Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Poetics" by Howard Nemerov

You know the old story Ann Landers tells
About the housewife in her basement doing the wash?
She's wearing her nightie, and she thinks, "Well hell,
I might's well put this in as well," and then
Being dripped on by a leaky pipe puts on
Her son's football helmet; whereupon
The meter reader happens to walk through
And "Lady," he gravely says, "I sure hope your team wins."

A story many times told in many ways,
The set of random accidents redeemed
By one more accident, as though chaos
Were the order that was before creation came.
That is the way things happen in the world,
A joke, a disappointment satisfied,
As we walk through doing our daily round,
Reading the meter, making things add up.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Squids 101: What I Like to See in an Artist's Portfolio

I went to an SCBWI portfolio viewing at the Society of Illustrators this afternoon. All of the portfolios there were very organized and professional, but for the benefit of illustrators who may not have had much guidance in putting a portfolio together, here are some things I like to see in them:

  • Your best work. Don't put substandard pieces in your portfolio just to fill out the book.
  • All the styles and/or media you feel proficient in. If you're comfortable doing black-and-white line art as well as watercolor and acrylic, feel free to put all three in, though I then suggest organizing the portfolio by medium so I can look at your style and skill in each one. Some illustrators create a separate portfolio for each style/medium, which is good to see if we're having a one-on-one critique, but less practical for general portfolio viewings like today's.
  • Illustrations involving human beings, particularly children, but also covering a decent range of ages, races, genders, settings, and especially expressions. I don't mean that you have to have twenty portraits in your portfolio where the first is an old black woman rejoicing, the next a two-year-old Asian boy crying, the third George Clooney beaming: Just be sure that your illustrations include more than smiling white people.
  • N.B.I.: It's the smiling there that can really annoy me -- when I look at a picture of 10 kids on a school bus, say, and all of them have the exact same vacant beaming expression, then you're not creating individual characters so much as a group stare, which might feel warm but will also feel flat. I'm looking for the individuality that comes out of your characters -- a sense of how real and alive those people are, no matter what medium or style you use.
  • N.B.II.: If you are at all inclined towards caricature or portraiture, it's nice and fun to include a portrait or illustration of some easily recognizable famous figure as rendered by you. (Andy Rash and Sean Qualls are experts at this.) This allows me to get a quick handle on your style by seeing how it compares to the real person. Moreover, the biographical picture book is alive and well, so it's good to know you can recreate real people with accuracy and verve.
  • Illustrations involving animals, either anthropomorphized or real -- whatever your style is best suited for. I would suggest that you have at least two or three of the following common picture-book animals somewhere in your portfolio: a dog, a cat, a dinosaur, a cow, a pig, a chicken, a duck, a horse, a rabbit, a wolf, an elephant, a mouse, a tiger.
  • While we're talking common subjects, it could be useful and fun to have pieces showing your unique take on any of the following: a ballet class; firefighters or fire trucks (or other cars and trucks); a farm; dinosaurs (again); a goodnight scene. These subjects may be familiar, but they never go away completely, and we'll always be looking for new takes on these old stories. (This is not a requirement by any means.)
  • A few (3-4) pieces with the same subject, ideally a few consecutive spreads from the same story (extra points for having the text on the page). This could be an original story or a familiar text -- Mother Goose rhymes and fairy tales are good choices for their familiarity (though I must say that most first-time illustrators will probably not be able to get either a Mother Goose book or a fairy tale retelling published in an overcrowded market). This allows me to see how you handle the same characters in different perspectives, positions, and situations; what parts of the written narrative you choose to highlight in your picture; how you transition from one scene/emotional atmosphere to another; and how you choose to advance the story through your illustrations.
  • Better still: A sketch dummy of your current project, with perhaps one piece of final art. It is probably not wise to make full final art of a book until it's sold, as the editor and art director will likely have some suggestions for you, but I love seeing sketch dummies, as they show how you sustain a story over 32 pages and how you handle your characters and their emotions.
  • N.B.: It's fairly common to see a couple of consecutive letters from an ABC in a portfolio, and while it's always interesting, it ends up being more of a stylistic demonstration than a narrative one. If you're going to spend the pages in a portfolio, narrative progression is generally more compelling, revealing, and useful.
  • If you have an interest in doing book jackets for novels, make some mockups of new jackets for already published books. I'll throw out three covers that could be fascinating to revisit: Eragon by Christopher Paolini, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, and Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay. (Not that there's anything wrong with those original covers -- just that they provide a wide range of subject matter and characters for you to reillustrate.)
  • A few pieces showing the thing you're most passionate about or you most enjoy illustrating (if they weren't already incorporated in the above). That will likely be the thing you're best at illustrating as well, and it's great to know you're fantastic at and love to create sea scenes, for example, in case a manuscript set on the beach comes across my desk.
  • Samples, postcard-size or larger, including your name, phone number, e-mail address, snail-mail address, and website, and at least one piece of your very best work, as chosen by a couple of honest friends. A good sample makes me think, in order, (1) "Ooh, I love this piece!" (2) "Ooh, I want to see more!" and (3) "Ooh, I'll check out her website right now!" Any sample smaller than a postcard means it's difficult to see the art properly and start the process at (1), which is why I request that specifically.
  • N.B.: If you have not yet published a book and you do not have a website, please make one. I have heard illustrators say that it's difficult to maintain a website on top of everything else they have to do for their careers, and I sympathize; but there is no better way (besides this portfolio) to show me the whole range of what you're capable of, and sometimes a website is even better, as I can share it more quickly with colleagues and access it 24/7. Even a blogspot account (a la Dan Santat) is useful in showing the range of your work and the new stuff you're working on.
When I look at a portfolio, what I'm really trying to see is the illustrative equivalent of a writer's voice: the kinds of things you like to draw; your skill at rendering real life (even if said life involves dragons or fairies); the qualities of your unique style; how that style transforms real life; its emotional range; how that style might be applied to the manuscripts I have on my desk or future manuscripts that might come my way. So it is important to note that the bullet points above are all suggestions and not prescriptions: If you don't like drawing animals and you're not good at them, then by golly don't include them in your portfolio. Show me who you are illustratively, what you're good at and what you have a passion for, and the best projects will come out of those things.

