The Best Thing I Have Seen This Year

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

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

Watch Trent on the Today Show!

Update:  You can see the video of Trent's appearance here.

Posting VERY quickly to note that Trent Reedy, author of the book WORDS IN THE DUST, will be on NBC's Today Show this Friday, May 20! (Previous posts about this book here and here.) Pending breaking news, he should be on with Al Roker and his Book Club for Kids around 9:45 a.m. EST. Please tune in if you support one of the following:
  1. Children's literature on network TV
  2. Realistic contemporary children's literature in general
  3. Books about other places and peoples
  4. Afghan women and girls 
  5. The U.S. military
  6. Books about people of color
  7. With said people on the covers
  8. Trent
  9. Extremely nice guys like Trent
  10. The Vermont College of Fine Arts or the Erin Murphy Literary Agency
  11. Katherine Paterson, our current Children's Laureate
  12. Me and/or my books
  13. Scholastic and/or Arthur A. Levine Books
And if one of those does not apply to you, I really don't know why you're reading this. Thanks for your support!

Thank You, Jimmy Fallon

I have never seen a complete episode of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," but I now owe him for two of my favorite TV moments of the past year (both of which I actually watched on YouTube, natch). First the terrific opening to the 2010 Emmy ceremony:

And then, from this past Friday, Stephen Colbert singing Rebecca Black's "Friday" with assorted guests (infinitely better than the original):

I love the way the delights just add up and cascade over in both of these videos -- first the cast of "Glee," and then Tina Fey! And Jon Hamm!* And Hurley! Or Stephen Colbert, and then the poker-faced Roots, and then the rapper guy and Jimmy Fallon, then the first mystery musical guest . . . And the performances also embody two of the things I love most about musical theatre in general: a whole community working together in glorious harmony, and the perfect balance between unfettered expression of an emotion and planned-down-to-the-second choreography. Sigh.

* Emily and I were discussing the news that Mad Men won't be back until early 2012, and she posed a terrifying conundrum: What if Season Five of Mad Men and Season Two of Downton Abbey are on Sunday nights at the same time? Which group of complex, lusty, class-driven, fabulously dressed characters would I choose to follow through their complicated, often backstabbing, money-drenched, totally character-driven plots first? I've known the Mad Men people for longer (and there's the whole mystery of who that newly important character actually is deep down that we'll need to discover), but Downton Abbey has both World War I and Bates's wife coming, and all those hats. . . . Sigh deux, with the sincere wish that such a soul-rending choice can be avoided.

All Aflutter

This has been a good and busy week, and promises only to get more so. Some quick things, first non-booky (for a change) and then all-booky:
  • I finished "Downton Abbey," and oh my goodness: What period, characterful, conspiracyful, Englishy goodness! Someday I aspire to wear dresses like Lady Sybil and bite off words like the Dowager Duchess. (And more immediately to write a blog post comparing the series to "Mad Men" for all the things they have in common: a large ensemble cast; of multiple social classes, with the attendant conflicts and resentments; on the cusp of (or even in the midst of) gigantic, sweeping societal changes they don't quite grasp, even as they inadvertently bring them about; also on the cusp of a war whose seriousness they cannot possibly foresee; with many buried secrets revealed over time, and liaisons right and left; all while wearing teeth-gnashingly envy-inducing* clothes (though really I suppose I should remember: corsets).)
  • * This phrase courtesy of Joanna Pearson's The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills, out in July. You read/edit a book enough times, its phrases naturally leap into your brain and writing. . . .
  • I'll be teaching a Master Class on Plot at the Kansas SCBWI conference the first weekend in May. There are, I think, exactly six spots left as of this writing, so book quickly if you're interested!
  • My other upcoming appearances: the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Novel Revision Retreat in June, and Lit Day at LeakyCon 2011 in July. The Lit Day lineup is insane -- insane! -- and features Arthur's first appearance/speech at a Harry Potter fan convention ever, so it's well worth attending if you can make your way there.
  • And I loved, loved, loved the new "Jane Eyre" adaptation, partly for the fabulous period clothes and design, yes, but mostly because Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender bring terrific passion and intelligence to the roles of Jane and Rochester, and make Charlotte Bronte's sometimes unwieldy or ethereal dialogue sound perfectly natural in their mouths, sweeping us viewers up in their passions as well. When I reviewed the Keira Knightley "Pride and Prejudice," I contrasted what I called Romantic and Rationalist romances, and faulted that P&P for shooting a Rationalist romance as if it were a Romantic one. Well, "Jane Eyre" is a Romantic romance par excellence (and the film gives that all the brooding atmosphere it warrants, to delicious effect) -- but I had forgotten, till I saw this adaptation, how much it is a Rationalist romance too, how much its unique intensity derives from Jane's absolute control over herself, and how much hotter the love burns for it. I want to see it again already; get your own taste on the movie page here.
Now the Second Sight stuff:
  • When I go home to Kansas City for the Kansas SCBWI conference, I'll also have a public book party in Belton, Missouri, on Thursday, May 5th; e-mail me at asterisk.bks at gmail dot com if you're interested in attending.
  • Jennifer Bertman interviewed me for the Creative Spaces feature on her website, where I talk about my writing process, my workspace, and the regrettable lack of a magic bullet for making someone a good writer.
  • Donna at the First Novels Club and Kate Coombs at Book Aunt each reviewed Second Sight and said some kind things.
  • Apparently people have started to receive their books! I hope you enjoy them. If you find typos (sigh), please e-mail me with them at asterisk.bks at gmail dot com. (I've found two, which I regret, but so it goes.) Also, if you had trouble ordering via earlier, there's now a direct-order phone number available on the order page, and copies should be available to ship from within the week.
  • And to end on a yummy note, James, my darling boyfriend, got me a cake to celebrate the publication of the book; here I am with it in my office.

Midweek Miscellany

Apologies for the bloggy silence of late; I've been doing a lot of work on my book in the evenings, and catching up with my reading, and watching Mad Men (about which more below), and thus not having very many original thoughts worthy of a whole blog post. So here's a little miscellany of stuff.

Kidlit Drink Night tomorrow night, August 5, at Characters Lounge on 54th between Broadway and 8th. Come prepared for a little fun with nametags, related to the name of the bar. And as always, if you want to join our mailing list, send an e-mail to nyckidlitdrinks at gmail dot com.

James and I just finished watching the third season of Mad Men last week, in time to catch the second episode of the new season on Sunday; and I have that familiar itchy readerly desperation for more -- more with these characters; more revelation of mysteries; more, more, more, now, now, now, tell me, tell me, I want to know what happens next! This desire bemuses me a bit, first because it's so at odds with the studied cool of the characters and events themselves, and second because, when we started watching the show, that very cool kept me at a distance from the show well into the first season. I admired it aesthetically for its gorgeous period design (and Jon Hamm), and artistically for its refusal to cut anyone any breaks (including Jon Hamm, or rather, his character Don Draper). But as I read somewhere, the show excels at accumulating events and emotional reactions over time, so that the decisions made in one episode don't just have consequences later, but they reverberate in the characters' actions forever after; and the lives of minor characters hum along in the background until they spill into Don's life unexpectedly. Thus it is a wonderfully novelistic TV series, with a strong author's hand in the work of creator Matthew Weiner; and watching it reminded me most of my experience reading the Patrick O'Brian books, actually, in that the same way I would often think affectionately, "Oh Jack Aubrey, you foolish, foolish man" as he did something stupid ashore, I was saying "No, Don! Don't! DON'T!" to the screen, as he did something equally idiotic this last episode. . . .

Writing this, it's occurring to me that the show excels at the "Suffering" strategy of getting viewers/readers to care about the characters. Because before Sunday night, I don't think I had thought more than "Oh, cute dress" about the character over whom Don made an ass of himself; but her consequent Suffering made me feel for her and furious at him, and now I am quite invested in how she feels and what she will do next. Same for Pete and Joan and Paul and Peggy and Don himself, that I could point to specific moments when I thought, "Oh, poor ______"; and perhaps the reason I feel merely a liking for golden boy Ken Cosgrove is because everything seems to come easy to him, with no suffering at all.

Anyway, contrast that to Glee, by far my favorite show of the last year, but where I gave up expecting any coherence to the characters and plot early on -- particularly reverberations for suffering, as most characters seemed to stay at more or less their same emotional notes all season long. And thus, while I loved many individual episodes, I never felt the same driving desire to know more, because not much really changed hugely and permanently from episode to episode. If Mad Men is a beautifully written John Updike novel of 1960s turmoil, Glee is an Archie comic of the time period, its racial and sexual boundaries exploded, but mostly playing the same set conflicts and relationships out over and over again.

Still, there is one place where I keep hoping for things to truly move forward. . . . I've been a big Rachel/Finn partisan, which kind of puzzled me when I thought about it logically. I mean, of course I will always root for the dork girl to get the hot guy over the cheerleader -- Dork Girls of the World, UNITE! -- but he's kind of dumb and she's deeply annoying and there is nothing in their characters that should make them a good couple, other than their mutual talent and passion for music.

But then I realized that what I really loved about them was the possibility of moral development that each one represented for the other, the chance that they could make each other better people. (Jennifer Crusie writes about this aspect of a satisfying romance in her v. smart post today, "How to Critique Romantic Comedy.") In their best scenes in the show together, they've been really honest with each other, and that makes me have hope that he could teach her actual social skills and social restraint, while she could inspire him to go beyond his I'm-cute-and-a-sports-star laziness and actually do something useful in life. Occasionally they've done this already: Of the three boys in the "Run Joey Run" video, Finn was the one who articulated for her why her using all three of them was wrong, and it's partly her talent and love of music that's kept him in glee all this time anyway. I'd love to see their romance develop further along those real, characterful, painful lines, rather than falling back on the popular vs. unpopular, football/cheerleaders vs. glee club trope the show has kind of overplayed already.

On vacation, I also read The Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire sequence by George R. R. Martin; and I really, really liked it, so this series also is causing me mental itchiness to know more. (Someone should make a cream for this condition.)

If you have to cut pages or words from your ms., here's a strategy I'm finding very personally effective: Pretend that you have to print each copy of the book yourself, and you're being charged roughly 1.5 pennies per page. (A 250-page book is thus $3.75 to print; a 300-page book, $4.50; a 400-pager, $6.00.) You have/want to keep the price in the average trade paperback range of $10-15, so every additional page in the book eats directly into your overall personal profit. It is suddenly much easier to slash and burn.

This is a situation we publishers face regularly, actually: We spec our books out usually a few months before we have the final copyedited manuscript. If the book then comes back from the typesetter sixty pages longer than the P&L promised and our specs specified, that doesn't hurt the writer directly, as his or her advance and royalties have already been fixed by the contract; but it does hurt our overall profit on the book, which can have negative consequences for everyone later if we don't make that money back. Often this situation can be resolved by creating a tighter page design to start with; sometimes not. Oh, lovely dead-tree publishing. . . . But I am grateful for the limits dead-tree publishing still imposes on us, the beauty of having to work within sixteen-page forms, especially when it comes to picture books, where every one must be like a sonnet.

James just came in and turned on the Daily Show: No, Jon Stewart! Bad goatee! (I haven't seen the show in a while.) And it won't be on today's episode, but yes, California! Way to go on Prop 8! I liked this summation of facts.