Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Look, Ma, I'm on the Internets (again)!

I often find myself telling people--authors, interns and publishing hopefuls, friends and family--that children's publishing must certainly be one of the most collegial industries out there today. Part of this is because publishing is a really small industry once you're working on the inside of it, a fact which has both perks and minuses. On the negative side is the fact that industry events can sometimes feel like being in a room full of all the people you've ever interviewed for who didn't hire you, which can be distressing...until you realize that everyone else in the room probably feels pretty much the same way, all the way up to the highest levels of the business!

On the far more excellent side is the fact that your smart, interesting colleagues across the industry--even the ones from other houses with whom you fight bitterly over manuscripts at the appropriate moments--are likely to become comrades and often friends (or at the least, well-respected nemeses!) since you're all in the business of books together. And since publishing is often a bit like musical chairs when it comes to all the job-hopping, chances are good that many of those pals are quite likely to become in-house colleagues at some point in your mutual careers. All this elbow-rubbing isn't just to the benefit of editors, though--it's also important for books! Buzz often starts organically within the industry, and as an editor, there's really few things more exciting or complimentary than knowing that a fellow editor whose taste you respect is busy helping to spread the word about one of your beloved books.

Speaking of fellow editors from other houses whose taste you respect (why yes, that was a smooth segue, wasn't it?), I've absolutely enjoyed getting to know Little, Brown's T.S. Ferguson since we first met at last year's Rutgers Conference. Among the many things to appreciate about this colleague of mine: he's fantastically witty, a fellow burrito-lover, the passionate editor of a fantastic debut novel that I recently had the pleasure to read, he recently assured me that a cupcake and a beer could count as dinner...AND he's been known to slip me coveted ARCs pretty much the day the arrive in his office, with only minor amounts of heckling required on my part. All of which are reasons why I agreed to be the debut guinea pig interview-ee on his blog's new Junior Editor Spotlight series. Just as you'd expect from a brilliant editor, he asked a round of very thought-provoking questions, so if you're interested, head over there and take a gander at some of my responses. (Oh, and while you're there, back me up in the comments to convince T.S. that he owes the us a set of answers to his own tough questions!)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Poetry Friday: "To a Girl Writing Her Father's Death"

One of my favorite professors in college shared today's poem (one of my all-time favorites) with us, at the start of a semester-long intensive poetry writing workshop. There was instantly something I loved so much about this poem--about the poet's voice, about the way reading it makes me catch my breath a little, and about the true, hard things she has to say about the often-painful act of writing. So I asked my professor if I could borrow the collection of poetry that it was from...and then, I'm ashamed to say, I somewhat-purposefully "forgot" to return the book to him. I just didn't want to give up those words.

That professor remained a mentor to me long after the semester's workshop ended--in fact, he later supervised the publishing internship that was my first step into working in children's books--and when I graduated and was packing to move and bidding my goodbyes to campus, I finally confessed that I still had his book, and promised to return it before leaving for good. He instead kindly told me that I should continue to keep the pilfered book as a graduation gift, and to hold dear the poem in it that I'd loved so much. So now I'm turning around, and sharing it with all of you, especially you writers, as the editor in me thinks about your stories, and echoes the poet's instructions, "Speak. Make holy detail....And forgive me for asking."

"To a Girl Writing Her Father's Death"
by Beckian Fritz Goldberg

Sometimes the lake water writes and writes and gets
no answer. You tell me, It was just October.
That is good. His voice was full of love and laughter. Not
so good. Full of copper, jacks-of-diamonds, cubes
of honey, I could believe. But I did not know
your father. The moment when the cable snapped from
the boat has, however, its drama. Yet it is not
enough. Try to understand the need out here for
gestures, wind, raw sound. Was it a spasm
of sex in the motor, light shingling
his black hair as the boat spun
on its wide iris down? Were you standing?
I know this must be painful, standing
at the edge of your white page with someone
gone under. You were sixteen and he called you
Princess, though it is a cliche to be
called Princess. And to be sixteen. Yet
I have looked at you and you are not now
much older. You could wear tiaras,
your blond waves pure as the back
of the knee. Though you wear your carrot rouge
in clumsy circles, which makes me
love you. I have not lost a father
except in my dreams. But each one has left
my mouth open. Speak. Make holy
detail. Let the water bend over you like cold
eyeballs. Let in the scream and the lining of the scream
and the prismic figure eights of oil
mad on the wake--and forgive me
for asking. You have to think of the world
which gave and took your father.
The world which asks for him now.
There's no sense writing poems unless
you see the mob: We who gather for the red
pulse of every ambulance, we who crowd
lifeguards kissing the still blue lips of
children on the beach, and murmur who
and how, hungry for every morsel
of this life that is not ours, not really. Not
for long. But for the asking.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Food, glorious food!

