Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"Under a Certain Little Star," by Wislawa Szymborska

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity in case I'm mistaken.
Don't be angry, happiness, that I take you for my own.
May the dead forgive me that their memory's but a flicker.
My apologies to time for the quantity of world overlooked per second.
My apologies to an old love for treating a new one as the first.
Forgive me, far-off wars, for carrying my flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss.
My apologies to those in train stations for sleeping soundly at five in the morning.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing sometimes.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing in with a spoonful of water.
And you, O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage,
staring, motionless, always at the same spot,
absolve me even if you happen to be stuffed.
My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs.
My apologies to large questions for small answers.
Truth, do not pay me too much attention.
Solemnity, be magnanimous toward me.
Bear with me, O mystery of being, for pulling threads from your veil.
Soul, don't blame me that I've got you so seldom.
My apologies to everything that I can't be everywhere.
My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman.
I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me,
since I am my own obstacle.
Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words,
and then labor to make them light.

-- from the collection Miracle Fair, translated by Joanna Trzeciak

Saturday, August 27, 2005

In Praise of Puppet Peoples

Last night Katy and I went to see "The Muppets Take Manhattan" at the Central Park Film Festival in Rumsey Playfield. "TMTM" is the first movie I distinctly remember seeing in a theatre (it came out in 1984, when I was five or six); they showed it at Carleton once, in a very well-attended movie night, and Katy and I watched it on video when I first came to New York in August of 2000. Googling the movie now, I see that it's gotten mixed-to-negative reviews, with most people feeling it's only a mediocre entry in the Muppet canon; but my vision of it is so obscured by nostalgia, my fondness for the Muppets, my love for New York City, and my ability to sing pretty much all the lyrics to the not-bad songs in the movie that last night I was ready to put it up there with "Singin' in the Rain." And my fellow New Yorkers seemed to agree -- I turned around to look at the audience during the climactic wedding sequence and there wasn't a frown in the Playfield. Long live goofy, happy movies, whatever the critics may say.

Three other "TMTM" tidbits:

  • When Jenny and Kermit are first seen in Central Park, right before they start jogging, they're sitting on Cherry Hill overlooking the Lake.
  • Lonny Price, who plays the sweetly nerdy producer Ronny Crawford in "TMTM," also played the sinisterly nerdy resort heir Neil Kellerman in "Dirty Dancing" -- another seminal, probably-not-good-but-lord-I-love-it movie of my youth.
  • I remembered the kindly diner-owner Pete's monologues with fond incomprehension, but it turns out the incomprehension is justified: It really doesn't make any sense. "Big city, hmm? Live. Work, huh? But. Only peoples. Peoples is peoples. No is buildings. Is tomatoes, huh? Is peoples, is dancing, is music, is potatoes. So, peoples is peoples. Okay?"


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Because 1984 Is Now

From http://avantgame.blogspot.com/2005/08/ministry-of-reshelving.html:

You are cordially invited to join the Ministry of Reshelving, a new government department that tries to reflect today's political realities through the reclassification of what was formerly known as "fiction."

How to Serve the Ministry of Reshelving:

  1. Select a local bookstore to carry out your reshelving activities.
  2. Download and print "This book has been relocated by the Ministry ofReshelving" bookmarks and "All copies of 1984 have been relocated" notecards to take with you to the bookstore. Or make your own. We recommend bringing a notecard and 5-10 bookmarks to each store.
  3. Go to the bookstore and locate its copies of George Orwell's 1984. Unless the Ministry of Reshelving has already visited this bookstore, it is probably currently incorrectly classified as "Fiction" or "Literature."
  4. Discreetly move all copies of 1984 to a more suitable section, such as "Current Events," "Politics," "History," "True Crime," or "New Non-Fiction."
  5. Insert a Ministry of Reshelving bookmark into each copy of any book you have moved. Leave a note card in the empty space the books once occupied.
  6. If you spot other incorrectly classified books, feel free to relocate them.
  7. Please report all reshelving efforts to the Ministry. E-mail your store name, location, number of 1984 copies reshelved, and any other reshelving activities conducted, to reshelving @ avantgame.com. Photos of your mission can be uploaded to Flickr, tagged as "reshelving," and submitted to the Ministry of Reshelving group. Our goal is to relocate one thousand nine hundred and eighty-four copies, and to complete successful reshelving of 1984 in all 50 United States. Global contributions are welcome.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Miscellanea Rusticana

Nothing rustic about it, actually, since I'm now in New York. But:

