Thursday, November 27, 2008

Recipe for Brandy Baked Pears

Thanksgiving Dinner consists of...

1) Thirteen people this year, counting me:

Mom (who is 50; also, this is the occasion for our being in the Big Apple for the Macy's 150th Anniversary parade; Dora was the crowd favorite judging from the swelling chant Dora, Dora, Dora!); Peter, my younger brother who is old enough now to take part of the Alcohol (the sheer volume, daily replenished, was an event in itself); my older brother Guy, Teacher of Euro Games; Khary, my husband's Jamaican ex-roommate; Reneé, who works for the Zimmerman Agency doing PR and, for touring the Roosevelt Hotel, got her entire vacation paid for (and yes, the accent mark is supposed to be on the wrong "e"); my aunt and uncle, Ree and Jules, respectively, celebrating their 29th anniversary and finding nothing at Tiffany's to spend $20,000 on; Stephanie, their daughter, whose avatar is a wolf; my husband, Ernest, who brought long johns and waterproof jacket to aforementioned parade and wore neither (his nose reddens just at the tip--a round, distinct pink, like a doll's!); Reneé's parents, Leonard and Kathy (and just as a side note, couples really are comprised of discrete people, here unfairly lopped together by lazy journalism), who are bested in contests of conversation volume (oh, ambiguity) and silliness only by their daughter; and David. David is a random kid from Auburn L and K picked up at Young Frankenstein (they initially met him at the airport) because he'd booked a trip to NYC without making plans (or having money) for a place to stay. Lucky kid. Got to partake of our fabulous mélange of Thanksgiving Day entrées and sides.... and dessert, newly minted by me, for baked pears, mmmm!!

2) 2 Kitchens, included in the Queens flat + random kitchen equipment.

3) Devil's Shrimp, recipe courtesy of Angel Johnson (shrimp and tomatoes flamed in a brandy and lime, dusted with crushed red pepper); Mom's Roast, recipe dating from before the "liberation of women"; Glory Shrooms (mushrooms boiled in Glory base and white wine); BBQ Meatballs (secrets: maple syrup, garlic, crushed red pepper, and lime zest); steamed asparagus (place bushel of asparagus upright in microwavable heavy, flat glass after snapping off ends, add water 3", cover with plastic wrap and secure with rubber band, microwave for 5 minutes on high); good 'ole stuffing; lots of alcohol...

4) And dessert. Mom revisited her first-ever birthday cake which had been in the shape of a turkey, only this time it was an ice cream cake--which went very nicely with my Brandy Baked Pears. (I had been craving them all week long, impatiently watching the organic fruit stands as the Bartlett pears slowly softened and yellowed to their most aromatically delectable; I'd been planning to just eat them all! Juicy sweet.)

So, the recipe:

5 Bartlett pears, ripe
maple syrup
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brandy
4 tsp white granulated sugar
broiler pan bottom

Preheat oven to 450. Core and slice pears in eighths. Set aside. Drizzle maple syrup into the bottom of the pan, in sweeping back-and-forth motions. Add butter and water. Heat in oven until butter melts. Tilt pan to stir. Add pears, turning them in liquid until all surface areas are completely covered. Do not stack. Pour brandy equally over all pears. Dust with half the sugar and cinnamon to taste. Bake on center rack for 15-20 minutes. Remove and turn each pear. Dust with the rest of the sugar and more cinnamon. Return to oven for 20-25 minutes, depending on ripeness of pears. Broil for 5 minutes. Serve.


Many thanks to Reneé and Kathy for cutting, and to Khary for extracting pan from hot oven.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Job Description and A Report

Over turkey and cranberry sandwiches on rye with a light sweet mustard and iced tea, Claire asks me what I've learned so far from the work I've been doing with her agency. I must admit, I evade the question. I patter a bit, explaining that I like doing such and such, and that I prefer this or that, and that I still wanted to learn more about X, and, do you know, I was looking around at the websites of other agents and you, Claire, just seem to be different.

So, of course, we discuss the fact that she operates in not just an "author-friendly" manner, but in a "people-friendly" manner, and that she is a breath of fresh of air in the publishing community.

The question asked vanishes under a load of other work needing to be dealt with. But it remains in the back of my mind, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that my evasion is not one resulting from a lack of reply, but just from a lack of a coherent reply. I understand that for Claire—who is, of course, paying me—the question is deeply important, not just a curiosity. So it is in my and her best interest to present the summary that follows: a job description (so far) and a report.

I read. Queries, bios, proposals for non-fiction, and partials (usually a few chapters, say, 20-50 pgs) for fiction. Sometimes entire manuscripts. What genres? Oh, pick one, really. From mystery to health, memoir to thriller. Not fantasy though (ah, my ever-love).

