How I Got My Literary Agent

I have a literary agent! This is bonkers.

In February of 2018, I finished the novel I’d been writing, off and on, for five years. I was in Paris, because the novel is set in Paris, and if you’re ever going to really lean in to a cliché, why not choose the one about being an American writer in Paris? I came home and set about finding an agent to represent it and shepherd it to publication. Here’s an excerpt of a post from August of 2018, when I was only six months into the query process:

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.

I sent somewhere around 55 queries between March and December of 2018. In August, I received a full request from an agent who eventually asked me to revise and resubmit the manuscript, but only if I paid an editor for a developmental edit. (In hindsight, this ought to have set off alarm bells; querying authors shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to secure an agent. They can if they so choose, but it shouldn’t be a requirement to landing representation.) I contacted four editors, two of whom the agent recommended personally (this should have been another red flag), and all of them came back with quotes for their services between $3,000 and 4,000. I’m sure they’re worth every penny they charge, but it was money I just didn’t have and I didn’t think my precious book child needed that much heavy lifting. That’s not to say I disagreed with/refused to be receptive to the feedback the agent gave me, or that I was too protective of my novel to change even a single comma. I’d been editing as I wrote, revising and condensing and polishing; I even had my dear friend Samantha, who had worked in publishing, proofread it. This wasn’t a first draft manuscript by any means.

I undertook the edit myself, which took me a month. I deleted roughly 11k words, changed the ending, and addressed a bunch of other plot and pacing points. I liked the book more. It still felt like the book I set out to write, just better; I didn’t sacrifice my vision for it in the pursuit of one agent.

I resubmitted it to the agent in December, and when they got back to me in January of 2019, the answer was still no. Disappointing, but not surprising. All of the things I’d read about finding the right agent (including many of the rejection emails I got from other agents) reassured me that it’s a subjective industry and it only takes one agent to fall in love with it and champion it to publishers.

Between January and June of 2019, I sent another 10 queries, sporadically at best and with none of the initial enthusiasm I had displayed early on. Every rejection, especially ones that came from full requests (and I received 11 full requests total over the life of my #amquerying journey), hurt. Querying isn’t for the faint of heart. It also takes longer than you expect, and you learn to be very, very patient. It’s basically the chorus from Chumbawamba’s 1997 hit “Tubthumping,” in that you get knocked down, but you get back up again and keep sending your novel out to other agents.

In June, an agent I queried in February requested the full manuscript. In November, I sent a gently nudging email. She responded saying she hadn’t had a chance to read it but promised she would. In December, she reached out to me to let me know she had started my novel and was enjoying it, and that she hoped to finish it over the holidays and get back to me after the new year. Surely that was a good sign, right? An agent not only showing interest but keeping me apprised of her process? I was like a wounded puppy by that point, though, and refused to get my hopes up.

I had, also, ceased querying entirely. I love my novel, but figured it wasn’t its time. I set it aside in the summer and decided to focus all of my creative efforts on writing another one, maybe one that wasn’t so niche, one that didn’t straddle two genres. An unraveled art heist that is neither a straight mystery (we know whodunnit from the first page) or straight literary fiction is a hard sell, I was told over and over again.

So I started writing another novel. And then I abandoned that novel for another one. I was convinced the best course of action would be to write a second novel more firmly planted in a salable genre, go through the querying process all over again, and hope to sell not only the second novel but the first novel in a two-book deal with a publisher. (The universe, it should now be apparent, had other plans.)

On the second Friday in January 2020, I received an email from that agent that said: “I finally had the chance to read VANISHED in full, and I’m thrilled to tell you that I loved it.” (!!!!!!!!)

I screamed and Tom Cruise’d myself onto my couch, which wasn’t medically advisable given that just that afternoon I’d been diagnosed with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. To say it was a day of ups and downs isn’t entirely accurate; it was a day of listing to one side and then being shot into space with glee. I was dizzy in more ways than one.

We set up a time to talk the following Tuesday. This, of course, is “The Call” querying authors hope to land, the endgame step that leads to an offer of representation, but which I refused to allow myself to believe was actually happening. Maybe it was another revise and resubmit! Maybe I would get hit by a bus before Tuesday and die immediately and never actually get to have The Call! My brain can’t let me have nice things!

