Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wish Me Luck with American Airlines.

And now I go away AGAIN for a grand Midwestern tour of Minnesota (hi Carleton friends!), Missouri (hi family!), and Chicago (hi Harry Potter fans!). I should be packing, but bah! Packing! Some fun things instead:

Books I'm taking with me on this trip: Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (to finish it finally!) by Junot Diaz.

* New Yorkers: It's an allusion to Garth Brooks's song "Friends in Low Places." And if you'll pardon me, I'm now going to step on down to the Ohhhh-asis . . . after I finish packing.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like . . .

. . . and I did manage to leave California! (Insert guitar riff here.)

Some things I rode on my recent vacation, more or less in order:

  • A JetBlue plane to Oakland
  • A hotel shuttle van
  • The BART train
  • The Caltrain to San Jose
  • A rental car
  • A Southwest flight to Orange County
  • Many private cars of James's family and friends
  • A boogie board in the ocean off San Clemente -- the first time I've swum in the Pacific
  • The L.A. Metrolink commuter train
  • The L.A. Metro subway -- so much cleaner and better at station (and Internet) communication than our New York subway system
  • Many L.A. Metro buses -- ditto
  • The Getty Center tramway
  • The L.A. Metro light rail
  • A taxi
  • A Warner Bros. tram for the studio tour
  • A JetBlue plane to New York
  • And the Airtrain and the A and F subway trains to JFK and back -- not clean or communicative, but mine and therefore home.
On Wednesday we saw "The Dark Knight," which is marvelous and horrifying. "Iron Man" earlier this summer represented all the light and bright and sparkling parts of comic books: wisecracking heroes, and cool gadgets and superpowers, and cute redheaded assistants in heels, and big fights with clearly identified bad guys -- very BAM! POW! ZOWIE! (And hugely enjoyable: I saw it twice in the theatre.) "The Dark Knight" is the flip side of that, dark and serious and thoughtful: a hero who wants to give up his cape, who questions the wisdom and right use of his gadgets and superpowers, with a ladylove who's involved with someone else, and thematic and character doubling everywhere you look. It's the graphic novel as opposed to the comic book, or a superhero film as made by Ingmar Bergman, with late Hitchcock nodding in for the action sequences. Heath Ledger clearly looked deep into the abyss for his role as the Joker, and the skill of his performance underlines the tremendous loss -- that, possibly, he couldn't look away. Perfectly controlled, brilliant, terrifying. I wouldn't take anyone under the age of a very mature 12, as the Joker's nihilism and violence are deeply disturbing. But for adults, it is eminently worth seeing, for the intelligence and ambition of the plotting and themes, the quality of the performances, and the final sense of hope at the end -- not the individual exuberance of "Iron Man," but a communal hope tempered by the knowledge of the world's darkness, and strengthened in the knowledge of how that darkness can be overcome. Excellent film.

N.B.: I saw it in IMAX, and if it's at all possible for you to see it in IMAX, I strongly recommend you expend the extra effort and money for the aerial shots of Gotham City and Hong Kong alone. Other reviews: Scott Foundas in L.A. Weekly; Todd Alcott; Reverse Shot, which disliked it.

And the Warner Bros. studio tour was great fun -- I saw the exterior of the orphanage from "Annie" (my favorite movie when I was six); looked in the windows of Luke's diner from "Gilmore Girls" and walked around the Star's Hollow town square; at a distance, caught a little bit of a taping of "Pushing Daisies" (the great spoiler I can reveal exclusively here: Anna Friel will wear a yellow dress and step out of a door in a future episode); sat on the couch from "Friends"; and, most excitingly for me, found an entire floor of Harry Potter memorabilia in the studio museum. A model Acromantula! The flying Ford Anglia! Hermione's Yule Ball gown! The Sorting Hat (or whoever was running it) mistakenly named me a Hufflepuff (I'm straight-up Ravenclaw, baby), but it correctly identified James as a long-lost Weasley cousin and assigned him to Gryffindor.

