Saturday, September 30, 2006

Saturday Afternoon Roundup

  • Alvina has a wonderful post on her editorial process over on Blue Rose Girls. If you want to know the kind of work a good editor puts in on a novel, check it out.
  • The Children's Book Bloggers' Drinks Night on Thursday was a smashing success, with thirty-something people happily talking work, writing, books, and the business. (I was also delightfully surprised by a visit from my college Quiz Bowl coach, Eric Hillemann, who was in town for archives research.) Look for another Drinks Night (or should we call it "the Happy Bunnies Hour"?) in a month or two.
  • Speaking of Eric, I'm now reading Brainiac by Ken Jennings, the guy who won 74 games in a row on Jeopardy! a few years ago. The book is terrific -- a Word Freak for trivia hounds, well-written, substantive, and funny -- and it has a whole chapter on Eric and the Carleton Quiz Bowl team (winners of the 1999 NAQT undergraduate championship, thank you very much).
  • I bought five books at stoop sales this morning: Longitude by Dava Sobel, which I've heard much praised; Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, a Resolution Book for this year; V. by Thomas Pynchon, because I was thinking of having Pynchon on my Resolution list for next year; The Big Love by Sarah Dunn, which is hands-down the funniest and truest chick-lit novel I've ever read, and which I already own but I bought again because I lent my copy to someone and I can't remember who and even if I get it back, it's good to have an extra copy to lend out; and Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian, which ditto (except replacing "hands-down the funniest and truest chick-lit novel" with "the first book in a series I love madly").
  • Phrase Origin of the Day: The term "hands-down" comes from horse racing, where "A hands-down victory is one that is so assured that a jockey can drop his hands and relax his grip on the reins as he approaches the line." (Courtesy of this.)
  • Open House New York has its annual tour weekend next week. In years past I've climbed to the top of the Grand Army Plaza arch in Brooklyn and the Jefferson Market Library water tower in Greenwich Village; both of those options are available again this year, alongside mansions, museums, and multiple other fascinating architectural sites.
  • Finally, an instruction from the Oklahoma Library Association (courtesy Bullfrog): "Read, Y'All!"

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Quotation of the Day

Courtesy of A.Word.A.Day:

"A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity." -- Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and writer (1884-1962)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Drinks Night Reminder & Editorial Metaphor

A reminder for all you NYC folk: The Children's Book Bloggers Night is this Thursday at Sweet & Vicious, near the intersection of Spring Street and the Bowery (6 to Spring St., B/D/F/V to Broadway-Lafayette, N/R to Prince). The weather should be pleasant and they have a nice garden in back, so come have a drink and hang out with Betsy and me, starting roundabout 6 p.m. Hope to see you there!

I'm now working on my SCBWI talk for next weekend, "The Art of Detection: One Editor's Tips on Analyzing and Revising Your Novel" (that title from memory and therefore possibly mistaken). The topic comes from the excellent advice you, my dear readers, gave me way back in June; the title from Sherlock Holmes's opus on his craft, as the conference has a mystery theme. And I will be talking about some ways you might take a step back from your work -- the same distance an editor has -- think about its strengths and weaknesses, and determine how you might enhance the one and remove or disguise the other.

I hope that's what I'll do, anyway, because I love talking about editing and how stories work, and good LORD I can get easily distracted from my point as I'm doing it. I'm not sure this is going to go in the talk (here's a little sneak preview if it is), but this is my favorite metaphor about editing:

Editing is like rebalancing the tires on your car. The goal is to take the reader on a journey from point A to point B, but to do that in a smooth, straightforward manner, all the wheels on the book need to be in balance. The four wheels are the character wheel, the plot wheel, the writing wheel, and the point wheel: who are these people, what who they are makes happen, how the story is told, and what it all means. The editor looks at how each of these wheels are contributing to the forward motion of the overall vehicle and suggests inflating, deflating, or changing the tires as necessary.

