So About That Novel….

Novel. Fin.

*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.

In Paris!

In February.

Ahem.

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?

August 3, 2018 / read / watch / LEAVE A COMMENT / 3

February in Paris, pt. 2

Pont de Bir-Hakeim

Pont de Bir-Hakeim

Place Dauphine

Place Dauphine

A lady & a dog, Notre-Dame

Le Saint-Régis

Crue

Snowflakes on his shoulders

Il neige!

May 23, 2018 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 2

February in Paris, pt. 1

Rue des Abbesses

Les Livres

Boulevard de Clichy

Église Saint-Sulpice

Église Saint-Sulpice

Rue Ferou

Jardin du Luxembourg

San Fransisco Bookshop

Rue Cler

Les Roses

May 21, 2018 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT

Mon Appart

Villa Dancourt

Mon appart

Mon appart

My home

Mon appart

Mon appart

Mon appart

In September, I had the good fortune of finding perhaps the most perfect apartment I’ve ever stayed in. Located a block from both rue des Abbesses and rue des Martyrs, the location could not be beat, and the space itself lived up to all of my exacting standards (big windows! a non-handheld shower! original crown moldings!). I was lucky enough to call the apartment home for two weeks then, and even luckier to be able to return to it at the end of February of this year. It was in that living room, at that table, that I finished my novel. (I have so much to tell you!) There was a severe cold snap in February while I was there, and the apartment became my warm, cozy cocoon, providing me with enough reasons to stay in and write.

The owner and I became fast friends in September, and kept in touch on WhatsApp ever since. She graciously invited me back this winter, and I’ll be going back in June. (Surprise!) She even offered it up for the entire month of July and part of August, and you guys, I deserve a medal for not succumbing to the temptation to faff off for five weeks. It quickly became “my” apartment, and it’s felt like home in a way that no other in Paris apartment has since 2014.

I can’t wait to be back.

May 18, 2018 / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT

On Being Rich

Being rich is not about how much money you have or how many homes you own; it’s the freedom to buy any book you want without looking at the price and wondering if you can afford it.

John Waters, “Role Models.”

April 13, 2018 / read / watch / LEAVE A COMMENT / 1

2017 in Books

2017 in Books

Oh hey! It’s been a while! For the optimistic crickets that are still lingering in this space, waiting patiently for an update: bonjour! I’m closing out the calendar with my “Year in Books” review. Herewith:

Book Goal: 30
Books Read: 40 (!! A personal record)
Books Set in/About Paris: 14
Books Borrowed from the Library: 13
Books from Book of the Month: 7
Favorite Book(s): “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr (luminous), “The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman (charming), and “The Twits” by Roald Dahl (a childhood favorite revisited)
Least Favorite(s): It’s fitting that in such a garbage year there would be some garbage reads, too. “Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler was trashy as shit, proving that great cover art can propel a book to popularity regardless of its internal literary merit. “Lies She Told” by Cate Holahan was atrocious, poorly written and vapid. And “Into the Water” by Paula Hawkins had 11 different narrators in the first 90 pages, in case you want to slog through the most disjointed, boring ‘Gone Girl’ genre ~mystery~
Longest Book: “The Queen of the Night” by Alexander Chee, at 561 pages
Shortest Book: “The Twits” at 96 pages
Funniest: “Red Dwarf” or “The Twits” (that title is popping up a lot this year!)
Saddest: “What Remains” by Carole Radziwill (yes, of Real Housewives fame). I surprisingly found this beautifully written and moving. The last 50 pages just about destroyed me. I’d never, before this book, found someone who could articulate the eerie, unsettling pain and panic of middle-of-the-night trauma, or what it’s like to lay with someone hooked up to a morphine drip as they fade in and out of consciousness as accurately as Radziwill does.
Prettiest Cover: “Pond” by Claire Louise Bennett (picked it specifically for the cover and was thankfully not disappointed)
Most Overrated: “Theft by Finding” by David Sedaris. This was disappointing, considering last year I named “Me Talk Pretty One Day” the funniest book I read. I waited forever on the library queue for this one, and found the first 250 pages just god awful. (For example: in the entry for April 19, 1978, Sedaris wrote the word “uh” 203 times in a row. That was it. Just the word “uh” over and over 203 times.) It picked up once he moved to France, but a lot of the diary entries overlapped with “Me Talk Pretty…”
Most Enjoyable: With obvious exceptions, I enjoyed reading almost all 40 books this year. Reading is my favorite! But Julia Child’s “My Life in France” wins, hands-down, for basically narrating my two-week trip to Paris (and La Ciotat!) this past September.

I don’t think I’m going to hit 40 books next year, but I have a big stack next to my bed already and I can’t wait to dive in. Here’s to 2018.

December 29, 2017 / read / watch / LEAVE A COMMENT / 1

September in Paris, pt. 4

Dusk Montmartre

Petit Déj, Café de Flore

Bench, Jardin du Luxembourg

Bench in the shade

More leaves

Musée Nissim Camondo

Le Rostand Chat

Rue Dancourt

Leaves

Rue des Abbesses

Salut!

