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It is time for one of my favorite events of every year -- the awesome BOOK SALE at my church, Park Slope United Methodist. There are two essential things every book-loving New Yorker can do with the sale:
1. DONATE YOUR OLD BOOKS
Now is the perfect time to clear space on your book shelves for all the treasures you're going to find at the sale. And aren't you ready to get rid of all those CDs you don't listen to anymore? We'll take 'em!
We welcome donations of books, CDs, DVDs, records & children's books. All items must be in good condition. We do not accept videos or tape cassettes, magazines, outdated textbooks or computer manuals, or any book that is moldy or falling apart. All donations are tax-deductible.
The church is located at 410 6th Avenue (at 8th Street) in Brooklyn, one block down and over from the 7th Avenue F stop. Donations will be accepted at the church on
Monday, February 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday, February 21, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday, February 22, noon to 3 p.m.
To arrange a car pickup (Park Slope & vicinity), call 347.538.7604 ASAP, before all the slots fill up. All items must be boxed or bagged and ready to go.
Earlier this fall, I asked my Seattle-area blog readers to go out to a signing for Stephanie Trimberger's The Ruby Heart -- a book Arthur and I worked on with her as part of the Make-a-Wish program, as chronicled in this video. I'm sorry to have to report that Stephanie passed away in November. But her memory lives on with her novel, and Make-a-Wish has now made The Ruby Heart available as a free PDF download for anyone who'd like to read it. You can check it out here.
When I was 9 and my sister was 16, I read her diary. I found out all about her life, what she thought and how she felt about a variety to things. I didn't get caught, so I didn't get punished, but I did suffer an overwhelming guilty conscience for a long time. Consequently, I have never committed an indiscretion like that again. Even so, I have to admit that the bare honestly that can be found in a diary still holds a certain fascination for me. Maybe that is why I like reading published diaries so much. At least you don't have to worry about dealing with a guilty conscience.
Naturally I was very excited when I first heard about Home Front Girl: a Diary of Love, Literature and Growing Up in Wartime America. It is a real diary, begun by Joan Whelan in 1937 at age 14 and runs through to 1943 when she was 20 years old. Joan was the daughter of Swedish immigrants living in Chicago who grew up to become a journalist and adjunct professor of history at the New School for Social Research, so it is not too surprising that she would have kept a diary as a teen. After Joan passed away in 2010, her daughter found her diary among her papers and decided to share it with the rest of the world.
And I am so glad she did because Home Front Girl did not disappoint me. Throughout her diary, Joan chronicles her thoughts on the ordinary everyday events in her life. Here, then, is a sampling:
School: Tuesday, April 13, 1937 "Hello! Tests next week! Oh, boy! Have pity on me and sympathize."
boys and boys in the R.O.T.C.: Tuesday, April 20, 1937 "...there isn't any R.O.T.C. unit in Greeley [Elementary School] (they do look so handsome in uniforms!)" (pg 3)
first dates: Thursday, January 20, 1938 "Yesterday a boy asked me if I'd go to the dance on Saturday with him. I told him I'd see - I guess I'll go. His name is Jack Latimer. Imagine - my first date." (pg 29)
She also writes about first kisses, singing in the church choir, going to the movies with friends, and the opera with her mom, studying for exams in school and writing a column in the school paper. In short, Joan lives the the busy life of an intelligent, energetic teenage girl in the 1930s.
But Joan also has a very serious side that is evident when she is writing about life and current events. It is then that we really get to see how well rounded this vibrant, thoughtful girl is, and we get a glimpse of the woman she became.
To begin with, even as early as 1937, the idea of war scares her: Friday, December 31, 1937 "..I dreamt a war was begun...I was a boy and I knew I would have to be a soldier. I was afraid to go to war. I kept seeing trenches, and mud, and horror and pain and things - and killing people - and I was terribly scared inside." (pg 23)
her fears about TB: "P.S. I got tested for T.B. at school today...Saturday, June 4, 1938 "I'm susceptible! Tat is , to T.B. If I meet anyone who has it, I might catch it..." (pg 50)
Current events: Tuesday, May 2, 1939 We are on daylight savings now. Germany is giving Poland two weeks to give her the Polish corridor. Otherwise war. However, England and France on side of Poland. So Russia too, maybe...`
But perhaps the most poignant entry of all is the one for Thursday, October 10, 1940, when Joan writes about life for her generation and the impact World War I, the prosperity of the early 1920s and then the depression had on their character development, and on their bodies: "Oh, you, my generation! - we were a lovely lot! Sharp minds - arguing all the time and brittle bodies and even more brittle laughter - and all the time knowing that we were growing up to die." (pg 143)
Joan Whelen's diary is by turns funny, serious, playful, patriotic, optimistic, pessimistic and moving. It is supplemented with lots of her own drawings that are part of the diary, as well as photos and newspaper clippings she saved. It turns out that Home Front Girl is more than just a diary, it is a document of its time and a very interesting window through which to view this eventful period of era.
