(For previous adventures involving the Frog, see the "Frog" label at right.)
We miss you greatly, but hope that you are getting a quality life experience in Gotham. We know you must be homesick for the golden fields of grain in the Midwest, so we wanted to let you know that harvest season is in full swing and the "Field Monsters" are chewing through the rows of corn and soybeans at a remarkable speed.
It had been our plan to let you fully participate in the Iowa presidential political process this fall, and even attend the Iowa Caucus event in January. But your unexpected move to NYC has prevented your opportunity to speak out for "Green" to the horde of presidential wanta-be's that are invading our otherwise serene environment. I do hope you will continue with your political interests there in New York, although it is a "flyover state" in the national political process, compared to Iowa.
Aunt Carol and I will be in your neighborhood soon. We are planning to visit your past guardian, Hans, in Ithaca from the evening of Tuesday, October 16 to the early morning of Monday, October 22. We will be flying in and out of Syracuse. Is there any chance that you and Cheryl can take a train north to the end of the line and meet us somewhere in that time period? Hans has a very fine Killer Klein Croquet set, and this could give you the chance to get back to Iowa and have a much bigger impact on the selection of the President of the United States.
Much love to you and to Cheryl. We miss you dearly,
Uncle John (the Commissioner)
Mr. Crooked Commissioner,
If you're thinking about having a croquet match in Ithaca with the frog on the line, I would advise you to consult your rules book. I believe that the bylaws of Killer Klein Croquet mandate that for the frog to be offered as compensation for victory, a representative from each Klein geographical location must be present.
Since Cheryl, hereafter referred to as "Yankee Traitor," moved from Missouri, hereafter referred to as "Dixieland," the Yankee Traitor surrendered her right to be a representative of Dixieland. Since no representatives of said region will be present the Killer Klein Croquet match, the frog, hereafter referred to as "Prize Melissa Will Win Back at Thanksgiving 2007," cannot be offered as compensation for victory. Instead, Thanksgiving, or whichever holiday we next have representatives from all geographical regions, including Dixieland, will be the next time the Prize Melissa Will Win Back at Thanksgiving 2007 shall be offered as compensation for victory.
I do hope that you heed this warning. The most recent steriods scandal that ripped through the croquet community tarnished your reputation enough.
The Killer Klein Croquet Bylaws Committee
Melissa L. Jackson, Chairwoman
Dear Commish and Committee Queen -- and all my other friends too --
Wow! It's flattering to hear that you're all so eager to have me come visit . . . but I have to tell you: I don't want to leave New York! I spend my days while Cheryl's at work studying the classic literature on her shelves -- Hop on Pop and The Mouse and His Child are my two favorites so far; then we use our evenings to partake of all the city has to offer. Cheryl and I went to a bhangra dance party last Thursday, a literary discussion on Friday, MoMA on Saturday (I LOVE Monet's "Waterlilies"), and had a nice restful Sunday with brunch and shopping. (Has Cheryl taken you to this great Chinese restaurant off the Bowery called Goody's? Their fresh Crickets in Garlic Sauce were the best I've ever had.)
And I really like that James, too -- he's a cutie. (Did Cheryl tell you I tagged along on their first date?)*
But I'm sorry to say we have to decline the invitation for next weekend. Cheryl says that if it were any normal Friday, she'd leave work early and take the bus to Ithaca that night; but J. K. Rowling is speaking that evening at Carnegie Hall, and I can't pass up my chance to see the world's greatest storyteller live and in person. It's looking like another busy weekend for us, too, with things Cheryl has to do for work, plus responsibilities at church. So I'm afraid I'll have to wait to see you all -- at Christmastime, perhaps, as I understand my hostess may miss the Midwest for Thanksgiving.
Speaking of which, I don't know what this "Prize Melissa Will Win at Thanksgiving" nonsense is anyway. Am I no more than an object to you? A mere THING? No! I am a Frog, and I demand all the respect due a Frog, especially one who can swing a croquet mallet as mightily as I. (I can certainly wield it better than Melissa, judging from her performance at that last competition. Stay home in Dixieland, you oppressive mallethead.)
With my love to you all, and best wishes from the Big Apple,
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
(For previous adventures involving the Frog, see the "Frog" label at right.)
