Thursday, December 13, 2018

Five For Friday

Five Things Making Me Happy As We Enter the Weekend:

1. Made popovers the other day. So easy and so satisfying. The trick is not to open the oven. Then you get these puffy wonders!

2. Lucky enough to snag an arc of Angie Thomas's forthcoming One the Come Up. I don't even have any idea what it would be like to try to follow a debut like The Hate U Give. But a few pages into her new book and I'd say that she has succeeded. An important, authentic voice.

3. In chapter book category, I'm a huge fan of Adele Griffin's forthcoming The Becket List. A solid winner, this one.

4. Nathan Fillion's new cop show, The Rookie. It's not perfect but it's hooked me anyway because it's Nathan Fillion and great supporting cast and what else do I need on a Tuesday night?

5. Lacy M Johnson's The Reckoning. Emotional. Powerful. Gut-wrenching. I want every woman I know to read this one. It, too, is not a perfect book, but it gets the job done and will stay with you forever. One of my best reads of the year.

Wish me luck as I finally finally finish this novel I've been  working on. More on that soon.

Til next time.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Five For Friday: Dumplings, Bathroom Tile, STUMPKIN, SWEETY, And Other Stuff

What five things make me happy today?
(I could definitely go with five that don't make me happy but couldn't we all at this point?)

1. The soup dumplings at One Dragon in Houston's China Town. Yummy little water balloons of deliciousness. A mom and pop place for sure - I think there are like 8 tables and you wait outside if they're all filled which they often are.

2. The beautiful succulent plant in a cute little pot that I got at Trader Joe's. It prefers minor water and not much sunlight - perfect for a neglectful gardener like me.

3. The almost done bathroom remodeling that has filled this house with dust. I didn't used to be a person who got all gooey over new counter tops and shower heads and tile but I think I'm gonna throw a cocktail party in this room. Force our friends to get as excited as I am. Because this bathroom has been the original bathroom from whenever the house was built. And it was time.

4.  Two picture books that I've seen in F&G form that I am so excited about: Lucy Ruth Cummins' STUMPKIN, coming this fall, about a pumpkin who wants to be a jack o lantern except he lacks a sturdy stem, and next spring's SWEETY by Andrea Zuill, about a naked mole rat who just wants to be herself. (she wears fabulously homely outfits and has braces, complete with headgear and I am in love with her.)

5. The tiny ice cream cones (also from Trader Joe's). First because they are tasty. Second because the box lists not only the calories of one or three but the entire box, which while not my thing is certainly pleasantly aspirational for those just in case moments.

Til next time.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Five For Friday (Including some random thoughts on Captain Ahab)

Well, my goal to post more each month got blown out of the water in June now, didn't it? That's what three road trips and a bunch of work and trying to finish a manuscript and remodel the bathroom and slog through 95 degree plus days all month long will do to a girl.

So back at it and here you go with a quick Friday Five of things that are making me happy even if the world seems a giant trash fire most days.

1. Had a great time last month at ABA Children's Institute! Learned a bunch. Caught up with some of my favorite publishing folks. Met some new fabulous folk. Got to speak on a panel. Ate a bunch of yummy New Orleans food, much of it provided by publisher dinners. (As a mid-list author I am not always on the publisher 'family dinner' invite list. As the children's buyer at an indie, I am sitting at the table while the waiter asks me filet or fish and I am beyond thankful to get to rub elbows and drink a bit o' wine.) Bonded with the Brazos gang as we drove through a torrential downpour most of the way from Houston to NOLA.

2. The bathroom remodel folks were able to put up the new recessed lighting I have wanted for like 10 years. Nothing else in there is done, but the lighting is kick ass!