At the appointed time, I made myself a cup of tea, sat on my bed, and tried very hard not to pass out. She called, we spoke, she raved about my novel, said she wanted to represent me, the bed opened up beneath me and I fell into my grave. She loved it! She *got* it! She was surprised and satisfied by the main plot twist. She had a few minor suggestions on two or three plot points, all of which made sense to me and I agreed with. I asked her questions I’d googled in advance, like: What is your submission strategy? What happens if you don’t like my next book? And then, because we were getting along so well and the conversation had never felt like a formal interview, I asked her what books she was reading for fun, and it turns out we’d both recently read and loved “Fleishman is in Trouble.” If writing a whole novel is only half the battle, then finding an agent who believes in it enough to sell it to publishers is only the next quarter; the remaining quarter is finding an agent you get along well enough with to maintain a (hopefully!) long and fruitful working relationship.

Everything I’d read online told me to play it cool, that the agent expects you to take a week or two to think about their offer before accepting. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know the amount of chill I have when I am excited about something is zero. Precisely none. I have no chill. So when she ended with, “Do you want to take some time to think about it or are you ready to move forward?” I said I was ready to move forward. To my credit, I didn’t holler! It felt right to accept; the feedback she gave me about my book was all sound and enthusiastic and was made with deference to my vision as its author.

And that is how, a little under two years from the day I finished writing the novel, I landed my literary agent. I am now represented by Stacy Testa of Writers House. I know how hard I worked for this and how many times I wanted to give up (both at writing and at querying), but I also know how lucky I am.

And speaking of lucky, the next day I left for Paris. I’d had the trip booked for a few months, and planned to work on my new novel while I was there. I got to work on my first novel, too, addressing the edits we’d discussed. A week after I got back, the agency agreement was signed and countersigned, and it was officially official. I did it. And I am so, so proud.

Thank you all for sticking with me all these years, from the earliest days of this novel. I cannot wait to bring this book into the world and hold it in my hands, and I can’t wait for you to read it.

Three Questions

I read an article in the New York Times last week about breaking an addiction to smartphones. Aside from the usual head-nodding and recognition that accompanies pieces about of weaning ourselves off of our digital dependence, I was particularly struck by this passage:

[She] encouraged me to set up mental speed bumps so that I would be forced to think for a second before engaging with my phone. I put a rubber band around the device, for example, and changed my lock screen to one that showed three questions to ask myself every time I unlocked my phone: “What for? Why now? What else?”

Those three simple questions—six words—stopped me in my tracks. Few times outside of being stoned have I come across a turn of phrase or single passage that hits me the way this one did, as if everything tunneled out and all that existed were these words, which seemed to explain everything. As if just by reading them I’d taken them inside of me, swallowed them whole and somehow understood something deeper and more powerful than the individual syllables.

What for? Why now? What else?

Yes, in this context they were a gentle chastising against checking your feed for the thousandth time, but I immediately thought about the writing process. The work the characters do, the way they drive the plot, the pacing of it, the motivation, the arcs, the resolution. All of it. “Why would the character do this? [What for?] Why would it happen now? [Why now?] What happens after? [What else?]” These three questions are applicable to so much of the act of writing; really, they’re applicable to almost anything. Or maybe since all I’ve been doing recently is writing I’m in a frame of mind to see inspiration and the profound in things that have nothing to do with writing. Regardless, I love those three questions so much I made the graphic above and set it as my phone lock screen, hoping it would not only deter me from checking my notifications so frequently but also remind me to ask myself deeper, thoughtful questions when I sit down to write.

What for? Why now? What else?

A New Novel. Finally.

On Tuesday, December 3rd, after I came home from French class (the first of the new winter term), I watched tv and ate a bowl of cereal on the sofa before getting ready for bed. It was 9:45 when I’d finished washing my face, a process that takes exactly as long and is exactly as involved as you’d expect for someone about to turn 33. I passed my office on the way to my bedroom, and made it two steps beyond the doorway—my desk framed by the open door—when the strangest thing happened to me. In what I can only attribute to some sort of divine, creative intervention: my forearms began to feel weird. (Descriptive, for a writer, I know.) As if there was a pent up charge of energy collecting in my hands. I turned back to my office and reached for my notebook. A softcover, navy blue Moleskine notebook I’d purchased almost a year ago exactly at Barnes & Noble with the intention of filling with my second novel. A notebook that, save for three (three!) pages, had sat entirely unmarked and untouched for eleven months. My hands felt shaky, needy, about to fly off my body.

