July 30, 2009

New York/New Jersey folks

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 8:14 pm

I am a huge fan of indie everything as some of you know from this blog, so I’m really happy to be starting a writers series at this bookshop in Montclair, NJ. The first panel is on publishing short fiction on line, and future ones will cover other writing topics, featuring great authors, some of whom have appeared here!

If you live in the NJ (or even NY) area, please consider coming out on a Friday night, for food, drinks, and some informal writers chat…

Writing Matters

July 28, 2009

Real life

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 9:46 pm

Now that we’re back in the east, back in the burbs, back in real life, it’s time for me to start writing about writing again. I had left off as my agent search began. Here are the next eight months or so, wildly condensed.

I remember driving to Florida–my husband’s grandmother was ill and we wanted to see her–and seeing a license plate that said AGENT and taking it as a giant omen. At the time, Jean Naggar of the eponymous agency had first requested three chapters of Arugula’s Mother, and then the whole thing, and I was convinced that she would make an offer of rep upon our return from the south.

Alas, only a rejection and the actual snail mailed ms awaited me at home.

The day that I got my first real hint that I was actually going to find an agent was an all time low for me. We had no kids yet. The night before, we’d been to a movie with my brother (Oregon brother) who lived only a few country towns away then. When I got out of the car on our lumpy driveway late that night, my foot twisted in its clog, and I went down. I knew something was really wrong right away.

Turned out it was broken.

I came home, on crutches and in a cast, imagining trying to hop to FedEx with my pathetic ream boxes only to garner more rejections, when my husband hit play on our answering machine.

(Told you this was a while ago).

“Hello,” said a voice I instantly loved. “This is Anne Hawkins. You sent me the first fifty pages of your ms, and I love them. I would really like to see the rest. I’m going to give you my number at my country house, where I am now…{She wanted me to call her! On a Saturday!!} Oh, and could I have an exclusive on this?”

I’d had agents request the full ms already by this point, but somehow I just knew. This call was different.

I sunk down on the stairs, cast thunking, and literally lifted my head to the heavens. OK, the ceiling. Thank you, I whispered to Someone.

July 26, 2009

Kid Unfriendly

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 6:06 am

Those of you who were reading the posts from afar know that we really enjoyed our Portland time. My kids turned out to be better than travelers than I’d hoped for. They weathered the time change, the askew schedule, catch-as-catch-can naps, long walks, and occasional periods of being lost (I am not a good map reader…OK, I have a severe disability when it comes to maps). They did fine without separate rooms or their abundance of toys–leading me to wonder whether we have too much damn stuff.

But that’s a separate post, maybe a separate blog.

The purpose of this one is to say that even though I really enjoyed traveling with my children, I’m feeling a little child unfriendly at the moment.

I realize we didn’t go to Disney, or Great Wolf, where everything is about the kids. But in some ways this was harder. The contrast was so extreme.

We’d go out for a nice meal…but we’d go at six to accommodate the kids’ hunger level and bedtime. The twenty minute wait for a table–de rigeur in any even approaching hip spot–was borne only with copious amounts of made up stories. And instead of leisurely perusing the menu, I snatched glimpses at it, then barked an order at the poor waitress who’d only approached for our drinks to prevent an I’m starving meltdown. It was hard to enjoy the delicate wings and forget about peeling the uber fresh prawns! Way too much trouble–I just tore meat off a spare rib bone and thrust it in the direction of both kids, who gulped like hungry dogs. It was hard for me to appreciate the unusual treats at all when I was simultaneously focused on wiping greasy mouths before they slicked a passing customer, making sure drinks sans sippie cups didn’t spill, and extruding bones from fish.

I know, poor me. How lucky I am to get to eat in such a restaurant. To have kids who enjoyed it, the assistance they still require notwithstanding. (We did get lost afterwards though. But my six year old calmly told me not to panic, so even there I have no right to feel so…kid unfriendly.)

