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 fivethirtyeight.com), 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 http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/. 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.