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Literature, life, reflections on books read and books written. Photography and videologs are integral to the postings.
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We were the body, heart, soul, and mind—and we were together last evening at Children's Book World in Haverford, PA. (IW Gregorio, Margo Rabb, Tiffany Schmidt, Moi)
For me, it was so very personal. Time alone with the great A.S. King, who is essential in my life in ways that go far beyond the page. The stunning surprise that My Spectacular David (a last-semester student whose own mind-expanding work you will all no doubt be reading soon) pulled off—taking a long drive from his home to join the celebration. The chance to chill with the force that is Heather Hebert, whose store is, in a word, a mecca. Sister Kim and her girls, one of whom, Kathleen, is bound for glory, as you can see. Anmiryam, Anne, Jenn. Friends, familiar faces, new friends. Fishbowl questions that were, well, as you can see from the photo above, challenging. Margo Rabb—famous writer, provocateur, New York Times
-er, and Salon
-er, esteemed member of the literari—I now know to avoid the ink color green when questions are being passed down the line.
I was glad to have this chance to read three pages from One Thing Stolen
. To give my character Maggie, who was named for a fabulous former Penn student, a moment to speak out loud. Books are one thing on the page. They are something else raised from the page. I heard my Maggie as I read those words.
Time to return to a book in progress. I'm going to go quiet for a few days as I put my thinking cap on.
I'm going to spend a few days figuring it out.
Oh, but in the meantime, come see Margo Rabb, IW Gregorio, Tiffany Schmidt, and me tonight. We plan to be awesome at Children's Book World, Haverford, PA, 7 PM.
I will not be annoyed to see you.
I'm looking forward to my Moravian Writers' Conference/Bethlehem weekend
. It all gets started here, at the Bethlehem Area Public Library, with a fundraiser. Did Josh Berk and his team do an amazing job of straightening my hair, or what?
(Josh informs me that, when he and his graphics team aren't around to help me look my best, Aqua Net is still available in drug stores.)
Two Wednesday evenings ago, I ventured into Media (a town I've lately been rediscovering) to participate in the eighth-season kick-off of the grandness known as Dining Under the Stars(TM). Some 3,000 people were out beneath threatening (but never daunting) skies as more than two dozen restaurants wheeled their delectables into the street. Bob Deane, potter extraordinaire, was his beguiling self. Earth & State had its shine on. Flowers grew between trolley tracks.
The dazzle razzle of that story is here
Before the horses arrive, before the crowds set in, before the big hats and the prance of dogs.
I like to be alone inside the tantalizing before.
Sort of like writing a book before the critics weigh in.
Yesterday I took several dozen books off my shelves and began to read the novels I forever return to. Housekeeping. The English Patient. Crossing to Safety. Reading in the Dark. The Beet Queen. So Long, See You Tomorrow. I Was Amelia Earhart. In Hovering Flight.
How settled and peaceful and happy I felt, among old friends, enduring classics.
I was searching for something specific—literary signposts that will infiltrate the keynote I'm now writing for the Moravian Writers' Conference
, to be held June 5 through June 7, in Bethlehem, PA. The title of that keynote is "Where You Live and What You Love: The Landscape of the Story." The conference, magnificently organized by Joyce Hinnefeld, promises to be full of riches, with its galvanizing theme of "Stories and/of Home." So many fine writers, teachers, book makers, and book sellers will be on the campus that weekend. In addition to the keynote, I'll be joining Josh Berk at his library for a fundraiser, joining a panel focused on what people read and why, and closing out with a Sunday afternoon conversation with my dear friend, A.S. King. I am so looking forward to Moravian.
Before June 5, however, there is May 20, next Wednesday evening, when I will be joining Margo Rabb, IW Gregorio, and Tiffany Fowler Schmidt at Children's Book World in Haverford, PA, for an evening we've titled "Body, Mind, Heart, Soul: The Whole Self in Contemporary YA." This will be my only bookstore/library event for One Thing Stolen.
