It's all about moi.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Just a quick note: The wonderful Christy Raedeke, fellow Tenner, has posted an interview of me on her blog! Go there now and read it.

A short break

I just noticed my last post was my 100th on this blog. Oh well. Pretend there was fanfare.

Sam is napping at the moment, so I should be scrambling to get some words down on a freelance job for the SAB. But the next scene I have to write will be of a dejected teen covering up his fear of failure in front of his parents, and it seems like it might be fairly trying, so I'm taking a short break while I decide if this should include just Dad, Mom and Dad, or just Mom.

I have a tendency to create characters with only one parent. In YA Novel the First, actually, all three MCs have two parents, but the constant threat is "Yes, but for how long?" I've heard the theory as to why this--that is, absent parents--is a frequent theme in children's lit: to do with ensuring that the protagonist is independent. Pragmatically, too, a story isn't bogged down by niceties like what is being made for supper, and who's making it, and what these people do for a living and what cars they drive, if they do, et cetera. Still, I feel the need to buck the trend to some degree. I'm a trend bucker.

No I'm not. But "trend bucker" sounds neat.

Actually, in YA MS the Second, we've got a missing parent, haven't we? Yes.

In other news, the longest semester has finally ended. My only class's last meeting was last night, and I think I even passed. The next class begins two weeks from tonight, and I can't wait for it: Adolescent Literatures. Can you stand it? I can't. Is it wrong, by the way, that I am sort of looking forward to the first class (on my birthday, p.s.), when during introductions I can say I'm a YA author? I predict a spit-take. I should remember to buy coffees* for everyone to be sure it happens.

Mom arrives tomorrow afternoon. I plan to make appointments to take Harry to the vet and my car to the shop while the live-in babysitter is in town.

*I tried for quite a while (too long) to find a photo of Julia Louis-Dreyfus doing the spit-take from that '80s SNL skit in which she was a talk-show host a little too fond of coffee and feigned surprise. Couldn't find one. So this photo had to do. No idea what it's from.

The Truth about Naps

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My apologies for another string of silent days here at the Exile. Here's what's new:

I read Sara Zarr's latest, Sweethearts, and while it didn't have quite the same effect on me that Story of a Girl did, it was of course great. She humbles me at every turn of the page; I maintain the slightest hope that she will stoop to blurbing YA Novel the First.

Authors Now!, class of 2010, has graciously accepted my membership. Not sure when my profile will be added to the site, but I'll check occasionally and keep y'all posted. (Not that anything terribly thrilling will be on my profile.) So far, both debut-author-promo groups I've joined have been hella understanding about my previous pubbed work, and therefore nice and loose with their definition of "debut."

I went and joined a crit group via! It's a weekly group, which is so much more frequent than most I've heard about. Also, it's not strictly children's, which is fine with me. The folks I've met so far haven't been the slightest bit dismissive of YA as a veritable genre of literature, and in fact enjoyed the first chapter of YA MS the Second quite a lot. In many ways, I think YA is as suited with a group of writers of adult lit as it is with a group of writers of children's, especially picture book or chapter book writers, or more so.

Anyway, last night was my first meeting with the group. Only five of us discussed long-form stuff, which was nice, since everyone who submitted material got a good amount of crit in the two hours we spent around the table. At one point, the group leader suggested I go last, because that way I'd be "dessert." I assumed that was a bad thing, like, they were going to eat my piece last, like a drooling cave monster might save the tastiest adventurer to really savor the kill. Of course, you realize I had that wrong, because you, unlike me, are not a crazy person. In fact, "dessert" simply meant "treat," because everyone really liked the chapter I supplied. (I confessed to them that while, yes, I'm confident with my characterization, it's my plot arcs that typically need help. They should stay tuned for the trainwreck that is the continuing YA MS the Second.)

I feel like I probably digressed.

In other news, Sam has one tooth, now visible, as reported by Beth a few days ago. This means his eight-month-long freedom from brushing his teeth before bed has ended. Each night, for the rest of his life, he will have to brush before bed. For now, Beth will do it for him most nights, naturally, but there's no turning back now.

I guess he needs a second tooth before he can floss. So that's something.