  • Sometimes you have to fill out or change characters to give the action credibility. The boy goes into a murderous rage when he sees the dead cat -- why? Perhaps he needs a backstory where, say, his abusive father kicked the family cat right before he killed the boy's mother, and so the boy is flashing back to that painful moment when he sees the dead cat and that's what drives him to attack the bully who killed the cat. Or something like that. (Note that the character tire cannot be overinflated: Only rarely does a writer need to know less about an important character, although that does not mean that the writer needs to tell the reader everything s/he knows.)
  • Sometimes you have to revise the action because it's illogical according to the logic of the book (particularly the magical logic in a fantasy), because it doesn't jibe with what we know of the character, because your protagonist isn't driving the action, or because nothing is really happening and it's boring.
  • Sometimes you have to change the point of view. Or cut out dead-weight prose that's cluttering the scene or a joke. Or dramatize a scene that's told to us, or tell us a scene that doesn't deserve the weight of being dramatized for us. Or change or cut words or sentence structures that are repeating too closely and therefore jarring to the ear. (Yes, we do go into this much minute detail.)
  • And there needs to be a point--not a moral, but an effect or thought the writer is going toward, which the reader feels or understands after having read the book. Usually the protagonist will be discovering this point as well in the course of the action; and the fact that s/he does so causes things to change for him/her in the novel.

And these are just a few examples of all the things that can need to be thought about or revised in a manuscript. . . . Indeed, there are so many ways books can go wrong that I'm sometimes amazed there are so many that go right in the end, and end in delight for us all -- Millicent Min, Girl Genius; The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, by Jaclyn Moriarty; the Casson and Exiles novels by Hilary McKay; Because of Winn-Dixie; and many others.

And of course -- very important -- it needs to be new, through the voice, the story, the characters, the perspective: something true and of the writer's own. I was running this morning in Prospect Park and "Move On" from Sunday in the Park with George came on my iPod:

Look at what you've done,
Then at what you want
Not at where you are, what you'll be . . .

Anything you do
Let it come from you
Then it will be true.
Give us more to see . . .

That is what I want to see in submissions, and what I want to help my authors achieve in their books.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Five Pictures from a Fabulous Vacation

Katy in a punt. Katy and I were celebrating multiple happy occasions this trip: her engagement; my 28th birthday; the completion of her dissertation; and our ten-year anniversary of being best friends. On Saturday, Katy took me out for a picnic in a punt: a baguette, sharp cheddar, tart apples, Cornish pasties, McVitie's, dark chocolate pastilles, water and lemonade (which I insisted on having in honor of Lord Peter and Harriet, though ours was non-synthetic). Katy did all the punting, while I sat and watched the ducks and the undergraduates float by, and we talked and talked and talked. We went up the Cherwell to a pub called the Victoria Arms, where we each had a glass of Pimm's, then came back down for dinner with her fiance Josh and a wonderful bonfire with McVitie's s'mores. (Directions: 1. Toast one marshmallow to the bursting point. 2. Quickly remove the marshmallow from the stick and place it on a chocolate-side-up McVitie. 3. Place another McVitie on top, chocolate side down, and squash to make the chocolate melt. 4. Eat quickly, and don't be ashamed to lick your fingers.)

Me on a stile. On Sunday, Katy and I journeyed by train and bus up to the Peak District in Derbyshire. We held my official birthday dinner at the Rutland Arms Hotel in Bakewell (an inn where Jane Austen herself stayed during a visit to the county in 1811) and slept that night in a B&B. The next day, we set off on a five-mile trek over the Dales, which occasioned considerable good-natured sisterly bickering over the map (Katy held it), our route (I didn't trust her), if it would rain (it didn't), and whether we would reach our destination in time for afternoon tea (of paramount concern to both of us). As it turned out, I was right that our route was not the one marked on the map, but we agreed that the map was stupid and our way was better, as we saw a great deal of beautiful Derbyshire countryside (and sheep) and still reached Chatsworth by 1 p.m. -- plenty of time for tea.

Chatsworth. Why were we so wild to see Chatsworth, you ask? Because Jane Austen likewise visited it on that 1811 trip, right when she was revising Pride and Prejudice, and it is very likely the model for Pemberley:

They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; -- and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. . . . Elizabeth was delighted.

And it is lovely. Begun in 1552 by Bess Hardwick and her second husband William Cavendish, it housed Mary Queen of Scots at various times during her imprisonment, and it is still the home of the Cavendish family -- better known as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The interiors were gorgeous and luxurious without gratuitous ostentation, and the grounds (originally designed by Capability Brown) included a cascade, a rose garden, a delightful hedge maze (which pleased me very much, as I long ago wrote a P&P fanfic set in a hedge maze at Pemberley), and a Squirting Willow (no doubt cousin to the Whomping variety up north). And the stables have been converted into a restaurant, where we had our delicious, much-anticipated tea.

