All Thumb(nail)s

Earlier today, I wanted to paginate a picture-book manuscript I'm thinking about, to see how the text would play out over 32 pages; so I went on the Internet to see if there was an easy template for thumbnail illustrations that I could download and print out. Alas and alack, the Internet did not provide! So I whipped up a thumbnails template of my own in Microsoft Word, as seen above, and I bestow it upon the Internet for free downloading here. You're welcome, 'nettie dear.

While we're on the subject of cool Internet things, do you know about It's my very favorite file conversion service, which transformed the Word doc of my thumbnails to the JPEG image above in thirty seconds flat. Feel free to leave any other genuinely useful sites in the comments.

And hey, while I have your attention:
  • Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Eighth Grade Superzero) and Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors) will both be appearing at the Brooklyn Book Festival Youth Stoop this Sunday. They're both as wonderful in person as their books are on the page -- do check them out.
  • The next night, September 13, is Kidlit Drink Night! 6:30 p.m. at the Ginger Man.
  • In January, I'm going to lead the editorial strand at the ever-wonderful Kindling Words East. The fabulous E. Lockhart will lead the author strand; the brilliant Mordecai Gerstein the illustrator strand. (Note that the dates this year conflict with SCBWI Midwinter in New York.) Registration opens and closes this Sunday, Sept. 12, so mark your calendars to enter the lottery in a timely fashion.
Happy fall!

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.

More than "Nothing Left to Lose"

I adored these lines in Sam Anderson's New York magazine review of Freedom, Jonathan Franzen's new novel:
Few modern novelists rival Franzen in that primal skill of creating life, of tricking us into believing that a text-generated set of neural patterns, a purely abstract mind-event, is in fact a tangible human being that we can love, pity, hate, admire, and possibly even run into someday at the grocery store. His characters are so densely rendered—their mental lives sketched right down to the smallest cognitive micrograins—that they manage to bust through the art-reality threshold: They hit us in the same place that our friends and neighbors and classmates and lovers do.
YES. I LOVE "text-generated [sets] of neural patterns" that make me believe they're real. I also loved The Corrections, and clearly at some point I'm going to have to read Freedom (she says, glancing guiltily at A. S. Byatt's The Children's Book sitting untouched on the Grown-Up Books shelf . . .).

While we're talking freedom, I think that any politicians who would like to express opinions about the relative positions of certain kinds of New York City real estate should be forced to live in the city for six months before doing so. New Yorkers are a diverse group, and thus we know that getting along in such close proximity requires letting others exercise their rights so we can exercise ours; living and let living; remembering without fetishizing; and frequently, shutting up and not being stupid. Would that certain politicians could learn the same.

Insert Your Own Title Here

Because it's summer, which means I'm too lazy to come up with a proper blog title, much less a thoughtful post. Fortunately, I have awesome authors who make hilarious videos:

Lisa's Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) is now in paperback, by the way! And Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) will be out next month. More on that (and all our fall releases) soon. (And did you know you can friend Arthur A. Levine Books on Facebook?)

Speaking of the fall, I'm going to speak at three different SCBWIs in the next three months:
I'm having a lot of fun giving my "Twenty-two* Revision Techniques" speech (*the number varies depending on the time allotted and how fast I talk), so that's likely the one you'll see at these events. (The book version contains a whole twenty-five!)

Martha Mihalick posted a very true and well-done "Editor's Choose Your Own Adventure" here.

Finally, I loved Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as a lot of kidlit people did/do (I saw it with a colleague and ran into a party of two agents, two authors, and at least one other editor as I left the theatre). Why? Because it's everything most of us are looking for: It's got great characters; it brilliantly captures those characters at a key moment in their emotional development (in this case, that twentysomething "What the hell am I doing with my life and will I ever make a relationship work? Thank God for my friends while I figure it out" moment); the book art is unique, emotionally charged, and efficient; and -- the key thing, I think -- it has great moral development and consequently a really good character-plot structure, as Ramona and her seven evil exes force Scott into a place where he has to grow up and be a better man . . . exactly like the outline here, actually. The videogame stuff is all window dressing on that. And it's hilarious, besides (especially if you get the videogame stuff). Highly, highly recommended.

ETA: I forgot the other thing I wanted to say about the greatness of Scott Pilgrim: The fantasy served as a metaphor for a larger emotional situation or problem, as happens in nearly all good fantasy, I think (Fellowship of the Ring = World War I, Moribito II = coming to terms with the past, Harry Potter = facing death, the Chanters of Tremaris series = multicultures trying to work as one, etc. Quite often when I turn down a fantasy, it's because it's not going for this metaphorical level, so it just feels like the problems of some oddly named people in a made-up world). In SP's case, it's about working through the baggage of past relationships and figuring out how to establish an honest basis for moving forward in a new one.

Flap Copy Contest Winners!

The winners of my flap copy contest are Sarah Atkinson, for the Best Sticky One-Liners (meaning phrases or sentences that would stick in a reader's head and make hir think, "Ah, nice"); Angie Brown for Best General Body Copy; and Barbara Liles for Best Setup and Final Twist. Please send me your postal addresses via my website e-mail so I can send you the book when it's ready. And thanks very much to all who entered!

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.

SQUIDS 101: Punctuation: Emdashes

Before I go on to the Squid 101 here, a word of thanks to the kind people who submitted entries in the flap-copy contest; it was very interesting and useful to see what you writers judged attractive for other writers (apparently having someone say what NOT to do is as useful as what TO do, as half of you mentioned the "what not to do" thing).

And I have FINISHED THE BOOK TEXT, pending an approvals question. I've discovered that the great danger of self-publishing, at least for me, is that there's been nobody and no deadline to take the manuscript out of my endlessly questioning, pushing, correcting hands. So it feels good to finally declare, "Enough, I'm done" and move on. I'm really pleased with a lot of the new material, and I hope you will be too.

Anyway: emdashes.