Naps have bisected–or even trisected–our days for six years now. I’m used to seeing only half the zoo because we have to rush off for lunch. Or doing a two mile hike instead of a four mile one. For the most part I love these compromises because they place me squarely in the early childhood years, and I really love this time.

I think, after fourteen concentrated days of moving, going, and being on, all while trying to make sure the kids’ needs get met in a totally unfamiliar environment, that I could use a little adult friendly time.

Or maybe it’s just me who needs a nap.

July 25, 2009

Portland, OR with kids

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 3:09 am

Some people have written to say they’re going to the Portland area with their children, so I thought I’d offer up a few things up to do. This vacation has worked fantastically with kids–there is so much to give you a little taste of adventure, beauty, or excitement, all on a preschool scale (and time table).

We went to the Rose Gardens. Not only are they fragrant and beautiful, but there’s a fountain in which your kids can get wet up to their elbows (or waists if they’re not listening particularly well that day) and an amphitheater where they can run, jump, and gather pebbles for a half hour or so.

Go to the street carts afterwards for lunch. Here we’re eating a Bosnian burek (a veggie pastry) with a pimento dipping sauce, and meatballs for the tamer tastes, but you can get practically any ethnic cuisine your kids desire, from dim sum to Polish sausage, and it will be the best of its kind, eaten outdoors on a motley collection of tables, each unique to its particular cart. Wash your meal down with one from a selection of unusual soda-juices, worth standing on line for even if you’re not buying food from that particular cart. Follow it all with some Two Tarts cookies, whether you eat at the Whole Bowl, which sells them out of jars, or not. Bathrooms can be found in the Governor Hotel building so a sudden “I need to peeee!” is not to be feared.

The science museum could keep you occupied for an hour or a day. Everything is hands-on and there’s even a real submarine to be toured (admission extra, as it is for the IMAX). Your kids can scramble onto berths and sit in the officers lounge to get a feel for what it might be like not to have their own toy-stuffed bedroom.

What I liked best about visiting the Pacific northwest was that we could do things that caused the adults in the group to gasp with wonder, all without totally blowing nap. This is Cannon Beach, and you can see this view with only a brief, child-friendly scramble up from the parking lot. The hour-and-a-half drive there or back is perfect for a car nap.

Then have lunch in town–we ate at Sweet Basil’s where everything is organic, locally sourced, that kind of thing, and delicious, but Cranky Sue’s, which is closed on Wednesdays, also looked wonderful–and don’t miss ice cream here at Osburne’s. Each flavor actually tastes like the ingredients it’s made from, and they do wonderful things like swathe a cake cone in the deepest, richest fudge I’ve ever had.

From town it’s only a short walk to the beach. The surf even in the ocean wasn’t rough the day we visited, but there’s also this fantastic trench where your kids can splash, paddle, and dig safely. Pails purchased cheap in town–you don’t have to lug one on the plane!

After the coast, take to the woods. Only a short drive out of Portland lies the Columbia River Gorge. If you’re from the East, you will scarcely recognize this geography, which consists of mountain-high single rocks, scaly with moss and ridged with trails along death defying dropoffs. But there’s no need to brave one of these with your toddler. The Elowah Falls trails is a relatively easy eight tenths of a mile of ups and downs (don’t be fooled by this shot–not difficult or dangerous at all)
at the end of which you will see…

If you’re in attentive-parenting mode, your kids can scramble around in the pools and fairly close to these spectacular falls. (We were told that rocks sometimes drop from overhead–and that overhead is pretty high, sort of like how a penny can kill ya if it drops from the Empire State Building). There’s a lovely bridge to picnic on and if anyone isn’t tired (ha) the hike continues on for several steep miles and past more falls.

If it’s time to stop motivating, pushing, and urging your kids to try the activities you want them to love as teens and adults, you might want to head over to the sprayground. For five bucks per car your kids (over five) can swim in a roped off patch of lake and younger tykes can get wet beneath a giant, spewing frog and in general look as happy as this.