Today we're cleaning the house to prepare for the arrival of Beth's mother-in-law, which is a roundabout way of saying "my mom." She arrives Friday afternoon. And you know what that means: live-in babysitter!

Naps seem much longer when you're not taking one.

(That's a lot of text. I better find some images to put in here so your eyes aren't bleeding before you reach the end.)

Free Tree

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Today is Earth Day. To celebrate, if I go to the grocery store, I will bring my own bags. As usual. And if I finish a gallon of milk today, I'll recycle the empty bottle. As usual. Oh, and also in two days at McDonaldses in Minnesota, they'll give you a free tree for Arbor Day. I swear. It was in the Strib.

Sam won't take his nap and he's making me mental.

I finally finished this paper for class. One of two papers due. The other is not done, and yet is due tonight. I'm thinking I'll skip class. Truth is, I could use a write-night, as it's been ages since I got any writing done, besides an SAB job or two. (And speaking of, I'm still on the two-per-month schedule for them, which means if I don't get some YA MS the Second work done in the next few days, I'll have missed my window.)

And that's not to mention that this weekend will be almost exclusively dedicated to cleaning up this pig sty we call home. My mom, you see, is coming to visit on May the first. And the place has to be presentable. Even the guest room--which is also my office that I never use--is in complete disarray, mainly thanks to my intricate filing system known as "fling papers around the room while looking for old pay stubs."

Oh! One more exciting thing: I registered for one summer course. It's called Adolescent Literatures, and actually goes toward my teaching license! I hope it will be as fun and awesome as it sounds.

Ah, and one more thing. I've been brainstorming for a way to promote my fellow Tenners here at the Exile, so over the coming weeks, keep your eyes peeled for the occasional special Tenner of the Week thing, or something similar.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

It' s just about nine on this Saturday night, and I'm actually getting ready to go out. Beth and Sam won't be coming along, since Stasiu's on a Saturday night is no place for an eight-month-old child, and that's where I'm going to wield a bass.

Today was day one of the Kidlit Conference at the Loft, which is not the official title. First, I hadn't been to the Loft space, or Open Book et al, and it's pretty great. I had no idea there was a coffee shop there, with the wifi and everything, and it's only about a block from the Greenway, the part that runs up the lightrail line near the baseball building, whatever it's called. But the conference. I enjoyed it. Most excellent was the lunch. And I'm not just being typical me by focusing on the food. No no. What was great about lunch was the fact that every conference goer signed up for a table based on which member of the faculty would be the center (or something) of the conversation there. F'rinstance, I chose the Patrick Jones table, and therefore the conversation was focused on YA lit, mostly contemporary and realistic. I think the SCBWI conferences I've been to, both local and national, could take a hint from that idea, rather than just letting people sit at random tables and finding out (as happened to me) that they're stuck with a couple of people there on a lark because they want to write children's television, or a woman who lives with nineteen cats and wants to tell you why each and every one of them should have its own chapter book series. (An exaggeration . . . or is it?!)

Oh, by the way, since the last book-review entry here, I read Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl and Heather Duffy Stone's This Is What I Want to Tell You. Zarr's was fantastic. I didn't want to put it down. The protagonist (who reminded me not a little of my own dear Lily) was perfectly voiced and I loved every minute with her. The opening chapter, which sets up the prot's particular psychological background, is a wicked punch in the gut, and it sticks with you as you read on. Very powerful. Oh, p.s., everyone who reads this has to act as witness that I wrote Lily long before I read this! For serious.

Stone's book is also very strong. The absence of quote marks and the alternating POV could have been pretentious, but it worked. My one complaint about this book was that I never got a chance to breathe. I never felt like these characters had a chance to breathe either. While the pace is nice and urgent because of this, and the character's anguish is very clear, I wanted someone to crack a joke or drop some good sarcasm now and then to let me smile.

Two slices of heaven

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I've been away too long, once again.

The biggest news is of course that it's finally spring around here. Temps should be in the 60s all week, and Beth tells me there's some hope for 70s. Which I think is a bit much for April, but it certainly beats snow.

I just finished and submitted the latest FTM, about which I believe I can't say much, but I will say that the theme is near and dear to my heart.

