Friday, June 29, 2007


Well, no, not really. But I am quoted (and indeed called "a studious 28-year-old") in a Time magazine article about some of the behind-the-scenes logistics of the seventh Harry Potter book:

Harry Potter and the Sinister Spoilers

with an accompanying graphic breakdown of the path the manuscript traveled:

The Saga of the Seventh Manuscript

I was amused by a comment on The Leaky Cauldron saying that Scholastic should have sent me to London on a private LearJet -- that would have been fabulous, but totally defeated our strategy of secrecy! As it was, no one gave me a second glance all that trip, other than that nosy airport security guard . . . I was just another twentysomething doing Sudoku. Hee.

While I'm on the subject of Harry:

  • If you're on Facebook, you can join my fan club: Hottt Cheryl -- the Myth, the Legend, the Hotness. (I did not found this fan club, I hasten to say, but I'm honored by its existence.)
  • For the book release on the 21st, Scholastic will once again create "Harry Potter Place" on Mercer Street behind our headquarters in New York; click here for details.
  • And the Knight Bus is awesome too!
  • Harry and the Potters will be performing at the Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria (Queens) on Thursday, July 19 -- the perfect way to kick off a weekend of Harry madness. Who else is in?

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Final Final *Final* Picture-Book Talk Now Online . . .

. . . including my fully illustrated bad picture book!

  • Part I -- the main text of the talk, which I posted Saturday -- here
  • Flash player version of The Bad-Mood Banana Cookies here
  • Part II -- critique of The Bad-Mood Banana Cookies and conclusion -- here

Thank you to everyone who generously offered advice and help on what to do with these images; I chose to go the Flash player route because no one can steal the pictures that way (thank goodness) and the player itself is so darn cool! Thanks especially to Melinda Cordell for putting me in touch with Thuy Nguyen, who designed and hosts the player, and to Thuy herself, of course.

Take a look!

(P.S. And now, ironically, I have to go make cookies. . . .)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Picture-Book Talk Now Online, and Contest Winners Announced

Though the layouts for my picture book are not yet online, the text of the picture-book talk is now up at Read it to:

  • See a text evolve from a very, very bad picture book to an okay picture book
  • Learn what makes a story "slice of life"
  • Discover the basic plot structure of almost all story picture books
  • Hear a funny but entirely typical story about me and my friend Katy (it involves food)
  • Figure out whose story you're telling
  • Find out if you're qualified to write in rhyme
  • Acquire techniques for visualizing your picture-book text as an illustrated book, which is immensely helpful in revising said text
  • And finally, get a really good recipe for banana oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies, which are precisely as delicious as they sound (nuts optional).

Click here to go to the talk: "Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart: Making a Picture-Book Cookie." I hope to have the illustrations up in the next week or two. And if you find it useful, do please e-mail me and let me know!


And the winners of the caption contest for my terrible photo below:

  • de_scribes, for "For the last time, no! I didn't take your blue scarf!", and
  • i.p., for "The day she read, 'Newberry Committea' on her call display was the day a telephone company hired an editor."

both of which I liked for the subtlety of their narrative and humor. They get to choose among the following novels on the Arthur A. Levine Books Fall 2007 list:

  • The Book of Time, by Guillaume Prevost, translated by William Rodarmor -- After discovering a mysterious statue hidden in his basement, Sam embarks on a time-travel adventure through 9th-century Ireland, WWI France, ancient Egypt, and beyond -- a fun, smart, fast-paced adventure.
  • The Spell Book of Listen Taylor, by Jaclyn Moriarty -- The lives of five women -- and one Spell Book -- intertwine in unexpected and marvelous ways in this novel by the author of The Year of Secret Assignments
  • Wilderness by Roddy Doyle -- A mother and her two sons travel by dog into the Arctic -- and danger -- in what Arthur describes as a Gary Paulsen novel with Irish flavor and wit.
  • Click by Linda Sue Park, David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby, Deborah Ellis, Tim Wynne-Jones, Ruth Ozeki, Margo Lanagan, and Gregory Maguire -- This book is so freakin' cool. Ten different authors each wrote one chapter illuminating the life of George Keane, photojournalist, or the stories of his grandchildren Maggie and Jason, who inherit both his gifts and a mission. Proceeds benefit Amnesty International.
  • Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear by Norma Fox Mazer -- A younger sister plots revenge. AALB is having its tenth anniversary this fall, and this is a companion of sorts (though not in any way narratively related) to the book that launched our imprint, When She Was Good, which is likewise about two sisters with a difficult relationship.
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan -- a wordless graphic novel that's already one of the most acclaimed titles of the year, we're delighted to say.

E-mail me your choices and addresses, i.p. and de_scribes, and I'll get 'em out to you ASAP.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Woo. Hoo.