3. The homemade hot chocolate and mini churros at Xochi in Houston. Do I even have to elaborate?

4. The new season of YOUNGER. If you are not watching, you need to be watching.

5. The sweet earnestness of THE BOLD TYPE.

Also, I am slogging through Moby Dick, a chapter or two a night. It's our store summer book club read and although I am not in charge and don't have to read, I thought I would attempt. It is different than I remembered when I didn't finish it the first time. It is still long-winded to the extreme. I am still skimming long passages and am none the worse for doing so. But Ishmael and Queegqueg are quite the buddies and some of it is really funny (although possibly not intentionally so) and so onward I go.  No clue when I'll finally meet Ahab. At this pace I'd imagine he doesn't appear until around page 150, but I could be wrong about that. I'll let you know.

Til next time.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Five for Friday

And Friday has rolled around again. Mid-May already, too, although by our 95+ degree weather this week you'd think it was July.

Here's what's making me happy this week:

1. Krusteaz brand lemon square mix. Yes it's better if you make them from scratch. But seriously, this mix isn't bad. It's lemony and the crust is tasty and it comes out of the pan smoothly and honestly, that's about all I want in a dessert with a 2 buck price point.

2. The soup at Local Foods. Today I tried chicken posole and it's quite the cup of yummy goodness. Yes, I had soup for lunch on a 95+ degree day. Deal with it.

3. My Brazos colleague Ben because he can quote almost all the dialogue from Young Frankenstein. Possibly he can quote all of it; I haven't actually checked this scientifically. Also, I have to admit that I do judge people who never quote favorite lines from movies. How can you not have favorite lines? How can you not love using them when the moment is right?

4. This season of RHONY. If you watch, you know why we all love it. If you don't, well, I guess it's like that whole crazy Yanny or Laurel thing that's burning up the internet right now. (For the record, I hear Yammy -- which is close to Yanny but not exactly.)

5. The news that Nathan Fillion is coming back in a police drama called The Rookie. So what if it feels hugely derivative of a million things including Castle. It's Captain Mal, people! Wearing a police uniform. Having a mid life crisis. Giving earnest speeches. Being wryly funny. Occasionally showing the darker edge like he did as evil Caleb in Season 7 Buffy. Okay I think it was Season 7. Maybe it was 6. Either way, Nathan Fillion is returning to prime time. I'm in. Yup.

And that is 5 things that make Joy happy this week.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday Musings on Books, Customers, the Difference Between YA and Adult, and Other Stuff

 I love my job. I mean I seriously adore it. I get to play with books for part of my living and work with colleagues who are creative and clever and talk to customers who value independent bookstores and are willing to pay full retail to keep them going, keep them a center of literary life in the community. Customers who will call us first and consciously not press that seductive buy button on the A--- site because they want us to exist and thrive. So as my manager says, Bully for that. (Actually what he frequently says is, Bully for you, Joy when I announce something that I'm excited about.)

But still. People are...people, you know?
And sometimes they say stuff. Goofy stuff.
An example for your Monday morning pleasure:

At least three times a week I field a phone call that goes something like this:
Customer: "Hi! I am looking for an obscure book on Glockenspiels of Iowa from 1897 - 1895, a topic only I care about but hey, you're a bookstore."
Me: "Well, let me see what I can find."
Me: Does some spiffy quick research on our distributors sites and elsewhere and holy moly, it exists! Ingram has one in stock.
Me: "Great news! I've found one. It can be here in 4 business days."
Customer: "No thanks. I needed it this afternoon."

In other news, I am reading the WICKED KING arc, the sequel to Holly Black's fabulous CRUEL PRINCE. It is as absolutely wonderful as I want it to be. In fact, it's better!

Other books on my nightstand:

NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl. This one came out in 2013, but we're hosting Pessl for her new YA next month and I wanted to read some of her back list and holy cow this  one makes your heart pound!