The emdash has all the functions of the comma, semicolon, AND colon: It can be used to create pauses, introduce a list, or join two independent or dependent clauses. It is regarded as less formal than all of those marks, however, and they are all preferable in more formal writing. In narrative writing, I think of it as simultaneously more dramatic and more invisible than those marks; it is long enough to create a real pause, but because there generally aren’t any spaces around it, it also creates a continuous flow of text. It can thus be used for scenes where you want a flow of clauses unbroken by real stops, especially in stream-of-consciousness writing or action scenes:
The squid reached out—the oxygen tank dangling from the tip of its tentacle—I stretched the whole length of my body towards it—but then the shark jerked on my foot and pulled me away.
Compare that to:
The squid reached out, the oxygen tank dangling from the tip of its tentacle; I stretched the whole length of my body towards it, but then the shark jerked on my foot and pulled me away.
This second example is probably more correct, but because it allows the reader to slow down, it’s rather less dramatic. On the other hand, the first example is probably too dramatic, so it would be wise to strive for a nice balance between the two:
The squid reached out, the oxygen tank dangling from the tip of its tentacle. I stretched the whole length of my body towards it—but then the shark jerked on my foot and pulled me away.
What's nice about this one is that the emdash creates a brief little pause at the moment of highest suspense, like being at the top of a hill on a roller coaster: Will our narrator get the oxygen tank in time? And then the dash's length drags that moment out until the shark answers the question for us. A semicolon would have been incorrect there, and a comma or colon wouldn't have had the same sense of suspension, I don't think. I love dashes for just this drama and flexibility, though if you share my addiction to them, we need to remember that like all highly dramatic marks, they should be used sparingly.

The emdash is also used to set off interruptions, either within a sentence or at the end of it. (Parentheses could be used in this next example just as easily, but because they create a little commentary world unto themselves, closed off from the rest of the sentence, they seem like a bigger pause than emdashes to me.)
The dead squid—the only trustworthy kind, as far as Joan was concerned—lay limply on the dock.

I assure you, Officer, I have never eaten—HEY! Did you get a look at that squid?
My authors know that if Character X is speaking and Character Y interrupts him, I will almost always request that they end Character X’s speech with an emdash to signify X’s getting cut off abruptly.
Looking deeply into Selina’s larger left eye, Phil took her front tentacle in his and murmured, “My most beautiful Miss Bonnellii, will you do me the honor of becoming—”
“I WON!” screeched Ethel from across the restaurant.
Note: In typesetting, there are actually three kinds of dash marks:
  • hyphens, like so: - , which join two words into one closed compound
  • endashes, which were created in hand-typesetting using two hyphens (the length of an “n”), and which are used to join open compounds (like “the North Dakota–Minnesota border”; “North Dakota” is an open compound because it’s one word with a space in it) or to replace the word “to” (as in “1996–2000,” or “our California–Florida trip”)
  • and emdashes, which equal three hyphens (the length of an “m”), and are discussed above.
Writers are generally not expected to know about endashes. If you use hyphens and emdashes correctly, that’s good enough for most editors, and we’ll trust the endashes will be taken care of in copyediting.

A Flap Copy Contest!

So I am in the very, very last stages of my book -- rewriting my Voice talk, because I wasn't satisfied with it; and then I need to decide which terms will be capped or uncapped (Action Plot vs. action plot, that sort of thing), because I currently have more capped nouns than a Dungeons & Dragons manual, and make that consistent across the board. But that is it for the interior!

And then, for the exterior, I need to write the flap copy. And while of course I write flap copy for other people's books all the time, writing it for my own is proving unexpectedly daunting. Generally in writing it for other people's books, I try to identify my ideal reader -- the person who is most likely to pick up the book, and who would get the most enjoyment out of it; then set forth an overall vision of the book that would appeal to that ideal reader, working in as many cool things about the characters and plot as possible. And while I think that you all are pretty much my ideal readers here, I also feel I'm either too close to the material or too damn Midwestern modest to objectively see and sell all the possibly cool things about this book.

Then I thought: Hey! Maybe my ideal readers would like a chance to play the editor here. I know writers often get a kick out of their chance to edit me in commenting on the flap copy I wrote for their books (or the trial flaps I've posted here); this seems like the next logical step, and also good practice for any aspiring editors out there. :-)

So: CONTEST! If you want to participate, all of the information you'd need to know about the book is below. Write back-jacket sales copy of 200 words or less, and e-mail your draft to me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com by noon next Thursday, July 22, with the subject line "Flap Copy Contest." (I will be away from all computers from Saturday till the deadline, more or less, so this gives you plenty of time.) An editorial friend and I will read through the entries and choose up to three winners, who will each receive a free copy of the book.

I will then probably go ahead and assemble my own flap copy, pulling from all of the various great ideas that come in; and indeed, I reserve the right to borrow, steal, or tweak anything in any of your entries. I suppose in legal parlance, this would be, "All entries become property of Cheryl Klein for purposes of writing her own copy," meaning you can't sue me if I use your words or ideas. But I will also acknowledge said useful writers within the book and here. And I wouldn't claim this copy exclusively; goodness knows if you want to do something else with your draft or publish or reuse it for yourself, have at it.

Some questions to ask yourself if you want to try this:
  • What are some cool things about this book -- its hooks?
  • Are there any key details or lines from the book that might grab a reader's attention?
  • Why would I buy this book?
  • Who else would want to buy this book?
  • Are there any successful similar books I'd want to liken this book to or remind the reader of? (And often its followup, What was the approach of their flap copy? -- at least for reference, or to see what elements were emphasized.)
  • What are three key unifying ideas about this book, or three different visions of the book? (This "Three Takes on Operation Yes" post shows three of my visions for that book, and how each one played out in the flap.)
  • Which one of those ideas/visions would be most attractive to the readers I just identified?
(All of these questions also very useful in writing query letters, of course . . .)

I hope this sounds like fun to y'all -- I'm very curious to see what you come up with! Thank you so much for participating.


The title: Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults

The original description.

