Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Ellen Degeneres on Success and Integrity

"It was so important for me to lose everything, because I found out what the most important thing is is to be true to yourself... I know I'll always be okay, because no matter what, I know who I am... For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and not give in to peer pressure to be something that you're not; to live your life as an honest and compassionate person; to try to contribute something."

Oh, Ellen.<3>

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Hank Green on Growing Up

Because every now and then I step back and look at my life and consider my age and wonder why I don't feel more like a grownup:

Growing up is what you want it to be. We're grownups now, and it's our turn to decide what that means. Being silly is still allowed; that's not excluded by adulthood. What's excluded by adulthood is thoughtlessness. So be silly and thoughtful...

We pretend like we live in a world of harsh edges, but there are no harsh edges. There are no borders between these things. Those hard lines are all imaginary, and they're just created for convenience. Whether it's loving or growing up or raising a child or having a job, these aren't destinations; they're not achievements to unlock. Life isn't a video game; it's a journey. Everything is a journey, and we get to travel it together. And I hope, I hope that you enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Kristin Cashore on Starting Over

Last Tuesday I attended an event at Books of Wonder that was run in an unusual way: three powerhouse writers who knew and really loved each other and each other's work (Kristin Cashore, Melina Marchetta, and Gayle Forman) sat down together and just had a conversation about books, and writing, and relationships, and equality. What was essentially a planned converging of such smart minds made the event the best signing I'd ever been to, and today's Tuesday Muse is just one of many inspiring snippets from that evening.

When asked what the best advice she'd ever gotten from her editor was, Kristin Cashore answered with one sentence from the editorial letter she received in her first round of edits on Bitterblue: "Would you consider starting from scratch?"

Can you imagine—to have written a novel of Bitterblue's length and, moreover, of its incredible complexity of depth and character, and to be asked to scrap it and start again from a blank page? And yet, Kristin said, it was freeing. She knew where the novel was going at that point, but could never have gotten it there trying to mold the words she had written into the right shape. Instead, she wrote the New York Times bestseller on her belief in the story she had to tell and the characters she had to tell it, and on the faith that throwing all those words out to begin anew would redeem them.

They talk about being willing, as a writer, to "kill your darlings." Hand in hand with that, though, goes a willingness to rethink everything, to go back to the drawing board, and to start from scratch. So finish your novel. And if it doesn't work, that's okay. Would you consider starting from scratch?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Where the Hell is Matt? Dancing and Building Community

It started out as one man dancing badly (his words, not mine!) all over the world. Over time, it became one man bringing people together to dance with him all over the world:

And this year, Matt hit the road one more time, this time to learn dances from as many people as he could:

As one friend of mine pointed out, he travels to countries and areas some of us may never have heard or or dreamed of visiting. He dances in countries that are torn by war or silenced by oppressive governments, and he dances across lines drawn by deep prejudice and international conflict. And in all cases, his dancing brings people together without pretension and without bias. It inspires people to learn, to teach, to build community, and to enjoy simple pleasures. To me, that says so much about the power of dance and the incredible joy of teaching and learning.

I can't be sure, but this video feels like Matt's farewell and thank you to everyone who's come together to dance and to watch. And it's an appropriately touching tribute to the unity brought about by as simple an act as inviting someone to dance and celebrate with you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Taking a Different Approach to the Ordinary

I think I noticed the sculptures in mid-May. It was oppressively, bone-draggingly hot out, and my coworker and I were walking (which we already regretted) to a food truck several blocks from our office. We cut across Madison Square Park and I pointed out the gravel walkway that seemed to have been created recently. It was dotted with benches and picnic tables, and bordered with brightly colored fences and, well, these slug-like, amorphous blobs of colored metal.

"I'll never get this side of modern art," I said to Laura, and then we kept walking.

Because honestly, it was hot.

It was only last week that Laura and I finally walked up that new gravel walkway and sat down on the benches encircled by the installation. I rested my hand on one of the sculptures and, to my surprise, it sang. Not the echoing tone of metal struck just the right way, but loud, discordant, electric music.

And then suddenly both Laura and I were on our feet, flitting from sculpture to sculpture and calling back and forth to each other about what we heard. There was a purple sculpture full of sound so faint we had to kneel on the ground, press our chests to it, and parse the vibrations for sound. The yellow sculpture we could barely keep from singing; the slightest breath seemed to set it off. The gray sculpture, its toppling heap of a shape already suggesting over-abundance, was alive with sound that swelled and rose the longer your hand rested on it.

And suddenly I'd found whimsy in that which I had nearly overlooked, reminding myself once again that sometimes when you think you need a new concept, all you need is a new approach. And, perhaps even more so, that discovering something magical where you expected only the mundane can be more delightful than magic itself.

Charles Long's Pet Sounds will remain on view in Manhattan's Madison Square Park until September 9, 2012.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Real Life Fantasy Worlds in the American West

This week's Tuesday Muse (and the reason I was M.I.A. last week) is Zion National Park in Utah.

I've spent much of my life possessed, like many habitual readers, by a soul-deep desire to find something more in this world. It's not just the hope that one day the back of the wardrobe will reveal a forest or that a letter from Hogwarts will come in the post, but rather a cognitive dissonance that arises between your perception of the world, largely gleaned through books, and the image that the world presents. It's a sense that there must be another world that's richer, somehow, than our own. A sense that we're owed an adventure or two there.

But, visiting Zion National Park last week, I realized I might never have needed to feel that way if I'd known exactly what the park held. It's a fantasy world all in its own right. So here's to discovering uninhabited places and unconquered wildernesses. They've reminded me of the magic of this life: not the same as the magic of fantasy worlds, but entirely comparable in its own way.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Book Spine Poetry

Today's Tuesday Muse was going to be "meeting your childhood heroes" (see Exhibit A below), but because the last two Tuesday Muses I've made specifically referencing people have directly followed their passing away, I decided not to curse Bruce Coville. May he live long and prosper and write many more books about unicorns and dragons.

So, instead, today's Tuesday Muse is this brilliant little bit of book spine poetry from Maria Popova:

Next time you find yourself stuck, go to your bookshelf. Grab a few books with titles that interest you and rearrange them until you have a poem or an insightful phrase.

And share your poem here, because I want to read it!

And if that fails, try a limerick. Because really, everyone likes limericks, and if they don't you shouldn't trust them.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuesday Muse: An Invocation for Beginnings

Today's Tuesday Muse is Ze Frank's "An Invocation for Beginnings." We all know the struggle of staring down a blank page. This is your inspiration as well as your invitation to begin.