MARLENE by Julie Buntin, which is about female friendship and a tragic event in the past that's defined everything that's come since then. It reminds me a bit of THE GIRLS by Emma Cline (which honestly was a depressing read for me) but I'm liking it so far although there are spots where I wish the writing was sparer. That said it is always interesting to read about teen characters told from an adult vantage point and always interesting to note how different that feels in terms of character development and narration than actual YA. You'd think it wouldn't be that different, but it is. Because the adult narrator knows how an event has shaped and formed and destroyed. The teen in the moment does not. Both have value in story telling. But you really can tell the difference.

On that same note, I'm interested to read the new Michael Ondaatje book WARLIGHT which looks back at two teen characters in 1945 in post war London and then moves them forward into adulthood, carrying their scars and secrets.

But for now I need to finish my own manuscript. And so it goes.
Happy Monday!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Tears, Tears, and Yup, More Tears: My Adoration for Call the Midwife

Truth? I didn't start watching it right away. But one friend and then another and then another (all writer friends, which was interesting) kept saying watch it. You need to watch it. And so I did. Made the husband watch it, too -- assuming it was not his thing but hey it was Sunday night at 7 PM and he had ended up loving Downton Abbey more than I did -- stuck around for the PBS after show with Eddie Manous--who I recently got to meet when he was in conversation with Sean Penn the other night for a store offsite even, but that is neither here nor there.

And here's what happened: I fell in love with this show. It shouldn't have worked for me. I am snarky and jaded and I can see a plot line coming a mile away and sometimes the characters are a bit too broadly drawn and the happy resolutions are a bit too happy and there are nuns! Lots of nuns. Although honestly I'm a sucker for stories with nuns and not just that movie/play (you know the one) where the hills are alive with the sound of music and the Nazis get outplayed and the Von Trapps walk to Switzerland in lederhosen and capes, singing.

And yet. I love this show. Its characters feel real. Its birth scenes definitely feel real.Which is a good time to mention that its about Nonnatus House -- a group of Anglican nuns who served for years in the East End of London as midwifes. (And yes, I love when they say, "Midwifery" pronouncing the i as a short vowel like in 'if'.) Sometimes I say the word aloud just for fun.

Seven seasons ago it began in the late-ish 1950s, with London just about a decade out of WWII and National Health Care just coming into play and if you've never seen it, although over the years some birthing hospitals came into play, most of these births were home births and the pre and post natal care (which was meticulous) often occurred though cheery home visits as well. Season 7 finale has crawled us up to November 1963. The Nonnatus nuns are augmented by a team of lay nurses who live in the house with them. And let's just say everyone has a story.

I won't do a character analysis for you today, but I feel one coming. I have loved them all -- even if occasionally Dr. Turner is a bit much for me because despite his backstory the man is just too damn nice. A few of the most lovable have been killed off in incredibly sad ways -- one this season and her funeral was last night in the Season 7 finale and it was immeasurably sad in a million ways that should have been treacly but worked. So many sad and happy/sad things last night and then because we'd eeked up to November 1963, in the middle of everything JFK was killed over in America and so the world felt like it was falling apart, as the world often does.

The show is about life and death and all the stuff in between and last night was about grief and how we navigate this new, terribly unfamiliar world after something awful has happened and we are strangers to ourselves. And damn you Fred Buckle (a character I shouldn't like but adore) who made me weep uncontrollably while he was helping (I'm trying to avoid spoilers) a grieving and recently widowed husband.

There was a birthday celebration for Sister Monica Joan at some point after that and Trixie made a surprise appearance and if only Miranda Hart had returned as Chummy I probably would have never needed to watch TV again because it would have been that perfect.

Yeah. You need to watch these 7 seasons. And the Christmas specials, one of which I still haven't seen because my local PBS showed it on New Year's Day and then it disappeared into the ether and not even Netflix has it and what is up with that?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Five For Friday

Things I'm Happy, Excited, or at least not cranky about today:

1. The SCBWI Austin conference, which starts today, where I'll be presenting my workshop: Advice from a Bookseller and doing critiques. I love doing both those things, love seeing author friends, love having a couple days in Austin, love learning from other speakers.  Also, possibly there is uninterrupted work time stashed in those days and I can come closer and closer to finishing this book.

