So this is my 25th and last LJ entry. I have tried for almost a year and a half to find, for lack of a better description, my blogging voice. I’m a fair to good writer and I work insanely hard at all new things, but this just didn’t take.
I will continue to read other people’s LJs with interest and admiration. If you want news of me, please go to my web page where I will put up information about new books, teaching, and photos of my cat.
Many thanks for patiently, tolerantly and kindly watching me fail.
Because I am too old to feel truly comfortable blogging, I never update right away, but prefer to sit on things, wondering if they merit a post. People blog to make friends (I am a writer -- if I wanted friends, would I have become one?) or to announce things (I have old-fashioned ideas about privacy, what with being old and all).
But it has been a while now, so, in short order: I have a cat, I have sold a picture book to an editor at Candlewick, who is also a good, smart writer. Lastly, I am teaching creative writing in the graduate program at McDaniel College.
I am hugely, mortifyingly in love with 3-year-old Dorcas, whom I adopted from the Washington Humane Society. My picture book is about two intolerant ducks who live in Venice, CA, and who try to find Sebastian Sterling, the boyfriend of their beloved friend, Polina. They never find him. And they never learn to be tolerant because that is not the kind of duck I would want to know! I love this picture book almost as much as I love Dorcas.
I have mixed feelings about teaching. On the one hand, my students are interesting and complicated people who thrill and astonish me. Plus, because the course is on How To Write a Short Story, I have been able to re-read a lot of fantastic short stories. (In my next life I want to be Harold Brodkey, Mavis Gallant or John O’Hara) But on the other hand, can writing be taught? You can, as I am, teach certain building blocks that go into writing, but is that teaching writing? I don’t have an answer. Please feel free to send me one.
Oh, and for a picture of Dorcas, click here and then click on NEWS (I can’t post photos on my blog because I would have to them pay for it and I am not the right person to pay for her blog!)
So this was my second time at ALAN/NCTE and, honestly, I really don’t know what any of that stands for, except I do think ALAN might be the name of a literary journal and NCTE is an organization of English teachers.
I should ask someone. Well, maybe if I get invited back.
I have no pictures and no breathless blogging type entries along the lines of who I met or what I did.
I normally have a life about as eventful as that of a painted wall drying, but suddenly I have events coming up. And my work is full of new things. I am revising a mss with a new editor. Her name, in my house at least, is Julia Whom We Love. She apparently has a real name, and children, and many other writers, but in my world right now she floats over the pages like a whisper. I had no idea! It is so great to be edited by someone who is excited at this huge needless mass of words. And who is thrilled that the world will have a new book.
Also I will be in New York twice in the space of three weeks. Right before Thanksgiving I will be there for the ALAN Conference. This will be a little scary, as I have to be on a panel (with some really great writers, including Sara Ryan, who organized it) talking about giving teens a sense of place through YA. Since I don’t believe any book should be used to give teens anything but the enjoyment which reading provides, I have no idea what I will say. But, I will go to the theater, and see sdn and maybe alg.
In December, I will go back to New York, to hear Adam Zagajewski and Marie Howe give a talk at the Y. He is my favorite poet, and she is someone who manages to make getting raped by your father and losing your brother to AIDS sound just lovely. Well, I’m sure there’s a more intelligent way to put it. So those are my new things. My blog sometimes feels like a garage with no cars in it. This is my SUV entry. Have a fun Sunday.
We* went to see a screening of Lars and the Real Girl tonight, and it was one of those movies that forced you to notice the writing. Unlike Little Miss Sunshine, which I though of as actor-proof (i.e., a script so tightly put together, no one could screw it up), the script for Lars & TRG is like its hero -- fragile and extremely vulnerable to those whom it must touch in order to live. But, yay and thank god. Because the actors and filmmakers take Nancy Oliver’s script and make it even more beautiful.
If you are someone who suspects that loneliness is the great story at the center of our lives, but also hope to find gentleness there as well, then this movie is for you. Go, go, go!
