Frequently Asked Questions
Here are my answers to questions that people have been asking me about the forthcoming publication of my novel, Cooking for Picasso:
Q. What was the path to publishing like? How did you find your agent?
A. It all began just before Christmas—a time when most writers are advised never to send out queries, because the publishing houses are about to shut down for a long holiday break. But my manuscript was ready, I had done extensive research about agents and editors, and I just couldn’t wait. So I queried a select handful of agents with whom I thought that I, and my novel, might be compatible.
Now, we’ve all heard many tales of woe about the arduous road to getting an agent and a publisher, so I was prepared for a long wait of weeks, even months, to hear back—or perhaps not at all, since some agencies actually tell you on their website that if you don’t hear from them, it means “no”. Especially at that time of year, I thought I wouldn’t get responses until well after New Year’s. But, I told myself, at least it won’t be me who’s holding up the progress!
Within a half hour, my e-mail in-box starting pinging. Agents were enthusiastically asking to see the manuscript! I was stunned, and especially happy about one response in particular: from Susan Golomb, who said she’d love to see it, and could I send it to her right away, because she was just about to take off for her vacation.
Susan had been at the top of my list for many reasons—and not just because she was Jonathan Franzen’s agent! Having done my research, I’d looked at her “list” which contained books I respected and subjects that interested me; and there was nothing predictable about her choices, for she had an intriguing mix of styles that, to me, showed a lively, open mind. But even more than that, there was something personal about Susan—I saw some video of her at conferences and in interviews where she spoke in such an intelligent, calm and gentle manner with her authors—which made me feel an instant connection with her.
So I was even more delighted on Christmas Eve when she sent me another bolstering message: my manuscript had arrived on time, and she was taking it with her on her vacation!
Q. What about editors? How did you find your publisher?
A. The good luck continued! Right after New Year’s, things moved very fast. Susan e-mailed me to say she found Cooking for Picasso “utterly charming” and wanted to talk on the phone about it right away. We had a great conversation and she made some suggestions for how I might revise the manuscript to prepare it for editors. We met for lunch, and more good news: she was merging her agency with Writers House, which meant that now I was getting the best of both worlds: the literary guidance of Susan Golomb and the commercial expertise of Amy Berkower and her excellent team, who also gave me their helpful feedback for preparing the manuscript to send out.
When it came time to send the novel to editors, Susan and I made a list, and the manuscript went out on a Friday. Even though she assured me that the editors had promised her an early response, I wasn’t prepared for a Monday-morning call saying that several editors were already vying for the book. Soon I got the message that all authors dream of: We have an offer! Call back ASAP.
Now the train was really moving! More editors were interested, but the one who’d made the first offer—what’s called a pre-empt in publishing parlance—was someone I’d been secretly hoping would someday be my editor.
It was Susanna Porter of Random House. I’d had my eye on her, not just because of the novels she’d shepherded so brilliantly that people said were compatible with mine—such as The Paris Wife and Loving Frank—but because I was attracted to her nonfiction choices as well, on historical and vintage subjects that I found fascinating.
In our first telephone conversation Susanna confirmed my greatest hopes and instincts. She not only loved the story, characters and setting of Cooking for Picasso, but she also “got” the more subtle layers of the novel, such as the exploration of how fame and money influence relations with men and women which, she said, gave the book “chops”. Susanna told me that Cooking for Picasso was both smart and commercial, and she was very excited to get started. Over the next months we worked together with great joy and verve, revising the book under her generous, insightful and always-respectful guidance, and that of her thoughtful editorial team.
Meanwhile, once the deal was made, the other editors called my agent and my publisher to graciously congratulate them on acquiring Cooking for Picasso. I was so gratified by such kind wishes and widespread good will.
I’ve posted all this here because I want other authors to know that everything you’ve heard about how difficult it is to get published might be true—but it might not. Sometimes, it doesn’t take forever for your book to be accepted. Sometimes, people really do wholeheartedly give you their best advice, ideas and help. And sometimes, the “slow” season of Christmas works its magic faster than you’d ever dared to hope.
Q. Where did the idea for "Cooking for Picasso" come from?
A. I was inspired by everything around me in the French Riviera—the sun, the sea, the fishermen and farmers’ markets, the cuisine and culture—and of course Picasso! You can’t turn around here without bumping into a Picasso exhibit, and there he is with those dark eyes staring at you and daring you to ask him a question. On the Côte d’Azur he’s also surrounded by his pals, Matisse and Cocteau. I’d seen the towns of Juan-les-Pins and Vallauris and Mougins where Picasso lived, loved and worked.
In the course of my research of this period, I discovered a little-known episode in Picasso’s life, where he was in such turmoil that he stopped painting, sneaked out of Paris and stayed incognito at the French Riviera in the off-season. No one is really sure what happened to him during this mysterious interlude—but after many months of not being able to paint, suddenly Pablo Picasso picked up his brush and began painting again. That set the clock at 1936. And when I looked at the pictures he made at that time, I discovered many fascinating paintings—including two portraits of the same unknown model.
And suddenly I began to imagine a young woman on a bicycle, carrying a basket of food to one of those secretive villas. I made a timeline, from that young girl to her modern-day grand-daughter working in Hollywood, (making use of my experience in film and TV, and even cosmetics because I worked for Estée Lauder early in my career). I began connecting the dots between my modern heroine and my historic one.
And after that, I was off and running!
Q. The novel centers around a pair of Picasso’s paintings. Do they actually exist?
A. All the paintings and drawings I’ve described in my novel are real, except for one. I was fascinated with the artwork that Picasso made during this period—the “Woman with a watch”, the still-life with the striped pitcher, the “Minotaur with a wheelbarrow”, the Vollard drawings, etc. The only Picasso painting I invented, the “Girl at a Window” was inspired by an actual Rembrandt masterpiece of the same name which Rembrandt painted in 1645.
Q. What advice would you give to beginning authors?
A. It all comes down to believing in the dream, and that begins with the story you write. See your story, follow it all the way, then share it with the world. In the end, there’s nothing finer than a shared dream.