For further advice on picture-book publishing, I recommend Marla Frazee's website (click on "Studio") and, always, the list of SCBWI Publications. And any editors, designers, or artists who happen to read this, please feel free to offer your own suggestions as well.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Baby Got Book

(Inspired by this shirt on ShelfTalker, I wrote new lyrics for this classic Sir Mix-A-Lot song of my youth.)

[Female voice]
Oh, my, god, Becky, look at her book. It is so big. *scoff* She looks like, one of those, librarians' girlfriends. But, you know, who understands those librarians? *scoff* They only talk to her, because, she looks like a total bibliovore, 'kay? I mean, her book, is just so big. *scoff* I can't believe it's just so thick. It's like, out there. I mean -- gross. Look! She's just so ... smart!

[Sir Reads-a-Lot]
I like big books and I can not lie
You other brothers can't deny
That when a girl walks in with a big fat book
And glasses on her face
You're all thrilled, wanna talk to her quick
'Cause you notice she's reading Dickens
Deep in the tote she's carrying
I'm hooked and I can't stop staring
Oh baby, I wanna get with you
And read you all night
My homeboys tried to adjust me
But that text you got makes me Book Lust-y
Ooh, Tolkein -- elves!
You say you wanna get in my shelves?
Well, use me, use me
'Cause you ain't that average bookie
I've seen them readin'
To hell with their speedin'
She's Zinn, Prynne,
Got it goin' like Jane Austen
I'm tired of magazines
Sayin' e-readers are the thing
Take the average intellectual and ask him that
She gotta cook much book
So, fellas! (Yeah!) Fellas! (Yeah!)
Has your girlfriend got big books? (Hell yeah!)
Tell 'em to read it! (Read it!) Read it! (Read it!)
Read that healthy tome!
Baby got book!

(LA face with New York volume)
Baby got book!

