Saturday, August 15, 2015

We're a team. Our captain wears high heels.

When I signed on with Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson, I didn't just get a agent. I got a team. A cheering section. A bunch of people who know how to express excitement because they're all writers. We cheer for each other and for our shoe-loving agent (see logo designed by author and illustrator Catherine Scully). And this week, author Dionna Mann is hosting a Team Howland blog party! She's come up with personalized interview questions for a whole bunch of us. Author Tom Mulroy and I kick off the party today, and I can't wait to read everyone else's interviews and learn more about my teammates.

Thanks, Dionna! Go Team Howland!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Children's lit friends. They're hard to shake.

Six years ago, I finished a two-year program in Writing for Children, with a healthy dose of children's lit classes. Six years ago. That's three Simmonses ago. Exact program lengths and graduation dates vary among my classmates, but basically, we all finished a brief grad program long enough ago to have pretty much forgotten about each other.

I spent last weekend at the wedding of one of those classmates, meeting the real-life versions of people I'd seen referenced in her writing. And this weekend was the beginning of a reunion that's been built around next week's Summer Institute. I brunched and picnicked with Simmons '09s and '10s from a few miles away, and from across the country, and from Across the Pond, who chatted about their writing, their work for publishers, libraries, bookstores, and schools, and which books they'd been sharing with their kids. They've been excitedly planning this visit for months, and more of them are coming in the next week. (And yes, the newly-minted bride and groom made the trek today.)

Children's literature is a field full of people who've held onto literary affections formed in childhood. Is it any surprise that children's lit people hold onto friendships, too?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A note about my musical dad

This Father's Day, I give my dad credit for my relationship with the sounds of words. Which is no small thing.

My dad is a musical guy. He reads Torah, which involves memorizing chants and vowel sounds to read from a scroll where neither is printed, almost every week, and sometimes leads services as well. His conversation is often interspersed with lines from songs--why say you're going to have fun when you can channel the Beach Boys and predict "Fun Fun Fun?" Mention a familiar movie, and he'll sing its theme music. Hand him a book to read aloud, and you'll learn any song out there with its characters' names in the lyrics.

Even when he's not actually singing, he's putting things in rhythm. I realized recently that every time I count to five, I'm using the rhythm he used to teach first-grade me to spell write for a spelling test: W! R! I-T-E! My childhood was dotted with ditties; my little sister's name was tough for a four-year-old to learn, but who could forget it after a few dozen repetitions of "Leora does the horah, while she studies Torah?"

And then there are the puns. My dad isn't the sole influence (see also: grandfather; uncle who can't hear flexible without saying Flaxible), but he has influenced my soul. When you mention a skirt, it's absolutely necessary for my dad to say, "Let's not skirt the issue." When I think of a pun and I'm anywhere near Twitter, I will mistweet the English language.

As those who know me are aware, I love me some rhyme and meter. I don't sing especially well, but I love writing song parodies and noticing which song lyrics fit to which other songs' melodies. I have an ISBN song, similar to "Camptown Races," that helps me make sure I haven't missed any digits. In short, my life is a life of earworms.

Thanks, Dan the Man. Happy Father's Day.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Revisions and shenanigans

Just a peek out of hiding to say that I sent the second round of revisions back to my agent this weekend. The first round was big enough that finishing it felt momentous; in fact, I rewarded myself by finally subscribing to Netflix. The existence of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt may also have played a role in that decision, but I held off until the draft was done, thank you very much.

The second round was less of a big deal; I found myself rewriting bits of scenes, rather than writing entire new ones. But both revisions so far have driven home the point that it's okay to lighten up. Creating characters and giving them funny things to say comes more naturally to me than unleashing the fury of plot upon them, and I think that knowing that, I focused extra-hard on the latter. A few unnecessarily serious plot elements are gone or altered now, leaving just the most important ones so the weight of the story lands where it's supposed to. And there are more shenanigans. Because characters with funny things to say are funnier when they have funny things to do.

Also, apparently some kids break the rules at camp. Who knew?*

*I'm not saying I totally believed the counselor who said our lips would fall off if we didn't sing. I'm just saying I got to know a lot of camp songs very well.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Can you tell me what you get, what you get from Sesame Street?

I Am Big Bird came to the Brattle Theatre this weekend. So did the filmmakers, star Carroll Spinney, his wife Debra, and Oscar the Grouch. And lots and lots of Bostonians.

The audience for the sold-out showing was composed almost entirely of adults--several decades' worth of adults. After all, Sesame Street's been on for 46 years. And I have no doubt that pretty much everyone in the room had grown in many ways since they were in the show's target audience. (When a passerby sounded amused at the length of the line for Big Bird, the woman behind me had some choice words that she probably wasn't using in preschool.) And the movie and Q&A made it clear that Spinney, along with his sense of wonder and understanding of children, has had plenty of adult concerns and joys, an utterly adorable marriage foremost among the latter. Big Bird and Oscar aren't always on our minds, not even on Spinney's. But when we were on the subject, the bird's and the show's importance was clear.

THIS is why I do children's books, I found myself thinking.

When we were little, Big Bird was a comforting presence for many of us. He was friendly, he was always there, and he showed us that it was okay to ask questions. At the same time, Oscar showed us a bit about how humor worked, and maybe let us imagine what it would be like to behave in ways we would never really behave. When we got slightly older, maybe we felt a little smarter than Big Bird and Oscar. Seeing that Big Bird still needed reassurance from adults and that Oscar needed some manners was comforting, too--it was okay if we still didn't have all the answers. And while they were at it, Big Bird, Oscar, and their buddies helped us learn some letters, numbers, and remarkable words.

Some people cried at I Am Big Bird. Whatever we took from Sesame Street in our earliest years, it's still in our brains, held there by a kind of emotional attachment inherent in young people who want to see the same characters over and over and over. For me, at least, the same is true of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein books, and Baby-Sitters' Club books, and books about redheads walking ridgepoles, all of which shaped my personality and my interests. That's why good content for children is important in all sorts of media. That's why I want books to be a place of comfort, why I care what children see while they're being entertained. Oh, and Sesame Street has consistently rocked that whole representation thing while being fun and educational all at once, so forgive me if I laugh at the idea that diversity doesn't sell.

Come and play. Everything's a-okay.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A long-overdue announcement

Dear readers,
I want to thank you for your perpetual patience with me as I clung to the desperate delusion that children's books were a legitimate pursuit for a self-respecting adult. At long last, I have seen the light. Read, write, and engage with children's books? If we allow adults to do that, we might as well let them express joy or tell them it's okay to view the world as a place with new things to discover.

My next project will be a collection of four hundred essays on why life is bleak and why we must accept it. Essay titles so far include "Death," "Taxes," and "Parks and Recreation Is Over Forever." I hope you'll continue to follow this blog as I preview these essays and pontificate on why, if I had a lawn, the younger generation would be morally obligated remove itself from it.

I owe my thanks to the good people of ImPress for inspiring this decision. Check out The Horn Book's website today for the unveiling of ImPress's inaugural list.