Friday, December 31, 2010

Your central story; My central story

A few posts back on this blog, you heard me talk about #reverb10, an annual, month-long online reflection project. Here's a bit more about it, from the website:
Reverb 10 is an annual event and online initiative to reflect on your year and manifest what’s next. With Reverb 10 - and the 31 prompts our authors have created for you - you'll have support on your journey.You can commit and start at any time and respond to the prompts in any way you wish - this project is designed for you to discover what needs discovering, however's best for you.
The organizers asked me to contribute one of the month's reflection prompts, and today my prompt goes live for several thousand bloggers and writers to consider. Even if you didn't participate in #reverb10, I think it's a pretty fascinating question to ponder in general, and I welcome your thoughts and responses in the comments section.

December 31 – Core Story. What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.)

Here is what you must know about me: I believe in stories.

I believe they have the power to shape us, to change us, to heal us, to teach us, to connect us. And more.

 There are other things that I believe in powerfully and passionately, too--the capacity for faith is a gift that has been alive in me my whole life, manifesting itself differently as I've grown and come to understand it more. (And it took a number of years for me to fully grasp that the things I believe in most won't always resonate or matter in the same way to others, and that that's okay.) But when I attempt to boil everything down to its simplest, most uncomplicated form, over and over, I come back to stories. Stories are universal. Stories are at the core of everything. Stories matter because they help us catalog and clarify our lives and experiences. Stories matter because we matter: I believe stories teach us how to be human--and how to be better humans, more fully human, even. And really, what is more important than that?
It's rare that a week goes by when I don't tell someone (sometimes shyly, sometimes bursting with pride) that I have my dream job. Because as an editor of children's and young adult books, I work with others who believe as I do, that stories matter enormously--and that they matter first and perhaps most, when we are becoming: when we are small children, and then bigger children; and when we are in the awkward stage between being children and being teenagers; and when we are teenagers, and then bigger teenagers; and even when we are in the awkward stage between being teenagers and being adults. In all of those phases, we are becoming the sort of humans we will be, at our core, for the rest of always. And if the stories that I help nurture and produce can ultimately interject more compassion, more hope, more truth into the core of many (or even a few) human beings--then I have more than "a dream job," I have an immensely privileged life.

But the sharing of stories belongs to everyone. And the truth is, we are always becoming, and not only as children or young adults. Because we all need to tell our stories, and we all need to hear stories, too. The stories change, we change--but the need for stories, for narratives by which to guide and inspire and challenge one another, I think that's a constant. Or at least it is for me.

I didn't participate in #reverb10 as much as I intended to this past Correction. I didn't blog or tweet public responses to the posts as much as I intended to. I pondered each prompt, mulling some over for days internally, discussing others with friends in-person. Most of all, though, I found myself wanting to speak/write less and listen more. And I think that's okay, that there are times to speak and times to be silent and both build us--and our own stories--up in different ways. Here is what I did more than I expected to this past month, though: I kept an open search on the #reverb10 hashtag all month long and clicked link after link after link each day, reading the open-hearted sharing of so many strangers. And I'm more human because of each link, because of those stories. I hope you are, too.

Stories connect us in remarkable ways; the internet connects us in remarkable ways, too. And so perhaps it's no wonder that #reverb10 was powerful for its participants: it did something exponential within and among its participants. And I'm the polar opposite of a math whiz, but if I recall, the mathematical meaning of exponents is that you raise one element to the power of another element. And so...I suspect that stories raised to the power of connectivity equal community, whether fleeting or permanent. And stories raised to the power of connectivity create, or at least help to uncover, meaning. Stories raised to the power of connectivity reveal something beautifully elemental, a sense of ourselves in relationship to the world and its people around us.

The creation and sharing of stories: Something so simple becomes exponential in the most mind-boggling of ways, so quickly: simply by living, the possibility opens up for stories, and for the resulting recognition and discovery and connectivity and potential and inspiration and power. And in examining stories, we discover ourselves, we discover our humanity, and the depths are endless. How amazing. How beautiful.

This, then, is the central story at the core of me: I believe in stories. I believe in them with all my heart. And I will never stop wanting to hear more of them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ten things I have been thinking about lately no particular order:

1. Snow!

2. Middle grade books -- I have been pondering many things about stories in this genre, but mostly: What makes them work, when they really work? (A blog post on this question and some possible answers is pending & percolating & coming soon, I think).

3. While we're at it, middle books, too--as in, the middle book of a multi-book series or trilogy--and the same question really: What makes them work, when they really work?

4. The annual apparently-I-just-never-learn question of Seriously, where did I hide my favorite winter hat, sometime last Spring? Argh!

5. Peppermint-flavored everything! (Especially ice cream.)

6. The power of community (especially in, but not limited to, our social media-centric world) and what makes a community's development organic versus contrived, and do such origins even matter, actually, once a community takes hold of itself?

7. Seasonal comfort reads (there's a blog post coming on this, too).

8. The question of the (proper? healthiest? most productive?) balance between pride and humility, when it comes to careers of all sorts.

