Monday, November 16, 2009

New site!

I'm over at now. Please update your bookmarks and feeds accordingly!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Recipes: A new favorite and an old one

Baking and cooking are two favorite weekend unwinding activities after a busy week (which it seems like all weeks are lately, doesn't it?). And since making good food is made even better by sharing it with others, I thought I'd share two favorite recipes: one that I've been making for dinner for years and one that I tried for the first time today.

Chicken Tikka & Coconut Rice

I got this from a friend who got it from a cookbook whose title I don't know. But I've significantly adapted it over the years, so I don't feel too bad about that!

  • 2 tsp fresh ginger pulp
  • 1 largish clove of garlic, put through garlic press
  • 1 Tbs chili powder
  • 1 Tbs tumeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 7-8 Tbs lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro
  • boneless, skinless chicken, cut into pieces (I usually cut up about 3-4 thin chicken breasts)
  • 1 zucchini, chopped into pieces
Combine everything except chicken and zucchini and mix well. Stir in chicken and let marinate for 2 hours.

Preheat broiler to medium (my broiler only has high or low settings, so I use low) and line a broiler tray with foil. Pour the chicken mixture onto tray and mix in zucchini. Baste with about 2 Tbs. vegetable oil. Broil for about 15-20 minutes until cooked, stirring/turning occasionally so it doesn't brown too much.

I serve this with rice. If I'm feeling a little decadent, I make the rice with coconut milk instead of water.

Pumpkin Scones with Caramel Glaze

Up on the Upper West Side, there is a very wonderful, very girlie place for tea called Alice's Tea Cup. They have the most amazing scones I have ever eaten, and the best of them all is the pumpkin scone. A couple of friends and I go there for special occasions or girl-time or when we simply cannot deny the pumpkin scone craving any longer. I've been trying to find a recipe to replicate them for years, and finally figured it out today!

Pumpkin Scone (adapted slightly from here--just the scone recipe, not the glaze)
Makes 24 scones

  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (I used canned. Just be sure it's not pumpkin pie mix!)
  • 2/3 cup chilled cream
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.
Cut in the butter, either using a pastry cutter or two knives, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, pumpkin puree, and cream.

Using an electric mixer, beat the wet into the dry until just combined. (Small bits of butter will be visible, but flour mixed in.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently and quickly until smooth. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Form each one into a 4"-round about 1" thick. Cut each into 6 wedges and place on baking sheet.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until tops look golden brown and sides flaky and dry. Cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes.

Caramel Glaze (adapted slightly from here)

  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 3 Tbs brown sugar
  • 3 Tbs white sugar
  • 3 Tbs cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
Mix everything together in a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Let boil for about a minute. Stir. Mine got a little thick while I waited for the scones to cool, so I thinned it with about a Tbs of water. I wanted a good consistency to drizzle over the scones. Place scones on plate and drizzle the glaze over them using a spoon.

Alice's always serves all of their scones with clotted cream and raspberry preserves. Which I highly recommend, if you have both available.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good advice for Halloween

You can see some of the inside and buy it right over here. And you probably should, since it is witty and wise.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This may be a reach.

So. I've had Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" playing continuously in my head since last Thursday.* (Thanks, Vampire Diaries.) In pondering why it's so catchy, I realized that the refrain has something in common with another song that often gets stuck in my head, "Ultimatum" by The Long Winters.

Now, I know that the main reason these songs are earworms** has to do with the music. But both also involve the idea of reaching and holding.

My arms miss you
My hands miss you.

Enjoy the Silence:
All I ever wanted,
all I ever needed,
Is here, in my arms.

Maybe this also has something to do with why they stick in my head. The concept of reaching out and holding and connecting. It's such an important part of life. And is it perhaps also why book jackets with images of hands are so compelling and appealing?

Or is that a crazy theory?

* There may also have been some secret apartment singing and dancing involved.
**I hate the word earworms. I can't believe I used it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thinking about the Centuries

One of my favorite books is Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. I've read it many times, but the first time, I borrowed it from a friend in the third grade. She had a hardcover edition that was oversized. The cover shows us Mary in a yellow coat looking over her shoulder while pulling back a wall of ivy. I remember resting it on my lap while I read it. It had heft and weight and smelled of paper and ink and a little of my friend's house. Even now, though I don't have a copy of that exact edition, it's part of how the story lives in my mind whenever I think of it or reread it.

And I thought of that reading experience this weekend after walking through some of the exhibits at the Morgan Library. The museum has a fantastic, if small, exhibit on Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, which includes original art and handwritten original manuscripts. (Undeniably amazing.) But it also has a Gutenberg Bible, letters and original manuscript pages from the likes of Dickens, Eliot, and Hemingway, and a number of illuminated prayer books and bibles. At the end of the summer, I also went to an illuminated manuscript exhibit at the Met which blew my mind a little bit.

Standing in front of a book that's a thousand years old--a thousand years old--with an eReader and a blackberry in my bag made my brain want to implode. That's a millenia of ways to read all within a few square feet. And those centuries-old books are so full of craft. People spent years and years perfecting their skills to make those books. The calligraphy, the artwork, the bookbinding, papermaking . . . it's a work of art. One that you can tell a person, or many people, put care and attention and love into. All books are works of art, even today. Care goes into the choosing of typeface, the layout, design, presentation. Every single detail is taken into account.