*Yes, I am one of those married people who use ‘We’ when ‘I’ would do just as well. It’s one of things I like best about being married (other than my husband). It’s a lot like when people ask how I am, I can talk about Jeffrey and people think they have receieved an answer. The ‘I’ can--when it chooses to--hide within the ‘We.’ No one told me this when I was single. I don’t know why. Is it not an obvious perk?
I have found WQXR on line! I grew up listening to this station and for years Lloyd Moss’ voice held my life together across many, many before and afters. He’s left the station, but I am back as a listener. I used to try to plot ways to move back close enough to NYC just so I could listen to QXR at my desk, and now it’s on my computer. I can’t tell you how happy this has made me.
Does anyone listen to the radio anymore? What do you listen to and why?
There’s poetry and then there’s magic. That throwaway comment stopped my heart. Among the other things they do, poets give regular writers a way to rest their brains. It was Brad Kessler who said that reading poetry was safe while writing prose. I recently read John Ash’s "The Parthian Stations.” It was full of loss, and sorrow and elegance.
I drink tea all day and love the fuss involved (the pot, the tray, the pretty cup, the little spoon), but in the morning I have to have coffee. It’s in my DNA. My father’s family is from Austria and my morning wake-up has to be black and strong. Or a latte with an extra shot.
I am late to this party, I know, but I finally have a French Press. Yay! I love it, but my glee over this thing has made me wonder: What is your form of caffeine and why? Does it change? Do you have a story about why you like tea instead of coffee? Are you from the South where having Coke on ice is still a yummy way to wake up? Tell me!
We were not allowed to watch anything but Walter Cronkite when I was growing up, so I fear TV almost as much as I enjoy it.
One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people who are writers or who work with books, blog about TV shows. Some writer/book types are very funny and witty on the topic (see literaticat’s brilliant take on a reality show about the Pussy Cat Dolls.) Some of them are not (enlightened self interest prevents me from citing examples).
All of us watch TV, and talking about it is a smart way to make a “me too” connection. Up until June 18th, I had nothing to talk about re: television, as my habits consist almost solely of watching Law & Order repeats * But now The Closer with Kyra Sedgwick is back and it is the perfect television show in that it is neither boring nor brilliant. It is like Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren, but for lazy people and I love it.
What do you watch and why?
*The Daily Show doesn’t count -- everyone watches it and, yes, I watch Desperate Housewives, but only b/c my sister works on it.
In spite of her being my editor and really doing a bang-up job with my work, my editor and I have totally opposite taste in almost everything. She hates New York, I passionately love it. She thinks books for kids and teens should have hope, I think hope in a book about, for example, sexual slavery is false. She’s petite and lovely, and I am a bookish, giraffe of a girl.
You get the point.
So imagine my delight and shock when a blog about clothes that she likes turns out to be the best thing on the internet. I mean the best ever. Mostly, I think blogs run the risk of being one of those bad dates with a man who won’t stop talking about himself (and, as a bookish giraffe, I have been on a lot of these.)
But this blog that both (!) my editor and I love is amazing. Go read and look at the pictures. Then please come back and tell me: what is your favorite blog to read?
So my ALA ended yesterday. Thank God. Yes, it was fun. It was also appalling, illuminating, horrifying, exhilarating and exciting. Too many -ing words make me want to quit the premises. My best moment came when sdn let me brush her hair. My worst was meeting Lois Lowry. Not once, but twice, I referred to her prize winning novel THE GIVER as The Gift. That was horrifying.
Runner up to best moment was at the YALSA breakfast on Sunday. I met many great librarians (duh!), but the funniest thing was when there was a group shot taken of all the writers, and we stood there like so many stunned deer in the proverbial headlights. The runner up to worst moment also came then. As we all lined up for the shot, it looked like the third grade, with girls on one side and boys on the other. In the process of breaking this up, I found myself between two very handsome men with wire-rim glasses, button-down shirts and distracted expressions. The one on my right had on a tie and looked less approachable than the one on my left. I said hello to both and to the one on my left said, “You are?”
It was John Green. I loved the premise and the smarts of his latest book, but apparently didn’t study the author photo.
Ah, well. It was fun. I was grateful to be there. I am even more grateful to be home. If you went to ALA or if you didn’t, what were the best and worst moments of your weekend?
