Buying cars and studio portraits: same revolting experience

self-portrait in old car

for now, sticking to self-portraits and old car

I’m about to shop for a new car.  Ever since the “good Samaritan” jammed the gearshift in my 2004 Subaru in the process of towing my car, which had a dead battery caused by the body shop that left the back door open too long…  Oh, wait. That’s another story. This story involves car salespeople and my futile dream of shopping for a car without ever talking to one.

I hadn’t thought about the car shopping experience until this past weekend, after my husband and I met another kind of salesperson: the photography studio portrait salesman. Here’s how that meeting came about. We had agreed to be photographed for a directory for an organization we belong to. However, when I signed us up, I was picturing the directory as a collection of selfies, not studio portraits.

Weeks ago, I booked our 10-minute appointment for this past Sunday. I was surprised to receive a confirmation a few days before the date advising me that the process would take an hour. This isn’t possible, I thought. We’re not talking about a complete wedding and reception package.

When it came to the taking of photographs the first communication was right: ten minutes was plenty. But then the photographer said,  “We’ll move to the next room and I’ll have you look at the shots I took on my computer, so you can pick out the one you want for the directory. This one comes free, though some people like us to airbrush, remove age spots, fill in whatever needs filling in, and these changes do come at an extra cost. As we scroll through the photos, think of it as walking through a department store. You can look at everything, but you don’t have to buy.”

The process began like an eye exam. “Which of these do you like best, A or B? Now, between these, which do you prefer, C or D?  It had the same effect on us as an eye exam. “Could you show us C again?  D also?” Once we’d agreed on those choices, the sales pitch began. Displayed on a table and against the wall in the room were sample photos framed in heavy wood to make it easy for us to choose a photo or two or three beyond the free one for the directory. They came in billboard size, the size of the ceiling on the Sistine Chapel, and smaller — merely life-size — diptychs and triptychs.

“We don’t need any photos of us,” I said. “The directory photo is fine.” Ignoring me completely, the photographer then made suggestions of all the ways we might use any extra, framed ones we might purchase.

In desperation, my husband asked the cost of one simple, framed photo.

“Everything is cheaper if you buy more than one,” the photographer said, “so let’s look at some combinations first. If you buy these two singles with this threesome, you’ll be shocked at the savings.”

Forty-five minutes later, we were ready to buy every sample and all his equipment to get out of his lair. We settled on one framed photo, and after he made a point of doing a few trillion calculations — calculations which he probably knew by heart — which involved writing down all the amazing discounts we were receiving, we fled.

We almost went car shopping today, but memories of last Sunday caused us to do something fun instead. We needed time to forget the trauma of one salesperson before we faced another.




Posted in humor, personal reflections | 3 Comments

Travel as cultural immersion


Guanajuato on the street where Diego Rivera once lived (sketch by ann oxrieder)

When my roommate and I graduated from college, we worked for a year to save for a four-month European tour. We planned to hitchhike to every capital, sleep in youth hostels, and have adventures along the way. We ran out of money and came home early.

These days, my husband and I travel differently, as in, planning ahead, knowing where we’re going to stay, and being assured that we can always access cash machines. And, unlike college days, we never have to skip a meal.

Somewhere between these two travel styles is one we focused on in the 1990’s, where we traveled to Central Mexico four years in a row, stayed for a month, studied Spanish in schools dedicated to language study, and lived with Mexican families. We took side trips on weekends with classmates and the school’s director and met in teachers’ homes for social activities.

This week, my husband found my sketchbook/diary from one of the summers we spent in Mexico, and memories came flooding back.