What Claire gives me is the stuff that's already passed first muster, if you will. It's the stuff that isn't proposing a 200,000 word first-time author's masterpiece, or a 29,500 word "gripping" novel. First off, no one in their right mind is going to publish a first-time author if the piece is 200,000 words long. (I queried my first book at this length. AHH!) Try <100,000 words. Now, we're getting somewhere. Second, "a novel should be as long as it needs to be," Tina Wexler, lit agent, said once, but really, word count matters. And never editorialize in a query. Your stuff is "gripping" if your agent says it is. So, I don't have to bother with all that.

I get stuff Claire's already scanned, manuscripts with first graphs she's enjoyed, non-fiction proposals she sees a market for, etc. And then I plunge in. And this is where, I feel, Claire Gerus really departs from other agencies. A typo on the first page? Not a problem. We're looking for content, for substance, for characters that come to life, for plots that *** (the word choice represented by these asterisks was ruthlessly abused by my writing partner, and I have not yet come up with a suitable replacement) the vast array of well-placed clues at exactly the right moment, for writing that's consistent and readable. Is language important? YES! But is the requirement high diction or soaring prose? No. Know the genre, and if you're trying something new, the character had better be of such depth that the language matches the character. Really, that's what's important. Is the outfit "finished?" Do accessories match? Are the shoes of the same spirit; should the hair be up or down? Chic, professional, fresh, lyrical, haunting, smart, up-market (cross between literary and commercial), sassy. The language should fit the character like an outfit and be consistent over all.

I get work with problems. I've been learning to see a story for its possibilities. Does this author have beautifully round characters but an unbelievable plot? Is the plot there, but do we need depth of character? In the story I'm working on right now, page 2 needs to be cut. Chapter 5 and 6 should be inverted. Chapter 5 (now chapter 6) needs a rewrite to give a huge chunk of boring back-story the immediacy that will encourage readers to keep reading. A professor of mine gave me some good advice: "Don't write the parts that readers skip." Good grief! But we all do it; and some of those absolutely boring parts are our most precious babies. "Murder your darlings"—Fitzgerald.

I'm learning about covers. The packaging (yes, all you elitists out there, myself included; packaging) is nearly as important as the text inside. Honestly, as a consumer, if I'm browsing the shelves at local Antigone's, I look at the spine for an interesting title, check out the cover, scan the back, read the first page, read page, oh, 78, and then, if I'm still into it, buy it. Covers are crucial. Does the title, does the art, do justice to the book? We just had a book put on hold by WAL-MART because the title didn't do it for the acquisitions person there. Is the art catchy? Is the author's name big enough? Does the spine visibly show title, author, and publisher? Is the font readable—and in a readable color? (You wouldn't believe how many first cover options are just unintelligible. People can't see light yellow on white too well.) Is the subtitle big enough, not all squished together in a ribbon at the bottom? These things really do matter.

Like any business, negotiations are tricky and contracts are like gold. A good agent will fight for her author. A good editor will fight for her agent.

This brings me to a great HORROR (thanks, Conrad): A summary of the adventure: from mind to shelf, and the green involved (tangentially).

You have a brilliant novel just completed. You are the luckiest person in the world.

You query an agent who accepts your work. Your agent sends out to an editor who takes on your opus. The editor presents in 30 minutes to the publishing house's board/panel (say 6-7 people); convinces all 6-7 people that your work is important, salable, etc. With your editor's help, you polish the thing. Your editor goes to an acquisitions meeting held quarterly by a megalith buyer. She has 5 minutes now to pitch all 30 books for her publishing house, yours included. Barnes and Nobel accepts the sale of your manuscript on their shelves. Meanwhile, your agent passes you her favorite PR person to whom you pay up front, say, $5000 to promote your book for three months. Ouch! Why? Because if all the copies of your book do not sell within six weeks or so, remaining copies go back to the publisher. And yes, the royalties come out of your pocket.

Thank God, you're the luckiest person in the world.

Other stuff later.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Inspired by Tracie Morris's: INTERMISSION

Core’s too light

sitting there laughing: cause white people don’t have culture. Ha!

ah, too blended this red hot, dove dark, mocha lite, and mac nut woman with her potato skin flesh to have culture. Too. To have irony, to have synchronicity, sacrosanctity, solidarity certainly, or community.

What do I have? I’ve got beer—light beer—not like those europhile types with their slick chests and slick voices and thick lagers—and football (michigan vs. notre dame currently). At 1, 4 enjoying. n-JOY-ing. Not EN-joy-in-Guh. But there goes my thesis, deepsunk in the attempt (subsume me) to hear my native tongue with clarity. Correcting turns protecting subliminally.

Didn’t mean to offend. Didn’t mean to wear yellow and brown, or gold shoes (so sue me). What’s with the clothes he says (nicer way than some—where I come from, they roll round culture appropriation like a NT epistle—“all scripture is God-breathed.”)

