Monday, January 30, 2006

A Ramble: Growing Into, and Out of, and Up

I left work tonight at 9 p.m. and came home with still more work to do in my bag -- which I have yet to do, I admit. But it was a long day, and I am putting the work off a little longer. . . . At home, I changed straight out of my work clothes into my favorite pajamas, made blue cheese spaghettini, and watched last week's "Gilmore Girls" in preparation for tomorrow's. When that was done, I needed to choose my Music to Wash Dishes By, and because I was tired and a little melancholy, I went for Fiona Apple's "When the Pawn . . ." This was an album I picked up five years ago, a couple of years after it came out, because Fiona Apple intrigued me and it received excellent reviews. But I didn't really listen to it or like it until last year, when suddenly I understood it: the dissonances, the irregular beats, the lyrics about love and disappointment -- what I thought moody and self-indulgent at twenty-two was genius and just right once I was twenty-seven.

And this made me think of all the other books and movies I've come to love over time: Possession by A.S. Byatt, which I carried around in seventh grade because I wanted to impress the grown-ups, but which I didn't actually read until my sophomore year of college, when I could understand the literary references and adored it. "Before Sunrise," which I thought nice but a little boring when I saw it my senior year of high school, became the definitive film about making a connection when I watched it again last year. (And with "Before Sunset" it forms a gorgeous, heart-wrenching meditation on just this theme: time passing, things changing.) When I read Bridget Jones's Diary at age twenty I was mostly peeved there weren't more Jane Austen references; as a single girl in the big city three years later (and working at a publishing company, no less), I laughed and winced with Bridget through every romantic and life misstep. The difference of course with all these works was that I had the experiences that inspired their creators -- falling in love, making an idiot of myself on a date, reading the literature, learning the curves. And so I grew into them, in a way I would never have expected when I first encountered them; bittersweet, as all growing up is.

And so I started thinking about a manuscript I received last week from a fifteen-year-old writer, full of Philosophical Thoughts and terrible, terrible metaphors. The writer did some things nicely; the fantasy world was surprising and original, and she described the loneliness of the heroine with a desperation that surely means it's real. But her central love story was idealized and unconvincing -- exactly the kind of love story I would have written at age fourteen, honestly, where a perfect boy rides up and saves the day (bad-metaphorically speaking) and fulfills the martyred heroine's every need. And the writing was just not good, weighted down by telling and characters straight out of other books and drama drama drama.

I want to take this writer by the shoulders and say "Don't try to get published now. Give yourself ten years. Read a hell of a lot, go to college, study literature with good teachers, travel, drink wine, have long conversations late into the night, fall in love, get your heart broken -- and then write this again." The imagination isn't going anywhere; as long as she keeps working it, it will strengthen and deepen over time. But the emotion that lies at the heart of all great art, and the wisdom and skill to create it: That happens only with observation and experience. (Or genius, which I don't think she's quite achieved.) If I did tell her this to her face, I'm sure she'd shake off my hands and roll her eyes and sigh: Being told to be patient is invariably maddening, and Christopher Paolini is famous now. And yet from my wise old vantage of twenty-seven, I have no better advice to give.

I look forward to growing out of Fiona Apple one day -- to some time when I don't need to wallow in the richness of her chords and the sweetness of her dark, when I come across the CD and think reminiscently, "Ah, yes, 2005 . . . Wow, that year hurt," then smile and tuck it back in the cabinet. That time will come -- some weeks has come -- is indeed coming every day. But now I get another cup of tea, sit down in my chair, pick up the manuscript, and close my eyes. . . . Sing it, sister, as I read, all night long.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