9. The delicious anticipation that develops with building up a designated "holiday pleasure reading" pile.

10. Notions of perception and reality and how you need a bit of both to create a genuine story.

So there's a peek inside some things being pondered by this editor's brain at the moment. What about you? What questions, ideas, things, etc. have you been thinking about lately?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Gifts of the Internet (or, Why I think #reverb10 is awesome, & why you might, too)

[I currently have a wicked, never-ending cold, which has slowed me down considerably. Let's just pretend this blog was posted on December 1st as I originally intended it to be, shall we?]

Sometimes, the internet gives you gifts. Sometimes, those gifts are a laugh when you desperately needed it, or a dancing cat that expresses a myriad of things that you wish to express to a friend. But sometimes, and best of all, the internet gives you the gift of people--people you might never have met, were it not for the internet and its powers of connectivity.

A few years back, the internet gave me the gift of Gwen Bell. She lives in Colorado; I live in New York City, and were it not for the internet, I suspect that the chances of our ever crossing paths would have been fairly slim. Gwen's a social media guru/evangelist/expert, and her particular expertise and passion--besides simply living a vibrant life which I deeply admire--lies in helping people and companies discover the places where humanity and technology can intersect in positive ways. But underneath the work she does is the person she is: Gwen's a storyteller, and one whom I believe takes equal measures of (if not even more) joy in helping others to discover and share their own stories as she does in uncovering and sharing her own.

Why am I telling you about Gwen? Because she and two friends have created something which I think is of particular value to the many storytellers and writers and thinkers who read this blog: #reverb10, a month-long, online, end-of-year initiative that encourages you to ponder and share your responses to thoughtful daily prompts, written by authors & creative types (including a few folks from the kidlit world that you may recognize).

Reverb 10#reverb10 is free, and it's simple to join--sign up for daily prompts, and you'll receive each day's prompt in your email. Take it a step further, and become an official participant, registering your name and the url where you'll be posting your responses. You can get involved at any point in this 31-day project (so feel free to start late) by blogging or tweeting or Tumblr-ing--or video-blogging, or audio recording, or posting photographs, or however else the creative spirit moves you!--your responses to any or all of the prompts. And if you can, take some time to be inspired by some of the other people sharing their own #Reverb10 responses, too: at current count, over 2200 people have signed up, and reading their responses may give you your own "gifts of the internet" --potential new friends, and fascinating blogs/people that you might never have otherwise encountered. One way to do this is by following the #reverb10 hashtag on Twitter for a near-constant stream of inspiration; another way is by following @reverb10 on Twitter; if you're not on Twitter, you can also click through the links to people's blogs listed on the "Participate" page. And if I haven't explained all of this well enough, go here for the FAQ or go here for a more comprehensive explanation of how to participate, whether that means a lot or a little, and how to make participating the most meaningful experience for you.

Given my many other obligations, I'm going to admit right now that I won't manage a blog post for each day's prompt, but I intend to post responses to at least a few that particularly strike me throughout the month. And you can bet that even for the prompts that I'm not answering "out loud," I'm pondering them in my mind throughout the day, because there are few things more that I love than questions that make me stop and think meaningfully. So go! Be inspired! Consider this the opposite of NaNoWriMo, if you're so inclined--there's nothing to "win" or "lose" by participating--just the chance to write and to reflect and to share and to be inspired...and those are some of the best gifts we can find on the internet (or anywhere else, for that matter), in my mind. Happy pondering!

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Go soak up the world...

...and then come back and turn it into art and words."

I think if I could give one on-going piece of advice to any writer or artist, no matter his or her level of expertise, that would be it: to remember how important it is to go out and engage with the world you're trying to reflect, in one way or another, in your creative efforts.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, throwing advice around in the first line of a blog post, all willy-nilly and entirely unbidden. So let me backtrack a bit, and give some context, starting with this: one of my earliest, most valuable lessons about how to be a good editor came from brilliant-editor-now-turned-brilliant-agent (and former boss) Brenda Bowen, who told me more than once during the time that I worked for her that, "Interesting editors make interesting books." In other words, an editor's job is not (contrary to her often-slavish instincts) to be always at her desk. Because there's more to having the kind of vision that is required of her than simply reading, or editing, or doing the dreaded and evil paperwork. It's also an editor's job to be be fascinated by, and curious about, and, most of all, engaged with the world and everything in it...pretty much constantly!

Why? Simply stated, it's so that when a writer or artist writes about or creates something interesting--when she or he captures a new idea or perspective, or reflects the world in an utterly unique or wonderful way, or finds a fresh and memorable way of telling a universally resonant story--then an editor like Yours Truly can, in turn, be alert and savvy enough to recognize its wonder, rather than inadvertently having her head stuck inside a filing cabinet instead, and missing the whole thing! That's the plan, at least. Like anyone who's human, I do a better job at being "interesting" some weeks than others. But I do know that the weeks when I've engaged more with the world, I'm more alive within myself somehow, and more able to see that spill over into the work I'm doing. And the result is that there's more of an openness in me, more of a willingness and receptivity toward discovery, toward possibility. And what is the whole process of creating and reading and sharing children's books about, if not possibility?

Interesting editors make interesting books. I've learned many times over how much truth these five words contain, and I expect I'll keep re-learning their lesson throughout my career. But it's a maxim which applies 100% to every kind of creator, I think; it's in no way limited to editors. Because interesting writers make interesting books. And interesting artists make interesting books, too. And in fact, I suspect you could sub in a lot of words into the place of "interesting" in that motto: daring, humorous, revolutionary, intelligent, creative, thoughtful...and the list goes on and on.

