Pistachio tart with goat cheese, brie, fresh mozzarella and smoked paprika crust

Pistachio tart

Pistachio tart

I’ve been attempting to write query letters of late. I’m not very good at it. I’m not good at selling anything, especially if it’s something I made myself. I read a few rules for how to write a perfect query letter, and I’ve tried to follow them, but I just don’t know. I just don’t know. So I was imagining the letter I would write if I was trying to be more honest, and here it is.

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 dream of meeting somebody who passionately believes in my work, who loves to have fierce discussions about writing, and who happens to have an understanding of the business. 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 scam. 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,

Claire

Pistachio and goat cheese tart with brie and fresh mozzarella

Pistachio and goat cheese tart with brie and fresh mozzarella

Who 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 Please Please Please by James Brown.
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Pistachio and tarragon tart with castelvetrano olives and asparagus

Asparagus, pistachio, castelvetrano tart

Asparagus, pistachio, castelvetrano tart

If The Ordinary was a TV program, (and it’s only a matter of time, really, when you think about it) this would be the moment when we’d saunter, smiling and chatting, over to a book so large it’s printed in dozens of volumes. Everyone in the audience would jump from their seats, screaming, “The OED! Yay! Tell us how some random word was used in the 13th century! And the 15th century and the 18th, and, if possible, give us an example from only a few years ago!! Yay!!” Yes, it’s OED time! Your word for today is “sigh.” Why? Because for some reason I found myself sighing a lot this weekend. And sometimes I would just say, “sigh,” instead of sighing. And then I wrote a story about a ghost who always has a sigh in his voice, and who can shake the whole room with his sigh. Strange, very strange. So on Monday I did the obvious thing and looked the word up in the OED. Turns out its meaning hasn’t changed dramatically over the years. It’s always meant something close to “A sudden, prolonged, deep and more or less audible respiration, following on a deep-drawn breath, and esp. indicating or expressing dejection, weariness, longing, pain, or relief.” It was oft used, ere this, by the supersensitive overwrought poets and lady novelists. And yet, I find it a very fascinating word! Because it’s not a word at all. It’s a space between words. Like the grunts I found so remarkable in Ozu’s Tokyo story, which rise or fall and contain a million different easily readable meanings in one small sound, it’s almost more expressive than any actual word. And a sigh is so full of variations and possibilities! A sigh can indicate exasperation, sadness, fatigue, resignation, comfort, satisfaction. One small sound, barely a sound! Just a breath, quieter than a whisper. And everybody sighs, often without meaning to or even being aware of it. It’s a universal language. My favorite sigher at the moment is Clio. She’ll make herself perfectly comfortable, and then she’ll settle her head on her paws and heave a great sigh, as though she’s just taken care of some very important business and now she can rest for a moment. Even the leaves and the grass and the wind sigh, especially in poems. “Whenever a March-wind sighs He sets the jewel-print of your feet In violets.” A sigh can express longing, you can sigh for something or someone. You can sigh something away…even your life, “Sapores..sighed out his affrighted ghost, at the age..of seventy one,” or your soul, “Hundreds of martyrs sighed away their souls amid the flames.” Maybe your sadnesse is sigh-swolne, your age is sigh-blown, or your tone is sigh-deepened. I love the idea of communicating without words, with something only slightly more audible than a gesture or an expression, with something as vital and intimate as our breath. I love the fact that “Some sighes out their woordes. Some synges their sentences.”

Asparagus pistachio castelvetrano tart

Asparagus pistachio castelvetrano tart

I think of this as my splurge tart. I spent more money than I should on castelvetrano olives and pistachio kernels, (yes, I’m a lazy spendthrift) and asparagus, which doesn’t seem to be getting any cheaper no matter how far into spring we get. So I decided to put them all together in one tart. I made a sort of frangipane of pistachio kernels, but I added asparagus and spinach, too. I wanted it to taste very green. And asparagus and castelvetrano olives are lovely together, juicy and fresh.

Here’s Dolcissimo Sospiro (I think it means “sweet sighs”) sung by the remarkable Montserrat Figueras
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