Continuing my tradition of posting on the night of the Chase Corporate Challenge (2005, 2006): Had a lovely run tonight, where I wasn't thinking about anything really besides running (fast), and finished in a personal-best-ever time of 33:15.

Something useful to make up for the self-congratulations there: The website of Deanna Hoak, a SF/F copyeditor, who has a number of excellent articles on the production stages of a book:

I also love the fact that there's a campaign to get her a World Fantasy Award! Copyeditors deserve all the recognition they can get.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Request for Help, Contest, and Idea Free to a Good Home

People who attended my talk at the L.A. SCBWI Writer's Day in August may have noticed that I have not yet posted said talk to my website as promised. Part of the reason is personal -- I need to carve out the time to wrangle the thing online -- but part of it is technical, too: The Grand Conclusion to the talk was the layouts to a 32-page picture book I wrote, designed, and art-directed, illustrated with digital pictures; and this file, in PowerPoint form, is 10 MB. I really want to put these layouts online -- ideally with each spread in an individual page on my website, so I can put my commentary below the spread -- but the picture files alone will overwhelm my poor website. . . . Any ideas? Should I convert it to a PDF and just let people download it? Is there some easy way to make all the pictures lo-res? Or should I simply buy more webspace (which my thrifty Midwestern heart balks at)? What's the easiest way for me to get everything online?

I've been thinking about going to a new web server altogether when my DSL contract is up in August -- so, for instance, each individual page could have a nice web address like rather than the that's there now (if you can find an individual web address at all). If you have recommendations in this direction, please let me know.

Incidentally, these are the kind of illustrative delights that await you in the picture book:

Believe it or not, this is neither the goofiest nor the ugliest picture of me in the book, though it is the one that makes me laugh the most; and the person who comes up with the best caption for the photo wins a Fall 2007 Arthur A. Levine ARC of their choice.

On a completely different note, after tonight's child_lit dinner I was talking with Victoria Stapleton of Little, Brown about David Foster Wallace's latest essay collection. The apparatus of footnotes attached to that gentleman's work reminded me of an amazing display I saw in the Jewish Museum a few years ago labeling all the various parts of a Talmud: the Talmud text itself at the center, with one commentary arching over the right, another on the left, glosses and other commentaries framing it below, notes spidering up the side. . . . I mean absolutely no disrespect by this, and I hope no one will take it so, but I think it would be absolutely fascinating to try to write and lay out a story (or a collection of stories) in this way: the main story in the center, related stories on each side, backstories or nonfiction commentaries below. Wouldn't that be cool to read and to follow?

The stories would probably have to be about Judaism or the Talmud in some way, in order to make full meaningful effect of the structure (paging Jonathan Safran Foer -- though Victoria said some commentaries on classical texts are also laid out this way? Still, the content of the stories would have to relate to the form in some manner). But I am neither a classical or Judaic scholar, so I will never write this; and therefore I offer the idea free to the world, and to any of you. If you do something with it, let me know.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


If you submitted a SQUID between the first week in May and last week, my reply to it should be in the mail this week -- either "not right for me" or "send me more." The exception to this rule is if you sent me a picture book ms. to which I would like to respond in more detail; those take a bit longer, but I'll try to address them by the end of the month.

I had a very good day today -- finished Bel Canto in the morning and adored it, then worked all afternoon on this fabulous fantasy translation (from the Japanese, which is uber-cool, and the book is so good and so unlike any Western fantasy I've read, I'm loving it thoroughly), and talked to Katy. Then Rachel and I met up for lemonade and "Ocean's 13"; like the previous "Ocean's" movies, it is all surface and no depth, but goodness, what surfaces! (I'm glad Lisa Yee hasn't laid claim to George Clooney that I recall -- she can have Brad Pitt, Colin Firth, and Johnny Depp if I can have him.) (Though hmmm, Brad Pitt . . .) And then I ran six miles for my half-marathon training and talked to Ted and James.

So a lovely book, good work, friends, endorphins, and men in tuxes. I believe I will now have chocolate and make my happiness complete.

FAQ #7: About Requested Revisions

I'm going to be lazy and repost some of the Q&As from my teenlitauthors stint this past week in lieu of any original writing.

When you receive a requested noncontractual revision from an author, what is your process for reading it? How many revisions will you go through before you let something go? When do you judge it ready to take the next step?

When I like a manuscript a lot, I often (even usually) require revisions from authors before I share a manuscript with the rest of our editorial staff. This is partly a safeguard on my part, because I really want to know an author can revise well -- and that we're on the same page about the book and can work together well -- before we go forward on that journey.

