Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kidlit Drink Night, Holiday Edition

I'm delighted to announce a Very Special Episode of our Kidlit Drink Nights -- the Holiday Edition!

Monday, December 10
7 p.m.
Faces and Names
159 W. 54th St. (between 6th and 7th Aves.)

Yes, Betsy and I were so impressed by this bar at the NCTE/Vermont College Happy Hour that we decided to move uptown. But more than that, because this is the holiday season, we are asking all attendees to please bring at least one book in new condition for donation to the Children's Aid Society. These can be novels or picture books, frontlist or backlist, hardcover or paperback . . . We'll take 'em all in hopes of sharing the wonderful wealth of children's literature with kids who may not otherwise have books of their own. Toys will also be accepted; if you'd like to donate money to the organization, please click here.

So come drink up and do good on December 10. I look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Miss Dynamite, Episode III

[N.B.: The inside joke here is my longstanding crush on the New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane, who is not only a hilarious and insightful reviewer (see the description of Legolas's takedown of the mumak at this link), but, I believe, the world's closest living embodiment of Lord Peter Wimsey. Placetne? Hell yeah.]

February 8, 2004. Cads will be cads, but he'd been one cad too many, thought Miss Dynamite as she replaced her revolver. "Farewell, my lovely," she whispered as she let herself out. She needed a drink, she needed a vacation, she needed a whole lot of life insurance, she needed a barge with purple sails with a Tony who knew the difference between hardballs and highballs. What she had was a coat, a pen, and a manuscript.

"Grand Central, and step on it," she told the cabbie. The Campbell Apartment was all lit up for the holidays, and she'd been a very good girl. The Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith sat in front of the Campbell like an expensive Christmas present, and it unwrapped itself into something tall, dark, and handsome.

"Damn," she said as she took Handsome's arm. "I thought I was through for the day."

"Hiya to you, too, Gorgeous."

"You're still wrong."

"I thought we'd called it quits."

"I like long, slow goodbyes."

He took a break to get a grip and a Manhattan. "Still a Bellini and nothing else, doll?"

She set him straight and gave the manuscript to Charlie behind the bar. No sense in being careless. With a guy like Norman, you played your cards close to your chest, and he'd dealt the Knave of Hearts once too often.

"That guy over there's giving you the eye," he said, putting down his drink and picking up his cigarette, before he remembered the mayor.

"A Manhattan's not a Manhattan in Manhattan anymore," she commiserated, eyeing the guy right back. He winked, and Norman saw it.

"That goddamn Anthony Lane!"

She gave both of them a cool smile. Here was a Tony who knew the difference.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Briefly, Thankfully, Smartly

Back from a nice five-day vacation in southern California with James. (More to come when the pictures have been developed.) I am thankful today, as I was on Thursday, as I am year-round, for him, my family, my wonderful friends, my health, my job, my apartment, my church, my books -- indeed, almost all the books in the world -- freedom, music, movies, good design, and Plain Chocolate McVitie's.

If you're in New York, save the date for a special holiday Kid Lit Drinks Night on Monday, December 10. More details to come on that too.

And hey, look at this (courtesy of Betsy):

cash advance

Get a Cash Advance

Who knew? But congratulations! You -- yes, you, Dear Loyal Reader -- can count yourself highly intelligent, or at least highly educated. Hooray!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Robert's Snow Reminder: Auctions Begin Today!

The first round of auctions starts today! Here's the full list and information (courtesy of Tricia Stohr-Hunt at the Miss Rumphius Effect).

Auction 1 will begin accepting bids on Monday, Nov. 19 at 9:00 a.m. with a starting bid of $50 for each snowflake. All bids must be placed before the close of Auction 1 on Friday, Nov. 23 at 5:00 pm. Don't forget that 100 percent of the proceeds from this online auction will benefit sarcoma research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and that all but $25 of the winning bid is tax deductible.

Read about all the illustrators who contributed to this auction at the sites linked below. (The order presented is the same as on the auction page.)