I like pages galore
And when I'm in an indie bookstore
I just can't help myself, I'm actin' like an animal
Now here's my scandal
I wanna take 'em all home
And uhh, double-up, uhh, uhh
I ain't talking 'bout Dan Brown
'Cause his books are made for clowns
I want 'em real thick and juicy
So find that juicy novel
Reads-A-Lot will grovel
Beggin' for a piece of that cover
So I'm lookin' at bestsellers
Patterson and them fellers --
Give me Joseph Heller
And I'll keep my women fine spellers
A word to the bookmarked sisters, I wanna get with ya
Good grammar's my bit, yeah
And I gotta be straight when I say I wanna *read*
Till the break of dawn
Tolstoy got it goin' on
A lot of simps won't like this song
'Cause them punks like to slim it and skim it
And I'd rather drink and think
'Cause I'm glossy, and I'm saucy
And I'm down to be your Mr. Darcy
So, ladies! (Yeah!) Ladies! (Yeah!)
You wanna roll in my barouche? (Hell yeah!)
Then open up! Ain't no doubt!
Even Steve Jobs got to shout
Baby got book!

Baby got book!
Yeah, baby ... when it comes to females, Cosmo ain't got nothin' to do with my selection. Two hundred pages? Ha ha, only if that's one chapter.

So your girlfriend reads like Ripa, with audiobooks on her speakers
But audio ain't the same thing, it's just cheatin'
My tall bookshelves they don't want none
Unless you've got spine, hon
You can do side bends or sit-ups
But please don't lose that brain
Some brothers full of folderol
Gonna tell you that your books ain't gold
So they don't beck you, reject you
And I pull up quick to recheck you
So Cosmo says it's bad to be smart
That ain't my library cart!
'Cause your mind is open and your curves are kickin'
And I'm thinkin' 'bout stickin'
To Paris and Lindsay in the magazines:
You ain't it, Miss Thing!
Give me a reader, I'll feed her,
Pullman and Franzen need her
Some knucklehead tried to dis
'Cause Harry Potter's on your list
Guy might read but he's still a fool
Eight hundred pages so cool
So ladies, if lit's your love
And you wanna make like Nabokov
Dial 1-800-READSALOT
And we'll read those banned novels.
Baby got book!

(Little in the middle but she got much book) [4x]

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Since There's No Help," by Michael Drayton

Since there's no help, come, let us kiss and part,
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love's latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes,
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have giv'n him over,
From death to life thou might'st him yet recover.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Picking Up the Place

I fooled around a little bit over on my website tonight, updating the annotated list of books I've edited and my speaking engagements for the rest of the year. I forgot to add that I've agreed to be the workshop leader for the Missouri SCBWI Spring 2009 retreat in Hermann, which will focus on novel revision, building off many of the ideas in "The Art of Detection."

It is a sad, sad thing that I keep getting behind on my Happinesses of the Week. But here they are for the last two weeks:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins!!!

The kick-ass YA action must-read of Fall 2008, published by the good people of Scholastic Press. There has been buzz going around about this book in-house since the manuscript arrived last summer, and I finally received an ARC a couple weeks ago. You can read a plot summary here, but that doesn't convey the sheer suspense and urgency of this book. . . . There is action or a major plot twist in every chapter (the great genius of The Lightning Thief and its sequels too, you'll note), but more importantly Katniss is a fabulous protagonist, equal parts cold-blooded competitor and sympathetic teenage girl, and the writing is lean and strong, just like her. (And there's romance, too!) I finished it in two days and loved every minute. Watch for it this autumn.

And for last week:

My Captain Underpants erasers!!!

My authors know I am slightly fetishistic about these erasers, which Scholastic gave out as a promotional item some years ago. I snagged a whole package of them from Marketing once, and I guard them jealously, as they make red pencil, green pencil, blue pencil, you name it, disappear like the Captain in pursuit of Professor Poopypants.

Finally, the Happiness for this week:

America's Next Top Model!!!

This show is usually a top competitor for "Frivolous Reality Show that Takes Itself Way Too Seriously," mostly thanks to Tyra, but everyone seems to be having a lot of fun this cycle, and so this is the best season in a long time. My money is on Anya to take it all, but you never know who the judges might turn on next . . .

End of update. And someday I will post something serious and substantive again, I swear.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Request from Arthur

Arthur asked me to pose the following question here:

I’m scheduled to do a Q&A session at this coming weekend’s SCBWI conference in Washington, that has the following description:

“What the heck is an eff’n Gee?”: An editor answers your questions about the mysterious language of publishing.” And further description might be: "Come prepared with questions you’ve had about the publishing process: from confusing technical language you’ve heard and read, to difficult concepts you’ve struggled with in group and individual feedback. Arthur Levine will do his best to demystify and enlighten.”