"There is no need to sharpen my pencils anymore. My pencils are sharp enough. Even the dull ones will make a mark."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Pixar's Rules for Storytelling

Today's Tuesday Muse is this article on storytelling rules learned from Pixar's writers and animators, because whatever we think of Pixar's politics, I think we can all agree that they know how to tell a darn good story. These rules offer excellent insights on building character, getting your manuscript out of a stuck place, and figuring out story structure. Here are some of my favorites:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

Now, head on over to the Pixar blog to check out the rest!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Muse: A Thank You to Jean Craighead George

After Maurice Sendak's death two weeks ago, I was doubly saddened when I learned last week that Jean Craighead George, too, had passed on. She is this week's muse, and my own muse in a hundred small ways so much a part of me that I'm hardly conscious of them.

If Maurice Sendak shaped the field that I work in, well, then Jean Craighead George shaped me. I spent my childhood ankle-deep in mud or tangled in thorns, fishing for tadpoles in the brook behind my house or following foxes to their dens. Raised in the epitome of suburbia, I nonetheless learned to read the slight disturbances in grass and shrubs that betrayed a deer trail even before I learned to read words on a page. The wetlands and the woods felt like an extension of my soul.

In Jean Craighead George's writing I found that same utter devotion to nature multiplied a thousand times over. I discovered a world in which nature was home and hospice and mentor—too formidable to be a utopia, but nonetheless the stuff of pure, distilled dreams. I ground acorns into meal alongside My Side of the Mountain's Sam, soared and hunted with Frightful, and dreamed of waterfalls with Alice. I romped with wolves like Julie did, and after I turned the last page of Julie of the Wolves I hunted down every bit of information I could find on wolf pack interactions and saved quarters until I could sponsor a wolf at a nature reserve. For want of wolf pups, I named a gaggle of goslings after Julie's wolves. I still, to this very day, see hollowed-out trees and can't help but dream of slipping away to live in them.

It's not difficult to see the trail I took to publishing when one compares my high school English papers to my lackluster performance in Biology (I could never seem to find the same wonder in naming cell parts that I found in studying wolf pack dynamics), but in another life I could easily have found myself in a tent on the tundra, tracking and tagging wolves like Julie did in Julie's Wolf Pack. And there will always be a part of me that needs that pilgrimage to the Catskills, so close to me here in New York but part of another life. There will always be a part of me that's more at home on the mountain than on the M train, a part of me that skims across the top of the snow like molten silver and howls to the moon at night.

My very own Frightful
So thank you, Jean Craighead George, for making the earth your home and inviting thousands of children to join you there. Thank you for creating a world without parents, in which nature taught all the lessons we needed to learn. Thank you for awakening my wonder at the natural world, for making me dream of falconry and tanning leather, and for teaching me a new and invaluable way to see and appreciate and utterly love this complex, harsh, beautiful earth, bursting with life.

Wherever you are, I hope you run with the wolves and fly with falcons.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Of Thrones & Tempting Trailers: What Do You Like in a Book Trailer?

I don't often use this blog to blatantly push or promote Bloomsbury & Walker books (in fact, I don't really think I've shied away from putting them under the same analytical lens I apply to all of Young Adult lit), but today I do want to share a project that I'm immensely proud to have worked on: the book trailer for Throne of Glass, which debuted recently on MTV.com's Hollywood Crush blog.

By the by, if you like the trailer and want to read the book, Sarah Maas is holding an ARC giveaway on her blog through the end of this week.

Now, I want to know: what do you think of the trailer? More importantly, since I'll likely be working on many more of these over the next several seasons, what do you usually like in a book trailer? What do you never like to see? How much do book trailers affect your interest in a book, usually?

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Maurice Sendak

Today's Tuesday Muse is (and couldn't possibly be anything but) Maurice Sendak, the much-beloved author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and many more books for children. It seems that children's literature has lost a number of its greats in the past year, but Maurice Sendak's loss has hit particularly hard. Perhaps that's because it would be difficult to name another author and illustrator whose effect on the field that I work in and love has been so profound. I truly don't believe children's literature could be what it is today without him. And for a man who saw much of society going downhill around him, he nonetheless maintained a childlike sense of whimsy and an ability to tell stories that inspire.

I leave you with some Maurice Sendak quotes on writing for children which The Telegraph quoted last week:

"No story is worth the writing, no picture worth the making, if it is not a work of imagination.”
"I refuse to lie to children. I refuse to cater to the bullsh*t of innocence."
“You cannot write for children. They're much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.”
“. . .from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”

Thank you, Maurice Sendak, for understanding children—and for understanding dreams—in a way that few people do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tuesday Muse: The Most Astounding Fact about the Universe

"We are part of this universe. We are in this universe. But perhaps more important than both of those things is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact... many people feel small, 'cause they're small and the universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars." — Neil deGrasse Tyson

Need I say any more? Life is pretty astonishing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

On the Gradual Process of Reaching Your Dreams

Several things have happened in the past couple of weeks.

  • I went home to Baltimore and stood outside the big house in a small city that was once mine. I sat with friends on cobbled walks and sipped sugar-soaked drinks, drank in sunlight and the easy comfort that comes with people who know your whole soul. I remembered telling those same friends, one night when lightning struck by the harbor and we watched it from our porch, that one day the city I loved would be too small to hold all the dreams I harbored. During my visit, I walked familiar streets, felt the thrum of energy beneath my feet, the warmth of the earth itself. Felt again the strain of pulling my roots up from that rich loam, heard the groan of damp soil disturbed, the creak of branches and the snapping of twigs. I visited my favorite coffee shop and found that I no longer had a taste for the coffee there; it hadn’t changed, but I had.
  • I started taking Spanish classes because it’s been a goal of mine—because I want to belong in the city that’s chosen me, and because I want other people to feel they can belong when they’re in my presence; I see that as my responsibility. I am blessed in that learning has always come easily to me, so long as I set my mind to the schoolwork. But returning to the classroom made me realize all the areas of my life in which I’m learning and it in no way mimics the classroom, all the areas where trial and error equals real-life success or failure, where the difference between getting it right and screwing it up can be your job, or it can be your principles, or it can be your happiness. Or they can all three be tangled together, and maybe you can’t tell where one ends and another begins, and so you try to satisfy all of them in perfect balance, if you can do that, but I don’t know how.
  • I read this beautiful post by The Rejectionist—I mean Sarah McCarry, goodness, we can say that now—and the second I realized my cheeks were damp was also the second I realized I was sad. I wondered what I had to be sad about, when I’d earned my dreams, when I’d spent my day doing what I’d labored since high school to have the right to do. I read and re-read this line, over and over, again and again: “If you think getting what you want changes your life, you're most likely mistaken; there you are, still, in your same old body, fucking up, getting it right, no telling which.” And I cried, because I don’t know which. I don’t. It changes, day to day.
  • On another day, I cracked open a fortune cookie after a takeout lunch, unfolded the scrap of paper inside, and read:
    “The only way to enjoy anything in life is to earn it first.”
  • A week later I went somewhere I’d never been before and left with new friends, and then I went somewhere I’d been often and found it seemed to welcome me for the first time. The next day I sat down in the office with a pen and a notebook and I spent all day doing work I was proud of, and when I left for the night I thanked those around me for the opportunity.

