Saturday, August 30, 2008

Jacqui Reads Her Children Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them

Elise Murphy started it. She vowed to read a banned or challenged book a week until October 4, in honor of the ALA's Banned Books Week. She invited her readers to join her Banned Book Challenge.*

You should know that the topic of other people, particularly hateful, closed-minded people, telling me what it's okay for my children or me to read gets me so worked up that I can't post intelligently about it or I would end up in a big, bad-word-laden snabblefrug. My heartrate is skyrocketing just mentioning it here. Breathe, Jacqui, breathe. You can play with your closed-minded voodoo dolls later.

I wanted in on the challenge. But I already have too many books on my To Read list. So, I decided I would choose from amongst the many horrible, permanent-emotional-injury-causing banned and challenged picture books. I promised Elise I'd read one to my children each week, and post about it on Friday.** Which gives us a new temporary weekly feature here in Jacqui's Room:

Jacqui Reads Her Children Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them

Week One:
And Tango Makes Three
by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole

The story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who fell in love and raised baby Tango together. Based on a true story.

My review: I love this book. Borrowed it from the library and went out and bought it today. The story-telling is simple and straightforward, the illustrations adorable. The whole book rings with love and you can't help but get caught up in it.

I discussed it with Tinkerbell after we'd read it:

TINK: It was awesome.
JACQUI: What did you like about it?
TINK: Everything. I love everything. Can we read it again?
JACQUI: No, it's bedtime. Some other time. What did you not like about it?
TINK: Nothing.
JACQUI: Tink, there are some people who think kids shouldn't be allowed to read this book.
TINK: Why?
JACQUI: Well, remember when we talked about how there are some people who think men should only be allowed to fall in love with women, and women should never marry other women and all that?
TINK: (not at all making the connection) Yeah?
JACQUI: Well, those people worry because in this book a male penguin falls in love with another male penguin.
JACQUI: So, those people worry that if you read this book you'll think it's okay for people who are the same to love each other.
JACQUI: So they think then maybe you'll want to go out and marry another girl and be in love with her and they think that would be bad, bad, BAD.
TINK: That is dumb.
JACQUI: I think so.
TINK: Tango is so cute, Mama!
JACQUI: (to herself) Take that, book-haters...

*No, the challenge is not to see how many times I can use the words "banned books" in a tongue twisting paragraph. That part was accidental.
** Yes, I am well aware that Friday was yesterday. If only this were the only thing on which I am at least a day behind...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dancing by the Light of the Moon

In which I butcher Edward Lear's lovely work.

Captain Destructo's note from day care this afternoon mentioned that he was "even more busy than usual" today. Tinkerbell, meanwhile, has had more sugar in the last two days than in her whole life so far, I think. The two of them giggled for ten minutes at dinner over something only they understood; I thought he'd be older than one before they had private jokes! In any case, insisting on a joint bath was probably my first mistake...

The Captain Destructo and Tinkerbell

Captain Destructo went to sea
In a beautiful bathtub boat,
He took some buckets, and plenty of duckies,
And a worn out purple goat.
Mom rubbed him down with a bar of Dove,
While he ate a plastic car,
“Oh Destructo! Destructo, my love,
What a beautiful baby you are,
You are,
You are,
What a beautiful baby you are!”

Baby said to the Mom, “More more wa-duh!
Want Sissy!” (he pointed at Tink)
So Mom called Sissy to come to the bath
“Leave the toothpaste in the sink!”
They played and played, till Destructo said,
“Duck duck duck go potty!”
Tink was first to decipher those words:
“Mom! Into the bath he peed,
He peed,
He peed!
Gross! Into the bath he peed!”

The Baby face planted in the water,
While Tink jumped out with howls.
One hand saved the son; one grabbed the daughter.
But which box holds the towels?!
“No, don’t drink that! Get off the cat!”
Mom shooed them from the room.
Baby banged his head. Now they’re on the bed,
Dancing naked by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
Dancing naked by the light of the moon.

In other news, I am already one day late for Elise's Banned Book Challenge. I promise to catch up tomorrow.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

After the Games

In which I describe the book I want you to write, which will have a far better title that the one above.

This week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) focuses on where I want your next book to be set.

From Martin Rogers at Yahoo Sports:

Beijing Trumps Athens...and Then Some

Apparently, the pundits* are impressed with Beijing's handling of the Olympics, and how the Chinese used the Olympics to create structures that will continue to serve the city. Athens, in contrast, is apparently not doing as well:

"Four years since the Athens Games, a Greek tragedy is taking place. Incredibly, many of the 22 Olympic venues now lie abandoned, as a sad and litter-strewn reminder of sport’s greatest festival.

Gypsy camps have sprung up in the shadow of stadiums where the world’s finest athletes once battled for gold. Graffiti is scrawled over the outer walls of many sites, and it has been reported in Greece that upward of $1 billion has been spent simply to maintain these ugly wrecks."

