Hello all: My publisher just let me know Amazon is offering my latest novel, Vanishing Point, at a deep discount. (We have no control over these things.) Both Kindle and paperback available for around five dollars. Indulge!
I’m delighted to report that my new novel, BLUE, is a finalist in the Black Lawrence Press Big Moose Novel Contest. The Black Lawrence Press releases many fine books year after year, so it is an honor to be recognized by them. I’m eager for the release of Ron Nyren’s winning story, The Book of Lost Light. Check out an excerpt as well as the other finalists here: https://www.blacklawrence.com/13177-2/
I drove! I rented a car in Vilamoura down in the Algarve last week and drove for the first time here!
Not having been behind any wheel in well over a year, and having watched Portuguese drivers zip about, I was tentative. But, I thought, if I can drive in New York, I can drive here, and, as my son told me when he was first learning, it’s just not that hard.
But. The unfamiliar car, the unfamiliar villages, the unfamiliar roads, the unfamiliar laws, the unfamiliar kilometers, the steep, narrow curves, the British voice in the GPS, and those roundabouts. Roundabouts abound. Every few feet, it seems, even in the wilds. More than once I’ve circled round and round the roundabout that connects the rest of Massachusetts to the Cape trying to negotiate my exit. It’s downright embarrassing.
Nevertheless, I set out. I gave Liz, what I called the British GPS woman, names of random towns along the coast, along the Spanish border, in the interior, intent on seeing places off the main roads. I eased into roundabouts, eased around corners, eased up and down hills. And then remembered, I’m good at this.
Over the course of two days, I drove over three hundred kilometers. I didn’t slow down for any reason, not to photograph the fields of wildflowers, the sleek, handsome goats with the herders in their caps, the road lined with white-barked trees, the beaches, the mountains, the occasional ruin. I didn’t eat. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I didn’t stop. I drove. I took those corners, those hills, those roundabouts.
Someone mentioned it was good I’d rented a car, gotten out of my comfort zone. Ah. No. Not driving was the uncomfortable zone. I’ve found my way back to this good place, and feel ten years younger.
Feeling young might also have something to do with my riding again, something I thought I’d forever left behind. Here I am with Estrela, Portuguese for star.
I’m already planning my next adventure. In May, I think, and June. And July . . .
Saudade: This Portuguese word specifically expresses the longing that accompanies missing something that has been lost or is out of touch. Saudade is an accurate expression of what I’ve been feeling for the woods I grew up in, wandered in, played in, walked dogs in, rode horses in, and got lost in. I hadn’t realized, or had been afraid to acknowledge, the extent to which they nourished my work even as I rarely mention trees or woods or even the outdoors in my stories.
For the last decade or so before moving here, I reveled in the moment to moment changes at Holcomb Hill, in meadows emerging from winter into spring, erupting into summer, and settling back into fall. I felt a hunger any day there hadn’t been time to take the dogs there. On winter mornings, I’d put cleats on my boots to take Eddie and Butch and then Annie to the icy fields, even if it was too icy for them to go very far, just so I could see the sun gleam across frozen, untouched expanses. How I miss that.
Years before, while still living in the city, I kept a horse at a stable in Westchester County. I’d get up on weekend mornings to ride in Pocantico Hills, a vast park, to explore its hills and paths on horseback, a huge tract of woods with ponds and fields and trails, sometimes lush and green, sometimes red and gold and orange, and sometimes white with snow.
During the winter, after a fresh snowfall, I’d get up extra early, to be the first with my mare through the powder. It was exhilarating. Like nothing I’d experienced in my life, and like nothing I’ve experienced since.
As a child, I played in a nice patch of woods behind my suburban house, a patch that seemed as big as a world to me, with my secret forts and cottages and stories. Summers, I’d visit my grandfather and roam in the woods behind his house. Later, I sometimes drove north from New York City when the maple sap runs in March, to meet my father at my uncle’s, where they were doing the hard work of gathering that sap and boiling it into maple syrup.