The lack of physical presence is one of my worries about ebooks. And that's not to say that I don't like ebooks, or digital books, or whatever is currently developing. I think it's exciting and interesting and part of the future of reading. But have we figured out the craft of creating them yet? Right now, they seem more about convenience and availability, not design or art. A good story is a good story no matter how it's presented, but a good package makes the reading experience even better. None of the digital readers are what I'd call beautiful yet. (Ok, maybe the iPhone is the exception here.) But I think we'll get there, so that reading a digital book has the same physical presence, evokes the same sensory memory that reading The Secret Garden--and so many other books--has always had for me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Big City, Small World

The first year I lived in the city, whenever I went back to my small Pennsylvania hometown for the holidays, I would hear from high school classmates, “Didn’t you move somewhere crazy?”

On one hand, sure, I guess I did. I got run into by an old man in a wheelchair the other day (being pushed by a teenager) while I was standing perfectly still on a street corner. Which is only the most recent in strange things that have happened in the last eight years--and one of the most mild.

But New York, and especially Brooklyn, most of the time feel even smaller than my hometown. Even though there are millions of people in this city, and even though I see so many different ones every single day, I also see familiar faces. I can get on the subway and it’s not all that unusual for one of my best friends to get on the same car. Walking from one of my favorite indie bookstores to the B&N down the street, recently, I ran into another friend and we stopped to talk books and art until we both got too cold. And, of course, children’s publishing is an even smaller world, where everyone knows everyone, and you’re never at an event by yourself. Occasionally even when that event has no relation to publishing (but of course everything to do with good taste).

I always get a warm glow when I run into someone I know. It leaves me smiling. Seeing friends when you expect them and when you least expect them makes this vast city cozy. And surprising, and familiar, and, yes, strange. And it makes it home.

Cue Cheers theme song.

Monday, September 21, 2009

With a Little Help from My Friends

"A friend is one who walks in when everyone else walks out."

"Understand that happiness is not based on possessions, power, or prestige, but on relationships with people you love and respect."

"Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world."

"A best friend, in my opinion, is someone who you can be foolish in front of, you know, be yourself."

"We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can hope to find in our travels is an honest friend." -Robert Louis Stevenson

" 'You have been my friends,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.'" --E. B. White, Charlotte's Web

"To let friendship die away by negligence and silence is certainly not wise." --Samuel Johnson

"What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies." --Aristotle

"The greatest happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved--loved for ourselves, or rather, in spite of ourselves." --Victor Hugo

"Friends may change and friendships evolve, but they never truly end because they are not merely the destinations of a passing moment but the journeys of a lifetime."

"A friend is a person who reaches for your hand and touches your soul."

"Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget."

"There are not many things in life so beautiful as true friendship, and not many things more uncommon."

"I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don't believe I deserved my friends." --Walt Whitman

"The making of friends, who are real friends, is the best token we have of a man's success in life." --Edward Everett Hale

"I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When the are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know." --Emerson

"Nothing makes the earth seems so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and the longitudes." --Thoreau

"It is the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter." --Marlene Dietrich

"My God, this is a hell of a job. I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends, my goddamn friends. They're the ones that keep me walking the floor at night." --Warren G. Harding

"A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked." --Bernard Meltzer

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friends, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." --E. M. Forster

"Two persons cannot long be friends if they cannot forgive each other's little failings." --Jean de la Bruyere

"Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything." --Mohammed Ali

"The most beautiful discover true friends can make is that they can grow separately without growing apart."

"People say true friends must always hold hands, but true friends don't need to hold hands because they know the other hand will always be there."

"Friendship is certainly the balm for the pangs of disappointed love." --Jane Austen

"Meaning that if someone is really close with you, your getting upset or them getting upset is okay, and they don't change because of it. It's just part of the relationship. It happens. You deal with it." --Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

"It struck her that she was very lucky in her life's people." --Kristin Cashore, Fire

Monday, September 7, 2009

I <3 NY

NYC is not an easy place to live. The rent is high, the crowds are thick, the subways are stinky, the greenery is sparse. It's easy to find things to complain about. But when you love it, you really love it. I had one of those weekends.

I went to the US Open for the first time on Thursday night, which was so much fun. A perfect late summer evening, quality time with my sister, a full moon, and seeing the last set from four rows back because the match ended so late. Going home I had train issues that could have made me hate the city. When I tried to make the connection to my train, it was not stopping at that station, you see. So I would have had to go in the opposite direction for a stop and then switch. At 1:30 in the morning. Instead, I went out to the street and got a cab--which is a treat for me. Riding over the Brooklyn Bridge and along the BQE, looking out at the city's lights with the windows down, was the perfect end to an already great night.