2. A bit more on Laurie Colwin, whose writing I praised earlier this week. I treated myself to Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and it is such a grand read. It's so refreshingly matter of fact - just hey-- here's how I make fried chicken and why I think it's the perfect fried chicken. It's conversational and after a long day of a million things, I can sink into this plain, delightful prose and it's like a blanket of happy.

3. Getting up early to write. Okay I hate getting up early. But it is quiet and once the dog's needs are met, I get to cozy up to the laptop and get some work done and it's just me and the page and the words and we have a good time together, my words and me, before the news of the day (the crazy rants and tweets and mutterings of you know who and the awful things that people do and say) seeps into my brain.

4. The great day I had this past Tuesday taking Brendan Kiely and Jessie Chaffee on school visits and listening to them talk writing and feminism and toxic masculinity and how to get past the bad stuff and I'm telling you they had those kids held rapt when they talked about falling in love with each other's words.

5. My critique partners who almost never fail to ask questions that help make my work fuller and more layered.

Happy Friday my friends.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Three For Thursday: The Time Travel Version

Yes, yes, not the most imaginative title. But I need to get at least one more April post in and by the way, how in the world is it almost May? Can anyone answer that one for me?

And so--

1. Still enjoying Timeless. It is hokey and predictable and has plot holes big enough to drive through. I love it anyway. It is--obviously-- not perfect, but it is many of the things I've loved in storytelling my entire life: Time travel. Romance. A time machine! The typical time travel paradoxes and the ability to change the present by screwing with the past. Plot lines that allow the characters to interact with historical figures. (Hey! It's JFK in his Connecticut boarding school and they end up having to temporarily bring him back to the present and even warn him about Dallas... not that this changes things) I love the idea of time travel stories so much that the novel I'm working on actually began as a time travel story until my editor announced that she believed it was a contemporary novel hiding behind some time travel hoopla. Okay I don't think she used the word hoopla. But you get the idea. Maybe I should have fought harder for my love of time travel. Maybe I still will at some point. But not with this book. Anyway. Watch Timeless. Sunday nights.

2. Speaking of which -- did you ever see the 50s version of the HG Wells' The Time Machine? There is one scene where they are underground with the Morlocks and one of the Morlocks gets lit on fire (I have no memory of why and no interest in trying to find out) and as he's running and screaming his Morlock scream, if you look at his feet you can see that he's wearing sneakers, and clunky ones at that. This makes me love the movie even more. Like the one version of Julius Caesar (I think it's the one with Marlon Brando playing Marc Antony -- and if you haven't ever seen Marlon Brando delivering the Friends Romans Countrymen speech then get thee to YouTube right now) where one of the extras milling around in a crowd scene gets caught under another extra's toga and has to swat his way out of it while the cameras keep rolling. I love crap like that. I love that no one bothered to correct it.

3. And while we're on the subject of time travel, at least sort of, did anyone else desperately want to be able to tesseract after you first read Wrinkle in Time? (I totally did) Here I need to interject that if you only saw the movie, you also need to read the book.

PS -- My favorite time travel story? Well, one of them is an episode of the original Star Trek. It's called City on the Edge of Forever, and the story itself was written by one of the great sci fi writers, Harlan Ellison. It's the one where Dr. McCoy goes crazy after getting some kind of injection and leaps through a time portal (because of course he does) and Kirk and Spock have to leap too in order to find him because somehow once McCoy goes back history changes and the Enterprise disappears and if they don't change it back they'll be stuck on this planet forever. But they don't find McCoy right away; they're just having to live in some sort of 30s reality and Spock has to wear a hat over his ears all the time and Kirk falls in love with Joan Collins who's playing a woman who runs a mission for the down and out. And of course Spock discovers that there are two versions of history and they all seem to revolve around whether or not Joan Collins lives and somehow causes the wrong side to win WWII. And so Kirk -- unlucky in love as always- has to let Joan get hit by a car. It honestly doesn't get better than this, people. It really doesn't.

yeah. I love the heck out of time travel stories.
How about you?