The Table of Contents (much of this material is online, except the Quartet talks, which comprise 50-plus pages of never-before-published-anywhere thoughts. "Manifests" are worksheets/checklists.):
  • An Explanation of This Book
  • Manifesto: What Makes A Good Book?
  • Defining Good Writing (Possibly Sententious)
  • Finding a Publisher and Falling in Love: A Convivial Comparison
  • The Annotated Query Letter from Hell
  • An Annotated Query Letter That Does It Right
  • The Rules of Engagement
  • The Essentials of Plot
  • Manifest: The Plot Checklist
  • Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through; or, Plots and Popularity
  • Manifest: A Character Chart
  • A Definition of YA Literature
  • The Art of Detection: One Editor’s Techniques for Analyzing and Revising Your Novel
  • Four Techniques to Get at the Emotional Heart of Your Story
  • Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart: Making a Picture-Book Cookie
  • Some Things I Like to See in an Illustrator’s Portfolio
  • A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter
  • Gaaah!!—A Musing on Characters and Plot
  • Quartet: Introduction
  • Point
  • Character
  • Manifest: Another Character Chart
  • Plot
  • Voice
  • The Highly Idiosyncratic Cheryl Klein Guide to Punctuation
  • On the Editor-Author Relationship
  • Twenty-Five Revision Techniques
  • Index to Talks by Writers’ Conference
  • Index by Subject
  • Further Reading: Craft
  • Further Reading: Literature
  • Acknowledgements and Thanks
My biography, which will also appear on the back of the book (may be cut down for space): Cheryl B. Klein has worked as an editor of children’s and young adult books for over a decade. Among the books she has edited or co-edited are A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, winner of the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a YA Debut Novel; Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for Teens; Millicent Min, Girl Genius, by Lisa Yee, winner of the SCBWI’s Sid Fleischman Award for Humor; and The Snow Day by Komako Sakai, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. She also served as the continuity editor for the American editions of the last three Harry Potter books. Please visit her website at

One Way to Stand Up Against Whitewashing

Publishing, like most industries, is extremely imitative of past successes. Said imitation drove the fantasy boom of the early 2000s, the vampire boom that followed that, the paranormal and wimpy-kid booms that have followed that. Why? Each big success proved there was a sizable market for such books, and then publishers rushed to sign up books to serve that market, or to create covers that played to that market -- quite often nearly duplicating the covers that inspired the original boom.

So, if you're upset about whitewashing or the proportional lack of authors of color in the industry, here's one of the most useful things you as book-buyers or -bloggers could do to change the situation: Make a huge success. All of you get together and pick a book, new in hardcover or new in paperback, with a protagonist of color on the front cover. (Note: The book chosen cannot be a book that's already won major awards or by an author who's already a major-award-winner/famous, because the resulting success would be attributed to those reasons, not protagonist-of-color-on-the-cover reasons.)

Then everyone buy this book, all the same week, from stores that report to the New York Times bestseller list. The IndieBound or Publishers Weekly bestseller lists would be great as well. And get your friends or family members to buy it too. Get every reader you know. (Note this may require pre-ordering the book from your local bookstore to be sure they have it in stock. All the better: The book will be sure to get that bookseller's attention.)

Get the book on said bestseller list. (It may take a few weeks of sustained book-buying to make this happen; the link above explains why.) I've seen the kidlitosphere come together and do amazing things; I don't doubt this is possible.

Ideally, do it again a few weeks later with a protagonist of a different color.

And then do it again one more time, or as many times as necessary. Making this project a regular kidlitosphere event, like the Reading Challenges or the Blog Blast Tours, would be fantastic.

And then every editor* in future who wants to acquire a book by an author of color or put a protagonist of color on the cover of a book will have solid numerical support that says "These books and these covers WORK." And then we can do more of them, and pay their authors more, and get bigger marketing budgets, and all those good things. The very worst thing that can happen here is that some deserving author gets a lot more attention and book sales, and I don't think anyone will object to that.

(* I haven't had any negative experiences with this myself: Every time I've wanted to do either of these things, I've had Scholastic's full support. But I've been following the stories with interest.)

I apologize preemptively to anyone who says, "Of course there's a market for these books -- I'm a person of color, and I'm the market, dammit!" Many of us editors are genuinely trying to publish books for you, and your flaunting your power here could make a huge difference in that effort. And obviously, there are a lot of pieces to this conversation -- getting submissions from authors of color; matching those submissions to the right editor; having sympathetic editors available; finding the right places to market and sell the books; encouraging readers and adult-book-buyers to cross color lines in buying books -- and I'm in no way saying this would address all of it. This is just ONE piece that would help those of us who are interested in these issues within the industry move the ball forward.

Thanks to all of you for supporting these books.

Editorial Palavering: Jill Santopolo

I love reading interviews with other editors and hearing what they have to say about the craft, but for some reason, it only just occurred to me recently that hey, I'm a blogger -- I could do such interviews myself! So here's the first in what I hope will be an occasional series of Q&As on the children's-books-editorial life.

The star today is my good friend Jill Santopolo, who rose from editorial assistant to senior editor at Laura Geringer Books/HarperCollins before becoming the executive editor at Philomel/Penguin last fall. She has also written two terrific middle-grade mysteries starring a young detective named Alec Flint, published by Scholastic Press: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure, and The Ransom Note Blues. (And on a personal note, she is just as good a storyteller in person as she is in her books, and if there were any such thing as an editorial Best Dressed List, I have no doubt she would be on it.) Thanks for answering these questions, Jill!

Were you a writer or an editor first? I wrote stories my whole life--I still have one about a magical cat that I wrote when I was three--so I guess I'd have to say I was a writer first. But in terms of the kidlit world, I was an editor first. I started the first Alec book because I was around novels all day and wanted to see if I could write one from start to finish.

Who taught you how to edit? It's funny because editing doesn't seem to be a thing that's taught like calculus, say, or grammar or the alphabet. It seems to be more of a learn-by-osmosis process. In thinking about it, I probably first learned the skills that help me to edit as an undergrad English major at Columbia--picking out themes, plot devices, endowed objects, whatever it was that I pulled out of a story to use in an essay. Then it was probably Laura Geringer and Tamar Brazis, who I worked for in my first job as an editorial assistant, who taught me more. Tamar and I would sometimes sit and write a reader's report together, and through that I learned what types of things were important to focus on when putting thoughts together for an editor who would be writing an editorial letter. And then I'd read Laura's letters to authors and see which of Tamar and my points were included, what she'd added, how she worded her letters, etc.

