Cupcakes and death

A friend died in my dream last night and I sat next door to her at the funeral. We talked about her eulogy.

‘Too much God and religion,’ I said.

‘Right up my alley,’ my dead friend said.  She loved her bible.

Given my belief that dreams can tell you more about aspects of yourself than they do about the people in your dream, was I dreaming about my own death?

What would it be like to be at your own funeral? To hear the things people say about you once you’re gone?

I doubt my mother would have liked the words I said in her eulogy, when I was free at last to speak about her without her looking over my shoulder.

Who am I kidding? My mother’s dead but she’s still there somewhere in the recesses of my mind, still passing judgement on my thoughts and words.


I’ve been having a tug of war in my head of late. A potential publisher has read my manuscript and reckons it needs more work.

Don’t they always?

He recommends I get the help of one of his freelancer editors to ‘commercialise’ my manuscript. For now he reckons, it’s more ‘reflective than informative’.

I’d rather be reflective than informative. You can get information from Google, but maybe that’s not what the general public wants.

I want my manuscript to be as good as it can get.

I want to find a readership, but does this mean I will be selling my soul?

Do I stand firm and keep trying to flog my manuscript in its current form to other publishers?

The rejections have been mounting and most of them in the form of ‘This is not right for our lists’.

Maybe this is why I dreamed of death last night.

Maybe my manuscript is dead in the water, or maybe I should give it a go and take on this mentorship – for a price.

If the mentorship came as part of a publishing deal, I would not hesitate, but given I need to throw still more money after it, before resubmitting, is it worth it?

I read a wonderful piece on Brevity’s non-fiction blog that says it all:

How to make a cake out of cupcakes: or how to turn your essays into a book.


8 thoughts on “Cupcakes and death”

  1. I like the idea that dreams have meanings but mostly I’ve found mine indecipherable throughout most of my life. Over the last few years, since my last breakdown, I have been dreaming a lot more. I don’t recall any more—they fade as quickly as ever—but I am more aware of them than I have ever been and there is a thread, a common factor to virtually every dream I have nowadays: they’re set in a workplace and usually one from my past although my fellow employees and bosses come from any and every time in my life. It’s not hard to deduce from this that I miss the day-to-day grind. I don’t need to go to sleep to tell you that. Work was what defined me and all the other roles I fulfilled in my life were subservient to it. Work gave my life purpose which stood in for meaning.

    I have no memories of every dreaming about my own death. Perhaps I’m not old enough. I make be riddled with aches and pains but I still don’t feel I’m at death’s door. Maybe in another ten or twelve years.

    I don’t think I’d like to go to my own funeral. People don’t tell the truth at funerals—unless you’re Meursault (from Camus’ ‘The Outsider’) and look at the bother that got him in—but I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall afterwards once the drink starts flowing. I never delivered a eulogy for either of my parents—never even considered it as an option if I’m being honest—and I’m rather glad I was never put in that position although it wouldn’t have been hard to say a few nice things. My mother would’ve been the easier but, to hark back to last week’s topic, even my dad wasn’t all bad, far from it actually.

    As far as your book goes it’s hard to advise you. Publishers have a single goal and that is to make money. You make the most money by giving people what they want and what they want is normally what they’ve come to expect which is what they’re used to. People like the same but different. The public doesn’t know what it wants. It thinks it does but it isn’t very adventurous. Here’s a question for you: Who writes (or has written) books like yours? Are you a Joan Didion or a Germaine Greer or maybe an Erma Bombeck? What does “reflective” even mean? And why is it a bad thing? If you reflect on what’s gone you do more than simply remember the past, you comment on it. Surely that’s informative. Maybe you don’t state things explicitly. Perhaps your style could be a little more declarative. But then maybe there’s more poetry in the book than most publishers are used to. Maybe you expect a little more from your readers than they think you ought.

    If they’re looking for you to pay for their service then my gut reaction would be to try elsewhere. They’re supposed to pay you. If they feel your work has promise then let them invest in it.

    1. Good old Freud talked about the two great drivers in life: love and work. Not surprising that work features so strongly in your dreams, Jim. My sense is you work enormously hard at what you do, namely at your writing, reading and reviewing other people’s writing, and although these activities don’t offer much of an income, it might be that your dreams say something about your experience of work today, in the disguise of what it was like all those years ago.

      I enjoy dreams because of their unfathomability. No one can ever say definitively what a dream means, even the dreamer, but we can speculate, imagine, wonder and therein lies the pleasure.

      As for imagining your funeral, it’s only come to me lately, since my mother’s death and I imagine it has something to do with my tie to her. There was a time in my life when I was very young when I imagined I could never live without her, and here I am going on living, though in a strange way it has seemed harder of late, though that might be me seeped in the today of it, always imagining it’s worse today than it used to be. These things are relative.

      As for my book, I plan to talk to this mentor to get some feel for whether or not I reckon she can be helpful. I won’t go ahead with her unless the fit feels right. Theres always more to learn, but I’m not throwing good money after bad.

      Thanks, Jim

  2. Like teachers who teach to the test, I sometimes think about my own funeral as if adjusting my behaviour will produce a positive spin on what might be said, but mostly I dismiss these thoughts as I reflect on how often I remember the things that were said at the funerals I’ve gone to.

    You’ve had a lot of readers who’ve been very interested in what you have to say. I’m with Jim, keep submitting until you find the right fit.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Kass. It seems to me there’s a lot to be said for tying things together. Readers might enjoy short pieces but whether I can sustain a whole book seems to be another matter. And it’s all so subjective.

      In any case, maybe it’s a bit like what people will say of us at our funerals: we can’t dictate it; we can’t know about it in advance; we just have to trust it’ll be good enough.

      There’s not a lot we can do about people’s responses to us other than to live our lives and write to the best of our ability. The rest is up to them.

      Thanks, Kass.

  3. I agonize over these same things in regard to my manuscript. I am encouraged by the recent publication of several books that are more hybrid than straight form non-fiction — do you know Lidia Yuknavitch’s “Chronology of Water,” or Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts,” or Sarah Manguso’s books? There’s a part of me that believes you should stick to your plan/desire, Elisabeth — if your blog is any indication of what’s in store for readers, you will have them in droves. You have a particular, unique style that sort of sidles up to you and says, “BOO!” — I think you need to stick to it and eventually someone will come along and know exactly what you’re doing.

  4. For some reason your blog wasn’t showing in my reader, and I thought that you must have been taking a break. I apologise that I’ve missed a few posts …

    I know nothing about interpreting dreams, unless it’s really obvious, so I won’t comment on that aspect of this post. But it’s great that a publisher is interested in your manuscript. Congratulations! It’s hard to hear that ‘commercial’ word, let alone bear it in mind as you write, but I don’t know that you have to sell out in order to please readers. I think you can do both. As you know, I’m rewriting my novel because an agent said she wouldn’t be able to sell it as it was—it was too depressing. But, I’m glad I’ve rewritten it. It’s so much better than it was—a much better story, with a more universal message. (Actually, it’s turned out to be quite feminist, which is something I didn’t set out to write at all, but I’m really glad I have!) All I can say is, give it a shot!

    1. I’m giving it my best shot, Louise, and it’s good to hear that you are, too. As for your own writing, feminism has away of cropping up almost everywhere these days.

      I’m also glad you managed to relocate my blog. Thanks.

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