Curse you, Doctor Who!

More on the title of this entry in a moment.  First things first.

I had one more entry I’d planned to write on my trip to NYC.  But that series of posts has already gone on longer than I’d planned, and anyway, the final day was mostly comprised of waiting in lines and passing through multiple security checkpoints to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (with an evacuation of the Statue due to the smell of burning rubber thrown in).  Rather than go into that whole ordeal, I figured I would just post a few cool pictures we took and move on.

Statue of Liberty Face

A life-sized replica of the Statue of Liberty’s face.  Note: in this photo I am either contemplating the meaning of Freedom and what it means to be an American, or I’m staring at that spot on the ceiling.  Can’t remember which.

The Statue of Liberty

She truly is impressive.  Another note: prior to visiting the Statue of Liberty, I had no idea she was green.  I am color blind, as you may recall from my stint as the Green Spy.  I’ve always thought that Lady Liberty was kind of an off-white marble color.  Mind you, knowing she’s green doesn’t mean I can see it, but it’s nice to feel in the loop.  (Other things that are green, which I only learned about in the last few years: pistachios.)

The Registry Room

Ellis Island.  I wish we would have had more time there.  It is a place steeped in significance, and I’m not sure whether that feeling came from the meaning I imposed on it, or whether it came from something external to me, a residual imprint left behind by those whose lives were changed by their passage through its halls.  Either way, it was a memorable experience.

Ellis Island

From the balcony I saw this child walking alone in the light across the Registry Room and had to take a picture.

And that’s it for NYC, I think.


And now, Doctor Who (with a warning that this will be pretty geeky).  Oh, where to start…

The Doctor (Tom Baker)I used to watch Doctor Who as a kid, the Tom Baker incarnation, with his trademark too-long scarf and unnatural affinity for Jelly Babies candy.  I loved that show, I think because it was so random, and weird and so different from most American TV programs.  I mean, what other show would take a slow-moving tank of a robot shaped like a salt-shaker, with a toilet plunger for a hand, and turn it into the most menacing being in the universe?  And yet, that’s exactly what they did with the perennial Daleks.

DalekAnd they totally pulled it off.  I bought it completely, mostly because the characters were so engaging.  I loved the Doctor.  The Tom Baker Doctor.  And that’s the problem with the show, and why I’m so frustrated and puzzled by it.  You see, when the Doctor dies, he regenerates with a brand-new body, to be played by a new actor.  Since the show holds the record for the longest running science fiction show in the world (and here is where I thank Wikipedia, to simultaneously cite a source and give myself an out if it’s wrong, because hey, it’s Wikipedia) there have been, at present counting, eleven Doctors.  And I can’t figure out how the show has lasted so long.  Not because it isn’t good, but because as a kid, after Tom Baker’s Doctor regenerated into a new actor, I lost all interest.  Who was this new guy calling himself the Doctor?  Where was his scarf?  Where were his Jelly Babies?  He was all wrong.

The Doctor and RoseThe show went off the air in ’89, and was then brought back in ’05, refreshed and rebooted (while remaining charmingly and bravely true to the original).  I still had little interest, but a couple of weeks ago I decided to watch an episode out of mild curiosity.  And then I watched another.  And another.  And I got hooked again.  And then they went and killed off that Doctor just as I was getting invested in him and replaced him with yet another Doctor.  Then I started the whole process again, trying to get reinvested in a character that keeps changing on me.  And did I mention the Doctor’s traveling companions?  They get swapped out every season or two.

And this is, essentially what’s bothering me, as a storyteller, and why I curse the show while still loving it.  How on earth do you have a series as successful and long-lived as Doctor Who when you regularly and systematically purge the cast of characters?  It defies what I know about storytelling, about how you sustain a reader/viewer/listener’s interest – you get them to care about your characters – and leaves me feeling that I’m missing something.  The popularity of the show is undeniable, so they’re doing something right.  I just don’t know what it is.  But I want to figure it out, because in spite of the frustration, and the effort it takes to follow a show that has seen three different doctors in the last five seasons, I’m still watching it.

What about you guys?  Do you watch Doctor Who?  And if so, how do you think they pull it off?

