Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Conversation with Salman Rushdie

In which I discuss Helen Hunt, Salman Rushdie, and epidermolysis bullosa.

So I was paging through Elle a very serious literary journal this week and saw that Helen Hunt has produced, directed, and starred in a new movie. And her OB, in the movie, is played by Salman Rushdie. Yes, Sir Salman Rushdie of Satanic Verses, fatwa, and Booker Prize/literary genius fame. And yes, that Helen Hunt, of, uh, Mad About You.

In the interview I skimmed while waiting for an appointment and don't totally remember read, Ms. Hunt stated that in the most important scene in which Sir Rushdie appears, her character is praying. She wanted "someone Indian" to give audiences the idea that it wasn't just the Judeo-Christian god to whom one can pray. She thought of Salman Rushdie and so, more or less, she called him up and asked him to audition.

Forget the implications of that statement for cultural awareness. Forget that Rushdie's own religious beliefs are not clear cut. Forget how strange it would be to watch Salman Rushdie give someone a sonogram. And I know he's been in movies before, always playing himself. What got me is the last part. She called him up? Who knew you could just call Salman Rushdie up?!

So I did it. I called him. And I asked him to come have a seat here on the rug in Jacqui's Room...
And I now present to you:

The Jacqui's Room Interview with Salman Rushdie*

JACQUI: Mr. Rushdie, sir, welcome to our rug. It's so good of you to come.

SALMAN: Please, call me Salman.

JACQUI: Okay, Salman (giggles). Frankly, I can't believe you took my call.

SALMAN: Nonsense. I took Helen Hunt's call, didn't I? Besides, I've been smitten with you ever since I signed that copy of Shalimar the Clown for your husband. And your writing! The New Girl...And Me? Genius. I've read it, like, 80 times.

JACQUI: Wow. Thanks. I've read almost all of your books, too. Would you like me to send you a signed bookplate?


JACQUI: Oh. Okay. Um, I guess we should start by discussing your role in Then She Found Me. I was surprised to hear you were interested in something like that. What made you decide to do it?

SALMAN: If you'd been following my career as closely as you say you have, you'd remember that I was already in Bridget Jones' Diary. If you had a chance to be in a major Hollywood movie, wouldn't you do it?

JACQUI: I guess so. But aren't you worried it will make people take you less seriously as a writer?

SALMAN: Jacqui. Honey. Lighten up. I've been knighted. I've won the Booker Prize. I wrote a book so powerful it made an entire country vow to kill me. I could plagiarize Robert Munsch for the rest of my career and nobody'd say a word.


SALMAN: Hello?

JACQUI: You aren't going to, are you?

SALMAN: Aren't going to what?

JACQUI: Plagiarize Robert Munsch?

SALMAN: God no. Sappy stuff, that. But you get the point.

JACQUI: Sort of. Speaking of your writing, I can't wait to read The Enchantress of Florence. Can you discuss why you were drawn to the character of Akbar?

SALMAN: No. I'd rather discuss how gaunt Courteney Cox looked in that picture opposite me in Elle.

JACQUI: You mean the one of her and Jennifer Aniston and Orlando Bloom at that gala to benefit epidermolysis bullosa research?

SALMAN: Yeah. Does she need a cheeseburger or what?

JACQUI: Totally. You know what's weird? My husband the scientist worked on epidermolysis bullosa and made some discoveries that were very important to the field.

SALMAN: Shut up! And you didn't get invited to the gala? Ridiculous.

JACQUI: I know!

SALMAN: (gasps) OMG! I just had the greatest idea for my next book! I have to go write it now.

JACQUI: Wait! Before you go, any parting words of advice for the writers who come to Jacqui's Room?

SALMAN: Yes. It helps if your characters are haunting, your plots mesmerizing, your writing magical, and your settings historically and culturally fascinating.

JACQUI: Okay, we'll all work on that. Thanks, Salman.

SALMAN: No, Jacqui. Thank you.