Mr. Darcy, the statue. In fact, Chatsworth is so lovely and so what Jane Austen had in mind that its exterior, entrance hall, and sculpture gallery served as Pemberley in the 2005 adaptation of P&P. While I have considerable differences with that adaptation, I was very fond of Matthew MacFadyen, and they've kept the plaster bust of him as Mr. Darcy in the sculpture gallery where Keira Knightley-as-Elizabeth sees it in the film. It's displayed next to the dress Keira wore in that scene and real first editions of P&P, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey/Persuasion, which I did not steal, despite my extreme case of book lust. Future visitors to Chatsworth may thank me for my forebearance.

Decadence. Finally, of course, after we came back to Oxford on Tuesday, we had to rent the execrable new P&P and watch it all over again -- which was actually a pleasure, as we'd never seen and snarked at it together. So here we have from right to left: the movie; a glass of Cava sparkling wine; Nutella; strawberries; McVitie's; more wine; and Ben & Jerry's Phish Food. Bliss.

More pictures of our trip, with commentary, are now up on my Flickr page here.

Happy Birthday to Me, and Happy My-Birthday to You!

I have always believed birthdays are days for sleeping late, hanging out with your Favorite People on Earth, eating delicious food, and all other manner of self-indulgence (including this post, in fact). But upon further consideration, I don't think the self-indulgence should end with me; and as the all-powerful Birthday Girl, I grant permission to all of you to eat an extra piece of chocolate, read an extra chapter in that delicious novel, spend an extra half-hour basking in the sun -- in general, do a little something extra of whatever it is you like best. It's on me.

Enjoy the day!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Missing: One Brain.

Soft, pink, moist, with wrinkly bits and a large label that reads "C. KLEIN, PROPRIETRESS." Lost somewhere between Oxford, England and Newark International Airport, likely as a result of too little sleep and too much tromping, talking, fresh air, tea, beer, McVitie's, reading, and general happiness, not too mention air travel and time zones. Results of loss: inability to walk in a straight line, talk in a straight sentence, or think in a straight fashion (not that there's anything wrong with that). Now seeking it out in deepest slumber; more to follow when the missing object has been restored to me. Cheerio.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Book Emergency Averted

I'm in England now, having jaunted across last night in order to visit my best friend Katy at Oxford, celebrate the completion of her doctoral dissertation ("Felix Fabri and His Audiences: the Pilgrimage Writings of a Dominican Preacher in Late-Medieval Germany"), and meet her charming anarchist fiance Josh. Last night at the airport I realized I hadn't packed properly for the trip -- by which I mean that of the four books I brought with me, I hadn't brought one I was really eager to read, something that would help me survive the many traveling hours ahead; nor could I come up with an appropriate title that might fit the bill. Then I thought "Oh! The Sea of Monsters!" and virtually ran to the airport bookstore to see if I could secure it (the sequel to The Lightning Thief). No such luck, but I did spy Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I knew Katy hadn't read; so I bought the paperback, reread it myself on the plane (practically purring with pure prose pleasure -- glory, I love Susanna Clarke's writing*), and gave it to Katy with her congratulations-on-finishing-your-thesis gifts this afternoon. And now I'm here and I can raid her bookshelves* for the next five days. Hurrah!
* And per the ad in the back, she has a short-story collection coming out this fall! The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, Sept. 2006.
** This likely includes a reread of Gaudy Night at some point, given that Oxford always puts me in the mood for it and I got to visit a real SCR this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Children's Books and Grown-Up Drinks

All of y'all are cordially invited to the first-ever New York City Children's Books Bloggers' Drinks Night on Thursday, September 28, 2006. The fun starts at 6 p.m. at Sweet and Vicious at 5 Spring Street, between Elizabeth St. and the Bowery here in Soho. The idea for the drinks night originated with my friend Jill, who like all right-thinking children's-book lovers is a fan of fusenumber8; she suggested Betsy and I plan a get-together for the kidlit blogging community, and darned if we didn't think that was a brilliant idea.

So come writers and illustrators, bloggers and blog-readers, agents, editors, and marketers, children's-books lovers one and all! We'll discuss pressing children's- and YA-literature issues like "Edward Tulane: Christ figure or beleaguered bunny?", the casting for The Golden Compass movie, "What's the best thing you've read recently?", and of course a healthy dose of juicy gossip. I'm personally hoping a few of Betsy's Hot Men of Children's Literature make an appearance.

