Sunday, January 25, 2015


     Well, I did some of it, anyway.  Here are some things I actually did yesterday morning:

     1. Completed revisions to my manuscript.
     2. Composed a short email to the agent who asked to see them.
     3. Attached the manuscript to the email.
     4. Spent about ten minutes in utter dysfunctional panic.
     5. Hit "send."

Now here are some of the things I've done since then, but only in the privacy of my own little head:

     1. Received The Call from the agent, who is so overcome by the sheer brilliance of my book that she can barely stammer out her list of superlatives to describe it. I wait patiently as she attempts to regain some measure of self-control. I can afford to be generous.
     2. Watched with interest as the bidding war swirled around me, yet somehow retained my humility. (How rare is that?)
     3. Spent my handsome advance on long-neglected home improvement projects.
     4. Considered whom I might ask to write cover blurbs.
     5. Worked - just a little - on the book club and school study guides.
     6. Announced to friends and family, who have been hearing for twenty years that I've been writing books but have given up on anything ever coming of it, that I have a book that will actually be published soon, thank you very much.
     7. Prepped my presentation, entitled "YA's Own Grandma Moses," for next summer's annual New Jersey SCBWI conference.
     8. Been nominated for the Newbery. Okay, fine. Won.

     It's been a heck of a weekend!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


     Some novelists serve you the literary equivalent of comfort food.  They tread familiar territory, create characters that aren't that different from everyone you know.  During the course of the story they'll shake things up a little bit, because that's what novelists are required to do, but in the end they focus on reassuring you that the world is pretty much the place you always thought it was, and that everything is going to turn out okay.
     A.S. King is not that kind of novelist.  Is there such a thing as discomfort food?  Because if there is, that's her specialty.  All your go-to dishes are off the menu at this restaurant.  In fact, there is no menu.  You just walk in, sit down, and assume that whatever food you've never even considered trying is what the waiter is going to bring you.  And that once you've swallowed your squeamishness, you're going to eat every bite on your plate and then lick off all the sauce that remains.

     Glory is mere days away from her high school graduation, and has made no plans beyond that event: no college, no job, no waiting period, no nothing.  Since Glory's mother committed suicide 13 years earlier, Glory has been stuck in the present tense, as has her father.  Both of them seem to believe that by having allowed Darla O'Brien to slip away from them, they have both forfeited the right to a personal future.
     Glory's friend/not friend Ellie isn't in a great situation either.  Her mother, who has never been known to take no for an answer, decided years ago that Ellie would be homeschooled by her, but now doesn't seem interested in declaring Ellie ready to graduate.  So Glory and Ellie do what any teenagers would do under similar circumstances.  They mix  mummified bat powder into beer and drink it.  I wish they would have talked to me first, because every time I've done that, strange things have happened, but teenagers are just so impulsive, aren't they?  So next thing Glory and Ellie know, when they look at someone (a stranger, a classmate, anyone) they can see (sometimes) that person's past, and (sometimes) that person's future.  Except that, oddly, they don't seem to see the same kinds of scenarios as each other.  The things Ellie sees mostly involve the sex life of the person she's looking at, while the things Glory sees mostly involve war.  She sees past wars through the eyes of long-dead participants in them,  but increasingly, she sees glimpses from what she gradually comes to understand is a very specific future war- a second American Civil War, fifty years in the future, waged by men against women and set off by a backlash against increasing progress in women's rights.  And ironically, it's her ability to foresee this nationwide catastrophe that will furnish Glory, at last, with a future all her own.
     This is not my favorite A.S. King novel, in part because her focus here seems so intensely single-minded: all women in the United States are in danger from some men, and woe to us if those men are able to seize more power than they already have.
     The statistics about sexual assault against women in this country are appalling.  Colleges routinely protect assaulters rather than victims, lest the truth get out and hurt their application numbers.  A young woman walking down the street in New York for 10 hours dressed casually in jeans and T-shirt receives more than 100 unprovoked leers, catcalls, and angry comments when she ignores the men who are crudely trying to get her attention.  And over the course of several decades, how many men knowingly covered up Bill Cosby's hobby of drugging and then raping women?
     And yet...  there is a rule of law in this country.  It's terribly flawed, but it's there.  As opposed to, say, El Salvador, where a poor, uneducated woman can get sentenced to prison for 30 years if she has a miscarriage and cannot disprove that it was the result of an attempted (illegal) abortion.  Or Afghanistan, where marriages to much older men are commonly forced on barely-pubescent girls who are beaten, or worse, if they try to escape.
     I don't think America's second civil war will be fought over the rights of women.  I think if it comes, it will be about race, much as the first one was, because in the past 150 years we just haven't  evolved enough to understand the consequences of continuous mass oppression.
     Not that the merits of this book depend on my views of whether the scenario it depicts is likely to occur.  I do feel, though, that King gives some of her characters and their development unchar-acteristically short shrift as she lets herself veer toward didacticism.
     Still, A.S. King remains A.S. King: wildly inventive, entirely original, with no speck of sentimentality but oceans of big, generous heart.  Every word she writes is worth reading.
     So.  I would like to pass my copy of GLORY O'BRIEN on to someone who has just read my description of it and now desperately wants to read it.  I'm doing this by way of a contest, and to enter, all you have to do is leave a comment telling me why.  What about this story speaks to you?  What do you hope to find in it?  I'm not going to post a deadline; that's going to depend on the quantity and quality of responses I get.  But I will say that once I declare the contest over, if I choose your answer over all others, I'll send you my copy of the book no matter where you live.  Do you see any down side to this?  No, you don't, because there isn't any.  I can't wait to read your comments.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