* Note: Actual conversation with Salman Rushdie went more like this:
ME: I'd like Mr. Rushdie to sign this book for my husband's birthday.
BORED BORDERS EMPLOYEE: He's not personalizing anything.
ME: Oh, well can I just ask him to sign it?
BORED BORDERS EMPLOYEE: No. Leave it here and he'll sign it when he's done. Now get out.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Week of May 26 -- Don Quixote

In which it begins with the book voted "The Greatest Book of All Time" by the Nobel Institute.

What was I thinking? I can barely lift this book! Chapter LXXIV? Run away! Run away!

Welcome to our first week! Discussion of Don Quixote (or whatever you are reading) will take place in the comments area of this post.

I put my list in order and made a calendar so if your lists overlap, we can journey together. It's to the left, below the iguana.

Hey! Who knew this was where Sancho Panza was from?

Have fun.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The List

After much nonstop blather careful consideration and some coin-tossing weighty decision-making, I have finalized (sort of) my Remedial Lit Summer Project list. Here 'tis.

1. Don Quixote
2. Silas Marner
3. Grapes of Wrath (or East of Eden)
4. Moby Dick
5. Jane Eyre
6. Remembrance of Things Past (just Swann's Way)
7. Blood Meridian
8. The Inferno
9. The Good Soldier
10. The House of the Seven Gables
11. Light in August (or The Sound and the Fury)
12. Leaves of Grass
13. Faust
14. TBA
15. TBA

I left myself the last two blank until I see other people's lists. Because I am a follower and will want to copy. Also in case in the middle of the summer I can't take it and need to announce that the latest copy of Us Weekly is a "classic."

Some addenda to the rules, because Jacqui's Room is like my first grade classroom and I want everyone to succeed.

1. I am reading 15 books. You can choose as many as you think you can reasonably do in 15 weeks. You can skip weeks, read the ones on my list that you've missed, however you want to set it up. "Winning" just means making your goal.

2. We all reserve the right to give up on a book, if we've made a valiant effort. Life is too short to read books we hate. I (and your conscience) will be the ultimate judge of whether your effort is valiant. With input, of course, from Kristi.

3. That said, I refer us all to Francine Prose's book Reading Like a Writer, in which she reminds us that classics are classics for a reason, and even if we don't personally connect with them, they have lessons for us as writers (fighting not to add "and as people" too cheesy, but can't stop myself -- help!). Actually, I think I'll keep that book nearby all summer since she reads a lot of the ones on my list.

We start Monday. Or whenever you get here. Post your list and get ready to dive in.

One plea: if you are joining us and plan to purchase your books, please try to use your independent bookstore. As tempting as a giant Amazon order would be, I had to put in a word for your local indie. Find one here. Or at least order from Powell's.

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

They Did Not Know What It Was

In which I get excited over the jacket flaps for Two of a Kind, but my daughter's are better.

First, I got the drafts of the jacket flaps for my next picture book, Two of a Kind (illustrated by the amazing Matt Phelan, published by Atheneum in June, 2009). Here they are:

Sometimes a friend can bring out the worst in you…

but, a real, true friend will always bring out the best.

From the creators of The New Girl…and Me comes a sweet, insightful story about in crowds, outcasts and the bravery it takes to be a real, true friend.

How cool is that?! I am especially fond of the movie preview-ish "From the creators..."

Meanwhile, Tinkerbell (my five year-old) wrote her own book this week. It's called The Strange Bird, and it's marvelous.* A new bird arrives and none of the other animals can identify it. The best part, though, was before she read it to me, she turned to the back cover and said, "This is the part, you know, to get you excited about the book." In big, capital letters, it said simply,


Which is much cooler jacket flap than anything my books will ever have.

* This is my professional opinion, as a writer. Also, she is a hilarious supergenius. And gorgeous.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Remedial Lit Summer Project Rules and Rewards

It all began with Pride and Prejudice. Then came the Remedial Lit Summer Project call for suggestions. We're gathering all our favorite "Everybody, Especially Someone Who Calls Herself Bookish, Should Have Read These" books (see list to the left). Now it's time for you to join us. C'mon, try it. We promise not to laugh if you can't finish. And we are going to have so much fun. Who's in?

