For those who are thinking about (or who have never heard about) the term “Latinx” (essential replacing Latino/a or Latin@), check out this article by Arianna Davis on Refinery29. Thoughtful, sensitive, being true to what works for oneself, it will at least get you thinking about a newish term being used in some sectors to describe the Latino/a/x community.
Sharing the exciting news that I’ve just signed with Sarah Burnes of The Gernert Company, who will represent my literary works.
For the public health folks scratching their heads: you might (or might not) have known that I’ve spent the past ten years writing two books, with a passion. Securing a literary agent is an essential step if you choose the route of traditional publishing. It means there’s someone out there who is pitching your book(s) to big and small publishers. So I’m excited and honored to join Sarah and the Gernert team. To learn more about their fabulous authors, visit their site.
Sharing this especially because of the last segment, a poem reflecting on Puerto Ricans and 1492. How can I not share this as I’m pitching my novel to literary agents, The Saints of Columbus?
“…Lastly, we end this week’s episode of Puerto Rican Voices with the spoken-word poet and hip-hop artist known as Chilo, as he walks through the streets of New York City. He performs two of his pieces while reflecting on how he came to appreciate his Puerto Rican heritage. Chilo’s work can be described as an homage to the experience of Puerto Ricans in the US as well as an attempt to reclaim the history of our ancestors. He also discusses El Grito de Poetas, the Latino poetry collective he founded in 2005.”
Source: Vanishing New York: The Book
Happy to see this recent news in publishing. A nonfiction book on the issues that Stephanie’s (on the market) novel tackles.
“At long last, after many efforts, I am happy to report there will be a Vanishing New York book. From the official trade announcement today:
“Blogger Jeremiah Moss’s VANISHING NEW YORK, a critique of the ills of hyper-gentrification and suburbanization of our cultural hubs, a rallying cry for how we can stop it (in New York and other cities around the world), and a lyrical look at why cities need souls.”
Many thanks to my agent, Anthony Mattero at Foundry Literary + Media, and to my editor, Denise Oswald at HarperCollins’ Dey Street Books, for taking a chance on a cranky blogger. And endless thanks to everyone who reads this blog, and keeps reading it (even though it’s depressing), for all your support over the years. I’m grateful that we’re all in it together.”
Happy that Salud America! found humor and utility in my essay “Jaws, The Milk Drinking Kind“ that I penned to share my own breastfeeding experiences with a creative public health voice. Salud America is “a national online network of researchers, community group leaders, decision-makers, and members of the public working together to support healthy policy and environmental changes that can help reverse obesity among Latino children”. You can see the feature here, as well as some of the Salud Heroes they regularly feature.
Taking the time to note an incredible anthology that somehow, perhaps with editorial wizardry (John Freeman) coupled with stellar literary writers from deeply diverse perspectives, has you inhabit the pulse of New York City. It’s not the overexposed city you’ve likely heard about, or perhaps lived in at some point. It’s a city with narrators who are conscious of historical roots, concepts of nativism, who tell their stories without the archetypal “Came here for/after college to find myself and make a mark, returned to home state to start a family, boy do I miss NYC!” What I call the Columbian self-discovery stories. These stories are valid in their own right of course, but their saturation in the NYC narrative contribute to this exclusive view of NYC as a self-discovery hub void of natives, void of a home to the lesser-well off.
