Monday, January 30, 2012

Woman vs. Room

Well.  I said I'd report back about the conference, and that's what I'm doing.  But first I have a question: is it weird to be intimidated by one's own hotel room?  Because mine did things that no hotel room has a right to do, like turn on the lights by itself when I walked in.  Is it so hard for a human to flick on a light switch when entering a room?  What exactly was my room trying to prove? It was what I think of as a "smart" room, but in my opinion, it wasn't nearly as smart as it thought it was.  Because every time I walked in, it not only turned on all of the lights, most of which I didn't want but which could not be manually turned off; it also took it into its cyberhead to open the blinds.  But that was where the room and I parted ways, because I, personally, did not want the blinds open, since the view from the windows was the interior of the apartments across the way, and I had no desire to either be the peeper or the peepee (teehee), so as a result, I spent what I considered an inordinate amount of time closing the blinds (electronically, of course) when I hadn't wanted them opened in the first place.  But it didn't do things a respectable hotel room, to my mind, should be expected to do, like have a functional clock.  Eventually I figured that the featureless white rectangle on the bedstand with the flashing "12:00" in ghostly figures on its face was supposed to be a clock, but, except for some weird flap on the top that opened and closed but seemed to do nothing else, all its surfaces were smooth.  Pristine.  There was no way that I could discern to set the clock, and I ask you: what good is an unsettable clock supposed to do me?   I was left with the very unsettling feeling that my room, far from having my best interests at heart, was merely interested in showing off.  Otherwise, if it was so smart, wouldn't it have figured out a way to ask me what I wanted, instead of making unsupported presumptions about my predilictions?  I just find it hard to imagine that I'm the only non-voyeur to ever occupy that room, for instance.  That the hotel had been deluged by complaints from guests who said: dammit, I don't want to be bothered walking over to the windows and manually opening the blinds every time I want to check out what the neighbors across the way are doing in the privacy of their homes!  I DEMAND AUTOMATICALLY OPENING BLINDS!!!
     Perhaps I digress a bit.  Perhaps all of that was not, technically, about the conference.  Fine.  Well, what should I say about the conference?  It was very, very big; some 1,200 attendees from all over the country and from a number of foreign countries too.  I got to see a surprise speaker, Henry Winkler, who found hilarious ways to describe what it's like for someone who was called "dumhundt" by his German parents, in sensitive recognition of his learning disabilities, to grow up to be the co-author of 17 books for kids.  I got to hear Chris Crutcher describe the many ingenious ways his older brother found to torture him throughout their childhoods.   I got to hear Kathryn Erskine give an inspiring pep talk to those of us still toiling in the dark of unpublication.  And I got to go out to dinner with some really nice people from the New Jersey chapter of SCBWI.  And then to go back to my (mwoohahahahaha!!!!) room.
     I did meet Sarah Davies.  I left one of my breakout sessions ten minutes early to go lurk outside the room where she was conducting her breakout session.  When she was done, I came in and got on line to talk to her.  I will make this mercifully short by saying that she was about as underwhelmed to meet me as I was excited to meet her.  Period.  The end.  Lesson learned.  There are a lot of demands from writers for the attention of literary agents, and they (the agents) need to adopt strategies to allocate their energies and continue to do their jobs.  It's a business, not a party.  I get it now.
     Overall, I'm glad I went to the conference.  I learned some things about the publishing market, I got to hear some very talented and admirable people speak, and I realized that an event like this is just too big and crowded for an introvert like me, so I won't need to go again next year.  And I learned that I like the rooms I stay in to be very, very stupid.

Friday, January 27, 2012

(ahem) woo hoo.

I am SO not a WOO HOOO!!!! kind of person, but you know what?  The SCBWI winter conference is this weekend, and I am very (for me) excited.  So I am giving a restrained, moderate, dignified shout-out that would never be heard in a crowd, but you and I know it's there, right?  Decided at the last minute to stay over in the hotel on Sat. night, because a few days ago I learned via email from Kathy Temean, ,the indefagitable New Jersey regional advisor, that some people from the NJ chapter will be going out to dinner after the cocktail party, and I decided to join them, and once I did, the idea of Port Authority at 10 p.m. to catch a bus back home, only to catch another one back into the city at 7 the next morning, seemed less than appealing.  I hate to spend the money for the hotel, but my husband urged me to do it, so I did.  I am up for putting my public face on for a weekend, then coming home and collapsing on Sunday.  The thing I'm actually most excited about is getting to finally meet Sarah Davies, founder of Greenhouse Literary Agency, who worked patiently with me on Novel #3 a couple of years ago until she ultimately decided to pass on it.  I only know her through emails and one unexpected phone call from her, at the start of which I almost hung up on her because it was 6 p.m. and at that hour, I pick up the phone with the presumption that it's a telemarketer on the other end.  Big oops.  I still cringe. Anyway, she's a hero of mine, and I'll get to stalk - I mean meet her at the conference, which thrills me.  So, I'm off!  Well, technically I'm not "off" until I'm on the 6:57 bus tomorrow morning, but for all intents and purposes, I'm off.  Wish me well, okay?  I'll report back.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Vive le Roi!

