Friday, February 27, 2009

SQUID Friday

I'm moving offices next week (just upstairs, it doesn't change anything about how you should submit to me), and so today I was determined to go through and respond to as many SQUIDs as I could. The oldest were a few shameful hangovers from July (yeesh); the newest from Monday. And the numbers:

  • 113 total
  • 6 requests for more material
  • 12 held for further review
  • 95 returned
I'm also instituting an acceptance form I talked about a long time ago but never actually made up, so, if I'm interested in the manuscript, I just have to fill in the writer's name, the title, and what I would like him or her to respond with: five chapters, the full ms., patience (i.e., the further review), or a revision based upon comments I write on the letter. This form has already proved MUCH faster than the old method of typing up a complete letter for the writer, filling in the name, address, and title, printing it out on letterhead, etc., so I'm hopeful it will continue to increase my efficiency and decrease my response time in the future.

Finally, there was not a single ". . . Or did she?" query letter in the bunch. Thanks for paying attention!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Salmagundi Thursday

  • You've got to see this awesome video of a crazy fish called the barreleye. It has a transparent head! And tubular eyes that can look forward or rotate up so it can look through its aforementioned transparent head! It is incredibly, delightfully strange.
  • I was much struck by this question for readers on Jennifer Crusie's blog: "On what do your base your expectations of what a book will be like?" Author, flap copy, cover, etc.? I'm working on my talks for the Missouri SCBWI retreat right now (as well as going through SQUIDs), and one of the things I'm thinking a lot about is how writers set up the reader's expectations for the book in the first chapter, and how that shapes everything that comes after. . . . If you have anything to add to the discussion, I'd be glad to hear it in the comments.
  • Editor Martha Mihalick has a wonderful blog: A Curiosity Shop.
  • And former Harper executive editor Alix Reid has a great, reflective blog called Delightful My House. I especially liked her post "Is it the editor's fault or the writer's?" ... I consider this question a lot when I read a book that I think could be better (most recently with Twilight), and the answer is usually: The ordinary reader can't know. We can guess, comparing it to other books the author has written or the editor has edited (if you go that inside-baseball), but even then only the editor, author, and maybe the agent know what happened on the page. I'm just grateful for the times this question doesn't come up.
  • Our church book sale raised over $15,000 -- thanks to any and all of you who came out and bought books!
  • The lovely Marcelo in the Real World has accumulated five starred reviews!
  • And Lisa Yee had a terrific Q&A in a recent issue of the PW Children's Newsletter.
  • Finally, I'm posting another video of a song I mentioned last year: "Die, Vampire, Die," from [title of show], this time in a Sims recreation of the original musical number. Again, this is the best creative expression of the varieties of artistic self-doubt I think I've ever seen, and the best musical encouragement to overcome them. (It rhymes "sock drawer" with "old French whore"!) Do check it out:

Friday, February 20, 2009


Yes, it's time again for the fabulous annual Park Slope United Methodist Church Book Sale! This Saturday from 8:30 to 4:30 and Sunday from 12:30 to 4:30, you can pick up used books, CDs, DVDs, videotapes and records for ridiculously wonderful low prices -- $2 for hardcover, $1.50 for trade paper, $1 for kids' paper, $.50 for mass-market. I helped sort and carry books tonight and came away with some prizes already:
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman (which I've wanted to read ever since I saw this blog post)
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (my first-ever Pratchett)
  • Feeling Sorry for Celia by the lovely Jaclyn Moriarty (read it ages ago, but now I have a copy of my own)
  • A book of knitting cartoons as a gift for a friend's mother
  • Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
  • The Learners by Chip Kidd (The trade paperback isn't quite as blinged-up as his hardcover of The Cheese Monkeys, which has the most awesomely designed book package for a novel I have ever seen in my life; but I liked the content of Cheese Monkeys as well, so I'm looking forward to this sequel.) (Just saw this video . . . dang. Maybe I should hold out for the hardcover of The Learners as well.)
And this being Park Slope, we have a ton of kids and young-adult books, alongside lots of nonfiction and esoterica. I almost bought a Victorian-era hardback of Anna Leonowens's memoirs, complete with gilt detailing on the hardcover and engraved plates throughout; but passed because bookshelf space here is at such a premium already. . . . I don't know that I can afford to keep books I won't read just because they're beautiful. That may have been a stupid decision -- but if it was, you can profit from my stupidity by purchasing it yourself!