The anthology has a beautiful collection of writers, many of color, many underrepresented in many senses, well-known and perhaps not-as-known. It utilizes hybrid narratives, with illustrations by Molly Crabapple (the police officer on the back cover might be rethought in its next printing). You’ll hear stories about what it’s like going to public school in a gentrifying hotspot in Brooklyn, what it’s like to walk the city–all its neighborhoods–from the affluent Upper East Side to the poor streets of the Bronx, the complexities of race and class in central Harlem, what it’s like to be a heir while your brother is homeless, a glimpse into attending charity functions and returning to your millions-of-dollars-townhouse. This book has all of New York. And if it sounds strange to you that someone can be so excited when there are countless of books out there about the New York City experience–as a native I’ve never come across one that paints a NYC I could easily recognize, with narrators that are organically conscious of its complexities and with a care of its history (and did I mention from diverse writers?). There are too many stories to love here, but I’ll share two that stand out to me: Garnette Cadogan’s “Due North” that chronicles his arrival to the city with a deep love of walking that has him walking all the boroughs, discovering what each neighborhood is rich and poor in. And then there is Valeria Lusielli’s “Zapata Boulevard”, a mother-writer-Latina-non-native-but-also-native perspective on the intersection of race, class, gentrification and immigration in Hamilton Heights Harlem complete with (gasp!) a historical lens of the neighborhood (a city in itself), with hybrid narratives.
A unique anthology that might reshape your understanding of NYC, and will definitely have you seeking out the works of its contributors. Thanks independent bookstore BookCulture for carrying this book and having it by the cash register. I was planning on including a link to purchase the book from them, but it seems the book might have been bought recently by Penguin as it’s now listed for a September 8th 2015 release (originally by O/R Books, where you can still purchase the original).
Make me fall in love with you. Head over heels. Full-blown crush. These are not the words of coy lovers, two gal-friends gossiping over brunch or teenagers swapping text messages. It’s what writers today are being told by the industry on what it takes to get your foot in the world of traditional publishing.
What’s love got to do with it? A fellow writer tells me one day as we trade agent woes. I want you to be my pimp.
I thought maybe I was overthinking things and just trying to find a metaphor for a bewildering process. But no, it’s full blown out of-the-closet. Querying your novel to snag an agent to represent your work to a publisher is dating. Maybe men find it easier, given they’ve found the whole self-promotion marketing thing easier to do than women. Maybe men are better at it, I wonder, because of the traditional gender roles of courtship. But I might be dating myself because nowadays it seems ladies have increasingly become advocates of their desires in the ask-out game. MFA programs seem to function as arranged marriages in an upper-class society. The majority of us are left to the luck of cupid’s arrow.
When you read through people’s “big announcements”, the equivalent of flashing a meteor-sized diamond engagement ring to the world, you’re hearing a courtship story. It plays out a lot of different ways. Agents who made assumptions about a manuscript hand-delivered to them at a writer’s conference who read the first few pages and spent the rest of the day running from corridor to corridor of the conference trying to find the writer, he was just that smitten by the words. Agents who received a query, requested a full, read it over the weekend because they just couldn’t put the manuscript down and offered rep instantaneously. I had one of those once, except it ended a little differently. I got a polite reject with the dreaded “I didn’t fall in love. Someone else will feel differently.” The equivalent of a lustful star-gazed lock of the eyes over a drink at a bar that leads to the bedroom, but winds up being a one-night stand. You’re just not marriage material. It ruins you forever, because the next queries are likely to play out a little more slowly without much pomp-and-circumstance. You compare every query to this one. It didn’t help that I was post-partum when I got that reject.
There are certain rules you need to abide by. It varies by agent, but like in the dating world where people eliminate “smokers, anyone under 5’5, people who don’t like to skydive” and a host of other preferences, agents have their own no-no’s. Misspell my name and you are banished. Write “fiction-novel” and you’re blacklisted, you obviously lack literary intelligence. These are nuns with rulers. You have to pretend you like cats and sitcoms that make you cringe, because it’s kinda like being on a first date and seeing that he has a boogie and deciding whether you should base your whole future on this slight. I married him anyway.
There are agents who promote bestiality: posting the office pets in the staff pages, complete with a literary tastes profile. I found one once, who seemed perfect for my historical novel. I really wanted to query the dog. My online writing buddies forbade me. I was tempted though. Oh, the things querying does to your soul.