I read a revision the exact same way I read an original manuscript -- beginning to end, making notes in my head as I go along. I've talked to authors before who say "You read the first draft, I sent you the revision with that new chapter two weeks ago, why haven't you responded yet?" It doesn't work like that -- I don't (I *can't*) read a book in pieces (and nor can any other editor that I know of). Every ms. has to be considered as a whole to see how its individual parts function, and whether the new parts are working in the old machine . . . or, better yet, if the parts have been so fully integrated that we have a whole new shiny gleaming machine, and it's ready to rock and roll.

Once I've given it a first read and made notes, I look back at my revision letter and compare the notes to the letter to decide whether the author fixed the problems I identified in a satisfactory manner. (Usually I will remember the ms. I invite for revision enough that I have the major problems in my head, but the letter is a useful reminder.) (Also, the author doesn't have to have taken my specific suggestions for how to fix the problems, certainly, but the problems have to have been fixed by *some* method.) And I hope the answer is "yes, the author HAS fixed the problems" -- though usually I'll know this just from my first read, whether those same problems were occurring to me again. Sometimes the revisions create new problems -- one character is now so fully rounded that everyone else seems cardboard, or the author has bulked up the action plot SO much that the emotional plot is getting lost; but if the author has intelligently fixed the problems I identified originally, then I will usually give it at the least another revision letter.

The most common problem with revisions is that an author will fix one part and not integrate it sufficiently with the whole -- introduced a subplot to add emotional depth, say, not realizing that the new emotional depth should affect every single aspect of the character's behavior in the main plot as well. In good revisions, the author has clearly thought through all the implications of the change s/he is making and implemented those throughout, not just in the places where problems were explicitly identified.

All of this also depends on the problems of the individual ms. -- it's much easier to fix plot editorially than it is to fix character and voice/writing, as those have to come from deep within the author; so if the problems revolve around plot, or if the writer shows ability to make a character deeper and more interesting in a revision, that's worth investing more time in. But if the author can't improve flat characterization from one revision to another, the ms. probably won't ever go any deeper or better than it is, and it's probably wisest for me to let it go.

I try not to go through more than three revisions with an author: If it hasn't gotten to a workable place by that point, even if I love the project, I start to lose enthusiasm for it (and I think the author does as well). But if the author DOES revise well, I judge a ms. ready to go when it satisfies me enough -- and I'm excited by it enough -- that I want to share it with other people.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Principles of Line-Editing

A writer over on the teenlitauthor listserv asked me what question I've never been asked that I would love to answer, and while I'm not sure how exactly one would ask me a question about this, I love love love talking about editorial craft. And I'm in the middle of line-editing a fabulous fantasy translation right now for Summer 2008, so I've been thinking a lot about that particular aspect of the work. These, then, are the loose principles that guide my line-editing (with the very large caveats that every novel has its own voice; you can doubtless find examples of violations of all of these in the novels I've edited; and literary rules are made to be broken):

  • a) While voice and atmosphere and description are all important, always keep an eye on the ultimate informational and emotional points of the scene and make sure everything in the scene serves those (or serves scenes yet to come).
  • b) Same principle as (a), but replace the word "scene"with "novel."
  • c) The first chapter should be action, with just enough information about the characters and setting to make the reader interested; the second chapter should be backstory.
  • d) Just as scenes often benefit from "establishing shots" setting up where the characters are going and who is present, paragraphs often benefit from "topic sentences" that establish what the paragraph will be about as the reader moves through it.
  • e) A scene (and often a paragraph) should end on the literary equivalent of a fermata: a summation or gathering up of everything that's come before it, the final note you want the scene to hold in the reader's consciousness; but also something you don't want to hold too long -- something to tip the reader into the next scene.
  • f) Be very suspicious of all descriptions of feelings and adverbial dialogue tags, as the action and dialogue should carry those; and cut both wherever possible.
  • g) Watch for repetitive rhythms, particularly in dialogue; it's easy to fall into the pattern [Character A says something], [Character B thinks about it], [Character B responds verbally], [Character A's facial expression is described], [Character A says something], [repeat all]. Vary the patterns of speech and response, and cut internal responses and facial expressions if they're redundantwith the dialogue.
  • h) Unless there is a very good reason for this to be otherwise, the protagonist of a book should have positive energy, especially if the protagonist is also the narrator. Positive energy is generated by the character taking action and being funny (even sarcastic) or hopeful or helpful or smart or kind or a sharp observer -- someone we can root for, for whatever reason. Watch for things that undercut that energy -- the character being described as "whining" or "complaining"; too much of the character's pessimism in speech or thought; the character being overly self-deprecating or self-righteous or passive to the point where we start to lose respect for him/her -- and keep those to a minimum, especially at the beginning, when the reader is still getting to know the character.
  • i) Make limited use of dialogue tags other than "said."
  • j) Within reason, try to avoid passive voice.
  • k) But for goodness' sakes don't have every verb in active voice.
  • l) Explanations are odious.
  • m) Every word counts.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

F&Gee Whiz!

