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! 

A Revised Plot Checklist

Recently I sat down to analyze a couple of the novel manuscripts I'm working on, and as is my wont, I ran them through my Plot Checklist, which helps me ensure that I know (and more importantly, the reader knows) what the story is, what is at stake, what emotional ends we're working toward, that things actually happen, and all those other good things. However, the version of the Checklist I featured on my website (which is also the version included in Second Sight) hadn't kept pace with some of my thinking about plot -- particularly what I'm currently teaching in my Plot Master Class,

So I revised the Checklist for my own use, and put the revised version up on my website here, again with a Word template for downloading. (The old checklist is still up here, at the address given in the book.) If you've read Second Sight, the four biggest changes you'll notice are:
  1. The addition of "Desire" to this page. I discuss it in the character talk, but a Desire is such a useful structuring element for a plot -- giving your protagonist a defined goal -- that I wanted to include it here too.
  2. The addition of "Obstacles" -- the things that get in the way of the Desire or of the task your character must accomplish in the novel. Generally there are both Overarching Obstacles -- the major things your protagonist must overcome, like the distance to Mount Doom -- and Periodic Obstacles -- problems in each individual period of the journey. They can be both internal and external (and there probably should be both internal and external obstacles).
  3. "Periods": Rather than thinking about individual Escalating & Complicating Events, I now try dividing a manuscript into periods. A period is a set of Escalating & Complicating Events that occur within a limited period of time, often with one other particular person or in one particular place, during which time your protagonist changes in one particular way. They are often joined by Turning Points (but there are usually more of them than just three or four, so they aren't quite Acts, in the screenplay-structure sense).
  4. "The Experiential Point" -- I wrote about this here.
If you use the checklist, I hope you find it useful! I'll next be teaching my Plot Master Class in Utah on November 17 -- registration here -- and I believe spaces are still open in Hawaii in February as well. The online version will start up in December, and if it goes well, we may run it again next spring. This blog will have details. 

The Editorial Process, Step by Step

(Not the large-scale process, from editorial letter to line-edit to copyedit; but what happens in your brain, letter by letter, word by word, if you too have the editorial bug.)

1. Notice that something feels off to you. It may be a dangling modifier; it may be a mistake in the chronology; it may be as big as the fact that the main character is turning out to be a smarmy jerk or you're bored at a point where the action ought to make you excited; it may be as tiny as an "an" where the author should really have a "the." In any case, like Miss Clavel, you sense that SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT.
Portrait of the Editor as a Young Nun
2. Reread the passage and confirm the presence of wrongness. Look at it again. Is the feeling still there? Or did you just misread the sentence? Oh yeah, it's still there.

3. Identify the problem and the principle it's violating. "A problem well stated is a problem half solved," said Charles Kettering, and indeed zooming in on the problem is half the battle. If it's a spelling, grammatical, punctuation, or style error, the answer is often pretty obvious; you've known those rules for years and you have Merriam-Webster's 14th New Collegiate Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of AWESOME* to back you up. If it's a plot or character problem, you can measure it against Freytag's triangle and other editorial principles inculcated in us over decades, often even without our knowing it:  Protagonists should be interesting people, generate energy, and take action; we should see a change in both the character and his or her circumstances from beginning to end; the child character must solve the problem; the climax needs to be the culmination of all that came before it, and so on and so forth.

But sometimes a sentence just sounds wrong. Why? Uh . . . Hrmm. Is the thought coming out of nowhere? Coming in at the wrong time in a paragraph? Are all the words used correctly? Would it be better in active as opposed to passive voice? Is it repeating a word or thought or phrase or sentence rhythm you read (heard, really) in the last two pages or so? Is it just your taste vs. the author's style? Is the sentence actually a violation of the author's style in some way and so you should push him on it? Sometimes it's not until I change the sentence or paragraph to what sounds right to me that I can figure out why something sounds wrong. Until that point, I just stare at it, which is one of the reasons my personal editorial process is extremely slow.

(You can run this whole process on illustrations too, by the way; you just then have to know your visual principles as well as your verbal and narrative ones.)

* This is an in-joke with one of my authors, who prefers to call it the Chicago Manual of Boring.

4. Weigh the problem. Is this worth bringing up with the author? Well, that depends on the nature and severity of the problem, the importance of the principle it's violating, the work that would be required to fix it, where you all are in the editorial process, how much the reader would be likely to notice the problem and care, the other things you're already asking the author to do in this round (and those things might be a higher priority for now, so you could pick this one up in a later draft if it's still an issue then), your understanding of the author's revision capabilities (can she do both small revisions and large-scale ones at the same time, or is it better to save the small ones for later with her? Can he fix plot problems but is utterly hopeless at deepening his characters?), the strength of your authority here (Does the author appreciate your comments or resent them? What if Chicago and Words into Type conflict?), what the author's vision of this book is and whether correcting this would serve that, your knowledge of your personal editorial irritants (because every editor has that one thing that drives them crazy and nobody else, which is then often not worth asking about). . . . Editors truly consider all of these things -- many of them subconsciously in about 2.5 seconds -- in choosing what to query with an author.

5. If it is of sufficient weight:  Articulate the problem in a manner tailored to the author and manuscript. Having half solved the problem by stating it clearly for yourself, you now have to state it for the author in a manner that he can appreciate and which will inspire him to take action. Name the problem and the principle it's violating clearly and nonjudgmentally; it's not a personal failure of the author, it's a simple mistake in the manuscript, and mistakes can be corrected. Just as in disagreements in relationships, it's often useful to put things in terms of your own emotional reaction ("Because of [X factor in the manuscript], I felt [Y negative feeling]"), which can again be changed if X factor in the manuscript is changed. Remember that just as the author needs to show-not-tell the story to you, you have to show-not-tell the problems to her, and thus it's useful to back up your assertions with solid examples from the manuscript. Sometimes a series of questions is the best way to show that there's a problem, even if you fear you'll sound stupid; I sometimes call myself the Designated Dumb Lady within a ms. if I'm not getting what's going on, and that frees me up to ask the dumb but necessary questions. Suggest a strategy for a fix (or multiple options for a fix) if you think the author will be open to it and find it useful, but remember it's always the author's choice whether and how to fix it, not yours. (If the author is repeatedly making bad fix choices, from your point of view, then you may not be a good editorial match. Or you may just be too persnickety or egotistical; that's always a possibility worth staying aware of.)

