Archive for November 2011
She isn’t a mermaid, but she’s surrounded by enormous, silent fish made of blue and green glass, and her space behind the window could as easily be filled with ocean as with air. I like how the window displays of Bergdorf Goodman are simply not possible. How can a zebra be constructed of paper, or a polar bear consist of silk fringes? How can a powerful, confident girl fly in the sea?
I love that otherworldly views are given to us unexpectedly, without explanation. They do not coyly advertise particular goods. Someone spent painstaking hours constructing monkeys, spider webs, ostriches, peacocks and rays and trusted that we would marvel.
We do. We gape outside on the gray sidewalk, in real life, taking turns politely with other tourists so they can have a chance to look, to have their photos snapped before the scenes. We’re transported by the details and whimsy. We’re reminded we have imaginations, too. We never leave.
While I was in St. Paul this weekend, my friend Cathie Hartnett interviewed me by phone for her MyTalk radio show on 107.1 and we talked about the Birthmarked Trilogy. Cathie’s a blast. We grew up on the same block, five houses apart, and she was a cool, older, corrupting influence on me when I desperately needed one. I love whenever I have a chance to reconnect with her.
The first half hour of the show Cathie talks about Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher with her slightly judgmental co-host, Madde Gibba. Then they talk about what celebrities earn for showing up at clubs or for photo events. After the break, Cathie segues into a fifteen minute segment with me, and we discuss how books compete with electronic games, among other things. I, for one, am all for the competition, by the way. Books have to be really good if they’re going to win out against Skyrim. If you have nothing better to do, feel free to click over and listen to the show, which is available on demand.
Visiting my hometown always gives me a kaleidoscopic feeling as new experiences are superimposed over old ones, and last Friday night I added another by returning to the Red Balloon Bookshop, in St. Paul, MN, a favorite spot place I’ve stopped into regularly since it opened in 1984. New co-owner Holly Weinkauf welcomed me with charismatic warmth and we were joined by my extended family, friends from my old neighborhood, girlhood buddies from the Visitation and SPA/SS, college friends, a book group I know through Skyping, and their children.
An unduly large percentage of attendees had already read Birthmarked, so I didn’t worry about spoilers and jumped right into reading from the first chapter of Prized. Reading aloud is a sort of split-personality experience, because my main mind is deep into the story, far away from the present reality, while a smaller, aware side of me knows I’m in a room full of people, and I need to keep my place, speak clearly, and glance up a bit when I can. I think I like best the brief moment at the end, when I reach the last words and stop, and a moment hovers there, like everyone’s still waiting for a little more.
Then we get on to the cake, and all is well. Books are about bringing people together, and I’m happy to be part of such a rich community. Many thanks to Holly and the team at the Red Balloon. I had a lovely time in your bookshop and I’m so grateful you had me in for a reading of Prized.
A parade of families streamed into the 20th CT Children’s Book Fair this weekend to visit with authors and illustrators and slap high fours with The Cat in the Hat. Tomie dePaola, Mo Willems, and Jane Yolen all signed during the day Sunday when as many as 700 people per hour entered the Rome Ballroom on the UConn campus. It was packed, and interesting, and silly, too. Special thanks to Suzy Staubach and Terri Goldich for a smashing event.
I had fun on a panel with fellow dystopian writers Suzanne Weyn, Michael Northrop, and Jeff Hirsch. Moderator Nikki Mutch asked provocative questions about what has inspired so many writers to tackle dystopias these days, and the replies encompassed our latest Irene and pre-Halloween snowfall disasters and the zeitgeist authors tap into. An attentive audience followed up with questions about fanfiction, what should be read in school, and how writers keep their books fresh when so many cover similar themes.
My favorite part was definitely meeting kids who are writers. They are fearless. They come right up and start talking about why they love writing and how it’s all they do. They talk about loving words and stories and voices. Their parents stand shyly a few feet back, looking proud, and like they know they’re already way out of their league, trying to keep up with their kids.