Other things that I <3-ed about NYC this weekend:

* reading in the sunshine on the Brooklyn Promenade
* the Cyclone
* Nathan's fries
* fantastic fireworks over the boardwalk at Coney Island
* lots of guacamole with friends
* Prospect Park
* the full moon
* the feeling of autumn in the air
* friends
* hearing one of my favorite albums wafting out a window down the block when I walked by
* and literally as I typed the last, a FIREWORK went off outside my window!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Decade's Worth of Random Thoughts

Two days ago, I opened up the little black moleskine I keep in my purse to make a note, and realized I had only one page left. I bought this moleskine just before I left for my junior year abroad . . . almost exactly ten years ago. And it's one of the things, along with my wallet, keys, and a pen, that I always make sure I have with me before leaving the house.

Reaching the end made me stop to think about everything that has happened in life since I first cracked it open: the year studying in England, my first broken heart, graduating from college, moving to NYC to start my career, family dramas, world dramas, friends made and lost, apartment hunting and moving, books read, re-read, loved, recommended, or abandoned, discoveries of all kinds, friends and family members' weddings & babies. Basically, the period of life in which I grew up. It's neat to compare what's written here with the journals I've kept during the last ten years, too. There's a lot of telling in the journals, but the random snippets from the moleskine are just as revealing and memory-triggering. It's full of notes from talks I've gone to, brainstorming for talks I've given, lines from articles or books I like, funny things friends have said, t-shirt ideas, lines of poetry (most of which never became anything more than that), illustrators I like, authors I want to read, shopping lists, and other random thoughts and observations.

Here are just a few:

words I like: chthonic, tiptoe, lamppost, unfurled

the curl of pianist's back

open by chance or appointment

Umberto Eco: "'who dunnit?' is a theological question"

things i don’t have keys to

Ira Glass: "notice the people who won’t go away"

grocery list: milk, butter, eggs, whipping cream, raspberries, dark chocolate

shopping list: shelves, hammock stand, pillows

Friend: “I don’t like worms, but leeches concern me.”

At final Harry Potter book street party at Scholastic:
Woman 1: "So what’s going on here besides the book releasing?"
Woman 2: "Oh, the book releasing. That explains the capes."

How do you share ebooks? If one sibling finishes book and starts another, how do you pass the finished one to other kid?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why we do what we do

I read Neil Gaiman's Newbery acceptance speech (in the latest Horn Book) over lunch today, and, as Newbery acceptances always do, it made me a little teary. In a good, "wow I'm so overcome with happiness that books mean so much to people and we get to give medals to writers" way.

And this bit from the very end hits poignantly on the sentiment that makes me feel sure that, however much publishing and books may change with the advances of technology, they'll always be needed.

"We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort.
And that is why we write."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer Soundtrack '09

It seems that making mixes is summery thing for me. Here's this year's. Some new bands I've been listening to over the past few months, but also some favorite gems, which I feel are important in any mix.

1. "Be OK" / Ingrid Michaelson
2. "Wake Up" / Arcade Fire
I haven't been able to get it out of my head since the Where the Wild Things Are trailer!
3. "Since U Been Gone" / Ted Leo's cover
4. "Keep Yourself Warm" / Frightened Rabbit
5. "The Ancient Commonsense of Things" / Bishop Allen
6. "Icarus" / Jason Webley
Jason Webley's show earlier this year was one of the best concerts I've been to in years.
7. "Island Garden Song" / The Mountain Goats
8. "Ceremony" / New Order
9. "Billie Jean" / Michael Jackson
I just can't get it out of my head!!!!
10. "Jai Ho" / A. R. Rahman
11. "Wish It Well" / Dead Heart Bloom
12. "Look at Miss Ohio" / Gillian Welch
13. "The Crane Wife 3" / The Decembrists
14. "King of Carrot Flowers Part 1" / Neutral Milk Hotel
15. "King of Carrot Flowers Part 2" / Neutral Milk Hotel
16. "Poses" / Rufus Wainwright
17. "Old Old Fashioned" / Frightened Rabbit
18. "Black Star" / Gillian Welch's cover
19. "Days with You" / Jason Webley with Sxip Shirey
20. "15 Step" / Radiohead
21. "Martha" / Tom Waits
What? It's a good song!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wild Things

Every times I watch the trailer for the forthcoming Where the Wild Things Are movie, I get chills. And watching the just-released featurette gives them to me, too. I get a little welled up. I think this is because the movie (from these two brief looks at it) seems as though it will capture the deepest heart of the book: the uncertainties, the desire to let our inner selves--our Wild Things--out, and to find the place where that Wild Thing belongs.

My favorite part of the featurette? That Maurice Sendak told Spike Jonze that the movie should be dangerous, because kids deserve it--they can't be talked down to.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Head in the Clouds

I’ve seen a lot of my more tech-minded friends talk of “cloud computing” recently, which is something I have only the vaguest understanding of. But that's okay, because I have my own idea of what the “cloud” is. To me, it’s the invisible something that writers can draw from.