And speaking of near and dear to my heart, many readers no doubt know about my obsession with pizza, and know that I am not actually exaggerating when I use the word "obsession." I won't get into the details of my pizza woes here in the Midwest, but I will say that I haven't found any decent pizza of the NY style, and so have had to enjoy only Neapolitan pizza, of which there are two excellent sources in the TC, to my knowledge.

But now, as of Saturday, I have a new second home. Not far from the apartment in which Beth and I lived when we first moved out here from the Big Apple is a new pizza place: Hiawatha Pizza. Online rumors claimed this was the real deal, and that the owner and pizzamaker was in fact an ex-New Yorker himself.

You will forgive me for having my doubts.

On Saturday, though, since I have to check out every pizza place at least once, and since a few voices on Chowhound were saying such great things, I decided to drop in for a late lunch. Now, you can't really get a more Minnesota name for your pizzeria than Hiawatha Pizza, and the store front, in the same shopping center as a Cub and a Target, is as bland and Midwest-mall as it could possibly be. Still, I kept my chin up and strode in.

Empty. Of course, it was not exactly peak pizza hours, but I like to see my pizzerias as hangouts. Aside from a group of local teens hanging out on the curb out front, the place was deserted. I went up to the counter, hoping to see the New York City institution of pizza: by-slice-pies, ready to reheat and serve, sitting under glass. No such luck.

A man called out from the back. He had a thick Middle Eastern accent. I recalled someone online saying the place was halal. "What can I get for you?" he asked me.

"Do you have any slices ready?" I asked. He assured me he did. I ordered two and grabbed a can of soda (SODA, not pop) from the fridge case.

After a few minutes, he called me back to the counter, and there they were: thin, big--a sheen of oil floating on their surface. I didn't believe my eyes. My host went to the back to fetch the parmesan sprinkler while I put on some hot pepper flakes. When he returned with the cheese, I partook of that, as well, then took a seat.

After the first bite, I knew. I immediately sent a text a to Beth: I'm at Hiawatha Pizza. And then another, after the second bite: I'm coming here every day. I devoured the pizza and brought the empty tray up to the counter. As my host rang up the purchase, I said, "So you are from New York, huh?"

"How did you know?" he asked, a little suspiciously.

I just pointed at the empty tray.

So finally I've found the real deal, right here. I wish it were a little closer to home, but with spring finally here, and that bike trailer for Sam I've got in the garage, I think a ride over there once or twice a week would do me good--body, mind, and soul.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Just this minute finished reading Blake Nelson's Girl. (Same Blake Nelson who wrote Destroy All Cars.) Voice grasp is miraculous, I think. Some of the language and certainly most of the fashion and music is mondo dated (dudes are constantly getting "faced," which, if I may suggest, is a term that is ready for a comeback), but like any great YA, the characters and their motivations could never be dated. This was Beth's favorite book as a teen, and now that I've read it, it's so obvious that it must have been.

I'm very glad I didn't read it before I wrote Lily's section of Novel the First, because frankly I'd have been intimidated and no doubt influenced, which I think would have been unhelpful.

Next in my to-read list is Story of a Girl, by Sara Zarr, which I bought last night, and not simply because I'm reading books that gradually add words to "girl" in the title.

Ooh, I'm embedding the video preview for the 1998 film version of Girl. It looks not remotely faithful; in fact, and maybe it's just this trailer, it feels a little like they took the raw material of Girl and turned it into a teen comedy sex flick. I hope I'm wrong about that. But it's clearly not as good as the book. Still, I'll probably check it out. How many future stars can you find in the preview?

What's up, Doc?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Some news.

First, the release date for Novel the First is set for Fall 2010. Because the Imprint is part of a larger company--a company that is in fact a school and library publisher--we're looking at a two season, even two-release-date, schedule: January or July. So Fall 2010 essentially means finished books next July. (Release, btw, does not mean in stores; it means at the warehouse and available. Or it did at S&S, anyway. I can only assume.)

I learned this last night, over my first-ever editor lunch, albeit a dinner. It was at Ngon, which I am still not confident trying to say out loud. But the food was fantastic. I had two appetizers, including the tofu lettuce wraps, and one other that I won't mention because I think some people who read this might faint or never speak to me again if they find out I ate rabbit. Oops.

