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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Six for Saturday

Here's some stuff I'm happily obsessed with this week:

1. They're opening a Shake Shack a block from the recently opened Hopdoddy. So yeah, Rice Village now looks too tidy -- like a fancy burger and giant Starbucks theme park. But think of the coffee milkshakes I can consume...

2. LOVE SUGAR MAGIC by Anna Meriano is delightful and sweet and a little edgy, too, in a gentler middle school way. Read it. You're welcome.

(and a topic for another day: My anecdotal observation while ordering books for the store is that there are a lot of VERY HEAVY and SAD middle grade novels coming out this season and into the fall. Wondering if this is a good thing. It might be a 'hey this book will be nominated for an award' thing. But that does not mean that I'll be pushing those books on every pleasure reader who walks in to browse.)

3. Rodeo is almost here. We don't go every year, but I think we'll head over this year. Mutton busting. Fried food, the weirder the better. (one year I had deep friend Kool Aid.) Giant corn dogs. Thousands of people in cowboy boots. Closer proximity to livestock than normal.

4. Kami Garcia's new YA-- BROKEN BEAUTIFUL HEARTS. It's a solid and wonderful romance with a very serious center about abusive relationships. And I'm honored to be taking her on school visits through the store.

5. Finally watched CREED. Michael B. Johnson, you are amazing. And Sly Stallone-- it's nice to see you take on the role of trainer. All told, a decent, solid movie.

6. Finishing this book I'm writing. Finally. I cannot wait to talk about it. Or to press send.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Five For Friday

In no particular order, five things I'm kinda obsessed about right now:

1. The Netflix reboot of ONE DAY AT A TIME. Just raced through Season 2 and if you haven't found this series, you absolutely need to rectify that RIGHT NOW! It's a Cuban-American family now, with an army vet single mom Lydia, a just-coming out in Season 1 gay and politically aware daughter Elena, a popular and self-centered but loving son and grandma living with them played by Rita Moreno.  Schneider's been re-imagned as not only the super of the building but its owner, the former addict son of wealthy Canadians. I'll let these articles from The Atlantic and The New York Times speak the rest: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/01/one-day-at-a-time-is-a-sitcom-that-is-also-a-civics-lesson/512867/

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/arts/television/one-day-at-a-time-netflix-review.html

Watch it. Let me know what you think. Personally, I'm in love with how well it makes me both laugh and nod my head and think.

2. Entertaining again. I've been slacking. Come over and we'll order Chinese or pizza has been about it. Last weekend I did a legit dinner party (just for 4 but hey, it's a start) and made Cioppino  - which is this San Francisco fisherman's stew with clams and mussels and fish and shrimp and scallops and more and I managed to make it taste great! Or at least good enough.

3. Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Okay not all the eps are as interesting to me. And I truly wish he'd included more women in the mix. But I'm glad Netflix has all of it up and so far Trevor Noah talking about apartheid and Sarah Jessica Parker in the station wagon with the wood siding have been my favorites. 15 minutes per episode, so you can watch it while making dinner. (or maybe that's just me) And some fascinating tidbits of conversation, some really deep, snuck in there in between the coffee and the driving and the munching on breakfast items.

4. My excitement that I will be presenting a workshop called  Advice from a Bookseller at the Austin SCBWI conference this spring. Like I'm really really excited!

5. The food at LOCAL FOODS in Rice Village here in Houston. It is pricey but delicious and on the rare occasions I actually take myself out to lunch, it is nice to just sit in a corner and eat yummy food and watch people come and go. Which leads me to my on-going life observation about how many people refuse to eat out alone or go to the movies alone. You are missing out, I say. Okay, it's fun to chat with friends over lunch or to a movie with someone. But if they're not available, I say eat the damn lunch and watch the damn movie. You are capable. Trust me. You are welcome.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Thing About February

Hello little month. I'll tell you a secret. I'm not a fan. You are a short month. A busy month. You've got the emotional tease of Valentine's Day and the weirdness of Ground Hog Day and honestly, February, you suck. Does anyone even say your name correctly? Feb-Ru-Ary.  You're the Wed-Nes-Day of months, Feb.

My reaction to February is always: "Where the hell did January go?"
Sometimes I follow that thought up with one about the wacky break up I had with a boyfriend in college, the day after Valentine's Day. 

He'd sent me a huge Valentine's card. (we were at different colleges, having dragged this whole thing on from what should definitely been a rebound boyfriend/summer romance only but somehow kept going). But he'd been acting weird and I should have known-- in fact, should have noticed that I wasn't into this whole thing anymore either-- but it was February. And my university was on the quarter system which meant we were in the thick of Winter Quarter, like six weeks (maybe it was eight?) of doing 5 classes and the equivalent of a semester's of work all while it was below zero outside and your breath froze to your scarf walking to class. So seriously. It was enough to do, trudging through the snow.

