Diary

A Wonderful Release Day, with Gratitude

The Magic Words was officially published today, and it's been a wonderful day, with messages from old friends and perfect strangers sharing their excitement about the book. I treated myself to a fine latte this morning (La Colombe on Lafayette St.); my coworkers brought cupcakes for our imprint meeting (Georgetown Cupcakes on Mercer); and I enjoyed quasi-bibimbap for dinner (Korilla on St. Mark's Place, where I previously ate on the Greatest Day Ever Excluding My Wedding Weekend*; this seems like a good celebratory habit).

I also sent out my monthly newsletter this morning (sign up at the bottom of the page here), and as the thanks in it will be eternal, I reproduce them below.

As a download of pretty much my entire editorial brain up to March 2016, The Magic Words is the product of every book I ever read, every class I took involving narrative, every conversation I had with friends analyzing our differing takes on a story. I have a long list of acknowledgments in the back, including my husband James and the Marlster, and I mean every word. But the book's actual existence in the world can be traced to six people in particular:

My grandfather, Philip Sadler. My late Papa was a professor of children's literature at what is now the University of Central Missouri, and the founder of its Children's Literature Festival. Thanks to his influence, I grew up with an endless supply of books and hungry for a literary life, which led to my study of literature in college and eventually my job at Scholastic. (I wrote about his influence on me at length in my talk here.) He paid for the design costs on Second Sight, and while he passed away before the final book was produced, he knew that it was dedicated to him. I keep the picture below in my office, taken for a librarians' magazine in, I think, 1983; our t-shirts say "WRITING IS HARRD WORK," and I'm grateful I was able to become a published writer, thanks to him.

My parents, Alan and Becky Klein. My mom and dad encouraged me to read, gave me the freedom to be my dorky book-loving self, and supported my education in Minnesota and my move to New York City (both big departures from Kansas City). When I self-published Second Sight, my mom became my warehouse manager, overseeing my stock of books and shipping them out as necessary for the last five and a half years. If there is such a thing as "parental privilege" -- the undeserved good luck of being born to terrific parents -- I have it in spades, and I'm endlessly grateful for their love and care. 

My boss, mentor, and friend, Arthur A. Levine. In August 2000, I came to New York to interview for publishing jobs, and the legendary Susan Hirschman of Greenwillow Books put me in touch with Arthur, who was seeking an editorial assistant. I had a terrible, terrible interview with him because I was so desperately nervous and (as a Harry Potter fan already) I wanted the job so much; but he recognized my nervousness and was kind enough to let me write some sample reader's reports, which won me the position. From Arthur I learned how to analyze a manuscript, take apart a picture book, communicate with authors, write a reject letter and flap copy, advocate for a project in-house -- all of the hundred little things editors do every day -- and I still learn from his bravery, his tenacity, and his absolute faith in beauty and the reader's emotional experience. (And he's an author too; look for his new picture book, Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!, illustrated by Katie Kath) For my editorial education and the opportunity to be a part of the publishing world, I'm grateful to Arthur. 

My agent, Brianne Johnson. Bri called me to pitch a manuscript in November 2014 and mentioned how much she liked Second Sight, and I blurted out something like, "Do you think you could sell a revision of it?" There was a brief pause where I knew exactly what was going through her brain: Hmm, good book, but self-published, so it's been out there.... No national distribution or e-book, a good platform, solid reviews.... All the thoughts a smart publishing person would have in assessing the project. Then she said, "Let's get together and talk about it," and that started a marvelous ongoing relationship. Bri has wide-ranging and excellent taste, an eye for the unconventional, and joyful enthusiasm, which is a useful counterbalance to a slightly diffident author like me. (Another one of her clients is also publishing a book today, my Scholastic co-worker Rafi Mittlefehldt, whose YA novel It Looks Like This is a 2016 Indies Introduce selection.) Bri's faith and encouragement literally made The Magic Words happen, and I'll always be grateful for that.  

My editor at W. W. Norton, Amy Cherry. I talked with three editors about The Magic Words, looking for someone who would be as tough on me as I can be on my authors, and when Amy said, "Oh, I'm very hands-on," I knew who I wanted to publish with. She line-edited the book in depth, pushed me to rewrite one troublesome essay multiple times, and with her design staff crafted a beautiful, perfect package for the book. For taking me on and talking me through my own book's publication, I'm grateful to Amy. 

If you read The Magic Words, please know that the hands, hearts, efforts, and minds of all of these people have touched the book and helped make it what it is. If you like it, remember them; if not, well, you can blame me entirely. I hope very much that you do enjoy it, and it will help you write your own good books down the line. Thank you, as always, for your time and attention.

__________________________________________________

* The Greatest Day Ever Excluding My Wedding Weekend was April 17, 2015, when I got a new iPhone 6; met Amy in person for the first time when we had lunch at my favorite restaurant, Balaboosta; ate at Korilla; and then, via the cancellation line, saw Hamilton at the Public Theatre, fourth row center, all original cast -- thanks to Melissa Anelli, with whom I afterward kvelled over the show with wine. Holy jeebus, that was a good day.  

Welcome to the New Cherylklein.com, and My New Blog!