So how does one learn how to be an interesting writer? And what does it look and feel like to embark on trying to be one? My author Veronica Roth currently has a really honest and wonderfully articulate post about it on her blog, and I think it's pretty much a must-read for anyone grappling with creativity, or a lack thereof. So go on over and give it a read.

And then? Yep, you guessed it. Go on out this weekend, and soak up the world! And then come back and work to transform all the interesting things you've collected into art and words--into interesting books-in-the-making! (And oh, yeah. Have fun along the way, because that matters a whole lot when it comes to creativity, too. But I think that's a whole new blog post....)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting back to the blog, and asking questions

Next summer, I'm putting up a "Gone Fishing" sign on my blog, I think: I'll have lots less guilt about meaning to post, but not quite actually getting it done. And I almost just typed that I wasn't really fishing all summer, I was mostly busy editing up a storm (and can't wait till I can show you all the good books I've been working on)--but then I remembered that I actually DID go fishing this summer! See?

(For realz. I caught that guy, and some of his other friends, too!)

I promise I'll tell you my summer fishing adventure story in a belated but still-hopefully-lovely "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" post very soon.

For now, though, I decided to cannonball back into blogging with a deep-ish post. This one was inspired by a recent email from my college friend, Jeremy, who is a campus minister in Michigan. He wrote, in part, "I'm looking at the use of questions [in my work]. Good questions stick in our minds and we come back to them regularly. They move us out of our normal ways of thinking and being. Good questions can help us to look at the truth of things and challenge us to go deeper. What was the best question you've been asked recently? Why has it stuck with you?"

And that got me thinking about questions, which are something I'm really fond of. I heartily agree with my friend that good questions help us get to the truth of things and challenge us into deeper ideas, and I think that a good book--like every kind of art--is one way of asking and creating forums for such questions. In fact, that's probably part of why I like books and their creators and bookish people in general so much: they're always stirring up interesting questions and conversations. And I think books for kids and teens ask some of the best, most important questions!

So, friends, two questions that I'll now turn over to you: feel free to answer either of them in the comments section!
    Question One: What was the best question you've been asked recently, & why has it stayed with you?
    Question Two: Writers and artists, what questions do your stories ask?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Busy summer, quiet blog!

The blog's been far quieter than I meant it to be this summer...but there have been lots of books to make (and, oh, they are such *GOOD* books! I can't wait till you can read them!), and ice cream to eat, and trips to take, and subways stations to sweat in (hey, this is NYC after all) . . . and somehow, somehow it's late August already.

Speaking of summer in NYC, how about some photos of last night's gorgeous sunset in Central Park? Since a picture's worth a thousand words and all, here are two to kinda-sorta catch up on all the words I haven't written on this blog this summer.

Hope you've all been busy collecting memorable moments (and wonderful books) of your own this summer, too!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WriteOnCon redux

 There were some complications with the WriteOnCon website today (the kind where two thousand people all try to log on at the same moment and crash the server, oops), so in case you missed it, here's a post from me about giving yourself permission as a writer.

Also, brilliant colleagues/pals Martha Mihalick (editor), Holly Root (agent), and I made our debut as vlogging fools, er, publishing mythbusters, and you can check out the advice and inadvertent moments of hilarity here. And, I'll also be participating in the live Panel of Professionals on Thursday evening at 9 p.m.; hope to chat with some of you there.

But my contributions are just a small part of all the awesomeness of WriteOnCon. Check out what's happening over the next two days here, and be sure to follow @WriteOnCon on Twitter for real-time updates, too!

Monday, August 9, 2010

In which we get our Write On!

I have been a very, very bad blogger this summer. However, I'm attempting to make up for my wayward ways by getting involved in this week's WriteOnCon, from August 10th-12th.

If you haven't heard about WriteOnCon, go check it out. Basically, 7 kidlit writers found themselves wishing for a *free* online writers conference . . . and then, since one did not exist, and because they are Made. Of. Awesome., they went out and made it happen. (Note to self, never-ever underestimate the power of writers with a good ideaa...)

Seriously, take a look at the schedule, and poke around on the website. Instead of the in-person workshops and lectures and breakout sessions of a traditional conference, you'll find editors, agents, and published authors presenting via blogs and vlogs, talking about every element of the industry imaginable, from craft to querying. (Yours truly will be both vlogging and blogging, oh my!).

Wishing for something a little more interactive, or that allows your questions to be answered? Then take part in live chat panels every night (come say hi to me on Thursday evening! Be sure to read the instructions in advance to get registered).

And because a conference wouldn't be a conference without a chance to meet other amazing writers, there are forums for conversations and critiques and connections.

And it's all FREE. (A.k.a, no "what should I wear??" panic! You can wear your pajamas!) You can follow along in real-time if you're able, as the presentations go live, or you can catch up later by scrolling back through previous "sessions."

Sound awesome? I expect that it will be! My hat's truly off to the ladies who dreamed this up, rallied the industry to take part, and then brought it all to fruition in a matter of mere months. Once again, the children's book community proves itself to be quite an amazing, giving community, abounding with enthusiasm and possibility. So...hope to see you at the conference!