After all of that, I got my MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts where the professors send the students what amounts to an editorial letter every month. From all of my mentors there--David Gifaldi, Sharon Darrow, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Marion Dane Bauer--I learned even more about editing--especially how important it is to tell authors the things they've done right instead of only talking about what can be improved. A lot of it, too, especially line editing, I think is instinctual.

What was the primary idea or value you took away from that education? I think the primary idea I took from all of that is that editing is just one person trying her hardest to help another person make a book the best in can be, and that there's no absolute way to do that--and also that the process can evolve and change.

A followup question about something you mentioned above: What is an "endowed object"? I've never heard that specific term before. Endowed objects (at least as I learned about them) are particular items that have an added layer of meaning. For example, a hat that's not just there to keep someone's head warm, but is also there as a reminder of a boy's mother because it's the last thing she knitted for him before she died. And then let's say that the boy is now homeless, that hat represents love and family and a sense of belonging. So the hat becomes a sort of shorthand for those feelings and is a touchstone for the boy. Often in a story with an endowed object, that object is part of the resolution. So in the story I've just invented, when that boy becomes close friends with a younger girl in the homeless shelter, he gives his hat to her at the end, when he finds out that his long lost aunt is going to adopt him. He no longer needs that reminder of love and security, but this girl does.

You did an MFA in Writing for Children at Vermont College -- how did that change your editing? My Vermont MFA changed my editing a lot--as I mentioned before, it helped teach me what was important to include in an editorial letter. But it also gave me more of a writer's vocabulary and a way to articulate my thoughts--after Vermont I was able to express the things I felt instinctively in a clearer, more concise way.

While every book and author need something different, of course, do you have a more or less standard editorial process? If so, could you describe it? I don't have a paint-by-numbers process, but I think more or less this is what I do: I email a copy of the manuscript I'm working on to whomever is assisting me on the project. Then I print the document and I start reading with a pen in my hand. I make comments in the margins about things I think are working really well or that I find confusing or illogical. Sometimes I ask questions or make exclamations about what's going on in the story. At the same time, I line-edit, cutting sentences, adding words, making notes about places that could use some fleshing out, etc. While I'm doing that, I have a document open on my computer and I jot notes there for my editorial letter--those are usually bigger picture things. I don't bother writing in paragraphs or even in full sentences--I just type in things like "fix love triangle. guy reads as creepy." or "look at screen play structure for plot" or whatever. Once I finish reading the manuscript I go back into any scenes that I've gained a new perspective on after reading the end of the story and re-line edit those. After that I turn my typed shorthand notes into the first draft of a letter. Then I flip through the marked up pages, adding smaller things that I feel are important enough to make it out of the margins.

Once that's finished, I talk to whomever is backing me up editorially on the project. We chat about the book, about our questions, about what we loved, etc., and then I go back into the editorial letter, tweak it, and add in any thoughts that emerged from the meeting. Sometimes I even incorporate large paragraphs of an assistant or intern's reader's report into my letter--telling the author that so-and-so came up with this point and I wholeheartedly agree. Then I read through my letter one last time and send it off to the author via e-mail. I follow that with a hard-copy of the letter and the scribbled-upon manuscript pages. I usually tell my authors to put the editorial letter in the freezer for at least three days and then give me a call or send me an e-mail if they have any questions or want to discuss anything further. Some letters are longer than others, and the content of the letter always depends on what a certain author's writing strengths are. I think I usually go through this process approximately three times on each book I edit (though of course some books need fewer rounds and some need more).

"The content of the letter always depends on what a certain author's writing strengths are" -- I agree absolutely. Could you talk a little about how you shape the content to suit those strengths? For instance, if an author's greatest strength was characterization, would you start from a characterization perspective, or would you talk in terms of plot instead because that's what needs more work? How do you make that judgment? You hit on exactly what I do in the second half of your question--if a writer has characterizations down, I focus on plot or dialogue or something else. And if someone is awesome at plot, I tend to spend more time talking about other aspects of the craft. As for how I make that judgment, it's usually pretty clear to me once I've read something. (Maybe that's the instinct part of the job?)

How would you define the editorial role in making a book? I think a book's editor has two main roles to play in the book-making process. First I think the editor is the book's in-house champion and guardian. From pitching the book to the publisher to introducing it to the sales and marketing groups at launch to stepping in when someone needs to dress up in a Pig costume to promote the book at BEA, I think the editor's job is to get across her passion for the project. Second, I think the editor is the book's creative guide. I think it's the editor's job to help the author realize his or her vision for the story as best as s/he can, to talk to the art director about the jacket and design, talk to marketing and sales folks about the title, and make sure the book comes together as a creative whole.

What are some common themes or ideas or motifs that run through the books you acquire? I've been thinking about that a lot recently, especially since I moved to Penguin--once I got here a lot of agents started asking me what defines me as an editor. This is what I've come up with in a nutshell: Most of the books I acquire are about empowerment. About kids who realize they're stronger, smarter and more capable than they thought they were or than society told them they were. That's a really important message to me--I don't think my books necessarily shout that message, but subtly, I think it's there in a lot of them. Empowerment in general--and actually female empowerment in specific. I love books that star strong women.

What book of yours has come out most recently? Could you tell me a little about it?
Since I've only been at Penguin for about ten months, my first Penguin novel won't be out until October, but I'll talk a little bit about that one. It's called NIGHTSHADE and is the first in a trilogy. The book is about a girl, Calla, who is the alpha female in a shape-shifting wolf pack. From birth she's known two things: She was born to serve the Keepers, and she was born to marry Ren LaRoche, the alpha male of a rival pack. But when she saves a human boy who was out hiking in the woods, she finds out some things about the Keepers that make her question her destiny. The book is really cinematic and tense and wonderful. I love the writing and the characters and the way Calla takes charge of her life. (There's that empowerment thing again...)

How many hours did you work in the past week?
Probably about 60 (or maybe even more), but this was ALA week, so it's not a fair judge. I'd say I usually work about 45ish.

