Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Last Great Harry Potter Extravaganza

I almost didn’t go. I mean, I bought my Harry Potter “line pass” at the Learned Owl Bookshop back in May when I had a signing there. Even then, I was #435. I paid nearly full price when I could’ve ordered it on Amazon at a deep discount and had it delivered directly to my home. Or I could’ve strolled into the bookshop one day next week and snagged my copy without fighting the crowds.
But there is something intoxicating about being part of a movement, of rubbing shoulders with throngs of people with one thing in common—the love of a book, and the characters in it. And this at a time when many people question whether ink and paper books have a future at all.
HP changed the rules and changed my life. The New York Times moved children’s books onto their own bestseller list after HP dominated it for months. Publishers learned that there could be big money in fantasy and writers of “adult” books showed a new interest in writing for children and teens.
As a fledgling writer of young adult fantasy, I’d been told that works for YAs couldn’t be longer than, say, 85,000 words. I was discouraged, because I couldn’t do my job within that space. I considered switching to writing mainstream fantasy for adults, with the hope that teens would cross over. But HP demonstrated that children and YAs will read longer works if the author is skillful enough to hold their interest.
HP is, in fact, a phenomenon, and I wanted to participate in history.
And so I ended up in downtown Hudson, Ohio on a Friday night, in a crowd of witches pushing strollers, wizard-cloaked students in round glasses, zigzag scars and Hogwarts school ties, grandparents dressed as house ghosts, professors and headmasters. Teenagers in punk-wizard garb clustered with Abercrombie-clad muggles who rolled their eyes. Hermione and Harry walked arm and arm across the green, sharing kisses every few steps. It was Hallowe’en in July, replete with Slytherins, giants, goblins, mudbloods, house elves, down to obscure Harry Potter walk-ons that only the obsessed would remember.
There was quidditch on the green, wandmaking at the Grey Colt, HP cupcakes at the bakeshop, Venus flytraps for sale at the florist’s, and a sorting hat in the Learned Owl itself. Vendors sold wands and glow-in-the-dark jewelry. I bought earrings for a dollar. We shouted out a countdown to the parade of lanterns and the light show that fizzled in a good-natured, small-town way. There was kind of a Times Square at New Year’s energy and cohesion, without the freezing weather, heavy drinking, and peeing on the pavement.
And finally came the lineup of people clutching bright orange line passes, spilling onto the main street despite the efforts of harried but good-natured police. More people than anyone expected, even with 1200 copies of the book pre-sold. Families argued over who got first dibs on a shared copy. I stood next to a fourth-grader who’d read all the HP books and was devouring the Lord of the Rings trilogy and was totally indignant that the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix cut out so many of her favorite parts.
I handed her bookmarks for The Warrior Heir and The Wizard Heir, and told her to let it go. A movie isn’t a book, after all.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rose Fever

Recently we went out to dinner with people I used to work with that I’d not seen in decades. It was a lot like going to your high school reunion. I was thinking maybe I should get my teeth whitened since that seemed more doable than losing 20 pounds. As it happened, I did neither, and we had a lovely dinner anyway.

They came to our home for dessert. The last time they’d visited, we lived in a small town on nearly an acre. That was during my mega-gardening days when I had the compost heap at the back of the yard and the two gardens—the kitchen garden up by the house and the cutting garden in the back, not to mention the fruit trees and grapevines.

I used to can green beans and tomatoes every year and I had a chest freezer in the basement. I made grapevine wreaths at Christmas. That was how they remembered me—organic gardening woman. I shamefacedly admitted that I was down to four tomato plants, a few black-spotted rose bushes and some ragged perennial beds.

Then on the weekend we visited Columbus and went to the Whetstone Park of Roses in Clintonville http://www.clintonville.com/parkrec/rosegarden.html which is amazing—11,000 rose bushes and some other specialty gardens. I wandered up and down the holly mazes drunk on the perfume of roses, scuffling through rose petals, giddy with the colors, wanting to go home and order a dozen bare-root plants from a trendy grower.

And I got to thinking about how it is that we have these passions and then we give them up. I am not a fickle person. I’ve been married to the Resident Web Master (RWM) for decades, I’ve had the same haircutter for more than twenty years, which is as long as I’ve lived in my current house.

What happened to me, was, I began to write. And that, in addition to the family and the full time job crowded gardening into the borders of my life, along with handweaving and spinning and sewing and genealogy—all of which I also used to do. Given the technology available today, I’m twenty times more productive than I used to be. I’ve even figured out how to read and work out at the same time.

But it isn’t enough. There’s a saying—there will never be enough time for everything. But there is always enough time for the most important things. Well, maybe. It’s a matter of reconciling yourself to the notion that you can’t do everything.