In truth, Home Front Girl: a Diary of Love, Literature and Growing Up in Wartime America was so much better than my sister's diary.
"Sunday, December 18, 1938, 3:00 It's so wonderful to be the
Virgin Mary and almost 16 and so awfully happy on a cold
bright winter day." (pg 87)
Be sure to visit the homepage of Home Front Girl for more information and resources a about Joan and World War II.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was sent to my by the publisher
Two terrific books pubbed officially yesterday: The Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda, and Stealing Air, by Trent Reedy. I wrote about The Savage Fortress for the CBC Diversity blog here, cheerfully (and with Sarwat's full approval) calling it a book of "no socially redeeming value" -- which is one of the many things that actually makes it awesome. But you should also read Sarwat's own wonderful blog post on the reasons why he wanted to write this book, to satisfy his ten-year-old self "who always wanted another hero like him." And when you're done with that, please hop on over to the Scholastic Savage Fortress site and play the "Master the Monsters" game. I am terrible -- TERRIBLE -- at video games, so my high score on this game is 600; my compliments to anyone who can do better than I did (e.g. the average five-year-old). There's good stuff to come on Stealing Air as well.
Speaking of developing your writing muscles: If you'd like to see me give my Plot Master Class in person, registration for the November 17 edition in Salt Lake City is now open! To get a sense of the topics covered, check out the description for the online edition of the class (which is sold out, I'm sorry to say. If I'm able to balance work and my responsibilities in teaching it, we'll run it again sometime next year). I believe there are also still spaces available at both the Master Class and the SCBWI general conference in Hawaii on February 22 & 23, 2013 -- e-mail Lynne Wikoff at lwikoff at lava dot net if you're interested.
Speaking of appearances in connection with educational opportunities, did you know J. K. Rowling is doing a virtual author visit with schools, in support of the new Harry Potter Reading Clubs? You can register a class for the webcast here.
And there the chain comes to an end. Or wait -- a little delight to send you on your way:
Over a year ago, Arthur and I were contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation regarding a young Seattle-area writer named Stephanie Trimberger (who was 13 at the time; she’s 15 now). Stephanie has brain cancer, and her dream was to have her novel edited by “the Harry Potter editors.” Arthur and I read it and wrote her an editorial letter, and she began working on revisions. A year went by, and we didn’t hear anything more. Then last week, we heard that she had finished her book and wanted us to take one last look.
Thanks to the terrific coordination of a lot of people at Scholastic, we not only managed to edit it quickly, but our designers typeset the manuscript and created a gorgeous cover for it. And with the help of an extraordinarily generous donation from the printer, Command Web, three hundred copies of Stephanie’s THE RUBY HEART have now been printed.
Your Mission, Seattle Area People!: Next Tuesday, September 25, at 6 p.m., Stephanie will be doing a reading and signing of her book at the Pacific Place Barnes & Noble. Will you please, please attend? It would be so very awesome to have a big audience there to applaud her accomplishment and make it a great day for her. Stephanie is a huge reader of YA and fantasy fiction; she lost her mom to brain cancer nine years ago, and it sounds like she’s been writing about that long. I’m sure ALL writers can sympathize with her dream of publishing a book, and it should be an amazing evening in seeing that dream fulfilled.
The details in full:
Tuesday, September 25
6 p.m. (it was scheduled for 5:30 earlier; the time has been moved back)
Barnes & Noble Pacific Place 600 Pine Street, Suite 107 Seattle, WA 98101 (206) 265-0156
So in the last few months, I have become a standing-desk devotee. My interest in the subject started with articles like this one, which pretty much say that anyone with a computer is doomed to die early from sitting in front of it, and then increased with the apostolism of authorsIadmire. My excellent (and extremely health-conscious) fiance began talking about it, and I then followed his lead in putting my laptop on various high surfaces in our apartment when I was working--the kitchen counter, a tall dresser. After I got used to the sensation of standing for so long, I came to like it . . . for an hour or two, anyway, at which point I'd sit down for an hour or two in turn. But the variety was fun.
And now I have two standing desks, at work and at home! Here's the work version:
Yes, indeed, that is the extremely advanced standing-desk technology of two cardboard boxes attached to each other, with a mousepad on one and my keyboard on the other. The keyboard is now right at the angle of my elbows, so typing is very comfortable, and my computer screen conveniently tilts up so I can see it easily. I made a side handle out of packing tape so it's easy to whisk it out of the way. I try to follow the policy that if I'm doing e-mail, I have to stand up, while if I'm doing editorial work, it's OK to be sitting down. Other times I just follow an hour-up, hour-down policy. It's gotten to the point that if I do sit for more than an hour or so, I start to feel antsy, and back on my feet I go. (I've also come to mind standing on the subway much less than before.)
