Monday, June 30, 2008

Jane Eyre: the Jacqui's Room Notes

In which I give Jane Eyre a test.

Does Your Book Have All the Elements of a Great Novel? A Checklist.

Hot and heavy romance? Check.

Multiple surprising and dramatic plot twists? Check.

Strong, whip-smart female character who insists on equality with men? Check. And remember, this was at a time when her refusal to be coerced into marriage would have shocked the chastity belts off some folks. Bonus points.

Subtle condemnation of self-aggrandizement and mistreatment of those less fortunate in the name of Christianity? Check.

Mockery of the upper crust? Check. Again, at a time when it was revolutionary? Bonus points.

Lunatic pyromaniac in the attic? Check.

Two hundred page discussion of the intricacies of the skin of the sperm whale? No!

Great novel? Check!

One warning to book-listeners: I did try to listen to the audiotape of this several years ago and fell asleep multiple times. This week, my smart, voracious reader, online friend Sarah Miller revealed to me that she's struggling with the audiobook too. Maybe Jane Eyre is just one you have to read.

This week's Remedial Lit Summer Project book was To Be Announced. I am probably going to read Pale Fire, by Nabokov, which Time Magazine called one of the 100 best books of all time, and about which Time wrote:

A bizarre, three-legged race of a novel, Pale Fire is composed of a long, narrative poem followed by a much longer set of footnotes written by an obsessive, increasingly deranged annotator.

Or, I will read New Moon, the second in Stephenie Meyer's* Twilight series, which is about vampires having sex. Come on, people! How long does something have to top the New York Times bestseller list before I can call it a classic??? I read every page of Moby Dick! Don't I deserve a break? Vote in the comments...

Also, it's my dad's birthday and he just revealed he's a lurker in Jacqui's Room. Happy birthday, Dad!

*Would this be a good time to mention that Stephenie Meyer and I have the same agent, whom I love even though she doesn't hold little parties with me and her and Stephenie Meyer, or John Green for that matter?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Ugliest Dog

Welcome to this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM).

From the AP:
"Gus the dog has three legs, one eye and no hair, except for a white tuft on the top of his head. He's a real winner...The pedigree Chinese crested won the World's Ugliest Dog contest on Saturday at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Northern California."

Oh, poor Gus. Click here and look at him. I dare you not to laugh.

Will someone please write the heart-warming story of Gus's ugly duckling journey from mocked, unwanted ugly dog to admired, desired World's Ugliest Dog? I want crazed David Shannon illustrations standing in hilarious contrast to a text with a simple tone, like Dan Yaccarino's Unlovable, but with a truly ugly main character.

And does anyone else see a striking resemblance between Gus and Skippyjon Jones?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Three Things to Celebrate, and One Multiple Choice Question

Things to celebrate today:

1. I don't have to read Moby Dick ever again.

2. Captain Destructo and I's fingertips and mouths are stained pink with strawberries and beets straight from the farm.

3. Remember those characters who wouldn't leave me alone? They're back. They infiltrated my dreams last night. I was playing the role of Devra, the girl. We were running for the bus and, trust me, it was hilarious. Later, in the lunch room, we were stunned to find ourself crushing on the boy across the table. Now, usually when I dream a story, I either forget it or when I awaken, I realize it makes no sense (much like when I dream I am fluent in French). But this was a whole plot, handed to me by the dream muse.

"Go away," I told the characters, even in my dream. "I have to work on my other novel."

"Get a pen, moron," Devra shot back.

So I did. In the dream I wrote and wrote and wrote. And then I woke up and wrote some more. And then, well, it's time for the multiple choice question.

One Multiple Choice Question

Some of you expressed skepticism that I was being honest about neglecting other obligations for the Remedial Lit Summer Project. To that end, please answer this:

Which of the following did Jacqui find between 8:00 and 8:30 am this morning?

a. black mold in the diaper bag
b. the estimated tax check that was due June 15
c. a check that we waited so long to deposit that it's now expired
d. a sliver of glass in my big toe that has been there at least a week
e. a piece of cardboard stuck between my toddler's teeth
f. whatever was making the car smell like rotting goat carcass
g. all of the above except one, which I found last night, and, wait, why does the car still smell?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Moby Dick: the Jacqui's Room Notes

In which I reveal why it is probably best that I gave up my theater career.