This new iteration of my website has been live for a few weeks now, but I just went through and cleaned up a few pages enough that I feel comfortable playing hostess here. Welcome, all! Have a cold drink and a warm appetizer. (Many thanks to the marvelous Julie Trelstad for creating the beauteous template you're now enjoying.) Here you can find information about my new book, The Magic Words; a little about me; old talks, and on this blog, new news. Such as:

  • The Magic Words is now available for preorder at any retailer of your choice! If you preorder, you can ask a question that I'll answer at length in my monthly newsletter or here. Details at the link. 
  • I'll be appearing at the Writer's Digest Conference in New York City August 11-14, talking about how to break into the YA market.
  • And I'll lead the SCBWI-Missouri Advanced Writers' Retreat in September.
  • Joanna Marple hosted a lovely interview with me at her blog, Miss Marple's Musings.
  • Kate Beaton was just named the Children's Choice illustrator of the Year for her book The Princess and the Pony!
  • And Daniel Jose Older's terrific, highly acclaimed, all-around awesome Shadowshaper is only $2.99 on pretty much every e-book platform right now. See Daniel's tweetstream here for details. 

We'll see if I return to blogging regularly -- promises on this front are usually trouble, I've found. But I am glad to have new digs.

Two New Writing Workshops with Me!

I'm delighted to announce that on Saturday, November 21, I'll be teaching two writing workshops as a fundraiser for Park Slope United Methodist Church. One will be in the morning (9 a.m.-12 p.m.) and one in the afternoon (2-5 p.m.) at the church in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Each one is $50, and all proceeds go to PSUMC. (This will be the first public debut of some material from my new book, The Magic Words, and I'm excited about that.)

"So You Want to Write a Book?" (9-12): In this workshop for beginning writers, or even people with just an idea for a book, "We’ll talk about practical techniques for starting and sustaining a novel-length narrative, including questions to ask, story dynamics to explore, and tips and tricks for getting the work done. A brief overview of revision and submission practices and publication options will be provided at the end."

To sign up: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/so-you-want-to-write-a-book-tickets-18955014960

"A Master Class in Character" (2-5): "What makes a character come alive on the page? What details should you include, or not include? Do characters have to be likeable or relateable? If you want a character to be relateable, how do you make that happen? In this workshop for novelists, we’ll explore the many dimensions and mysteries of characterization, and discuss ways to create believable, compelling fictional people."

To sign up: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-master-class-in-character-tickets-18955102221

It would be great to see you there! If you have any questions, leave 'em in the comments. Thank you for your interest.

Happy News

This appeared today in the Publishers Weekly Children's Bookshelf e-newsletter:
Amy Cherry at W. W. Norton has acquired Cheryl Klein’s book on writing children’s and young adult fiction. Previously self-published as Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, Klein will be revising, re-writing, and updating the book. Klein is the executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic, where she served as the continuity editor for the last two books of the Harry Potter series, and she also teaches in the publishing program at the NYU School of Professional Studies. Publication is planned for September 2016; Brianne Johnson at Writers House negotiated the deal for World English rights.
Hooray!

Some PAQ (Possibly Asked Questions):

W. W. Norton!

I know! The Norton Anthologies! And Michael Lewis! And Patrick O'Brian (swoon)! I am thrilled.

How will the new book be different from Second Sight?

We are still talking this through, but my goal is that it will be a more complete and fully integrated guide to writing fiction for children and young adults, with a structure that walks writers through all the major elements of fiction and the writing process, accompanied by exercises, worksheets, and practical examples to help them apply the ideas on the page. Much of the material will be new, and much of what is taken from Second Sight will be extensively revised.

So you're not self-publishing anymore. Why not?

This new project started because I wanted to revise Second Sight into the book I describe above. As I thought about what it would take for me to do that, I realized that I was (and am) at a different place in my life than I was when I put Second Sight together, and I could really use the support, structure, challenge, and deadlines provided by a traditional publisher.

When people have asked me about self-publishing in the past, I've always said that neither traditional nor self-publishing should be the universal prescription for every writer and every project -- that the choice always depends upon the nature of the book, its market, and the writer's abilities and expectations in relation to the project. This was the right book and the right time for me to switch to traditional publishing, and I'm very grateful to Brianne for encouraging me and connecting me with Amy at Norton.

What will happen with Second Sight?

Second Sight is now going into its fourth printing (also hooray!), and should remain on sale for at least the next year and a half. It is still available through Amazon, at my appearances, or by contacting me directly at asterisk [dot] bks [at] gmail [dot] com. I also remain enormously grateful to everyone who has supported the book through the years, and everyone who's told me about their experiences with it, good and bad. (Much of that criticism is informing the new draft.)

What's it like to be on the other side of the editorial desk?

Pleasant and yet extremely weird.

What will the title of the new book be?

We're still working on that, but I have faith the right title will come in time. Most titles do. (And suggestions welcome.)

Edited to add:  It arrived! The title will be The Magic Words:  Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.

Thank you for your interest!

Oh My Goodness, I Almost Missed This

Today, February 4, 2015, is the ten-year anniversary of Brooklyn Arden!


This blog took its current form one Friday night when I was home alone and lonely, and consequently decided to talk out loud to the Internet. The years I've spent talking out loud here since led directly to writers' conference appearances, new publishing projects, my website, my book, and many, many great conversations and connections. (As well as much enjoyable silliness:  See here and here.) The Internet and my life have changed enormously since I started writing in this space, and I'm a little sad I don't chatter as much here anymore. But I am also enormously grateful to this blog for the chance to "know what I think when I see what I say" for the past ten years, and to all of you for coming here, seeing it, and sometimes saying back. Thank you.