  • The brilliant Melissa Anelli and I had a doubly brilliant idea for the director of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Joss Whedon. Actually, they should remake all the HP movies under the scriptwriting and directorship of Joss Whedon. The only problem with this is that it would keep Joss from creating/directing original material, and he needs to do that too. So obviously what he really needs is a Time-Turner so he can do all of this at once. He can have one, and JKR can have one so she can write book seven now and care for her baby too, and Howard Dean can have one so he can raise twice as much money as the Republicans . . . any other nominees?
  • Also, Leaky has started doing a hourlong "Pottercast" on sundry HP topics, and Melissa has what may be the best HP LJ icon I've ever seen up on her Journal right now.
  • The promised link to contribute to my goal for the Race for the Cure: Click here and follow the directions. It is hard to express appreciation without devolving into cliche, but I offer my most honest and generous thanks here to anyone who chooses to donate (or to run the race with me): Thank you, very much.
  • I turned a novel that I had been editing for almost two years (on and off) into production today: the long-ago-aforementioned Valley of the Wolves. Well, one of the years was off, truly, because I was working on The Legend of the Wandering King instead (by the same author) as we chose to publish that first . . . but altogether this project has been around as long as I've been a full-fledged editor, and having it gone is almost dizzying with the freedom and the accomplishment of finishing.
  • My sister has decided that she wants to get married not a year and a half or two years from now -- no, she wants to be married next July. Nights in green satin, here I come.
  • "There is more to this thing of love than meets the eye. I am going to have to think about this a great deal but I don't think it will get me anywhere. I think maybe they're all right when they say there are some things I won't know anything about until I'm older. But if it makes you like to eat all kinds of wurst I'm not sure I'm going to like this. "
    -- Harriet M. Welsch, in Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh
  • To bed with me. Good wishes and good nights (or good mornings) to all of you.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Quote File: Happiness

I've collected quotations in a file here at work for going on three years now, gathered from The Writer's Almanac and A.Word.A.Day and other people's .sig files and sundry other sources. I love quotations because they offer such perfect little glimpses of beauty or personality or insight -- they're the one-liners of truth -- and I often think of them or use them when I'm writing or talking about things that matter, for why request of an author "Use fewer words, please" when I can quote Michaelangelo: "Beauty is the purgation of superfluities"? Anyway, there's so much great stuff in my quote file that I thought I'd share it with y'all and post some quotations by theme. This week's theme is "happiness," which also ends up being "life" and "work," interestingly enough. Enjoy!

  • "The main thing that separates happy people from other people is the feeling that you're a practical item, with a use, like a sweater or a socket wrench." – Barbara Kingsolver
  • "Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." – Joseph Addison
  • "It is the experience of living that is important, not searching for meaning. We bring meaning by how we love the world." – Bernie S. Siegal
  • "I prayed for this: a modest swatch of land where I could garden, an ever-flowing spring
    close by, and a small patch of woods above the house. The gods gave all I asked and more.
    I pray for nothing more, but that these blessings last my life's full term." – Horace
  • “Reading and sauntering and lounging and dozing, which I call thinking, is my supreme happiness." – David Hume
  • "There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval." – George Santayana
  • "The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose." – William Cowper
  • “To live exhilaratingly in and for the moment is deadly serious work, fun of the most exhausting sort." – Barbara Harrison
  • "All suffering is caused by being in the wrong place. If you're unhappy where you are, MOVE." – Timothy Leary
  • "If only I could manage, without annoyance to my family, to get imprisoned for 10 years, without hard labour, and with the use of books and writing materials, it would be simply delightful!" – Lewis Carroll
  • "If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you might be bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activity according to nature...you will be happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this." – Marcus Aurelius
  • "It is something--it can be everything--to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below." – Wallace Stegner
  • "One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, speak a few reasonable words." – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • "I doubt whether the world holds for anyone a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice-cream." – Heywood Campbell Broun

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Taking Action

Moveon.org is sponsoring candlelight vigils around the United States every Wednesday night at 7:30 in support of Cindy Sheehan. You can find one near you at the MoveOn website.

The New York Carleton Club -- or at least, Cheryl Klein -- is once again forming a team for the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure 5K run/walk on Sunday, September 25 at 9:20 a.m. in Central Park. Any New Yorkers who would like to join the team are welcome (Carleton diploma not required), and eventually I'll have a link here if anyone's interested in contributing to my $200 fundraising goal (which would be very much appreciated). My grandmother died of breast cancer, and many wonderful and important women in my life have undergone treatment for it, so this has become something of my personal cause. Plus the race falls on my birthday weekend this year, so I'll treat all my team members to Krispy Kremes afterward. If you're interested in joining the team, leave me a comment and I'll get you information ASAP.

