Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
I haven’t written a post for ages–but I’ve been working hard on my novel. One of my three main characters lived in Brooklyn for ~40 years, so Gary and I spent five days there early this month. We visited our son and daughter-in-law, too, but my primary focus was research. As with the book about my great-grandfather, the locomotive engineer, I sought a sense of place. This red brick building at 150 Lafayette St., in the Fort Greene neighborhood, is , I think, where Charles actually lived before he married Jeannette. The house at 340 Clinton Ave., where they lived together for twenty-five years has been replaced by a ~’60s apartment building. At the Brooklyn Central Library, I found a book with photos of homes tantalizingly close to their address.
Still, hiking around Clinton Hill–where they lived for decades; Prospect Park–which they enjoyed for decades; Borough Hall and the Courts–where both Jeannette and Charles worked; Grand Army Plaza–adjacent to the Brooklyn Central Library which Charles helped establish, the Brooklyn Navy Yard; the DUMBO walking trail and the Brooklyn Bridge gave me a good frame of reference.
At the Brooklyn Historical Society, I found maps showing where they lived and other photographs of some of the houses near the one that Jeannette and Charles owned–in quite a posh neighborhood. The Brooklyn Public Library website–which, of course, I could have explored from home–offers access to digital archives of 75 years of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, then found some business addresses that, again, helped with perspective. It was fortuitous to take a photo of Trinity Church, at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street with the emotion-laden, uplifting spire of One World Trade Center in the background. And then, hours later, at the Brooklyn Art Museum, coincidental to find an equally symbolic painting, Trinity Church and Wall Street by Bertram Hartman, 1929. It represents, of course, the Crash that precipitated the Great Depression. Colors and perspective make all the difference in mood.
Then I spent a week with my daughter and grandsons in Lawrenceville, NJ. It’s very near Princeton. One of her neighbors had loaned her The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. Again a fortuitous connection: I needed a refresher on submission preparation because right after returning home, I planned to go to the Oregon Writers Colony Annual Conference, where I’d booked a session with a literary agent.
Following Bell’s model–later described by the agent as “the hook, the book and the cook,” I prepared a two-page letter, a five-page synopsis, plus copies of my prologue and the first two chapters. In the event, I was reasonably coherent and the agent took my packet, promising to get back to me soon.
A friend, one of the OWC founders, later said, “He took your packet? They never take your stuff! If you’re lucky, they tell you to send them something.”
However, I think the default response is always, “Sorry, this is not quite what we’re looking for…”
Still, a girl can dream, can’t she?