Wednesday, August 27, 2008

All this waiting on my query is driving me crazy! What do I do?!

I got this letter last week.

Dear Moonrat,

So, I know you are busy and I don't want to bug you, but can I just whine to you for a minute? Pretty please?

I've got a bunch of queries out, a handful of rejections, and a couple of requests for fulls or partials. For the ones that haven't responded yet, it's been well over two weeks, which I've been taught to understand means it's probably going to be a no.

The rejections I have received didn't hurt--they were the nicest rejection letters I have ever received. But it's the ones I haven't heard from that drive me batty. Not to mention waiting on the fulls and partial--which I know will take a long time.

But although I know this, I am still an impatient head banging mess. I've got lots of work to do for my real-life job but I am completely uninterested. Instead I constantly check my special query-only email address. Constantly.

I am trying to do what others always say, start writing the second book. Except my second book is the second in this series. What if the first book never sells? Am I wasting my time?

I am literally paralyzed. Any advice?


Impatient Head-Banging Mess

Me? Advice? Do I ever.

Dear HBM,

First, I know this is easier said than done, but--don't let yourself get distraught. It's not worth stressing about. Our end (the editors/agents end) is very slow-moving. Slow like molasses slow. I know that doesn't exactly make your life better per se, but seriously, you haven't waited that long from our perspective. (It's reasonable to expect that even after a month your query might not even have been opened yet, depending on the agency.)

I do think you should distract yourself by writing. This is the best idea ever, since writing will force you toward other emotions (maybe equally stressful, but at least different!). But I do think that if possible you shouldn't work on the next book in your series. I have a number of reasons, but I'll list the biggies:

1) If an agent decides to work with you (or, later, an editor) on the condition that you do some certain edits, they might drive your first book in developmental directions that differ from or outgrow the second installment you've already spent time on.

2) In the event (God forbid) you don't end up placing the book you're submitting right now, you'll have two unwritten books in the same series instead of a different, unrelated book that you can pitch separately. However, if you write a different book, you might be able to place THAT one, and then come back later when you're famous and reputable and place the first one.

The thing is, and I can vouch for this, writers develop really quickly and constantly, so the next book you write will--guaranteed--be better than the one you've already written. This is a reason for you absolutely to keep writing and writing.

But yeah, I would take up an entirely different project to distract you. You might be one of those people with tons of other ideas to pursue (sounds like you are, if you've already planned out a series!), but in the event you don't, you might try nonfiction short pieces. They can act as prompts for you, but might also turn into articles you could use to build your platform!! (Eg how about pitching some short creative pieces online?)

Just some of my thoughts.

Good luck! All my fingers are crossed for you, obviously!



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I <3 New York

Today, as I was walking back from lunch, a Little Person in an automated wheelchair zoomed by on a busy thoroughfare. Sticking up from the back of his wheelchair was a post with two violently waving flags: the American flag on top, the Puerto Rican flag underneath.

Where else?

Monday, August 25, 2008

could you just refer me...?

Ok, I have a pet peeve. This applies both to unagented authors (who despite all my recommendations have still not gotten an agent before trying to submit to me) and to agents--many, many agents, including some good ones. It's this line:
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear it's not right for you. Could you pass it along to someone at your company it would be a better fit for?" [Grammatically, for the sticklers, that should be "for whom it would be a better fit," but in the interest of capturing the realism of the situation, I've chosen not to use archaic grammar no one would actually SAY. But back to the point now.]

Why does this bug me? A couple reasons.

1) If you don't know who at my company is a good fit for it, I might, on a more bitter-tempered day, wish you'd done that research on your own before submitting it to me.

2) If I passed on your project, and if my reason was that it wasn't right for my list, this might mean (horrors!) I didn't like the project (nothing personal--it does happen, though). Naturally, I'm polite and would never ever tell anyone if I hated their manuscript and would have preferred to use it as kindling to roast myself some S'mores on a dragging August afternoon than waste postage on sending it back to them. At best, I was lukewarm about it (because, let's face it, if I really, really love it, I'll try to coax Robert the Publisher into letting me buy it no matter what my list actually looks like, and even if I failed, the agent/author would know a little more about that journey). So "not right for my list" is a kind of generic rejection that encompasses the whole spectrum of vile hate to lukewarm.

This means that by asking me to pass it along to a colleague, you're putting me in an awkward position. I either have to tell you "Actually... no" point-blank (again, I am really bad at direct rejection and HATE this), or I basically am forced to act as an in-house agent of a work I probably didn't like that much! Awkward. Now *I* have to ask a *favor*--that they read your [possibly crappy] manuscript--of colleagues I would rather save for other favors. Boo.

