So when I said I’d post my Kidlitcon panel notes “tomorrow,” I guess I meant it in an Alice-in-Wonderland sense. Today is not tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be.
Today, we went to the zoo.
If I were a dutiful blogger I’d at least have a picture of adorable moppets in front of the polar bear cage, but I’m in one room and my camera’s in another, with all my zoo pictures still sewn up tight inside the SD card. Ooh but I could do a picture from Tuesday’s pumpkin-farm outing instead, how’s that?
Neither a moppet, nor adorable.
See, my parents and niece are visiting from Colorado. They arrived on Saturday while I was basking in the fun of KidlitCon. This week has flown by. They’re leaving tomorrow; I can’t believe it!
So tomorrow probably won’t be panel-notes day after all. Tomorrow will be consoling-bereft-children day. And oh-no-I-have-to-cook-again day. And wow-I-have-a-lot-of-Cybils-books-to-read day.
Actually, I-have-to-cook-again day is exactly the kind of day which tends to inspire long, detailed posts in me. Anything to keep me out of the kitchen!
Hannah asked how one finds out about events like KidlitCon: “Do you just have to frequent the right kidlit blogs at the right time?”
Pretty much! Do you know about Kidlitosphere Central? It’s a wonderful website run by Pam Coughlan (MotherReader), Liz Burns (A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy), Anne Boles Levy (Cybils), Colleen Mondor (Chasing Ray), and Jen Robinson (Jen Robinson’s Book Page) which serves as a portal to children’s-literature-focused blogs, discussion groups, resources and more. That’s one good place to find news about KidlitCon, which is an annual conference held in a different part of the country each year. Next year: Seattle! 2012: NYC!
Here’s another nifty thing: over at the KidlitCon 2010 website, Andrew Karre is collecting links to the PowerPoint presentations people showed on various panels. The first set he links to is for Liz, Pam, Jen, and Sarah Stevenson’s Kidlitosphere and CYBILs presentation, which begins with an engrossing walkthrough of the history of kidlit blogging, including the first time the word “kidlitosphere” was ever used on the internet by a particularly brilliant, forward-thinking, and above all humble blogger. 😉
(Brief sentimental interjection: awww, look, the old template with my handwoven background! Er, I mean the brilliant, humble etc blogger’s handwoven background. Gosh, I kinda miss it.)
Would you believe we’re up to 87,400 results for the word now? In less than 4 1/2 years? Amazing.
UPDATED: Bwah? I just refreshed the Google page for kidlitosphere and this time it only says “about 35,800 results.” I have a screenshot of the 87,400 so I know I’m not crazy! What-the-what-the, Google??
See? Geeky, but not crazy.
January 11, 2010 @ 7:35 am | Filed under: Books
“Well, if you like your warnings ahead of time, then I’d say watch out for weasels and the Banshee—the Lost Soul of the Lost and Found—and a lot of other Cursed Creatures. Hmmm, and let’s see…the mice come in waves. And if you hear hooves coming behind you, crouch down. It’s the Pooka, and it won’t be a good ride if he grabs you.”
—The Prince of Fenway Park
In the early 90s, Julianna Baggott and I were classmates in the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, along with David Scott (whom Julianna would later marry) and a number of other fine poets and fiction writers. (To name a few: Rowan Jacobsen, author of that bee book I raved about; his future wife, the poet and illustrator Mary Elder; poet Elizabeth Leigh Hadaway; novelist Quinn Dalton; Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Claudia Emerson; and acclaimed speculative fiction writer Kelly Link. We all got to study with the great Fred Chappell, making us some of the luckiest people on the planet.)
I’m always excited to hear that one of my friends has a new book out—especially when it’s Julianna. She is a writer of tremendous talent: a poet whose keen-edged phrases can make my breath catch in my throat, a spinner of magical children’s tales, a novelist who writes with an intense and lyrical candor. She has a gift for drawing her characters with a terrible honesty suffused with tenderness and a kind of raw humor. Her people are real people, aching and vulnerable and brave.
It’s no surprise, then, that Julianna’s 2009 middle-grade novel, The Prince of Fenway Park, made this year’s Cybils shortlist for Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her latest novel, The Ever Breath, has just come out and I am champing at the bit for a copy. As N. E. Bode, she wrote the deliciously original The Anybodies, The Nobodies, and The Slippery Map. Her novels for adults include Girl Talk, The Miss America Family, The Madam, and (as Bridget Asher) The Pretend Wife and My Husband’s Sweethearts. She has published three collections of poetry: This Country of Mothers, Lizzie Borden in Love, and Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees. Julianna and Dave and their four children live in Florida, where Julianna is an associate professor in FSU’s creative writing program.
