India Is Everything

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

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

A screen at the Qutb Minar complex in south Delhi 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Always good advice. 

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

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

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

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

 Yeah, I could eat breakfast here every morning.

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

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

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

Southeast Asia in the Autumn: Editors' Boot Camp

For the first two weeks of November, I was on the other side of the Earth, first for five days in Singapore, then for seven in Thailand. This will be the first of, I think, five posts about my experiences.

I went to Singapore to teach at an Editors' Boot Camp, which the National Arts Council sponsored as part of the Singapore Writers' Festival. My co-instructor was the excellent Francesca Main of Picador Books UK -- an adult-books editor who was just as passionate about the art and craft of editing as I am, resulting in three good days of sharing our knowledge with the Malay and Singaporean editors in attendance, and learning from them in turn. Case in point: The Singaporean publishing industry does not have two things that completely change the publishing equation when compared to the US & UK:
  • Agents. This makes sense when you consider that Singapore has four official languages (English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil) for a population of just over five million, which greatly fragments the publishing market, which in turn makes it difficult for an agent to build a living out of 15% commissions. Thus most manuscripts in Singapore are submitted directly to the publishers.
  • and the Kindle. They do have e-books, which can be purchased through the website, among others. But the 900-pound gorilla that has so transformed the US and UK publishing industries hasn't yet established a Singaporean outpost. 
What they DO have:
  • Diversity. This is a "duh" statement given the country's languages and population, but coming from U.S. publishing, it was a pleasure to see so many editors from such diverse backgrounds gathered in one place:  Muslims, Malays, native-Chinese speakers, expatriates . . .
  • Energy. Not only were the editors eager to learn, but the government was eager to support the country's publishing efforts, as evidenced by the existence of the course itself. 
  • Creativity. I was really impressed by the wide-ranging and beautifully designed lists of small publishers like Epigram Books, Monsoon Books, and Marshall Cavendish (which is very different from the MC we have here).
Four observations I offered in class, which I rarely have occasion to offer in my courses for writers:
  • Authors and manuscripts are published most successfully when they are a good fit with the editor's values, the house's values, and the market's values. That is:  The editor values what the book accomplishes artistically, and knows how to help the author maximize its intellectual intentions and emotional effects; the house can successfully connect the book with its audience, because it's an audience the house already values and knows how to reach; and the market recognizes the worth of the book and embraces it. The market's values are endlessly created and recreated, because it doesn't know what it wants until that desire has been offered to it. But an editor's and house's values can usually be seen in what they've published in the past.
  • Having recently seen, and really liked, the film of Cloud Atlas, I finally read the New Yorker article about its making, and I was greatly struck by this quote from Lana Wachowski:  "The problem with market-driven art-making is that movies are green-lit based on past movies. So as nature abhors a vacuum, the system abhors originality. Originality cannot be economically modeled." (Those of us who must deal with comp titles would also observe that originality has a highly mixed sales record.) 
  • Much of being an editor is dealing with negative space:  what is not there at present and should be. 
  • Editors have a close-to-inexhaustible faith in the perfectability of manuscripts:  that they can and will get better, with the application of the right combination of insight, imagination, time, and elbow grease. We acquire this faith through seeing the process happen over and over again, for a wide array of writers and projects. It is a much harder faith for writers to keep, given that they usually don't have the opportunity to see any process but their own, and they're so deeply personally invested in that and the outcome (whereas we editors get to have a little more distance from both).

Thanks very much to Francesca (pictured to my right above), to the writers and editors in our class, and to the National Arts Council for making the trip possible!

How I Spent My February Vacation

Thanks to the magic of frequent-flyer miles and my good friend Donna Freitas, I ran away to Barcelona! If you'd like to see pictures, you can check them out here.

(The lovely thing about the Internet for vacation photos:  I can enthuse about Gaudi and goofy Catalan words for as long as I like, and you can ignore me as much as you like. We both win!)

A brief video of a brooch I would not want to wear, from the Dali museum in Figueras:

And, for the hell of it, another video of some food I did actually eat. The restaurant was called the "Buffet Giratorio," which I found delightful. It was amazingly hypnotic just to sit there and watch it go by.

(These video selections, and this post as a whole, are brought to you by my jetlag. Also my smartphone, which is why the quality is not great.)