This isn’t the kind of blog post I meant to write after so much silence. I guess I just hope it’s the kind of post that you needed to read. Perhaps you, like me, tend to live in the Where You’re Going and forget to enjoy the Where You Are. And maybe you must always be moving forward, because getting what you want will always, must always, be a gradual process. I’m not even sure there is a What You Want, not that doesn’t morph once you’ve reached it.

But in all that reaching and staying hungry and letting your dreams evolve, don’t ever forget that you’ve made it. Wherever you are now, you’ve made it to there, and that’s no small thing. That’s something to be proud of.

You’ve made it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Figuring it Out (with Feminist Teens)

This is today's Tuesday Muse (and every day's inspiration) for a number of reasons:
  1. Teens. They are so smart and inspiring, right?!
  2. I wish that at fifteen I'd had even a fraction of the feminist gusto this girl has. (Actually, I wish that at fifteen I'd even known I wanted to be a feminist; I hung out in the "Sure I believe in equality, but I wouldn't call myself a feminist" camp until college.)
  3. I think this girl is on to something: whenever you acknowledge a problem, be sure to also acknowledge those who work to fix it. That's a good practice for life in general.
  4. It's not true that you must be perfectly consistent in your beliefs. Feminismin fact, everything (and yes, that means writing, too)is not a rule book, but a discussion, a conversation, a process.
  5. Be unapologetically present, and unapologetically you. In your writing, in your reading, and in your life.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tis the Season: Job and Internship Search Tips from the Archives

It's getting to be that time of year again; everyone's smiling, wearing their nicest clothes, and stocking up on thank you notes in preparation for... interview season! Who out there is just starting a job or internship search? Well, dust off those notes from your college's career workshop, have your interview outfit dry-cleaned, and get ready to slam out a cover letter and resume. If you're interested in working or interning in publishing, I wrote a blog series on how to get an internship in publishing last year, and much of it applies to job searching as well. Here are the topics:
Once you have that awesome job or internship, you'll want to make the most of it so you can move up in the industry and have even more fun in your career. Jessica from BookEnds LLC wrote an excellent post recently about the types of interns who ultimately get hired. It's well worth a read!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesday Muse: John Cleese on Creativity and Play

Today's Tuesday Muse is long but entirely worth your time, so put it on play in the background while you brush your teeth this morning or open the mail this afternoon. John Cleese insists that creativity isn't a gift some people have and others don't, but a frame of mind anyone can learn. The most creative people are simply more open to playing than others, and more efficient at switching between play and efficiency. And there are only four things we need to reach this state ourselves, which Cleese shares in this awesome video.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Muse: 1000 Awesome Things

Today's Tuesday Muse is a reminder of all the little (and secretly huge) joys in life: 1000 Awesome Things, a blog I found via PostSecret's founder, Frank Warren.

A thousand is a lot of things, so you might try starting with the first bite of a piece of gum, picking up a Q and a U at the same time in Scrabble, anything that can grow wings, and especially smiling and thinking of good friends who are gone. Even reading through the list of links for the top 1000 guarantees a smile.

Another awesome thing? The fact that there are two books of these!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A New BookExpo America: Is it Time for BEA to Become "Book Con"?

It’s time to bust out your badges and prepare your bag for ARC-stuffing, because it was announced last week that BookExpo America will open its doors to general consumers for the first time ever this June. Publishers Weekly announced last week that the show manager's plan to welcome consumers in 2013 had been accelerated by a year.

Granted, the change will start small, with the show’s managers offering no more than a thousand tickets to consumers. And in its first year tickets won’t be sold directly to consumers. Instead, they’ll be doled out to publishers and booksellers to offer to their avid fans or most active book-talkers—a move which is likely to ensure that this year’s consumer attendees are still unlikely to include many customers far removed from the mainstream publishing bubble. But it’s nonetheless a move that could drastically change the feel of the show in future years, especially if at some point down the line the show decides to make consumer ticket sales its main focus.

And many within the industry are less than enthusiastic, to say the least. “This is a booksellers [sic] convention and we have become the least important entity as to the floor,” said one bookseller in the comments on the article. “Giving the jump on industry professionals is a privilege," commented another. "Now consumers and e-hawkers will be scanning and selling books illegally. Bad move."

Personally, though I think it would take many years and a very drastic change for the show to become entirely consumer-focused, I think the idea of a convention that welcomes customers is a fresh one that could have huge benefits for the industry. In 2005 I read a fantastic article on Publishing Trends which pointed out Comic Con’s strong role in both promoting comics to fans and, perhaps more importantly, keeping comic publishers informed about—and directly in touch with—their market base. Publishing Trends quoted a correspondent from the traditional book publishing industry, who said it even better than I could:
We all talk to each other, to buyers, to marketing and we may even have some research to let us know who is reading our books. But these are numbers, not interactions with real people. This attention to the fan is what I believe has kept comics and will keep graphic novels alive, even in hard times… Imagine if you will a BEA, open to fans, where publishing showcases their best and the brightest they have to offer. How many would show up? How many would dress up like their favorite characters? Is this the type of passion that needs to be ignited in publishing in order to survive the hard times and build for the future?

How much better could we as publishers, and especially as representatives of individual imprints, brand ourselves if given that kind of direct face time with—and avid enthusiasm from—fans? Few general consumers know their Knopfs from their Bantam Dells, but I think we could see a positive change in bookselling if they did, and if they used that knowledge to follow the publications of imprints whose sensibilities they like, just as avid fans might follow a particular author who's struck their fancy. I think it's no coincidence that one of the few imprints which I would argue has come close to achieving household name recognition is Tor, an imprint which produces genre working for a highly specialized audience and devotes significant time to networking and building a community with actual consumers via its forums at Tor.com. But while genre fans flock to Tor's booth at BEA, could a literary audience flock to another imprint's booth to discuss the latest Atwoods and Franzens? Could general consumers of children's books be counted on to dress as their favorite character and drop by the booth of the publisher who brought them that character? Could die-hard fans of a whole variety of genres be brought together in one celebration of the written word—and how much could publishers learn from and connect with their fans if so?

