Archive for September, 2009

aMAZEd and confused

Yesterday the kids and I entered a corn maze in Sagaponack designed by a demented farmer. It was circular and filled with dead ends. We looked up at the sun over the tassels sprouting wheat-like at the top of each stalk to find our bearings. It didn’t do much good. We took turns leading, hoping one of us had a strong internal compass. We fought. ‘We’ve already been here,’ Ian said. ‘Remember, this is where TJ cheated and crawled through the stalks.’  Eventually, we made it and declined the farmer’s sinister offer to try phase 2. Instead, Ian and TJ shot corn rockets out of a steel pipe, while Corinne and I ate organic popcorn (it really does taste better).

On the way home  bright orange pumpkins beautifully stacked on wooden shelves outside the Milk Pail farmer’s market lured us off the road. When did a simple Halloween pumpkin, a rite of passage, become so expensive? We paid $18.75 for ours, (dubbed Fred) that was slightly bigger than a bowling ball. Next, Halloween costumes. Any suggestions?

Corn mazePumpkins

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Books lists — I love them! Every year I wait for the New York Times to post their top 100, so I can tick off what I’ve read and what I would like to read. The Millions has come up with two lists of the 20 best books of the millennium so far. One was compiled by their panel of writers, editors and critics and the other was formed after polling their readers. Ten books can be found on both lists. I’ve read eleven of the books listed and the obsessive half of my brain would like to complete both lists. Tick.

How much do you think the list would differ in the UK or Australia?

Check it out at The Millions: Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers

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The single best thing I’ve done (besides enrolling the kids in school) since arriving back in America, is to join a memoir writing class at the Sag Harbor Library. It is run by the encouraging, insightful Lou Ann Walker. On Wednesday eight of us talked about the importance of specificity. For example, lists can be a wonderful thing. Instead of saying, ‘we ate dinner’ you could say: we had bright red boiled lobsters with melted butter in individual glass bowls on the side, sweet corn on the cob and homemade buttermilk biscuits. I’m salivating just thinking about this meal. Better move on.

Lou Ann also suggested we look in newspapers written during the period we are writing about. This infuses you with details of a particular time period and it helps avoid anachronisms. Did you really type your high school essay on a computer back in 1970? I don’t think so. Think about the larger events that were happening during the time. Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated? Or, on 9/11?  Look at atlases of the area where you grew up to trigger memories. I haven’t been back to New Hampshire in decades. Place names escape me, but I still remember ice skating by streetlight on a local pond. Maybe I should look up the name of that pond. I used to go tobogganing on the hill leading down to the pond. Is it as steep as I remember? A topographical map would show me.

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News from Down Under. Allen & Unwin has chosen two unpublished authors under the age of 35 as the recipients of its $20,000 reward this year. The winners are Lisa Lang for Utopian Man and Kristel Cornell for Night Street. Past Vogel winners include well-known Australian authors Tim Winton and Kate Grenville among others.  Another book getting lots of attention and awards in Australia is The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, a story centered around a man who slaps a child who is not his own at a suburban barbecue and the ensuing consequences.

Mailcast – The Bookmark: 2009 The Australian/Vogel Literary Award special edition! – Allen & Unwin

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We’re back in New York — land where you never know what’s around the corner. We set out for a wholesome family day at the Montauk Lighthouse. We climbed 127 winding steps to the top of the lighthouse to see an ocean-lover’s dreamy view of Block Island, Fisher Island, Rhode Island and Connecticut, not to mention the more immediate view of the rocky coastline surrounding the lighthouse and a vegetable patch nearby. After descending, the kids wanted to climb on the rocks along the beach. We turned a corner and found these sirens washed up onshore…

Alien invasion in Montauk

What do you think they’re advertising?

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Query letter

No more excuses, it’s time to  start writing again. My manuscript is complete (well, almost) and now I need to emerge from the cocoon and flutter into the publishing world. If only it could be so lyrical. This feels more like the time my skirt was blown up around my waist in a park in Washington. A man seated on a nearby bench whistled and said, “Honey, if you didn’t want to show it you shouldn’t have wo it.”

This is where you put in the hard yards. I’ve read many blogs and books advising how to get published and it seems the first step is to get a literary agent. In the absence of friends or colleagues willing to refer you to an agent, or a great uncle who works at a publishing company, you’ll need to strike out on your own. Have a look at Chuck Sambuchino’s, A Guide to Literary Agents. This book will tell you the genres agents prefer and  how to contact them.

The query letter is your first point of contact.  A query letter is a single page cover letter (many literary agents say no more than 400 words) introducing you and your book. Most agents accept e-queries, but be careful not to e-blast multiple agents.  The letter should include the following:

1.  Your name & contact information

2.  The Hook: This is the one sentence tagline for your book. Somewhere in this tagline you need to cleverly insert the title, genre and word count. For example:

‘I am writing to introduce my latest work, an 80,000-word expatriate memoir called A Yankee Down Under, a tale about leaving New York City after September 11th for a simpler life in Australia.’

This example may sound familiar to those of you who have read my drafts.

Remind the agent if you’ve met previously (i.e. at a conference) or if you were referred. If you can, try to compare your book to other books the agent has represented. Find a way to let the agent know that you’ve done your research.

3. Mini-Synopsis: Your second paragraph will contain a description of the book. Yes, just one paragraph.

4. Biography: Tell the agent why you are uniquely qualified to write this book. Include in this bio any awards you’ve won and where you’ve been published.

5. Closing: Thank the agent for her time and consideration.

Helpful sites:




Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent

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Moving back…

After almost six years in Australia, we’ve made the move back to the U.S. While in Australia we vowed to hold onto the simpler life we had created. So what did we do? We moved (albeit temporarily) to East Hampton, New York where shingle-style cottages of the wealthy abound. On our first trip to the village, we stared at the imposing entrances to Gucci, Hermes and Tiffany (when did these high-end chains replace the unique boutiques?) as we waited for the crossing guard to signal it was safe to cross the street. Bold New Yorkers defied the crossing guard between narrow gaps in the traffic. My kids clutched their bags of designer candy just purchased from Dylan’s Candy Story, owned by Ralph Lauren’s daughter.

My daughter asked, ‘Mom, are we in New York city?’

I had to wonder.

So, I’ve come up with a strategy. We will go to the nature parks. They are beautiful — and empty. Last weekend we walked around Cedar Point on a crisp, Indian summer day. The trails are perched beside steep sand dunes leading down to the water. The kids tumbled down these slopes several times, legs rubbery as if they had completed a session of boot camp. A nice wind was blowing off the water so the mosquitoes didn’t bother us.

Still, I wonder who is behind the huge hedges I pass on my daily walk. Maybe enough leaves will fall off soon, so I can take a peak…

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