Friday, October 31, 2008

Small fish in a big pond

As I came up with the title for this post just now, it reminded me of the immortal Chris Farley line from SNL, "fat man in a little coat." Ah, something to make me smile.

Yesterday was kind of rough. I don't know what it was...oh, wait, yes I do. The more I learn about publishing from this side of the desk, the more daunting it becomes. A friend from church--someone I've never met, but who's in the same Mars Hill writers group as me--has been sharing about her querying experience, and in the process has given me a bunch of resources to check out: web sites with forums that talk about agents and all things publishing, blogs by agents and others in the biz, etc. In the last couple of days I've spent a lot of time reading about other people's experiences with trying to land an agent, and in particular agents I've contacted. From what I read it sounds like the majority of those I've queried are pretty big players, which makes me feel validated about my shots in the dark, and also explains my growing pile of rejects. But I'm also reading about cases of long delays after agents request complete manuscripts, etc. Seeing the number of people who have queried the same agents I'm targeting makes me realize, in a whole new way, how I'm just one of thousands with the dream of publication.

I was also a bit discouraged because this online friend disclosed more info about her process of researching agents, and I was left thinking, I didn't even know you could find that stuff out. It's important to me that I work with someone who not only loves my work, but also will be a good partner for my career. Someone who represents books I don't want to be associated with, whether because they just really don't mesh with my values or for another reason, will not be the right agent for me. And I've sort of looked into that, based on what people represent, but I think I've only caught the tip of the iceberg.

And last night I read about 5 interviews with agents and editors on Poets & Writers (I used to get their magazine), in which people talked about what they looked for in first novels, or what you should be asking prospective agents...there's just so much to know. And of course these were big people in publishing who were throwing out names of authors I've never even heard of. It's a big reminder that so much of publishing is about networking: getting to know other writers, going to conferences, meeting people and maintaining relationships--and if I do get published, being really active in garnering attention through readings, talks, and the like.

It just made me exhausted. One of the reasons I could never work as an editor is because of all the networking involved. When I was working at Cornell U.P., I saw my editors going to conferences and schmoozing with academics across the country, doing campus visits, lunches, cards, phone calls. I just don't have the stamina for that. I would much rather be the recluse-with-a-black-turtleneck kind of writer who lives out in the woods, than the New-Yorker-in-heels type charming everybody at dinner parties. It's really intimidating, and honestly just leaves me with the feeling that I need to catch my breath.

I want to accomplish something worthwhile, and right now for me that means publishing a book, and then another, and making a career out of it. But I also want a fairly small life. I am so happy to be married to Tim and to have the time to cook and exercise and do silly things on the weekend together. And I pray that God blesses us with a family. We have great friends, and I love our church, and I just basically love my life. But there is this whole other life out there filled with flashing lights and interviews and running the circuit. I want to be part of that world to some extent, but on my terms. And more and more I'm realizing how hard it might be to get there.

It's probably not good that I spent as much time reading stuff online last night as I did--it's almost like having a stomach ache and then going on Web MD to self-diagnose. Sometimes you can just get too much information. But I stayed up until midnight reading interviews and basically shaking in my boots while Tim sewed his Richard Simmons costume for Halloween. Oh yes, he made a sparkly red tank top and short little red-and-white striped shorts to wear to our party tonight. And that's why, with my current anxiety level and lack of sleep, I think instead of getting in another couple hours of anxious writing, I'm going to take a mental health day and bake pumpkin bread. Pictures of Richard Simmons to come.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Straightener

I read this poem in my November issue of Real Simple magazine while at the gym this morning. I think the former U.S. Poet Laureate and I might be kindred spirits:

The Straightener
by Billy Collins

Even as a boy I was a straightener.
On a long table near my window
I kept a lantern, a spyglass, and my tomahawk.

Never tomahawk, lantern, and spyglass.
Always lantern, spyglass, tomahawk.

You could never tell when you would need them,
but that was the order you would need them in.

On my desk: pencils at attention in a cup,
foreign coins stacked by size,

a photograph of my parents facing me,
and under the blotter with its leather corners,
a note from a girl I was fond of.

These days, it's the cans of soup in the pantry--
no, not alphabetical, it's not like that--
just stacked in a pyramid beside
the while candles lying in rows like logs of wax.