Our first school was in the mountain city of San Miguel de Allende (6,284 ft.), which has since become an American and Canadian retirement haven. (Good luck getting any chance to practice Spanish there now.) Before we went, I read a memoir by an American woman who lived for a time in San Miguel. She stayed in what she said was a particularly rough part of town called San Antonio, characterized by raw sewage in the streets, sick children everywhere, and other dangers. Imagine our horror when we received a letter from the language school telling us we would be living with two sisters — Blanca and Alicia — in San Antonio.  We found out later that San Antonio was a charming middle class neighborhood, and that the sisters were equally anxious about our arrival. They had never hosted students before and their fears ranged from getting an American teenager who would smoke marijuana in their upstairs guest room, to hosting retirees who would be unable to manage the stairs, and injure themselves in a fall, requiring the sisters to nurse them back to health.

As things turned out we had nothing to fear and we all had a great time. Within a week or so they were piling tiny chiles in the middle of the table to accessorize the main meal of the day, sharing their tequila shots before we ate, and spilling the town gossip.

For at least two years after that, we went to school in Guanajuato, another mountain city (6,585 ft.) as yet undiscovered by retirees, home to a university and a place where few shopkeepers spoke English. Our first day there we got lost and a Good Samaritan drove us straight to the police station, where the officer sent us on a long walk up a steep hill to nowhere.

In Guanajuato, we lived with Marilu and her two sons.  She had never planned to host students, but agreed to as a favor to the school’s director.  Even during the years when we stopped going to school we stayed with her.  We call each other “hermana” — sister — and are now Facebook friends. We had many adventures in Guanajuato, including an interview with a reporter for the town paper, followed by a slight misalignment of our photo above the headline, “Drug Dealers Captured,” when the article was published.

When it comes to travel, spending time in one place, studying the language, sharing a home of one of the local residents, and immersing yourself in the culture, is ideal. We were in our late forties the last time we visited Mexico. Would we return for the same kind of experience at our age? Yes.

Posted in personal reflections, travel | 5 Comments

DNA reveals your roots

ancestorsA few years ago, my husband and I landed in Amsterdam after 19 days in Spain and Morocco, and soon were strolling along the city streets gawking at the canals, the skinny houses, and the people. After a few minutes, he said, “I feel like I belong here. It seems like the Dutch are my people.” I hoped for Dutch genes too, but after traveling to Iceland in June, I also wished I had Icelandic-Viking ancestors.

For most of our lives we think about the present and the future. But something happens later in life that makes us curious about the past. At a certain age, we want answers to questions we never thought to ask our parents while they were alive.  What were their lives like and the lives of their parents?  Where did their ancestors come from?

Too late to get information from the living, a year ago I took a course on how to research family histories, signed up for two genealogy websites – and — and started filling in some of the branches of my family tree and my husband’s.

The next step for us was to have our DNA tested by This involved paying a fee on-line, spitting into tubes we received in the mail, and returning our saliva samples to Ancestry. Our results arrived via email last week, about a month after we mailed the samples.

I highly recommend doing this for the surprise factor as well as the information. We were both astonished with some of our results. They are not as precise as we’d hoped.  For example, they don’t tell my husband whether he has Dutch ancestors, but our on-line research did confirm that he has Dutch and Belgian roots. One surprise was that he also expected to be part Scandinavian, but his total DNA match to Scandinavia was 0%.

I recently learned from one grandmother’s death certificate, that her parents were born in Sweden.  I only knew her and my grandfather as Minnesotans.  I only knew my other grandparents as Missourians.

According to my list of ethnic groups, I am 20% Scandinavian, which makes sense now that I know where grandma’s mother was born. But there were bigger surprises.  24% Irish?  23% Eastern European?  Me? And only 16% from Western Europe and 13% from Great Britain?

In the case of my husband, 28% of his DNA comes from ancestors from Great Britain, 8% from Ireland and 7% from Eastern Europe. 4% is European Jewish. He wondered about the name Zimmerman, recently found in his grandmother’s line. A full 46% of his  DNA comes from Western Europe. Western Europe consists of eight countries. Not nearly specific enough. French don’t share the same culture or language as Germans and Dutch look like Scandinavians. So what is ethnicity?

