Quidditch Croquet Rules!

On Tuesday I'm going down to Florida for LeakyCon 2011, and I am PSYCHED . . . to speak at Lit Day, to see the Wizarding World theme park for the first time, to party with Harry Potter fans, and because my hotel has a croquet court! (For the reason I'm obsessed with croquet, hit the "Frog" label on the right.) This obviously requires a game of Quidditch Croquet, which in turn requires the establishment of rules for Quidditch Croquet; and I propose the following for discussion/comment:
  1. Play shall generally proceed as in a standard croquet game, with the wickets in a figure-eight configuration, and in order of the colors on the post; but with the following exceptions:
  2. The black ball shall be the Bludger, and the yellow ball shall be the Snitch.
  3. Neither the Bludger nor the Snitch can play until all other balls have passed through the opening two wickets.
  4. -- The Snitch shall go first, and the Bludger second.  
  5. -- They should both start at the opposite post from the rest of the players. 
  6. The Bludger does not have to follow the standard course and try to go through wickets, but rather should spend its time trying to knock all the other balls (besides the Snitch) as far off course as possible.
  7. -- If the Bludger touches another ball (a roquet), it gets only one additional hit, instead of the standard two.
  8. ---- If necessary, an additional limitation can be imposed on the Bludger, that the player controlling it must play one-handed and/or with his/her less dominant hand.)
  9. -- If another ball (besides the Snitch) touches the Bludger, it gets three additional hits, instead of the standard two.  
  10. The Snitch also does not have to follow the standard course and try to go through wickets, but rather should travel consistently up and down the midline of the course, from post to post through the center wicket. 
  11. The Snitch does not want to strike or be struck by the other balls.
  12. -- If another ball (besides the Bludger) touches the Snitch, it gets four additional hits, instead of the standard two. 
  13. -- The Bludger is not allowed to hit the Snitch, and if it does, its turn is over and it misses its next turn.
  14. The game concludes when a player successfully completes the course, passing through all nine wickets and touching both posts (the opening post twice, at the beginning and end); 
  15. -- OR when the Bludger has knocked into all the active balls (besides the Snitch) twice (a scorecard may be useful here) and reached the closing post before anyone else; 
  16. -- OR when the Snitch has successfully completed thirteen post-to-post-through-the-center-wicket crossings of the court, including at least three where it was not struck by any other ball (ditto on the scorecard), and reached the closing post before anyone else. 
This allows the Bludger and Snitch to behave as they do in Quidditch, but gives all players an incentive to win. (I chose thirteen post-to-post perambulations for the Snitch because it would take a long time to reach,  I hope, and thirteen is a good wizarding number.)

Thoughts? Suggestions? And if you're going to LeakyCon -- who's in?