Finally, on the reading/work front, I finished Away, which I very much admired, and A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer, a most unusual romance novel, and I'm about two-thirds of the way through Brideshead Revisited, which I don't especially like but seem compelled to go forward with (much the same way the protagonist relates to the Brideshead family, actually). And I wrote the illustration notes and a solid first draft of my Terminus speech, and bought two excellent pairs of Clarks sandals on sale. So, altogether, a successful vacation.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Away for Vacay -- Hooray!

I am off tomorrow for a week's-plus vacation in California with James, seeing various friends and family members of his and hopefully catching up on sleep and relaxing. On the other hand, I'm also planning to write two speeches, a set of illustration notes, and notes on a manuscript while we travel -- no rest for the wicked or the terminally overcommitted.

(I will leave it to you to judge which category I fall into.)

Books I'm taking: Brideshead Revisited, because Emily in our office was shocked I have never read it and insists I must before the movie comes out; Away, by Amy Bloom, Arthur's favorite book of last year; and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, to inspire thinking for one of the speeches. I really wanted something light and vacationy . . . a Georgette Heyer, ideally . . . and wait! I think I have one of those at work! So I will pick that up tomorrow before I head out, and go to bed soon happy.

Also to help me with that same speech (for Terminus): Would you please vote in the poll about which of the HP books is your favorite, and, if you have a critical reason on why it's your favorite and not just a personal/sentimental one*, tell me (briefly) why it's your favorite in the comments? I have my guess about which one is going to come out on top, and I'm very interested to see if I'm right.

* Meaning that, say, you love Goblet of Fire because you think the action scenes are the most compelling there, and not just because you met your True Love while waiting in line for it at a midnight release party. That would be very sweet, but not quite so useful for my speech. :-)

Five jokes you can tell about Barack Obama.

Have you checked out Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog yet? It is FABULOUS. Part I is up for one week only, so grab it while you can.

Also, the High School Musical 3 trailer is out! Squee!

I might nod in here sometime in the next week, but in case I do not, have a lovely most of the rest of your July . . .

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Slothful Saturday Scoops

A lazy Saturday morning here, where I am still sitting in my pajamas in front of my box fan on my bed at 11 a.m. The sun is milky, the street is quiet, the day stretches before me, as langorous and unscheduled as a cat.

(I am not sure whether that's a good simile or not, but it's Saturday and I'm feeling lazy (too lazy to find another word so I'm not repeating myself, even). So what the hell.)

Next Kidlit Drinks Night!
And it's a Very Special Swanky Summer Kidlit Drinks Night, on July 29 at 6:30 p.m. We're abandoning our downscale punk digs at Sweet & Vicious and heading uptown to someplace I've always wanted to visit -- the Library Hotel, at 299 Madison Ave. (at 41st St.), and its Bookmarks Lounge, which has an outdoor roof deck. See you all there!

Submissions News, Part I: Most of the June-to-mid-July SQUIDs went out yesterday. The remainder will follow this coming week.

Submissions News, Part II:
I am closing to most unagented submissions for the next two and a half months -- through October 1, 2008 -- to give me time to try to really, truly, once-and-for-all clear out my backlog (the goal is to have this done by my 30th birthday in September, to start that fourth decade with a clean slate). Agented submissions are still very much welcome; or if I have requested a revision of a manuscript from you, or you were at the New Jersey SCBWI conference and have the sticker to prove it, you can still send submissions along as well. But no new unagented or unsolicited manuscripts until further notice, please.

A bit of advice: In this latest batch of SQUIDs, I noticed one sneaky Pete tried to circumvent the one-ms.-at-a-time rule by sending three different manuscripts in three different genres under three different names. The giveaways? The three names all shared common elements; the addresses were all along the same road in a rural part of a Midwestern state; the three manuscripts were dated within five days of one another; and all three query letters began in the exact same way: "Attention Ms. Klein: My manuscript [title] is a [number]-word [genre] about [subject]," in the same font.

