start fantasizing about life in Belle Époque Paris, this one was as good as any.
Other highlights: buying a 3€ used copy of Daphne du Maurier’s “The Scapegoat” at my new favorite English bookshop in the city, and sitting en terrasse at Place Dauphine with a glass (or two) of rosé and reading. It had been almost four years that I took this photo, and there I was, sitting in that exact spot:
Everything comes full circle.
This trip was a true vacation, and I fully realize how spoiled that sounds, given that I was just there in February. But that was a work trip; I wrote the entire time. The time before that, in September, I had class three days a week. This trip, I had absolutely no plans. It was a week to clear my head, relax, and, thrillingly, get to know my new camera. I’d bought a secondhand Fuji, lured by its compact size and weight and its true optical viewfinder (I’m a purist). It’s definitely not in the same league as my Canon 6D full-frame, but my shoulder aches after carrying that beast around all day. My 12th trip to Paris seemed like as good a time as any to test it out; it’s not like I haven’t taken these exact photos before, so if the quality was terrible or I couldn’t find my way around the settings as comfortably as with my Canon–I’ve had it for about five years, I could work it in my sleep–it wouldn’t be a total waste.
Thankfully, I think it worked out pretty well! I barely noticed the weight of it in my bag each day, and its discreet size meant I didn’t feel quite as awkward with it slung over my shoulder, or when I pulled it out at a restaurant to snap a photo of my meal. The auto-focus isn’t as fast as my Canon, and sometimes it searches and misses, especially in low light, but it’s a fantastic, true ‘walk around’ camera and I don’t regret buying it (especially since I got it for a third of what it would have cost new). Pas mal, non?
I hadn’t been back to Paris in June since 2014, and while you’ll never hear me complain about Paris in the winter (the dark and moody weather makes a perfect contrast against the orange glow of cafe lights) there is something undeniably alluring about the summer there. The sun doesn’t set until close to 11pm, the weather is comfortable (though I had to buy a sweatshirt my first day there. In June.), and I forgot what it was like to not have to regularly duck into a restaurant or shop to thaw out. I guess what this proves is that there really are no bad seasons to visit Paris, and that’s what I tell people then they ask me when they should go. Just go. It rained my whole first day and I had an embarrassing incident on the bus with the RATP transit police (a scam! It’s such a long story, but one which ends with me going to the US Embassy and then giving a police statement at the préfecture in the 8ème, and being reimbursed by my credit card company without question, and all three entities had heard my exact story before from other targeted tourists that same day.) but still, it was home. It is home.
Sun-soaked photos to come, je te jure.
*taps microphone hesitantly*
Is this thing still on?
In what will be perhaps my most belated announcement on this blog (for reasons that will become clear), I FINISHED MY NOVEL.
It was a momentous occasion, one I didn’t even dare to dream about while I was down in the writing trenches, mostly because, as the old saying goes, it seems impossible until it’s done. This book took me five years. Five! Not five consecutive years, by any means–a long bout of depression between 2015 and 2016, coupled with temporary unemployment and a whole host of other unpleasantness, set me back significantly; there were months when I didn’t even open the Word file–but still, approximately half a decade. (Please don’t let the next one take as long!)
In that time, I moved to Paris, changed jobs THREE times, went back to Paris eight more times, and if I look back at my earliest saved draft & outline, I don’t even recognize it beyond the characters, who by now feel like real life human beings. The story changed shape and focus somewhere halfway through, and I followed it. It morphed into its own sentient being, talking to me at 3am, nagging me until I listened and let it tell me where to go.
And this is where it led me: a 390 page, 110,000 word literary mystery set in Paris, about a man who stole 14 paintings from Sotheby’s. It is about art and love and loss. It is tentatively titled “Vanished.” To quote my query letter (we’ll get to that in a second!): Set across Paris, La Ciotat, and New York, “Vanished” explores the profound influence the things–and people–that go missing can have simply through their absence.
I went to Paris in February with a goal to finish it. I was so close, and flights were $400, and I knew that I needed to finish it where it started, where it was set. I wrote every day in my little apartment. I let the city do what it always does for me, and it worked. When I realized I was mere minutes from finishing, I started crying. Gasping, happy tears. I had to force myself back into the chair to keep going; it felt like trying to contain a hot air balloon. And when I hit save, I took a selfie to document the moment (as one does).