FAQ, Fun Stuff, Depressing Stuff, and Chickens

  • I'm adding a FAQ over on Talking Books with all the questions people commonly ask at writers' conferences regarding submissions, the children's book market, my personal tastes, etc. Questions already on the list include "Why are editors prejudiced against rhyme?", "Why does it take you so long to respond to my manuscript?" (eegh), and the old standby "What are you looking for?", and I'm collecting more. So if there's Anything You've Always Wanted to Know from an Editor (But Were Afraid to Ask), please leave your question in the comments or send it via e-mail to chavela_que at yahoo dot com.
  • I have an avatar! (And yes, that's a bridge behind her):

Created with

  • For Marilyn the Toymaker, pictures of my MetroCard butterflies:

These dragonflies are really my favorite to make: 1. Cut off the black strip at the bottom of the card. 2. Round off the ends and cut curves into its sides to form a thorax. 3. Fold the top part of the card in half and cut out the wings. 4. Roll a piece of tape into a long cylinder, sticky-side out, and press it into the fold. 5. Press the thorax onto the piece of tape. Done! They make lovely package decorations as well.

  • Titles for The Great American Zombie Novel, Part One and Part Two.
  • Ride Space Mountain!
  • Pottercasters, you found me out: I am Hot Cheryl. But you know John really only likes me because my name sounds like Chipotle . . .
  • I'm now reading The Magician's Nephew, which I'm liking quite a lot, thanks to the comedy of Jadis flailing away in London and the stoutness of Digory's heart. And my friend Ted and I just finished a dual read of The Brothers Karamazov and are going on to The Iliad next.
  • NPR just reminded me that today is the anniversary of the Challenger explosion -- the Kennedy assassination moment of my generation, that is, the moment we can all remember where we were when it happened. I was eight years old, missing school because I had the flu, standing next to the receptionist's window in my doctor's office in Belton, Missouri; and my parents were both teachers, so we took Christa McAuliffe's death pretty hard.
  • Fred Phelps, who never ceases to give Kansas and Baptists a bad name, is protesting the funerals of the West Virginia miners according to the ludicrous logic "Phelps preaches God's Word -> he went to West Virginia to protest a gay funeral according to God's Word -> some West Virginians protested his protest -> God hates West Virginia." (This news from Jeremiah.) Thankfully Phelps is insane enough to be irrelevant, but it's still horrifying people can act like this (especially in the name of Christ). For an opposing view, see God Hates Westboro Baptist Church or The Book of Everything.
  • Samuel Alito is, sadly, sane, relevant, and our next Supreme Court justice.
  • To end on an up note: My wall calendar at home this year is Extraordinary Chickens. This month's chicken glares at me every morning, accusing me of lingering too long in bed or not moving quickly enough toward the day; but the moral force of that gimlet eye is undercut by the Warholian feather duster that's exploded atop its head. . . . I love chickens (and dachsunds too) because they maintain such strict and endearing dignity in the face of their utter physical ridiculousness.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


(A late-night update specifically for Katy, because she was complaining, not that that's unusual. ;-) )

