LIKE / WANT / NEED
Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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*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 /
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 /
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 /
I’m leaving for Paris this weekend (!!), and you’d think that would satiate me in terms of wishlist items, but you’d be wrong. What would this blog be without a seemingly endless wishlist? Just a few things that have caught my eye recently, most of which will likely make their way onto my bank statement at some point (except for “The Bettencourt Affair,” which I’ve responsibly requested from the library!).
Hi! I’m alive! I’m so sorry. I never intended to be gone from here for over a month, but there was always something else that felt more pressing in the rare times I found to sit at my desk–writing, chief among them. I’ve missed you! Tell me, what’s been going on? Besides work, the things that are occupying my time are mostly listed above. Oh, and writing. So, so much writing.
January was a great month for reading; I’m on my fifth book of the year so far, and, surprisingly, not one of them was about, or set in, Paris. Lest you think I’m slacking on my Francophile duties in 2017, here are just a handful of books on my to-read list. Some of these were gifts (my family knows me so well!), some are in my library queue, some were purchased with gift cards (again, people know me well), and one of them (“Shakespeare & Company”) is on my to-purchase list when I get back to Paris (45 days!). I’m trying to expand my literary horizons this year and read books outside of my comfort zone, but I can’t resist the pull of a Parisian page-turner.
What are you reading these days?
My year in books:
Book Goal: 30
Books Read: 34
Books Set in/About Paris: 13 (three less than last year)
Books Borrowed from the Library: 11
Favorite Book(s): “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, “32 Yolks” by Eric Ripert, “Hotel Pastis” by Peter Mayle, and “Read Joan” by Jennie Rooney
Least Favorite(s): Oof, I read some stinkers last year. “Maestra” leads the pack as possibly the worst thing I have ever read, ever. I’ve read ingredients lists that were more well-crafted and intelligent. But there are some other joyless slogs, too: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (the Lisbeth Salander series needed to die when Stieg Larsson did), “Murder in the Marais” (I actually thought this was a bad translation from French, given how poor the writing was. It was not.), “The Fall Guy” (what saddens me most about this one is that the author, who can’t write, teaches writing at a college level).
Longest Book: “The Greater Journey”, by David McCullough.
Shortest Book: “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles
Funniest: “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris. I was the last person on earth to read this one, I’m sure.
Saddest: “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi
Books from Book of the Month: 3
Prettiest Covers: “The Spy” by Paolo Coelho and “Paris in Winter” by David Coggins (the latter was filled with his illustrations, too)
Most Overrated: “The Woman in Cabin 10” by a mile. A weak copy of “Girl on the Train,” which was a weak copy of “Gone Girl.” And it was written at a sixth grade reading level, max.
You can read all of my reviews for these books over on Goodreads (let’s be friends!). Are you doing a reading challenge in 2017? I’m aiming for 30 this year again. We’re about to enter the most unintelligent administration in this nation’s history, so I consider this year’s challenge a moral imperative. Read, read, read, kiddos.
January 17, 2017 / read / watch /
Because I couldn’t bear to have my heartbroken election post at the top of the page any longer, here is a playlist of songs that have become something of a writing security blanket for me over the last three (!!!) years. My incredibly talented friend Herbie compiles a mix CD for me every year for my birthday, and I’m not ashamed to admit that’s where more than a few of these songs came from. The songs on this playlist either get me in the mood to write, help me stay in that headspace, or are so intrinsically linked to my novel from constant looping on repeat that they have formed an unofficial soundtrack (I want to live inside of that Active Child song; two of my characters already do). I listened to Buzzcut Season by Lorde multiple times a day when I lived in Paris (my neighbors must’ve hated me…), and almost wrote an entire blog post about one line of that song: “And I’ll never go home again.” I came home from Paris, but I didn’t really come home, because those weeks I spent there, writing, became my home. I don’t know, it sounded better in my head, but the song itself still does it for me. I know I threw in a bit of a curveball with that Shostakovich Ballet Suite by the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, but I heard that song on the classical station about eight or nine years ago, and was stopped in my tracks. It is, to this day, one of the most beautiful compositions I’ve ever heard, and I’m not just saying that as a biased former-ballerina.