In an ideal world, with practicality being no object, what would you have done if you hadn't become a children's book editor? How does that interest or passion influence what you do now? I probably would've gotten a PhD in childhood studies, taught in a university and written academic books (and probably fiction too) about children and childhood and how the experience of grown up has changed through the decades. I'm fascinated by the sociology, psychology and development of children and the way those things relate to the books children read, the games they play, and what they get out of those activities. I think it's probably another side of the same passion that lead me to becoming a children's book editor (and writer). Instead of studying children, I'm helping to create books that (hopefully) will affect them in a good way. I think that's part of why I'm so interested in books that have a message of empowerment and equality.

How do your writerly and editorial brains work together? Do you turn off one when you're using the other? Or do they take turns, or work simultaneously? (Would you even separate them into two brains?) I wish I could turn the editorial one off once in a while! Unfortunately, they're not separate--they're just one unified brain. When I write, I have to force myself not to revise chapters over and over and over again before I move on. I'm getting better, though, at moving ahead, getting words on a page, and making notes on what I need to work through so I can go back to them later. (After writing that, it makes me wonder if my brain is an editor's brain that I'm forcing to write stories...hmmm.)

I've always been impressed by your writerly discipline -- that you do two pages per day, even on top of all your editorial work. How did you discover this process? What makes it work for you? Well, two pages a day was my grad school method and is still my "novel under contract" method, but I've been slacking a bit as far as productivity goes recently. I do love two pages a day though--I feel like it's a doable goal. It takes me about 30-40 minutes, which is an amount of time that is pretty easy to find. Plus it makes it so that my brain is always involved in the story. I learned about the idea of writing a set amount each day from Michael Stearns, a former Harper colleague and current agent, who I think read about it in an article (or something) on Graham Greene.

Both of the novels you've published thus far are mysteries. What attracts you to the mystery form? What sort of planning goes into a mystery for you, distinct from other genres? I've always loved mysteries, from Nate the Great on. And what I love about reading them is also what I love about writing them: they're a puzzle. I like putting them together so that the reader can solve the mystery along with the main character--feed information in different ways at different times. I plan a lot when I write a mystery, but honestly, I plan a lot when I write anything. With a mystery, I come up with the problem, the perp, the clues, and the red herrings in advance. Then I put them in an order that I think won't give the answer away and will keep people curious. After that, I figure out how many chapters I'll need to tell the story and write a one- or two-sentence summary of what happens in each chapter and which clue or red herring will be used. The nice thing is that once the chapter outline is done, I can zoom ahead with the writing.

As an editor, what are three pieces of advice you would give to beginning writers? Hmm, okay: 1) This is a slow business, but everything will come together in the end, so try to be patient. 2) Make sure your expectations for your book and your publisher's expectations for the book are the same. 3) Don't forget to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

As a writer, what are three pieces of advice you would give to beginning writers?
1) Don't be afraid to ask questions (to your agent or your editor). 2) Talk to the publicist assigned to your book to find out what you can do to help promote your book in a helpful (and not harmful) way. 3) Don't forget to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

SQUIDS 101: Punctuation: Colons


The colon. It can join two independent clauses as a semicolon does; it can link an independent and a related dependent clause as a comma or emdash do; or it can be used to introduce a list in which the items are separated by commas or semicolons. It is our house style (following the Chicago Manual, I believe) that complete sentences that follow a colon are to begin with a capped letter. Fragments or lists after the colon should begin with a lowercase letter.
The squid stared at me in surprise: It had evidently never seen a scuba diver shoot ink back at it before.

The squid opened its luminescent eyes: vast orbs glowing like Chinese lanterns.

Contact lenses for squids are available in the following colors: chartreuse, periwinkle, lilac, rose, and burnt sienna.
I hear the pause after a colon as longer than the pause after a semicolon because there should be two spaces after the mark as opposed to one (and the greater the space accorded to anything in a story, the greater the weight it has), and because the cap at the start of a new sentence carries its own weight.

A Little Roundup Pre-ALA

Much fun stuff happening lately! To wit:

If you're going to be at ALA Annual in Washington this weekend, come to my lovely authors' book signings! All take place in the Scholastic booth, #2624 (or, what's easier to find: under the gigantic red Scholastic banner that will be looming over all our heads).
I personally will be flitting about the convention from Friday evening, when I'm attending the awesome Kidlit Drink Night that Sara and her Mid-Atlantic SCBWI peeps are hosting, through Tuesday afternoon, when Francisco receives the Schneider Family Book Award for Marcelo. (Yay, Francisco!) If you see me, please say hi!

If you'll be in New York over the weekend instead of Washington, I recommend the "Notes from the Underground" play festival at the American Theatre of Actors, including a one-act directed by my own dear boyfriend, James Monohan -- "Bastard," by K. Alexa Mavromatis, which despite its blunt title actually has the feel of a good YA novel. It has two more performances, Friday and Saturday.

Anyone interested in plot structure: This Jennifer Crusie post is a must-read. Other things I've been reading lately: All five volumes of the Scott Pilgrim series, which were huge fun and have me eagerly anticipating both the sixth book and the movie (click here to see my avatar (winter edition) and make your own); A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, which I found annoyingly interesting and compelling; and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, which was a perfect, calming, pleasingly round read before bedtime.

Arthur has started a blog.

Emily and I have decided that we don't get out of the office enough and explore our lunch options in Soho, so we're making it a summer project to go out one day a week. And thus far the experiment has been a roaring success, because I recently had the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my life -- "the Korean," with bulgogi-marinated steak, lettuce, and slaw, on Cuban bread with sesame oil -- at a place called Project Sandwich. Be still, my carnivorous heart. Any other suggestions for great Soho lunch places or excellent New York sandwiches are hereby welcomed.

SQUIDS 101: Punctuation: Semicolons

(This series explained in a previous post here; some nice official rules on semis here.)


Semicolons are stronger and heavier than commas, and as such, they create a slightly longer or more significant pause. The semicolon joins two independent clauses, usually on the same topic or thought. I frequently use them to join two independent clauses that are already joined by a conjunction, when I want the longer pause of a semi plus the aural smoothness of a conjunction; I have always thought this was technically wrong, but the rule list linked above assured me that this is acceptable so long as there is a comma in the first independent clause. (And considering the length of the sentences I write, there usually is!) These examples are apparently both correct:
Serendipitously, the squid surfed into sight at that second; startled, it squirted away.