And if I can avoid phoning my talkative aunt
on her eighty-something birthday,
or doing my taxes

I will measure with a ruler the space
between the comb and the brush on the dresser,
the distance between shakers of salt and pepper.

and I will devote as much time as it takes
to line up my shoes in the closet,
pair by pair, in chronological order

or according to my degree of affection for them
if I can put off having to tell you, dear,
what I really think and what I now must do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Some life updates

This has been a relaxing few weeks for Tim and me after getting back from our East Coast trip. This time last year we were still unpacking stuff in our first rental and trying to get off any delinquent thank you notes for wedding presents. And up until about six months ago we were still scouring web sites and stores to get some furniture. Now we feel totally settled, and our weekends are less about "getting stuff done" and more about relaxing and having fun together. This lull between travel (we're headed back to my parents' for Thanksgiving) is allowing us to enjoy being at home and outside during the fantastic fall weather. It's been sunny and clear most days and that really lifts my spirits.

One major development is that I've been seeing a biomechanics type provider named Shari who did a gait analysis on me (videotaping the way I walk and run, checking out how I wear out my shoes, observing my bone structure). This has been very encouraging because Shari found that basically the reason I've been having knee problems this year is that my right foot has an uplifted neutral position, which means that I severely pronate inward when I walk and run. That in turn causes my knee to roll in during movement, and that's been causing the stress on my joints and muscles. With a new shoe insert she created for me, additional strengthening excercises, and gait training--changing the way I walk and run--she says I should get back to running. According to Shari, there is no reason mechanically why I shouldn't be running--it's just that my gait has finally put enough stress on my knee to be prohibitive. Also, the deteriorated meniscus issue was likely caused by my knee cap rolling inward and rubbing on the cartilage, and not by some degenerative problem. This is all very exciting, because there is hope for running again! To date I've seen three physical therapists, two physicians, and this gait analyst, and it's been 10 months of trial and error all told. I suppose 2008 has just been a bum year for me in this regard, so I'm hoping 2009 is my comeback!

On a related note, Tim and I have still been planning on buying road bikes, and last weekend we finally got one! Because I'm relatively short and unused to the whole road bike thing (especially the curved handle bars) it's going to take a bit longer to find the appropriate frame size, etc for me, but last Saturday Tim and I took out a few bikes on test rides and Tim fell in love with a yellow and blue LeMond. We brought it home and it sits alternately in our guest bathroom and propped up against the kitchen counter. Tim likes to look at it and pat the seat, and I've had to yell at him a couple of times for riding it around the living room. He got clipless pedals so there are new shoes as well--all he needs is a helmet and he'll be ready to go! My camera isn't working right now so as soon as I get some space on my phone I'll take a few pictures. It sure is beautiful weather for riding! Tim plans to ride to work and I'm hoping for lots of Saturday bike rides together. Oh, how I miss exercising outside!

We've also had some changes in our apartment. There continues to be a lot of construction noise, but to alleviate some of the neighborly noise we've been having, we switched our bedroom with my office. Now, our bedroom is the open-door room with no closet or windows, significantly farther away from other units' bedrooms (meaning better rest for us, ahem) and my office is in our spacious former bedroom with the sliding door! I feel ten times more productive because I have all this great space and natural light. We still have yet to get some things up on the walls and off the floor, but I really love being able to look outside while I work and not be resigned to the "cave" or the temporary feel of the dining room table.

Hurrah for fall!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back down to earth...

Well, after my first awesome query response I got three rejections. And not flowery rejections; form rejections. The "not exactly what we're looking for at this time" rejection. Which could mean just that--they have similar projects already or are actively trying to acquire something different. Or it just means what I sent wasn't good enough. There can be a whole host of reactions behind a form reject letter. I know because I used to write them! But they aren't anything to be taken personally. They are, though, a reminder that it's not all smooth sailing ahead. What's ironic is that these three rejects came from 1. the only agent I'm querying who's actually in Seattle; 2. the partner of an agent I met at a conference, who invited me to submit; and 3. someone who works with first novels who I thought I'd connect with. I'm not going to keep a daily tally on this blog of Accept v. Reject, but if this were my experiment and my office were a lab, I'd hang a sign on the door that said Do Not Enter: Thick Skin in Development.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In wine country with Lucille Ball

No, we didn't actually get to stomp the grapes with our feet, but a few weeks ago Tim and I went with our friends Johnathan and Jenny to help their winemaker friends crush grapes! Their winery is in White Salmon, WA, a small town located near the Columbia River across from Hood River, Oregon. It was our first trip to Eastern Washington, and boy is it different: lots of small hills and wild sage and dried, golden grasses. Not the familiar evergreens and rocky peaks of Western Washington.