Miss Dynamite, Episode II

February 6, 2002. "She was as naked as a September morn, but a darn sight less coy." -- The Long Goodbye

Valentine's Day. The last one had ended with a round at the station. You don't mind a sexy man in uniform as a rule, but you prefer to be given wine and roses -- not the third degree. Lucky a chipped nail and a lot of mascara can do all kinds of magic, and some poor flatfoot with a lonely temperament is always a sucker for the weepy kind. Sure, it was a dirty card to play, but then, you'd been dealing for so long that you'd lost your Ace of Hearts a damn sight back. You hardly remembered holding it, and now all you seemed to be turning over were Jokers. Even Norman Conquest had folded, and left you looking at the Big House instead of a full one.

Still, you shut up shop and grabbed the package that had come in today's mail. Who needed chocolates when you had a pair of high heels, a full barrel, and a dress so dangerous Hoover would have thrown it in Sing-Sing -- if he didn't keep it for himself. Sam met you on the corner and you two hoofed it all over town, anywhere the drinks were cold and the jazz was hot. He was a good kid, and as long as you didn't get him started on the Dodgers, his jitterbug covered a multitude of sins. He dropped halfway through the night, however, just when you were getting started. They were all like that, and after the G-men had finished picking up the shell casings at the club, you found yourself under the bright lights yet again. As usual, February 14 was less like the Valentine's, more like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Miss Dynamite, Episode I

Many years ago now, my dear friend Katy (ktbb) sent me a greeting card whose cover showed the jacket from an old pulp novel: Miss Dynamite, starring that handsome detective Norman Conquest* -- and thus genius was born. Katy has now written four entries in the sad, swanky life of Miss Dynamite, and they all still make me laugh out loud every time I read them, so now I am sharing them with you.

* A joke I am ashamed to say I didn't get till last week, when I Googled "Norman Conquest" to find a picture of the book jacket and got this instead.


October 22, 2001. "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window." -- Farewell, My Lovely

Your lips: fire-engine red. Your heels: black leather, impossibly high. Your pistol: a Colt .45. Your name: Miss Dynamite. Impeccably coiffed, you leave your day job at a children's book company to roam the streets of Manhattan in search of a stiff drink and a stiffer man. But as you sip your highball at the club, in walks Norman Conquest, the most dangerous gumshoe this side of the Hudson. The last time you two tangled, you ended up with a bare ring finger and six months in the clink -- damn his eyes.

"Hiya babe," he says. "Riker's treat you well?"

You consider giving him the brush-off, but then you remember that Arthur doesn't need that flap copy till Thursday, so what the hell. "You know," you say, "I bet some girls fall for your nice-guy act, but not me -- I just take the fall."

"Listen, gorgeous," he says, lighting a cigarette, "Nobody asked you to put two holes in Billy's tux -- while he was wearing it."

"I rather thought it improved his looks," you say. "Billy was never known for his sense, fashion or otherwise."

Arnie starts the band playing your song, and you grind out your cigarette on the bar and finish the highball in one go. "Come on, kid," says Norman, and you two step out onto the parquet, the lights reminding you that the last time you let yourself get dazzled, your intern took a one-way trip over the Brooklyn Bridge.

"So tell me," breathes Norman in your ear, "what's the word on the street about the manuscript for Book 5?"

But he shuts up real quick when he feels the cold steel of a barrel against his back. You just can't trust some guys. They make like they're angels -- till you see St. Peter’s boot-print on their backs.

"Bye, Normie," you whisper on your way out. What a city. You go out looking for stiff drinks and stiffer men -- and find yourself surrounded by plain, dead stiffs.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Back and Barack

Back from a very nice weekend at the Missouri SCBWI fall conference in St. Louis. My talk on character went well (with the small caveat that I had to skip five pages because of time issues -- but there is so much to say about character that while the material was good, it wasn't essential, and the talk still hung together anyway), and the First Pages apparently went really well too, judging from the comments afterward. . . . Editors learn to edit by looking at material that isn't in perfect shape and figuring out how to help it get better, but readers (and readers who are wannabe writers) only ever see the published material, which hopefully is in perfect shape; so they don't get that same experience of reading the non-working stuff, diagnosing the problems, seeing the problem patterns recur over and over again in manuscripts, and learning how to fix them. And hence the problems continue. This is what makes First Pages so interesting and useful for writers, I think: not just that you're getting an editor saying what she really thinks, but that you're seeing the mistakes other people make as well for once.

I am not sure when the full Character talk will be posted on my website, because my webspace is so full that I will have to delete another talk before I can put that one up; but I will try to post at least the missing five pages at some point, as well as the sections of the talk relevant to the questions discussed in the comments here. All those comments were really useful to me in writing this speech, as I consciously tried to answer every question brought up, so thank you.

(This is not good clear prose I'm writing right now -- knotty nested clauses, complex compound not very clear sentences, lots of passive voice -- but I hope you will forgive me this one night. Do as I say, not as I do.)

Olivia posted this in the "Dim Bulbs" comments below: the Free Rice vocabulary quiz. If you are an English-SAT nerd like me, it's do-gooder heaven.

Oh, and this:

is awesome. My friend Jeremiah made it, and you can buy the shirt here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Robert's Snow: Mary Peterson

Mary Peterson was raised on a farm in Iowa, painting and drawing from life with her mom. Nature, both cultivated and wild, continue to inspire her work. She is a freelance illustrator and artist living in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and too-fat cat. Her snowflake is called "Snowy Snooze," and while Sean Qualls's snowflake made me want to walk through the woods on a snowy, silent day, this snowflake is what I'd want to come home to. It will be part of the first wave of auctions starting in just ten days now, November 19!

For more snowflakes from the past week, see the sidebar on Jen Robinson's Book Page.

And one followup to my post on Sean Qualls: He launched his own blog recently and posted the two pictures from his postcards -- which I completely misremembered. But they're still beautiful.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dim Bulbs

I have actually finished my character talk four days before I have to give it. I am stunned. To celebrate, here's a little publishing humor, which someone sent me years ago:

Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: I can't tell whether you mean "change a light bulb" or "have sex in a light bulb." Can we reword it to remove the ambiguity?

Q: How many editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one. But first they have to rewire the entire building.

Q: How many managing editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: You were supposed to have changed that light bulb last week!

Q: How many art directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Does it HAVE to be a light bulb?

Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: The last time this question was asked, it involved art directors. Is the difference intentional? Should one or the other instance be changed? It seems inconsistent.

Q: How many marketing directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: It isn't too late to make this neon instead, is it?

Q: How many proofreaders does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Proofreaders aren't supposed to change light bulbs. They should just query them.

Q: How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: But why do we have to CHANGE it?

Q: How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Three. One to screw it in, and two to hold down the author.

Q: How many booksellers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one, and they'll be glad to do it too, except no one shipped them any.

(One the original e-mail forgot: How many agents does it take to screw in a light bulb? Leave your responses in the comments below.)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pairs Spating

  • Movie Reviews 1: The Darjeeling Limited and Dan in Real Life. Darjeeling is yet more familial whimsy from Wes Anderson, and after the overindulgence of The Royal Tenenbaums and especially The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, I was prepared not to like it very much. But the director is working against a much wider background than usual -- the stunning beauty of India -- and with a much more limited principal cast -- only Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody; and those two factors seem to have humbled and focused him, so he develops the stories of their private disappointments and shared grief in a depth that, for once, isn't overwhelmed by the idiosyncratic (some would say cutesy) details. Though the details are there too, of course: custom-monogrammed suitcases, laminated schedules, the delight of a well-ordered train compartment, and color and music everywhere. Even if you get impatient with the film, wait around for a late dream sequence on the train -- a fantasy of order and harmony as beautiful as anything I've seen on film this year.
  • Movie Reviews 2: And Dan in Real Life. This film is probably not going to do that well -- the title is "Dan in Real Life," for one thing, and its poster features Steve Carell's head on a stack of pancakes, for another. But it really, really deserves to do well, and I hope you will go see it, because it's an intelligent, funny, character-driven grown-up romantic comedy, and if we want Hollywood to make more of those (which I do), the ones available to us have to make money. . . . Heck, I might have to see it again, and I honestly wouldn't mind. It opens with Carell as a trademark Good Guy -- the kind of dad who makes individual sandwiches for each of his three daughters. After they arrive at their family reunion, he slips away from the bustle one morning and meets Marie (Juliette Binoche), a beautiful, lively woman who listens to him, who clicks. But just as he's telling his family about this wonderful creature, his brother's new girlfriend arrives: Marie. Love and jealousy turn Dan into a jerk, but because you sympathize with him, the results are heart-wrenching as well as funny -- the kind of film where the audience says "Aww" and means it. (And there are some very funny bits with the family as well -- Dan's brothers tease him about a potential date with an improvised soul song titled "Ruthie Pigface Draper.") The director and screenwriter is Peter Hedges, of What's Eating Gilbert Grape and About a Boy, and if you appreciated those movies (or even if you didn't), you should see this one.
  • Me in Media 1: This is waaaayy out of date, but if you have never heard my dulcet tones and are desperate to do so (and I hope you can hear the sarcasm dripping off said tones right now), I was part of the child_lit picnic featured on the Fusenumber8 podcast here. (I'm the one talking about Forever as "first base in Chapter Four, second base in Chapter Five," etc., and later going on about the Vanishing Cabinet in Harry Potter.)
  • Me in Media 2: And I'm quoted in an online sidebar to a Horn Book article on sequels here.
  • Delightful Sports Link 1: My favorite sportswriter, Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star, now has a blog, where he continues to be funny, heartfelt, and amazingly verbose.
  • Delightful Sports Link 2: If you have not yet seen "the Trinity play," it is here, and it is hilarious. (Courtesy Five Bucks.)
  • Quote 1: "The most futile thing in this world is any attempt, perhaps, at exact definition of character. All individuals are a bundle of contradictions -- none more so than the most capable." -- Theodore Dreiser
  • Quote 2: "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat ... Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is what is contrary." -- John Milton

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Quote File: Mignon McLaughlin

Everything I know about Mignon McLaughlin comes from A.Word.A.Day, which, when citing her quotations, says she is a journalist and author, born 1913, died 1983. These are the five quotes in my Quote File, but a quick Google search turns up both more information (look at the names of those sons! True or Wiki?) and more delightful pith.

Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.

True remorse is never just a regret over consequences; it is a regret over motive.

The best work is done with the heart breaking, or overflowing.

The hardest-learned lesson: that people have only their kind of love to give, not our kind.

Don't be yourself. Be someone a little nicer.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Robert's Snow: Melissa Iwai

I wanted to feature Melissa Iwai solely on the basis of the title for her beautiful snowflake above: "The Newlyweds." But then I discovered she too lives in Brooklyn, and now, in the spirit of boroughhood, I have to love her. Her bio: Melissa Iwai is a native Californian who now lives in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. with her husband and their son, Jamie. She has illustrated twelve picture books and won the 2004 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio award for her book Good Night Engines, and the 2007 Bank Street College of Education Best Book Award for Tool Box Twins. Her snowflake will be featured in the second round of auctions, from November 26-30, and would make a wonderful wedding or Your First Christmas Together present for your favorite couple, whoever they may be. (Especially if they're a bit of an odd couple like the monkey and elephant above . . . Amor vincit omnia.)

N. B.: Melissa's website has a nice description of the process of making a picture book.

Next-to-the-last time: FIGHT CANCER! BUY SNOWFLAKES! YEAH!