At home James and I really did get actual technology involved, as well as some homemade gimcrackery::
We found the treadmill on Craigslist for $80 (it almost cost more to rent a moving van to get it home), and then, as the handles were inconveniently low, we rigged up the temporary solution you see here until we can figure out how to build a permanent frame. The result is more at James's height than it is mine, but it's still effective for us both. James can walk and work for three hours at a time at low speeds; I remain more task- and hour-oriented. Either way, we both enjoy having a little more of a head start on outwalking Death.
When I started working as Arthur's editorial assistant back in 2000, I quickly discovered that I had a lot to keep track of: his appointments and any materials he might need to prep for them, my personal to-do list, people who called, what Production needed from us each day, what manuscripts most urgently required a response . . . a long, long list of priorities to juggle and information to track. There was only one possible solution to contain all this: a notebook! And as soon as I got one, my work life got a hundred times more organized.
Here are my collected notebooks from 2001 through today:
I keep them because I never know when I might need to make contact with someone I spoke to on the phone about a project in April 2006 -- and I really have used these for information like that! I have also become very particular about the qualities of my notebooks through the years. A good working notebook has to open flat. Either a wire binding or a standard glued binding can work, but glued is slightly preferable, as then the wire doesn't dig into my hand when I write on the left-hand page. The notebook indeed has to be wide enough to hold my whole hand as I write, and/or have few enough pages that my wrist is still supported on the desk. And I like lined paper, but with the lines a decent distance apart, so my handwriting doesn't have to be any more crabbed than it already is when I write quickly. I don't know if many other editors use them -- any editorial readers: Do you? -- but I do give notebooks like this to new editorial assistants, to provide a home for all the many notes they have to take on procedures, and to welcome them into the tribe.
Every day, my notebook sits open on my desk to anchor me with its calm, practical list of tasks to complete (and cross off, oh frabjous joy), to accept notes on phone calls and voicemails and manuscript thinking sessions, to doodle in during meetings, to draft letters or note random phrases for flap copy. When I talk to writers, I usually take notes on our conversation for later, so my notebooks contain sloppily scribbled transcripts of my first conversations with Francisco X. Stork and Karen Rivers and Trent Reedy. Here I have notes from a brainstorming session on what concepts should be included in Food for Thought: The Complete Book of Concepts for Growing Minds.
And every night, the last thing I do before I leave work is make my to-do list for the next day.
For this day in November 2007, for instance, I wrote "Notes for Francisco" (on an early draft of Marcelo in the Real World), "Email Yurika" (the foreign rights agent for Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit), "Fact sheet copy," and "Clean desk a bit?" (The question mark is telling.) I also brainstormed titles for the book that eventually became Crossing to Paradise, by Kevin Crossley-Holland, and apparently received voicemails from a couple of agents. Thus, as you can see, the notebooks are fun historical documents as well as useful ones . . . the diaries of my working life.
Before I plunge into my book review, just a reminder of the contest for a free copy of The Fourth Wish, in Kindle or paperback (winner's choice). To read the rules for the contest -- which ends Friday, September 9th -- gohere. (Please comment for the contest on that post so I can keep your points straight.)
Many of you know I like to read mysteries and historical novels when I'm not reading children's books. And I indulged in quite a few adult reads (and reviewed them) while I was recuperating from my foot surgery. So this is one last review of a book that combines both mystery and a historical setting: Victorian London, when streets were foggy, and you could hear the clop-clop-clop of horse hooves against cobblestones as doomed victims set off in carriages, and cases were solved without a swat team kicking in a door and waving guns. The book is The Diary of a Murder, by Lee Jackson. I bought the print version, but I see it is also out in Kindle now (in the UK).
A bit of background for this discovery: While gathering information for my middle grade mystery set in Victorian London (which is a tamer tale indeed), I came across Lee Jackson's wonderful website, called (appropriately) Victorian London. In it you will find a treasure trove of Victoriana. He provides a dictionary listing various topics, from maps, to transportation, whatever; and a click on any one topic will take you to a wealth of original sources (including Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, under Diet, where you can see what meals to plan for each month of the year in 1861. Mr. Jackson also provides some of the original "penny dreadfuls" for your reading pleasure. And he has a wonderful blog called The Cat's Meatshop, well worth following. The Diary of a Murder is his seventh mystery novel, and he has also published two nonfiction books: Victorian LondonandA Dictionary of Victorian London, An A-Z of the Great Metropolis. And renowned mystery writer, Andrew Taylor, has said, "No one knows Vicorian London as Lee Jackson does -- historical fictin doesn't come more authentic than this."