Friday, July 9, 2010

West-coast bound

It's that time of year again! Off I go to the beautiful Oregon coast to meet a crop of eager, ambitious writers and get up to our elbows in storytelling and writerly craft . . . and then to frolic beside the Pacific for a few days in one of my favorite little corners of the world.

See you in a few weeks!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Your ALA mission

...if you chose to accept it:

1. Find me or Anne Hoppe in the HarperCollins booth, or roaming the exhibits floor, at ALA this weekend. (Hint, I'll definitely be in the booth on Saturday afternoon after 3pm. Anne Hoppe will be there on Saturday at 11 a.m.)

2. Tell us, "I am talking about YOU."

3. After thanking you graciously, we will give you one of these fantastic buttons*. (And an ARC** of YOU, Charles Benoit's brilliant YA debut, if you haven't already gotten your hands on one.)

4. Keep spreading the word--because everyone is talking about YOU!

*while supplies last.
**also while supplies last.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The best of friends

Today is my best friend's birthday. We've been best friends since the first grade, as evidenced by our inseparability in this first grade class photo. (Awww!)

(Note the properly-folded hands. We were *very* well-behaved first graders.)

In her honor, I thought I'd do a salute to books about best-friendship. In no particular order, and just off the top of my head, here are a few wonderful tributes to friendship--and to the ways friends love us at our best and worst, and help us grow, and change, and become, and learn to recognize our truest selves.

Toot and Puddle *** Gossie and Gertie *** Best Friends for Frances

Charlotte's Web *** Anne of Green Gables *** A Little Princess *** Bridge to Terabithia

Say Goodnight, Gracie *** Sweethearts *** Before I Fall

But I'm sure I'm missing about a million stories that belong on this list! So you tell me: what are some of your favorite books about friendship?

Friday, May 21, 2010

CONTEST!!!, Or, Janet Reid is Sneaky and You Stand to Benefit.

If you've met me at a publishing event in the last 15 months or so, or if you follow me on Twitter, or if you're my friend on Facebook, you've probably heard me talking about this book, YOU, the debut YA from Charles Benoit.

YOU is without a doubt one of the most important books I'll have a part in bringing to life in my entire career, no matter how long that career turns out to be. There aren't enough adjectives to describe how masterfully crafted Charles Benoit's story is, and how excited we are that he's found his way from the adult mystery world into writing YA. And working beside my amazing boss on YOU has been a phenomenal experience--15 months after our first reads of it, we're still unable to stop ourselves from talking about it near-constantly. Most of all, the support of the children's/YA writing world for this new-to-our-world author and his story has been inmmensely humbling. The ARC, in fact, looks like this:

It's gotten more early praise than we could even fit on the cover! As we like to say, "People are talking about YOU." (And yes, you really should click each of those links to read the fantastic reviews and conversations that are starting about this book.)
So why am I showing you the ARC? Because you have a chance to win it. Head over to Agent Janet Reid's blog, where she's doing the Robin Hood thing of snitching ARCs and giving them to the masses, ergo YOU stand to benefit. But hurry! The contest ends at high noon on Sunday.
And then on August 24th (a mere 96 days from now!) get yourself to a bookstore and buy this astonishing book (or, you know, go pre-order it right now in anticipation), and read it and share it with everyone you know who works with teens, or is a teen, or has ever been a teen. And then you, too, will be one of the many people talking about YOU.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On belonging

I've been pondering the notion of "belonging" over the last few days, trying to piece together this blog post. True to form, all the scattered bits of my ideas converged mentally while I walked the 10 blocks home from the subway to my apartment last night. (Hence the name of this blog, as well as proof that, for the sake of the blog, I should never-ever move--even if the piles of books that regularly threaten to entirely take over my wee studio apartment do eventually win by crowding me into having only one tiny corner allowed for all the non-bookish parts of living....)

So. Anyway. Belonging.

Last week, I visited a friend who just adopted a sweet dog from an animal rescue organization. I expected the dog to perhaps be skittish or shy...she'd only been in her new home for two days, after all. Instead, she was calm, and politely interested in meeting me, if perhaps a little less excited about the whole encounter than I was. Why? Well, it became very clear over the course of my visit was this was a dog well on her way to being vastly content. Why? Because my friend belonged to her now. In two short days, Madeline-the-dog (named for this Madeline, of course) had already claimed her new owner in a complete, wholehearted way. And not that I didn't love my friend before, but I left her apartment a few hours later smiling, because, well, I think it's impossible to not change for the better anytime one is loved fiercely, whether by person or by beast. In short, I think it's quite likely that my friend is going to become an even better person than she already is, now that she belongs to a dog. (Hmm, I suspect I must take advantage of this opportune moment for book suggestion, even if it ruins the evocative mood of this blog post. Need a picture book to articulate the small but critical difference/nuances between a dog belonging to a person, and a person belonging to a dog? Try the Christmastime charmer The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy or, the poignant and pitch-perfect Orville: A Dog Story.)