I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, a short biography of the aforementioned Gaudi, and about 150 pages of The Art of Fielding on the trip. The Gaudi biography was disappointing, because I wanted it to go inside his head and explain his bravery and vision and imagination, and it's well-nigh impossible to do that with a genius. But Bossypants is terrific about all the joys and contradictions of being a woman in the modern age, even if (especially if, I suppose) you're as awesome as Tina Fey, and it's hilarious as well.

The business part of the trip:  Donna is the author of this also thoroughly delightful book, coming out in June, edited by moi. It is exactly the book I would have wanted to read as a preteenager obsessed with gymnastics, and our "business" consisted of discussing the fact that not one but TWO Newbery Medal winners have now blurbed it. Yay!

If you'd like to win a galley of it, let's see -- tell me what international city you'd most like to run away to and why, and I will do a random drawing before the end of the month.

Now it is back to work for me. Here is wishing you unexpected joys like mosaic-covered dragons and all-you-can-eat raw fish on conveyor belts wherever you are.

Oh, My Poor, Lovely, Ever So Neglected Blog . . .

. . . I have been thinking about you, I promise. But I also have been traveling and editing and knitting, some of these things simultaneously. I spent nearly three weeks on the West Coast, the last one inadvertently, thanks to Tropical Storm Irene. I became an aunt to a darling future star for Manchester United, which is ironic, because at present his name most famously belongs to a cricket player. I completed the baby blanket I have been knitting since 2006, and strained my wrist kayaking while singing Broadway showtunes. (Long story.) I reviewed and personally critiqued one hundred and fifty-three queries -- yes, 153 -- in connection with the webinar I did back in June. I visited two different music museums. I finished both A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin, with great satisfaction, and three other books besides, with only medium satisfaction comparatively, but still pleasure. I wrote four editorial letters in the week before I left, and one more during my Irene-enforced vacation. I ate at the best Thai restaurant in Los Angeles, or maybe the United States. I lost my wallet and iPod on a plane, and one of my books was named an Entertainment Weekly Must List pick, and another is featured on the Kirkus website this week. And I boogie boarded successfully.

Those are all the verbs of my last month or so, and some of the nouns too; but the reason I stayed away from you, dear blog, had to do with the adjectives . . . "Tired" and "talked-out" to some extent, thanks to all the crazy work of this year, and especially the week prior to vacation; and "emotional" about things that were none of your business. (Nyah, nyah, nyah, blog, I have things I don't tell you!) . . . And those things also made me feel tired and talked-out. One of the perils of being an editor, or perhaps just of modern life, is that one's judgmental antennae can be up all the time, weighing how something is done, to what ends, whether those ends are worth the effort, whether the "how" is the best method for reaching them, and then figuring out how best to communicate those judgments in the appropriate forum, if one should, because one has so many forums to be judgmental. (Wittily and briefly for Twitter? At great length in a letter or blog post?) I did not entirely succeed in turning off these antennae during my vacation, and as a result, I remained tired and talked-out in my head, and not so much wanting to put that talk down in pixels . . .

But it feels good to write here, Brooklyn Arden dear, and stretch these familiar muscles. I do hope to return again soon. I have new books to tell you about, and some thoughts on this devastating but oh-so-true Onion article, and those 153 critiques plus the article made me want to do a series delving into the nature of bad prose (not that all of the critiques were bad by any means). I promise nothing, because that merely sets me up for failure, but I'm thinking about you, and wishing we could spend more time together. The fall is always my time for new beginnings:  Here's to trying.

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.

Me at LeakyCon and Harry Potter in Paris

Leaky readers will already know this, but for others who might be interested, I'm delighted to announce I'll be half of a keynote conversation at the upcoming LeakyCon 2009 near Boston, on Friday, May 21, discussing the writing, editing, pleasures, pains, and nature of YA literature with John Green. Yes, that John Green, the brilliant author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns, and the head wrangler of the awesome troupe of Nerdfighters. So assuming I am not utterly silenced by fangirldom, this should be a lot of fun. Tickets are $20 with a LeakyCon registration (I don't think they're available without), and can be purchased at the second link above.

And here are two Harry Potter-related pictures from my time in Paris -- first, me at number 51, rue Montmorency*, former site of the "maison de Nicolas Flamel":

* Ten points to the first reader who can guess what other work of children's literature I thought of when I saw this name -- and no, it's not the series published by Scholastic.

And then I noticed this interesting juxtaposition of elements on the front of the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur:

Coincidence? Or the mark of a French seeker of the Hallows (perhaps even Monsieur Flamel himself)? Who can say?

Bona nit de Barcelona!

