Interstitial Moment:

Today I received two different cover comps for a book of mine. (My new book of adult poems.) And as I looked at the two side by side, I thought a lot about what makes a good cover.  I also realized how difficult it is to make a decision about what will most appeal. It’s not the first time I have had this thought, of course. Back when I was an editor for Harcourt with my own imprint, I had to think about it a lot as I was editing between 5-10 books a year then.

But here goes:

First, as everyone will tell you, a book jacket is a poster. It will be (if you are lucky) face out on the shelf in a bookstore and it needs to sing a siren song to anyone walking by. It needs to crook its finger at the buyer. It needs to wiggle its beautiful rear. It needs to seduce.

But my seduction (Johnny Depp, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman) may not be yours. You may be (mirable dictu) a Justin Bieber seductee. And so the art director and editor (along with the marketing department and occasionally, God help us, Barnes & Noble) need to look at the cover comp with the eyes of the hoped-for book buyer.They have to make it gorgeous and appealing, not necessarily to their own aesthetic but to the perceived audience’s desires.

The questions are asked: is it bold enough, alluring enough, does it tell a story (does it, the author begs, tell the right story, but that is a different question and another fight). Can you recognize it and its genre across a crowded room? Is the type big enough, too big, too ornate, not sexy enough, too old-fashioned, too modern? I myself dislike san serif type, but understand its place on book jackets and often have to give way. There are times the art directors get caught up in the tropes of the day. For example, recently there has been a tidal wave of  YA book jackets and adult novels jackets with the main characters’ heads cut off. Go figure. And a few years ago no one would ever use green on a jacket because the common wisdom of the day had been “green jackets don’t sell.” Fairy tale novel covers, once the province of romantic illustrators like Kinuko Craft and Ruth Sanderson and John Jude Palacar seem these days to have been given over entirely to photographers.

It’s a tough job and an often thankless task. Not everyone is pleased with the result. But in the end, if the jacket appeals to the buying public, there is satisfaction enough to go around.

January 4-15, 2012

This has been a chock-a-block twelve days (and nights) and even looking back on it, it’s hard to get a handle on all that got done. And all that didn’t.

Basically–I wrote a lot,  both poetry and prose. I partied hard. I had a friend over for a three day writing/painting retreat. Did a few meetings, skype visits, dentists, water therapy.

And boy! are my wings tired.

First, of course, there are the organ recitals (as we oldsters call it.)

I lost a tooth suddenly, crunching down on a soft date. Yeah, go figure. So I had the first of a series of dental visits. Ongoing water therapy at the Y pool for back problems.  Minor annoyances.

Then there were the parties:

There was a 12th Night party in Amherst, though it wasn’t on the date and was in the afternoon. But a lot of fun. I took my granddaughter Glendon as my date. A friend’s 5oth birthday party in Greenfield, complete with a Celebrant who led us in games and appreciations, and we got to watch the birthday girl (lady?) walk over flower petals into her next half century. One of her gits was a yodeling pickle. (You had to be there) I wrote her a sonnet. Then an astonishingly good brunch in New Salem with old friends and possible collaborators. A farewell party in Amherst to the head of Amherst Ballet. Plus dinners with other friends and neighbors and daughter and grandlings. My, I was Ms. Popularity all right!

The Writing and Publishing:

Here’s where things got gnarly.

Yes, I was still writing a poem a day, the good and the bad and the really and truly ugly.

I worked on two new chapters for Centaur Field, a short middle grade novel.

Wrote and rewrote about three new chapters for The Hostage Prince (nee Snail and the Prince) the first book of the Seelie Wars Trilogy with son Adam.

Started my talk for SCBWI’s midwinter conference.

Began the introduction for a book of fairy tales (not mine) the Folio Society is bringing out.

Organized a mss. of my New England poems as a quasi-calendar. Don’t have a publisher for it yet.

Read and edited the text for Curses! Foiled Again with Mike Cavallero’s great artwork in pdf format in front of me.

Read and edited Emily Sonnets with the pdf of Gary Kelley’s gorgeous artwork in front of me.

Ditto the covers for How Do Dinosaurs Celebrate Christmas and How Do Dinosaurs Celebrate Christmas.

Did a Northampton WHMP radio interview with Heidi.

Went to a KidLit drinks night with Heidi in Northampton.

And am probably forgetting a dozen more things.

I wish I could say the next few weeks promise to be easier. NOT!

Interstitial Moment:

As many of you know, I decided last year to write (at least) a poem a day for the entire year of 2011, and by December 31 I was done. But along the way I had so much fun and learned so much, that I have decided to do it again.

Writers as a whole love to have written and hate to write. They bellyache and complain endlessly about how hard writing is, how a book is not going the way it ought to, how they spent all day looking for a single right word and the next day threw the word out. Some call it bleeding on the page. Some give their books curse words for titles, like “The Book from Hell” and the “FB that I am writing” (the B word is book.)