Plot and character stuff usually belongs in an editorial letter; it's extremely useful to know which one is the author's greatest strength or primary interest, if one or the other, so you can couch your argument for making the change in terms of that strength, which might make her feel more excited and capable of doing it. Ditto for the usefulness of knowing what the author's goal for and/or vision of this manuscript is, whether to explore the idea of death or make a reader fall in love with the character or write a really breakneck adventure; you can then phrase your argument for this particular change in service of that (if it truly is; authors are smart and can see when you're going back to the same well too often, so you shouldn't overuse any of these strategies). With mechanical stuff, which you should be saving for the copyediting and proofreading stages anyway, you can usually just say something like, "Hey, Chicago says we should capitalize 'Princess' here--OK?", or the even briefer "Cap as per CMOS 6.24."** Paragraph- and sentence-level stuff is always basically the effort to explain why "an" vs. "the" is so very important (one is a new or random reference; the other refers to something we've already seen in the text) or the equivalent, or what you as a reader WANT to be feeling at this point in the text and why you aren't and how if we can just cut this sentence, please oh please, you will be.

If you are an editor who does multiple passes through a line-edit, like I do, then it's often wise to save your argument for a change for the second or third pass through, so you can reread your suggested change outside the heat of the moment and see whether it's really a problem or if you were just in a weird editorial mood. That happens.  

** This reference number not verified in the Chicago Manual.

6.  Make sure the author knows you're open to conversation to help them better understand the problem or brainstorm solutions.

7. Hope for a response that fixes or removes the problem in the next draft. If that doesn't happen, then repeat steps #1-6, perhaps making your argument in #5 from a different angle. If it's a small thing, or a thing that is mostly a matter of your taste vs. the author's taste, then consider just letting the issue go. But that depends on what you weighed in #3 (and also how careful you know the author is; some authors get distracted easily and might just have missed a query they'll gratefully address later).

8. Read the next line. If necessary: Repeat. 

The Genius of Taylor Swift, and a Ramble about Romance

I've mentioned my fascination with Taylor Swift's songs before on this blog, and I'm going to ramble about her a little more tonight, because I think she's the greatest YA poet in pop culture these days: a lyrical writer who is able to go straight to some key teen-girl conflict or emotion and render it into evocative narrative form. (The "You Belong to Me" video is a practically perfect YA novel in three minutes and forty-eight seconds.) She also tends to affirm extremely traditional gender roles and standards of beauty -- cf. the focus on Daddy's approval in "Love Story," her losing the glasses in the last scene of the aforementioned video, and the general passivity of her protagonists/narrators -- but the pleasure of her storytelling makes up for the failure of her feminist politics for me at present. . . . Not all blonde female country stars can be the Dixie Chicks.

Anyway, the song of hers that's been rolling around my head lately is "Mine," as it's the one getting the most airplay these days on my Top 40 station (video linked there, full lyrics here). It has the typical Taylor Swift virtue of telling a complete three-act story in three verses and a bridge, including a big reversal in the final chorus, but there's more depth of characterization to it than in her previous songs; instead of being the perfect china doll waiting for the boy to claim her, the narrator's a "flight risk" whose family history makes her fight falling in love. Indeed, the line that keeps blowing me away in the song is this in the chorus, addressed to the man who changed her mind:

You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter

The thing that so impresses me about this line is that it implies four layers of relationship in those ten words:
  1. The daughter/narrator's relationship with her father -- her distrust of him because of the hurt he presumably caused her with his carelessness
  2. The daughter/narrator with her self -- her distrust of her father led her to become careful in reaction to his carelessness
  3. The daughter/narrator with the lover being addressed -- this guy loved her so much, and vice versa, that she changed her meticulous nature for him and became a rebel
  4. The daughter/narrator with the world -- and then she was better able to face the difficulties of the world because she had his love and that new rebellious spirit
As someone who loves relationship stories and admires efficient storytelling and characterization, I just have to say: "Damn. That is excellent writing."

This also made me think about elements of great fictional romances. This is something I've thought about a LOT, actually, going back to my passion for Jane Austen and Dorothy Sayers and Shakespeare's romantic comedies in high school and college, and my love for Jennifer Crusie and Georgette Heyer today. . . . One of the parts of the editorial job I like the best is that it lets me be a machinist for stories: I get to take them apart and see how they work. And when I do that with romances, I come up with this list of common elements.