PSUMC is located at the corner of 6th Ave. and 8th St. in Park Slope; take the F to 7th Ave. or the R to 4th Ave./9th St. Donations are also welcome from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, at which point we become an all-retail enterprise, one well worth your time. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Song in My Head This Week: "On the Radio" by Regina Spektor

(my 600th post)

The lyrics I love most here:

This is how it works
You're young until you're not
You love until you don't
You try until you can't
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again

(ba dum, ba dum bum bum
ba dum, ba dum bum bum)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Things I Have Learned While Proofreading This Evening

  • "Coffeehouse" (the noun) is one word, not two.
  • "Forebear" is strictly a noun used to refer to one's forefathers and foremothers; "forbear" is the verb for "to restrain oneself from doing something" (though it can also be an alternate spelling for "forebear").
  • A sepoy is a native of India in the military service of a European power (most frequently the British).
  • Xbox has a capital X, no other cap. (I thought it was "xBox." I blame this ignorance on my mother, who refused to allow us to have a Nintendo when I was growing up and hence has deprived me of all video game knowledge as well as a fair amount of eye-hand coordination.)
  • (Per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, "video game" is two words, no hyphen.)
  • Hatton Garden ("Garden" definitely singular) is the jewelry district of London.
  • The word "moil" means "to work hard; drudge" or "to whirl or churn ceaselessly."
  • The word "execration" can mean the act of cursing, the curse itself, or an object of a curse.
  • Quite a few interesting facts about Zoroastrianism.
  • Laini Taylor writes like a goddess, and her collection of three novellas about kisses, Lips Touch: Three Times, coming out from us in the fall, is as delicious as Daniel Craig holding a Jacques Torres chocolate bar.


  • This month's SCBWI-Tokyo newsletter (PDF) carries a very nice interview with me all about Moribito, The Snow Day (both books translated from Japanese), and acquiring and editing translations. Thanks to Sako Ikegami for the thoughtful interview questions and putting it all together!
  • More international SCBWI news: I'll be appearing at SCBWI-Paris on Saturday, May 2, to give a craft talk (not sure on what subject yet). This will be near the conclusion of a Barcelona + Paris jaunt my sister and I have been planning for months now; if you know of any off-the-beaten-path places in or near those cities that we should especially check out, do say the word.
  • I was fascinated by this personality test on Joe Posnanski's blog -- I said "square," and goodness, was that right. (Plus it's nice to have something else in common with Daniel Craig.)
  • The radio silence for the last week will probably be the norm here for the next couple of months as I burrow on through all I have to do. Thanks for your patience and sticking around.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

And What Does the Swedish Chef Say When He's Stressed?

"Work work work!"

Which is me also these days. Two novels still being line-edited that are due to copyediting by the end of March; four conference presentations to write; twenty critiques to prep; one article to finish; and that's on top of the daily responsibilities of my job and the other mss. waiting their turns for editing or reading. The good news is that I have a decent first draft of the article done, and a fairly organized plan of attack for everything else in my mind, but if you don't get an e-mail back from me or something, it's really, really, really not personal.

(SQUIDs will continue to be a bit delayed under the current regime, I'm afraid. But I'm keeping up with my agented reading.)

The also good news is that I love the work, especially the line-editing. When I told one of the authors whose novels are on my desk "This is the fun part," she gave me an extremely dubious look, which I understand; but this really is the most fun part of the editorial process for me: looking at how all those words become sentences and sentences become paragraphs and paragraphs become scenes and do-we-need-this? and but-on-page-87 and what-about-. . . and love-this, over and over, till all those things work together to take on their sharpest, clearest, richest meaning -- or they will once the author responds. It is like I am having a very intense conversation with both the manuscript and the author through the manuscript, and as I adore both author and manuscript, it's almost like an affair. (Or what I imagine a really good affair is like.) "Mechanic's delight," as Brian Doyle said. I don't get a charge out of writing, really -- I like blogging, sharing neat things and odd thoughts with the aether, but fiction-writing is far more curiosity than compulsion for me. But I get my PaperMate mechanical pencil in hand, an eraser and 1.5" Post-Its by my side, and a good ms. on my clipboard, and I am a happy girl.