Serendipitously, the squid surfed into sight at that second; but Sir Septimus screamed, and it squirted away.
If you are making a list in which the list items themselves contain commas, then the list items should be divided by semicolons as follows:
The squid ate five sardines; six mussels, which he found rather hard to open; seven anemones, sans clownfish; and a Boston cream pie.
Perhaps because they're used in so much eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English literature, I often think of semicolons as a little bit formal or fussy; they're the maiden aunt of punctuation, as opposed to the boldness of a dash or the unobtrusiveness of a comma. But like many maiden aunts, they are wonderfully useful at keeping many unruly things in line, be they ideas, clauses, or commas. Indeed, because they're so good at neatly delineating multiple similar items within a sentence, I also feel like semicolons signal complexity; when used correctly, their presence in your prose says that you know how to present and manage all these items competing for the reader's attention -- that you have things under control.

Finally, Semikolon is an excellent German paper-goods company, should you be a stationery hound like I am.

Becoming Argentina

The World Cup has put me in mind of one of my favorite passages from any book our imprint has published -- the following letter from Seb, an exuberant, soccer-obsessed teenage boy in Australia, writing to Lydia, a student at rival Ashbury High, after he asked her to get him out of an exam:
Dear Lydia,


How did you even know what kind of car he drives? You rock. You’re a classic. You’re as beautiful as a Beckham free kick and as wicked as a Maradona header. I’m thinking about taking off my shirt and sending it to you. I’m that in love with you.

You realize that’s THREE challenges you have succeeded in without a single thing going wrong?

You know what you are?

You are Argentina.

In particular, I’m thinking of the fact that Argentina beat Japan, Jamaica, and Croatia without conceding a single goal in the first three games of the World Cup in 1998.

This time you have to let me take you out to say thank you. I’m not accepting a no.

Your No. 1 Fan
This is from Jaclyn Moriarty's utterly delightful The Year of Secret Assignments, and because of this passage, we occasionally use "You are Argentina" in the office as our highest form of praise. We just rejacketed it, at the same time we put out our third Ashbury book with Jaci, and this new cover for the book is Argentina:

As is the cover for said third book, The Ghosts of Ashbury High, which completes Lydia and Seb's story:

The other Ashbury books are Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, and they are all four hilarious, romantic, original in form, thoughtful in execution, with real depth and pain to their characters, and real pleasure in their storytelling. You won't find a better thing to read on the beach this year.

End of bubbly (but sincere) testimonial.

SQUIDS 101: Punctuation: Commas

The following material is taken from my book, which is in its last editing stages, glory hallelujah. I'll probably post the rest of my goofy guide to punctuation over time.

Another ENEMY to sentence rhythm: the wrong punctuation. I am obsessed with punctuation because I am a very aural editor, and punctuation is (or should be) the writer's primary means of registering the tones and pauses in a dramatic scene. Pauses have drama, and too many pauses can make too much drama, but too few might make a reader miss some crucial information as the flow of words can overwhelm the facts within. Altogether, I agree with this wonderful quotation from Isaac Babel: “No steel can pierce the heart of man as icily as a full stop placed at the right moment.”

This, then, is the highly idiosyncratic Cheryl Klein Guide to Punctuation -- by no means a definitive guide to punctuation -- with the various marks analyzed in ascending order of their pause length and therefore drama. (The examples all involve squids for the lone reason that “squid” is a funny word.) If you would like a more serious guide to punctuation with clear and official rules of use, I suggest checking out


The lowly hardworking comma. It creates the briefest pause, used to establish a quick hitch in the flow of speech for either organizational or dramatic purposes. While every house or copyeditor has its own rules on how to use commas, I generally try to abide by the taste of the author and the point of the writing in question. For instance, technically, both of these sentences are correct:
I, personally, prefer the elegance of the glass squid to the asymmetry of the cock-eyed squid.

I personally prefer the elegance of the glass squid to the asymmetry of the cock-eyed squid.
The point of a sentence like this is not just to convey information about squid preferences, but to show the personality of the speaker. A very sententious, arrogant, or dramatic speaker might want those pauses around “personally” to emphasize that these are his personal tastes, and as such, you know, they’re not that important—at the same time implying that, because they’re his tastes, you might want to pay attention. A less sententious speaker might not want those pauses so the sentence flows faster and reads more smoothly (indeed, a speaker not wanting to draw attention to himself might delete the adverb altogether). Thus, depending on how much the writer and editor wanted to emphasize the speaker’s self-importance, those commas might be left in or taken away.

Because commas create pauses, a good rule of thumb is: The faster the action should move in a sentence or a scene, the fewer commas-of-choice you should have. Consider these two sentences:
The squid, furious, lashed out with six tentacles, grasping Martha about the neck.

The furious squid lashed out with six tentacles and grasped Martha about the neck.
Removing the commas-of-choice around the appositive "furious" and moving it back to become a preceding adjective makes the opening of the sentence move much more quickly, as the reader doesn't have to pause for the appositive. The additional value of "grasping" with comma vs. "and grasped" without is debatable, as I think long sentences without some pause actually get harder to read; but that may be because I'm just so much an aural reader that I want breathing spaces even in printed prose.

Of course, you can also use pauses to drag things out. In The Hunger Games example [that I quote in the book before this excerpt], the parallelism and many commas of “I will stare her down, I will not cry out, I will die, in my own small way, undefeated” hold the reader in suspense for the moment the knife will touch Katniss and cause her death, putting us on that same knife-edge.

Commas are also used to separate and organize items in a list:
The squid, ravenous, ate five sardines, six mussels, seven anemones, and a Boston cream pie.
That comma before the “and” here is known as the serial comma. Again, style varies from house to house and author to author, but I like having a comma before the “and” for maximum clarity. The writer and grammarian Martha Brockenbrough once tweeted this possibly apocryphal example of a book dedication: ‘To my parents, God and Ayn Rand.’” One hopes very much that a serial comma would have proved useful.