It will, as well, be a chance for you to meet my friends and discover/celebrate their talent. I hope to see you there.
Finally, at the end of June—June 27—I'll be conducting a Master Class/Reading/Q and A at the Arcadia University Creative Writing Summer Weekend
, in Glenside, PA, another event that I anticipate with great happiness.
I think this says it all.
There are a lot of ways to stay safe as a writer: by not writing, by writing to no one, by writing to a single admirer, by challenging the judgment of those with the power to judge, by not putting much effort into your work. "It's hard," Zink writes in "The Wallcreeper," trying to defend your territory and advertise your presence and keep out of predators' line of sight."
—Kathryn Schulz, "Outside In," The New Yorker, May 18, 2015 edition
, in a story about the writer Nell Zink
How difficult it is becoming for all of us to get up and go about our daily work. As if the ground isn't shaking beneath us. As if terror and its isms haven't edged too close. As if the farmers don't need rain. As if it not snowing, in May, in Wyoming. As if our friends were not on that Amtrak train that rode a curve too hard outside our city.
What are we to do with the news? How are we to live our own lives, tick and tock after our own ideas, stand for this or stand for that, prepare our defenses despite the fact that there is no defense against earth grind, cruelty, the drought within our skies?
What is solid, standing, everpresent, ever true? What matters, and what can we do?
I woke up to write a proposal for the 2015-16 Beltran Family Event.
To sneak a line or two of a novel-in-progress
onto the page. To get ready for the day's client interviews. To write the bills. The small, the daily, the mine, the one. Get up. Do it. Believe. But there, again, is the news.
6:10 now. The morning hours gone. Another day and in defense against the defenseless, I will pretty my garden, present a cake, send flowers to a friend, call my son and call my father. The things I still know how to do, in the face of too much news.
I can't tell you how much I love this book, how in awe I sat of this story, an elaborate nest of its own. I'd copy every beautiful sentence from this novel and leave it here for you, but that is the gift of Kephart's book, sitting with its soft feathered pages. This book is not a tangle. It is an incredible, careful, deliberate weave. Ribbons and strands of story coming together to create something exquisite and beautiful. Like Nadia's very first steal, which involves taking apart the words and language she is losing her grip on and braiding it back together in pieces, this book is a similar, spectacular creation.
From This Too (the full review is here
To have been understood. So thoroughly. Like this. To be taken into Melissa's own life, heart, mind, travels.
Thank you, Melissa Sarno.
We met at Princeton, my brother's undergraduate campus, where many happy memories live. My boy was looking his handsome self in a sunny-day colored shirt. He had stories. Posture. A photograph inside a frame.
Together we discovered Mistral,
an exquisite "fast pace, small plates, fresh local fare" establishment, whose chefs—Scott Anderson and Ben Nerenhausen—were both named 2014 James Beard Foundation Award Semi-Finalists. I'd lately been watching Chef's Table (watch this trailer!)
, the sumptuous Netfix series. I wanted a little of that. And so there we were, and such is fine, great happy for me: memories of my brother on his campus, the companionship of my husband and my son, and a restaurant in which everything we ordered was unlike anything I've ever ordered elsewhere.
We watched them make it. They brought it to us. I could do that again and again.
To those who love. To those who are loved. To those remembering. This day.
We were pleased to learn, at Fusion, that the book we had researched, written, designed, and (taken all photos for) won the Franklin Award of Excellence for Books/Hard Cover Category from the Mid-Atlantic Region of Neographics.
Yesterday was a wall-to-wall-er. You know how it is. I topped off the day by watching two segments of the Netflix documentary series, Chef's Table,
a David Gelb production that can turn any too-long day around.
Chef's Table doesn't just focus on the famous chefs and what they make and how they live. It goes deep into questions about how early failures shape lives. It explores the consequences of the decisions we make. And oh my goodness, does it showcase the artistry of fine minds in kitchens and over flames.
Massimo Bottura. Francis Mallmann. Niki Nakayama. Ben Shewry. Magnus Nilsson. I'm telling you. Step inside their worlds.
