Tuesday, April 18, 2006


A brief post to announce a little postbreak for the next two weeks . . . I've got an apartment to clean, a major copyedit to review, a friend coming to visit, Emily Ebers to finish, fun to have, flights to take, two speeches to rewrite, a sister to see, an author to meet, a conference to attend, an essay to compose, and other work and life in the midst of all that, so as much as I love blogging, I'd better recuse myself from the temptation. I'll be back in May.

Happy life and writing in the meantime, all!

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I'm working steadily away on the line-edit for So Totally Emily Ebers and making good progress -- I do about ten pages an hour, so I'm on p. 83 of 283, and on track to hit my goal of p. 100-by-6-p.m. with time to spare. But I also believe firmly in regular breaks to reinforce my focus when I go back to work. So hello from my editing break, and now on to the excitement that waits for me on p. 84 . . .

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Books on My Night Table, How I Acquired Them, and Why I Am/Was Reading Them, in Descending Order

  1. Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins, given to me by my friend Jill on Tuesday night in preparation for our book group meeting next month. I lay down to read it thirty-one minutes ago and I'm on page 104. It goes fast.
  2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, in the Reader's Digest collectible edition I wheedled out of my great-aunt Dessie when I was thirteen years old, now sporting a worn and stained cover, scuffed edges, and bent cardboard poking through the cloth at the corners. Pulled out again last night after I went to the "Celebration of Jane Austen" at Symphony Space with Jennifer Egan, Siri Hustvedt, and Karen Joy Fowler. The conversation among the three was good; the book is better.
  3. Prince Caspian, by C. S. Lewis, a Scholastic paperback edition from a "Chronicles of Narnia" boxed set that was in one of the giveaway boxes at work, with the Chris Van Allsburg covers. My current regular bedtime reading, for the restfulness of the prose and the interest -- both literary-critical and pleasurable -- of the stories.
  4. On Beauty, by Zadie Smith, purchased at the Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway near NYU last Saturday, when I was also buying my father's birthday present (Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four, by John Feinstein). A Resolution book. I've lusted after it for months because the jacket is so gorgeous: red foil inside debossed type on heavy cream paper with a red case cover. . . . I just love running my fingertips over it, though I am not thus far in love with the text it contains.
  5. Buffalo Brenda, by Jill Pinkwater. One of the review copies my grandfather used to receive and pass on by the boxful when he was teaching children's literature, and one of the most influential books in my life ever as it encouraged the twelve-year-old me to be independent-minded and distrustful of brand names in fashion. (I still don't wear anything that has a store or designer name on the outside, as I always hear Brenda lecturing on "the Great Conspiracy of Manufacturers [that forced] people to overpay for what amounted to the privilege of advertising the very products they bought.") Retrieved and reskimmed a few weeks ago when I was working on Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through.
  6. The Wonderful O, by James Thurber, with illustrations by Marc Simont, bought through Alibris. I love Thurber as a writer and Simont as an illustrator and got this to enjoy their collaboration.
  7. The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber. I sent a friend at Pantheon the first three Harry Potters in exchange for this luscious culinary memoir by the author of Crescent, which was one of my favorite books from last year. Lovely, lovely, mouthwatering prose, and someday I'll make the recipes too.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Goin' to the Chapel: Three Connubial Conundrums

As recent readers of this blog will know, I am going to be officiating my cousin Hans's wedding next month. I am not a real minister, obviously, and I have no responsibilities for this wedding beyond showing up and saying a few happy words, but I have been thinking (just for fun) about what I would say to the young people (ha) if I were a real minister and they actually did come to me for premarital counseling. And because I have no personal experience of marriage to draw upon, I have basically been thinking about what I would give them to read.