A Ramble: Eastern Standard Time

When I glanced back over the 2010 posts on Brooklyn Arden, I felt a little depressed, because I blogged less often and about less-thoughtful things this past year than I have in any year since the blog’s inception in 2005. Not that I expect readers missed me much, by any means, but writing here is one of the ways I think, and the lack of blogging was a sign of how little I felt like writing, and how little time I had to think for pleasure, if that makes sense, in 2010. . . . I wrote a lot of speeches and editorial letters and other important things, many of which turned out well, I’m glad to say, and of course I did all the revising on my book; but that wasn’t restful thinking for me, talking out loud about things that interest me—which was how this blog started, as my one-sided continuation of a lost correspondence, and how I always love it most, when it gives me a chance to know what I think when I see what I say, to paraphrase E. M. Forster. So with this post, I hope to start a tradition of letting myself write for one hour every Sunday, to put down what’s been happening in my life and on my mind; and if you all find things in it that are useful for you, wonderful, and if not, well, you know what you’re in for with future posts. This one is more of a catch-up, newsy post than I hope most of those future posts will be.
  • Holidays! In the last ten days, I visited these cities in order:  New York; Belton, Missouri; Treynor, Iowa; Belton, Missouri; Hemet, California; Santa Barbara, California; Los Angeles, California; New York, and as much as I love all the people in all the other places mentioned, I am very glad to be home again. 
  • And in truly major news, James and I won the Frog again in team play! (The Frog, for those of you joining us just now, is the traveling trophy in my family's Killer Klein Croquet Tournament; and Killer Klein Croquet is basically croquet meets Calvinball, played with great enthusiasm and emotion and no skill whatsoever. See prior reports under the "Frog" label at right.) I thus become the winningest KKCT champion ever -- neener neener neener, family! -- at least until James and I have the chance to defend his Brooklyn sojourn in May.
  • (And I have now set an impressively high bar for maturity in these Rambles by actually saying "neener neener neener." Look for "I know you are, but what am I?" in future posts.)
  • True Grit contains probably my favorite scene from any film this year:  Mattie Ross’s negotiation with the horse trader, her calmly wearing him down till she gets exactly what she wants and a thank-you for it. Its well-written rat-a-tat dialogue between two equally matched opponents reminded me of one of my favorite film scenes of all time, the opening exchanges between James Bond and Vesper Lynd on the train in Casino Royale (“How was your lamb?” “Skewered. One sympathizes.”)—though True Grit was much less sexy, of course. Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld are getting all the awards buzz, as far as I can tell, but I loved Matt Damon for investing the at-first-foppish La Boeuf with real dignity and character. I would have liked a bit more emotional payoff at the end, I think, but so the Coen Brothers go.
  • Black Swan was a potentially fascinating movie about the quest for perfection in ballet and its mental cost, made risible (to use J. Hoberman’s word) by ham-handed horror-movie plotting, details, and filmmaking techniques. Also, Darren Aronofsky has apparently never met a close-up of a bloody [insert your own body part here] that he didn’t like. But other than that, it was beautifully shot, and it made me want to see Swan Lake, which I never have. . . .
  • One of the good things in 2010:  I fell in love with making homemade granola, inspired by the amazingly simple Mark Bittman recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (where he recommends toasting the oats and nuts first, which I endorse). The recipe is easy, tasty, and capable of endless variations; my version tonight has dried cherries, sunflower seeds, almonds, vanilla, and molasses as a sweetener (though the all-time best sweetener truly is maple syrup, I think). If you have suggestions for mix-ins, I’m happy to hear them.
  • Congratulations to Erin McCahan and I Now Pronounce You Someone Else for the book’s being named a Cybils YA finalist! I love, love, love romantic comedy, which is partly why I wanted to publish INPYSE; but it’s a category that doesn’t get recognized much come awards time, because the seeming lightness of the atmosphere and subject matter (and, perhaps, the fact that it’s a genre most often about, created by and consumed by women) make it easy to blow it off in the face of IMPORTANT books or movies about war or boxing or dystopias or whatall. But the real subject matter of all good romantic comedies are relationships and moral values; and the atmosphere in which those things are made coherent, consistent, realistic, and amusing, and in which they matter, even in the face of war or boxing or whatall, is in fact incredibly hard to create and sustain. Erin not only accomplishes that creation, she walks the line between the development of a relationship and the development of a self, and sharp wit and real pain, with truly impressive skill; and as an editor and romantic comedy fan, I wanted to say thank you to the Cybils judges for recognizing that accomplishment. 
  • If you have a blog or other publication and you'd be interested in reviewing my book, Second Sight:  An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, please e-mail me at asterisk.bks at gmail dot com with your name, blog address, and any other pertinent information. Not all respondents will be sent copies of the book, but all interest is appreciated.  
  • Pleasure reading this holiday:  Jennifer Crusie’s Maybe This Time (devoured in 36 hours over the Christmas weekend) and George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings. At a going-out-of-business sale, I bought a second copy of J-Crusie's Welcome to Temptation, probably my favorite contemporary romance novel ever; The Audacity to Win, David Plouffe’s memoir of managing the Obama campaign, for 2008 nostalgia in the face of 2011 House horror; and Story by Robert McKee, because I’ve always felt like a bit of fake for talking about McKeean principles (well, really Aristotelian ones) without ever having read his actual book, and now this shall be corrected. 
  • My New Year's Resolutions have always been less about specific behaviors I want to have than specific things I want to accomplish:  to run a 10K, to learn to knit, to try three new cuisines . . . all of which lead in turn to those specific behaviors, as I have to run regularly to be ready for a 10K, I have to develop a new skill with the knitting, I have to get out of the house more in order to find the cuisines. I haven’t created a proper list since 2006 or so, but this year I want to try it again, to help get myself back on track. So I want to run another half-marathon; finish the baby blanket I started knitting in, um, 2007 (and haven’t touched since then, for the record--this is not a monster blanket four years in the making); publish my book (which should go to print as soon as the designer and I hash out the final details on the cover); eat less sugar; finish reading War and Peace; and write these Rambles once a week. Best of luck with your new year and resolutions as well!

Memorialize This

So this is the way my weekend went. First, there was the terrific LeakyCon with John Green, which John Green himself sums up nicely here:

The last song on the video is the Harry and the Potters anthem "Dumbledore," and what you see in the opening bars is most of the 500 or so people in the room, having spontaneously formed a large circle with arms around each other, equally spontaneously running to the center of the circle and rocking. It set a new standard for epic Potters shows, and I fully support John's closing gauntlet to the Twilighters.

