October 24-27, 2009:

This was my New Jersey, New York City trip, and it began with a train trip from Springfield to Penna Station. Daughter Heidi drove me to the station and away I went. Since business class was a whopping $16 (I think) more, that was a no-brainer. But–and here’s the interesting thing–whereas the trains from St Andrews down to London give you free wifi all the way, American trains have not yet figured out how to do that. Not free and no wifi. Or at least East Coast Amtrack hasn’t figured out how to do it. I don’t know if any other trains in the US can. Chew on that factoid for a while.

But I had plenty other stuff I could do on the 3 1/2 hour train ride, including signing bookplates, finishing the Ian Rankin novel I was reading, a couple of crosswords, work on a speech.

I got into New York City after dinner, and in the teeth of a horrible downpour with lightning, I taxied to my cousin Pam Berlin’s apartment where I was staying. She is a theatrical director, her husband Billy Carden an actor turned theater director who runs a small theater as well. And they are both acting/directing teachers. Lovely, smart, funny, fascinating individuals. Since their daughter is off in college, I got to camp out in her bedroom. However, just getting from the taxi into their apartment house, I was soaked through. I certainly hoped the rest of the trip had better weather.

And so it did. Because in the pearly, sun-shining next morning, a car was sent to take me to New Jerey (Whippany) to a Jewish Center to give a talk on my Holocaust novels. A small day-long conference made even smaller by the fact that the other two author-speakers were both home sick. So there were several Survivors and me. I think I acquitted myself well, sold quite a few books for the small bookstore that supplied the books.

The conference director was herself going to another conference in New York City afterwards, so she drove me back. She dropped me off near a synagogue just a half block from my cousin’s apartment because a friend (one of Adam’s ex-bandmates) and his klezmer fusion band were playing there. Because of enormous traffic on the GWBridge, I missed the first half of the gig, but the second half was amazingly good. We danced in the aisles.

And then I had dinner with editor-friend Ellen Datlow and we did a lot of girl talk instead of business talk which was a lot of fun.

Monday I was up early, and off to spend breakfast time with my agent Elizabeth, which is always a treat. And then I walked down (about fifteen minutes) to the Scholastic offices where I brainstormed on HOW DO DINOSAURS branded books with the head of that division Debra and the editor Jeff. Then Debra and the marketing team took me to lunch and we talked some more.

From there I walked (about twenty-five minutes) through Greenwich Village towards the Penguin Putnam offices. Along the way I bought two pair of earrings and tried to find the apartment house on Thompson Street where David and I had first met, back in 1960, but alas things have changed so much on the street, I couldn’t be sure.

At Penguin Putnam I got to meet Jessica, my editor at Roc/Ace who worked on EXCEPT THE QUEEN. She had the cover to give me (gorgeous) and we talked a bit about marketing strategies for the book, and then went to tea. There we talked about next books. I had some suggestions, and several interested her, so that means Proposal Writing Time when I got back home.

From there, I went to see the Philomel crew in Michael Green’s office. We spent time talking about where to go now that my dear editor Pat Gauch has retired. The three books Patty and I had been working on have already been parceled out with Patti’s help, so we were really talking about possible new books.

And after that, I went off to meet with Dutton editor Steve Meltzer. We talked about LOST BOY, my picture book biography of J. M. Barrie coming out in the spring, about BUG which Adam and I will be getting to him in the next week, and then about some new ideas. Two (one I suggested, one he suggested) seem the most viable. MORE proposals when I get home.

As I told my agent in an email: I’d like to sell some of the things I have already fully written! But the picture book market is–in the words of every editor I have talked to–“sluggish” at the moment. Sigh.

After that, I went back to the apartment and had an early-to-bed-I-am-exhausted night.

In the morning (Tuesday, for those lost in my ramblings) I got packed, had a leisurely breakfast chat with Pam about family, about creativity, about the possibility of our working together on something. And then, dragging suitcase and computer bag, I went off into the teeth of another rainstorm. But not right away for the train. I had another group of editor/marketing folks to see.

