What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir/Abigail Thomas: Reflections

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

You know how it is—the winding and wending through book booths. The writers signing, the multiples of the new fresh things in stacks; it's hard to take it in, at least for me. I never return home from The Events with a bag full of randoms. I return home with the books sought out or placed in my trust. A handful.

But there I was, Friday, at the National Conference for Teachers of English at the National Harbor Convention Center. I'd be doing my own signing in fifteen minutes, but I had time. And so I walked, my eyes cast down, and there it was, a pile of books, the cover whitish and thin, two streaks of color, a title, a name. Abigail Thomas, I read. Kept walking. Stopped. Backtracked.

Abigail Thomas? At NCTE?

"Um," I said, to the Scribner person.

"Yes?"

"Are you giving these ARCs away? By chance?"

"You want one?"

"Desperately."

"So go ahead."

It was mine! The new Abigail Thomas memoir, coming in March 2015, but I don't have to wait that long. Not me, who loves Abigail Thomas, who sang her praises in Handling the Truth, who reads her words out loud to my Penn students. Not me. I have What Comes Next and How to Like It. I read it when I was supposed to be writing, which is to say I read it today. All day and now I'm done, I'm finished, and I'm sad about that, because books this good don't come around too often. Books this good need Abigail Thomas to write them.

"Abigail Thomas is the Emily Dickinson of memoirists," Stephen King has said. UmmHmmm.

Where to start, or have I said enough? A book about friendship and motherhood, about painting and words, about comfort and soup, about sleeping all day, about waking ourselves up, about love, an "elastic" word, Thomas tells us. Proves it. Thomas could blare, in her bio, about a lot of writerly things, but what she says first is this: "Abigail Thomas is the mother of four children and the grandmother of twelve." Yes. That's how Thomas describes herself because that, with infinite beauty, is who she is first. Who she will be. What makes her the powerhouse writer she is. (Though to that description one must add a pile of dogs.) Thomas writes, in this new memoir, about how we hold on knowing that one day we won't. How we outlast ourselves, or live with the fact that outlasting doesn't last.

I loved every torn page. The arrangement of the pages. Thomas's smart abhorrence of chronology. How many times, in class, to students, to writers, have I said: Don't tell me the story in a straight line. Break the grid. Steer your way toward wisdom by scrambling the sequence of facts.

Now I'm just going to read Thomas:
I hate chronological order. Not only do I have zero memory for what happened when in what year, but it's so boring. This comes out of me with the kind of vehemence that requires a closer look, so I scribble on the back of a napkin while waiting for friends to show up at Cucina and it doesn't take long to figure it out. The thought of this happened and then this happened and then this and this and this, the relentless march of events and emotion tied together simply because day follows day and turns into week following week becoming months and years reinforces the fact that the only logical ending from chronological order is death.

Yes. And that, by the way, is a single chapter in a book built (miraculously) of brevities. A book in which the page by page sequencing is as shattering as the pages themselves.

Read more...

Why do we go to NCTE?

Monday, November 24, 2014

For the friends we have made, and keep on making.

For the quick lobby Lisa embrace. For the spontaneous crisp-night-air talk with Paul. Because Mark stops when you call his name. Because Michael is there. Because Ilene finds you, and Mary does. Because Susan is there, right there, in the atrium. Because a Freckled Librarian brings her megaphone. Because a friend from long ago surprises you. Because Joan has another Ted Hipple Special Collection book for you to sign. Because Jennifer and Susannah are in the house. Because your son's sixth-grade English teacher is there. Because Edie tells you stories and because Melanie really does have that color hair and because you have found Liz weeks after the panel she moderated and you can tell her (again) how intelligent she was. Because Michaela and K.E. are so talented, and because you have much to learn from Christine and Shanetia (and because you will come to covet Christine's coat and Shanetia's easy dancing heart). Because your sister is there.

Because Chronicle Books is that kind of company, the kind of company you deeply want to keep.