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Quick Chat About Authors I Love

One of the things I love most about bookselling is the opportunity to have unexpected conversations with customers about books we love. And when it's the same books, even better, particularly when the books and authors are to some extent under-appreciated or at least not as widely known as I think they should be.

Discovered yesterday that one of my favorite customers loves three authors that I do: specifically, Laurie Colwin, Vivian Gornick, and Evan S. Connell. In fact, she pointed out this article in the NY Times from just the other day, praising Connell's quiet masterful writing in Mrs. Bridge, which came out in 1959 and which I first read about twenty years ago and fell in love with.

If you haven't read Gornick's Fierce Attachments, you need to. It is indeed fierce - about a mother and daughter and I love this book intensely, love the craft of it. She writes so well of life and women and feminism and family and more.

And then you need to devour everything by Colwin, whom I 'discovered' in the late 90s only to learn once I'd read through a couple of her novels and some short stories that she'd died years earlier at only 48 years old. She writes gorgeously -- not fussy, not pretentious-- just about family and life and also food -- not only the cooking of it but also the eating. Here's a grand NPR piece on Colwin that will give you a sense of her talent.

More on all this soon.
Til then, what authors do you love who not everyone talks about?

Friday, March 30, 2018

In Which I Chat Freedom and Writing and Representation,Desert Wandering and Other Less Serious Stuff

So much on my mind right now. SO MUCH. The world feels so fragile and angry and toxic and sometimes publishing feels that way, too although not today. Today I began with a great early morning conversation with my dear friend and amazing author, Crystal Allen and I solved a problem for her (maybe) and we railed at the world a bit (and laughed a lot) and then I melted chocolate over a rigged up double boiler and dipped strawberries in it and when they were firmed up, I put them in little silver muffin cups to bring to a friend's house. I emailed with the husband of another friend who is suddenly fighting cancer out of the blue (which is typically what happens and it sucks) and did a bunch of other stuff and in a minute I'm going to write which possibly I should have done first but that's how it goes today.

I am both happy and grumpy today in the way that one gets when there's too much to do and you're afraid of some of it because writing is alway scary and it is easy to second guess yourself. I'm thoughtful because it is Passover and so there is freedom to think about and what it means to no longer be enslaved, and I could talk about that but I'm going to just think about it instead. Feel free to talk about it yourself. Imagine that the Red Sea parted for you and you got to the other side and you were free and no longer had to build pyramids for Pharaoh but then there were 10 plagues and now you're outta Egypt but now what? You're about to wander through the desert for 40 years because the truth is you can't just go right to freedom. There has to be wandering and thinking and did you notice that I'm talking about this and not just thinking. Well yeah. There is a solid gold life metaphor in there. Feel free to dig it out of the sand.

Lots of talk lately in the kid lit - sphere about inclusion on panels. Making sure we're hearing as many voices as possible. Which means not just men or just women. Means noticing if there are no persons of color on a panel. And saying hey, I won't participate unless we change this. And so much more. Let's consider age in that, too. Take a look at the make up of the group picture of any recent book festival. Is almost everyone clearly under 40? (Hint. Yes.) There are many reasons for that, but most of those aren't particularly valid. (And yes I know you can't always tell someone's age. So go with the generality here.) And while you're pondering, let me know if those authors you think might be over 40 are men or women. Because typically they're dudes. Not always, but more than you might think.

And so....

In other matters, I started watching the Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country and it about blew my head off. How did I not know this whole cult in Oregon story? Gonna have to consume this one in small bites.

RHONY is almost back and I can hardly wait.

