Friday, December 26, 2008

Remembering Eartha Kitt

I saw Eartha Kitt perform only once, at the Cafe Carlyle in the early 1990's. My publishing friend David Bennett was in town from London, and he had always wanted to go the Carlyle. Neither one of us had seen Ms. Kitt sing live before.

She was fabulous, of course. I don't remember what she sang, although I can recall the timbre of her voice, the sophistication of the Carlyle, the energy of her performance. But what I remember best was her dress and how she wore it. It was a blue sparkly affair, with a deep, revealing back covered with a sheer netting. And underneath the netting was not the expanse of Eartha's back you might expect, but a straight-up black bra, the strap of which you could plainly see.

I date the emergence of the bra strap as a part of everyday clothing not to Madonna but to Andie McDowell in Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989). Hers was the first bra strap I remember seeing frankly emerging from the shoulder of her sundress: the birth of post-modern lingerie. And before it was truly a trend, or an accepted part of any woman's clothing -- the way sneakers frankly have laces -- there was Eartha, proving to the world that a 72-ish-year-old lady would be damned before she'd wear a long line strapless brassiere, if it was easier to wear a regular one. Which made it sexier, too.

So, since it's not only poetry Friday but the day after Christmas, here are the lyrics to a song that nobody could put over like Eartha. We believe in you, Eartha. Thanks for the memory.

Santa Baby

written by J. Javits and P. Springer

Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree, for me
I've been an awful good girl
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa baby, an out-of-space convertible too, light blue
I'll wait up for you dear
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Think of all the fun I've missed
Think of all the fellas that I haven't kissed
Next year I could be oh so good
If you'd check off my Christmas list
Boo doo bee doo

Santa honey, I wanna yacht and really that's
Not a lot
I've been an angel all year
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa cutie, there's one thing I really do need, the deed
To a platinum mine
Santa cutie, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa baby, I'm filling my stocking with a duplex, and checks
Sign your 'X' on the line
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany's
I really do believe in you
Let's see if you believe in me
Boo doo bee doo

Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing, a ring
I don't mean a phone
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Hurry down the chimney tonight
Hurry down the chimney tonight

Friday, December 19, 2008

Poetry Friday: Christmas carol edition--"Night of Silence"

The Bowen Press went on a holiday adventure recently, to see the fabulous
Babar exhibit at the Morgan Library. We ooh-ed and ah-ed over the elephants, and the editorial corners of our brains were all delighted by how amazingly similar--and yet totally different!--the bookmaking process of Jean de Brunhoff's era was to the one we know today.

Our evening was capped off perfectly by a quartet of holiday singers serenading us in the Morgan Café, which couldn't have been more welcome--after what has been a long few weeks in the world of publishing, suddenly, it really felt like the magic of the holiday season was finally upon us. Our conversation turned, then, to favorite Christmas carols, and I realized that hearing people tell of their favorite carols is just as much a treat as learning about people's favorite books. My favorite carol is one that isn't terribly well-known, and since songs and poetry are close cousins, I thought I'd share it here today. These lyrics give me a chill that I wait for with quiet anticipation every Christmas season. To me, they are breathtaking lovely--evocative, haunting, and lonely but full of quiet promise, all at the same time--and they fill up my soul in the way beautiful words always do.

"Night of Silence"
by Daniel Kantor

Cold are the people, Winter of life,
We tremble in shadows this cold endless night.
Frozen in the snow lie roses sleeping,
Flowers that will echo the sunrise
Fire of hope is our only warmth--
Weary, its flame will be dying soon.

Voice in the distance, call in the night,
On wind you enfold us, you speak of the light.
Gentle on the ear you whisper softly,
Rumors of a dawn so embracing
Breathless love awaits darkened souls--
Soon, will we know of the morning.

Spirit among us, shine like the star,
Your light that guides shepherds and kings from afar.
Shimmer in the sky so empty, lonely,
Rising in the warmth of the Son's love
Star unknowing of night and day--
Spirit we wait for your loving Son.