And yes, there are spoilers, though it's not like you can't guess how the book ends, really.

Also, this took me a million years and a snabblefrug* to upload, so you had better laugh. Hard.

* snabblefrug: a small temper tantrum caused by failure of Blogger to upload video properly. Now deleted.

June 23 - Jane Eyre

NOTE: Brilliant and hilarious possibly video synopses of Moby Dick to come later today once I have procured a model for the great, white mankiller. Meanwhile...

Welcome to week 5 of our Remedial Lit Summer Project, which features Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre?! Didn't I read that in high school? Lizard says she's sure we did. Well, do you remember it? Can you name a character besides Jane? Did you fall asleep during the audiobook on that road trip? Okay then. Start reading.

This is where you can discuss Jane Eyre, or whatever you are reading this week.

And where you can curse my name if you are still mired in Moby Dick.

Have fun! Check back later for my thoughts on Moby Dick...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Captain Destructo: a one act play

In which I explore the theory that if you can't throw it or eat it, you may as well bash yourself in the head with it.

You've met my daughter, Tinkerbell, through the story of her trip to the principal's office. Now meet my son, Captain Destructo. Captain Destructo is nineteen months old and he is missing the gene that evolved in most humans that is responsible for regulating the self-preservation instinct. If you need a visual aid, he looks something like Max.

An actual conversation with Captain Destructo, a one act play:

[Jacqui and Captain Destructo play outside on the lawn on a lovely Saturday afternoon. Captain Destructo runs through plants and falls, getting back upright with one hand full of something.]

JACQUI: Oh! What did you find?


JACQUI: Oh, it's a big rock.

DESTRUCTO: Rock? (puts rock in mouth)

JACQUI: Oh no, honey, we don't eat the rock.

DESTRUCTO: Rock. (aims to throw rock at mother)

JACQUI: No, no, honey. Don't throw the rock. Someone could get hurt. Let's go play with the tennis racket again. Do you want a turn with the tennis racket?


JACQUI: Yes, it's a great rock.


JACQUI: Yes, it's yours. I am not going to take your rock. What are you going to do with the rock?

DESTRUCTO: (puts rock in mouth)

JACQUI: No, we're not going to eat it.

DESTRUCTO: (aims to throw rock again)

JACQUI: No, we're not going to throw it.

DESTRUCTO: (ponders, brows furrowed, then smiles.) Aah. (Bashes himself in the head with the rock hard enough to make an audible thump)

JACQUI: Ow! What are you doing? (tries to take rock)

DESTRUCTO: Hah hah hah. (runs away, hitting self with rock multiple times)

JACQUI: (chasing son) Stop! Ow! No hit.

DESTRUCTO: (stopping) Rock. (puts rock behind back)

JACQUI: Give Mama the rock.

DESTRUCTO: Mine. (puts rock in mouth)

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jackals and Lizards and Raptors! Oh my!

Welcome to this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM).

From CBS News and the AP:

"Jackals, monitor lizards and raptors descended on a runway at New Delhi's main airport after heavy rains Monday, delaying flights, an airport official said."

According to the official story, the animals were trying to dry off after a monsoon.

No they weren't. They were trying to make a flight.

But where were they trying to go? And why?

Perhaps they were tired by the thought of the upcoming monsoon season and were headed to dryer* pastures?

I am picturing a departure from the usual personalities for these animals. I want terrified jackals, sarcastic lizards*, and sequin-wearing raptors. They argue over where to go on vacation; the raptors hear Paris is divine while the jackals would like to be closer to home. I am thinking of the adventurous yet tongue in cheek voice in David Wisniewski's The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups.

Will someone please write this book?

*edited to add: Oops. I meant "drier." The spelling queen stumbles. But I didn't have the heart to edit it after Diane's comments (see below).
** Sarcastic lizard idea in no way a reflection of what I know of our own frequent visitor, Lizard. Okay, maybe a little.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Least You Need To Know: The Acquisitions Meeting

Today's lesson focuses on one of the most diabolical and mysterious events in publishing: the Acquisitions Meeting. The simple definition is that Acquisition Meetings are where publishing houses make decisions about which books to acquire. Read on for details...