(One in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, by the way. One in seven. Scary, no?)

And speaking of the New York Carleton Club, Kirsten Major '88 published a marvelous "Modern Love" essay in the Times Style section Sunday, which also fits the "Taking Action" theme: A Go-Between Gets Going.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Many Happy Returns of the Day

My family had four notable events to celebrate yesterday:

  • My parents' 29th wedding anniversary -- lasting proof that who you're wedding matters far more than how you're wedded (in a powder-blue tuxedo with navy lapels and a frilly shirt, in my father's case). Hurrah Mom and Dad!
  • My cousin Diana Sadler's graduation from the University of Louisville with a degree in Sociology. Hurrah Diana!
  • The Kansas City Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure, in which all the granddaughters of Carol Sadler participated with pride. Hurrah us!
  • And most notably, my sister Melissa's engagement to Joseph Jackson of Lee's Summit, Mo. Hurrah for the kid!

And while I'm here, hurrah for my cousin Hans Klein, who just landed a job with a great landscape architecture firm in Des Moines, and for my cousin Holly Klein for being hardworking and a terrific mom, and for my second cousin Preston Tyler Klein, who has taken the marvelous genes of the Klein family to new aesthetic heights and now continually triumphs as the cutest of us all.

(I was up at 4:30 this morning to catch a flight. I think it's showing. Must sleep now.)

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Youyou, & Out of my Missouri

Gacked from Nadia after she kindly replied to this for me: Not a meme, but a youyou, where you leave a comment and I'll tell you some things I associate with you. (I may do these over e-mail if they get too long.) Reply with your name, favorite color, and birthday, and:

  1. I'll respond with something random about you.
  2. I'll tell you what song/movie reminds me of you.
  3. I'll pick a dessert with which you and I would have a food fight.
  4. I'll say something that only makes sense to you and me (maybe/maybe not).
  5. I'll tell you my first memory of you.
  6. I'll tell you what animal you remind me of (your daemon/Patronus?).
  7. I'll ask you something that I've always wondered about you.
  8. If I do this for you, you must post this on your journal/blog in turn. "Must" is a liberal term in this usage, however, and if you'd really rather not, well, that's cool by me.
  9. If I don't know you, which is entirely possible given that random people seem to have wandered onto this blog somehow (hello Drew, Sarah Irene, and Mitch!), feel free to leave a message and we'll see if I'm psychic.


I write this from a hotel room in Warrensburg, Missouri, where I'm speaking tomorrow at a writers' conference at Central Missouri State University. I have been home for three days now, and I have gotten my hair trimmed, bought new jeans and running shoes, made dinner for my family (cranberry chicken, which they duly appreciated), went to see the excellent "Murderball" with my father and sister, walked two miles with my mother, and gone through my grandfather's extensive library with him to select those books I'd someday like to have for myself. I am reading a lovely novel called Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber, which I purchased in Denver because Midnight's Children and Atonement felt too much like assignment reading; it's slow, but the writing is sensuous and gorgeous, and the descriptions of Middle Eastern food -- especially baklava -- have me desperate to get back to Brooklyn and visit Atlantic Avenue. I bought my first-ever song off iTunes today, the Counting Crows' "Accidentally in Love," which always makes me dance around goofily. And I now have silver toenails. All of this matters not a whit, of course, in the face of anything truly important, and I'm still thinking about the events of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. But then I look at my toes, I sing "I'm in love" umpteen times, I lust after baklava -- and the little things count.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Lines from “Star Wars” That Can Be Improved by Substituting “Pants” for Key Words

A list created by one of my classmates in the Carleton College class of 2000:

  • We’ve got to be able to get some reading on those pants, up or down.
  • The pants may not look like much, kid, but they’ve got it where it counts.
  • I find your lack of pants disturbing.
  • These pants contain the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it.
  • Han will have those pants down. We’ve got to give him more time!
  • General Veers, prepare your pants for a surface assault.
  • I used to bulls-eye womp-rats in my pants back home.
  • TK-421 . . . Why aren’t you in your pants?
  • Lock the door. And hope they don’t have pants.
  • You are unwise to lower your pants.
  • She must have hidden the plans in her pants. Send a detachment down to retrieve them. See to it personally, Commander.
  • Governor Tarkin. I recognized your foul pants when I was brought on board.
  • You look strong enough to pull the pants off of a Gundark.
  • Luke . . . Help me take . . . these pants off.
  • Great, Chewie, great. Always thinking with your pants.
  • That blast came from those pants. That thing’s operational!
  • A tremor in the pants. The last time I felt this was in the presence of my old master.
  • Don’t worry. Chewie and I have gotten into a lot of pants more heavily guarded than this.
  • Maybe you’d like it back in your pants, your Highness.
  • Your pants betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially one . . . Your sister!
  • Jabba doesn’t have time for smugglers who drop their pants at the first sign of an Imperial Cruiser.
  • Yeah, well, short pants is better than no pants at all, Chewie.
  • I cannot teach him. The boy has no pants.
  • Attention. This is Lando Calrissean. The Empire has taken control of my pants, I advise everyone to leave before more troops arrive.
  • You came in those pants? You’re braver than I thought.
  • Yesssss. The hate is swelling in your pants.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Colorado Dreaming