Coucou! C’est moi!
(Oh, yeah, I also had bangs back then. And it’s taken me this long to write a blog post that I don’t have bangs anymore.)
And once I backed up the document to my external hard drive, I took myself to the Ritz on Place Vendôme for champagne, because if there is ever an occasion in your life that warrants a 30€ glass of champagne, THIS WAS IT.
Still riding the euphoric high of that wondrous achievement, I came home and gave two copies of the full manuscript to two dear friends; one, to read solely as a reader and lover of fiction to see if the big mystery actually worked the way I wanted it to (IT DID), and the other, to proofread with her sharp, talented eye and whip into shape. I also edited the living bejesus out of it, ruthlessly cutting it down to 350 pages from 390 and trimming it from 110,000 words to 97,000. (That was an intense weekend, let me tell you.) I didn’t cling to each and every one of my precious words the way I thought I would. If they weren’t helping the narrative, they were slashed with red pencil.
In March, I started the process of finding an agent. Friends, if I had known this part of the game was going to be as difficult and stressful as it has been, I would’ve hurried the fuck up with the writing and devoted more emotional energy to querying. People warned me! They warned me this would suck! They were not wrong! Writing a novel is only half of the battle.
Querying looks like this: you need an agent to sell your work to a publisher, so you go online and research literary agencies, of which there are thousands, and when you find an agency you think would be a good fit–they’ve published reputable, successful books similar to yours in genre–you then find the specific agent at that agency who is looking for material like yours–some agents only want romance, or Young Adult, or non-fiction, or some want mysteries but not crime, or women’s fiction and not literary fiction, or vice versa–and once you identify said agent you start scouring the web for interviews they may have given that expand upon what they’re looking for, so you can reference it in your query letter–“In your March 2016 interview with Kirkus Reviews, you said you’re seeking literary fiction in an international setting…” or “Because you represented X book, I think my book would be a good fit for your list.”–and then you can start drafting your query letter, which is a one page document that briefly summarizes your book, like a dust jacket blurb–so take your entire book and explain it in two paragraphs that are engaging and intriguing without giving everything away–and explains why you are qualified to write the book you did–in my case, being a writer at an auction house kind of, I think, qualifies me to write about art at an auction house, idk–and then is emailed to the agent along with their submission requirements–some agents want five pages, some want ten, some want a full chapter, either pasted in the email below your query letter, or attached, and some want a synopsis, too, which is your entire book explained and is different from the summary you included in your query letter–and then you hit send, and then! AND THEN YOU WAIT.
You wait for the agent to read your query, and hope that they like it enough to request more of the book from you, either a “partial” (~50 pages ) or a “full” (which, as the name implies, is the full manuscript). Or you wait for the agent to send a rejection, which is usually a pleasant enough form letter that tells you “better luck elsewhere.” Mostly, you wait.
Sometimes you wait and get an email that looks like this:
If it sounds exhausting and convoluted, it’s because it is. If it sounds soul-crushingly depressing, well, yeah, it’s that, too. I’ve sent out 44 queries in five months. I’ve gotten 21 rejections. The first few were fun! “Look at me, I’m a real author now, I got my first rejection!” (Spoiler: they became increasingly less fun as they rolled in.) I’ve also had several full requests and one partial request. In fact, I received another partial request last night. (!!) I still have 18 queries still out to agents. I check the #amquerying tag on Twitter on the reg. I read blogs about authors finding their agent, I check QueryTracker.com for the statistics about each agent I’m querying. This is as all-consuming as the actual writing portion, only this time I have absolutely no control over any of it. But I’m hopeful. And I’m also brainstorming my next book.
And because of all that, I have neglected this sweet, lonely blog for six months. The shame! I still have photos from my last trip to Paris in June to share. (Oh, yeah, I went back to Paris in the midst of all of this, my rationale being that February’s trip was really a working trip, and I really needed a vacation trip, and I hadn’t been in Paris in June since 2014 and I missed the light, and also flights were $550, and also that I never need a rationale to go back to Paris four months after I was just there.)
Did I mention I finished my novel?