What I’m looking for are some other good examples of confusing or opaque lingo that I should come prepared to discuss at this session….

Care to chime in? Leave your editorial head-scratchers in the comments and he shall answer all this weekend. (He also has been known to post his talks over at, so keep an eye out over there.)

Eye of the Tiger

This is pretty brilliant. (Hillary supporters: Please approach with a sense of humor.) Via Andrew Sullivan:

James and I volunteered for Barack's campaign in Philadelphia on Saturday, going door-to-door in North Philly. In doing so, I realized that the most important thing about his candidacy for me really is his character, just like that video says: that he understands and embraces complexity and nuance. That he spoke up for Hillary when people booed her at one of his rallies yesterday. That he has taken the long view on many issues, like nukes and the home foreclosure crisis. That he is a good writer, as his marvelous "A More Perfect Union" speech showed. I am not saying he's perfect -- no politician is -- but I think he has demonstrated the wisdom, vision, and organization that make him the right person to lead our country out of the morass of the Bush years, and I hope he wins tomorrow and becomes our candidate.

That is all.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"homage to my hips" by Lucille Clifton

Audio, read by the poet

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved.
they go where they want to go.
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My 500th Post, Just As I Like It

Three years and a bit, some good thoughts (I hope), and much silliness: 500 posts. I thought about posting "The Anniversary" by John Donne, one of my very favorite poets (and a poem which gets quoted in Busman's Honeymoon, if you, like me, enjoy tracking down Dorothy Sayers's references); but then I thought it would be more appropriate to post a bit of the play after which this blog is named, As You Like It. This is from my favorite scene, Rosalind's School of Love (to quote Harold Bloom), Act IV, Scene i:


Am not I your Rosalind?
I take some joy to say you are, because I would be talking of her.
Well, in her person, I say I will not have you.
Then in mine own person I die.
No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicit, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club; yet he did what he could to die before, and he is one of the patterns of love. Leander, he would have lived many a fair year, though Hero had turned nun, if it had not been for a hot midsummer night; for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and being taken with the cramp was drowned and the foolish coroners of that age found it was 'Hero of Sestos.' But these are all lies: men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.
I would not have my right Rosalind of this mind, for, I protest, her frown might kill me.
By this hand, it will not kill a fly. But come, now I will be your Rosalind in a more coming-on disposition, and ask me what you will. I will grant it.
Then love me, Rosalind.
Yes, faith, will I, Fridays and Saturdays and all.
And wilt thou have me?
Ay, and twenty such.
What sayest thou?
Are you not good?
I hope so.
Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?

. . . . . . .
Now tell me how long you would have her after you
have possessed her.
For ever and a day.
Say 'a day,' without the 'ever.' No, no, Orlando; men are April when they woo, December when they wed: maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives. I will be more jealous of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hen, more clamorous than a parrot against rain, more new-fangled than an ape, more giddy in my desires than a monkey: I will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain, and I will do that when you are disposed to be merry; I will laugh like a hyen, and that when thou art inclined to sleep.
But will my Rosalind do so?
By my life, she will do as I do.
O, but she is wise.
ROSALIND Or else she could not have the wit to do this: the wiser, the waywarder: make the doors upon a woman's wit and it will out at the casement; shut that and 'twill out at the key-hole; stop that, 'twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.

And my other favorite lines from this play:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

All Thou Writers for Children

Hie thee over to Todd Alcott's LiveJournal and read his reflections on E.T.: the Extraterrestrial. If E.T. were a book, it would be a perfect middle-grade fantasy novel, for all the reasons Mr. Alcott describes. Pay special attention to the advice (both Mr. Alcott's and Bob Dylan's) to "invert the cliche," and to the fact that all great fantasy has a larger emotional or moral metaphor working within it. . . . That's what separates the Rowlings and Pullmans and Constables from the people who play with elves and dragons.