  • I'm delighted to report that Arthur A. Levine Books has won the 2006 Mildred L. Batchelder Award for An Innocent Soldier, by Josef Holub, translated by Michael Hofmann, and edited by my friend Janna Morishima. Yay us, Josef, Michael, and Janna!
  • And I'm even more proud to say that two of my babies were named to the ALA Notable Books list: Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, by girl genius Scholastic star Lisa Yee, and The Legend of the Wandering King by Laura Gallego Garcia, translated by Dan Bellm. Yay Lisa, Laura, and Dan!
  • We also had two books on the Best Books for Young Adults list: Absolutely Positively Not, by the tall, hilarious, and Minnesotan David LaRochelle, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which was written by a woman from England. (An interesting thing about Harry: The books used to make both the Notables and the BBYA lists, but as Harry has aged, he seems to have moved solely into BBYA territory . . . or else the Notables committee has just started taking the books' quality for granted. (Or they didn't like it or found it flawed, I suppose, but surely that's not really possible -- ?)) Anyway, yay David and Jo!
  • I moved offices this week, so I now have a space in which I can't touch opposite walls when I extend my arms; another bookcase and file cabinet, which I hadn't realized how much I needed; and a lovely little reading corner with a comfy chair, where I hope to spend many happy hours with manuscripts. I need to hang my posters, get a plant, and retrain my instincts to remember the book files are in the bottom drawer, the working files in the top one over; but it's already starting to feel like home.
  • "Tristan and Isolde" is a thoroughly obvious, ridiculous, and enjoyably snarkable film; if you go see it, try to count how many different facial expressions James Franco has. (I think I came up with five.) "The World's Fastest Indian" is a sweet movie my grandmother would have appreciated, despite the fact it is about motorcycles, partly because it is about old age as well, and partly because it stars Anthony Hopkins (who -- name-drop/bragging alert -- was at the screening I attended, courtesy of the ever-generous Jeff). And "Cosi Fan Tutte" at the Met tonight was brilliant -- my first-ever Mozart opera: angelic music, witty libretto, and the endearingly dorky James Levine conducting. (His hair . . . Oh my. I would call it a white man's 'fro, except then there's that sweet little bald patch in front, which makes it a white man's 'fro with an unintentional partial reverse Mohawk. Every time I see him, I just want to give him a hug.)
  • Maundering maundering maundering on. Stopping now.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I just added two things to my Talking Books website: a link to my Manifesto on good books written late last year, and the Query Letter from Hell, written in jest by my friend Katy, which I've now annotated to explain all the things in it that annoy me. And there are a lot of them.

We also recently added an excerpt from The Book of Everything to the Arthur A. Levine Books website. This is the book I rave about in my SCBWI interview, where nine-year-old Thomas talks to Jesus, faces down his abusive father, and learns how to be happy; it is extraordinary and heartrending and astonishing and deeply joyous, and it will be published this coming April.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Narnia, the Movie

I just saw the Narnia film -- an extremely faithful adaptation, in every sense of the adjective. Some of this I liked: The wonder came through very well, and the emphasis on food; I loved the beavers, the centaurs, and Mr. Tumnus (especially Mr. Tumnus), and having grown up with the story of Christ, I was moved by the representation of Aslan's humiliation and death. But the filmmakers' decision to lose none of the automatic sexism of the book -- even to enhance it in Susan's constant doubting and harping, and with lots of manly shots of oh-so-strong-and-important-Ken-doll-Peter -- disturbed me a good deal, rather to my surprise. . . . It felt like a male's story to me, or a child's, for men and innocent ones are the center of all consciousness and rightness; I didn't find a place in it for a woman except as a caretaker like Mrs. Beaver or a queen under Peter, and I *hate* that, I really do. I know that my focus on gender here is missing the point of the book/movie entirely, and also that my struggle would be part of Lewis's religious point: One has to come to Christ either innocently or in full submission, accepting the truth He presents, even if that truth excludes women being in power. But that does not mean I like it.

I suppose it sums up my feelings that during the fight between Peter and the White Witch, I found myself rooting for the White Witch. For even though she is all that is evil and cruel, I never can be against a blonde with a sword.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Interview and Apartment Art

There is a very, very kind interview with me on the SCBWI website here.

If you read it, or if you're finding this blog from it, the subway-card butterflies are worth explaining in more detail. Lori asked me if I had any hobbies, and I said yes, I like to make art out of subway fare cards, which in NYC are called MetroCards. MetroCards are made from a thin, flexible plastic that keeps its shape if you bend it -- I make the butterflies by folding the cards in half and cutting out a butterfly wing from the fold, then balancing the butterfly on the fold with tape. There are six of them (plus a dragonfly) perched around my apartment, and they really do look like they could take off any moment. . . .