With consumers making up only a twenty-fifth of the show's attendees this year, any such change is a long way off. But still, I have to wonder: could the BEA that Publishing Trends's correspondent imagined be around the corner? Would you welcome it, if so?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday Muse: How to be Emotionally Stable without Getting Bored

For anyone who's ever been to dark places and then come out of them, this is a beautiful tribute to both the darkness and the light in life. To hope and elation. To finding the most miniscule of things fascinating and uplifting. Most of all, it's a tribute to the power of the human spirit and the role inspiration plays in exciting it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why Katniss is a Feminist Character (And It’s Not Because She Wields a Bow and Beats Boys Up)

WARNING: If you haven’t read the books yet (and really, what have you been doing with your life if you haven’t?) this post contains spoilers.

When The Hunger Games hit shelves in 2008, its feisty main character quickly earned the “strong female character” seal of approval from fans of young adult lit. Hot-tempered, bow-wielding Katniss is fiercely independent, scornful of feminine frills, and barred off to any emotion that could render her vulnerable. Essentially, as one Tor.com blogger pointed out recently, she’s the anti-Bella Swan, a golden girl for all those YA readers who like their female protagonists to do something more worthwhile than choose between two men.

But amidst the flurry of excitement over Katniss’s complete and utter BAMFness (to use the technical term), it’s easy to forget what keeps her alive is not superior strength, speed, or intelligence, but rather a characteristic that no one else in the arena embraces. Ultimately, it’s not the weapons Katniss wields but the relationships she nurtures that save her life.

And I’m convinced that she’s a feminist character not because she wields a bow like Bella never could, but because while in the arena she learns to recognize, value, and eventually embrace feminine strengths. It’s her ability to find strength in other women — and to support them in return — that makes the girl on fire a feminist.

[Read the rest of this article on Tor.com]Link

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Ira Glass on Storytelling and the Ambition to be Good

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Give yourself permission to create something that disappoints you. Then create more of it. Create lots of it.

It's the only way to get to that wonderful work inside you that's dying to get out.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Authors and Publishers Can Learn from the Hunger Games Marketing Campaign, Part 2

Who's going to the midnight showing of The Hunger Games tonight? By show of hands? Pretty much everyone, from the looks of it, and with the brilliance of the movie's marketing plan (on top of the obvious brilliance of the books), it's no surprise.

Last week we started talking about how savvy authors and publishing pros might learn from the movie's fantastic marketing plan—first by building a bridge for existing fans and then by creating extra content to entice new ones. (If you missed Part 1, click here to read it now.) Now, let's talk about how to bend the odds in your favor by putting that extra content to use!

3.) Have a plan for all of your extra content. Lionsgate created an enormous amount of the content fans could go crazy for while pulling The Hunger Games together, but what made the campaign so successful was the careful order in which the studio released materials, and its impeccable timing. The studio started small, feeding conversations among fans, announcing the casting of minor roles, dropping the names of the major stars, and releasing the first character posters. And they built up to larger releases like the first photos from the set, short video teasers and new platforms for fans to talk, the first tracks from the movie soundtrack, and eventually full trailers released at just the right time to go viral in an explosive way. The bigger the content, the bigger the venue that released it; articles started in smaller publications and back-page arts sections, but by the time of the first promotional images from the set, major media outlets were hosting content exclusively and exposing it to whole new sets of potential fans. Fans couldn't have forgotten the movie was coming if they tried, and new people were introduced to it every day.

Why it matters for books: Lionsgate created lots of content right away, but they held their cards close to their chest and doled out one at a time, building tension much the way an author structures a good plot. By giving fans small bites of content but hinting at more to come, and by gradually building up to their biggest content, the studio created a near-constant feeling of excitement. Publishers and writers can build similar anticipation into their own marketing plans by strategically working up to the release of their own biggest content, like covers, trailers, and sample chapters. And strong fan interest in early releases can help convince sites with even bigger audiences, or audiences that haven’t yet been introduced to the series, to host the release of major materials and spark an explosive response.

4.) Work with what existing fans love to gain new ones. Throughout the planning and creation of the Hunger Games movie, Lionsgate has brought new fans on board by targeting what existing fans liked. The best example is the film’s soundtrack; though a Hans Zimmer or Howard Shore type might have been the obvious choice, the studio turned instead to fans’ favorite artists to build an unexpected tracklist. The soundtrack targeted the favorite singers of the series’ teen fans (from Taylor Swift to Arcade Fire), giving them one more hook to buzz about. Then the studio announced tracks from bands popular with a slightly older and decidedly different crowd (see mainly: The Decemberists), and existing fans squealed while a new and huge musical fan base got their first doorway into film fandom. Very smart indeed.

Why it matters for books: Marketers and savvy authors must know their audience. That means knowing not just who they are but also what they like beyond a specific book. Can a tour be arranged with the audience’s other favorite authors? Could you create a playlist for the book including some of their favorite bands? Can their favorite song be in the trailer? Can an artist fans love do sketches of the main characters? Can a Pinterest board or Tumblr of images in the theme of the book draw fans’ interest? The brilliance of all these plans is that they’ll appeal to an existing fan base, but people won’t need to be a fan in order to get something out of them. You’ll know you’re doing it right when an existing fan finds that extra content and it reminds them of a friend who may never have heard of the author or book—and bingo, you may just have earned a new fan.

What do you think of the Hunger Games marketing campaign? Any more tips or ideas based on everything that’s been done?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt (A Tuesday Muse)

Imagine this quote in a new context.

Who says this, and to whom?

What event is being described?

How does the event–or the explaining of the event afterwards–change everything for either the teller or the listener?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Authors and Publishers Can Learn from the Hunger Games Marketing Campaign, Part 1

Two weeks before its release on March 23rd, The Hunger Games movie is already expected to do as well in the box office as—if not even better than—the final Twilight movies. It’s expected to gross $100 million in its opening weekend alone, and $275 million over the length of its run in theaters. In Fandango’s twelve-year history, it’s never even come close to selling as many advance tickets as it has for The Hunger Games. Fueled by the pre-movie buzz, the paperback of the first book—by no means a new splash in the market, having been out for two years already—is outselling the year’s biggest book hits. And the excitement is only growing.

Both book and film can chalk their incredible recent success up to a versatile and inexhaustible marketing push by Lionsgate studios. And though we might have little hope of matching the blockbuster studio’s budget, much of what’s made the studio’s push so successful can easily be applied to publishers’ and writers’ own promotional campaigns. Here are just a few elements you can adapt:

1.) Create a bridge for existing fans. When Lionsgate inked a deal to bring The Hunger Games to the big screen, the series was already a hit with teens, reporting more than 150,000 sales and boasting a fan frenzy that came close to the Twilight and Harry Potter series. But with three years between the movie deal and its big-screen release, Lionsgate needed a way to keep the film on fans’ radars. By creating a “bridge” of content the existing fans were hungry for already to lead them to the new content in theaters, Lionsgate turned what could have been a setback into a chance for existing fans to spread their fervor through word of mouth.