I had to write. I physically had to or I was going to burst. I didn’t even have a choice in the matter. I barely recognized the sensation. I took the notebook to bed and proceeded to write until 12:30 in the morning, page after page of a story that came to me out of nowhere and fully formed. Character names, backstories, a plot, a title. It was all there, dropped into my head and spilling out of me onto the page with very little effort on my part, as if I was merely a conduit for it. If this is what people mean when they say they were “struck with inspiration,” I understand now precisely how physical a blow it is.

In her TedTalk, writer Elizabeth Gilbert recounts a poet describing her experience with inspiration as a “thunderous train of air” she hears in the distance and which eventually barrels towards her, the ground shaking beneath her feet. The poet would run to her desk to write it down, being chased by this poem, so that when it “thundered through her, she could collect it.” Gilbert says she’s also had times where work has come to her through a source that she can’t identify. It is, after all, “the utter maddening capriciousness of the creative process…which does not always behave rationally and can sometimes feel downright paranormal.”

That’s as close to describing what I experienced that Tuesday night/Wednesday morning as I can get. To say this story fell out of the sky and dropped into my brain would not be inaccurate. Yes, all of my lived experiences probably contributed to it in some way. I’ll give myself some credit for being able to write it, but not so much about the source of it.

When I bought that notebook, I intended to write a very different novel. It was set in Rome in the late 90s, about a young journalist who goes missing and whose sister comes to look for him. I had a rough outline. I had ideas. I struggled with the main character’s name. I struggled with an ending. I struggled with the fact that it seemed too like my last novel in terms of the relationships between the characters. Mostly, I struggled. Sitting down to work on it became disheartening, frustrating, so at some point I stopped sitting down to work on it altogether. I revisited it occasionally, but it was like squeezing water from a stone. The story is there, and I think it could be a good story one day, but it clearly wasn’t its time.

I am now 36 pages in to this new novel, in the span of less than two weeks. It is set in London and it is about an affair. I have written every single day since that first night. I write on my lunch break, I write at night, I write throughout the day when things come to me. I carry this notebook with me everywhere, and for the first time in a long time I feel like a writer again. It’s crazy, the extent to which not writing has the opposite effect. I’m going to London for a weekend in February, because it’s been over a decade since I visited the Smoke, and who doesn’t love a quick overseas jaunt in the name of book research?

Writing one novel has provided me with invaluable insights into what NOT to do this time. I can’t wait to take you all along for the ride.

How (Not) to Blog, or, Where did half the year go?

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.

Hi!

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.

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?

A Playlist

Writing: A Playlist

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.

Just “The Wife”

The Wives

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).

A Backwards Whodunit

Writing

I’ve been working on this novel for three+ years, and during that time, whenever anyone would ask me what it was about, my answer was always, “An art heist in Paris. It’s a backwards whodunit.” I’d go on to explain that the book opens with a character stealing a painting, and his storyline works backwards through the novel, going through each painting he stole and why, while another, parallel storyline, about his former colleague and the gallery assistant at his friend’s wife’s gallery (still with me?), takes place present day and moved forwards. Usually there are hand motions involved; I’d literally point my hands in opposite directions to drive home the plot. But it always bothered me that my novel isn’t actually a whodunit, even it if unfurls backwards; we know whodunit the moment the book opens (spoiler: Dubois!). If anything, it’s a whydunit, but that’s not really right either.

So a few weeks ago, I chanced a google of “backwards whodunit” and lo and behold, there’s actually a literary term for precisely this genre of book: “howcatchem.” And as the name suggests, rather than a mystery around who, howcatchems focus on the how. (If only I’d known sooner! I could’ve saved myself all of the gesturing!) Howcatchems are also known as “Inverted Detective Stories,” and usually start with a murder, and are followed by an investigation playing out to piece together the crime. Other crimes (say, for example, stealing 14 paintings from the Paris Sotheby’s over two years) fall into the subgenre of “Capers.” According to Wikipedia:

The caper story is a subgenre of crime fiction. The typical caper story involves one or more crimes (especially thefts, swindles, or occasionally kidnappings) perpetrated by the main characters in full view of the reader. The actions of police or detectives attempting to prevent or solve the crimes may also be chronicled, but are not the main focus of the story. The caper story is distinguished from the straight crime story by elements of humor, adventure, or unusual cleverness or audacity.”