Thinking later about this idea--the peculiar loveliness of belonging and how it changes us--made me flash back to an understanding that's bubbled up in me the last few times I've traveled. Over the last year or two, I've gotten into the habit of, whenever possible, taking late-night flights back into NYC instead of daytime ones. To me, there's something breath-taking, and breath-giving at the same time, about descending from a dark sky toward Manhattan's city-island full of lights. It goes deeper than just being a sight that's "magical," or any adjective one might use to describe beauty. It's even somehow beyond the simple notion of home. It's more about a sense of completeness. Trying to articulate how it makes me feel to a friend recently, the only way I could express it was to say that flying into the light-filled city reminds me that, after eight years here, I belong to New York now. It feels as if NYC is reaching out to reconnect and reclaim me as its own. And this often-hard-but-always-glorious city makes me a better person, I think, because I belong to it.

In a similar sort of way, a certain handsome guy in my life belongs to a particular corner of the Pacific Ocean, because he grew up surrounded by its waters. I've watched him for years, observing the fact that if he's away from "his" ocean too long, he becomes jittery, stress-laden, unhappy. By contrast, even a short trip back to visit it gives him a sense of peace, and returns him to his most complete self. In a mysterious, hard-to-define but definite way, I think it's fair to say that he's a better person purely because he's spent his life belonging so intensely to that ocean, even when he's far away from it.

And the "click" moment of last night's ten block walk: that this all connects, and deeply, to a line from one one my very favorite lyrical, literary YA novels, Cynthia Rylant's I Had Seen Castles:
"I want to have that morning. The walk to school with the guys, the banter, the wisecracking, the cuffing and shoving that boys must do to claim ownership of each other."
I've loved that line since the very first time I read it, because it expresses something so entirely true. That is exactly how pre-teen boys act, exactly why their rough-and-tumble antics are actually so important, because they reveal their feelings of belonging to their tribe, and to each other, on their way toward becoming themselves.

So. Ownership. Belonging. You could call it connectedness, too, I think. As I think about it, I realize these are transformational words, transformational experiences. It seems there's something about belonging--to a person, to an animal, to a place, to an idea, even--that makes us our best selves, makes us more whole. Why is that? Does anyone know?

I think it's time to end my rambly thoughts on the idea here, but I know it's one I'm going to keep pondering. And I'd love to hear your own thoughts and responses and ponderings in the comments. And I'm curious, too, of course. Outside of the most obvious answer of your family, your beloved ones--who or what or where do you belong to, in a way that transforms you, that makes you your best self, that makes you more whole?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Poetry Friday on a Sunday: "Letter to a Young Activist"

...because it seems that someone, somehow, keeps stealing all the hours out of my Fridays (and Saturdays, too, for that matter)!

Last week, while in Milwaukee to meet with the oh-so-warm-and-welcoming writers of SCBWI-Wisconsin, I got to spend a few hours roaming the campus of my alma mater, Marquette University. I'm a bit sappy and reflective by nature, so it should probably have been no surprise to me how much a visit like that would get under my skin, and sure enough, it did, leaving me profoundly grateful for my four years there. In a sense, Marquette marks for me the place and time where I first truly woke up to the world, just as I'm sure so many other MU alumni would say. It's where I first encountered all the rich possibility that comes from being human, and also the responsibility that comes from an awareness of one's humanity. It's where I learned that to be fully alive, one must be both firmly rooted in what one holds true and yet also open and engaged with the world, allowing and expecting growth to happen in unexpected ways and and shapes and places.

A decade after my graduation, I'm proud of my University--proud of its Jesuit mission, and that it continues to develop students who see the importance of living as "men and women for others." I'm proud of its focus on social justice and its activist spirit, and of the faith at its core, and that walking around campus last week made it clear to me that it's full of the same passionate vibrance and energy and awareness of and commitment to the world around it that I remember being constantly inspired by. I'm proud of the fact that it continues to attract smart, determined young people from all over the world who are determined to "Be the Difference." I'm proud of the ways it's committed to maintaining on-going links to, and conversation with, its family of alumni. And I'm proud that I can see almost an infinite number of connections between the person I am today and the education--intellectual, personal, spiritual--that I received at Marquette.

But! Poetry Friday, right? (I promise I'm getting there!) One of the first things I received as a freshman at Marquette--it was in my dorm room when I arrived, as in every other freshman's--was a gift, on behalf of our University Ministry office: a small book filled with reflections, prayers, quotes, and writings. One of them struck me deeply the very first time I read it, and in fact, it's been a guiding philosophy of my life ever since. It's not quite a poem, but to me, at least, it stirs the soul and provokes a certain sense of truth in the same way that a good poem does. And it's meant something entirely different yet equally important in each stage of my life thus far: as student, as youth minister, as children's book marketer, and now, as children's book editor. And if you read it with a writer's eyes, I expect it has something to say to writers, too.

Letter to a Young Activist
by Thomas Merton

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything....

(If so inclined, you can read the full letter here.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Every waking hour I'm / reading my submissions"

From the Department of Randomly Weird Things That Sometimes Pop Into My Head For No Good Reason: a remix.

Agents, writers, this earworm's dedicated to you (with love, I promise)!

"That's me in the corner;

That's me on the subway, I'm

Here with my e-reader--

Trying to Keep. Up. With you.

And I don't know if I can do it.

Oh no, I've read too much;

I haven't read enough...."

(If you miss me, I promise I'm not dead. Just busy reading-reading-reading. And editing. And y'know, reading some more.)

*Alternate, amusingly-publishing-appropriate (& entirely unadulturated) lyrics from the original that were runners-up possibilities for the title of this post: "That was just a dream / Just a dream, just a dream," "What if all these fantasies / Come flailing around," and "Consider this."