Wikipedia says, “Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, origin myth, history, homeland, language or dialect, symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, art, and physical appearance.

“Ethnic groups, derived from the same historical founder population, often continue to speak related languages and share a similar gene pool.”

The last few words clear up the mystery.  Inhabitants of Western Europe likely “mingled” more and expanded the gene pool, whereas Scandinavia and Ireland were more isolated, though the Vikings traveled everywhere. “They traded and raided,” said the Professor of Scandinavian History on our Iceland trip.  Apparently, Irish women were among their spoils, and ongoing DNA research suggests that as much as “50% of the women in Iceland were likely of Celtic stock.”

Hmm. So I come from Scandinavian stock and Irish stock. Could I be Icelandic? Maybe someday I will be able to discover great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents Olaf and Njála (Niala in Irish) and place them in my family tree.










Posted in personal reflections | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Presidential election is a stressor

scan-2I have a stress problem that has lasted for many months. Lately, I’ve been searching for a reason to explain it.  I have what many older adults dream of: a peaceful retirement where much of my time is under my control, which is why my rising level of stress is so puzzling.

It finally hit me today that one situation looms over all others to raise my anxiety, something that is completely out of my control: the 2016 presidential election.

I did a Google search to find out if my friends and I were the only ones who felt this way. It turns out I’m not. Here’s a headline from an article in The Atlantic, May 24, 2016, by Robinson Meyer:  How to Preserve Your Mental Health Despite the 2016 Election.” And from the Washington Post, September 26, “Feeling anxious ahead of the debate? Here’s how to cope with ‘Election Stress Disorder.’” The Post article opens with: “By now it has been well documented that this presidential election cycle has had a particularly negative effect on Americans’ mental health.”

The American Psychological Association polled 927 U. S. working adults in August and found that “more than 1 in 4 younger employees reported feeling stressed out because of political discussions at work, and more than twice as many men as women said political talk is making them less productive.”

According to The Atlantic piece, “experts stressed that anxiety about an outcome or existential threat is completely normal.” However, in the same article, the writer cites clinical psychologist Stephen Holland, who makes a distinction between “productive and unproductive anxiety.” Unproductive anxiety occurs in situations you can’t take action to change.

In the same article, other therapists share tips for living with election stress, none of which is a new idea: accept your emotions, focus on what you can control, focus on the present, meditate. The one piece of advice I appreciated most came from a psychologist named Robert Leahy. Leahy encouraged worriers to focus on the structural limits of American government. “Think about the constraints or limits that all politicians face—for example, Congress and The Supreme Court. If you fear Trump, keep in mind that he won’t be able to do a lot of what he claims he wants to do,” he said. Now that’s a thought that brings me comfort in this period of pre-election unease, that and the hope I won’t experience post-election unease.

Posted in current events/themes, personal reflections | 8 Comments

Back to school memories live on


Courtesy of Clipart Panda

For most of us, the anniversary of a particular event, experience, birthday, or a death of an influential person in our lives will trigger memories. Most recently, the anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy brought back many memories of that day and of weeks and months that followed. In early September, I am always reminded of a more routine but also special event: the first day of school.

I haven’t worked in a school system for six years, but when I see ads for backpacks and three-ring binders, and friends posting their kids’ and grandchildren’s back-to-school photos on Facebook, the memories flood back.

In my childhood and youth, by mid-summer I was bored and ready to return to the classroom. I wanted to meet my teacher(s) and reunite with my friends. And I loved school. But those weren’t the only reasons for looking forward to September. I loved shopping for new school supplies: wide-lined tablets, freshly sharpened pencils and later fountain pens, pristine notebook pages unmarred by my sloppy handwriting, textbooks not yet coated with yellow Magic Marker. (I’m still addicted to buying writing supplies.) Even more special than locating just the right tools of the trade was the task of searching out the best possible first-day-of-school outfit, something that would easily be recognized by my peers as the latest fashion.