In one of my (long ago) college critical theory classes, we talked about the idea of all authors having an antenna that is always on, always picking up signals from the wider world. This has always stuck with me. Authors have finely tuned observational powers, which always astonish me, and sometimes they are able to observe more than what they can see/hear/smell/taste/touch. Sometimes their observations stretch into that cloud. That’s how some elements and themes can end up in a work even when the author may not consciously intend it. And how there are certain themes that a number of different authors end up writing about at the same time. The most noticed recent example is probably the Kristin Cashore and Suzanne Collins books. Graceling and The Hunger Games both had characters with similar names (Katsa and Katniss), who had to confront killing other characters in the course of their stories. And now, the companion/sequel to each has the word “fire” in it. It’s odd coincidences like these that make me believe in the cloud. I see it often in submissions, too. It’s always interesting to get a number of submissions from different kinds of writers, who are all in different parts of the countries and writing about different characters and plots, that somehow have intersecting elements.

To me, that’s the magical part of writing. Somewhere out there, invisible to the rest of us, all of these stories exist, all of these ideas, emotions, and people whom we readers need to help us make sense of the world, of life, even when we might not know exactly what we needed. And authors are tapping into that cloud, giving those stories to us, maybe sometimes without even being aware of it themselves. It’s a pretty amazing gift, if you ask me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Oh, What a World

Ever since my morning in the Magic Kingdom last month, I've been thinking a lot about world-building. Walking around by myself made the experience very much one of observing, rather than goofing around, as I expect would have happened had I been with a group of friends.

Part of me--my inner child--was delighted by the whole place. The way every last detail has been planned out, that you never see a "mistake" or false move--it's so complete. That's so impressive, and it's such a total experience.

And yet...

Maybe it's because I'm a grown-up, maybe it's because I've lived in NYC for nearly eight years now, but the other part of me was wondering things like, "But where's all the trash?" "How do they stay so perky all the time?" "What happens behind the Cast Member Only doors?"

The last is the most intriguing. Because I bet that's where the real story is. Where the "cast members" gripe and complain and trade funny stories and, well, live. Everything else is a facade. An expertly detailed one, but one that only stands because of all the inner workings, and what happens behind the closed doors.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I donated a critique for a good cause--bid now!

Author Cynthea Liu is auctioning off critiques and gift packages from editors, agents, and authors in celebration of her forthcoming book. The money raised will go to Tulakes Elementary School in Oklahoma.

My listing is here. And you can go to Cynthea's website for many, many more, including Greenwillow authors Kelly Milner Halls (a nonfiction critique) and Chris Crutcher (a Crutcher prize pack).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Facing My Fears . . . or maybe not.

Speaking at the SCBWI-Florida summer conference in Disneyworld meant that I had one morning to go a park before my flight home. I picked the Magic Kingdom, because . . . well, come on, isn't that the one you have to choose? I had been to Disney as a kid, but the last was when I was fourteen, so it's been a while.

I walked around a lot, went on the rides I remember loving (despite the occasional odd look when, yes, it was just me, with no kid or companion). And I was going to conquer an old fear: Space Mountain.

In my mind, every time the phrase "Space Mountain" is said, I hear that ominous "dum dum dum" music of peril. Because when I was seven, I went into Space Mountain and honestly thought I might never come out. At seven, I was quite small--technically not quite tall enough to ride alone, but my mom had my younger brother, and the guy running the ride wanted to be nice. So I climb on in, all excited, but the seatbelt doesn't quite fit. No problem: there are little handlebars on either side of the car to hang onto. The ride starts.

It was the most terrifying experience I've ever had. I was convinced I was going to fall out of the car, and very distinctly remember thinking, "If I fall out, will I fall forever, like in space?" My mom also must have thought I was going to fall out, because she reached back from her seat in front of me and held onto the top of my foot. (Because, you know, that totally would have kept me from danger.) By the time the ride ended, and I tried to stand up, I was shaking so much, I couldn't. One of the poor workers (I think the same one who let me on in the first place) had to carry me out to where my dad was waiting for us with my younger sister.

I walked over to Space Mountain yesterday morning, fully intending to face the terror again. But it's closed for renovation. I guess I'll have to conquer this particular fear another time. . . .

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A few favorite places

My absolute favorite place in anything I've ever read is the Murry's kitchen in A Wrinkle in Time. There is something so warm and inviting about that kitchen. From the very first time we go there, with Meg, to have hot cocoa with Charles Wallace and her mother. The way the family gathers there, the way they--and we--all know that Mrs. Murry always has dinner cooking on a bunsen burner in her lab next door, the way that adventure also begins there. For we first meet Mrs. Whatsit in that kitchen, too. It's a comforting oasis in the middle of a dark and stormy night.

There are a lot of other places I love in literature, too. Thinking about all of them, I've realized that they generally have two things in common. Either they are the places where the characters gather with their friends and loved ones, or they are the places where they go to be free and entirely themselves. As a kid, I definitely had a soft spot for any story in which the character had a place of his or her own--a place no one else knew about and was completely his or hers. It seemed so . . . luxurious, and even a little illicit.