A Ramble: Ferguson, President Obama, Diverse Books, Time and Space

Earlier in this week of awful news out of Ferguson, in my home state of Missouri, my friend and colleague Rebecca Sherman commented on Twitter:

I do too. That speech remains the best speech I've ever heard a politician give in my lifetime, both honest and inspiring, both personal and national in its implications. It acknowledged the complexities of Mr. Obama's candidacy, of his relationship with the Reverend Wright, and indeed of the whole history of race in America after slavery. Rereading it now, I was astonished to see these lines:
We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.  
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students. Legalized discrimination — where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments — meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.  
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families — a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods — parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement — all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.  
. . . What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them. But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it — those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations — those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways.
This anticipates nearly everything in Ta-Nehisi Coates's brilliant article "The Case for Reparations" in The Atlantic earlier this summer -- except, of course, Mr. Coates's conclusion, which is that Congress should investigate the idea of reparations for African-Americans. Rather, Mr. Obama describes this legacy of pain as an opportunity for all Americans to come together, first to listen to and acknowledge each other's sufferings across racial lines, and then to work to address that suffering:  the lost jobs, the lack of health care, the poverty and poor education that afflicts the 99% (to draw on another political metaphor). The speech received near-universal acclaim, and while politics, being politics, quickly reverted to the usual game of sound bites and wins and losses, it did create a quiet moment in the hullaballoo of that 2008 campaign, a moment when most people heard what Mr. Obama said, and glimpsed that opportunity, even if we did not take it . . .

Like Rebecca, I wish very much that Mr. Obama had the time and courage and clarity and political daring to make another speech like this in the wake of events in Ferguson -- to be our storyteller-in-chief of sorts, to help one part of America listen to and understand the anger and fear of another, and to point the way toward dialogue among and a shared mission for all our citizens. I am sorry that he doesn't make this a priority, because I think perhaps he could do some good. But in his absence, we have to do that work.

I am moderating a panel this Tuesday for Scholastic's Teacher Week -- a conversation with Varian Johnson (The Great Greene Heist), Lisa Yee (Millicent Min, Girl Genius), Sonia Manzano (The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano), and Sharon Robinson (Under the Same Sun) about diversity in children's literature and the need for all children to see themselves in books. There are a lot of dimensions to the diversity conversation, but the moral use of such books (and the moral necessity of publishing them) is fairly straightforward:  More than any other media, a book allows a creator to control and tell their own story, to reveal the world they see in all its joys and sorrows, complexities and nuances, and to have that story be heard. For readers, books provide that opportunity to step into someone else's story and hear it -- to be affirmed by the story if some part of it speaks to your own experiences, emotionally or racially or religiously or physically, to know that you are not the first to go through this; to learn from it, both intellectually and emotionally, if it does not match your experience; to be challenged by and grow from it all around. (I wrote more about this, and the moral and sociological necessity for diverse books, in the opening of this talk.)

And I can't help thinking:  How different might Ferguson have been if all the policemen had read Walter Dean Myers's Monster? Or Fallen Angels or Sunrise Over Fallujah, for something closer to their own quasi-military experience? Or Ta-Nehisi Coates's article, or The Beautiful Struggle? Or even listened to the "This American Life" stories on Harper High School -- about a very different place than suburban St. Louis, certainly, but unforgettable in showing some of the pressures on young black men? Or best of all, if the policemen had heard the stories of the people of Ferguson as individuals? If they had shared their own?

Perhaps nothing would be different. These can be seen as highly naive and facile questions, given the money and history and societal factors that went into the making of this as-yet-ongoing tragedy, and I acknowledge my highly privileged role in asking them. But I also believe that books, stories, do what not-yet-President Obama did with his "More Perfect Union" speech:  They reveal the complexities, allow us to see things as both individual and universal, make other people real, open up space for dialogue -- if we'll take the time to listen and talk and learn. I wish we could find more of that time and space.


A New Conference + Miscellany

News! Later this month, on June 28, I'll be appearing in a great little mini-conference in my hometown of Belton, Mo. (about half an hour south of Kansas City). I'll give a talk on the five things editors want to see in every manuscript. Then the picture book author (and my best friend) Katy Beebe and I will discuss query letters, particularly the one that led to the publication of her lovely book Brother Hugo and the Bear. And finally, we'll do a first-pages session to round out the morning. Registration is $60, to benefit the Cass County Library Foundation (one of several library systems that made Katy and me the writers and readers we are today). For more information and to register, please click here.

In sad news, last month marked the first month in the nine-year history of this blog where I did not write a single post! Not a one! Part of it can be attributed to this fine fellow:


Mr. Bob Jacob Marley Monohan, who has come to dwell in our apartment and demand my time and attention, cat treats, things to gnaw on (currently a pair of James's cargo shorts that he unwisely left on the couch), etc. Part of it is that I have Twitter to accept all of my random thoughts. Much of it was simply work and life. But I miss writing here. I'm going to try to do a post a week for the rest of the summer, and I hope it will result in good energy all around. 
  • The Great Greene Challenge is still on! Have you gotten your copy yet? It's a great opportunity to support diverse books, an independent bookstore, and fantastic middle-grade in one fell swoop. 
  • As this blog has often served as my running results archive: My sister and I ran the Brooklyn Half-Marathon a couple weeks ago in 2:10. It was my slowest time for a half ever, but I didn't care, because I super-enjoyed running and chatting with her.
  • We have a great new episode of the Narrative Breakdown up here, with Matt Bird and James and I talking character goals and philosophies. Our podcasting has fallen off a bit of late because we lost our sponsor.... If you'd be interested in donating to the cause or sponsoring an episode yourself (a great way to reach a wide audience of writers and other lovers of narrative), please contact us at narrativebreakdown at gmail dot com.  
  • And if you'd like to buy my book SECOND SIGHT, but not through Amazon, please e-mail me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com. I'd be happy to work out alternate means of payment and delivery with you. 
  • Happy summer!