May I recommend…

The Boneshaker by Kate MilfordThe Boneshaker, by Kate Milford.  Kate is a friend of mine.  We met a few years ago on the SCBWI discussion boards in a post that involved steampunk.  Since then, we’ve exchanged critiques on a few manuscripts and so I’ve enjoyed her work for a while.  We met in person on my recent trip to NYC, and had a very nice time.  Kate is a person blessed, or perhaps lucky, or perhaps cursed to have both a fertile imagination, and the apparently boundless energy to express it.  (I sometimes wonder if she made her own deal at the crossroads – read The Boneshaker, you’ll see what I mean.)  In addition to all the normal social networking things, she runs her own website at the Clockwork Foundry, and also the tourism site for a city that may or may not exist.

I had planned to write my own review of The Boneshaker, but Elizabeth Bird has done a better job than I could at her Fuse #8 blog.  I encourage you to go read it.  Then, obtain a copy of The Boneshaker.

Coming Soon!

NYC – Part 4

Part 1, here.  Part 2, here.  Part 3, here.

So, after a long day of filming and a good night’s sleep, the next morning we rode the subway down to a recording studio.  There I met Mary Gruetzke, the audiobook editor for The Clockwork Three, and Cheryl Smith, the audiobook producer.  Both women were very nice and welcoming.

I was there at the recording studio because several weeks ago, Mary suggested the idea of adding some “bonus” material at the end of The Clockwork Three audiobook, kind of like the extras on a DVD.  She and Lisa and I bounced a couple of ideas around, and eventually settled on something that I think will be really cool (but as with most things related to the book right now, it’s too early to talk about in detail).  And since I was in New York City, they wanted me to record a brief introduction to go with the bonus material.

Being in a sound-booth was another first for me, and I was so struck by that little pocket of silence nestled right there in the heart of NYC, one of the noisiest places I’ve ever been.  I sat down at a microphone, put on a pair of headphones, and read the introduction I’d written.  But unlike my experience the previous day, I didn’t feel awkward with the reading at all.  It went smoothly, and I think I read through it three times.  Each time, Cheryl gave me a little direction – “Put more emphasis on this word.” “Read this section more slowly.” – and then we were all done.

Mary and me in front of the Scholastic building

Mary and me in front of the Scholastic building

After that, Mary got us a cab, but we had a few minutes before we had to be at the Scholastic offices, so she took us to see Union Square.  They have a really nice farmer’s market running there a few days a week, which we walked through and enjoyed.  If it had been lunch time, I could have easily made a fabulous meal of artisan cheeses and meats, with some crusty bread.  But as it was, we just looked and then got in another cab.

The Scholastic Building is in SoHo, and even from the outside it has a very different vibe than the publishers with their offices up in Midtown.  Mary showed us in, we got our visitor badges, and went up to my editor’s office.  It was cool to see where Lisa works.  Her office was as filled with books as I expected it to be, and to be honest, I was a bit envious.  I don’t currently have the shelving to load my office up with all the books I own.

Lisa and me

Lisa and me

I was supposed to give a reading at an office reception that afternoon, so Lisa and I talked about what I should read and settled on the passage where Giuseppe plays the green violin for the first time.  After that we started a series of meetings.  I met my publicist, Samantha Grefé, and we went downstairs to film a “5 Questions” feature that will appear on the Scholastic On Our Minds blog in a few months.

Lisa and Samantha took us out for lunch, and my agent, Stephen Fraser met us at the restaurant.  Steve, ever the gentleman, brought flowers for the women.  Now, I don’t intend for this blog to become a food blog, but as much as I love food, I think it’s inevitable that I’ll mention it now and again.  So let me just say that we had another delicious meal.

Scholastic Credo CarpetAfterward we went back to the offices and sat down with the Sales and Marketing teams.  Everyone was so amazing and enthusiastic about The Clockwork Three.  But more than that, I could tell that every single person I met was passionate about children’s literature in general, and I once again felt lucky to at least be a peripheral member of the Scholastic family.  Oh, and something else I thought was pretty cool: they have the company credo printed on their carpet.