Happy listening, kiddos! Let me know if you end up streaming or downloading any of these & if they give you as much encouragement as they do me.
November 16, 2016 / read / watch /
I’ve been mentally compiling this post for months; every time I go to Barnes & Noble I’m greeted/assaulted by yet another novel on the “New Fiction” table about someone’s wife. The wife of someone with a notable profession or occupation or designation. This is a somewhat strange trend in women’s literature that’s appeared in the last few years that, if the covers above are any indication, has gotten way, way out of hand. (I searched “wife” on B&N’s website and this wasn’t even all the results from the first few pages.) There seems to be no end to the interpretations: there’s the wife of a ringmaster, the wife of a tea planter, the wife of a tiger (um?), the wife of a traitor, the wife of a widower (wait…), even the wife of a Nazi officer. There’s the 19th wife (I haven’t read it but I’m guessing/hoping it’s about a polygamist family), the silent wife, the secret wife, and a wife who is ~unseemly~. There’s a wife in Paris and a wife in California. There’s even the absolutely confounding “My Husband’s Wife.” (Your husband’s wife IS YOU.) So many wives! So many novels about women, women ostensibly interesting enough to string a whole book around. And yet! This sub-genre of women’s lit has relegated these interesting, novel-worthy women to secondary characters in their own stories. Women, even when they are the protagonists, are only defined by their relationship to men.
Oh, the rage.
To be fair, I’ve only read “The Paris Wife,” (because of course I have) and I fell in love with McLain’s interpretation of Hemingway’s first, long-suffering wife, Hadley. Do I get why it was titled “The Paris Wife”? Sure. Could it have easily been titled something else entirely, something befitting the struggles of the main character, her resilience in the face of infidelity, her selflessness and goodness? Yes! But nah, she was married to Hemingway right when they first moved to Paris, so naturally her story became, “The Paris Wife.” She was just his wife, after all. Merely an extension of her husband. Except she wasn’t! She was strong-willed and independent and the title on the cover was so unbefitting for the character inside the pages.
I have the same reaction when I see other women’s social media profiles that start “Wife, mama,” and list a thousand other descriptions based solely on their relationship to other people before listing anything about themselves as an individual human being. I’m my own fully-formed person who isn’t defined by her husband, and I would never expect Jamal to say he’s “a husband” first when meeting new people. I have never described myself as a wife first. And that isn’t a deliberate, feminist choice, or a slight to Jamal. I speak French, I’m working on a novel, I drink an obscene amount of tea, I can pick things up with my toes, I slept with a nightlight until I was in my early 20s, I listen exclusively to classical music on the radio, and I have a membership to the Louvre. I’m a writer who happens to have a husband, I am not a wife who writes occasionally. If you boiled my existence down to my identity as Jamal’s spouse, I would become “The Senior Vice President of Solutions Architecture’s Wife,” which says absolutely nothing about me and everything about him. I think that’s what is so infuriating about all of these titles, especially because the books go on to say everything about the women. Maybe publishers don’t think people (read: men) would buy them otherwise?
I saw a tweet recently, in response to the hideous comments about glorified-sexual-assault made by one of the candidates for president, that fit this post perfectly. Lots of men came out to express how disgusted they were by the comments…not as human beings with morals, but rather as husbands and as fathers of daughters. Because if you can’t even title a novel about a women with deference to the actual woman, why wouldn’t men only think about women in relation to themselves? The tweet read: “Fun fact: in addition to being wives and daughters and mothers and sisters and grandmas and aunties, women are also people.” A novel concept (pun very much intended).
October 18, 2016 / read / watch /