So, next week is not just ALA, but YALSA’s 50th anniversary celebration and I have been invited. I am absurdly excited -- this is my first time at ALA. The year My Heartbeat received a Printz honor, ALA was in SARS-ridden Toronto and my doctor took one look at my allergy-ridden medical records and said NO. This year, it will be in D.C., and I’ll be signing books on Sunday, June 24 from 10-11 at the Houghton booth. If you are at ALA and go every year and find it all very routine, please come by and say hello and show me how one behaves at these things.
I will also be at the YALSA breakfast, and here and there. I finally get to meet Sara Ryan (a.k.a. sararyan) who wrote this year’s best YA, The Rules for Hearts and who was the first writer I met through sdn.
I do wonder though about this whole convention thing. I have, thus far, survived two Book Expos and one ALAN. Oh, and one mid-winter ALA. It seems to me if you are a writer, librarian or editor type, you are most comfortable alone with books. Not on a convention floor, having to meet people. So it’s an odd fit.
Who works with books and yet loves conventions? Who hates them? I fall in the happy, but frightened category. Where do you fall, and why?
I saw a fox this morning, as I rounded the corner into my backyard, bucket in hand, prepared to pick up debris from yesterday’s hail storm. There he sat, by the back juniper bush, all red, with black markings. He was big, and oddly beautiful. As my city girl brain tried to process what I was seeing (not a dog or a raccoon, oh my god, a fox!), I shrieked and off he went.
Up until now, I’ve only had rabbits or squirrels. A friend in Connecticut complains about deer. Please tell me, those of you with gardens, what kind of wildlife comes into yours?
My birthday was over the weekend. Not a big one or anything -- let’s leave it that I’m no longer 35, and haven’t been for a few years now. We went to the Kennedy Center to watch The Suzanne Farrell Ballet dance Mozartiana into a deep sleep, but breathe life into both a scene from Béjart’s Romeo and Juliet and Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.”
girasole took her loves and life to Las Vegas for her birthday. How do the rest of you celebrate? Rituals? Parties? Different each year? Tell me.
I finally finished reading Northanger Abbey and now I know that I don’t love all of Jane Austen. I feel particularly let down because the novel is one of Ian McEwan’s favorites. I guess that the enemy of your friend is your enemy, but the beloved novel of a beloved writer is not always your particular favorite. Bummer. This slim novel by Austen took me longer to read and gave me less pleasure than Henry James’ Wings of the Dove. And all I could say about that novel was that it was rewarding.
I need something fun to read, which rules out almost everything in my to-be-read pile, which is currently full of the dreary, the important and the award-winning. My mum was visiting over the long weekend, and while we knit almost the entire time she was here, she did finish reading Grayson by Lynne Cox. It’s about a baby whale who loses his (her?) mother and Cox’s efforts to stay in the ocean until the mother whale is found. That now goes to the top of the pile.
I am not one of those insane Austen fanatics, but I normally find her at once thrilling and comforting. Unlike Mr. McEwan, my favorite is Emma because of the opening line: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich. . . . . .
Friday, June 1 3:00-3:30 Table 34, Author Autographing Area, Javitz Convention Center
I'll be signing copies of Stay With Me, and giving away the discussion guides some of you helped to write!
Thanks to my publisher, Houghton Mifflin, I am headed to my beloved city next week for work reasons. This will involve spending time in the dreaded Jacob Javits center (where many of my friends took their bar exams), but I will be at BEA and hope to meet or see some of you.
The paperback of Stay With Me comes out in the Fall, and Houghton has kindly (and wisely, in my view, of course!) decided that the book is a natural for book clubs. And it kind of is. I was fortunate enough to get thoughtful reviews that glossed over the plot so as to discuss the writing and the ambigious nature of love and family. Also, a book club at a library in Idaho used Stay With Me and had such a fun discussion they think they’ll use it again. Plus, one of the readers brought a chocolate raspberry cake (a favorite dessert in the book). So, if you’re going to be at BEA, please come by and let me get a look at whom I’ve been reading. All of your journals have provided welcome breaks while locked in my study, trying to finish my next book. Hope to see you at table 34, somewhere in Jacob Javits, handing out a free book.