Why it matters for books: When an author has an existing fan base—whether from social media popularity, recent recognition in the media, or another successful novel or series—one of the biggest challenges to bringing a new book out is carrying the author’s popularity over to a new title. Though most marketing campaigns focus on attracting new fan bases, they still take care not to lose the hard-won fans that already exist—and getting a reader to pick up an author’s second book can be harder than you think. Writers and publishers must approach the gap between initial buzz and the new book’s publication strategically by bridging content. The most successful bridges give existing fans more of what they already love and want (whether it’s the books’ smoldering love interests, the author’s snarkily hilarious style, or the writer’s off-the-page personality) while at the same time introducing concepts and characters that will appear in the new book and tying back to the upcoming new release.

2.) Create extra content… Lionsgate made every landmark on the route to a finished film a spectacle for fans, building buzz around everything from the choice of a director to fan input on casting calls and auditions and finally their strategic release of casting decisions, one name at a time. But it was the extra materials the studio generated—everything from posters featuring each individual character to viral social media content from social networks to name generators —that really held hungry fans’ attention. Part of the brilliance of the Hunger Games marketing campaign is that much of the content released to build excitement would have needed to be created for the films anyway—like music for the soundtrack and clips of Katniss in the arena. Put it all together, and fans had plenty to munch on while they waited for the movie to release.

Why it matters for books: Not every publisher or author has the resources to build whole social networks or schedule a photo shoot for every character, but there’s a world of possibility available nonetheless. Consider hinting that one character from a previous series will show up in the new book, and allowing fans to guess which one. Introduce your main character with a short story in their voice, or give fans a story about an existing character that made them clamor for more. With a little creativity you can put together “dream casts,” interactive games and contests, early reveals of content and images, and more. The key is to delve into what makes a book—or an author’s previous books—appealing, and find an efficient way to create more of that content than will be needed in the finished book. By re-purposing material for an early buzz-building release online, publishers and authors can make a new release visible and appealing without an unmanageable investment.

But plop all that extra content up online at once and you're likely to find it's wasted; truly good content needs an innovative and strategic plan to succeed. Next week, we'll talk about what that plan might look like! Check out Part 2 in this series to find out more about how to bend the odds in your favor.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Hugo's Big Machine

Today's muse is a clip from the movie Hugo, which was both visually stunning and incredibly well-written:

What's your reason for being here?

Many apologies for the lack of a non-muse post last week! I'll have something cool on the blog soon to compensate.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday Muse: The Earth from Space

At the risk of stating the obvious... our world is pretty incredible:

It amazes me that you can see thunderstorms and the aurora borealis so clearly from space. It amazes me how much of this earth we have marked with our presence, and how visibly. That the lives we lead can feel so tiny individually, but the sum of the parts is enough to literally light up the world from outer space.

What amazes you?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What IS a Feminist Character, Really? (A Bit of a Love Letter to Kristin Cashore)

I thought I'd write a post today about how, in the midst of all this talk about what isn't really a "strong female character," about what isn't a feminist character, we—myself included, perhaps myself most of all—risk falling into the trap of scrutinizing female characters more closely than men, criticizing them more often, and thus reinforcing messages that can hurt the feminist cause more than they might help it. About how we risk widening a rift when what we need is mutual understanding of all women, of all men, and of all the everything in between, in all our wonderful and utterly dumbfounding complexity. About how, while it's necessary and important to examine tropes, to pick apart their underlying themes and put them back together with a better understanding of the messages we absorb from them, if that picking apart leaves us without a single female character we can feel proud of and sure of, then we are lost. How if we spend all our time figuring out why we shouldn't love female characters, we will do exactly what we accuse others of, and fail to love women.

I was going to write that post.

And then I read Bitterblue. And I was reminded of the wonderful feminist thing that is Kristin Cashore.

Her main characters are all strong women. They all have power. They are also all broken, haunted by these truly terrible pasts. And they are so wholly, completely, complexly human that they defy simplification. They refuse to be tropes. None of them—women or men, primary or secondary—can be ignored. They seem to live and breathe, and they offer windows—some of the only broad, clear windows I've ever encountered in literature—into what it really is to be a woman. They are human.

These are the characters we need. It's not enough to say "strong." It's not enough to say "flawed." They must be whole. They must be human. So that each of us, in reading them, can feel what it is to be a human who is not ourselves.* So we can all understand each other better for it.

*That said, it would be remiss of me to ignore the fact that all of Cashore's main characters, and in fact almost all of her secondary and tertiary characters, are people of considerable privilege and with the power to command nations. They are primarily members of the dominant race in their respective kingdoms, or, in the case of Fire, they have powers that compensate for the prejudices of those around them by providing them with some control over others. It isn't quite enough to give us both women and men who are whole and human—we also need to see whole, human characters of all genders who are underprivileged in other ways, so that their unique perspectives can be forefronted and understood as well. I hope you understand that I don't intend to criticize Kristin—I believe that she has the skill and the humility to do those tales justice, and one day I truly hope to see them from her.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tough but Tortured: Why Strong Female Characters Shouldn't Need Dark Pasts to Justify Their Power

A little more than a year ago, I picked up a copy of Whipping Girl, a collection of essays on gender identity and experience written by Julia Serano, a male-to-female transsexual whose unique experience of gender has allowed her a firsthand look at society’s prejudices from the position of a man and a woman. In a series of discussions on everything from the media industry’s sensationalized, inherently prejudiced depictions of transsexual people to the actual experience of life on both sides of the gender divide, Serano argues one overarching point: that it’s not women society devalues, but femininity.

I’d both loved and felt frustrated by the characters that tend to be blanket-labeled “strong female characters” for years, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I was able to really put a finger on why: the very thing that made me love them—the very thing that earned them that oh-so-difficult-for-a-lady-to-achieve status of the hero—also served to devalue my gender. Because all of these characters seemed to prove the point that there was only one way to be strong, and it was by embracing what society considers to be masculine characteristics: physical strength and an aggressive, impulsive personality. A bunch of a really fabulous bloggers have weighed in on this subject—mostly recently, S.E. Sinkhorn, whose post on how strong female characters devalue and even vilify the feminine I absolutely love. Bloggers have decried the unrealistic and objectifying nature of “waif-fu,” called for more fully realized female characters who can be valued and related to for their weaknesses, and pointed out the inherent male gaze in everything from these women’s poses to their costumes.