**For anyone curious about the song itself, it's a companion to the far better known "Silent Night." Often, it's sung in rounds with "Silent Night", then layered/harmonized against (sorry, I don't know the technical musical term for that!) "Silent Night." You can give it a listen
here, where a lovely Irish choir sings "Silent Night" first, then "Night of Silence," and then blends the two in wonderful harmony.

Edited to add: What's *your* favorite carol? And is there a story to the "why" of it being your favorite?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A New Hope

From the earliest moment I can remember, I have always been a huge Star Wars geek. I'm a white guy with glasses who was born in 1981, so this isn't exactly a revelation, especially at this point in our cultural history. Still, I feel I should preface this post with that statement, because it's going to be important later.

It's also no revelation that our business is in dire straits right now. Sales are down, layoffs are up, and I can't tell what's more disconcerting: the panic that set in when the first rounds of serious layoffs occurred about a month ago, or the relative complacency with which similar news is received today. What's our problem? Can we blame the economy, or the fact that people don't read as much anymore? The former shouldn't affect books as much as it might other businesses, and the latter was a problem before the recession. Are we instead, then, running out of good ideas? Responding to these questions (or ignoring them, depending on your point of view (and, as Obi-Wan tells us, "most of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view")), the book business has been pushing a "Give the Gift of Reading" campaign for a little while, arguing that books make the best holiday gifts. They're right, of course. Books are relatively inexpensive, appropriate for nearly anyone, and, most of all, they're thoughtful. Giving someone a book that you love is more than just giving them an object of a certain monetary value. At its heart, it's giving someone a piece of who we are. And it doesn't matter how old the book is - if the givee hasn't read it, it's going to be new to them. I'm sure there are people out there giving Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to someone this Christmas, as funny as that might sound to most of us who are reading this blog.

In this vein, my uncle and I decided to give a wonderful gift, a piece of who we are, to my little cousins, Ian and Mary, when I was visiting them last weekend. Ian is five and Mary is four, and we decided it was time that they saw A New Hope (the first film, Episode IV of Star Wars, for the uninitiated). We concluded they were both at a fine age for it, since I have distinct memories of being four years old and watching a videotape of the movie every day until it broke. Needless to say, they loved it. Ian was mesmerized by the Stormtroopers, and Mary tied a black towel around her neck for a cape and walked around the rest of the day making Darth Vader's breathing noises. But the most amazing moment, and one we didn't expect, happened right when the movie ended. Mary turned to us and said, with complete interest, and in complete earnest, "how did Luke's dad die?"

The fact that these are the most beautiful words a woman could ever utter to me aside, it came as a complete shock to us. It still feels amazing to write it: there is someone who doesn't know who Luke Skywalker's father is. As much as I knew all that stuff I wrote above, it had been a long time since the truth of it had been thrown into such sharp relief. We reminded Mary that Obi-Wan tells us Darth Vader killed him, which pacified her for the time being. But she knew something was up, and didn't know what it was. Regardless of the fact that it was revealed to the world a scant ten months and five days before I was born, I can't remember a time when I didn't know that (SPOILER ALERT) Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father. It just is. And yet: there must have been a time when I didn't know. When that story, so well known to the world, was completely new to me. I know this because I saw it in Mary's eyes. And it wasn't just that bit of plot of which she was unaware, but also of the fact that Harrison Ford would be the only actor that would really have a career after these movies, or of the latter-day sins committed by George Lucas in the prequel trilogy, or of the fact that in the real version of these movies, Greedo actually doesn't shoot first. All of that stuff, inextricably linked to those movies for me and for most of the world, just fell away, and the movie was just a great bit of story all over again. Can you think of anything more beautiful than that? It almost makes me feel selfish - who was this gift really for?