As for the mural, I missed trees after I moved to New York, so I bought green and brown paper at a nearby stationery store and created my own forest on the wall of my studio apartment. (This picture was taken on a day when I was having my book group over for dinner, hence the highly unusual neatness.) I love Henri Matisse, and the far tree on the left is made from cut-paper shapes like the collages he created at the end of his life -- I'd love to redo the whole mural this way (it's nearly four years old now), but I haven't had time to work on it. (In passing, many, many manuscripts have been edited or read in that big yellow chair.) There's a bright red kite with a MetroCard star on the next tree from the left; a bird cut from a NYC subway map on the rectangular tree in the middle; Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 nailed to the trunk of the next tree over, inspired by "As You Like It" (though I replace it with "Since there's no help" when I'm feeling romantically depressed); and an origami cicada and a MetroCard canary on the tree on the right. And then there are paper and MetroCard flowers, apples, vines, stars, even a snake (because this is a garden) in odd and unexpected places around the rest of the apartment. The installation as a whole is called "Brooklyn Arden," whence also the name of this blog.

This is what I said to Lori about it: "The artwork in my apartment is all intuitive, but there ends up being a kind of rhythm and balance to it -- I have stars here so I need flowers there, MetroCards here so I need paper there -- in much the same way I try to figure out a manuscript's rhythm and balance, I'll say, to bring this back to editing. This will sound completely cheesy, but in both things I want to have beauty and life and joy." And it's true.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Testing, Testing

I've had problems accessing my blog today, and apparently other people have too. So here's a post to try to clear it out and clean it up.

In other news, in the past 24 hours I've developed major musical crushes on Lyle Lovett and John Legend. Hot damn, the both of them. And I bought a little black dress, for those of you who remember my search for one from last October -- J. Crew. knee-length, empire waist, tuxedo detailing, v-neck cut down to here. When John and Lyle see me in it, they'll fight over me.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Some Notes on Narnia

This month my book group is reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and, on Thursday, going to see the movie. I just finished the book, and it's left me thinking about children's literature, religion, sexism, and Philip Pullman. . . . I've read it twice before, once when I was in elementary school and enjoyed the story, but not enough to go on to the rest of the series; and once in college, when the allegory hit me like a swipe of Aslan's paw. This time I was reading it neither for story nor for meaning but for style, I suppose; I was thinking about the tone in which Lewis was writing, and the themes that kept emerging from his work, and particularly whether I felt the charges Pullman lays at his (wardrobe) door were justified. (For the record, I tend to say I'm a Christian agnostic -- I practice the Christian faith, but God is an ongoing conversation in my life -- so I arrive at the debate with sympathies on both sides.)

So, some observations:

  • I love, love, love Lewis's understanding of the things that are necessary to children's comfort, like food and warmth, and how he takes care to describe in full everywhere the Pevensies go, the people they meet and the experiences they have. . . . Part of what I love is child-psychological and part of it is stylistic. Child-psychological: the Pevensies keep wondering when it will be dinner, or breakfast, or thinking about how it's very cold or what Aslan's fur feels like, and that emphasis on immediate sensual experience is wonderfully childlike -- Lewis knew his audience. And stylistically, Lewis satisfies his readers' desire to experience these things by describing everything in relevant, child-friendly, never-boring detail: what they eat, and what it's like to sleep in a beavers' den, and even their emotion -- which I usually frown on, but which works here because the comparisons are so right: "Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer." Lovely.
  • And "always winter and never Christmas" -- goodness, what a perfect phrase, and a perfectly awful thought! Enough to strike cold in the heart of any child.
  • At the same time I'm amused by the hints of the Oxford don that keep poking through: "'Come out, Mrs. Beaver. Come out, Sons and Daughters of Adam. It's all right! It isn't Her!' This was bad grammar of course, but that is how beavers talk when they are excited . . ." God forbid there be an unacknowledged line of bad grammar in the book!
  • Coming back to the descriptions, compare these two passages:

He was only a little taller than Lucy herself and he carried over his head an umbrella, white with snow. From the waist upward he was like a man, but his legs were shaped like a goat's (the hair on them was glossy black) and instead of feet he had goat's hoofs. He also had a tail, but Lucy did not notice this at first because it was neatly caught up over the arm that held the umbrella to keep it from trailing in the snow. He had a red woollen muffler round his neck and his skin was rather reddish too. He had a strange, but pleasant little face, with a short pointed beard and curly hair, and out of the hair there stuck two horns, one on each side of his forehead . . .