Because talking about writing with other writers is one of my favorite things to do, I asked Julianna if I could bombard her with questions for an interview here at Bonny Glen. She said yes, and here it is.
I am always wildly curious to know how other writers work. What’s your writing life like—the rhythm of your days and weeks, with writing and mothering and working and researching and all the rest of it?
I stay up late at night. My husband wakes up early in the morning. He’s a stay at home dad—the hardworking kind who’s really taken over all of it (grocery shopping, cooking, carpooling). So he does the morning rush, getting the oldest three off to school. I sleep in with the 2 year old. We have sitters who come and stay a couple of morning hours so Dave and I can both focus. We wrestle the calendar and the business side of writing and the creative side, too. When I’m stuck, I ramble to Dave and he blathers and eventually he blathers something that helps. I sometimes have teaching days—I teach in the Creative Writing Program at Florida State—or departmental meetings with professorial types—of which I guess I am one—and I try to come up for air around 3:30 when the kids come home. Sometimes I head back to work at night. And on my bedside table there’s always a stack of reading—books to blurb or grad student novels, etc… And then the day begins again—another version of the same.
We are like Civil War reenactors—except without the woolly pants and cannons.
Tell me about your writing process: How you work, where you work. Do you work on one book at a time, or do you have several projects going simultaneously? Do you pour out a first draft and then go back over (and over?), or do you write slowly, polishing as you go? How many drafts before you show someone? Who are your first readers?
I collect notes for various projects that are coming up in metal bins on my VERY messy desk. When that project pops up, I map on big sheets of art books—big wild outlines that I accept as THE plotline although it ALWAYS changes many, many times. Sometimes I juggle more than one book. If one fights me, I jump to another. I also will work in small essays and op-eds from time to time. I’ve been in Real Simple, The New York Times, Boston Globe…I also will shove a poem in from time to time—poems come in waves—
Like the mice under Fenway Park?
Yes. Like the mice. In waves, followed by dry spells—more emotional than logical for me. I adore revision—more and more the older I get. More freedom in a way. I write on scraps of paper that float around the house and get lost. I write all over certain books—a real marginalia freak. Some books are fairly smooth in writing the first drafts. Others are like wrestling gators. The problem is that you don’t know which is which until you’re in too deep. I can’t think in terms of drafts as I move throughout the novel as I write it—back and forth and all around. My first reader is Dave though there are certain novels he doesn’t read until they’re published, and I don’t read to him necessarily in order. I might start reading to him in the spot where I’m stuck—say page 64. I summarize and tell him my problem and read. It’s great because I’m all caught up in the details accumulated over the past 64 pages, but he isn’t. He can see the book as some platonic future version of itself and his suggestions can be really broad and drastic, often what I need to hear.
See, this is one of the things I love so much about you and Dave, because it’s one of the things I love so much about Scott and me: the collaborativeness of the creative process. Nothing I write feels alive to me until he reads it.
Okay, when you’re deep into work on a novel, do you read other fiction? Nonfiction? Watch tv (and what!)? Movies? Swim? Rock climb? Mario Kart marathons with Dave?
When asked if I have hobbies, I answer: I like to sing along to the radio in the car, loudly. Does that count? Hardly. But I do get up from novels a lot. I get up and pick seeds from the Cosmos. I cut apples. I get in the car and sing loudly. I have to walk away and then come back—away and back. I love stupid TV. I hate swimming. I make myself pay for peeking at my Amazon ranks/reviews by doing push ups.
Do you get stuck in your head/have trouble shaking off the world of the book? Any transition processes? Scott and I call it coming out of the cave—that place you enter when the work is working.
I try not to fully shake the other world. I like the blending—how one world helps me with the other.
Do your kids read your works in progress, or do you make them wait until story’s done? I remember you said Phoebe pointed out that your first draft of Anybodies happened almost totally “in rooms”—such a sharp insight.
I used to read aloud to my kids as I wrote, but it got too confusing. I kept changing things on them. And now, strangest of all, they don’t read my work. I’d have never seen that coming. But it’s as if too much of me as an author filters down into our daily lives. They want me as mother. And so we don’t blur mother as writer. They love the authors they love as authors. But I’m their mother and that relationship is something we all have decided to keep oddly pure. Does this make any sense? It’s not something we planned. But when we read a novel as a group, it’s never mine.