We Need Diverse Books.

Damn straight.

There is all kinds of great and exciting stuff happening with diverse children's literature these days! By the time you're reading this, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign should be live on social media, May 1-3 -- follow it on Twitter and Tumblr and please share your own thoughts there. Kudos to the awesome team who put that together!


Closer to home, The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson -- a modern, middle-school, multicultural Ocean's 11; a book I edited and am immensely proud of -- is getting a ton of awesome attention from indie booksellers and Varian's fellow authors, who are asking everyone to take the #greatgreenechallenge and help us get a diverse book on the bestseller lists. Kate Messner threw down the initial challenge; Shannon Hale raised the bar; and some guy named John Green sweetened the pot further for bookstores. You can check out all the action at Varian's blog post here. The book has received wide praise from many authors and a starred review from Kirkus, and it was named a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014! If you still need more convincing, you can check out this wonderful little prequel as a taster, or just join the challenge and preorder it now. (I advise the latter.) Out officially on May 27, 2014.

Equally exciting:  Sarwat Chadda is going to be in New York for the PEN World Voices panel this coming weekend, and appearing at Books of Wonder and a conversation on writing superheroes on May 3, and a great panel on sex and violence in children's literature on May 4. Good stuff!

Finally, I'm going to post this list here for anyone who might still need diverse book recommendations -- a list of books I've edited featuring diverse protagonists. Diversity has been a priority at Arthur A. Levine Books since the imprint was founded, and it's been a particular passion of mine for years, so I'm very proud of both this list and the many great books on our publishing lists to come.

Books I've Edited Featuring Diverse Protagonists

  • Millicent Min, Girl Genius and Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee (MG; Asian-American)
  • Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) by Lisa Yee (chapter book; biracial, Asian-American)
  • Eighth-Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (MG: American of Black Jamaican descent)
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (YA; Tuscarora Native American)
  • The Path of Names by Ari Goelman (MG fantasy; Jewish)
  • Marcelo in the Real World, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, and Irises by Francisco X. Stork (YA; Latin@)
  • The Nazi Hunters:  How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (YA nonfiction; Jewish) 
  • The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman (YA; Chinese)
  • Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (YA; Gay)
  • Gold Medal Winter by Donna Freitas (MG; Latina)
  • The Savage Fortress and The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (MG fantasy; British of Indian descent, Hindu(ish))
  • Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (MG; Afghan, Muslim)
  • The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers (MG; biracial, of British-Caribbean descent) 
  • Moribito:  Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano (YA fantasy; Asian-inspired) 
  • Above by Leah Bobet (YA fantasy; differently abled cast -- which is putting it mildly -- and biracial protagonist of French and Indian descent)
Yay diverse books! 

Signal Boost: Stop a Stalker in New Zealand

Trigger warnings for stalking, violence, and anti-Semitic language in the post below; also rage. Sorry. 

My friend Melissa Anelli is an awesome person, for many, many reasons. She runs the Harry Potter megasite the Leaky Cauldron and its spinoff, LeakyNews. She wrote the definitive guide to the Harry Potter phenomenon, Harry, A History, a wonderful read (in which I am a supporting character) that taught ME new things about Harry Potter. She co-created LeakyCon, an amazing fan convention, with over 4,000 attendees and counting. She hosted my bachelorette party last year and took some of the best pictures of my wedding. She is a great aunt, sister, daughter, and friend, and her warmth, passion, creativity, and energy inspire me every day.

And for the past FIVE AND A HALF years, she has been stalked online and through the mail by a crazy woman in New Zealand, who sends her messages like this:
Someone forgets I pay attention, sweetheart. As I've said a few times before, you're going to have to wait until July for anything further. If NZ does extradite Dotcom, they can do the same to me when and if the Feds ask. Too bad they've had to wait two and a half years, kike bitch. 
That is very, very far from the worst of it. Maureen Johnson has more context in her excellent Tumblr post here. The general theory with regard to stalkers seems to be that you should not acknowledge them directly, because they get off on being acknowledged directly, on that demonstration of their power over you, and if they can't get that recognition, eventually they will go away. That has not worked with this crazy woman, to the extent that Melissa still gets multiple messages a day, frequently violent or sexual in nature. The FBI and New Zealand law enforcement have been involved for years as well, and the woman still hasn't given up, or been incarcerated for good. Melissa went public with her Tumblr post today to bring attention to the length of time this has been going on, and to ask for help in getting the situation resolved.

I don't hate many people. I hate this woman. I want her to be stopped. I want her to get help most of all, to be treated and recover from whatever mental illness she has that has fixated her on my friend; but if that's not possible -- and this stalker has checked herself out of treatment centers before -- I want her in jail, away from phones and computers and with no chance of getting out of the country, where she can entertain her twisted thoughts in her own sick mind and nowhere else. But the law hasn't yet caught up with all of the ramifications of our new online worlds and forms of communication, and New Zealand law enforcement seems to think that online stalking isn't as serious and insidious as in-person stalking could be. It is, and it should be prosecuted on an equal basis, so this woman can be put away.

If you are on Tumblr, please reblog Maureen's or Melissa's posts. If you know someone in New Zealand, particularly someone in authority, please pass those posts on to them and say "HEY. Would you do something here already?" If you know someone who is being stalked, point them to the stories on Melissa's Tumblr so they know they aren't the only ones in that situation and they aren't just imagining things, and listen, support, be there for them as much as you can.