Watched an ep of something about amazing houses (I'm too lazy to google the title) and holy cow this house on a hill in CA with repurposed 747 wings as the roof?! But my brain kept uttering on repeat: Sure you can do this if you are very very rich. I just want to remodel my tiny master bathroom and get rid of the 20 year old carpet.

Seriously just the other day someone tweeted that old saying about how money doesn't make you happy and I was like bs! Money almost always solves my problems. When you're broke or when your health insurance now costs about the same a year than you make in your part time job, money would be fine and dandy.

Just got an ARC of a new Fiona Davis book and this time the building that drives the action is Grand Central Station. Do you know her books? Start with The Dollhouse. Go on from there.

Those chocolate covered strawberries I mentioned above look really lucious. How had I not realized this was a pretty easy task?

Til next time.
If you are celebrating Passover or Easter or nothing at all, please have a lovely weekend.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Five For Friday

Five things I'm obsessed about this week:

1. The sandwiches at Oui Banh Mi. $3.25 for a giant banh mi sandwich on a crusty French roll. I could eat one every day. Yesterday I had the tofu. But the other choices are equally delightful. And did I say it was $3.25?

2. Stacy McAnulty's forthcoming middle grade novel THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL -- about Lucy, who was hit by lightning, which left her brain damaged in this way that both gives her OCD behaviors AND makes her a math genius. She's 12 and after four years of homeschooling, her grandma/guardian decides that instead of college, Lucy first needs to learn to socialize in middle school.  Oh this book. It is delightful and funny and serious and moving and not overly sweet or sentimental. You will love it. Coming in May from Random House.

3. We are FINALLY starting the redo on our master bathroom.  It is going to be wild and crazy around here but once you start looking at new tubs and sinks and tile and paint and fixtures you get this sort of remodeling fever and suddenly it seems worth it to spend buckets of money while having to move all my stuff out of the bathroom and closet and probably the bedroom because if I'm going to demolish the bathroom I might as well rip up the carpet in put in new bedroom flooring, right?

4. I quoted from the Music Man the other day to a customer. Because he had said, "We got trouble," and I had said, "Right here in River City." And then he made a face and said, "Trite. So trite. And not amusing." Which fortunately made me laugh in a generous-spirited way. People. Oh people.

5. This week that thing happened where I'm tantalizingly close to finally finishing this manuscript so over course I thought of a new idea and spent some hours writing a first chapter and brainstorming the characters and shhh.... I think I'm gonna love this one, too. So now I know it's waiting for me when I'm ready to work on it!

BONUS: Last night's Watch What's Happening Live on Bravo when Andy Cohen (I LOVE YOU Andy Cohen) surprised Jennifer Lawrence with a mini dinner party with Countess LouAnn and Bethenny Frankel from RHONY! I am TELLING YOU. This was Bravo TV at its best. The look on Andy Cohen's face as he watched the delight on JLaw's face! The whole thing. If you are not a fan you need to be a fan. I am not kidding. Do it. Do it now. The world in general is a swirling trash heap some days and the state of the publishing industry has not been immune (a topic for another day very soon) but THIS SHOW will make you smile. (Okay maybe not every ep. But enough of them.)

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:

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.

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.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Three for Thursday

Can I keep it to three? Probably because it's almost seven AM and I'm excited to get the rest of a chapter written in the WIP before I get on with the rest of my day. This is how the magic happens lately--haul my tired self out of bed and get to it. In case you're keeping score, I'm in sleep pants and sweatshirt and for awhile I had a wool cap on my head because I took the dog out into the cold dark to do her dog thing and then I left the hat on because it was cozy. also fuzzy socks and Birkenstocks and well, it's quite a picture. But the words, they are getting written.

Anyway. Three for Thursday.

