LIKE / WANT / NEED
Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Yearly Archives: 2018
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?
August 3, 2018 / read / watch /
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 /