October 24-29, 2010:

What a week–some good, some tragedies revisited, some laughs, some tears.

I saw two friends with cancer this week, one close by, one off near Boston, and coupled with giving a talk about David and reading some of my poems about his death at an event at the Toronto Brain Centre, I felt as if I was wading through the Tropic of Cancer. Reach a certain age, I suppose, and the Probability Theory turns into the Actuality and Actuary Theory.

But I also went off to a writers’ meeting (just three of us) where we talked about changes in the industry, then the illustrator’s meeting at Gary Lippincott’s. More of the same. No one is completely happy with how things are going in publishing.

Then off I went the next day to Cambridge for the morning at Candlewick Books with my wonderful young (very young) editor Katie Cunningham. We talked books, of course. Old ones, new ones. And she had me read my upcoming new Book (Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters) to the assembled editorial, marketing, and art/production departments and do a small q&a. You know, nobody ever asked me to do anything like that before and I have been in publishing for over 45 years. Oops–closer to fifty!

The next day I flew to Toronto, had dinner with friends Jonathan Schmidt and wife Maureen (he was an old editor of mine). In the morning, I gave my talk to the most caring group of individuals one could hope to meet at the Brain Tumor Centre.. There was a buffet after. And then I flew home.

Tired, yes. Figured out the problem (or at least one of them, though it’s a BIG problem) with my new novel. Started reading Wolf Hall, which I love.  And. . .

That’s it. Compact, emotional, and over.

October 18-24, 2010:

Autumn has crept up on us, having itself been confused by the warm nights and warmer days. Then a huge downpour stripped many of the early-turners of their leaves. But now with the sharp shock of a drop in the temperature, autumn has leafed out in all its glory. Never better than to live in New England this time of year.

It’s been another busy week. I have been into New York City, then Long Island. Much of it book-related, though some personal and fun stuff as well.

I trained in to Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station midday on the 19th, wrote some 2,000 words on my novel The Thirteenth Fey along the way, and stayed at Bonnie Bryant’s apartment downtown. Went out for dinner in the Village with my old friend Marcel, near the Cherry Lane Theater where I lived when David and I went out on our first real date. Dinner at the aptly named “The Little Owl,” restaurant, then we walked through the Village and I marveled at how much things have changed yet stayed the same. Finally, we walked the High Line, an old elevated railway spur originally dedicated to the meat packing district’s use, now a blocks-long high garden. The almost-full moon overhead was bright and Venus was hanging on its lower lip. We could look out across the Hudson and New Jersey was lit up like Christmas and Chanukah together. It was breathtaking. Ended the evening at the 9-11 site to watch the new building go up as men (and I suppose some women, though I never saw any) worked round the clock on it.

Next morning (Wednesday), I saw three editors at the Simon & Schuster group and in the afternoon three more editors at the Penguin group. All in all, one rejection, possibly four books sold (never count those before the contract is in hand is my motto!). One small hitch in the otherwise good day: as I walked across Times Square, there was a sudden enormous and loud police presence, many cars, some with sirens going. I believe I levitated across and down three streets and found a cab and got out of there in thirty seconds or less. Seems there had been an unattended car in front of a major hotel and no one was taking any chances. I was not waiting around to find out. Told all this to my friend Bonnie at dinner.

Thursday I saw my agent in the morning and then we cabbed together to Scholastic where the Branding Meeting for the Dinosaur books was to take place. My goodness, I felt like the belle of the ball. Mark Teague and I were toasted, petted, made much of. We got to hear about all the new projects and ideas, about the 6 1/2 million books sold world wide in the Dinosaur series. And we got to toast the team back, and give them some of our ideas as well. It was pretty amazing.

Then a hire car took me back to Bonnie’s where I picked up my luggage and then got me to Penn Station. And off I went to Long Island where illustrator Mike Cavallero and I were both presenters. Of course we talked about Foiled and graphic novels in general. Lots of interest, signed many MANY books. Then left for home.

Train was almost an hour late. Friend Bob Marstall picked me up, and on the drive home we saw a fireball in the sky, too close for a shooting star, too fast for a falling plane. Found out later it was part of a meteorite shower. It was pretty stunning.

The next two days–Saturday and Sunday–I worked hard, had dinner at Heidi’s, wrote another few thousand words (revising really), and saw my near friend AK who has been quite ill. She’s looking quite a bit better and has put on some of the lost weight, and has an incredibly positive attitude. I felt quite buoyed up by her instead of the other way around which is what I’d planned.

October 8-17, 2010:

Yes, touring season has hit with a bang and I have been dilatory in catching up. So here goes.