Then I flew to central New York to see my cousin Hans receive his Master's in landscape architecture from Cornell University. When we arrived, we noticed a banner on a back wall that read "WE LOVE YOU DOWLBO! CONGRATULATIONS!" But that was later topped by this --

-- dragged behind a plane that circled the Cornell stadium. We couldn't find a "Dowlbo" in the list of graduates (though granted, there were 5,000 of them), so we speculated among ourselves who Dowlbo was and why someone might have splurged on him: a message from a relieved wife to a ninth-year graduate student who finally completed his Ph.D.? A love letter from an narcisstic Dowlbo himself? Simply a proud family? That's certainly the most likely option, but also the most boring, when there are so many other interesting narrative possibilities. Any other ideas?

And then, speaking of proud, crazy families:

We held one of our semiannual battles for the honor of hosting the Frog, which had dwelt for far too long with Hans and Megan in Ithaca. While family friend Josh Shields completed the course first, the game is called Killer Klein Croquet, so we hastily invented the Shields Clause to grant the Frog to the first Klein-family finisher. And thus my aunt Carol (brown shirt and glasses in the middle) will take the Frog back to Iowa until we meet again.

And finally, we saw Niagara Falls. Quite beautiful; quite cold; quite glad I don't have to go over them in a barrel.

The entire weekend was thoroughly, thoroughly awesome -- my love and thanks to all involved.

Lovely Laziness

I am still in my pajamas at 10:42 in the morning. Lord, I love vacation.
  • The resolution of the mystery (which I'm sure has kept you all on tenterhooks): I went to Texas to visit my dear friend KTBB, who was staying with her in-laws in Fort Worth, and she and I took a girls' night at the Beaumont Ranch in Grandview. While we'd been attracted to the Beaumont because it promised a comfortable B&B experience on a real Texas ranch, it ended up being one of the most bizarre places I've ever stayed, starting with the spa/ranch combination, continuing through a reproduction 1880s Texas town on the property (utterly deserted), and culminating in a giant mural devoted to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Eventually Katy and I pieced together the Ranch's provenance: The "Beaumont" of the name was Ron Beaumont, former CFO of the infamous telecom giant Worldcom, and the Ranch had originally been developed as his private retreat-cum-corporate conference center. After Worldcom melted down (Beaumont turned state's evidence and was never charged), the Beaumonts opened it to the public as a dude ranch/B&B/spa. They're still working on the B&B piece, however -- despite excellent food and good service, there were 23 dead crickets found in our room on arrival, holey sheets, and zero security at night. Thus Katy and I do not recommend the Beaumont accommodations, but we thank the ranch for giving us many more memories.
  • From there I came home to Kansas City, where my Iowa family was waiting. Two inches of hard-frozen snow outside kept us from playing our usual game of Killer Klein Croquet, but because the Frog was at stake, my father and Uncle John devised a clever solution: They drilled holes in wood blocks to form standees for the wickets, and we played in the house, with inflatable plastic balls replacing the usual wooden ones. Everyone devised their usual impossible wicket setup (I created a ramp using a metal sign and a wooden "M"), and Melissa's dog and cat served as moving obstacles. It was a wonderful game, just as competitive and hilarious indoors as it always is outside. My cousin Hans came away with the victory and the Frog, which he will take to the Iowa caucuses on the 3rd before bringing it home to New York (upstate) later in January.
  • James and I went to see "Sweeney Todd" on Wednesday. Every time I see this show (which is now touring the U.S. on stage, in the brilliant John Doyle revival) I'm struck by what a paradox it is: a story filled with murder, cannibalism, rape, near-pedophilia, obsession, and betrayal -- undoubtedly the most misanthropic musical in the canon, with all the worst and ugliest parts of human nature -- portrayed in what is highest and best in human accomplishment: soaring, searing, unforgettable music and lyrics. The movie captured both sides of this paradox respectably, though Tim Burton clearly takes more glee in the spurting fountains of blood than the more subtle aspects of Sondheim's score. But Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp were both suitably demented and Alan Rickman is a perfect Judge Turpin. . . . I feel sorry for Timothy Spall, who plays the Beadle, because his physiognomy so often regulates him to those ratlike roles; someone should write a romantic comedy just for him and have him get the girl.
  • I love the Wii.
  • Reading on vacation: The Subtle Knife; Sondheim & Company; The Lonely Planet Guide to India.
  • I don't normally write about acquisitions here, but I wanted to note I just bought a manuscript that started as a SQUID: Olugbemisola Amusashonubi-Perkovich's (aka Mrs. Pilkington's) EIGHTH-GRADE SUPERZERO. Foremost among its many virtues are wonderful, wonderful characters and a terrific voice; I'm really looking forward to working on it and with Gbemi. Yay!

