Getting It Together

tatoo girl

This is the cover of the Clare and I collection on

Publishing the book on-line has been a pain in the neck. I love the opportunity and the possibilities digital printing offers but, for each site I’m on, there’s a whole new layer of technical capabilities/directions/rules/kinks.  There’s probably very easy ways to do the things I want to do in these stories (see post below where I bitch about it).  I’m just not finding things as intuitive as I personally, in my very stubborn idiotic way, think they should.

All of which is to say–publishing is never easy.

I read an obit recently of a mystery writer who for most of his life had incredible success–big publishers, huge following, awards, etc. Fifteen years ago, he started to branch out, wrote scripts for his books, thinking they’d be a breeze to sell to some movie producer: didn’t happen. Meanwhile, he decided he was going to write something other than  mystery novels–no one bought them.  He never published again.  He shot himself.

There’s a lesson here to remember. I suspect I may never be commercially published again. I’ll never make my long-suffering agent ecstatic, never get a contract, another advance, an editor who loves me, a galley to proof,  the weight of a physical book in my hands, the readings and fan letters. For a length of time, these things were the measure of my worth and then, like any other job, something happened. Things changed. Passed me by.  I wasn’t able to figure out what was wrong.  Maybe it couldn’t be figured out. It just was, and everything I did before appeared to be a mirage, at best a fluke.

I know what that guy was going through.

There were at least two times when I either symbolically (i.e. threw/burned manuscripts) or in reality (drinking; a lot of pills; walking into the ocean off Brighton Beach)  was going the way the mystery writer went.  The first time was after eleven long years where I couldn’t for the life of me get published–rejection letters; phone slamming down; editorial laughter abound concerning nearly everything I sent out into the world.  The second was a year after finishing up my last book, with three well received books before it.

Since then I’ve sent handfuls of proposals to my agent and talked up a lot of ideas with friends. Nothing panned out and another darkness was always hovering two inches away.  There was nothing artistically romantic about all this. My writing was pretty much all I hung my hat on. Family, friends, all of the rest of life didn’t matter at all–useless to them, useless in the world, a walking illustration of a foolish dud. I was coming up against what we all come up against–the limits of our youthful beliefs and the discovery of what we will, or will not, endure.  Eventually the good husband kicked me  to someone who knew what to do, who gave me the drugs I faithfully take every morning. It took six wobbly months for my head to clear and begin to find a worth beyond a book with my name on it.

All of which leads to Clare and her friend. The stories are coming at a pace of once a month, including obsessive polishing, although my husband says they need more proof reading, too. There’s no vanity in putting them out.  For all the hard work I’m putting into them, they could all suck, but perhaps they don’t,  even though the average number of readers hangs around 20.  About That Night, though,  got up to 35–but there’s graphic sex and a suggestion of incest in that one, which always helps. I think maybe my sister may briefly check in but I’m pretty sure my agent or any editors haven’t.

What the hell, though.   The girls are out there.  Last week, I even decided I’m going to start sending them out to magazines of all kinds. I haven’t received rejection letters in a while so this should be fun. The difference is, they won’t matter.

And you never know.  It’s better than the alternative silence.

Just for fun, here are the stories.

The Fashion Of the Day




swim rope

Parallel Dilemmas: The Things We Have to Do to Get Out of Here


About That Night

alone girl

Moms At Rest

table glass



America Eats! Our Reason to Feast!

legionaire fish fry

(Legionnaire picnic, Louisville, Kentucky, 1937)

A couple of years ago, I wrote a book called America Eats! On the Road With the WPA: The Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts That Define Real American Food (Bloomsbury Press).  I know. That’s a mouth full but it describes the contents pretty accurately.  It was about a project the writers in the WPA’s Federal Writers Administrations worked on in the late 1930s that tried to explain what exactly was American food.  To do this, the writers trooped to all kinds of community meals—church suppers, political barbecues, county fairs, family reunions to name a few. Holiday gatherings, of course, were covered and it is surprising how different these celebrations were across the country, different in style and the dishes that were served.  The photos here were taken at the same time by photographers in a similar federal program. Together the programs started the careers of some of our best artists.

cakes and pies color

(Dessert at a town dinner, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1939)

What I did was travel around the country to the same places the writers did.  I wanted to see how much had changed or if things had stayed the same.  It took me a little more than a year and a lot of eating—giving new meaning to packing it on. What I discovered was that the pies and stews; the pigs turned on spits or smoked in pits; the chickens simmered with vegetables and served with biscuits; and all the cakes and cookies and sweet tea, lemonade and beer that is served from Maine to New Mexico was a lot like back then.

The one thing we don’t do as much is gather together as a community.  I’m pretty much a loner but even I found this a shame.  Because the truth of the matter is, American cooking was forged from the necessity to support each other while we tried to establish a home in a vast and lonely country.

barbecue men

(Barbecuing, Greene County, George, 1939)

So today, if you draw together around a table with family, friends and neighbors, know you are upholding a tradition that has made us whole.  The country goes through hard times, as it did when America Eats! was first being composed.  Sometimes we feel everything is going to rack and ruin, but somehow we eventually right ourselves.  What remains steady is our food that is as complex in its lineage and its ability to unite us all.

Happy Fourth, everyone! Pile on the plates!


(This is me with 2 Illinois farmers at the best restaurant on Rt 36)