Book news:

Received French copies of some of the Dinosaur books, and a Korean edition of a Baby Bear book. Asimov’s has a new poem of mine in the October issue. Got a first copy of Barefoot Book of Dances Around the World, f&gs of The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye, and wrote 15,000 words on The Thirtenth Fey though now I know what major stuff needs doing for the beginning and have (at last) an inkling of what the middle sections will be.

Touring:

Comic Con in New York–which I am assured is only half of what ComicCon in San Diego is (thankfully in the summer when I am in Scotland!)–and it was simply overwhelming. Too many people, too noisy, too busy, and with not enough oxygen for me. I did a one day reccy and one day with two panels (nicely attended, especially the second one) and two signings (ditto). I had a long talk with two editors, one of whom–Rachel of DarkHorse–came home with me at the end of the con but more about that in a bit. I was interviewed by MTV (wow!) and was exhausted at each day’s end. Stayed with my cousin Pam Berlin and her husband Billy Carden and they–plus had two dinners with my elementary school friend Marcel–all of which proved a wonderful counterpart to the craziness of the con.

A few days later I was off to Seattle to give the annual Spencer Shaw lecture at the university. Spencer was an amazing man, a mentor of mentors, teacher of teachers, and we’d always promised one another at major conferences like IRA and ALA and NCTE that we had to sit down and have that big talk. I said yes to this one because Spencer asked and I thought it was time for us to finally spend some time together, but alas he died several months ago so I got to bracket my actual talk with some memories/praise/and condolences to family. It was an emotional time for all, and I got a Standing O for my speech (though I think it was as much for Spencer as for me.) Stayed with college friend Ann Crockett Stever and her partner Dorsey in a wonderful Craftsman house overlooking a lake. We had dinner one night with another college buddy, Professor Jere Bachrach and his gorgeous wife Barb. And Ann and I had a nice walk partially around the lake.

Spoke locally at the Westfield Atheneum when getting the Carol Otis Hurst award for My Uncle Emily.Very small group but very good at asking questions.

Busy, busy. busy. Did most of my writing on planes and trains.

Other stuff:

Dinner with editor Rachel and Rebecca Guay and husband Matt. Before that we sat in Rebecca’s studio and looked closely at the gorgeous paintings (about 100 pages so far out of 138) that she’s doing for my second graphic novel, The Last Dragon which DarkHorse is bringing out and Rachel is editing. Rachel and I also had lunch with Greg Ruth, a Valley illustrator I didn’ t know, as strange as that seemed to me. I mean strange that I didn’t know him! Quite a find! Rachel and I also went to the Eric Carle Museum and the Yiddish Book Center.

Went to the Amherst Ballet Fete where a week at Wayside was put up at auction and was the high ticket item. Had dinner with friends at Mira Bartok’s house, a high-powered art/writing/music group. Had several interviews, one by Skype.

And tomorrow I start another leg of the tour in New York and Long Island.

October 7, 2010:

Tidying up day. Wrote a poem and did three revisions. Read a friend’s manuscript for a blurb. (Hi, Troy!) had a photo session for a local paper’s story on me (an award in Westfield upcoming).  A phone interview with a Boston radio station. Haircut. Packing.

Packing?

Yes, touring season starts big time. Tomorrow NY and Comic Com. Bringing an editor home. (Rachel of DarkHorse.) Then on to Seattle to give the Spencer Shaw lecture. Westfield, MA for my award. Back to New York and Long Island for a conference and meeting with editors and agent. Boston, Toronto and October is done.

Deep breath before November and Baltimore, Rochester NY, etc.

I will try and write in the interstices. I’m pretty good at that. A lot of practice. And play with friends. And catch up on sleep and mail.

Interstitial Moment:

Turning an old, already-published short story into a novel has many built-in problems. An outsider might think that it should be an easy task. After all, the characters and plot are  established and handy. The tone/voice is there. Just deepen and write more words, right?

Wrong.

I have done a lot of what the sf world calls “fix-ups,”taking an existing short story and writing a novel from it/them. Believe me, it is a much tougher problem than that.

Among the novels I have written that have come from my short stories, include: The Young Merlin Trilogy (Passager, Hobby, Merlin), Cards of Grief, Sword of the Rightful King, Dragon’s Boy, The Books of Great Alta (Sister Light/Sister Dark, White Jenna, though the third book–The One-Armed Queen was wholly new), The Pit Dragon Chronicles, and now Snow in Summer which I just turned in, and The Thirteenth Fey which I am working on and due at the beginning of June.

Here are just a few of the problems:

1. Plot. Yes, there is more plot in a novel, but that’s not the least of it. A short story plot will usually only have one twist and sometimes a dynamite last line. But a novel is never so arc-simple. There have to be curlicues and dash-backs, and double dealings, false turns. A short story plot is a carousel ride. A novel is a maze.