On the other hand, there are a hardy few who absolutely adore the act of writing, and I am one of them. I am never so happy as when the words are pouring out of me in a white heat. I feel productive, pro-active, and pure.

But I have always feared something one of my first editors said to me: “You are a facile writer. Do not be beguiled by your facility.” I have taken that to heart. So anytime I get to feeling complacent about my writing, too full of my own facility, I take a step back and set up a challenge. Maybe it’s trying a screen play or a graphic novel or the lyrics to an opera. Some of these I have managed, some are still a bit out of reach.To be honest, some are completely out of my reach.

This past year the challenge was to write a poem a day, beginning on January 1. I didn’t constrict it any more than that, didn’t say: all poems to be sonnets, or haiku, or verse forms. I didn’t say each poem has to have a central metaphor or an image of nature, or had to be about something real that happened to me. Just this: write a poem a day.

And sometimes two happened.

I also didn’t say the poems had to be good (most were not), or revised endlessly (some were, some weren’t) or that I had to try and get them published (about thirty have been published or purchased for print publication, though altogether the money I made on the 2011 poems I sold would not get me a dinner out with three friends, not even in Northampton, MA, the nearest foodie town to where I live.)

And I knew that out of the 365 plus poems, I would be lucky to get several dozen that I even liked well enough to want to work on further, or to take a line from to twiddle with elsewhere. I was not doing this to become Poet Laureate of the US or even of Northampton, MA, and knew most of what I wrote in the challenge would never be read by anyone but me.

But I knew the poem-a-day challenge would stretch me, and at the same time would let me see where I tended to be facile–using repeating phrases from one poem to another, or even borrowing from myself in other ways. It also let me see that I tend to like list poems, and sometimes let a rhyme sneak in even when I am not writing a rhymed poem because. . .well, because I like rhyme. And that I overuse alliteration. (See the third paragraph of this IM.) And how often I try to impose form on what is not a formal poem.

Some of the poems I posted online and–to my embarrassment–garnered much more praise than I knew they were worth. Sort of like Samuel Johnson’s cruel and stupid canard comparing women who preach to dogs who walk on their hind legs. “While neither does it very well, it’s surprising to see it done at all.” I am nothing if not ruthless about my own writing.

But I did write three or four pretty good poems along the way.

January 1-3, 2012:

The first posts of the new year include a little heartache, a little toothache, and a lot of writing.

Heartache:

One dear writer friend, a student of mine, is dying. She has written a beautiful, powerful upbeat goodbye to a number of us and has become my new hero. There is an elegance and a promise in her letter that will be my guide for the future.

Toothache:

So, it’s not all about dying with heroism, it’s also about living heroically with pain. I am not so good at that. I was sitting in my writing chair, looking over something I’d just written, eating a soft date, when I bit down on something solid. Not the pit, which I’d already removed. It turned out to be the upper right incisor which had just broken off. The pain was like a knife in the gum.

As it was already 4:30 in the afternoon and the dentist about to shut down, I raced over, tooth throbbing. My lovely dentist built up the broken tooth, soothed the ache, thinks it will not need root canal, but will need to be capped. What a pain–in both senses of the word.

Book news:

*Contract terms for Centaur Field dealt with.

*Short story about Disraeli finished, revised, sent off to the editors. Now I must wait to find out if it fits the bill.

*New poem-a-day series begun. Here is one of them, from Jan 2.:

The Year Starts Well

The year starts well: two poems,

juicy and anarchic,

a short story finished that till today

was recalcitrant and bad in bed.

I have caught up on my journal,

Made a start at cleaning my house.

By tomorrow I should be

Empress of the Known World.

How can one not like a year

that begins this way?

Too bad they all end the same.

*First stab at organizing materials for an introduction for a Folio Society book. (Will need to hit the Smith College Library next week.)

*Saw cover of The Last Selchie Child poetry book (two versions, like them both.) Went over the galleys.

*Went over the full illustrations for the graphic novel Curses, Foiled Again. Illustrator Mike Cavallero has outdone himself!

*Got my first rejection of 2012. A picture book. And so it begins. . .

Interstitial Moment:

In critiquing a friend’s manuscript, I told her she needed texture in her writing. She asked me to explain. So I sent her this. I thought it might be of a more general interest to everyone.

Texture means simply that your characters are set in their world. Here are three ways of writing the same scene. The first has not texture and is simply bare-boned. We have no idea where or when these folks are living. The second and third have texture, and see how differently the writer can make things seem.

1.
Margat moved toward him and held out her hand. “I am pleased to meet you.”

When he took her hand, it was a limp shake, as if she’d offered him a dishrag. But his smile was
dazzling.