We then went to the office reception.  There were lots of people there, some of whom had already read The Clockwork Three.  I started out by talking a bit about the inspiration for the book, and then I gave the reading.  I think it went pretty well, although I did read a little too quickly.  I need to just get in the habit of slowing down when I do these kinds of things.  After the reading, I signed a few ARCs for people that had them.  And then Scholastic’s CEO Dick Robinson walked in.  I was pretty excited to meet him, and to tell him how much I appreciated the speech he gave in Bologna.  He had me sign an ARC for his son, which I was very happy to do!

We finished up the day with a quick meeting with the foreign rights team, who have been working very hard and done a tremendous job of handling the foreign licensing of The Clockwork Three.  I’ll let you know more when I can, so stay tuned for announcements on that front.

How do dinosaurs...After that meeting, Lisa and I chatted some more (I noticed a Cylon perched on one of her bookshelves, and found out we’re both Battlestar Galactica fans) and then I went down to the Scholastic bookstore on the building’s ground level.  I understand it’s a favorite destination for neighborhood parents and their kids.  It would be one of mine, too, if I lived in NYC.

All in all, it was one of the best days of my life.  Really.  I felt so welcomed, and everyone was so friendly and complimentary.  It was honestly a little overwhelming, but in such a wonderful way.  I feel very lucky, very grateful, and I owe a special thank you to Lisa for putting it all together.

No. 45 Crosby StreetOne block over from the Scholastic building lies Crosby Street.  That name might be familiar to those of you who have read The Clockwork Three.  I’ve already mentioned that one of the characters in the book, Giuseppe, was inspired by a 19th century boy from NYC named Joseph.  He lived, or rather, was imprisoned at No. 45 Crosby Street.  So after I left the Scholastic offices I had to go see the address myself.

The experience was very moving.  As you can see in the picture, the building has changed from what it was in the 1870’s when Joseph lived there, but the street has not.  Those are likely the same cobblestones that Joseph walked across every night on his way back to his master.  I’m glad I got to see it.

We met a writer friend of mine, Kate Milford, for pizza at a place called Lombardi’s.  Kate’s debut novel, The Boneshaker, will be released this month, and it’s getting tremendous reviews.  I’ve read it, and it’s wonderful, and I will put up a more lengthy post about it soon.  After dinner, we had planned to go see the Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, but when we got there we were very disappointed to learn that tickets for the evening were sold out.  We decided to still try to see some of the museum (even though it was closing soon) but ended up spending more time checking and claiming our bags than we did looking at actual art.  Plus, they made me carry my laptop around.  Not the bag.  Just the laptop, which for some reason could not stay in the bag when I checked it.

After leaving the museum, we were lured into a restaurant claiming to have “the best cheesecake in the world.”  It did not.  But it was in New York, so I suppose that made it New York Cheesecake, and it was nice to spend some more time talking with Kate.  Afterward we said goodnight, Kate got on the subway, and we went back to our hotel.

I called Lisa because earlier in the day she had invited us over to hers and Liel’s apartment.  I called assuming it would probably be too late, but they said no, come on over.  So we did, and had another lovely time with them, talking and laughing into the early morning hours.  I feel very fortunate that not only do I have in Lisa a trusted and talented editor, but also a great friend.

Up next, last day, last NYC post.

NYC – Part 3

For part 1, click here, and for part 2, click here.

After putting in a day-and-a-half of sightseeing, it was time to get down to the business that brought me to NYC in the first place.  So Thursday morning the Scholastic Book Fairs film crew came to pick us up at our hotel.  The members of the crew were great.  We had Larry (director), Jeff (the camera man), Glenn (the sound man), and Lara (who did a little bit of everything).  We all sat down and had breakfast together, and then set off into the city.

The Book Fairs brought me to NYC to film me for some promotional material related to The Clockwork Three.  As we get closer to the book’s release date, and when people might be able to watch the promotional video, I’ll tell you more about it.  (That still feels like a long way off.)  But briefly, the idea was for the Fairs to film me talking a bit about my book and its characters. 

The Clockwork Three takes place in an unnamed fictional city that’s not quite New York, not quite Boston, but inspired  a little by both.  So Larry had scouted out some locations around NYC that evoked certain settings and moods from my novel.  The city in The Clockwork Three has a park, an important place in the story for a number of reasons I don’t want to spoil.  So naturally, Central Park seemed like an ideal place to film some of the shots.