The Least You Need To Know: The Acquisitions Meeting

1. Acquisitions meetings may be regularly scheduled or haphazard, depending on the publishing house. Sometimes they don't happen at all, like if someone gets sick or there's a snow day. All of this is designed to keep you on your toes.

2. According to my first editor, attendance at an Acquisitions Meeting is limited to editors, assistants, and "the money people."* "Money people" includes publishers, business-side folks, and marketing departments. Authors are not invited, nor can you influence the outcome of an Acquisitions Meeting with baked goods.

3. At an Acquisitions Meeting, editors present manuscripts about which they are excited. Often, they have already had an Editorial Meeting at which they shared those manuscripts with other editors, to get everyone excited and to mark their territory by saying, "Hey! I have a new zombie princess pop-up book. No zombie princess pop-up books for the rest of you." Sometimes editors pee on manuscripts to mark their territory as well, though this is less effective.

4. At the beginning of an Acquisitions Meeting, everyone present reaffirms his or her commitment to worship of the printed page. The president/grand poobah puts on a fez and announces, "Let the wild rumpus begin!" which means that the floor is now open to editors who wish to present manuscripts.

5. In the middle of an Acquisitions Meeting, editors try to convince everyone the stories they are presenting will re-define literature change the lives of the people who read it sell really well. Some editors do interpretive dances of their manuscripts. Often, there is a bloody battle to the death between the editors and the money people, or between dueling editors. The shorter the discussion about your book, the better; your chances of being acquired go down if a lot of people are opposed to acquiring you.

6. At the end of the meeting, some manuscripts are acquired and are well on their way to being published books. The others are well on their way to the recycling bin.

7. For more accurate information about Acquisitions Meetings, from someone who has actually been to one, try here.

* He really said that.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Favorite Letter to a Company

This has nothing to do with books or children or classics. But, it's sort of about words and writing. Plus, I found it hilarious, which will tell you something about me, and I have nothing exciting to say today.

My favorite letter to a company about a product...

Monday, June 16, 2008

June 16 - Moby Dick

Welcome to week 4 of our Remedial Lit Summer Project, which features Moby Dick.

This is where you can discuss Moby Dick, or whatever much shorter, less whale-y book you are reading this week.

I began Moby Dick last week. It is definitely funnier than I'd anticipated. I am sure it is genius. I am sure I would seem like more of a genius if I said, "Wow! What genius." I am not sure there is enough caffeine in the world for me to finish all 700 pages of this book.

Have fun.

East of Eden: the Jacqui's Room Notes

East of Eden
with apologies to Ruth Krauss's The Carrot Seed.

An Irishman planted a farm in the Salinas Valley.
His wife said, "I'm afraid it won't come up."
His seven children, one of whom the novel says eventually gave birth to Mr. John Steinbeck himself, said, "I'm afraid it won't come up."
And his xenophobic but grudgingly admiring neighbors said, "It won't come up."
Every day, the Irishman pulled up the weeds around the farm, philosophized about the nature of human existence, and dug in the ground for water.
But nothing came up.
And nothing came up.

Meanwhile, across the quickly-changing country in Connecticut, a man named Trask had two sons and named them Adam and Charles.
Now, when an author refers to the Bible, and names the son everyone loves something that starts with A and the son everyone's afraid of something that starts with C, well, you can guess how the story goes.

Steinbeck writes, "We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil." He set out to write an epic family drama, the first and only novel, a biblical allusion, a story of our country at a certain place in time, and a history of a landscape he loved. All at once. And then he did it.
And yes, there is a serpent, or a demon maybe, and battles both internal and violent, and beans and whorehouses, and Henry Ford is a character, and there are great, funny lines mocking human proclivities like, "If necklaces made of pork chops were accepted, it would be a sad child who could not wear pork chops." But back to the story.

Everyone, including the member of the Trask family who ended up moving next door to the Irishman, kept saying it wouldn't come up.
But he still pulled up the weeds around it every day, made fascinating and spot on comments on the nature of evil and narrative, and dug in the ground for water.

And then, one day, well, I won't say if a carrot grew. If I spoiled this one I would be sent to an eternal personal purgatory involving mushrooms, too-high heels, and soulless, grammatically sloppy chick lit.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

But When Do You Find The Time?!