You have published under the pseudonyms N. E. Bode and Bridget Asher as well as your real name. How did that come about?
I’d written three literary novels in three years—pubbed with Simon & Schuster. It was too fast a pace. I started competing with myself for review space. So we decided on writing under a pen name. My agent wanted me to do crime novels—I get terrified playing the board game CLUE —but I was reading again to my kids the books I first loved.
So I decided on that. N.E. Bode followed.
Then my kid book editor wanted me to come out as Julianna Baggott and the timing felt right. My two recent novels The Prince of Fenway Park and The Ever Breath are Baggott novels.
As for Bridget Asher, I wanted to be able to build an audience in one kind of novel—smart, contemporary work for women—but still have the freedom to write my own odd stuff as Baggott and not lose the readership I’d built.
So Asher seemed like a good way to do that.
Let’s talk about The Prince of Fenway Park. A question I always have about every book is “what’s the story behind the story”—what sparked the idea, etc. And then I’m always curious about the research. Did you get to tour Fenway Park?
Funny story. The Prince of Fenway Park came out of complete frustration. I was having a conversation with Dave. I had finished a laborious collection of poetry in historic women’s voices (Lizzie Borden in Love). It entailed huge doses of research. I said to Dave, “Can’t I write a book that I already know something about? Or you? What do you already know?”
He said, “I know the Red Sox.”
I didn’t want to write baseball book. I write magical novels—not realism and certainly not sports realism. But then I said, “Wait, there was a curse on the Red Sox. It was reversed. This could be the story of the boy who did it!” It came to me all at once. Dave and I sat there for a while, saying, “There was a curse. It was reversed and this is the boy who did it.”
The irony? Well, the book entailed tons of research. Dave knew Fenway Park, but the exact mix of grass in the outfield? Did he know the history of Pumpsie Green? Bill Buckner’s childhood?
Dave, of course, volunteered to do a lot of the research. In fact, he was the one who toured Fenway stem to stern. He considered it a gift. He went behind the Green Monster and stood on the pitcher’s mound—took notes, snapped pictures. For a while, everything in our house revolved around the Red Sox, and the dining-room table was littered with baseballs, taken apart to see what exactly was inside.
Now for some questions about your reading life. What are you reading right now? Are you a rereader? Do you and Dave swap books or read aloud to each other? How about family readalouds?
I’m not a rereader. I’m not a rewatcher. It pains me to watch a film—even one I love—twice. I do it from time to time. But it’s hard. I’m reading Vonnegut and Leslie Epstein now—both on World War II—when I’m not socked in by student work, which I am. Atwood visits in spring so I’ll be on her latest book soon. Haven’t yet read the new Lorrie Moore. Must. We have done a lot of family read alouds, but not recently.Our age range is difficult right now for consensus— high school, middle school, elementary and toddler. I was a big Ramona and Beatrice fan, and Fudge, of course, and Dahl and I loved Sherlock Holmes and saw tons of plays as a kid—I loved Mamet way too young.
Back to your writing. Tell me about The Ever Breath.
There was once just one world—this one. And it was home to all the magical and un-magical creatures. (This was way back. This world itself was still pretty new …) But then there was an Exodus. Two worlds were formed—the Fixed World of un-magical creatures, this world we know, and the Breath World, where all of the magical creatures were sent off to. And there are these two kids—brother and sister, Truman and Camille—who find themselves on an adventure that takes them through the passage and into the Breath World where they must find the EVER BREATH—an amber orb with a breathing breath within it. They have to save not just one world but both worlds …
I’m at work on the sequel, The Ever Cure, right now.
Excellent. I can’t wait. Thanks so much, Julianna, for dropping by the Bonny Glen!
The Ever Breath blog
Prince of Fenway Park website
Bridget Asher’s blog
Photos by David G. W. Scott
January 8, 2010 @ 8:08 pm | Filed under: Books
1) It’s time for the Comment Challenge! Combox discussions can be one of the best things about a blog, but I freely admit I am terrible, terrible, at clicking through from my reader to actually type out a comment. So often I’m reading while nursing the baby, or on the iPod (which, for all its fabulosity, is a serious pain to type on), and so I very seldom comment anywhere. Out loud. I am exceedingly chattery in my head. Your blogs provide such excellent discussion fodder! Well, for the next three weeks I shall make an effort to participate in the Challenge and leave comments on five kidlitosphere blogs daily. There are over a hundred children’s-book-related blogs in my Reader, and I don’t express my appreciation to those smart writers nearly often enough. Challenge details here.