We sorted through two half-ton bins of delicate purple grapes, which will eventually become the Major Creek Cellars 2008 Syrah, and then poured them into The Crusher, which separated the grapes from the stems. After a couple of hours of bending and sorting, pouring, and declogging the machine, Steve scattered dry ice over the slightly crushed grapes to bring the temperature down and prevent early fermentation. He also added sulfites (a clear liquid) and planned to incorporate his own yeast at some point. We each got a bottle of wine of our choice for our labors, plus free reign of the winemakers' friends "cabin" (actually a double-wide trailer) and a delicious dinner. Check out the pics below.



The crusher in front; bin with grapes to be sorted in back.



The crusher! Basically a big fancy metal funnel with claws.



Dry ice.



Timmy and me sorting grapes.



Beautiful scenery.



Tim with an old plow at a fruit stand we stopped at on the way home. We got lots of super cheap pears!



The "Fruit Loop" in Hood River, Oregon. There were more than 30 fruit stands to choose from!

Monday, October 20, 2008

AGENTS!

Oh yikes.

I don't know what to say first.

Quick version:

I spent the last couple of weeks drafting, editing, and polishing a query letter (one each for about 27 different agents, personalized) and a four-page synopsis of my book, and then all day today I made like it was college application time and stuffed envelopes, addressed them, and in general made people whiny at the post office with my stack of stuff.

I also emailed about half the agents, those who are living in the 21st century, with my queries and samples.

I just got home from the P.O., having said a quick prayer for patience when all was said and done, and lo and behold I had a request for THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT in my inbox! Not three chapters, not a partial, but the whole stinkin' thing!

This feels pretty awesome. I don't know what will come of it, but someone out there is reading my work for the first time, and I hope she LOVES it. If she doesn't, maybe somebody else checking their inbox or mailbox this week will...and if not them, then maybe one of the other 25 agents I have on my list--the second string, as it were.

But just the fact that somebody has requested my work: this is freaking awesome! :)

My new virtual writing community

I've just joined an online writing group at the invitation of someone in my church community group. Every week there is a one-word prompt, and we're all supposed to post something on Mondays that relates to it. Mostly, from what I've seen, this translates into personal essay-type writing and some poetry. I think this is a fun outlet because it's different from what I do on this blog, and certainly different from my fiction. Having different arenas for writing always makes me better. Plus, there's the opportunity to get together in person every six weeks or so, which means I will be meeting more people! It's a closed blog for the privacy of the members, but now and then I'll post my entries on here as well. Today's prompt was Stress.

I walk into the bustling chapel, where groups of two or three are gathered here and there, someone is setting up chairs, clicking through the powerpoint, tuning a guitar. Masses of teenagers filter in and out of the doorway, running, laughing, tackling someone who has just come in, comparing different shades of Converse. I switch my phone to vibrate and drop my purse, looking for a likely place to break in. I pull my jacket tighter around me, push my hair behind my ear. Smile. Sometimes it is hard to remember why I am here. As a youth ministry leader my purpose is to engage with kids, make relationships with them, and point them to Jesus. But so often my primary goal is just to get somebody to talk to me for five minutes before flitting off to the next shiny object. I'm like a fisherman, only not the kind that Jesus talked about, not really--I'm just hoping to throw out the right kind of bait that these kids will latch onto, anything really, so that I'm not the only one left with an empty line.

Most of this time it's hard to rationalize why I do this. How is it that a group of kids ten years younger than me can make me feel like a total loser, a joiner, an in-crowd wannabe, a mom constantly asking, "How was your day?" How is it that I had such a tight connection with the kids in my last youth group in New York and the girls in my bible study, and here everybody seems to have the attention span of a toddler and interests I can hardly relate to? God, is youth ministry really my thing, or did it just happen to click at one particular church, for a couple of particular years, with a few specific kids?

Another leader asks me if I can switch with her and join the middle school programming tonight, so she can listen to the high school message. I think, if high schoolers are intimidating, then middle schoolers are from another planet. But I agree. When the handful of kids seventh grade and under separates from the larger group and I walk into the kindergarten classroom, I surprise myself by breathing a sigh of relief. The leader laughs at the grandma rocker he sits in and the little chairs circled around, as if for story time. He starts reading from Mark, and I glance around the group. The bodies are smaller, with the same mix of self-conscious and self-assured, but there is something different on their faces. One boy leans his elbow on his knee and cups his chin, attentively watching the leader. Another can't stop asking questions about evolution, which his class is studying in school right now. And a sweet little boy whose bangs completely obscure his eyes says he really misses his late grandfather, and asks for prayer. One of the girls answers questions with the confidence of a twelfth grader but none of the ego. I am amazed by the earnestness in their eyes, the nodding at questions, their desire to learn about Jesus. Stress drops off my shoulders and I think that maybe I have found my place at last, in the most unlikely of places.