And because Debbie Levy is in the mix—Debbie with her wide intelligence and big heart, who drives you, when it is all said and done, to the shadows of the Capitol and to a reservation she has made in a restaurant called (appropriately) Art & Soul. Debbie, who has given you two of her most recent books—the award-winning We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton and utterly smart as it offers the biography of a rich and prevailing song; and Dozer's Run, illustrated by David Opie, the adorable true story of a dog that ran a marathon, and then ran home. Debbie, who has given you, as well, "Dark Lights," the original jazz recordings of Alex Hoffman, her very talented son.

We go to NCTE for the people we find there.

Read more...

At the Reading Market in advance of Thanksgiving, in today's Philadelphia Inquirer

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Oh, that Philadelphia Inquirer. Oh, Kevin Ferris and your design team. You make waking up every fourth Sunday such a pleasure. Thank you for the glorious celebration of the Reading Market in today's Inquirer. I loved writing this piece and taking those photographs. I love being a Philadelphian.

The story can be read in its entirety here.

This essay is one of three dozen that will appear in LOVE: A PHILADELPHIA AFFAIR, due out from Temple University Press next fall. More on that here.

Read more...

Elena Vanishing/Hope and Other Luxuries/Elena and Clare B. Dunkle (Chronicle Books): Reflections

A few years ago, in a novel called The Heart Is Not a Size, I wrote of Juarez, of a squatter's village, and of two best friends, Georgia and Riley, each of them navigating this foreign terrain while also navigating secrets. Georgia was privately negotiating anxiety attacks. Riley was declaring to anyone who asked (and Georgia, seemingly unwisely, had begun to ask) that she did not—absolutely did not—have an eating disorder, that she was not starving herself.

I wrote the book and created the characters because I understood both conditions all too well.

This coming spring, Chronicle Books will publish two companion books—true mother-daughter stories—about a young woman's struggle to stop hearing the hectoring internal voices that left her body starving, her heart working too hard, and her future imperiled. Calories were Elena's enemies. A bite of toast was a grave mistake. Numbers were everything. And Elena Dunkle was, in too many terrible ways, dying.

In and out of hospitals. In and out of rehab. In and out of conversations with the family who loved her and the specialists who seemed incapable of hushing the terrible voices. Elena Vanishing is grounded in extraordinary medical records, journals, and conversations. It is told in a high-velocity, present-tense voice. We see Elena's world. We hear the voices in her head. We rush headlong into an illness that may have a name but still remains, for every person afflicted, a mystery. Where does anorexia begin? How is it finally controlled? Where is the key that fits the lock, that stops time from running out?

You will read, your heart pounding. You will remember a version of someone you were, or someone you loved, or love still.

Ultimately, as Clare reminds the reader in an introductory letter, "this isn't the story of anorexia nervosa. It's the story of a person. It's the story of Elena Dunkle, a remarkable young woman who fights her demons with grit and determination. It's the story of her battle to overcome trauma, to overcome prejudice, but most of all, to overcome that powerful destructive force, the inner critic who whispers to us about our greatest fears."

There is depth, beauty, horror, and beauty again in Elena Vanishing. You'll read it, as I did, in a single day. You will think not just about the story that got made, but the story as it was being made—this mother, this daughter, remembering together, writing together, reaching out to the world together.

And when you are done there is a book called Hope and Other Luxuries to turn to—Clare Dunkle's memoir about loving this vanishing daughter of hers. Both books are being released by Chronicle next May. Both were edited by Ginee Seo, who poured her heart into these true stories and, once again (in Chronicle fashion), broke new ground by deciding to publish both sides of a story about an illness that affects millions of people around the world.

I own, it seems, the first two signed ARCs of both books, for I met Clare and Elena at the Chronicle booth at NCTE yesterday morning. I would like to thank Chronicle, as I close this blog, for including me at this event, for making such a home for me, for extending your friendship so warmly. Ginee Seo, Sally Kim, Jaime Wong—you threw one heck of a party, you look so good surrounded by Chronicle blue, and I am so proud to be a Chronicle author (and a Tamra Tuller writer).

Deepest thanks to those who stopped by to say hello, who stood in line for One Thing Stolen, who came and surprised, who spoke with me over a delicious meal. Twenty-four hours at the National Harbor. Not to be forgotten. Nor are these two books, by a mother and daughter.