And if you are the stalker and you're reading this: You are sick. You know it. I hate you, it's true; but it's possible for you to be forgiven if you end this -- if you say you want help, you get it, and you give this up. You don't have to be so miserable; you don't have to make other people miserable. Please get the help or restraints you need, and stop.

India Is Everything


For Christmas in 2007, about a year and a half after we met, I gave James this Lonely Planet guide to India, which we both very much wanted to visit. The book was an investment and a promise, a pledge and a challenge. But through the next five years, as other journeys and interests took up our lives, it sat on a shelf, quietly waiting. 

Then it came time to plan our honeymoon, and there was never any doubt where we were going.

A screen at the Qutb Minar complex in south Delhi 

James did nearly all of the planning here, and deserves all of the credit. We started in Delhi, in the "Mughal North" -- so called because many of the ancient buildings were built by the Mughal emperors . . .


. . . including this one, built by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz, near Agra (where we went next). Twenty-two thousand people labored for twenty-one years on the Taj. Shah Jahan intended to build a black mausoleum that was otherwise identical to the Taj Mahal across the river from it, but his son Aurangzeb felt that he was spending too much time and money on buildings, so he imprisoned his father until his death here . . .


. . . in the Agra Fort, in an apartment with a view of the Taj. We learned incredible history like this over and over again in India -- of Akbar, Shah Jahan's grandfather, who established tolerance between Muslims and Hindus (before Aurangzeb threw it away), and the process of Independence and Partition, so very human and complicated -- and it made me angry with my world history classes in school, because why were we so big on Europeans when Indian history was just as awesome? Why didn't we learn about this too? 

These forts are astonishing structures -- huge castles that outdo any European fortresses I know of in scale and impact. The Agra Fort here was specially designed to withstand attack by an enemy who would be riding elephants, including a sloped, walled entranceway where defenders could pour boiling oil on invaders, and then roll boulders down the ramp if the oil didn't work. 


From Agra, we went to Jaipur, stopping along the way at the Chand Baori stepwell, which movie-loving readers might recognize from The Dark Knight Rises.


We splurged on the services of several drivers for most of our time in India -- a true luxury, as we didn't have to worry about catching trains or hauling baggage. (On the other hand, we often felt a little isolated from daily life, and Indian highways are the closest thing to a living game of Super Mario Kart I ever hope to experience in real life.) Nearly all of the trucks were painted with wonderful colors and designs. I asked one of our drivers why they were so decorated, and he said basically, "Why not?" -- and indeed, our solid American trucks and buses feel very boring and impersonal by comparison. 



Outside Jaipur, we visited the Amber and Jaigarh Forts, finding our way from one to the other through an open tunnel with monkeys watching us from overhead. (I told James, "This is what a honeymoon should be! Adventure plus monkeys!") In the city, we marveled at the decoration of the City Palace, including these peacocks.


We spent a lovely night at the Deogarh Mahal -- a former maharaja's palace, now converted into a luxury hotel straight out of a fantasy novel. We scrambled over the flat roofs taking pictures, saw a Rajasthani dance performance in the courtyard here, and walked the narrow, twisting streets outside, purchasing a number of shawls from a kind shopkeeper who promised to feed us dinner the next time we came to town.


One of our most unexpected and delightful excursions was a two-hour train ride through the Rajasthani mountains, which our driver arranged for us. A little wizened man with a kettle poured us tiny disposable cups of chai (hot, delicious, sweet Indian spiced milk tea that I could happily drink at every meal for the rest of my life), for the grand price of ten rupee each (about twenty cents).


More monkeys at a train stop. I never got tired of seeing them.


From there, we went to Udaipur, the "Venice of the East" for its location on the banks of Lake Pichola. (The Lake Palace Hotel here appeared in the film Octopussy, which played every night at half the restaurants in town.) This was likely our favorite city in India, as we loved the winding streets and views of the lake, and a wonderful vegan restaurant called Millets of Mewar, where we went for breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the three days we were in town.


In the city garden, this group of tourists stopped James and me and asked us to pose for pictures with them. This happened over and over again in India, pretty much everywhere we went, and especially with groups of schoolchildren or teenagers. (It is weird to think how many people's vacation photos I appear in.) I asked these ladies if I could take a picture of them minus me, because I was madly jealous of all the gorgeous saris, shalwar kameezes, tunics, and other clothes I saw on women throughout the country, but I rarely had the opportunity to take photos of said clothing with permission. As with the trucks, the brightness puts our Western neutrals to shame. 


From Udaipur, we flew to Mumbai, which I also really liked.... While we did not see a great deal of the enormous city, what we did see felt like New York to me, crowded and cosmopolitan, a mix of old architecture and new structures, tradition and the cutting edge, and as everywhere in India, the enormous contrast between rich and poor. This is the city's laundry center, where (according to our tour guide, whose hand you can see here) nearly all the laundry that is sent out for washing is still hand-scrubbed, hung, and ironed. Note the skyscrapers standing just beyond.

The ironies of this contrast are further explored in Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, a nonfiction book I read on the trip, which I cannot recommend highly enough as a portrait of a community, an exploration of the causes and effects of poverty, and an extraordinary work of reportage and writing. It is set in a slum near the Mumbai airport in 2008, and I found myself constantly thinking of the people in the book while we were in the city -- wishing almost that I might run into them and find out what happened next in their lives.