Literally, at the moment, as Ben and Melissa and I lie around our small condo in Winter Park in a cheerful haze of sun-drunk, muscle-sore tiredness. Yesterday we hiked a mountain (which briefly included my singing "The Sound of Music" in a meadow a la Julie Andrews, until a passing biker stopped and asked if someone was in pain), went down an Alpine Slide, played Scrabble, and attended a rodeo (yes, a rodeo); today we white-water rafted down Clear Creek near Golden -- which we all found surprisingly congenial -- and shortly I think we are going to go swimming. So it has been a lovely couple of days of activity alternating with relaxation; nothing deeper or more serious to report of it than happiness, but nothing lighter or less important than that either.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Letter to a Young Aspiring Editor

One of the students I spoke to yesterday wrote to me today and asked a few more questions about the editorial life. I thought my replies might interest some of you here, so:

DPI Student: Do you feel that being an editor has given you insight into what it takes to get a book published? Do you feel like you have a better chance, or at least a better idea, about what it would take for you to write a book that would get published if you ever wanted to write a book? I know that's kind of a weird question, but I've always been curious about whether or not editors feel this way. I was surprised to hear Gladys and Arnold [the teachers of the editorial workshop at DPI] say that most good editors do not make good writers because I thought that being a good editor would help you be a good writer. What do you think about this?

CK: Yes, absolutely I feel that being an editor has given me insight into the publication process, how to write up a query letter, who to send a book to, etc. I toy with the idea of writing myself -- one of my New Year's Resolutions is to "Write a bad novel" -- and if I do finally get around to it, the editing experience has taught me what agent I'd want to go with (if I went with an agent), what editors I'd want the book to go to, what kind of terms I'd expect for my work, what subrights I'd hold out for, etc., based on my experience of how the business works. And I also know plenty about the principles of good fiction (which is where my brain goes when I think of "writing"): how stories operate, how to set up mysteries, what my characters need to do in order to be likable. So I know the mechanics of writing good fiction, and I definitely know the mechanics of getting it published.

HOWEVER, this does NOT mean that I can actually write good fiction. Partly this is because I'm so hyperaware of the mechanics of good fiction that I'm incredibly easily dissatisfied and I quit when things aren't going well, and if there's one thing a writer needs more than anything else, it's perseverance. Partly it's because I don't have the time and attention to devote to it that a fiction writer really needs -- I have too many responsibilities to my authors under contract and the ones who submit work to me to use my limited free time to indulge my own writing tastes. You will note that my Resolution is to "Write a *bad* novel" -- I felt if I gave myself permission to have the first draft of the book be crappy, I might get the thing done. Thus far, though I have ideas, very little has been accomplished.

Good editors are often terrific writers of things other than fiction, I should note -- we write flap copy, we write sales letters, we write catalog copy, and all of that is *good* writing in the sense that it sounds good, it means something, and it accomplishes the purpose it's meant to (persuade someone to buy/pay attention to the book). And many editors are successful writers as well -- see Jill Bialosky (Norton), Michael Korda (S&S), Ursula Nordstrom (legendary Harper children's books editor -- read her collection of letters, DEAR GENIUS, if you're at all interested in going into children's books. But note that she threw the sequel to her first novel into a fire because she was dissatisfied with it.). Arthur, my boss, writes picture books and gets them published. But as a rule, editors exist to serve writers and make books, not to write them ourselves, and I'm always an editor first.

DPIS: Do you feel that you get to be creative as an editor? You mentioned that you feel proud when a book you edited has been completed because you played such a huge role in putting the book together, which I found fascinating. Why don't editors get to share in the profits of book sales, especially if the sales are really good?