Book bloggers: Feel free to share this on your feeds, and of course please come if you can. (We'll all have to wear our URLs on nametags or something.) Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11 Again

(taken near 3rd Avenue and DeGraw Street, Brooklyn, New York, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2006)

If you're interested in my opinion about the politics of 9/11, you can read what I wrote last year. But when it comes down to what it means personally, what we should take away from it five years on, my friend Hiro said it best:

On this 5th year anniversary, I want to remind myself and those around me of what 9.11 really taught us -- to be human and care about others. That little things do not matter, and we are fortunate to be alive. That others' suffering, no matter who they are, hurts us. That we can, without shame or embarrassment, be nice and kind to strangers. That despite all that has happened, and all that is going on, we can still be happy.

I hope that this reaches you in good health, and that you and your loved ones are safe and happy.

That would be my prayer in the wall today, for all of us, in New York and everywhere.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

FAQ #3: Do you prefer manuscripts loose-leaf, stapled, or paper-clipped?

(asked yesterday over e-mail by Nilina Mason-Campbell, and answered so quickly because it's easy for once)

Picture book manuscripts should be paper-clipped. Novels should come loose-leaf, as hopefully I'll want to copy it to share it with other people; but if the manuscript arrives in a box or a folder, it stands a good chance of being read more quickly, as 1) it will stand out on my manuscript rack and 2) because it's more easily transportable, I can grab it on my way out of the office to read on the subway or at home. (It will also likely be returned to you in better condition if it comes in a box or folder -- I'm physically hard on manuscripts, I'm afraid.)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Fighting the Good Fight

The next time you happen to be drinking a Budweiser, Bud Light, or some other product of the Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., look carefully at the ingredients label on back. Does it bear the unfortunately-punctuated proclamation "One of the World's Largest Recycler's"? If so, stand up for the rights of apostrophes everywhere, and call 1-800-DIAL-BUD to tell Busch that the company must correct its packaging immediately. The operator will be perfectly polite to you; you may even suspect him of being amused. But the number's right there, they're asking for your input, and you will have done your part for Truth, Justice, and the Strunk and White Way. Thank you.


I discovered this regrettable error at yesterday's Mets-Dodgers game -- a beautiful night at a beautiful ballpark, with Ben, Melissa, and Serge. The Amazin's sadly went down 5-0, but the two guys behind us kept us laughing all evening. Their two best lines of the night:

  • To Lastings Milledge: "Don't make me bench you in my video game!"
  • To a fan on the JumboTron who was unable to define 'didgeridoo': "Welcome to Loserville! Population: You."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Special Offer for "The Pain and the Itch" Tickets

A nice thing that happened this week: After I posted my review of "The Pain and the Itch" below, the good people of Playwrights Horizons e-mailed to ask if I'd be interested in sharing a special ticket offer for the show on my blog. Well, I love discounts and I really loved the play, so this seems like a great deal for all involved! The press release is below, with the discount information at bottom. See it and laugh/gasp/weep.

A blistering new comedy by BRUCE NORRIS
Directed by ANNA D. SHAPIRO

Now through October 8
Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater
416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

In this “massively entertaining” (Time Out Chicago) new play, one privileged family’s average Thanksgiving unravels into an exposé of disastrous choices and less-than-altruistic motives when their four year-old daughter begins displaying some alarming symptoms. A controversial hit at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, "The Pain and the Itch" takes dead aim at liberal America, presenting a hysterically funny, all-too-rare look at our world, our times, and ourselves.

The cast includes Mia Barron, Aya Cash, Peter Jay Fernandez, Ada-Marie L. Gutierrez, Jayne Houdyshell (Tony nomination, Well), Vivien Kells, Reg Rogers (Tony nomination, Holiday; Bach at Leipzig), and Obie Award winner Christopher Evan Welch (Romance; Festen).

Discount: Order by Sept 26, and tickets are $40 (reg. $65) for performances through September 17; and $47 (reg. $65) for performances September 19-October 8. Limit 4 tickets per order. Subject to availability.

How to order (mention code “PABL” to receive discount):

  • Online:
  • Phone: call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
  • In person: Ticket Central, 416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Finally: Bait and Switch

(Can you tell I'm putting off doing work this evening?)