Sad, I know. But will someone please write me a mystery set in Athens post-Olympics??? I want Blue Balliet's Chasing Vermeer, but scarier. Make it set in modern times, but with shadowy hints that the ancients are involved. Make Greek mythology and history central to solving the mystery.

Mostly, I want a spooky abandoned arena with baffling graffiti and definitely rats. Give me the main character exposed and alone in the middle of the field at twilight as his pursuers gather in the stands. He can't see them because stands are in shadows, though a fading golden sun still lights the field. He can't hear them because the gypsies outside are too loud, speaking in a language he doesn't understand that joins with the whispers of the ghosts of the ancients to form a modern Greek chorus singing his doom...

Will someone please write me this book? And it will be called... Oh, my title muse is nowhere to be found. Ideas in the comments, please!

*You know, all those experts on post-Olympic status of a city as compared to its rivals.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

You Know That Feeling?

I am thinking of Proust today, and of his remarkable ability to describe subtle, very specific moments of human emotion.

Tinkerbell turns six this weekend, in case you are one of the two or three people in the world to whom she has not already announced it. She's having a Spiderwick Chronicles theme birthday party.* Everyone is asked to dress as his or her favorite character in the Spiderwick books. Tink is going to be Mallory, I am to be the green-eyed elf, the Mighty Thor has been asked to impersonate an ogre, and Captain Destructo is, of course, a house brownie. Our whole house will be transformed into Spiderwick mansion, with the forest outside decorated** to hint at fairies and unicorns living there. The cake will be covered with spiders, enough for each of the 11 guests to have one, and will read "Happy Birthday" in the same font as the book covers. The kids will go on a giant scavenger hunt, pound flowers into handkerchiefs to dye them, and have the best. party. ever. At the end of it all, Tink will be six, 6, SIX! No more baby five-hood, good bye, she will fly away on big, grown-up fairy wings.

Or so she sees it. We will try. But the disconnect between how kids imagine their birthdays and how birthdays can ever really be is vast and disappointing, I know. And the feeling I am pondering comes at the birthday party. It's the "this is not how the party is supposed to go" feeling. It's the "this house doesn't look like the Spiderwick castle, and the field sprites are paper, and my friends are supposed to be doing what I say, not playing in the forest, and hey! I feel the same just like I did when I was five, and where is my big moment? Where is the Magic Moment that was supposed to happen? And, now I have to wait a whole year which might as well be forever to do it right this time?" feeling. It's my party and I'll cry if I want to.

Today, I am thinking about that feeling. That exact moment when you realize just how vast the disconnect between your dreams and reality is. Before you get depressed about it, when you are stunned and casting around for someone to blame. You know that feeling?

In the meantime, anyone have good ideas for a Spiderwick birthday cake???

*the books, not the movie, which she's never seen and probably won't for a while given that she still sometimes freaks out during the chase scenes in Curious George
in an eco-friendly way, of course

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I don't know what you heard...

... but I certainly didn't stay up until 1:30am to finish Eclipse all in one night and Breaking Dawn* the next. No sirree, not me. I was busy reading Faust. What kind of dunderhead would stay up all night to find out if Bella picks the vampire or the werewolf when she has a book to revise, children to raise, a ... blog ... to ... wri ... zzzzzzzzzzz.

I hate myself.

I was so tired that I didn't realize what Tinkerbell was doing during the following conversation until it was too late:

TINK (to new friend's dad): You are very tall like her.
DAD: Yes.
TINK: And you have black hair, with like, some silver in it.
DAD: (laughs indulgently)
TINK: And you have that thing, that bump.
DAD (and JACQUI): ????
TINK: You know, that thing. You have that bump like her.
DAD (laughing less): What bump?
TINK: There.
JACQUI: (looks, notices small raised mole on new friend's dad's nose; reacting in slow motion due to Twilight-related exhaustion, thinks: Does she mean that mole? Who is "her?")
TINK: So you look just like her!
DAD: Who?
JACQUI: (catching on)(slow mo) Tiiiiiink! Noooooooo!
TINK: The wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz! You look just like her!

Coming soon to Jacqui's Room: How to End Your Novel, The Least You Need to Know: Agents, and Faust: the Jacqui's Room production...

*the third and fourth books in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight quad-rilogy? four-logy? series
** Oh, and for any fans out there. The answer to your next question is "Jacob. Definitely." Sigh.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Light in August: the Jacqui's Room Notes

In which my inner math geek has a field day with Faulkner.

No video today, real or imagined, as I have just written the last* new scene for my young adult novel** and am feverishly typing and compiling.***

I tried a haiku, but really I think of Light in August as more of a math problem where:

Light in August = (Mississippi + August + 1932) x (Pregnant wanderer + defrocked reverend + lying bootlegger + angry biracial murderer)

Or maybe it's a recipe: Faulkner takes vivid, yearning characters and mixes them into a broth of racial tension and southern heat...