Et voila. That’s my novel to the letter. (Swindles!)

The only problem, of course, is that I cannot bring myself to say with a straight face, “I am writing a caper!” I don’t have an old-timey tweed cap and I don’t use a typewriter. Nor do I particularly like the term ‘howcatchem’; perhaps because it’s not as frequently used as “whodunit,” it sounds less like an actual word and more like a try-hard portmanteau one must pronounce with a southern accent. Backwards whodunit it is.

PS. Want to hear something weird? I’ve already started outlining what my next novel will be, and it follows the same story structure. Apparently I have a thing for capers.

PPS. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t be working on or even thinking about my second novel until this one is finished. Fear not, that day is coming very, very soon. (eep!)

Black & White (And an Excerpt From the First Draft)

Café Saint-Régis

Dubois turned the collar of his raincoat up, adjusted his scarf under his chin, and, shoulders strung up almost to his ears, stepped out of his building into the chilled rain that had persisted over the city for the past three days. It was a fine, mostly annoying mist, spraying him the moment the door closed behind him with a heavy thud. The usual morning soundtrack –a dog scampering to the nearest tree, the trash collectors rolling bins across the sidewalk, background noise to him on any other morning– had the sudden effect of being jarring, too loud, too accusatory. He hurried on, trying to make his feet move faster than his brain, trying to trick himself into forgetting the streets he’d memorized years ago. Right, left, left again. If he didn’t look up he could pretend he was lost. And that morning he needed to be lost.

The entire enterprise seemed entirely fucking stupid now, out of the suffocating confines of his apartment. His apartment. He couldn’t even think about it without feeling it was booby-trapped and rigged to blow. He had more still lifes than he knew what to do with. He’d taken three of them inexplicably, because they’d been there, available. And though he’d only spotted one at first, he later took two additional Henri Fantin-Latour pieces because his recollection told him they matched, that they’d make a perfect triptych of florals. Only he’d gotten them home and realized the colors were all wrong on the first one. Sleep on it, he’d told himself. They’ll look different in the morning light. And they had, only worse. As he’d lined them up on his dresser this morning, he’d become so nauseated and sickened by the sight of them that he had been gasping for air as he slipped on his coat and locked the door behind him.


I’m writing a novel. You can read more about that here.

100 Days (And a Novel Update)

Blue Skies, Paris

Blue Skies, Paris

Blue Skies, Paris

I.

Yesterday marked 100 days until I head back to Paris again, but who’s counting. (Me. I’m counting.) I leave after Thanksgiving, which sounds so far away, but with the way this year has been moving I know I’ll blink and be boarding a plane, embarking on my second solo trip to what, honestly, feels like home. It will be my second time going in winter, too, though I think late November/early December tend to be more temperate than the deep midst of March (at least, that’s what I’m hoping). I love winter, I love everything about it; the cold, the damp, the early darkness, so I’ll welcome the grisaille that Paris is known for at that time of year with an almost emo-kid excitement. Blue skies, like the ones above I experienced last spring and this one, aren’t bad either, though.

II.

I’ve stayed true to the promise I made myself when I started this new job, and have spent a ton of time working on my novel, dedicating solid, uninterruptible chunks of time to it (along with starting my real estate license studies!), which somewhat explains my extended absences around these parts. I have a nine page outline, going chapter by chapter, of how I want the book to come together, with questions for myself, things I need to fill in, flesh out, rework. There’s so much editing and cutting out and paring down. When I first started three years ago (!!!), this was just about a French girl. Now, she’s just one character in a story that has evolved past her, into something entirely different.

The one upside to taking such an extended break from working on it for the better part of the last year is that I can approach the draft with fresh eyes, and less of an attachment to passages and portions I previously would have been unable to chop. And chop I have, to the tune of roughly 20k words. Before, I had one massive, 183 page, 80k word document with virtually no sense of cohesion, and I would rely on my memory of specific words or phrases in each scene, to ctrl+f whichever section it was I wanted to work on (author’s note: I do not recommend this strategy). Now, I have a new document, organized by the chapters I’ve set up in my outline, and have been placing in large blocks of text that I’ve already written, tweaking them, cutting extraneous backstory that, while helpful to me originally, doesn’t help the story as it stands now. I am really happy with the way it’s coming along, and am aiming to have a completed, presentable first draft by the end of the year.

That week in Paris already has its work cut out for it.