Besides the fact that you can spy bestselling authors in search of caffeine*, another wonderful thing about living in Park Slope is that people frequently leave books, movies, music, knickknacks, clothes, furniture, and other possessions they no longer wish to possess on the sidewalk for anyone to take. I picked up two CDs from a box on 8th Ave. on Monday: A) the Tracy Chapman Collection, with the classic "Fast Car" and "Give Me One Reason" and B) the 2004 Grammy nominees CD, featuring OutKast's "The Way You Move," Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom," Eminem's "Lose Yourself," and Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" (another great running song that I've long meant to download and yet have been too lazy to get off iTunes).

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I opened the CD cases to find A) U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind" and B) a big ol' wad o' nuthin'. I already own the first and don't need the second, so in the spirit of sharing the wealth: If you'd like a free U2 CD, or some nuthin', leave me a comment, and you can have your choice of incorrect CD cases to go with it.
* They also draw on the sidewalk: I was once walking down a side street and saw Mo Willems sketching out some familiar eyes. "It's the Pigeon!" I cried. "You know the Pigeon?" he said. "I love the Pigeon!" I said. End of dialogue. (Knuffle Bunny is set in Park Slope.)

Children's Book Celebrity Spotting

Also: On my way to the subway this morning, I passed Libba Bray, who was obviously on her way to the South Slope Tea Lounge for some coffee. Glamour glamour.

"When I Met My Muse," by William Stafford

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off—they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. "I am your own
way of looking at things," she said. "When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation." And I took her hand.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Recommendations and Announcements


  • "The Pain and the Itch" by Bruce Norris is the best new play I've seen this year -- and possibly these several years, it's that good. As the action opens, an upper-middle-class white couple, Kelly and Clay, try to explain their disastrous Thanksgiving dinner to a visiting Pakistani man. Besides the usual Thanksgiving family tensions (a marriage on the verge of implosion; the overindulgent grandma; Clay's caustic, successful brother; the brother's immigrant girlfriend), they've discovered a mysterious bite in a whole avocado, and their treasured four-year-old daughter Kayla has developed an ominous rash. What are the causes of these two mysteries, and what does the Pakistani man have to do with the story? The answers are painful, surprising, and bitterly funny, and the action and dialogue sharp and well-observed -- Jane Austen in BoBoLand. I especially admired the thematic and linguistic construction of the play; listen for the use of the word "listen," and then watch who actually does it. At Playwrights Horizons through October 8.
  • A great new culture blog: Listen Read Watch, by a writer named Linda Holmes. I discovered Linda's writing many years ago when she wrote an Internet column called "Ms. Linda's Is-It-Worth-It Movie Reviews"; she has a judicious eye and a lively, funny voice, and she loves well-done romantic comedies as much as I do (a rare feature in movie reviewers, who tend to 1) be male and 2) take the genre for granted). She's now writing about TV, books and music as well as movies; very much worth checking out.
  • Songs of the moment (well, they all came out a couple years ago, but they're now in my moment): "Happiness Writes White" by Harvey Danger (recommended by Ms. Linda; complete album available for free legal download here); "I'll Miss You Till I Meet You" by Dar Williams; and "Jesus Walks" by Kanye West. The first is a wonderful song about being happy in love ("I tried to put it into words, but the words just sound like mistakes/I tried to find a set of chords, but you know how long that takes me"); the second is a sweetly melancholy song about waiting for that to happen; and the third is a perfect running song, entertaining, thought-provoking, and beat-heavy in equal measure.
  • I mentioned both these books in passing, but they bear rementioning: I LOVED The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton. I also admired (but didn't quite love) An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.
  • Currently reading: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry; The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda; The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis. For those of you just tuning in now, I've been reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time this year, starting with The Lion, the Witch book and movie in January and moving slowly through the rest of the series (slowly because I read the books only at bedtime, and then I have to be in the right mood to read them and not something else). It took me several months to finish The Voyage of the Dawn Treader because I found Eustace so repugnant at the beginning -- or more accurately, because I felt personally attacked by Lewis because Eustace was so repugnant at the beginning: His parents are liberal vegetarian pacifists, and Lewis holds these values up as the implicit cause of all of Eustace's selfish, spoiled behavior. Once they got out into the islands, and particularly once Eustace had his dragon misadventure, I found it much more bearable, and the expedition to the World's End was beautifully imagined and thrilling. Still, I have to say, I'm looking forward to being done with Narnia.


