Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mail Call

A quick post to say that yesterday and today I sat down and went through all of my submissions mail for the last month, so if you sent me a SQUID since August 1 or thereabouts, you should be getting a reply in the next few days. I didn't keep an exact count, but I think I read through about forty-five letters/manuscripts/chapters, of which I kept or asked to see more material on four. And I felt sorry for those I rejected, as I often do -- but this is yet another way publishing is like falling in love: If there isn't a connection from the beginning, it's best to smile, shake hands, and move on. Many thanks to all of you who shared your work with me.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Six Years Ago Today

I woke up early. I put on my favorite navy blue plaid dress and brown sandals. I had breakfast with Katy in the apartment she was subletting on 23rd St. and 2nd Ave., where I was staying too, and I walked down to the 23rd St. stop of the N/R -- the only subway line on which I felt comfortable -- for the downtown train to Prince St. I exited the station, walked the half-block to 555 Broadway, and for the first time, passed through the doors of Scholastic Inc. as an employee of Arthur A. Levine Books.

This morning, I woke up with the alarm. It was cold and gray, so I wore my usual autumn uniform of black pants, a light shirt, and flats. I ate Raisin Bran at my table while reading the utterly marvelous Tooth and Claw, and took the F train to Broadway-Lafayette -- my home train line, my home station. I walked down Broadway thinking about what needed to be done today: finishing the first-pass corrections to So Totally Emily Ebers, a reject letter for this, a writeup for that. And then I went in and did it all, thanks to the confidence and experience gained through six years of interesting, challenging work.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday, Rainday

I'm supposed to run eight miles today, but, oh darn, it's raining.

Actually I do feel "oh darn" about this, as running has oddly become one of the most consistent and simple pleasures of my life: shorts and a tank, Asics on, earphones in, and then an hour of blessed movement in the park, with the good people of Brooklyn and the music all around me. When I don't run on Sundays now, I feel the same way I feel when I miss church; my life is less rich because I haven't gotten outside it.

It's been a weekend marked by rain, and especially planning for and around it. On Friday a date and I decided to skip the Brooklyn Cyclones game for the Met because of the rainy forecast; we visited my beloved Tiffany room and the roof deck, where we saw "Move Along, Nothing to See Here, a pair of life-size replicas of crocodiles cast in resin, pierced with scissors and knives confiscated at airport security checkpoints." Only in New York, kids. And thanks to the damp conditions Saturday morning, Ben and I waited a mere three hours for tickets to "Mother Courage" at Shakespeare in the Park. I took a jacket, a plastic poncho, and an umbrella to the theatre last night, and thankfully needed none of them: Meryl snorted, kvetched and cavorted, and carried the show and her wagon, untouched by rain.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Good Pictures, Bad Guys, and Pirates

I've finally uploaded most of my photos from my sister's wedding, the Killer Klein Croquet game, the HP tour, and Lumos to my Flickr account here -- all out of order, but up nonetheless. This picture of Melissa, Emerson, and me was taken at the Los Angeles B&N after our final Scholastic podcast, when we were all exhausted and happy. (N.B.: Melissa is wearing a Harry and the Potters shirt that says, "This guitar is a Horcrux.")


Todd Alcott, a screenwriter and very clever man (he made the "Tools for Writers" cartoon linked below), has a wonderful post today on Bad Guy Plots. And Betsy renders great first lines of children's literature into Pirate Speak. To which I'll add: "I ben accused o' bein' anal retentive, an overachiever, an' a compulsive perfectionist, like them be bad things." Hee.

Assembling Addresses

If you:

  1. are related to me or
  2. knew me before I moved to New York City or
  3. have exchanged five or more e-mails with me at my personal address or
  4. own a llama,

would you kindly e-mail me at chavelaque at verizon dot net? I lost my Contacts list in my recent hard-drive replacement, and this seems the quickest way to repopulate it. Many thanks!

Monday, August 21, 2006

T. S. Eliot on Writing: Three Selections from "Four Quartets"

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them.
-- "Burnt Norton," 1935

And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.
And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
-- "East Coker," 1940

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.
-- "Little Gidding," 1942

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Self-Pity Post: Whinny and Whine

I ran seven miles tonight -- seven blessed, freaking miles -- the longest distance I've run since the Marathon last year, and a damn sight less fun. My knees hurt. My stomach hurts. Odd muscles on the outside of my thighs hurt. I just want to lie on my bed and stare into space and emit small moans.

(Moan. Moan.)