1. I'm liking Teddie (Teddy?) on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. If she can keep herself distanced from the crazy crap, then I will like her even more, but the odds on that are pretty slim since it's kind of how the whole thing works. But yeah, John Mellencamp's daughter, I'm digging you for now. In a related topic, I dragged a friend to see Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper in person a few weeks ago with their AC2 Live show and yes, it was wonderful and funny and fabulous--just two brilliant men dishing stories and making us laugh and I would go again if the chance arises.

2. And in another related story (because Lucy Ruth Cummins is a fab illustrator and story teller and one of the art directors at Simon and Schuster, and I met her when I was her ride from the airport at a Houston SCBWI conference and she met me at baggage carrying two Starbucks and while waiting for her luggage we somehow began talking about Bravo shows and a friendship was born!)--- Lucy Ruth Cummins and Carter Higgins have a new picture book out that YOU MUST BUY. It is called THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE and it is sweet and funny and clever and you will thank me when you get it. So get this book. Today.
3. And here is a bookseller/buyer tidbit for you: Do you know that I already have a growing list of the Halloween books coming out this year that I will probably buy for the store? (You can make these cool things called Collections on Edelweiss which is where the publishers have their catalogues and where we buyers put in our orders). It was sort of out of body to be listening to Christmas music last month and setting up future Halloween orders which meant that by the time those books were going on the shelf, my holiday book orders for 2018 would already be arriving and we'd already be talking about events for 2019.

And so it goes this morning.
Til next time.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Optimism, Risk, and Other Stuff for the New Year

It's Wednesday, January 3rd, just for point of reference. Despite the fact that 45 is trading (literally, word for word) 'whose nuclear button is bigger' tweets with a crazy dictator and thus making us all quake in our collective boots, I'm feeling optimistic, which proves, if nothing else, that optimism is definitely a frame of mind.

Spent part of New Year's Day with some friends I adore because they are, either by nature or by choice, unfailing optimists. Not unrealistic. Just 'pick yourself up and start over and how can I make this situation work and screw it if I can't, where am I going next' kind of thinking. Their lives haven't been easy, not a one of them. Some serious sh-- has gone done in their worlds. Lots of trauma and drama, as with most of us. But they are adventurous and risk takers and world travelers (both in real life and in mindset) and being around them makes me happy.

The MC in my current work in progress starts the story afraid of risk. Bad stuff has happened, and her life has been upended (which she partly believes might be her own fault) and she believes it's safer to keep her dreams small. But dreams and hopes have a way of muscling themselves out there. At least for this girl. And sometimes the universe has its own plans for you.

Okay, I got excited typing that.

The point is: Risk. Put yourself out there.

I was raised by two loving parents, but my dad was not a risk taker, not even one tiny, little bit. For him, that worked. He was never unhappy keeping to fixed parameters. It made him feel safe and I think because he grew up very, very poor, that was the best thing you could feel. The only reason he ever felt the need to travel outside of the Chicago metroplex was when my mother's twin sister got married and moved to Baltimore and even my father wasn't about to deny my mother summer family road trips to see her. But it stressed him mightily.

Risk. It's my word for year.
Not crazy 'whose button is bigger' risk.
Just the dream big, hell yeah I can write this story kind.

More tomorrow about some other books I'm really excited about!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Sometimes It Takes Longer

This book I'm finishing (again, for the fifth or sixth time, although not always in this particular incarnation) has been a struggle.

Various reasons for that: First it was because it was an extra project and I never seemed to have enough to time to fully flesh out where I wanted it to go. (It started as a time travel story which when you finally read it will seem impossible. But sometimes characters come to you and the basic story of them falling for each other just as everything else in the world is falling apart, and the rest is sort of window dressing. (Okay, I'm not even sure what that phrase means, but out it popped this morning and I mean for it to reflect the idea that the rest is just setting and plot points but the character arc is the idea I need first and foremost and that has never wavered.)

Another reason: At one point this novel became the potential option book for one of my editors but we could never agree on certain aspects and eventually I began to feel that I was writing a book by committee and said no. I'll do something else but not this. But the story and my reasons for telling it never diminished and so I knew I simply had to get it right, mine out the gold and rip away all the extra plot lines and rambling and confusion that came from trying too hard to please other people.