This post is going to be about kids' lit.  Really.  It is.  But first, I just have to share my post-South Carolina homage to Mr. Gingrich:

At least he's not a Mormon.
At least he's not a Jew.
Third go-round, he's a Catholic;
Guess that will have to do.

Macbeth provides the precedent.
The old becomes the new:
Weird creatures drop the "'I' of Newt"
Into the witches' brew.

Get it?  "I" of Newt, because he's such an incredible narcissist?  Okay...  Back on my meds now.  No more politics.  And when the new dance show "So You Think You Can Lead the Free World?" becomes the hottest thing on the Fox network, I won't even try to claim the credit.
   But what I REALLY want to tell you about is the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Contest, which opens tomorrow, and which has a Young Adult Novel category.  Google it to get all the information.  I'm entering.  And if you, like me, have an unpub Y.A. novel just sitting there, you should enter too.  Why the hell not?  You don't have to be The Winner in order to benefit; if you make any of the cuts, you'll get at least a partial review out of the process.  I apologize for the short notice.  The contest runs until Feb. 5th, but I wouldn't advise waiting until then, because there's a cutoff after the 5,000th submission, and I suspect there may be a lot of us unpubs out there.  So, read the rules, and DO IT!  What have you got to lose?  And, by the way, if I haven't said this before: Join SCBWI.  Immediately.  It's an international organization, so it doesn't matter what country you live in.  Joining this group is a move you will never regret.  Unlike voting for ...   AAARRRGGGGHHHHH!  They're coming to take me away now....  Enter the contest!!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Absolutely Nothing To Do With Writing...

but how can I NOT blog about the Republican-primary freakshow? My God, it's everywhere you turn.  Who has the best chance of defeating Obama the Antichrist?  Well, let's see whom we can crown Whitest Whiteboy in America, shall we?  Why don't they just put an end to the interminable anguish of this process and decide the whole thing on the basis of a dance competition?  Obviously, whoever is the clumsiest and most tonedeaf is the one least likely to be a henchman of Satan.  Voila!  Our candidate!!  But who?  Rick Sanctimonium?  Ron Paul, founder of a crackpot dynasty and possessor of a voice possibly even more grating than George W's?  Le Roi Newt, so in touch with his inner European Monarch that he can't understand why he couldn't consort with both his wife AND Callista the Whip Lady?  And last but not least, Uncle Mitty, who looks okay, speaks comprehensibly (for a robot), and doesn't belong in a straitjacket, but, most horrible betrayal of all, he's - gasp! - NOT PRECISELY CHRISTIAN!!!  Hey, good luck tomorrow, South Carolina.  Can't wait to see which one of the Four Stooges gets your thumbs-up.
     As for me, I'll be focused on getting ready for the national SCBWI winter conference in New York next weekend.  Reading faculty bios, planning my public transportation route, and trying to become a charming person by 7:30 a.m. next Saturday.  I might even be able to pull that one off, unless someone at the conference within my immediate radius mentions the primaries.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Well, not quite.  In two days it will be the one-month anniversary of the date I started this blog.  But I thought I'd celebrate a little early by posting a tribute to a few of my alltime favorite young-adult authors and their books.  To begin with, no one's body of work has inspired and moved me like Katherine Paterson's.  Over thirty years ago, she courageously opened doors that so many authors have since walked through and pushed open even wider.  She writes about the outsider, and does it from the inside - from the soul.  To me, her most astonishing feat of heroism is "Jacob Have I Loved."   Then, Laurie Halse Anderson's "Wintergirls"  weaves a spell that seems to me must be witchcraft - but she is a white witch, and her goal is to erase some of the world's darkness, not add to it.  And then there's Angela Johnson's "The First Part Last" - the exquisite story of a boy becoming a man by falling in love with his child.  These authors are among my heroes, and the novels I've mentioned, with their unforgettable protagonists and language that cuts to the core, have widened and deepened my world.  I hope that if you haven't yet read them, you will soon.  Happy Anniversary, and, I hope, many more to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Research = Heaven