CK: To address your second question first: Editors don't get to share in the profits of book sales if the sales are good because that would also require us to share in the profits if sales were bad. That is, tying book sales to editorial salaries would have to be done across the board, and editors don't want to risk their own salaries on the chance that a book will tank. (Such a practice would also make editors less likely to buy risky books, and the business would stagnate.) Editors who have notable successes usually get promoted and get more freedom to publish the kind of books they want to publish, which is the way we share in a book's profits. Arthur got to establish his own imprint at Scholastic after he'd discovered REDWALL for Philomel, made a success out of THE GOLDEN COMPASS at Knopf, and won two Caldecott Medals at Putnam -- and that resume led the higher-ups at Scholastic to have faith in him when he wanted to purchase a little British fantasy called HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE. And the rest is history.

And your second question -- yes, absolutely, I think we get to be creative. I spoke a little about "vision" yesterday, and that's because from the very first moment I read a manuscript, I develop two visions of it. The first is the editorial vision: I try to figure out what the author is trying to do in the book and how I can help him/her better accomplish that, and all of our conversations and all of my editing after that point will be dedicated to that pursuit, making the book all it can be. Second, I develop a publication vision: How the book should look, how it can be marketed, what kind of audience it would appeal to, how we can reach that market, and all of my efforts for the book not in conjunction with the author are dedicated to that end.

A good example of this is a book I recently edited called THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING (in stores now!). It's a translation of a Spanish fantasy about a prince of pre-Islamic Arabia who commits a terrible crime in his youth (the first half of the book), and spends the second half of the book trying to make up for it and to find an enchanted carpet involved in the crime. (It's an amazing book, if I do say so myself.) I worked with the author to make the ending (and therefore the meaning) of the book more clear and comprehensible to readers and to tighten some loose writing throughout. That was serving the editorial vision.

And then, for the publication vision, I sat down with our book designer to talk over the book and its potential appearance. It has aspects of inspirational fiction a la Paulo Coelho (a hero of the author's), and potential to reach the adult market, so we very consciously modeled our book jacket after the style of Paulo Coelho's books. (You can see a picture of it and the catalog copy here: http://www.arthuralevinebooks.com/book.asp?bookid=89). It follows a quest across Arabia, so I put money in the book's budget for an artist to draw a map of Arabia to use as a frontispiece and as an aid to readers, and I researched Arabia circa 560 CE so the map could be as accurate as possible. It's inspired by a true story, so I worked with Laura on her author's note to more clearly delineate the line between fact and fiction (very important to reviewers in the library market) and to add some great new information about the real-life model for the protagonist that I uncovered in researching him. And it uses Arabic terms throughout, so I compiled a glossary and pronunciation guide with the help of professors at Harvard and NYU and a friend of mine who studies Arabic. I wrote letters to potential blurbers; I wrote letters to our sales reps to inspire them to read the book; I sent galleys of the book to Arabic community centers throughout the United States, hoping to stir up interest in the Arab community, as there hasn't been much fiction for teenagers featuring Arab characters. (You can read more about my work on and love for the book here: http://www.arthuralevinebooks.com/blog.asp. This also includes some personal reflections on the book in relation to my time at DPI, oddly enough.) It took a lot of creativity to put all that together -- again, if I do say so myself -- and I am very, very proud of the final product, both its content and its appearance.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Deja Vu All Over Again

Today I was on the alumni speakers' panel at the Denver Publishing Institute, my professional alma mater, at the University of Denver in Colorado. I graduated from DPI five years ago tomorrow; I'm staying in the very dorm where I lived then; and at every turn I'm seeing the locations where my life as I know it started to take shape: the hillside where I sat and wondered "Could I really move to New York?"; the bookstore where I read this Dave Eggers article about taking opportunities, which practically dared me to go; the auditorium where I heard Susan Hirschman speak and thought "Yes! Children's books! That's it!" I came in a depressed, unsure, shy young English major who thought she might move to Portland and work at Powell's or something, and I left a more confident, unsure, but energized future editor (that I knew) with a plane ticket in hand for New York.

So I told this current class of whippersnappers my incredibly lucky tale, the line from DPI to Susan to Arthur to Harry and so on, with special emphasis on my whole New York decision, since so many of them are struggling with that themselves. And I found a useful metaphor here: Earlier in the day they had been talking about "The Ugly Duckling" as part of their children's-books workshop with Virginia Duncan, and I realized that"The Ugly Duckling" isn't a story about an essential change in the duckling's character. No, the only thing that changes is the Duckling's circumstances, as he goes from the wrong place and company for him to the right one, and then he can recognize his own beauty, be as gorgeous as he truly is, once he's in the right place. That's what the summer of 2000 was for me, finding that miracle of a right place. Here's wishing the DPI Class of 2005 miracles of their own.