Other thoughts (no spoilers):
1. Faulkner's characters are truly unique. They are multi-dimensional, diverse, and far from stereotypes or archetypes. Further, the setting itself, both in terms of time and place, is a character, really, acting to propel the plot as much as anyone else. The book starts as a "what do you get when you cross..." story, but Faulkner follows through and is meticulously faithful to the characters he's created and the world they inhabit.

2. This is the most hopeful depressing book I've ever read. The first character we see is Lena, pregnant and abandoned, walking across Alabama in search of the father of her child. She is convinced his message calling her to him has been lost. "I reckon I'll find him," she says. "It won't be hard." She never wavers from that feeling, and Faulkner paints her faith so simply, so without judgement, that instead of thinking, "That fool!" like everyone she meets, we want her to find him, even though we know it's unrealistic.

3. Lastly, stream of consciousness is more fun to write than to read.**** I very much enjoyed the book and the characters were the main reason why. I felt for them and wanted them all to "win" but even I had to skim towards the end when there were entire pages of internal conflict. I had the strange revelation that, like many beginning writers, Faulkner got worried that we wouldn't get it, so he diluted his beautiful story with a ton of "the point" at the end. Makes me want to go back to the ending of my own book and delete all the "hints;" if it doesn't work without them, the whole thing's not working and spelling it out at the end is far from the answer.

On to Faust...

* And by "last" I mean "last for now" or "last of the ones that weren't written at all before now, to say nothing of the ones that are just sketched out, full of gaps, or abominations to the written word."
** And by "novel" I mean "collection of scattered scenes, some old and some new, that I hope will miraculously congeal into a coherent mass as I type."
*** And by "feverishly typing and compiling" I mean "trying to find my flash drive."
**** Collective sigh of "tell us about it!" from all blog readers

Sunday, August 24, 2008

August 25 - Goethe's Faust

Welcome to Week #14 of our 15 Classics in 15 Weeks project.

This week I will be reading Goethe's Faust. Don't get confused; there are a lot of Fausts out there. I am reading Goethe's. The Mighty Thor is livid because whatever version he read in college was like 1,000 pages and mine is only 200. Also I think he is still mad because his roommate acted in the production of Faust someone put up in my college dining hall and it was 4 hours long and the Mighty Thor sat through the whole thing. Nevertheless, I am excited about this play.

If you look left, you'll see next week's book is still TBA. I need your help deciding. What should my final classic be? If you joined us late, the whole point of the project was that I am pretty well-read but had holes in the canon of traditional American and European lit. So, here's the question: what is your all-time, number one, anyone-who-calls-herself-well-read-MUST-have-read-this-book classic novel (that we haven't already discussed this summer)? You can see everyone's original suggestions in the comments here.

It's like American Idol for literary dorks, isn't it? Sigh.

Also, what are you reading this week?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ode to Steve from AT&T

In (vaguely-rhyming, poorly metered) verse, because I was inspired by Eeyore Walt Whitman.

Oh, Steve!
I can't believe
You braved the spidery crawl space to bring me the internet.

Oh, Steve!
This poem I weave
In honor of your visit last week and aftermath. Schminternet.

Oh, Steve!
There on your sleeve
It said, "U-Verse: the fastest around."

But, oh, Steve!
I can't conceive
There's a slower freakin' internet service in town.

Steve! My windows they pile-up
Steve! It's slower than dial-up!
I have...trouble...remaining...serene.

I checked my connections, I checked my AirPort,
Called customer service and filed a report
On hold for an hour and got the retort
It's wires loose, somewhere, or maybe a short.

They say you'll come back and you'll fix it for me
But oh, in the meantime, oh Steve, can't you see?
I'm seeking a man who can hook me up fast,
Not someone whose broadband is stuck in the past.
My patience is waning! My love might not last!
I'm dreaming of cheating on you with Comcast!

So, Steve,
You see I grieve
My heart fills with pain and with sorrow.

And Steve,
Before you leave
I just want to say

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Buon appetito! But hold the turtle soup.

Welcome to this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM). The actual news story is sort of sad, but bear with me.

From Reuters:

"About 60 newly hatched sea turtles lost their way during their ritual passage to the sea and marched into an Italian restaurant instead, a conservation worker said on Monday."

According to the article, the turtles were "probably thrown off track and lured by the eatery's bright lights." They were later caught and released into the sea. Kind of a sad story; where I grew up in Florida, there are restrictions on outside lights during turtle-hatching season and one hopes the restaurant will be careful now.

BUT, what if they weren't confused? What if they were just tired of seafood?

I am picturing hundreds of sea turtles at café tables with red and white checkered tablecloths demanding more pasta, harried waiters rushing with trays overflowing with food, the gray-haired piano man flanked by music-loving turtles singing along. I want rollicking rhyme* and lots of ocean puns. And at the end, I want turtles headed to the sea with take-out boxes, leaving behind waitstaff baffled by seashell tips.