Kent Fuchs named Cornell University Provost

Maybe it's a strange thing to put on my personal blog, but I just found out that the father of my sister-in-law Anna's good friend Christine Fuchs, who's been the Dean of the Engineering School at Cornell for many years, has been named Provost of the university. The Fuchs family has been friends with the Psiaki family for a long time, and Christine was actually in a high school girls' bible study I led while we were still living in Ithaca. I think this is pretty awesome, because the Fuchs family are strong Christians, they love Jesus, and they've been a big part of the church that Tim grew up in, which I attended all through college and my year working in Ithaca. Dean Fuchs has been recognized in the university for being an excellent professor and administrator, and it just goes to show that people who love the Lord, work hard, and exhibit exemplary character will go far. The Provost is the second most powerful position in a university administration, and I think it's an amazing statement that the person who will be in that office in the next pivotal decade in the university's future--as more growth and partnerships are planned, and as the aging and soon to be retiring faculty core is replaced--is someone with a Christian worldview.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Camel wrestling

Found this:

Camel wrestling is a sport in which two male Tülu camels wrestle in response to a female camel in heat being led before them. It is most common in the Aegean region of Turkey, but is also found in the Marmara and Mediterranean regions of that country. There are an estimated 1200 camel wrestlers (or Tulu) in Turkey, bred specially for the competitions.

A camel can win a wrestling match in three ways: By making the other camel retreat, scream, or fall. The owner of a camel may also throw a rope into the field to declare a forfeit if he is concerned for the safety of his animal.

Camels wrestle with others in their same weight class. Camels have different tricks, and contest organizers match camels with different skills. Some camels wrestle from the right and some from the left; some trip the other with foot tricks ("çengelci"), and some trap their opponent's head under their chest and then try to sit ("bağcı"); some push their rivals to make them retreat ("tekçi").

A camel wrestling event involves considerable pomp and ceremony. The camels are decorated, and participate in a march through town followed by musicians on the day before the event. The actual wrestling can be somewhat underwhelming to someone not familiar with the intricacies, although onlookers must often flee from an oncoming camel that is retreating in defeat from his opponent.

In the heat of the tournament, camels spew foamy saliva in their excitement. Additionally, camels are retromingent animals, and so spectators would be advised to beware not only of flying saliva but of flying urine as well.

Popularity of the sport is declining, as the relative costs of caring for such an animal rises, as well as concern for the animals' welfare.

From wikipedia.org

Friday, October 10, 2008

Playlist from the past

I've been getting bored with our current music selection and just dug up an old CD marked '26 Mix (remember mix CDs?), which means I made it to play at the Cornell fitness center where I worked as a student. It was in the old Class of 1926 dorm, which has long since been demolished to make way for all the fancy new house-style upperclassman digs on West Campus. Back in the day, before the center bought satellite radio, lowly fitness monitors had to bring in their own music to entertain sweating members. I was always mortally afraid of this: Would everyone hate my music? What if the CD skipped and I had nothing but [gasp!] the radio?

I like to think I wasn't the biggest dork, though now when I play this CD I am laughing out loud. Many of these are clearly high school favorites, though I probably made this for the fall of my sophomore year in 2003. And a lot are one-hit wonders. But some are still hot! So here's an old school glimpse at my taste in music...

'26 Mix
1. Avril Lavigne, "Things I'll Never Say"
2. Third Eye Blind, "Semi-Charmed Life"
3. Blessid Union of Souls, "Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me)"
4. Lifehouse, "Spin"
5. Sister Hazel, "Shame on Me"
6. Train, "Something More"
7. Jackson 5, "One More Chance"
8. Seven and the Sun, "Walk With Me"
9. Ruby Horse, "Sparkle"
10. Goo Goo Dolls, "Sympathy"
11. Nickelback feat. Carlos Santana, "Why Don't You and I"
12. Michael Jackson, "The Way You Make Me Feel"
13. Janet Jackson, "Doesn't Really Matter"
14. Matchbox Twenty, "Last Beautiful Girl"
15. Coldplay, "Clocks"
16. Counting Crows feat. Vanessa Carlton, "Big Yellow Taxi"
17. Eve 6, "Open Road Song"
18. Goo Goo Dolls, "Here is Gone"
19. Good Charlotte, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jay-Z what?

We just found out this morning that somebody stole our credit card number and bought tickets to a Jay-Z concert in Orlando. What?? Also, $400 at Wal-mart. [Scratch that: it was a casino.] Come on people. Get a job. And get some better taste in music!