I´m now on my long-awaited vacation in Barcelona, proceeding to Paris tomorrow night. If you´re attending my talk at SCBWI France, I look forward to meeting you Saturday; if you´re a dear friend or relation, you can look forward to being bombarded with Melissa´s and my pictures, stories, and lovingly recounted details of desserts (oh my word, the desserts); and if you´re just a casual reader, I´ll update again when I´m home next weekend. Have a great week!

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like . . .

. . . and I did manage to leave California! (Insert guitar riff here.)

Some things I rode on my recent vacation, more or less in order:
  • A JetBlue plane to Oakland
  • A hotel shuttle van
  • The BART train
  • The Caltrain to San Jose
  • A rental car
  • A Southwest flight to Orange County
  • Many private cars of James's family and friends
  • A boogie board in the ocean off San Clemente -- the first time I've swum in the Pacific
  • The L.A. Metrolink commuter train
  • The L.A. Metro subway -- so much cleaner and better at station (and Internet) communication than our New York subway system
  • Many L.A. Metro buses -- ditto
  • The Getty Center tramway
  • The L.A. Metro light rail
  • A taxi
  • A Warner Bros. tram for the studio tour
  • A JetBlue plane to New York
  • And the Airtrain and the A and F subway trains to JFK and back -- not clean or communicative, but mine and therefore home.
On Wednesday we saw "The Dark Knight," which is marvelous and horrifying. "Iron Man" earlier this summer represented all the light and bright and sparkling parts of comic books: wisecracking heroes, and cool gadgets and superpowers, and cute redheaded assistants in heels, and big fights with clearly identified bad guys -- very BAM! POW! ZOWIE! (And hugely enjoyable: I saw it twice in the theatre.) "The Dark Knight" is the flip side of that, dark and serious and thoughtful: a hero who wants to give up his cape, who questions the wisdom and right use of his gadgets and superpowers, with a ladylove who's involved with someone else, and thematic and character doubling everywhere you look. It's the graphic novel as opposed to the comic book, or a superhero film as made by Ingmar Bergman, with late Hitchcock nodding in for the action sequences. Heath Ledger clearly looked deep into the abyss for his role as the Joker, and the skill of his performance underlines the tremendous loss -- that, possibly, he couldn't look away. Perfectly controlled, brilliant, terrifying. I wouldn't take anyone under the age of a very mature 12, as the Joker's nihilism and violence are deeply disturbing. But for adults, it is eminently worth seeing, for the intelligence and ambition of the plotting and themes, the quality of the performances, and the final sense of hope at the end -- not the individual exuberance of "Iron Man," but a communal hope tempered by the knowledge of the world's darkness, and strengthened in the knowledge of how that darkness can be overcome. Excellent film.

N.B.: I saw it in IMAX, and if it's at all possible for you to see it in IMAX, I strongly recommend you expend the extra effort and money for the aerial shots of Gotham City and Hong Kong alone. Other reviews: Scott Foundas in L.A. Weekly; Todd Alcott; Reverse Shot, which disliked it.

And the Warner Bros. studio tour was great fun -- I saw the exterior of the orphanage from "Annie" (my favorite movie when I was six); looked in the windows of Luke's diner from "Gilmore Girls" and walked around the Star's Hollow town square; at a distance, caught a little bit of a taping of "Pushing Daisies" (the great spoiler I can reveal exclusively here: Anna Friel will wear a yellow dress and step out of a door in a future episode); sat on the couch from "Friends"; and, most excitingly for me, found an entire floor of Harry Potter memorabilia in the studio museum. A model Acromantula! The flying Ford Anglia! Hermione's Yule Ball gown! The Sorting Hat (or whoever was running it) mistakenly named me a Hufflepuff (I'm straight-up Ravenclaw, baby), but it correctly identified James as a long-lost Weasley cousin and assigned him to Gryffindor.

Finally, on the reading/work front, I finished Away, which I very much admired, and A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer, a most unusual romance novel, and I'm about two-thirds of the way through Brideshead Revisited, which I don't especially like but seem compelled to go forward with (much the same way the protagonist relates to the Brideshead family, actually). And I wrote the illustration notes and a solid first draft of my Terminus speech, and bought two excellent pairs of Clarks sandals on sale. So, altogether, a successful vacation.

Sunday Afternoon on the Coast of La Lac Michigan

A few weekends ago I went to visit my friend KTBB in Chicago, where we spent a lovely Sunday at the Art Institute. There we saw George Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte":

Or as I kept thinking when I was in the room with it:
By the blue purple yellow red water
On the green purple yellow red grass
Let us pass . . .

Or also: dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot-dot

In another room, we found, I must say, the fattest baby Jesus I have ever seen in my life, the son of an equally rotund Virgin Mary. I forget who the artist was, but -- living up to stereotype -- he was a medieval German.

The Art Institute also has a wonderful Matisse collection. Matisse is my favorite artist, and I'm always on the lookout for images of this room:

The carpet and red curtains recur here, as you can see:

and the furniture, draperies, and carpet also come up in The Inattentive Reader at the Tate Gallery and Interior with a Violin Case at MoMA. I hope very much this room is preserved in Nice somewhere. . . . If you ever see any other images of it, let me know.

Art museums always make me want to take artistic-seeming shots of my own, like these pictures of a perfect stranger looking at a map and his digital camera:

The afternoon ended, unexpectedly but delightfully, with tea at American Girl Place. Say what you will about the evils of Pleasant Company, they do a bang-up afternoon tea, complete with champagne, many delicious sandwiches, scones, and our very own doll on loan:

To paraphrase Sondheim again:
There are worse things than staring at the pictures
while you're visiting your best friend
having tea in corporate girldom
in the city of Chicago
on a Sunday . . .

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

Vacation Notations

In the last ten days, I:

went to an Indian wedding with James (here we are being cool);

climbed a mountain (Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, behind me);

hung out with my awesome family (this is me; Angela, my cousin Bruce's girlfriend; my sister Melissa and brother-in-law Joe; and said cousin Bruce on Half Dome, showing our guns. My parents and James were below);

and saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in IMAX and partly in 3-D (and I liked the movie a lot -- as opposed to Transformers, which we saw to satisfy the eight-year-old boy in James, as well as the adult video-effects geek: "Optimus Prime has 64,000 moving parts!").

Hurrah for vacation!

Five Pictures from a Fabulous Vacation

Katy in a punt. Katy and I were celebrating multiple happy occasions this trip: her engagement; my 28th birthday; the completion of her dissertation; and our ten-year anniversary of being best friends. On Saturday, Katy took me out for a picnic in a punt: a baguette, sharp cheddar, tart apples, Cornish pasties, McVitie's, dark chocolate pastilles, water and lemonade (which I insisted on having in honor of Lord Peter and Harriet, though ours was non-synthetic). Katy did all the punting, while I sat and watched the ducks and the undergraduates float by, and we talked and talked and talked. We went up the Cherwell to a pub called the Victoria Arms, where we each had a glass of Pimm's, then came back down for dinner with her fiance Josh and a wonderful bonfire with McVitie's s'mores. (Directions: 1. Toast one marshmallow to the bursting point. 2. Quickly remove the marshmallow from the stick and place it on a chocolate-side-up McVitie. 3. Place another McVitie on top, chocolate side down, and squash to make the chocolate melt. 4. Eat quickly, and don't be ashamed to lick your fingers.)

Me on a stile. On Sunday, Katy and I journeyed by train and bus up to the Peak District in Derbyshire. We held my official birthday dinner at the Rutland Arms Hotel in Bakewell (an inn where Jane Austen herself stayed during a visit to the county in 1811) and slept that night in a B&B. The next day, we set off on a five-mile trek over the Dales, which occasioned considerable good-natured sisterly bickering over the map (Katy held it), our route (I didn't trust her), if it would rain (it didn't), and whether we would reach our destination in time for afternoon tea (of paramount concern to both of us). As it turned out, I was right that our route was not the one marked on the map, but we agreed that the map was stupid and our way was better, as we saw a great deal of beautiful Derbyshire countryside (and sheep) and still reached Chatsworth by 1 p.m. -- plenty of time for tea.

Chatsworth. Why were we so wild to see Chatsworth, you ask? Because Jane Austen likewise visited it on that 1811 trip, right when she was revising Pride and Prejudice, and it is very likely the model for Pemberley:

They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; -- and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. . . . Elizabeth was delighted.

And it is lovely. Begun in 1552 by Bess Hardwick and her second husband William Cavendish, it housed Mary Queen of Scots at various times during her imprisonment, and it is still the home of the Cavendish family -- better known as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The interiors were gorgeous and luxurious without gratuitous ostentation, and the grounds (originally designed by Capability Brown) included a cascade, a rose garden, a delightful hedge maze (which pleased me very much, as I long ago wrote a P&P fanfic set in a hedge maze at Pemberley), and a Squirting Willow (no doubt cousin to the Whomping variety up north). And the stables have been converted into a restaurant, where we had our delicious, much-anticipated tea.