Will someone please write me this book?

* But the meter must be absolutely perfect; bad meter and imprecise rhyme are my number one picture book pet peeves.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Eeyore writes a poem

I'm home chasing Captain Destructo today, so I don't have long, but I wanted to share my other favorite Winnie the Pooh writing moment. The simplicity of A.A. Milne's voice always makes me smile.

written by Eeyore in a Quiet Moment

Christopher Robin is going.
At least I think he is.
Nobody knows.
But he is going-
I mean he goes
(To rhyme with "knows")
Do we care?
( To rhyme with "where")
We do
very much.
(I haven't got a rhyme for that "is" in the second line yet. Bother.)
(Now I haven't got a rhyme for bother. Bother.)
Those two bothers will have
to rhyme with each other
The fact is this is more difficult than I thought
I ought-
(Very good indeed)
I ought
To begin again,
But it is easier
To stop.
Christopher Robin, good-bye
And all your friends
I mean all your friend
(Very awkward this, it keeps going wrong)
Well, anyhow, we send
Our love.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Go Where They Can Find You

"But it isn't Easy," said Pooh to himself... "Because Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you."

~The House at Pooh Corner


I had a revelation this morning. It relates to my favorite writing quote, which is above, and it is this:

The reason I am having such a hard time with the last bits of my novel is that I am trying to write my novel.

Let me explain.

1. The best novels are those which you can pick up, read a little, and say, "Aah. Yes. This is going to be good." You relax into them, fall into their worlds, become their characters. Editor Cheryl Klein talks about this in reference to Harry Potter; one of the reasons it's so successful is that Harry's world is so complete, so detailed, so painstakingly and entertainingly shown.

2. The only way to write novels like that is to relax into them, to fall into their worlds, and become their characters. As a wise new friend from my coffee shop put it, you have to describe the story, rather than try to create the story. You have to channel like a medium, put your ego aside and let your subconscious do the work.

3. This is impossible to do if you are trying to write as fast as you can, or trying to force the novel to go in one direction when it clearly wants to go in another. It's also impossible if your brain is full of blather from elsewhere in your life, or if half your brain is wondering how long the baby will nap, or whether those other kids on the bus are watching you, or if your hand gets tired writing because you took too many days off in a row and got out of shape. Or if your inner editor won't shut up.

So what to do? How to get rid of the blather and the deadlines? I have been utilizing the less-than-effective screaming at yourself approach: "Could you just freakin' get a grip and FOCUS for a second so you can finish the darn thing NOW. IT NEEDS TO BE DONE YESTERDAY AND IT STINKS!!! FOCUS, YOU PITIFUL SLOB! NOW WRITE! AAAAAH!!!!!"

I wouldn't recommend it.

Instead, as usual, Pooh is right. You can't go get the story. All you can do is relax and show up at the page, every day, and be ready for the story to find you. And being ready means being ready to write, but it also means being focused and relaxed at the same time. It means being open to what your characters are telling you and putting your ego aside so you can describe instead of manipulating. It also makes the whole process much more fun.

So, thanks to a chance conversation and to Pooh and probably not in small part to Walt Whitman, I am writing furiously, but relaxedly, and it's fun again, and it's really good and I must go back to it now...

Now you, too, go write.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Leaves of Grass: the Jacqui's Room Notes

In which I lament that my yawp isn't more barbaric.

I want to make you a video masterpiece celebrating Walt Whitman's celebration of the world in "Song of Myself." Can you try to picture it? I want to start with a close up of a blade of grass, green and shining in bright, bright sun, and zoom out to open fields with insects hopping. I want Garrison Keillor reading Leaves of Grass aloud to you:

I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belong to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease...observing a spear of summer grass.

I want to flash to indoors, to students poring over books, to people slaving away in cubicles, and for you to hear Keillor/Whitman calling you:

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems.

You shall possess the good of the earth and the sun

And now we flash to clips of all of humanity, as Whitman describes it in list after list, detail after detail, in the poem:

The pure contralto sings in the organloft,
The carpenter dresses his plank...the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp,
The married and unmarried children ride home to their thanksgiving dinner,
The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong arm,
The mate stands braced in the whaleboat, lance and harpoon are ready...

And we hear Whitman's challenge to his own writing -- that it be universal and speak to all of us:

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing or next to nothing,

If they do not enclose everything they are next to nothing,

If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,

If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

Here, I want the images to get faster and faster as Whitman describes all the people his poem is for:

It is for the is for the judges of the supreme is for the federal capitol and the state capitols,
It is for the admirable communes of literary men and composers and singers and lecturers and engineers and savans,
It is for the endless races of working people and farmers and seamen.