But aside from the fact that these characters, in their very existence, seem to prove that the only real strength out there is stereotypically masculine strength, and that it’s only acceptable in a woman if she’s also, you know, willing to submit to being a sex object (all of the above bloggers have proven this well) there’s one more thing that frustrates me about these types of characters. And that’s the frequency with which I see “powerful” and “damaged” go hand in hand in lady characters. Battlestar Galactica’s Kara Thrace takes the cylons and her shipmates to task with thrilling efficiency, but what makes her so unstoppable might be her blatant disregard for her own safety, which the show suggests is the result of her mother’s traumatic abuse and her father’s absence. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's Lisbeth Salander is unapologetically and unstoppably out for herself, but she’s also on an unending rampage against the many men who have used and abused her. Firefly’s River Tam is a finely tuned killing machine, if you catch her on a good day, or at least one in which she’s not rocking in a corner or curled up naked in a womb-like cryo box.

I recognize that Kara’s brokenness humanizes her character and builds the foundation for what I actually find to be an incredibly resonant story of a struggle for faith and a journey towards peace. And while I have many problems with the so-called feminist trappings of the Millennium trilogy, I can understand the appeal for some women of a rape revenge story in which a woman seizes and uses the power that was originally denied to her by her attackers. As for River Tam, I… well, honestly, I’ve got nothing. Sorry. Does it help if I say I like Zoe and Inara a lot?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that, male or female, most people come into their own strength through suffering. But where are the male characters who follow a pattern that matches those of the women? I can come up with only a handful, the most notable of which might be Batman, whose strength comes from a need to avenge his parents’ death: a tragedy, but arguably not a trauma on the scale of—or with the intense nature of personal attack and violation inherent in—rape or physical abuse.

So why does trauma seem to be a prerequisite that only women need to fulfill in order to be stereotypically strong?

Is it a subconscious need to rationalize what the reader or viewer might see as “bad behavior” for a woman? Is it an apologetic attempt by the writers to “declaw” feminist characters, making them less threatening to male viewers who might feel emasculated by their physical prowess or female viewers who might be uncomfortable with their self-assertiveness? Is it all a projection of male fantasies of a woman who is “one of the guys,” but still needs a man around to protect her or “fix” her? Can we just not understand why a woman might want to embody masculine characteristics if she wasn’t inherently screwed up?

I suspect it’s some combination of all of the above, in varying degrees given the particular film or book. And, needless to say, I’m not impressed. The particular brilliance of this trope as an anti-feminist tool is in the fact that it seems to answer the cries of feminists who ask for more flawed and fully explored characters, but at the same time it sends the message that women who seek power (the same power that men are portrayed as just naturally possessing) are unnatural, that they somehow need an excuse. Gee, where have we heard that before?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Introducing the Tuesday Muse

Mondays get all the bad-day credit, and I'm gonna go out a limb here and say they don't deserve it. On Mondays you're all rested from the weekend. You just did laundry like a grown-up (assuming you're not me) so you've got cute outfits to wear again and you look all nice. And everyone in the office is getting back into the swing of the week, so the emails don't start rolling in full force until after noon.

Tuesdays... now, Tuesdays are awful.

So to combat the general monotony of Tuesdays, the knowledge that you won't get another proper sleep for four more days, the general increase of worldsuck that comes with that first day of real emails-flying-in-at-an-alarming-rate work or nose-to-the-grindstone writing, I think it's time we all joined forces.

Every Tuesday, I'm going to share a little piece of something inspiring. Let's call it your Tuesday Muse. And perhaps, some Tuesdays, you'd like to join me and share your own inspiring stuff as well? And then you'll post your Tuesday Muses in the comments on Trac Changes so we can all see, yes? And eventually we'll all be so inspired that Tuesdays will be the best days, right? OF COURSE THEY WILL.

So here's your first Tuesday Muse:

New Tail by John Powell on Grooveshark

It's from John Powell's score for How to Train Your Dragon; I'm obsessed with the film's entire soundtrack, not to mention its scenic design. The fiddle just paints such wonderful pictures in my head.

Okay, one more:

The Downed Dragon by John Powell on Grooveshark

I'd love to hear what you envision while listening to either or both of these, should you feel so inclined! Do please share in comments.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Early Adopters of the Publishing Industry (Yes, I Mean You!)

Everybody has one of those friends: the one who’s dissatisfied with their operating system as soon as the manufacturer announces work on version 2.0 (and who'd scheduled their DVR to record that announcement a month in advance); the one who trades their perfectly good iPhone in the moment the newest model is released; the one who got their Google+ invite the day it went live. By the time you’d even heard of Pinterest, they had a thousand followers and over fifty carefully curated pinboards. And for all they seemed to know about what Steve Jobs was doing on a day-to-day basis, you wouldn’t be surprised if they’d actually spent time hiding in the bushes outside his mansion with a pair of binoculars.

The tech world refers to them as early adopters, and startups and megaliths alike count on them to serve as first customers, testers, and champions for new technologies and networks. If they don’t drive you crazy talking about the next big thing, chances are they’ll spot the trends before you do and serve as a gateway into those with staying power.

Except by the time you get there, they’ll already have moved on.

Most of us in publishing are on our second or third e-readers by now—or, more likely, struggling with the crumbling hard drives on our ancient first-edition devices as we try to avoid forking up any of our precious salaries for the latest version. So it’s easy to forget that 2011’s holiday season was the first one in which a significant number of Americans unwrapped packages containing a Nook, Kindle, or iPad. In other words, though those closest to the publishing and technology industries have long since grown used to e-reading technology—perhaps so much so that we’re beginning to get bored and look for a newer and better solution—2011 was the first year in which the average American, the casual reader, embraced it.

Take a second to expand the chart on the right and you'd see that early adopters make up only a small percentage of the ultimate consumer base for most trends. Most new trends tend to follow a pattern in which the early adopters move on from a trend before the majority discovers it. And for habitual early adopters, it’s easy to forget that the fact that being ahead of the curve means that more people than not are behind them—not just in taking an interest, but also in losing it. Blogs all over the net label the tendency “Early Adopters Syndrome,” and caution those who come first to a trend against losing sight of where the core audience for those gadgets sits in relation to a trend.

Wherever we stand in relation to technology (I still have what I affectionately call a “dumbphone” and I couldn’t explain FourSquare to you if I tried), it’s important to remember that those of us who follow the publishing industry—as employees or as adamant readers, writers, and bloggers—are all early adopters within our field. As employees we read the next big hits as submissions or as proposals for acquisition one to three years before they come through the editorial and production processes and actually hit the market. Writers have often critiqued, workshopped, or traded ideas for those projects even before the industry sees them. And bloggers see those trends take shape in early reading copies long before finished books hit shelves. For those of us as deeply entrenched in this community as you and I are, it can be easy to forget that while we’re all talking to each other about our early-adopted trends, whole different conversations are happening outside of the community.