Monday, October 29, 2007
Back in 2001 or 2002, when I was still Arthur's assistant, I picked up the imprint mail, as I did every day, and flipped through the stack until I came across a postcard.* It showed two separate paintings: the head of an African-American woman with a mustard-yellow scarf around her hair, full lips, and direct, piercing eyes; and another woman, her arms wrapped around her belly, head down and eyes closed. As different as the moods of the two pieces were, they both accomplished the essential goal of illustration: They radiated feeling -- defiance and sadness, respectively -- and they caused feelings in me too. I wanted to talk to the woman with the headscarf, to hear what she had to say, and I wanted to reach out to the woman with the belly, to help ease her pain. And more than that, the paintings were just gorgeous. I turned the postcard over to see the name of the artist: Sean Qualls.
We need to get this guy's portfolio, I thought, and and the next time Arthur stopped by my desk, I showed the postcard to him. He was equally impressed -- I remember we both stood there oohing over the card for a while -- and not long after that, either he or I called Sean. He came in with his portfolio, bursting with talent and energy in every step, and eventually that visit resulted in two gorgeous books: Powerful Words, edited by Ken Wright, on the Scholastic Nonfiction and Reference list; and Dizzy by Jonah Winter, edited by Arthur on the AALB list. Dizzy received five starred reviews and a trumpetful of honors, including a Horn Book Fanfare citation and a BCCB Blue Ribbon.
So it's with great pleasure that I'm featuring his work here for Robert's Snow. This snowflake is called "Snowbird," and as ever with Sean's art, it's suffused with beauty and mood:
(Can't you almost hear the snow falling through that quiet wood?) Sean's other books include The Baby on the Way, The Poet Slave of Cuba, and How We Are Smart. He lives with his wife Selina Alko and their son in Brooklyn. "Snowbird" will be part of the third wave of auctions, from December 3-7, and you can click here to bid. And the full list of Robert's Snow Week 3 illustrators is, indeed, now up here.
My constant refrain: FIGHT CANCER! BUY SNOWFLAKES! YEAH!_____________________________
* I freely admit it has been years since this happened, and as a result I may be confusing the details of Sean's paintings and what was actually on the postcard. But all his work is beautiful, so the essence of the story is true.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Barbara Garrison has illustrated many children's books, including The Frog House, One-Room School, Look at the Moon, and Only One. Her illustrations have been included in several exhibitions, and as a professional printmaker, her etchings, collographs, and monotypes are represented in numerous public and private collections worldwide.
Her book Another Celebrated Dancing Bear -- one of the New York Times' Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books for 1991 -- inspired her snowflake, "Max and Boris Dancing for You!" It will be auctioned off in the first set of snowflakes from November 19-23. Go here to bid, and Jen Robinson should have the entire list of Week 3 artists shortly (Week 2 is here if you missed them).
Once again: FIGHT CANCER! BUY SNOWFLAKES!
Posted by Cheryl at 12:01 AM
Saturday, October 27, 2007
If the SQUID was the first two chapters of a novel, this is easy: I request either five chapters or the whole MS, depending on my enthusiasm. But then those MS join the picture-book SQUIDs that were already in the "Respond" pile, meaning they're manuscripts that warrant a proper thoughtful editorial response. And then . . . Well, and then I run into the difficulties discussed at great length in this post and the comments that followed. And then if I've had a manuscript for many months, as sometimes happens, I hate returning it to the author with no explanation or helpful comment -- because I really like thinking through MS and offering my thoughts, and I feel you've earned it with your patience. So if you have not received a response to your SQUID, whether it's a novel or a picture book, I probably think it has potential, and I've been keeping it for a time to write to you about it.
That is the good news. The bad news is that this time rarely comes, again for all the difficulties discussed in that January post. (And yes, I am well aware of the irony that the "Not right for me"s get a prompt answer while the "Respond"s don't.) What takes so long here? When I "read a manuscript," I do more than just run my eyes over the lines and take the content in. I have to think about (1) what kind of work it needs; (2) whether it's still good enough and I love it enough to take it on anyway and then work on it for the next two years; (3) if it's the right manuscript for me to acquire at this time, which involves all sorts of variables like what else I've acquired recently, what else my colleagues have acquired recently, whether it's the kind of book the company can support and sell, when it would be scheduled, what my workload is, what else we have on the AALB list; (4) what's the right approach to take in acquiring it, because I'll have to sell it first to Arthur and then to the Acquisitions Committee; (5) if it's a picture book MS, what illustrator could/should we get for it, and how would that change the answers to (3) and (4). All of those decisions take time and careful thought -- much more time than just the time spent physically reading the manuscript.