Do not do this, people. It is not cool. We editors are not stupid; we notice these things, and they annoy us, and that hurts your chances of getting any of the three ms. through, as I don't want to work with someone who tries to trick me. Send me your one best ms. that seems most suited to me based on what else I edit, and wait your turn.

(My favorite Sneaky-Writer-Outwitted story: Back when I was Arthur's editorial assistant, we received a manuscript set among smugglers in Dorset, beautifully "written" by a woman who claimed to have been working on it for ages. But two things set my antennae humming: one, the "manuscript" was already formatted and typeset into book form, and two, the style and subject matter were distinctly old-fashioned -- still interesting, but not like most contemporary ms. we see, and not in a self-aware retro manner, either. So out of curiosity, I Googled the first sentence, and it took me straight to this page for Moonfleet, on the public-domain literature website Bibliomania.


So I called the number given on the cover letter and the woman picked up. I identified myself and where I worked, and she said "Oh, hello" -- excitement rising in her voice at getting a call from a publisher.

"Yes, I was very intrigued by the manuscript that you submitted. You wrote this book?" I said.

"Yes, I've been working on it for years and years," she said.

So I told her what I had found online -- that the text of her book exactly matched the text of Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner -- and she said very quickly, "I've never heard of that book or that author," and hung up.

And that was kind of fun, foiling a literary fake. But the practice of faking? Not cool, people. Not cool at all.)

Happinesses of the Season: My new laptop battery (it sustains a charge for three hours rather than five minutes!); cute summer dresses and sandals; sangria; the Frames' Fitzcarraldo and The Cost; This Book Isn't Fat, It's Fabulous, by Nina Beck, which is indeed fabulous (and which, if you know the author, is exactly like spending a couple hours with her), and Paper Towns by John Green, which made me laugh out loud more than any book so far this year; Scharffen Berger chocolate.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Arthur A. Levine Books Fall 2008 List

In alphabetical order by title:

CARLOS IS GONNA GET IT, by Kevin Emerson. Debut novel. I was the first reader on this manuscript, and from the very first time I turned over the final page, I thought, Wow -- this one's really something special. It's the story of Trina, one of the good kids at her inner-city Boston middle school, and Carlos, who is every nice but deeply troubled kid you've ever seen. Carlos always breaks up the class and gets everyone in trouble with his "Day Afters," and eventually Trina and her friends decide that they need to teach him a lesson. But then Trina is assigned to be Carlos's partner on a class project, and their work together shows her both his kindness and his genuine needs. Will Trina go along with her friends in their plan, or choose to stand with Carlos? The voice is spot-on, and the plot always makes me think of John Gardner's marvelous quote "Real suspense comes from moral dilemma and the courage to make and act upon choices," because it is loaded with that moral dilemma and the accompanying real suspense -- as unputdownable in its way as THE HUNGER GAMES. And Kevin taught in a Boston middle school very much like the one depicted here, so he knows whereof he writes. Keep an eye out for it.

CROSSING TO PARADISE, by Kevin Crossley-Holland. I worked on this one, so I will write more about it around publication time; and for now I'll just list some of the many wonderful things it is:

* A gorgeous account of a medieval pilgrimage to Jerusalem, including stops in London, Carcassonne, Venice, and the Holy City itself
* A terrific and atmospheric adventure
* A thoroughly Austenian moral education for Gatty, its main character
* The standalone companion book to Kevin's equally marvelous Arthur trilogy (The Seeing Stone; At the Crossing-Places; King of the Middle March)
* And as such, the conclusion and crescendo of Gatty's own story.

And the writing here -- the writing! Swoon -- as delicious and succulent as the Middle Eastern fruits that Gatty tastes for the first time. (N.B. This was the book about which I wrote this post.)