On Tuesday, Arthur A. Levine Books published I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, the debut novel from writer Erin McCahan, edited by moi. I'll let this week's terrific Publishers Weekly review speak to the story:
Offering sharp wit and plenty of romantic interludes, first-time author McCahan captures the excitement and panic of a teenage girl on the fast track to becoming Mrs. Somebody. Seventeen-year-old Bronwen Oliver doesn't feel like she belongs in her family (she entertains escapist fantasies in which she discovers she was switched at birth and is really "Phoebe Lilywhite"). . . . When an old acquaintance, Jared, re-enters Bronwen's life and sweeps her off her feet, Bronwen thinks she's finally found someone to whom she can relate. And she's soon confident that she fits into Jared's world better than she fits into her own. On her 18th birthday, Jared presents her with an engagement ring. After readily accepting his proposal, Bronwen is on cloud nine until realities about potential married life bring her crashing back down. Told in lively first-person narrative, this intelligent romance teaches a hard but relevant lesson about living dreams and letting them go.
And that's exactly right -- it's an excellently Austenian romance full of moral development and funny observations, particularly about Bronwen's deeply, um, "eccentric" family. It's also a wonderfully Midwestern book, being set in suburban Michigan and focusing on marriage, which is not a subject that comes up much in coastal-set fiction for YA. (Which is one reason why I was so delighted by it -- my suburban Midwestern roots showing.) Erin answered some questions this week over e-mail:

Tell me about the first book you ever wrote.
In elementary school, I wrote a novel – in pencil, in spiral notebooks – about my stuffed animals coming to life at night. I, of course, was the heroine of the novel, and, in it, I followed my stuffed animals one night down the clothes chute, which wasn’t a clothes chute but a portal to a different land consisting of a number of kingdoms inhabited mostly by fairies and wee folk who were forever on the verge of being overthrown by evil fairies. Naturally, I stayed to help these kingdoms defeat the evil fairies by uniting all the good people into one empire, and in the end they thanked me by making me a princess and giving me my own waterfall.

I think I read a paranormal romance with that same plot last year. What is your writing process like? For me, it’s like framing the canvas before painting the picture. I know where to start and where to end. I have a general idea of what the thing will look like, but it always changes along the way.

Are you a planner, or a seat-of-your-pantser? Do you revise as you go along, or only after you've done a huge chunk? Some of the best writing advice I ever got came from my creative writing professor at Hope College who said, “Never write with the intention that you will go back and revise later. Understand there will always be revisions, but they will be easier if you make every effort your best effort.” This very often results in my working on one particular scene for days and days and, occasionally, days.

You spent some time working as a youth minister; what influence did that have on your writing? Did you always intend to write for teenagers, or did/do you write for adults? When I was 27 years old, I wrote a mainstream, adult novel, found an agent for it and thought my life was set. My agent even optioned the thing to a movie producer, so – even better, right? Of course, it all came to nothing, so falling back on my college minor and also some graduate work in seminary, I became a youth minister. Did it for 10 years and loved it, and I discovered, actually, an innate ability to connect with teenagers, who kept me on my toes and made me laugh all the time. So, when I was ready to write another novel, I just very naturally wrote for the YA audience.

Where did this book start for you? This book began when three unrelated concepts collided. Well, bumped into each other, anyway.
  1. Years ago, I gave myself the alias "Phoebe Lilywhite" because it sounds English, which I wish I were for the accent, and it sounds like the name of someone, like me, who has never been tan in her life.
  2. I have a shameless fascination with weddings. Tacky. Elegant. Shotgun. I don’t care. I love them all.
  3. I always wanted to write something about my step-dad, who died before I ever told him how much I loved him.
So – Phoebe Lilywhite, weddings, and step-dad percolated and became I Now Pronounce You Someone Else.

Erin talks more about the role of "Phoebe Lilywhite" within the novel here:

Did anything surprise you about the way the characters or the book grew or changed during the editorial process? The entire editorial process surprised me. It’s fascinating. It begins conversationally, later involves e-mail and only then gets “down on paper” so to speak. Here’s what people should know and appreciate about Cheryl the Editor: She will not accept, “Well, that’s just the way she is,” as a justification for a character’s actions or thoughts. I tried to claim temperament once. (blushing at self) -- “She was born that way.” Ha! Throughout the editorial process, I had to defend – truly defend – my characters’ motivations, which wholly fleshed them out, and the result is – can I retell a compliment? – that one of the consistent praises I’m receiving from reviewers is that my characters are believable. Wouldn’t have happened without the comprehensive editorial process.

What was your vision of your Dream Wedding in high school? (In mine, all the girls were going to be wearing long, light pink dresses and carrying white flowers, and all the guys would wear gray tuxes with pink cummerbunds, bow ties, and boutonnieres. I have definitely grown out of this.) I think yours sounds too incredibly cute! Mine was going to involve some degree of royalty, so picture English gothic cathedrals, horse-drawn carriages and really dowdy shoes on the groom’s side of the church.

What was your own, real wedding like? I wish I could have bottled how I felt on my wedding day and sold or given it to future brides because my marrying Tim was all about marrying Tim and not about the wedding. It was important to me to be married in a church by a priest. Aside from that, nothing else mattered -- dress, colors, flowers, reception. Nothing. I didn't even want a wedding dress, kept telling my mother I'd just wear a suit I already owned, but we happened to be walking past a store in the mall one day that carried a line of wedding dresses -- eight, I believe -- and I picked the one I wanted from a catalogue, and they shipped it to my house. Didn't bother with a veil.

Tim proposed to me on Feb. 6th, 1999, and we were married the following April 17th. He told me, the night he proposed, that he asked me to marry him, not be engaged to him, and he asked my mother how quickly she could plan a wedding -- reasonably. She, Super Organizer Woman that she is, said eight weeks. We settled on ten weeks in keeping with a 17th theme in our lives. (Tim's birthday is August 17th; mine is October 17th.)

We were married at 11:30 in the morning on an unusually cold and drizzly April day. My brother, David, escorted me down the aisle. (Our father died young, and our step-father did, too.) And one of my funniest memories of the day is of David fairly yanking me back as I tried to bolt down the aisle when the music started. He was so calm and completely together as he set an appropriate processional pace.