I want the images to flash so quickly that they blur and give the vague impression of the human body, which fades even further into a shadowy ghost as Keillor reads:

I am the poet of the body,
And I am the poet of the soul.

And with that, I want the scene to explode and become an ocean, placid but vast. The camera moves across it slowly as we hear Whitman's invitation to dive with him into the unknown, to challenge ourselves, to live life to the fullest and however else you might interpret it:

Long have you timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore,
I will you to be a bold swimmer,

To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again and nod to me and shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.

And with that, we are at the edge of the cliffs that overlook the ocean. The camera faces the water and Keillor reads the challenge, the line that I will use as my excuse for not doing a better job summarizing Leaves of Grass:

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

And I want to go back to the grass suddenly, in time to hear Whitman ask:

Who wishes to walk with me?

And you would shout, "Me! Me! I want to walk with you! I want to spend a year lying in the grass analyzing Whitman and celebrating the presence of the divine in everything and, if you believe Harold Bloom and others, doing things I shouldn't mention in a children's blog, and listening to my soul!" And we would all marvel at the egotism and the brilliance of a man proposing that the world needs a poet to speak for all humankind, and that he be that poet, and then doing it. And we would stand amazed at the lyricism, and at the sensuality and we would read aloud our favorite passages and sing that "Sing the Body Electric" song and...

Sigh. Alas, I have only a cell phone video camera and part time day care. So instead, I leave you with the screenplay for my masterpiece, and with this:

I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen,
And accrue what I hear into myself...and let sounds contribute toward me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

August 18 - Light in August

Welcome to Week #13 of our 15 Classics in 15 Weeks project.

Whose idea was this anyway? How many books is one woman supposed to read?!

Tomorrow, I will condense the major poetic masterpiece of America's most influential poet into a brief blog post on Leaves of Grass. Are you curious how I can possibly do so? Me too. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, this week, we will be discussing Faulkner's Light in August. Someone explain to me again why I picked this instead of As I Lay Dying; I can't remember.*

What are you reading this week?

* Actually, I am pretty excited about the Faulkner. But I will admit that when my 15 weeks are up, I may read nothing but the Twilight series and the New York Times magazine for a while.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

This Is Just To Say

After much careful thought, I have decided to swap Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass for Light in August in this week's 15 Classics in 15 Weeks project. The main reason is that I can’t find my copy of Light in August I am curious to discover Whitman’s take on some of the issues tackled by Hawthorne, his contemporary. Also, my Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Leaves of Grass is absolutely gorgeous and has been calling me since June. Have no fear, I shall tackle Light in August next week. It will still be August, after all.

In the meantime, I stand amazed at the magnificence of Leaves of Grass, and have been inspired to offer my own addition to the world of poetry:

For Tinkerbell, with apologies to William Carlos Williams

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the Oreos
that you hid in
the Tupperware drawer

and which
you were probably saving
for your lunch.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so chocolatey
and my revisions so hard.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'll Sic My Grandmother On Her

I am back. Woo-hoo! Hearts to Steve from At&T, who braved the spider-filled crawl space under my house to retrieve internet cable.

Today’s Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) is based not on news, but on something I overheard. As I write my young adult novel, I’ve been eavesdropping on the teens who congregate outside my favorite coffee shop so that I can pillage their lives for my stories develop an ear for teen patois. Earlier this week, I heard two boys, about 14 years old, have this conversation:

Boy #1: Guy, she really said that?
Boy #2: Shut up.
Boy #1: Seriously, I can’t believe she said that.
Boy #2: I said ‘Shut up!’
Boy #1: What’d you say?
Boy #2: I said, 'At least I’m not mumble mumble.' (The problem with eavesdropping is you miss the dirty parts. Suffice it to say, whatever #2 said, it was hilarious; they both cracked up.)
Boy #1: She’s gonna kill you.
Boy #2: Nah, I’ll sic my grandmother on her.
Boy #1: (now serious) Yeah. How many people she killed now?
Boy #2: They think six.
Boy #1: They caught her yet?
Boy #2: Nah.

WHAT?! No, really. WHAT?!

Oh, wow. A fourteen year-old boy, with no luck in love, and a grandmother on a multi-state killing spree. Will somebody PLEASE write me this book? No, forget it. This one, I want to write. Forget I said anything. Go back to your own writing. Nothing to see here…

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Room of One's Own

Um, have I mentioned that we just moved? Oh, I did? 100 times? Sorry. Well, one of the many great things about the new house is that I HAVE MY OWN WRITING SPACE.

I was at a Michigan writers schmooze at the fabulous Shutta Crum's house this weekend and we talked about the ways in which we tell our brains it's time to leave the real world behind and begin writing. I use music. I choose an album or make a playlist for my iPod that reminds me of the tone of my book and I listen to it every time I write. I am very trainable in Pavlovian ways, so soon, whenever I hear that music, I get into my "writing space," even if I'm in the library or the kitchen or wherever.