That said, I can guess why Mr. Alcott's six-year-old son prefers Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark to E.T. -- it is much easier and more pleasurable to identify with heroes and fighters against the Dark Side than it is to identify with Elliott, who starts out as your standard unpowerful (and kind of whiny) eleven-year-old middle child, and then achieves a domestic greatness (he helps a friend) rather than a lasting heroic one. That domestic greatness sets him on the way to later heroic greatness, certainly, but the pleasures of this particular journey may be better understood and appreciated by adults than by children. So perhaps E.T. wouldn't make a perfect middle-grade fantasy novel, but a perfect adult fantasy novel about a middle-grader -- the 1980s California alien equivalent of Jim the Boy. Hmm.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


This month is proving too crazy to post a poem a day for National Poetry Month again, but I am going to try to share some old favorites, and I hope you are all out there reading and writing and reciting and remembering it every day of the year.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Announcements, Admonitions, and Happinesses for the Past Two Weeks

  • The next Kidlit Drink Night will be Monday, April 14, at Sweet & Vicious in Soho, starting at 6:30 p.m. It's been a while since we've gotten together, so I hope you'll all come out and chat.
  • Love YA lit? Want to share the love? Then you should participate in the Readergirlz' Operation Teen Book Drop.
  • Also, most of the late February/March/early April SQUIDs have now been answered. For those of you interested in statistics, I had 53 submissions, of which 37 are being returned now (some with notes); I'll reread the remaining 16 this week and also probably return the majority of them, I must say. (No offense, simply the way it goes.) I didn't notice any dominant trend or recurring plot motifs this month, but I did receive one submission that I am going to use as an object lesson: a didactic picture-book manuscript against nose-picking, written in not-very-good rhyme. First of all, this reminded me that I need to change my "no scatology" policy in my guidelines to "no bodily humor," because ewww -- not my thing. Second, if you're tempted to write a bodily-humor picture-book manuscript, think about what would have to go on the cover. This one would have required us to show a little kid with his finger up his nose. That is not attractive to book buyers. Third, if you write in rhyme (and it's a good guideline even if you don't), ALWAYS, ALWAYS, have a person who is not you and who has never read the manuscript before read it aloud to you, and listen carefully to how the meter runs and the beats fall. If the manuscript does not sound the same as when you heard it in your head, take it back and revise further before you submit it anywhere. Fourth, if you have to include the word "did" to make a line work, as in "The squid swam the current / The squid swam the shore / The squid hit the beach / And up that squid did soar!" -- you're cheating, forcing your rhyme, and you can't do that more than once a manuscript. Go forth and sin no more.
  • I just recently re-found these wonderful Zadie Smith essays I've mentioned before, and they are 900% worth reading if you love thinking theoretically about reading and writing: "Love, Actually," about E. M. Forster, reading for love, and ethics in literature (the guiding light of my talk "Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through"); and "Fail Better" and "Read Better," a two-part essay on the responsibilities of writers and of critics.
  • The Happiness of the Past Week: It's true that I've never met a carb that I didn't like, but recently I've been spending a lot of time with a carb I love. Rice? It takes too long. Potatoes? Feh. No, my new pure-grain passion is quick-cooking, sweet-tasting, low in fat, and fun to say. It is

It's wonderful with mix-ins, like my favorite Curried Couscous Salad, but I even like it nearly plain -- one night I made up a cup, sprinkled lemon-pepper seasoning on it, and ate it as a late-night snack. (Hint for New Yorkers: You can buy big bags of it cheap at the Indian grocery on 1st Avenue between 5th and 6th Sts.) Yay couscous!
  • It does not involve couscous, but I'm also very fond of this recipe for acorn squash. (Actually, as you might be able to tell, what I'm really fond of is any recipe involving apples and dried cranberries.) Yum.
  • The Happiness of Two Weeks Ago: I don't talk about my family very much, beyond our kookiness with the Frog, because (1) it's not really the Internet's business and (2) much of what I could say might sound like bragging. But to go ahead and brag -- dang, I have a great family, from my cousins in Ithaca who came down a couple weeks ago, to everyone I saw in Missouri when I went home for Easter (especially my parents and sister and brother-in-law and grandfather), to those cousins and aunts and uncles scattered around the Midwest who I don't see often enough. . . . They're all funny and smart and affectionate and great conversationalists; not perfect, as no family is, but good people who are always there for me. So the Happiness of that past week and many weeks is

My Family!!!