3) Further awkwardness ensues on the follow-up. Who do you follow up with? Me? So then *I* have to nag my colleagues--who have zero incentive to look at this, since you weren't bothered to contact them directly? I *hate* nagging. Ugh. But *especially* nagging people I like to waste time on something I didn't like! DO YOU SEE THE RESENTMENT BUILDING?! But on the other hand, once I've rejected it once, I can't reject it again *for my colleague* and you just keep calling me! In fact, you might call me and complain about how my colleague isn't responding to you, because you forget that they have literally no incentive!

I am going to go home tonight and work on my fortitude in telling people no. You, in the meantime (you know who you are!!), should go home and work on picking the people you want to submit to yourself, so this whole chain of annoying events doesn't happen.

Celebrate Children's Books!

This week, drop by everyone's favorite blog author tour site, Book Roast, to read about and talk to five celebrated children's book authors!

Here's the lineup:

* Monday, August 25: Stephanie Bodeen, The Compound - Set somewhere near the time of the apocalypse, the story tells of Eli and his family, who are forced to live in the compound his father has built for them.

* Tuesday, August 26: Laurel Snyder, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains - Lucy sets off for the Scratchy Mountains to solve the mystery of her missing mother.

* Wednesday, August 27: J.J. Salem, Tan Lines - Three young women on a wild Hamptons summer reinvent themselves.

* Thursday, August 28: Susan McBride, The Debs - Four very different girls find themselves on a collision course of debutantes.

* Friday, August 29: Brian Jay Jones, Washington Irving: An American Original - Follow Washington Irving through his childhood in a religious home in New York, his entry into law, the death of his fiancée, his years abroad and, of course, his writing career.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

where have you been, Moonrat...?

I don't even know myself. Whoever said August is a quiet month in publishing CLEARLY NEVER WORKED IN EDITORIAL. I have been so deep in work recently that I only have time to think of things I want to blog about, not to actually blog them.

Sorry for the recent neglect. Please don't think this means I don't love you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Publishing Dictionary

Jessica over at BookEnds has been quite the good citizen and compiled a hot sheet of publishing terms. Particularly useful for neophytes. Thanks, Jessica!

Jessica's Publishing Dictionary

Monday, August 18, 2008

are you a gifted enough author?

I was chatting with an editor friend from another company the other day when a certain issue came up. She sighed and told me about a colleague of hers who had a misunderstanding with one of his authors. "The author was mad at him, he found out, because he hadn't sent a an on-publication gift." Is an on-publication gift a requirement these days?

This hit a nerve for me because I had been thinking about gifts myself last week. I was thinking about the holidays, though. I realized that I only received one professional holiday gift last December, a Starbucks card from an agent. (I should mention that one author sent me a very nice gift at Valentine's Day, too, and another bought me a bottle of nice champagne for my birthday.) I received a number of cards from a number of agents, some of them very nice cards, indeed.

Being a baby editor and all, I don't have years of experience in receiving or giving gifts, so basically my behavior up until now has been modeled after the way I've seen my colleagues and bosses behave. Last year, I sent cards (rather dinky home-made ones, I'll confess) to my active authors and agents (active meaning the ones I had corresponded with in the last calendar year). I remember being vaguely sad that none of my authors had wanted to send me gifts, but since I didn't even think to send gifts to any of them, I don't suppose I had a right to be sad!

As for publication gifts, I've never given one. Following the model of my first boss ever, I always send a hot copy of the advance copies of a book to both the author and the agent, with a congratulations note. When a particular landmark thing happens (an author receives an award, or makes it onto a special list) Robert the Publisher sends a bottle of wine or champagne. When an author is in town, I take that author out, without fail, unless the author doesn't have time for some reason. But that's really it.

Am I negligent?

I don't think I am at all, I've decided. It is a personal industry, and we all work together in such a way that the lines of colleagues, friends, associates, and clients blend. But for most of us, there's not a huge amount of money falling out of trees. I look forward to lunch with an author, but I don't require a present from them (not that, you know, I turn down free presents), and I hope they feel the same way about me.

What about agents, though? Is their relationship with their authors the same as an editor's with hers? Alas, I'm not an agent and am not represented by one, so my judgment should hardly be taken as final, but my general opinion is yes, it's the same. Gifts are nice to celebrate things, but they shouldn't be considered a requirement. I think this is a three-way street: an author shouldn't be expected to buy a gift for her author or her agent, an agent shouldn't be expected to buy a gift for an author or an editor. These are things we should do if we WANT to. Gifts are just nice. Nice things to do. If they arrive, woohoo! A pleasant surprise.

