Thursday, December 30, 2010

Great visit. St. Francis fainted.

My visit with family was wonderful, as usual. For fun and new stories, I can count on Carlin every time.

As soon as I arrived and hugs were over, Carlin pulled me to her large living room windows which look out over the backyard. She pointed dejectedly to her statue of St. Francis, laying flat on its back.

Carlin has a perennial problem with deer feasting on her garden -- fruit, Swiss chard, even leaves. While deer feast above ground, gophers and moles join the party beneath the soil, chewing through roots, killing her plants from the bottom up. Meanwhile, in a true display for love of interaction between nature and animals, Carlin’s statue of St. Francis maintains a benevolent pose, despite the destruction of vegetation.

Carlin’s husband preferred capture and relocation as opposed to poison as a control for the gophers, his reasoning being that someone’s pet might find its way into their yard. Carlin complied, and the gopher problem got worse.

Carlin’s husband passed away a few years ago, and now the gopher poison is out. In response, Carlin’s statue of St. Francis fell flat onto its back. Unable to resist, I looked at her and declared, “You made him faint, with your poison!” She responded, “But I hope his head hasn’t come off! Do you think it has?”

“I’ll look tomorrow.”

St. Francis’ head was just fine, Carlin is happy, and only time will tell the effectiveness of her pest control.

This story is an example of the humor in Half Italian, which is…..unique.

- PJ

Monday, December 27, 2010

Me: 4/8, Dallas: 5-10. Anticipating a visit with my Italian family.

Tomorrow I’m going to visit my beloved, crazy cousin Carlin and my uncle.* Carlin emigrated from Italy in the 1950s and has been a source of fun my entire life. Her 80th birthday a few weeks ago did nothing to diminish her energy, enthusiasm for living, or her accent. Her voice is the same as I remember since I was a child – high-pitched and so full of excitement that it sometimes cracks.

Last time I visited, my uncle had recently renewed his driver license. During my visit we realized he’d been issued an “ID card” rather than official “driver license.” He was concerned, but there was nothing he could do since it was Friday and the DMV was closed. Carlin came to his rescue, saying (with heavy accent) “Don’t worry, you can borrow my car, it will take you wherever you tell it to go!” My uncle and I were silent for a moment, wondering who’d speak first. Finally he said, “Like, your car has something mine doesn’t?” Carlin was aghast, realizing she’d confused the “license on the car” with the “license on the driver.” Comic relief assisted through the weekend and the matter was easily resolved. What’ll it be this time? As I said in my first two posts last July, the humor in Half Italian is…..unique. And my family is the living source.

One more game for Dallas. Four more responses for me. Any agents interested? Four chances remaining.

- PJ

*See 7/13 post.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Me: 4/8, Dallas: 5-9

Mid December in Los Angeles often brings wind – cold, dry, and biting. Christmas day is usually high 70s, with clear skies. This year is an exception with regard to the dry wind; we’re in our fourth consecutive day of rain. Not a problem for me, I look out the window and see that my little Tuscany is once again turning into my little Umbria, with its lush green grasses.* The onslaught of water, however, has toppled a tree onto Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. Drama.

Not much to say about the remaining four responses except I’m truly not looking forward to determining my next step, should those responses lead nowhere. And every day that passes seems a reminder that I’m considered nobody in the world of writing. No drama there.

But Christmas approaches and there is magic in the air. I’m grateful.

- PJ

*See 7/17 post.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Me: 4/8, Dallas: 4-9. Italian Christmas party.

Last Sunday I attended the Christmas party of my Italian family. I hadn’t seen many of them since August.* Often we see younger generations make good-natured fun of the older, but Lara*, at age 90, is one exception. Observing her 39-year-old grandson talking to me “with his hands,” as the expression goes, she stood just out of his peripheral view, mimicking his hand movements, waiting for him to notice. Oblivious, he simply continued his story. Lara finally gave up, whacked him on the arm, and then walked away. As I said in my 8/30 post, both Mario and Lara are still in feisty humor.

In the event this image invokes the Italian stereotype often presented to us on television, for the record, Lara is not one of the Italians; she married into the family, creating yet another half-Italian household. No one in my Italian family fits the head-slapping stereotype.

At the beginning of that party Dallas and I were matched, at 4-8 and 4/8, respectively. By the end of the day Dallas was 4-9.