Mr. Darcy, the statue. In fact, Chatsworth is so lovely and so what Jane Austen had in mind that its exterior, entrance hall, and sculpture gallery served as Pemberley in the 2005 adaptation of P&P. While I have considerable differences with that adaptation, I was very fond of Matthew MacFadyen, and they've kept the plaster bust of him as Mr. Darcy in the sculpture gallery where Keira Knightley-as-Elizabeth sees it in the film. It's displayed next to the dress Keira wore in that scene and real first editions of P&P, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey/Persuasion, which I did not steal, despite my extreme case of book lust. Future visitors to Chatsworth may thank me for my forebearance.

Decadence. Finally, of course, after we came back to Oxford on Tuesday, we had to rent the execrable new P&P and watch it all over again -- which was actually a pleasure, as we'd never seen and snarked at it together. So here we have from right to left: the movie; a glass of Cava sparkling wine; Nutella; strawberries; McVitie's; more wine; and Ben & Jerry's Phish Food. Bliss.

More pictures of our trip, with commentary, are now up on my Flickr page here.

A Book Emergency Averted

I'm in England now, having jaunted across last night in order to visit my best friend Katy at Oxford, celebrate the completion of her doctoral dissertation ("Felix Fabri and His Audiences: the Pilgrimage Writings of a Dominican Preacher in Late-Medieval Germany"), and meet her charming anarchist fiance Josh. Last night at the airport I realized I hadn't packed properly for the trip -- by which I mean that of the four books I brought with me, I hadn't brought one I was really eager to read, something that would help me survive the many traveling hours ahead; nor could I come up with an appropriate title that might fit the bill. Then I thought "Oh! The Sea of Monsters!" and virtually ran to the airport bookstore to see if I could secure it (the sequel to The Lightning Thief). No such luck, but I did spy Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I knew Katy hadn't read; so I bought the paperback, reread it myself on the plane (practically purring with pure prose pleasure -- glory, I love Susanna Clarke's writing*), and gave it to Katy with her congratulations-on-finishing-your-thesis gifts this afternoon. And now I'm here and I can raid her bookshelves* for the next five days. Hurrah!
* And per the ad in the back, she has a short-story collection coming out this fall! The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, Sept. 2006.
** This likely includes a reread of Gaudy Night at some point, given that Oxford always puts me in the mood for it and I got to visit a real SCR this afternoon.

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!

Pocono? Pocoyes!

(Forgive the subject line; my brain's a little scattered.)

Home now from the Eastern Pennsylvania SCBWI conference in the Pocono Mountains, tired but pleased by a weekend well spent. I met many nice writers (including some who have posted comments here -- hi Kelly, Mindy, and Pamela!) and twice gave my talk "Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through; or, Plots and Popularity," which features lots of thinking about outsiders and survival alongside my hilariously awkward fifth-grade school picture.

Suzanne Fisher Staples gave an amazing keynote speech Saturday morning. Besides being the author of Shabanu and Under the Persimmon Tree, among other fine novels, she served as a UPI reporter in Asia for ten years and took the first pictures of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan! Jose Aruego had us all laughing in the afternoon with his clever and surprising cartoons. Mary Lee Donovan of Candlewick, Mark McVeigh from Dutton, Julie Romeis from Bloomsbury, and Heather Delabre from an educational publisher rounded out the presenters; we all did individual presentations on Saturday, and joined together for a First Pages panel and Q&A Sunday.

I came back with a renewed determination to get stuff up on the website, so watch out for the "Morals, Muddles" talk, a "What I'm Looking For," revised submission guidelines, and maybe even that long-promised FAQ in the next few weeks. (I know I still need to post my Aristotle plot talk from Asilomar, but I'm going to be giving it again in Kansas City at the end of April, so I don't think I'll put it up till I incorporate the revisions I'm sure to make there.)

Lastly, on a purely hedonistic note, we were staying at a pretty, old-fashioned resort called the Sterling Inn. Thus my weekend included massive quantities of delicious food, "Love and Death" on cable, Scrabble with three very kind writers (I won, but barely), and soaking in a Jacuzzi while sipping wine (the wine courtesy of the generous Ms. Fineman). All the traveling and socializing left me a little tired, so I took a long restorative walk through Prospect Park after my return to Brooklyn this afternoon. Only at the end did I realize the irony: I spent the entire weekend in the Poconos, and then went for a nature walk in New York City!