Chapelle expiatoire

Chairs, Jardin du Luxembourg

That Paris exists, and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.

I am so lucky to have Paris. France, more generally, because I can’t forget about La Ciotat. This trip was unlike any other for me, a combination of the weather and the time of year and the foliage and the southern coast and my 18-hour French immersion course. All of it was so good. I stepped out of my comfort zone in a big way this trip, and was rewarded for it. There were so many highlights it’s hard to pick a single thing, but the memory I keep coming back to over and over is sitting in the Jardin du Luxembourg, on a bench in the early afternoon, with the leaves crunching underfoot and rustling overhead, doing my French homework. (once a nerd, always a nerd)

So it goes without saying: I really miss Paris. When I’m not there, the distance feels insufferable, insurmountable, like I’m chasing a forgotten dream that’s somehow always just outside my grasp. Could it have all been real? The air, the sounds, the light, the steady calm that settles over me the moment my feet touch French soil? It’s not just that I’ve fallen in love with Paris–that happened a long time ago–it’s that I’ve now fallen in with Paris, matched its step, its rhythm, its secrets. Instead of being consumed by longing when I’m away, I’ve turned instead to gratitude. How lucky am I, to love Paris this much? To love the city so much it’s changed the fundamental makeup of my DNA, altered me irrevocably? Paris will always be there, and it will always be there for me. Everyone has their own Paris, if they’re lucky enough. I’m lucky enough to have mine.

November 7, 2017 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 1

September in Paris, pt. 3

Art store window

La Tour Eiffel

Classic Haussmann

La Tour Eiffel

Notre-Dame

Wildlife, Seine

Île Saint-Louis

The reading hour, Avenue Trudaine

Avenue Trudaine

Baguette, Rue des Abbesses

Pause au parc

Leaves

Fleuriste, Place de Furstenberg

Sometimes words feel unnecessary. I’ll have something to say on my next post, when I finally (!) wrap up the photos from this trip (you know, just over a month after going. Remember the days when people, myself included, blogged every single day??). Until then…

October 31, 2017 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 1

September in La Ciotat, pt. 2

Parc Mugel, La Ciotat

Parc Mugel, La Ciotat

Parc Mugel, La Ciotat

Parc Mugel, La Ciotat

Bzzz. Parc Mugel, La Ciotat

Anse du Petit Mugel

Reading in the shade, Anse du Petit Mugel

Plage Capucins, La Ciotat

Plage Capucins, La Ciotat

Plage Capucins, La Ciotat

Plage Capucins, La Ciotat

Plage Capucins, La Ciotat

Making friends with the locals, Vieux Port

You know me well enough by now to know I’m not a nature person. I prefer concrete, crowds, and the noise of the city. I find the silence of nature unnerving, suspicious even. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy brief jaunts in small doses, but my comfort zone is certainly 100& urban. The same is true for beaches; I’m not a beach person. I don’t like the sun, the sand, the idea of laying somewhere for hours that isn’t an air conditioned room. I’m not really an outdoors person in any sense of the word, in case you hadn’t guessed.

So you’d think a town bumping right up against the Mediterranean sea, whose biggest draw was that it has both grand beaches and a majestic nature park with rocky calanques at either end, wouldn’t be a place I’d fall head over heels in love with. La Ciotat proved me wrong. I went to the beach both days and the calanques at the foot of Parc du Mugel, where I spread a blanket under a tree and read in the shade for hours. The water was remarkable: crystal clear and azur blue, and refreshingly crisp but not too cold (people were swimming!). The great thing about going to a beach resort town off-season was how few people there were; I know if I’d gone even a month earlier, at the end of August, it would have been impossible to have an entire rocky inlet to myself (something that normally would have freaked me out, but in these circumstances made me feel like I’d discovered a secret portal to heaven).

I’d seen pictures of Parc du Mugel and the calanques before I left, but nothing prepared me for it in real life. Photos can’t even do it justice. The air, the breeze, the sound of the water against the rocks, the complete isolation from noise and people, and, most importantly, the color of the water. I read, I stared at the sea, I napped, I lay there doing nothing. It helped that it was late September and the temperatures were in the low 70s. But by late afternoon on my second day, I had to fight to peel myself off of the rocks and get on the train back to Paris. I could’ve happily stayed there forever.

And the beach! It turns out, I don’t hate the beach, I hate American beaches, with the powdery, suffocating sand, the overwhelming smell of brine, and the filthy water. (Do you know how much trash I saw in La Ciotat? None. I saw zero trash, at the beach, in the water, in the park, or in the town itself.) The beaches in La Ciotat were made of teensy little sand pebbles, not grit, and the water was clean and smelled like fresh salt–like a candle, an almost artificial approximation of how a beach should smell. If you grow up thinking the beaches in New Jersey are representative of all beaches, no wonder you detest going to the beach. To not have to pluck sand from your bodily crevices for a full day after going swimming, did you even know such a luxury existed? Get thee to the south of France! Where everything, including the sand, is better.

My trip was over all too quickly, and by 5:30 I was in Marseille boarding a train back to Paris. If I didn’t love Sundays in Paris so much, I would’ve stayed an extra day. Could’ve, easily. Even though there isn’t much of anything to do in La Ciotat (and a character laments that fact early on in my book), that’s kind of the whole point. I felt more relaxed after a single afternoon reading by the water than any yoga or meditation class back home. There was something centering and restorative about that town, and I’m already dying to go back.

October 20, 2017 / art / photo / Travel / Comments Off on September in La Ciotat, pt. 2

September in La Ciotat, pt. 1

Gare de La Ciotat

Vieux Port, La Ciotat

La Ciotat

Ladies of La Ciotat

La Ciotat

La Ciotat

Place Sadi Carnot, La Ciotat

Weathered, La Ciotat

Graffiti, La Ciotat

La Ciotat

La Ciotat

Rue des Poilus, La Ciotat

Calanque du Grand Mugel

I want to tell you all about La Ciotat.

Four years ago, I closed my eyes and pointed at a map of France, aiming along the southern coast between Marseille and Monaco. I needed a small seaside town that wasn’t well-known, not overly touristy, a little less glitzy and moneyed that the obvious resort towns like Cannes and Nice. Somewhere working-class French locals went every summer. I ended up in La Ciotat, approximately 20km east of Marseille, near Cassis. Famous for being the town where the Lumiere brothers made one of the first motion pictures–of a train pulling in the station–and the birthplace of pétanque–French bocce–La Ciotat is a quaint, sleepy commune with all the charm of the Côte d’Azur, but little present-day notoriety. In other words, it was a perfect place to open my novel. Thanks to Google Maps, I was able to craft four or five chapters in the town; how hard is it to write about two characters spending afternoons at the beach when you can visit the beach in Street View, even if it’s thousands of miles away?

After a whirlwind 30 hour trip in real life, I can safely say I got it mostly right.

On my first Friday in Paris, I took an early morning Uber to Gare de Lyon, where I boarded a train to Marseille. It was raining that morning in Paris, a rarity this trip, but as the train pulled further and further south, the clouds cleared and the sun started shining. Three hours later (after a nap and some quality reading time), we disembarked at Saint-Charles station to balmy weather and a thick, glorious sunshine unlike anything I’d seen before. The light truly is different down there, and even someone as sun-averse as myself, I had a hard time resisting its glow. I bought a ticket for a local train headed to Hyères, and within half an hour I’d arrived in La Ciotat. (Side-note: no one ever checked my ticket on the local train, to or from Marseille, so I basically donated €8 to SNCF out of the kindness of my heart.)(Side-note #2: the French rail system is a thing of beauty and a model of convenience.)

All of my research and Google Earth stalking hadn’t prepared me for just how cute this place is; I couldn’t handle it. The bus into the center of town–which cost a whopping 90 cents for an all-day pass–played Stromae and Keane (!!), and as it rounded a corner and I got my first view of the glittering Mediterranean water in the early afternoon sun, I gasped out loud. Being late September, the town was mostly empty of tourists, leaving only locals around and all of the restaurant terraces facing the sea empty. La Ciotat is small, I can’t stress that enough; I walked from one end of the waterfront to the other in about 40 minutes. One the north side there are long beaches, and all the way at the south is a giant nature reserve, Parc du Mugel, with calanques and rocky inlets with shrubby swimming holes, and tons of fishing boats docked in the Vieux Port in the middle of town. It’s decidedly working-class and unfussy, there’s graffiti and the paint on every building is delightfully chippy. The age of the local population averaged about 60, from my brief study, and the pace there is just different, slower, more relaxed. Melted, even.

I stayed right at the end of the Vieux Port, overlooking boats bobbing in the dock, and the long pier that marks the end of the city center. At the end of the pier is a two-story dance club called Sûr Les Quais, which features a different theme and DJ every night, and also features prominently in the beginning of my book. Since it was the off-season and the hotel was empty, they upgraded my room at check-in, and so I was able to write on my large balcony the next morning, staring directly at the club. It was the eeriest thing, being in a place that for so long has felt fictional, alive only on the page for me. I half-expected my characters to come stumbling out of the club at 4am–when the town finally went to sleep that night!–and call for me at my window. (Does that sound psychotic?)

For dinner that night, I ate along the water at a crêpe restaurant, and brought a book with me. I’d started reading Julia Child’s “My Life in France” on the plane to Paris–I like themed reading–and she had been casually narrating my trip thus far, describing Paris in September as the weather changed, etc. As I tucked into my dessert, I was about 200 pages in when Julia’s husband Paul gets reassigned to a posting in Marseille. “Oh!” I thought. “How funny. Now she’s following me to the south of France.” Not a paragraph later, she and Paul take a drive along the coast with a packed picnic lunch, and stop in La Ciotat for the afternoon. My eyes bulged out of my head. There I was, sitting in La Ciotat, reading about Julia Child sitting in La Ciotat, a town I’d never heard of before randomly picking it off a map years before. Spooky!

The whole experience in the town felt like that, honestly. Like I’d made this place up and it had come to life on its own, existing exactly the way I’d written it, and only for me. To say I’d fallen in love would be an understatement.

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October 17, 2017 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 6