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.