THE GATE OF DAYS: The Book of Time II, by Guillaume Prevost, translated by William Rodarmor. The sequel to THE BOOK OF TIME (which is out in paperback now), and formerly known as THE SEVEN COINS, before we decided this title sounded cooler and reflected the book better. If the great plot question of the first book was "Where in Time is Sam's dad?", the great plot question of this book is "Why did Sam's dad go back in Time anyway? And does the thief now stalking Sam through the ages have anything to do with it?" You find out the answers to one of these questions by the end, and it's a doozy. Guillaume continues to work interesting twists on the familiar time-travel questions (e.g. "What if you meet your grandmother?"), and backs it up with impeccable historical detail and breakneck pacing. . . . Like Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, there's action in almost every chapter, and the excellent translation reads smoothly enough (I hope!) to grip even reluctant boy readers. More on this coming later too.

HER MOTHER'S FACE by Roddy Doyle, illustrated by Freya Blackwood. I couldn't track down a cover for this one today, alas, but I'll try to add it later. This is Roddy's first picture book, and our second book with the lovely, lovely Freya Blackwood and her lovely, lovely art, the first being HALF A WORLD AWAY. It's the story of a pretty Irish girl named Siobhan and her quest to rediscover her late mother's face -- funny, poignant, sweet, sad.

WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER by Sally Nicholls. Debut novel, the winner of the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize in the U.K. (where it was originally edited by our Scholastic UK colleague Marion Lloyd), and without a doubt the Book Most Likely to Make Arthur A. Levine Books Staff Weep, as I know we've all teared up over it when reviewing passes or proofs. Nine-year-old Sam has leukemia, and as the doctors approach the end of what they can do for him, he writes down his ambitions and Big Questions in a way that is always honest and true, often funny, and never mawkish. You can read a rave review from Mal Peet in The Guardian here.

Thank you for looking out for all of these books this fall!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Those of You Who Love Goofy Animal Names or Pictures

Like those from my Natural History museum visit here: Don't miss this darling image of the translucent juvenile roundbelly cowfish.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

All Good Things

  • Jott, a phone/e-mail service that allows you to call a number, name a recipient, record a voice message, and then have that voice message delivered to the recipient as both a text message and e-mail, FREE. It's pretty amazing.
  • Wall-E: What everyone else in the world has said.
  • Hancock: Not a perfect movie by any means, but an altogether original take on the superhero mythos, with some laugh-out-loud funny moments and excellent performances. Worth seeing.
  • Reprise: Or if you'd rather take in foreign-language cinema, which definitely needs your support more than those Hollywood blockbusters do, check out this rambunctious Norwegian film following two young men submitting their first novels for publication. One gets published instantly; one doesn't; and its vision of friendship, love, the literary life, and being artistic and serious in your twenties unfolds with wonderful truth and verve.
  • Lyle Lovett live: He is touring, with his Large Band and a full gospel choir, and he is genius.
  • Harry and the Potters: They are also touring, with the Unlimited Enthusiasm Expo, and they are also genius -- where else will you see Albus Dumbledore rapping about his love for tenpin bowling? The only sad moment of this concert for me was when tour partner band Uncle Monsterface launched into an unorthodox cover of "Like a Prayer," and I realized none of my fellow concertgoers were singing along to the lyrics because they were too young to know them. Kids today just don't appreciate the classics. (Though glory, that video has not aged well.)
  • Sagamore Hill: Being history dorks, this weekend James and I took the Long Island Railroad out to Oyster Bay to visit Theodore Roosevelt's family home, which has been almost perfectly preserved as it was when he lived there. Every room was filled with interesting memorabilia (especially animal heads or skins), decorations, and especially books: Apparently at one point TR read three books a day! I came away with even more respect for his energy and courage, and I recommend his house to New Yorkers for a grand day out.
  • Word Challenge on Facebook.
  • Ice cream.