Early in my career, I sat in my fair share of acquisitions meetings thinking “Why are we even discussing vampires/steampunk/angels/love triangles? Isn’t everyone sick of these by now?” Even recently, when someone asked if I thought the dystopian trend was on its way out, I caught myself thinking “Well, duh.” And yet the fact that The Hunger Games is selling tens of thousands of copies each week, even two to three years after its paperback release, proves me wrong. In truth, with the Hunger Games movie just around the corner and hundreds of thousands of teens and adults who aren’t regular readers sharing the excitement, many would say the dystopian trend is just beginning.

It would be one thing if the publishers and readers and writers and bloggers most closely caught up in publishing were the industry’s only market, but they aren’t and in fact they can’t be. In order to sell enough books to justify the cost of doing business, publishers have to strive to reach the casual reader—the average consumer who comes to a trend on the heels of the early adopters. And just as, by deciding everyone else is as sick of scanning QR codes as they are, the early adopter can miss a valuable opportunity to use them just as their reach has become significant, we as publishers do ourselves a disservice if we move on from a trend before truly evaluating where it sits with the masses.

That’s not to say that every trend will achieve the mass popularity that vampires and dystopias are enjoying in the wake of the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises, or even to imply that every trend will reach the masses at all. And for the writers reading this, I certainly don’t wish to contradict the many wise industry members who have cautioned you against writing to the trends instead of writing the story you’re most inspired to tell. But even as we enjoy the benefits of the great community that surrounds the publishing, writing, and reading industries, let’s not forget to look outside of it as well. And let’s not miss the opportunity to give every reader what they want.

Who do you talk to most about books and trends you’re enjoying? What trends are you completely sick of, and which ones do you think have staying power? How do you keep in touch with trends outside of the book industry, even as you keep up with the latest in writing and reading?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Future(s) of Publishing: On New Narrative Structures and the Digital Game-Changer

A few months ago I attended one of New York’s most celebrated and original shows in years: Sleep No More. A loose interpretation of Macbeth that pays homage, in tone and mise-en-scène, to Hitchcock’s films, Sleep No More had me on its premise alone.

However, what really sold me on the show’s genius—and what’s earning it rave reviews and a near-perpetually extended run in its New York City home—is the fact that Sleep No More is less a show than an experience. The set is a world in itself, an entire hotel gutted from the inside and transformed into a ballroom, a graveyard, a mental hospital, a bedroom, a museum, a forest, and more. Silent stewards in black stand sentry in these little worlds but do nothing to discourage guests from trying on gowns in a hospital ward or peeling back Lady Macduff’s bedcovers to reveal the dark stains of blood. The characters are plucked from Macbeth’s playbill but rendered nearly unrecognizable by their 1920’s apparel, their danced rather than spoken dialogue, and their deliberate refusal to separate out into “main” and “secondary” characters. Unconstrained by the conventions that are so integral to most theater as to go unnoticed—that the character with the most stage time is the main character, that any information not delivered onstage is irrelevant, and that all stories unfold in a linear fashion—each of Sleep No More’s characters cycle through their own haunting story, leaving it to the viewers and not the writers to choose how little or how much attention each merits. And if the viewers become the show’s scripters, so too do they become members of its cast, underscoring the show’s themes of guilt and madness by flocking to its characters, costumed in ghastly masks that transform them into the physical embodiments of the specters that haunt Macbeth and the horrors that plague his cohorts.

Sleep No More is not nearly the first piece of experiential theater ever produced, but I’d argue it’s one of the first and most important shows to make full use of an emergent narrative style: a storytelling structure in which the audience’s choices and actions determine the story that unfolds. While each of the characters in Sleep No More follows a script, the sequence of events from start to finish is wholly determined by the audience. Each viewer’s decisions about what characters to follow, what rooms to explore, and what information to ingest creates a new version of the narrative. And while the play’s producers are able to influence its overall emotional arc through external cues like music, set design, and choreography, there is practically no limit to the number of unique experiences that can emerge from the elements the audience pulls together.

I am fascinated by Sleep No More’s complex narrative structure, and I’ve been reflecting on it in the months since I saw the show, especially as I’ve watched publishers and writers experiment within the realm of e-publishing. You see, I don’t think it’s accidental that this innovation in theater has occurred alongside similarly monumental innovations in the way we experience written narratives. And I’d argue that while Sleep No More is a reaction to Shakespeare and to Hitchcock and a rebuttal of the rather ridiculous notion that some stories are more worthy of following than others, it is also an expression of the growing understanding, of writers and readers alike, that stories do not have to be linear.

This isn’t an entirely new concept for the storytelling world. In fact, video games have been embracing this idea for decades, with a range of titles from the Fable to The Sims adopting non-linear and even emergent narratives in order to customize user experience. It wasn’t hard for me to draw a link between Sleep No More, with its file folders full of mental profiles for the show’s characters and telltale blood stains, and the video game Fallout, in which the player pieces together the tragic histories of several different fallout structures by sifting through clues in the debris left behind.

It’s not that books haven’t dabbled in this before now. The Choose Your Own Adventure series of the 90’s gained immense popularity among young readers who devoured its customized plotlines and read each book multiple times to uncover new experiences and twist endings, and countless spin-offs of the idea followed. But at best (and I say this as a childhood fan who looks back very fondly on the series) these books were clunky, prone to spoilers revealed when the wrong page was flipped past or the too-present temptation to return to a previous page if the chapter one’s choices led to wasn’t satisfying. And with the exception of the occasional artistic use of the non-linear narrative form, like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, this structure never gained widespread popularity in adult books.

The missing link is obvious: technology. The very physical form of a book enforces a linear narrative; page 3 must follow page 2 which must follow page 1, and so on. The end has to occur after the beginning because it lies deeper into the physical object—and short of breaking the unspoken rules of literacy (as Danielewski asks his reader to do in House of Leaves) we can’t escape that experience of one event following another in physical books. And just as removing the barriers of stage and seating from the audience’s experience of Sleep No More opened it up to an emergent story structure, so removing the paper-and-ink makeup of a book opens up written storytelling to non-linear and emergent experiences.