Perhaps gifts become a little more "necessary" when there is a money situation. An author has just made the NYT bestseller list, and has thereby made their publishing company (or agent) a pile of money. Then it's nice to recognize them with a gift. (Just like RtP does.) But that becomes a slippery slope. Does that mean an author is obliged to buy a gift for her editor at holiday time because the editor secured a nice advance for her? My answer there is emphatically NO. I don't want any obligation gifts. I prefer love gifts. And since I love everyone but don't have enough money to give gifts to everyone, I can't give any gifts at all.

Besides, seriously, the nicest thing I think I, personally, can do for someone is take them out to lunch and show them how enthusiastic I am. Wouldn't an author or agent rather have a delightful selection of delicious foodstuffs than a smelly old bunch of flowers, anyway?

Apparently, though, there are some people who function under different protocols. Agents, historically, have been known to lavish gifts in both directions (editorial and authorial) at various points in the process. So perhaps some people have come to think these things are required, since they have heard too much about the gifts other people gave or received.

I maintain that gifts should be pleasant surprises, and that lunches are worth more. I stick by this. But I'd like to hear other opinions and experiences.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

and what a fabulous tuxedo!

Have you heard? The Edinburgh Zoo penguin who was recently made Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Army has now been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II! The penguin's name is Nils. Erm, Sir Nils. Apparently, Sir Nils was on his best behavior throughout the ceremony, although (perhaps due to nerves) he was noted to have "deposited a discreet white puddle" on the floor.

Thanks, Nicola, for passing along this important news update.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

oh man. i just shouldn't be allowed to watch this crap.

Can you tell me you DIDN'T cry when you saw Michael Phelps's mom cheering for Jason Lezak?

"Come on Jason. Come on Jason. Come on Jason. Come on Jason. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah."

So cute.

Also, why isn't everyone celebrating Jason Lezak? *I'm* celebrating him. Come on Jason. Yaaaah!

women's marathon, extremely emotional

Constantina Tomescu-Dita, they said you were a fool. They said you were too old to win a gold in the marathon, being all 38 and everything. When you pulled way in front of the rest of the pack around mile 15, they said you were blowing all your energy to early on. They kept reminding us about how you'd had to drop out of the 2004 lead because of heat stroke, and they wondered if it would happen again. They said your form was falling apart; by mile 19 they were saying your arms were swinging around and you were too tired to hold your lead.

When you ran up the ramp into the Olympic stadium more than 400 meters in front of the rest of the pack, shouted "I told you so!" at those dumb announcers so loudly that my neighbor turned their lights on. You, Constantina, made me cry the hardest today (even harder than I cried for Dara Torres). And everyone knows I cry about everything.

Saturday morning indie rock moment

"Turndaround" by Wormburner

This video's a live recording, and a little patchy, but it's the only one on youtube, which is a shame. I've seen these guys live and they're AWESOME. The whole album is just smiling.

Happy Saturday!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

a heartfelt letter

Dear Gods of Publishing,

Hi. It's me, Moonrat. I know You know who I am, because occasionally You tamper with my largely hum-drum destiny in strange ways. For example, You pulled a couple of stunts these last few months in dropping some crazy projects on my desk. Then, You gave me hope that I might actually be able to acquire them. Of course, You know all this already.

The reason I'm writing today is to apologize. I'm afraid that maybe the tears, screaming, eye-gouging, and tooth-gnashing in Your general direction that has been perpetrated over the last couple of days by, well, me might have been taken poorly. I hope that You don't think I was cursing You or even cursing at You. I was merely cursing to You. I hope You will interpret this as a further acknowledgment on my part of the magnitude of Your powers and my absolute subjection to them. A gesture of my respect, as it were.

I think it's fair to say that I don't call upon You very often. That I'm pretty zen and realistic. You know that I try not to get my hopes up until I'm holding a deal memo in my hand. Which might have given You a wrong impression about me--that I don't care enough, maybe.

Well, today You actually broke my heart. I think You know why. You really caught me by surprise this time. The disappointment has hit in the way I believe You meant it to. I just want to make sure that You knew I got the message, and that I do in fact understand that there is absolutely such thing as destiny and fate in book publishing, and that the sin of trying to outwit destiny will be punished.

So thank You, Publishing Gods, for making sure I learned this Valuable Life Lesson. And really, I have learned it. I know I put up a brave front all day at the office, but please believe me when I say I was crying on the inside. Hard.

Thanks for Your time and obviously very personal attention in these matters. I know this letter might be misconstrued as sarcastic, but please believe that I am so very grateful for being reminded of my place that every cell of my lowly body is quivering and collapsing in awe of Your magnanimousness. Every. Cell.

Love and obeisances,


birthday cake, anyone?