I was saying goodnight to the day when I noticed an email from A.S. King. I pattered my fingers. I squinted. I read. To her note was attached this drawing above, from a Brazilian reader named Ana Maia, who had read One Thing Stolen
and rendered my Nadia like this.
There is so much to this—so much extreme and gentle thoughtfulness. I am deeply touched.
Ana Maia does this—draws the characters she finds in pages. You can follow her here on twitter: @coloredpins <https://twitter.com/coloredpins
She’d teach me her cake. Try out her latest. Turn my kitchen into a mini coop—Harvey lacing us together with the striped ribbon of his tail. She’d bring the sugar with her, ask for eggs. She’d put the whole milk on the sill to get it to temperature, use the sixteen-ounce cups to sift into, to stir. She’d carry sea salt in a clear bag in her back pocket, explain the purpose of its crunch inside the batter’s silk. She’d call the confectioner’s snow, her French whip Jacob’s Pride, her technique ineffable, and it was. She was. We stood side by side, her elbows shaped like cul de sacs, the rest of her arms so skinny that it looked as if they would be permanently bent at the hinges, as if she would, and she never spoke of the boy, and I didn’t ask her.
(last night, at a street fair, I met an adorable girl named Sophia. she drew this rose. I give it to you.)
"... three hours a day is
all that's needed to write successfully. Writing is turning time into language, and all good writers have an elaborate, fetishistic relationship to their working hours. Writers talking about time are like painters talking about unprimed canvas and pigments. (Nor is there anything philistine about writers talking money. Inside the ballroom at the PEN banquet, it's all freedom and dignity; outside, it's all advances.)"
Adam Gopnik, "Trollope Trending," New Yorker, May 4, 2015
I'll be talking about that river of ours—the great She, the Schuylkill—and selling copies of Flow. The facts are here, should you be in the neighborhood. I would love to see you.
May 3, 2015
Schuylkill River/FLOW presentation
7370 Central Avenue
(free and open to the public)
When I teach I leave the writing of books behind. No room for both in my life. No room for both in my head.
Two days ago, then, with my teaching complete at Penn, I returned to a novel I'd left hanging at 250 pages long. A book of something very new, perhaps something very strange. I am afraid of this book. I am in love with this book. I can only ever see a page or two ahead.
And so there it was, on my iPad, looking up at me. Daring me. Enter in.
Tremulous was my mood. Hopeful was my outlook. Quiet was the sound in the house.
Not a single client called.
I read. I sat. I stared. I wrote a page, a single page, that's as far as I could take it for a spell. One more page.
Enough. Proof enough that I could carry this strange thing forward. A reminder of how it feels to write—how my head turns a different temperature and my pulse slows and my heart goes hush and I am deeper inside my own self than I ever otherwise am.
I write, as I have always said, because writing is medicinal, physiological, unguarded, always true. I write because it is the closest I ever come to understanding myself.
Thanks to the 2015 Beltran Family Teaching Award for Innovative Teaching & Mentoring at the Kelly Writers House (University of Pennsylvania)
, I'll be given an opportunity to create an event for faculty and students in the 2015/2016 academic year. I'm so grateful to my university, the KWH, and my dear students, who nominated me for the award.Whatever Doesn't Kill You, the Shebooks anthology
featuring Nest. Flight. Sky.
along with five additional pieces by exquisite writers (and edited by Laura Fraser), won a Silver IPPY Award. We're so happy for Laura, especially, who has put so much of her soul into Shebooks.
The 2015 Annual Convention of the National Council of Teachers of English
accepted a proposal on teaching creativity and responsibility through the arts that will bring together the amazing illustrator Melissa Sweet,
two fantastic teachers (Glenda Cowen-Funk and Paul Hankins), and me. I can't wait for this. And: it will be my first time ever to Minneapolis.
I found One Thing Stolen
in bookstores, when I wasn't even looking for it. Huge thanks to Forever Young Adult, for this generous review of the book.