The list includes novels like Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Middlemarch by George Eliot, and Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers; short stories like "Tell Me a Riddle" by Tillie Olsen and "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro; poetry: "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" and "The Good Morrow" by John Donne, or "Ordinary Life" by Barbara Crooker; plays: "The Lady's Not for Burning" by Christopher Fry (or maybe "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" if I'm feeling mischievous and/or cruel); and nonfiction, most especially the excellent Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose, or any of those "getting to know you" books so they can ask lots of questions of each other and make sure there aren't any last-minute dealbreakers. ("What do you mean, you want our first child to be named 'Cherry Garcia'?")

Then once the book or play or whatever is read, I would ask questions: "How would you define the marriage(s) in this book? Are they 'good marriage(s)' or 'bad marriage(s),' and what makes them so? How would you two react if you were faced with the situation this married couple faces? Let's talk that through." I am not sure how useful this would be for Hans's and Megan's long-term relationship, honestly, but at the very least they'd get to read a good book together, and do a little thinking about what makes a marriage work. Any other suggestions for good books on marriage, or books that feature fascinating marriages?

The second wedding issue that's been on my mind this week: My most excellent church, Park Slope United Methodist, recently reaffirmed its commitment to a nondiscriminatory marriage policy -- that is, until our gay and lesbian congregants can be married by our pastor in our sanctuary, no one will be married by our pastor in our sanctuary. Thus we all feel the weight of exclusion and share the burden of the anti-gay policies of the United Methodist Church. It's an amazingly brave stand for the church to take (and apparently one that costs us money, too, as we can't rent out the church for weddings), and I'm very proud to be part of such an incredible congregation, even as I'm sad that I probably won't get to be married there in my lifetime. If you'd like to hear more, NPR recently did a terrific little piece on the church policy: http://homepage.mac.com/macairl/FileSharing11.html.

And lastly, I am officially shopping for a Hot Minister dress. It has to be pretty and proper enough for me to make a respectable officiant in Iowa, but interesting enough that I would want to wear it again afterward in New York; elegant, feminine, flattering to my slightly weird figure (no strapless), less than $150 -- and not white, obviously! Fortunately for me, dress shopping is my favorite kind of clothes shopping, but I'm not finding much that fits the bill. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Brooklyn Arden Review: "High School Musical"

I was recently introduced to the Disney Channel movie "High School Musical," which is, indeed, a musical set in a high school. It's about a basketball player named Troy Bolton who meets a pretty brainiac named Gabriella Montez at a karaoke contest over Christmas vacation. Back at school, they decide to try out for the school musical together, much to the consternation of his teammates and basketball-coach father, her academic-decathalon buddies, and the Margo Channing of the Drama Club (a girl amusingly named Sharpay). In fact, the kids' breaking free of their usual labels causes schoolwide drama, as another nerd announces she loves to dance, a skateboarder says he enjoys the cello, and -- my favorite detail -- one of the tough basketball guys declares his passion for baking.

Now, you don't get any points for guessing where this is going; the soundtrack list alone shows the school's progress from "Stick to the Status Quo" to "We're All in This Together." The characters are stock, the dialogue and acting cheesy, the music and performances straight out of "American Idol," with lots of oh-ohhhing (and be warned, the songs stick in your head). The direction is by Kenny Ortega, who choreographed "Dirty Dancing" among other beloved movies of my youth. But perhaps because of that, oh(-ohhh), this worked on me -- the heightened emotions of a musical (which I'm a sucker for anyway), the sweet little romance, the fantasy of a whole school coming together and supporting all its kids in whoever they choose to be. I was looking at the 364 reviews of the soundtrack on Amazon.com, and these two stood out to me:

the movie High School Musical is the extremely the best movie EVER! zac efron is such a good singer! vannessa is a great singer 2! (i could go on ALL day!) I watched this movie 7 times and if i LOVE the movie, then i know ill LOVE the soundtrack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Terrible. Evil. Makes you want to upchuck. How can people my age actully listen to this junk without being rushed to the hospital? This should burn in the fires from wence it came! Under no circumstance should anyone listen to this junk! EVIL!!!! IT BURNS!