Four responses left. Once again, my spirits want to wane but family energy prevents that; I’m still high and flying from the Christmas party. I think of a sentence I wrote near the end of Half Italian: “Is there a greater mood elevator than being with cousins you love?”

- PJ

*See 8/30 post.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Me: 3/8, Dallas: 3-8

Another agent response in the mail, a rejection, this one says she's swamped with current clients. Dallas and I now match, at 3 to 8. For Dallas there's always another season; for me there's always more agents, if this round turns out to be all rejections.

It seems, however, that unpublished authors need a connection in order to move forward; a published author's recommendation, or to know an agent or someone connected to publishing. But this is Los Angeles, not New York. Publishers, authors, and agents are scarce by comparison. Is this agent-query exercise a waste of time for the unpublished, meaning me?

I think of a man who self-published, saying any "bits" offered by his agent never amounted to a full meal. Self publishing, however, brings the hurdle of distribution.

The days here are crisp, clear, and beautiful; not unlike Provence a few weeks ago. I love autumn, and Thanksgiving. All this helps offset the blackness I feel over my working environment, a recurring cancer that threatens to rule my life, even when I'm not there.

It's early morning here in Los Angeles. The sun is coming up and soon will turn the hill I look out at, the hill with my little Tuscany, into a golden patch of encouragement. In fact, that hill isn't unlike those in Provence. Thank you, Provence, for staying in my heart and mind. The balance you bring is most welcome.

- PJ

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Nearly three weeks home and I still feel a peaceful distraction when I think of my time in France. That feeling doesn't usually last this long and that's just one of the many things for which I'm grateful. Regardless of my work environment, I still have two paychecks; a comfortable and safe home; my mobility; and my family. Oh, there are things that annoy me, plenty of them. This morning our two mini-macaws began to screech; I reminded them that today is roasted bird day. They stared back, perhaps considering.

No wishes today, only thanks. Many thanks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Return. Me: 2/8, Dallas: 2-7

There were no new responses in my mailbox when I got home, over a week ago, and none since. I’m still at 2/8; same as when I left for France.

All last week my coworkers (those who’d counted the days until my departure for France) said my face showed a peaceful distance, despite the turmoil I felt inside, returning to perform the work of three people with just one body and mind.

Pressured once again with deadlines that feel like threats (by those who weren’t counting down the time to my departure) I’m pleased that at least some people see the peace I acquired on the trip, although I’m once again beginning to lose sleep, not from familiar jet lag but from the familiar pressure.

At 2/7 I wonder what my Dallas Cowboys feel. Talk about pressure.

This is a first, as far as my experience with agent responses – nearly four months and still 6 SASEs outstanding? Part of me wants to jump ahead and re-evaluate; yet, for now I’ll remain patient and continue to feel that peace I acquired in France, for however long it lasts.

Until next time, beloved France!

- PJ

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wrapping it up

The Chateau tour was to be all in French; my friend, travel companion, and translator wasn’t present; and the girl in the tourism office didn’t know if video or pictures were allowed. So I didn’t go. Instead I wandered the village, in the Provence sunshine.

Goodbye, Luberon.

November 1: Hello, rainy Cote d’Azur. Weather forecasters said they were “optimistic” for the following day. All Saints Day, however, is never a good time to try to shop or dine in France or Italy -- much is closed. Afraid to lose our hotel parking space, we walked heavy rain in search of dinner, about 2 1/2 miles round trip, with leaky umbrellas. The kind owner of a bar that was serving only drinks offered to make us two ham sandwiches before he closed, saying they’d “calm our hunger.” Back at the hotel we wrung our socks in the bathtub, skipped the hotel restaurant and raided the gift bag – items we purchased to take home to friends. Voila! Appetizer: California pistachio nuts we’d brought with us to give as gifts. Main course: “Pot au Feu” bouillon cubes from Paris and sesame toast from the Luberon. Aha! Candied fruit from Apt for dessert and then….I felt like I’d eaten a plate of appetizers. I didn’t want dinner but I wasn’t satisfied either. My bad mood returned, so I opened the window and listened to the ocean.

Weather forecasters were correct: the following day was "optimistic" and the next was clear blue skies.

Now back in Paris for a day, we return home to Los Angeles tomorrow.

Last count for agent responses to Half Italian was 2/8; what’ll be in my mailbox when I return tomorrow night?