New ventures in the publishing industry are showing this realization. Coliloquy launched last month with the self-proclaimed intention of “taking advantage of new technology to reinvent the way authors and their audiences interact with reading and narrative.” To quote their press release:
By delivering titles as active content applications, rather than static publishing files, Coliloquy enables new kinds of engagement made possible by advances in electronic book distribution. Multiple “what if” story lines let authors and readers explore different permutations of character relationships. TV-like episodes can grow and change, based on reader choices, voting, and feedback. Fans can reread a key scene from a different character’s point-of-view or unlock new content.
Writers and publishers of more traditional fiction are recognizing similar opportunities for their own publishing programs, as the enhanced-e-book-turned-emergent-experience Chopsticks demonstrates. And while The Wall Street Journal pointed out in a recent article that interactive e-books and book apps have yet to prove themselves profitable, it nonetheless called the technological shift rocking the industry “what could be the most significant transformation of books and reading behavior since Gutenberg.”

Interestingly, one of the contributions of Gutenberg’s printing press to storytelling may have been the widespread adoption of linear narratives; Shakespeare’s sonnets weren’t bound into a numbered order until their first printed compilation after his death, and in the old bardic practice of storytelling from which the tales of Odysseus originated, a bard chose his next plot point from a collection of stories he’d memorized based on his audience’s whims. And now, in reading’s next major revolution, we could see a shift away from linear narratives once again.

That said, am I kissing plot structure as we know it goodbye? Are non-linear narratives and interactive reading experiences the future of publishing? I’d say no. And, well, yes.

Storytelling is an art older than written history, and it’s undergone more changes and existed in more forms than we can count. It will continue to exist in more forms and styles than we can predict. I truly believe that as long as there is reader demand for specific types of stories, be they linear or non-linear or interactive or emergent or anything in between, there will be people who continue to create and distribute those types of stories.

So no, I don’t think this is the future of publishing. I think it is a future of publishing. It is an exciting opportunity to explore something new, to meet demands that have begun to surface or that have existed for a long time and been satisfied in other ways, like video gaming and roleplaying. It’s a call to open our minds to the many different ways to tell a story, and an opportunity to experience and embrace the potential for literary quality in myriad types of media. And in that respect, I can’t wait to see the future of publishing play out, in digital and in printed form.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Everything is Starting

It seems I'm not alone in feeling trapped by winter's doldrums right now. So, for all the rest of you who are feeling like I am, here is another piece of lovely that I turn to in wintertime. Perhaps it's a little early to be posting this (given that we've just gotten our first snow here in New York), but here's a poem by the incomparable Eleanor Rand Wilner, who told me and a class of writing majors at Goucher in 2006 that she wrote this in response to a friend who called and said, on a bleak midwinter day, "I feel like everything is ending, and I need you to tell me that it's really starting":

Everything is Starting

The snow is filthy now; it has been
drinking oil and soot and car exhaust
for days, and dogs have marked it
with their special brand of brilliant
yellow piss;
for a week after it fell,
the snow stood in frozen horror
at the icy chill, and hardened
on the top, and then, today, the thaw:
now everything is starting
up again—
the traffic flows, the place
where dogs pause, and sniff, becomes,
once more, invisible to us, and in
the gutters of our streets, a minor Nile
floods from the old drifts into the gasping
drains; even the sewers are jubilant
in the rush that foretells spring; the rats

dance along the pipes;
on all the trees,
the buds push against the sealed bark,
as if against the tight containment
of the past,
while deep in the Florida Keys,
along some slow canal, the manatees roll
heavily in the dark stream, the way that sleepers
slowly turn in dream, and the cranes look
up, unrolling their long necks, possessed
by restlessness just before
they fly...
light-years away, beyond the veils
of the Milky Way, out at the red edge
of creation, where everything is
always starting: there—a memory
shifts and gathers itself once more:
a memory of the time (if time it can
be called) when all that is the matter,
or all that matter is, is drawn into
one place, as if into a single thought,
and (unimaginable) ignites,
shattering the ageless night in which
the cosmos only dreamed,
and in the oldest memory
(of which I think
we have a share)
it was an endlessly unfolding flower
of fire—the rose of light that Dante
saw, its afterimage in the soul.
And from that flower, the seeds
of all the galaxies were
now, in our own, the snow recedes,
the buds will shatter the end
of every twig—as everything is
starting up again—the crocus pokes
its purple, furled, above the thawing
and when the local ember
of that first fiery bloom, our sun, touches
its silk with light, it will unfurl,
in perfect silence—unlike us, jubilant

and noisy, who never were the point,
but still delight in being
the sole narrators, upstarts of the dawn.

Eleanor Rand Wilner has published six books of poetry, including Tourist in Hell (2010), The Girl with Bees in Her Hair (2004)*, and Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (1998). In addition, her work appears in more than 30 anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Poetry (Fourth Edition). Wilner’s awards and accolades include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Juniper Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.**

*"Everything is Starting" is the opening poem from The Girl with Bees in her Hair.

**Eff you, SOPA.***

***Seriously, though, buy Eleanor's books and support a ridiculously talented poet while giving yourself a present in the form of a really, really good example of how to do imagery and literary references right.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Getting Through the Winter Slump

I have a confession to make.

I hate January and February.

Winter before the holidays seems fresh, crisp, almost magical. Winter after the holidays seems gray and dead and endless. There are lots of awesome things about those months—not the least of which is the long list of fantastic new books that each January promises. At work I'm as charged as ever, excited to share what's new. But outside of work, with the sun already lost below the horizon, I find myself receding ever so slightly with it.

So if I've been quiet, forgive me. A little bit of winter's grayness has gotten into me. I'm drinking tea, reading and mulling over books and manuscripts, and reminding myself of all the things that bring color into my life, all the gifts I have to be grateful for.

Anyone else been hit by the wintertime blues? Here's a present, if so. I fell in love with a folk band by the name of Tanglefoot as a high schooler, and on occasion they still do a good job of reminding me of where I find joy—and, in the case of this song, to cherish what I have and let the other things go:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Looking Ahead: Goals for 2012!

In the spirit of making goals rather than resolutions, I'm hoping to do the following in 2012:

  • Learn to eat more healthily, and try to cook more.
  • Find reasons to be excited about living in New York City, and come up with several places and events that I can share with people who are new to the city.
  • Learn Spanish at least well enough to communicate on a basic level with my many, many Spanish-speaking neighbors in New York.
  • Make time for a vacation with my three best friends.
  • Go to at least five places I've never been to.
  • Look for the joy in everything, and truly investigate my reasoning for doing the things I do (Why? Because, as Cheryl Klein reminded me that Friedrich Nietzsche said, "He who has a why can endure any how."). Along with that, drop activities that I can't justify and stop wasting time on things that don't bring me joy.

  • Set time aside each month to set and evaluate realistic goals for my own professional development.
  • Get an even firmer grasp on my new position, and begin volunteering for projects outside of my regular job description that interest me or that will develop my skills.
  • Make networking on a day-to-day basis as much of a priority as I've made it when I've actively been job-searching.

Hold me to them, reader friends!

What are your goals for 2012?