Filming at The Dairy in Central Park

Left to right: Larry, Glenn, Jeff, Me, and Lara

First, we filmed in front of The Dairy.  Giuseppe, one of the characters in the The Clockwork Three, was inspired by a real 19th century boy who once found food and shelter there (and who I’ll probably write about in more detail in a future post).  This was, incidentally, my first time in front of a camera.  I felt very… awkward.  It wasn’t that I was nervous.  And I did pretty well remembering the lines they gave me.  But I just couldn’t seem to make those lines sound natural.  I wish I could have been more excited and animated, like LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow, but instead I sounded like Dan Rather reporting the nightly news.  Nothing against Dan Rather, but I don’t think most kids find him very compelling.  I think I might have done better if I were in conversation or interview with someone else, talking with a person instead of a dead-eyed camera.

The Delacorte Music Clock in Central ParkBut I muddled through the first shot, and we moved on to the next location, the Delacorte Music Clock near the Children’s Zoo.  At this point, I started loosening up.  Just a bit.  The director and crew had timed the filming so the clock chimed while we were there.  The animals started moving around the clock in a circle, and the bells played a slightly creepy song that sounded a bit more like a Tim Burton soundtrack than a nursery rhyme.

Camera Man Jeff and me

Camera Man Jeff and me

I should mention here that during all this time, Jeff was sick from food poisoning.  Like, really sick.  But he was a trooper and a professional, and he kept working to get the job done.  He wouldn’t even let me help him haul his gear around because he didn’t want me to get sweaty for the filming.  So hats off to Jeff, who continued to film whilst vomiting.

It didn’t help that it was a pretty warm day, unexpectedly warm considering the season.  But in spite of the heat, I enjoyed walking through Central Park.  The foresight and commitment it took to set aside such a large piece of land in the middle of the city still amazes me.  I mean, that’s some extremely valuable real estate, but the planners knew how important it was and would be to have a green space, first amidst the rising brick and mortar, later the towering glass and steel.  An open, public place of refuge and natural beauty.  I could have spent more time there, if I’d had it to spend.

Lara in front of the Dakota

Lara in front of the Dakota

After stopping at a few more locations around the park, we ended up in front of The Dakota, another NYC landmark, chosen for its similarities to a grand hotel described in The Clockwork Three.  I have to admit I hadn’t heard of it before, and didn’t know how famous it was.  Nor that it was the location of the murder of John Lennon.  But we did stop for a moment at his memorial.

We took a break at that point to have lunch.  Jeff was really not doing well, so after we finished eating he went back to his hotel, and the crew shifted responsibilities around.  Glenn took over filming, and Lara took over sound.  We hopped on the subway (which was a bit tricky with all the equipment, but we managed) and rode down to the Lower East Side.

97 Orchard Street - Tenement Museum

97 Orchard Street - Tenement Museum

Some of The Clockwork Three takes place in the city’s tenements.  So Larry found some old tenement buildings in NYC that have been there since the early part of the 20th century.  The NYC  Tenement Museum, a restored building constructed in 1863, was very near the spot where we were filming.  Over the years it was home to over 7000 immigrants, and today offers a glimpse into the lives of those who came to this country hoping for a new and better life.  I wish we could have filmed inside the museum, but we weren’t able to make the arrangements.

By this time we had been moving and filming for about eight hours, and everyone was exhausted.  It was also that time of day when shop owners were closing up their storefronts.  And those metal gates they pull down and lock up are loud.  We went through a lot of takes there, waiting for a moment of relative silence.  But in the end, I think we got everything they’ll need for the video.

The CrewWe all shook hands and parted ways.  It was a long day, but I had a great time.  What might have been a difficult experience was made enjoyable by the people I got to meet and work with.  Thanks again to Larry, Glenn, Jeff and Lara.  (And I meant it, Jeff.  The next time you’re on a ski trip to Utah, give me a ring and we’ll hit the slopes).