There are other reasons I could illuminate, all of them legitimate, but in the end I think it is safe to say that ultimately, I hit a wall that I hadn't hit before and I had to step back. I've talked about this before, most recently on Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, CYNSATIONS in a guest post about surviving and thriving long term in a writing career.  If you read the whole series (which I think is still ongoing), you will see some definite similarities in other authors' posts. The industry shifts. Your previous books aren't the financial success everyone hoped. You have time issues or family issues or you just have to stop and fill the well.

Stepping back is hard. The publishing world keeps rolling and the book deals keep getting announced, the festival invites invited, the movie deals confirmed, and there you are, on draft 6, trying to stay hopeful.

Publishing is about many things, but hype is a huge one. We authors love to tell you how busy we are, how many words we've written, how many events we're doing, how stressed we are about all those things, how much you are going to LOVE THIS NEW BOOK, how happy we are to have made this list or that list or whatever list. Mostly, we need to do this because it's part of how the business works.

One of my roles at the bookstore is now Children's Book Buyer and let me tell you, hype is real on that end, too. Editors and publicists send us a LOT O' STUFF (info, swag, notes, posters, bookmarks, more swag, some of it even candy!) about certain books.

So between author generated hype and publisher generated hype,  and the general crazy of social media, sitting at your laptop in the wee hours of the morning before work, plodding through draft six of a book (even if you LOVE IT) is sometimes a tricky thing. You feel invisible most days and then suddenly one day you're kind of okay with that because it feels like it felt before you were published. Just exciting and hopeful and totally passionately authentic.

More on all this tomorrow.

Til then!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Booking It

I have not blogged much over the past year and a half. It's not that I haven't had much to say, it's just that at first much of it was frustrated and sad and sometimes angry (as publishing and the world can cause) and then once I was back on track I had gotten out of the habit, was balancing a new job (more on that in a minute), had a bunch of life issues (some good, some not so good) and while I do blog regularly at YA OUTSIDE THE LINES, this blog, which I had curated so faithfully for almost a decade, fell to the wayside.

But. New Year. (Hello 2018!) New start.

Revamped Blog with a focus on publishing as always but through dual points of view: Author and Bookseller because since August of 2016, I've been the Children's Specialist at a wonderful indie bookstore here in Houston and it has taught me so much about the industry, helped me grow in a million ways, and informed what I write and how I write in ways I never expected. So I'll still be talking about writing and my own books and the writing classes I teach, and craft, and all the usual life stuff. Plus I get crazy wonderful access to ARCS -- so many ARCS! So we'll still be talking books a lot. Obviously.

Like right now I'm really excited for everyone to read Holly Black's CRUEL PRINCE, which drops this week. Oh how I've missed Holly's faerie worlds and this book will delight her loyal fans like me and those of you who have not read her before. Jude is a fully human child, as is her younger sister, but her mother had married a faerie and had a child (their older sister) and then escaped back to the human world. But her ex catches up with her and takes Jude and her sisters back to faerie. (Okay yeah, there's some shocking and well-told violence that happens first.) And now Jude is 16 and navigating a world that's not hers and the cruelty of handsome, cruel Prince Carden and his friends, and then it turns out that Jude (who is not truly at home anywhere by now) wants more. She wants power. And she's going to get it. Oh the political machinations! Oh the surprises! Oh this book!

We'll also be talking about what booksellers do and taking some peeks at things like what a buyer does and how it's totally amazing that we're in this reversal moment where indie bookstores are thriving while the big box bookstores are struggling to figure out what to do next. We'l probably have some chats about the Amazon factor. Because how can you leave out that elephant in the room? But let me repeat: Indie bookstores are thriving anyway.

I'll leave it at that for now.
I'm glad to be back.
Til next time!