     Yesterday a co-worker walked into my office, handed me a sealed manila envelope, and announced that it was a belated holiday gift for me from Bill.  When I remarked on the packaging, my colleague said, "You didn't think he would have wrapped it, did you?"
     Well, no, I guess I didn't, now that you mention it.  I'd worked with Bill (not his real name) for about 18 years, the last three as his supervisor, until he retired last spring. Bill was my nerd-friend, but I haven't stayed in touch with him, partly because he's not easy to stay in touch with since his retirement: he does not possess a cell phone, and up until very recently, did not possess a home computer or email account.  Bill turned 60 last year, and has never lived anywhere but the house in which he grew up; his parents died many years ago, and he remains there alone.  He is an active member of his local Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe societies, and he celebrates both of their birthdays.  He travels frequently to New York to visit museums, libraries, and certain select bars, at which he claims to be a favorite of all the barmaids.  He also occasionally travels to other countries, accompanied by his aunt. He haunts used bookstores, where he snatches up anything he can find about his particular interests: General George C. Custer and certain segments of classical Roman history.  Bill's sexuality is undeclared and perhaps unknown, even to him.  He prides himself on his ancient British lineage, his legendary stinginess, and his vast knowledge of esoteric subjects like the Battle of Hastings.
     In light of all the above, you probably can understand why I approached this gift with a little trepidation.  But I bravely opened the envelope, and found a pair of socks.  In fact, this pair of socks:

    Yes, previously unbeknownst to me, there evidently exists a House of Hotsox (, in case you want to look it up) that produces a "Famous Artist Series."  Bill knows that Vermeer is my favorite painter.  I'm sure that's why he bought me these socks; perhaps he thought they were beautiful.  One never knows with Bill.  But to me, these socks are truly disturbing.  That's a reproduction of Vermeer's "Girl With Pearl Earring," by the way,

and I don't know whether you can see it in the photo, but the sock actually does contain a small 3-D "pearl" - it's that spot of light to the right of her jaw, just above the center of her collar.  I don't want to impugn Bill's generosity by suggesting that it might not be a genuine  pearl, but I do have my doubts. The price tag, which Bill neglected to remove, says $8.00, and I haven't priced pearls lately but that does seem on the low side for one, let alone two (yep, one on each sock.  I just checked to make sure.)   In any event, though, this sock-girl to me represents not so much Girl With a Pearl Earring as Undead Girl With a Pearl Earring.  Can you see the ghastly colors, the sickly pallor of her skin, the blood-red of her lips?  What, or whom, has she been eating to produce that garish hue?  Even her turban is red instead of blue, as if to enhance the zombie motif.  And instead of directly meeting the eyes of the viewer, as the original Girl does, the sock-girl has a fixed, unfocused look in her eyes, as if piercing the veil that separates this world from the next.
     Do I dare wear these?  Reader: would you?  Or would you fear looking down sometime around midday and seeing blood seeping out of your shoes?  Tearing the shoes off only to find you have a smaller complement of toes than you started the day with?
     Maybe for now I'll just leave them in my sock drawer.  And keep it very tightly closed.

p.s.  A few updates 2 weeks later:  I obtained Bill's newly established email address so I could write and thank him for the socks.  From his response, I now know that: 1. He LIKED the socks.  He said he wanted to get a pair for himself too, but they didn't have them in men's sizes.  2.  His British lineage dates back way before I thought it did.  He can trace his first patrilineal ancestor, the one who came from France to England, to the Domesday Book record of 1086.  This information, and much more like it, was not solicited by me in any way.  Evidently, knowing a thousand years of one's own family history tends to leave one slightly unhingedDuh. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015


     Thank you so much to the lovely and talented Yvonne Ventresca for nominating me for this wondrous award!  And I'm going to do my best to carry it forward, which means that I must
     A. display the award on my blog (done!);
     B.  link back to the person who nominated me (done!);
     C.  state seven things about myself (not yet done); and (here's the kicker)
     D.  nominate 15 bloggers, link to them, and notify them of their nominations. (can't do)

     The thing is that I don't personally know 15 bloggers, and it would be really embarrassing for me to "notify" people like A.S. King that I've nominated them, so here's what I'll do instead: list seven blogs that I really love to follow, and notify those of the bloggers whom I can claim to know, even slightly, and just recommend the other ones.  Would that be okay?  I'm sorry, but it's just going to have to be.