2.

Margat moved toward him, across the cobbled courtyard, the hem of her gown making the sound of falling leaves where it passed across the stone. When she reached him, she held out her hand. “I am pleased to meet you.”

When he took her hand, it was a limp shake, as if she’d offered him a dishrag. His silk sleeve never moved or trembled the way other young men did when she was near. But his smile was dazzling even though it never reached his eyes. They were looking past her, at the duchess, as if he had to wait for permission to greet Margat, or even take her proferred hand.

“Margat
moved toward him,  across the cattleyard, and held out her hand. The wind was so a-wail, she could hardly move at her usual pace. It was as if she had to swim through the air to reach him. “I am pleased to meet you.” She tried to give him a hearty shake, the way her Pa would have done. A tumble weed fetched up by the back of his boots, though he didn’t seem to notice.

When he took her hand, it was a limp shake, as if she’d offered him a dishrag off a dirty sink. But his smile was dazzling.

For all his  clothes–he stetson and the muddy boots, the kerchief and the rest–he knew him for a cheat. Papa always said, the handshake tells all.

December 24-December 31, 2011:

The last part of December whizzed by in a farrago of parties, family visits, some writing, some book news. Perhaps not so different from the rest of the year except for the number of parties, so I will begin with them.

Parties:

There were family parties–dinners at the house, at restaurants, presents from beneath the tree, the menorah lit and blessed. (Christmakah or Chanukahmass, take your pick. we don’t do Kwanza.) There was a housewarming party for Rebcca Guay and Matt Mitchell, a costum New Year’s party at Theo and Holly Black’s, a New Year’s soup with outdoor marshmallow roast party (it was 46 degrees in January in New England, folks!) at Cheryl and Mo Willem’s. Too much eating. The strict diet so thrown out that it mouldered in the grass. Yes grass. There was no snow.

Writing:

I continued to the very end writing my poem a day. Didn’t miss one and in a few instances got two poems done. Probably two dozen of the poems written this year have or will be published–some in books (such as my upcoming Ekaterinislav book (Holy Cow!), my Thunder Underground book (Boyds Mills), possibly a book of Holocaust poems. Some have been taken by online and print journals already, including Asimov’s, Pirene’s Fountain, etc. I enjoyed the experience so much, the rigor of the exercise, that am extending into 2012.

By year’s end, Adam and I had 25,000 plus words on the first book of our Seelie Wars trilogy (Viking) and the possible outline for four more chapters. As of now, the first book is called Snail and the Prince but may change. It could be called The Hostage Prince I suppose. Or perhaps The Border Lords’ War. I think the 3-4 chapters we worked on the days he was here with his family are solid. We did some good planning and solving of major problems. And now we are over half done. The book is due in May. Should be no problem. We have reached the galloping-along momentum time in the book. There may be scenes ahead with carnivorous mermen, a troll birth scene, a Sticksman poling a ferry across a river. Or not.

I also worked on the short story “The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Head,” a Disraeli/Queen Victoria/Kabbalistic magic story. Reached an impasse by the time Adam and crew arrived. Bulled through it the day they went to Boston. Then all those dang parties intervened. Am hoping to get the rest done in the coming week.

Started to write a cow/zombie picture book but no matter the intent, it remained. . .well. . .stupid, so have put it aside.

The books news includes:

*Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers (the life of Chagall in verse, from Creative Editions) which J. Patrick Lewis and I wrote together being a finalist for the Cybils Award.

*The contract for the Seelie Wars arriving Christmas Eve day. Happy holiday!

*The contract for House of Candy (Philomel Books) arriving the day after Christmas.Happier holiday.

*The full illustrations in jpegs for Curses Foiled Again (First/Second Books) which are amazing. Mike Cavallero outdid himself on this.

* jpeg of a full dummy from Tara Chang for our (as yet unsold) picture book called The Trouble With Taking Trolls To Tea and it is truly delightful.

*jpeg of the cover for my novel, Curse of the Thirteenth Fey (Philomel) which is stunning. The cover, that is. Whether the novel is as well will be up to readers to judge.

And:

All this is to say how grateful I am to still be writing well, and enjoying it. Whether I continue to enjoy the swamp that publishing has become is not–alas–entirely in my own hands. But I think I must focus on the writing and let the other stuff go. Process, not product.

I wish all my journal readers a healthy, sane, and progressive new year. I hope that our political lives are not continued to be ruled by the seven dwarfs who, these days, seem to be of the Sleazy, Silly, Stupid, and Dopey variety. Narcissim R Us. But instead may we treat our neighbors as we would be treated ourselves, stop worrying about who may or may not marry someone they love, and let us all resolve to leave the planet a better place than we found it in 2011.

And with that–on to 2012!

 

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