- PJ

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Luberon, Provence

In my 9/4 post I mentioned one of my favorite books, “The Magic of Provence,” by Yvone Lenard. After reading the book I wrote to her and in her kind response she recommended the place we’re now staying in the hilltop village of Ansouis.

The Luberon greeted us with a mistral, followed by gloriously clear skies. Here's just how free you are to explore the hilltop villages.

In a few days we’ll move on to Menton, close to the Italian border.

And now I'm going on a tour of the Chateau d'Ansous, at the top of the first picture, above.

- PJ

Monday, October 25, 2010

Turkey Butter

Butter! I’ve forgotten how good butter is in France (and Italy too).

Arrived Friday in Paris, as expected, to 37 degrees F, unexpected. I must learn that temps on the internet show the high -- not the average.

One story in Half Italian is from a day in the 1960s when I was 7 or 8 years old, sitting in the breakfast room at my grandmother’s house eating saltine crackers with butter. I looked up and asked my mother, “How come you don’t buy turkey butter all the time, like Grandma?” She and my grandmother were suddenly speechless. Turkey butter? Yes, I told them, you know, the kind my mother bought only when we had a turkey dinner, like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

This is how I learned the everyday stuff my mother put on our table was something called “margarine,” a product whose origins point (amazingly) to France. I often complained to my mother about margarine’s inferior taste to “turkey butter.” Each time, she’d cheerfully tell me she thought it tasted just the same, if not better. Then she’d hurry me off to get ready for school or some other distraction, before I could respond. One day I finally asked how she could even think the taste was close, let alone better, and she shot back, “It’s cheaper!

Margarine had consumer appeal even before there were concerns over saturated fats found in butter, because it was indeed cheaper than butter. Nowadays there are butter blends, which improve the taste, but I remember no such thing when I was growing up; there was just oily margarine, and TV commercials insisting that one brand tasted better than another. I swore that when I was an adult I’d buy only butter for my home.

In France, Americans are often noted for putting butter on already butter-rich croissants. I’m one of them, and I wickedly tease that’s because I was deprived of butter on a regular basis and raised on margarine, a product of French beginnings.

Here’s breakfast in Paris this morning; now, off to Provence.

P.S. My family was so amused by my choice of words that day at my grandmother’s that they still refer to real butter as “turkey butter.”

- PJ

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Off to France!

Finally, finally it's time to go. Time perseveres, little by little, but even with co-workers counting the time until departure this wait has felt long. We leave tomorrow, LA to NY to Paris. Some people prefer the "once up once down" benefit of non-stop flights but I find long flights uncomfortable and prefer a stop as close to halfway as possible. Breathe, stretch, unwind; relief for my body and my mind.

Arriving 11:30 Friday morning in Paris, nine hours later than Los Angeles time 2:30 AM which my internal clock will be feeling. I love and prefer the French countryside and the villages, yet I look forward to stepping out of DeGaulle airport to the familiar sound of honking auto horns, that Parisian characteristic that tells me I'm back, a reminder that France isn't going anywhere, the beloved land will always be there.

As I mentioned in the 10/3 posting, I intend to post a picture or two while on the trip so drop by here again if you're interested in seeing a pic of Provence.

- PJ

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Me: 1/8, Dallas: 1-3

Another agent's response, a rejection, arrived today. One down, seven to go. Sounds like football, but after all, it is the season. I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan, so I'm used to rejection. People ask why Dallas, when I'm a native southern Californian. Answer: I had a roommate from Dallas in the early 90s when Dallas won back-to-back super bowls and his enthusiasm was contagious. My coworkers sometimes manifest their rejection by hiding my Cowboys mini helmet.

My spirits want to wane. Instead, I'll focus on the pending 7 responses. And my departure for France, one week from today.

And my 'Boys.

- PJ

Monday, October 4, 2010

Another countdown: 0/8

All agent responses I’ve received to my queries for Half Italian have been polite, but the latest was remarkably so. It was, however, a rejection. That brings the number of queries without response to 8. Now I’m counting down, starting with 0 received to 8 expected. I expect to receive those 8 responses simply because I sent an SASE with each one and I’ve always received a response for every SASE. There’s always that first time, however.

At 8/8 or when enough time has passed that I believe there’ll be no more responses I’ll re-evaluate my next step.

How many will arrive before I leave for France?

