I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love the combination of chard, pine nuts and raisins. And I’ll find anyway I can to combine them. Here they are in a sort of tart. I made a jam of shallots and raisins and garlic, and I spread this on a yeasted crust. Then I topped that with a custard made with chard, fresh mozzarella and pine nuts, and of course lots of fresh basil, which is one of the best things about summer. And I put some slices of fresh mozzarella and more pine nuts on top.
Here’s Summertime by Billy Stewart.
Dear Literary Agent (I know I’m supposed to address this to a specific person, by name, and try to establish some sort of personal relationship or pretend that I know you, but I don’t know you, and you know I don’t know you. I’ve read about the things you like and don’t like, and they’re some of the things I like and don’t like. Maybe you’d like my novel. Maybe we could be friends.)
I’ll start by telling you that I know I can’t write a very good query letter. If I could, if I could sell my work, I wouldn’t really need an agent. Although of course I would, I know I would. I know enough about how the world works. I wish I could tell you that I’m always euphorically happy with my novel and sure that it’s great and enduring literature and that everybody should read it. But half the time I have the sinking horrible feeling that it’s dull or silly or even embarrassing. I can tell you that I always feel a warm sort of love for it, for the characters and the world they live in. I think about them sometimes as if they’re real, and thinking about them that way makes me happy. I can tell you that I have a million ideas, a million beautiful things in my head, and I will write them down with the most beautiful words I can find.
I can’t pretend that I’m familiar with the market. I read all the time, but I don’t read too much contemporary fiction. There’s a voice I don’t like, that I encounter often. A smug, clever well-wikipedia-researched voice. Or a coldness that I find unbeautiful. Of course I’ve read some modern novels that touched me very deeply, and I’ll tell you what those are, if you like.
I would love to say that I met you at a literary convention of some sort and that we discussed my work and you seemed very interested, but it’s not true, and you know it. I’ve never been to a literary convention, I’ve never been in an MFA program. I took part in some sort of novel-writing workshop once, but that was years ago, a lifetime ago, and I’m not sure the whole thing wasn’t some sort of scan. I’m not in any literary salon. You don’t know me, you don’t know my work. I guess I’m something of an outsider, but, as I’m sure you know, William Faulkner was an outsider, “[N]ow I realise for the first time what an amazing gift I had: uneducated in every formal sense, without even very literate, let alone literary, companions, yet to have made the things I made. I don’t know where it came from.” and yet, he says, “I am the best in America, by God.” Am I saying I’m as good as Faulkner? Am I saying I’m the best in America? Of course not, of course not.
I wish I knew some famous authors and they’d read my novel and had nice things to say about it. Or they hadn’t read it but said I could tell you I know them. But that’s not true either. But here’s what I imagine some famous writers might say. John Donne would say, “She stole my words for the title of her book!” And then he would say, “Of course she took them from my meditations on humans and sickness and religion, and that’s sort of what her book is about, so that’s okay.” And then TS Eliot would say, “You brat! You stole my source! You quoted the Countess Marie Larisch von Moennich, word for word! That’s not okay! Only I can do that.” And Zola would say, “Don’t think I didn’t notice you modeled a character on one of my characters, and you have him read my words aloud!” And Dostoyevsky would say, “Sure, go ahead and quote whole passages from one of my books. There’s not much I can do about it now, is there?” And Reverend Gary Davis would say, “I’m glad you like my songs enough put entire lines from them in someone else’s mouth.” And Ezra Pound would wander into the room and say, “Claire, sit on your knees to write and seal your query, And send it a thousand miles, thinking.”
Yeah. My novel is weird, but not in a clever or calculated way. I know that you receive millions of queries and many of them are from crazy people, and you must read such an odd assortment of nonsense that everything starts to sound like nonsense. I’m sure I sound crazy and awkward you’re going to read a few lines and toss me aside. I know I’ll never hear from you again, or I’ll get a polite e-mail telling me (and everybody else) that you wish us the best of luck with our project and our career. I understand that. And yet I’m hanging on to the small glimmer of hope that glows brighter every time I send a sample chapter out, that’s so hard to extinguish no matter how many rejections I receive, or how much blinding silence my words are greeted with.
So thank you for your time.
Yours sincerely in hope and promise,
ClaireWho is making lots of tarts lately? Who is? ME! I am! I did a ridiculously splurgy grocery shop before my birthday and got brie and pistachios and smoked mozzarella and pine nuts. Phew. So I combined them all in a tart. The crust has smoked paprika in it. The custard has pistachios and goat cheese and bronze fennel leaves. You could use regular fennel leaves of even tarragon, if you’d like to have that lovely anise-lemon flavor. The whole thing is topped with bits of brie, slices of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, casetlvetrano olives, pine nuts, fresh basil, and these beautiful little spicy shoots that make every picture prettier.