Clearly all this work is addling my brain. Or else I've got a strange disorder in which line-editing causes dopamine surges or somesuch. Nonetheless -- back to it.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Three Excellent Things

1. The exuberance of the headline on this report about a prehistoric giant snake -- not to mention, of course, the snake itself. It had grapefruit-sized vertebrae! It could eat cows (but probably mostly dined on alligators)! It was forty-two feet long! This report totally brought out the previously unknown eight-year-old herpetologist in me. So. Cool.

2. David Foster Wallace's Kenyon College commencement speech (via). This apparently has been on the Net since he delivered it back in 2005, but I only read it today, and was much impressed by its honesty and thoughtfulness about real adult life:

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.
3. Your choice of goofy video: Stephen Colbert protests his lack of a Newbery, or, in related news, the Swedish Chef makes a banana split. Bork bork bork.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Happy Blogiversary!

Today, February 4, is the fourth anniversary of Brooklyn Arden. (I hoped this would also be my 600th post -- hence the flurry of posting on Sunday -- but alas, that milestone is still a few days further off.) And just to be totally self-indulgent, here are ten of my favorite posts from the last year, in no particular order, judged solely by my pleasure in writing them:

To celebrate, please leave a compliment on the website of your favorite blogger. (And I really sincerely don't mean this to mean me -- much more fun to have my blogiversary celebrated throughout the Internet, I think.) Happy my-blogiversary to you!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Behind the Book: ABSOLUTELY MAYBE by Lisa Yee, Part I

Today is the official release date of Lisa Yee's new YA novel, Absolutely Maybe. Hooray Lisa! She is celebrating over on her livejournal and at her official website for the book, (Especially worth checking out: the multiple cover designs the book went through.) For the Behind the Book here, I asked Lisa if she'd collaborate on a sort of oral history of how the book developed and the changes it went through editorially. She agreed, so here's what happened with the first draft:

Lisa: ABSOLUTELY MAYBE came out of nowhere. Well, not exactly nowhere, but it did take me by surprise.

Originally titled CHARM SCHOOL DROPOUT, the novel was supposed to be a humorous middle-grade story about a goth girl whose ex-beauty-queen mother ran a school for beauty pageant contestants in Florida. Maybelline (named after her mother's favorite mascara) was slated for a major makeover by her mother to get her pageant-worthy.

Only, it never happened.

As I began writing, I discovered that Maybe was more cynical and sensitive than I had imagined. And her home life was awful. So I upped her age from twelve or thirteen years old to sixteen years old when the book begins. By making her older, it gave me more latitude with the story, like having her run away to Hollywood with her two best friends. It went from a frothy story to one with more depth as Maybe struggled to come to terms with her alcoholic mother and herself.

I had no idea I had written a young adult novel until my agent, Jodi Reamer, read the story. She called me and said, "I love this, but it isn't what Arthur and Cheryl are expecting. You need to tell them it's a YA before they read it." Then I got scared, because I wasn't sure if I'd breached my contract by writing something wholly different than what we had decided on. So, I told my editors to prepare themselves for a novel for an older audience, sent in the manuscript and held my breath.

Cheryl: Arthur and I have been working with Lisa for five books now, and even if we know more or less beforehand what voice she's tackling or where the plot is headed, it's always exciting to get a new manuscript from her. So the news that CHARM SCHOOL DROPOUT had become a YA novel made us doubly excited and curious -- not just "Yay, a new novel from Lisa!" but "Wow, Lisa's doing a YA! What's that going to be like?"

Well, the answer was wonderfully fresh and character-driven as always. It was the character of Maybe that set this story in motion -- both literally and literarily. But the supporting characters were just as clear and real and full of life: Ted, her hilariously honest best friend; Hollywood, the aspiring filmmaker who crushes on Maybe and takes both her and Ted to California to look for Maybe's dad; and looming over the entire journey, Chessamay Chestnut Abajian Wing Marshall Wing Sinclair Alvarez and soon-to-be Himmler, Maybe's alcoholic, ex-Miss-Florida mom.