Anyway. February 15, he called and we broke up and in that way of things you don't do first even though you should have, I was still surprised.

Right now as I type this, the power company is lining up the same six trucks they've had out here all week, changing out underground power cables which somehow involves both digging on the side of our house with something called a DitchWitch and also shooting giant spools of cable underneath my yard, occasionally causing giant mud puddles (which look like melted clay mixed with dog poop and glue) to bloom on my lawn.  Yesterday's Super Blood Blue Moon was a slight distraction. The accountant says I need to get the tax worksheets done soon.

And this novel I keep trying to finish is not always being cooperative.

But!
I'm reading the ARC of a lovely love story, FROM TWINKLE WITH LOVE, the sophomore YA from Sanhya Menon, who wrote WHEN DIMPLE AND RISHI  and it's sweet and fun and I fully anticipate a happy ending. Put it on your TBR list. Quick. Before Feb Ru Ary races by.



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

It's Gotta Have a Plot

So here's something: When I'm pitching a more literary adult title to a customer, I can actually say, "It's more slice of life than plot driven." And then go on to describe that particular slice of life and the gorgeous, lyrical writing and how it's a metaphor for women's sexuality or the deep political divide in America or men's unwillingness to do... whatever.

There are, in case you didn't know, many, many luscious and lovely novels and novellas that fit this basic type, stylistically gorgeous with mind-blowing prose and images that will keep your mind whirring.

So here's something else: Almost never can I sell a children's or YA book that way. Probably most of us who write them couldn't sell one of our own to our editor that way, either. I cannot in all good honesty imagine sitting down with my agent and saying, "Well, it doesn't really have a plot. There are not upped stakes to speak of, and the character arc is subtle--in fact, the whole point is who she's trapped in this awful stasis because society. And sexism. And you know. Also, I'll be reflecting that stasis tonally, too, so don't expect a happy ending or even much hope. The world is a grim place. In fact it's always been a grim place."

This is not to say one of these things is better or more worthy than the other. Or that there are not some amazing literary YA novels. There are. In fact my own personal sweet spot is that cool cusp between literary and commercial. (Or so I tell myself these days!)

It is just to say that in YA, for example, you gotta have a plot. And ever-rising stakes. And a character arc that is clear from page one. In fact by the end of the first couple pages, dare I say the first page, you better have a clear idea of where all this is going and why, even if you will be surprised by the twists and turns along the way, even if the story takes a different direction. (Great stories obviously do that. And characters, as we all know, never want what they really need.) You have to know what you're reading. You have to have something grounding you.

Can you tell I'm getting ready to teach a YA novel writing workshop soon?
Your thoughts on all this are welcome.

Til next time.



Monday, January 22, 2018

Some Monday Morning Thoughts on Life and Fame, inspired from THE SERPENT KING

This morning I'm thinking about some lines from Jeff Zentner's THE SERPENT KING, which is a fine and wonderful YA read that made me cry numerous times--the good emotional kind of cry, and most of those times well before the actual truly tragic event that made me cry even more. So the book was doing its job for me and I've told Jeff this and he was glad to hear it, as authors are when they've ripped your hearts out.

At one point Lydia's father is giving her a fairly long and needed talk about life, their small town, her own ambitions and those of her two friends Travis and Dill, whose circumstances are much more dire than her own. She's griping that it seems that both boys are going to stay put in this small town, that their desires and ambitions will never be met and because things come a bit easier for Lydia simply from the luck of her family situation, her father tells her, "People live quiet lives and that's okay. There's dignity in that, no matter what you may think."

Well, I've been thinking about that. It's good advice for Lydia in the moment. He's telling her hey listen-- not everyone gets to do huge amazing public things. Respect that. Don't mock it. Don't assume someone is less if their goals or surface lives aren't as large-seeming as your own.

But another part of me says be careful with platitudes such as these. Because while it is true, it is also true that there are people for whom quieter lives don't work. People who might be better off with doing grander-scoped things, things that will take them out of the quiet, out of the small, into the larger world. For them, Dr. Blankenship's word are true and yet not true. Some people need bigger dreams, I think. And that is also okay. As I used to tell our son when he was little, "We don't have to all be the same."

Lydia will pay her own price for being famous someday. Her dad tells her that, too. "Look, do you think there's anywhere...where someone as smart and talented as you can waltz in and do your thing and nobody will try to tear you down because they feel inferior to you?...You're destined for great things, Lydia. That comes with a price. Everybody wants to be close to greatness and get a piece for themselves."

I've been thinking about those words this morning, too.