The Frog in La-La-Land

To the Klein Family, and all my other friends too --

I was a little shy about writing this account of my recent adventures. . . . I may have spent a good deal of my young life on the East Coast, but I was spawned in the Midwest, and I like to think I retain that region's native modesty. But Cheryl said everyone would love to hear about my travels, so here I am!

In the interest of broadening my knowledge of the world, Cheryl and James decided to take me to southern California for Thanksgiving. (Conveniently, James's grandparents live near Los Angeles, so we had a fine base for exploration.) As a cold-blooded creature -- in only the scientific sense, of course -- I reveled in the warm temperatures. Can you find me among the tangerines?

And I loved all the palm trees!

We visited the Salvador Dali exhibit at LACMA.

(I think his mustache looks like a croquet wicket, don't you?) I volunteered to be photographed upside-down with one of his statues, the better to truly experience Surrealism for myself -- but I'm afraid the picture didn't come out. I gained amazing new insights into my Unconscious, though! James's sister Bridget picked us up for the trip to the grandparents', with one stop along the way:

Cheryl, James, and Bridget all seemed very impressed with the food; I personally thought it could have used a few more arthropods. We had a very pleasant Thanksgiving -- a wonderful dinner and a USC victory, plus a family card game. (While I've always thought of myself as a Frog of feeling, it turns out I have a terrific poker face.) We came back to L. A. for Universal City Walk, where the residents were already dressed up for Christmas:

And the next day -- Hollywood! The Sign (can you see it?) . . .
The Screen -- Grauman's Chinese Theatre . . .

And then, at my special request, we walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard until we found her, the one and only Star:

Ah, to be the statuette she called "Gorgeous" . . .

So I had a marvelous time in California -- and my dear Kleins, I look forward to seeing you all at Christmas! While the Midwest may not offer quite so much glamour, there's no place like home.

With much love from me and Cheryl,

The Frog

Some Killer Klein Croquet Correspondence

(For previous adventures involving the Frog, see the "Frog" label at right.)

Dearest Frog,

We miss you greatly, but hope that you are getting a quality life experience in Gotham. We know you must be homesick for the golden fields of grain in the Midwest, so we wanted to let you know that harvest season is in full swing and the "Field Monsters" are chewing through the rows of corn and soybeans at a remarkable speed.

It had been our plan to let you fully participate in the Iowa presidential political process this fall, and even attend the Iowa Caucus event in January. But your unexpected move to NYC has prevented your opportunity to speak out for "Green" to the horde of presidential wanta-be's that are invading our otherwise serene environment. I do hope you will continue with your political interests there in New York, although it is a "flyover state" in the national political process, compared to Iowa.

Aunt Carol and I will be in your neighborhood soon. We are planning to visit your past guardian, Hans, in Ithaca from the evening of Tuesday, October 16 to the early morning of Monday, October 22. We will be flying in and out of Syracuse. Is there any chance that you and Cheryl can take a train north to the end of the line and meet us somewhere in that time period? Hans has a very fine Killer Klein Croquet set, and this could give you the chance to get back to Iowa and have a much bigger impact on the selection of the President of the United States.

Much love to you and to Cheryl. We miss you dearly,

Uncle John (the Commissioner)


Mr. Crooked Commissioner,

If you're thinking about having a croquet match in Ithaca with the frog on the line, I would advise you to consult your rules book. I believe that the bylaws of Killer Klein Croquet mandate that for the frog to be offered as compensation for victory, a representative from each Klein geographical location must be present.

Since Cheryl, hereafter referred to as "Yankee Traitor," moved from Missouri, hereafter referred to as "Dixieland," the Yankee Traitor surrendered her right to be a representative of Dixieland. Since no representatives of said region will be present the Killer Klein Croquet match, the frog, hereafter referred to as "Prize Melissa Will Win Back at Thanksgiving 2007," cannot be offered as compensation for victory. Instead, Thanksgiving, or whichever holiday we next have representatives from all geographical regions, including Dixieland, will be the next time the Prize Melissa Will Win Back at Thanksgiving 2007 shall be offered as compensation for victory.

I do hope that you heed this warning. The most recent steriods scandal that ripped through the croquet community tarnished your reputation enough.