For dinner that night we rode the subway up to the Gray’s Papaya at 2090 Broadway.  I’ve heard about the place from people, seen it in movies like Fools Rush In and You’ve Got Mail, and watched Anthony Bourdain extol the wonders of its hot-dogs.  So naturally I had to try them for myself.  I have to say, they were good, but my favorite part of the restaurant was actually the fruity drinks.  Papaya, Piña Colada, orange, coconut, and more.  I ordered a couple of those on top of the drink that came with my “recession special.”

We rode the subway back to our hotel, and after a day like that I slept like a rock.

Next up, my day at the Scholastic offices.

NYC – Part 2 of… maybe 4?

For part 1, click here.

On the first day of sightseeing, we decided to ride the ferry out to Liberty Island and Ellis Island.  As a history buff, I was most excited about Ellis Island.  The problem was, there were a lot of other people who had the same idea.  The line to get tickets was long, but after buying tickets the wait to just get on a boat was still another two hours.  To top it off, NYC was experiencing unseasonably warm weather, and waiting outside in the hot sun wasn’t the way we wanted to spend our time.  So we bought tickets for another day, and rode the Staten Island Ferry instead.

Staten Island FerryThe Staten Island Ferry runs the five miles between Manhattan and Staten Island, and best of all, it’s free.  It takes you right by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and offers great views of lower Manhattan and New York Harbor.  It was a lot of fun.  We got out on the water where the breeze was a lot cooler, and just enjoyed the ride.  When we reached Staten Island, we just hopped on the next ferry coming back to Manhattan, about an hour round-trip.

From there we walked up through the financial district, past Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.  My editor, Lisa Sandell, met us at Trinity Church, a beautiful cathedral where we heard a youth choir sing for a few minutes.  It was really wonderful to meet Lisa for the first time.  She walked with us to Ground Zero, which was a haunting experience.  There is a profound absence there, and it’s not just the physical opening left behind in the density of the city.  There is a psychological void there, waiting to be filled.  I hope the city will soon resolve the issues and conflicts around the building of a memorial.

The Brooklyn BridgeAfter that, we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge.  A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the building of the bridge, and ever since I’ve been fascinated by the ingenuity, the bravery, and the will it took to construct it, a truly monumental feat.  So to stand beneath its grand arches, to look down at the water below, was an inspiring experience.  I can only imagine what it would have been like to cross that bridge upon its opening, at the time the largest suspension bridge in the world.  Okay, I think I might be verging on becoming a documentary myself here, so I’ll move on.

After that, we walkeWinnie the Pooh & Friendsd up through Chinatown and Little Italy, and then rode the subway up to Grand Central Station.  From there we went to the New York Public Library.  The Children’s Room there has Winnie the Pooh on display.  Like, the actual Winnie the Pooh.  And Tigger, and Kanga, and Piglet.  Even Eeyore.  The library has the original stuffed animals that A. A. Milne gave to his son, Christopher Robin.  The same toys that later inspired one of the most beloved characters in children’s literature.  They look a little threadbare and tattered (it actually appears as though Kanga might have been decapitated and had her head reattached at some point) but that only adds to their significance and charm.

That night, we went out to dinner at The Spice Market with Lisa and her husband, Liel.  It was a wonderful evening full of great food and great company, with plenty of fascinating and entertaining conversation.  If you ever meet either of them, you must ask them about the time they shared a train with smugglers on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  I’d try to tell you the story myself, but I know I wouldn’t do it justice.

More to come.

NYC – Part 1 of… not sure yet

Statue of LibertyLast week, I went to New York City.  I did a lot and saw a lot, so it’ll likely take a few posts to share it all with you.  As I mentioned, my publisher flew me in for business, but I tacked on a couple of extra days to do some sightseeing.  It was the kind of trip where you feel like you need another vacation afterward just so you can recover.  But it was an amazing experience, and I loved it.

I’ve only been to NYC once before, as a kid.  My family was living in Maryland back during the heyday of Phantom of the Opera, and one day my dad drove us up to New York to see it on Broadway.  I remember a few things about that trip, little details here and there, but I didn’t come away with a real sense of the city.  It was great to go back as an adult.