I think I’m a better writer than a gardener. But no one should have to give up the roses.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Land of Enchantment--Vanity Plates

Vanity plates are a kind of working class poetry—articulated in seven letters or less. Maybe the car you’re driving isn’t enough of a statement. Perhaps you’re a Corvette driver trapped in a mini-van. Though sometimes vanity plates are repetitive, like the people who put VETTE on their Corvette or PTCRUSR on their—you get the idea.

Being a writer, I like vanity plates. Given the brevity imposed, it’s an opportunity for succinct wit, the distillation of substance to its essence, the delivery of a joke understood by a fraction of viewers. It’s a way of connecting with kindred spirits and excluding the boors. It requires the participation of the guy in the SUV riding your butt—and he probably won’t get it.

I’m ambivalent about people who put their jobs on their license plates. It’s okay if it’s because your work is your passion and not because you have no life outside of work. I often see tags like RNSUSIE or BONEDOC or TEACHR. I’ve never seen ACCNTNT or MRTICIAN or DTCHDGR or DGCTCHR. I’d like to see SAILOR or KNITNUT or JAZZMAN or DOGLVR or CELLIST (but would a cellist have a vanity plate?)

My first opportunity to put a message on my rear end was via a stock plate chosen for me by the anonymous folks in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and delivered by mail. I pulled out the blue and white plates and said, “No. I can’t put these plates on my car.” The inscription? ANL5454. Although I knew several people who fit that description, I knew it didn’t apply to me.

It turned out that the BMV had a list of forbidden letter combinations (ARS, FUC, HEL) but ANL was deemed acceptable. In fact, the BMV had sent out a memo specifically requiring local clerks to charge a fee for replacing ANL plates. My husband said it was FUTL, and it was kind of a HASL, but I was able to get it changed. For a FKN fee.

So recently my license was up for renewal, and the renewal notice included a link to a Website where I could check on the availability of “personalized” license plates. Hmmm, I thought. If I could choose, what message would I send about myself? My passion is writing—I write YA fantasy novels. So I got online and tried a variety of possibilities (seven letter or less).

The following were already taken. Apparently there are lots of wizards, writers, and book lovers in Ohio.
WRITER1 through WRITER4 (dibs on WRITER5!)
SCI FI through SCI FI2 (SCI FI 3 was available)
BOOKS (BOOKS1 and up were available)
GODDESS (oh, why not?)

The following were available:
WRDWMN (more mature)
WITCHRY (could be dangerous on the road)
BOOKMKR (and get stopped by the police)

Here I am with my final choice. I wanted something that would apply to all the writing I do. All writers, whether we write fantasy or not, are enchanters. We collaborate with readers to create the dream of fiction.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Newbery-Caldecott Banquet

ALA – Sunday, June 24, 2007

We went back to the exhibits again (there is no rest for the greedy). Cecil Castellucci was signing in the Candlewick Booth. I’d been meaning to pick up some of her books, so stood in line to have her sign Beige and Boyproof. When I introduced myself, she said, “Oh, yeah, you wrote that Warrior book.” I nodded, pleased that she’d heard of it, and she said, “It’s on my reading pile.” I brilliantly told her I had a reading pile, too. Then she pulled out an autograph book and asked for MY autograph! One of those unique ALA moments.

And I thought, that’d be cool to do at my book signings. Because readers are as important as writers when it comes to story.

I asked Laurie Halse Anderson to sign Speak, which I’d read but didn’t own. Her editor, Sharyn November, was sitting with her in the Penguin booth. I introduced myself because I knew she and my agent, Christopher Schelling, were friends.

Martha and I had lunch in a tapas restaurant on 7th Avenue, then back to the hotel to chill before the evening’s festivities and to sort out the takings.

VOYA had invited me to their awards reception at the Grand Hyatt from 4 to 6, because The Warrior Heir made their Perfect Tens 2006 list. So I put on the polka-dot dress and my black wrap and cabbed up there. I chatted with Nancy Werlin, (Rules of Survival) and Paul Acampora (Defining Dulcie) whose books made the same list. The party also honored the Top Shelf winners and several other lists.

Then back to the Hotel Monaco to meet Hyperion staff and on to the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder awards banquet. Saw Cindy Lord collect her Newbery Honor for Rules. Yay! Susan Patron delivered a very funny acceptance speech for her Newbery for The Higher Power of Lucky, referencing the whole scrotum controversy. She said a 6th grade class emailed her and said they’d found the word “scrotum” in the dictionary, so if they banned Patron’s book, they’d have to ban the dictionary, too. Sometimes the young ones are the wisest of all.

Hyperion Books for Children was well represented, because Hyperion illustrator Kadir Nelson received a Caldecott honor. I sat with Jonathan Yaged, Hyperion’s new U.S. publisher, author Roland Smith, Alessandra Balzer, Donna Bray, Angus Killick, Scottie Bowditch, and others from Hyperion’s editorial and marketing staff.

Met up with YAckers Martha Levine and Jody Feldman, all glitzed up for the party. Jon Yaged introduced us to Mo Willems.