My old and faithful blogfriend Cakespy was kind enough to guest post! (If you've been about these parts for a while, you'll surely have seen some of my links celebrating her scientific commitment to all things dessert related--for example, check out her bread pudding face-off, or her Brownies Behaving Badly unusual ingredient research.

Thanks to Jessie (Head Cakespy) for bringing a little of her relevant science to Ed Ass! She's provided her favorite birthday cake recipe below, not to mention all the awesome artwork.

Here's my birthday cake recipe, the one that I grew up with (here's the recipe right from the cookbook my mom uses). It may not be the fanciest recipe, but for me it will always be the one against which all other cakes are stacked. In our house, birthdays never warranted a mere sheet cake--it was always a three tier, wedding cake-like confection, made of white cake with pink frosting (always pink frosting). And no, that's not a misprint--it has shortening in it, as much as that may appall the true gourmands out there.

For the frosting, she never actually measured things out, but I remember that the first time I tasted a cupcake at the Magnolia bakery, I thought "It's my mom's frosting!" and so when I make it I use their recipe for frosting (from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook). I always make the "for a three layer cake" one though because it leaves you a bunch of extra frosting for flowers or piping etc. Here it is:

Makes enough for one 2-layer 9-inch cake or 2 dozen cupcakes*
* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
* 6 to 8 cups confectioners' sugar
* 1/2 cup milk
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

*Note: If you are icing a 3-layer cake, use the following recipe proportions:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
8 to 10 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sasha Artemev.

Forget Michael Phelps. It didn't work out between us; I've moved on.

Meet my new Olympic boyfriend, Sasha Artemev, the cherub-cheeked "dazzling" but "erratic" cleaner-upper for the Men's Gymnastics team.

To give you an idea of why Sasha just blows my mind:

Watch this talented Japanese gymnast on the pommel horse.

Now watch Sasha on the pommel horse. JUST WATCH THIS VIDEO!!!! It will change your life.

No one compares to Sasha. It's madness.

now in stores near you: TETHERED, by Amy MacKinnon

One more for the Mischief!

Long-time Ed Ass reader and commenter Amy MacKinnon's debut novel, TETHERED, hits stores today!

Amy is published by Shaye Areheart Books (a Random House imprint), a place from which many geniuses have come before (including some good friends!). I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Congratulations, Amy!

a confession and some reminders

Confession first: I have an AWFUL lot going on right now, and not a terrible amount of it is worthy of or interesting enough for my blog. So if the posts around these parts are light these days, it's not because I don't love you and it's not because I'm dead.

[Edited to add:] And another confession. I'm obsessed with the Olympics. So don't be surprised if they're rather well represented in these parts. I'm the kind of person that cries during and after every event and then usually also when they play the Star Spangled Banner. It's just all very emotional for me.

Now reminders! The next book club meeting is September 1, and we'll be talking about Jen Sookfong Lee's THE END OF THE EAST.

Here are some review bits:

"An impressive debut novel...delivered in lyrical language radiating with apt metaphors. enrapturing exploration of identity that proves that family is unshakeable."-Kirkus Reviews

"Beautifully homage to Amy Tan's generational tales. Provocative and deeply moving."-The Baltimore Sun

"Compelling and complex...richly layered...The End of East is fine prose."-The Globe and Mail

" enlightening look at Vancouver's slice of the Chinese diaspora."-Publishers Weekly

"Impressive in its accomplished prose and its ambitious three-generational scope. Lee's talent is undeniable."-National Post

"Strong, evocative...a wonderful novel."-Booklist

" accomplished debut."-Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Ok. There's only one reminder. Woopsies.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Remembering the Bomb

It's 63 years since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 63 is not a round number, and it's maybe not any particularly special anniversary this year. But that doesn't make this specific moment a bad one to reflect.

I read this article this morning, and I was livid. The author writes that although we (or, at least, Japanese people) still remember the Bomb, we don't remember why we remember it. He writes the kind of apologistic take I don't understand why people are still trying to proliferate: we needed to drop the bomb to save innocent lives. Let the word be spread.

I'm not going to pick apart the claims he makes in his article and show how specious some of them are. In fact, in the end, the argument itself--did the bomb save lives?--is meaningless (that's not to say my personal opinions don't come down very hard on one side of that issue). That argument, after all, is history, and what we have done can't be fixed.

What we can do is learn from the past. THAT is why we remember the Bomb.

To that end, I'd like to post a couple of definitions here.

War: n.1. 1. A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties.
2. The period of such conflict.
3. The techniques and procedures of war; military science.
4. A condition of active antagonism or contention: a war of words; a price war.
5. A concerted effort or campaign to combat or put an end to something considered injurious: the war against acid rain.

