Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Sound of Music

2010 is the 45th Anniversary of the movie The Sound of Music. And like so many people, the Rogers and Hammerstein classic had a profound effect on me as a child. When I came home from the movie I tried to sing every song, I danced around the house, I ran back and forth across the front lawn like I was running through the hills. Back in the day, movies didn't come out on DVD, but good movies, big movies, returned to town every year. And every year for my birthday my mother took me to see the movie again. I didn't wish for a perfect singing nun of a mother – I already had one . . . minus the nun part, well, and, minus the singing part. I didn't wish for an unruly bunch of siblings – I had that too. It was as if I had a sense of believing in something and going for it, in making dreams come true. Sometimes it takes movies and books to remind us of that.

That is what I love the most about movies and books - the way they can show our best selves triumphing over adversity, or sometimes triumphing over our own worst selves. I love the idea that we can triumph, that we aren't stuck. That's why I love most any hero's journey. And The Sound of Music is definitely that.

If you've seen The Sound of Music, what is your favorite scene? And/or, what movie affected you the most when you were growing up?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner Gone Awry

Over the years I have cooked in spurts and bouts like some people exercise and diet. Ha! I'm like a Weekend Warrior of Cooking - do it like crazy, then Monday morning wake up sore all over. And I blame Thanksgiving.

It happened the first year I was married when I decided to make a big Thanksgiving dinner for friends. It wasn't Thanksgiving Day, but just before so we could celebrate our small running groups' friendship. I slaved over turkey, dressing, gravy and string beans. I also made a pumpkin pie using my mother's amazing pie crust recipe. Mike added his mash potatoes, for which he is famous. The amount of work was staggering, but I was excited.

Finally when the six of us were seated around the dining table, Mike carved the turkey. With the first slice he got a strange look on his face. "Mmm, looks great, honey," he said, with the sort of false smile of a man who doesn't want to disappoint his new wife.

Soon plates were served, and my husband and good friends tried their hardest to eat what I had to admit (though reluctantly) was an inedible meal. The turkey was well on its way to being turkey jerky. The green beans were still crunchy, the gravy filled with lumps, the dressing like saw dust. I chewed and chewed and attempted a fake, completely-in-denial smile while our good friends pushed their food around their plates. Though let me just say, they were scarfing up mashed potatoes like there was no tomorrow. But finally my disappointment (and maybe even my pride) took a back seat and I said, "If I'm not going to starve to death, you better pass me the potatoes."

Everyone's eyes went wide, then they burst out laughing like an audience at a play. After that we had a good laugh and fought over the last bites of mash potatoes. But let me just say, despite the disastrous main course and my husband's fabulous potatoes, my pie was perfect.

During this Thanksgiving Season, I feel thankful that I have such lovely friends and family, in person and here on this home I have found on the Internet! I'm also thankful for someone other than me cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How I Got Published

The most frequently asked question of any author is: Where do you get your ideas? The second most asked question seems to be: How did you get published? Probably the most important part of my answer is that I had a manuscript. A completed manuscript. And a query letter that was written in my voice – which is a whole other discussion.

It was several years ago and I hadn't a clue what I was doing, knew nothing about the publishing industry. But I had written a book of my heart. I had never heard of any of the guides to finding publishers, but I created a list of five publishers based on books they published that were in a similar category to mine. And thankfully, through other author acknowledgements, I pulled together a list of editors whose books I enjoyed so I could send each query letter to a specific editor rather than to a generic Dear Hopefully Pertinent Publishing House. Today this seems an antiquated way of going about things, but at the end of the day, fundamentally, I was doing market research and learning who published what.

Once I had my list, I sent out five query letters. Three of the five asked to see the manuscript. Then six weeks to the day after I mailed the manuscripts I received a call asking to buy the book. It turned out that two of the three publishers wanted it. It sounds like a fairy tale, but what I learned soon after was that I would have been better served with a good agent.

At the time I was unagented and the editor who bought the book promptly jumped ship and moved to another publisher. However, I didn't know she was gone until six months later when another editor called and said, I found this manuscript in Ms. Deserting Editor's stack. Can you give me some history on how we acquired it? Thankfully Ms. New Editor and I hit it off (we are still friends today) and they published the book, and four others after that – though all under different names, different types of books, no rhyme or reason to what I was doing. It took taking the time to write another book of my heart and getting a good agent before I started moving forward.

This has been on my mind recently because a friend is taking a course on getting published. Many in the class already work in some capacity in NYC publishing and half of them have come down firmly in the camp of an agent is a waste of 15%. I couldn't disagree more. Sure, a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. But nothing can take the place of a good agent who will help guide your career. Thankfully I survived my early missteps. But in today's publishing environment that is ruled by sales track and publishing plans, missteps can be fatal.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Linda Francis Lee in NYC Webisode #6 Getting Stuffed at a Street Fair

When we first moved to Manhattan in 1998 I hadn't spent much time in the city. I remember getting ready to move and talking to my editor, trying to get a handle on what it is like to live in a city that felt like nothing I could understand. It was just before the time of Sex and the City and the new way the show painted life in New York - fun and sexy and glamorous. For the two decades prior to that, New York was mainly portrayed through gritty cop shows and movies. So I couldn't imagine where you bought groceries or went to the cleaners. How did you get around? I had a million questions, but I was also excited about the move. There are so many facets of life in NYC. But one thing that I remember so well is coming out of our apartment the first weekend we were there to find the street closed off and lined with food vendors, craft-makers, musicians, and thousands of people crowding the booths and street. It was like a great big party to welcome me to Manhattan. As it turned out in NYC, there is a street fair just about every weekend throughout the summer and early fall. And for today's Linda Francis Lee in NYC webisode, I am taking you to one. I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Golfing with my Father

The first time I took up a golf club I was in elementary school. It wasn't that I was crazy about the sport, but I loved that at the end of the classes we had a father-daughter tournament and for the length of the course it was just me and my dad. We played with another father-daughter team, but I was barely aware of them. My dad talked about my stroke, about playing, about aspects of the game. My father was a very busy man and he was also a great golfer. So for him to take that much time to focus on me in that sport made me feel special. Sure, it sounds like a daughter desperate for her busy father's attention. But what daughter doesn't want to be noticed? What child doesn't want to be noticed? And to this day when I talk to kids, I make a point to set the world aside and focus. Really listen to what they are saying. The same with adults. Because at the end of the day, don't we all want to be seen?

All this to get to the point of this week's Linda Francis Lee in NYC video! There is so much to do in NYC. But given that it's a small, crowded island with so little open space, the thought of golf doesn't come to mind when thinking of NYC. But there is sports complex called Chelsea Piers on the west side that has just about every sport you can imagine. And yes, you can play golf. At least you can sort of play golf. And to this day I can't pick up a golf club without in some way remembering that father-daughter tournament and feeling special.