Wednesday, January 28, 2009
To illustrate how powerfully the pendulum can swing between loving a manuscript and loathing a manuscript, I’ll tell you a writer’s conference tale. Pull up a chair, won't you?
A few years ago our ambitious writer’s group decided to go to a conference together. We chose the Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference because it was close enough to drive to and Marcia’s friend had a cottage near the conference that she’d let us use. We polished our work, had business cards printed, and ordered authentic manuscript boxes off the internet. (They tell you never to bring your manuscript because no one wants to lug them back to New York, but we were certain that ours would be the exception. They weren’t.)
The great thing about the Whidbey Conference, other than that it’s on an exquisite little island in the San Juans that you must ferry to, is that you can sign up for as many agent/editor meetings as you are willing to pay for. Plus, the people you sign up with read ten pages of your work the night before so you actually have stuff to talk about. I signed up for four 15-minute agent sessions. At that point I was shopping two manuscripts, a collection of memoir stories and the manuscript that is now The Prophecy of Days: The Daykeeper’s Grimoire. The adult-genre agents I met with, Jandi Nelson and Esmond Harmsworth, were both charming and complimentary and I walked away with business cards and offers to submit from both of them. Then I had a meeting with Jodi Reamer, who was a relatively new agent actively looking for YA clients. She had thoroughly read and made notes on my ten pages, asked great questions, and told me to definitely submit when I was ready. Not long later she signed a new writer named Stephenie Meyer—maybe you’ve heard of her?—and became a capital-a Agent.
My last meeting was with he-who-shall-remain-unnamed because I fear his wrath. But I’ll tell you this: his name rhymes with the animal pictured above. The minute I sat down with him he looked annoyed. He told me he hadn’t read the ten pages so I’d just need to pitch him. Caught off-guard, my pitch was probably not as polished as it could have been, but I was not ready for the full tongue lashing that followed. He told me, among other choice things, that the plot was too ambitious and I’d never be able to pull it off, that girls aren’t interested in science, and that I should give it up and try something else entirely. Honestly, this went on for the full fifteen minutes; I’d try to explain it another way and he’d find another way to shoot it down. He was relentless and I know this shouldn’t matter but I WAS EVEN PREGNANT! Have you no heart? No mercy at all?
When my 15 minutes of brutality were over, I went directly to a bathroom stall and cried my eyes out. My writing group came to the rescue—pugnacious Marcia wanted to kick his a**; Zen Julie wanted me to forget it ever happened, to remember that he is working out his own issues and that it has nothing to do with me; and tender Erin just cried along with me.
The next day at the closing ceremony I won awards in two categories, Young Adult Short Story and Nonfiction Essay. I’d hoped Mr. Molerat would be in the audience to see that I wasn’t the loser he’d told me I was, but of course, he’d done his damage and then taken the red-eye home the night before.
So, the moral. Treat agent/editor responses to your work like horoscopes: only believe the good stuff. Rely on your critique partners to tell you the truth. And walk softly around any agent whose name rhymes with the photo above.
Monday, January 26, 2009
So I got some fun news to share today: I am now officially part of Authors Now, the largest collaboration of debut authors and illustrators for children’s/teen books. The Authors Now website is a great tool for librarians, educators, booksellers and parents who want to find out about forthcoming books, set up an author visit, or download supplemental resources such as teaching guides, quizzes, and other materials. It's a really great idea! In all honesty, it's only when I see my name on something like this that I really start to believe my book will actually be published.
Gung Hay Fat Choy everyone!
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
1975 - “Who here needs my papers? Let's get this moving, people!” I'm all business when it comes to summer camp. Best. Day. Ever. You know, if I had to pick one photo taken over the last 42 years that most captures who I am, this would be it. Overly packed, overly eager, and capable of carrying all my own stuff.
1987 - We look like a low-rent St. Elmos Fire cast. Notice the trunk had been transformed into a bar. Also notice party pants of the guy standing far left. I went to this event with a beautiful Norwegian exchange student (he owned his own tux! So European). Not long after this he drove himself to Las Vegas in his Porsche and tried, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide. I hope it wasn't my shirt. He lived, thankfully, to see his mug on this cheesy photo.