This group was in the FlatIron Building: the good folks at First/Second Books who are doing my two graphic novels: FOILED and eventually CURSES FOILED AGAIN. Excitingly, they had a bound copy–my first–of FOILED which is officially out in the spring. I had a small meeting with Mark Siegel the editor-in-chief. And then the delightful Mike Cavallero who illustrated the book and the marketing director Gina and I went to lunch, me dragging my suitcase etc. And at lunch we discussed pretty thoroughly marketing strategies which meant that when I got home, I had a bunch of things to send Gina.

Then a taxi to the train station, the train to Springfield where Heidi picked me up. The car to home. Collapse!

As yo can see, I try to pack into a couple of New York days as much as possible. For me, face time with editors and marketing people is invaluable. But exhausting.

October 21-23, 2009:

First, an apology to David Costello who I mis-identified as David Milgrim in my post below. In fact apologies to BOTH Davids,  Costello who was at Michelson’s dePaola party and who was part of our dinner after, and Milgrim who wasn’t. If I could learn how to edit already posted Journal entries, I could have quietly dealt with it without the public apology.

Now for the actual Journal entry for the last three days. I was in Mississippi. Yep, flew down to give a speech for their Big Read event ( alas, not very well attended; it was a big homecoming type weekend), a stealth hour presentation to librarians at the MLA (Mississippi Library Assn.) which needed extra chairs, a visit to the deGrummond Collection which is always a treat. Two dinners, and a nice hotel stay later, I am home.

As to work: Adam added a short ending chapter for BUG which was well nigh perfect. (Of course I fiddled a bit with  it.) Now we are re-reading the entire thing. It’s almost 50,000 words.

I got one rejection, three great reviews (one for SCARECROW, one for PUMPKIN BABY, one for UNDER THE STAR), am moving closer to a contract for a new book, and did a bit more work on a possible retold folk tale with illustrator Roberto Innocenti. That last is very up in the air. But I have hopes.

Am off tomorrow for New York City and New Jersey, so once again I will have to play catch-up when I return. All these trips always sound very doable when I accept the engagements a year in advance. But suddenly they all seem to be piling on me when what I really want to do is write. And the worst of it is, I don’t seem to learn this. I just keep saying YES as long as it is a year ahead of time. Of course these days, when more and more of the publicity for books is put on the shoulders of the writers, I shouldn’t be complaining. Just consider it Whine #473.

October 18-20, 2009:

Stuff, doctor visits, and writing. Ah the glamorous life.

Sunday I read Adam’s final fight scene for BUG which I tidied up just a little bit, added the climax between Sammy and the golem, and our first draft is done, done, done. Oh yeah, that small matter of going over the entire mss. one last time. Easy peasy.

Monday: Bone density exam (non-impact, unlike mammograms and colonoscopies!) Doctor’s appointment, in which my numbers were revealed. Cholesterol down. Blood pressure down. Liver function normal. “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” the doctor said. Also, the burst ear drum is healed. Though I still can’t hear out of the other ear at all.

Picked up Maddison at school because Heidi had a scheduling conflict. Then home where I worked on some of GIRL’S BIBLE.

Tuesday: ENT exam. Yes, the left ear has healed. The right ear, though, has “a vacuum behind the ear drum” which should take care of itself in the next few weeks.

I hosted the writer’s group, with a lot of catch-up of news and two pieces read, both going to be sensational books. One an adult novel, one a YA  novel.

Picked up Maddison at school, took her to ballet, went to my favorite clothing story, Zanna’s in Amherst where I bought two tops. Will wear both on my trip on Wednesday down to Mississippi to speak.

Ah yes, I will be gone three days. Talk amongst yourselves.

October 17, 2009:

Done. Done. Done. I finished the galleys for EXCEPT THE QUEEN (took about another four hours, including the xeroxing of the pages, collating, getting them ready for mailing on Monday.) But I am done.

Then I began working on my talk for Thursday down in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for their BIG READ event. Not reading any of my books, mind you, but WIZARD OF EARTHSEA so it makes writing a talk tricky. Also because it’s for both kids and adults.