This query-dating thing is new to me because I skipped most of conventional dating and dabbled with childhood sweethearts, anthropology-partners (study abroad boyfriends) and ultimately a relationship brokered by the institute of college.
In query-dating, Twitter is your frenemy. Pitch contests allow you to strut your peacock-feathered-literary-self down the 140-character catwalk. Agent catcalling takes the shape of “starring” a pitch. Literary dating doesn’t get more superficial than this. And I love it, by the way, even though it’s given me a nasty Twitter addiction. The contests can be a big ego-boost when your traditional love-letter queries get ignored. Unless of course you don’t get the catcalls. Ouch. But the silence can also be irrelevant. There are just so many fish swimming in the sea, it’s easy to get lost. I’ve read many a authors who were ignored in pitch contests but their query-love-me-for-all-that-I-am was picked up and manifested into a full, and dare I say, full-blown agency representation. There are no rules in the game of love.
Speaking of Twitter, here’s where things can get weird. You’re expected to follow agents on Twitter to gain a sense of their wants, desires, how they spend their days…. You learn what OMG, LMAO, etc mean if you’re that behind in the new language of technology. You fawn over agents with replies to their tweets. Sounds like stalking to me. My NYC-self calls this “sweating a person” and it’s not something us natives like to do. But guess what? It can pay off. I’ve gotten my foot in the door that way, too. And if an agent follows you? That’ll fuck with your mind, for good. You’ll spend all of eternity trying to understand why, just like you try and dissect each and every word in a reject letter. Don’t.
I take solace in an online loser colony where fellow writers trade stories of always being the brides-maid and never the bride. Are you on there again? My husband shouts out, seeing me hunched over a keyboard my face buried in a glowing computer screen, the infant sleeping soundly in her crib. They are my people… I tell him. What are we without community?
Take a look at the acronyms of genre labeling and compare it to the classifieds. BF seeks WM (who likes cats) has become LF seeks A-icon (who likes cats). SF seeks YA powerhouse. Every day I discover a new identity of my writing because it’s what agents say they like. Wow, I can market myself as Speculative? I had no idea such labels existed. I’m just a wallflower if I call myself plain literary fiction. I gotta be flashy and exciting. I gotta put-out. So I’m Literary Fabulist. I’m Speculative. I’m Steampunk. I’m Historical…. Oh no, that screams grandpa, take a Viagra pill, puh-lease. Historical Thriller? YES!
Query letters often work like this:
DEAR AGENT X:
Paragraph 1: We both like to paint our toenails green, we’ve starred exactly the same types of things on Twitter, and so here’s my book.
Paragraph 2: Insert literary genius here….
Paragraph 3:The wrap up. Your platform:
I AM THE WHORE OF BABYLON AND ALL WILL LUST FOR MY WORDS.
And I totally understand that it might take you a year to get back to me, if at all.
Not getting a response on a full is like unbuckling your trench coat and flashing your naked body in a well-lit bedroom, then the audience to your nakedness walks out of the room without saying a word. You stand there, coat open, and wait until the polite six month rule for a nudge. When one year rolls around with no response, you relent and give up the ghost, shamefully shaking your head as you wrap the strap of your coat around your waist, with a double-knot, the wait having aged you another year and chipping away at your self-confidence. What just happened? Am I really that bad? At this rate, you’ll be lucky to snag an agent with an old-lady fetish.
Celebrating ten years of marriage I look at my husband, savoring a morning coffee not yet cold.
Did I give you such a hard time?
You were worse. I pursued you for four years. I sat through silly boyfriends.
It was worth the wait, I snicker, then remember my literary quandary.
What happens when you enter the next circle of literary hell, the editor-writer relationship? Whips and chains? Black leather boots? It’s what I hear, anyway.