So the questions remain: What's our problem? Are we running out of good ideas? As important as that question is, it might assuage our fears a bit to ignore it. We are still going to be mesmerized by a great story, and will look to share our favorites with the people we love, because the great ones will always be new to someone. From the business side, we'll certainly need to come up with some new ideas to deal with the realities of the present and the ones on the horizon. But we have a solid foundation, I think, and that's something we shouldn't forget. If my little cousins are any indication, there is an especially huge amount of potential energy out there to drive the business of children's books. I can only conclude that the force is with us.

Star Wars is not the kind of gift that you can give to too many people, and virtually no one over the age of ten. But there are a lot of great stories with moments like that which will be new to people for whom we're buying this year. And I'm going to keep an eye open for Mary's look in the eyes of the friends to whom I'm giving Jeff Smith's Bone and Graham Greene's The End Of the Affair this Christmas. It'll be my gift to myself. And it's one that I think we'll all be able to afford.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Is this the solution to the industry's present editorial retrenching? Innodate Isogen believes so:

Outsourcing Content Origination and Authoring:
How to Create New Content and Stay Ahead

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vincent Henderson, vice president and director of consulting for Innodata Isogen's Publishing Practice, will offer real-world examples of how publishers are generating high-quality content for demanding audiences, growing market share and improved profitability by outsourcing content origination and authoring to a leading offshore provider of editorial services.

Refer a Colleague >>

-- Quoted verbatim from an email that arrived in my in-box just minutes after the announcement that more publishing layoffs happened today. Who's interested in attending this webinar?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Peek Inside My "Sent Mail" Folder

Or, Reason Number One Million and Three Why I Love This Job! (Other possible but eventually discarded titles for this post included: "Emails That Make You Laugh Out Loud As You Write Them" or "Emails That Make Me Sound Crazy But Are Actually Totally Professional.")

Amidst a busy few days of paperwork, reading, meetings, and more paperwork, I had an utterly delightful moment that amused me so much that I thought I'd share it. From my Sent Mail folder, then--the following note to one of our author/illustrators:

"Dear XXX, I'm just sending you a quick note to let you know that the hippos arrived via Fedex today, just as expected."

There is something sublime--and wildly, fantastically delightful--about the fact that a statement like that (and the wonderful visual image it evokes) is all in a day's work for a children's book editor. Truly, there's never a dull moment at the Bowen Press!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poetry Friday: "Character and Life "

Every writer has probably heard, one time, if not many times, the sage advice, "Kill your darlings." It's a quote that's usually attributed to Faulkner, though I've also seen it convincingly attributed to Hemingway, Samuel Johnson, or Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, among others. Regardless of whoever uttered a variation of the idea first, I suppose it's unsurprising that so many writers would arrive at the same conclusion about a necessary, but tragic, part of the writing process. But despite the number of times I'd heard--and repeated!--the advice myself, I've never seen it so vividly, poignantly, painfully portrayed as I do in this poem from Jane Hirshfield's lovely collection, After.

"Character and Life"
by Jane Hirshfield

The young novelist held underwater
the head of the character in his
book he loved best.
In the book, and as he wrote,
he counted until he
was sure it was finished.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Black Wednesday

It was a dark day for publishing yesterday. Layoffs, squeeze-outs, consolidations, cancellations. It was such a hard day that I for one didn't sleep last night. Couldn't get the whole morass of change out of my mind.

But I'll tell you, there was a small but very bright spot at Bowen Press, yesterday afternoon. And that was the moment that we opened two FedEx boxes from Peter Reynolds, in which we found his watercolors for a book we're publishing next fall, called Tess's Tree.

The text is by Jess Brallier, and it's the story of a girl who loves a tree -- a tree that is so old that it needs to be cut down. Tess sees it fall, and only lets go of her anger and sorrow when she has a funeral for her tree, celebrating its life, and learning about its small but important role in the fabric of her neighborhood in the process.

Of course there's a parallel in Tess's story to the events of yesterday, but that's not what I want to say here. What I want to say here is that we all stopped what we were doing when the shipment arrived. We gathered around a table and carefully opened the boxes. (Truth be told, Jordan manfully ripped off the flap of one box because there are NO EXACTO KNIVES around original art.) Peter had packed a lovely simple black box within the FedEx box, and when we opened it, truly, it was like opening a treasure chest.