(I also acknowledge the highly general, even stereotypical, gender roles discussed below; and I'll add that I think the most satisfying romances are those where these elements are used in the story of two highly distinct individuals who are on an equal footing in their relationship. Serious power imbalances in romances always make me really uneasy.)
  1. Moral education -- the other person makes you a better person . . . "completes you," to use the Jerry Maguire phrase (though I always preferred the thought that "Your true love isn't the person who completes you; it's the person who helps you complete yourself"). This is Emma, Pride & Prejudice, "As You Like It," Gaudy Night . . . all of the Rationalist romances I discuss at this link usually focus on moral education in some way.
  2. A change in someone's essential nature -- this is not only #3 in "Mine" above, it's what makes the Pemberley twist in P&P so great, when Elizabeth shows up at his house and Darcy seems like a completely different person: He loved her enough to reform his behavior and become a better man for her. I don't know if there IS a bigger female fantasy.
  3. Being wanted -- except, of course, just plain being desired. This is what happens at the climax of "Mine," where it turns out he's been thinking the exact same things she's been thinking about him all this time, and "You are the best thing that's ever been mine."
  4. Being the only one -- and the amplification of #3, being not just the wanted one, but the ONLY one EVER in the HISTORY of TIME who could inspire this love in the lover. This is one reason Twilight works, I think, because Bella is SO special to Edward and then Jacob in a way many people long for. . . . All the "soulmates" stuff plays on this too. It's interesting that many fantasies with male protagonists also feature this "only one" trope, but there it is foretold in a prophecy that the protagonist must save the world entire in some way. In other words, in female fantasies, women get to be special to one person; in male fantasies, the hero gets the adulation of the world.
  5. Being seen -- what "being wanted" often starts with: the look that recognizes you and your essential, deep-down worth, no matter how hidden. Cinderella stories are all based upon the premise of being seen; "You Belong with Me" is all about not being seen and then suddenly being revealed.
  6. Being in control -- For teenage girls especially, it's hugely empowering to be the one in control, the one saying "Yes" or "No" to the young man who's at your feet -- and he has to obey you. Especially potent in combination with sexuality, putting that decision-making power in a girl's hands.
  7. Breaking free -- On the other hand, if you've been controlled all your life, maybe being in love sets you free to be uncontrolled, as in "Mine" above. And rebellion is always sexy, at least in theory. (I think this is the way Wuthering Heights is supposed to work -- Heathcliff and Cathy breaking through the bonds of society and possibly sanity and death to be together -- but I respect that book more than I find it romantic.)
  8. Forbiddenness -- obviously. "Love Story" and also Twilight play off this.
  9. Separation -- I'm thinking of the delicious ache at the end of The Amber Spyglass and "Before Sunrise" here, how romantic it is that they can't be together.
  10. Death -- the ultimate separation. The 1970s Love Story book and film and Romeo and Juliet are both good examples.
  11. Being known -- Having someone who sees all of you, knows your history, and loves you anyway. (Or to quote "Mine": "You know my secrets and you figure out why I'm guarded / You say we'll never make my parents' mistakes.")
  12. Being thought about -- Having someone who loves you enough to think through why you act the way you do, as in the lyrics quoted above, or who figures out something that will make you happy without being told what it is. Gifts that demonstrate knowledge/thought of the other person are always incredibly romantic.
  13. Sacrifice -- This goes back to #2, where Darcy changes his nature for Elizabeth, though it's perhaps better exemplified by the end of "Titanic," where Jack dies so Rose can live (again invoking #9): He loves her enough to give up _________ for her, whether his snobbery or his life. The O. Henry story "The Gift of the Magi" is a story where #11 makes it romantic, and #12 bittersweet.
Your thoughts? What else would you add to the list as an element of a great romance? And can you think of any romances where the woman performs the sacrifice, change in nature, etc. for the man, and it ends happily for the both of them?

(Actually, I can: The Queen of Attolia. But he still loves her first.)

Ten Things I've Learned in Ten Years in New York

Yesterday, August 28, was my ten-year anniversary of living in New York City. I spent the day hiking in New Jersey, but I also spent some time reflecting on what I've learned:
  1. Getting rid of my puffy 1990s bangs = Idea of the Decade.
  2. New Yorkers are people like people anywhere else -- often in more of a hurry and in closer quarters, and consequently sometimes ruder; but also capable of great kindness, especially in times of great need.
  3. A lesson of 9/11: I will never, ever claim that my religion is the only right religion, or my God the only and only right God.
  4. Another lesson of 9/11: Any non-New Yorker, who wasn't here that day, who invokes 9/11 for their own political or religious ends: should be punched in the face. (I do not follow through on this -- I walk away. But they deserve it.)
  5. Heaven is going to look like Prospect Park in Brooklyn on a summer Sunday: people of all ages and races chatting, eating, snuggling, listening to or making music, throwing Frisbees for dogs, running, reading, dancing, with a library nearby to answer all our questions.
  6. The goal of a work of art, literary or otherwise, is to create emotion. The book editor's job is to assist the author in identifying and achieving that intended emotion.
  7. One of the easiest and frequently best ways to make conversation, get to know someone, and/or get them to like you is to ask questions. Fifty percent of men in the dating pool do not know this. (I've tried to stick with the other fifty percent.)
  8. Humility and self-confidence, or good manners and self-assertion, do not have to be (and indeed should not be) mutually exclusive.
  9. In my real life (not my reading life), I tend to like the opposite of drama, and as interesting as dramatic people's lives are, and as boring as mine looks in comparison, this is okay. (A corollary to that: If a situation or person is making me crazy with the drama, I should deal with it and be done with it.)
  10. I'm very lucky to have had such a good ten years in the city, and I'm looking forward to a good and unpredictable ten more.

Video Sunday: Great Literary Love Songs

I love books, music, and romance, so here's a fun little video playlist of songs that celebrate all three things. And I'm always looking for more (or any song with "Book" in the title, really), so if you have one to suggest, please leave it in the comments.

Great doo-wop fun: "Who Wrote the Book of Love?" by the Monotones, performed here by Sha Na Na.

The first literary love song I ever knew, thanks to the "When Harry Met Sally . . ." soundtrack: "I Could Write a Book," music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, performed here by Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in the film of the musical in which it first appeared, "Pal Joey":

"Everyday I Write the Book," by Elvis Costello (thanks to my friend Ben for introducing me to this one):

I'm including this video because it seems like the result of a lot of teenage daydreaming about love as it's presented in books. . . . It's exactly the fantasy I would have had at age 15, after swooning over "Romeo and Juliet" in Honors English I and watching the Keira Knightley "Pride and Prejudice" two hundred times. And I'm also including it because, ah hell, I love this video now: "Love Story" by Taylor Swift:

But a much better and more honest song about love, and one of my all-time favorite songs, period, is "The Book of Love" by the Magnetic Fields, performed gorgeously here by Nataly Dawn:

And finally, to finish on a fun note, "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors," by Moxy Fruvous:

The Brooklyn Arden 2009 Holiday Gift Guide

AKA, all my 2009 books and a few other favorite things. To wit:

Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee. Coedited by Arthur and me. CYBIL nominee.

Perfect for: YA readers; fans of hair dye or tacos; anyone who has ever worked a fast-food job; anyone with a crazy mother or charming best friend; people who like a mix of the funny and the bittersweet (that is, if you like laughing or crying); residents of Los Angeles, California.

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat. Coedited by Arthur and me. Starred review in The Horn Book. New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.