1. Everyone gets his/her own list. I'll post mine this Friday; leave yours in the comments.
2. Read* one book a week (not the Cliffs Notes). Every Monday, submit your proof that you've read and announce your next book. If our lists overlap, we can try to read together.
3. Proof that you have read consists of a synopsis/review of the book in one of these formats:
six words, ten words, haiku, limerick, diorama, or interpretive dance. Post your proof in the comments or send digital footage. Extra points for digital footage.
4. We start next week (Monday is Memorial Day. You'll be the hit of your BBQ carrying around Faust). We go for about 15 weeks.
5. I reserve the right to change these rules at any time. In particular, I reserve the right to give us an extra week to slog through truly enjoy a book. I mean, some of these are, like, LONG.

*Someone asked if listening to an audiobook counts as reading. Sure. If you can stay awake while someone reads War and Peace aloud, more power to you.

Anyone who finishes 15 classics along with me will receive a reward: the joy of a job well done. No, seriously, there will be several different options from which to choose, including free books, critique of your own writing by a published author (me), and some other stuff I didn't think of yet much much more! (Anyone have other ideas?)

Failure on my part to finish a book in the prescribed time frame will result in a punishment of me chosen by you.

Also, I promise to blog about something besides this soon. Upcoming topics include jacket flap for my five year-old's picture book and the genetic code for the freakishly bookish. Check back here. I know you are waiting on the edge of your seats.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Remedial English Lit Summer Project

Wordwrangler got me thinking. "Moby Dick?" I thought, in response to her comment here. "Who hasn't read Moby Dick?"

Oh wait. I haven't read Moby Dick either.

Then I spent Tink's music class talking to a friend, who was mortified to admit she'd never read Jane Eyre.

Hmm. I may have read Jane Eyre, but I'm not sure.

This was getting embarrassing. The fact is, though, I am pretty well-read. So I looked at my book collection and my reading habits and I came to a revelation. It is this:

In my efforts to read beyond the "canon" of dead white guys, I failed to read, well, a lot of what are probably really important books by dead white guys. And the Brontë sisters.

So, inspired by my recent revelation about Pride and Prejudice and my desire to be re-admitted into the Cool Writers Club (dream on, Jacqui), I present my remedial English Lit summer project: 15 Classics in 15 Weeks. In which I am going to try to make up for 36 years of obsessing over Shakespeare, Rushdie, and Morrison, and skipping Steinbeck et al. In 15 weeks. Because a summer selling my house, finishing a triathlon, writing a novel, and raising two kids just isn't busy enough.

I need your help, though.

First: What are your top five "Everybody, Especially Someone Who Calls Herself Bookish, Should Have Read These" books? Novels, mainly, though long winded poems like Paradise Lost (which I actually have read, so there) are okay too. I'll collect suggestions all this week and then have the full list ready by Friday.

Second: join me! I'll post complete rules, incentives, and rewards tomorrow (yes! rewards!) Meanwhile, think about it. You know you want to do it. C'mon, it'll make you feel good.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Swallow My Pride & Admit My Prejudice

In which I confess something:

Until last week, I had never read a single word by Jane Austen,

and share something you probably already knew:

Pride and Prejudice is a great book!

Why haven't I ever read this before?! Why did I used to scoff at people who talked about how funny Jane Austen is? The answer, appropriately, is that I was unduly prejudiced against the book for no reason other than that it is a "classic" and the covers always look so dull and, like, 1800-ish, and, well, there is no good reason. I apologize to all of you at whom I scoffed.

It's not like nobody tried to get me to read it. Confession #2: I have a vague memory of giving an oral report in AP English on Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, which I hadn't read either. This was very unlike my usual total and complete geek industrious student self, which is probably why I was wracked with enough guilt about it to remember doing it at all. I think I used the Cliffs Notes, actually.

Oh, now I am really embarrassed. I will probably be kicked out of the Cool Writers club for this. Oh, wait. I was never in the Cool Writers club. Is there a Cool Writers club? Who would be in it? Jane Austen, for one, and then I'd never get in once she read this post. But who else?