For my entire career I worked in school settings. In the K-12 system, even in administrative offices, the first day of school was a BIG DEAL. Schools had to be cleaned, teachers assigned to classrooms, food service ready to go, playground equipment put in good working order, and much more, including a plan for taking care of children who disembarked at the wrong bus stop. In my job as the media contact the first day and week were quiet. Typically, I’d have to scout out an elementary school principal willing to have TV cameras on campus filming parents saying goodbye to their kindergartners, ideally all sobbing together. At the end of the first day, the school board met and heard inspiring reports of all the first day happenings by school. Everyone left excited and possibly relieved that the news from the schools seemed to portend another successful year.

When I worked at a community college, the first day of school lacked the excitement of the public school system. Students registered, went to class, sometimes changed their schedules, and went home. While there was commotion, the spirit of a fresh start didn’t permeate this setting.  I worked in a counseling and career center, so we mostly saw the students who were frustrated and lost, physically or emotionally. The most predictable outcome of September was that my colleagues and I caught colds.

When I first retired I was well aware of opening day. Six years later I still know when school starts. The school buses roll through the neighborhood, and parents and children assemble expectantly at the stops. I think about past school beginnings as a student and a worker and am glad that the working life is behind me. But also happy that good schools in this community and learning will always be around.

While others think of January as a time for a fresh start, I often think of September as my time to get organized, slow down the social life, open a new notebook and make plans for writing, reading and learning something new. For three autumns I enrolled in non-degree programs at the University of Washington. This year, a friend and I joined an organization that offers frequent lectures by academic and literary figures. We’re attending our first on Saturday, the perfect way to start the school year. No textbooks, no homework, no awkward conversations with professors whose classes we plan to quit, no tests, and no colds.












Posted in changes after retirement, current events/themes, memories, personal reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Seasons of change

fallen leavesNorthwest skies are gray and our backyard plum and maple trees have already begun to let go of their leaves.  No matter how warm the days, nights are cool. Projects I began in the spring, then ignored while the sun shone, are appealing again. Suddenly I’m in the mood to stay indoors, to read.  Books from and the library pile up in each room.


Since it’s obvious that the season is changing and because I just turned a year older, the first book I chose to read had to do with the seasons of our lives. It’s called “Triumphs of Experience” by George E Vaillant and tells the story of the 75-year-long Harvard study of adult development. The goal of the study was to determine what kind of family life, personal qualities, experiences, and behaviors would lead to a longer life and good physical and mental health in old age.

The author describes five stages of adult development* the last two of which he calls Guardianship and Integrity. I’m focusing on these two because for me the earlier stages are history. Guardianship, he says is “the capacity to care.” One of the study’s subjects tells a story that illustrates his entry into this stage. “‘I have finally come through to a realization of what is of critical importance to our future — that we finally come to live in harmony with nature and our natural environment, not in victory over it.'” Integrity is “the capacity to come to terms constructively with our pasts and our futures in the face of inevitable death.”


What have we learned from the Harvard research?  I cherry-picked a few of the study’s conclusions. Although only white males were included, the conclusions seem reasonable for either sex.

1. We don’t stop growing and changing when we leave school. We develop throughout our adult lives, even into our nineties if we live that long.
2. Marriage becomes happier after 70.
3. Being a conscientious child was the most important predictor of well-being among those 65 to 85 years old.
4. “A happy old age requires both physical and mental health. For mental health, love is a necessity.”
5. “Physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50.”

This quote from a letter by George Eliot gives voice to the season of the year and the season of life:
“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise.” In other words, a good day to curl up with a book.

*based on the work of Erik Erikson

Posted in aging, friends and family, health, seasons, support and caring | Leave a comment

Good posture: your mother was right

Illu_vertebral_columnWhat advice did your mother give you that you listened to and still follow? Or listened to and ignored? A few years ago I read a book containing words of wisdom passed down from mothers to daughters. What the mothers forgot to mention, and which I now think about daily, is my mom’s mantra for me.  She began repeating it starting when I was in seventh grade:  “Stand up straight.”