Arthur and I read the novel and talked about it, and while the book had all the strengths of Lisa's middle-grade novels, we also thought it reflected the very YA theme of identity -- how you figure out who you are, and how your parents, your friends, and your own interests all contribute to or fit into that. But Lisa had created an embarrassment of riches in terms of her storylines and characters, and not all of them were carrying their equal share of that theme. We asked her to reconsider the roles of two characters in the book in light of that fact (they still appear in the final novel, but in greatly reduced screen time). More importantly, Maybe herself wasn't really carrying her share of the novel; she felt a little too passive to us in the search for her father, her reconnection with her mother, her whole Getting a Life. We wrote in an editorial letter:

So what is the change that Maybe needs to make in the course of the book—not in relation to her dad or Chessy, but within herself? Who does she want to be, and how can we see her evolve into that? . . . What we suggest is that you look back over the course of the book and see if there are places throughout where Maybe could take more action . . . Could you show us something in Maybe’s choices that might lead to [a certain event] instead?
We sent this letter back to Lisa, and, after she'd had time to digest it, we talked on the phone to be sure Lisa was comfortable with everything in the letter and we all knew where things were headed. Then it was her turn to respond . . .

Stay tuned!

Some Notes on the Kindle

Rumor has it that is going to announce the Kindle 2.0 shortly, and for those of you who have been curious about this device, here are some quick notes on my experience with it.

I love my Kindle for one simple reason: All my manuscript reading fits into my purse! Last week I took multiple trips to Midtown to see a friend (about 45 minutes from Brooklyn each way), and I got a good half of a manuscript read in that time without having to juggle a huge mound of loose paper. And most agents now submit manuscripts electronically, so it works out very well. I don't plan to use it for general slush (that is, SQUIDs), but if I request a full manuscript from an unagented writer, I will probably ask that he or she e-mail it to me.

I wanted a Kindle rather than a Sony Reader because (a) it has a keyboard and (b) it has a wireless connection. With (a), I can do text searches through the various manuscripts I'm reading, or make notes within those manuscripts (though the keyboard isn't the fastest or most comfortable keyboard to use -- my note-making is limited, though I like the search option). With (b), I get the New York Times delivered to my device every day! I can download any book I want from the Kindle Store at any time. And I can download manuscripts to the device, or certain other people (only those registered with my account) can send manuscripts to the device, without my ever touching a computer -- very useful if I'm working at home on a Friday, say, and a colleague wants to send me a manuscript to read over the weekend.

(I've never tried out a Reader, so I don't know how it compares usage-wise. . . . Looking at it online, I see the new ones have a built-in reading light and a touch screen, and the Kindle 1.0 doesn't have either of those. The new Readers also have a virtual keyboard in the touch screen, so that eliminates that advantage.)

To transfer a manuscript to my Kindle (file formats accepted: .doc, .pdf, .jpeg, several others), I e-mail it to one of two special Kindle addresses, depending on how I want it delivered. One address will convert it to the Kindle format and deliver it wirelessly, but charge $.10 to my Amazon account for it; the other will convert it and deliver it to my gmail account for free, and then I can download it to my desktop and transfer it manually using a USB cord. The latter process is kind of cumbersome, so I try to do a bunch of USB downloads all at once, but for individual manuscripts, sometimes the wireless option is just TOO easy and seductive . . .

I can make the font size bigger or smaller, which is very useful. It is EXTREMELY easy to read the screen -- just like reading the printed page, with none of the vibration of long hours spent reading a computer screen. It's also extremely easy to turn a page accidentally, thanks to the huge "Next page" button on the right; and, when I'm holding it by the spine in its book cover, it's hard to hit the "Prev Page" button when necessary. I hope also that the 2.0 version will have some indicator that correlates the location marker in the digital version with the page number of the printed page. But those are small complaints.

I bought a cookbook from the Kindle Store, and while the Kindle is not very good for navigating a big browsey book of that kind, I love the fact that I can look up a recipe on my subway ride home, stop by the store and do all my shopping, then head home and cook without ever touching a piece of paper.

I've found I don't like reading the Kindle in bed at night, that it doesn't deliver the same relaxing experience of a physical book . . . probably because of the inherently electronic nature of the device, the fact that one side is thicker than the other (so it feels imbalanced when you hold it between two hands), and the fact that it's associated so strongly with work for me. And there are some literary experiences I still want to have on paper -- I tried a sample of Marilynne Robinson's Home, for instance, and I think I'm going to hold out for getting the book. But for things like the Times or manuscripts, which I'd just be reading on flimsy paper anyway, I'm delighted to have the Kindle.