Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beauty, of the writerly sort

Every now and then, someone uses words in a way that stops me short. It's an amazing feeling to stumble upon words--writing--like that. When a writer is able to perfectly, expertly, seemingly painlessly (ha! I know better!) capture old truths, to restate things I already know, but in a gorgeous way that makes me pause and nod and see them as if they are completely new discoveries, it makes me nothing short of ecstatic. And if a writer does all that while also using vibrant, beautiful language, then I'm completely, entirely that writer's captive. A willing captive, who wants to shout out words of agreement and encouragement from rooftops for that writer.

Since this blog is the closest thing I've got to a rooftop, please read this as me shouting: RUN, DON'T WALK to read Alexander Chee's "100 Things About a Novel, Pt. 1." His "things" (which are far too lovely to simply be given such an ordinary title, but it's his name for them, not mine) are honest and true and both perfectly stated and understated at the same time, and to top it all off, the editor in me is mad-in-love with his perfectly elegant use of syntax. Right now I'm caught between both hoping he'll post the other 70 or so right-away-fast-like-tomorrow, and hoping he'll post them oh-so-slowly, so I can luxuriate in imagining just how perfect they'll be, when he finally does so.

Which "thing" resonates most for you?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lucky Number Seven: A Gratitude Post

Those of you who are long-time readers might think you've read a post somewhat like this before. And so you have, in a manner of speaking, and everything said in this year-old post (which lives on what was formerly the blog of the Bowen Press) absolutely still holds true. But I'm a pensive, reflective person by nature, so when milestones big or small roll around, you can often find me "thinking out loud," a.k.a., writing. I'm also someone who firmly believes that glancing backward on occasion can actually help you to move forward with greater intention and direction, so it's likely there will be a post of this nature every year. Consider yourselves duly warned.

In any case, today marks seven years for me working as a full-time industry professional in this world I love. I did have a handful of other lives before coming to NYC, so, alas, I'm not quite as young as that number makes me sound, but still--seven years! It feels like both a wildly long and remarkably short time, all at once.

My very first wonderful boss in publishing still likes to tell the story of offering me my first job, as a marketing/publicity assistant at Clarion Books. As she tells it, shortly after accepting on the spot and hanging up the phone, I called her ask exactly what time I needed to be at work the following week. To this day, she's convinced that I called back just to be sure that she had really-truly offered me the job, and that I hadn't just imagined it! (I swear I wasn't. I simply had no idea what time grown-ups in NYC had to be at work!) Seven years later, I'm still relieved to know that publishing people don't--usually--have workdays that start at 8 a.m.! And I'm grateful for beyond words for that phone call, and for that boss, and for the way that first job of mine opened up the crazy-hard-to-break-into gates of the children's publishing industry for me, while also giving me the best grounding in the workings of the art and craft of book-making that I could hope for.

I'm lucky/blessed/extremely fortunate, there's no question about it. Even before that job offer, I had a string of amazing mentors--including stellar college professors, and the encouraging publishing professionals who oversaw my internships--who helped me begin to understand how my interest in children's books could translate into a real, live career. Seven years and a variety of job titles later, I've had even more incredible mentors--brilliant bosses and colleagues, dedicated librarians, and amazing writers and artists themselves, all of whom have shared their own wisdom, knowledge, experience, and passion so generously.

About once a week, it occurs to me that I actually have my dream job as a children's and YA book editor, and that's a fact I never get tired of remembering. It's a job that--to limit myself to an apropos seven adjectives--is alternately fascinating, wondrous, stimulating, terrifying, inspiring, joyous, and even, on occasion, heartbreaking. In short, it's a job about which I'm intensely passionate, because it makes me feel deeply, which in turn makes me feel more alive (so much so that only italics will do, even though I know I am overusing them in this post!) and, really, what more could anyone ask for than that?

In the last seven years, I've had the chance to meet--and even work with!--many of the authors who shaped me as a young reader, and whose books utterly influenced the person I am today. That's a more amazing experience than I honestly have words for, and I only wish I could go back and tell the young reader I once was that someday that would be the case, and watch her eyes nearly pop out of her head. But it's not only the long-established authors and artists with whom I feel privileged to work--it's been an equal joy to be a part of the process for so many creators of children's books--to being a force in the process of so many talented authors and illustrators finding their place in the world, and in the hearts and on the bookshelves of young readers. So today I thank those whose books I've had the chance to be a caretaker for, whether that has meant discovering your brilliant talents for my own small (but growing!) list and touching your words and pictures as an editor, or guiding you through the wilds of conferences, school visits, websites, and more as a marketer. Every one of your books has shaped me, and if they can do that for me as an adult, I can only begin to imagine the enduring power they'll have on the lives of many young readers! There's a quote I love that author Shannon Hale once wrote on her blog:"Life is cataloged by story." For me, at least, that statement is simply and perfectly true, and oh-so-wonderfully expressed. And so I thank the authors and artists with whom I've worked, for allowing your stories to be a part of my own catalog of story.

