In Which Our Heroine Is a Mite High Strung

6 April 2004

I hope those of you who observe Passover had a good start to it last night. Me, I colored eggs. I don't know when I last did that, but I decided I needed to have some activity this week that made me feel about 6 years old. So I stood at the kitchen cabinet and drew with a white wax crayon and dunked and sloshed and generally dyed Easter eggs. Most of them are green or blue or purple. I did one orange and one pink, and the rest green and blue and purple. I will at some point make eggsalad or potato salad or deviled eggs out of them. Parti-colored eggsalad was a family standard when I was a kid. Good stuff.

I finished From the End of the Twentieth Century last night, and it was just lovely. Very much appreciated. Will probably try to dig up a copy to own eventually. I also read Jonathan Carroll's Voice of Our Shadow, which I believe is known as "phoning it in." Yarg. What a half-written insult of a book. It was all "blah blah death and guilt, blah blah love affair, blah blah Vienna, blah blah...crap, we're almost done and I haven't put a dog in yet, so blah blah gratuitous dog, I don't feel like actually wrapping it up, the end." I was very angry with that book. It was a stunted caricature of a Jonathan Carroll novel. It was an example of what happens when you let your own tropes run the show. It was just no good.

After that, I decided to catch up a bit on periodical reading, so I read Analog and started the April F&SF. I finished the latter this morning. I've still got the May issue to read, but I think I'm going to read Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis first, since it's on the library pile...or maybe Brittle Innings, since the season has started...or maybe The Proof House, since I have to return Stella's books sometime....

See, this is the frame of mind I'm in right now: ready to make anything into a stress point. I am feeling a mite high strung. I have already planned lasagna for supper, or heaven knows what kind of an internal tizzy that would be. It's ridiculous, it's disproportionate, and it needs to stop. Deep breaths. Silly Mrissa.

I hate writing cover letters. As much as I hate synopses, cover letters are almost worse (and I've dealt with both lately, and will continue to do so). Even my formulaic short story cover letter to an editor I don't know is starting to bother me. Having to say who I am and what I've done so far makes me want to shriek, "Nobody! I'm nobody! Just read the story, all right?" This does not work particularly well for novels, where many agents and editors don't want the whole 90 to 120 kilowords in the first place; they can't just read the story. The cover letter is important, and the synopsis is important, and I do understand that. It's just difficult sometimes. It's something like a controlled brag: you don't want a cover letter to say, "And I am the best up-and-coming talent in the field, and if you don't buy this book right now, today! you will regret it for the rest of your career, puny mortal editor-type!" You also don't want it to say, "I know nothing, I can't construct a sentence, pay no attention to me, I'll just go away now."

Stella told me that I walk and talk like I'm six feet tall. And I said, "I was supposed to be!" And I did, ages and ages ago, enter the data into a prediction thing, and if you look at how tall I was at 9 or 10 and how tall my parents are, they thought I should be 5'11". But that's beside the point. What she was seeing is the remnant of Marissa Lingen, Girl Physicist. You cultivate an "of course I belong here" aura if you're afraid of being mistaken for the secretary. You especially do it if you're not the kind of girl who's every guy's sister. And you especially do it if you're occasionally treated as "cute" despite the fact that you are patently not. You make sure that you're not going to take shit about whether you can do the math, because of course you can do the math -- you're Girl Physicist! You integrate, you weld, you strip wires! And when you do that enough and then you join in the ritual self-doubt sessions -- "I probably bombed that test; that lab report was a piece of crap" -- nobody believes you.

Well, except you, but who really notices that?

There's a certain extent to which this is true: I could do physics, and I can write, and I'm not going to let anything stop me, and if all glimmers of interest disappear in this field, I will write in another field because this is what I do. But the specific stories and novels I have out there right now, those might fall flat. Those might fail. I know that. I live with that every time I send them out. I try to be cheerful and hopeful, because the alternative is sending out stories feeling joyless and despondent, and I have a lot more control over my own attitude than I do over the editors' responses. It is not always entirely possible, however, to keep my attitude from veering off course in one direction or another. My control is not complete. With cover letters out of my hair, I'm steering back towards cheerful as hard as I can. It's not always easy being an optimist. Sometimes it has to be pretty darn deliberate. I think it's worthwhile, though.

The sun is shining (for the last time this week, according to Paul Douglas The Weather Guy), and Mark and I are going to have sandwiches on the deck with Rachel for lunch. That should help with the cheerfulness and also should give me something to think about besides cover letters. Always a good thing.

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