I'll post the images as soon as I get to the office, but let me tell you, there is no thrill like seeing pictures you've only seen as jpegs or scans or sketches in their original state. The texture of the watercolor paper is toothy, the white is rich. The tissues over the art crinkle and you have to lift them like a bride's veil to see what's underneath. And then the art itself -- sweet, delicate, powerful, with impeccable line and (to our surprise) really drenched in color.

We'll publish Tess's Tree next fall. There will still be books, and there will still be children who turn to books to learn about themselves and the world. So black as Black Wednesday was, for me it will always be linked to that moment of ripping and opening and crinkling and wonder at the sight of something new, something unique in all the world.

Monday, December 1, 2008

On the tenacity of independent booksellers

Tonight I went to a party at Books of Wonder, an independent children's bookstore in New York City. Peter Glassman, the owner, gave a toast to the assembled crowd (mostly artists) and reminded us of the little "hole in the wall" his store was when it opened. A lot of things collided in my mind as he spoke: images of his former stores (there have been, I think, four locations); Peter taking me out to lunch and telling me what's wrong with publishers (a lot); Peter and his late partner, James the Silent and Steady and Buff; Peter pushing, always pushing, to get the books and authors and artists he needed to keep the doors open and the people coming in.

And I thought about New York and all its iterations: how it was emerging from the gritty 1970's when Peter first opened his doors in 1980; how it weathered the AIDS holocaust (much on my mind since seeing Milk this weekend); how it boomed during the careless '90's; how it's trying to figure itself out now.

Peter has had to be and stay larger than life just to keep the place going these 28 years. "Sorry the invitations were so late this year," he told me (mine had arrived that afternoon), "but you can always count on our party being the first Monday of December." And we all did count on that, because we all showed up.

Peter and I share a history, as his store opened just a few months before I started in publishing. So before I wax too nostalgic, here's to all those tenacious booksellers. You keep your doors open, and we'll keep showing up. And vice versa.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One from the archives....

Something I've been pondering a fair bit lately--in part because I continue to watch my distant past stumble into my present via the magical powers of Facebook--is just how fully formed we are as people at an early age. Sure, we grow up, we get better hair, we (hopefully!) mature and grow wiser as the decades turn. But overall, I'm realizing that the core kind of person we are--including what we treasure, fear, and define ourselves by--really doesn't shift all that drastically from who we were as children to who we are as adults.

Some proof of this fact? Not too long ago, my parents, who recently moved, sent me some files that they'd extracted from an ancient computer. Their most amusing discovery was a dreadfully earnest, terribly overwritten original story by yours truly. And if you must know: it was about a Christmas Elf figurine named Jingle who desperately wanted to become a Christmas gift. You'll be happy to hear that he indeed found a home, with exactly the sort of Angelic Crippled Girl that you'd expect to find in a knock-off Victorian-esque Christmas tale. (The Bird's Christmas Carol, anyone?) The clincher of it all? Though I have no memory of actually writing it, my story was oh-so-craftily saved to the shared family computer under the file name "AlgebraProject" (Because, really, who would ever think THAT file would be interesting enough to bother opening it?)
Nearly two decades later, I'm still fascinated by stories and their telling. And I'd still MUCH rather be thinking about stories than doing Algebra homework. Wouldn't everyone?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Emily Dickinson for Friday

As the temperatures plummet in the New York area (and rather quickly - it was only last Saturday that I was walking to the laundromat in sixty-degree weather, wearing a t-shirt), I have had my favorite bit of Emily Dickinson set like a thick rug under my thoughts this week:

This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow--
First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--

It's the third and final stanza of a poem of hers called "After great pain, a formal feeling comes." I'm not dealing with any great pain right now, but I think we probably spend a lot of time fumbling with the pieces of our lives, frustrated that we can't control everything. In the midst of this, I have always apprecaited the sentiment that there are some pieces that aren't going to fit, and some questions in our lives to which there are no answers. In recognizing this, we establish a connection that wasn't there a second ago, which is always the point, anyway.