Now, many years later, I’m sorry I didn’t pay more attention, for I’m convinced that good posture is essential to healthy aging.

Why worry about posture?  From a chiropractic website, “Studies have shown that good posture can help you have more energy, less stress and avoid fatigue. In fact, good posture is essential if you want to stay physically fit.”

Another site says, “…Good posture means your bones are properly aligned and your muscles, joints and ligaments can work as nature intended. It means your vital organs are in the right position and can function at peak efficiency. Good posture helps contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system.” In contrast, poor posture can lead to “fatigue, tight achy muscles in the neck, back, arms and legs, joint stiffness and pain.”

I am becoming a crusader for good posture, starting with my own. I’ve been receiving gentle chiropractic care — called Network Spinal Care — for several months. I can feel my posture improving, though not enough to overcome bad habits of slumping in front of the TV or the computer and bending my neck forward to text. I have a “before” photo that shows the curve of my spine is wrong and my neck is not in line with my shoulders.  I’m sticking with the program until I can see an “after” photo that shows my body in alignment. As a new advocate for standing up straight, I’ve also begun making enthusiastic — though unsolicited — presentations to my friends about this treatment.

Good posture is as important to younger generations as it was for my generation.  I was only exposed to computers in the workplace some twenty years ago.  Imagine kids who sit with their necks craned forward in front of screens starting in preschool.  When an anesthesiologist gave me a cortisone shot in my spinal cord at neck level, he said he was now seeing patients as young as twelve, not an age when a body should be needing regular cortisone injections.

But wait. The benefits of good posture get better. Everyone of a certain age has heard the warning:  as you age you will become invisible. I believe the better your posture the less likely this will happen, because “..when you are slumped over, or hunched over, not standing straight, you can add years to your appearance.” Good posture gives you confidence, vigor, and a more powerful physical presence.  Even if standing up straight doesn’t bring store clerks swarming to assist you, for women, there’s one advantage that beats them all:  “Any woman, no matter what her age, can help reduce the sag in her breasts by nearly 50% by simply standing tall.” If this isn’t an incentive I don’t know what is.








Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

My very slow weight loss program

WW success storyI’ve lost 9.6 pounds in a mere six months, that’s a whopping 1.6 pounds per month. Dr. Oz will cry when his viewers hear reports of my miracle program, which, by the way, puts a little less weight (pun intended) than his plan on the role of green tea in helping those pounds slide off.

Much earlier this year, I decided to lose ten pounds. I just wanted to turn the fist-sized love handles around my middle into small bulges more the size of love knuckles.  Not a big challenge, I thought, just cut back on sugar. In the two months following this resolution, I added a few more pounds. “That’s it,” I told my husband.  “I’m rejoining Weight Watchers.” He decided to do the same.

I know the Weight Watchers’ approach works. It has every time I’ve tried it. WW employees spend their working lives examining fat, sugar, and nutrients in anything you can put in your mouth and chew. They then assign points to these food items and advise participants to eat anything they want within a thirty-point limit.

The cornerstone of the WW program is counting the points for everything you eat in a day, even if the total comes to more than 30. They convince you to eat many fruits and vegetables by assigning these zero points, and proteins, most of which are low-point items. One possibly unwanted boost to your protein points is the 6 oz. T-bone steak which provides more than one-third of your daily total. (Since 6 oz. seemed small, I checked the menu of a local steak house for weight of the smallest steak on their menu. It’s 8 oz. and the largest is 24 oz. No worries if you need bypass surgery following the larger meal. Whatever they feed you in the hospital will have very few points.)

After my first WW session, I read over the Pocket Guide and made a quick decision to stay away from certain choices, such as,”restaurant-type grilled cheese sandwich” (20 points), accompanied by 8 oz. of prune juice (10 points), on the grounds that I prefer to eat several meals of many foods every day, and not a single 30-point meal consisting of two items, one of which is prune juice.