But I'll definitely eat at Ngon again, and they're even baby friendly. There were like three babies there last night, actually, and Editor mentioned he and his wife brought their own baby there too. He liked the pho. (Baby did, I mean. Though I'm sure Editor did too.)

In related news, I have become a Tenner. This thrills me more than you can imagine. If you want to get an idea of how awesome they are, look at all the comments in my first entry. They are a supportive and welcoming crew!

Some links this morning:

Head over to Carrie Jones's blog, because she waxes poetic about my new agent and her deep affection for him!

Jay Asher, rags-to-riches author of 13 Reasons Why, has a great little post today in answer to the question "What is wrong with these kids today?!"

Finally, someone up and bought! I suspect it's going to be big, what with the excellent URL. I recommend subscribing to the feed now to stay ahead of the mob.

Lots of food!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

It's snowing this morning in Saint Paul. When I got into bed last night, it was raining. I remember turning the corner onto our block, finishing up Harry's nighttime walk, and thinking about "Aprille with his shoures soote," feeling glad that, according to Chaucer, it was a very springlike night.

Now Father Winter is punishing me for my hubris.

But I actually came in here this morning to say something else. There are many, many phrases and words on the list of keywords that directed people (via Google, mostly) to this blog. Among them is "be patient and tough," tied with my own name, which I think is unfair because "be patient and tough" ought to send people to Peter Cameron's site, if an author's at all other than Ovid. At any rate, my favorite keyword is:

jewish rye loaves at cecil's, st. paul

I think that's wonderful! It really sums up the heart and soul of this blog: what can a Jew do in Minnesota when he needs to get down with his Jewish bad self and have some back-east love? (That and being a writer, obviously, but anyway.) Well, since that search, or a variation of it (involving the question of Jewish rye at Cecil's), has occurred twice since February 1st, I will answer the question.

Yes, Cecil's on Cleveland Avenue in the Highland Park neighborhood of Saint Paul, does have great Jewish rye, with seeds, and a nice dark Russian rye, not to mention a great marble rye, if you're into that sort of thing. They also have terrific matzo ball soup, and they make egg creams with real Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup. So while they are (obviously) not kosher, if you're like 99% of the Jews I've ever known, you probably want kosher style, not the real thing, because otherwise you can't have an egg cream with your pastrami on rye. (Oh, ps for the hardcore: they also have Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Soda!)

Oh, and the latkes are HUGE. Be warned. They are not for the faint of heart.

And since I'm here, why not ramble on about food? As mentioned previously, Beth, Sam, and I went out for supper on Friday night to El Meson in Minneapolis. Terrific! Although I was at first a bit stressed out, because it looked like a pretty adult place (ie, not entirely as baby friendly as I'd thought), everyone seemed okay with Sam's being there, and a few other patrons under the age of ten eventually showed up, putting me further at ease. (As it happens, Beth ate most of her meal with Sam on her knee, but she was okay with it.) My entree (a grilled pork chop; it was the special of the evening) was excellent. The last time I'd had a pork chop was over a year ago, and that one had not been so good. Pretty sure I was slightly ill from it. But the real winners at El Meson, from our experience, were the appetizers we got. We shared a ceviche that was amazing, something called peras, which were pears, stuffed with brie, and wrapped in Spanish prosciutto, and a fresh tomato, avocado, and queso fresco salad called a Dominicana. We could have gotten one more appetizer between us and been very happy with the meal, I think.

Maybe next time we'll just get tapas. You get to try more things that way.


Friday, April 3, 2009

It's Friday! This evening, in celebration of the book deal, I'm taking Beth and Sam out (or maybe Beth is taking me and Sam out) for dinner at El Meson. We haven't ever been there, but it's so rare we get the chance and excuse to try a new place. Plus, it seems they don't mind babies in the dining room. Big plus.

This morning I registered for the Loft's Festival of Children's & Young Adult Literature & Illustration. At first, I was thinking, Why bother? I've got my book deal. But then I decided, heck, a conference got me here, and I can never really know enough about writing, specifically for teens, nor about the business itself. Plus, I can never really get out there and meet people enough, which is something I occasionally need a good kick in the rear to do at all. So what the heck. So I won't register for the Paths to Success panel specifically about getting that first deal.