Postscript: the last bit of that poem serves as the inspirition for the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy record The Letting Go, which I can't recommend enough. The perfect record to accompany a mug of something warm on a quiet winter evening. In fact, I just figured out what I'm going to do tonight.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maybe I'm just waiting for the musical?

As I walked to work this morning, a bus stopped at the corner opposite me with an enormous advertisement for the 20th anniversary of Phantom of the Opera. My inner theatre buff, who thrills at any opportunity to start internally belting showtunes, was activated. But before I could get through more than just the first few bars of "Think of Me Fondly," I was stopped short. Because I realized something.

Ponder this:

And then these:

Edward Cullen is to 2008 what The Phantom was to...1988.
Why haven't I noticed this before?! Still unconvinced?

Then take a look:

At this: And then this:

And now, rather than penning a lengthy comparison (though I'm tempted!) between a 108-year-old vampire who seduces a teenage everygirl and a Phantom who lives underneath the Paris Opera House and seduces a teenage ingenue, I will just be sitting here, mentally rewriting Phantom lyrics, Twilight-style, in my head ALL DAY LONG.
"I'm watching you / Watching you sleeping / Ev'ry single night..."

Feel free to play along in the comments . . . I hate singing alone.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Friday off: Morandi, Master of Moulins, the Met

The Morandi show at the Metropolitan Museum was one of those must-sees that I was about to miss, with the holidays coming and my attention dates being what it is. So I took Friday OFF from work, and headed across town to the Met. It's partly under construction, very gussied up, and the floorplan is mystifying, and I thought when I got there that Elaine Konigsberg would hardly recognize the place any more. But at last I found the exhibit and got lost in Morandi's serene, small, domestic landscapes for a while. I learned to my shame there is a Museo Morandi in Bologna that I have never visited. Sometimes, the Met just makes me feel bad.

When that happens, I follow my nose and it always takes me to the paintings I love: the works of the Northern Renaissance. And is it any wonder why? The one above is by "the Master of Moulins" -- one of those painters about whom there was so little known that he didn't even have a name for a long time (though he's now identified as "Jean Hey").

The whole little Northern Renaissance room looks like an exhibit of children's book jackets and interiors. Here a Catherine, Called Birdy. There a Rapunzel. Every so often a graphic novel. I love that you can tell the story just by looking at the picture. I love how direct the gazes are, how ordinary the lives. There are symbols to be decoded, little visual narratives within the narratives. All so flat and easy to read.

Refreshed and hopeful, I went out into the glorious autumn day. And went to see Synecdoche, New York -- which is a story for another day.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bertolt Brecht for Friday

Molly informs us that the there is a long-standing tradition among children's book bloggers to post a poem of a Friday. Here's one I was introduced to by anthologist and publisher Neil Philip of the Albion Press, whose New Treasury of Poetry was published many years ago by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, and is still a model collection. Brecht's poem had a place on my own bulletin board for many years, but the original copy is sadly lost. However, I have it by heart, and I hope never to misplace it:

And I Always Thought

And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough. When I say what things are like
Everyone's heart must be torn to shreds.
That you'll go down if you don't stand up for yourself
Surely you see that.

If you'd prefer to read in the original, click here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On falling in love (editorially)

Being a junior editor is a bit like being in junior high all over again, I think. It's a world of thrillingly, terrifyingly wonderful possibility. Like, eek! Who will my friends (read: authors) be? What will the rest of the world think of me and said friends (authors) and the stuff we like to talk about (read: make books about). Will the cool kids (read: librarians, booksellers, book reviewers, and bookbuying-world-at-large) think we're cool, or will they post mean things on the bathroom wall (read: on Amazon) about us? And will I ever-ever-ever find a boyfriend (read: manuscript to buy) of my very own?

