Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why E-Books Feel Like the Lesser Technology. A Short Rant.

I've been told that e-books are going to dominate the future and I get it. I do. By that I mean I try to get it, but I don't.

There are a few problems with my brain that make the glue-and-binding book such a better technology than the e-book. This has mostly to do with me as a sensory being. My brain has been wired to remember by weight and balance of pages, by left or right page, how a book progresses. In other words, I've learned to read physically, not just mentally. And if you asked me at this moment, where a scene happened in a book that I was holding in my hands and had read in book form, I'd be able to find it. A good phrase is one I see in my head -- three-quarters through, left side, second paragraph or so. Book reading is kinetic and sensory for me. The book burrows into my hands as well as my head.

I also write all over books that I love. I have marginal conversations with the authors, underline, write full sections of novels of my own that are in progress jotted in the white pages in the back.  Of course, my brain can really hold onto a note scrawled in my own hand. There's no competing with the individuality that a book takes on once it's been fully marked up.

But, but, but ... the e-book has the little % bar at the bottom. My brain should be able to switch to that, right? And I've been told that the highlighting functions are excellent. And, to be fair, the search function on an e-book is the one place where they trump paper books. These are things that a child raised on e-books can surely rewire for, synaptic-firing-wise, and come to prefer. Oh, and for the person who doesn't want to pack 10 books for vacation, but can't make the tough call on which to bring, the e-reader wins.




But there's one thing that an e-book doesn't do well and never will.

Linger, laze about, be left behind. It doesn't end up where it wasn't meant to be very well. It isn't good at being a physical object.

The e-book strikes me as the idea of food instead of, say, an actual peach.

This realization seems very important this time of year. Summer is when I sometimes linger, laze and get left behind myself. I'm very good at being a physical object.

And I think of all the wonderful and weird books that I found because they were just simply there -- tattered and worn and simply being. Many of these books were vacation books. And I've left behind many books as well -- turning them over to the universe.

And as someone who's organized many, many book drives, I see that tradition of passing a book along slipping away.  

I uploaded a book that I'm dying to read onto my Kindle -- it was a special e-book deal. I haven't read the book. It's been about six months.

The e-book gets trumped by all the physical object books that are stacked on my bedside table. 

If that e-book were in my house, lingering, lazing, and simply being, I'd have read it by now. It's likely a kid of mine would have picked it up too and sauntered off with it.

The little black book of Kindle just doesn't draw me in. I look at it. It looks at me. We should be inseparable. But it's flat. It's always the same. It deadens the tactile experience that I have with each individual book I read. I can't dog-ear it. I can't throw it across a room. I can't hand a book on it off to a friend. I can't write my ideas into its margins.

And therefore it's less of an experience -- for my senses, for my soul.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Convocation Speech to Florida State University Freshman



[I've been asked to speak at FSU graduation in the coming weeks. This made me go back through my files to look for the Convocation Speech I gave a few years ago. Here it is, for what it's worth. It's got a welcoming feel to it, whereas the graduation speech will have a much rougher welcome-to-the-world feel to it. 
Note: I was asked to tie in the freshman-wide read NEVER LET ME GO by
Kazuo Ishiguro, hence the reference.


When I was asked to speak to you all today, I decided that I didn’t want to give a speechy speech – one with bullet-points of chicken soupy advice or stern warnings or ebullient optimism. I didn’t want to have bullet points at all, in fact. But, still, while jotting notes, I found myself coming up with speechy kinds of things that I wanted to say to you. And so I feel it’s only fair to warn you that this speech does contain speechy moments – in fact, I’ve shoved five “Tips” into this speech. And I apologize, in advance, for the moments of  speechiness. It turns out that speechiness is hard to avoid in speeches. Blame it on the genre. Speeches are speechy no matter how you try to disguise them. (And, no, speechy is not really a word. But as a professor at Florida State University’s Top-Ranked Creative Writing Program, I’m actually allowed to invent words as I see fit. It’s one of the perks.)

And now I’ll begin with a little story:

When I was a freshman, I had a professor who strode into the classroom the first day and, without any introduction, said to the class, “Raise your hand if you think your life has plot.”