Up ordering coffee, avoiding (eye) contact with her since she’s white, since she’s black, since she’s talking to the guy she just kissed about t(d)ort(d)illas—since I’ve got no culture, no inner light, no ethnicity or apocalyptic use: no calendar, no creation myth, no blood-fist moon, not a chosen race, not a wild ass, no holistic value—my people. What people?

Nod and smile, flash a credit card, loose change—color green which

(she says that’s my color since I’ll be the only gringa when I go down to visit the family in México. No matter I’m “Mexican now, girl, part of the familia, goodbye anglo.”)

is acceptable.

--Link to Tracie Morris's book at Soft Skull Press:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Copy Cat--At bat: Bad Cat Copying

Assignment: "Write a poem in imitation of [Jesse Seldess]'s style."

I have done so . . . as best I can. The poem is in two parts. Reader beware.


Who you have continually overheard
Break off your edges
You fall
In decorous new stares
And hear ring
From inside lethargy and crawl
The widest known expanses
For you
Too small for you hearing
Enter incredible landscapes
Plunge by


Plunge by and
Enter incredible
Too small for you hearing

You fall

Fall hearing landscapes
and land scraping

and fall

Plunge by
plunging in
incredible landscapes

In credible lands capes
Too small for you


lands scrape

You plunge in

Lunge in for you
Dungeon for you
This scraped landscape

All too for you

For you

You enter
From inside lethargy and

Inter in
Credible landscapes
Too small for your hearing

For you
Plunge bye by your

Incredible landscapes

Too small for your hearing

You hear ring
More credible landscapes
More incredible landscapes
Unscraped by credulous hands

Your lands

Credible lands wear
Decorous rings
Where rings wear
No things
Known things
And where hearing

you are

The widest known expanse is
the land is
where edge is

the widest known expanse is

For you
Plunge by in
Your land hearing
Hearing you withstand your
Credible landscapes

Lands shape
Your hearing


your credible landscapes

From inside lethargy you crawl
From inside lethargy
The widest known expanses
Expanded is
For your hearing

Small was
Hearing from inside lethargy
You crawl stare
And stand out

To stand out you crawl
From inside lethargy and crawl out
the widest known expanse

Ring here your hearing

You hear
From inside lethargy
The ring

Decorousness stares

New stares
News stares
At decorous ringing and lethargy

Hearing nothing
Of stairs

Inside lethargy
You fall
New stairs


New tears
From inside lethargy
You crawl
hear tares lethargically ringing


Wringing in

You fall indecorously

New stairs stare wringing
Ring and fall indecorously

Break off your edges


ledges and new breaks and hedges
Break from inside falling
You hear

And you

You stare incredible


And fall
and land edges

though scraping
plunge through
and plunge in

Inter the credible
The known weddable
In dungeon in

To plunge
New edges for your spaces
Pace incredible places

And faces

Lands and faces
Landscapes of unweddable edges

You fall
Crawl hearing lethargical


Plunge by

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Give me your inspired, your salable.

Even though I've just started my new job at Claire Gerus Literary and only this week begun classes at the University of Arizona, I'm already beginning to notice a disconnect in my head over what makes good fiction. Reading through potential manuscript (ms) partials, I'm turned off by what appears to be--at first glance--the "uninspired," the mundane and conceptually boring. In short, solid commercial fiction. Where are the juxtaposed images? Where does language become organic, having value and beauty of and for itself rather than being simply a tool for moving plot along? And yet, I look at the first of my assignments, a "close read" of Jesse Seldess's Who Opens, a book of poetry that reads (for me, who has only a little knowledge of modern poetry--one of the things I hope to correct this semester) like a hypnotic stimulant for the acceleration of seemingly random synapse firing. As a literary agent (which I am not, but hope to one day become), would this kind of literature appeal to the masses, or only to the elite? To be honest, I can't imagine wanting to pick up another book by Seldess without a graduate degree in literature or unless I had some strange obsession with obscure up-and-coming poets. But does that mean Seldess is "real literature"? Does that make his poetry any better than the last query I read and found intriguing enough to request from the author a synopsis and 50 page partial? So the standards are shifty, the ground gives underfoot, the borders of my neat kingdom have gotten moved around (some giant time-baby with a paintbrush and white-out, probably). I seem to be straddling the field; yes, even the "expanded field." Here, where binaries become bleakly pragmatic, I want to know: academia or salability, and is there a way to bust up especially that binary, or leave the field intact but still explore the edges of it, where fuzzy lines mark innovative and dangerous territory?

See Jorie Graham's Introduction to Best American Poetry 1990 for a better grasp on the undertakings of and oppositions to modern American poetry.

I have also included a link to PennSound, at which you can listen to a reading of Open With by Jesse Seldess himself.