And if you're not tired of this analogy yet, I can take it a little further. When I was in junior high, one of the key differences between me and my fellow classmates--or so it felt--was that most of the other girls around me fell madly in love with a different guy approximately every 0.13 seconds. Not me. Oh, don't get me wrong, I spent an awful lot of time desperately wanting to BE in love. But Real Love. So, I nursed the same ridiculous crush for over a year. Erm, possibly two years. Uh, possibly longer. (Perhaps my memory gets hazy here in direct proportion with the amount of embarrassment I caused myself?) In my mind, there was no reason to abandon that crush for a new one because that one S.O.S. (that's Some One Special, just in case you never had reason to scrawl it all over your folders in hot pink glitter pen) never stopped making me laugh. Plus he was smart. And deep. And fascinating. Also, I was exceedingly loyal (read: stubborn).

And as an editor, I see folks around me falling in love (read: making deals on Publishers Lunch) all the time. And I have lots of friends (read: agents) telling me, "Hey, isn't this guy (read: manuscript), like, sooo super-fine and cute! You should totally like him! And tell him you like him! And ask him to the dance! (read: And pay a gazillion dollars for it at auction!)" And it's tempting to pick a new crush-worthy manuscript to flirt with every week, just to make everyone happy. But then I remember, I'm a long-term girl, no different than when I was in 7th grade. If I'm going to have a crush (read: work on a book) for 2+ years, then I have to want to do more than just scrawl Mrs. Molly Manuscript on all my folders. I want to really BE in love. Real Love. With a project that makes me laugh for years. One that is smart. And deep. And fascinating. One that's earned my intense loyalty.

So at the moment, I'm looking hard for an S.O.S (read: Superb Original Story) that makes me fall in love. And I can't wait to tell you when I've found it!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oooh, shiny!

Author/illustrator Greg Foley, creator of Willoughby and the Lion, one of the picture books on the Bowen Press's debut Winter 2009 list, dropped by our offices yesterday between several meetings in midtown. In his daytime life, Greg's the creative director behind the high-end fashion & art magazines V, Visionaire and Vman. But over his lunch hour, he put on his author/illustrator hat to lend his golden signature to the broadsides for his stunning book, and set a most impressive record: 500 autographs in 20 minutes! (And even though it's not our book, we fell in mad love with his Thank You Bear t-shirt!) Craving one of those gorgeous broadsides? Stop by the HarperCollins booth (#1013) at ALA Midwinter and beg nicely....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm rockin' a vision here dude

Such was the expression overheard on the street on Saturday near Union Square. The conversation was about a skateboard ("sweet as #@$%," he called it -- the last word unprintable in a family blog), but the phrase itself was worthy a vision of any scope or magnitude. It made me think: What vision am I rockin'? And is it sweet as #@$%?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

On the responsibility of publishing

Last night I finished reading a manuscript left me weak. Crying and trembling, in fact. It is Lauren Oliver's If I Should Fall. No encapsulation will do it justice, but it's the story of a girl who has to live the last day of her life seven times over until she understands how to save herself. The story is heartbreaking and the writing is astonishing. The manuscript epitomizes the idea that there is something new to say and there is a new way to say it. And it's a first novel. The author turns 25 today.

As the publisher, I feel both elation and an enormous responsibility: Can I live up to publishing this? So many questions: Will I get the jacket right? Will the interior design be exquisite enough? Will I get it into the hands of all the people who need to see it? I want so much for this book. I want kids to read it and debate it and wish they could affect the outcome. I want it to outlive me.

It's a masterpiece of a debut (and I know, I know how the gods are about saying things like that but I made a small animal sacrifice in order to get away with it). I can't believe how lucky I am.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ah, Wilderness!