Perfect for: Boys; girls; particularly the seven- to nine-year-old members of both genders; anyone who has ever felt puzzled by the behavior of a person of the other gender; people who like donuts.

The Circle of Gold (The Book of Time III), by Guillaume Prevost, translated by William Rodarmor.

Perfect for: Fans of time travel novels, literature in translation, or the first two books in the series.

Heartsinger by Karlijn Stoffels, translated by Laura Watkinson. Two starred reviews.

Perfect for: People who like fairy-tale flavoring in their stories; people who are thoughtful about love; people interested in unconventional novel structures; fans of translated literature, character profiles, magic realism, and the Dutch.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. Five starred reviews; Booklist Editors' Choice; Kirkus Best Book for YA; Horn Book Fanfare List; School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; New York Times Notable Book for Children; Washington Post Notable Book.

Perfect for: People interested in Asperger's syndrome, lawyers, how religion can affect everyday life, moral dilemmas, wonderful characters.

Moribito II; Guardian of the Darkness, by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano. Starred review in Publishers Weekly; USBBY Outstanding International Book.

Perfect for: Fans of fantasy, awesome female characters, martial arts movies, Japan, fascinating settings, literature in translation, or the first book, which was equally terrific and won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for Translation.

Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes. Starred review in Booklist.

Perfect for: military families; rambunctious kids who get in trouble; kids interested in art or theater; precise kids who like to plan; teachers; people who take improv; people who love innovative, risk-taking children's literature,

The Snow Day by Komako Sakai. Four starred reviews; New York Times Best Illustrated Book; USBBY Outstanding International Book.

Perfect for: Fans of literature in translation; children with parents who travel a lot; anyone who longs for the peace and joy of a snowy day.

Wishworks, Inc. by Stephanie S. Tolan, illustrated by Amy June Bates. New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.

Perfect for: People who like dogs; people who want a dog; fans of quality and charming chapter books.


And things I had nothing to do with creating but I loved in 2009 and recommend highly:

Adult books: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers; The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer; The Learners by Chip Kidd; The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Get Pregnant by Dan Savage.

YA novels: How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, an underappreciated gem about a girl and a boy who don't fall in love; Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson, an even less appreciated gem about a girl and a boy who were once in love, with each other and with the environment, and have to figure out the complications of each fading away; The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, the most spectacular feat of voice I read this year.

Middle-grade novels: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis; Alec Flint: The Ransom Note Blues by Jill Santopolo; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

Movies: Up in the Air; District 9; Star Trek; Bright Star; (500) Days of Summer

Things: A DVR; a wireless mouse; and my Good Grips vegetable peeler, the single best household investment I have made in many a moon.


Happy holidays!

Three Excellent Things

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

2. David Foster Wallace's Kenyon College commencement speech (via). This apparently has been on the Net since he delivered it back in 2005, but I only read it today, and was much impressed by its honesty and thoughtfulness about real adult life:
As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.
3. Your choice of goofy video: Stephen Colbert protests his lack of a Newbery, or, in related news, the Swedish Chef makes a banana split. Bork bork bork.

All Good Things

  • Jott, a phone/e-mail service that allows you to call a number, name a recipient, record a voice message, and then have that voice message delivered to the recipient as both a text message and e-mail, FREE. It's pretty amazing.
  • Wall-E: What everyone else in the world has said.
  • Hancock: Not a perfect movie by any means, but an altogether original take on the superhero mythos, with some laugh-out-loud funny moments and excellent performances. Worth seeing.
  • Reprise: Or if you'd rather take in foreign-language cinema, which definitely needs your support more than those Hollywood blockbusters do, check out this rambunctious Norwegian film following two young men submitting their first novels for publication. One gets published instantly; one doesn't; and its vision of friendship, love, the literary life, and being artistic and serious in your twenties unfolds with wonderful truth and verve.
  • Lyle Lovett live: He is touring, with his Large Band and a full gospel choir, and he is genius.
  • Harry and the Potters: They are also touring, with the Unlimited Enthusiasm Expo, and they are also genius -- where else will you see Albus Dumbledore rapping about his love for tenpin bowling? The only sad moment of this concert for me was when tour partner band Uncle Monsterface launched into an unorthodox cover of "Like a Prayer," and I realized none of my fellow concertgoers were singing along to the lyrics because they were too young to know them. Kids today just don't appreciate the classics. (Though glory, that video has not aged well.)
  • Sagamore Hill: Being history dorks, this weekend James and I took the Long Island Railroad out to Oyster Bay to visit Theodore Roosevelt's family home, which has been almost perfectly preserved as it was when he lived there. Every room was filled with interesting memorabilia (especially animal heads or skins), decorations, and especially books: Apparently at one point TR read three books a day! I came away with even more respect for his energy and courage, and I recommend his house to New Yorkers for a grand day out.
  • Word Challenge on Facebook.
  • Ice cream.

Plaices & Names

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the American Museum of Natural History in hopes of seeing their "Mythical Creatures" exhibit. It was sold out, alas, but I then wandered the halls enjoying the many animal exhibits, including the wonderful names and physiognomies of some of the creatures. I offer these now in hopes they will bring a little natural, nomenclatural, polysyllabic delight to your day:
  • Bloodbelly Comb Jelly
  • Cookie-Cutter Shark (a truly creepy but cool fish -- read the link to find out why)
  • Stoplight Loosejaw (also awesome)
  • Black-Blotched Porcupinefish
  • False Cleanerfish
  • Juvenile Snook
  • Sheepshead Seabream
  • Tripodfish (check out the picture -- it's one of those creatures that proves that if God is the Creator, he has a sense of humor)
  • Powderblue Surgeonfish
  • Jericho Worms (fascinating and weird)
  • Stonechat
  • Eurasian Wryneck
  • Alpine Accentor
  • Common Siskin
  • Yellow-Hooded Wagtail
  • Ruddy Shelduck
  • Whooper Swan
  • Great Bustard
  • Black-Faced Cuckoo Shrike
  • Superb Lyrebird
  • Crimson Rosella
  • Glossy Drongo
  • Nkulenga Wood Rail
  • White-Bearded Bulbul
  • Lemon-Rumped Tinkerbird
  • Cameroon Sombre Greenbul
  • Variable Sunbird
  • Fiscal Shrike (always appears at tax season)
  • Rattling Cisticola
  • Spectacled Antipitta
  • Broad-Billed Motmot
  • Cinnamon-Bellied Ground Tyrant
  • Scale-Throated Earthcreeper
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Pomarine Jaeger
  • Common Stilt
  • Bufflehead