My first contribution, such as it is, is up on the Spectacle today. (It's not an entry I wrote, merely the clues I contributed for this week's Stump the Bookseller.) Click over and try your luck! No one's gotten it yet; we even had to add some bonus clues.

It's poetry Friday today, which is something I have never really taken part in, mainly because I don't think I know enough poetry, nor enough about poetry, to really contribute anything. I was thinking about dropping a poem on you today, but then I got scared of copyright infringement and decided not to.

So thanks for stopping by.

Special second post of the day!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

From my soon-to-be-official editor's blog this morning:

So, did you actually do any business at the fair, you might ask. Well, yes, actually. In the Happy category, I actually finished a deal for my first YA novel acquisition at Carolrhoda. It’s a debut and that makes me very happy. This circumstance is somewhat amusing because not only is it an American book, but the author lives about a mile from me in St. Paul. That his agent and I met to finalize the deal in Bologna is just a coincidence, but I rather like the idea that a book could travel from a meeting at Minnesota SCBWI conference last fall through beers at several St. Paul bars to a legal pad in the agent’s hall at the Bologna fairgrounds.

Just thought I'd share. (The links through time were added by me.)

A great review for my alter ego

Eric Stevens just got a wonderful e-mail from SAB! Booklist Online had this to say about his latest release:

Maddox, Jake (author) and Eric Stevens (author).
Illustrated by Sean Tiffany.
Feb. 2009. 72p. Stone Arch, hardcover, $17.99 (9781434212009) <> . Grades 4-7.
REVIEW. First published March 19, 2009 (Booklist Online).

With a winning combination of fast action and intense personal drama, this chapter book in the Jake Maddox Sports Fiction series will draw even reluctant readers. On the first page, Kenny is in big trouble at school again, and his dad has been called in to see the principal. Ever since his mother died, Kenny gets angry very easily; he even yells at teachers. He is furious when Dad signs him up for karate class, and the full-page, comic-style pictures in gray wash show him seething, and then slowly gaining control as he practices the technical moves and also learns calming exercises from Sensei, his karate teacher. Readers will enjoy the details of Kenny’s meltdowns as much as the karate specifics, which build to the climax, in which Kenny overcomes his anger and wins the class tournament. Back matter includes discussion questions, writing prompts, a glossary, and more information about karate.— Hazel Rochman

I'm afraid I can't link the article, since I don't subscribe to Booklist Online. But anyway, woo! Thanks, Hazel!

Destroy all cars.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On a perfect day like yesterday, you gotta pretty much expect something downright crappy is going to happen to keep everything in perspective. It did. On the way to band practice, in my car, I struck a dog as it ran across Glenwood Avenue in Minneapolis, just west of Lyndale. The dog's owner, having been chasing the dog when it managed to find the street, ran to its side right away, as did I, once I'd pulled over and gotten out of the car, in shock. The owner believed that the dog, too, was merely in shock; he saw the whole thing, and seemed to think the dog was essentially unhurt. I desperately wanted to exchange information, help out in some way, give this man everything I owned to make up for this accident, but he shooed me off, insisting the dog would be fine, and it wasn't my fault, and I shouldn't worry. I have no reason to believe the dog is not fine. Thinking back on the details of the accident, I suspect the dog was hit by a plastic part under the front bumper, which snapped off, and then the dog rolled under the car.

Still, afterward, I parked my car and cried for about ten minutes. So now you know I'm a big softy. Maybe especially for little dogs.

I hadn't meant for that narrative to be as long as it was.

Tonight is class. Specifically, we're taking a field trip down to Minnehaha Park, where an ancient sacred spring of the Dakota people, the Cold Water Spring, as it is known, is located. Then we'll go to a community center in Mendota for a talk on the subject. Stands to be interesting. Maybe somehow, someday, I'll incorporate some of the info into a future FTM for SAB.

In YA NOVEL the First news (see what I did there?), I'll be meeting with my editor on Tuesday to begin making what was an MS into a finely honed piece of literature. I seriously can't wait to get started.