P.S. Just for kicks, how about a live version?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And away we go!

I'm off to one of my many adopted hometowns tomorrow, this time to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is home to my wonderful alma mater Marquette University! And the glory that is Kopp's Frozen Custard! And wonderfully friendly people who call their water fountains "bubblers" and their ATMs "Tyme Machines." Best of all, I'm off to meet the good folks of SCBWI-Wisconsin, who have graciously invited me to speak at their Spring Luncheon. I'll be talking about why editors fall in love--and keeping my fingers crossed, too, that one of the writers in attendance just might have a story in the works that will make THIS particular editor fall in love. Cross your fingers for me!

P.S. Please don't break the internet or Twitter or let Facebook change their design again while I'm gone this time, okay, kids?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yes. This.

"But what I really crave in a good a touch of irregularity, a chaos that is partly disorder and partly the inner order of the proprietor's mind....The reason we still go to good bookshops is also the reason we have a few friends over for dinner instead of inviting everyone. We like the selectness of the company, the likelihood of sharing common interests, the chance to make discoveries guided by minds and sensibilities we already trust."--Verlyn Klinkenborg, "Book Lover's London," Travel + Leisure Magazine.

Do you know a great bookstore that fits the description above? Tell us about it in the comments!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Poetry Friday: "April is the cruellest month..."

True confession time: In high school, I had a temporary obsession with T.S. Eliot, due mostly to the fact that my friend Daniel, who was the most Serious Writer Guy I knew, said that Eliot was the best poet, period. I had unfailing faith in Daniel's literary wisdom (after all, he was a senior, and I was a lowly underclassman), but what I didn't confess to him was that Eliot's poems didn't actually make sense to me at all. Instead, I spent a few months prominently toting a volume of Eliot's The Waste Land and Other Collected Poems around in public and jotting things in its margins in hopes that people would recognize that I was, clearly, a Serious Writer Girl, too.

Ah, high school.

The discovery, a few years later, that entire university courses were devoted to studying "The Waste Land" made me feel retroactively better about all the parts of it that I just "didn't get" at age fifteen. Those early repeated attempts to read and understand "The Waste Land" left the first handful of lines etched in my brain, though, with an odd sort of fondness attached to them. Perhaps that's why I get such a delight out of this video, which accompanies a recording of Eliot himself reading the opening section. Take a moment and listen, even if you have no erstwhile literary crush on Eliot in your own past--there's something eternally magnificent about hearing an author read his/her own words aloud.

The Waste Land

by T. S. Eliot

I. The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed’ und leer das Meer.

Read more of "The Wasteland" here. And happy April--don't forget that it's Poetry Month!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why I Work in Publishing (in brief)

There are a million reasons I could tell you. Catch me in person some time, in fact, and you'll be hard-pressed to avoid me telling you some of them, probably whether you've even asked or not! ;) In fact, maybe "Why I Work in Publishing" should become a regular feature on this blog.

But for now, as the simplest answer to that question, I'll point to this. Reviews like this--heartfelt responses from readers like this--are why I work in publishing, and specifically, why I work in children's/YA books. Because I get to help make books that carry this much power, for readers of every age. Because stories become a part of us and stay with us forever and shape the person we become in the world and the mark we choose to leave on it. Because the things a writer has to say, and the words s/he crafts, can become black marks on white paper (or the technological equivalent thereof) that just might make someone else want to become a better person. And I get to help make all of that happen.

Does there need to be any other reason?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Because sometimes a photo really is worth a thousand words

...even if the photo is blurry because of pouring rain and bad angles and late night darkness.

(Explanation: this is how the Circus Elephants arrive in NYC and travel from the Midtown Tunnel into Madison Square Garden every year. They march down 34th Street at midnight. More (and better!) photos here.

P.S. I heart NY.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Of zombie cows, rainbows, and a glorious thing called "vacation"

It's taken me longer than expected to put this post up, sorry. (Someone really needs to do something about whatever scientific fluke causes three days out of the office to somehow equal, like, seventeen days' worth of work before you begin to feel caught up again.) In any case, and without further ado, I give you a brief highlights reel from VACATION:

Mountains = not in NYC anymore

Nope, not Brooklyn, either. Not even close.

A million gorgeous miles away, in fact!
(That's Abiquiu Lake)

Travel Companion and I had a fairly singular goal: to escape the dreary February-ness of our respective locales, run away to somewhere entirely different, and be inspired for a few days. Abiquiu, New Mexico--famous for inspiring much of Georgia O'Keefe's artwork--was the exactly what we'd hoped for. (Abiquiu is about 50 miles north of Santa Fe, and about 60 miles west of Taos, which means that both learningtoread and christinetripp had awfully close guesses. I'll be emailing both of you about your promised prizes, and thanks to all who played along and suggested a locale.)

Want to see some more gorgeousness?

They called it a casita, but this "little house" was approx 200 (okay, 5, but still!) times bigger than my apartment!

Mountains in the front yard!! They delighted me all
over again every morning when I woke up & rediscovered them.

Oh this? Just the side view from the casita--starring
the bee-yoo-tiful (if still half-frozen) Chames River.