2. 1. A condition of active antagonism or contention: a war of words; a price war.
2. A concerted effort or campaign to combat or put an end to something considered injurious: the war against acid rain. (American Heritage Dictionary)

I'd like to draw your attention to definition 1.1. War is a state of conflict between two like entities, two states, two nations, etc. I would like to claim here that the definition does not cover a state of conflict between the government of one country and the people of another country. I would also like to remind readers that there were no military targets at the Ground Zeros of the bombs in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. They were dropped on civilians. It wasn't Japanese civilians who had declared war on the United States.

President Truman famously said the following about his decision to drop the bombs:

Nobody is more disturbed over the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them.

Aside from any racism you may read into this statement, I would like to point to Truman's comparison of the dropping of the bombs to the attack on Pearl Harbor. I would like to remind readers that Pearl Harbor was a military base which was attacked by the Japanese military, in which the bulk of the casualties were those of service people. I would also like to suggest that, as such, the comparison of these two kinds of attacks is unwarranted and unfair.

One more definition, so we can reflect for a moment on what our government tries hard to justify.

Terrorism: n. The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons. (American Heritage Dictionary)

There is right and there is wrong, and there will always be people who try to reposit the latter as the former. We have to stay sharp, and savvy, and we have to ask questions. Whether or not we can control or have part of what our tax dollars are doing, we have to at least know where we stand. This is why we remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's because this element of history becomes more, and not less, relevant with each year.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Friday, August 08, 2008

this week's google update

I am the #2 hit under "the way a bowling ball wouldn't"

I'm #6 on "best books on King Arthur"!!

Alas. Google hit #32 under "pickup ass" (and typing it here again probably didn't help).

I'm now hit #2 under "crazy dump," which brings me at least 20 hits a day.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

what's up with bitches?!

Not specific to publishing today... more generally about the workplace. Anyone who has ever worked in an office, PLEASE feel free to explain this bitches phenomenon to me.

My friend Jackie is currently working as a paralegal in a large corporate law firm. There are about a dozen other paralegals working with her, half of whom are female. One of the girls, Rory, is friendly with Jackie. The others Jackie has had a funny feeling about from the beginning. They seemed, she told me from the start, a little plastic and catty. They gave her a real "I used to be really popular in high school" feel. However, Jackie's the kind to like you until forced not to like you. Always innocent until proven guilty.

The trouble is, the other "girls"--I can't help thinking of them as such, since they act like they're 12--have systematically lashed out with the Cat. Some of the behavior is just silly--e.g. gossip-mongering at lunch. On one occasion, one of the Plastics asked Jackie if it were true she was secretly having an affair with one of the young associates. (It's common knowledge that both Jackie and the associate have Others.)

Although all four of the Plastics eat lunch in combinations with one another, when one of them is left out, she sits with Jackie and Rory and starts bitching about how backstabbing one of the other plastics is, trying to sabotage her paralegal position so that she can get a better recommendation from one of the partners, etc. Also, it's, like, so obvious that Rebecca is totally trying to steal Marissa's style, because she thinks that will make her cooler. What a loser. (You know.)

Two of these girls went as far as to make fun of Jackie to her face for "uncool" behavior--she stuttered during a court session once, and they came up behind her afterward in the hallway and mimicked her stutter before running away with their hands clasped over their mouths in giggles. For real--that happened. These are all women in their mid- to late-twenties, not teenagers.

Luckily, Jackie isn't one to take bullpoop and she also isn't one to engage with people she doesn't like or respect. Even so, I know this got to her a little from the way she talked about it. Her personal philosophy, though, is that cattiness is a two-way street: if she doesn't respond to catty behavior, eventually the perpetrators will shrivel up and die. Or at least leave her alone in favor of some other target.

She calls me periodically and gives me the update on their shenanigans. Each one I hear confuses me more and more. For example, the story from yesterday:

[Faye, the third plastic, is talking to Jackie online.]

Faye: Did you see Becky's new hairdo?
Jackie: Oh, yeah.
Faye: Doesn't she look awful?
Jackie: I don't know. It seems fine.
Faye: Don't you think it looks like those are fake extensions? Like she's trying to look like Michael Jackson or something?
Jackie: I don't really pay attention to those things, I guess.

[Faye gives up, starts a conversation with Rory.]

Faye: Doesn't Becky's new hairdo look awful?
Rory: It seems ok to me.
Faye: Don't you think it looked better before, though?
Rory: I guess.
Faye: Doesn't it look like she has fake extensions, though?
Rory: Yeah, I guess so.
Faye: Ugh! Don't you think extensions are awful? I would NEVER wear them!
Rory: No, me neither.

[Rory goes to lunch with Jackie; Faye goes with Becky. They sit within earshot.]