I'm fine, really, of course, and heaven knows I'm the one who's choosing to put myself through this -- per my Resolutions, I'm training for a half-marathon on October 1. And the training is going well; I'm actually ahead of schedule. I am also eating like a horse, though I'm not sure if this is because my metabolism is changing or I'm just giving myself license to pig out given how much I'm exercising.

(Moan. Whinny. Oink. Moan.)

Nonetheless, I am taking advantage of one of my four Self-Pity Posts* for 2006 to note my stiff ankles and sore neck and tight back and general exhaustion. And I have to go to work tomorrow, and my apartment isn't very clean, and I have a zit on my chin, and I'm editing a dissertation about medieval pilgrims, and I'm losing in my digital Scrabble game, and, and . . .

Do I have anything else to whine about? Not really. But for good measure:

Moan. Moan. Moan.
* A little-known fact of the Blogger terms of service: Each blogger is allowed four Self-Pity Posts (SPPs) per year, wherein said blogger can whine, scream, kick, pout, make stupid faces, and complain to his/her heart's comfort. Commenters who sympathize can earn an additional SPP for their own blogs; commenters who deplore such behavior in a grown-up get a tongue stuck out at them. Phbbbt.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


No, not Daveolinks or Steveolinks. Bobolinks.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Book Meme to Be Read by Youyou

(n.b.: The title of this post has been edited, as the old title sounded unnecessarily pejorative.)

1. One book that changed your life? Oh, goodness. Here are three: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett taught me patience and self-possession; Pride and Prejudice introduced me to Jane Austen, and all that followed from that; and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban introduced me to Harry Potter, and all that followed from that.

2. One book you have read more than once? Any book I've worked on I've probably read at least six times; here I'll highlight The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley, by Martine Murray, which I love madly for its wonderful, ever-so-true voice and quirky, insightful observations.

3. One book you would want on a desert island? This is a cliched answer, but probably either a complete Shakespeare or a Bible, because they both offer so much in the way of drama, philosophy, poetry, and humanity, not to mention incomplete stories to imagine.

4. One book that made you laugh? Most recently: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.

5. One book that made you cry? I don't cry very often at books, but the ends of Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince always leave me with the same gaping, suffocating emptiness Harry is feeling.

6. One book you wish had been written? The seventh through twelfth Jane Austen novels; there ought to be more than six. Also, I'm responding as all writers should to this question, and (very occasionally, with huge gaps between the occasions) I'm writing it.

7. One book you wish had never been written? Hrmm. I can think of a lot of histories that I wish didn't exist, because I wish the events they record had never happened; and there are a number of hateful books that caused hateful events to happen, as per their authors' intent, and it would be nice if they didn't exist either; and of course Ann Coulter -- trees should not have died for her prose. (Dead rats should not have died for her prose.) Other than that . . . I am looking at my shelves in a vain search for something lighter, but I don't keep books I loathe, as per the Dorothy Parker principle: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

8. One book you are currently reading? The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, which I started just today and will NOT finish tonight, so help me Athena. I am going to sleep instead. Good nights and good wishes to all of you as well.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

August Company

Per this article in today's Times, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, has his own blog.

I visited the English-language site (it's also available in Farsi, Arabic, and French) and found it amusing in its similarity to everyday blogs everywhere: He has an RSS feed. He allows you to post comments. He offers a Flickr-like slideshow of his portraits. There's even a poll: "Do you think that the US and Israeli intention and goal by attacking Lebanon is pulling the trigger for another word ?war" (all sic, both grammatically and politically).

And his content too will be familiar to blog audiences worldwide. A little personal reflection: "My father had finished 6 grade of elementary school. He was a hard-bitten toiler blacksmith, a pious man who regularly participated in different religious programs." A little political commentary: "These terrorist groups with the support and directions from arrogant powers, the leader of them being USA at that time . . . thought that they can undermine and collapse the new government right in its beginning. But, the nation of Iran was not ready to give this precious and great Revolution from their hands so easily." He goes on too long (a fault I'm sure I never have ever). And he promises to post again with more discipline:

I will continue this topic later on as it took long in the beginning. From now onwards, I will try to make it shorter and simpler. With hope in God, I intend to wholeheartedly complete my talk in future with allotted fifteen minutes.

He's an Islamic fundamentalist, a Holocaust denier, and quite frankly a terrifying President of Iran. But as one blogger to another: Welcome to the Web, Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

FAQ #2: How do I become a book editor?

A lot of people on the podcast tour expressed an interest in publishing as a career, so I thought I'd make this the next of my extremely-infrequent FAQs. I decided I wanted to be an editor in high school, and this is more or less the program I followed—by accident far more than design, I assure you. But it served me well, so I hope it’s useful to any aspiring editors out there too.