1987 Keys to this look:
Lipstick - Estée Lauder All Day Cinema Pink
Eyeliner - Lancôme Electric Blue (application: sh*tload)
Hairspray - Sebastian Mega Hold in the the can the size of a baseball bat
October 1987 Dear Diary, Peggy and I went to the Cal-Oregon Game! Berkeley is sooo fun! And everyone here is, like, soooo smart! We both wore our shoulder pads under our t-shirts, natch, because it's, like, 1987. Pegs even busted out the pearls and I wore my big red Vuarnets! Go Ducks!
1990 - My 24th Birthday party thrown by Chris Ritter. Apparently my husband was there but I did not actually meet him for another year and half. He had no interest in me this night. Go figure.
Blond doesn't work on me but it didn't stop me from trying. BTW, I never took the tags off that dress and returned it the next day, reeking of Tequila. I know, I'm gonna burn in hell, blah, blah, blah...1991 - A very bad idea. Going from blond to auburn with a quick and unintended stop at Bozo Red first. I was on the Clairol hot line for like two hours that day. Thanks, Daves.
Working for the man at Microsoft. And by working I mean playing solitaire. This was before I learned about proper desk placement for optimum game playing. Ankle length stone-colored Gap jeans date this photo at 1992.
1993 Okay. Where do we start here? If you own this dress, please identify yourself. I'd like to kill you. I borrowed it from someone for the Microsoft Christmas party. It's a whole lot of look, no? I'm a dead-ringer for Bea Arthur on Golden Girls. Seriously, though, who loaned me this dress? Tonya?
Ah, I wish I could do this all day. There are so many other gems. But, alas, I have to go make my child a waffle. If you upload any of your own old pics, please let me know. I'd like to laugh at other people who put shoulder pads under their t-shirts.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
The family I stayed with in Belgium was wealthy and cultured so I thought our family in France would be similar. I mean they were French for god’s sake, wasn’t being fabulous their birthright?
We waited patiently at the train station in Avignon, a gorgeous old walled city in the south of France, for our host family to arrive. Julie was secretly dreaming of the family’s vacation house by the sea and I was dreaming of becoming more beloved than the mother’s own daughter and inheriting an old chest of Hermes scarves.
After all the other host families had come and gone, whisking their students away with smiles and arms around the shoulders—some of the more nurturing mothers even bearing pastries for the weary travelers—the Toussaints drove up in a dusty green Citroen. Madame Toussaint was a short, stout woman in a brown housecoat, the kind of thing my Mom might dye her hair in at home. She got out of the car and I saw she wore matching brown house slippers. I knew right then there would be no weekend cottage in Cap d’Antibes or chest of vintage Hermes scarves to inherit.
Monsieur Toussaint, a balding man in his sixties, never got out of the car. He smoked like someone who had done manual labor all his life and had to train himself to puff without using his hands; the cigarette dangled from his lower lip held expertly with just the right amount of moisture. Neither spoke a lick of English, so I got to practice my French right away.
“Hello,” she said, more as a command than a greeting.
“Hello! So good to meet you! I’m Christy.”
“And I’m Julie.”
“Yes,” she replied, looking us up and down.
“I hope you didn’t have trouble finding the school.” I said, thinking that maybe they had gotten lost on the way.
“Puh,” she answered, which is French for “You’re an idiot.” Then she turned around and waddled to the car saying, “My hands hurt, let’s go.”
Monsieur Toussaint popped the trunk from the driver’s seat, which he never left, and we packed up and got in.
It became clear to us that these people were professional hosts, in it for the money and not for the love of young American etudiants, when Madame Toussaint laid down the rules of the house: we were allowed to have room and board Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. through Friday morning at 9:00 a.m. From Friday morning to Sunday evening, we were expected to be somewhere else; traveling, sleeping on the train station floor, whatever. And we were only allowed two showers each per week, which she would keep track of in a little blue book.
Our room was small and spare—it held two twin beds with a tiny side table between them, an armoire, and a rickety desk. There was one little window with old green shutters on the outside of it. Their latches had long been broken so the spring wind that blew hard for weeks, which they affectionately called the Mistral and we called a pain in the ass, made the shutters pound on the window like angry Clydesdales. Terra cotta tile covered the floor and went halfway up the walls of the room, presumably so that Madame Toussaint could hose the place out after each round of exchange students.