Ten Miracles I Usually Take for Granted

  1. My heartbeat. The sound of blood pumping through my veins, letting me breathe, move, think, type, run, read, dance, live. This could also be "my brain," or "my stomach," or "my eyes," or "my little toe" -- the human body in general.
  2. Photosynthesis.
  3. Bread, cheese, and beer/wine. All of which required some primitive man or woman saying "Hey! Let's take this stuff, let it ferment for a while, and then consume it!" Bread especially amazes me, as it involves first grinding up the seeds of a random plant, then adding the fermented stuff and other ingredients, then figuring out how to bake it . . . So many little steps in each piece of sourdough.
  4. Electricity.
  5. The telephone. I just finished Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik, the second book in the Temeraire series, where Will Laurence and the dragon Temeraire go to China in 1806 and do not receive any mail from England for three months because everything has to be carried over land and sea. Also today I spoke to people in the U.K., Minnesota, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Brooklyn, in real time, exchanging up-to-date news -- some of it over cell phones, which meant the calls went through space!
  6. Flight. Also in Throne of Jade, it takes them five months to travel by boat around Cape Horn and across the Indian Ocean. On Wednesday I'll get on a plane in New York; six hours and three thousand miles later, I'll be in California. Deeply weird and cool.
  7. The Internet. Fifteen years ago, virtually none of this existed, and now there are communities for every conceivable topic, some of them connecting millions of people.
  8. People playing guitar. And other instruments too, but ever since I tried "Guitar Hero" a few weeks ago and took three tries to get through one Beginner-level song, I've been obsessed/impressed by people who play guitar: They can move their fingers into all those different patterns for different sounds! And strum at the same time! And some of them sing as well! Incredible.
  9. Language. You can read this and understand what I'm thinking. Enough said.
  10. Love and friendship. These people were at this place at the exact right time to meet me, and we said and did the just-right things to connect, and now I'd do anything for them. It's wonderful.

Choose Your Own Cheryl's Las Vegas Adventure

While the Sacred Code of Sin City does indeed prevent me from describing my exploits there in any great detail, I understand that I am allowed to list the elements of my five days there for all of you to piece together as you choose. Therefore:

  • Bubble bath
  • Melissa, John, and Sue, aka the three lovely people who comprise the senior staff of PotterCast
  • Emerson, Kevin, Ben, Andrew, and Jamie -- a smartass but charming group of young men who comprise the senior staff of MuggleCast
  • Lots of neon
  • Paul and Joe DeGeorge, aka Harry and the Potters
  • Brian and Brad, aka Draco and the Malfoys
  • Alex Carpenter, aka the Remus Lupins
  • A swanky suite at the J. W. Marriott Resort Hotel and Spa
  • Terrible vodka
  • "O" by Cirque du Soleil
  • A large outdoor hot tub
  • Slot machines
  • Hot pizza
  • Cold pizza
  • Conversations with drunk people
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • Seeing 4 a.m. every morning of the week
  • An insightful presentation from Steve Vander Ark of the Harry Potter Lexicon
  • The desert wind
  • A Rum Jungle cocktail at 11 in the morning
  • People dressed as Draco and Lucius Malfoy, Luna Lovegood, Hermione, Ginny, and Harry
  • A rockin' Harry and the Potters/Draco and the Malfoys concert
  • Sudoku
  • Harry Potter trivia
  • The question "Any news on Book 7?", followed by me shaking my head, followed by the statement, "You know something, don't you?", followed by me shaking my head, nine million times
  • An approximately equal number of Harry Potter Book 7 theories
  • An excellent LeakyMug
  • A crowd of 400 singing my adaptation of "Baby It's Cold Outside" ("It's Voldemort Outside"), and John singing my filk of "New York, New York" to welcome J. K. Rowling to NYC this week
  • Some mild MuggleBoy debauchery (not involving me, thank you)
  • The "Wee Kirk o' the Heather" wedding chapel, which was neither a church nor anywhere remotely close to heather
  • The song "I'm Proud to Be An American" by Lee Greenwood
  • The Fremont Street Experience
  • Many cool Harry Potter fans
  • Palm trees

I can also report that I earned two more T's in the course of the week, thus becoming "Hottttt Cheryl"; and other than some unfortunate aftereffects of the terrible vodka, it was a wonderful vacation. Pictures to come.


Melissa, Emerson, and I flew into Los Angeles this morning and came straight to the Grove for our last Scholastic tour podcast -- and it may have just been the best of the bunch, with 350 to 400 people tossing out questions and theories, and our responses enriched by everything we learned or talked about at Lumos. Thanks to Lisa, Greg, Marilyn, and Eve for coming out to see it, and to the former three for the lovely late lunch in the Farmer's Market afterward.

The podcasts of our July 20 discussion at Anderson's and July 25 discussion in Las Vegas are now online here, and the recording of the L.A. event will be available there Tuesday. Happy listening!

The Happy List, Part VII: Seventh Heaven

Those of you who just started reading my blog this spring may not be familiar with my "Happy Lists"--occasional lists of things that make me happy or that I'm grateful to have in my life. I usually try to compile one at least once every three months; by accident much more than design, I haven't done one since last November. As a result, this list will be far from exhaustive, but here goes:

  • Clicking down New York City streets in heels
  • Torchlight processions
  • English country dancing
  • The shape of the whiskey glass I received at the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Centre in Edinburgh (where we rode in reproduction whiskey barrels through a diorama tour of whiskey-making history)
  • Guinness and the Guinness Storehouse
  • Literary pub crawls
  • Cobbled streets
  • The music of Lyle Lovett
  • Brad Pitt and Eric Bana in "Troy"
  • Midwest Airlines, especially their wide leather seats and hot chocolate-chip cookies
  • My new black Bandolino heels
  • And my little black J. Crew dress
  • Hotel beds with down pillows and comforters
  • Having my hair washed by someone else
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Jacques Torres chocolate
  • John's Pizza in the West Village, which is possibly better than Lombardi's, though I believe I need to do more exhaustive testing before I can come to an official conclusion
  • Letting a laundry basket slide down stairs, and the satisfying crash it makes at the end
  • Also pushing a shopping cart into a cart corral in a parking lot, and the even more satisfying crash there
  • Dance numbers in movie musicals, including "Dirty Dancing" (sigh), "High School Musical," and "Singin' in the Rain"
  • Croquet, particularly as played by my ruthless, cutthroat, utterly hilarious family (a version known as "Killer Klein Croquet")
  • My sister's dead-on (and also hilarious) imitations of our dad
  • Playing pool
  • Jacuzzis
  • "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and "House"
  • My little Palm Zire
  • Fresh bedsheets
  • Eating an entire saucepan of macaroni and cheese from a box all by myself
  • "A Little Night Music" and the current Broadway production of "Sweeney Todd"
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Mini Coopers
  • Long drives listening to good music
  • Making flower chains
  • The blessed Automated Postal Center at the Soho Post Office
  • The beautiful terraced loess hills of western Iowa
  • The satisfaction of discovering something true as I'm writing
  • The fact that when you delete spam from gmail, it says "Hooray! No spam here!"

The Books on My Night Table, How I Acquired Them, and Why I Am/Was Reading Them, in Descending Order

  1. Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins, given to me by my friend Jill on Tuesday night in preparation for our book group meeting next month. I lay down to read it thirty-one minutes ago and I'm on page 104. It goes fast.
  2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, in the Reader's Digest collectible edition I wheedled out of my great-aunt Dessie when I was thirteen years old, now sporting a worn and stained cover, scuffed edges, and bent cardboard poking through the cloth at the corners. Pulled out again last night after I went to the "Celebration of Jane Austen" at Symphony Space with Jennifer Egan, Siri Hustvedt, and Karen Joy Fowler. The conversation among the three was good; the book is better.
  3. Prince Caspian, by C. S. Lewis, a Scholastic paperback edition from a "Chronicles of Narnia" boxed set that was in one of the giveaway boxes at work, with the Chris Van Allsburg covers. My current regular bedtime reading, for the restfulness of the prose and the interest -- both literary-critical and pleasurable -- of the stories.
  4. On Beauty, by Zadie Smith, purchased at the Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway near NYU last Saturday, when I was also buying my father's birthday present (Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four, by John Feinstein). A Resolution book. I've lusted after it for months because the jacket is so gorgeous: red foil inside debossed type on heavy cream paper with a red case cover. . . . I just love running my fingertips over it, though I am not thus far in love with the text it contains.
  5. Buffalo Brenda, by Jill Pinkwater. One of the review copies my grandfather used to receive and pass on by the boxful when he was teaching children's literature, and one of the most influential books in my life ever as it encouraged the twelve-year-old me to be independent-minded and distrustful of brand names in fashion. (I still don't wear anything that has a store or designer name on the outside, as I always hear Brenda lecturing on "the Great Conspiracy of Manufacturers [that forced] people to overpay for what amounted to the privilege of advertising the very products they bought.") Retrieved and reskimmed a few weeks ago when I was working on Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through.
  6. The Wonderful O, by James Thurber, with illustrations by Marc Simont, bought through Alibris. I love Thurber as a writer and Simont as an illustrator and got this to enjoy their collaboration.
  7. The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber. I sent a friend at Pantheon the first three Harry Potters in exchange for this luscious culinary memoir by the author of Crescent, which was one of my favorite books from last year. Lovely, lovely, mouthwatering prose, and someday I'll make the recipes too.

Goin' to the Chapel: Three Connubial Conundrums

As recent readers of this blog will know, I am going to be officiating my cousin Hans's wedding next month. I am not a real minister, obviously, and I have no responsibilities for this wedding beyond showing up and saying a few happy words, but I have been thinking (just for fun) about what I would say to the young people (ha) if I were a real minister and they actually did come to me for premarital counseling. And because I have no personal experience of marriage to draw upon, I have basically been thinking about what I would give them to read.

The list includes novels like Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Middlemarch by George Eliot, and Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers; short stories like "Tell Me a Riddle" by Tillie Olsen and "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro; poetry: "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" and "The Good Morrow" by John Donne, or "Ordinary Life" by Barbara Crooker; plays: "The Lady's Not for Burning" by Christopher Fry (or maybe "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" if I'm feeling mischievous and/or cruel); and nonfiction, most especially the excellent Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose, or any of those "getting to know you" books so they can ask lots of questions of each other and make sure there aren't any last-minute dealbreakers. ("What do you mean, you want our first child to be named 'Cherry Garcia'?")

Then once the book or play or whatever is read, I would ask questions: "How would you define the marriage(s) in this book? Are they 'good marriage(s)' or 'bad marriage(s),' and what makes them so? How would you two react if you were faced with the situation this married couple faces? Let's talk that through." I am not sure how useful this would be for Hans's and Megan's long-term relationship, honestly, but at the very least they'd get to read a good book together, and do a little thinking about what makes a marriage work. Any other suggestions for good books on marriage, or books that feature fascinating marriages?

The second wedding issue that's been on my mind this week: My most excellent church, Park Slope United Methodist, recently reaffirmed its commitment to a nondiscriminatory marriage policy -- that is, until our gay and lesbian congregants can be married by our pastor in our sanctuary, no one will be married by our pastor in our sanctuary. Thus we all feel the weight of exclusion and share the burden of the anti-gay policies of the United Methodist Church. It's an amazingly brave stand for the church to take (and apparently one that costs us money, too, as we can't rent out the church for weddings), and I'm very proud to be part of such an incredible congregation, even as I'm sad that I probably won't get to be married there in my lifetime. If you'd like to hear more, NPR recently did a terrific little piece on the church policy:

And lastly, I am officially shopping for a Hot Minister dress. It has to be pretty and proper enough for me to make a respectable officiant in Iowa, but interesting enough that I would want to wear it again afterward in New York; elegant, feminine, flattering to my slightly weird figure (no strapless), less than $150 -- and not white, obviously! Fortunately for me, dress shopping is my favorite kind of clothes shopping, but I'm not finding much that fits the bill. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

The Annotated 2006 Resolution List

My approach to New Year's Resolutions is pretty much the same as most people's: I decide that "This will be the year I ___________," and then I try to carry that out in the course of the year. But I probably differ from most people in the things I decide to do: I focus on experiences I want to have, accomplishments I want to complete, and books I want to read alongside the little daily discipline items. This list is printed out and posted on the door in my apartment, so I see it every day, and I check each Experience and Read item off as I complete it, and try to use the Discipline ones to keep me honest. I've made these Resolution Lists for the last three years, and they've resulted in some of the happiest, most challenging, and most interesting experiences of my life -- walking all the Manhattan bridges, for example, and reading Lolita, and knitting, and lots of cooking dinners for friends. So here is what I want To Do in 2006, with explanations where necessary:

Live deeply, joyfully, passionately, and well.

Memorize all of the legal three-letter Scrabble words.
I've got the twos done, but I need the threes to be really competitive.
Clear out my manuscript backlog to within three months.
Oogh. Usually I compile a separate list of work Resolutions, but this is important enough to make the personal List this year.
Answer all personal correspondence within two weeks.
Save two thousand five hundred dollars.
Keep the couch uncluttered.
My apartment isn't messy, it's cluttered. If I can preserve my loveseat as a clutter-free zone, it would be a good start to conquering the whole thing.
Stretch for two minutes every day.
No regrets, no excuses, no fear.
I make this Resolution every year, honestly, and I never keep it. But maybe I'll change.

Have a three-course dinner party for six people.
Dine at Per Se, Gramercy Tavern, Babbo, and Peter Luger Steakhouse.
All lovely New York restaurants I've always heard about and thought, "Oh, I'll go there someday." Well, someday is 2006! If you'd like to come with me, just say the word.
Attend twenty-three dance performances, gallery shows, concerts, plays, or readings.
I go to a lot of movies, but I don't think I see enough live performance or fine art, and usually when I do make the effort to see such a thing, like going to MoMA or Cassandra Wilson or Pilobolus, I come away challenged and moved. I want to have more of those experiences this year, and I chose twenty-three as a doable prime number.
Revise the Bad Novel to a state of readability.
This would be my NaNoWriMo novel, which I fondly refer to as "the Bad Novel" because that gives me permission for it to be less than perfect. I wrote the NaNo stuff all out of order, in lots of random chunks, and not really paying attention to language at all, so first I'm going to put everything in order and fill in the holes, and then I'll pretend it's someone else's novel and edit the hell out of it. Yay! One of the things I learned from doing NaNo is that as much as I enjoy writing, I'm always going to be an editor first, so I'm not taking this entirely seriously and therefore having a lot of fun with it.
Run a half-marathon.
And maybe *the* Marathon, if I get in.
Knit a blanket.
Ride a bicycle along the Brooklyn shore.
One of the things I've always wanted to do: Rent a bike from the bike shop below my apartment and ride it from Park Slope to the Verrazano-Narrows.
Learn to juggle and apply eye shadow.
Though not at the same time.

The Iliad
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
These two have both appeared on previous Resolution Lists and not been read. So this year.
Invisible Man

On Beauty
And these last two (by Alan Moore and Zadie Smith) are cheating a little because I really want to read them -- I don't need Resolutions to make myself do so. But Watchmen pairs nicely with The Iliad as two stories about groups of men fighting large, futile wars; and On Beauty chimes with Huck Finn and Invisible Man in thinking about how personal relations can be influenced by race (which is one of the subjects of the Bad Novel). So I put them on the List for thematic wholeness, and easy accomplishment.

It will be a year of Big Projects, Big Ideas, and much happiness, I hope. And also flossing.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I didn't send out a 2005 favorites list with my Christmas cards this year, partly because I've been terribly dilatory about the cards in general, partly because it was a somewhat difficult year for me and it felt wrong to be all happy-cheery about it. But there were a great many things and people that were happiness-inducing over the course of the year, so these are some of my Favorite Things that I First Experienced or Came to Appreciate Properly in 2005:
  • Books: Atonement by Ian McEwan; The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer; Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke; Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff; Riders by Jilly Cooper; Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber; Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta; Permanent Rose by Hilary McKay; Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; The Big Love by Sarah Dunn
  • Music: "Out There Live" by Dar Williams; "Tahquamenon Falls" by Sufjan Stevens; "The Book of Love" by Magnetic Fields; "September" by Earth Wind and Fire; Barbara Cook singing "Not a Day Goes By / Losing My Mind"; "Tupelo Honey" by Cassandra Wilson; "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads; the Postal Service's "Brand New Colony"; "Merrily We Roll Along" by Stephen Sondheim; "Pet Sounds" by the Beach Boys; "Good News for People Who Love Bad News" by Modest Mouse; "Changesbowie" by David Bowie
  • Performances: "Play Without Words" at BAM; the twelve-hour Stephen Sondheim Celebration at Symphony Space; "SPAMalot"; "Altar Boyz"; Cassandra Wilson at SummerStage in Central Park; the New Yorker "Parting the Waters" benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims; "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"; "The Elements of Style" at the New York Public Library
  • Movies: "Head On" (a German film about two Turkish immigrants who fight their way into love, hands-down the best thing I saw this year); "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"; "King Kong"; "The Squid and the Whale"; "Hitch"; "Hustle and Flow"; the Reverse Shot "Before Sunrise"/"Before Sunset" double feature; "Grizzly Man"; "The Constant Gardener"
  • Things: my iPod Mini and iTunes; pedicures; my new PalmPilot (a Christmas gift); beer (which I'd had before, certainly, but never properly appreciated until I went to Germany); wireless DSL; chocolate-covered Key lime pie on a stick; Smart Cars; my website; the Llama Song; my Thomas Pink shirt and sparkly shoes; Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Activities: crashing the New York City Marathon; cooking dinner for friends; knitting; canoeing; kayaking; NaNoWriMo; blogging

Since I'm off to Edinburgh tomorrow, this will probably be the last night I post this year; so Happy 2006, everyone!

The Happy List: November 17, 2005

  • I went to bed around 11 last night, so when the alarm goes off at 6:20, I feel well-rested and ready to get up
  • I get inspired and write over 2,000 words on the Bad Novel
  • And crack the 100-page mark!
  • The sun is shining
  • My Thomas Pink shirt doesn't require ironing
  • And I wear it
  • (And I own a Thomas Pink shirt)
  • There's a lovely autumn nip in the air
  • I read The Brothers Karamazov on the train
  • On Five Bucks to Friday, Ron and Starbucks Girl (the Little Red-Haired Girl of the strip) have a great date at last
  • A good game of Internet Scrabble ends in my victory (but it's close)
  • I think long and hard about a manuscript, and eventually write and send revision notes
  • The Acquisitions committee approves a picture book I want to acquire
  • And I get to make the offer
  • I read the blues for The Valley of the Wolves -- the last manuscript stage of a book I've been working on (on and off) for two years
  • I have a hot ham-and-cheese sandwich, potato chips, and a chocolate-chip cookie for lunch
  • While eating, Rachel and I discuss the usual: her upcoming birthday party; her books, my books, books in general; how much we love food; our families; friends; men; and work (those last four semicolons could also be commas)
  • The very sweet Olgy Gary of Children Come First tells me that her e-book of "The Rules of Engagement" is getting a lot of requests and nice comments

  • The National Agricultural Library asks us for a copy of Food for Thought: The Complete Book of Concepts for Growing Minds for their collection -- which is "What the hell?" but also terrific and hilarious
  • Katy and I get to talk
  • My family is going to have a huge Thanksgiving dinner with all of my favorite dishes (including, especially, Jiffy corn casserole)
  • And we'll play croquet
  • My cold is dissipating
  • I listen to the Dixie Chicks, Patty Griffin, and Alanis Morrisette while doing dishes
  • I drink my first hot chocolate of the winter
  • I register for the domain name for the Talking Books site, so there is now a website with my name on it, which is odd but cool
  • And having written a blog post with all of these felicities (and hoping I don't sound too smug -- I'm just delighted to have had such a good day),
  • I am going to go to bed before midnight and read Saving Francesca.


Things I Have Been Thinking about This Week

(a partial list)
  • Hedgehogs
  • Cheese
  • My New Year's Resolutions for 2006
  • The Elements of Style, now illustrated by Maira Kalman. (I bought a copy at the opera on Wednesday night, and it's a gorgeous example of both creative illustration and fine bookmaking.)
  • The most beautiful indoor space in New York City: the Tiffany-colonnade room in the American Wing of the Metropolitan? the Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library? Other nominations?
  • A novel and a picture book I want to acquire
  • The fact (and the excitement!) that Lisa's first draft of "Emily Ebers, Starting Over" is due on Monday
  • My lovely tall black boots, which I wore for the first time this fall this week
  • New clothes and makeup, and the uses of fashion in general
  • How to crash the New York City Marathon, just long enough to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
  • The excellent, funny, sexy, smart novels of Jennifer Crusie
  • The equally excellent, funny, and smart essays on her website about writing and romance, particularly "The Five Things I've Learned about Writing Romance from TV"
  • Alan Rickman's voice
  • Rachel's birthday present
  • My next Scrabble play
  • Vegetable love
  • Zits
  • Purling
  • Friendship
  • Which of two novels I'm going to write for NaNoWriMo, and whether the hell I can actually write one
  • Literalism vs. imaginism, for lack of better terms -- living within certain rules of thought and action laid forth by an ancient text or leader, versus living unbounded -- and the consolations and perils of each
  • Better terms than "literalism" and "imaginism"
  • Marketing books with nonwhite characters to white people
  • Writers who are brilliant plotters and mystery-builders -- Joss Whedon, J. K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, others? (I would include J. J. Abrams, but I think he's actually more of a tease than a qualified mystery-builder, because he either doesn't know where he's going or he refuses to pay off.)
  • "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," posters for which have started to appear in NYC subway stations
  • "Elizabethtown," which I want to see, despite it's likely being incredibly frustrating
  • How having lots of money shapes (and especially warps) one's thinking
  • My bridesmaid's dress for my sister's wedding
  • "Entertainment Weekly"
  • Ted Kennedy's head

Your thoughts on any of these items or questions more than welcome.

The Happy List: Words, + Brooklyn Arden Contest!

There are a number of words in the English language that just make my heart do a happy dance whenever they are used. Here are some of them:

  • hoopty
  • funk
  • punk
  • booty (the pirate kind, thank you)
  • pants
  • Bob
  • mojo
  • yurt
  • kvetch
  • slather
  • popemobile
  • petrichor
  • portmanteau words ending in -licious

So, because my birthday is approaching shortly and I'd like to spread the joy, I am holding a special contest using these words. These are the rules:

  1. Construct a sentence (or even a very short story) using as many of these words as possible.
  2. Post it in the comments.
  3. The reader who comes up with the best entry will receive a batch of my fabulous banana oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies. The first runner-up (assuming we have that many entries) will receive an excellent book. The second runner-up will get ten Swedish Fish, and all entrants will, in due course of time, receive postcards.
  4. This contest closes at midnight EST on September 22, 2005. Winners will be announced on September 29, 2005.

Happy writing!

The fine print: This contest is open to all citizens of planet Earth who have an Internet connection, even relatives, Republicans, and George W. Bush. I am the sole judge of this contest and all decisions are final. (Flattery might get you somewhere, but only if it's clever.) Extra points may be awarded for the inclusion of pirates, Jane Austen references, or llamas -- but I put emphasis on the "may," and entries lacking these elements will not be penalized. Lisa, you can participate, but only when you're not working on EMILY EBERS. Odds of winning will depend on the number of qualified entries. All contest entries remain the property of their creators. We at Brooklyn Arden thank you for your participation and wish you a pleasant stay here, or wherever your final destination may be.