Fay (to Becky): Oh my god, that girl Rory is such a bitch. She pretends to be all nice and friendly, and she does nothing but slander people behind their back! You know what she told me this morning? She hates your new haircut. She says it looks like you have fake extensions, and that she'd NEVER wear fake extensions! I was thinking to myself, dude, Becky's my *friend*, what's your problem telling me this?! Don't you think she's so out of line?

After lunch, Jackie and Rory, who was confused and angry, compared notes. Going through her instant message conversations, Jackie has found tons of "Don't you think...?" messages from Faye. Luckily, she's not the kind of person to get involved in a conversation like that. But seriously.

These are all future professionals, none of whom are really in direct competition with one another, all working together in a setting that doesn't in any way encourage favoritism or imply anyone is going to get any special perks. So why are these girls wasting daylight hours trying to gash one another's eyes out? I just don't understand. How does any of this make their lives happier or more meaningful? How did they get to be this old and still think that arbitrarily making other people's lives more difficult or painful was a good or beneficial thing?

Jackie says the hardest part for her is all the dialogue--including some considerable dialogue from some of these perpetrators--about how women are oppressed in the corporate workplace, how they are sabotaged at every turn. But... who's doing the sabotage?

I'm angry on Jackie's behalf for this stupidity. Seriously. What's up with bitches? WHAT?!? What is their point?! Why would someone choose to be a bitch? Why can't they be nice?!

So most importantly, what can we do about bitches? When they're not making me furious, I'm sad for them, that they think they need to live their lives in strike-down competition. Are there magic words we can say to diffuse them?

I work in a place where there are literally no catty females. Which is maybe why this whole scenario seems a little far-fetched to me. But gosh does hearing about this make me appreciate my colleagues even more.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

one more for the Mischief!

Stuart Neville (aka Conduit) has sold his debut novel, THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST, to Harvill Secker (a very fine literary imprint at Random House UK) in a two book deal!! That means they love him double.

Check out his book page for a) a trailer for this thrilling thriller set in Northern Ireland, and b) an idea of what a great author web page looks like. Then you can go congratulate him on his blog.

I read the "jacket copy" when he entered my contest in January and boy was I, personally, sold. Unfortunately, I haven't read the novel yet myself, but Stuart has promised to send me a copy of the manuscript when it's all done with editorial. Actually, he hasn't, but this is a kind of form of public extortion. Pretty pretty please, Conduit? No pressure, just kidding. Sort of.

One more success for the Editorial Mischief.

Monday, August 04, 2008

pickup line of the day

Guy: You single?

YT: Uh... no.

Guy: Feel like cheating?

YT: Uh... no.

Guy: Want my number just in case?

YT: Uh... no.

Guy: Well, will you at least tell him he's a lucky guy for me?

YT: As a matter of fact, I will!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

I spoke recently with sarcasm about ambient weddings

But today one of my very dear friends is tying that most famous of knots, and I am so very happy for her that I'm kind of giddy.

I know she'll probably read this post at some point, so I won't embarrass her (too much). But let me say that her little romance story is one to soften even those of us with rock-hard hearts. It involves love at first sight, secret engagements, and tried-and-true support systems that have gotten them together through the most trying of external adversities. After years of love and loyalty, they're having what's probably the prettiest and most cleverly planned wedding ever held in the greater New York area. (Oh, one slipup in planning, hun. You invited the rally monkey. Gosh only knows what monkeys get up to at weddings.)

Happy Anniversary :)

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Saturday morning classical music moment

I found this link yesterday. It's Itzhak Perlman playing the third movement of the Mendelssohn. When he was 13.

I heart you, Itzhak.

If you want more Itzhak, here's another great set of videos. He's playing my all-time favorite concerto, the Bruch. If you only have time for one movement, watch the 3rd.

1st movement
2nd movement
3rd movement

Happy Saturday!

Friday, August 01, 2008

book club: thanks

Thanks, everyone who dropped by yesterday. I sure had fun; I hope someone else did, too. In any case, you all humored me very nicely.

I've settled on next month's book! Which is exciting. The lucky winner is THE END OF THE EAST, by Jen Sookfong Lee. The next book club meeting will be on September 1, 2008.

A brief synopsis, in which I've borrowed heavily from (ie plagiarized) the PW Review:

The story of three generations of a Chinese-Canadian family in Vancouver, beginning when Chan Seid Quan emigrates to Vancouver in 1913 at 17 and ending with his granddaughter, Samantha, who returns to Vancouver to take care of her mother. Samantha, ridden with modern twenty-something malaise, reflects on her family history, the troubled relationship between her lonely grandfather and her family-man father, the hardships of 20th century Chinatown for a poor immigrant, and the challenges of mother-daughter-mother-in-law relationships.