It's possible (very possible?) that this blog post will be imperfect. I will either upmake a word; or use an unnecessary semi-colon. I will insist that those whom read this review go buy this book. I will misapply the heesh. I will call the author an authoress. I will be insufficiently restrictive.
I'm about as imperfect as a person gets, but I still love me my grammar books. I've got a stack of them. I find them foon to read. And these confessions of Mary Norris, who has comma asserted for three decades at the New Yorker,
make a wonderful addition to my grammar/memoir/humor shelf. Because honestly, some of the funniest stuff I read is found in grammar books. These checkers have a ripe sense of humor, oh but they do:
Norris is a lovable guide to commas and pencils. She (like Daniel Menaker,
the New Yorker
editor who visited my class at Penn this last semester) sort of kind of just landed at the estimable magazine. She endured furrowed brows, compensated for her own bad handwriting, studied the-art-of-the-hyphen, heard marriage proposal possibilities in author praise, and made a few good finds (more than a few good finds) on proof pages. She talks about it all (or 200 pages of the all) in Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.
I found this book a happy place to be, a bar of sunshine on the couch, a melding of gentle instruction in life and words.
Here is Norris on commas and clauses:
If the clause is integral to the meaning of the sentence, it should not be set off by commas. It is restrictive, that intimidating word wielded by grammarians in the attempt to fend off commas. (People think we live to put commas in, but it isn't so.) A phrase is restrictive if it tightens the meaning, if it draws an invisible belt around which fact, out of all the facts in the universe, pertains.
Here she is on who and whom:
The choice of "who" or "whom" is governed not by its role as the object of the sentence or the object of a preposition but by its role in the group of words that has been plugged into that position. Break it down: You can tell he (or she) is top dog. You would never say, "You can tell him (or her) is top dog." That's the point: "who" and "whom" are standing in for a pronoun: "who" stands in for "he, she, they, I, we"; "whom" stands in for "him, her, them, me, us."
(As I type these words I ponder the punctuation of that last sentence.)
Can we talk about how many times I have been saved by a copy editor? Here I was
years ago on a vlog, no less, thanking HarperTeen's Renee Cafiero and Jill Santopolo for their help on an early YA novel, showing off the pages of corrections. And you have, perhaps, noticed my affection for a certain Debbie Deford Minerva in the acknowledgments of One Thing Stolen
and (upcoming) This Is the Story of You
, who has saved me time and again, both by her enthusiasm and her fact checking, not to mention her ability to gently ask whether I really did mean to have one character in two different places at one time.
Just the other night, I was at Rosemont College, giving my annual "Love Your Copy Editors" talk for Hobart Rowland, the editorial director of Delaware Today
and Main Line Today
magazines. I had my slew of books. I told my copy editing stories. I goaded. Learn the rules, I said. Learn how to break the rules. Help us authors be our best and brightest selves.
A happy sight this morning—an image of One Thing Stolen
in the window of Paperback Exchange, the Anglo-American bookstore in Florence, Italy, where some of the original research for this book took place in the form of interviews with the shop's owners, Maurizio Panichi and Emily Rosner.
I had gone to the shop in October 2012 in order to write a story titled "Florence's Timeless Bookstore for Expats and Travelers"
). I soon found myself engaged in a conversation about the 1966 flooding of the Arno and the work of the Mud Angels, for Maurizio had played an important role during that terrifying time. Soon thereafter Emily and I became friends. Emily answered questions about Italian and about history as I worked through many drafts. She told me tales about her life. And she was one of the very first readers of this book, sending me a series of encouraging notes while I was traveling by train—just when I needed them most.
Today Emily posted this picture on Facebook. I'm stealing it for my blog, in Nadia fashion.
Thank you, Emily. For all of it.
I write YA books; that is true. But I never write strictly and only of teens. I care about the sweep of generations. I think generations are relevant. Some of my very favorite characters are women even older (believe it!) than me. My Mud Angel and physician Katherine of One Thing Stolen
. Stefan's East Berlin grandmother in Going Over
. Old Carmen, the rugged beachcomber, of This Is the Story of You
(due out next spring). And, of course, my Estela, the old Spanish cook in Small Damages
—a character I lived with for a decade before she found herself inside that gorgeous cover.