      But first: seven things about me.
     1.  I'm the world's worst dancer.  Seriously.  When I was in eighth grade our class dance teacher choreographed a dance to be presented at our graduation by the whole class, and then took me aside to inform me that I would not be participating.
     2.   I don't watch television at all, with the only exception being Mad Men.  When the last season of that show ends this spring, I will be bereft.
     3.   I can bend all of my fingers at the top knuckle joint without bending them anywhere else.  This talent creeps my children out to a highly satisfying degree.
     4.    I live with the two best dogs in the world.

     5.   I have this thing about food textures.  "Gooshy" foods turn my stomach.  This category includes: cheesecake; meringues; custards; puddings; whipped cream; jellies or jams - basically, if it quivers, get it away from me.
     6.   Some 25 or 30 years ago, I used to act in community theater productions.  Comic roles were my favorites.  Once I was in a play with Blanche Lewis, Richard Lewis's mother.  She was a very sweet, very ditzy older lady who more or less learned her lines, but would wander around the stage as if the concept of blocking did not exist.  Richard attended one of our performances.  He looked like he was undergoing a root canal.  But then, isn't that how he always looks?
     7.    Math and I never got along.  Sometimes (when no one's looking) I count on my fingers.

     And now, on to the blogs!!  Here are some of my true favorites:

  •  Janet Reid, Literary Agent - an actual agent answers actual questions from actual writers.    Honest, funny, and right-on.
  • Here's Me Using the Word Blog in a Sentence - blog of the inimitable A.S. King, in which she shares musings, opinions, personal stories, photos, news... it's pretty much the A.S. King General Store, and you just might want to move in.
  • Holly Schindler's Character Driven - if you read my blog, you know of my boundless admiration for Holly Schindler.  Read a little of her blog, and I bet you'll join me.
  • Nerdy Chicks Rule - this is the playground and communication center for authors Kami Kinard and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.  Informative and empowering.
  • On the Verge - home of the amazing Jody Casella - look her up on my blog too, and then go check out her posts about life, writing, and the intersections between the two.  Personal, funny, deeply human.  
  • Roughwighting - author Pam Wight has an incredible knack for making anyone who sets eyes on her blog feel like they've just made a smart, vivacious, warm new friend.
  • Jennifer R. Hubbard, Writer - contemplative, wide-ranging posts on a variety of interesting subjects, including but not limited to the writing process.
Look them up and let me know what you think!

Monday, January 12, 2015


... back from my trip to Israel.  Back from the nightmare world of cross-stitched baby blankets.  And no, I did not finish the blanket before I left so I could present it to my grand-niece while I was there.  Nor did I finish it during my stay.  Or during my 14-hour stint in the Tel Aviv airport on my way home.  Or as soon as I got back on Thursday afternoon.  I finished it yesterday

and mailed it today.  FYI, the kit was entitled "Sleepy Bunnies," lest you think there's something seriously wrong with the two on the bottom.  They're just very, very sound sleepers, okay?
     So.  My trip.  I got to attend my niece's beautiful wedding.  As did my mom, shown here in her apartment, all dressed up and ready to go:

  Shouldn't we all look so good at 92?  And the flights were long, so I got to read THE FUTURE HISTORY OF GLORY O'BRIEN on the way there (review and giveaway to follow once I get over my jetlag), and most of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE on the way back. 
     And here's a wedding placecard you don't see every day:

     No, Zuck was not actually invited, but he could have been.  And my nephew's wife, whose task it was to make up the placecards, decided to make one for him anyway, and seat him at a nonexistent table, because she thought it wasn't fair (to the rest of us, of course) that he hadn't been invited.  Because after all, my niece's groom was Number Four.  As in, the fourth person to sign up for Facebook.  Because he was a suitemate of Zuckerberg's at Harvard - the only one not depicted in the movie, as far as I can tell, because he was the only one who never got involved at all in the enterprise and, hence, was the only one not to make a dime out of Facebook.  Instead, as soon as he graduated college, he moved to Israel to study to be a rabbi.  Yeah, so long, Mark.  Good luck with that whole social media thing, okay?  So my niece did not marry a billionaire.  She just married a really nice man who never cared about money or fame because his priorities lay elsewhere.  In other words, she married the perfect guy for her.
     I have a lot of other things to blog about after my three-week hiatus, but it's all going to have to wait for another day.  Meanwhile, I'm glad I went on my journey, and I'm even gladder to be back home.