The other book about India I would recommend enormously, both as historical context and just as a wonderful read, is Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, by Alex von Tunzelmann. It traces the causes of the British withdrawal, the thrill of Independence, and the disaster of Partition through five fascinating figures:  Dickie Mountbatten, the British envoy; his wife Edwina, who was arguably more competent; Jawaharlal Nehru, who had an intense affair with Edwina in the midst of becoming India's first prime minister; Mohandas Gandhi, who comes off terribly; and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. I kept leaning over to James to tell him fascinating facts I was learning -- such as the fact that Pakistan is a made-up name, as before Partition, there were no people called "Pakis." Rather, it was an acronym for the northwestern, mostly Muslim regions of India selected for the country: Punjab, Afghania Province, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan. Illuminating, no? And it reminded me how much the history we take as settled fact is in fact made of people's choices, like the ones our leaders decide every day...


After our tour of Mumbai, we went to see a delightfully ridiculous Bollywood film called Dhoom 3, which was Moulin Rouge meets The Prestige via Bad Boys. We couldn't understand any of the Hindi dialogue, but this mostly wasn't a problem. (Sample dialogue for the Americans: EVIL BANKER: "Who's robbing my bank?" BLONDE FEMALE COP: "It's a thief, sir.")


This was taken at Elephanta Island -- a historic site about six miles off the coast of Mumbai (with no elephants, for the record) -- and the litter was unfortunately very typical of everywhere we went in India. . . .


But then, so was the wonder I felt on seeing this, also on Elephanta -- a relief sculpture of the god Shiva, deep in a cave, radiating peace, and carved in the sixth century A.D. -- easily one of the oldest, most awe-inspiring places I've ever been. If we ever return to India, as we hope to do someday, I want to visit more sculpture caves like this.

 

Always good advice. 

From Mumbai, we flew to Kerala, the state at the southwestern tip of the subcontinent known as "God's Own Country" -- and if you told me the Garden of Eden was located there, I would believe you. We stayed for three nights at a cardamom plantation in the mountains near Thekkady.


One day we took a three-hour nature trek through the Periyar Nature Reserve, where we saw this mama and baby elephant feeding in the wild. We also saw an awesome demonstration of kalaripayattu, which thrilled me especially, as it's the martial art that Ash Mistry learns in The Savage Fortress and The City of Death.



Then we descended to the coast, where we spent a delicious night on a houseboat in the backwaters. I got up at six a.m. and watched the sun rise from our deck, along with thousands of talkative waterbirds.

On our last leg of the trip, we went to Mysore, where we visited the palace and zoo, and stayed in another palace, the Lalitha Mahal:

 Yeah, I could eat breakfast here every morning.

And our last activity of the journey was visiting a friend's digital animation company in Bangalore -- on the nineteenth floor of an anonymous office building, the lights off and the windows covered in shades, three hundred animators at rows of flatscreen computers carefully sculpting a nose here, a gesture there. That, too, is India.

As a honeymoon, it was not the easiest:  I have never been on a trip that thrust my extreme privilege as a white American, and how easy I do have it, and how intractable the world's problems are, so much in my face over and over again. I keep turning those issues over back in my New York bubble -- where we have so little history, comparatively; where I can drink the water -- and I am not sure where to start. But as a personal experience, I learned so much, and did so much, and rested and read so much, and saw so much, so that I felt sometimes like nothing but a pair of eyes -- and ate so much, as oh my goodness, the food, the FOOD -- we have no sense of how to cook vegetables here, really, and I could also happily eat Indian food (especially Southern) at every meal for the rest of my life. And I haven't mentioned the tea plantations or the security, the cement advertisements or the languages, the milk scammers in Mumbai or James's obsession with Shantaram, the ways in which their environmental adaptations are ahead of ours, our wonderful friends in Delhi or the boat ride in Udaipur or praying in a temple and all the other monkeys we saw . . .

It was everything I hoped it would be -- a wonderful, challenging trip that stretched my mind in the best ways. And I am so very grateful for it, and for the husband who planned it; and everything goes on. 

A Nomination! A Third Printing! & 2013 Editorial Year in Review

I'm pleased to report that The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi, by Neal Bascomb, is one of five finalists for YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award!


The development of this book can be directly traced back to an SCBWI conference I attended -- Whispering Pines 2011 in Rhode Island (which was an excellent conference all around). During an off hour, I wandered into the conference center's library, and someone had left a copy of an adult book called Hunting Eichmann by Neal. I started skimming the book and immediately grew intrigued: I'd been thinking about how much I loved the narrative nonfiction in The New Yorker and how interesting and fun it would be to publish for a younger audience, and the hunt for Adolf Eichmann combined history, mystery, spywork, and Nazis in one terrific, suspenseful, high-stakes story. When I got back to New York, I reached out to Neal, proposing a YA edition of Hunting Eichmann. We embarked on a very enjoyable collaboration where we both learned a lot (me about photo research, especially -- a topic worthy of a whole blog post all its own), and the resulting book, with a awesome foiled cover by Phil Falco, came out in September. You can read the opening pages here.

While I'm posting:  I'm also pleased to announce I've ordered a third printing of Second Sight, which should be available for sale in early January. (The book is out of stock until then.) Thanks to all of you who've supported it thus far!

Finally, a quick look back at all of my 2013 books, with plenty of time left to order for Christmas (hint hint):

  • The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman: Pride & Prejudice in 1923 Chinatown!
  • The Path of Names by Ari Goelman:  Math, mysteries, mazes, magic, & even murder at a summer camp! This was named to Booklist's rolls of both Top Ten First Novels and Top Ten Religious & Spirituality Novels for Youth.
  • Zoe's Room (No Sisters Allowed) by Bethanie Deeney Murguia:  Two sisters. One room. Stuff just got real. 
  • Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg:  A gay book for the "Glee" generation, about being out, being proud, and being ready for something else. 
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth:  A "brohemian rhapsody" (Eric's phrase) about a Tuscarora Native American boy and a white Air Force kid discovering their shared love of rock music, and the complications that ensue.
  • The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb:  Hey, did you hear it was nominated for YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award?
  • The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (sequel to his excellent The Savage Fortress):  Ash Mistry, weapon of the goddess Kali, goes to Kolkata, and the city will never be the same. 
And I'm excited about all the equally great things on the docket for the new year. This will probably be my last post for 2013, as I'm leaving for my belated honeymoon (in India, in fact!) on Saturday . . . so I wish you all the very best for the holidays, and a happy new beginning to 2014!

