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.