Dinner was served early because the Toussaints were French game show freaks. Total addicts. The lineup started at 6:30 and went until 10:00. The first few nights we tried to do the family thing and sit with them for their nightly TV fix, but these shows were unbearable even to serious TV junkies like us. My TV bar was so low that I didn’t even think I had a bar until I watched these shows. The level of goof—and there really is no other word for it—that the French are capable of would even make Soupy Sales and Charles Nelson Riley writhe. If you were an alien and landed in France for a couple of hours of game shows, you would think it utterly absurd that this is a culture that prides itself on subtlety, refinement, and good taste.
The second week we set a precedent: We said our studies were getting rigorous and we would have to retire to our room after dinner to study thenceforth. This was the only time I saw Madame Toussaint smile. “Oui, oui, bien sur!” she said as she made little scooting gestures with her hands.
This made for long nights. Our homework was not at all overwhelming and we usually finished it during the breaks between classes, so we had five hours a night to kill without access to TV, radio, or English-language books. A typical night’s conversation might start with Julie grabbing our alarm clock.
“Guess what time it is?”
“Six twenty five.”
“Six thirty two.”
“Six twenty seven.”
You get the picture.
We spent a lot of time working on the title to the book we were going to write about all of our riotous European adventures, which we figured we would start having once we nailed down a title. After whittling the list down, we were stuck between two: I envisioned the book as a Dorothy Parker-ish piece of work so I wanted a brusque, American title: Broads Abroad. Julie wanted more of an European feel so she stood firm on Deux Histoires de Voyage Pariel. She said non to mine, I said puh to hers. Had we agreed, we would surely have had a runaway best seller and I would probably be negotiating the movie rights with Mirimax at this very minute. But with the book on hold we relied heavily on sight gags; putting panty hose on our heads, gloves on our feet, pretending to brush our teeth in the bidet, pretending to wash our faces in the bidet, pretending to actually use the bidet—in fact, the bidet often served as the third comedienne. This wasn’t what we had hoped for.
One night after dinner Julie finally broke it to me that Madame Toussaint had taken her aside privately and asked her if I was a “special” student. I think she had used the French equivalent of “dim.” A few days earlier we'd had a field trip to the Vaucluse and I had excitedly retold the story of the mill on the river where they still made beautiful papers by hand. Apparently, nothing I said made sense, and she thought I was trying to tell her that they made paper using hands, like as an ingredient. I had also mentioned that we had stopped at an old cemetery on the way back and had taken some pictures of each other lying in a big sarcophagus. I guess she thought I exhumed a body or something to do this because she seemed outraged. I was not skilled enough to decipher her retorts so I just sort of smiled and complemented her pale, saltless soup. These two conversations led her to believe that I had been dropped on my head as a baby or something, so she had this talk with Julie, French conversationalist par excellence. Okay, I will admit my French was bad but is there no gap between speaking bad French and being mentally handicapped?
My confidence dropped even lower, and effectively made me a shut-in. Alors, there would be no nights at the local bar, sipping Pastis and smoking Gitanes as I had envisioned back in the states. No lazy morning café au lait and French crossword in the bistro. No foreign boyfriend coming to pick me up on his Vespa to go see a Jules et Jim revival.
Non, just more nights laying in bed, listening to the wind fight the shutters and trying to block out the whines of Madame Tousaint complaining constantly about her hands as she cleaned up after a meal of stewed horsemeat. She became more evil to me by the day but she made damn good peach jam, which, since she called me retarded, I had been eating with abandon and without regard for her dwindling supply.
ADDENDUM: I was looking for photos to scan for Facebook and came across this gem of Julie actually in her bed in our room in Avignon! Please, feast your eyes:
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Yesterday Katie posted a taunt on Plot This that had me looking at real estate in Oxford, Mississippi for nearly and hour. We could buy a mansion for what crappy houses cost out here, and I could run in to Morgan Freeman at lunch or play with my kids on Faulkner’s property. Then there’s San Luis Obispo. After Robin gleefully posted about three 80+ days in a row while I’m looking at bleak, bare trees I did some googling around those parts too. Can’t get a mansion or bump into John Grisham getting pump-cheese nachos at 7-11 like in Oxford (you just know he eats those), but the prices are on par with where I live, you get sun 12 out of 12 months, and I could finally grow a bougainvillea. Though first I'd have learn how to pronounce it. Plus you get to see Robin and Eve a lot, and that right there is worth at least a half bath if not a bonus room.