And to all those storytellers whose stories I don't even know about yet (or that YOU don't even know about yet, because they're still somewhere within you, waiting to be written), or whose books I've only had the chance to admire from afar? Well, seven's supposed to be a lucky number, right? So here's looking forward! I'm more than ready for the most invigorating year ever, and I can't wait for everything--the glorious-ideas-becoming-books, their brilliant creators, and the meaningful connections with booklovers, book advocates, and with all kinds of fascinating, creative, inspiring people imaginable--that will emerge in the year to come, shaping me, as we become a part of one another's lives and stories. My thanks, this time in advance, to you all.

Edited to add: I cobbled this post together in stolen moments today, and hadn't noticed how verbose & rambly I'd gotten until I posted! Sorry about that!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Editor is manuscript as Butcher is to...cow?

Some of you may recall that I have a pretty awesome doppelganger: "the other Molly O'Neill" is a former NY Times food editor, the author of her own cookbooks and a memoir, a food writer extraordinaire, a great public speaker (as I discovered last year), and the sister of a former NY Yankee.

I have a Google alert set on "our" name. Sometimes it brings me news of myself, but more often, it brings me news of my doppelganger (or occasionally, of another Molly O'Neill, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency, but I'm pretty sure that food writer Molly O'Neill and I have the cooler jobs of the three of us). In any case, today, my google alert brought me this quote from "the other Molly O'Neill," from a 1998 article entitled "The Late, Great, Fine Art of Butchering."

"The intensive training of long apprenticeships (up to 10 years) is still the best way to become an expert or, as butchers call one other, a ''master.'' Masters have the expertise, for example, to distinguish the texture, fat content and freshness of any cut of meat just by touching it. In times past, a butcher became a master when another master recognized his skill."

And I'm struck by this quote because, hmmm, that process sounds terribly familiar. Editing is without question an apprenticeship career of much the same ilk, where you learn so much at the hands of the master editors who are your bosses--though happily, it's (usually!) a decidedly less bloody career. (I know, I know, it's almost impossible to resist all the editor/butchering jokes, isn't it? Even for me!) Truth be told, of course, I'm not sure I know a single editor who would ever quite feel comfortable declaring that they'd graduated to "master editor," but they'd be proud to tell you about a few of the master writers they'd found along the way! That said, if, ten years from now I could have the expertise to distinguish what a manuscript would be like, merely by touching it, how great would THAT be?

All in all, it's a fascinating--if unexpected--comparison to ponder. Hurrah for random Google alerts!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Somewhere, the Universe is laughing...

...because four days after posting that ode to my Sony e-reader, it died a tragic, dramatic death (its screen burnt out, apparently). To add insult to injury, it waited until it was just past--literally, just 2 weeks past!--its warranty expiration date to do so. I am currently haggling with the fine folks at Sony about a replacement. Cross your fingers for me!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Short & sweet (& also, profound)

Here's one of the best quotes I've found in quite awhile about books & bookmaking. To me, this quote rings so true--and it sums up a great part of what I hope for in each book that I'm a part of bringing to life.

"The best service a book can render you is not to impart truth, but to make you think it out for yourself."--Elbert Hubbard

Monday, January 4, 2010

You Tell Me: What Did You Discover in 2009?

Oh, dear. I seem to have fallen down almost completely on blogging last month (not to mention on my self-assigned monthly-photo journal "a picture speaks a thousand words" game). I blame the two nearly back-to-back sinus infections that arrived as part of my December joys, not to mention general holiday chaos. But ah, well. The New Year is about starting fresh with good intentions, not fretting about the past, right? Right! And, purely by coincidence, it turns out that this is my 50th blog post, which feels like exactly the right place to start the new year!

Speaking of the New Year, lots of people have been doing great, detailed year-end round-ups about 2009. In the interest of actually getting this posted sooner rather than never, I'm gonna skip most of the deep introspection, because one of my, deep, dark secrets is that I love making ponderous lists and if I let myself, I'll spend way, way, too much time thinking and rambling on about them. But suffice it to say that, for me, 2009 included both some "best of times and worst of times," as I'm sure it did for most folks. One thing that's solidly in the "best" category from the past year, though, is this evolution of this blog, its readers, and the outlet it offers me (and I hope others, too!) for "thinking out loud" about publishing, about the creative life, and about all the places art and life intersect and converge. So, if you're reading this, thanks for a being a part of all that. If you've contributed to the conversation at one point or another, or in many spots, thanks all the more. And if you're a reader who hasn't spoken up yet, please do! (Unless you're a spammer. In which case, please head out the door marked "2009" and don't come back, ever.)