It would be difficult to overstate the cultural, historical, pick-an-adjective importance of what happened on Tuesday night, though I'm sure that won't keep the blogosphere (and this blogger) from trying. That being said, the narrative legacy of this time in history is not going to be limited to the moonwalk/Berlin Wall/etc moment that was an African American man being elected President of the United States. What has me so excited is that it's going to be in the shifting of our national attitude that takes place in all the small, desperately-important decisions we make every single day. My friend Ruta came into my office yesterday with that same glow about her that everyone I've met since the election was called has had, and said "I want to go sign up to volunteer for something right now." I had the exact same feeling. One could say that I should have been thinking this before, and one would be right, but that aside, I was completely unprepared for the acute manifestation of everything that President Obama (I'm never going to get tired of typing that) has been talking about this entire campaign: that the management of our country is something best not left to the "professionals," it's something that belongs to us. And if I ever assumed that it wasn't, I, along with everyone else in this country, got my answer on Tuesday.

I'll admit, while I was confident enough in the power of President Obama's message and, honestly, in the certainty of the numbers (thanks, Nate at, there was a part of me that assumed that while Barack could win, he wouldn't be able to reach as many people as he did, to unite us as much as it seems like he has (or, has started to) from those poll numbers in so many counties across the country. And then there was the assumption that the concept of every person having the ability to make this country a better place is just a romantic ideal, and would be lost amidst the detrius of everyday life in this country - John Lennon's "other plans," in other words. And if these assumption are wrong, than how many other nihilistic assumptions we've all held about our potential as a people are wrong? I'm not usually one for exuberant optimism, but this is a kind of feeling that I've never had about America. It's the kind of feeling that makes someone want to become a better person, so that one can contribute to this brand new country of ours, and that can mean anything. It can mean volunteering as a tutor, or signing up for that writing class you always wanted to take, or it can simply mean sitting underneath a bough with a book you haven't read before, if only to open yourself up to new ideas. This is the feeling at the heart of the promotion of reading to kids across the country, and this makes me even more excited to be in the business of pubishing those books.

My friend Max just wrote an email saying "feeling this good about our president is going to take some getting used to." I know what he means. And I hope we never do.

Golden Bunnies Beware!

Tonight is one of my favorite annual events: The Children's Book Council-sponsored EXTREME TRIVIA CHALLENGE! Employees from every New York publishing house gather themselves into teams to go head-to-head in a raucous competition to discover who the true "Know It Alls" in the world of children's publishing really are. I've met wonderful colleagues from other houses every time I've been a part of the event, so can't wait for tonight. The emcee of the event is always a fabulously funny NYC-area author--past hosts have been Jon Scieszka, Mo Willems, and Libba Bray. This year David Levithan and Rachel Cohn are hosting, which should be wonderful. And the prize? Incredible industry-wide bragging rights and the coveted Golden Bunny statues (bunnies are rather ubiquitous in the kidlit world, after all). This is the fifth year of the competition--the first year I played gained me a priceless 2nd place Golden Bunny. (Aside: is there anything funnier than an award that reads "2nd Place Know It All"? I don't think so.) Then I spent several years on the committee organizing the event, which meant that I didn't get to play, since I'd helped create all the trivia questions and knew all the answers. But now another crop of folks is running the show (hurrah for current CBC Early Career Committee!) and I get to play again, yay! Dear 1st Place Golden Bunny: will you be mine? There's a really nice spot on the bookshelf in my office just waiting for you . . . .

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Senator from Illinois

Obama's sublime victory speech last night alluded to or quoted Lincoln three times, by my count. And I couldn't help myself -- I have to say I thought of a book we're publishing, GETTYSBURG: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL as I heard his words:

"[The campaign] drew strength from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on doors of perfect strangers, and from the millions of Americans who volunteered and organized and proved that more than two centuries later a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from the Earth."

I don't know whose words makes me cry more as I read that, Lincoln's or Obama's. But if you want to take a look at how C.M. Butzer interpreted Lincoln's famous oration for the generation of opinionated, validated young people that Molly talks about in the post below, you should spend some time with GETTYSBURG. I am so proud to be publishing it, right now.