I always feel like this in January, and it only gets worse in February. Only at the beginning of March when the days get long and the plum blossoms burst and the hills are awash in purple star thistle, do I start to come around. Bear with me, folks, I'm weak from lack of Vitamin D.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
The great thing about your Mayan birthday is that it comes around every 260 days (the Tzolkin is a cyclical calendar so it’s never on the same day each year). If you want to know when your next Mayan birthday will be, click on the Calendar tab at the bottom and keep scrolling through the months until you see the flame next to your sign. This site also provide you with your "Burner Days" so there will be four days with flames next to them Only the one with your number and sign in it is your actual birthday.
If you end up doing this, please let me know what Day Sign and Number you are. Anyone else an 8 Eb?
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Thanks again to Scott! (By the way, he also built the super-cool christyraedeke.com site. Animated origami! Oh my! If my online persona looks good, it's only because of him.)
1. X is in bed reading the book "the age of innocence" while listening to "spa music" on Pandora.
2. X is sittin in a beanbag naked eating cheetos.
3. X is done saying some (possibly inappropriate) stuff on CNN... Hope everyone gets a kick out of his comments on Showbiz Tonight, the most provocative hour of TV!
B. Designer of high-end boob pasties
C. Commander of a Navy nuclear submarine
Monday, January 12, 2009
Meanwhile, Juliet had quietly sucked down two huge Shirley Temples. As soon as the cold sugary liquid had completely filled her empty 8-year-old tummy, she turned white and announced that she was going to throw up. Scott’s mom, Janie, followed her into the bathroom. Fortunately no upchucking occurred, but even a walk out in the cool air didn’t make her feel better so she just sat silently with her chin quivering. Two down.
No one realized that “pizza” in a Mexican restaurant meant a tostada shell with beans and cheese on it, so when this arrived for Hank, Scott and I knew none of it would be eaten. Two kids meals sat untouched.
Realizing that the best way to salvage any enjoyment for Scott would be for me to whisk the kids home, I ate quickly, packed up the malcontents, and headed off, happy that we had arrived in separate cars so the three of them could at least finish their meals and their drinks in peace.
So, I pacified the children with a DVD of Ruff Ruffman, and was making pretty good time on I-5 by cruising in the fast lane to pass the ever-present line of semi trucks in the right. Then POW!
A blow-out. Three down.
I’m not exactly sure how I managed to get to the right side and pull off to the shoulder; I was too busy pretending to remain calm for the freaked-out kids. Scott came to the rescue, but it took about 15 minutes for him to get there, during which time our car was in a constant state of movement from the gusts of air of passing semi-trucks. The two tired and hungry kids sat in the back seat trying to concentrate on the DVD while teary eyed and whimpering.
Scott arrived, we changed the tire (and by we I mean he), and made it home safely. Oy. From now on I’ll have a bit more respect for the day that Mercury goes retrograde. No travel, no communication!
Happy Birthday, Scott. The rest of the year will be smooth sailing after last night!
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Cathy was an expert with a yo-yo and seemed always to have one twirling. It was a good indicator of mood: if she was Walking the Dog or Rocking the Baby I felt safe, if I heard the baleful snap! snap! of the yo-yo repeatedly hitting her hand, I knew to watch out for an out-of-control Around the World that would “accidentally” find the soft dip of my temple.
When I was about five, my front tooth became loose. I was lying on the top bunk, moving it around with my tongue, pushing it to the point of pain and then easing up. Cathy was below me on the bottom bunk throwing a tennis ball against the wall as hard as she could over and over again with her one good arm. The ball flew into my upper bunk and while retrieving it she noticed me moving my tooth.
“You won’t believe how much you can buy with front-tooth money,” she said nonchalantly, laying her traps.
“It’s not loose enough to come out today,” I replied.
“Sure it is. Just get a long piece of floss and tie one end around the tooth and the other end around the bedpost on the top bunk then jump off—it’ll be so quick you won’t even feel it.” She said this as dispassionately as someone explaining how to remove a wart with Compound W. Did I mention she was cunning?
“Really? Jump off the top bunk?” The act of jumping so far seemed more horrifying than the pulling of one’s own teeth, but Cathy jumped off most things just for the sake of jumping, which was why, at this particular moment, she had a cast running fingers to elbow.
“Sure, what’s the big deal?” she said casually as she rammed the hook of a wire hanger up the cast to scratch her wrist, “I do it all the time.”