In any case, take it from a converted scoffer: you should read this book. It's funny. Not even English teacher or Shakespearean pun funny. Sarcastic and witty funny, with bits of dramatic irony mortified funny like squirming in your seat watching a sitcom character do something totally embarrassing. I could go on about how brilliant the characters are, how timeless the themes, how precise the writing, but, instead, I leave you with a question:

Fess up. What books have YOU pretended to have read?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Voices in My Head

There are characters in my head and they are talking. I have only this week finished the gabillionth third draft of my young adult novel and already these new characters are pestering me. One of them keeps jumping on his chair to make his point. "Go away," I tell him. "I have revisions to do, a house to sell, kids to raise, and I have to learn to swim more than two laps at a time before I try to finish a triathlon this summer." The other character speaks softly but she keeps looking at me like she expects better from me than to be told to go away so I can mow my lawn.

The worst part is, they're funny, these two. And their story, I think, is really silly and fun to write.

Sigh. It will be so embarrassing to be all alone, swimming breast stroke across Lake Michigan, while thousands of other triathletes are already on their bikes and out of sight...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Favorite Beginning of a Book

My favorite start to a book ever has to be the Prologue to The Canning Season, by Polly Horvath, which I just started today. Not because the main character's name is Ratchet Ratchet Clark. Not because it includes skull-boring insects, hurling placenta, Salisbury Steak, and the Pensacola Hunt Club. Not even because of the image of Ratchet's mother sliding down her hospital sheets and almost out the window. No, the reason is because after all of this fun, the beginning of the book is thrown upon us the same way it's thrown upon Ratchet. Her mother has this wonderful monologue describing how Ratchet got her name. Then the monologue ends:

"... and that's how you became Ratchet Ratchet Clark. Oh, and by the way, you're going to Maine tonight."

Genius. I can't wait to read the rest.

What book has your favorite first chapter?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Favorite Excuse for Torturing a Substitute

Got a letter from the principal at my five year-old Tinkerbell's school. Tink was brought in today after the sub gave her a bad report yesterday. Uh-oh. Her wonderful principal wrote that Tinkerbell would like me to know:

"that she didn't mean to crawl under the table after handwriting because she couldn't hear because her hair was covering her ears. She says she put her hair in her ears during night time and forgot to take it out. When asked if she thinks crawling under the table was a good idea, she said she didn't know because she couldn't hear herself thinking." Tink promised the principal "she won't make the same decision again, even if her hair is in her ears."

Ah, the old hair in the ears excuse.

What is the wildest or weirdest excuse you have ever used?

Monday, May 12, 2008

My new favorite media center

Today, in honor of the Ann Arbor Book Festival's Authors in Schools program, I got to visit the fabulous first graders at Bryant Elementary School. I talked about how long it took me to write and revise The New Girl...And Me. I also signed books, including one for someone named Mia (who is not the Mia in the book, and whom I was very sad I didn't get to meet in person to see if she looked anything like Book Mia). In exchange, I got my brand new Bryant Elementary School t-shirt (when my camera is fixed, I'll post a picture) and 120 thank you notes. After the visit, I really wanted to to hide among the first graders browsing and choosing books in my new favorite media center, but I am simply too tall.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

How to Start a Blog

Spend too much time at your keyboard not writing. Worry that someday they will discover the rays emanating from the bottom of your lap top are toxic. Read other people's blogs. Join JacketFlap. Decide all the other writers in the world know each other. Feel jealous. Realize you were not cool in high school and you will never be cool amongst people who write about high school either.

Start ten blogs. Delete them all. Worry that Blogger staff are laughing at you.

Create a livejournal account. Leave it inactive when you are unable to figure out how to view your own profile. Realize someday your children will be as frustrated with you about technology as you are by the fact that your father still calls a remote control a "clicker."

Find yourself blogging in your head. Find yourself hilarious.


Hear the baby crying.

Delete the blog.

Begin again a different day.

Wonder just who (besides your mother) you expect to read this blog. Delete the blog again.

Begin again months later. Think it looks dumb to only have a few posts. Realize if you would stop deleting your blog you'd have more than a few posts.

Have a revelation while in the shower about exactly what you want the blog to be: a kind of online version of the meeting rug in your classroom. And with that, you know exactly what kind of blog you want to have, and what you want to say.

Vow to try it for six months and see how it goes.