Our flight was late getting in, first because we had a freakish snowstorm in Salt Lake City and had to wait for them to defrost the plane, and second because JFK was a mess and we had to wait on the tarmac for a while before our plane could squeeze into its little parking space at the terminal.  There was this guy sitting next to us who really seemed upset by the delays.  At first, he was just shouting into his cell phone in a language that sounded Russian.  But the longer we waited, the more agitated he became.  When people got up to use the restroom, he’d gesture at them and yell what I assume were Russian swear words, because the flight crew kept saying that the pilot couldn’t move the plane until everyone was seated.  Then he started punching the seat in front of him, jarring its occupant, who pretended that the whiplash didn’t bother them.  By the time we were safely parked at the gate, all the passengers around this guy just let him get off first – “No, no, Mr. Swearing Russian Man, I already missed my connecting flight, so why don’t you go ahead of me.”  Sheesh.

The bread is a mere formality so that it can still be called a sandwich.

The bread is a mere formality so that it can still be called a "sandwich."

From JFK we caught a cab into the city.  Scholastic put us up in a hotel right off Times Square, which was pretty much an unbeatable location.  It wasn’t too late in the evening, and we were hungry, so we took a look at the map and decided to go wander around a bit.  We walked a few blocks up to Carnegie Deli, which is kind of a tourist spot, but still a landmark that serves great food.  I ordered the “Woody Allen,” a monster sandwich of corned beef and pastrami, enjoyed some hot sauerkraut, and ate a few half-sour pickles.

Apple Store - NYCThen we wandered over to the Apple Store, which I looked at but did not go inside because we didn’t have time. (That’s just what I tell myself.  The real reason is that I’m not cool enough to go inside.)  Then we walked to Rockefeller Center and watched the ice-skating.  I have to say, I was surprised by how small that rink is.  It’s the smallest ice-skating rink I think I’ve seen, but considering the little slice of real estate it occupies, it’s probably the most expensive ice skating rink on the planet.  But there were some talented skaters out on the ice.  One of them looked like he was ready for the Olympics, and another kid was just doing his own thing – a mix of hip-hop and skating.  Really cool to watch.

Times SquareWe walked through Times Square, which is a lot like walking down the Vegas Strip.  It was kind of overwhelming; full of light, and people, and energy.  The one thing it didn’t feel like was New York City, which is weird because the two are practically synonymous.  But everywhere I looked I saw generic America – “Oh, look.  There’s T.G.I. Fridays.  There’s the Hard Rock Cafe.  And there’s The Olive Garden.”  The Olive Garden??? Really?  On the one hand, I understand it.  People want to experience new things, but they want it with the safety net of the familiar beneath them.  They may be in a strange city, but if things get too stressful they can always take refuge in the menu of the chain restaurant they eat at back home.  I get it.  That’s just not what I went to NYC for.  But it was still cool to stand there in the center of it all, where they drop the ball on New Year’s Eve, and think about how many people from all around the world have been there on that same spot.  Boggles the mind, it does.

Stay tuned for more.

Scholastic Librarian Preview – Fall 2010 Webcast

Publishers often hold seasonal previews to get librarians and educators excited about upcoming titles.  These are what Elizabeth Bird (AKA Fuse #8) often reports on, like this one.  But normally you have to live close to the publisher to attend, which usually means New York City.  But this year, Scholastic did something pretty cool.  They did their Fall 2010 preview as a webcast.  That way, librarians all over the country were able to tune in and get in on the excitement.

I mention it here because David Levithan had some very nice things to say about The Clockwork Three.  You can watch the webcast here.  My book comes up around 37:40, but I’ve had some difficulty with the player jumping to that spot.  The slider bar looks like it’s there, but the time below doesn’t match.  Anyway, it made me pretty happy.

New York City

Next week, my publisher is flying me to New York City.  While I’m there, The Book Fairs will be filming me for some promo things that I’ll be able to talk more about at a later time.  I’ll also be doing some recording for the audiobook of The Clockwork Three.  The audio producers are adding some cool “bonus” content to the CDs, and they want me to read an introduction for it.  And I’ll be able to visit the Scholastic offices, and most importantly, meet my editor for the first time.  I’m way excited about the whole thing, and I’ll post some pictures when I get back.