Your thoughts on quiet lives and the price of wanting more are welcome in the comments.



Monday, January 8, 2018

What I'm Reading

One of the grand things about working at an indie bookstore is access to books. ARCs and damaged copies and the ability to skim books when I have spare moments and the ability to basically check them out and bring them back--it's a fabulous benefit for my hourly pay job. Plus I'm the buyer for all children's books from board books to YA, so I get to see the catalogues far in advance for upcoming seasons.

Thus I'll be talking a lot in this space about books I'm looking forward to and of course ones I'm reading-- which is always more than one book at a time because who can read just one book at a time?

Here's some of what I'm up to:

On my nightstand:

David Arnold's forthcoming THE STRANGE FASCINATIONS OF NOAH HYPNOTIK, which is as wonderfully quirky and brilliantly written and I'll have more to say when I'm done. For now let me say that I was hooked by the end of page one.
Likewise I'm in love with a book that's been out for a while but I had not read: Jeff Zentner's THE SERPENT KING. I was already a fan of his Goodbye Days, but somehow had missed his debut. Now I'm in the middle and I am in love with Dill and Travis and Lydia and their story and if you haven't read this Nashville-set YA, then like me, you need to get to it. It is a story about life and friendship and family and religion and the crappy hands we are sometimes dealt and the people who sustain us even in the darkest moments.
Also reading the ARC of Julie Murphy's forthcoming PUDDIN', which is a companion to DUMPLIN' (which just got a shout out on the Golden Globes as I was typing this blog post to set it up for tomorrow!) This one is Millie's story, among other things, and dare I say it? I think it is even better than DUMPLIN' which I loved. I've only skimmed so far, so stay tuned.
And finally, I'm re-reading Dusti Bowling's sweet, funny, moving middle grade debut INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS, which is our store middle grade book club title for January. It's the story of Aven Green, born with no arms and one of the funniest, wittiest, most winning narrators ever, as her family moves to Arizona to run a dilapidated Western theme park and Aven adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a mystery that turns out to have very personal connections.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Unicorn Socks, Mussels, and Teen Book Fest by the Bay

In no particular order, 5 things that make me happy right now,

1. Made mussels for the first time the other night. This was notable for a variety of reasons including that those little guys are ALIVE when you buy them. If a mussel is slightly open when you rinse them off,  the fishmonger told me, just give it a hard tap on the shell. If it's still alive, it will close up... so you can safely KILL IT by cooking it. So there were the hubs and I, standing at the kitchen sink, tapping 2 pounds of mussels. They tasted delicious, actually, although anything cooked with garlic and onion and tomatoes and wine tends to taste pretty yummy. Gonna expand the whole venture with a fish stew/cioppino (how the heck do you spell that? I'm not sure and I'm too lazy this morning to check, but it's delicious) kind of thing. Add crusty bread to dip up the sauce. Invite a bunch of people I love. Yup.

2. Have you watched Great British Baking Show? I am obsessed with it. It's calm Brits. Baking things they seem highly familiar with. Things I have NEVER HEARD OF. And the ovens are near the floor, so there is a lot of oven crouching and gentle nervousness and seriously, this show is the best, mostly calming thing to watch.

3. Getting excited to head back to Corpus Christi next month for Teen Book Fest by the Bay. Honored to be asked, thrilled to be on a panel and spend the weekend talking books and hanging with authors and readers. Last year was a great time, too, but I was still recovering from surgery from a thyroid cancer relapse and while the surgery was thankfully successful in removing some rogue lymph nodes that were trying to grow again, it had bothered my vocal chords (there's a more technical term for it, but let's stay with 'bothered' for right now) and my voice hoarse on and off still and two days of school visits pretty much left me sounding like I had laryngitis. (which basically I did.) This ended up being an on/off thing for months and months, making it hard for me to talk in noisy rooms,  but is thankfully gone now and my projection and pitch are my own again for which I am very glad. Anyway. Corpus here I come! And very excited to hopefully see all wonderful librarians and students I visited with last year in Rockport, which suffered huge destruction during Hurricane Harvey ( the same storm that gave Houston our 51 plus inches of rain) including a total loss of the beautiful high school that was so welcoming to me last year. So I am looking forward to hugging a lot of folks.

4. Did you ever notice that you don't mind when the dog snores but when people do it's another story?    And let me say that there is no situation where the basset/boxer's snoring doesn't make me laugh and smile. She's doing it right now. Because early morning walk and eating and doing her dog thing takes it out of a girl.

5. Number five today is fuzzy socks. Tacky fuzzy socks like the ones I got at Old Navy for everyone this holiday season-- with unicorns on them or llamas (there were other choices but how can you turn down unicorn socks? You can't.

Happy Friday.
Til next time.