The Killer Klein Croquet Bylaws Committee
Melissa L. Jackson, Chairwoman


Dear Commish and Committee Queen -- and all my other friends too --

Wow! It's flattering to hear that you're all so eager to have me come visit . . . but I have to tell you: I don't want to leave New York! I spend my days while Cheryl's at work studying the classic literature on her shelves -- Hop on Pop and The Mouse and His Child are my two favorites so far; then we use our evenings to partake of all the city has to offer. Cheryl and I went to a bhangra dance party last Thursday, a literary discussion on Friday, MoMA on Saturday (I LOVE Monet's "Waterlilies"), and had a nice restful Sunday with brunch and shopping. (Has Cheryl taken you to this great Chinese restaurant off the Bowery called Goody's? Their fresh Crickets in Garlic Sauce were the best I've ever had.)

And I really like that James, too -- he's a cutie. (Did Cheryl tell you I tagged along on their first date?)*

But I'm sorry to say we have to decline the invitation for next weekend. Cheryl says that if it were any normal Friday, she'd leave work early and take the bus to Ithaca that night; but J. K. Rowling is speaking that evening at Carnegie Hall, and I can't pass up my chance to see the world's greatest storyteller live and in person. It's looking like another busy weekend for us, too, with things Cheryl has to do for work, plus responsibilities at church. So I'm afraid I'll have to wait to see you all -- at Christmastime, perhaps, as I understand my hostess may miss the Midwest for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of which, I don't know what this "Prize Melissa Will Win at Thanksgiving" nonsense is anyway. Am I no more than an object to you? A mere THING? No! I am a Frog, and I demand all the respect due a Frog, especially one who can swing a croquet mallet as mightily as I. (I can certainly wield it better than Melissa, judging from her performance at that last competition. Stay home in Dixieland, you oppressive mallethead.)

With my love to you all, and best wishes from the Big Apple,


Breaking Through Bloggers' Block

I've been experiencing the blog equivalent of writer's block lately: I come to, look at this blank box, think "Has anything in my life been interesting enough to write about lately?", then answer myself "Nah," and drift away. This despite the fact that I have been seeing, reading, and doing interesting things: I went home last week to Missouri, for instance -- six good days with my family, not to mention barbecue, cable TV, and a lot of sleep. I saw, in the space of a week, "Across the Universe," "The Bourne Ultimatum," Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring," and most of the first season of "Arrested Development," all of which I loved.

("Across the Universe" especially is worth checking out -- though not for a complex plot or deep characterization, because it deals entirely in '60s archetypes. Rather you should see it for the visual richness of Julie Taymor's direction and the wonderful, wonderful Beatles music, including a gospel "Let It Be" and a slow, sweet "I Want to Hold Your Hand." This has been a great year for movie musicals, from the traditionalism of "Dreamgirls" and "High School Musical 2" to the realism of "Once" and now the magic realism of "Across the Universe" . . . Fingers crossed for an elegantly creepy "Sweeney Todd" in December.)

Oh, and also I read perhaps the best book on writing fiction I've ever read: Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card (lent to me by the excellent James). Card breaks down the different types of stories and their characterization needs; different degrees of characters and how to create them in balance with your plot; the strengths and weaknesses of first- and third-person voices; and gives lots of good advice on figuring out which kinds of characters and voices are most suited to your story. I was reading this in preparation for writing my character talk for next month's SCBWI-MO conference, and now the current plan for the talk is to open the book at random and read for half an hour, then take questions.* Highly, HIGHLY recommended.

And then -- I won back the Frog! Yes, the famous Killer Klein Croquet Frog has come home to my apartment in Brooklyn, just in time for the fall theatre season and the baseball playoffs. He is glad to be back, he says, and looking forward to "Cyrano de Bergerac" on Broadway and rooting for the Red Sox. Also, you can't get such good cockroaches in Missouri.**

So there are good things happening here, even if I'm not writing about them. Here's wishing amazing artistic experiences and small victories to all of you as well.

* Kidding. I think.
** Kidding. Thankfully.

Q. What do pirates need after a long sail? A. Arr and Arr!

The greatest blessings of this vacation can be summed up in two things: Minesweeper and the leg lamp. I played the first on my computer during my flight home last Saturday, and it felt like the first time I'd engaged in unscheduled, mindless, pointless fun in weeks -- fun which has continued with Sudoku and knitting and morning TV. And my father received the 20-inch version of the second as a present from my genius sister and brother-in-law, and it exactly captures the warmth and humor of my wonderful family ("It's a Major Award!"). It's marvelous just to be home and hanging out after a rather demented December.