But speaking of Scholastic, the company’s CEO, Dick Robinson, recently delivered a speech at the 2010 Bologna Children’s Book Fair.  It has been described as a “call to arms,” and I love what he had to say about children’s literacy in the 21st century.  It made me proud to be a Scholastic author. 

Some of my favorite quotes:

– We believe that literature and drama, whether in printed pages, screens, on stage or film, help young people experience the great stories of emotion and action, leading to a deeper understanding of what it means to be truly human.

– We believe that the massive amounts of digital information and images now transmitted daily make it even more important for a young person to know how to analyze, interpret and understand information, to separate fact from opinion, and to have deep respect for logical thinking.

– We believe every child should know how to connect to the great stories of character and feeling which drives all human behavior. Without this heritage, life lacks meaning, coherence, understanding and soul.

I agree with these statements, along with pretty much everything else he had to say.  I think stories have a profound place in our lives.  I think we’re all engaged in acts of storytelling, maybe more often than we realize and perhaps, at times, even without our awareness.  My newest novel, the one I just finished and sent off to my editor and agent, is really a story about story, and in it I tried to explore the ways we use story to organize and give our lives meaning.   

Here’s the video of the speech, and here’s to you, Mr. Robinson.

Full text of the speech available here.

Book 2: finished and sold, or rather, the other way around

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been busy finishing up my current project, and so have been somewhat quiet on this blog lately.  It has been a difficult novel to write, and the ending proved to be the most difficult part of all.  I don’t expect any book I write to be easy, and this was no exception.  First of all, it is told in 1st person, present tense, and the main character is a viking princess.  As I am neither a viking nor a princess, this proved to be a challenging character to get inside.  There were many times where I said to myself, “Just make it easier and tell the thing in 3rd person.”  But that is not what the story called for.  That was not the voice I heard telling it.

The other difficulty came from the story itself.  I felt a constant sense of tightrope-walking, of balancing tensions and contradictions.  The novel is set in ancient Norway, but is not historical.  It involves Viking warriors, but the main character never goes to sea.  It is mythic, but not a fantasy.  It is a mystery, but in the end the answer to the mystery isn’t what’s important.

That’s all I’ll say about it for right now.  I’ve sent it off to my agent and editor to see what they think.  I’ll send it to a few trusted readers for their feedback.  And then in a couple of weeks I’ll come back to revise it.  I think it’s about 85% there.  I don’t really think in terms of drafts.  Until the book is done, it’s just a building under construction, with some wings complete, and others still scaffolded and covered in fluttering plastic.

But the interesting thing has been finishing a book that has already sold.  At the end of last year, I sent a partial manuscript to my editor.  She liked it, and so Scholastic bought it along with another, unnamed novel.  The idea that I was now essentially being paid to write, rather than writing and hoping to be paid, was a shift in thinking for me.  A few years ago, Martine Leavitt gave me one of the best pieces of writing advice I have ever received.  She said, “Give yourself permission to treat writing as a career.”  Which I really tried to do, even though I wasn’t published and it didn’t yet feel like a career.  But now it does.

While I let this new book rest for the next few weeks, I hope to blog a little more regularly.  I have a couple of friends who have been waiting very patiently for me to read their manuscripts, stories I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t had the time.  I hope to do some work on a new website I’m designing and trying to build myself (we’ll see how that goes).  And then there’s my next book, which I’ll probably start researching for and thinking about.  So I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

Release Date

Last week, I found out the official release date of The Clockwork Three.

I can now mark my calendar for October 1, 2010.   And oh-my-goodness, that’s this year.  I can measure the distance from here to there in months.  I still can’t quite believe that this is all happening.

But something else happened last week to make it feel a lot more real.  I received a batch of ARCs.  My editor got some on Thursday and overnighted a box to me, which was very thoughtful and awesome of her.  The publicity department at Scholastic feels that it’s too early to send them out into the wide, wide world, so I can’t show them to you just yet.  But they look amazing.  It was quite the moment when I picked one up and held it, my story an actual book.  I think I might have even jumped up and down.

I also found out a little more about the marketing plan they’ve put together and I am so grateful and excited.  Scholastic is really supporting the book.  When I can share more of those details, I will.  In the meantime, feel free to mark October 1st on your calendars, if you feel so inclined.  I sure did.

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