But the big event was in the evening: the 75th birthday party for Tomie dePaola at Michelson’s Gallery in Northampton, MA. A lot of my children’s book friends I hadn’t seen in months were there, including Jane Dyer, Kathy Brown, Lauren Mills, Dennis Nolan, Rebecca Guay, Jeanne Birdsall, Jarrett Krosoczka, Diane de Groat, David Milgrim, Bob Marstall, and others I am forgetting. And of course the irrepressible Tomie himself. After a lot of talking, joking, picture taking, browsing around the gallery, seven of us went off for dinner, meeting up with Glendon in the street and draggin her along with us.

Home tired, happy, feet hurt.

October 16, 2009:

In slightly panic mode, I spent all day working on the galleys of EXCEPT THE QUEEN since they want everything back by October 21. I got all the way to page 256 out of 370, so still–as you can see–I have a ways to go. Am being Senorita Crankypants with friends and family because of it.

Why, you ask? Isn’t it fun re-reading your book in its printed form? Admiring the work that went into it.

Well, yes and no. I am sometimes amazed, gobsmacked at phrases I like and had forgotten writing. Of course, since I wrote the book with Midori Snyder, the phrases I most admire I just assume are hers. But since this book has been running late all along, we just finished the revisions about a month ago. Not enough time between heavy readings. So it has felt less like revisiting an old friend and more like a compulsive cup of tea with a feared and fearsome old besom of an aunt. You have to mind your P’s and Q’s. You have to be alert. You have to keep your napkin on your lap, your knees locked, and not dribble down your front as you are wont to do. She won’t tolerate it and she will not be quiet about it either. In other words, this visit is not fun but laborious.

And yet. . .and yet. . .it has its moments. I think it is a fairly good book. I can offload my fears onto my co-author. And truly I think the best character is her construct: the fairy Highborn lord Hugh, now called Hawk and also Long Lankin, who is tattooing human women and collecting their blood in vials to bring back into Faerie to revitalize the faerie clans. He has made a pact with the Dark Lord of the Unseelie Court and. . .But he is not all bad, just become a monster through grief (his wife killed herself) and pride.

So I have another day’s slog before I send the stuff off. There could be worse jobs in the world, as I keep reminding myself. Many and many worse jobs. And really, I normally love this part of the book business. Am just feeling pressure and of course with the ear thing and the sinus infection, I am not feeling 100% anyway. Not even 60% if truth be told.

October 14-15, 2009:

I am feeling a  bit frantic, a bit fraught. Too many bits and pieces, not enough time before book tour/conference season begins. This means I work on small things in a small way as well as big things in a small way. However, it is the method I have always used until (as Constant Readers of this Journal know) a single piece simply overtakes me and everything else gets set aside.

Specifically, I revised two more times the retold folktale SISTER BEAR and sent it back to the editor. I began working on my upcoming speeches. I am pecking away at the galleys of EXCEPT THE QUEEN. I reworked the opening poem for the HOW DO DINOSAURS LAUGH OUT LOUD. I signed some foreign rights contracts. Faxed off some tax info for speeches I am giving. Worked on a new poem for Lee Hopkins and revised it twice under his directive. (He may still turn it down. It happens!)

And in-between, I had regular blood tests. Had a 1 1/2 hour dentist appointment with a new dentist since my old one (Dr. Edward Welch, over 35 years of caring for my teeth, thanks Dr. W!) precipitously retired in September. Went grocery shopping. Went to a Thursday Children’s Books Drink Night with Bob Marstall and a couple of librarians. Snuffled a lot (still.) Complained about the weather. Chatted with neighbors. Lost another pound. (Please, do not find it and return it to me.) Spent time with my daughter and her daughters, the fabulous Maddison and Glendon.

You know the drill. Life.

October 12-13, 2009:

The ear, the nasal stuffiness, the raspy throat continued to plague me these two days, making a lot of stuff simply harder. Concentration shot because of labored breathing and a strange occasional clicking in my right ear which I found I could control by pressing on the lower part of the trigenimal nerve under my chin. Bizarre, but doable.