Read more...

Philadelphia: A Love Affair (coming in Fall 2015 from Temple University Press)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A year from now, Temple University Press will release Love: A Philadelphia Affair, a collection of thirty-six essays on the intersection of memory and place. Thirty-eight of my black-and-white photographs will accompany the text.

Some twenty of those essays first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer—pieces I was lucky enough to write for Inquirer editors Avery Rome and Kevin Ferris. Others have been written over the past few months for the book itself, taking me into and around the city on days of rain and sun to consider the streets, the architecture, the gardens, the sidewalks, the highs, the lows, and the communities that have played such a powerful role in the ways that I see, the books that I write, and the stories I teach. Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River, Dangerous Neighbors (1876 Philadelphia), Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent (1871 Philadelphia), Small Damages, Handling the Truth, and even One Thing Stolen all reflect, in different ways, my love for this region and the people I have met here.

My great thanks to Micah Kleit, Ann Marie Anderson, and Gary Kramer at Temple University Press for helping me to see this dream through. My deep gratitude to Kevin Ferris and Avery Rome, who made my writing about this region such a pleasure. And huge appreciation to my agent Amy Rennert, who saw the details of this project through.

Micah and I wrapped the book up yesterday, from an editorial and photography perspective. I can't wait to hold this book in my hands, to be able to tell the world again and in new ways why I love where I live.

Read more...

Talking the Wall (and all those fabulous students) with WHYY Morning Edition's Jennifer Lynn

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What an honor it was to join Jennifer Lynn, host of Morning Edition, at the WHYY studios in Philadelphia (listen here). We were talking about the Berlin Wall and the conversations I've been having with students at Science Leadership Academy, Downingtown West, Masterman, and Radnor High about freedom, risks, and responsibilities.

The Berlin Wall is down, but what walls still stand?

Would you risk it all for freedom?

Do you know what you desire?

Given a wall and some cans of paint, what mark would you leave behind?

Given a page, what poem would you write?

What matters most in our lives?

I loved the students I met, the stories they told me, the deep respect these students clearly have for those who nurture and teach them. I am incapable, often, of fully articulating just what my interactions with students and their beautiful librarians and teachers mean to me. Jennifer and Joe Hernandez were exquisitely kind to invite me onto their show and to work with me so that we might tell this story succinctly.

The story will air this morning at 7:45 AM. More on the work of these students and the experience can be found here:

On Teaching the Berlin Wall
At Science Leadership Academy: the Huffington Story
At Downingtown West: poems and graffiti art
At Masterman High: poems and graffiti art 
At Radnor High: poems and graffiti art
At Radnor High: photographic outtakes
Common Core Aligned Teacher's Guide
Please go here to read the teacher's guide for Going Over, a Berlin Wall novel

Note: Right now, Liz Taylor, the award-winning history teacher at Masterman (with whom I spent some time during the Wall Talks), is working toward getting her classroom ten new Chromebooks for her classroom (think of it!). You can help by following the directions below, and wouldn't it be amazing to do this for a school in the Philadelphia district, where funding is stretched and endangered?

1.  Go to https://www.thankamillionteachers.com/vote-for-a-proposal/vote-for-a-proposal-form/
2.  Select Pennsylvania from the state list and enter "taylor" in the last-name box
3.  In the list of proposals at the bottom of the page, find "E. Taylor, J.R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, Philadelphia, PA Technology in History Education!" (it's currently the only result)
4.  Fill in your email address and check the box that you're over 18
5.  Click "vote"
6.  Check your email for a message with the subject "verify your vote"
7.  Click the "verify your vote" link in that message

Read more...

One Thing Stolen: teacher's guide (a first glimpse)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Once again, the Chronicle team has done an exquisite job of creating a teacher's guide.

This time the guide was created in support of One Thing Stolen, a story about dangerous obsessions, an Italian city, an historic flood, and hope, due out in April 2015 (more on the book here). We'll be posting a live link soon. This, above, is just a fragment. It moves me deeply to think of someone giving a book such close attention, pondering its heart and lessons, and crafting (and designing) a guide this lovely.