2. Characters. In a short story less is more. Fewer characters. A novel often has a large cast. Or at least a larger cast than the short story, and more of those characters have to be fleshed out, given back-stories, voices, other small plots or arcs of their own.

3. A single line. A short story can turn on a dime. Yes, that can be a fairy coin, but remember they disappear with the dawn. A novel is going to have a slower and more developed denouement.

4. Flashbacks, flash forwards, interstitial stuff. Sometimes it works in the short story and not the novel or vice versa. The author has to learn to let go.

5. Voice. Much the same as #4. Sometimes an entirely new voice must be used for the novel version.

One has to consider the short story simply as a starting place. Everything is negotiable, everything is up for grabs. The story still lives in its own format. But the novel has to live, too, and it may become a very different animal because of it. Love them both but do not confuse or conflate them.

Here endeth the lesson for today. Selah.

October 1-6, 2010:

Book News:

Two nice rejections, a copy of the f&gs of The Day Tiger Rose Went Away, and 10,681 words on the new novel–The Thirteenth Fey which encompasses the first section of the book. (I think it’s three sections.) Since I start my fall travel schedule with a bang this weekend, not sure how much I will get done before November.

Life Etc.:

Visited a member of the writing group who is quite ill along with to other members. We all supported one another. This same week heard about two other friends who died, and a third whose husband died in a freak mountain-climbing accident. Time of my life, I suppose. Always throws me back to David’s death of course.

Heidi and I signed close to (or over) 50 books at the Conway Festival of the Hills.

Had tea with several friends.

Mostly I was head down and writing. That 10,000 plus words were all done in 6 days. And boy! are my wings tired. I think it’s a solid start, but then every time I go back over it, I find more to do.

September 14-30, 2010:

Big catch up. I hope this will work on the resurrected Air.

Obviously I got home from Scotland, but it was nightmarish. On the front end,  I had booked a later flight–at noon instead of 7 a.m.–so Debby and I could have a leisurely start to the morning. But the Pope (yeah, that guy) decided to visit Scotland on the day I was leaving. So traffic to and fron the Edinburgh airport was going to be backed up and rerouted. So we ended up leaving at 7 a.m. anyway, which meant I was up at 4 to get everything finished, bed stripped etc.

Plane to Newark was easy, and then everything went pear-shaped.

There were tornadoes (yeah–those storms) in New York. And though I had a 9 o’clock in the evening one hour flight back to Hartford where Heidi was to pick me up, the plane was pushed back an hour. And at 10, though we’d been assured the plane was going, Heidi called me to say it was listed as canceled. I asked again and the guy checked his schedule and said, “Oh–it HAS been canceled.” So at ten p.m. I scrambled–along with the other  v/i/c/t/e/m/s  er passengers of two other canceled flights to get in line for. . .we had no idea what. But I’d been up over 24 hours at this point.

Finally the line was so long, I dodged out of there, called my cousin Pam in Stamford, found a cab willing to take me there (can we say $200 boys and girls?) and spent the night. Took a train in the morning to Springfield.

Heidi picked me up, though traffic delayed her. We took a detour through Maddison’s school. And home. Six hours sleep in 36 hours. It took me days to recover.

But some nice books stuff: a poem, “The Gospel of the Rope” coming out from Mythic Delirium, the editor of Snow in Summer has already read 1/3 of the revision and likes it. Some book money trickled in. A new Dino book (board book of opposites) accepted. A poem out in the latest Asimov’s. Nice conversations begun with the editor of the Things To Say to a Dying Man poetry collection. Signing at the World Eye Bookstore went well. Editor Steve Meltzer likes a book proposal sent to him, though of course it has to get through committee. Editor Sharyn November liked a trilogy proposal sent to her, ditto. I had my first copies of Hush Little Horsie and How Do Dinosaurs Laugh Out Loud, two starred reviews for Switching on the Moon (added to the two for Elsie’s Bird). Two phone interviews about my 300th book.

Some not nice news: one picture book and one short story turned down. Both have gone elsewhere. “Never let the grass grow underfoot” is a good unsold book motto to have.

Visited a very sick friend, did a touch-up for the voice-over narrative I’d taped before Scotland, had a small operation removing a fibroma from my upper gum. (Dr. Soft Hands was the perfect dental surgeon for the job, no pain and no bleeding).

Heidi and Maddison and I plus two friends raced into New York for Tony DiT’s book launch of WONDLA. Had tea with my old elementary school chum, Marcel, catching up on sixty years in two hours. Must be a world’s record.

Two writing group meetings, cousin Mal for an overnight visit and the Carle Museum visit, a flu shot, a birthday party for a friend, a q&a with poet laureate emeritus Rita Dove,  and an Illustrator’s Guild pot luck later, and I think I’m back on track for this journal. More anon.

 

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