My list of favorite places:
* The Murry's kitchen, from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time
* Mary's secret garden, from, well, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden
* Mandy's cottage, from Julie Andrews Edwards's Mandy
* Miss Honey's cottage, from Roald Dahl's Matilda
* the room with the wardrobe and Mr. Tumnus's house, from C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
* the Garland's house in Bloomsbury, from Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North (which made the end of the latter heartbreaking for so many reasons!)
* Gryffindor common room, from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books
* the Dancing Dove, from Tamora Pierce's Alanna books
* Terabitha, from Katherine Paterson's A Bridge to Terabithia
the truck in Lynne Rae Perkins's Criss Cross
* Beauty's room, from Robin McKinley's Beauty

What are yours?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quotable Sunday

"I loved stories indiscriminately, because each revealed the world in a way I had never considered before. . . . After each I would emerge a changed person."
--Michelle Slatalla

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sweeping Music Is Really Hard to Resist

Last weekend, during some bonding time, my sister and I got to discussing some of the movie trailers airing on tv at the moment. Now, I realize that the whole point of trailers--and I guess marketing in general--is to manipulate the audience into wanting to see the movie. But there are a couple that so blatantly do it that I can feel myself being manipulated into considering a movie that I know I don't want to see.

Like, say, The Soloist. I know that I do not want to see this movie. I cannot watch Jamie Foxx (I'm not sure what it is, exactly, but I just don't like him). The story looks predictable and saccharine. I know, I know, it's a true story, and I'm sure the true story is remarkable & uplifting, but the movie looks like its entire point is to play on the heartstrings rather than have any substance. But.

I do love Robert Downey, Jr. And there's something about the song that they play during the trailer that every time makes me think, "Oh, well, maybe I should go see that." And the one line they keep showing about having passion. But I'm staying strong.

The other one is the trailer for the dvd release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I did see this in the theater. And while it's a nice love story, that's all it is, and I was disappointed and wish I could have those three hours and $12 back. I certainly do not need to spend another 3 hours watching it again. But that trailer! The sweeping music! The beautiful shots of cinematic love! Argh!

I know that there are lots of people who like, if not love, both of these movies. But I'm just not one of them, and so feeling like the trailers are trying to get not only those who will like the movie, but also those who won't but can be falsely convinced they might feels icky to me.

On the other hand, one trailer that I think may be pretty brilliant is the one for the new Star Trek movie. I have never, ever in my life wanted to see a Star Trek movie. I have never watched the tv show. I know who Kirk and Spock and Picard and Scottie are because, frankly, who doesn't, but that's about all I really know. Yet, every time I see that trailer, I think "Wow, what movie is that? It looks pretty incredible." And every time I'm surprised that it's Star Trek. What makes this one different than the other two for me is that it doesn't seem to be misrepresenting itself just to get viewers. It seems to be distilled into what it really is, but appealing to people like me, who wouldn't normally pay any attention at all to a new Star Trek movie, as well as to its actual fanbase. I also always like "beginnings" stories, so that's a part of the appeal for me. Maybe if I see it I'll end up having an entirely different take, but right now...I kinda want to go spend my $12.

I mean, come on, check this out.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Where TV & Books Collide

This bookish girl likes to watch TV. I admit it freely. I like stories, so I’m more likely to turn on the TV (or podcasts like This American Life and RadioLab) for “company” while I’m cleaning or cooking or whatever. But I can’t take reality shows (except for Project Runway, of course), and I just don’t connect with sitcoms, usually. Hour-long comedy/dramas are usually what get me. Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it is that makes a show one that I can’t miss, or one that I want to own on dvd, because I think some of the reasons may be the same things that make a book one that I love and want in my library.

I own every season of West Wing (except season 5, which is dead to me). I think it’s probably my all-time favorite show. I also own all three seasons of Veronica Mars and of Arrested Development. And multiple seasons of Gilmore Girls and Grey’s Anatomy.

All ensemble shows. Each has a focal character, but much of the strength lies in the support system surrounding those characters. One of my favorite episodes of West Wing is in season one, when Josh is offered the card that means in the event of attack, he can go to the bunker. But none of the other staffers get it, besides the Chief of Staff. At the end, after a conversation with the President and Leo about the strength and remarkableness of the women of the staff, Josh gives back the card, saying, “I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy, and I want to be able to celebrate with them in triumph, and for all the times in between, I just want to be able to look them in the eye. . . . I want to be with my friends, my family, and these women.” The most touching moments in all of these shows are when the characters rally to support and be there for each other, and some of the funniest come from them knowing each other so well. Which is the case, certainly, in Arrested Development. The show got funnier and funnier as the series went on because we know all of the characters so well, and can pick up even on the subtlest joke.

Snappy writing. I have a hard time watching tv or movies that aren’t well written. Maybe it’s part of why I can’t watch reality tv--there’s no pleasure in language. But all of the shows I’ve mentioned here are so smart. They’re full of relevant cultural references of all kinds--not just current events or just pop culture or just music or film or what-have-you, but blend of all of those. The dialogue moves swiftly and doesn’t explain itself. The writing expects the viewer to keep up. And the characters say the honest things everyone thinks, and say them eloquently. A little bit of snark is always nice, too, when it’s balanced with sincerity and silliness.

Inherent drama. Each of these shows has a setting and situation that lends itself to the dramatic. The West Wing . . . well, is set in the West Wing. Grey’s Anatomy is set in a teaching hospital. Veronica Mars--high school, with a girl who’s both a social outcast and a p.i. investigating her best friend’s murder. Gilmore Girls--private high school with a single parent household and overbearing grandparents. Arrested Development--an eccentric family that’s “lost everything” as the intro says.