The teacher's guide to Going Over, another Chronicle masterpiece, can be found here.

Thank you, Jaime Wong and Chronicle Books.

Read more...

my newest pottery experiments are enlivened by purple

I've been experimenting with new shapes and cone 10 firings at the Wayne Art Center.

Yesterday the browns and reds of my newest business card holder were enlivened by purple, thanks to the graciousness of the Chronicle Books team.

Read more...

Introducing a new indie press and a debut novelist: Kate Gray/Carry the Sky/Forest Avenue Press

A few weeks ago, a note arrived from Laura Stanfill, the publisher of a brand-new press called Forest Avenue. Laura knew of my interest in the Schuylkill River. She'd been talking with a mutual friend (the fabulous Colleen Mondor, a fabulous author AND indie publisher). She wondered, she wrote, if I'd be interested in taking a look at a new novel by an award-winning poet named Kate Gray, a book, she said, that "is an unblinking look at boarding school bullying based on Kate's first year as a teacher, with a strong rowing emphasis, including a major plot point that happens on the Schuylkill." The book, Laura continued, "celebrates the river's strength and beauty—and its rowers." It has already been celebrated by writers like Hannah Tinti (about whom I once wrote here), Ron Carlson (whose work I love and mentioned here), and Christopher Buckley.

Laura went on to describe Forest Avenue Press, which has recently signed with a division of the distributor PGW/Perseus and which (pay attention to this) is opening nationally for submissions in January.

A new, award-winning press with promise, I thought.

An editor who deeply loves her authors and is committed to finding a broad audience for her work.

A poet novelist.

The river.

I'm in.

Yesterday and early this morning I've been reading Carry the Sky, this newly launched novel. Gray is a poet all right—a fierce one, a smart one, a writer who knows her rowing, her rivers, the claustrophobia of boarding school bullying, the ache of loss, Physics, and origami. She tells her story through the alternating voices of a Delaware boarding school's new rowing coach and the Physics teacher—both of whom are operating within a haunted psychic space. She tells her story with urgency and with details—physical and emotional—that are wholly unexpected. No cliches here, not in this urgent novel.

For example: Here is Taylor, the rowing coach, in a field with a boy who is different, a boy talking about death, a boy around whom the plot will soon turn:
The flocks of geese in these fields made the ground come alive. Their way of feeding and calling made a hum, something steady. "Why are you talking about death?" His face jerked left like a machine, then jerked right. Without looking at his face, I put the dinosaur on his blanket.

"Why do you like rowing?" he asked. The question was drum roll, cymbal crash, horn.

It was something to do with not wanting to feel pain but wanting to know pain. Like wanting to know fire. You light it in front of you, the colors all over the place, the heat all over your skin, but you don't want to burn or anything. I don't know, but I understand him a little more in the middle of that field, with geese all over everywhere, geese getting along with the swans, and all of us finding a place to land.
In a Q and A at the end of Carry the Sky, Kate Gray speaks of the road she took toward publishing. It wasn't an easy one. It required fortitude—eight years to write the book, two years to revise it, a series of rejections, and then the balm of a writing group:
After I had written and rewritten a complete draft, received rejections when I sent the manuscript out, my indefatigable partner gathered a group of twelve friends to our house for potlucks once a month, and we read the entire draft out loud. Their questions and insights were invaluable. Reading the whole thing out loud let me hear the gaps, the promise.
And so, to a riveting debut novelist, to a brand-new press, to the partner who cared, to the friends who listened, to the rivers that haunt and sustain us — many congratulations on a work of art.

Read more...

Celebrating two new young adult Chronicle Books: "The Revelations of Louisa May" and "The Water and the Wind"

Monday, November 17, 2014

This coming Friday and Saturday I'll be in Washington, DC, for the NCTE, signing and talking about One Thing Stolen.

But the best part of events such as these is the conversations one has with other authors and educators. With people who get books, and love them.

A few days ago, Jaime Wong, the lovely marketing coordinator for Chronicle Books/Children's, sent copies of two books by the authors with whom I'll be sharing a Friday evening meal (alongside educators and the Chronicle team).

The first, by Michaela MacColl (Always Emily, Nobody's Secret, Prisoners in the Palace), is a mystery called the Revelation of Louisa May. Michaela, who I first met in Boston last year, specializes in the "intertwining of the facts of a beloved author's real life with a suspenseful fictional tale." Here we meet the great Louisa May Alcott as a teen—her principled family struggling to make ends meet, her home a station stop for runaway slaves, and Emerson and Thoreau counted among neighbors and friends. Louisa has a lot on her hands when we first meet her, and there will be plenty of excitement ahead, as Louisa's mother leaves for a stint at paying work, a runaway is kept hidden in the house, a slave catcher comes to town, and a mystery erupts. There's a reason these Michaela books are so popular—just the right amount of history, just the right amount of maybe, and an intriguing historical lesson for teens.

The second book in my package is by the debut author K.E. Ormsbee. Called The Water and the Wild, it is graced with a most gorgeous illustrated cover by Elsa Mora. It is a charming fantasy that takes its heroine down through the roots of apple tree to another world "in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss." The language here beguiles:
Lottie, like any red-blooded girl, had been taught to get out of the way of things like speeding convertibles and masked men with guns, but she had never expected to have a run-in with a homicidal tree. More than that, and what confused Lottie the most in the split-second she had to realize that she was about to get smashed to smithereens, was that she had not seen any lightning. If she was going to be killed by a falling tree, Lottie thought in that last moment of cognizance, she wished it would have at least had the decency to get struck by lightning first. That would have been a much more dramatic way to go.

Look for both these books from Chronicle Books next April.

Read more...

My Life as a Foreign Country/Brian Turner: Reflections

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I published three books with Alane Salierno Mason and W.W. Norton years ago, and every now and then, Alane returns—her words on a page, that page slipped inside a book she's been working on.

A few weeks ago, My Life as a Foreign Country showed up at my door—a new war memoir by the poet Brian Turner. I had been living a long, solid stretch of distracting diminishings. I had been finding it nearly impossible to read—no time for it, or no energy when the hour was to be had. I had a mile-high stack of other books that had been sent my way, of requests I couldn't get to, of requests I was meeting instead of reading, but something about this one book commanded my attention. I kept clawing my way back to it, read it by half page and full page, by train ride, in a room brightened at 3 AM by a lamp.

Because My Life breaks the rules, I liked it. Because it reads more like a hallucination than a life. Because Turner doesn't set aside his poetry in writing prose.

Turner's memoir tells us something of his Sergeant years in Iraq, something of the wars his grandfather, father, and uncle fought. He slides in and out of what he remembers and what he conjures—taking the powers of the empathetic imagination to an entirely new realm. He sees the thoughts of the suicide bomber, sings the song of the bomb builder, lives for and maybe beyond the enemy. The dreams are feral and the details are specific, and Sgt Turner is dead, too, but he is writing his death down, he is writing himself into the final page and "there is nothing strange" in all of that.

Earlier this morning (it seems a year ago now) I was finishing a book of my own, responding to final manuscript queries. I was asking myself how one authentically renders shock.

My Life authentically renders shock. It reveals how the terror lives on, how it knocks on the door, how it enters the room, how it watches you sleep with your wife. Years on, the shock does that. The war, Turner tells us, is never done.

The language smears and catches. It sounds like this:

This is part of the intoxication, part of the pathology of it all. This is part of what I was learning, from early childhood on—that to journey into the wild spaces where profound questions are given a violent and inexorable response, that to travail through fire and return again—these are the experiences which determine the making of a man. To be a man, I would need to walk into the thunder and hail of a world stripped of its reason, just as others in my family had done before me. And if I were strong enough, and capable enough, and god-damned lucky enough, I might one day return clothed in an unshakable silence. Back to the world, as they say.
 This spring, my creative nonfiction students at Penn will assess and learn from the poetry of Sgt. Turner.

Read more...

At Radnor High: A warm welcome, graffiti art and two poems

At Radnor High, for my continuing Wall Talks, I was hosted by the exquisite Michelle Wetzel and Fran Misener and that most fabulous Molly Carroll Newton (of Radnor Memorial Library). There were brownies, pretzels, sandwiches. There were students who had much to say, teachers who made room for the session, a vibrant and vast library world. There was a story about a family member who lost his life in East Berlin because he would not relinquish his bicycle to the guard. There were healthy debates about risks and choices. There were the kinds of conversations that leave a happy buzz inside my head.

The art above is by Fran Misener, one of my hosts for the day. (I so love this.)

The poem below is by Eun-Soo Park, who leads the book club at Radnor High and who had me sign his copy of Going Over for a friend who was off on a field trip that day. She really wanted to meet you, he said. So I think I should give the book to her.  (I so love that.)

Eun-Soo wrote:

The Cost of Freedom
Waiting with words trapped within 
Ready to burst with irrepressible emotion
Unable to make a choice
For fear of stumbling into regret.
Bonds broken, lives at stake,
Stuck with a feeling of stasis.

Time passes.
Every second, a wasted opportunity.
What stops a fleeting rush toward freedom?
The danger, the worry, the risk of death.
But what really hinders the dreams of life
Is believing that one can exist without freedom.

Jake wrote as well. I share his words here as emblematic of many of the wonderful words the students of Radnor High produced during our time together:
The promised land is a distant light,
A chasm, deep and dark.
Too wide to see where it ends
Crossable, but with a steep cost.
The fear of the unknown: the final barrier.
My work with these students is not done. My pleasure is ongoing.

Finally, Ms. Wetzel gave me a gift of air which also turned out to be (surprise) a pair of air-colored earrings. I believe that it was those very earrings that got me through a long ride and a final river talk yesterday. Michelle, you were there with me.

(I so love that.)

Some photographic outtakes.

Read more...

What Florence is to you (and the winner of One Thing Stolen)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I asked readers of this blog to tell me something about the way they think of or remember Florence. What is that building, that bit of landscape, that dish, that way of walking, that weather that is Florence to you?

On my blog and over Facebook they answered—so many lovely responses that I find myself simply wanting to list them here. To you, to those who stopped by, Florence is (in part):

The trip Florinda and her art major husband will take to Italy before this decade is through.

That moment when Sandra Bullock says, in "While You Were Sleeping," "And there would be a stamp in my passport and it would say Italy on it."

A statue of Bacchus.

The stories Hilary's backpacking sister would tell.

The cement slab that sloped down toward the river.

The smell of leathergoods shops on the Ponte Vecchio.

Florence and the Machine.

A woman named Florence who helped Lisa feel hopeful about staying intellectually engaged at any age (and being kind while you are at it).

Outdoor cafes and hot waiters who are working to pay for their art.

The Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo, a city close to the city where George Clooney got married.

Two small gold rings.

An art history class.

Renaissance art.

The nearby beaches.

The similarities between the Arno and the Schuylkill (woman after my own heart, that Victoria Marie Lees)

A mother, now gone, who lived the dream of traveling Italy.

(And so much more.)
This morning I've asked my sleepy husband to give me a number (each entry had a number). His number correlates with Amy, who said that Florence is, to her, the cement slab that sloped down toward the river (and where she wrote in her journal).

Amy, I can't tell you how cool it is that you have been randomly selected, for a very major scene in One Thing Stolen takes place on that very cement slab. Please send along your mailing address so that I can send you a copy of the book.

Looking forward to seeing my Chronicle friends and the teachers of NCTE (and wonderful, intelligent, blessing-of-a-friend Debbie Levy!!!!!!) next Friday/Saturday in Washington, DC, where more copies of One Thing Stolen will be shared. I'll be at the Chronicle Booth at 3 PM on Friday.



Read more...

Returning to Radnor High to Talk the Wall

Friday, November 14, 2014


Today I'll return to Radnor High, where I learned the periodic table, Algebra 2, Shakespeare, poetry and a little something about people.

I'll be talking about Going Over and the Berlin Wall.