In high school
Read. Passionately and widely: the newspaper, Jane Austen, Philip Pullman, Jennifer Crusie, Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Heinlein, T. S. Eliot, Sophie Kinsella, Geoffrey Chaucer, Lewis Lapham, The New Yorker, A. A. Milne, Alan Moore, Larry McMurtry, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mark Twain; fiction and nonfiction, children’s books and adult books, across all genres and at every literary level. If you’re not sure where to begin, ask a reading adult you respect for advice. Then try a little bit of everything and read more of what you love. The point here is developing your taste: finding your literary passions, and getting familiar with everything else.

It is also important to note here that you will probably not be ready for some of the literature you’ll encounter—if you try Philip Roth, say, or A. S. Byatt, or Patrick O’Brian, you may not understand it or appreciate it quite yet, and that’s okay. I took A. S. Byatt’s Possession out of the library when I was in high school because I liked the cover and the sound of the story and I wanted to impress the adults around me; the book itself, however, bored me stiff, and I quit after probably twenty pages. But I picked it up again in college, when I was studying literature and could finally get all the literary references, and it’s now one of my favorite books in life. So if something doesn’t work for you, don’t dismiss it totally; put it away, try it again in a few years when you’re a different person, and see how you feel about it then.

Think about what you read. If you loved a book, what did you love about it? If you didn’t like it, what didn’t you like about it? This will help you both to refine your taste and to develop the practice of thinking critically about literature.

Begin studying argumentative structure and language—or in other words, writing. All writing is persuasion, even fiction writing: You’re persuading the reader to be drawn into your world, to love your characters, to feel the emotion you’re feeling. The five-paragraph essay structure you learn in Language Arts class may seem stupid and suffocating beyond endurance, but it teaches you to practice the most essential principle of good writing, which is show, don’t tell. You lay forth your thesis (“Jane was a beautiful cat.”), and you prove it by showing the reader the evidence (“Her thick coat was a rich, pearly white, her eyes the glassy green of spring leaves, and each foot was tipped in deep black, like a period on her elegant sentence.”). Do this over and over again, and you can write a paper, or a short story, or a whole book.

Of course, you also need to move forward beyond description, and that five-paragraph essay also teaches you to structure and advance an argument the same way you do a plot: This piece of information or section of the argument leads to this piece of information or section of the argument leads to this piece of information or section of the argument, and you couldn’t have that information in any other order (or any of that information missing) without the whole thing falling apart. I knew a computer-science major in college who said that he wrote all his papers like C++ programs: The thesis statement was like setting the main function of the program running, and then each paragraph below that was a subprogram that served the main program. I love this analogy, as good writing is indeed like a well-constructed computer program: Every word is essential, nothing forgotten or else it won’t function, nothing extraneous to bug it up. (Debate is also useful for instilling this argumentative structure in your brain.)

Finally, pay attention to all the boring stuff your English teacher and various style guides put forth about diagramming sentences, "apprise" vs. "appraise," the correct use of the ellipsis versus the dash and so on. These rules are the nuts and bolts of everyday English usage, spelling, and punctuation, and the sooner you have all the rules in your head, the more second nature they will become.

Work on your school’s literary magazine or newspaper. This will give you experience in multiple areas useful in publishing: making editorial judgments; putting a literary product together; collaborating with others to do so, and learning how to negotiate sometimes differing visions; and of course the editing itself.

In college
Continue to practice reading, writing, and literary magazine/newspaper work. People often ask, “Do I need to major in English?” The strict answer is “no,” because the most important things in college are learning to think and read and write, and you can learn all those things in any discipline with the right teachers and challenges. However, English will give you the most hands-on experience with analyzing how a piece of writing (particularly fiction) is constructed and functions, so it is probably the most useful field of study for an aspiring editor. Besides, if you love fiction and reading, being an English major is huge fun because you’re studying the things you love most; ignore your uncle’s jibes about “Fries with that?” and follow your heart.

Work in your college’s Writing Center. This will give you experience with communicating your ideas about what’s not working in a piece of writing to the person who created that writing—an act that requires not just good editorial skills but good interpersonal ones as well.

Read “Publishers Weekly” in your college library. This will teach you about trends in the industry, familiarize you with the personalities and books associated with various publishers, and show you what reviewers value in books--a useful tool in forming your own critical judgment. I recommend this particularly during your junior and senior years, when you’re thinking about getting an internship or getting a job after graduation. (For extra credit and information, check out PublishersLunch and the New York Times Book Review.)

Do an internship. Nearly every major New York publisher offers summer internships to college students, and many offer internships during the school year as well (though they’re often unpaid). Internships helps you make connections, establish a publishing resume, learn what editors look for in manuscripts, discover all the various processes that go into putting a book together. . . . There’s no better way to see the day-to-day life of a publishing house (and particularly of an editorial assistant). Also, fifty percent of publishers are based outside New York City; if there’s an interesting small press located in a city near you, ask if you can do a part-time internship, or even just come in for an informational interview (see below).

Remember that there are other jobs in publishing besides editing. Book publishers also need book designers; copyeditors; advertising designers; marketing strategists; subsidiary rights sellers; publicists; accountants; administrators, and many, many other people as well. If you love talking about books but you don’t really like the nitty-gritty manuscript work, you might make a wonderful publicist. Or if you think you’d enjoy translating a book’s ideas into visual form, maybe you’d be an excellent jacket designer. Follow your passion, and there’s probably a way that can fit into publishing.

After graduation
Consider a publishing course. A publishing course is a four- to eight-week summer course that introduces you to the industry and is usually taught by industry professionals (allowing you to make useful contacts for getting a job afterward). Most people who enroll in these courses have just graduated from college, but they also attract people looking to switch jobs or just interested in the industry.

The two best-established ones that I know of are the Columbia Publishing Course at Columbia University; and the Denver Publishing Institute at the University of Denver. (I thought NYU had one as well, but I can’t find a link to their summer program, only their Master’s degree in publishing.) The two programs differ in that the Columbia course is eight weeks long, covers magazine as well as book publishing, and, as it’s based in New York, is heavily New York publishing-centric, with a wide array of big-publishing luminaries. Denver is four weeks long, focuses exclusively on book publishing, and places its emphasis on small presses as well as big publishing. (I chose Denver because I knew I wanted to be in book publishing and I wasn’t sure I wanted to move to New York; I had a terrific experience there and recommend it highly.) If you’ve done a summer internship, you probably don’t need to attend one of these courses; but if you haven’t done an internship and you’re pretty sure you want to be in publishing, they’re a great way to learn the basics of the industry and make some connections.

N.B.: I do not recommend these courses for writers because you ought to be concentrating on the craft of your individual writing more than the overall business of publishing. Look into an M.F.A. instead.

Go on informational interviews. Editors love talking about their books and their jobs—at least I do—and as we were all editorial assistants once, we’re generally happy to speak with people who aspire to the position. Subjects covered usually include the day-to-day editorial life; how to begin and develop a publishing career; favorite books; and whatever else you’re interested in talking about that’s related to publishing. An intelligent informational interview also establishes you as a candidate for any future job openings with that editor. (For the record, it’s often useful to read one of the editor’s books before the interview; Rachel, our lovely assistant editor at AALB, came in for her job interview in fall 2003, sat down with me, said “I just read Millicent Min, Girl Genius and I loved it,” and instantly became my new best friend.) Editors can be very busy, and they’re doing this for you as a favor, so be considerate of their schedules and appreciative of any time they might grant.

Any other editors or publishing people who read this blog, please chime in with your own advice. And all aspiring editors -- good luck!

ETA, 10/15/09: This is the first entry that comes up on the Google search for "How to Become a Book Editor," so I frequently receive e-mails from people asking for further information or advice. I regret that I am unable to respond to these inquiries at this time. If you want to know more about the craft of editing, please click on the "Editing" and "Writing" tags at left.

ETA, 3/20/10: Two more excellent editorial takes on this topic: How to Get a Job in Publishing, by Margaret Maloney of Bloomsbury USA, and so you want to be an editor., by Sharyn November of Viking/Firebird.

"New York, New York"*: The "To Jo" version**

original lyrics and music by John Kander and Fred Ebb
adapted for John Noe by Cheryl Klein

We're spreading the news
You're coming to speak
You're going to be a part of it
New York, New York
Perhaps you'll drop clues
And give us a peek
Into the very heart of it
New York, New York
You'll Apparate to the city that's never still
To find you're our number-one
Queen of the Quill

We're lined up in queues
Can't wait for next week
To see you here, the start of it
In old New York
And when you make it here
We'll raise a butterbeer:
"Welcome to New York, New York!"

New York, New York!
You'll Apparate to the city that's never still
To find you're Queen of the Quill
Witch of all words
Heart of Hogwarts
A Nimbus One . . .

Those seventh-book blues
Are making us weak
Come on and share the start of it
In old New York
And when you make it here
We'll raise a butterbeer:
"Welcome to New York, New York!"

It's up to you,
Coming to
New York, New York!