Oh, and we played croquet with the Iowa Kleins yesterday, so for those of you following at home, possession of the Frog has passed from my sister Melissa to brother-in-law Joe. However, when Joe protested Lissa's attempt to hit him out of bounds, she won the award for Best Line of the Game, not to mention all-time greatest use of a Michael Bolton song lyric in the service of croquet: "I said I loved you, but I lied."

Also, a stupid joke that made me laugh today: Q. What do you call cheese that belongs to someone else? A. Nacho cheese!

This is likely my last post of the year, thanks to my friend Katy's wedding on Saturday, so here's wishing you all a brilliant New Year's, with an equally excellent 2007 to follow.

Notes from a Vacation

The Milwaukee airport has a marvelous used and rare bookstore, of all things, where I picked up Max Perkins, Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg. Perkins is the Ursula Nordstrom of grown-up books -- the editor of The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises, the architect of most of Thomas Wolfe's novels -- and thus far the biography is both entertaining and enlightening in showing how very little editing has changed in the eighty years since Perkins first labored. On the other hand, this is my favorite anecdote so far, about Perkins's boss in the Charles Scribner's Sons' office:
William Crary Brownell, the editor-in-chief, white-bearded and walrus-mustached, had a brass spittoon and a leather couch in his office. Every afternoon he would read a newly submitted manuscript and then "sleep on it" for an hour. Afterward he would take a walk around the block, puffing a cigar, and by the time he had returned to his desk and spat, he was ready to announce his opinion of the book.
Now that's the way to work out an editorial letter!


From my layover in Milwaukee I flew home here to Missouri, where I've had a lovely time with my family . . . just eating, talking, and watching football, but at Thanksgiving, who needs anything else? Yesterday we went up to Iowa to see my Klein cousins, and today we enjoyed a massive, hilarious, round-the-house, uphill and down-, backstabbing and trash-talking game of Killer Klein Croquet, capped off with the best final gate ever: over a ledge, up a ramp, down a deck, off a slide, into the gravel, nothing but wicket. My sister Melissa managed to accomplish this feat first, and hence she captured the Frog, who will now take up residence in North Kansas City. Congrats to the kid!


If you've ever seen a book cover and thought "Pshaw, I could do better than that," Penguin UK has a new line of classic novels with blank white covers just for you. The first six titles: Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, the Grimm Brothers' Magic Tales, The Waves by Virginia Woolf, The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, and Emma (whence I heard of this, through AustenBlog). You can e-mail your finished creation to the Penguin staff and they may use it in their online gallery. I think my cover for Emma would be modeled after the Hirschfeld drawing for the Original Broadway Cast Recording of My Fair Lady: Harriet Smith as a marionette with Emma pulling her strings . . . but Emma as a marionette as well, with her strings held by the ever-wise Jane Austen.


I know I've praised the LiveJournal of screenwriter Todd Alcott before, but I've been particularly impressed by the quality of the criticism and writing in his recent posts: meditations on dystopias, Brice Marden, and James Bond, reviews of classic films, and scenes from the Happy Ending Shakespeare Company, among others. He's especially worth reading if you like thinking about story structure and the great question used as his tagline: "What does the protagonist want?"


A book you should all go out and read immediately: Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt. I took this up knowing nothing about it, besides that it was a National Book Award nominee, and I came away amazed and moved by the beauty of Ms. Leavitt's story. As the Front Street Books site says, "Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and thereby gain a reprieve—but only for twenty-four hours. She must find her one true love within that time, or all is lost." It is a marvelous book, thoughtful, surprising, and romantic, but always with an awareness that there are larger and more important things than romance, which gives it a depth not often seen in the here-and-now of YA literature. And the writing is pure and fine. Don't miss it.


I am thankful for my life, and the people and books and things in it, every day. Thanks to all of you for being part of it.

Farewell, My Lovely

I regret to announce that yesterday afternoon, in the first game of Killer Klein Croquet ever played on the East Coast, I lost possession of the Frog to my father, Alan Klein, who becomes our new Interim Grand Champion.* Dad claimed an immediate lead and held it throughout the game, thanks to an easy course and several incredible wickets-in-one,** and even withstood a late attack from my Uncle John, who was trying to guard the final post for Aunt Carol. In the end, though, Dad took the Frog back to Missouri, where he will doubtless grow fat and happy rooting for the Chiefs and feasting on barbecued flies with Gates's sauce.***

Goodbye, my sweet Frog. Be safe and enjoy your Midwestern sojourn, and I'll bring you a slice and a hot dog the next time I come home. And Dad, remember: Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown . . .

* "Interim" because there will never be a permanent Grand Champion.
** The magic of my Harry Potter cap, no doubt.
** The Frog, not my dad.