Almost two years ago, I received this book on submission and was heartbroken that I wasn't able to buy it, but I found it intensely moving for personal reasons that I think affect a lot of Americans, particularly children of immigrants (and children of children of immigrants). So I'm looking forward to rereading this one, too, so we can all talk about it together.

I apologize that it's only available in hardcover at the moment; I will make a point of choosing paperbacks in the future, but I really want to do this book now. If it's any consolation, it's a short, quick read.

Hope to see you there!

Book Club: PARALLEL LIVES, by Phyllis Rose

Welcome everyone! For those who want guidelines for the bookclub meeting, here ya go. I'm going to launch in.

PARALLEL LIVES tells the stories of five high-profile Victorian marriages. At least one member of each of the couples was a renowned writer (although in many cases both members might have been famous). Each of the relationships is extraordinary for one reason or another.

For example, the famous art critic John Ruskin and his wife, Effie Gray, were married for six years, from 1848 to 1854, but never managed to consummate their marriage, alas for at least one of the parties. There are a number of psychosocial reasons behind this problem, most of them stemming from John's warped brain, but at least part of the issue was the Victorian policy of abomination of and misinformation about sex before marriage. Oops.

John Stuart Mill lived for twenty years in a platonic friendship with the love of his life, Harriet Taylor, who was meanwhile platonically married to her husband John; somehow this arrangement seemed at least mostly satisfying to all parties involved until John Taylor obligingly died and JS and Harriet were able to legitimize (and possibly consummate, although the jury's out on this one) their marriage of equals. At that point, both of them entirely retreated from the world, which they found tedious compared to each other's company.

Charles Dickens, meanwhile, is famous now for his great works of moral Victorian literature, but toward the end of his life he was also rather famous for the two public essays he published trying to explain away the midlife crisis that caused him to abandon his faithful wife of 24 years. Among Catherine Dickens's unforgivable sins: her fertility! She did, after all, strap him with 10 children he needed to support (as if, Rose points out, he wasn't involved at all). Furthermore, she got old and fat. Eventually, he moved out of Catherine's house and in with his 19-year-old mistress (who was not [yet] after all old and fat). Most sadly, Victorian law and custom supported Dickens, and even his children didn't start taking their mother's side until long after both parents were dead.

George Eliot (Marian Evans), meanwhile, was condemned to spinsterhood and had basically realized that by age 33, when she happened to fall deeply in love with a married man, George Lewes. Lewes had a wife and six children, but only three of them were his--his wife had been openly having an affair with his married neighbor for years and had ended her emotional relationship with Lewes, but Lewes, being good-natured and a believer that rational behavior (whatever that means) might get them through this strange arrangement, stayed on. The result? For more than 20 years, Marian Evans lived with George Lewes, out of wedlock, and helped raise the children he, his wife, and his wife's lover had created. When Lewes died, leaving Evans not a widow, she was heartbroken. Her weight dropped to 103 pounds. Then, a year later, she married a man 20 years her junior, and boy did they get on.

The connecting marriage Rose uses as a backdrop to all the others is that of Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle. Jane, a charming drama queen and social entertainer, played up in her diaries and letters the many ways she sacrificed in order to further her husband's literary career. From Rose's account, it seems that their marriage, at least, was a functional one, a balance of two partners who got along in their own ways. However, after her death, Carlyle read all the complaints in her diaries, became plagued with guilt for mistreating her, and made their "failed" marriage a public topic of conversation for which he has been remembered ever since.

The book looks at these marriages specifically, but Phyllis Rose maintains that her study is not salacious.

We tend to talk informally about other people's marriages and to disparage our own talk as gossip. But gossip may be the beginning of moral inquiry... We are desperate for information about how other people live because we want to know how to live ourselves, yet we are taught to see this desire as an illegitimate form of prying. (Prologue, 9)

As for why she's chosen these five prominent writers and their respective spouses, Rose makes a point that (ahem) at least some of the people who read this blog might be able to vouch for:

I have chosen to write about writers not because they live more intelligently--or less so--than other people, nor in the belief that they are representative. I expect, quite the contrary, that writers, like other people who must push their psychic development to extremes, are less able than most people to live comfortably within the constraints of the customary. But, however they live, writers tend to report it more amply than most people. (Prologue, 17)

The marriages were each fascinating to read about because of the sheer perceived outlandishness of some of the parties' behavior. However, as Rose points out, there's nothing in the world that says a) outlandishness is actually unusual, and we aren't liable to perpetrate equal or greater outlandishnesses in our daily lives and relationships, and b) there's nothing to be learned from looking at what we're allowed to know about other people.

