I’ve missed you! I’m finally back in the Northern Hemisphere. It was bizarre to spend the days leading up to Christmas in a hot climate—the sunny weather didn’t keep natives from spraying fake frost on their windows. Now I’m in Rhode Island, where there’s so much snow, my dog needs a snorkel to explore the backyard.
This column isn’t a travelogue, but in case you’re interested, I posted some photos and stories from my trip to New Zealand at the bottom.
But here, finally, is the answer to a question. Keep ‘em coming!
Q: How can Judge Judy get a book deal and I cannot?
This morning, after months of waiting, and months or working on revisions after getting back edits, my almost-agent decided it's probably best that we don't work together. I agree--she is from the same town as me, knows a bit more about me, and it'd be difficult to look at my book objectively without filling in any blanks. Also, she doesn't sell a lot of memoir, which is what my book is.
I guess my question really is, what does Judge Judy have that I don't? I've got a good book that is very marketable, I've got a platform, and I've even got blurbs from great writers. But why is it impossible for me to get past square one? I am educated on the "how-to's" of the industry, I have an MFA, ran a lit mag, have been widely published, run a very successful nonfiction reading series, have a good book that's written, but I can't even get an agent. Am I doing something wrong, or is it the economy?
After declaring myself a loser, I now plan on spending the rest of my day sulking around in my pajamas, sulking, eating peanut butter ice cream and questioning my talent as a writer.
A: I think this break with your almost-agent is a good thing. You’re right, it’s difficult to work with someone with whom you have a prior relationship, or just know from around town. I just lost a treasured friend because it was difficult to balance our friendship with our new working relationship.
Now it’s time to polish your pitch letter, put together a proposal highlighting your excellent platform, and select your best chapters for a writing sample. Get it out to agents far and wide, especially those who do not reside in your home town. Perhaps your previous almost-agent might even refer you to some of her contacts. You may not want to work together, but given the time she spent editing your memoir, she sounds invested in the project. She’ll want you to succeed.
As for your frustrations about celebrity books, I understand. It’s tough to see people who aren’t really writers—Judge Judy, for example, or Lauren Conrad, Pamela Anderson, Sarah Palin—get huge book deals. And yes, you have a fabulous platform—for a writer. Judge Judy has a fabulous platform—period. No matter how many articles you’ve published and writing awards you’ve won, you don’t have a TV show watched daily by 10 million viewers. Even the most beloved writers rarely have that kind of fan base. And even though it sucks, publishing is just as much about the bottom line as any other industry.
The trick, I think, is to recognize that books like Judge Judy’s reside in a totally different library. Her glossy hardcover is at home in the modern glass and steel structure, frequented by tourists. Your book will find the perfect spot in the elegant but lived in cottage that’s a locals-only secret. Does this make sense or am I talking crazy? I guess I’m trying to say that your book will never be like Judge Judy’s—and you wouldn’t want it to be.
Lastly, never question your talent as a writer—that’s the best way to stop writing. And pass that peanut butter ice cream my way.
My vacation reading list:
, by Lev Grossman
A kind of Harry Potter for adults. Not that the Harry Potter books can't be enjoyed by adults. I love them.
The Voyage Out
, by Virginia Woolf
To the Lighthouse
and Mrs. Dalloway
are two of my favorite books. I also love Woolf’s essays (especially “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”) so I’m not sure why I hadn’t yet read any of her other novels. The traveling theme of The Voyage Out
seemed appropriate for vacation reading but I only got halfway through before the pigs got to it. Once pages were ripped out and it was covered with mud, I lost my desire to keep reading. If I was absolutely loving it, I would have dealt with the splotched pages.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
, by Stieg Larsson
Volume 3 of the Millennium Trilogy is not yet out in America, so I was thrilled to see the British edition in the Auckland airport. It is every bit as compelling as the first two books.
, by Mary Doria Russell
I’m still entrenched in this stunning novel about faith, doubt, and humanity. If I wasn’t writing this column at the moment, I’d be reading this book, torn between frantically turning the pages to see what happens next and savoring every word slowly.
This is "Turkey." I wanted to call him Peter but my hostess said that we don't name the things we eat. Turkey wasn't a big fan of his female poultry peers, but he developed a crush on me. Whenever he saw me, he'd fluff up his feathers and his neck would turn from bright red to pale blue. Then he'd nuzzle my legs with his turkey neck and try to mate with my foot. One morning, when I slept a bit late, I woke up to his beady eyes watching me through the window by my bed. It was strange, but I'll admit it, I was sort of flattered. Although he was my first real Kiwi boyfriend, I haven't heard from him since I left the farm.
Here is Turkey in all his flirtatious glory.
I couldn't believe how hairy the pigs were! One of my friends suggested that perhaps pigs in America are groomed.
This is the piggie that muddied up Virginia Woolf. She's also the one that bit me (the pig, not Ms. Woolf). Granted I was trying to pet her expressive nose.
The woolly sheep.
This alpaca keeps his nose clean.
Friendly ostriches. Google image search "Ostriches" and you'll see a not-so-friendly one. Whoa!
This beautiful beach was a 30-40 minute hike from the farm. According to my hostess, it was 10 minutes away. Kiwis are either very fast or don't really have a sense of time.
The geothermal areas in Rotorua were both striking and stinky.
Still striking, still stinky.
The coastline in Kaikoura. Wild sea lavender grew everywhere. Smelled pretty good.
How could I concentrate on steering when the, uh, surroundings were so gorgeous?
My Immediate Plans:
Tomorrow one of my best friends and I start driving across the country. Starting January 7th, I'll be a resident in San Francisco. My brother lives nearby in Tahoe and I have a few friends and acquaintances in the Bay Area, but I don't know that many people out there. If you live in the area, perhaps we could be friends?
Saying goodbye to the East Coast,
The Girl with the Red Pencil