Monday, November 24, 2008

Let Us Give Thanks

What do you get when you cross turkey, cigars, shell shock, and needles? My childhood Thanksgiving tradition, of course. For almost 20 years, my family eschewed the hyper-American ritual of dressing in Cosby-esque sweaters, gathering with extended kin, and gorging on roast beast and stuffing while the grunts and groans on the gridiron bellowed from the TV. Instead, we created our own tradition (or, more accurately, my parents did – I was too young to really have a say in such matters). Around 1984, my family and four other families decided to celebrate Thanksgiving together. The adults were a who’s who of our small town—educators and PTA presidents and business owners and lawyers and, importantly, a pharmacist, a doctor, and a nurse. That first year, sometime after dinner, when once-full wine bottles had turned into candle holders, the pharmacist, the doctor, and the nurse harangued the lone pregnant woman into taking them for a drive. They returned with more wine and . . . flu shots. The doctor and the pharmacist conversed about proper dosage, and the nurse administered a shot to each of us. Mind you, this was before flu shots were all the rage—before your local supermarket used flu shot clinics as an enticement. While we were still rubbing our shoulders, cigars appeared, courtesy of the lawyer. Those of us who had been at the kiddie table snuck outside with the adults and tried to blend into the darkness so the adults wouldn’t shoo us away. Under a haze of smoke, I heard my first Vietnam stories. My dad and the lawyer had both served during the war, but I’d never heard it mentioned at home. They joked and they laughed, but their vocal cords were strung tight. I didn’t realize until years later that my dad couldn’t talk about it with anyone but a fellow veteran—we just wouldn’t understand.

For the next two decades, each of the five families (sounds like the Godfather, doesn’t it) traded hosting duties. Sometimes one family couldn’t make it, but the tradition continued, nonetheless. Boyfriends and girlfriends came and went, some of us moved to the adult table, and I introduced first my husband, and then a third generation, to the mix. Still, the important things remained constant—turkey, cigars, Vietnam stories, and flu shots (administered in the later years by the second generation of doctors, while the second generation of lawyers nervously looked on). We haven’t had one of those Thanksgivings for 5 years. My parents divorced, most of the kids live out of the area, cigars are bad for you, and experts recommend getting the flu shot in October. But that’s okay – my husband and I have new traditions involving nephews, Santa pictures, board games, Rock Band, good red wine, and homemade bread. It’s a more standard way to celebrate the holiday, but it’s still lovely, and no one comes at me with a syringe.

Not so standard is “Jayne Lynne’s” Thanksgiving tradition. Oh yes, even though she’s only our pen name, she has her own Thanksgiving tradition. For four years, Kris and I, in Jayne Lynne’s name, have done the same thing every Thanksgiving . . . scrambled to get queries and manuscripts to the post office. The very first year of The Pecking Order, when Liza Dawson showed interest, we made ourselves sick putting the manuscript together late at night after working 16-hour days at the Firm. It was imperative that she received it before Thanksgiving, in case her tradition involved reading manuscripts by a crackling fire in Aspen. The next few years, we found ourselves somehow sending out more queries or responding to manuscript requests just before Thanksgiving. Nothing like giving yourself more to do before hosting dozens of people in your home. Last year, we reworked the manuscript at an agent’s suggestion over Thanksgiving. This year, we thought we were ahead of the game. We sent out queries in October (around the same time I got my flu shot). But, like the Velveeta commentary accompanying the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, some things never change. An agent responded this week, indicating she loved our voice, would like to read the manuscript, and might be interested in working with us on a revision. I think I now know what Jayne Lynne’s Thanksgiving tradition is all about – hope, faith, and keeping the dream alive. For the love of the Pilgrims, Hallelujah! And, whatever your tradition, blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Change Came to Rammelsbach Germany

I recently spent several hours huddled around the desk in our spare bedroom, shuffling letters to agents, excerpts from our book, and the book synopsis (a beast of a document warranting its own blog entry altogether) into various piles. I cross checked literary agent addresses and submission requirements before sliding the papers into envelopes and off into the world with a wink and a promise. Only, it wasn’t really a wink. It was more like a twitch. You see, this is the not the first time we’ve gone through this query process for the The Pecking Order. It is, however, the last.

And as I drove to the US post office on the military installation closest to our house here in Germany, I wondered if I should have stuck a note in the envelopes letting the agents know I had to clear armed military guards to reach them. Surely that would get The Pecking Order the attention I believe it deserves--an agent would see the military APO return address, read my note, and feel duty bound to read the manuscript. And The Pecking Order would be as good as on the shelves. I didn’t include such a note, of course. Unlike when we first started this process, when I'm not sure I was beyond including naked photographs of myself (and Laura, witting or unwitting) to get the book noticed, I couldn’t muster the energy to be inspired or hopeful. I don’t know if it was the dreary weather, the aforementioned armed military guards, or the fact that sometimes the pursuit of a dream is made up of doubts and cynicism and self-flagellation of the “who do you think you are and and why can’t you just do what you’re trained to do, go forth, and continue being a lawyer” variety. Whatever the reason, I unceremoniously tossed the envelopes into the mouth of the squat blue mailbox and then stopped by the store for dish towels and toilet paper.

The following morning I was in bed with the computer on my lap. If that conjures up a vision of sloth and indulgence, you’re spot on. (Here’s where I qualify and self-promote - I'm training for the Florence marathon, so I’m not generally slothy, just occasionally, especially on gray German mornings, and sometimes after a long evening with my friends Moet & Chandon, Tattinger, Mumm, I could go on and on . . .). It was post-election and I was scanning the headlines. (We have no television programming in Germany and so we skated through election season free of talking heads, hyperbolic campaign commercials, and punditry.) I came across's Yes We Can video. And, in that instant, with tears streaming down my face, I knew we could. I knew we could in that Oprah-live-only-your-best-life-be-always-in-relentless-pursuit-of-your-dream kind of way. No, it might not be The Pecking Order and, yes, we might ultimately have to bury Abby in the graveyard of unpublished fiction. But it will be something-a short story, a new novel. Whatever the case, I know we can.