But to have one's own room, like Virginia Woolf, in which to close the door on the chaos and the chores and to be a Writer. Yum. Check out Woolf's space.* Can't you just see her sitting there, scratching out bits of Orlando and gazing out the window?

Now, I too have a physical writing space. I can just open the door and step inside and be filled with creativity, inspiration, and focus. Come with me a minute. Here we go, I am opening the door and stepping inside. And I see this:

Okay, it may need some work.

How do you get in the mood?

* The Guardian's series on writers' rooms is great procrastination/inspiration.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The House of the Seven Gables: the Jacqui's Room Notes

In which I offend Hawthorne fans everywhere.

The House of the Seven Gables, a ten word synopsis:

All the coffee in Brazil would still not be enough.

The jacket flap for my Penguin/Putnam edition of this book says:

"This is a tale of an evil house, cursed through the centuries by a man who was hanged for witchcraft, haunted by the ghosts of its sinful dead, racked by the fear of its frightened living."

Yeah, boyee! Sounds awesome, right? Also, according to the jacket flap, the bad guy, Jaffrey Pyncheon, is:

"a devil incarnate whose greedy quest for secret wealth is marked by murder and terrible vengeance from a restless grave."

Whoa! How can this not be the most exciting thing I've read yet?!

Yeah. Well. I am 100% positive the author of this jacket flap has never read this book. Most likely, she fell asleep despite having drunk a six-pack of Red Bull. Then she had haunting, fantastic dreams which she mistook for this book and described on the jacket flap.

In fact, the most interesting thing about this book is that the sort of main character's name is Hepzibah, which, in addition to being a cool name, is also the name of a character in another book I read for the 15 Classics in 15 Weeks challenge. Literary Trivia Champion points to the person who can name that other book in the comments.*

I grant you, I did not give Hawthorne the attention he deserves due to being unable to read more than two pages at a time before falling asleep distracted by the move. Please, someone prove me wrong in the comments. Why am I supposed to love this book?! Any Hawthorne fans out there? Anyone? Bueller?

I will try harder on my ten word synopsis. How about this?

Fascinating back story.
100 pages: nothing happens.
Insipid happy ending.

On to Faulkner's Light in August. What are you reading this week?

* No fair participating, Lizard, since you were the literary queen who originally pointed this out to me.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Jacqui's Weekend To Do List

1. Completely rewrite ending of novel*
2. Unpack everything I own
3. Finish last 200 pages of The House of Green the Seven Gables.
4. Invent and post creative, insightful, hilarious response to The House of Green the Seven Gables
5. Remove poison sumac from new back play yard
6. Babyproof new house**
7. Sell old house
8. Run three miles
9. Make homemade potato leek soup

I am not making this up. Sigh. Marvel at my realistic expectations for myself.

Going to peel potatoes. See you Monday.

* Yes, it's true. I talked to my agent this week. She insists the ending be "legally plausible." She is SO PICKY.
** Ha. Captain Destructo here. Me interrupt blog to say ha ha ha to that. As if. You try. Me can knock baby gates down now. Me can break cabinet locks. Me eat poison sumac. Mwa ha ha ha.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Magic of the Eighth Day of August

In which I reveal I am sort of a math geek and eventually get to something related to writing for kids.

I love numbers. I love numbers and I am actually quite good at math. There. I said it. This is not something cool to say amongst writers anywhere. But I confessed to some folks this week and it felt so good to be outed I want to shout it from the tree tops.

"I love numbers!"

Today is 8/8/8. Sweet. I can't remember what I did on 7/7/7, but I remember 9/9/99 was my birthday and that was also sweet. 9/9/81 was my tenth birthday and I was already so excited to be turning DOUBLE DIGITS and then my number-loving Grandma Myra pointed out that it was also, oh. my. god. SQUARE ROOT DAY.* Number bliss.

On 8/8/88 I went to a Crosby, Stills, Nash and maybe Young concert with my friends.** We talked about it for weeks, about how great the concert was going to be and how beautiful and life-changing and important, and given that this one concert might change the very core of who we were just by having been there, how cool it was that it was falling on 8/8/88, this day that had to have some extra magic in it by virtue of its 8-ness. So at 8pm on 8/8/88, we were standing on chairs and singing along at the top of our lungs and, yes, it was magic.

And this is where I get into writing for kids. It was a concert. Did it change my life, really? No. But I thought it might, and so it was important to me, so important that I remember it vividly 20 years later. From an adult perspective, life is long, this is one concert, the eights are just numbers, just a date. But to my teen self, the concert was life itself.