What would lure me to such forbidden decadence, my love affair with the Mandarin? The Mandarin was warm, a balmy breath that wrapped around my naked neck, stripped of the winter scarves of Northern winters. This is what seduced me to hop on a plane into the Mandarin’s welcoming arms, a whisper that promised nights of unending pleasure, days of attentive pampering. There by the Sentinel of the River—the bronze Tequesta Indian blowing into a conch shell, a call to the waves and the sunlight that washes the perfection of your bodily architecture—begins my love affair. Already I catch wind of the familiar sweet cologne seeping out from the sliding doors that seal out the tropical heat. I enter the lobby and am immediately bathed in the Mandarin’s scent—the memories come back, the story replays again in my mind, the paradise that awaits, the inevitable goodbye. Already, I fear saying goodbye.
The Mandarin calls me by my name.
What woman does not swoon at the sound of her name, an affirmation of an identity long erased by (fill in the blank): motherhood, matrimony, monotony?
You remember, I tell the Mandarin, coyly, as I’m led into the room. Always, the same room.
How could I forget?
The room greets me with a view of the city to which the Mandarin’s identity is tied to; tropical greenery of breezy palm trees, the squawking chorus of migrating birds of the rainforest, the glimmering city skyline with fit joggers along Biscayne Bay. The Mandarin is Urban Sophisticate. Global in taste, but drawing from the passion of local roots. That said, you never quite know where the Mandarin is from. Asian? The name suggests. Latin? The style is everywhere. Is that a Mediterranean dish the Mandarin just served me? But this is Miami, where identities are mutable, and the pleasures of many continents converge in one big gaudy rave of the senses.
I lay myself down on the Mandarin’s bed. I swim in a sea of silken sheets, uncrowded, except for the soft duvet that the Mandarin readies for me every evening until my return. The room is prepped with dim lights. We like to watch the evening Miami skyline in our solitude, hidden from the world, until we finally succumb to the matter which brought us together.
The Mandarin comforts my body: Blind to age (the Mandarin has concoctions for that). Knowledgeable in the healing power of touch (divine massages that loosen every knot in my body until I dissolve in a puddle of bliss). The Mandarin is ever so gentle, pampering me with endless pleasure. Endless, except…
In the morning, breakfast waits for me by the foot of the bed. The curtains are drawn open to let in the fresh light of the Miami sun. How can oatmeal be this good?
And when I dare leave for awhile, a prelude to what will soon come—to contemplate my trip, to tease the Mandarin that I will never come back again—I return and find the Mandarin has tucked perfumed bookmarks into the pages of my reading books sprawled on the bed. I pull out a bookmark and see an imprint of the Mandarin’s tattoo, an eleven-bladed fan, though to me it looks so Venusian, it can only be the shell from which Aphrodite emerged and released heavenly pleasure upon us mortals.
Here, I have no dirty laundry. So I put in a sock (just one, because who would suspect a sock?) so that the Mandarin can launder it and I keep the Mandarin’s scent with me until the memory bleeds.
Over an evening cocktail looking out at the bay, I begin to contemplate the dilemma that always embitters us. Leaving.
And I’m not made for it, either. You know that. It’s who I am. Besides, you have your own life too.
And then I taunt myself with the impossible. Do I go back to that life? Can I stay with the Mandarin, forever?
You know the answer. Still, we like to hurt each other with this tennis game of the heart. And I pen the Mandarin’s praise, at risk others may embrace the intimacy we shared. I don’t kid myself that these nights don’t play out in other rooms, with different people.
The Mandarin is an unforgettable affair that at most, you revisit to reclaim a little bit of heaven real life can never offer you. To stay suspended in such pleasure would bankrupt the soul. Besides, isn’t half the fun always coming back?
Baggage beneath me, I look down at the fading Floridian peninsula, wondering—where to, next?
Stephanie Nina Pitsirilos is a public health crusader, writer and (can you tell?) fan of The Mandarin. Her two novels are on the market for an agent. She can be followed @zoehealth. My Love Affair with the Mandarin is a work-in-progress for her third novel.