The other times I participated in WW, I didn’t mind writing down my points, but this time after two or three days I quit counting.  It’s obvious that eating a pound of nuts will delay your next meal for a week. What more did I need to know? Instead of counting, I looked up some items, weighed some, and decided to wing it.

I didn’t stress out if I gained weight one week and lost some the next. I enjoyed every dinner out and every party, but controlled my portions.

I reached my goal yesterday.  Our leader said, “Now we have to talk about how many points a day you will have on ‘maintenance’. What’s your average now?”
“Uh. I don’t know. I didn’t count.”
“We’ll you’re going to have to count for a few days so you know how much more food you can add to maintain your weight.”

So yesterday I counted. Wow. Forty-five points. Today I was a pound higher. At this rate I won’t have to worry about maintenance.

PS In all seriousness, there are women in our weekly weigh-in who have dropped more than one hundred pounds using this system. The program works…if you count your points.


Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

French bread-making as an Olympic event

bread.JPGYesterday , when I turned on the TV to record something scheduled for later in the day, I encountered the PBS program, the “Great British Baking Show.” It’s a reality show like many American cooking competitions, but with a name more polite than “Cutthroat Kitchen” or “Throwdown.”( It’s true that in 2013, an American show modeled after the British baking program aired for a short time. It was replaced by “Big Brother.” Need I say more about American reality TV audiences?)

The British contestants were charged with making French bread, real French bread, which I consider a food group in its own and, undoubtedly, the most important food group. The recipes I’ve used before, including the one I blogged about earlier that required nine days to produce bread, all make decent-tasting bread. None, however, lead to the kind of bread you’ll find in every Parisian bakery. With help from the British bakers, finally I could produce authentic French bread.

I found the recipe on the show’s website. Four ingredients. A lazy baker’s dream.

I scanned the rest of the page. Oh, there was a second page and a total of thirteen steps.  I looked at the clock.  My husband would be home in a few hours. Surely enough time to bake the bread, and enjoy a lunch to remind us of the City of Lights. I started to work.

Hmmm. Fifteen minutes to work in water by hand, another fifteen to knead in the yeast, and another fifteen to add the salt. After forty-five minutes I knew I’d stayed away from the gym too long. What a relief to have arrived at step four: letting the bread rest.

Wait!  I missed step three. “Grab dough at one end and lift shoulder high. Slam it onto work surface and roll dough over on itself. Give dough quarter turn, grab one end and repeat slamming and rolling.” And I have to slam and roll for how long? Another fifteen minutes? My arms were already hanging limp.  Was bread-making now an Olympic event? An hour after I began, the recipe mentioned a fifteen-minute rest.  I raced to the couch and stayed there until the timer went off.

My husband walked in the door, and we ate open-faced sandwiches on the last of the two-day-old bread from the grocery store.

At least I have help now, I thought, for the eight remaining steps. I turned to page two of the directions. No. Really? Steps six through twelve direct the shaping of the dough before it, and the baker, have a two-hour rest.

The final line of the recipe, and the only one we ignored, said, “Cool at least 20 minutes before cutting.”

bread 2

Bread straight from the oven is always good and this was no exception. In minutes, we’d finished half a loaf. We tapped the loaves and the crust was hard, though it didn’t look gnarly like real French bread. We broke the loaf open by hand to examine the inside texture, like the judges did on the British show. It looked perfect. But the flavor? Was it any better than the loaves we’ve baked before using other recipes?  Hard to tell, but the house smells great, much better than the gym.


Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Suddenly I’m a fan of Chick Lit


Sample bios of editors from PNWA conference

I’ve pitched my novel to literary agents and editors for the past five years at the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association conference.  Over time, these professionals have been gracious, and most asked me to send them something, sometimes only a synopsis and the first ten pages of my novel and other times the first fifty or one hundred pages.

