The world-famous author and even more famous recluse, Vivian Swift, boarded the 4:46 to MANHATTAN on October 6, 2010, to attend a WRITERS EVENT. She was wearing real clothes (the kind where you have to hold in your stomach and stand up straight in) and real shoes (you know, with leather soles and a little stack heel) and feeling very spiffy and cultural.
Good thing she had her camera with her — the late afternoon autumnal (see? “Autumnal”: that’s a WRITER’S word) sky was gorgeous, especially considering that it was hovering above QUEENS.
This is Long Island City. Long Island City is the new Brooklyn, which up until about two years ago was the new Lower East Side, which up until ten years ago was the new East Village, which c. 1985 (otherwise known as Vivian Swift’s Hay Day) was ultra-cool. Vivian Swift misses 1985 every day of her life.
The four-block walk from Penn Station to the WRITERS EVENT took Vivian Swift through the area known as The Garment District in mid-town MANHATTAN.
The Garment District is where wholesalers come to buy garments. Or maybe it’s where wholesalers sell them — Vivian Swift is a little fuzzy on the particulars, never having worked in the Rag Trade. But Vivian Swift would totally wear one of these frocks (see above) if she were ever on American Idol.
Vivian Swift is fascinated by the idea that there are brides out there who might want to dress their flower girls to look like pumpkins. And getting back to the American Idol thing, Vivian Swift has always thought that she would never have bothered becoming a writer if she could sing. Fact is, people would rather hear a song than read a book– a CD that sells 60,000 copies is a dud in the record biz, but a book that sells 60,000 copies is a HUGE hit. When Bonnie Raitt, a singer that Vivian Swift can’t stand (no offense) sold only 40,000 copies of her album, her record company dropped her. Vivian Swift does not sell Bonnie Raitt numbers…but Vivian Swift should avoid going any further down this line of thought or else she will quit writing stuff and find a way to drink for a living.
By the time Vivian Swift got to the WRITERS EVENT and had a glass of wine (thank god) the evening became less of an out-of-body experience and Vivian Swift stopped thinking of herself in the third person. Although she could not completely silence the voice in her head that kept hollering “This is Me! Vivian Swift! Out of the house and in Manhattan with grown-ups!!”
Ten years ago I came across a display in the 57th Street Borders Books for New Books. I liked the cover, so I bought it: The Forest For the Trees, An Editor’s Advice to Writers. Written by Betsy Lerner, an award-winning insider in the publishing biz as both a writer and a big shot editor, this book gave me my first understanding of how book writing was done, and it gave me the very first inklings of how I might make a place for myself in the book writing world. Betsy explains the business and art of writing in a way that makes day-to-day, sentence-by-sentence sense. And I thought that if I ever write a book, I want it published by Betsy Lerner.
Seven years later, I had the first three chapters of my book done and Betsy Lerner was now a partner in the Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner Literary Agency in New York City with a long list of very hip, urban, genius writers. But I stuck to my plan: Betsy Lerner was my first choice of editor, so she was also my first choice of agent. I sent her my manuscript, and she accepted me as her client. (That never happens, by the way; that a first-time author gets her first choice as agent. I can barely show my face when writers get together and tell their sob stories about how many times the cruel world of publishing has broken their hearts.)
Betsy’s book, The Forest For The Trees, has just been up-dated for the 21st Century and its official pub date was October 6, 2010. The writer’s group She Writes (www.shewrites.com) hosted the launch at a fund-raiser held in their 37th Street offices. Betsy (on the left) was interviewed about her life and times as a editor/agent/writer (her memoir is Food and Loathing) and I must say that the group was very lady-like considering that motorcycle boots and tattoos, ethnic jewelry and overalls is the basic look of She Writers. Don’t let the dress fool you: Betsy is all Doc Martens Dead Head. 20 minutes in, she let rip with the first “asshole” reference and I knew we were in for a free and frank exchange of ideas.
The thing about writing groups is that they are made up in large part by people who are in the early stages of finding their way as writers, finding where they want to draw the line between their life and their writing. They are still searching for their voice, their genre, even the purpose and goal of their writing. They gather together with fellow travelers to think out loud, and to survey the feedback they get from whatever ideas and paragraphs they float out into the group.
I, on the other hand, am a very secretive writer. It is against every method I have concocted in the past ten years, and against every mote of my personality, to expose my writing in progress. So I was amazed to listen to the group dynamic when Betsy gave everyone the chance to discuss the status of their writing. I even took my turn and mentioned, for all to consider, the working title I have for the book I want to write when The Damn France Book is finished. Thank you, ladies and one guy, for being so damn nice, even when nobody liked my precious title.
If you want to learn about yourself as a writer, and you want to learn about how to take your place in the writing world, get this book.