- PJ

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Countdown to France: 0 clicks

Am I ready? Do I have all my prescriptions? I think so -- ear patches to prevent airsickness, anxiety medication for the flight, antibiotic in case of infection. Oh the worries, as I age; so few cares when I was younger. My traveling companion brings homemade physical contraptions to make the flights comfortable: foam rubber to soften the airplane seat, and a device to elevate his legs with cushioning for under his knees. Before leaving he meditates; I medicate. My anxiety is not induced by fear of flying or terrorism; claustrophobia is my nemesis.

One month from today I'll be in Menton; my last day there before returning to Paris, and then, Los Angeles.

For anyone out there reading this, if you're interested, drop by here again because during the trip I'll post a picture, maybe two.

- PJ

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Work and the electric chair

One story in Half Italian is the homemade electric chair. In the 1930s, my mother and her cousins had no modern recreational facilities on their farm; they had to entertain themselves. My mother was one of only two girls, and she preferred to hang around the boys. One day the boys found an old magneto from a tractor engine (a device that creates pulses of electric power). They wired one end of the magneto to a metal chair and the other to a cranking device. They covered the chair with a thin cloth, and then they found my mother and asked her if she'd be willing to play a new game they created; would she be their "queen," they asked.

Trusting, and perhaps naive, my mother was the perfect opportunity; she thought the game sounded just great. She marched up to the chair with her arms extended out to her sides and sat down. The cousin who'd come up with the whole idea stood somewhere behind the chair and began to crank like mad. Yes, my mother was the perfect candidate for their joke, jumping off the chair with confused expressions, trying to reconcile the laughing of her cousins with the electric shocks she felt directly attacking her seat.

Work is hell these days. I'm glad for the paycheck but I sometimes feel like I've been put into my department's electric chair. Today is Sunday and once again I went into the office for a few hours. I feel pressure when I have a dentist appointment. Unlike the teasing of my mother's cousins, that pressure isn't presented in good humor. In an attempt to encourage me, my former manager a few days ago said she's going to begin a countdown of days until my departure to France next month. That kind of caring matters; it's something you can't buy.

Those who appreciate unique humor and genuine caring will appreciate Half Italian.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Responses once again

Labor day weekend has passed. The mornings are suddenly cool and foggy. New season.

I finished Carol Drinkwater's "The Olive Farm," enjoying my daily transports to Provence via this book, particularly her writings on dear Pamela. During a recent heat wave here in Los Angeles I walked to the grocery store one afternoon, looking at spots of shade here and there, picturing Pamela moving from one to the next, seeking the coolest.

My recent queries for Half Italian were a multiple submission, 70% snail mail and 30% email. In the past I've received an SASE response for every hardcopy submission. Nine SASE responses remain. With summer vacation over, responses have started to arrive once again. One agent said he receives over 200 submissions each week. What is everyone writing about? Yikes. I'd love a breakdown by category from just one agent such as that one.

Why am I at peace over my submissions and agents' responses? I truly believe in my book. Here's a picture of the snail mail packages I sent. Make no mistake; many weeks are behind those packages, from researching agents to sealing the envelopes.

What will the next nine responses bring?

- PJ

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Countdown to France: 1 click

One more click, then I'm off to south France.* Little by little, the time is coming closer.

I've been to the Vaucluse but never the Luberon; to the Cote d'Azur and the Alpes Provencales but not to Menton. I've never been to St-Maximin-la-Ste-Baume. On this return trip to Provence I'll visit the Luberon and stay in Ansouis. While this village seems a logical choice because of its location and charm, I have a particular interest in it from having read Yvone Lenard's "The Magic of Provence," a book I love and recommend.

After the Luberon we'll move on to Menton, stopping at St-Maximin-la-Ste-Baume for a stay in the Couvent Royal and a hike up to the grotto where Mary Magdalene supposedly spent her final years. Our hotel in Menton is just across the street from the Mediterranean; we're promised a room with a sea view. I hope for a day trip into Italy while we're there. Return to Paris for a couple of days to visit family, and then back to LA. Returning home gets more difficult each year. One click still seems so long, but I have a feeling that when I reach that difficult moment to have to leave France I'll be asking where did the time go? Little by little.

- PJ

*See 8/1 and 7/11 posts.

Monday, August 30, 2010

95th birthday. 65th anniversary. Barbecued rabbit.