2) The CYBILs short lists are up! And there goes my TBR list, piling up higher. Eek.
March 23, 2009 @ 5:40 am | Filed under: Poetry
So, so, so excited am I. So will you be, too, when you hear the news. Gregory K. Pincus, the inventor of the Fib, has put together a wonderful bloggity adventure for National Poetry Month: he’ll be posting a previously unpublished poem by a well known writer every day in April. The poets include: Arnold Adoff, Jon Sciezka, Jane Yolen, Jack Prelutzsky, April Halprin Wayland, and so many more. 26 more, to be precise. Hop over to Greg’s blog and find out all about it.
The baby is three weeks old today, can you believe it? He smiled at me this morning, a big, real, eyes-lighting-up-in-recognition smile when he focused on my face. Scott was there to see it. It was one of those moments where you wish life came with a freeze-frame button so you could stay in that flash of time for ages.
Scott went back to work today after two weeks off, sob, and my parents, who flew in for a short visit (yes, my mom was just here helping before and after the delivery, but my dad hadn’t seen the baby yet), went back home this evening. We are missing them already. And of course this means that tomorrow, for the first time, I am on my own. It’s a day full of stuff to do, too: big kid stuff, running around. Should be interesting…
Speaking of big kid stuff: It’s time for one of our favorite activities of the year: the Journey North Mystery Class. We have done this fascinating project four times, either alone or with a group. This year, another mom in our circle of homeschooling friends has very kindly offered to host the Journey North gang, what with my being three weeks postpartum and all. Jane is extremely excited. Truly, this geography project is one of the highlights of our year.
Our Shakespeare Club took a two-month hiatus for the holidays and my delivery, and we’ll be maintaining a low-key pace during the ten weeks of Journey North so as not to overload anyone’s schedule. But my Taming of the Shrew kids will be working on their scenes during the break, and we plan to get together now and then to rehearse. Jane spent this afternoon walking around muttering Katherina retorts under her breath. We’re doing a couple of scenes, which means a couple of Kates and Petruchios. Fun fun.
Haley S. sent me the link to Academic Earth, a WAY COOL site full of video lectures from top university professors. Thanks a ton, Haley. I’m psyched about the Nabokov lectures, having recently shuddered my way through Lolita for the first time.
Gosh, I read a lot in January. Eight novels and two nonfiction books. For the first half of the month I was too pregnant to do much BUT read, and during the second half I was snuggled up with my sweet bairn, under doctors’ orders to take it easy. I’ve been working on a “books read in January” post, mainly for my own records, but I keep getting too chatty about individual titles and it’s taking forever to write.
The January Carnival of Children’s Literature went up last week. I haven’t had a chance to peruse the posts yet but it looks like a doozie.
Speaking of children’s literature, I’m pretty excited about the new Kidlitosphere Central website that was just launched by a team of my favorite children’s lit bloggers:
“KidLitosphere Central strives to provide an avenue to good books and useful literary resources; to support authors and publishers by connecting them with readers and book reviewers; and to continue the growth of the society of bloggers in children’s and young adult literature.”
Spread the word!
Jumpy Jack and Googily by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall. Henry Holt & Co.
What a charmer this picture book is. Scores very high on the giggle-meter with my gang. Jumpy Jack is a snail of the most nervous sort. As lovably neurotic anthropo-morphizations go, Jack’s right up there with Piglet, friend of Pooh. Fortunately, Jumpy Jack has his best friend Googily to put his mind to rest when the monster-worries creep in. Jack fears monsters are lurking at every turn—monsters with big round eyes and sharp teeth and lolling tongues and possibly even creepy bowler hats. Googily—he’s the amiable fellow in blue you see there—is a little puzzled by Jack’s boogieman complex, but he’s always happy to help soothe his pal’s fears by taking a peek into the corners Jack’s sure are hiding fearsome monsters.
In the end, we find that Googily has a fear of his own—and apparently with better reason than Jumpy Jack! The surprise ending elicited belly laughs from my seven- and two-year-olds.
I really love this sweet and simple picture book. It’s fresh and funny, and the art is enchanting, and the text holds up well to numerous re-readings, which is a quality I very much watch for in a young picture book. If I’m going to have to read it aloud five times a day, it’s got to be readable.
But beyond that, I appreciate the way the plot plays with the idea that people can create monsters in their minds, terrifying specters composed of stereotypes, while being oblivious to the fact that the generalizations they are throwing around so carelessly might very well include real people they know and love.