In which I reveal myself to be a seriously sub-par wife, mother, and triathlete.

"You have a blog?! But when do you find the time?"

This is a question I get a lot lately. Usually, it's in response to the Remedial Lit Summer Project, or to having a blog at all.

"I could never do it," they say. "I just don't have the time."

I like to answer, "Well, I am smarter and more efficient than you." But that is a lie. In truth, I find the time by neglecting things that other, more responsible people do.

Rather than confess outright, I thought I'd give you a little game to play. I present:

Just How Lame Is Jacqui? A Matching Game

Can you match the items on the "to do" list (1-10) below with the "when was the last time Jacqui did it" list (a-j)? All of the "to do" items are ones someone I know did this week; all of the time frames are, sadly, 100% accurate.

1. ironed
2. cleaned the shower
3. exercised (not counting wrestling toddler into car seat)
4. bought/made presents for kids' teachers for end of school year
5. wrote a single word on non-fiction project that's now two years old
6. trimmed either child's finger or toenails
7. read a newspaper (not counting Yahoo headlines)
8. bought/made gift or even called my father for Father's Day*
9. weeded my garden
10. paid bills/balanced the checkbook

a. never
b. summer of '06, and only then because I was quilting
c. frankly, I honestly can't remember
d. two weeks ago, before I hurt my back
e. cannot locate garden under thickets of weeds
f. fall of '06
g. Sunday, May 18, 2008
h. I don't know but yesterday Tinkerbell's friend suggested that if they got any longer, they'd curl under
i. It is possible these brown-outs are not due to thunderstorms
j. oh crap! Is that today? I have to go.

* I did procure my husband a present -- a signed copy of my friend Salman's latest book. "Where did you get it signed?" husband asked. During the interview, of course.**

** Or at the bookstore.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Exploding Chickens

In which I introduce our new weekly feature: the TNoftheAWSPWTBIM.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new weekly feature here in Jacqui's Room. Other blogs get to have features; why can't I?

So here it is, drum roll please, your Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment.*

From Yahoo News and the AP:

"The road was closed while the Hartford Police Department's bomb squad came and blew up the chicken."

Go ahead. Explain that one. I'm seeing middle grade chapter book, lots of chicken puns, maybe written in the style of Dav Pilkey?**

The full article doesn't provide many details. It does say, "Nobody was injured." Except the chicken.

Why would a raw chicken full of pipe bomb be sitting at the side of the road?

I guess that's one way to get to the other side...

*I am still working on the title; is TNoftheAWSPWTBIM too long an acronym?
** Just to be clear, I don't think bombs are funny, nor does Jacqui's Room condone the use of poultry for terrorist acts.

Monday, June 9, 2008

June 9 - East of Eden

Welcome to week 3 of our Remedial Lit Summer Project, which features East of Eden.

Go ahead; tell them. Tell them you read the whole thing already. Tell them your children had Cheddar Bunnies for dinner, and dust flies through your house like tumbleweeds. Tell them you haven't written a word for five days even though you only have one chapter left to revise before your novel is finished.

This is where we can discuss East of Eden, or whatever you are reading this week.

Apologize for cheating and reading ahead, but tell them East of Eden was just that good.

Have fun.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Silas Marner: the Jacqui's Room Notes

Silas Marner, in ten words:

Betrayed weaver counts gold.
Treasure stolen.
Child appears.
Love wins.

Two thoughts on Silas Marner:

1. Strong story, deep emotion, complex characters and relationships, and tons of tension. I actually very much enjoyed it. So much so that I pulled Middlemarch off the shelf and read the introduction. Phrases included: "completely different from Silas Marner," "difficult in many ways," and "despite the monotony of the beginning." I put it back.

2. Eliot was writing Romola, a sweeping history of the Italian Renaissance, when the story of Silas Marner, "thrust itself between me and the other book I was meditating." She stopped writing to whip off Silas Marner. I often say my best writing comes when I take a break to write a story that's "not the book I'm writing." I think a sense of freedom and relaxation of pressure come when we tell ourselves, "Oh, this is nothing." And that freedom can spark our best work. I wrote The New Girl...And Me (back then in was called Shakeeta's Iguana) on the train in Chicago, on my way downtown. I started my first chapter book on a whim waiting for my brake pads to be replaced. If you really want to have fun with your writing, tell yourself, "Nobody is ever going to read this," and see where your imagination brings you.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Will Somebody PLEASE Write This Picture Book?

From the AP (photo is an AP photo as well):

Missing Cape Cod Lighthouse Located in California

"Local historians for decades thought the 30-foot tall lighthouse that once overlooked Wellfleet Harbor had been taken down and destroyed in 1925.

Turns out, it had just been moved to the California coast."

The best part? They aren't sure how it got there.

I know how it got there: it swam.

Will somebody PLEASE write the picture book of this lighthouse's journey? I am dreaming of adventures, storms at sea, and the hunt for, well, something. Mine would be written in the peaceful, seeking tone of Shel Silverstein's The Missing Piece. Artwork by Chris Van Allsburg, maybe? There is your story idea for the day.

In other news, while searching for a link for The Missing Piece, I found this, which asserts that the book is "the perfect primer for children on the gender theories of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan." Hilarious.

Now go write that book.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I Made the Bestseller List!!!

In which I hope you will confuse the Nicola's Books monthly newsletter with the New York Times Book Review...

My favorite local independent bookstore is Nicola's Books. Lovely owner, strong kids section, nobody looks at me funny when I loiter in the Young Adult books, and Linda saves me ARCs* and even lets me keep them.

So imagine my glee when the fabulous Shutta Crum suggested I read the fine print in this month's Nicola's Books newsletter. Go look; click on the June newsletter link at the bottom left of the page. I'll wait. Keep looking, yup! That's The New Girl...And Me atop the top-selling children's books for the month list. I even beat out the pigeon.

I have a feeling the students at Bryant School are to be thanked for this. Even so, it's not bad for a book that's been out since 2006.

I am totally doing a happy dance.

*Advanced Reader Copies

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Week of June 2 - Silas Marner

Welcome to week 2 of our Remedial Lit Summer Project, which features Silas Marner.

Wow. This is a lot shorter than Don Quixote. Sure am glad I picked it instead of Middlemarch.

This is where we shall discuss Silas Marner or whatever you are reading this week.

Oh! I get it. Silas Marner like the guy with the gold. Duh.

Have fun!

Why Children's Books Are Like My College Reunion

I went back to college this weekend for my fifteen year reunion. I danced, ate pizza too late at night, and got to see some lovely folks I'd been missing. And had a revelation about why I write for kids.

It has to do with being known. Not famous, but known as a person, and accepted anyway. The best part about old friends is they've seen me dance, they know I'm a little too loud, they understand my inside jokes, because they know me. And yet, they stick around. Is there any better feeling than having someone be well aware of your most grating, most embarrassing habits, and like you anyway?

That feeling of having my innermost thoughts and anxieties and ideas being understood and accepted is the gift I hope to give children in my books. I want to write about the hard parts of being a child, the embarrassing parts, the confusion and the frustration, and to let children know that they are not alone; we all have been there, and it's going to be okay. At the winter SCBWI conference this year, Richard Peck spoke about books having the power to show us that "even our most secret sorrows are shared." I love when children think my writing is funny. I love when they say they worked hard to sound out the words out themselves. But I mostly love when something like this happens:

I was signing The New Girl...And Me in Bar Harbor, Maine. Two girls approached the desk. One started asking about the book. The other hung back. I explained that in the story, a shy student named Mia wants to make friends with the new girl in her class. The talkative one glanced through the book and said, "cool." When I looked over, the quieter one was just finishing reading. She clutched the book to her chest and came around the table to my side.

"She is shy," she said.

"Yes," I said.

"I am shy, too," she said. "I like your book."

For my part, as a child, it was Judy Blume, as cliché as that sounds. She reached into me and wrote my life on the page and made it sound normal. Who was it for you?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Don Quixote: The Jacqui's Room Notes

Don Quixote read too much.
Thought he was a knight.
Grabbed his squire, Sancho Panza
And set off to fight.

Declared his love for Dulcinea,
Fought giants in her name.
Got mocked, pinched, butted, robbed and kidnapped.
She shunned him all the same.

Stayed deluded 1,000 pages,
Ended up beaten and bleeding.
Realized he'd been mad, then died.
Such are the perils of reading.