The Power of New Media on EVERYTHING

I started being fascinated by blogs, and the way new media was changing the publishing industry, about four years ago. I find now that I'm fascinated by something far bigger--by the way new media is changing LIFE.

I started thinking on the subway ride home yesterday--hours before we had any certainty as to how the election would turn out--about the fact that so much of this election has played out, and been influenced by, the power of new media. Not just in obvious ways, like the text messages and emails that in essence replaced old-fashioned print campaign literature this time around, but by the imperceptible side effects that so many new kinds of communication are beginning to have on our culture, and our world. It seems to me that the presence of new media as an ordinary part of life has caused people, especially young people, to THINK more than ever before. Because of blogs (and Twitter, and YouTube comments, and Facebook groups, and Ning communities, and etc.), people have claimed and embraced their right to have and share opinions--about everything. And in order to have an opinion, you have to be informed--unless you want to get flamed or laughed off the internets. And people en masse having access to information and ideas and developing opinions as a result is a the first step toward capital-C Change of any sort, I think. And then we get to watch as that Change becomes history.

When I shared these thoughts last night with my friend who's a former history teacher/history buff extraordinaire (and thus my unending source of fascinating/interesting/random political trivia over the past few months), he took it a step further and said that media hasn't had this much influence on an election since 1960--when the first presidential debates were televised, totally changing the relationship between people and politics. And (interesting trivia fact alert!), where did those very first televised debates take place? Chicago. Now there's an intriguing sort of full circle.

All that added up, I can't help but feel that it's a fascinating time to be working in media/communication/the world of ideas. And it's a fascinating time to be living, too.

Monday, November 3, 2008

One day till the election...

...and we're all a little nervous here at the office. Trying to hide it, but not doing so well. IT records will show frequent trips to Google News and Harper has an excellent new non-proselytizing picture book about Barack Obama, by Jonah Winter and A.G. Ford, just parenthetically.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday is editing day...

...and I'm working on a particularly gnarly manuscript right now. Can't disclose title or author, and soon the Gordian knot will be cut through, but it's a hard slog while I'm at it.

The aim of course is that no one see the blood and tears on every page. And please God, no one will.

My sister called today from my parents' house and told me that my mother had unearthed a letter from Ireland, c. 1951. The letter is actually a little hard to read because there are tears smearing the ink on the pages. So moved was my mom's cousin that she actually wept while she wrote. (And the content of the letter? A recap of my mother's trip to Clare when she was a lass.) The Irish -- what a gift for narrative.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween at the office...

...always a trip. Used to be that everyone felt the license to dress up, even from 9 to 5. Now, not so much. At Bowen Press today we did have a fabulous harlequin in the design department, and a zombie in the production department, so the tradition of misrule has not died out entirely. Soon I will be a proficient enough blogger to have taken photos, but not yet. Just now, though, at home, our trick or treaters included a Mexican vampire (kid who grabbed a sombrero from his parents' hat tree); a superhero, whose powers derived from his "Nike Toe Crusher" shoes -- essentially plastic bags; and a dear young boy who said, "I'm a sorcerer from the Ranger's Apprentice." Okay, it's not a Bowen Press book, but it's pretty great to know that kids still find inspiration in children's books to practice being new versions of themselves on Halloween.

So we finally...

...came up with a logo.
Peter Reynolds was kind enough to draw it for us. It's a "Bowen knot," which when untied is a circle. I didn't even know about the Bowen knot until we started doing research for our imprint. A designer we work with unearthed this heraldic device and now we've made it our own. It's a little imperfect, which I like: it doesn't share the fearful symmetry of the Mac's Command key. Peter rendered the logo a few times for us and named this drawing "small bright." Which is just what it is.
We have a motto, too. Our motto is "Only connect!" stolen from E. M. Forster's Howards End. At our best, we try to connect children to books, authors to artists, ideas to execution, culture to commerce. And now we have a blog, so that's a point of connection, too.