Last week, fellow foodie pal Laura and I went to a great lecture starring some of the preeminent voices in food writing of the past few decades. A big highlight for me was meeting my very own doppelganger--famed food writer/cookbook author/ Molly O'Neill.

"The Other Molly O'Neill" has always been a bit of a legendary, mythical persona to me, ever since I was a little girl and my Grandpa used to send me clippings of her New York Times restaurant reviews with scribbled notes in the margins about all the fancy dinners that "I" was having. She's become even more of a fantastical figure to me since I started orbiting in the NYC book/publishing world too--mistaken googling and other mixed information has meant that over the past few years, I've gotten dozens of interview requests, phone calls, Facebook friend requests and even autographing requests on her behalf (it's also given me a bonus secret superpower: the ability to score Very Nice tables at fancy restaurants that I, alas, mostly can't afford). We'd been put in email contact once (by a mutual author colleague who found the Tale of Two Molly O'Neills most amusing), which delighted me inordinate amounts, but I'd never met her in person before, nor had I ever heard her speak. I'm delighted to report that "the other Molly O'Neill" is smart, witty, and a fantastic public speaker--absolutely everything you could hope for in a doppelganger!

The purpose of the lecture, though, was not to test out whether a meeting of doppelgangers would break the time-space continuum (thankfully, both time and space seem to have survived the event just fine), but a discussion of the legacy of Craig Claiborne, another famed food writer.

Craig did much to bring food writing and foreign cuisine into the forefront of American cultural awareness in the 1950s, a time when conversation about food rarely happened outside the home, and when palates were decidedly non-experimental--for example, he's credited with creating the 4-star system of restaurant reviewing still used today. (Did you know that a certain point in time, banks often financed restaurant loans based in large part on the number of stars the New York Times had given to a chef's preceeding restaurants?) He also brought many then-unknown chefs from all across the country into the public eye, as the forerunners to today's celebrity chefs.

Many of the panelists and the audience members at last week's event had known Craig personally, and had their own careers influenced by him, so the panel was part lecture, part commentary, and part sharing of personal tales. I was moved almost beyond words at one of the last stories that my doppelganger shared: in his final years, Craig suffered from a number of lifelong health issues that compounded painfully around the same time that later food writers began to, in the natural order of such things, eclipse his legacy with their own fame. But in those last few years, the many NYC chefs and restaurants that Craig had supported and built up for decades, as a food critic and restaurant evangelist, turned around and supported him: not a day went by without a four-star meal being delivered to his home by one of the city's chefs. And according to the panelists, in his last years, he could likewise walk into nearly any restaurant in the city and be treated to a VIP meal, even when he was no longer on the New York Times' staff or expense account.

Stories like that are their own sort of food, I think--feeding the part of us that needs to believe in the goodness of our fellow human beings. And that kind of generosity is perhaps particularly touching to consider in a city like New York, since it so so often gets a bad rap for being a cold, heartless, unfeeling, and impersonal place. Most of all though, that poignant story reminded me of how important community is to all of us, because it gives us opportunities to act upon, and be reminded of, our own humanity. And I couldn't help but think quietly, but proudly, that our own community of authors, illustrators, and publishing compatriots would (and certainly has, as I can think of dozens of such examples) rally in the same way for one of our own--not out of obligation, but out of that same sense of family-like loyalty. Lucky us.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Poetry Friday: "Little Boy Blue"

This one goes out to the many who are currently down for the count, thanks to the evil BEA-Flu/Cold, otherwise known as the dread Javits Disease. *sniffle* May we all get well soon.

"Little Boy Blue"

by Darren Sardelli

Little Boy Blue,
please cover your nose.
You sneezed on Miss Muffet
and ruined her clothes.
You sprayed Mother Hubbard,
and now she is sick.
You put out the fire
on Jack’s candlestick.
Your sneeze is the reason
why Humpty fell down.
You drenched Yankee Doodle
when he came to town.
The blind mice are angry!
The sheep are upset!
From now on use tissues
so no one gets wet!