All except Arrested Development are hour-long shows. And I've never been a huge short story reader, I think for the same reason I don't usually get hooked by half-hour shows. When I love characters, I want to spend time with them. Half an hour, or twenty-odd pages, just never seems like enough time.

And now that I’ve thought about how well-done all of these shows were and how much I like them, I’m sad that only one is still on the air. Why do all my favorite shows go away? And what will be the next that catches me up the way these have? It’s been a few years since I’ve had a new favorite. Although . . . Mad Men is pretty amazing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I love a good book meme.

1. What author do you own the most books by?
I think it might be a tie between Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley.

2. What book do you own the most copies of?
I have two of a few books ("good" copies and lending copies). But I get attached to the copy I read (yes, I mark my favorite lines/passages, and sometimes write notes in margins), so I don't usually feel the need to buy multiples of books.

3. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
I'm not very secretive at all about my fictional crushes, as evidenced by my previous post about them.

4. What book have you read more than any other?
Well...the books I've edited. But besides those, probably Matilda by Roald Dahl, Beauty by Robin McKinley, and the aforementioned Alanna books.

5. What was your favorite book when you were 10 years old?
See last answer. That's why they're the ones I've read most!

6. What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
I was very disappointed by Breaking Dawn, I must say.

7. What is the best book you've read in the past year?
You mean besides the ones I've worked on again, right?

I loved Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Paper Towns by John Green, Asta in the Wings by Jan Elizabeth Watson, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The President's Daughter by Ellen Emerson White, and Spook by Mary Roach.

8. If you could tell everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
Oh, my. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins or Megan Whalen Turner's books.

9. What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Hm. That depends what "difficult" means. Ulysses by Jame Joyce was one of the most challenging books I've ever read, but it also teaches you how to read it as you go, so I never felt overwhelmed by it, and it's so, so, so rewarding in the end. The first Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson was the hardest for me to get through because it's just not the book for me.

10. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I feel pretty indifferent to both, actually.

11. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Shakespeare. I'm a theatre dork.

12. Austen or Eliot?

13. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I've got big gaps in my reading of the canon. Like, I've never read 1984, Catcher in the Rye, Kurt Vonnegut, On the Road...

14. What is your favorite novel?
For reals? I can't answer that.

15. What is your favorite play?
Hard one! Reckless by Craig Lucas, Private Lives by Noel Coward, The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard.

16. What is your favorite poem?
Many of a college friend of mine, who is yet to be published. I love very short, evocative poems that capture specific moments and feelings.

17. What is your favorite essay?
I don't know that I have one, though I quite like reading them.

18. What is your favorite short story?
I adored Karen Russell's collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

19. What is your favorite non-fiction?
Dear Genius, edited by Leonard Marcus.

20. What is your favorite graphic novel?
I'm not widely read in graphic novels, but I really liked American Born Chinese and To Dance and Robot Dreams.

21. What is your favorite science fiction?
The Hunger Games

22. Who is your favorite writer?
Way, way, way too many to try to pick one. Writers are tremendously creative and talented and amazing people.

23. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
I'm not a Dan Brown fan, but plenty of people are. I don't like calling writers overrated. They work so hard, and there are so many readers with such widely varying tastes.

24. What are you reading right now?
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.

25. Best memoir?
I can't remember the last memoir I read!

26. Best history?
I have to be honest, I don't enjoy reading history. I like biographies, and nonfiction in general, but history often is presented too dryly for me. I'd love suggestions for one that I might like, though!

27. Best mystery or noir?
The Westing Game

Friday, April 17, 2009

Adversaries, take 2. The nicer take.

"This isn't romance. This isn't a declaration of love or affirmation of friendship. This is something more." --Melina Marchetta, Jellicoe Road

It occurred to me after reading the couple of comments on the adversaries post that the same dynamic is important in non-opponent relationships, too. Finishing Jellicoe Road recently also underscored it, as I watched how Taylor and Griggs's opponentship and relationship unfolded.

The people who a protagonist spends time with, whether as friend, enemy, family, or love, have to be people worth that time for both the character and the reader. The king and queen of Attolia are one of literature's greatest couples because they challenge each other both as opponents and as lovers. Nick and Norah (of the Infinite Playlist) work because they challenge each other. Mildred and Jacob in Me and the Pumpkin Queen are such great friends because they understand, support, and complement one another. The same with Billy, Tommy, and Ernestine in Tracking Daddy Down. And Toot and Puddle. The most compelling relationships are the ones in which the characters are different, but equal.

Maybe this is the germ of a future conference talk, but I'd love to hear what others have to say.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Poetry Month!

I get the Academy of American Poets poem-of-the-day emails during Poetry Month, and I particularly like this one.

How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual
by Pamela Spiro Wagner

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Adversaries, opponents, archenemies, nemeses

Ever since I went to see Frost/Nixon a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about adversarial relationships. (In fiction, of course.) The movie is brilliant all around, and of course, the focus is on a series of confrontations between David Frost and Richard Nixon. Each is trying to get the best of the other, each trying to come out on top. But only one of them can win. They are two very different people, yet also similar in ways, too. They both want to be in the spotlight of their circle. They both crave "ratings" of a sort. They're both able to captivate other people; they're both charismatic. And though it seems like Nixon should be able to easily win in this confrontation, Frost, in the end, has equal strength.

That’s what makes for a worthy opponent--someone who is equally strong, or witty, or what-have-you--and I think that often lies in the similarities between two adversaries rather than their differences. Some amount of sympathy for the other is necessary, too. In Frost/Nixon, we can see that Frost does feel for Nixon by the end, and even that Nixon sympathizes with Frost. We couldn’t have had James Reston opposite Nixon because Reston didn’t see Nixon as human; to him, Nixon was purely bad. And we couldn’t have had Frost opposite Jack Brennan because Brennan saw Frost as a joke.

It works the same way in any story, I think. There has to be equal strength, wit, intelligence, and each has to be able to see the other as a person--at least a little bit. Vulnerabilities and flaws in counterpoint to strengths and attributes make characters more interesting and complex, whether they are protagonists or antagonists. The Dark Knight also sparked this thought last summer, during that scene when the Joker outlines how he and Batman aren't so different deep down. (Which is an admittedly chilling thought.)

Anyone else have great examples of worthy adversaries in books? Harry and Voldemort, obviously. And I’d say the king and queen of Attolia have one that’s breathtaking (and romantic, too!). Blair and Serena in Gossip Girl? Who else?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Over the weekend, I became fascinated by the reactions to the panel on book publishing at South by Southwest. It seems to have caused quite the uproar. Here are a few of the reactions that caught my eye:

They all bring up interesting and valuable points. Yet, everything seems to focus more on the marketing and selling of the books, rather than their creation. Obviously marketing and selling are important, and I’m interested in both of those things. But frankly, what I’d love to hear and talk more about is how finding and creating stories is evolving. Yes, the new media is connecting books and authors and readers, which is essentially the business of publishing, and we need to explore it more and never stop exploring and pushing boundaries.

But how do editors and authors use all of this new available stuff before there’s a finished product? After all, editors aren’t gatekeepers. Ok, sure, we have to say “no” to things, but that isn’t what we like doing. We like saying yes. We like finding an author, a voice, a story that completely blows us away. I want to be able to help give kids and teens stories that help them live, and think, and cope, and laugh, and have opinions, and make choices. I want to find writers who have meaningful things to say and to help them say it and put it out in the world in the best possible way. I want to help them make their ideas and words shine. I want to read good books. Whatever formats “book” comes to mean. That's why I wanted to be an editor, and why I love being one, and I think that passion and a critical eye are always going to be valuable commodities.

The stories that I find sparkling and brilliant might not be the same ones another editor is attracted to. And I might not connect with one that another editor finds irresistible. But we’re all working to get the stories we believe in out there, because there are so many different readers in the world. Are new media tools best used by us to find the writers we connect with, too, then?

The conversations about “new think” have mostly revolved around adult book publishing, but I’d love to see more about children’s and YA publishing. After all, that audience is the one that's truly going to bring in the next era of reading, aren’t they?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Things I Learned in Hawaii

I'm still just a tad too jetlagged to write coherently about the two topics I've been mulling. So instead, here, in no particular order, are things I learned in Hawaii.

* Even overcast rainy-ness seems glorious at 70 degrees on a tropical island when you've left a foot of snow behind on a not-so-tropical island.

* Pineapples grow OUT OF THE GROUND. Out of the ground, I tell you! And here I was, thinking my whole life, that they grew from trees. They are bromeliads, which may be one of the coolest words, but strangest plants around.

* There is a delicacy called shaved ice. It is what I'd call a snow cone. Except way better. And you can get condensed milk drizzled on top, which at first sounds like it could be bad, but it is so, so good!

* It seems I'm on an unintentional SCBWI-Obama tour. The last one I did in '08 was in Chicago, just weeks after the election. Now Honolulu, where I got to see the condo building where Obama's grandma lived, the school he went to, and the Baskin Robbins where he worked. So I guess I need Boston and DC speaking engagements before I've collected all towns Obama has called home?

* I get lost in the middle of Hawaiian words. So getting around for five days sounded a little like this: "Oh, we need to go down Kala...mumblemumble to Lili'o... that L street...." Also, there are apparently no B's in Hawaiian!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Where I've Been

Post have been scant because I was getting ready to go to SCBWI-Hawaii.

But now that I've returned, a few things have been brewing, so I'll get back on track.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I wish I were as smart as Ira Glass.

During some blog reading in the last week or so, I was lucky enough to come across this video of Ira Glass speaking on stories. I've heard him once before on this topic, and he has such a sharp view of what makes a good story, and articulates it so well. Though he's, of course, speaking about making stories for radio, what he says about stories is universal for any medium. I transcribed a number of things, including:

"Narrative is like a back door into a very deep place inside of us, and a place where reason doesn't necessarily hold sway."

"When a story gets inside of us, it makes us less crazy."

He also talks about taste, about surprise, about the structure of telling a story. And about how a story is most satisfying when the audience knows what the bigger, universal "something" of the story is.

