The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures: A Memoir

photo by tata_aka_T on flickr
photo by tata_aka_T on flickr

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.

Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck”

Five years ago, an essay I wrote won Glamour magazine’s “My Real Life Story” essay contest. Part of the prize package was a chat with a literary agent. That essay was the first I’d ever written outside of schoolwork; prior to that, I’d been a poet and then a playwright and monologuist. But when the agent asked me what I was working on, I told her I was writing a book.

Then I had to figure out what kind of book it was.

A memoir had crossed my mind; after all, the Glamour essay was a personal narrative. But that piece dealt with a painful chapter of my life; it was draining to write. I didn’t fancy the idea of spending months dredging up childhood hurts. So I opted for essay collection in lieu of memoir. My thought was that I would tackle ideas, something I’d done in my work for the stage. I’d investigate what mattered to me, things I had questions about or couldn’t entirely figure out—like friendship and fear and love. I’d write about those things and tell some stories from my life in which they played a part.

Last fall I finished The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures, a collection of seventeen linked essays, and crafted a query letter. Out of thirty queries, I had five or six requests for the manuscript. Almost every agent who read it said something along the lines of, I love the writing but it feels like it wants to be a memoir.

I took another look and understood what they meant.

Through writing about the issues I’d struggled with, the questions I’d had, the discoveries I’d made over the years, I’d constructed a roundabout memoir—a looping, back and forth journey through my life.

So this spring, I set about remodeling The Saltwater Twin from a not-quite memoir into a memoir memoir. I rearranged and reconstructed chapters, cut one entirely, added connective tissue and arrived at something new, something I like. Definitely something that packs a bigger punch.

And—I found an agent!

ellen
Ellen

I’m represented by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency. I really like Ellen, and I really like the agency. In one of our first conversations, Ellen told me to go online and find Frances Goldin’s Occupy Wall Street video.

Frances Goldin
Frances

 

 

 

Frances is eighty-seven in the clip, which is from 2011, and she’s trying to get a cop to arrest her. He refuses. She’d been arrested nine times for civil disobedience and was working toward a dozen. She passes out buttons that say “Tax the Rich.”

I hope I get to meet her.

One of the reasons I queried Ellen is because the agency represents Barbara Kingsolver and Dorothy Allison, both of whose work I love. In fact, though I’ve never met Barbara Kingsolver, her advice got me through the first round of rejections to my query letter (I wrote about that here):

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

Ellen also represents the estate of poet Adrienne Rich. With all the undersea imagery of The Saltwater Twin, I thought often of Rich’s famous poem, “Diving into the Wreck” when I sat down to write. I almost used a few lines from it as the book’s epigraph:

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth

It goes without saying I’m over the moon at being in such august company!

On Ellen’s advice, I did one more round of revisions this summer. I sent the new manuscript to her this week. After Labor Day, we take the next step on the journey: finding a publisher. In Barbara Kingsolver’s words, we look for the right address.

It’s out of my hands for now. So, between daydreams about what’s next for The Saltwater Twin, I’ll be thrifting my back to school wardrobe, beginning the search for a new puppy, and oh yeah—starting work on a novel.

photo by Anthony Albright on flickr
photo by Anthony Albright on flickr
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The Next Big Thing

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I’ve been invited by writer, performer and activist Nikki Patin to participate in an interview series called The Next Big Thing in which authors talk about their work. (Thanks, Nikki!) You can check out what Nikki’s up to at nikkipatin.com. Since I’m kind of new at this interview thing, I’ve asked my friend Lindsay to weigh in. Welcome, Lindsay! Let’s go! Continue reading The Next Big Thing

Why I Write

fun-with-dick-and-jane-title-pageI don’t remember learning to read and write. The way my mother tells it, she discovered me at age three reading an ancient copy of Fun with Dick and Jane I’d unearthed somewhere, and I’ve been writing almost as long. Reading and writing were a continuum, not separate from one another. I loved the shape of letters – the teepee of A, the crawling snake of S. I loved stringing them into words and sentences. I loved the escape of books. They were magical objects, portals into other worlds. I didn’t think about how they came into being, the mechanics of someone sitting down to think about character and setting, cross things out, scrawl notes in the margins of typewritten pages. I didn’t dream of writing. I just wrote.

I put on plays in garages and backyards. Frankly, the audience was kind of secondary. It was the characters I was in love with. I practiced getting their voices right. IMG_0125

Tom Sawyer said, “You there” and Dorothy sounded plaintive; Peter Pan was cocky and Hook flamboyant. I wrote poems, too, about zebras and the ocean and pollution.

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I liked meter and rhyme. I liked typing and illustrating. Writing poems was play.

As a teenager, my poems moved from paeans to bubblegum and spring toward more personal subjects. I was polite, though, correct. I wrote for the A even when I was writing for myself. My journals were wilder. Sometimes I swore like a truck driver. I detailed dreams; I wrote blush-worthy, cringe-worthy things. In these pages, a different, darker, truer kind of writing began to take shape. I took just one writing class in college – poetry. I wrote pretty terrible stuff. But I was practicing. And I continued to read voraciously. I started to think I’d like to write and teach. For a long time, when people asked what I did, I put it that way, as verbs. I write versus I’m a writer. I wasn’t ready to identify as a noun. Continue reading Why I Write

Gonna Fly Now…or 72 Steps

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I have a picture of Rocky as my desktop image — a still from when he’s just run through Philadelphia in his gray sweatsuit and black wool cap, sprinted up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and triumphantly raised his hands in the air.  This is to make me believe I can do this.  I am working on a book, and I’m maybe about halfway through.  It came about as a result of winning a national non-fiction writing contest held by Glamour magazine.  Along with a 5K prize came a very fancy lunch (including a carrot marshmallow amuse bouche) with Glamour editors and some interest in my work from agents in NYC.  So I decided to keep writing essays, enough to put together a collection.  It’s going to be called The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures.  (More on that later.) So here I am, about a year in and halfway through and it is sometimes hard to keep believing that I will make it up the steps. (And that’s just the writing the book part; then comes the publishing journey.)  So I have Rocky on my desktop.  Also my friend Lindsay who believes this will happen.  Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone believe something for you when you’re finding it a bit impossible.  And, I suppose, to be a little bit thrilled about the small achievements along the way…every step.