Today I saw the first F&Gs for my spring 2008 picture book The Light of the World: The Life of Jesus for Children, with illustrations by Francois Roca and text by Katherine Paterson. (Yes, Katherine Paterson! I'm thrilled too.) It's a gorgeous, gorgeous biography of Jesus in both its art (which was adapted from a French book, Jesus pour les petits) and its text (which emphasizes, in a beautiful, non-cloying way, Jesus's revolutionary love for his friends and for all people; and reminds readers that anyone who shares that love with others is, in turn, the light of the world). Our designer Leyah Jensen gave it a lovely, spacious page layout; Mr. Roca created a new piece of art for the cover; and I just wanted to run around the office showing it to everyone and saying "Isn't this beautiful? Isn't it? Agree with me! AGREE!"

Sorry -- I'm punchy after a long day. But it really is so gorgeous, I just had to share my excitement with you!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Addendum to "Brooklyn Arden Review: Once"

This is my favorite song -- I've probably listened to it six times today in the course of trying to post the video, and it's still breaking my heart.

By the Way . . .

I'm the guest editor on the teenlitauthors Yahoo! group this week, so if there's a question you're dying to have answered, bop on over to the website and join up.

Brooklyn Arden Review: "Once"

Last night James and I went to see a lovely little film called "Once." It is the story of two unnamed musicians, Guy and Girl: Guy busks on Dublin streets, Girl says she likes his music, Girl reveals herself to be a musician as well, Guy and Girl collaborate on song -- and then another song and another, culminating in a recording session in a studio and an ending that is unexpected but right.

The whole film is low-key but beautiful in its realism -- these are real people, who make tea and work in vacuum-repair shops to pay the bills; who have responsibilities and histories beyond their on-screen love (something only rarely acknowledged in filmic romances). The music unfolds with the same richness and naturalism, at moments when the two rehearse, or play their songs for each other, or compose songs related to their emotional lives. . . . At one sweet, telling moment, he's telling her about his ex-girlfriend, and he sings their history in a few little made-up-on-the-spot songs, because he speaks through music, the same way artists draw to think and writers breathe in words. It's far more affecting than "Dreamgirls," say, because it's the way we human beings actually live with music, in songs we sing as we walk down the street, or lyrics that break our hearts because they capture so perfectly what we feel. (Indeed, the pure emotion on screen combined with the intensity of the music can be almost overwhelming.) I can best describe it as "Before Sunrise"/"Before Sunset" with music as lovely and complicated as the characters involved, and end with this: Don't miss it.

Another review, from the excellent blog "Living the Romantic Comedy."

And I'm going to post the video for my favorite song via YouTube, since I can't make it work through the Fox Searchlight site.

Friday, June 08, 2007

"Deathly Hallows" Deluxe Cover Art

Scholastic just posted the deluxe-edition art for Deathly Hallows online.

Isn't it amazing???

Monday, June 04, 2007

8 Things to Know about Me

I was tagged for this by Gail Maki Wilson.
  • I love knowledge competitions, and I've participated in the National Spelling Bee (5th grade), the state Geography Bee (7th grade), many Future Business Leaders of America events (culminating in 5th place in national competition in Business English, a.k.a. copyediting, 11th grade), quiz bowl (from 9th grade to my senior year of college, culminating in the undergraduate national championship my junior year), "Jeopardy!", and "The 24th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" (like Lisa Yee). And lots and lots of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.
  • I wore a back brace for scoliosis for six years.
  • I don't believe in astrology in terms of the stars controlling my day-to-day life, but characterwise, I am a Virgo with a capital V. (Except, my Virgo nature notes, that "with a capital V" is redundant because "Virgo" already has a capital V, and couldn't I find some other way to express the emphasis?) You need something structured, copyedited, or ironed out (because sadly I really like ironing) -- I'm your woman.
  • I love musical theatre. Every summer while I was growing up, my family would go to Starlight, Kansas City's outdoor musical theatre, and I have a huge number of lyrics and tunes committed to memory. Plus James (das boyfriendlich) and I connected over a mutual passion for Stephen Sondheim.
  • I collect stars and New York City subway-related items. The subway is one of my very favorite things about New York -- environmentally friendly, relatively dependable, brightly colored, communal and yet usually peaceful, especially on a weekday morning, when we're all absorbed in our papers and iPods on the way to work. Plus my daily commute is a guaranteed hour of reading time per day!
  • My favorite artist is Henri Matisse, partly because I love all the color and light and vibrancy of his work, partly because he's such a perfect example of what I'm looking for in every manuscript I read: a brilliantly original, feeling-drenched and yet totally controlled, utterly unique and unduplicateable view of a true and recognizable world.
  • I have a tattoo. But you don't need to know any more than that. :-)
  • And ETA because I can't count: I can't count.