One thing I do like to ponder at year's-end, though, is the question of how--and via what mediums--my life has totally altered in ways I wouldn't have even guessed it could. What things have become a part of the fiber of my daily life that I couldn't have imagined, even a year or two before, would become a part of my life at all?

Over the last few years, I must say, there have been an increasing number of tech-type things falling into this category. I'm not the earliest of early adopters, but I'm increasingly surrounded by early-adopter types, and I am opinionated, so usually* once I've heard about something a few times, I tend to want to try it out so I can have my own thoughts about it. And if I like it, I then tend to crow about from the rafters to anyone who will listen. A few examples from the past handful of years? Google Reader, which lets me to consume blogs in a completely different, and far, far more productive way that I'd ever have conceived was possible back when I first started paying attention to blogs. RSS feeds = brilliant. Etsy, the craft website that started taking all my spare pennies back around 2006, but has kinda made up for it by leading me to wonderfully talented illustrators. And, yeah, Facebook, which shook up my world in all kinds of interesting ways, too, just as its done for pretty much all of us. And on the decidedly non-tech side, I'll go with a few more luxurious discoveries, including tea-as-a-genuinely-pleasing-alternate-form-of-caffeine-to-coffee, the joys of knitting, and the knowledge that many museums in New York have recommended donation amounts, not carved-in-stone, exorbitantly-expensive fees.

Leaping to the more recent past, what were my best discoveries of 2009? Four spring to mind:

1. My e-reader. E-readers have certainly complicated publishing over the past year (to put it mildly), but from a totally different perspective, i.e., the quality of life for your average publishing employee, wow. They've changed everything. I use mine primarily for manuscript-reading, and as such, it's no exaggeration that it's changed my life. I joke that it's even changed my fashion--I kinda feel like I'm suddenly inside an infomercial now, but the truth is, just a little over a year ago, I used to carry a separate bag to and from work, every single day, in which I would carry hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of paper. Often, I was too worn from simply lugging all that paper around to even want to read any of it on the subway or when I got home! And truth be told, I'm not sure how I would have survived this year's uptick of less editors/more books to edit, hurry, faster/more agents/more agented submissions to read, and hurry, faster, there, too, without the e-reader. Also, someday, I'll tell my own assistant how once upon a time, I used to read all my manuscripts on paper, and she will look at me like I am SO FREAKING OLD. (And then I'll cry.)

2. Twitter. I admit it, I held out on Twitter for quite awhile, but I ultimately caved and joined just around this time last year, because I wanted to see what it was like to follow the ALA Newbery/Caldecott Announcements in real-time. A year and 2,000+ tweets later, I have to say that the day-to-day dialogues, conversations, and connections formed via Twitter prove to be more valuable everyday. Twitter's constant steam of engaging conversation among smart, savvy people helps me to constantly THINK about new, interesting things in new, interesting ways, which I think is utterly essential in a time of change like our industry is facing. But there's a simpler side to it, too. The truth is, the world's full of fascinating/creative/thought-provoking/ hilarious people, and I love how many new ones I've found or gotten to know better via Twitter.

3. My $20 crockpot from Target. Yeah, I know, it's decidedly non-tech, and I'm several decades behind the curve on this one, but seriously? You throw in bunch of raw ingredients--pretty much ANY random raw ingredients you can think of--and then turn it on and go away/go to sleep/go to work and come back to, like, a week's worth of delicious-smelling meals? MAGIC.

4. Ireland. My trip to Dublin this summer, though brief, was a glorious checkmark on my life's to-do list, and a definite highlight of 2009. It's a whole land of storytellers--what's not to love? And seeing a new place and then coming back with new eyes to my own life anew (to paraphrase Marcel Proust a bit)? Priceless.

Okay! Enough nattering from me. (See, I warned you. List-making makes me ramble!) What were some of YOUR best discoveries in 2009? From places to tools to objects to books to tech-type stuff to...well, you tell me!

* ahem. Disclaimer: Most of the time. Or at least sometimes. And Occasionally I stubbornly swear-up-and-down that I'll never-ever try something, only to eat my words later. See also: Facebook and Twitter, and probably lots of other things I've conveniently forgotten about once protesting against.