If your troupe was up for the first hike, you might want to try something slightly tougher. The woods and mountains around Mt. Hood are breathtaking. There’s a mostly ambling trail along a rushing river amidst old growth forest. (That means trees way bigger in diameter than anything in the East, a fact which will go unnoticed by the kiddies since all trees are pretty big to them.)

And there’s even a trail on the snow-capped mountain itself that my three year old was able to do most of. It’s a mile and a half in and ends in a mountainside lake. Awe-inspiring for us Easterners to climb UP to water. The lake is swimmable–or splashable–if you don’t mind a muddy bottom (and what kid does?) The trail is remarkably easy for a peak region like this. And the views are beyond compare.

Really overtired kids can sneak a nap in anywhere, anytime…

After the hike, go see the historic WPA site, Timberline Lodge. They serve a lovely brunch if you want to build your day around that.

And your kids can throw a snowball in July.

Portland is famous for its gardens…even just strolling around the local streets (here we are in Southeast) will provide eye candy for those who love flowers.
We have friends in Seattle so we decided to head out on the under three hour drive. Apparently traffic can sometimes be gnarly but we made it through okay. Our friends were exceedingly gracious and generous hosts, AND have a practically matched set of kids, so it was fun central there.

Then we went up in the Space Needle (I didn’t say we were original) and visited the Children’s Museum, which I found to be one of the best of its kind. They have every kind of mock adult activity your child might want to play at, from living in a Japanese house to running a Mexican restaurant. My daughter stated that her heart was breaking when we had to leave, and the vehicle loving soul can drive everything from a firetruck to a city bus.

Blue C Sushi serves sushi and other Japanese delectables on a conveyor belt, which is just plain cool.

And the cupcakes at Trophy were both magnificent and delectable–a combo I’ve never found before, even in NYC.

All in all, this has been a spectacular trip, each one of these activities something I’d love to repeat. We’re leaving tomorrow and I feel nothing but sad. It helps to have uncles who are the best hosts, tourguides, and home-away-from-homes ever, of course. If you want any further info on this or other things Portland, please email me or comment on the blog! And have fun!

July 15, 2009

Reports of its demise have been greatly overestimated

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 10:57 pm

Anyone who worries about the current state of the print book must take a trip to Powells Bookstore. This was the biggest and busiest bookstore I’ve ever seen–and you’re talking to a Strand devotee. You had to wedge yourself around people to get from the blue room to the gold, and sometimes wait to peruse the A’s (or the Z’s) for one or two other browsers to move along. Sheer ecstacy. Kids spent hours in the rose room and could hardly decide between selections. I wanted to buy ‘em all (and did spend north of a hundred bucks). Anything to keep this wonderful slice of heaven in business forever.

July 14, 2009

They melted

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 10:23 am

No, not the polar ice caps. The children. My children, to be precise. You remember them, right? The dazzling ones who weathered the plane trip far better than mommy did?

A day after that, one found a plastic dog that her daddy didn’t want to buy (since she had just been given a great doll, doll bed, and doll bottle from her uncles the day before) and sobbed for thirty minutes about not getting it. The other heard that I was to go meet a longtime writing buddy who lives in nearby Beaverton and clung to me saying, “No, mommy, please don’t leave,” as if I were in the habit of abandoning him routinely in ship yards.

Travel is hard.

My kids are having a great time, but they miss their house, they miss Tiny Blue Baby (a particularly soft and fuzzy blanket), they miss their toys. They miss the familiar. Maybe melting down is a way of connecting to it.

I love it out here, too. There seems to be an ethic of enjoyment in Portland that many East coasters don’t share. Here life is to be enjoyed. Instead of managing and coping and fighting to get everything done, the people here seem to prioritize stopping to smell the roses.

I don’t miss the familiar the way my kids do, and I wonder why not. I’m content to let my house stand waiting, not to buy my favorite cookies at my favorite market, to skip the daily routines I get such pleasure from.

As adults do we need these lynchpins less? Or am I more just a travel bug–how little I do it notwithstanding–than my particular kids are? Maybe some kids wouldn’t cry for Tiny Blue Baby.