Registration Now Open for My NYU Editing Class

I'm pleased to announce that registration is now open for "Book Manuscript Editing Workshop: Editing Children's and YA Novels," the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies course I'll be teaching next spring. (This is an in-person course, not online.) You can find the listing here.

The course description seems to have gotten a bit smushed in the system, so here it is in full:

Calibrating a characterization. Structuring a plot. Developing a theme. Polishing the prose. And bringing all of these elements into perfect balance to help a book become what it should be. In this six-week course, we’ll learn how to practice these editorial skills, with special attention to the particular requirements of the child and young-adult audiences, and discuss how to create the right public image for a book through its flap copy, cover image, and editorial presentations.
I'm finalizing the syllabus now and just having a heck of a great time thinking about all the things I want the students to read and do. I am going to have everyone read Second Sight, which, on the one hand, I feel vaguely abashed about -- isn't that the classic egotistical-professor move, making everyone read your book? On the other -- well, most of the grand principles of my editorial philosophy and knowledge are right there, so if we can cover those theories in the reading, we can get down to the practicalities in class. And the practicalities and particularities of an individual manuscript are where the fun is, always.

Tumblflowers

So, a couple of months ago, I started a Tumblr. I did it mostly because I see neat things on Tumblr and I wanted a place to keep them -- hence the lack of announcement here, because it felt sort of private. But I also like reblogging and commenting on them, which makes me public, which means I might as well make it official! Voila:

http://chavelaque.tumblr.com

It's the Brooklyn Arden Companionway ("a stairway on a ship that connects one deck to another," per Merriam-Webster) because I think of it as a companion and waystation to this blog much more than as my new deck. (I like longform writing too much and I have too much history here to commit to such a visual and new platform. Blogger Forever!*)

* This seems like a dangerous declaration in tech terms....

While I am talking Tumblr, you should also check out:

  • Trent Reedy, author of the forthcoming kickass DIVIDED WE FALL
  • Penbitten, by my dear friend and HP fan extraordinaire Melissa Anelli
  • Scattershotsilly, by a wonderful former AALB intern
  • Super_Christina, by Christina McTighe, another wonderful ex-intern (and now an awesome librarian-in-training)
  • The excellent-in-all-media Cleolinda Jones.

The Scholastic Spring 2014 Librarian Preview

I'm proud to have edited three great novels that span ALL OF TIME in the Scholastic Spring Librarian Preview, which you can see here:
  • The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson, at 6:48 in the middle-grade section:  A contemporary Ocean's 11 set in a middle school, with a sweet romance, a sharp sense of humor, and a wonderful diverse cast.
  • Divided We Fall, by Trent Reedy, at 5:54 in the YA presentation:  In this novel set in the not-too-distant future, Danny Wright finds himself caught between his state and his country, his governor and his president -- and soon enough, in a second American civil war.
  • Curses and Smoke, by Vicky Alvear Shecter, at 6:54 in YA: In 79 AD, a rich girl and a rebellious slave fall in love in the shadows of Pompeii.  
If you're a book blogger, a teacher, or a librarian, please look out for galleys of all of these at upcoming conferences or on NetGalley. Thanks! 

A Valediction, Forbidding Strolling


Let us sing a sad goodbye
To my beloved shoes!
Bought at Brown's in the year four,
In them I loved to cruise
'cross Spanish ramblas, Oxford stones,
And every Brooklyn block,
As secure as a iron safe,
As steady as a clock.



Let us sing a sad goodbye
To my dark chocolate loafers:
An elegy for voice and lyre
And drum and flute and shofars.
How they've borne me, how we rambled!
Oh, the stories we could tell!
How they always felt like heaven
While I wore them all to hell.



Let us sing a sad goodbye
To Danskos, old and proud: 
Their cracking toe box, shaved-down heel,
And leather worn to shroud.
I know that we shall meet again
In that great shoe store in the sky,
And I bless you for your service:
Good friends, good shoes; good-bye.

Silent Auction Opportunity: Win an Hour of Editorial Time with Me

As longtime readers of the blog may know, I attend a lovely, lovely church here in Brooklyn, where every Sunday, "we, the people of Park Slope United Methodist Church -- black and white, straight and gay, old and young, rich and poor -- unite in a loving community with God and the Creation. Summoned by our faith in Jesus Christ, we commit ourselves to the humanization of urban life, and to physical and spiritual growth" (our creed). People in the church do all kinds of great stuff -- we have a soup kitchen, and small groups, and work in the Reconciling movement -- and I find it a wonderfully steady source of comfort, community, service, challenge, and inspiration.

Now one of our biggest fundraisers of the year is coming up: our Hollyberry Craft Fair and silent auction. If you are in New York, you should totally come out and see the craft fair, which attracts great vendors from across the tristate area: Saturday, November 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Camp Friendship, just below 6th Avenue and 8th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn.   