"High School Musical" is not, by any real aesthetic standards, a good movie. But its heart extends to include both of these kids -- the teenybopper and the angsty snob, if I were going to apply labels -- and to imagine a world where labels don't matter, the Rudolphs and Ugly Ducklings aren't tortured, and we all just get to sing or bake or play ball or do chemistry to our souls' content. Or to be more accurate, to sing AND bake AND play ball AND do chemistry to our souls' content -- we get to be more than one label. That was the impressive idea in it for me, and if you come across this on the Disney Channel and don't mind resting your brain for a bit, it's charming, enjoyable, and worth checking out.

Hero of the Day: Miami Heat Guard Dwayne Wade

Gacked from AustenBlog: Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade will appear at Miami Dade College on April 13 to discuss one of his favorite books -- Pride and Prejudice.

"I've read Pride and Prejudice a couple of times,” Wade explained. “It's one of my favorite books, which usually surprises people. I guess they wonder how a love story from Regency England could be relevant to a 21st century basketball player from the South side of Chicago. Class struggle, overcoming stereotypes and humble beginnings, getting out of your own way and letting love take over: these are things I can relate to, definitely.”

Go, Dwayne! Love the poster too.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Rattle and Hum

It pretty much sums this week up to say that I've been reading "Waiting for Godot" for fun. Not entirely true -- it hasn't been that bad a week. But I did read "Waiting for Godot," and it did make me want to shake each individual character in turn and scream "MOVE ALREADY!" Which completely misses the point, I know -- stark poetry and man's helplessness in the face of an uncaring universe and existential cruelty and blah blah blah. But if there was anything to reconfirm my love of narrative progress and character development, it was this, which deliberately has neither.

  • In other reading news, I just finished The Horse and His Boy and started Prince Caspian. I really enjoyed The Horse and His Boy, I'm sorry to say -- sorry because I could completely see all the criticisms that Philip Pullman and others have laid at its door: the residents of Calormene are bloodthirsty and ridiculous, and speak with traditionally Middle Eastern speech patterns and phrasing, while the residents of Narnia and Archenland are the repository of all that is right and good in the world, and speak in the highfalutin' medieval speech that is accorded admiration and respect. But I'm afraid I really didn't care: The story worked emotionally (Shasta has a talking horse! The fate of the nation of Archenland depends on him! He finds the family that's truly his!) and there was plenty of narrative progress, so I got swept up in the adventure along with Shasta and Aravis and hummed through* the stereotypes.
  • I'm also still reading The Iliad, which continues to be wonderful.
  • I started The Eyre Affair, which by all rights I should love, but telling telling telling . . .
  • And lots and lots and lots and lots of manuscripts, of course.
  • I have met this person. In fact, I think I have been this person: "It's Funny How What You're Saying Relates to My Novel."
  • J.K. Rowling wrote a wonderful essay on thinness and strong girls on her website.
  • As you might have seen on Publishers Lunch, we just bought a French time-travel fantasy trilogy called "The Book of Time," which is awesome and which I'll be working on.
  • I went to see "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" a few weeks ago -- the funniest and most enjoyable movie I've seen this year, I think, with blow-you-away performances from Jill Scott, the Fugees, and Kanye West. Now I'm curious about "Brick," "Inside Man," and "ATL."
  • Elizabeth Bunce praises chapter outlines. I second that. (I made her do it.)
  • Another excellent exercise for identifying problems with your manuscript: Write the flap copy. It should include the opening situation, the action that precipitates your main character into the novel, at least one action s/he takes in response, and two of the following elements: interesting secondary characters / further plot twists / the great mystery driving the narrative on / distinctive phrasing from the book / larger questions the book raises that might intrigue the reader, all in 250 words or less. If you can't supply any of these elements, think about why not.
  • Enough rattling. To bed with me. Good night to you.