  • For those who live in the 11th Congressional District of Brooklyn -- that is, those who have been getting endless flyers from Carl Andrews, Chris Owens, David Yassky, and Yvette Clarke -- there will be a Congressional Candidate Forum where we can actually hear from all these people on Wednesday, September 6, at 7 p.m. at Congregation Beth Elohim at 8th Ave. and Garfield Place in Park Slope.
  • If you would like to sponsor or participate in the NYC Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure next Sunday, there's still time for either action; see this link for details.
  • The New Yorker Festival schedule is out, and oh, man, I'm missing Jon Stewart, Zadie Smith, Tom Stoppard, and two appearances by my sweet Anthony! Sigh. (Thanks to J. for the news.)
  • Want to procrastinate by reading yet more blogs about children's literature? Fairrosa has a very useful list.
  • I'm organizing a children's literature book group at my church in Brooklyn. The blurb for our first meeting runs as follows:
RELIGION AND CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Reading and Conversation
Modern novels for children and young adults often wrestle with religious and ethical questions in beautifully distilled, remarkably complex forms. We will read one short novel a month as a starting point for our conversations. Possible texts include: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff, The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, and A Fine White Dust by Cynthia Rylant. We will gather on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m.; please read Lois Lowry's The Giver for the first meeting on September 24. Readers of all ages are welcome.

I know I (and I'm sure the church) would welcome anyone who would like to attend; leave a comment if you'd like further details.

  • Finally, John Mayer: I'm disappointed in you. You had the opportunity to date a blonde of taste and discretion, and who do you go with instead? A second-rate pop tart who can't tell the difference between chicken and fish. "Bah!" I say to you. "Bah!" And Simpson: You're on notice.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Creating a Cover, and Altering Covers for Creationists

I initiated a discussion on child_lit earlier this week about what makes a good book cover for a middle-grade novel -- "good" meaning popular, pick-uppable, kids-can't-resist-it. Linnea Hendrickson responded with a message praising our cover art for The Book of Everything, and I took the opportunity to demystify the cover-making process (message cross-posted from child_lit):

I hope you all won't mind my writing about a book I edited, but this was actually a great example of how publishers come up with their cover designs. Arthur Levine, my boss; the book's designer, Elizabeth Parisi; and I sat down with a list of key images from the manuscript:

  • the cover of Thomas's notebook (the actual "Book of Everything")
  • the open window Thomas looks through to think
  • the tropical fish in the canals and Thomas's aquarium
  • the frogs
  • the knife and wooden spoon
  • Jesus Christ

As you can see from this list, we felt as Linnea did, that we shouldn't do too much to signal who the characters were or show Thomas's visions; and we quickly settled on having a stark black cover that wouldn't give too much away and might appeal to both adults and children, as we hoped very much that the book's audience would reach beyond the nine-year-old age of its protagonist. (I know Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was mentioned in our discussion, for both its evocative type design and that strangely chilling raven.) Having a strong title helped us a lot here too -- we didn't want to do anything to undercut its inherent interest or mystery("What does 'Book of Everything' mean? What's in that Book? Who would dare to write it?" etc.) with too much detail.

Once we'd agreed on the concept, Elizabeth went looking for frogs in stock-photo sites, trying to find an intriguing-looking frog who would stand out against the black background, like a jewel you could just reach out and pick up. She used the frog again on the spine, to hook readers looking at the book on a shelf, and drew the title type herself on the computer. Here again we were trying to enhance the mystery of the title: "What does that frog have to do with 'everything'? Why does the title type look like a child's scrawl?" Then the cover went through various rounds of discussion -- with Arthur and me; under the eye of our Creative Director David Saylor; and with Sales and Marketing. The cover changed hardly at all in these stages (though many covers do), and was finally published pretty much as Elizabeth created it.

You can see the American cover here (and read the stunning first two chapters of the manuscript as well); the British cover here, the Australian here, and the original Dutch here. (Incidentally, the original Dutch edition included interior illustrations -- delicate pencil drawings of all the characters and some of Thomas's visions, like the chairs floating off the floor when they listen to Beethoven. They're beautifully done, but again, we wanted to leave things to the imagination . . .)


At the user end of the spectrum, an energetic Swarthmore professor named Colin Purrington has responded to the Cobb County evolution debate, and particularly the infamous stickers used to label biology textbooks that discuss evolution, by creating a multitude of counter-stickers. My favorite: "This sticker covers a pre-existing sticker designed to subtly undermine the teaching of evolution in your class. To see the full text of the original sticker, examine the books of children of school board members, who mandated the stickering." (Via Maud Newton.)