* Words as requested by Melissa / Mrs. Lovegood in the comments below.
** I also wrote a version that was addressed to the fans coming to New York for the JKR event and LeakyMug, but this seems to have been lost with my hard drive. . . . The only lyrics I remember from it were the various climactic phrases I tried in place of "And when you make it here / We'll raise a butterbeer": "If you can't make it there / you're not a fan who cares" or "And we must make a plug / for the next LeakyMug" or "And then the LeakyMug / It's like a Harry drug / August two, New York, New York."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Back in Business

My laptop has been restored to me! And thank God, I must say. After spending a mostly frustrating hour on the phone with Verizon DSL tech support in India, trying to reactivate my wireless network, I gave up on the wireless and resorted to the trusty yellow Ethernet cord. Since then I've reinstalled Word and the DVD program; downloaded iTunes, Avast, and Trillian (Skype and Firefox to come, though really I've never used Firefox very much -- is it so much superior to IE?); and ripped all the photos from the past month off my camera. What's harder is reconstructing all my personal settings -- I always have a Desktop icon on the taskbar; how do I get that back? What was my quote in the screensaver scroll? -- and Favorites -- beyond Bloglines, what sites do I visit every day, and what are their addresses again? And this weekend will be the enormous fun of recopying all my CDs to iTunes. . . . Still, after nearly three weeks of forced absence, I'm putting my digital life back together, bit by bit. (Literally, if you'll pardon the pun.)

This computer's original name was Dellawhere -- a combination of its brand name and then-miraculous-to-me wi-fi capabilities -- but, as its new brain/hard drive was installed while I was at Lumos, I feel it only right that version 2.0 should be known as Dellatrix.

Other notes:

  • My brilliant friend Jeff is making a documentary called "Crossed Lines" about the Texas redistricting scandal a few years back, to be Please check out the trailer on YouTube.
  • Speaking of YouTube, you can see John Noe singing my filk of "New York, New York" here (also some great Melissa dancing there), and John, Melissa and the audience performing "It's Voldemort Outside" here.
  • I haven't played Scrabble in, I think, two and a half months, and I'm suffering serious tile withdrawal. Anyone up for an Internet game? Please?
  • My SCBWI website interview from earlier this year is now permanently archived here.
  • An AWESOME article about the Ministry of Magic from the Michigan Law Review (really!): "Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy." "Part II argues that Half-Blood Prince presents a government that fits perfectly into the public-choice model of self-interested bureaucrats running roughshod over the public interest. . . . Part V concludes that Rowling may do more for libertarianism than anyone since John Stuart Mill."
  • Recent things I've loved: Bing cherries; "Little Miss Sunshine"; the "Absinthe" circus at South Street Seaport (check it out, New Yorkers! I command you); the song "Save Ginny Weasley from Dean Thomas," by Harry and the Potters; running; Brooklyn; being home after all my traveling.
Someday I will write a thoughtful, useful blog post on intellectual/literary/editorial matters rather than all this personal and Harry Potter babbling. In the meantime, thanks for sticking around!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Harry, Home, Hot, and Happy

I'm standing at the bar at the Mac Store at 5th Ave. and 59th St., waiting for Melissa to post to Leaky about tonight's AMAZING J. K. Rowling/Stephen King/John Irving reading. All three of them were fantastic. J. K. Rowling confirmed that the character who died in Book 6 really died (because some people didn't really believe it, believe that or not). She also said he will not "pull a Gandalf," FYI, sadly, but as was said in our podcasts, she doesn't play those kind of games. John Irving was hilarious, reading a scene from "A Prayer for Owen Meany" about the casting of the local Christmas pageant; Stephen King gleefully read a story about a pie-eating contest that turned into a vomitfest. JKR read from the chapter where we (or Albus Dumbledore) first meets the young Riddle. Salman Rushdie was one of the people who asked questions! But he asked whether Snape was good or evil -- kind of a dumb question for a Booker Prize winner to ask, frankly, because obviously she couldn't tell. Ah well. I was sitting on the very first row -- Scholastic privilege, baby -- and Jo's shoes were as fabulous as reported. Wow. I couldn't have asked for a better cap to my two weeks of Harrymania.

Other news: My laptop is being fixed -- getting its hard drive replaced -- hence the lack of posts recently. I have a new shiny red cell phone on Verizon! I am home. It is hot. Today I went to the LeakyMug at the Barnes & Noble Union Square and it was HUGE fun -- everyone should go to and listen to it. My sister read MILLICENT MIN on her honeymoon and loved it! I am reading LONESOME DOVE, intermittently. If I were a magician I would conjure an air conditioner for myself, or at least some Freon to make mine work. Can I have a "Genius" shirt without owning a Mac? My brain is in nine million different places at the moment. I need to go collect all the pieces now. Bye!