In Connecticut, on simpler days in my writing room, I’d watch the sun play through what I thought of as my woods, the more than two acres of woodland I could see from where I sat, as the sun stretched at low angles across trees’ knees and thighs as the morning began, rose along their chests and arms through the day, and, sinking towards sunset, left the clouds high above their heads pink and gold. How I miss that.
There is something wrong with the trees here. Their bark and branches and crowns don’t look right. I’ve tried to like them. I’ve taken their pictures, sat under them, drawn them. But come on. Is this tree not crazy?
Are these even trees?
Except for one, they’ve disappointed me.
This one, an ancient fig, with huge roots that extended some forty feet in interesting patterns, and with branches arching so widely a concert was held under her last year, was destroyed last fall in the hurricane. I haven’t been to the gardens where she lived since.
There is so much right about Portugal, I don’t like to complain. I hardly seem like a nature person, and some parts of me are quite urban, so I’ve mostly kept this saudade to myself. But it’s been leaking into conversations, and leaking into dreams. I even began to think I’d have to find a town other than Coimbra, a more rural town, a greener town, to at least attempt to satisfy the yearning.
Last week, I ran across Mary Oliver’s poem, “Mangroves”, written after she’d left her northern woods for Florida. I almost laughed.
About the mangroves, she says, “Mostly I walk beside them, they discourage entrance.” And,
The black oaks and pines
of my northern home are in my heart,
even as I hear them whisper, “Listen, we are trees, too.”
Okay, I’m trying.
I know what she means.
Last Sunday, friends took me for a ride through Coimbra surrounds where in fact I’d been some months before and guiltily thought, ‘nice, but . . .’, or, in Oliver’s words, ‘Admiring is easy, but affinity, that does take some time.’
During the latest drive, keeping her poem in mind, I sat back and recognized the very different drama of Portugal’s countryside. I’m not drawn in yet, I didn’t long to get out of the car and explore the paths, but the poem’s last line resonates, as the mangroves speak to Oliver:
We are what we are, you
are what you are, love us if you can.
This poem extends to more than trees, of course, to place and people, to culture and identity, but for now, for me, it’s trees. It’s helping.
After invigorating months of house guests and travel, I turned the page to 2019 with nothing of note written on it. Writer friends were filling their blogs and social media posts with plans, such as finishing a novel or finding an agent. Also, this: accumulating rejections. I’d seen this sort of thing before. Buried in failure are successes. No pain, no gain. You can’t win if you don’t play. It’s all in the numbers. I know.
But submissions are tough. The odds are against you. Even the smallest literary journals contend with hundreds of manuscripts. Large ones, thousands. Agents are bombarded with queries. And, you are asking a stranger, a faceless stranger, to pass judgement on what you have spent weeks or months, possibly years, agonizing over in the privacy of your writing room, in the privacy of your brain.
While involved with moving and the paperwork and tasks of adjusting to life here, as well as writing, I gave myself a pass on submissions during 2018. My inbox was full of opportunities, but I let deadline after deadline go by. I pretended to forgive myself. I made all kinds of excuses. But I felt guilty. I am guilty. I haven’t been working hard enough.
With a wide-open calendar, I’ve had to decide whether to look at it in a state of panic – yikes, my calendar has no distractions or plans! – or in a state of glee – my calendar has no distractions or plans!
Back when I was part of an advertising team pitching new clients, a typical success rate was roughly one new client for every ten presentations. Sometimes we’d pitch eighteen with no success, but then be awarded the next two. Sometimes we’d get four fairly quickly, but then nothing new for months. When I was regularly submitting short stories, my acceptance rate was about one for every twenty-five submissions. One of my stories was accepted by six journals. Others were never placed.
I have managed rejection. I can do it again. I will do it again. As you are my witness!
I managed to click submit once in December. Rejection came yesterday. So I’m already one step closer.
Wish me luck! No. Wish me perseverance.