Category Archives: Publishing

LinkedIn and Out

Once upon a time I had a job. It was actually a sequence of jobs – as a women’s magazine editorial assistant, then as a writer/researcher for an arts impresario, then an editorial director for a not-for-profit that advanced women’s careers. I was in my 20s. Working as the assistant to the health and horoscopes editor at Family Circle was pretty entertaining.

When I left the editorial life to become an author, though, I felt elated.

Years later, when I decided to take a hiatus from writing books, I hooked up with a career coach at my alma mater. What can I do? I asked her. I needed to work. I used to go into Manhattan once in a while to meet with her, and she would tell me that I hadn’t failed at  my chosen metier, that I simply had to switch from one field to a related one using my fine-turned authorial skills. When she said switch, she would hold her hands in front of her and raise and move them to the side as though she were lifting something light to a place it better belonged .

 

better hands

How does someone who has written books for 25 years switch from one field to a related one? Reenter a work force where everyone is a teenager and has the computer skills of a genie and the moxie of a shark? I subscribed to adverts on Indeed.com. I sleuthed around cultural nonprofits to find a fit. Try and try, I couldn’t shake the fact that I was essentially a book author. I had speaking skills though, and I liked being outdoors, so I applied to work the sea lion exhibit at the Central Park Zoo. No deal.

The thing my career coach advocated most vehemently was that I get involved with LinkedIn, a site that I’d always regarded with bafflement. What was it for, anyway? Why did everyone want to connect with me all the time? Now I prettied up a resume to sound cheerful and proficient and started cold calling LinkedIn contacts. I felt like I was plastered with one of those dorky tags people wear at conventions.

 

hello my name isI got some interviews. During one, after swallowing a cold pill, I got such bad cotton mouth that I had to excuse myself to go find a water fountain. Didn’t get the job. I didn’t get the job as writing center director, writing teacher, social media content writer. Everyone knows that sending c.v.’s is not how you get a job. So I returned again to LinkedIn. Would the director of the Intrepid Museum, the contact of a contact, have any ideas about how I could find work? No? So sorry.

Then it dawned on me. I didn’t want a deskbound, social media-obsessed editorial 9-5 any more than companies wanted a silver-haired overqualified author who spent a lot of time inside her head. I contacted the owner of a small company that had something to do with trees.

 

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Trees. That was novel. Those leafy giants that swayed along the highway? When I was a kid, I remembered, I used to build houses out of acorn tops and pebbles in the hollow of a tree in my yard. Trees, it occurred to me, were magic. I would move from one end of the supply chain to another, from bound paper books, which ate up trees, to the living air-cleansing shade-providing originators themselves. The raw material of all literature. All I had to do was take a test, and then I would be sprung from my writing coop, out in the air, in Brooklyn, saving trees and watching the trucks go by.

Elated.

truck

 

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Filed under Arborist, Culture, History, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Publishing, Trees, Writers, Writing

Out on My Fanny

Terrific reviews but no sales. Astounding rejection notices. What could be crueler for a writer?

Sadly and swiftly we fell to earth, Fanny and me. I was ready to vault into the next chapter of my life. I was enchanted by my subject and believed that everyone else would be equally enchanted.

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But publishing is a peculiar institution, particularly these days. Two dozen editors looked at the proposal for A Dangerous Subject, the book that would take readers on a romp through Jacksonian America and the weirdness of the present day United States as well. (Note I don’t use the word read here, only looked at. How many editors have the time to read everything, actually? It’s a lost art.)

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Some of them disliked the subject (“too small”). Many loved it. I remember my agent sharing with me one editor’s response: “omigod!” she wrote, and went on to say she’d had five proposals on her reading stack that night and had thrown them all aside to read about Fanny.

But like I said, publishing is peculiar. At the end of the day, lots of editors relished Fanny but they just couldn’t figure out “a way to publish the book.” In other words, to sell the hell out of it. Me and Fanny were too small to get our chance. And so we fell, like Alice down the rabbit hole, grasping at straws we passed along the way. Mawkish, but still.

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And having nursed a novel and a nonfiction idea when neither would end up reaching any readers, after a quarter century in the business of book writing, I had to ask myself: Is that all there is?

 

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Filed under Culture, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Writers, Writing

A Silver Bullet

Gil and I thought we would take to the road on the trail of Fanny Trollope’s wanderings across America. My imagination itched to conjure up the Jacksonian past of the juvenile nation, which she wrote about so incisively in Domestic Manners of the Americans. It would be an in-depth look at the landscape Fanny Trollope found when she went among us, using her words as a jumping off point to explore a strange, exciting, transformative period in America.But I wanted to see these places in the present, too. I planned to call my book A Dangerous Subject, which lifted a phrase from Domestic Manners. Trollope employs it to describe the sprawl and spectacle of America, so overwhelming that it can barely be contained in language. The phrase could apply equally to the woman herself, or to any woman who dares to step outside accepted boundaries. As her contemporary Jane Austen wryly noted in Northanger Abbey, a woman “if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”

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Fanny always based her criticism in solid observation. I planned for my book to be in part a travelogue assessing the current American landscape. I would talk with all kinds of people, all across the spectrum of beliefs. I wanted to find out what’s really going on in all of the red state cloud-cuckoo lands. But I would settle for taking the temperature of those states on Fanny’s itinerary: Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and New York. I was particularly interested in examining the extensive Southern part of her circuit, as my family’s roots lie in Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee. What Fanny saw there was quite possibly what my great-great-greats were experiencing.

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John Steinbeck, when he embarked on the circuit of the United States chronicled in Travels with Charley, rigged up a 1960 GMC truck with a camper for the journey. I thought I would be more rigorous about the truth in my narrative than Steinbeck’s hugely popular though largely fictionalized account. Like Charley. at its heart A Dangerous Subject would be a first-person narrative that attempts “to find out what Americans are like” (as Steinbeck announced his purpose), to portray, as they say about family, “the strangers you happen to be related to.”

If anyone would give me an advance to write it.

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Filed under Culture, History, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Writing

The Exquisite Realism of Pleats

Hiatus. Mine was a long one, at least in the terms of this daily blog. I took off in the spring to research my new novel, then to write the novel, then to take a break after writing the novel, then putting the novel on the market. Now, with my foot up after a third time under the knife (yes, I have three feet), I’m back.

The daffodils came and went, the waves crashed at the beach, but I feel I’ve been inside these months much more than outside. Inside my cranium. The seasons have changed largely without me, and now along comes Fall.

I don’t work at night. The Cabin resides in a quiet, still, isolated pocket of land at the edge of an insect-buzzing marsh. We’re cloistered in the middle of nowhere. Or at least it feels like that, which is remarkable since we’re less than an hour from the lights of New York City. My point is, there’s not a lot of hubbub around, not a lot of human distractions. So after dinner, with Oliver keeping a lookout out at our feet, we either read or consume a fair dose of high-concept binge fare.

O beseeching

We visit different worlds.

It’s hard to get history right on tv. Often it’s too cheesy to watch, whether because of the dialogue, scenery, fashions or some combination that makes you say, I know it wasn’t like that. And turn it off. Go read some good historical fiction instead!

But I’ve been watching a show that manages to have a little cheese and a fair amount of heart at the same time, along with exquisite attention to detail. The premise is time travel, my favorite subject.The Outlander series takes a young English woman just after World War One (she’s a battlefield nurse) and sends her through a witchy wormhole (actually a Stonehenge-like circle of obelisks) back to 1740s Scotland. Adventures and romance ensue. What interests me is the devotion to detail on the part of the producers, down to the beautiful and so carefully sewn pleats in the wedding gown of the protagonist, Claire. Apparantly they are entirely consistent with the real McCoy. There are plenty of people out there waiting to pounce on you if you don’t do it right, but so far a war hasn’t broken out between the pleats and the pin tucks, so we’re okay.


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As a writer of historical fiction, I know that you must constantly make choices about where to nail the absolute fact and when you can fudge. In fact, sometimes you must fudge, because the absolute fact would be unpalatable for contemporary readers. It fascinates me to hear about the choices made by the costume designer for Outlander, Terry Dresbach. (How’s that for a fitting name?)

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Filed under Culture, Fashion, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Leafy Air and Cheese

I can breathe again. I took a trip to Michigan and Wisconsin, the Great North Woods, which has leafy air worthy of inhaling.

Also, sweet black cherries worthy of devouring. They sell them, washed, plump and juicy, from little stands at gas stations.

cherries

I experienced a hailstorm that hit just as our sailboat anchored in that lovely private lagoon a ways into Lake Superior. Just enough to put every wet person on board in stitches.

I can breathe again because I turned in the manuscript of my new novel and my editor said he likes it. A lot. That’s an outsize sigh of relief. It made me open to everything around me.

I found that lying in bed on the shore of Lake Michigan, I could feel every delicious cotton fiber with my toes.

I saw the sights, hugged family, brought home souvenirs from people who had made them with their hands.

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There was rye flour from the farmer who grew it, at Maple Hill Farm in Washburn, Wisconsin.

And fingerless gloves knitted by his wife. She sewed a pad of suede on the palm for good gripping.

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The Northland is kind, even its rusty old trucks.

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The region loves its fish. Smoked, fried or souped.

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It offers a hundred different moccasins.

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Thrives on pop (drive-in menu, top right). Known to us North Easterners as soda.

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Then, of course, there is the cheese. I tasted a Michigan dairy’s Colby-style specimen, bright orange and moist, that was produced from a 1915 recipe.

Did I mention that my editor liked it? The novel, I mean, not the cheese.

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Filed under Cooking, Culture, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Finding Rosebud

I told myself I would have it done by the time the roses bloomed.

soft rose

My new novel, that is.

I do that sometimes, set an arbitrary time of year – not a date, never a date – when I will finish a book. It gives me something to shoot for. When the trees turn red. When the first snow falls. A seasonal moment which my project will match with its completion.

When the roses bloom.

I have been working for some time on a manuscript that shows some signs that it wants to be finished. But I still have chapters to revise before I can call it done. Yet it’s Spring, high rose season.

Just to see where things stood, how far behind I was, I thought I would pay a visit to the lovely grounds of Lyndhurst, the historic site near my house. This was the estate of the robber baron Jay Gould, and the old mansion is grey and gothic and not to my taste, though the huge specimen trees and plantings always astound. There is a fantastic heirloom rose garden there, one that I usually seem to get to too late to enjoy the blooms at their height.

This year the place was nearly deserted, and the circle of plants looked suspiciously green as I approached across the perfect lawn. There were two visiting matrons; one said, You must not miss the yellow blossoms on that bush, they smell like lemon.

yellow roseos

And they did. But the lemon roses were one of only a few shrubs out of dozens there that were actually in bloom. Others offered wicked thorns.

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Or buds so tightly sewn up it was hard to imagine them ever opening.

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I’ve come across some thorns and some sewn-tight problems in the narrative I’m working on, so I could appreciate them. I wished I could have seen Lyndhurst’s roses, lush, exploded, lemon, yes, but also vanilla, musk and all the other scents that don’t have proper names imagined yet.

More than anything, though, I felt happy. Because the roses had not yet bloomed, and my novel will bloom when they do.

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Filed under Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Photography, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Stuck in the Middle of My Novel With You

I have been meaning to write and say that I’m taking a bit of a hiatus from writing this blog — but I guess that’s kind of obvious. Not that I don’t adore posting here, I do. And I have the greatest readers in the world. But I am stuck in the middle of novel-world, and my writing in the fictional format seems to be taking all of my mental energy. I’m telling the story of a teenage girl in Revolutionary-era NYC. She looks a bit like this, as I imagine her.

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I have her portrait tacked up to my bulletin board. And now I have to get back to her.

I will still post here from time to time, and pretty soon I’ll dive back in to the real world, and my real blog, every day.

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Filed under Art, Culture, Fiction, History, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Writers, Writing