  • Many of my fond family memories revolve around sporting events -- attending Ray-Pec sporting events, watching Chiefs games while reading the Star on Sunday afternoons -- and we've been KU basketball fans since the start of the Roy Williams era. So go Jayhawks! Defeat Memphis!
  • And in more hometown sports news, the usually hapless Royals are on top of the AL Central. Go Royals! Defeat those smug bastard Yankees!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Guest "Behind the Book" Blog: Rachel Griffiths on DEEP DOWN POPULAR

After about the 58th time I'd barged into Cheryl's office to gush about the so-adorable-that-I-can't-stop-patting-it DEEP DOWN POPULAR by Phoebe Stone, Cheryl sighed, put down the manuscript she'd been reading, and made me her best offer:

"Do you want to write a guest entry about DEEP DOWN POPULAR on my blog?"


Because although I doubt very much that I will stop barging* into Cheryl's office to gush about DEEP DOWN POPULAR (*and other things. As one of Cheryl's friends and colleagues, I reserve the right to barge), this is a book that deserves a much larger audience for gushing than just Cheryl (sorry, Cheryl).

WHAT a book to gush about. Although Phoebe is a published author, having written several picture books and novels for a major house, she sent in DEEP DOWN POPULAR as a manuscript to Arthur A. Levine Books as slush when I was working as Arthur's assistant. (Authors, do not do this. I am very glad Phoebe did, but a) she is a published author with a reputable house b) she has an agent. She had graduated from the slush pile, and I'm still not quite sure why she dove into it again.)

Anyway, I took the manuscript home over the weekend, and curled up with it on my couch, hoping that it would be so god-awful bad that I could read 50 pages of it, throw it against the wall, and go out with friends with a clean conscience.

But that didn't happen. Because after a page and a half, I was so in love with Jessie Lou, the main character, that going out with friends wasn't at all interesting. I was staying in with Jessie Lou, hearing all about her mad crush on fellow sixth-grader Conrad Parker Smith, hearing about her perfect older sister whose hair was always annoyingly poufy. And more, I was hearing about how it felt to be in your last year of elementary school with only a few on-again, off-again friends, and having to swallow the feeling of being different - and somehow wrong - every single day.

The book's plot was a bit wonky at the time, but Pfft! Plot is important, but plot questions can be solved. As an editor, I'm hooked when a book is beautifully written, when the characters are so vibrant and full of zip that I have to keep reminding myself that I don't ACTUALLY know them, when a manuscript is bursting with the thought and feeling that drive theme... Again, plot questions can be solved.

But the real clincher for me was the voice. Just listen to this:

"Getting all dressed up is about the worst thing in the world to me. I hate sticking my feet in party shoes or wearing ironed party dresses. I about have to scream. Same thing with my hair. Right before we went downtown last year to get a family photograph taken, I hauled off with a nice big old pair of scissors and cut my hair practically down to the bone. My older sister, Melinda, has beautiful hair and it was all curled for the photograph and she was wearing a fluffy pink perfect cloud of a dress, and here I was in love with Conrad Parker Smith with my hair so short, you couldn't spit on it."

Oh, Jessie Lou! Oh, what a prickly pear!

Arthur agreed. He took the book to Acquisitions, and we edited it together. And now it is out in stores, and I have a copy sitting on my desk well within patting range. And when a day gets challenging, I can move beyond patting and pick the book up to find the reasons I am an editor. Passages like these:

  • “There’s a fine line between a fourth grader and a baby and Quentin Duster just crossed that line."
  • "My see-you-later-when-I-feel-like-it-friend, Elizabeth Parnell, has moved up to a table in the middle of our class so she can sit with Sarah Jane Peabody, leaving me back here all alone, bubbling and fuming like a pot of Mama's half-burned stew."
  • "Conrad draws the best robots and space aliens of any boy in this class. And his space aliens aren't stiff and stupid-looking like some. His robots and space aliens always have faces full of expression and meaning."
  • "I don't know anymore what I think. I think the moon turned purple and fell out of the sky. That's what I think. I think the stars dropped from the universe and are clattering all over the roof above us sounding like rain. That's what I think. Everybody is smiling and acting normal, but nothing is normal."

Thank you for listening to my gushing. And happy reading.