As a result, this is a dilemma I've been thinking about for a very long time, with a consistently guilty conscience -- because at least I ought to let those "Respond" authors know I like the sound of their MS, rather than not informing them in the optimistic hope I'll get that response out quickly. And because that isn't productive for anyone, I'm going to institute this policy henceforth. (Comments upon it are welcome, and changes to it may then follow.)
1. My apologies to everyone who's waiting on a response.
2. I am going to make up a form letter that says in essence "I like your manuscript and would like to think about it further. Please get in touch with me if you have not heard from me in six months." This will be sent to the author in the SASE s/he enclosed with the MS, so all SQUIDs (excepting full novel MS) will receive some form of reply within two months. (Why not a personal form letter? Because it takes time to type out the address, enter the author's name and the title of the book, print it out on letterhead, copy it . . . Form letters save immense amounts of work. I am also going to make up a form letter for requesting chapters/full novels, as formerly I've done this on letterhead.) So that's Problem #1 solved: "Respond" authors will now know what's going on with their ms.
2a. Digression: Henceforth, full novel manuscripts I've requested will be called Giant SQUIDs to distinguish them from the regular SQUIDs I open each month (novel chapters and picture-book MS).
3. To try to keep my work piles down, I am going to try to use this letter as sparingly as possible -- even more sparingly than I do now, where there are maybe, maybe, four or five "Responds" in every stack of fifty SQUIDs.
4. Problem #2: How to deal with the "Respond" picture book MS and Giant SQUIDs in a timely manner. Oy. Well, these are mostly changes that need to happen on my end, and I will try to institute them, but what would you think of this: asking every SQUID author to include a line in their original cover letter about whether they prefer comments OR a response within six months (not that the two are mutually exclusive). Then, at the least, those "Response" authors who don't care what I have to say as long as they get an answer back quickly will get said answer within six months, and those who are willing to wait for comments will get them. (Or is this hopelessly naive and every author is going to want comments, so it will be pointless?)
5. If you are waiting on a response to a SQUID right now, and you really don't care about comments, you just want a yes or no once and for all, send me an e-mail to my website address (chavela_que at yahoo dot com) and you will get an answer in the next two weeks. Otherwise, I'm sorry, but you'll have to keep waiting.
6. Once these guidelines are finalized, they'll be added to my website.
In other work-related news:
- We had a terrific event for our book Click at the Borders at Columbus Circle on Monday. Because the book benefits Amnesty International, Colin Farrell was there, and consequently reports of the event have shown up on celebrity gossip sites like I'm Not Obsessed, HunkyBlog.com, and HotMommaGossip. But Linda Sue Park has my favorite story from the day . . .
- I was just promoted to Senior Editor. Yay!
- And as part of this, I am no longer handling foreign submissions for our imprint, so hopefully once all that gets cleared out, I will have more time to respond to manuscripts (and work in the office, as honestly I now have to edit a manuscript for the rest of the afternoon).
- I am seeking an intern to help with reading manuscripts and other office work. This is an excellent opportunity for anyone looking to become an editorial assistant in children's books, or any writer who wants to see what the other side of the desk looks like. The timing is flexible, but I hope for four hours a day, one day a week; and while the position is unpaid, you get free books, good training, and great experience. If you're interested, send me an e-mail with your resume and brief thoughts on three books you've read recently to the e-mail address given above.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Nomadica asked me what I thought about J. K. Rowling's Dumbledore revelation. In answer I'd like to quote a wonderful comment on the Leaky Cauldron from a person calling himself TrustSnape, which to me perfectly captures (a) why it was such a great announcement for her to make and (b) why it wasn't included in the book text itself (emphasis below mine):
I'm 52. Been gay all my life. The thing is that being ME is way more complex than being gay…. Being gay is part of me, but certainly not all of me. You will find in this world, despite what you may be hearing here, that most gay and lesbian folks are just folks and just like anyone's sexuality, gayness is a larger part of some aspects of one's life than others. The Potter books are written through Harry's eyes. Through Harry's eyes, there was no reason to know about his Headmaster's sex life… just like you would have no reason for any high school kid to know about his or her principal's sex life. The reason so many of us think it is cool is because she told the story of a GREAT man who happened to be gay, not a GAY man who happened to be great. If you think about it there is a world of difference in the two and that is why she didn't need to put anything in the books, but when someone asked about his great loves she was honest and told people how she envisioned Dumbledore. And since she created him, the way she envisioned him is the way he IS. Some people may not like hearing it but then some people don't like hearing the answer when they ask me something that demands an honest answer. Long ago I gave up believing it was okay to be dishonest because some people are uncomfortable. And even before that I gave up believing that being gay made me less of a valued person—either in the eyes of the supreme being or in the eyes of anyone who is really worth caring about.