It is easy to remember the magic of early childhood, the caterpillars turning into butterflies that just might be fairies magic that my daughter Tinkerbell sees everywhere now. It is harder, I think, to remember the magic that stayed with us as teens. I mean the magic that filled every day, every interaction with IMPORTANCE, the magic that let us fall in mad, passionate, heart-wrenching love in a week, the magic that made it possible for one concert to seem like if I missed it, the rest of my life would have a hole in it. As writers for kids of any age, we must respect that magic and how real it is. And our books must be full of it too, even when it seems "unrealistic" to our sadly magic-lacking grown-up selves.

I am moving today, not very far away, but still, it's a change. And I have just enough of the sense of numbers magic still in me to be happy it's today, because maybe the numbers symmetry will lend us some magic in the change.

Happy 8/8/8 everyone.

*because 9 times 9 makes 81, in case you didn't catch it.
** This was obviously after my poser punk phase, when I was experimenting with hippie.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Attack of the Booger Clones

In which I am absolutely juvenile.

Welcome to this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM). If this is your first TNoftheAWSPWTBIM, see how it all started here.

From the AP:

South Korean Firm Delivers Commercial Dog Clone

Apparently, a South Korean company "says it is the world's first successful commercial canine cloning service." It's first delivery? A litter of five pit bull puppies cloned from a customer's two-years-dead dog.

The dog's name? Booger.

Does anyone else feel that a litter of five genetically-engineered pit bulls named "Booger" is a middle grade humorous action novel waiting to happen?

The article goes on to quote:

"'It's a miracle!' McKinney repeatedly shouted Tuesday when she saw the cloned Boogers at a Seoul National University laboratory."

Heh heh. Cloned boogers. Armies of identical mucus blobs.

Where is Dav Pilkey when you need him? Who will write me and the rest of the second grade this book?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Respect the Mighty Picture Book: some new favorites

I found three fabulous new picture books from author-illustrators I met in LA this weekend and I had to share...

1) Pssst! by the hilarious, very friendly author/illustrator of The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex

What you gotta love: talking zoo animals convince a kid to bring them what they need to create a zoomobile and bust out

The mood
: comic book-style layout, wry humor, lots of good jokes for grown-ups hidden in the illustrations

Recommended for
: kids who like funny, kids who like zoos; the details in the art make it accessible for anyone 4-9

Especially recommended for
: people who like to do animal imitations when they read out loud

2. Scribble, by Deborah Freedman, whom I met and thought was lovely and then was thrilled to discover also has a brilliant portfolio (it is always nice when people you like turn out to also be talented, eh?). I am much looking forward to more from her.

What you gotta love
: sibling rivalry played out by the kids' own drawings, Freedman combines her charming, representative illustration and realistic kid art, the text has a great younger sister voice

The mood
: quiet, funny, scribbly

Recommended for
: kids 3-7 who like art, or who hate their sisters

Especially recommended for
: kids who have had their artwork called "scribbles"

3. Little Night, by Yuyi Morales. I was disappointed I didn't get to meet Yuyi, but this book won a Golden Kite award and her acceptance speech was absolutely beautiful.

What you gotta love
: in a sweet, quiet folktale-esque story, Mother Sky tries to get Little Night to go to bed but Little Night just wants to play; bright and fantastic (in the sense of "full of fantasy") illustrations

The mood
: dreamy, playful

Recommended for
: little ones, bedtime

Especially recommended for
: me. Seriously, I am still catching up. Good night.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jacqui's Room Goes to SCBWI-LA: Reflections

In which I describe why an SCBWI conference is like sleepaway camp.

You arrive and you are full of anticipation and nervousness and you feel like you don’t know anybody. And maybe you meet someone and he/she seems cool, but you’re not sure, so you just keep to your schedule, going to archery and swimming, but it doesn’t feel like you thought it was going to, and the pottery wheel isn’t as fun as you thought it would be, and you sometimes aren’t sure you’re going to be able to find someone to talk to. And there seem to be popular kids but you’re not one of them, and when you are brave enough to go up and introduce yourself, they’re nice enough but it’s clear they’re not Your People, and after a bit you think maybe I should just go home.

But you keep going to tennis or whatever the schedule says with the one or two people you met and one of them knows someone and she comes along, and that happens again and again until you realize you’re having fun. And you look around and there are all these people you know. You can’t quite remember how you met everyone but you can’t think about it too long because the conversation is flying and dipping and, wow, these people understand you, they love what you love, and you don’t have to explain yourself to them and how can I have only known you however long it’s been because it’s like we’re the same person in so many ways?

And so now you go to the cook-outs and the mess hall and you’re there with them and you’re all “omigod!” and “you did?!” and “me too!” And, oh! The campfire stories are so good and you’re sharing things you never even tell your winter best friends and maybe you fall down and maybe you cry but nobody laughs when they pick you up and yeah, even if there are popular kids and you’re not one of them, you don’t care because you’re laughing so hard you might pee at things that will never be funny to anyone else. And you go to bed way too late at night full of snuck-in cupcakes and licorice and giggles and connectedness.