So, since I'm writing a book set in Ireland, it stands to reason that one of these days I'm going to have to travel to Ireland to talk to people about their local history.  And when I do that, I can't just be mispronouncing everything I'm asking them about, can I?  Which is why it makes perfect sense for me to have bought myself an English-Irish dictionary, as well as a beginner's language course (coursebook plus audio disks). When I proudly showed my purchases to my husband, he raised his eyebrows a fraction, and reminded me to be careful about not getting carried away with my research.  He's been through the writing of one historical novel (#1) with me already, and apparently remembers quite well how, after spending a year or so learning all I could about 16th-century Venice, I felt compelled to cram every single fact I'd uncovered into the text of my novel, with a crowbar if necessary. Ah, but I know better now.  When I was prowling on a few nights ago, trying to figure out how I could learn to speak Gaelic, did I not prudently (but reluctantly) refrain from also buying a copy of the actual 1659 Irish census, which could have been mine for a mere $25.00? I exercised restraint, but I have no doubt it would have been worth every penny. Because, for me, research is pure joy. If you're not looking to find out a specific thing, then there's just no way to do it wrong, and everything you find out just opens new doors. As opposed to writing, in which the ways to do it wrong outnumber the waves in the ocean, and so many of the doors you open lead into blind alleys and hidden traps. Writing is work. Research is fun. And some, but not all, of it will even find its way into the book. So I'm going to keep delving, and I'm going to try to learn Irish, which my first foray into the coursebook suggests will prove to be one of the world's more impossible languages. And, my fellow seeker, I leave you with this: May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back; may the sun shine warm upon your face; and, until we meet again, may God (Dia) hold you (tu) in the palm of His hand. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I Am The Man?

Strange week.  My promotion at work took effect on Tuesday, shifting me from worker bee to the lower rungs of management.  For the first time in my life, I have become, as it were, The Man.  As in, the one to whom it (unspecified) should be stuck, as opposed to the one doing the sticking.  Fortunately, an office with a less authoritarian structure than mine would be hard to find.  I'm still working with all the same colleagues, and we all still relate to each other in the same ways we did before, but still.  Suddenly I find that some things I would have said before, without even thinking, are perhaps best left unsaid.  I now have a stake, albeit a small one, in the preservation of the current management team.  I want to make it work.  But, I protest, I want to use my newfound power for good, and not for evil! I want to make the office a better place for everyone! So you see, I am not starting down this path as a ruthless dictator, even if that is how my journey ultimately ends.  KIDDING!!! But it is kind of strange, all the same.
    So what does all this have to do with writing? You know, it's funny you should ask. I've been wondering the very same thing. Here's one possibility: my new The-Manhood will be immediately apparent to all who see me, in any context. I will walk into a room full of agents and editors at a conference, and all conversations will cease. "Who IS that?," they will whisper frantically to each other. "What presence! What regal bearing! Is she signed with anyone yet?  No, YOU get out of MY way! You've got Madonna!" Okay, fine, here's a second possibility. I'll do well in my new job, and it will increase my general sense of confidence, an improvement which I will then be able to intangibly project when I meet editors and agents, and they will want to read my book. Now, that one could actually happen, right? Just that little smidgen of magic that will bump me up to the next level? Isn't that one little bump all I really need?  After all, I already write way better than Madonna.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Update- 2012

Did it!  Emailed back to the agent to whom I'd sent my revisions in November, asking whether she'd received them and whether she might be getting back to me within the next few weeks, since I plan to attend the SCBWI winter conference at the end of January and, if she's not interested in the book,  I would like to be able to shop it around.  Heard back from her a few hours later.  Yes, she did receive my revisions, but it's been a very busy reading time for her and she hasn't gotten to them yet.  But, by all means, go ahead and shop the book around at the conference - it will be good practice for me, and agents are used to getting multiple submissions.  But if by chance I do get an offer from someone else before I hear from her, she wants the right of first acceptance; that's "customary."   Hmmm.  It's not a kick in the teeth, I guess, but it's a long way from "besotted!"  Perhaps my friends' insistence on buying me a celebratory drink that night at the conference was a bit premature, wot?  I'm feeling reasonably philosophical about this - I guess her month and a half of silence might have meant that reading my revisions had left her wordless with rapture, but it did seem a little unlikely.   So... moving along.  Researching Book #4.  Trying to write a worthy pitch for Novel #3 to present to unsuspecting strangers at the conference.  My husband informed me today of something known as an "elevator pitch," which evidently is exactly what it sounds like: a machine-gun-like barrage of facts about one's book, designed to be inflicted on the hapless industry professional who had the misfortune to get on an elevator with you.  Excuse me, but isn't exhibiting that type of behavior the recipe for becoming a pariah, rather than a published author?   If I were the industry professional in question, I suspect that either I, or the one delivering the pitch, would end up at the bottom of the elevator shaft.  No, but I do have to prepare a normal, polite, dignified pitch, just in case someone is actually willing to hear it.  Like, through the door of a bathroom stall.....