Here’s Peppino di Capri’s Per Un Attimo.
And the words of Gang Starr,
My subject matter and context are blessed
Vocal inflection connects, it’s a slugfest
Ladies approach to hear quotes from the spokesman
Thoughts are like oceans for my lyrics to float in
I’m absolutely astute so salute
Just get with the words and the way I command ya
Cause you’re in the right place, and luckily it’s the right time
And since I’m inclined, I’ll kick precisely the right rhymes
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love greens, pine nuts, raisins and garlic. It’s the perfect combination for me. In this instance I’ve packed all that into a pie with some grated roasted butternut squash and some mozzarella cheese. I made this pie for a bunch of people to eat standing around without plates or utensils, and it worked well in this regard. It would be nice for a party or a picnic, I think, for this reason.
“Um, they’re called sculptures.”
“Yeah. You know a lot of people think junk is just junk, but it’s not!”
“What is it?”
I realize that lately the subtitle of Out of the Ordinary could be “Isaac and Claire talk on the way to school.” And I never intended it to turn out that way, but the truth is, I come home and I think about all of the odd things he’s told me. I think about them for hours, setting off a little chain of loosely connect thoughts which generally lead back to whatever he was talking about in the first place. Today I thought about junkyards, and I thought about the Gleaners and I and Vik Muniz’ Wasteland, and Agbobloshie, and aircraft boneyards. And I thought of the term “rag-and-bone,” which has been in my head for days, although try as I might I can’t remember what put it there in the first place. And of course that made me think of “Rag and bone shop of the heart,” so I had to look up the whole poem. The Circus Animal’s Desertion. What a name for a poem! What a poem! It ends thusly:
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
And it’s so strange to think about Yeats lacking inspiration or feeling disappointed. It’s so strange to think about him looking back on his career with any kind of sadness or regret, or looking into his heart and feeling despair or disdain for what he finds there. I want to tell him what Isaac would tell him, that those old kettles and bottles and bones aren’t junk, they’re art materials. He can make himself a new ladder out of old iron and broken cans, a ladder that might be more true and stronger than his old one. But of course he knows that, he knows it all, because he found his inspiration, he wrote this poem, and it’s beautiful and he must have felt that in his deep heart’s core.I’ll blame it on the weather, on the seemingly endless winter, but I’ve wanted to make warm comforting bready meals lately. Last night it was this savory cake, which is a lot like a pizza with the toppings baked right into the dough. I made the dough rich and tender, with butter, milk and an egg (I think of it as brioche-like). And I filled that with my favorite combination of chard and mushrooms. I used pecans and pistachios, but you could use one or the other, whichever you have. We ate this with leftover asparagus pesto and with a pecan sauce something like this one.
Here’s Rag and Bone by The White Stripes
“Beam in her eyes? You mean shine a light in them?”
“No, you know, beam in them, you just look right in her face.”
“Hagrid and Dumbledore do it all the time.”
“They beam in people’s faces?”
“No, they just beam around. They’re always beaming around.”
At this point in the conversation it became obvious that Isaac was talking about a word Rowling frequently uses to describe an affectionate smile. But before that moment of comprehension, when I was in my early morning daze and enjoying the feeling of charmed confusion that Isaac’s observations often provoke, I had such a different picture of beaming. Just last week I wrote this sentence in these very virtual pages,
“I love to think about people having a light inside them, even being that light. I believe that this is something that every creature has, and as we grow and become jaded and mature, we learn to hide our light, we become closed and dark and careful. You can see it in dogs and children, though, everything they feel comes beaming out of them, unfiltered, unshaded, so bright and powerful you can warm yourself in their glow.” So as I pictured it in my mind, if you beam in someone’s eyes, you shed all the light and warmth of your love and spirit in their direction. You send all the glow of your hope and grace towards them. And probably they’re ignited by your beam, you help to kindle their beam, and then you have mingling beams, which flame higher and brighter than one beam alone. You’re a beamer, and now they’re a beamer, too. If ever I met a beamer, it’s our Isaac. From when he was very tiny, he would smile at people, even at complete strangers, and you could tell that their whole world had brightened perceptibly. He’s always beaming around, that Isaac. I’ve been feeling discouraged today, but I keep thinking about beaming. I keep thinking about people all over the world working so hard and hopefully, just to stay alive, to get by, to get ahead, to make something good; and about all of the rejection and discouragement that casts a dark shadow over everybody. And then I think about all of the beaming going on, all of the beamers in the world, spreading their lights around, breaking through the clouds with great rays and flashes of light. “For beamers came from around and counforted her, beaming that place of darkenesse wyth unspeakable cleernesse.” After all, we all have our own light, we’re all beamers.
Here’s Parliament with Flashlight. Everybody’s got a little light under the sun.