And then one day, the summer you were thinking might last forever ends and the voices of your family and your winter friends start creeping back into your heart, and you are excited to get back, but you look around and are also sad to be leaving this place, these friends that could never happen at home, and this smarter, funnier, cooler Summer You. And you want to say thank you thank you and I love you, but you’re worried maybe you’re the only one who thinks that, so you sign 2good2B4gotten in each other's autograph books and exchange addresses and make plans to meet at some unspecified time. And you wait as long as possible to get back on the plane, or the bus, and you’re already planning to come back and wondering how in your real life you can hold on to the laughter and the connectedness and that Summer You.

And when you get home all smiles and exhaustion, your winter family asks, “How was it?” and all you can do is shrug and say, “Fine,” because you don’t really want to share the memories, you want to carry them around in your pocket like a secret rock that you can pull out when the weather is cold and you don't feel like writing and you just need the giggle that comes from a brief reminder of that thing that nobody else will ever think is funny.

But an SCBWI conference is even better that sleepaway camp, because at the end of summer camp you have sunburn and mosquito bites and treasure boxes made of popsicle sticks and at the end of writing camp, you have books, new books to read and to anticipate, and new ideas inside your head begging to come out and be written.

And even if my YA novel is not UNlike a treasure box made of popsicle sticks at this point, it is DONE, people, ALL DONE, for the third time and now, to celebrate, I am going to sleep.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Good Soldier: the Jacqui's Room Notes

A haiku:

deluded husband
and promiscuous wife meet
not so good soldier

We seem to be on a "deluded/crazy narrator" theme this summer.* John Dowell is the strangest yet. His story is out of order, inconsistent, and full of moments of dramatic irony in which he claims to have been clueless and we readers marvel that he could have been. He makes extreme statements like "She's the only one I ever loved," and then makes them again later in the book about different people. Apparently, greater critics than I have raging debates about whether Ford Madox Ford intended Dowell to be comic or tragic. Without any background in Ford Madox Ford-ology, I'd have to stand in the comic camp. But not like ha-ha funny. More like George Costanza make-you-writhe amusing. Other opinions?

I do think the unreliable narrator point is an interesting one for us as writers. There is a fine balance between having an unreliable character narrate your story (which can be poignant or ironic or funny) and leaving readers feeling YOU are untrustworthy as an author. We want readers to feel like they are in good hands, to feel that they can sink into our books and relax knowing our endings will be satisfying, our plots will seem inevitable within the world we have created, and our characters will behave in ways that make sense for whom we have described them to be. And this takes work, and faithful reverance for our stories and our constructs, and our readers, even when they are 3.

Now, your "that's eerie!" moment of the day:

I planned 15 Classics in 15 Weeks based on what books would be good to read one after the other, so as to have Jane Eyre, for example, with which to relax after Moby Dick. I didn't pay any attention to the content of the books, or the dates I assigned them. Then Pale Fire fell almost exactly on the dates in July on which the book's story takes place. Strange enough. Now, here it is August 4th and I am due to tell you about The Good Soldier, a book that discusses over and over the strange influence the date August 4th has on its characters. Freaky.

On to The House of Green the Seven Gables. What are you reading this week?

* I know. The point could be made that all of Jacqui's Room has a deluded/crazy narrator theme...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Jacqui's Room Goes to LA: Day One

In which I present my personal highlights of the first day of the SCBWI-LA conference and let down anyone who was dying for a detailed synopsis.

Holy cow. There are ten million people here. I can't even see the podium. The parade of faculty members each saying one word took thirty minutes.

Oh, good. Here comes Bruce Coville. I love him. He's wonderful, as expected.

BRUCE: Here we are “1,000 people who decided to make their living telling lies to little children.”

Ha ha ha. This is brilliant. And --
Oh. my. God. What is that horrific clicking noise? The person behind me is typing this speech word for word. For real? Click click click. Oops. She saw my mean face. She whispers that she is live-blogging the whole conference. Just ignore her, Jacqui.

BRUCE: Why are you here? Well...

Click click click. Cannot focus. Now something on her computer is beeping. I hate her. Seriously. Bruce Coville’s speech is brilliant and funny and inspiring and deep and all I can hear is click click click. If that is what I'd have to do to blog this conference, then forget it.


I cannot wrap this up intelligently day by day. It is simply too big and too busy and there is no nap time on the schedule. And how late do you LA people stay up? What is it, a million o'clock? I will summarize and share next week, I promise.*

I leave you with the picture of me with Peepy.
Lisa Yee was so lovely about sharing him and even offered to take our picture, so much so that I felt strange for having asked. It is still hard for me to remember not to be awed by the live versions of authors whose books I adore.

Have a good weekend, all.

* Note: The promised summary will most likely be subjective, disorganized and incomplete. If you want decent notes from which you may actually learn something, find the blog of the Princess of Click Click.