A recurring thread in Half Italian is barbecued rabbit, something my family served every Easter Sunday. That's correct, Easter. And no, my childhood wasn't warped; we looked forward to this treat each year, prepared by the cousin I call "Mario," who raised the rabbits himself.

I attended Mario's 95th birthday party last Saturday, at the same farm where the Easter Sunday barbecue took place each year when I was growing up. It was also a celebration of Mario's 65th wedding anniversary. Both of them are still sharp as tacks, and in feisty humor.

A cousin who was visiting from Italy, seventeen and distractingly beautiful also attended. I wish I wasn't so shy about speaking Italian when my family visits; I always freeze, afraid to try. So, she practiced her English.

No barbecued rabbit this time, just lots of fun. How I love my family.

- PJ

Friday, August 20, 2010


An actress I know, a friend, recently gifted me with a copy of her own book, her autobiography. Her picture on the cover easily grabs one's attention, a marketing tool, because she's known. Her book sells itself, to a degree.

Marketing expense is a hefty reduction to income. Twenty years in the accounting profession, which I have, are not necessary to tell me that my friend's recognition to the general public, her platform, means less marketing expense for publishers. Author's platform = publisher value retained.

That kind of platform I don't have. Like my friend, I have a book, but my only platform is this blog, and who I am. My actress friend's signature on my personal copy of her book included a note saying I have a huge heart, an open heart. One of my cousins recently said that I'm the family "glue." An honor to me, that they see me the same as I saw those beloved relatives whom I've written about in Half Italian. I have value.

But is my platform's value enough to sell a book?

- PJ

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Enjoying the wait

Responses aren't coming in as fast this time as with past submissions. Is this because agents are considering, or because it's summer vacation? Nevertheless, I'm enjoying the time.

Since my mind has been on south France lately, evoked by a pending vacation and the book I'm reading, I decided to prepare a vegetable dish I saw in a France magazine: zucchini and red bell peppers cooked in tomatoes, olive oil, shallot, garlic, and basil. Here in the San Fernando Valley we have a truly wonderful Latino market chain with great produce at great prices. Having grown up on a farm, I remember the look and feel of fresh-from-the-field produce; this market's produce is a match. 19.4 pounds of produce -- tomatoes, zucchini, red bell peppers, bananas, cantaloupe, two heads of red lettuce, and one head of garlic cost me $11.46. That's what I've often paid for just the lettuce and peppers (wilted and wrinkled, respectively) at a large unionized grocery chain, sold by a disinterested clerk earning union wage, who never made eye contact.

I put my own twist on the vegetable dish with a throw of sweet marsala, and served it with chicken thighs roasted in seasonings and a splash of white wine and balsamic vinegar. Wine: usually my feeling is "if it's not red, it's not wine"; however, this time I brought out a Chardonnay. Yes, I'm enjoying the wait.

- PJ

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Responses to my hardcopy queries are trickling in. Yikes, two were returned as undeliverable. Are agents' lives becoming as unpredictable or unstable as the book business itself? Agents say they're overwhelmed by the amount of queries they receive. I'm curious to know the percent breakdown by category -- just what is everybody writing about?

I wait for more replies. And while I'm waiting, Carol Drinkwater's "The Olive Farm" is keeping me company. Those precious few minutes in the morning before work that just weeks ago were filled with proofreading I now spend in Provence, transported mentally by reading her adventures. I return to Provence after work, with my glass of whiskey, looking out the window once in a while at my little Tuscany. As I look, I amusedly think of the dinner guest with whom I shared that view a few months back, who wryly said I must have a good imagination.* Many thanks I have for that!

- PJ

*See 7/17 post.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Countdown to France: 2 clicks

On July 11, I wrote that I'm leaving for France on October 21, a return trip to Provence. Advancing from any current month on a digital calendar to the month of departure, I count each month until vacation as one click. Two to go.

I love France, and I'm blessed to have visited much of the country. The northeast is an exception; it's on my list, I just haven't been yet. Some of the most beautiful country I've seen, and felt, is the Dordogne area. Brittany, the Jura, Burgundy, and the Languedoc are a joy. Provence is magic.

I love ceramics, but as time passes you can bring home only so many and I've reached that limit. Now, I bring back goods that can be consumed, like Dijon mustard, which I also love. Here in Los Angeles, rarely can I bring myself to spend $6.29 -- for the smallest jar -- when the largest in France is around .89 euro (approximately $1.15). Last trip I brought back 9 jars, causing my traveling partner departure-morning anxiety over airline baggage weight limits. Our check-in clerk at DeGaulle, however, was compassionate.