Nothing like this man had ever been seen on Privet Drive. He was tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt. He was wearing long robes, a purple cloak that swept the ground, and high-heeled, buckled boots. His blue eyes were light, bright, and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles, and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice. This man’s name was Albus Dumbledore.

I kept hearing echoes of Sorcerer's Stone in reading Lion, Witch, though of course the influence goes the other way. . . . J. K. Rowling has gone back and forth on what she thinks of Narnia, but I'm certain that she must have read Lewis quite a lot at some point, enough that his stylistic rhythms got in her brain and came out her fingers. It's also simply good writing for children.

  • J. K. Rowling and Lewis are also alike in the kitchen-sinkness of their fantasy worlds, that they've taken anything they liked from any mythology at all and thrown it in for the fun and the wonder of it. Tolkien scorned this, of course, and now that I'm thinking about it, JKR seems to have found a middle way between the two Oxfordians: She's taken everyone else's fantastical elements, made them coherent in the mythology of her wizarding world, and left out what doesn't fit (no Father Christmas, for example), while Lewis just doesn't seem to care. But this kitchen-sinkness does contribute to the delight of each world, that you turn a corner and discover "Oh! giants!" or "Oh! dragons!" -- the wonder and pleasure that they too are at Hogwarts or in Narnia.
  • I am not at all impressed with Lewis's characterizations, at least of the children. Peter and Susan have about as much personality as the Witch's statues, all "I say!" and "old chap"; Edmund exists to be reformed, and Lucy to be wide-eyed and innocent. They're fine as entry-points to the world of Narnia, but otherwise terribly wooden.
  • Edmund is an interesting case, though, because while he obviously is there to be Judas and repent, his emotions early on in the book give children a less-than-perfect character to identify with -- not only in his greed for Turkish Delight, but the way he resents Peter and lets down Lucy and is sulky and dumb (closing the wardrobe door). There's a comfort in that too for children, I think, that fictional characters can have the same failings they do in real life, and it works for Lewis plotwise because Aslan gets to forgive him.
  • Lewis is sexist, but at least at this point in the series, it's no more than what one would expect from any conservative gentleman of the 1940s: the girls do the cooking and cleaning and washing-up; Peter is automatically made High King; the descriptions of Queen Susan the Gentle and Queen Lucy the Valiant emphasize all the men who want to marry them, while Peter and Edmund get to exist on their own, etc.
  • I wonder what Christian schools who read the book in class do with the fact that Mr. Beaver drinks beer.

To conclude: In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Mark Morford describes his disappointment at revisiting Narnia as an adult and finding it flat, episodic, lacking character, devoid of meaning beyond the "annoying Christian allegory," and his utter bewilderment at what children find so magical in it (what he once found so magical in it). I see his criticisms, but I think Lewis somehow tapped into that great well of childhood emotion, need, wonder, and delight, setting his readers right there; cutting his unfamiliar fantasy world with enough touches of home (toast and tea) to be safe and reassuring, yet still magical and wondrous; getting to identify with little Lucy or slightly evil Edmund and come out the other side a King or Queen. I acquired a boxed set of the Chronicles in our office move, and I think I might read the rest of the books -- partly to keep seeing what the fuss is about, and partly because I too long for the reassuring and magical and wondrous. Fascinating stuff.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Brilliant Blogs

You may notice I updated the sidebar with a few new blogs recently. Highlights include:

  • AustenBlog -- run by the famous (in online Austen circles) Mags of and Tilneys and Trapdoors, this blog tracks Jane Austen, her works, and related projects in non-scholarly articles on the Internet.
  • Read Roger -- the blog of Roger Sutton, the editor of the Horn Book. He was on the Germany trip with me last year, and he's funny, smart, courteous, and fond of being provocative, so always interesting to read.
  • Jennifer Crusie's Argh Ink -- Jennifer Crusie is by far my favorite romance novelist writing today: unique characters with strange but realistic obsessions (e.g., Sophie in "Welcome to Temptation" speaks half the time in movie quotes); interesting plots; whip-smart, bullet-fast, and funny-as-hell dialogue; even her sex scenes are fresh and hot, and in romance fiction, that's saying something. Her blog here shows that *she's* a unique character who's also whip-smart, fresh, and funny as hell. I unequivocally and without shame recommend her books to all of you.
  • Voucher Ankles -- I forget where the title of this blog comes from, but it belongs to the actor James Urbaniak, who judging from his writing here is highly literate and amusing. Introduced to me by Ben.

I also read but did not include on the sidebar:

  • PostSecrets -- This is an amazing art site (introduced to me by Lisa) where people send in their secrets on homemade postcards. The art is beautiful and disturbing, and many people have apparently found it therapeutic; but I confess I also find it the slightest bit creepy -- I know I'm being voyeuristic when I read it, wanting to find out other people's secrets even if I don't know who they are. Still, fascinating.
  • Grow Some Testicles -- Um. This is one of multiple blogs on which various single New Yorkers track their dating lives, complete with reprinting verbatim IMs/e-mails/text messages from the people with whom they're involved or would like to be involved. This seems like a dangerous idea to me, since New York is the biggest Small World in the world (I randomly met a guy the other day who designs the album art for Harry and the Potters -- how strange is that?), but again deliciously voyeuristic to read.
  • Veiled Conceit -- The ultimate goal of Grow Some Testicles? Ending up in the New York TImes' Vows column, where you could be snarked by this guy for your preciousness and pretentiousness. Rarely updated, but very funny when it is. (Gacked from Jimmy's LJ.)
  • Sarah Dessen -- Sarah Dessen writes YA fiction about smart, complicated, organized girls who find their lives becoming more complicated and less organized. She also teaches at the UNC-Chapel Hill, watches a lot of TV, and writes long blog posts every day, so I would hate her for being *so* smart and *so* organized if she didn't confess that half that TV was "American Idol."

And one more shout-out here for Jeremiah's Five Bucks to Friday, whose characters just keep getting richer, funnier, and more complicated and real.

Go forth and procrastinate.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Beware Republicans and the French!

We're moving offices at work right now (not changing addresses, just shifting down a floor), and as part of that, I'm packing up and looking carefully at a lot of the things I take for granted each day . . . and one of them is this wonderful reproduction Napoleonic-Era naval recruitment poster that I purchased at the H.M.S. Victory Museum in Portsmouth, which has hung in my office for the last year. I bought it because it reminds me fondly of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, two of the dearest fictional characters ever to trod an imaginary deck; I have it in my office because it inspires me to write vigorous flap copy; and I love it because its energy, outrage, and consequent outrageousness always make me laugh out loud (especially if one reads it aloud with appropriate enthusiasm). For your amusement, here's the text (spelling and capitalization as in the original):
God Save the King.

Let us, who are Englishmen, protect and defend our good KING and COUNTRY against the Attempts of all Republicans and Levellers, and against the Designs of our NATURAL ENEMIES, who intend in this year to invade OLD ENGLAND, our happy Country, to murder our gracious KING as they have done their own; to make WHORES of our Wives and Daughters; to rob us of our Property, and teach us nothing but the damn'd Art of murdering one another.

If you love your COUNTRY, and your LIBERTY, now is the Time to shew your Love.
All who have good Hearts, who love their KING, their COUNTRY, and RELIGION, who hate the FRENCH, and damn the POPE,

to Lieut. W. J. Stephens,
At his Rendezvous, SHOREHAM,
Where they will be allowed to Enter for any SHIP of WAR,
and the following BOUNTIES will be given by his MAJESTY,
in Addition to Two Months Advance.
To Able Seamen . . . Five Pounds.
To Ordinary Seamen . . . Two pounds Ten Shillings.
To Landmen . . Thirty Shillings.
Conduct-Money paid to go by Land, and their Chests and Bedding sent Carriage free.
Those men who have served as PETTY-OFFICERS, and those who are otherwise qualified, will be recommended accordingly.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Book Recommendation Youyou* and Dancing Delight

Everyone needs good books to anticipate in the new year. Leave a comment with your name and the title and author of the book you're reading now, and I'll

a) recommend a book for you
b) tell you why I think you'll like it and
c) lend you a copy if I have it and you're interested**.


"It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue to body or mind; but when a beginning is made—when the felicities of rapid motion have been once, though slightly, felt—it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more."

Thus wrote Jane Austen in Emma, and once again Austen's wisdom has proved true in my life. For while I was in Edinburgh, I had the pleasure of participating in the World's Longest Strip the Willow, a Scottish country dance that, as performed in the streets by exuberant tipsy twentysomethings, mostly consisted of a lot of joyous swinging each other in circles. But I did indeed experience the "felicities of rapid motion," and my heart indeed did ask for more; so tonight I attended a meeting of Country Dance * New York, a fine organization of about forty people (at tonight's event, anyway). A caller instructed us in the intricacies of each dance, and a fiddler and pianist provided the music; and we turned, skipped, did honor, took hands, and cast up and down set after set after set. We didn't dance "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot" --Lizzy and Darcy's dance at the Netherfield Ball in P&P2/3 -- but we did "Mr. Isaac's Maggot," "Fandango," "The Corporation," a couple waltzes, and many others besides. It was thoroughly exhausting and exhilarating -- and, for better or for worse, no one said I was not handsome enough to tempt him. :-) CD*NY meets every Tuesday, so if you'd be interested in coming too, just let me know.

* youyou, n. The opposite of a meme, where the blogger offers information to/about a specific commenter at the commenter's request.
** The fine print: And it isn't signed and you promise to return it within six months (as I seem to have lent and lost my signed His Dark Materials trilogy, which distresses me exceedingly).

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Annotated 2006 Resolution List

My approach to New Year's Resolutions is pretty much the same as most people's: I decide that "This will be the year I ___________," and then I try to carry that out in the course of the year. But I probably differ from most people in the things I decide to do: I focus on experiences I want to have, accomplishments I want to complete, and books I want to read alongside the little daily discipline items. This list is printed out and posted on the door in my apartment, so I see it every day, and I check each Experience and Read item off as I complete it, and try to use the Discipline ones to keep me honest. I've made these Resolution Lists for the last three years, and they've resulted in some of the happiest, most challenging, and most interesting experiences of my life -- walking all the Manhattan bridges, for example, and reading Lolita, and knitting, and lots of cooking dinners for friends. So here is what I want To Do in 2006, with explanations where necessary:

Live deeply, joyfully, passionately, and well.

Memorize all of the legal three-letter Scrabble words.
I've got the twos done, but I need the threes to be really competitive.
Clear out my manuscript backlog to within three months.
Oogh. Usually I compile a separate list of work Resolutions, but this is important enough to make the personal List this year.
Answer all personal correspondence within two weeks.
Save two thousand five hundred dollars.
Keep the couch uncluttered.
My apartment isn't messy, it's cluttered. If I can preserve my loveseat as a clutter-free zone, it would be a good start to conquering the whole thing.
Stretch for two minutes every day.
No regrets, no excuses, no fear.
I make this Resolution every year, honestly, and I never keep it. But maybe I'll change.

Have a three-course dinner party for six people.
Dine at Per Se, Gramercy Tavern, Babbo, and Peter Luger Steakhouse.
All lovely New York restaurants I've always heard about and thought, "Oh, I'll go there someday." Well, someday is 2006! If you'd like to come with me, just say the word.
Attend twenty-three dance performances, gallery shows, concerts, plays, or readings.
I go to a lot of movies, but I don't think I see enough live performance or fine art, and usually when I do make the effort to see such a thing, like going to MoMA or Cassandra Wilson or Pilobolus, I come away challenged and moved. I want to have more of those experiences this year, and I chose twenty-three as a doable prime number.
Revise the Bad Novel to a state of readability.
This would be my NaNoWriMo novel, which I fondly refer to as "the Bad Novel" because that gives me permission for it to be less than perfect. I wrote the NaNo stuff all out of order, in lots of random chunks, and not really paying attention to language at all, so first I'm going to put everything in order and fill in the holes, and then I'll pretend it's someone else's novel and edit the hell out of it. Yay! One of the things I learned from doing NaNo is that as much as I enjoy writing, I'm always going to be an editor first, so I'm not taking this entirely seriously and therefore having a lot of fun with it.
Run a half-marathon.
And maybe *the* Marathon, if I get in.
Knit a blanket.
Ride a bicycle along the Brooklyn shore.
One of the things I've always wanted to do: Rent a bike from the bike shop below my apartment and ride it from Park Slope to the Verrazano-Narrows.
Learn to juggle and apply eye shadow.
Though not at the same time.

The Iliad
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
These two have both appeared on previous Resolution Lists and not been read. So this year.
Invisible Man

On Beauty
And these last two (by Alan Moore and Zadie Smith) are cheating a little because I really want to read them -- I don't need Resolutions to make myself do so. But Watchmen pairs nicely with The Iliad as two stories about groups of men fighting large, futile wars; and On Beauty chimes with Huck Finn and Invisible Man in thinking about how personal relations can be influenced by race (which is one of the subjects of the Bad Novel). So I put them on the List for thematic wholeness, and easy accomplishment.

It will be a year of Big Projects, Big Ideas, and much happiness, I hope. And also flossing.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I had one of the scariest experiences of any editor's life today: I received the first bound hard copy of a book I edited. It's a moment that always terrifies me, when the production editor comes over or the art director casually stops by my office door and says, "Hey, look what we have here," and holds up -- the book; the book creator's manuscript/art/heart/soul, which s/he entrusted to *me*; literally years of everyone's hard work, thought, imagination, creation, negotiation, decision, revision. . . . It terrifies me because I'm always so worried I didn't get it right, that I forgot that one credit, I missed that one typo, I didn't catch that one break in continuity; and I almost don't breathe as I page through the book, hardly daring to look closely at the text, even when I know I've looked at it seven times (sometimes seven times seventy times) already and it was always fine then.

Other editors are much more normal about this, I'm sure; my terror is just another function of my boundless Virgoness, and probably a bit too much identifying myself with my job (as tends to happen with jobs one loves). And after my fear subsided, satisfaction crept in; a long release of breath, and I dared to have the thought: "I did good work on this." I took the thought back immediately, as tempting fate, but it popped up again as I walked the book over to the designer and then down to our manufacturing department for approval. I looked again at a few spreads I art-directed; I smiled at that joke I really have read 490 times; I ran my fingers over the shiny embossed type on the cover. Even if it is not perfect, it is beautiful, it is good. And it is finished, and that is cause to celebrate.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy New Year!

A fine first picture for my next Year in Review: me in Edinburgh at 12:08 a.m. on January 1, 2006, snogging the highly amused third of three policemen. (It's a good-luck tradition -- and I wanted lots of luck!) I had an absolutely fantastic five days in the city with Katy and her sister Annie, including a torchlight procession, a Viking ship burning, country dancing in the streets, fireworks, a deliciously unputdownable trashy novel, long walks up high hills, lots of traditional Scottish music, and lots of traditional Scottish beverages (some English ones too). More to come when I'm not jet-lagged; in the meantime, I hope your 2006s are off to equally happy and enjoyable starts.