The Family's Reply

(a message received via e-mail on behalf of my current houseguest)

Dearest Frog,

We have seen the blog photos of your high living and wild times in Gotham, and like the Amish, we understand that it is necessary for a young frog to experience a different swamp as part of the maturation process.

We understand that you have met excitement and interesting people. Some have tried to give you a foreign French name to alter your true identity. But you have to be true to yourself . . .

Now we hope you will reflect on your lifestyle the past few months and determine if this fast living and neon nightlife is what the Good Lord has truly intended for one of Her greenest creatures.

We will be in NYC very soon. We have made arrangements with the airline to bring you back home to Iowa, green grass, trees, and stars. We hope you will come home with us.



Uncle John

Frog's Day Out

Hey, guys! I'm having a great time here in New York. A couple weeks ago, Cheryl took me for a grand day out. First we rode the F train into Manhattan . . .

Then we stopped to see my friends Patience and Fortitude at the New York Public Library.

My favorite musical? "SpamAlot"! (The French get exactly what's coming to them.) Cheryl and I had cheesecake at Junior's after our matinee.

Then we strolled through Times Square . . .
and caught the R train down to the Brooklyn Bridge. It's a beaut!

We finished the day off with a Mets game at Shea Stadium. I really tried to grab this one fly ball (because boy, I love catching flies!) . . . but it turns out I couldn't let go of my mallet. Darn.I'm having so much fun, I think I could stay in New York forever! Wish you were here!


The Frog

Of Wizards, Weddings, and Wickets, in Words and Numbers

On Thursday we held the first of our "Let's Talk About Harry" events at Anderson's Bookstore in Naperville, Illinois, just outside Chicago. Melissa, Emerson, and I led a discussion with 250 avid Harry Potter fans -- a standing-room-only crowd -- ranging over Snape's villainy, Dumbledore's family, Harry's heroism, everyone's romances, the four remaining Horcruxes, the enormous list of things that have to be tied up in Book Seven, and the possible Meaning of It All. As a former English major, I loved the fact that We kept going back to the text, from Melissa and I reciting the first line of Sorcerer's Stone to a close reading of JKR's commentary on James's death in the interview to the multiple interpretations of "Neither can live while the other survives" (What does "live" mean there? "survives"?). . . . I said at one point that "J. K. Rowling has created a generation of lawyers" given how closely we were analyzing her words, but "Talmudic scholars" may be a better comparison, as we were talking not to advance specific agendas but for the sheer love of the books and words. You can see pictures from the event here and a Chicago Tribune article about it (where I'm quoted twice and it's called "The best book club discussion ever") here.

  • Time Melissa's and my flight to Chicago was supposed to leave Newark: 10:45 a.m.
  • Time we actually left the ground: 2:40 p.m.
  • Number of Continental Airlines employees who recognized Melissa: 1 (HP fan Tom McAfee of the Newark Airport Presidents' Club)
  • Books finished on airplane: 1 (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn)
  • Slices of Lou Malanti's (correct name?) Chicago-style pizza I had before the appearance: 2
  • Time discussion began: 7:05 p.m.
  • Time the lovely Jan from Anderson's slipped me a note asking me to wrap things up, which was also the first time I paid attention to the clock since we started talking: 8:30 p.m.
  • Time discussion actually ended: 8:45 p.m.
  • Number of autographs I signed: 30 (approximate)
  • Number signed as "Hottt Cheryl": 1
  • Time I collapsed in bed: 10:45 p.m.

Friday I flew from Chicago to Kansas City for a day of preparation and anticipation: picking up my sister's wedding dress, last-minute Walgreen's and Sam's Club and Hy-Vee runs, a manicure for Lis, a pedicure for me, the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, my final dress fitting. Lissa and I slept in the same bed one last time, and she said it felt like Christmas Eve; she wanted to go to sleep quickly so tomorrow would be here faster.

  • Time my alarm went off: 5:15 a.m.
  • Time my flight left for Kansas City: 7:45 a.m.
  • Page of the copyedited So Totally Emily Ebers manuscript I was on when arrived in Kansas City: 258 (of 293)
  • Toenails painted: 10
  • Cost of pedicure in Belton, Mo. (excluding tip): $18
  • Cost in Brooklyn, N.Y.: $15
  • Cost in Manhattan: $25
  • Pans of excellent brisket consumed by attendees of the rehearsal dinner: 3
  • Time I collapsed in bed: 11:10 p.m.