It's impossible, really, to do a place like this justice in words, so I'll just sum it up in with a Nature count (hey, when you live in a city of concrete like NYC, Nature becomes a delightful novelty) and let you imagine the rest:

Nature Count:
Prairie dogs seen scurrying into holes: 2 (so cute!!)
Stars in the night sky: Approximately a bazillion, all of them gorgeous.
Hours spent staring at stars: Many. (What is it about stars that moves us so deeply?)
Shooting stars seen: 1, and it was oh-so-perfect.
Coyotes heard howling from the mountains at night: Loved 'em, but decided it was better not to know how many there were out there, thanks.
"Cow crossing" warning signs seen: 1 approximately every 1/2 mile, for many, many miles.

Actual cows seen, crossing or otherwise: None. Nada. Zip.
Zombie cow theories resulting from mismatch: 1, fairly half-baked.
Spontaneous side trip that may or may not have been to a local brewery (but that had nothing to do with zombie cow theories, I swear!): 1.
Picture-perfect vacation ending (i.e. rainbow over the mountains as my flight departed): 1. Ain't it gorgeous?

Inner Dixie Chick satisfied: 1, most definitely.
(You know you want to sing along!)

Where should I go the next time I run away from NYC? All suggestions happily accepted in the comments!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sorry for the radio silence

Because I've been asked....yes. Vacation was glorious, but yes, I did come back to NYC.

It's amazing, though, isn't it, how a few days of vacation can set you behind for weeks afterward? I pinky-swear that a post-vacation post, complete with pictures and promised prizes, is coming soon! For now, though, I'm deep in the heart of making some fabulous books (and you'd all far rather get to read them than my blog anyway, I guarantee it!) so it will be just a tad longer before I catch up with the blog.

In the meanwhile, Top o' the Morning and a Very Happy Wearin' o' the Green today!

P.S. Just a reminder: there's only 3 days left to Help Make Something Awesome Happen! Don't forget to go be a part of it!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Running away (temporarily)

For the next handful of days I will be here, soaking up color of a very different sort than the blah, city-ish gray days that NYC offers this time of year:

All my standard threats about just possibly never-ever coming back from a beautiful place like this hold true. That said, don't have too much fun without me while I'm away, please!

P.S. Bonus points & a fun Advanced Readers Copy prize to the first person in the comments section who properly guesses where I am, city & state, based on that picture. (No fair playing if I've already told you, though!)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Win...stuff. Good stuff. Oh, and help make Something Awesome happen.

Random bit of relatively useless editorial knowledge of the day: once upon a time, they'd have called this a Box Social.

Today, though, I think the technical term is "Lots of Awesome People Banding Together to Collectively Make Something Really Good Happen." In this case, the "Something Really Good" is Fire Petal Books, a kids/YA bookstore that my editorial colleague, Michelle Witte, is trying to get off the ground in her home state of Utah (which just happens to be a very kid & family-centric place, so her plan makes a great lot of sense). But nothing gets started without a lot of work. And a lot of Awesome People.

That's where you come in.

If you're feeling up to maybe Being Awesome, go take a look at the auction that Michelle has going on the Fire Petal website:
  • And there's lots of other nifty stuff, too, including parties and jewelry, oh my!
So go nuts! Bid high! Bid a lot! Bid often, and over and over, from now till the auction ends on March 20th, and until we've all really helped make this bookstore happen. Okay?

And thanks. You're Awesome.

P.S. Have something you want to offer for the auction? Autographed books, publishing services, anything else that you could donate that someone else might want? Contact Michelle through her website or Twitter; she's adding more itemsto the auction everyday!

"Web 2.0 is like a pyramid scheme"

Some of the most fascinating relationships and discoveries of my professional life have come to me via social media over the last few years. If you were to talk to me in person, you'd hear me vehemently defend the real goodness out there, and the fact that I think social media's benefits far outweigh its flaws. Even just a few years into it all, I've got a closet-full of personal examples of friendships, insights, joys, opportunities, and true delights that have come my way via the internets. And the truth is, I kinda think that one of the points of life is to have meaningful relationships and make meaningful connections between them, and call me crazy, but I've found and made a good handful of those via the internet.

And yet, and yet... *whispers* sometimes, the internet, and twitter, and facebook, and goodreads and email and whatever the new social media invention-of-the-week is, and even this blog...and all the people they is all exhausting. Which is perhaps why this article, passed along by smart, thoughtful agent Holly Root, with the explanation of "why we're all more and less connected all at once" really echoed for me. I don't agree with everything in it (and if you're language-sensitive, be warned that there are some sailor-worthy swears in here), and I don't think I'm as fatalistic about it all as this article's author is, either, but there are more than a few truths here, to be sure.

Which parts rang true for you? And what do we do about it all, anyway? Lemme know your thoughts in the comments; this is bound to be an interesting conversation!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Poetry-like advice on a Friday

In lieu of Poetry Friday (because this week has been a BUSY one), I offer you instead some the poetic advice given to me today by lovely author, Patricia MacLachlan (who has a new novel coming out this summer, which means you should start saving your pennies and getting excited NOW!)

go home.
on the way buy a nice wine (chilled) and some tulips.
fill a bath full of hot water and bubbles.
Fill a glass of wine and get a nice book.
Maybe some chocolate.
After the bath get under a nice down quilt.
Stare at the tulips until you doze.