I raised my hand. I was, in fact, the only person to raise a hand. Well, a lacrosse player in the back raised his but then looked around the room saw that it was only the two of us and lowered it.

I kept my hand in the air.

The professor turned to me then and said, in a very grave voice, “You’re wrong. Literature has plot. Your life doesn’t.”

In this moment, I started a lifelong argument with this professor. He doesn’t know that we’ve been arguing for almost two decades, of course, because the argument has been going on inside the confines of my own head. (Which brings me to Tip #1: At FSU, you’re going to disagree with people – on ideas, ethics, theories, ways of seeing the world. These arguments are gifts. They will transform you and others. Sometimes you have to define who you are and how you see the world in contrast to how other people see the world. Be open to how other people see the world. But hope, too that these arguments take root inside of you and last a lifetime.)

This professor may have had a grand sweeping point to make about the art of crafting great literature. And, on some level, we might agree on this. Writing in a diary, for example, doesn’t constitute creating plot. It’s a series of anecdotes. But I believe that if you look closely at your life – especially if you’re reflecting back on pivotal moments – you will start to see patterns, the accumulation of small decisions that lead to bigger decisions, you’ll start to see the larger narrative arc of your life. (Tip #2: Reflect on your life. It’s the best way to learn from your mistakes. If you don’t, you risk living a life of little circles – like a hamster stuck on an exercise wheel in a habitrail.)

One of the most interesting things about this very moment of your life – this very moment -- is that over course of the next few days and weeks, you’ll find yourself talking to a lot of people you’ve never met before. They’ll ask questions and you’ll answer them. And, for most of you, it will be the very first time that you’ve been able to tell your own version of the story of your life. The first time you’ve been able to tell it the way you’ve really seen it – without being interrupted by a brother or a sister who want to give their version of things, without your mother saying You can’t possibly remember that!, without having to spin the story this way or that way for the sake of an audience who’s known you for a very long time.

And, while you’re answering questions, you’ll see the story of your own life emerge in a way that it never has before. Talking to people who’ve never been to your hometown, who didn’t know you in high school, who’ve never met your parents – for better or for worse -- you’ll find yourself saying things that you never realized before. A new kind of truth will rise up, and, over the course of your life, it will be edited and embellished, there will be public versions and private versions – the ones you only share with those you really trust. And there will likely be a version that you alone know – one that’s barely expressible, that exists only when you’re truly alone. (Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to be truly alone. In this techno-crazed world, I worry that being alone might become extinct – as students can be in touch with so many people at all times. Some of your best thoughts will come to you when you’re alone, mulling. Work on the art of solitary mulling.)

The creation of the story of your own life is important. It’s essential, in fact. But it’s not the point of my speech today.

I want to talk about how, as your own story is taking shape, you have to also look outward.

This brings me to Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, which was on all of your summer reading lists … and which all of you have read? (This is the way I gaze upon a group of students with a professorial eyebrow arched.)

Ishiguro’s work often orbits around issues of class and hierarchy. In Never Let Me Go, Kathy and Tommy realize that, as clones, the greater world sees them as less than human. In fact, they deny the existence of their souls. Why? Because it’s easier to see them as clones than as human beings.

This is true, in a way, for all of us. We have learned to look past people – the person who works at the bookstore or the hot dog hut; our fellow students who rush by us in great herds; administrators bustling by with briefcases; even those athletes we adore, but often see as players on the field instead of people.

To get through our days – efficiently – we’ve learned to deny the full humanity of those around us, their souls, as Ishiguro puts it. Instead we see people as clichés, nearly as cardboard cutouts. We pay for our hot dogs, get our change, and bolt, never looking the person on the other side of the counter in the eye. It’s easier this way.

But my hope is that during the course of your education here at FSU, as you see the story of your own life take shape, you become more aware of the lives taking shape around you. My hope is that as you come to terms with your own humanity, you begin to see the humanity in others.

I’m well aware that when my writing students create a character, they are learning empathy. When they plot a story, they are learning strategic thought. When they invent what might happen next, they are developing their imaginations. When they are putting one word in front of the next, they are beginning to understand, deeply, their language and are finding their own voices. When they are looking closely at the world so that they can fully describe it, they are learning observation. Empathy. Strategic thought. Imagination. Language. Voice. Observation. Regardless of a student’s path in life -- into the sciences or business, the arts or the art of politics -- these elements will go into every worthwhile endeavor they undertake in their lives.


And these lessons can be found – again and again – throughout all of our academic departments. (Tip #4 Don’t cordon off lessons taught in one area from other areas. Apply your lessons in mathematics to music. Your lesson in the chemistry of chain reactions to history. Your lessons in a foreign language to the nuances and oddities of the English language. Your lessons in biology on dissection to dissecting the arguments of great philosophers. Apply architecture to the construction of poetry.)

But the most important lesson is this. When I’m training writers, I teach them the importance of not treating people as clichés. “If you think of people as clichés,” I tell my students, “then your characters will be clichés.” If, instead, you practice the art of seeing the full humanity of the people you have been passing by every day – if you acknowledge, even for a brief moment, that that person has a life as complicated as yours – with their own set of wishes and lies and dreams and denials and quirks and fears and desires -- you will write fuller deeper richer and more realistic characters.

This lesson doesn’t only apply to writers. Humanity is at the heart of everything we study here at FSU.

To get the most out of this lesson, you first have to find the work you love to do. And this is the time in your life when you should be listening to yourself – really listening – to find the thing that you are most passionate about. (Tip #5: If you’re studying something – if you’re fully immersed in research or creating something, and you are no longer aware of the passage of time, if the world loses its edges and you glide along – fully invested – for hours, this may very well be the field of study that’s calling to you. Pay attention. Watch for that.)


Because when you immerse yourself in a field of study – and that immersion for you is fueled by your desire to help the greater good, your desire to serve humanity – great things will happen. Even if this desire to serve humanity seems vague right now and unknown – have faith that when these two things – a love of what you do and a desire to serve humanity – come together that is when the greatest leaps are made – personally, historically, professionally, artistically, scientifically …

And so this is where things begin, for each of you, in a completely new way with a new level of intensity.

And now, twenty years after my freshman year, I still believe that my life has plot.

And I’m thankful for the argument that I’ve been having with that one professor all of these years. It’s shaped not only my view of my own life, but it’s forced me to consider the humanity of the people around me every day.

Because it seems to me that the greatest most ordinary sin is the act of passing people by. Last week, I was walking around downtown, a little lost, and it started to rain. I watched people dipping from awning to awning, and noticed how we scurry around each other. There was a woman rummaging through her purse at a parking meter, there was an old man talking to himself on a street corner, there was a kid running by in an apron, late for work. I looked into their faces, each one. And I felt – for a moment – more tethered to this frenetic, beautifully ugly, messy, stunning, mysterious world. Every once in a while stop and remind yourself of this community at FSU that you’re a part of, this greater world that you’re tethered too, the humanity of those around you. Because even that fleeting moment made me a better writer, a better teacher, a better person.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

An Open Letter to Governor Rick Scott -- The Florida Boycott, It's Bigger than You Think

Dear Governor Rick Scott,

Since the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, a Florida boycott movement has started to rev up. I've read that you're hopeful that it doesn't gain momentum. Here's the thing. I've been looking at a few interesting sets of numbers, and they point to the fact that the boycott started a long time ago and it's bigger than you think. I'm not talking about Florida oranges and tourism. I'm talking about something more systemic. And, right now, you're the one revving up this boycott the most. 


So first I took a look at the median household incomes ranked by state. Florida doesn't fare so well on this list. Out of fifty states, Florida's rank is thirty-seven. I know that it's on your agenda to attract technology and new businesses and industries to the state and rightly so. Despite being a tourist destination, however, this seems harder than it should be.

The second set of numbers I looked at was the list of states with Stand Your Ground Laws on the books. I wanted to see what company you keep with this kind of legislation, state-ranking-wise. Are these the kinds of laws that go on the books of the go-getter states that seem to be dedicated to attracting boatloads of industry and business -- a popular law of the reigning Top Ten?

The quick answer? No. 

Here are the median household income ranks of states with Stand Your Ground Laws: #46 (Alabama), #30 (Arizona), #33 (Georgia), #40 (Idaho), #31 (Indiana), #26 (Kansas), #47 (Kentucky), #44 (Louisiana), #34 (Michigan. I was surprised they outranked Florida in median household incomes), #38 (Montana), #27 (Nevada), #39 (North Carolina), #41 (Oklahoma), #29 (Oregon), #42 (South Carolina), #28 (South Dakota), #45 (Tennessee), #25 (Texas), #49 (West Virginia), and #50 (Mississippi). There's only one state that's in the top ten, New Hampshire, #6, and only three in the teens #14 (Utah), #18 (Illinois), and #12 (Washington state).

So the median household income ranking for states with Stand Your Ground Laws when averaged together is 33.24, which isn't much to aspire to.


I'm not saying that innovative leaders and businesses have watched the legislation of Stand Your Ground Laws and made corporate headquarter decisions based on that information. I'm not even really saying that states with a pro-gun-toting culture, supported by government, might not be as conducive to, I don't know, enticing a hive of young new tech hires to start up a new business. Before the verdict, it might have been -- loosely and vaguely -- part of a larger branding problem.

But the law in Florida has led to a huge problem for corporations and institutions who want to entice that hive of young new hires -- because of the Trayvon Martin case, which exposed the deep, cutting racism inherent in the current Florida laws and judicial system.

Your steadfast support of the Stand Your Ground Law is, right now, one of the most damning things for the state -- damaging that image of Florida as leaders in business that you hope to create. In fact, your stance sends a message to people throughout the country that you seem to uphold and celebrate the racism inherent in the tragedy and the trial. You've said that you don't want people to make the Trayvon Martin death political. Too late. You stated in a Fox News interview about the group you commissioned to look into the Stand Your Ground law that "their recommendation is we not make any changes [to the law], that it's working the way it was intended."

Let's state that one more time. "...it's working the way it was intended."

Maybe you heard about what happened to Paula Dean's corporate sponsorship? (Racism is unpopular across the board and in the boardroom.)

Here's the thing. I think you underestimate how much people -- of all colors, including white people  -- dislike living in a racist place. And many Florida-based companies and institutions are dedicated to hiring a diverse workforce. This puts them all at a real disadvantage in hiring and retention. (I can just hear the conversation on a hiring committee. "What happened to our top pick?" "Yeah, um, he took the job in Minneapolis because he's raising two sons and, well, obviously...")


But, wait. There was one more set of numbers I wanted to throw into the mix while we're thinking about the economic company that a state can choose to keep.

I decided to look at the kind of legislation that the states that ranked high seem to be passing, and I came to Same-Sex Marriage.

And, my, my, what a flip.

Instead of Mississippi weighing in dead last in the Stand Your Ground Law category, the Same Sex Marriage category includes #1 ranked Maryland. In fact, of the twelve states (plus Washington DC) that have legalized same-sex marriage laws, about half are ranked in the top ten. Here's how it breaks down: #5 (Massachusetts), tied at #4 (Connecticutt and Washington DC), #19 (Vermont), #6 (New Hampshire), #16 (New York), #10 (California), #17 (Rhode Island), #9 (Delaware), #11 (Minnesota), #24 (Iowa), and #1 (Maryland).  The outlier was #32 (Maine).

The median household income ranking for states that have legalized same-sex marriage when averaged together is a sweet ranking of 12.15. If this were a college basketball team, they'd be making their way to the Sweet Sixteen. (And what was the Stand Your Ground Law's averaged median household income state ranking again? Oh, right. 33.24.)

Again, if I were a big corporation, I would want to hire the best and the brightest -- regardless of sexual orientation -- and I'd be more likely to attract a broader range if I didn't choose to situate my corporate headquarters in a state that didn't actually acknowledge all of the marriages of my employees. (Again, I hear the boardroom conversation. "What happened to our top pick?" "Ah, well, she decided to take the job in Massachusetts because, well, she thought it was important for her children to be in a family where the parents' marriage is, you know, recognized.")

And, once again, it's not just the minority who doesn't like bigotry. There are a lot of straight people out here who actually like to live in states where all marriages -- including those of brothers and sisters and children and friends and coworkers -- are equal to their own.

Florida needs to pull in the best and brightest from 100% of the options. The boycott that has already started is one that's made day in and day out by individuals and corporations and business with lots of opportunities who don't want to land in a state that can't attract the workforce they want and need to be competitive. 

Look, if you're pro-business, you need to stop being a barrier to corporations who want the best talent. You need to work to build a state that's so welcoming that it lures the best and the brightest -- and those with the highest incomes -- to it.

Of course I wish I could appeal to you as a leader with a great heart, one who sees that his state is suffering and causing anguish throughout the nation, a leader able to say to those who are raising  children and who sharply remember the Civil Rights Movement and who are simply heartbroken over a tragic loss and a system failure, that we can change, we can make progress, there is hope. 

But, frankly, I don't care what your motivation is -- whether you want to help ease the bashing of the image of Florida nationwide or try to hold onto some corporate ties or to model some legislation after states that are hugely more successful. I just hope you work to change the law.
  
Change the law.


Friday, July 12, 2013

1/2 Dozen with Camille Guthrie

Camille Guthrie gives brilliant advice here, today -- like this,
 
"Striking a balance may just be one of those first-world American dreams that writers with children—or other serious demands—should abandon. It’s wiser to hang on to that relentlessly bucking seesaw, write as much as you can, try not to let anyone fall off."
 
-- plus an introduction to the wisdom and art of Louise Bourgeois, writing tips, and book picks. 

It's summer, my friends, and this is a wise, wonderful and inspiring interview... Enjoy!

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I first saw Louise Bourgeois’ art in 1994 at the Brooklyn Museum in an exhibit called “The Locus of Memory.” It was to be a deeply resonant visit, as Brooklyn would soon become my home for fifteen years, and Bourgeois became one of those artists who radiated for years in my mind. I had just graduated from college, I needed role models! I turned to her to learn—how to be an artist, utterly dedicated to one’s work; how to be an artist and mother and teacher; how to be uncompromising, resilient, bold. (Not that it worked: I’m a compromised, tired introvert.) I began some poems about the pieces in that exhibit, in particular her series of Cells; writing about her art became a practice. After she died in 2010, it felt right to write some new poems about the later pieces and make a book out of it as a tribute. Her work remains inspiring (I agree that inspiration is a word with its polish rubbed off)—how could she not? An artist whose career spanned so many art movements of the 20th century, who constantly changed mediums, who said things like: “Self expression is sacred and fatal. It’s a necessity.”

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?


Writing poetry I find excruciating, but engrossing and magnetizing like gazing into your infant’s bawling face. Every time I want to work on a poem there are many constellating ideas I want to fit together—a feeling I could describe as a wandering hunt after the precise words to assemble them in the alpine air of the page. Then, there’s the terrible, inevitable confrontation: what is a poem anyway? The right dose of difficulty does it for me, that’s why I often work in forms—your content will intrude no matter what. A new, blank notebook and a sharp pencil always thrills me.

One of my favorite Bourgeois sculptures is a pink marble sphere, out of which protrudes a baby’s or child’s arm—it sits atop a pink marble slab carved with the words: “I love you I love you.” Making things hurts, beauty must be carved out, clarity’s hard to construct. I am happiest when I’m fretting over the exacting complexity of a poem.

But writing fiction I find utterly delightful, even if it’s emotionally wrenching and structurally challenging. I’ve been working on a middle-grade and a young-adult novel for a while now (not done yet). Life becomes a goofy stupor when I have time to work on those manuscripts, as scenes and dialogue divert me while I’m getting groceries or picking up my children. It’s like living another life, full of demanding, interrupting people I adore. Of course, I’m a beginner, so there are those days in which I realize I have to start all over, again, and the only thing to do is fall face-down on the sofa and cry. But that’s secretly fun.

Here is a work by Louise Bourgeois.
Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

#2: Dig, gouge, reveal.
Louise Bourgeois said of her work: “The purpose is to gouge out what is cooking, not to illustrate it.” And, “That’s what I am after…to dig and to reveal.”

#17: Seek out ways to be astonished. Write in a state of astonishment.

#47: Revise until your hands ache, then do it again. Bourgeois also said: “The subject of pain is the business I am in. To give meaning and shape to frustration and suffering. What happens to my body has to be given a formal abstract shape. So you might say, pain is the ransom of formalism.”

 Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

In the Interstices. There’s no balance. It landed on me like an avalanche of laundry. I do it in the interstices. A smart friend once told me to work on your project a little bit in the morning, even five minutes, even a peek, and then it’s on your mind the rest of the day. It works for me: if I know I have no time during the day, I think about what I want to write or choose a problem to mull over, then ideas and words may emerge during the endless putting of little snacks into baggies. When a free hour appears, or even a glorious week, there’s so much to unleash. This approach might be distracting, but there are stranger ways to work, like a person laughing about one of her characters while walking from office to class, which is totally not me.

It takes discipline and courage to have faith in your work, especially when you are a poet and success is rare, unnoticed, usually intangible. Striking a balance may just be one of those first-world American dreams that writers with children—or other serious demands—should abandon. It’s wiser to hang on to that relentlessly bucking seesaw, write as much as you can, try not to let anyone fall off.

Are you a writer of place? Is place always one of your main characters?

I don’t think I am. I tend to choose writing about ideas or things in my books, never places. My first book, The Master Thief, was mainly about being a girl reader contending with inherited narratives. In Captivity took the Unicorn Tapestries (the ones at the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) as a hook to write about being on a hunt for love and meaning. Though there are some sonnets in my chapbook, People Feel with Their Hearts, about being a mother in Brooklyn, a wildly competitive place to parent.

It may have something to do with being skeptical about using the pathetic fallacy. But I moved to the country four years ago—to upstate New York, near the Vermont border, a strikingly lovely place of mountains, rivers, farms. It’s converting me. My house sits on a hill overlooking a pond and field, leading down to a valley of farms that reach up to the Green Mountains in the distance. Herons, foxes, hawks, owls, coyotes live here. I may have to start writing about the fringed purple Delphinium by the porch this summer.

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

I’m reading middle-grade and young-adult fiction with deep enthusiasm right now. My soul is twelve years old, that pivotal age. I love these genres because they are so pre-lapsarian—even if there’s danger, fear, betrayal, there’s always the possibility of kindness, hope, love. Diana Wynne Jones is my current favorite—I can’t believe I didn’t discover her until my forties! Why didn’t I ever meet that magical librarian to hand me all of her books? Jo Walton’s Among Others knocked me out, so did Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (one to sob over). After years of studying experimental poetry and fiction, after having two children, it’s such a pleasure to read with one’s whole heart and to be transported without irony. There’s also something truly delicious about reading an entire book quickly—like eating the pint of blueberries you just picked in the sun.


Camille Guthrie is the author of Articulated Lair: Poems for Louise Bourgeois,
 In Captivity, and The Master Thief (all Subpress books), as well as the chapbooks
 Defending Oneself (Beard of Bees) and People Feel with Their Hearts in Another Instance (Instance Press). She went to Vassar College and the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Brown University. Currently, she teaches literature at Bennington College. 
She recently blogged during National Poetry Month for Harriet 
(PoetryFoundation.org). 
You can read an interview at The Rumpus with Camille Guthrie 
Her books can be purchased by clicking here.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Advice for Novelists: Divorce your Book.

My column today at Writer Unboxed -- I write the advice I needed 13 years ago: divorce yourself from your book. I also talk about changes to the industry, being blamed for poor sales, and drunk frat guys. (My fave line here, "If you’re a writer not accustomed to failure by the time you’ve published your first book, I would like to collect you as a rarity and pin you like a Nabokovian butterfly to a cork board." and I would.) http://writerunboxed.com/2013/07/05/sold-your-debut-congrats-now-come-here/comment-page-1/#comment-404521

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

ALA Conference -- a Baggott, Asher, Bode Recap

This is going to be fast and a little messy because I've stuff breathing down my neck, but here goes: I went to ALA's Annual Convention -- in Chicago. I won the Alex Award for PURE -- which is given to ten authors a year for adult novels that have teen crossover appeal. Alex is named for a library who worked at Enoch Pratt in Balto -- a library I'm weirdly in love with, which is neither here nor there.

Sometimes authors are thrown into speed-dating-like situations -- this one included a whistle blown (loudly) every 4 minutes, at which point authors rotate to the next table of, in this case, librarians. (Sometimes it's booksellers but one assumes it could also be mobsters or cellists or circus performers or bears... The format is wide open for possibilities)

So here's where I met some people myself.