Normally, I dislike being watched and was dreading the processional, but I remember feeling nothing but peaceful as I looked at Tim at the altar, and, once David adjusted the pace -- and we shared a near laugh -- I don't remember seeing anyone but Tim.

We each had one attendant, and we had eighty guests and a perfectly Episcopal ceremony and a perfectly Episcopal Brunch At The Club afterwards. We did the traditional cutting-of-the-nondescript-cake and fed each other small bites, and we drank champagne and laughed with friends, and it really was a lovely, simple day.

Bronwen feels strongly that she wants to wait for sex until after marriage -- an interesting contrast to a lot of YA books at present, where sex is a matter-of-fact part of teenage life. Where did you see this conclusion coming from for her? Bronwen is one of those girls who understands that sex is a huge deal. She hasn’t trivialized it to the level of a handshake, and she doesn’t buy the line that it’s special simply because her boyfriend says I love you or even because she says it. She’s smart. So is her best friend, and they see the flaw in the argument that sex is okay in a “committed relationship,” because there really are no committed relationships in high school. Agreeing to date only one person is agreeing to date only one person . . . until you break up with him or he breaks up with you. Which you do. You always do! Bronwen knows this and would rather not share the single most intimate and powerful act with a guy she’s going to break up with one day.

She also visits Jared at college twice for overnights and stays in a girls' dorm, which leads to some of the most fun scenes and conversations in the book. I'm guessing you had a good time at college? Staying up all night talking with your best friends? Few things are better than that.

How did you develop your ear for dialogue? This is such a nice question, thank you. I was a very shy, very quiet child who preferred listening to speaking. What I heard was often less interesting to me than how it was said. It still is, now that I think about it.

What have you been reading recently? Everything by Francisco X. Stork, Alan Bradley, and the 10ers.

Finally, Lightning Round! In the course of the book, Bronwen fills out a Roommate Questionnaire for college. How would you answer these same questions?

1. Do you consider yourself a: Morning Person Evening Person Morning. I’m up early, but I’m not coherent and chatty for an hour at least.

2. Do you usually keep your room: Warm Cool Cold Cool – by which I mean freezing – when my husband’s home. Otherwise warm.

3. Do you consider yourself: Shy Average Outgoing I am a shy person trapped inside the body of an outgoing, chatty person.

4. How often will you let your roommate borrow your clothes? Never Sometimes All the Time She can borrow my clothes, but they have to come back to me cleaned. Preferably professionally. Twice.

5. On weekends, will you be: On Campus Off Campus Well, what’s going on and where is it happening?

6. How many hours a week do you spend watching television or listening to music? Never Three or Four Five to Ten More Than Ten Five to ten – I watch the news morning and night and listen to music on the treadmill.

7. What word best describes the current condition of your room? Occupied.

8. What two qualities would you like most in a roommate? Good hygiene and a contagious laugh.

9. Do you have any allergies? No. There’s some family controversy over this, but no.

10. Do you have any special needs? Yes. At least once a day, I desperately need to be someplace where no one is talking to me.

11. Please list any hobbies or interests that would further help us place you with a compatible roommate. I will be compatible with anyone who likes animals. Doesn’t matter what our other interests are. (I realize this is not scientific, but it’s true.)

Thanks, Erin!

Nice News!

My website,, has been named one of the "101 Best Websites for Writers" in the May/June issue of Writer's Digest! The full list isn't online, but it features some truly great sites, including Editorial Anonymous, InkyGirl, Nathan Bransford,, and the Purple Crayon, and I'm honored to be noted among them. Thanks for the recognition, Writers' Digest!

(And thanks, Mom, for texting me with the news. You sure you don't want a second career in book publicity?)

In other nice news, I learned this week that a couple met at our BEA Kidlit Drinks Night last year, fell in love shortly thereafter, and as of this year's (awesome) event, they're planning to move in together. As someone who loves connections -- between characters, between the right editor and the right writer, between the right reader and the right book -- I find this immensely delightful and satisfying. Hooray!

And because good things should always come in threes, let's see. . . . Ah! It's a three-day weekend! Go forth and be frivolous.


Last December, I was playing around with a flap copy idea, and I impulsively tossed a draft up on the blog to gauge reader reaction. Said reaction was resoundingly negative, so I tucked that idea away for the time being, but I thought you all might be interested in seeing the front flap copy that the author and I did decide to use. To wit:
I needed to save Daniel. That’s why I made the choices I did. I didn’t need the track scholarships I’d turned down or the futures they promised. I didn’t need for my mother and me to have some grand reconciliation. I didn’t even need Jeff Cedars to fall in love with me a second time. All I needed was for my kid brother to have a normal life, and I believed with all my heart that I knew the way to give it to him.

The only problem, as I came to find out, was that just believing something doesn’t make it true.

Daniel Grant is six years old. He builds Lego spaceships and sleeps with a nightlight. He loves turtle shells, comic books, and his big sister, Andi.

And he’s known as the “Miracle Boy” of Paradise, Pennsylvania. Not just because he survived a freak accident when he was a baby: No, Daniel is rumored to have the power to cure the sick, to call home lost souls, even to bring back the dead.

Andi Grant doesn’t know what to believe. Her brother may be a little different, but he surely isn’t a miracle worker. Yet more and more people come to Paradise to see him—reporters seeking a story, “Pilgrims” seeking hope. And when one of the seekers becomes a dangerous stalker, Andi knows one thing for sure: The madness around Daniel has to stop.

As her plan comes together, the stalker draws closer, and the clock ticks toward Daniel’s star appearance at Paradise Days, Andi finds herself wrestling with her own beliefs in God and her brother, and wondering if what she really needs is . . . a miracle.
The book is The Miracle Stealer, the second YA novel by the excellent Neil Connelly, whose debut, St. Michael's Scales, we published back in 2001. And while I no longer mention the first chapter on the flap, I stand by my praise of it as one of the most intense and jaw-dropping scenes you're likely to read in a YA novel this year, just as the book as a whole is really intense, funny, thoughtful, and twisty -- a sort of spiritual suspense thriller firmly anchored in these very real characters, especially the prickly and awesome Andi. If you liked Marcelo in the Real World, put this one on your list.

Jacket art by Chris Stengel. Out in October.