Heidi and I went for a morning at the Paradise City Arts Festival on Monday, and I actually bought stuff for me (for once)–an autumn coat (size small!!! though I think the coats ran large)–a new pocketbook, a thing to hang earrings on, and a turquoise top (very warm) for sitting in the cold house writing.

Writing. Now there’s a thought. I did a pass over SISTER BEAR (about two hours worth) making some changes an editor had  suggested and with which I heartily agreed. I worked on a poem about the fir tree in the side yard (another hour). I answered tons of email. Waded some more through piles of stuff.

Tuesday, I went to the writer’s group for the first time since May 26. Everyone was there and it was wonderful seeing my friends again. As always, interesting stuff read, strong critiques pointed and helpful. And then Barbara Goldin and I went off for tea (me) and hot chocolate (her) to discuss our Bible book. I think we got a lot solved.

Came home to do some fiddling on the Bible book (two hours), some rearranging. To bed early. I seem to be over jetlag but not the damned ear/nose/throat thing.

I don’t know if other writers are terribly fussed by physical ailments, but this sort of thing bothers me enormously. I want to write, but my head wants to think about my ear or my nose or my heartburn or. . .or. . .or. . . . It makes me hate myself for whimpishness.  And then I fuss about that. Sometimes I can bull through and get so involved with a piece that I honestly forget ailments. But other times, I seem to be captive to them. A slave to a runny nose!

Interstitial Moment:

From a piece I wrote some time ago, the introduction. It says a lot about my love of Scotland.

A few years ago, friends of mine in St Andrews dubbed me a part–time Caledonian because I live in Scotland 4-6 months of the year. Actually, I was a Scotophile even before setting a foot past Hadrian’s Wall. But unlike my husband and children and grandchildren, I do not have an ounce of Scottish blood in me, though there may be Scandinavian through the Ukraine connection, because Kiev was a great Viking trading center. (That would certainly explain my grandmother Yolen’s red hair and blue eyes.) And remembering how many Vikings gave their genes and their vocabulary to Scotland, perhaps I can claim to be a clan cousin of sorts.

The first thing that happens to visitors who discover Scotland is that they fall in love with the landscape—the sheep-dotted hillsides, the brown and purple heather on the mountains, the stone walls like dragon spines defining the fields, the harled and whitewashed cottages huddled together, the dark ruins of a castle on a headland, the sea mist (the “haar”) that strides across gardens and obscures the road.

Then the visitors fall in love with the Scottish people. Wiry shepherds whistling up their dogs on a Highland hillside. A storyteller in a cafe explaining the real history of Argyll. A bevy of old darlings on a gossipy tea break. Three men in a pub alternately arguing football, rugby, and politics. A crusty caddy at the Old Course cursing the R&A. A professor of computational science coaching young runners in his spare time. University students in red robes walking along the stone weir. Women at the drying lines chatting as they put up their clothes. The shop girl who thanks the customer not once but twice for buying something. The owner of a porridge oats mill showing off his machinery with pride. Fishermen in a small harbor readying their nets while talking of the weather. The farmer walking his crop line. The minister who takes  time to show an interested tourist around his church.

Then the visitors fall in love with the history, the blood and guts of it, the sheep and cattle raids and red-letter days, the battle for Independence, the sinister politicking, the lairds who valued sheep over clan, the Darien scheme that broke the country’s bank and heart, the Stuarts who had more charisma than brains. Enough for thousands of books (and you can find them) and plays and movies (and you can see them) and songs. And you can hear those songs still sung with the vigour and passion as when they were first made, in pubs and at ceildhas and in the streets at Festival time.

And some of us even fall in love with the food. I know, hard to believe. But I happen to love haggis. (There is a vegetarian haggis that fair misses the point!) And a bowl of porridge to start my morning makes me fall in love all over again. How about Arbroath smokies and venison steak,  potato and leek soup, cullen skink? And the fish and lamb dishes are to be treasured indeed. Don’t forget Scottish strawberries, the best in the world. And cheeses to die for. Be sure to try a cranachan for dessert. Yes, it’s made with the ubiquitous porridge oats, but even if you don’t like the sound of that, you will love the dish. Trust me. Did I forget to mention single malt whiskeys? Well, since I’m not a drinker, they don’t rush to the front of my mind. But there are more single malts to be tried while you are here than you have days for it, especially if you are only visiting for a month.

October 11, 2009:

Another not quite great night, jetlag and fighting with time changes will do that. After all, I went backwards across a five hour time difference. I managed all of the pill routines and the eardrop routines, then gathered myself for a couple of hours of busy-work on the computer.

After this, I looked at some of the new books and things that had arrived in the last few weeks: first copy of the new edition of THE SEEING STICK. The illustrations this time around are completely different–and more romantic-looking–than the Charlip illustrations. I love them both in very different ways. The Spanish edition of SEA QUEENS. Korean edition of MY UNCLE EMILY. Contracts for two more Korean books, OWL MOON and one other which I have suddenly forgotten. It was a treasure trove.

Then I got dressed nicely for an hour’s interview by a camera crew working on a documentary about children’s literature and the children’s book publishing scene. Acquitted myself reasonably well, given that it was still somewhat hard to hear their questions. And my voice was raspy. Nose dripping. Lovely sight!

After the crew packed up, I drove off to Brattleboro to meet a date. Ah yes, I am dating. Or trying. Nice man, smart, interesting life. A composer. But no sparks in the heart. Alas.

However, the trip through the beginning of fall color reminded me of how much I love New England autumns and don’t want to miss them. Some trees along the way simply made me gasp with pleasure. Probably full color is still another couple of weeks away.

Dinner with Maddison and Heidi was a lovely treat at the end of the day. I got to bed early and hoped for a good night’s sleep.

And I almost achieved it.

October 10, 2009

The saga continues. . .

Yes, I slept 8 hours in my Massachusetts bed. Solidly. Hardly moving. But the towel over my pillow was spotted wth more gunk dripping from my ear, and I could feel that it was wet. I could hear nothing. I needed to see the doctor ASAP.

Heidi made the appointment for 9:45 a.m. and drove me over. The doctor cleaned up my ear, and said, “Yep–I can see through past your eardrum. No question about it. It has burst.” When I asked why there had been no pain and yet the previous two times the same thing had happened, it had felt as if an icepick had been driven into my skull through my ear, she shrugged. Later Heidi would say to me, “Why should you complain about the lack of pain?” Why indeed. Except it would have made an earlier diagnoses doable.

So, I am on antibiotic ear drops as well as the antibiotics themselves orally, an over-the-counter antihistimine, and am flying on a wing and a prayer. But I can hear a bit thanks to the doctor’s fiddling.

So I spent the afternoon paying bills, catching up with emails and snail mails, signing books that had been sent for my signature, etc., and whittling my way through the endless piles of things Heidi had lined up for me. (I think it’s actually going to take a full week’ to make a significant dent in this stuff.) And of course, in the middle of that, FedEx deposits the 370+ pages of galleys for EXCEPT THE QUEEN which needs returning before the 21st.

In the evening, the round of ear drops, pills, etc. being launched, I went off with Bob Marstall to Masha Rudman’s retirement party. I was to say a few words along with others. But at the dinner table (it was a potluck) both Bob and Heidi kept telling me to speak up. I was having more and more trouble hearing what they–or anyone else was saying. And by the time the speakers started, in a room filled with about 200 other folk, I could hear nothing. Oh, I could see them gesticulating and people around me laughed and applauded at intervals, but I could not hear a thing.

Oh, that’s not entirely accurate. I could hear Masha’s daughter Reva who was mistress of ceremonies and the only one to actually use the microphone.

Agony.

So, there I was deaf and jetlagged, and they had me down as the final speaker. That meant I had to sit through the entire evening without being able to hear any of it before it was my turn. Both Heidi and Bob assured me that the little talks were fascinating. And I am sure they were.

A difficult night, after, with nightmares and snuffles and dripping ear and little sleep.

Sorry for the two back-to-back whines, but given how much money, Dear Reader, you are paying for this service, consider yourself lucky that it isn’t more!

 

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