Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Friday, August 28, 2015

Chin Up

Feeling downtrodden, fellow writers? A little weary of the daily rejections slowly filling your inboxes?

Read this, then, and let your gentle hearts be soothed.

What follows is a pearl from the magnificent, prolific Philip Graham:

Don’t give up too easily. Keep an essay you believe in out there in the running as long as you can. Be patient. I was rejected 11 times by The New Yorker before they accepted a story. One of my favorite stories, “Angel,” was rejected 25 times before it found a home, at the Missouri Review (and subsequently won a prize, was nominated for a Pushcart, and was included in a national “fantasy” anthology).

Believe in your work. Be stubborn. Wear down the dopes who don’t get it. Someone finally will. Your work is too good for you not to be its best champion.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dear Younger Self:

This summer's Wellesley Magazine had me weeping at the kitchen table at seven AM.

Dear readers, even if W has nothing to do with you, kindly skim the pearls of wisdom below, and then tell me this morning's tears weren't caused by hormones alone.

Excerpted from Dear Me: Letters to My Younger Self, the four following excerpts are part of a brilliant, thoughtful compilation of letters distinguished alumnae wrote to their graduating selves.


As you commence into the world, let me whisper in your ear that the most satisfying accomplishments in your life will be decades in the making. Balancing patience and impatience takes practice; don’t quit before you’ve properly begun. You will come to appreciate the slow build of change, the delayed gratification of getting things right, and the small payoffs in between. Nothing worth much will reveal itself quickly; the end result is never the end.

 - Ophelia Dahl


I don’t think there is any way to prepare for tragedy, and my only advice about what to do if it strikes is to take care of yourself. Do what you can to survive, for yourself and for your children. But one piece of advice I would give to any young woman starting out: Prepare for your future with the knowledge that tragedy can strike anyone. In my case, it was violence, but it can be in the form of accidents, illnesses, even divorce. And if it does, always be in a position where you can provide for yourself and your family. If you can’t, you will face a tragedy within the tragedy.

 - Carole Beebe Tarantelli


Make it your job and priority, all the days of your life, to help those black people who have not had your opportunities or experiences. Every morning, look in the mirror and say, “I refuse to accept the expectations of the entitled.”

 - Shirley Taylor Haizlip


I ended up choosing a marriage partner because he was smart, witty, and good company. Never before had I dated a man who suggested that we go hear Eleanor Roosevelt speak at Harvard or see Racine’s Phèdre performed in the original French. But I wasn’t in love. My brain told me that one does not spend one’s married life in bed. So when he declared his passion for me, I made the mistake of listening to my brain and not my heart. When I walked down that aisle my legs were brave, but my heart was wobbly. That marriage was a big mistake. Three children and five grandchildren later, I realized happiness often comes disguised as disaster.

 - Maude Haleztine Chaplin


Brava, W Magazine, brava.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tango Slide

Check it out, everyone!

My travel essay, "Street Tango in Buenos Aires," at Your Life is a Trip, Judith Fein's chic, place-based site for stories from around the globe.

Thank you, Judith, for your editorial prowess, and thanks also to Ellen, for making my words look so lovely.

Enjoy this sunlit eve, dear readers. Summer on!

Monday, August 10, 2015


Real quick everyone: 

It has come to my attention that some of you out there have not yet encountered Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. If you have not inspected her closely, dear readers, please run and do not walk to your nearest library, hurry to the front desk, and request Americanah

Americanah with an H, that's right. Just do it. Just do it.

In a way you're lucky in that you missed having to request it at the library right when it came out and then wait and wait and wait for months, like I'm doing (patiently) for H is for Hawk.

By the way, if you live in Santa Fe and have checked out H is for Hawk from SFCC, please return it! Please! Return it!!!

Anyway, or Americanah is available on Amazon for $6.14 used. It's probably better to own your own copy anyhow. I gave mine away to the lovely Penelope, and she damn well better have read it.


Meanwhile, enjoy these panting dog days, dear readers! Sip lemonade and fan yourself with that good book you've got there in your hands. Soon enough we'll be aching for this kind of heat, and you know it.

Summer on!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Saba Sulaiman on Revisions, Fair Use, and the 30-Draft-Rule-of-Thumb

Meet Saba Sulaiman, everyone! Recently profiled as a hot new literary agent in Writers Digest, Sulaiman came under my radar through a mutual friend. She's proven enormously helpful as I wade through the murky waters of query letters, agents, publishers, and all that lies beyond - and, she's willing to share her insights with us here today!

According to Writers Digest, "[Sulaiman] was born to Pakistani expatriates in Sri Lanka and studied...modern Persian Literature at the University of Chicago, where she got involved with editing the department’s academic journal. 'And it finally hit me—working closely with writers to hone their craft; seeing a piece of writing from its inception through to its eventual publication; and advocating for what I believed was stellar prose worthy of recognition—this was my calling. So I interned at various newspaper and magazine publications, worked as an editorial intern at Sourcebooks, and then wound up at Talcott Notch, where I’m excited to begin my career as a literary agent.'"

Below, please find Sulaiman's useful answers to my blundering questions.

How do I get my book agent-ready? 

At this point, this is what I'd recommend: if you can, join a critique group, or, better yet, apply for a position in an intensive workshop. You need as much feedback as you possibly can. Of course, this depends on how serious you are about getting this book published -- I understand how taxing and thankless this stage of the writing process can be, and you have to be really dedicated to see this book through all of it's future versions. Most successful authors have around 30 fully reworked drafts of their book before it's finally ready -- not that you necessarily need that many drafts, but it's something to keep in mind.

My memoir is set in a specific time and place. As I revise and revise, my concern is that the book and its story will grow 'dated'. 

Don't worry about that too much. A well-done memoir should feel relevant regardless of what time period it harkens back to. It actually might be useful to make this one of your aims as you revise -- make sure your subject doesn't sound dated in your treatment of it.

How do agents/editors feel about authors who use quotes? I want to include more words by a few writers, namely Eduardo Galeano (who passed a few months ago). How do you view authors who quote other authors?

The question is, how are you using the quote? Because it all depends on whether or not it's fair use, which can be a very, very ambiguous thing. If they're just quotes before chapter beginnings, I'd day you should be fine, but otherwise, it might depend. Here are some useful online resources that might make things clearer:




Personally, if they're just short, one line quotes before chapters, or before the book begins, I'm okay with it -- and it should fall within "fair use." But I generally like to keep other quotes/song lyrics out of an original, debut manuscript, just because it can get complicated very fast. And at the end of the day, by using this material, you’re basically increasing the publisher's cost of buying your manuscript, because they would have to potentially buy the rights to all the quotes you use.

Does it make a difference if the author being quoted has passed? 

Even if the author is dead, he/she has an estate that continues to receive royalties. Now if an editor falls hard for your manuscript, he/she may advocate for their bosses to budget high for your book, but that’s a huge risk to take. Editors have to draft Profit and Loss statements for each of the books they bring to their acquisitions board meetings, and if they’re already setting aside a chunk of money just to buy these extra rights, that puts your book at a guaranteed disadvantage. So I'd strongly advise you not to use too many quotes, and find other ways to achieve what they were doing in your narrative. 

Thanks, Saba Sulaiman! May our paths cross again - and in the meantime, happy reading!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Summer love

Happy August, dear ones. Summer on!
Photo courtesy of brother Dave McCahill.