If you already have it, come get another one. I’ll sign it for a friend! -- I'm really tall and have red hair, so I'll be the only tall redhead at table 34.
I have not see the film 300, probably because I am not, even slightly, a member of its target audience. But this clip of it set to the 1982 song by the Weather Girls, has made me happy everytime I’ve looked at it. What silly thing makes you happy?
When Out of Africa came out, I had a lot of friends who were forever imitating Meryl Streep’s heavily accented voiceover, “I had a farm in Africa once,” but the line that always stuck with me was her saying, “I am a mental traveler.”
Although I was just in New York (where I met alg, whose smell is only rivaled by her force of nature self, and saw sdn, who is as lovely as ever) and am soon heading to California, my travels have been, lately, more of the mental kind. I am, in other words, reading Henry James. Wings of the Dove, to be exact. This is my third attempt, but I think I’ll make it to the end this time. I’m on a schedule of five pages a day, which is just enough to get drawn into his dense forest of language, commas and elusive asides without getting lost in it. Or annoyed and confused, which is just as important to avoid.
So far, my greatest pleasure in this reading schedule has not come solely from Mr. James. On the train up to the city, I read my five pages. It all took place in an English home, with the characters standing in front of a Bronzino painting and talking of how much one of the characters looks like the portrait itself. What was really going on was that one character was asking another to accompany her to the doctor. But the part that was easy to understand was the Bronzino and the chit-chat about it resembling the character who has to go to the doctor.
Okay, so about seven hours later, I’m at the Frick collection, where I’d wasted hundreds of hours in high school. Because the central room with the fountain and marble benches is closed, I’m not taking my usual route through the mansion, and I pass by this golden, green painting of a pale young man. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I don’t remember it, and I glance down at the little description. It’s a Bronzino! The whole scene in Wings of the Dove changes. This is why everyone calls that character odd and queer. She looks like a Bronzino painting. And she has to go to the doctor and she is afraid, and she has asked a woman who is not odd (and who probably looks like this Whistler portrait) to go with her. And the Bronzino makes sense, and everything about the novel springs to life and I am standing in the Frick, but also in that English house, listening to these people talk and being totally, hopelessly, happily lost in Henry James.
I am so excited I almost tell the security guard. But, in addition to being the sort of person who needs a schedule to read the novel, I’m just this side of shy. So I simply stare at the painting before moving on.
On the train back home, I read about the Bronzino girl’s visit to the doctor. Because I saw the movie ages ago, I know she’s really sick and going to die. I might have known that from the actual pages, but I might not. I don’t think I’m reading James for the story so much as I am for the chance, however briefly, to go somewhere.
I would like to know who has been traveling. What kind of trips, where and why?
Although I have several stacks of books lying around my study, all clamoring for attention, right now I am rereading A Room With A View. I will, no doubt have more to post about it, as it is the sort of novel that lends itself to a variety of thoughts. I returned to this novel after my father said, No, I was wrong, Somerset Maugham was not as good a writer as E.M. Forster. By the time I finished The Painted Veil I no longer liked Maugham at all (let this be a lesson to me, don’t talk about books with my father until done reading them!), but went off in search of my copy of A Room With A View. I had read this countless times some 20 years ago, after seeing the movie, unable to believe that this was the same Forster who had written the endless and dreary Passage to India.
This time, what has struck is how very coming-of-age A Room With A View is. I wouldn’t have thought so, given Forster’s gentle, mocking tone, but he himself spells it out, just after George Emerson catches Lucy Honeychurch in mid faint. They have both witnessed a murder and Forster writes, “It was not exactly that a man had died; something had happened to the living: they had come to a situation where character tells, and where Childhood enters upon the branching paths of Youth.”
I am interested in two things: 1. Why would we not immediately assume that this is a perfect book for teen-age girls? Is it because there is nothing in this book about which we can easily say: “Teens will relate!” (This is my least favorite expression, smacking as it does of arrogance and condescension) 2. Does anyone have a memory of when they saw character telling, or their childhood moving into youth?
For those of you who missed the film, or are simply in need of a beauty fix, here you go: