In which we all face a great choice in a consequential plot ~ Win an hour of my editorial time ~ A kind reception for my second book ~ A swift goodbye to my first one ~ Three great new novels edited by me ~ Q & A of the Month ~ Appearances, links, and un beau chat.
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Imaginary Americans

Now that The Magic Words is out in the world, my attention has been consumed by my job and the election, and I’ve spent many hours making calls and interacting with the public for my preferred candidate — work I find both nerve-wracking and fascinating. As a nice person, I dislike the interruption I’m bringing into someone’s day by phone-banking, especially when the campaign is focusing on battleground states, and I know the people there have already been deluged by advertisements, robocalls, candidate visits, media, talk talk talk, and now calls from people like me. Some people hang up as soon as I identify my cause; others will listen patiently to my spiel and answer the questions; some rare birds actually want to engage, to be convinced or to convince me, or just have someone to talk to. The hang-uppers are never personal, but the annoyance I feel coming down the line still makes me flinch:  I caused that irritation, and I wish I hadn’t. 

So that’s the nerve-wracking part. At the same time, as a person who’s interested in other people, I find political work AMAZING: brief little snapshots of the lives of other people, whom I never would have encountered without this cause. The phone-banking computer database provides callers with a name, age, gender, phone number, address, and party registration for the call recipients. That information comprises an entire mini-biography, really, especially when I consider all the backstory that goes into it. . . . This name would have been chosen for that reason; this address shapes what the person sees out the window every day; that party registration is the result of these experiences. Sometimes, as the phone rang, I’d try to imagine who the person at the other end might be, what they might see as they crossed through their house to pick up the handset, who might be in the room listening to their side of the conversation. Occasionally people would offer up snippets of their lives in the course of the conversation—years in the ministry, an illness that’s driving concerns about health-care costs, grandchildren living with them because their parents are addicted to opiates, a daughter inspired by the campaign—and those rarely conformed to what I imagined. But the exercise was always salutary for both my imagination and my wrongness, which reminds me how narrow my life is, and how wide the world and our American experiences can be.  

Writing and democracy both force us to grapple with the reality of other people, as characters or as fellow humans, and then work with them to accomplish great things — ideally in a spirit of love and generosity; more realistically trading off interests until we arrive at a result. Elections also follow a perfect plot structure, from the inciting incident of a candidate’s declaration, into the conflicts of multiple candidates facing off, through the escalating and complicating events of the primaries, conventions, and debates, to the ultimate climax of election night itself. As such, they are maximally designed to appeal to our monkey brains for conflict, excitement, and satisfaction, which is why it’s so easy to get caught up in the drama . . . and this particular election has been so insanely dramatic, so full of narrative reversals and revelations and outrage, that at times it feels generated for our entertainment by the world’s most diabolical screenwriting software. (These two candidates in particular could not possibly have been more complete foils for one another.) But the people at the other end of my phone-bank lines, the people who will benefit or suffer based on the outcome of the conflict, are all real, on both sides of the partisan divide. When we vote, we’re choosing the people whose reality matters to us. I hope you’ll remember to vote this November, and that you write well in the meantime.

With best wishes,


Win an Hour of My Editorial Time!

I'm once again offering an hour of my editorial time as a fundraiser for my lovely church, Park Slope United Methodist. The winner can use this hour in any way s/he chooses — for the critique of a chapter, synopsis, or query letter; to chat about project options or the publishing industry; to have ten pages line-edited; heck, we can just talk smack about books we hate. The winner will also receive signed copies of both of my books. This year’s auction opened this week and will run through Friday, November 11th.
To bid, click here. 

The Magic Words Update

My new book has been out for a little over a month now, and I’m extremely grateful for the reception it’s received! Some highlights: Finally, there is a giant joke that nobody has caught yet in “Charlotte Keene's" fiction — a pattern I included for my own amusement, which I’m still waiting for someone to name. I’ll give away a signed copy of Second Sight to the first newsletter subscriber who e-mails me and identifies it correctly. 
Saying "So Long" to Second Sight

My first, self-published book -- Second Sight:  An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults -- will soon go to the Great Remainder Bin in the Sky. Ideas in it inform a great deal of the material in The Magic Words, but it also has some fun stuff that appears only in that book — notably my “How to Write a Picture Book” talk, which is illustrated with some of the funniest and worst pictures of me ever taken. Second Sight has now been priced down to $9.99 on Amazon, if you’re interested in picking up a copy before it disappears. I will also happily sell copies of the book in bulk to anyone who’d like to buy it for a workshop, conference, or writing class — seriously, just send an offer to and we’ll make a deal. Thank you!
Yet More Books You Should Buy!

Hey, it's simple truth in advertising. 

Interference by Kay Honeyman. Jane Austen’s Emma meets Friday Night Lights when Kate Hamilton, a Congressman’s daughter, moves with her family to Red Dirt, Texas. When Kate tries to arrange everyone’s lives -- as she is eminently qualified to do, of course -- it goes about as well as milking a bull . . . and with much funnier and more romantic results. The highest personal praise I can give this is that I line-edited the manuscript  while I was on vacation last year, and the characters, humor, relationships, and community spirit are all so delightful that I was happy to do the work. If you like smart romantic comedies, you'll like this. 

Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison. After editing two books by Meg (her debut was Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel), I think I now understand her basic approach to retelling a fairy tale:  1. Examine the underlying dynamics of the fairy tale — parental love, the value of work, innocence, independence, class warfare. From these dynamics, 2. spin out a heroine who’s committed, funny, exasperating, and all-around delightful, with a friend/romantic interest who matches her tit for tat. 3. Put her in a situation that will reflect on the tale’s dynamics and motifs and test the heroine’s commitments. 4. Set that plot in one country in the fascinating continent of Tyme, and 5. weave all the books into one densely imagined whole, thanks to an incredibly well-thought-out backstory, a magical world that’s Harry Potteresque in its complexity and detail, and the characters’ interconnected lives. In Disenchanted, Ella gets a fairy godfather and goes to a ball, but when she meets Prince Dash Charming, she wants much more than just a few dances:   How about health care for all laborers, basic workplace protections, and a living wage? While this is technically middle-grade, it would pair very well with Interference for its politics and romance, and as just a wonderful read.

Kyle Finds Her Way, by Susie Salom. I often compare the submission process to dating, and as opposites frequently attract in relationships, so my uptight, structural, plotty brain loves voice-driven, theme-rich projects. Kyle Finds Her Way is just such a book, as Kyle’s voice springs off the page the same way her character leaps into action — and trouble. On the first day of sixth grade, Kyle lands in the principal's office after standing up against (that is, punching) Ino Nevarez, who was teasing a deaf girl at school. Her punishment? Join the NAVS program, which teaches constructive problem-solving (that is, not punching). The events that follow are both completely universal and wonderfully individual thanks to Kyle's chatty, thoughtful, imaginative voice, and the truths she finds on her way. 
Q. & A. of the Month

Q. While polishing a manuscript, how does one choose from advice given from one agent or editor that contradicts advice given by another agent or editor?

A. You listen to your heart and gut. That may be a cliche, but it’s true:  What advice resonates with you more? What feels more true to your characters, and the story you ultimately want to tell here? What strategy will you be able to implement best because you believe in it most? That is the advice you should take. 

It is also true that you may cut yourself off from one particular avenue toward publication here, if Agent X said, “You know what? This manuscript would be FABULOUS with more jellyfish!” — and you really hate jellyfish and you don’t want to do it. Not doing it may mean Agent X won’t like your revision . . . but that advice may also imply that X didn’t really understand your manuscript and wasn’t the right agent for you anyway. It’s also possible you could add a squid instead (if you love squid), to solve the problem that Agent X wanted to solve with jellyfish, and because that problem would be solved, period, Agent X would still like your revision. When I give advice, I do tend to suggest some specific methods of solving problems; but the thing that’s always most important to me is to see that problem solved and get the manuscript to work, and I think that’s true for most publishing professionals.

It’s also always useful to look for commonalities or underlying themes in the advice you get. If Agent X says “Flesh out Minor Character A,” and Agent Y says “Boy, Minor Character B has potential,” they’re both really saying “Your supporting cast needs to be richer,” even if they’re encouraging you to improve two different characters . . . so why not do both? And if you don’t have a super strong sense of the answer in your heart and gut — an compass-needle inclination toward one revision direction or the other — then you might try both directions, in two different copies of the manuscript, and see which one feels better to you. Good luck!
Upcoming Appearances

LeakyCon, October 19-23 (aka this weekend):  If you’re a Harry Potter fan in the Los Angeles area, don’t miss this fully immersive weekend of wizarding fun.  
Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Seminar, November 6:  I’ll give the keynote at this conference, talking "Premise, Promise, and Purpose," in New York City. Registration is now open.

AWP Conference & Bookfair, February 8-11: I’ll appear on two panels at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs convention in Washington, D.C.  

Louisiana/Mississippi SCBWI conference, March 11: I'll appear alongside the already much-lauded debut writer A. C. Thomas (The Hate U Give) in New Orleans. 
Five Links of Interest

Last month, the adult novelist Lionel Shriver delivered a provocative/stupid speech on cultural appropriation that drew forth a huge range of fascinating responses. Two of my favorites were by Omar Sakr, a writer of color -- “On Identity” -- and Jess Row, a white writer:  “What Are White Writers For?”

Elisa Albert has a killer essay in this month’s Hazlitt on being a woman writer with ambition, with thoughts that will speak to any writer in the modern age:

Perhaps it’s because knocking on doors like we’re running for damn office is a lot easier and simpler than sitting alone with our thoughts and knowledge and experience and expertise and perspective, and struggling to shape all that into exactly the right form, during which process we take the terrible chance that we might get it right and still no one will care. Maybe we are misguided enough to believe that what’s most important is that people care, regardless of whether or not we get it exactly right. Maybe getting it right doesn’t even matter if no one cares. Maybe not getting it right doesn’t matter if everyone cares. If I write an excellent book and it’s not a bestseller, did I write the excellent book? If I write a middling book and it is a bestseller, does that make it an excellent book? If I wander around looking for it on bookstore shelves so I can photograph it and post online, have I done good? If I publish a book and don’t heavily promote it, did I really publish a book at all!?

When I just need to move a bit and don’t have time or the inclination to go for a run, the PopSugar Fitness classes on YouTube provide a terrific array of focused workouts. I search for the length of time I want to work out (5, 15, 30 minutes), pick a video, and get my daily dose of exercise virtue.

On the flip side, I recently subscribed to the Smitten Kitchen newsletter, and this was a terrible idea, because (a) everything sounds and looks delicious, yet (b) I don’t have enough time to make ALL THE THINGS, and (c) I really want to make ALL THE THINGS. Nonetheless, I recommend it.

Finally, Le Chat. 

I saw a tweet from a user named “@arr” last month that still makes me laugh: “The reason cats are so pissy is they're God's perfect killing machines but they only weigh 8lbs and we keep picking them up and kissing them.” Or we interrupt their naps for dubious selfies, as here.  
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