I think I might do just that. You're welcome to take her sage advice, too. Happy weekend, all!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Conversation on Resonance & Responsibility

Resonance and connectivity are things that I look for a lot as an editor, things that I ask writers to pursue in their storytelling, urging them to open up their stories as wide as possible. Doing so can lead to one of the most powerful kinds of writing, in my mind: when a book reaches beyond merely telling about a particular set of characters, and becomes a story that echoes as familiar and personal and true in the hearts and minds of all different kinds of readers. If, as creators of stories, we recognize and believe that stories are what connect us, then of course that potential for deep connection is one we want to make the most of, right? And if we're lucky, the connections do, in fact, emerge: between readers and characters, between readers and their classmates/friends/family members/fellow humans, and sometimes between readers and authors, too.

But what happens, once the connection is made? Do we talk enough--or at all--about what that can mean, especially for writers of deeply resonant and real (but also sometimes deeply painful) stories?

We talk a lot about "responsibility" in children's and YA books, and one of the fascinating things about that word is that, like any word, it means something different to different people. To some, it means militant safe-guarding of young readers from stories that may, ultimately, shape them, even in the slightest of ways, into a different person than they were previously. But to most of us working in publishing, whether as writers or industry folk, "responsibility," especially in the context of YA, usually translates best to "honesty."

Most of us remember what it was like to be a teen, and we know teens today, too. And the truth is, growing up is (still) hard, and (still) confusing, and it isn't always safe, and sometimes it's positively cruel, but every teen has to stumble through it somehow. And if there are books that might help him/her do so with a little more certainty or a little less loneliness, so much the better. In a way, it means we're all in this together: authors and agents, editors and publishers, librarians and teachers, with all the other invisible walls between our linked-but-separate professions broken down. We're all in it together for every single teen who might, just might, reach for a book while seeking to answer some variation of the questions that we still remember asking ourselves: How, exactly, do we learn to grow up? To become human? To survive the turbulent mess of fears and glories and heartbreaks and changes that any kind of significant becoming entails? To find out which things actually matter, to understand what part of everything is true?

My Jesuit university extolled an ideal that's at the heart of their mission/philosophy of education, and that ended up at the heart of me, too: cura personalis, or "care for the whole person." In other words, it's not enough to care for or feed a person physically, you must also look after his/her unique emotional, spiritual, and mental needs and hungers, too; we must offer a deep respect for everything that makes a person human. In this way, we can help others--and ourselves--them grow, by refusing to segment a person into only the elements we might feel comfortable seeing. Ultimately, if reaching outward, you cannot only give attention to singular aspects of a person's full humanity, or you have failed to truly care for them after all. It's a philosophy that I think can offer a deeper meaning to, but demand a deeper responsibility from, any profession: from doctors to social workers to teachers to writers of books for teens. Because we do care for those we encounter, and deeply: writers care for the teens who will read their books, and editors care for those teens, too--and also for the authors, caught somewhere in the middle of this chain of connectivity.

Which brings me to the question that Janet Reid is asking on her blog today. It's not a question that I have any answer to (would that I did!) but I agree with her that it's an important one for all of us to weigh, and to think about in terms of today's social media-driven world. What happens when a teen does find a story that speaks to him/her powerfully, and that book becomes a lifeline--when a reader reaches out, believing the author has the answers he/she is seeking, or wanting a continuation of what felt like a deeply personal connection? And then in turn, what's an author to do when that same sense of immediacy that we extol in writing for teens comes through in a reader's communications--when they email/blog comment/Facebook message/MySpace post/Tweet/etc, etc. an author offering their own story, brimming with vulnerability and then desperately--or even just hopefully--await an answer, a meaningful response, a deeper connection, a promise that there's a way past whatever moment they're in the midst of living? And how does an author begin to shoulder that responsibility, that hunger, that need on the part of readers, somewhere in the midst of the other work of being a writer?

Media is so often blamed when things go wrong in the lives of damaged, hurting, unhappy, teens. We blame tragedies on the influence of violent video games and movies; we blame magazines for encouraging hopelessly unrealistic self-images. In the resoundingly opposite direction, it's long been the stance of children's/YA book folks that the greatest thing we can--and do!--offer to teens is hope, in the form of stories. But social media has changed--or at least, slightly shifted--so many other aspects of publishing that I guess we shouldn't be surprised that it's changed the author-reader relationship in some regards, too. And I don't think that new-media-heightened hope for connection is an aspect of the job that a writer can simply chose to turn away from and ignore--I don't think writers of books for teens would choose to do that, or I don't think they'd bother writing for teens at all. So somehow, it seems that a writer's job isn't just to serve words and stories and characters anymore--it's also to serve the searching/freely-sharing/sometimes-broken readers who come barreling, virtually, into their in-boxes. And for writers, that fact is powerful and beautiful and utterly overwheming, all at once, or so I suspect.

So what's the next step? It's a two-pronged query, I think: one set of answers may spell out some ways writers can best respond to teens who, though virtual strangers, are craving connection in a way that validates/orients/respects/sometimes even rescues them. But the other part both precedes and follows that, and it's for all of us: How do we (agents, editors, publishers, fellow writers, booksellers, educators, and the children's publishing community as a whole) equip writers to receive the stream of stories teens offer in return for the books they've just read?

It's a big question. I welcome your thoughts.