Maybe some wouldn’t melt.

But when mine do, I’ll try to surround them with the familiar in the form of the sound of my voice, the shape of a hug. As long as we have that, we’re always home.

And speaking of my true home, happy birthday to my husband today!

July 13, 2009

We’ve arrived

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 9:48 am

So here we are, all the way across the country. It’s the farthest my kids have ever traveled, and their only time change. They did really well. Even my three year old only moaned for maybe ten minutes about wanting to “det out” at 40,000 feet.

They made it through the first day, catching a few winks in the car and waking up fairly un-cranky, then going to sleep hours past their normal bedtime to get onto local time, enjoying exotic food beforehand. Of course, they’re not always like that, but suffice it to say, for this trip they really rallied.

And still it was hell.

I am not a comfortable flier. I do it rarely–since 9/11 even more rarely still–and this was my first trip with both my kids. When we ran (flew) into turbulence and it lasted the whole first HOUR of the trip and I couldn’t close my eyes and mentally scream, going to my happy place, my happy place, my happy place! and focus on an image of a tropical beach, teal water fizzing on the sand, but instead had to feed my son snacks and say to my daughter, Yes, that sure was a big bump, sweetie! I had a very, very hard time.

I could go on about other wrinkles with the flight, but basically the pilot flew us safely through, got us back onto the ground, for which I am inordinately grateful. I love Continental airlines. But I really h-n-d’d (my daughter’s spelling and our new family word for “hate” since in school they are taught not to say the word) this experience.

The whole thing raised so many questions in my mind. Like, who are we when we’re vulnerable as parents, two scared, tiny people on this vastly spinning planet, but to our children we must function as gods? How do we cope with fears–which arise in many other respects besides the mostly irrational and relatively rare experience of flying–when we are trying to teach our children to be joyous, confident beings? Can the two states, parent and person, ever be fully reconciled?

Happy and safe travels to us all–even if we’re just staying in one place.

July 10, 2009

Portland, OR

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 7:54 am

I will be off to points West for the next few weeks, so posts will be sparse. But what I do write should be full of travel logs and maybe some awesome pictures…so please check in! And I will get back to the story and other things writing in August…

July 8, 2009

Independent publishers

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 9:57 pm

Someone who’s been reading the blog asked me recently why I’m still at it. Other people have also said, How do you keep going? These questions always make a little sad–mostly because I feel like I must *be* a little sad to get asked this. Why has it taken so long? In future posts I plan to describe how very close I’ve come. So it couldn’t be that I just suck, could it?

One answer to why I keep going is that I adore and enjoy writing too much to stop. If you offered me a day on a tropical beach paradise with nothing to do but drink mai tais, or a day spent writing, I might very well choose the latter.

Someone once said, write only if you can’t not write. I can’t not write. But that’s an answer about why I keep writing–not why I’m still pursuing publication. The answer to that is more complicated.

On the most superficial level, I keep going because people keep telling me to. Agents who have offered rep. Editors who have come close to making offers. There’s been so much reinforcement over the years that even though I haven’t gotten a book deal yet, there also hasn’t been a viable stopping point. I’ve either been revising, writing, or waiting on a sub for about eight years now.

And those editors have been from major houses, the ones most agents deal with. So not only have I not stopped pursuing publication, but I’ve been going at it from this one, fairly rarefied angle.

History will show whether that model of publication survives.

What if you’re interested in alternative models? Are there places that would still confer the great privilege of being published but in a different modality?

Here are two that I think are worth checking out.



And now back to waiting for me.

July 7, 2009

Book launch

Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 10:16 pm

I went to Maryann McFadden’s reading at Clinton Bookshop tonight. Maryann is a writer of heartfelt women’s fiction with a wonderful story to tell…about how she got published. I will be writing more about her inspiring tale later on, so for now just check out her debut novel, The Richest Season, out in paperback, and her latest launch, So Happy Together.

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