Saturday Melissa and I were both awake by 5:15 and out of bed by 6. My mother made her trademark fabulous waffles, and our Iowa cousins arrived a little after 7:30 for a superfast game of Killer Klein Croquet: off the post, through one wicket, across the yard to the other post, winner take all. Hans made it first, to Melissa's extreme disappointment; besides the fact that possession of the Klein traveling trophy (an extremely ugly statuette of a frog playing croquet) thus returned to the Iowa Klein family, she wanted to take the trophy with her on her honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta. But soon she and I were off to the beauty parlor for our updos with the other bridesmaids, then to church for make-up and dressing and pictures, and then . . .

The wedding. It began with a slideshow (prepared by Lissa) of she and Joe growing up, first separately and then, for the last five years, together; I heard later that the tears in the audience started with the first pictures of blond little Joe and curlicued little Lissa. The mothers lit the candles, then we four bridesmaids and the flower girl walked in to "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," and once we stood on stage, Melissa came in to Mendelssohn's Wedding March. She was gorgeous, not only because of her glorious princess-y wedding cake of a dress, her upswept hair, her perfect makeup and natural gorgeosity, but because she truly glowed with happiness and joy at marrying Joseph Jackson at last. My father put her hand in Joe's and our pastor spoke briefly about marriage. As Melissa recited her vows, her clear strong voice grew deeper and more breathless, as it always has whenever she talks about things she truly believes. And I found myself thinking again about the power of language, that as they said "With this ring, I thee wed" -- six simple, common words -- they transformed from two separate people with separate desires and needs to one couple committed foremost to each other, always, for as long as they both shall live. A friend of Joe's read Corinthians 13; a friend from church sang "How Beautiful"; they lit the unity candle, were pronounced man and wife, and kissed with a passion that probably would have been frowned upon by Baptists of generations past. The ceremony was traditional, easy, beautiful, and so happy, tears notwithstanding.

After the wedding, there was a cake-and-punch reception in the church basement for all the guests. Lis and Joe fed each other cake, the best man (Ryan) and I signed the marriage certificate, and after a cheerful hour and a half of socializing, Ryan, Melissa, Joe, and I crowded into Lissa's Mazda for the drive to the Lake Winnebago Yacht Club. (We stopped at a Casey's General Store on the way so Joe could get a Red Bull. Getting married drains the energy out of a man.) A friend of Mom's ferried the happy couple across the lake in her motorboat, so they arrived at the reception in the glitter of the magic-hour sun on the water. And then it was eating, and drinking, and dancing, and toasting, and old friends, and new family, all evening long. The musical highlight of the evening was the father-daughter dance, performed, for probably the first time in the history of father-daughter dances, to "Hey Ya" by OutKast -- a song my dearest dorky father loves, and he and Lissa indeed shook it like a Polaroid picture. The bride and groom departed for their honeymoon around 9 p.m., she in a little black strapless satin dress, he in khaki shorts, flip-flops, and a "Game Over" t-shirt; but still, absolutely, made for each other.

  • Number of bobby pins used in my updo: 38
  • Hours the updo lasted, through the wedding, energetic dancing, one night's sleep, a strenuous game of croquet, and a 3.6-mile run: 34
  • Number of bridesmaids (including me, the maid of honor): 4
  • Total number of years my 21-year-old sister has known her bridesmaids (excluding me): 48
  • Number of people who think "Maid of Honor" would be an awesome name for a superheroine: 1 (me)
  • Minutes the wedding lasted: 37
  • Attendees at the wedding: 275 (approximate)
  • Attendees at the dinner reception: 216
  • Total money made during the dollar dances: $96 (approximate)
  • Major League Baseball teams represented at the reception: 1 (the Kansas City Royals, whose logo appeared on the groom's cake)
  • Current American League ranking of the Kansas City Royals, out of 14 teams: 14
  • Number of people who believe this reflects badly on the couple's chances: 0

And Sunday? Sunday was indeed a day of rest, with the exception of one more epic game of Killer Klein Croquet -- a full game this time, circling all the way around our house, with Dad, Uncle John, Aunt Carol, Holly, Bob, Hans, Megan, and moi conquering some of the hardest wickets since our *last* game of Killer Klein Croquet. My two-and-a-half-year-old cousin Preston was occasionally directed, manipulated, or outright bribed to reposition balls or even push them through wickets, and every one of us ran afoul of at least one especially difficult gate. In the end, though, the trophy returned to the Missouri Klein family, though it will travel rather farther afield . . .

  • Number of participants: 7
  • My rank after three wickets: 7
  • My rank at the end of the game: 1
  • Miles the Klein Traveling Trophy will traverse from its current home in Missouri to my apartment in Brooklyn: 1,216
  • Next scheduled Killer Klein Croquet match: October 14, 2006, in Prospect Park.