Honestly, if we can just get out of their way, the children know what to do. It’s the most inspiring thing to see, even in glimpses in a packed room. “Celebrating children and the books they read” was the tagline of the fair, and truly, the children were the highlights of the day.
Je suis très contente que le deuxième roman de la série Birthmarked soit édité aujourd’hui en France. Merci beaucoup à Juliette Saumaude, qui a fait la traduction, et à mon editeur brillant, Sarah Millet à Fleurus Edition. J’espère que les lecteurs francais s’amuseront bien avec la suite de l’histoire de Gaia.
I’m delighted that Prized is out in the U.K. and Australia today from Simon & Schuster Children’s. Many thanks to my editor Jane Griffiths for her careful work with the project. I hope readers will enjoy Gaia’s next adventure in the series.
Suzy Staubach and the kind team at the UConn Co-op put on a fun launch for Prized last night, and I was touched that so many of my friends came, including one from college I haven’t seen in years. She and her daughter came all the way from Rhode Island to surprise me. Madness!
The local high school had their concert rescheduled to last night due to the power outages last week, which accounted for a shortage of singers in the audience. Nevertheless, it was a special night for my family and me. I especially appreciated the thoughtful questions and the no-nonsense advice about the mic. It’s nice when you can count on people to speak up frankly.
Thanks to Suzy for her generosity. Thanks to my friends for coming by. I don’t know a luckier writer in a nicer community.
Nancy Mercado and I talk to each other rarely. We’ve had fewer than a dozen phone calls over the past three years, and we’ve met in person three times total. In a way, I know my editor most vividly as a disembodied voice in the margin of my manuscripts, and yet, because of the focused nature of our relationship, Nan has surprised me countless times by how completely she gets how my mind works. It’s almost uncanny, really. We laugh a lot, too, but almost never in the same room, at the same time.
When we revise a draft together, certain ongoing exchanges take on a life of their own. We’ve recently worked on “Tortured,” a short story we plan to use as an experimental tie-in to The Birthmarked Trilogy. Here’s a screenshot showing our Track Changes comments around a particular revision. You can figure out who’s talking even when she jumps in my red box with her caps
I ended up taking her advice on that one. I usually take her advice, frankly, or pull my brains out trying to figure out why I shouldn’t.
As much as I value the small-scale editing, however, what I really cherish is the way Nan pushes me deeper into my own mind with her questions during large revisions, and how she supports when I need to take a risk. Prized brings up a sensitive issue, the sort of topic that can divide my extended family and set tempers flaring. A character’s unwanted pregnancy had been hovering at the edge of my story through eight drafts before I finally said to Nan, I don’t know what to do with this. I thought she might advise me to drop it, which I could have done, but instead, she suggested I bring it forward. Face it. See what happened.
Until that point, I had not realized how much I’d been censoring myself. I was afraid to write something that might make people, especially people I loved, upset with me. I didn’t think I could write well enough to be fair or true. Over the next weeks, grappling with the novel also involved discovering what responsibilities I had as a person and a writer, especially a writer for teens. Nan patiently waited me out, postponing deadlines, nudging with her questions while I hewed away, rewriting and revising, rippling the consequences of my decisions through the rest of the story. I trusted Nan would support me regardless of what I wrote, as long as I wrote honestly. The final novel feels right to me, hard but right.
I know I would not have developed Prized the way I did, nor stretched who I am quite this way, without Nan’s support, and so when it came time to pick a person to dedicate Prized to, Nan was my only choice. I put her name in the manuscript just before the copy edits stage and sent it in. When she wrote back to ask if I was sure, I was caught in a funny, awkward moment. She modestly said that writers usually pick family members, and I thought, Oh, no. She’s declining. I couldn’t exactly write back and say Nan’s like family to me. She isn’t. Nan’s like my editor to me.
In the end, fortunately, I convinced her. Prized is dedicated to Nancy Mercado.