But now look at the silver wing near the right upper edge of that cover. That is Estela herself, who came to me this afternoon by way of my husband's cousin, Myra. Estela in real life was my husband's father's mother—a loved, buoyant, life-affirming General Counsel in the United States who had also served as the Philippine ambassador to Portugal. I wear her ring as my engagement ring. I hear stories. And today I received this bookmark, which once clipped the pages of the books Estela read.
Myra's words (in impeccable handwriting):
This is an antique silver bookmark from El Salvador my grandmother Estela picked up—probably 50 years ago.... I decided it was time to send you this now. I always thought this should go to you—since you are the writer in the family and it came from William's home country.
I am so in love with this gift. This piece of then. A bookmark shaped like a coffee bean that might as easily mark my third memoir about my marriage to this Salvadoran man, Still Love in Strange Places.
I thank you, Myra.
Yesterday Kelly and I walked Longwood Gardens where the tulips were like new crayons in tight boxes and the rose grapes hung from ceilings as if waiting to be pressed toward wine and the trees were actually flowers and the treehouse mirror turned us into a 17th century painting with 21st century iPhones. It was spring, crisp, crowded.
The hours served as punctuation. A period, perhaps a colon marking the end of a long winter of talks and workshops, essays and reviews, teaching and papers, intense client work and client revisions, the quiet launch of a novel and the heart-ish completion of a collection of essays. Tomorrow is my last class with the Spectaculars at Penn. We have worked hard together, grown together, hurt together, soared together, and on this day I sit reading their final work—the profiles they have written about people who matter to them. I believe that writing can serve no greater purpose than to awaken the writer to the world itself—the things that matter—and to, in that way, force love (or call it attention) onto the page. I believe that teaching craft is teaching soul. I believe in the quiet things that happen in the margins. I believe.
It's the kind of belief that won't make a person famous. The kind that simmers just off to the left, that urges with wet eyes, that suggests and does not demand, that says, Maybe.
The kind that is noticed by a few but rarely by many. Am I, I am asked often and ever more frequently, okay with that? Don't I, after all these quiet books, all these quiet years, all these words living in the shadows, want more
There are crayon tulips. There are decorated trees. There are steps leading up to the sky. There are moments. There are students. There are friends; there is family. There is a husband and a son. There are books on my shelves written by authors with far greater talent, wisdom, seeing, stretch—and I see that talent, I am grateful for that talent, I am instructed by it, happy for it, elevated and poem-ed by it.
This is my more. This is my life.
we tried to stop the afternoon from ticking to a close.
we held on.
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The last time Julia Bloch was on this blog she was hosting Dorothy Allison
at Kelly Writers House—leading a conversation through the wickets of time.
Yesterday I was privileged to see Julia, the newly named director of Penn's Creative Writing program (replacing Greg Djanikian, about whom I wrote here
), engage in conversation with KWH Fellow Jessica Hagedorn. Poet, playwright, novelist, teacher, creator of an MFA program, provocateur, sometimes-reluctant-and-sometimes-not-reluctant pundit, Hagedorn was as bright as the sun breaking in through the trees behind her. Funny, too. Easy to adore.
I listened with care, leaning in especially close when the talk turned to the Philippines, a land that lives in my husband's blood. I listened and thought of how privileged I am to work at Penn, within the KWH frame, where, thanks to this marvel that Al Filreis stirred into being (and Jessica Lowenthal so ably guides on a daily basis), so many remarkable voices, thinkers, makers arrive, suggest, and leave some shimmer dust behind. We are never done as teachers. We never know enough. We have something to gain by sitting and listening to those who have built great worlds with words.
I went off to be with My Spectaculars one final time (an image of them here
; oh, my heart). I came home with a lump in my throat and a copy of Dogeaters
, the first novel in a series of Hagedorn novels that I will read this summer.