Ira Glass at Gel 2007 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All You Need Is Love

I am a sucker for a good romantic story. Good, believable, subtle, difficult, imperfect, sincere, understated romance. Sometimes this is the main plot of a story, but most often, it's the secondary one. At any rate, in honor of V-Day, here are my favorite love stories.

For the grown-ups:
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Sexing the Cherry by Jeannette Winterson
Written on the Body by Jeannette Winterson
Possession by A. S. Byatt
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Much Ado about Nothing by Shakespeare

For the teens:
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Graceling by Kristen Cashore
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen
Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce
Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Quotable Sunday

Everyone at Kindling Words gave a favorite quotation, many of which resonated with me, so I thought I would share those. . . .

"'Now' is the operative word. . . . You don't need endless time and perfect conditions. Do it now. Do it today. Do it for twenty minutes and watch your heart start beating."--Barbara Sher

"The first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it."--Abbie Hoffman

"One of the marks of a gift is to have the courage of it."--Katherine Anne Porter

"We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love, never so forlornly unhappy as when we have lost our love object or its love."--Sigmund Freud

"We will rise to the occasion which is life."--Virginia Euwer Wolff

"Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."--proverb

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."--Anton Chekhov

"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."--E. L. Doctorow

"It's not down on any map; true places never are."--Herman Melville

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."--George Bernard Shaw

"Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--over and over announcing your place in the family of things."--Mary Oliver

"Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope."--Edith Wharton

"Don't ask yourself what the world regards; ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."--Howard Thurman

"I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it."--William Faulkner

"That's a sure way to tell about somebody--the way they play, or don't play, make-believe."--Madeleine L'Engle

"Things needs not have happened to be true."--Neil Gaiman

"Grown-ups always say they protect their children, but they're really protecting themselves. Besides, you can't protect children. They know everything."--Maurice Sendak

(I gave the Yeats quote that I love: "I bring you with reverent hands / The books of my numberless dreams.")

Friday, January 30, 2009

Poetry Friday

I am sneaking in under the wire of Poetry Friday to post a poem that I was reminded how much I like at Kindling Words yesterday.

The More Loving One by W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Creative Process

When I was in Chicago last fall, I visited the Art Institute, which is one of my absolute most favorite museums ever. They always have a wonderful children's art exhibit, usually from picture books, a great photography exhibit, other fantastic special exhibits, and of course, their amazing permanent collection. (I always visit the Caillebotte painting Paris Street in Rainy Weather.)

During one of the most recent visits, one of the special exhibits was one of drawings from the Renaissance. I love exhibits of drawings. Love.

It feels like seeing behind the scenes of a painting. Drawings are often so fluid and of-the-moment; you see how the artist's mind came up with the composition, the idea of the drawing. You see mistakes, or re-visionings. It's as close as we can get, perhaps, to seeing the creative process as it proceeds.

I realized, too, that this chance to glimpse the process, the inner workings (as much as any person who's not the artist can) is the same reason I always loved watching play rehearsals in college. And why I love editing and seeing drafts of manuscripts. Watching something beautiful come together is as compelling to me as the finished project. It's mysterious and magical and inexplicable and completely fascinating.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I like a good quiz every once and a while

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Books Read in 2008

I keep a list of all the books I read--for pleasure, not for work--each year.

1. King Dork • Frank Portman
2. Good Masters, Sweet Ladies • Laura Amy Schlitz
3. Long May She Reign • Ellen Emerson White
4. The Plain Janes • Cecil Castelucci & Jim Rugg
5. The Secret Language • Ursula Nordstrom
6. The New Policeman • Kate Thompson
7. The Time Traveler’s Wife • Audrey Niffenegger
8. The White Darkness • Gerald McCaughrean
9. The Dollhouse Murders • Betty Ren Wright
10. My Louisiana Sky • Kimberly Willis Holt
11. The Red Queen’s Daughter • Jacqueline Kolosov
12. Spook • Mary Roach
13. The House of the Scorpion • Nancy Farmer
14. Wait Till Helen Comes • Mary Downing Hahn
15. Before I Die • Jenny Downham
16. River Secrets • Shannon Hale
17. Waiting for Normal • Leslie Connor
18. Little Brother • Cory Doctorow
19. The Underneath • Kathi Appelt
20. The Hunger Games • Suzanne Collins
21. Sun & Spoon • Kevin Henkes
22. Eclipse • Stephenie Meyer
23. Breaking Dawn • Stephenie Meyer
24. Just Listen • Sarah Dessen
25. The Thief • Megan Whalen Turner
26. Queen of Attolia • Megan Whalen Turner
27. King of Attolia • Megan Whalen Turner
28. The Lucky Ones • Stephanie Greene
29. The President’s Daughter • Ellen Emerson White
30. The Year We Disappeared • Cylin Busby & John Busby
31. City of Bones • Cassandra Clare
32. Harriet the Spy • Louise Fitzghugh
33. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks • E. Lockhart
34. Forest of Hands and Teeth • Carrie Ryan
35. Graceling • Kristin Cashore
36. Alanna • Tamora Pierce
37. In the Hand of the Goddess • Tamora Pierce
38. Winter Dreams, Christmas Love • Mary Francis Shura
39. The Monsters of Templeton • Lauren Groff