Cards canceled, it leaves me to ponder this less-than-sunny side of adulthood. Credit scores...insurance...health care... Sometimes I think if I could raise chickens on some unincorporated land in Canada life would be easier. But then I'd probably die of cholera or something.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Oh the joys of apartment living

I have to say, although I love our apartment and am totally grateful to be long out of our last renting situation, there are some things about living here that are really pretty ridiculous and just make me laugh. Nightly noise hasn't been too much of an issue, though the bar next door that was supposedly "closing soon" when we signed our first lease in March is still going strong. There are several construction projects going on in and near our building, and while thankfully much of the drilling/hammering in the new restaurant space right below us is happening later in the day and no longer waking us up at 7:00, nothing ever finishes when it's supposed to.

I came home from physical therapy this morning to see this bright green notice outside my door:

IMPORTANT NOTICE
Friday, October 10, 2008, Between 1pm - 4pm
**DO NOT FLUSH TOILETS OR USE SINK DRAINS**
Dear Residents,
The good news first -- the construction of the restaurant space is well over halfway finished [read: was supposed to be COMPLETELY finished in September]! ...We have an important piece of the construction occurring on Friday. During this timeframe the reconfigured plumbing in the restaurant will be attached to the building's main plumbing lines, which all residential pipes lead into as well. The issue is, if anyone flushes a toilet or puts anything down a sink drain, all the disposed waste will dump all over the plumbers working on the lines.
That being said, it is very important that no one use their toilet or put anything down their drains on Friday, October 10, 2008 between 1pm - 4pm!
Since everyone's participation is crucial, to help everyone remember we will be passing out birghtly colored notices on Thursday for you to put in your sinks and on your tiolets Friday morning. This way you will see the notice before going to use the sink/toilet, which will prompt you to look at what time it is before proceeding.
Ah. Well said! Were they just totally cracking up when they wrote this?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My work in Seattle magazine

It's only just occurred to me to put some links on here to a few bits of my work over the last year for Seattle magazine. I've done more than 30 pieces for the mag, ranging from the multi-page events listings in the back Datebook section to short travel pieces, interviews and profiles of local folks. If you search for my name on Google some of my more recent pieces will come up, as well as a feature on Tim's and my wedding on TheKnot.com, of all things. Not everything I do that makes it into print shows up online, and a few things have been online-only, so it's hard to corral them all...

Here are a few links for recent issues:

August 2008: Local Authority with Seattle Opera's general director, Speight Jenkins; a review of Washington Wine books; and a Q&A with a local artist who helped illustrate the first commissioned illuminated Bible since the advent of the printing press

September 2008: Fall Arts Preview, for which another intern and I did a ton of research and writing of blurbs and ended up taking on a different format than we'd originally imagined

October 2008: an interview with a local oncology chaplin who wrote a book about her own struggle with breast cancer; a mini-review of a new book out about a farming school with a focus on sustainable agriculture; and a profile on a local guy who raises a heritage breed of pigs and sells the (delicious!) meat to area resaurants, which isn't online yet but will be sometime this month

PS, most titles change after I submit the articles, so if you think they're weird, just know I didn't write them!

Visit SeattleMag.com for more! (but be warned, the site is rather slow)

Back home in WA

I have logged a lot of miles in the last couple of weeks, and seen practically everyone I know in Ithaca, NY; Washington, DC; Indianapolis, IN; and Cincinnati, OH that time would allow! It's great to catch up with friends and family, especially those I hadn't seen since Tim and I got married last year!

It is funny, the various "former homes" I visited...of course Ithaca is the one that resonates with me the most, and has shown the least change, except for the ever-advancing construction projects at Cornell. Indianapolis was home for just a couple of months after my graduation in December 05 (nearly 3 years ago! yikes) so all I really register is my parents' change of residence to a fantastic 1920s Tudor literally 2 blocks from their last place. I fell in love with their new home in the few days I was there at the end of my trip, and had it not been in Indianapolis--a place I don't really care to live and certainly not the last place they'll call home--I might have asked to inherit it. Perhaps not surprisingly, I didn't have any strong emotions upon returning to Cincinnati, where I've spent most of my life but haven't lived for the past 5 years. It was like going through a time warp, seeing my high school and listening to the old radio stations I favored back then, which are still stuck in the infamous Cincinnati past, a la Mark Twain's comment that it's where he'd choose to be when the world ends, since everything comes to the Queen City 10 years late. No kidding.

A piece of my heart may still be in Ithaca, but I'm glad the rest of me is safely back in Bellevue. I had an idea for a third novel while I was away, and I'm itching to get back to work!