Top Three People I Wasn't Supposed to Meet at ALA But Did. 

1. Cory Doctorow. He's this incredible thinker, just one of those big wide brains that cover vast territories. (Do I always agree with him? Nope. But I love that he brings things to the floor.) Boing Boing, yes, that's him there. And he's a brilliant, beloved sci-fi writer. I saw his name on the list and tried to call up his face from various bios and mix/match them to people in a crowded room ... I found him. He was very funny and seemingly, you know, a good guy. And he was sitting next to and introduced me to ...

2. Mark Siegel. Earlier this year, I wrote a short story for Daniel H. Wilson's upcoming antho on the robot apocalypse. And I loved the process. I wanted to expand the short story into a novel, but it simply doesn't work for many reasons -- mainly readership and a kind of cinematic push I want -- and so I tried to hunt down Mark Siegel who publishes some of the best graphic novels in this country. No one else. Just him. When my agent's asst. didn't get word back, I figured he wasn't interested in my concept (maybe it's a bad concept -- how would I know?) and so he kind of moved to my Great White Whale column -- an unattainable goal, and maybe one day I'd go after him, but I was, well, distracted and NOT AT ALL supposed to be working on a graphic novel about robots so ... I listened to the universe and let him go. But here he was. And maybe I called him my great white whale ... I blurt. I just do.

He told me that Danica Novgorodoff has a 500-page graphic novel coming out -- a whole new level of Novgorodoff. So if you're not a Novgorodoff fan yet, await ...  

3. Liz Burns. Now Liz is this brilliant librarian who tweets all this stuff that would otherwise float way outside of my radar. I always want to know what she's thinking about and what she's putting out into the tweetosphere. She showed up at a signing after the Alex Award panel and she's wonderful and I was a little all of a dither to meet her. She had a panel on New Adult -- which I had to fly out before it went on... So. Does New Adult exist? I sure hope so.

And now some summer reading ...

Cory Doctorow was there, presumably, to talk (in 4 minute increments) about HOMELAND, which came out this winter. Jacked to take a look. It follows up on LITTLE BROTHER. Though his take on copyright law and open access would make him of great interest to librarians regardless of books.

I was on a panel with Robin Sloan whose debut  MR. PENUMBRA'S 24 HOUR BOOKSTORE took the world by storm last year. He gave a talk on getting the big invite into Grollier's -- a bibliophile society in NYC. It was a bizarre delight and he's a brilliant mind, an eloquent speaker. An honor to be on the panel with him.

I was also on that panel with the author of the graphic novel MY FRIEND DAHMER. The author went to high school with the infamous serial killer and was friends with him.

It was a chilling talk and the novel, heavily researched and deeply personal, looks incredible.

I had dinner with three Hachette authors.

Thriller-writer Jeff Abbott - whose thrillers also include exotic bars around the world.  He was talking up his latest, DOWNFALL, in the Sam Capra series. Very funny speaker.


The author of THE OUTCASTS -- Kathleen Kent, made her name writing about her ancestor who was burned as a witch in New England, but she now turns her eye to another historical setting from the other side of her family in Texas. Very intrigued.

And Mary Simses debut, THE IRRESISTIBLE BLUEBERRY BAKE SHOP CAFE, which has been compared to THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY. Mary was much fun to hang out with -- and it was great to be with a debut novelist. There's no complaining around a debut novelist. It's just not acceptable and I like that.

I gave a talk in which I offered my definition of writing: the daily practice of empathy. I discussed how post-apocalyptic novels are actually psychological realism for teens -- who are trapped in a post apocalypse of adolescence -- and that those who seek out apocalyptic fiction aren't looking for doom; they're looking for examples of extreme resilience.

And I shouted to upcoming debut THE KEPT by James Scott, keep an eye out. 

I also talked to a cab driver about celestial issues and physics and inner ages and government conspiracy theories (his) -- and Mayans.

Chicago, by the way, had just hosted a huge Stanley Cup thing that was wild, as one would expect, and was gearing up for its Pride Parade. I'm kind of thankful for the genius who decided not to overlap those two events.


That's it.