* hum through the verb form of the noun hum-through moment, stolen from the fabulous movie reviewer Ms. Linda of Popcorn Lobby many years back, this basically describes any moment you wilfully ignore the lack of logic/rampant stereotyping/utter stupidity of the characters/other objectionable feature of the entertainment you're taking in in favor of closing your eyes, putting your fingers in your ears, and humming until it passes, thus allowing the entertainment to continue to function in defiance of your logical brain. Most commonly used in reference to the huge gimmicks and resulting totally illogical behavior of the characters in bad romantic comedies and action movies.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Hey Presto! This Weekend's Talk

Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through; or, Plots and Popularity

Being some thoughts on outsider stories, well-rounded characters, moral development, and why I hated fifth grade. The page does not yet include my school picture as promised, but it'll be up by tomorrow. Note also that the character chart is almost certainly not definitive, and further suggestions for categories are welcomed.

You May Call Me "Reverend Cheryl"

I am pleased to announce that, as of 6:04 this evening, I am a registered minister of the Universal Life Church. According to the guidelines provided by the church, I am now able to:

  • "Perform marriages within any US state, following the rules laid out by the state in which you wish to perform said marriage."
  • "Perform funerals, baptisms, last rites or any other sort of legal ceremony or ritual you wish to perform, except circumcision."
  • "Start a church of your own, be it a bricks and mortar building or on the internet."
  • "Absolve others of their sins as you have been absolved of yours."

Despite these extensive new abilities, no great career change is in the offing -- my only plans are to officiate my cousin Hans's wedding this coming May. (Indeed, Hans and Megan's request that I do so was the sole reason for my ordination.) But if you want me to perform your wedding, funeral, baptism, last rite, or any other sort of legal ceremony or ritual except circumcision (ahem), do just let me know.

Now on to the really Big Question . . . What should I wear???

Pocono? Pocoyes!

(Forgive the subject line; my brain's a little scattered.)

Home now from the Eastern Pennsylvania SCBWI conference in the Pocono Mountains, tired but pleased by a weekend well spent. I met many nice writers (including some who have posted comments here -- hi Kelly, Mindy, and Pamela!) and twice gave my talk "Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through; or, Plots and Popularity," which features lots of thinking about outsiders and survival alongside my hilariously awkward fifth-grade school picture.

Suzanne Fisher Staples gave an amazing keynote speech Saturday morning. Besides being the author of Shabanu and Under the Persimmon Tree, among other fine novels, she served as a UPI reporter in Asia for ten years and took the first pictures of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan! Jose Aruego had us all laughing in the afternoon with his clever and surprising cartoons. Mary Lee Donovan of Candlewick, Mark McVeigh from Dutton, Julie Romeis from Bloomsbury, and Heather Delabre from an educational publisher rounded out the presenters; we all did individual presentations on Saturday, and joined together for a First Pages panel and Q&A Sunday.

I came back with a renewed determination to get stuff up on the website, so watch out for the "Morals, Muddles" talk, a "What I'm Looking For," revised submission guidelines, and maybe even that long-promised FAQ in the next few weeks. (I know I still need to post my Aristotle plot talk from Asilomar, but I'm going to be giving it again in Kansas City at the end of April, so I don't think I'll put it up till I incorporate the revisions I'm sure to make there.)

Lastly, on a purely hedonistic note, we were staying at a pretty, old-fashioned resort called the Sterling Inn. Thus my weekend included massive quantities of delicious food, "Love and Death" on cable, Scrabble with three very kind writers (I won, but barely), and soaking in a Jacuzzi while sipping wine (the wine courtesy of the generous Ms. Fineman). All the traveling and socializing left me a little tired, so I took a long restorative walk through Prospect Park after my return to Brooklyn this afternoon. Only at the end did I realize the irony: I spent the entire weekend in the Poconos, and then went for a nature walk in New York City!