A couple of points were of particular interest to me.

1) The relationships that were unfailingly loving were the ones that removed themselves from any outside contact with society. Marian Evans, unfortunately, was effectively forced to retire from society when she took up with a married man. However strange his living arrangement, George Lewes was still invited places, but Marian was not. Rose posits that the adversity the couple faced might have in fact been the glue that made their "marriage" a happy one (221).

The Mills, meanwhile, retired from the world quite by choice; they found no need for it anymore once they were officially able to have each other. I am a little troubled that the world's two greatest proponents of Utilitarianism--the greatest good for the greatest number--would choose to basically remove from themselves any stock in how the world did, anyway.

Furthermore, Mill, who was famous for his even temper, began to lash out at friends and relatives and cut them away from his life after his marriage. It makes me upset to think about a blissful and idealistic loving union that functioned so sublimely from the interior that the exterior--that is, everyone else in the world--became irrelevant. On the one hand, I'm jealous of the Mills in this particular variety of love, but on the other hand, I am not jealous at all. And on either hand I am sorry for the ex-friends and -relatives, like JS's abandoned brother, who suffered.

2) At least three of these partnerships--Mill and Taylor, Carlyle and Welsh, and Evans and Lewes--began with two partners with great literary potential and ended with one partner retiring from the literary scene and pointedly sacrificing his or her own career so that the other might flourish. Does it follow, then, that a dual literary partnership is out of the question? Is one or another member of a duo always going to be the secondary player?

It might be said then here that the great works of one of these writers, Mill, Eliot, or Carlyle, are in fact all co-authored arrangements. Mill and Eliot both claimed profusely during their lifetimes that any creation on their parts at all would have been completely impossible without Taylor and Lewes, respectively. So you might make the argument that in fact a literary partnership where one talent is eclipsed or subverted is merely a sacrifice in the name of an even greater literary career and affect. And maybe it is.

But I have to second-guess that. In the case of Mill and Taylor, JS claimed that his ideas were all Harriet's, and that he was merely her pen, since she was not a writer. But Harriet was an activist, a well-liked, highly respected, and well-spoken one. What might she have written if she had had to write because she didn't have a "pen"? (Rose cleverly sites Jane Welsh's teenage "pen" envy.)

Furthermore, Harriet disagreed with JS's conclusions, he would biddably change his entire thesis to please her, at the price of the integrity of his work, as was the case with the argument on capitalism/socialism (129-130). Did their "perfect partnership" cost him in directions he might have taken, or works he might have produced?

George Eliot and George Lewes, the gender inversion of some of the rules that apply elsewhere in the book, may be seen to have had careers of fate. At the beginning of their marriage, Lewes was by far the brighter star, and he took her success on very well as his own happiness, which he whole-heartedly supported. But otherwise there is a theme in these as in other literary partnerships where a woman's career becomes second to a man's, often for reasons of biology (I can think of three such contemporary relationships off the top of my head--I won't name them here, but go ahead, I dare you to try and I bet you'll come up with some, too). About this Rose makes a clever point:

Marriage and career, family and work, which so often pull a woman in different directions, are much more likely to reinforce one another for a man. Dickens provides a good case in point. Professionally, his marriage helped him. His household was arranged for him. His needs for sex and companionship were satisfied. No time-consuming courtships, no fretting about rejections, no hunting around, no wasteful fantasizing. Most important, he had a reason to devote himself wholeheartedly to work. Not only was he working for his own advantage and to satisfy his own ambition, he was working for her, for them, for their children. The guilt a woman artist might feel in removing herself from her family in order to create is less likely to trouble a man, a man who imagines himself--as Dickens did--working for his family. (151)

Is this true? I'm inclined to agree with the idea that society, at least, reinforces this by putting more pressure on a woman to feel bad for emotionally neglecting their offspring, but I always felt, growing up, that my dad felt bad about how much he had to work and about being away from his family at all.

About equality in a marriage, Rose has to say the following:

Equality is to sexual politics what the classless society is to Marxist theory: the hypothesis that solves the problem...Despite the number of people who pay lip service to this ideal, few have been able to pin down exactly what it means or describe how this desirable state may be achieved. (266)

Which is unhelpful but very nicely put.

I'll admit to having taken this book a little bit personally. I'm at the kind of age right now that there are an awful lot of ambient weddings--my roommate and I, between us, will be attending four this summer--and there are also the ambient pressures to take a stance on why you're either doing it or not doing it. PARALLEL LIVES certainly wasn't much in the way of a self-help guide, but it did come back to that most important point: there are no right answers. We get out of life what we make of it.

To anyone who got through this very long essay (or parts of it), I look forward to your thoughts.