There was a part of me that wanted to jump off things and ride horses bareback and hide out in tree forts well after dark. “Okay, but don’t rush me. I need to do it slow,” I said.
She shrugged, said, “I won’t even be in the room,” and wandered off, seemingly unconcerned with whether or not I’d do it. Did I mention diabolical?
Pulling out a few yards of floss, I tied one end around my tooth and the other end around the bedpost. After 15 minutes of psyching myself up, I mustered the courage to jump. I fell hard but the tooth was still intact; the floss was too long and never became taught enough to yank it out.
I stood there, still attached to the bedpost and relieved in some small way when Cathy burst into the room swinging her arm cast like a propeller. I turned to look just as she yelled, “HI-YAH” and karate chopped the floss with her swinging cast. My tooth went flying across the room and landed with a dainty “plink” in the heat vent. Surprised by the attack, my scream was delayed until the open socket started gushing blood.
This was not her first attempt at harm. There was also the time she nudged me out of a moving car on a mountain road.
We were in my parent’s old Corvair, before there was any sort of concern about child safety in cars. Though I was a toddler and my sister was a tot, on this particular Sunday drive up to the mountains, we were in no way strapped down. Cathy waited patiently until we had made it off paved streets and were on the rugged Bull Gap Road on the way up to the top of Mt. Ashland before pulling the trigger. Even at the tender age of four, her timing was impeccable—as we rounded an outside turn she reached across me, put her little fingers around the door handle and pulled. Like a cork out of champagne, I popped out the door, hit the dirt road, and rolled down a short bank.
To make herself feel better, my mother reminds me that it was fall and the ground was soft. Damages were minimal, though I am really bad at remembering phone numbers.
I still hate the sound of a yo-yo.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
In my work in progress, the aroma of a Sharpie pen figures prominently. I don’t mind the smell, but it’s not one of my favorites. I’m a big fan of scents that are either severely organic (the inside of a corn husk, good damp soil) or severely chemical (gas straight from the nozzle, WD-40).
What are your favorite smells? Will anyone admit to offbeat or politically incorrect scents? Allow me to start by publicly admitting that I love the smell of gun cleaner and wet cat fur.
Monday, January 5, 2009
I just found out that I am the recipient of the Edna L. Holmes Fellowship in Young Readers Literature, Oregon’s one and only literary fellowship awarded to a writer of young adult books! I have been applying for this fellowship for years. Unbelievable!
The best part? It’s for my work in progress, a manuscript called Jewel of the Valley that I had resolved to finish revising this month. Hopefully this will help it get sold. And the grant money is nice as well. Perhaps a little bauble to mark the event?
Thanks so much for indulging my brag session. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a document to open…that is if I can stop shaking from excitement!
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Daves is also Juliet’s Godfather, an excellent score for her. His first gift? A chic infant-sized red leather jacket. With this bond, I have secured her a lifetime of amazing gifts. This Christmas Daves gave her a stunning display of bugs, including a glorious giant scorpion. I suppose you’d have to know Juliet to understand how cool this is to her. Like the Lucite bracelet (and, in my opinion, all good things) it’s both gorgeous and bizarre.
Though seemingly lowly, Beetles are great animal totems. They represent metamorphosis, creation, resurrection, rebirth—perfect for starting a new year. Beetles bring new life and vitality and they can teach you how to pace yourself through the seasonal changes of the year. I sense my beetle bracelet will come in very handy in the depressing depths of February...
Thursday, January 1, 2009
When my book was acquired in August, Andrew Karre was the editor. The day he left for another publishing house, he delivered editorial notes on the manuscript and talked me through them on the phone. So I worked diligently on those edits/comments/suggestions and delivered them to my new editor, Brian Farrey, a few weeks later. And then I freaked out. This is like getting a Christmas list from one person and using it to choose a gift for another person. What if Brian’s sensibilities were totally different from Andrew’s? What if he didn’t get me at all? What if I had to rewrite the whole thing?
Last night I came home from a few technology-free days away to find Brian’s notes on the manuscript in my email. Reading an editor’s notes on your work is an exercise in cringing. Every time he called me out on something dumb or pointed out a shortcut I’d taken, I winced. The good news: I know how to fix all of the issues. The better news: Brian thinks the manuscript is clean enough to send to my agent so she can sell foreign rights. The bad news: I have a few days of cringing ahead of me as I scroll through the edits.
Happy New Year, everyone! May 2009 be full of love and free of cringe!