The beauty of pitching the same story again this year to a different set of agents was that for the first time I was pitching a completed novel.

But this year the experience wasn’t beautiful.

First, the setting.  Picture a long, narrow windowless hotel conference room. Rectangular tables in the rear, pushed end-to-end, stretch across the length of the room.  Two chairs sit behind each. Agents and editors fill these chairs in alphabetical order. In front of them is a row of blue tape, the starting line for the race. At the pitching hour, the doors open, writers storm the room, choose an agent or editor who represents the genre they’re writing, and stand single file behind the blue tape until the bell rings and the announcer says, “Let the pitching begin.”

Each author pitch, including time for questions from the agent, can last no more than four minutes. When time is up, a bell will ring, the agent hands the author a business card and asks him or her to submit something, or the author walks away empty-handed, eyes aimed toward the floor, away from other writers who have pitched successfully.

This year, I found myself in the latter group.  I heard, “It’s a great topic, there’s a market for it, but I’m not interested;” “It sounds too complicated;” “It doesn’t sound like anything I’d like to read;” and other variations on these themes.  What’s going on this year? I asked myself.  I pitched well, didn’t read my notes, didn’t stumble. I’d rehearsed it before other writers, and they had pronounced it and me ready. The subject has been well-received for four years. Why wasn’t it likeable now?

I’ve always had trouble deciding on the genre of my novel. Mainstream fiction? Women’s fiction? Mainstream commercial fiction? Upmarket commercial fiction? (Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.) To cover all bases, I picked agents who specialized in at least one of these and chose whichever genre title they wanted to hear most.

On the second day of pitching, I chose a friendly looking editor whose bio said she was looking for mysteries and women’s fiction.

I introduced myself and my genre — women’s fiction for her — and gave my pitch.

“That was a good pitch,” she said.  “I’m looking for Chick Lit. Is your story funny?”

Oh my god, I thought. She wants stories about female airheads looking for rich men. My protagonist is seeking social justice, not a date. How did I end up with this editor? Her bio should have been clearer.

Then I thought about her question.  Now that she mentioned it… “Yes,” I told her.  “It is funny.”

“What percent is funny? Think, “The Devil Wears Prada.””

I started running through the chapters in my mind.  There were obviously funny ones, but percent?  “I don’t know. It’s not funny at first, but midway…”

“Here’s my card. You can send it all.”

“But I don’t know if it’s really Chick Lit.”

She shrugged and pulled her card away.  “It’s up to you.”

“Wait! I reached for the card and took it, not yet entertaining the idea I might use it.

Later, I shared the experience with a friend who knows my story. She said, “That’s great. It’s perfect.”

“But my character is smart. She’s not chasing after men. She’s saving the world.”

“I know your novel. Without much effort you can make it funnier. If you want, I can help you decide where to insert more humor. It will work. Do it!”

I thought about this for a while. My character was funny.  She did get herself in embarrassing scrapes. What did I really know about Chick Lit? Had I written in this genre without even realizing it? I hadn’t ever felt comfortable with whatever genre du jour I’d chosen. None seemed like quite the right fit, but agents always want to know where a novel belongs on a bookstore shelf.

The next morning, my former teacher of Popular Fiction echoed my friend.  “Make a few changes. It will work.”

Minutes later, I saw the editor sitting alone drinking coffee. I walked over to her and sat down. “I pitched to you yesterday,” I said.  “Later, I realized I have never been confident about whichever genre I tell people I’m writing. Thank you for helping me see my story in a new way. Whatever happens, I appreciate your challenging me about the box I’ve put my story in. It’s a message about other boxes too.”

“It’s always hard to put some books in categories,” she said and smiled. “I look forward to reading your manuscript.” I floated away.

P.S.  I found a website that helped me put Chick Lit in perspective.  The protagonists are not all airheads.  And as one writer friend told me, “It’s stories about bad-ass women.”  Not quite my protagonist, but maybe with a little editing…




Posted in inspiration, writing | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments