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Cheryl Klein is an editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic).
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On Saturday, November 8, I'll be teaching my Plot Master Class as a one-day workshop to benefit Park Slope United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York. The Master Class forces you to take an in-depth look at the plot of your manuscript through the pre-class homework; then I dissect all of the elements of plot in the course of the workshop; and then we put everything back together again by the end, at which point you should have plenty of knowledge about making plots operate effectively, and a number of tools to strengthen your own. It's the most popular course I offer, as I've taught it both online and at multiple locations around the country, and while it's always an intense* day, it's always a lot of fun too.
And this edition is truly for a good cause, as all proceeds will go directly to Park Slope United Methodist, my lovely, progressive, inclusive, social justice-minded church in Brooklyn,** which will also host the event. As this is being independently organized, you do not have to be a member of SCBWI or any other writers' group to attend; all you have to have is a manuscript in mind, a curiosity about plot, the cost of the fee, and the ability to get to Brooklyn on Saturday the 8th. Please check out the registration page here, and if you have any other questions, feel free to e-mail me through that page or leave them in the comments below. Thank you!
Oh! And while I am here and talking publishing: The newest episode of The Narrative Breakdown features me and Katy Beebe -- also known as KTBB among commenters here, also known as my best friend -- talking about query letters. Katy wrote the original Query Letter from Hell that appears in Second Sight, and anyone who can parody something better know her subject inside and out. And indeed, Katy also wrote an impeccable query letter for her picture book Brother Hugo and the Bear, which was published by Eerdmans earlier this year.
We discuss both of these queries in the course of the episode, and throw in some advice on copyright, synopses, and effective summaries besides. Please check the show out!
_____________________________* Read: slightly brain-melting (but in an enjoyable way).
** If you want to take the Master Class but for some reason you object to the funds going to a church, let me know, and I'm sure we can work something out.
Earlier in this week of awful news out of Ferguson, in my home state of Missouri, my friend and colleague Rebecca Sherman commented on Twitter:
I do too. That speech remains the best speech I've ever heard a politician give in my lifetime, both honest and inspiring, both personal and national in its implications. It acknowledged the complexities of Mr. Obama's candidacy, of his relationship with the Reverend Wright, and indeed of the whole history of race in America after slavery. Rereading it now
, I was astonished to see these lines:
We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students. Legalized discrimination — where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments — meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families — a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods — parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement — all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.
. . . What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them. But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it — those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations — those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways.
This anticipates nearly everything in Ta-Nehisi Coates's brilliant article "The Case for Reparations"
in The Atlantic
earlier this summer -- except, of course, Mr. Coates's conclusion, which is that Congress should investigate the idea of reparations for African-Americans. Rather, Mr. Obama describes this legacy of pain as an opportunity for all Americans to come together, first to listen to and acknowledge each other's sufferings across racial lines, and then to work to address that suffering: the lost jobs, the lack of health care, the poverty and poor education that afflicts the 99% (to draw on another political metaphor). The speech received near-universal acclaim
, and while politics, being politics, quickly reverted to the usual game of sound bites and wins and losses, it did create a quiet moment in the hullaballoo of that 2008 campaign, a moment when most people heard what Mr. Obama said, and glimpsed that opportunity, even if we did not take it . . .
Like Rebecca, I wish very much that Mr. Obama had the time and courage and clarity and political daring to make another speech like this in the wake of events in Ferguson -- to be our storyteller-in-chief of sorts, to help one part of America listen to and understand the anger and fear of another, and to point the way toward dialogue among and a shared mission for all our citizens. I am sorry that he doesn't make this a priority, because I think perhaps he could do some good. But in his absence, we have to do that work.
I am moderating a panel this Tuesday for Scholastic's Teacher Week
-- a conversation with Varian Johnson (The Great Greene Heist
), Lisa Yee (Millicent Min, Girl Genius
), Sonia Manzano (The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano
), and Sharon Robinson (Under the Same Sun
) about diversity in children's literature and the need for all children to see themselves in books. There are a lot of dimensions to the diversity conversation, but the moral use of such books (and the moral necessity of publishing them) is fairly straightforward: More than any other media, a book allows a creator to control and tell their own story, to reveal the world they see in all its joys and sorrows, complexities and nuances, and to have that story be heard. For readers, books provide that opportunity to step into someone else's story and hear it -- to be affirmed by the story if some part of it speaks to your own experiences, emotionally or racially or religiously or emotionally, to know that you are not the first to go through this; to learn from it, both intellectually and emotionally, if it does not match your experience; to be challenged by and grow from it all around. (I wrote more about this, and the moral and sociological necessity for diverse books, in the opening of this talk
And I can't help thinking: How different might Ferguson have been if all the policemen had read Walter Dean Myers's Monster
? Or Fallen Angels
or Sunrise Over Fallujah,
for something closer to their own quasi-military experience? Or Ta-Nehisi Coates's article, or The Beautiful Struggle
? Or even listened to the "This American Life" stories on Harper High School
-- about a very different place than suburban St. Louis, certainly, but unforgettable in showing some of the pressures on young black men? Or best of all, if the policemen had heard the stories of the people of Ferguson as individuals? If they had shared their own?
Perhaps nothing would be different. These can be seen as highly naive and facile questions, given the money and history and societal factors that went into the making of this as-yet-ongoing tragedy, and I acknowledge my highly privileged role in asking them. But I also believe that books, stories, do what not-yet-President Obama did with his "More Perfect Union" speech: They reveal the complexities, allow us to see things as both individual and universal, make other people real, open up space for dialogue -- if we'll take the time to listen and talk and learn. I wish we could find more of that time and space.
“Life begets life. Energy becomes energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” — Sarah Bernhardt
“I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” — Duke Ellington
To many people artists seem
undisciplined and lawless.
Such laziness, with such great gifts,
seems little short of crime.
One mystery is how they make
the things they make so flawless;
another, what they're doing with
their energy and time.
— Piet Hein
“Judge the goodness of a book by the energy of the punches it has given you. I believe the greatest characteristic of genius, is, above all, force.” — Gustave Flaubert
“Genius is mainly an affair of energy.” — Matthew Arnold
“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that's as unique as a fingerprint — and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.” — Oprah Winfrey
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. “ — Martha Graham
We all need to look into the dark side of our nature — that's where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we're busy denying.” — Sue Grafton
"Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal." — Albert Camus
News! Later this month, on June 28, I'll be appearing in a great little mini-conference in my hometown of Belton, Mo. (about half an hour south of Kansas City). I'll give a talk on the five things editors want to see in every manuscript. Then the picture book author (and my best friend) Katy Beebe and I will discuss query letters, particularly the one that led to the publication of her lovely book Brother Hugo and the Bear. And finally, we'll do a first-pages session to round out the morning. Registration is $60, to benefit the Cass County Library Foundation (one of several library systems that made Katy and me the writers and readers we are today). For more information and to register, please click here.
In sad news, last month marked the first month in the nine-year history of this blog where I did not write a single post! Not a one! Part of it can be attributed to this fine fellow:
Mr. Bob Jacob Marley Monohan, who has come to dwell in our apartment and demand my time and attention, cat treats, things to gnaw on (currently a pair of James's cargo shorts that he unwisely left on the couch), etc. Part of it is that I have Twitter to accept all of my random thoughts. Much of it was simply work and life. But I miss writing here. I'm going to try to do a post a week for the rest of the summer, and I hope it will result in good energy all around.
- The Great Greene Challenge is still on! Have you gotten your copy yet? It's a great opportunity to support diverse books, an independent bookstore, and fantastic middle-grade in one fell swoop.
- As this blog has often served as my running results archive: My sister and I ran the Brooklyn Half-Marathon a couple weeks ago in 2:10. It was my slowest time for a half ever, but I didn't care, because I super-enjoyed running and chatting with her.
- We have a great new episode of the Narrative Breakdown up here, with Matt Bird and James and I talking character goals and philosophies. Our podcasting has fallen off a bit of late because we lost our sponsor.... If you'd be interested in donating to the cause or sponsoring an episode yourself (a great way to reach a wide audience of writers and other lovers of narrative), please contact us at narrativebreakdown at gmail dot com.
- And if you'd like to buy my book SECOND SIGHT, but not through Amazon, please e-mail me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com. I'd be happy to work out alternate means of payment and delivery with you.
- Happy summer!
There is all kinds of great and exciting stuff happening with diverse children's literature these days! By the time you're reading this, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign should be live on social media, May 1-3 -- follow it on Twitter and Tumblr and please share your own thoughts there. Kudos to the awesome team who put that together!
Closer to home, The Great Greene Heist
by Varian Johnson
-- a modern, middle-school, multicultural Ocean's 11
; a book I edited and am immensely proud of -- is getting a ton of awesome attention from indie booksellers and Varian's fellow authors, who are asking everyone to take the #greatgreenechallenge and help us get a diverse book on the bestseller lists. Kate Messner threw down the initial challenge
; Shannon Hale raised the bar
; and some guy named John Green sweetened the pot further
for bookstores. You can check out all the action at Varian's blog post here
. The book has received wide praise from many authors and a starred review from Kirkus,
and it was named a Publishers Weekly
Best Summer Book of 2014! If you still need more convincing, you can check out this wonderful little prequel
as a taster, or just join the challenge and preorder it now
. (I advise the latter.) Out officially on May 27, 2014.
Equally exciting: Sarwat Chadda
is going to be in New York for the PEN World Voices panel this coming weekend, and appearing at Books of Wonder
and a conversation on writing superheroes
on May 3, and a great panel on sex and violence in children's literature
on May 4. Good stuff!
Finally, I'm going to post this list here for anyone who might still need diverse book recommendations -- a list of books I've edited featuring diverse protagonists. Diversity has been a priority at Arthur A. Levine Books since the imprint was founded, and it's been a particular passion of mine for years, so I'm very proud of both this list and the many great books on our publishing lists to come.Books I've Edited Featuring Diverse Protagonists
- Millicent Min, Girl Genius and Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee (MG; Asian-American)
- Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) by Lisa Yee (chapter book; biracial, Asian-American)
- Eighth-Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (MG: American of Black Jamaican descent)
- If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (YA; Tuscarora Native American)
- The Path of Names by Ari Goelman (MG fantasy; Jewish)
- Marcelo in the Real World, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, and Irises by Francisco X. Stork (YA; Latin@)
- The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (YA nonfiction; Jewish)
- The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman (YA; Chinese)
- Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (YA; Gay)
- Gold Medal Winter by Donna Freitas (MG; Latina)
- The Savage Fortress and The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (MG fantasy; British of Indian descent, Hindu(ish))
- Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (MG; Afghan, Muslim)
- The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers (MG; biracial, of British-Caribbean descent)
- Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano (YA fantasy; Asian-inspired)
- Above by Leah Bobet (YA fantasy; differently abled cast -- which is putting it mildly -- and biracial protagonist of French and Indian descent)
Yay diverse books!
My Lenten calendar yesterday asked me to tell someone what I am grateful for. Why not you, Internet? The list could go on forever, so I will do one thing for each day of Lent. These are not in order of importance, but in order of my random brain.
1. My sweet husband, for whom I still have a serious case of newlywed mentionitis.
2. Plain chocolate McVitie's.
3. The air traffic control system.
4. The students in my NYU class.
5. My mom.
6. My dad.
7. My sister, who is awesome and always makes me laugh, & her husband and son.
8. Pigeons (except the ones nesting in the exterior heating grate of our apartment).
9. My apartment.
10. My best friend, Katy, who has a picture book coming out next month (about which more soon).
11-17. Melissa Anelli, Emily Clement, Donna Freitas, Rachel Griffiths, Mallory Kass, Ted Salk, Jill Santopolo.
18. My aunts, uncles, & cousins.
20. Good picture books in rhyme.
21. Marla Frazee's illustrations.
22. The chance to teach my class, & to teach at various workshops around the country.
23. My authors and illustrators, particularly at the moment Vicky Alvear Shecter, who took me to a Waffle House & an antiquities museum in Atlanta this weekend.
24. The ability to run distances.
25. Good health in general.
26. Pencils & their sharpeners.
28. NPR, particularly WNYC.
29. Park Slope United Methodist.
30. The New Yorker.
31. The miracle that is my iPhone -- a miniature supercomputer in my hand, on which I'm writing this whole post.
32. Fruit & nut chocolate bars.
33. A glass of wine at the end of a day.
34. The song "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)"
35. The work of Jane Austen, Jennifer Crusie, Patrick O'Brian, Dorothy Sayers, J. K. Rowling, Rainbow Rowell, and Hilary McKay.
36-37. The novel Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, who introduced me to it.
38. Hotel breakfast buffets.
39. People who think before they speak and are capable of quiet.
40. Sweet potatoes, roasted, baked, and fried, in fries, tater tots, and sushi.
I like disciplines (cf. my half-marathon training going on now), but I also like where my life is now generally and don't feel a call to give anything up. Thus I'm going to adapt the House for All Sinners and Saints' 2012 Lenten Calendar for my own instead. Sharing my adapted version here (with dates for 2014) in case it interests you too:
March 5: Pray for your enemies
March 6: Buy a few $5 fast food gift cards to give to homeless people you encounter
March 7: Internet diet
March 8: Give $20 to a non-profit of your choosing
March 10: Take 5 minutes of silence at noon
March 11: Look out the window until you find something of beauty you had not noticed before
March 12: Give 5 items of clothing to Goodwill
March 13: No bitching day
March 14: Do someone else’s chore
March 15: Buy a few $5 fast food gift cards to give to homeless people you encounter
March 17: Call an old friend
March 18: Pray the Paper (pray for people and situations in today’s news)
March 19: Read Psalm 139 http://bible.oremus.org
March 20: Pay a few sincere compliments
March 21: Bring your own mug
March 22: Educate yourself about human trafficking www.praxus.org
March 24: Forgive someone
March 25: Internet diet
March 26: No sugar day – where else is there sweetness in your life?
March 27: Check out morning and evening prayer at http://dailyoffice.wordpress.com
March 28: Ask for help
March 29: Tell someone what you are grateful for
March 31: Introduce yourself to a neighbor
April 1: Read Psalm 121 http://bible.oremus.org
April 2: Bake a cake
April 3: No shopping day
April 4: Light a virtual candle http://rejesus.co.uk/spirituality/post_prayer/
April 5: Light an actual candle
April 7: Write a thank you note to your favorite teacher
April 8: No shopping day
April 9: Use Freecycle www.freecycle.org
April 10: Donate art supplies to your local elementary school
April 11: Read John 8:1-11 http://bible.oremus.org
April 12: Worship at a friend’s mosque, synogogue or church and look for the beauty
April 14: Confess a secret
April 15: No sugar day – where else is there sweetness in your life?
April 16: Give $20 to a local non-profit
April 17: Educate yourself about a saint www.catholic.org/saints
April 18: Pray for peace
April 19: Pray for your enemies (you probably have new ones by now) then decide which of these exercises you’ll keep for good
Also known as, "I was tired of seeing the stalker post first on my blog."
- But good news on that front! Melissa was interviewed by both a New Zealand reporter and NPR regarding the situation, and we're hopeful this attention has created some new movement on the case. At the very least, she has appreciated all the support.
- Nice awards news: The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb DID win the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award back in January, as well as the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teens! Yay Neal!
- And just yesterday, Bill Konigsberg's Openly Straight won the SCBWI's Sid Fleischman Award for Humor! As a friend of mine observed, it's terrific to see this book getting recognized for something awesome about it (its sense of humor) that is not the obvious thing that's awesome about it (its thought-provoking take on being a gay teenager in the present time). Or, in the book's own terms, it's great that it's being seen for something beyond its label. Yay Bill!
- (If there are any other kids/YA book awards named for Sidneys, please let me know, as my books seem to be having luck with them at present.)
- The lovely Jill Santopolo -- Philomel executive editor and author of the wonderful new Sparkle Spa chapter-book series -- came on the Narrative Breakdown to talk middle-grade fiction with me recently.
- I will be speaking at the SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle conference in Atlanta at the end of the month, giving my Plot Master Class, a talk on character, and a new talk. You can still register for all of it!
Trigger warnings for stalking, violence, and anti-Semitic language in the post below; also rage. Sorry.
My friend Melissa Anelli is an awesome person, for many, many reasons. She runs the Harry Potter megasite the Leaky Cauldron and its spinoff, LeakyNews. She wrote the definitive guide to the Harry Potter phenomenon, Harry, A History, a wonderful read (in which I am a supporting character) that taught ME new things about Harry Potter. She co-created LeakyCon, an amazing fan convention, with over 4,000 attendees and counting. She hosted my bachelorette party last year and took some of the best pictures of my wedding. She is a great aunt, sister, daughter, and friend, and her warmth, passion, creativity, and energy inspire me every day.
And for the past FIVE AND A HALF years, she has been stalked online and through the mail by a crazy woman in New Zealand, who sends her messages like this:
Someone forgets I pay attention, sweetheart. As I've said a few times before, you're going to have to wait until July for anything further. If NZ does extradite Dotcom, they can do the same to me when and if the Feds ask. Too bad they've had to wait two and a half years, kike bitch.
That is very, very far from the worst of it. Maureen Johnson has more context in her excellent Tumblr post here
. The general theory with regard to stalkers seems to be that you should not acknowledge them directly, because they get off on being acknowledged directly, on that demonstration of their power over you, and if they can't get that recognition, eventually they will go away. That has not worked with this crazy woman, to the extent that Melissa still gets multiple messages a day, frequently violent or sexual in nature. The FBI and New Zealand law enforcement have been involved for years as well, and the woman still
hasn't given up, or been incarcerated for good. Melissa went public with her Tumblr post today to bring attention to the length of time this has been going on, and to ask for help in getting the situation resolved.
I don't hate many people. I hate this woman.
I want her to be stopped. I want her to get help most of all, to be treated and recover from whatever mental illness she has that has fixated her on my friend; but if that's not possible -- and this stalker has checked herself out of treatment centers before -- I want her in jail, away from phones and computers and with no chance of getting out of the country, where she can entertain her twisted thoughts in her own sick mind and nowhere else. But the law hasn't yet caught up with all of the ramifications of our new online worlds and forms of communication, and New Zealand law enforcement seems to think that online stalking isn't as serious and insidious as in-person stalking could be. It is, and it should be prosecuted on an equal basis, so this woman can be put away.
If you are on Tumblr, please reblog Maureen's or Melissa's posts. If you know someone in New Zealand, particularly someone in authority, please pass those posts on to them and say "HEY. Would you do something here already?" If you know someone who is being stalked, point them to the stories on Melissa's Tumblr so they know they aren't the only ones in that situation and they aren't just imagining things, and listen, support, be there for them as much as you can.
And if you are the stalker and you're reading this: You are sick. You know it. I hate you, it's true; but it's possible for you to be forgiven if you end this -- if you say you want help, you get it, and you give this up. You don't have to be so miserable; you don't have to make other people miserable. Please get the help or restraints you need, and stop.
"It's a very baffling act, writing. Flaubert looked at the skies and spent three weeks trying to describe one. I mean, the sky exists anyhow; why should one want to put it down on paper?...It is as if the life lived has not been lived until it is set down in...words." – Edna O’Brien
Anything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough.
The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.
It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.
It is so easy to chatter about the Beautiful. But it takes more genius to say, in proper style, “close the door,” or “he wanted to sleep,” than to give all the literature courses in the world.
Prose is like hair; it shines with combing.
Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.
The author, in his work, must be like God in the Universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.
Style is as much under the words as in the words. It is as much the soul as it is the flesh of a work.
One mustn't always believe that feeling is everything. In the arts, it is nothing without form.
Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.
Exuberance is better than taste.
The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.
Success is a consequence and must not be a goal.
Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in.
The better a work is, the more it attracts criticism; it is like the fleas who rush to jump on white linens.
Judge the goodness of a book by the energy of the punches it has given you. I believe the greatest characteristic of genius, is, above all, force.
There is no truth. There is only perception.
Of all lies, art is the least untrue.
To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.
[The CCBC-Net listserv is currently debating the state of multiculturalism/diversity in children's and YA books in 2014. I'm posting this e-mail I sent to the listserv about a year ago here for reference in this discussion. I also encourage readers to check out the great posts at the CBC Diversity Tumblr, particularly the recent Industry Q&A with Donna Bray.]
February 16, 2013
I am a co-founding former member of the CBC Diversity Committee, and an editor at a large publishing house here in New York; and as such, I’d like to write and correct some misconceptions both about the committee and about publishing diverse books in general. (I am a former member of the committee because I chose to rotate off of it at the end of 2012 to let fresh voices come on; I do not speak for CBC Diversity officially here, but I support it 100%. And while I’m doing disclaimers, I’m not speaking for my company here either; these are strictly my views as an editor who has long published diverse books and authors and thus has been thinking and talking about these issues for years.)
The CBC Diversity Committee was originally founded by a small group of editors after conversations at a writers’ conference in, I believe, early 2009. We were all passionate about publishing books by and about people of varying races, ethnicities, religions, and sexualities, and we all had a number of these books already on our lists; and for a couple years, we met to discuss many of the issues that have been raised in this CCBC-Net discussion. However, we were also all editors, with time-consuming responsibilities to our beloved authors and illustrators and publishing houses, and it was difficult for us to get much momentum going as a group. In 2011, one of our members met with someone from the CBC, which had been thinking about diversity as well, and the CBC invited our group to become an official committee working on these questions.
In the year or so since, with the organizational support of the CBC and the truly wonderful people there, we’ve started a blog to foster discussions of the many facets of publishing diverse books and raise awareness of these books among the public; hosted an event for agents to introduce them to editors interested in publishing diverse books (beyond the committee members), a panel on creating covers and the awareness panel at ALA (which was not sponsored by ALA), and private discussions for publishers; launched a “Diversity 101” series on the blog to help educate children’s book professionals and general readers about the basics of various kinds of diversity (check out Cris Beam’s terrific post on transgenderism: http://www.cbcdiversity.com/2013/02/diversity-101-transgender-perspective.html); and reached out to high schools and Career Days around New York City to try to educate a more diverse population of students about the career opportunities available in publishing. We also created booklists featuring diverse authors and topics on our website; the books suggested come directly from CBC member publishers, so if the publisher of a particular book hasn’t included it on the list it sent along, then it’s not included on the CBC list.
Contrary to an earlier assertion, the committee does not think of itself as the one and only ”place to go” for books with diverse characters; but it is doing its best, with entirely volunteer efforts, to highlight those books and issues and get them more widely known. And very little of this industry action was happening before the committee existed! So the CBC Diversity Committee is on the side of everyone fighting to create more authentic and diverse books, and I am puzzled and grieved by commenters here who are treating the committee as if it’s the enemy, simply because it has not 100% matched their ideological standards of publishing purity, or solved all of the complexities of publishing diverse books.
And there are complexities! I could write an essay on each of these topics, but briefly:
The pipeline issue: We editors don’t see enormous numbers of manuscripts from writers of color, certainly not in percentages proportionate to the population, and we can’t publish manuscripts that don’t come to us.
The suitability issue: It’s a publishing fact of life that we must turn down 97% (guesstimate) of the manuscripts we see from writers of ANY race or ethnic background, because we can only take on so many books, and because many titles simply aren’t unique enough for publication, or right for our house or a particular editor’s list (as every editor has a slightly different definition of “good,” just as every reader does).
The staffing issue: It’s true that publishing houses and publishing staffs are overwhelmingly Caucasian in complexion — which is again partly a pipeline issue, as we see far more white applicants for jobs than we do people of color. (Which in turn ties into many larger socioeconomic factors: Publishing does not pay a great deal compared to being a lawyer or doctor or financier, say, so those industries siphon off a lot of prospective talent.) That’s one of the things the CBC Diversity Committee is designed to address, with our outreach to colleges and Career Days.
-- How CCBC-Net Readers Can Help --: If you know a smart young reader of color, particularly one in high school or college, tell them how books are made! Tell them it takes not just authors, but editors and publicity staff and salespeople, and they can be one of them. Take them to ALA or BEA so they can see these people in action. Tell them internships are available. Tell them about my blog post here about how to get into publishing: http://chavelaque.blogspot.com/2006/08/faq-2-how-do-i-become-book-editor.html, the blog posts linked at the bottom, and the “How I Got Into Publishing” Posts on the CBC Diversity blog. If there’s more awareness of these jobs among people of color, hopefully more of them will get into the industry.
The editorial issue: All editorial relationships require careful conversation, honesty, and sensitivity on both sides. When an editor is working cross-culturally, that necessitates an added layer of sensitivity, humility, and listening regarding these cultural issues, which might then require balance with the narrative and aesthetic needs of the book. This is another thing the CBC Diversity Committee is designed to do, is to help make editors aware of cultural sensitivities and mentor them in working cross-culturally.
Authors have responsibilities here too: to speak up for what’s important to them in the text; to do as much research and reading and listening and vetting as possible if they’re writing cross-culturally; to educate editors, sometimes, as a book’s editor will usually not be able to go into as much depth on a topic as the author will, simply because the editor has to monitor a large number of books and authors. Every editor-author relationship is different; every book is different. But contrary to the impression prior commenters here might have made, it is totally possible for an editor and an author with different ethnic backgrounds to publish books successfully and happily on both sides. (You can ask Francisco X. Stork and Lisa Yee on my own list, or Rita Williams-Garcia, Sherman Alexie, Kadir Nelson, Jacqueline Woodson, Joe Cepeda, Allen Say, Yuyi Morales . . .)
The sales issue: In thinking about the diversity question a few years back, I reviewed a decade of Publishers Weekly end-of-year sales roundups (the top 100 titles sold each year), and if you took out award winners and Dora the Explorer, there were very, very few faces of color on those lists. (The PW Top 100 numbers are not a very good measure, granted, but it was the best I could do in trying to consider sales across all houses, as sales figures are proprietary information.) Bestseller lists are not the be-all and end-all of publishing; we know full well that not every book can become a bestseller. But it is a Publishing Law that strong sales of one title encourage publishers and booksellers to take on similar titles.
-- How CCBC-Net Readers Can Help --: BUY BOOKS BY AND ABOUT PEOPLE OF COLOR. Oh my goodness, I can’t say this enough. Buy them, and then put them out on displays year-round, and handsell them to your customers, even those who are resistant. (Bonus points if the book features a person of color on the cover.) Show a strong pattern of support for these authors and books, even make a bestseller here, and that will change publishing more than all of our talk can.
And all of this plays into the marketing issue — how publishers and book creators reach “mirror” audiences (to use Rudine Simms Bishop’s excellent phrase; please read http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/multicultural/mirrors-windows-and-sliding-glass-doors.htm if you’re unfamiliar with it); how we communicate with window audiences; how we can maximize our resources to maximize sales for the book. We talked about this a lot at the CBC Diversity Committee when I was on it, and we publishers are always trying to do better at it. No publisher WANTS to see any of its books fail — we all want to keep our jobs, for one thing! And those jobs are predicated on the success of our business and our books.
-- How CCBC-Net Readers Can Help --: Do indeed look for books by and about people of color in catalogs and at conferences and bookstores; and then TALK ABOUT THEM — not just in the “I could only find X number of authors” way (though it’s important to make those figures known), but in the “Look at these X number of awesome books I found at ALA and I’m so excited to read the ARCs!” way. Name those titles! Blog about them! Invite the author to speak or to Skype with your class! Retweet links about them! Bring them up here at CCBC-Net -- right now, in fact: If everyone on the list wrote in with their favorite Latino picture book of the last few years, it would increase awareness of those titles tenfold. (Here's mine, with an editorial bias alert: Welcome to My Neighborhood: A Barrio ABC, by Quiara Alegria Hudes, illustrated by Shino Arihara. Runner up: Tia Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina, illustrated by Claudio Munoz.)
E-mail publishers to say you're glad to see them taking on diverse books and you’d like to see more. E-mail your local public library to encourage him or her to buy the book, and your kid’s teacher or school librarian (if you’re lucky) or school district to make them aware that it’s a title you’d love to see read more widely. I LOVE the idea raised here earlier about getting even a fraction of Chicago schools to buy a book — let’s figure out a way to make that happen! Positive reinforcement tends to be much more effective than shaming, with children and with children’s publishers.
And if you have ideas about where and how we publishers should be finding diverse authors, or marketing and promoting these diverse books in a way that we aren’t already — please, share that here! Our resources go only so far, but if there’s an opportunity we’re missing and a market we can grab, we’d love to know about it.
Books break through with support from not just publishing houses but readers – librarians, booksellers, book buyers, book bloggers. To say this louder: READERS MAKE BOOKS “HAPPEN,” not publishers. Every publisher can cite an incident in which they threw their entire marketing weight behind a book and it disappeared – and then that one book that nobody expected to break through at acquisition or even publication, that took off like a shot once that one librarian on a committee raved about it, or that one blogger, or just one kid talking to another kid talking to another on the playground. When publishers DO make books succeed, it’s most often because we people who work at publishing houses are readers too, and WE talk passionately about a book and get other people to read it. But the power is in readers’ hands foremost.
I’m sorry to have written at such length, and to have made authors and books of color an “issue” here when so many of the books are just great books in and of themselves. But I wanted to raise some of the practical complexities we editors face on the ground in trying to publish more diverse books — complexities that are real facts in our lives, and that I haven’t often seen raised in the discussion so far here or elsewhere. Editors and publishers and the CBC Diversity Committee are operating with limited resources, just like authors and librarians and everyone else on this list, but like you, we also work with the very best of intentions and hopes for creating great books for all readers. Thanks to all of you who support these books in whatever way you can.
With best wishes,
For Christmas in 2007, about a year and a half after we met, I gave James this Lonely Planet guide to India, which we both very much wanted to visit. The book was an investment and a promise, a pledge and a challenge. But through the next five years, as other journeys and interests took up our lives, it sat on a shelf, quietly waiting.
Then it came time to plan our honeymoon, and there was never any doubt where we were going.
A screen at the Qutb Minar complex in south Delhi
James did nearly all of the planning here, and deserves all of the credit. We started in Delhi, in the "Mughal North" -- so called because many of the ancient buildings were built by the Mughal emperors . . .
. . . including this one, built by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz, near Agra (where we went next). Twenty-two thousand people labored for twenty-one years on the Taj. Shah Jahan intended to build a black mausoleum that was otherwise identical to the Taj Mahal across the river from it, but his son Aurangzeb felt that he was spending too much time and money on buildings, so he imprisoned his father until his death here . . .
. . . in the Agra Fort, in an apartment with a view of the Taj. We learned incredible history like this over and over again in India -- of Akbar, Shah Jahan's grandfather, who established tolerance between Muslims and Hindus (before Aurangzeb threw it away), and the process of Independence and Partition, so very human and complicated -- and it made me angry with my world history classes in school, because why were we so big on Europeans when Indian history was just as awesome? Why didn't we learn about this too?
These forts are astonishing structures -- huge castles that outdo any European fortresses I know of in scale and impact. The Agra Fort here was specially designed to withstand attack by an enemy who would be riding elephants, including a sloped, walled entranceway where defenders could pour boiling oil on invaders, and then roll boulders down the ramp if the oil didn't work.
From Agra, we went to Jaipur, stopping along the way at the Chand Baori stepwell, which movie-loving readers might recognize from The Dark Knight Rises.
We splurged on the services of several drivers for most of our time in India -- a true luxury, as we didn't have to worry about catching trains or hauling baggage. (On the other hand, we often felt a little isolated from daily life, and Indian highways are the closest thing to a living game of Super Mario Kart I ever hope to experience in real life.) Nearly all of the trucks were painted with wonderful colors and designs.
I asked one of our drivers why they were so decorated, and he said basically, "Why not?" -- and indeed, our solid American trucks and buses feel very boring and impersonal by comparison.
Outside Jaipur, we visited the Amber and Jaigarh Forts, finding our way from one to the other through an open tunnel with monkeys watching us from overhead. (I told James, "This is what a honeymoon should be! Adventure plus monkeys!") In the city, we marveled at the decoration of the City Palace, including these peacocks.
We spent a lovely night at the Deogarh Mahal
-- a former maharaja's palace, now converted into a luxury hotel straight out of a fantasy novel. We scrambled over the flat roofs taking pictures, saw a Rajasthani dance performance in the courtyard here, and walked the narrow, twisting streets outside, purchasing a number of shawls from a kind shopkeeper who promised to feed us dinner the next time we came to town.
One of our most unexpected and delightful excursions was a two-hour train ride through the Rajasthani mountains, which our driver arranged for us. A little wizened man with a kettle poured us tiny disposable cups of chai (hot, delicious, sweet Indian spiced milk tea that I could happily drink at every meal for the rest of my life), for the grand price of ten rupee each (about twenty cents).
More monkeys at a train stop. I never got tired of seeing them.
From there, we went to Udaipur, the "Venice of the East" for its location on the banks of Lake Pichola. (The Lake Palace Hotel here appeared in the film Octopussy
, which played every night at half the restaurants in town.) This was likely our favorite city in India, as we loved the winding streets and views of the lake, and a wonderful vegan restaurant called Millets of Mewar
, where we went for breakfast, lunch, and
dinner over the three days we were in town.
In the city garden, this group of tourists stopped James and me and asked us to pose for pictures with them. This happened over and over again in India, pretty much everywhere we went, and especially with groups of schoolchildren or teenagers. (It is weird to think how many people's vacation photos I appear in.) I asked these ladies if I could take a picture of them minus me, because I was madly jealous of all the gorgeous saris, shalwar kameezes, tunics, and other clothes I saw on women throughout the country, but I rarely had the opportunity to take photos of said clothing with permission. As with the trucks, the brightness puts our Western neutrals to shame.
From Udaipur, we flew to Mumbai, which I also really liked.... While we did not see a great deal of the enormous city, what we did see felt like New York to me, crowded and cosmopolitan, a mix of old architecture and new structures, tradition and the cutting edge, and as everywhere in India, the enormous contrast between rich and poor. This is the city's laundry center, where (according to our tour guide, whose hand you can see here) nearly all the laundry that is sent out for washing is still hand-scrubbed, hung, and ironed. Note the skyscrapers standing just beyond.
The ironies of this contrast are further explored in Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
, a nonfiction book I read on the trip, which I cannot recommend highly enough as a portrait of a community, an exploration of the causes and effects of poverty, and an extraordinary work of reportage and writing. It is set in a slum near the Mumbai airport in 2008, and I found myself constantly thinking of the people in the book while we were in the city -- wishing almost that I might run into them and find out what happened next in their lives.
The other book about India I would recommend enormously, both as historical context and just as a wonderful read, is Indian Summer
: The Secret History of the End of an Empire
, by Alex von Tunzelmann. It traces the causes of the British withdrawal, the thrill of Independence, and the disaster of Partition through five fascinating figures: Dickie Mountbatten, the British envoy; his wife Edwina, who was arguably more competent; Jawaharlal Nehru, who had an intense affair with Edwina in the midst of becoming India's first prime minister; Mohandas Gandhi, who comes off terribly
; and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. I kept leaning over to James to tell him fascinating facts I was learning -- such as the fact that Pakistan is a made-up name, as before Partition, there were no people called "Pakis." Rather, it was an acronym for the northwestern, mostly Muslim regions of India selected for the country: Punjab, Afghania Province, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan. Illuminating, no? And it reminded me how much the history we take as settled fact is in fact made of people's choices, like the ones our leaders decide every day...
After our tour of Mumbai, we went to see a delightfully ridiculous Bollywood film called Dhoom 3,
which was Moulin Rouge
meets The Prestige
via Bad Boys.
We couldn't understand any of the Hindi dialogue, but this mostly wasn't a problem. (Sample dialogue for the Americans: EVIL BANKER: "Who's robbing my bank?" BLONDE FEMALE COP: "It's a thief, sir.")
This was taken at Elephanta Island -- a historic site about six miles off the coast of Mumbai (with no elephants, for the record) -- and the litter was unfortunately very typical of everywhere we went in India. . . .
But then, so was the wonder I felt on seeing this, also on Elephanta -- a relief sculpture of the god Shiva, deep in a cave, radiating peace, and carved in the sixth century A.D. -- easily one of the oldest, most awe-inspiring places I've ever been. If we ever return to India, as we hope to do someday, I want to visit more sculpture caves like this.
Always good advice.
From Mumbai, we flew to Kerala, the state at the southwestern tip of the subcontinent known as "God's Own Country" -- and if you told me the Garden of Eden was located there, I would believe you. We stayed for three nights at a cardamom plantation in the mountains near Thekkady.
One day we took a three-hour nature trek through the Periyar Nature Reserve, where we saw this mama and baby elephant feeding in the wild. We also saw an awesome demonstration of kalaripayattu
, which thrilled me especially, as it's the martial art that Ash Mistry learns in The Savage Fortress
and The City of Death.
Then we descended to the coast, where we spent a delicious night on a houseboat in the backwaters. I got up at six a.m. and watched the sun rise from our deck, along with thousands of talkative waterbirds.
On our last leg of the trip, we went to Mysore, where we visited the palace and zoo, and stayed in another palace, the Lalitha Mahal
Yeah, I could eat breakfast here every morning.
And our last activity of the journey was visiting a friend's digital animation company in Bangalore -- on the nineteenth floor of an anonymous office building, the lights off and the windows covered in shades, three hundred animators at rows of flatscreen computers carefully sculpting a nose here, a gesture there. That, too, is India.
As a honeymoon, it was not the easiest: I have never been on a trip that thrust my extreme privilege as a white American, and how easy I do
have it, and how intractable the world's problems are, so much in my face over and over again. I keep turning those issues over back in my New York bubble -- where we have so little history, comparatively; where I can drink the water -- and I am not sure where to start. But as a personal experience, I learned so much, and did so much, and rested and read so much, and saw so much, so that I felt sometimes like nothing but a pair of eyes -- and ate so much, as oh my goodness, the food
, the FOOD -- we have no sense of how to cook vegetables here, really, and I could also happily eat Indian food (especially Southern) at every meal for the rest of my life. And I haven't mentioned the tea plantations or the security, the cement advertisements or the languages, the milk scammers in Mumbai or James's obsession with Shantaram
, the ways in which their environmental adaptations are ahead of ours, our wonderful friends in Delhi or the boat ride in Udaipur or praying in a temple and all the other monkeys we saw . . .
It was everything I hoped it would be -- a wonderful, challenging trip that stretched my mind in the best ways. And I am so very grateful for it, and for the husband who planned it; and everything goes on.
I'm pleased to report that The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi, by Neal Bascomb, is one of five finalists for YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award!
The development of this book can be directly traced back to an SCBWI conference I attended -- Whispering Pines 2011 in Rhode Island (which was an excellent conference all around). During an off hour, I wandered into the conference center's library, and someone had left a copy of an adult book called Hunting Eichmann
I started skimming the book and immediately grew intrigued:
I'd been thinking about how much I loved the narrative nonfiction in The New Yorker
and how interesting and fun it would be to publish for a younger audience, and the hunt for Adolf Eichmann combined history, mystery, spywork, and Nazis in one terrific, suspenseful, high-stakes story. When I got back to New York, I reached out to Neal, proposing a YA edition of Hunting Eichmann
. We embarked on a very enjoyable collaboration where we both learned a lot (me about photo research, especially -- a topic worthy of a whole blog post all its own), and the resulting book, with a awesome foiled cover by Phil Falco, came out in September. You can read the opening pages here
While I'm posting: I'm also pleased to announce I've ordered a third printing of Second Sight
, which should be available for sale in early January. (The book is out of stock until then.) Thanks to all of you who've supported it thus far!
Finally, a quick look back at all of my 2013 books, with plenty of time left to order for Christmas (hint hint):
- The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman: Pride & Prejudice in 1923 Chinatown!
- The Path of Names by Ari Goelman: Math, mysteries, mazes, magic, & even murder at a summer camp! This was named to Booklist's rolls of both Top Ten First Novels and Top Ten Religious & Spirituality Novels for Youth.
- Zoe's Room (No Sisters Allowed) by Bethanie Deeney Murguia: Two sisters. One room. Stuff just got real.
- Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg: A gay book for the "Glee" generation, about being out, being proud, and being ready for something else.
- If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth: A "brohemian rhapsody" (Eric's phrase) about a Tuscarora Native American boy and a white Air Force kid discovering their shared love of rock music, and the complications that ensue.
- The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb: Hey, did you hear it was nominated for YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award?
- The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (sequel to his excellent The Savage Fortress): Ash Mistry, weapon of the goddess Kali, goes to Kolkata, and the city will never be the same.
And I'm excited about all the equally great things on the docket for the new year. This will probably be my last post for 2013, as I'm leaving for my belated honeymoon (in India, in fact!) on Saturday . . . so I wish you all the very best for the holidays, and a happy new beginning to 2014!
My phone said the temperature was 35 degrees as I was preparing for my run in Prospect Park yesterday, so I dressed in my usual cold-weather running gear: my thickest running socks, tights, a camisole, a running top that zipped up my neck, a windbreaker, a hat and gloves. About twenty-five minutes into the run, as I was cruising steadily down the lower drive with Beyonce lilting in my ears, a guy ran past me going the other direction, wearing only a stocking cap, a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, and shorts. He had the wiry physique and spindly calves of someone who runs every day, who probably did the New York marathon a few weeks ago and will run it again next year (one of my fondest ambitions), and I thought Wow, that guy's a real runner.
And then I thought: Dammit, I'm out here running in 35 degree weather too. Am I imaginary? No! I'm a real runner as well!
And this got me thinking about the way we use the word "real" to connote -- what? Physical existence? Identity? Membership in a group? People talk a lot about whether or not they're "real" writers if they haven't been published, or if they don't do it every day, or if they're not writing a specific thing (books = good, blog posts = your existence is doubtful). Fandoms are riven by arguments about whether you can be a "real" fan if you haven't read all the back issues, if you only got into it after the movie, even (noxiously) if you are female. When I saw that guy in the park, I doubted my worth as a runner because I don't have the physical ability to run in shorts at 35 degrees without getting frostbite -- meaning, really, I haven't put in the time to gain that muscle tone and metabolism. But my legs pumping in their tights, my heart pounding in my chest, my hand clutching my water bottle were all as present and powerful as that young man dashing by; and I resolved then and there that I will stop dissing myself about this in future and give myself credit -- that my effort, at the least, was real and deserved respect.
Of course, since I live in children's books, I also thought of this:
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
I don't think Reality in terms of activities can or should be conferred by someone else: It's something you claim for yourself, and you become Real partly by claiming it. But I do find the ideas of love, effort, and endurance useful here: that while your activity or fandom is not always easy, and may in fact be quite messy or hurtful, you stay with it because you love it, because it does something good for you or the world or brings something good out of you for the world. And in the end, that love and patience, along with doing the work, are what make you Real.
(I should add that I don't think what I'm saying holds entirely true for racial/ethnic/sexuality group identities, which have complexities and histories, and costs and benefits, far beyond mere participation in an activity or fandom. Nor is it true for anything that requires a specific accomplishment.... No matter how much I may love cheering at marathons, I can't say I'm a Real marathoner, because I haven't done one! But for activities and fandoms, this is my new standard for Real.)
And if you have all of those qualifications, and then some people tell you you aren't
a Real __________, then they
are the actual frauds; because part of love is generosity, the desire to see this good thing grow, and they don't have enough love in them to be a Real ________ themselves. Ignore them and go on.
By this measure, I am a Real runner, knitter, cook, yogi, writer, and editor. I do remain objectively not very good at the running, knitting, and yoga. But there is something about merely being Real that makes me feel better connected and more committed to my chosen activities--that I know I belong to them and they to me, that no one can take my Realness away from me. As Beyonce gave way to Bonnie Tyler and the sun set over the lake, the wind died down. My speed picked up. I felt again the exhilaration I discovered years ago, that I can
run, that I am
a runner, that this is a superpower I carry in my own two feet. And I ran out of the park, as Real as I wanted to be.
I'm pleased to announce that registration is now open for "Book Manuscript Editing Workshop: Editing Children's and YA Novels," the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies course I'll be teaching next spring. (This is an in-person course, not online.) You can find the listing here.
The course description seems to have gotten a bit smushed in the system, so here it is in full:
I'm finalizing the syllabus now and just having a heck of a great time thinking about all the things I want the students to read and do. I am going to have everyone read Second Sight, which, on the one hand, I feel vaguely abashed about -- isn't that the classic egotistical-professor move, making everyone read your book? On the other -- well, most of the grand principles of my editorial philosophy and knowledge are right there,
Calibrating a characterization. Structuring a plot. Developing a theme. Polishing the prose. And bringing all of these elements into perfect balance to help a book become what it should be. In this six-week course, we’ll learn how to practice these editorial skills, with special attention to the particular requirements of the child and young-adult audiences, and discuss how to create the right public image for a book through its flap copy, cover image, and editorial presentations.
so if we can cover those theories in the reading, we can get down to the practicalities in class. And the practicalities and particularities of an individual manuscript are where the fun is, always.
So, a couple of months ago, I started a Tumblr. I did it mostly because I see neat things on Tumblr and I wanted a place to keep them -- hence the lack of announcement here, because it felt sort of private. But I also like reblogging and commenting on them, which makes me public, which means I might as well make it official! Voila:
It's the Brooklyn Arden Companionway ("a stairway on a ship that connects one deck to another," per Merriam-Webster) because I think of it as a companion and waystation to this blog much more than as my new deck. (I like longform writing too much and I have too much history here to commit to such a visual and new platform. Blogger Forever!*)
* This seems like a dangerous declaration in tech terms....
While I am talking Tumblr, you should also check out:
- Trent Reedy, author of the forthcoming kickass DIVIDED WE FALL
- Penbitten, by my dear friend and HP fan extraordinaire Melissa Anelli
- Scattershotsilly, by a wonderful former AALB intern
- Super_Christina, by Christina McTighe, another wonderful ex-intern (and now an awesome librarian-in-training)
- The excellent-in-all-media Cleolinda Jones.
I'm proud to have edited three great novels that span ALL OF TIME in the Scholastic Spring Librarian Preview, which you can see here:
- The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson, at 6:48 in the middle-grade section: A contemporary Ocean's 11 set in a middle school, with a sweet romance, a sharp sense of humor, and a wonderful diverse cast.
- Divided We Fall, by Trent Reedy, at 5:54 in the YA presentation: In this novel set in the not-too-distant future, Danny Wright finds himself caught between his state and his country, his governor and his president -- and soon enough, in a second American civil war.
- Curses and Smoke, by Vicky Alvear Shecter, at 6:54 in YA: In 79 AD, a rich girl and a rebellious slave fall in love in the shadows of Pompeii.
If you're a book blogger, a teacher, or a librarian, please look out for galleys of all of these at upcoming conferences or on NetGalley. Thanks!
Let us sing a sad goodbye
To my beloved shoes!
Bought at Brown's in the year four,
In them I loved to cruise
'cross Spanish ramblas, Oxford stones,
And every Brooklyn block,
As secure as a iron safe,
As steady as a clock.
Let us sing a sad goodbye
To my dark chocolate loafers:
An elegy for voice and lyre
And drum and flute and shofars.
How they've borne me, how we rambled!
Oh, the stories we could tell!
How they always felt like heaven
While I wore them all to hell.
Let us sing a sad goodbye
To Danskos, old and proud:
Their cracking toe box, shaved-down heel,
And leather worn to shroud.
I know that we shall meet again
In that great shoe store in the sky,
And I bless you for your service:
Good friends, good shoes; good-bye.
Reading and Writing
- "The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.” — Junot Diaz
- "If I am a prolific writer and turn my hand, with what seems to some as indecent haste, from novels to screenplays to stage and radio plays, it is because there is so much to be said, so few of us to say it, and time runs out." — Fay Weldon
- "It makes me unhappy when certain things change or things are superceded... my nine year old daughter's personality... Card catalogues... Jiffy Pop right now feels imperiled... I want to stop time and get things down on paper before they've flown off like a flock of starlings." — Nicholson Baker
- “One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” — Carl Sagan
- "The main effort of arranging your life should be to progressively reduce the amount of time required to decently maintain yourself so that you can have all the time you want for reading." — Norman Rush
- “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” — Confucius
- “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” -- Flannery O'Connor
- “Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time.... The wait is simply too long.” — Leonard Bernstein
- “To fully understand a grand and beautiful thought requires, perhaps, as much time as to conceive it." — Joseph Joubert
- “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.” — Annie Dillard
- “To many people artists seem / undisciplined and lawless. / Such laziness, with such great gifts, / seems little short of crime. / One mystery is how they make / the things they make so flawless; / another, what they're doing with / their energy and time.” — Piet Hein
- "Take the time to write. You can do your life's work in half an hour a day." — Robert Hass
- “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” — Jack London
- “A man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of life getting his living.” — Henry David Thoreau
- “I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult." — E. B. White
- “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.” — Steve Jobs
- "Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful, lest you let others spend it for you." — Carl Sandburg
- “Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time. — Viktor Frankl
- “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” — Auguste Rodin
- “It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.” — Jerome K. Jerome
- “Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.” — Thomas Szasz
- “We are weighed down, every moment, by the conception and the sensation of Time. And there are but two means of escaping and forgetting this nightmare: pleasure and work. Pleasure consumes us. Work strengthens us. Let us choose.” — Charles Baudelaire
- “We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” — Paul Bowles
- “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” — W.E.B. Du Bois
- “Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
- “Our perception that we have ‘no time’ is one of the distinctive marks of modern Western culture." — Margaret Visser
- “I wish I could have known earlier that you have all the time you'll need right up to the day you die.” — William Wiley
- “Here lies, extinguished in his prime, / a victim of modernity: / but yesterday he hadn't time— / and now he has eternity.” — Piet Hein
- "To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time." — Leonard Bernstein
- “All of us have moments in our childhood where we come alive for the first time. And we go back to those moments and think, This is when I became myself.” — Rita Dove
- “You don't have to specialize — do everything that you love and then, at some time, the future will come together for you in some form.” — Francis Ford Coppola
- “There comes a time in a man's life when to get where he has to — if there are no doors or windows — he walks through a wall.” — Bernard Malamud
- “In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” — Albert Schweitzer
- "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." — Hector Berlioz
- “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer
- “If you're behind the times, they won't notice you. If you're right in tune with them, you're no better than they are, so they won't care much for you. Be just a little ahead of them.” — Shel Silverstein
- “Time heals old wounds only because there are new wounds to attend to.” — Yahia Lababdidi
- “A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain.” — Samuel Johnson
- “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.” — Abigail Van Buren
- “Being rich is having money; being wealthy is having time.” — Stephen Swid
- “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time. And that's sufficient.” — Rose King
As longtime readers of the blog may know, I attend a lovely, lovely church here in Brooklyn, where every Sunday, "we, the people of Park Slope United Methodist Church -- black and white, straight and gay, old and young, rich and poor -- unite in a loving community with God and the Creation. Summoned by our faith in Jesus Christ, we commit ourselves to the humanization of urban life, and to physical and spiritual growth" (our creed). People in the church do all kinds of great stuff -- we have a soup kitchen, and small groups, and work in the Reconciling movement -- and I find it a wonderfully steady source of comfort, community, service, challenge, and inspiration.
Now one of our biggest fundraisers of the year is coming up: our Hollyberry Craft Fair and silent auction. If you are in New York, you should totally come out and see the craft fair, which attracts great vendors from across the tristate area: Saturday, November 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Camp Friendship, just below 6th Avenue and 8th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
But even if you are NOT in Brooklyn, you have the opportunity to support the church through our silent auction. I am again donating an hour of editorial services here, in whatever form is useful to the winning writer. The listing runs:
Professional book editor will help you with developmental editing, line-editing, copyediting, proofreading, copywriting, query letter or publishing advice -- whatever you and your project require!* Minimum bid $40.
And we are opening this up to the wider public through e-mail bidding. If you'd like to participate in the auction, please send an e-mail to hollyberry[dot]psumc[at]gmail[dot]com
with your bid and contact information. Someone will get back to you with information on the current bid level. The auction starts now and will run through the end of the Hollyberry Fair itself on November 16. Thank you for your interest, and your support of the church.
__________________* (To anticipate a question I get often with things like this: I consider this more my opportunity to help the church and help one individual writer than it is an opportunity for a writer to submit to me. In practice, if I like the project I'm seeing, I might ask to see more of it; but it's better for bidders to think of it as an opportunity to get editorial feedback, a la a critique, than as a manuscript submission, as that's not what this is meant to be.)
I'm teaching a webinar next week through Writers' Digest University. It's called "Creating Characters Agents Love and Editors Publish." Here's the pitch:
Readers may buy novels for their storylines—the facts that they can learn from the flap copy or an Internet blurb. But readers love books for their characters, because compelling characters bring feeling and meaning to what would otherwise be a mere list of events (also known as the plot). And if you’re trying to hook an agent or editor, nothing will make your opening chapters stand out more than truly distinctive characters: fictional people, whom you have made real, who compel that agent or editor to want to find out what happens next.
In this live webinar, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic executive editor Cheryl Klein will teach you multiple strategies for getting readers interested and invested in your characters. She’ll draw on examples from popular middle-grade and YA novels to show you how successful authors work their magic, and provide a solid, actionable list of techniques that can be applied singly or in combination to strengthen your characterizations, from your protagonist and villain down to your supporting cast. By the end of the webinar, you’ll be well equipped to create characters who make agents and editors want to read more of your work, and eventually keep all readers turning the pages.
Full disclosure: This is an adaptation of a talk I've given at SCBWI-Hawaii and Hollins University, and some of the material in it is rooted in material from Second Sight and my Plot Master Class, though more of it is new or expressed newly. I actually keep this list of techniques written on a Post-It on my bulletin board at work, and when I feel like a character who should be interesting me isn't, I'll lean over and look through them: New? Yes! Kind. No. Rather, whiny--oy. Etc.
The webinar will be delivered live on November 14, and available for purchase/replay later. If you're interested, please click over to the Writers' Digest University website here and check it out. And thank you!
We sang this today in church, and I very much liked the simplicity of both its theology and expression. The words are by Isaac Watts, from Divine and Moral Songs for Children
, 1713; a "one-man quartet" version is here
I sing the mighty power of God,
that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God’s command,
and all the stars obey.
I sing the goodness of the Lord,
who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word,
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed,
where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread,
or gaze upon the sky.
There’s not a plant or flower below,
but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be,
Thou, God art present there.
Recognize the caricatures?
Hey! There are two great new episodes of "The Narrative Breakdown" posted to our website. In episode 25
, we springboard off listener questions to discuss the subtleties of dialogue tags (namely that they should
be subtle), whether traditional publishers will consider self-published books, and how to start to figure out an overall revision strategy for your novel. In episode 26
, Matt Bird of the Cockeyed Caravan
returns to discuss character flaws -- their nature, necessity, and narrative use. Please check them out, subscribe in iTunes, write reviews, all kind things.
I'm also excited to announce that next spring, I'll be teaching a class through the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies: "Book Editing Manuscript Workshop: Editing Children's and YA Novels." The six-session course will run on Thursday nights from mid-February to the end of March, and cover multiple techniques and strategies for analyzing a novel for the children's or YA market, articulating its strengths and weaknesses, and communicating those to the author via letters and line-edits. It's open to anyone who wants to improve their editing skills, but is especially recommended for agents or aspiring editors just at the start of their careers. (And if you're interested in the course and you have questions you'd like to see it answer or specific things you'd like to learn, feel free to leave those in the comments -- I always find such spurs useful in shaping a course.) Class registration will open in mid-November. Thanks very much for your interest!
(and spoiler space)
(and spoiler space)
(and spoiler space)
If a female scientist is intelligent and tough enough to qualify to spend months on a mission with NASA, she should not need a male scientist to tell her EVERY SINGLE THING SHE HAS TO DO.
Including HOW TO BREATHE.
To the extent that she GIVES UP and SETTLES DOWN TO DIE until he COMES BACK FROM THE DEAD to tell her this one piece of information that she needs to get back to the earth.
Seriously. He COMES BACK FROM THE DEAD with this info, because DEAD MEN apparently have more knowledge and common sense than living women, even living scientist women. And Ryan Stone, Sandra Bullock's character, is so EMOTIONAL and FEARFUL and in need of a MAN to direct her that she would never survive without Mental Ghost Matt Kowalski.
Or maybe Manic Pixie Dream Astronaut Matt Kowalski, as he's the quirky (country music!), grounded, life-loving dude who awakens Ryan's desire to live again. But that again highlights what a void Ryan is herself, how little we know of her besides her role as a grieving mother . . . and of course the movie makes her a mother, one of the most safe and unthreatening things a woman can be, and lets that role take precedence over whatever knowledge and intelligence she should have as a scientist. When she makes it back to earth, it's not thanks to any such knowledge and skill (she flunked the flight simulator, as she reminds us repeatedly), but all down to a manual and dumb luck, it seemed to me. This feels like an almost systematic diminution of any power the character could claim, and reader, it made me ANGRY.
My rational, analytic, critical mind knows all the caveats and other interpretations on this. There is the character history angle: It's her first time in space, while he's the jokey veteran; of course he knows better what to do. There is the character investment/plot angle: If she knew exactly what to do the whole time, we wouldn't fear for her as much as we do, and as the film operates pretty much entirely on suspense, the entire movie would fall apart with her knowledge. There's the personal angle: Yes, if it were me, I would be too terrified to think straight, likewise unable to breathe in the little sips that would preserve my oxygen, and grateful for any direction. (This is why I am not an astronaut, and why I expect better of the people and characters who are.)
There is the emotional-journey angle: As the good people of The Dissolve point out, the movie can be read as a metaphor for depression, where Ryan has been floating in a void of grief since her daughter's death, and a good friend and the task of surviving call her back to earth. There is even a completely opposite, equally feminist angle that is DELIGHTED to see a woman at the center of the action, to have a man in the Manic Pixie role (sacrificing himself for her rather than the other way around), to discover Ryan's emotions eventually informing her survival rather than being locked away, Strong Female Character-style. All of these things are true, and I can acknowledge them.
But none of them change the root of my near-rage on this subject, which is not just a feminist's anger at seeing a man given all the intelligence and ability in a movie, but a story-lover's anger at not being able to respect my protagonist fully -- a failure of narrative architecture in a plot like this one, as I kept being knocked out of that all-important suspense by thinking, "For God's sake, Stone, GET IT TOGETHER. You are an ASTRONAUT. You should be BETTER THAN THIS."
Alfonso Cuaron should also be better than this. All scripts should be better than this. The movie is a visual wonder and a filmmaking achievement; that gets no argument from me. But until Hollywood starts giving us not just female protagonists, but ones with the same brains and resourcefulness as the male characters in their films, I am going to be irritated.
To conclude, I hereby propose a new tagline for the move:
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So I'm sorry I've been so silent here, but I've had a good reason: I got married! On September 14, James and I wed in a gorgeous ceremony in the Santa Cruz mountains in California, surrounded by about a hundred of our dearest friends and family. For details, I refer you to our Facebook album
. (Photo by Zach Dinh