Thursday, January 19, 2012

the creative process

I have been cycling through very old email, in an attempt to find notes for something, and I was really struck by how many times I pitched Green Girl, the current novel that's out, to countless countless agents published writers editors, etc. for like YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS. It's kind of funny and depressing. I thought I'd share with you my very first pitch, written months after I moved back from London, a little over 6 years ago. Maybe this is gratuitous, I don't know. I would finish some form of the draft about five years ago, and the novel, basically remained the same. Except Italian puppeteer became a Scottish ex-divinity school student, even though in real life at some point there was an Italian puppeteer. And I took out the mother-daughter grief stuff, and maybe crucially  at some point added in this character of the maternal yet mean narrator. And I didn't think of her as suffering from a PTSD. And she never returns home in the novel. And Agnes became a barista not an art student. (I also got better I think at writing pitch letters. Obviously here I thought I had to dictate everything that happens in the book). It's AMAZING to me though that I pitched an agent after working on it seriously for one month (after accruing notes for the year in London). This was I think a week or two after I decided to quit my holiday retail job at Club Monaco at the Old Orchard Mall, and say, fuck it, I'm either going to be poor and write books or be a little less poor and not write books. A lot of the retail experience channeled in the novel was from that holiday job, especially the high-street clothing store at the end of the novel (although I also worked for like a day at the Body Shop on Oxford Street, and regularly went to the Topshop at Oxford Circus).

From: Kate Zambreno [mailto:XXXXXX]
Sent: Friday, December 16, 2005 6:21 PM
To: BIG IMPORTANT AGENT
Subject: you told me to let you know if I was working on a novel...

Hi BIG IMPORTANT AGENT -

I don't know if you remember me, but two Junes ago I sent you several of my columns I wrote for the alternative weekly Newcity magazine. The columns were entitled "Fresh Hell," and they were written under the pseudonym Janey Smith. I was curious whether the columns could ever be translated into book form, and had contacted you because I researched literary agents on the Internet and respected some of the female writers you represent. You had said that although you enjoyed reading the columns, the voice of the narrator was too frantic for you to see them translate into book form, and to contact you again when I was working on a longer project.

Well, that September I moved to London for a year, with my husband, who was attending a year-long graduate program. During that time I worked in the fiction department at Foyle's Bookshop, running the cult fiction department, read a lot of  modernist women writers such as Jean Rhys, Jane Bowles, Anna Kavan (a long essay on her work that I wrote is coming out in Dalkey Archive's CONTEXT this month), as well as contemporary writers such as Elfriede Jelinek, Deborah Levy and Christine Schutt, and worked on notes for two novels. That year I learned a lot about fiction, about writing fiction, and about what kind of fiction I wanted to write.

I've been back in Chicago since September, where I've been teaching classes on Women Writing and Contemporary Culture at a local communitycollege. The past month I have really dug into my first novel, working from notes. I have about 10,000 words so far, and wanted to know whether you would be willing to take a look at it, and what length you would be willing to take a look at it.

The novel is currently called "Green Girl," named after the line in "Hamlet" where Polonius calls Ophelia that. It can best be descibed as a much more dark and hopefully poetic Fresh Hell, third-person interior, but less frantically paced or glib. It is not as autobiographical as Fresh Hell, however, although there are of course autobiographical elements. The central character is a girl in her twenties named Ruth, an American who works in the fragrance department at Harrod's in London (she calls it Horrid's), but who aspires to work in the make-up department. She's a bit of a depressive, a bit of a dreamer, and suffering from what can best be described as a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, along with an obsessive fear of death, and continually flashes back to scenes of her mother's illness and death the previous year, all mixed in with a cruel affair she had with a boy in Chicago.

In London while living in a woman's dorm, she sleeps far too much, works in a sex shop which she promptly quits, starts a toxic friendship with an Australian art student named Agnes, who has conversations by describing films from beginning to end and who Ruth later moves in with to a dingy flat on the East End, develops a fascination for the Hari Krishnas, rides the train a lot and walks around in central London, deals with a mean clique of girls at Harrod's, buys a very expensive dress that she cannot afford, develops crushes on two men because they vaguely remind her of the boy in Chicago,  begins a platonic yet intense relationship with an Italian puppeteer,  and cuts her hair off to look like Jean Seberg in "Breathless" but has the unconscious effect of resembling her cancer-stricken mother. The novel ends with her returning home to Chicago for the one-year anniversary of her mother's death. It hopefully will deal with the themes of home versus away, being a tourist in a stranger land, of death and desire, of grief, on a certain type of girl caught in the rabbit hole, and their friendships with each other, and on mother/daugher relationships in general. And, of course, it's about make-up, which is kind of a central metaphor in the book. Even though I'm writing about shopping and cosmetics and love affairs, it will hopefully not be perceived as "chick lit," I am definitely  aiming for something much more literary like Jean Rhys.

I know I should not be worried about publishing this novel before I finish it, and you are the only agent I have ever contacted. I just think the novel has the potential to be good, and I wanted to know what you thought about it.

Please let me know if I can send something to you. And if so, at what length and to what address.

Best

Kate Zambreno