To which I would add only that the announcement was made in the context of a Q&A where the question was, "Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?" Ms. Rowling stated that she had always perceived Dumbledore as gay in order to set up her answer, which is that he once fell in love with a male friend. I think people tend to obsess over the sex part of "homosexuality" and forget about the love, which is just as real and true as the love between any two heterosexual people, and just as deserving of recognition and respect.
(For all of you wanting answers to your questions about SQUIDs: I'm working on another post about that, by the end of the week. And in the meantime, sorry.)
Thursday, October 18, 2007
We're in the middle of Summer 2008 Sales Conference now, which means meetings. Presentations. Worry about whether the sales reps like your books. Extra worry if they don't like your covers. Constant conversations, lunches, dinners. And trying to do regular work on top of that. I've been sending out letters requesting blurbs for my kickass Japanese martial-arts novel -- Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, by Nahoko Uehashi -- and that's going well, fingers crossed. (I described this book at Sales Conference today as "Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 meets Ursula K. LeGuin by way of Bruce Lee" -- which still doesn't quite do it justice, I'm thrilled to say.) Also editing Fall 2008 novels; and trying to remember I have an SCBWI presentation to write. Urgh.
I opened the first half of my September/October SQUIDs tonight (after America's Next Top Model -- and how glad am I that Heather is still in the running? I can't see her winning -- I pick, let's see, Lisa -- but in the meantime, yay for socially awkward intelligent girls!). I get some very good submissions, so thank you, everyone who's sent stuff along. The trend du this month is picture book manuscripts about children missing overseas relatives in the military. Actually this is a trend most all the time, now that I think of it, as there's usually at least one in each batch, but I've read three already this round. . . . It's tricky publishing, because goodness knows what will be happening with the war in Iraq by the time these manuscripts would be illustrated and ready to go; but as we have soldiers overseas even in times of putative peace, it's always a sadly relevant topic.
Finally, your bit of acid-tongued criticism/thought-provoking essay of the week: Wonder Bread, by Melvin Jules Bukiet (someone on child_lit referred the list to this, to give credit where it is due). Bukiet rips apart writers of what he refers to as "Brooklyn Books of Wonder": Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, Myla Goldberg, Dave Eggers, Alice Sebold (who does not actually live in our fair borough) -- and takes some swipes at YA literature along the way:
Two other kinds of books have children as protagonists. The first are serious
novels by serious writers. Beginning in the postwar era with William Golding’s
Lord of the Flies, this category includes David Grossman’s See Under: Love and
The Book of Intimate Grammar and Steven Millhauser’s Edwin Mullhouse. The second group is made up of so-called young-adult novels that ostensibly face “issues” but pull punches for their tender audience. Like many YA novels, which are
constructed for a pedagogical market, the BBoWs insist on finding a therapeutic
lesson in their dark material.
Some of his criticism of the so-called BBoWs is justified; other bits seem unfair and inconsistent to me -- Bee Season, for instance, hardly has a happy, therapeutic ending, and he misses the larger cultural point of Kavalier and Clay. But I was fascinated by his conclusion:
So what’s so terribly wrong with all this? BBoWs are benign and smart and claim
important antecedents (Krauss’s pantheon, Auster’s nods to Borges and Calvino,
Foer’s echoes of Günter Grass before the latter’s recent . . . um . . .
awkwardness), and some are stunning prose stylists (Eggers and Chabon and
Krauss) who clearly have literary talent to spare. That’s precisely why their
books are more insidious than simpler genre novels wherein people manage to
triumph over trauma. In fact, trauma’s never overcome. That’s what defines it.
Your father is dead, or your mother, and so are most of the Jews of Europe, and
the World Trade Center’s gone, and racism prevails, and sex murders occur. What
is, is. The real is the true, and anything that suggests otherwise, no matter
how artfully constructed, is a violation of human experience.
He is, again, right to some extent -- what is, is, and is never fully overcome. But what is also goes on -- people go on, life goes on -- and hope is born anew with that continuation. Mr. Bukiet could call that thought sentimental, but it's as real and true as the deaths, and suggesting that life does not go on after trauma, that some recovery or good things do not happen, is equally a violation of human experience, and a graver one, because it denies that hope. Your thoughts?