My solution: more suitcases this time, because nine jars went fast.

Two clicks still seems so long.

- PJ

Friday, July 30, 2010

No more proofreading!

The material I'd proofread before sending my queries on 7/22 was only that requested by agents. I continued with the remainder of the book, mostly editing punctuation. Proofreading hurts. But today I finished the last page. I'm done! I think of that scene in "The Shining" where one sentence was typed over and over, page after page, in one formation after another -- and that's how I feel right now -- like I could do that with the word "DONE."

In other parts of the U. S., agents are receiving the query packages I sent. Two have declined, saying they're taking few new clients. Two thirds of the email queries are perhaps being considered because I have no rejections....yet....?

I plan to relax now, and start reading a new (for me) book, while I wait for agents' replies. Carol Drinkwater's "The Olive Farm" in on my bookshelf, waiting.

- PJ

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Converting Butter & Cheese to Sugar & Tobacco

How my grandfather earned money to come to the U.S. encourages my perseverance. He and his brother had no money, they were poor, but they had plenty of butter and cheese. Putting their heads together, they took inventory of what they knew: money was short, paying taxes hurt, and they had plenty of butter and cheese.

Their thoughts turned to Switzerland, very near their village in upper Lombardy. There, they could sell what was abundant in their area of Italy; use the Swiss currency received to purchase (in Switzerland) goods that were in demand, but taxed, in Italy; then return to their village and sell the Swiss goods for Italian currency. Voila! Tax-free shopping!

This, however, required smuggling into Switzerland the butter and cheese, and likewise returning to Italy with the Swiss goods, sugar and tobacco. Knowledge of lesser-known trails in the Italian/Swiss Alps was also required, in order to avoid savvy law enforcement that patrolled the borders.

Their scheme worked more than they imagined; they raised enough lire to come to America, and over 100 years later their story is told in Half Italian. How many trips into Switzerland they made, I'll never know.

How many queries will I make before I find an interested agent, and how many attempts will that agent make to find an interested publisher? PERSEVERE.

- PJ

Saturday, July 24, 2010


In 2006, I emailed a writer whom I've admired since 1975. In my first sentence, I wrote that my attempt to contact her was 30 years in the making. I was a little nervous, not sure what would happen, if anything.

Less than 30 minutes later, my inbox showed a reply. My heart started to pound; nearly 3o years, and a reply so fast? Was she annoyed? I breathed a sigh of relief as I read her first sentence, "Glad you finally got around to writing!"

Since then, I touch base with her occasionally via email. She's encouraging and realistic. In one email she wrote that I'll need to PERSEVERE in order to get a book published these days, and explained why.

I don't need to close my eyes in order to see the upper case she brought into play for that word, PERSEVERE.

I expect many rejections. Perhaps someday I'll display them on a wall, like a hodgepodge afghan or quilt made of different yarns or pieces of fabric, but only after I have a "subject" to place in the center, hopefully, a dust jacket for Half Italian.

- PJ

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rejections bring consolation

Four rejections already, (to email queries), but all were polite and encouraging.

I've read that people receive nasty rejections, but I've not yet had one. My past rejections range from polite-but-direct to friendly and positive. Several appeared to be original and personal, a welcome response, although I understand the need for those standardized response cards that slip easily into envelopes. One rejection included a compliment, saying I have a flair for storytelling. One agent wanted to see more, although not the entire manuscript. Most have encouraged me to continue.

Today was a discouraging day at work. Rumors of decreases in headcount also decrease morale but you'd better smile the whole time, etc. A prior response to expense-cutting: decrease the emptying of trash from 5 days per week to 3. Prior headcount cuts, however, meant that those lucky enough to eat lunch had it at their desks. That required the use of trash cans, and after 48 hours that setup stunk, literally.

My mood, with regard to my job, is down enough that the words of encouragement in today's rejections are a consolation.

The Los Angeles heat wave is over. My air conditioning is off, my window once again open. I'm looking out at my little Tuscany, sipping a bourbon on the rocks. I'll try to sleep in tomorrow.

- PJ

Thursday, July 22, 2010


All is sent. All is emailed. As I expected, this last step took two weeks. Researching, selecting, and checking agents' reputations took much longer.

Working full time makes this project more tiring than one might imagine. The loss of just one lunch hour, and the work I could have done during it, causes anxiety. Picking up a birthday cake for a co-worker, I fret over time lost, one increment of "little by little." But this round is finally complete! (And my co-worker loved the cake.)

Now I wait, and reassure myself. Why do I believe in this project? Because I know what I want my reader to feel when reading Half Italian -- and that's just it -- FEEL. Laugh, cry, think. To be left with good thoughts that turn into good actions. Listen more. Conversations these days are often dysfunctional; no one listens. Talking at the same time is not necessarily the same as not listening, many in my Italian family talk at the same time, but somehow they also listen.

I now wait for replies to my queries. I'll listen.

- PJ

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ready to send, almost?

The query experience is not brand new for me. This, however, is my first time writing about it. The fact that I'm writing about it publicly doubles that first-time experience. This blog is my only platform, aside from who I am and what I mean to those who know me.

My email queries are ready. 90% of my hard-copy material is printed. Some final proofreading (on that last 10%), printing (that last 10%), and then, finally, I assemble my packages and get them into the mail.

Not to contradict what I wrote yesterday, but, the proofreading process is unpleasant. Am I alone in this feeling? Does anyone out there enjoy proofreading, particularly their own words? I've seen my own words so many times that the amount of attention I need to objectively review text and punctuation hurts.

A prominent character in Half Italian is my beloved cousin, Carlin, who I wrote about in my July 13th posting. Today she leaves for Italy, her annual visit to the town where she grew up, reading at night in bed, with her flashlight. A few days ago, one the phone, she impulsively said, "But why don't you come with me?!" I immediately checked online airfares, and then came to my senses. No, I'll stay, but I'll think of her as I plug away at these last steps.

Little by little.

- PJ

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Heat wave in My Little Tuscany

Summer came late but fast this year. On Tuesday we got our first heat, and it's record-breaking. Blessed with central air conditioning, proofreading becomes an adventure, something like being inside during a storm.

From my computer, I look out the window at a tree-covered hill that divides Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley. On that hill is a small area with no trees or brush, only a field of dry grass, punctuated by a few tall cypress trees. I call this my little Tuscany. The grasses that now are dry and brown are, in winter, lush green. Then, it's my little Umbria. I recently shared this with a dinner guest, who said I must have a good imagination. Perhaps. But that imagination, combined with central air conditioning, turns this unpleasant heat wave into an adventure.

Chianti, anyone?

- PJ

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Little by Little, Once Again

60% of my snail mail query material is printed. I was definitely the hare on Saturday; I didn't expect to get that printing done, along with proofreading.

It's my workweek pace, once again.

One of my cousins in Italy loved to read as a little girl, but with power conservation during WWII lights were turned off early in the evenings. Her goal: to purchase a flashlight so she could read in bed at night. She saved her money, little by little, and eventually had enough for a flashlight and batteries. Reading led to another dream: a college education. Her father sold a cow to help pay her expenses. After college, she took a teaching job in a village so high in the Alps that it could only be reached by foot. Her precious flashlight came in handy on her ascents to the village. Teaching led to yet another dream: a life in America. She came to California in 1954, learned English, obtained American teaching credentials, and became a high school teacher. She couldn't have foreseen when she was saving for that flashlight, little by little, that her goals and dreams would truly be realized. A child who dreamed of an education and a life in another country found her way, living and teaching in that country. I adore this cousin, and I call her "Carlin" (pronounced "Car-leen") in the book.

My own weekday bits of progress are what I think about as I drive to and from a job I'm thankful to have. This week I prepare email queries and proofread the remaining 40% of snail mail material.

Little by little.

- PJ

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Countdown to France: 3 clicks

In October I'm going to France. For nearly a decade, I've visited France one year and Italy the next. My traveling partner, with whom I travel every year, is Half French. This is a return trip to Provence, starting in Paris to visit his family. After Provence, a few days in Menton which is close enough to Italy that maybe we can run over the border for a day trip.

Neither my Italian-American nor my Italian-European family meets the loud stereotype often presented on TV; for the most part, my family is relaxed and untroubled. And, with rare exception, this is how I've found the French to be, consistently, from my first trip. I live in Los Angeles; I'm used to tensions and rage between people, daily. I look forward to unwinding with the French sensibilities of civility. Yes, this I need.

Website airfare searches usually involve clicking the date you want to leave, on a digital calendar. As I advance the calendar to the month I want to query, I count each click of the mouse as one month "until departure." So, from July, August = 1, September = 2, etc. I began this pastime four years ago.

Three clicks to go.

- PJ

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tortoise and Hare

Anyone who's ever seen that "Typical Work Week" cartoon with Snoopy, the Peanuts character, knows that by Wednesday he feels struck by lightning, but Saturday he's dancing.

My Saturday mornings usually feel like his Wednesdays. Recovery from my work week starts with Saturday morning coffee, in bed. I stare at the TV screen, not speaking. The TV is not on.

Weekday progress on this project seems slow, I'm limited to those precious minutes before and after work. By necessity, I'm the tortoise. Yet I make small bits of progress each day. Some days after I'm home I can proofread only 5 pages before burnout. Label-pasting, anyone? Mindless, but that too is progression. I often feel the urge to continue when I wake up in the night, and anticipate the morning, when I have those few minutes before work.

On weekends I'm the hare, and I get much more done. Now it's Saturday, and I've had my coffee. Now I'm the hare.

- PJ

Friday, July 9, 2010


Inventory of progress made this week:
My query letters are complete, mailing labels printed, SASEs stamped and waiting. I still need to print what's to be included with the query letters, like table of contents, sample chapters, etc. What I place into those large yellow envelopes matters; this painful step I'll tackle next week. I look forward to holding the sealed packages in my hands; this is rewarding, a tension release. I try not to think of how fast rejections will come in relation to the amount of time I spend on each package.

I'll prepare my email queries next week.

Half Italian is complete, but over the weekend I'll continue to proofread for readability. Books too wordy can bug.

- PJ

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Plan

As an unpublished author and someone who works in finance, not politics or entertainment, I need a platform; therefore, this site. I'm finding this therapeutic, so far.

I've already made a few queries to small publishers. Two replied that they're niche publishers, too small for a mainstream book like Half Italian. I've also queried a few agents. I received a "nibble" from one, a request to see more after the initial query; then, a courteous rejection.

For this round, I've combed again through agents, made my selections, and researched their reputations.

What's next: prepare my query letters, emails, assemble packages, and finally, send them. This step is time-consuming; a healthy job/life balance is required. Since I work full time, and this project must remain separate, I expect this step will take two weeks. (Blogging at work, a reliable internal source tells me, is not only disallowed, but also monitored.)

So my weekly grind is: crunch numbers/budgets/FASB disclosures at work; drive home and tackle this project; and then, unwind with a glass of whiskey. On the rocks, five days a week. Is that the part I find therapeutic?

- PJ

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Half Italian

American by birth, half Italian by blood, that's me. Half Italian, the book, is a collection of events spanning the 20th century with both my Italian-American and Italian-European families, who were farmers. Accordingly, some of the events take place on farms.

The stories have mainstream connection through family life, and humor. The humor is.....unique. How many kids have a grandmother who never saw a banana, mustard, or a fruit pie until adult age in America, and threw them all out the window of her train because she thought they were spoiled? How many kids witness their grandmother flush her dentures down the toilet, later retrieved from a septic tank? Unique. A recipe follows each chapter.

My father passed away in 2006, and after that my view of time expanded. Half Italian began with two thoughts typed into my computer. Then, one Saturday morning, I sat down to expand on those thoughts and the words flew.

Memoirs are difficult to sell; my challenge is to find an agent (and publisher) who, as I, believe in this project.

For the record, my mother is the full-blood Italian.


Friday, July 2, 2010


I'm 53 and live in Los Angeles. I've written my first book, "Half Italian," the story of my Italian family as seen through my eyes.

It's a book about family, for anyone who's ever had a family. It's for anyone who's ever been a kid or had kids. It's for parents and grandparents.

The humor is.....unique at times. Immigrant ways merge with American life from my southern California perspective. Immigrant humor, I've learned, is not necessarily racial humor. My hope is that many people can relate, regardless of nationality, where they were born or have lived.

This site will track my journey to publication. I'm nervous; my heart races as I write this first-ever blog. I'm exposing my life, my feelings, my hopeful successes and inevitable disappointments. I'm vulnerable.

My fear has not stopped me; I believe in this project.

Call me PJ. It's my nickname at work.