But even if you are NOT in Brooklyn, you have the opportunity to support the church through our silent auction. I am again donating an hour of editorial services here, in whatever form is useful to the winning writer. The listing runs:
Professional book editor will help you with developmental editing, line-editing, copyediting, proofreading, copywriting, query letter or publishing advice -- whatever you and your project require!* Minimum bid $40. 
And we are opening this up to the wider public through e-mail bidding. If you'd like to participate in the auction, please send an e-mail to hollyberry[dot]psumc[at]gmail[dot]com with your bid and contact information. Someone will get back to you with information on the current bid level. The auction starts now and will run through the end of the Hollyberry Fair itself on November 16. Thank you for your interest, and your support of the church.
__________________
* (To anticipate a question I get often with things like this:  I consider this more my opportunity to help the church and help one individual writer than it is an opportunity for a writer to submit to me. In practice, if I like the project I'm seeing, I might ask to see more of it; but it's better for bidders to think of it as an opportunity to get editorial feedback, a la a critique, than as a manuscript submission, as that's not what this is meant to be.)

Some Thoughts I Had In Relation to "Quidam" by Cirque du Soleil Tonight

  • "Wow, my now-rather-intermittent blogging still qualifies me as a member of the media? Thanks for the free tickets, Cirque du Soleil!" 
  • "Hmm. The Barclays Center may look like a pile of old farm equipment on the outside, but it's super-nice on the inside, with great food options: Calexico, Fatty 'Cue, sushi, Nathan's, a kosher deli. . . . And these Calexico fish tacos are really good. Hooray for mango salsa!"
  • "This is my fourth Cirque du Soleil show, after two big-top performances on Randalls Island and O in Las Vegas, so I know the drill: a 'quirky' frame story featuring a wondrous child and a goofy clown, linking acts of incredible beauty and physical accomplishment, all set to music by French-Canadian Enya impersonators. Will Quidam surprise me at all?"
    • "Ah. No."
  • "But the formula works as ever: astonishing acrobats, gorgeous tableaux, swelling music, imaginative costumes, many moments that make you go 'Ooh' . . ."
    • "Or as the Brooklyn lady next to me said to the contortionist as she lifted her leg over her head: 'Oh no, honey, don't!'"
  • "The German wheel? This is new to me. How does he do that?"
    • "(The answer that makes all things in this show possible:  abs.)"
      • "What's a Cirque du Soleil performer's favorite liquor? Abs-inthe."
        • "And her favorite vodka? Abs-olut."
  • "James and I should do this at our wedding."
  • "Or perhaps we could involve the whole wedding party."
  • "What do Cirque performers do on their days off? Abs-eiling."
  • "The humor in this lengthy clown interlude isn't entirely scatological, but there are certainly more poop jokes than you get in the American circus. This accords with French picture books as well. There's a sociology article in here someplace . . ."
  • "With sights like this, 
    I'm almost ashamed to confess: I was a little bored. I felt I had seen it all before, either at prior Cirque shows or on the Olympics or even just at cabarets in the city. The problem in our modern age: When we can see everything at any time, it's harder to generate awe."
    • "Though this problem  may be entirely personal to me, as I'm old and spoiled. Children would have a wonderful time." 
      • "And if you've never seen a Cirque show before, Quidam would be a great introduction, as it's short, relatively cheap, easily accessible by public transport (as the Randalls Island shows weren't), and gorgeously executed and produced, as all Cirque shows are. Well worth the seeing."
    • "I am in awe of the abs, though, really."
  • "Of course they try to teach their kids to practice abs-tinence . . ." 
    • "(What must it be like to grow up as part of this international traveling human menagerie?)"
  • "And if they fail, they go to church for abs-olution." 
    • "(Or be pregnant as a contortionist? Do you have to stop contorting for a while? Can you still do this with a baby?")
     
  • "A stronger narrative would help the show as well here. . . . The Olympic gymnasts did many of these same moves, but because they happened in the context of a conflict against other athletes and their own limits, their story had stakes and meaning. The pleasure here, in contrast, is all in the beauty for beauty's sake." 
    • "The current Broadway revival of Pippin, which uses circus techniques, is really fun."
    • "Cirque should hire Neil Gaiman to write a frame story for them. Or adapt Sandman! They have the dreamy sensibility and visual artistry for it, and it would bring a new audience in."
  • "But perhaps this isn't fair to Cirque. They do what they intend to do, and do it well; and you can't ask for more from an artist or a show." 
  • "What do two Cirque artists in a relationship say when they go off on different tours? 'Abs-ence makes the heart grow fonder.'"
  • "And on that note, good night."
Quidam runs through July 28 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. For tickets, please visit the Barclays Center box office; or www.cirquedusoleil.com/quidam, www.ticketmaster.com, or www.barclayscenter.com; or call 1-800-745-3000.

The Best Thing I Have Seen This Year

. . . was the LeakyCon 2013 Opening Ceremonies musical finale, written by Tessa Nutting et al., performed by an amazing cast (all of whom had about 48 hours' notice), and staged last Thursday in Portland, Oregon. If you're a fan of Rent, Doctor Who, Glee, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Hunger Games, Sherlock, The Avengers or other superheroes, Bonnie Tyler, Disney musicals, Twilight, or John Green and Brotherhood 2.0, there was something in this number for you. (The basic plot setup is that while Frodo and Samwise Gamgee sought the Ring of Fandom, Loki tried to dissuade the various characters lost in the Forest of Fandom from hoping there could be a place where they could all unite . . . until the 12th Doctor showed up, and the rest is "La Vie Fandom.") Click the little "CC" beneath the YouTube window to turn on the captions and catch all the references.


And if you enjoy the video, come next year! It's a fantastic weekend.