I am now going to take my scrambled brains and turn them sunny side up in bed. Good night and good wishes to all of you.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Posted by Cheryl at 12:02 AM
Monday, October 15, 2007
Directed by Blair Brown
October 4 thru November 11 only
Online at www.playwrightshorizons.org
By phone with Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
In person at the Box Office: (Noon-8pm daily)
Monday, October 08, 2007
(Does "Informational Question" even make sense? I don't know.) Anyway: I am thinking about the questions I want to answer for myself in this character talk, and while I have a pretty good agenda to cover based on the published description below, I'm struggling to get beyond theory into practicality. So if you're a writer, please tell me: Do your stories usually start with situation or character? Or with something else? And what are some of the things you struggle with in relation to characterization? Making them likeable? Giving them depth? Not saying too much? Do you struggle at all, or is it just there? This inquiring mind wants to know. Feel free to be anonymous in the comments.
Talk Description: Being Alive: Creating True Characters and the Stories They Live
Great stories don't necessarily begin with great characters, but they come to life only if the characters are as rich and compelling as the story the author wants to tell. In this talk we'll discuss what makes a character real and interesting to the reader; see how the unique qualities of a character's psychology can drive and/or enrich a story; and solve the ancient problem of free will vs. predestination -- at least as it relates to fiction.
A quick post to celebrate all the lovely, lovely books that have recently arrived in my glad embrace, including:
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
- Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
- Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith (whom I saw speak at the New Yorker Festival Friday night)
- The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
- Eunoia by Christian Bok
- McSorley's Wonderful Saloon by Joseph Mitchell
- Tyrell by Coe Booth
- Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (my book club's next pick)
- Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
AND Katy just read a Patrick O'Brian novel called The Unknown Shore and said it's a marvelous precursor to the Aubrey-Maturins, so I have to get that too. I have no idea where to begin -- or rather, since I've begun many of them, which to continue -- and I love it. Hurrah for book joy!
Saturday, October 06, 2007
I'm working on my SCBWI talk for next month, and I don't have PowerPoint on my laptop here at home. Is there any free Web-based presentation software out there you'd recommend? What I want is something pretty much equivalent to PowerPoint -- e.g., I can make slides and, using a projector, show them on a screen. I just need the program that would let me make the slides, with bonus points if I can save my slides to an account on the Web within the program. (I was hoping Google would have something like this, the same way they have Google Documents as an equivalent to Microsoft Word, but I wasn't seeing it.)
Thanks for any and all recommendations!
Posted by Cheryl at 9:55 PM
Monday, October 01, 2007
I've been experiencing the blog equivalent of writer's block lately: I come to blogger.com, look at this blank box, think "Has anything in my life been interesting enough to write about lately?", then answer myself "Nah," and drift away. This despite the fact that I have been seeing, reading, and doing interesting things: I went home last week to Missouri, for instance -- six good days with my family, not to mention barbecue, cable TV, and a lot of sleep. I saw, in the space of a week, "Across the Universe," "The Bourne Ultimatum," Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring," and most of the first season of "Arrested Development," all of which I loved.
("Across the Universe" especially is worth checking out -- though not for a complex plot or deep characterization, because it deals entirely in '60s archetypes. Rather you should see it for the visual richness of Julie Taymor's direction and the wonderful, wonderful Beatles music, including a gospel "Let It Be" and a slow, sweet "I Want to Hold Your Hand." This has been a great year for movie musicals, from the traditionalism of "Dreamgirls" and "High School Musical 2" to the realism of "Once" and now the magic realism of "Across the Universe" . . . Fingers crossed for an elegantly creepy "Sweeney Todd" in December.)
Oh, and also I read perhaps the best book on writing fiction I've ever read: Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card (lent to me by the excellent James). Card breaks down the different types of stories and their characterization needs; different degrees of characters and how to create them in balance with your plot; the strengths and weaknesses of first- and third-person voices; and gives lots of good advice on figuring out which kinds of characters and voices are most suited to your story. I was reading this in preparation for writing my character talk for next month's SCBWI-MO conference, and now the current plan for the talk is to open the book at random and read for half an hour, then take questions.* Highly, HIGHLY recommended.
And then -- I won back the Frog! Yes, the famous Killer Klein Croquet Frog has come home to my apartment in Brooklyn, just in time for the fall theatre season and the baseball playoffs. He is glad to be back, he says, and looking forward to "Cyrano de Bergerac" on Broadway and rooting for the Red Sox. Also, you can't get such good cockroaches in Missouri.**
So there are good things happening here, even if I'm not writing about them. Here's wishing amazing artistic experiences and small victories to all of you as well.
* Kidding. I think.
** Kidding. Thankfully.