On to the the review: The Willises are concerned because their married daughter, Dora Jones, has disappeared after planning to visit them in Chelsea. When Sergeant Preston and a constable go to the Jones's home to investigate, they find the daughter brutally murdered and the pages of a diary scattered about. The diary is by Dora's husband, Jacob Jones, a clerk at the Crystal Palace. But Jacob appears to have fled the scene. Detective Inspector Delby is called in, and the story unfolds in chapters that alternate between Jacob Jones's diary, and the investigation by the inspector and the sergeant.
The story that follows reveals a doting husband, a humble clerk, who married above his station (Dora's father is a draper, and rich, and does not like young Jacob). Jacob gushes about his sweet wife, confesses his yearnings to be a writer, admits his frustrations with his in-laws, who seem
On Tuesday I'm going down to Florida for LeakyCon 2011, and I am PSYCHED . . . to speak at Lit Day, to see the Wizarding World theme park for the first time, to party with Harry Potter fans, and because my hotel has a croquet court! (For the reason I'm obsessed with croquet, hit the "Frog" label on the right.) This obviously requires a game of Quidditch Croquet, which in turn requires the establishment of rules for Quidditch Croquet; and I propose the following for discussion/comment:
The black ball shall be the Bludger, and the yellow ball shall be the Snitch.
Neither the Bludger nor the Snitch can play until all other balls have passed through the opening two wickets.
-- The Snitch shall go first, and the Bludger second.
-- They should both start at the opposite post from the rest of the players.
The Bludger does not have to follow the standard course and try to go through wickets, but rather should spend its time trying to knock all the other balls (besides the Snitch) as far off course as possible.
-- If the Bludger touches another ball (a roquet), it gets only one additional hit, instead of the standard two.
---- If necessary, an additional limitation can be imposed on the Bludger, that the player controlling it must play one-handed and/or with his/her less dominant hand.)
-- If another ball (besides the Snitch) touches the Bludger, it gets three additional hits, instead of the standard two.
The Snitch also does not have to follow the standard course and try to go through wickets, but rather should travel consistently up and down the midline of the course, from post to post through the center wicket.
The Snitch does not want to strike or be struck by the other balls.
-- If another ball (besides the Bludger) touches the Snitch, it gets four additional hits, instead of the standard two.
-- The Bludger is not allowed to hit the Snitch, and if it does, its turn is over and it misses its next turn.
The game concludes when a player successfully completes the course, passing through all nine wickets and touching both posts (the opening post twice, at the beginning and end);
-- OR when the Bludger has knocked into all the active balls (besides the Snitch) twice (a scorecard may be useful here) and reached the closing post before anyone else;
-- OR when the Snitch has successfully completed thirteen post-to-post-through-the-center-wicket crossings of the court, including at least three where it was not struck by any other ball (ditto on the scorecard), and reached the closing post before anyone else.
This allows the Bludger and Snitch to behave as they do in Quidditch, but gives all players an incentive to win. (I chose thirteen post-to-post perambulations for the Snitch because it would take a long time to reach, I hope, and thirteen is a good wizarding number.)
Thoughts? Suggestions? And if you're going to LeakyCon -- who's in?
(The fourth in what should be a monthly series of blog posts in which I write for an hour about whatever comes to mind.)
Happy summer! I spent the weekend in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Novel Revision Retreat. It was a beautiful venue—a 1930s woods lodge, with gorgeous views of the Shenandoah mountains out every window, including the room in which I taught my sessions. The talks were more or less the “Quartet” talks from Second Sight. . . . These are my usual retreat talks, because they cover all three major elements of fiction (Character, Plot, and Voice), but every time I give them I find something new to say in addition to all the material that’s already there, so I’m going to have to ask the organizers to grant me two hours for every session the next time I do them. (Or I should learn to edit myself and say less; but then I do like being thorough, to transfer as much of my brain to attendees’ brains as possible. Someday technology will evolve enough that we can just do a mass Frankenstein hookup and be done with it, and then we can all spend the weekend writing instead.)
Some neat things in the last month:
Before I went to the revision retreat, I took a delightful road trip with my equally delightful author Sara Lewis Holmes, who wrote Operation Yes. When Sara heard that I was coming to central Virginia for the retreat, she insisted that I should visit the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton; and I ended up asking her if she'd be willing to come with me, which she very kindly was. And it was one of the neatest productions of "As You Like It" that I've ever seen, performed in the style (though not the costumes) of the Bard's time, with full light for the whole play, which in turn facilitated some very neat audience-actor interaction. The actors were great, the music was fun, I loved their interpretation of the play, Staunton as a town is terrific, and it is well worth the road trip for you too, should you be anywhere in Virginia.
On a trip to visit some wedding venues, I lost my beloved little Samsung Rogue phone; so I now have a HTC Incredible 2 (an Android phone), which is fast becoming even more beloved than my Rogue was.
I read Holly Black’s White Cat and Red Glove recently, and they were just delicious—tightly written, darkly sexy, fully backstoried fantasy full of con men and women and clever, clever twists. They’d be great beach reads this summer.
A recent realization/articulation that came out of reworking my plot talks: Stakes not only can change in the course of a novel, but they very probably should, as the character comes to know and understand more of the world and their values change likewise. So in StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, the stakes begin as Digger’s survival; but as her world and affections widen to include all the people in her eventual destination, the stakes change to the survival of those people, and the cause they’re all fighting for. So as you’re looking at your novel, think about the stakes at the beginning vs. the stakes at the end, and how the character gets from one to the other.
My next SCBWI appearances will be in October, in Wisconsin, on plot; and November, in New Jersey, hopefully on voice, if they'll let me talk for two hours.
Some recent films I enjoyed: Fast Five; Win Win; Beginners; Bridesmaids.
To expand a little more on the reasons I enjoyed Bridesmaids: One, it had one of the most likeable and flawed female protagonists I’d seen in a long time, a fully rounded woman who had a career that mattered to her, friends, and a family, as well as romantic confusion. . . . It is a little depressing how rare that is, that we'd see a female protagonist in all of those dimensions, and yet, t
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Posting VERY quickly to note that Trent Reedy, author of the book WORDS IN THE DUST, will be on NBC's Today Show this Friday, May 20! (Previous posts about this book here and here.) Pending breaking news, he should be on with Al Roker and his Book Club for Kids around 9:45 a.m. EST. Please tune in if you support one of the following:
Children's literature on network TV
Realistic contemporary children's literature in general
Books about other places and peoples
Afghan women and girls
The U.S. military
Books about people of color
With said people on the covers
Extremely nice guys like Trent
The Vermont College of Fine Arts or the Erin Murphy Literary Agency
Katherine Paterson, our current Children's Laureate
Me and/or my books
Scholastic and/or Arthur A. Levine Books
And if one of those does not apply to you, I really don't know why you're reading this. Thanks for your support!
(Continuing my series of monthly posts in which I write for an hour about more or less whatever is in my brain at the time.)
This has been a very good month--"an epoch in my life," as Anne Shirley would say--thanks to Second Sight and several other events. Trent Reedy's wonderful, world-changing Words in the Dust, previously featured here, has been named as the next book in Al Roker's Book Club for Kids on "The Today Show." You can read an excerpt of the book here if you haven't already seen it. (The campaign from that blog post raised $300 for Women for Afghan Women, by the way, and Trent and I both thank you for your support.)
And then Erin McCahan's I Now Pronounce You Someone Else was named as a finalist in two categories in the Romance Writers of America Awards: Best Young Adult Romance and Best First Novel (where it's competing against big old mean grown-up books too!). This really is a terrific recognition for a totally swoonworthy romance about what happens when you realize life can't always be lived as a totally swoonworthy romance. Plus other nice recognitions for Operation Yes and Eighth Grade Superzero and Marcelo in the Real World . . .
And then, yes, Second Sight came out at last, and was greeted with an ice-cream cake from my lovely boyfriend, many kind e-mails from people who have received it, and a ginormous sigh of relief from me. (Though the typo count is now up to four--grrr, arrgh.) Also a new kind of tension, though. I was talking with a writer at the wonderful Whispering Pines conference this past weekend about what it feels like to be an author; and having gotten over my terror at the book's initial release (or perhaps it's just mutated into this), the thing that keeps giving me pause now is that I like being invisible, often, and books are the opposite of invisibility. They are a claim staked, a space claimed (even if that space is just 5.5" x 8.5" x ~.8" in volume), principles declared, a flag planted, making oneself present in rooms where one has never been.
And this scares me for a very specific reason. . . . There's a talk in the book called "Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through," where I describe what happened when my best friends in fourth grade grew up much quicker than I did in fifth grade. I felt left behind, isolated, bewildered, all alone in a social world that suddenly seemed to be full of jokes I didn't get, focused on interests I didn't share. And I responded by doing my very best turtle imitation, avoiding anywhere I'd have to engage in social interaction, hiding in the library whenever I could (or the bathroom or a back bedroom if I had to go to a party--preferably a bedroom with a bookshelf). I don't have an Invisibility Cloak, but I long ago learned all the tricks available to Muggles for the same purpose: Know where your exits are at all times; don't look at the thing you're trying to avoid, because attention draws attention; wait for a burst of laughter, a noisy conversation, something to distract everyone, or better yet, leave the room at the same time as someone else, if the someone's bound for the bathroom or some such; move quickly and quietly, head down, eyes on your destination; don't look back. And then the deep breath once you're out, the return to the safety and lack of pressure of being alone. While I'm now a much more comfortably social person, someone who doesn't mind public speaking and can navigate a cocktail party pretty decently, my years of playing ghost gave me a taste for the freedom of invisibility . . . which is its own cage as well, I suppose, freedom being just another word for nothing left to lose and all that. But I was a
This has been a good and busy week, and promises only to get more so. Some quick things, first non-booky (for a change) and then all-booky:
I finished "Downton Abbey," and oh my goodness: What period, characterful, conspiracyful, Englishy goodness! Someday I aspire to wear dresses like Lady Sybil and bite off words like the Dowager Duchess. (And more immediately to write a blog post comparing the series to "Mad Men" for all the things they have in common: a large ensemble cast; of multiple social classes, with the attendant conflicts and resentments; on the cusp of (or even in the midst of) gigantic, sweeping societal changes they don't quite grasp, even as they inadvertently bring them about; also on the cusp of a war whose seriousness they cannot possibly foresee; with many buried secrets revealed over time, and liaisons right and left; all while wearing teeth-gnashingly envy-inducing* clothes (though really I suppose I should remember: corsets).)
* This phrase courtesy of Joanna Pearson's The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills, out in July. You read/edit a book enough times, its phrases naturally leap into your brain and writing. . . .
My other upcoming appearances: the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Novel Revision Retreat in June, and Lit Day at LeakyCon 2011 in July. The Lit Day lineup is insane -- insane! -- and features Arthur's first appearance/speech at a Harry Potter fan convention ever, so it's well worth attending if you can make your way there.
And I loved, loved, loved the new "Jane Eyre" adaptation, partly for the fabulous period clothes and design, yes, but mostly because Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender bring terrific passion and intelligence to the roles of Jane and Rochester, and make Charlotte Bronte's sometimes unwieldy or ethereal dialogue sound perfectly natural in their mouths, sweeping us viewers up in their passions as well. When I reviewed the Keira Knightley "Pride and Prejudice," I contrasted what I called Romantic and Rationalist romances, and faulted that P&P for shooting a Rationalist romance as if it were a Romantic one. Well, "Jane Eyre" is a Romantic romance par excellence (and the film gives that all the brooding atmosphere it warrants, to delicious effect) -- but I had forgotten, till I saw this adaptation, how much it is a Rationalist romance too, how much its unique intensity derives from Jane's absolute control over herself, and how much hotter the love burns for it. I want to see it again already; get your own taste on the movie page here.
Now the Second Sight stuff:
When I go home to Kansas City for the Kansas SCBWI conference, I'll also have a public book party in Belton, Missouri, on Thursday, May 5th; e-mail me at asterisk.bks at gmail dot com if you're interested in attending.
Jennifer Bertman interviewed me for the Creative Spaces feature on her website, where I talk about my writing process, my workspace, and the regrettable lack of a magic bullet for making someone a good writer.
As far too many of my posts begin: Apologies for the bloggy silence of late. I spent the last week traveling to Washington, D.C., for the Rally to Restore Sanity; Cape Girardeau, MO, to see my dear friend Katy (who some of you might recognize as the proper heroine of The Bad Mood Banana Cookies, now a terrific professor of history at Southeast Missouri State); home near Kansas City; Manhattan, Kansas, where I talked a lot and stayed at the marvelous Morning Star Bed and Breakfast (highly recommended); and then home again, where my family had a wonderful early Thanksgiving, and my Uncle John won the Frog for the first time ever. The trip marked the culmination of two intense writing projects I'd been laboring over for a while, including the second-pass proofs of Second Sight, and as a result, I've been taking off non-work writing for a bit. But I thought a lot during all the traveling, and I hope to have time and space to put some of those thoughts down soon.
In the meantime, oh my glory! Handsome boys in uniform! Singing acapella! With a star who once played Harry Potter (unauthorized)! The look on Kurt's face! I LOVE this and can't wait to see tonight's episode:
Our next NYC Kidlit Drinks Night will be next Monday, December 13, starting at 6:30 p.m., at Faces & Names, 159 W. 54th St. at 8th Ave. (Apologies for the short notice.) Fortify yourself against the winter with a hot toddy, or, if you're overheating from being too bundled up, you can pretend it's summer with a nice G&T. Either way, we shall talk books, share end-of-year favorites, catch up with friends, and otherwise engage in holiday cheer.
And: We will once again be doing a holiday book drive for a worthy cause -- the Children for Children Ongoing Book Drive, in partnership with Project Cicero. Please bring new and gently used children's books for grades K-12. As these books will be directed to New York City public schools and preschools, books featuring characters of color are especially appreciated, but ALL books are welcome and will find good homes. See the link above for more information.
Hope to see you next Monday, and happy December in the meantime! And if you would like to be on our notification list for future drink nights, just send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like John Dougherty yesterday, I was going to write about something different. Not a Kindle (I don't have one...yet), but the furore around Bookstart. However, John has done such an excellent job of it that he's left me with nothing to say--except that I agree with him about many things, not least of which is that 2011 is going to be a year of standing up (or sitting in) and shouting.
So. What to write about at the beginning of this new year? I think a confession is probably in order. You lot always seem to like my confessions, and indeed I have a multitude of sins to confess. Here goes....
I am a failure. I've been a failure for nearly half a century, or at least ever since I was old enough to write a comprehensible sentence. And before you start in with the soothing rebuttals of this rather startling statement, I don't actually mean as a writer. I think I'm reasonably good at that. What I mean is that I am a failure as a diarist. In other words, Mrs Dale I am not.
I've tried more times than I can count to keep one. When I was a child, without fail some aunt or godparent would give me a diary for Christmas--once even a magnificent red leather-bound 5-year one. I started off every time on 1st January with hope that this time, this time I would do it. I would write something about my life every single day of the year till I reached the milestone of 31st December. I failed every time. In fact, the longest I ever lasted was till March 15th, a measly two-and-a-half months.
In later life--after I became a full-time writer--I tried in other ways. I tried to write a journal. I tried to write a dream book. I even tried to write a poem diary. The poems were quite good, but there are only ten of them. There just seems to be a little part of my brain which is a rebel, which says: "this is really boring. Your mundane daily life is boring. Who's going to want to read about all that stuff like how the maths teacher shouted at you again for being stupid over trigonometry (a frequent childhood event), or how your university tutor made you smoke pot as part of your 'education', or what it was like for a young editor in 80's New York, or how it felt to fly out of Ladakh eight days before they closed the borders to the West, or...or...." Yes. I know. Those things might all be of interest to future generations of my family or the wider world. But it's the bits in between I have trouble with. The days when nothing happens except a trip to the supermarket or doing the housework or the school run. That's when I lose the will to write a diary.
However this year, 2011, is the year of my half century. Surely 50 years on the planet deserves recording in some way. So I'm going to try again. I have it all planned out. I shall have a 'secret diary blog' which I shall write once a week, recording the events and thoughts of the last seven days. Actually, I've already started it. Will I succeed? Yes. I bloody well will. And you can quote me on that come December 31st. If you remember.
Today was what I call a Day of Vacuum.* A Day of Vacuum has nothing to do with housework; rather, it's a day when lots of things go wrong, when you screw up repeatedly or get called on your screw-ups deservedly, when painful and annoying things happen, and they all pile up at once. For instance, my day included missing my train both going to and coming from work; being lambasted by someone whom I wronged, and deserving it; sending a group e-mail to important people with an incorrect e-mail address, thanks to autofill, and having to correct it (e.g. sending another e-mail acknowledging I did something stupid); writing catalog copy; a dentist appointment for a filling; another painful personal procedure; worrying about an issue related to my book I should have resolved months ago; and on and on. . . .
The main redeeming feature** of this day was that once I realized it was going to be a Day of Vacuum (after the lambasting, when I remembered the dentist appointment), I DECLARED it was a Day of Vacuuming, thus embracing the vacuum. And this encouraged me to deal with lots of little vacuumy tasks I've been putting off for a while, and now they're done. The personal procedure, for instance: I chose to do it, because hey, it's a Day of Vacuum. Or when something else went wrong, I shrugged: Day of Vacuum. Once you accept the vacuum and you have this motto, then the refrain becomes almost a comfort: It reminds you that it's just one day, and it will pass.*** _________________________ * [Actually, I call it a Day of Suck, but my mother wouldn't let us use the latter word in its slang sense when I was a teenager, so my sister and I replaced the word then with "vacuum". And in deference to her sensibilities (hi, Mom!), I'll use that term in this post.] ** The other redeeming features: I finished a second-pass line-edit, when the book is more or less in focus and the rest is all pulling the pieces together; excited about a revised manuscript; my filling didn't hurt or require Novocaine . . . and getting to blog, I guess. *** Or, to put a kidlit spin on it: Today was a difficult day, but tomorrow will be better. (Even in Australia.)
8:25 p.m.: "Kindling" has a lot of meanings for me right now. I am just home from Kindling Words, the annual and extraordinary writers', illustrators', and editors' conference in Vermont. I have my Kindle, loaded with manuscripts I ought to be reading at this moment; but I am so tired from the conference and January in general that my brain feels like kindling . . . the little pieces of wood you'd feed to a fire to help it grow. Or is that the right word? I don't know. My mind is mush.
Perfect time to write a Ramble, yes?
(Tinder? Timber? Tender timber? I haven't built a fire in forever.)
I think these will turn out to be monthly Rambles rather than weekly ones, as promised at the beginning of the year, because clearly when it comes to writing weekly ones, I vacuum. But monthly, surely, I can manage.
(Say this all together now: Ha! Ha!)
Kindling Words, for all that it has turned my brain to twigs, was as lovely as the first time I went. . . . A different kind of loveliness, the loveliness of an old friend and different responsibilities and expectations, rather than the oh-wow! discovery of everything it had to offer the first time I attended in 2008. I led the editorial strand this year, which is for editors only, and as part of that, I gave a speech on insiders and outsiders, eels and goldfish (long story), to the whole group, expanding on some of the themes and ideas in "Morals, Muddles," among other things. I wanted this speech to be VERY IMPRESSIVE, to be worthy of KW and all the great writers there, but because of that, I had a terrible time getting started or even settling on a topic -- for a long time I was half writing this insider speech and half writing a speech on the rights of readers vs. authors (which will doubtless show up later somewhere eventually, probably here). I've written enough speeches now, especially under pressure, that I felt confident that eventually the speech would come together as it should (a normal step in my writing process, Overconfident Orating); but by Monday, I had so much (self-imposed) pressure on myself to be VERY IMPRESSIVE that I slipped into another normal part of my writing process, which is Dramatic Despair. In dealing with it, I think I hit upon a technique that may be useful to other writers, so I share it here:
WRITE THE ABSOLUTE WORST THING YOUR IMAGINARY AUDIENCE COULD SAY ABOUT YOUR WORK. Because then the absolute worst thing will be out there, SAID, and you won't need to fear it any more; and that will give you the freedom to keep writing what you have to write, and damn the torpedos, because you've already identified them and taken away their sting. (This is kind of like having a Day of Vacuum in print form: You defang it by acknowledging it and turning its venom to your own ends.) For me, this took the form of writing a draft of my speech in quasi-poetic form, where I led the audience through a history of all my failed attempts to write this damn speech, and I made it into a sort of theatrical piece, where various luminaries in the audience stood up and shouted "NOT GOOD ENOUGH!" at me at various points. And I was then going to turn it around at the end to say that KW is a conference where things are always good enough, because it's an atmosphere of love in which we do our best work, and have everybody chant "GOOD ENOUGH" together at the finale. Cheesy, yes, but once I had articulated the idea of [writer-whose-work-I-adore-name redacted] and [ditto] and [ditto] standing up to tell me I was awful, contrary to my attempts to be VERY IMPRESSIVE . . . Well, nothing I wrote was actually going to be so bad that those particular people were going to do that, because of their good manners, if nothing else. And recognizing that (and sleeping on it a night) freed me up to write the speech I wanted to write, which, while perhaps not VERY IMPRESSIVE, at least had some
And this is very much the culmination of all the February 4ths that have come before it: Second Sight is dedicated to the memory of my grandma (as well as my papa), and it would never have come about without this blog -- quite literally, as the blog led to my website led to writerly interest led to more talks led to the idea led to Kickstarter led to this finally happening. Thanks to all of you for your support through the years, on the blog and for the book: It is truly, deeply appreciated.
(I also owe a word of thanks to the correspondent who broke up with me in 2005, prompting me to restart my blog in the first place. If you read this, you know who you are, and sincerely, I say: Thank you.)
The cover was designed by Whitney Lyle, who is newly on staff at Scholastic, with much gadflyish art direction from me. (Seriously, editor + author + client in one person = designer's worst nightmare, but she has borne it with good grace.) I've been looking at versions of this cover for about three months now, and somehow posting it here and on Facebook today, e-mailing it to my book fulfillment people for my online shop, getting ready to send it to press -- it has finally become really real. Which I find a wee bit terrifying, I confess. But I so admire all you writers and illustrators for your daring and bravery, making things you imagined real in the world; and I'm excited to finally be taking that step myself at last. Hooray!
Next weekend, February 26 & 27, is my wonderful church's unbelievably wonderful BOOK SALE. I use a lot of positive adjectives on this blog, but I could spend all my favorite ones on this sale and still not say enough good things. The books are cheap -- $2 hardcovers, $2 trade paperbacks, $1 mass-market paperbacks; the selection is awesome -- our entire church basement, filled to bursting with every form of media, books fiction and nonfiction, DVDs & CDs & tapes, children's, YA, and adult; and the money all goes to a good cause -- said wonderful church, Park Slope United Methodist.
The sale runs from 8 to 4:30 on Saturday the 26th, 12:30-4:30 on Sunday the 27th. The church is located at the corner of 6th Ave. and 8th Street in Park Slope; take the the F to 7th Ave. or the R to 9th St. for subway access. If you want to clear out your shelves, you can donate books at the church on the following schedule:
February 21 (Monday) from 12 p.m.-6 p.m.
February 24 (Thursday) from 7 p.m.-10 p.m.
February 25 (Friday) from 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
If you'd like to arrange a car pickup in the Park Slope vicinity, call Rick at (347) 538-7604. And if you need any more information, you can click here, but really, you should just COME. You will not regret it. And thank you.