I'll also be remembering the Beth of long ago and the Beth of 2010, who stood with the great filmmaker Lee Daniels and others celebrating the school that partly shaped us.

I am deeply grateful that so many Radnor alums have returned to my world in recent years. I continue to learn from them.

With thanks to Molly Carroll Newton, Michelle Wetzel, Fran Misener, and Ellen Tractenberg.

Read more...

just ahead of winter, at Chanticleer, with Rob Cardillo

Thursday, November 13, 2014


The rain was just beginning to fall as Rob Cardillo and I set off down the hill of Chanticleer. The glorious garden is closed now for the winter, but Rob, a tremendous photographer (see his images here), was taking portraits for a new project now under way with our mutual friend, Adam Levine.

I've contributed in a small way to the project and agreed to an accompanying portrait if (and only if) Rob kept me in the far distance of his images.

He kept that promise.

I snapped these two photographs in between takes.

Read more...

One More Thing: your last chance at a first galley copy (and come see me at NCTE)



On November 15, one reader/commenter on this blog (see details here) will be named the winner (that sounds like such a big word; let's try recipient) of One Thing Stolen, my novel due out in April 2015 from Chronicle Books. At the heart of the novel lies a ravaging flood that swept through Florence, Italy, on November 4, 1966 and destroyed some of the most important art of the civilized world. The footage above tells the story. The flood is one of three obsessions that I explore in this novel about then and now.

On November 21st, during NCTE, I'll be at the National Harbor Convention Center signing copies of One Thing Stolen at the Chronicle booth. Please come and visit if you can. 3:00 PM is our signing hour.

Again, go here for your chance at an early copy.




Read more...

Tomorrow is a new day. Live it.

Let's acknowledge this:

It isn't easy out here.

We have dreams, and the path ahead isn't clear. We were promised, and the promise vanishes. We love, but some of those we love are missing. We are full of hope and that hope is splintered (compromised) by the facts as we know them, the counts against us, the world as it is, so much that is breaking apart.

In the afternoon a neighbor tells a heartbreaking story.

In the evening a friend writes of hurt.

In the morning a shattering email arrives.

Desire is so open-ended.

Tomorrow is a distance.

Certainty is breached.

Today, following a legendary four-and-a-half-month search—dozens of interviews, so many almosts—my son begins a new job. Nothing has ever mattered to me more than his happiness and, let's face it, I am nearly powerless. In the end, he did it all—strategically searched, persevered, did the work on complex projects, showed up for the interviews, landed the job.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring. Nothing seems sure to me anymore. What I know is what I continue to learn from my son—about holding fast, not giving up, enduring through optimism, placing faith in creativity. Again and again, since July, my son has told me this simple and profound tale: Tomorrow is a new day, and a new chance.

Take it.

For all those I love, for those who are hurting, for those who can't see through the windowpanes just now: Tomorrow will come and with it some sun.


Read more...

GOING OVER is on the 2015 TAYSHAS Reading List and Props to Sister Kim

Can we give it up this morning for Sister Kim of Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls? Who has ignited her students with a love for stories. Who drives them to their super stars. Who gives them book projects that yield stunning results. Who makes videos that make writers cry. Who puts together a massive and massively successful Little Flower High School Teen Writers & Readers Festival.

(Look for the 2015 festival on April 18, 2015, when I will join a fantastic cast of area writers for a day of workshops, panels, and signings.)

Who writes to me last night to say that 42 copies of Going Over have arrived at her classroom and will be taught this spring.

Who tags me this morning to say:

Going Over is on the 2015 Tayshas Reading List. This was a dream I had. But. I hadn't dared to dream it fully.

Props. To Sister Kim. To the so-generous TAYSHAS committee. To Chronicle Books, whose glorious team members have opened more doors for me than any publishing house ever.

Read more...

My NaNoWriMo Tip: Stop Writing and Start Seeing (at Chronicle Books)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Truth? I haven't written anything remotely bookish for a while because, well, I've been busy. That harried woman running from place to place, topic to topic, responsibility to responsibility, and only sometimes to her own kitchen? That would be me. There's wind in my hair.

But I've been thinking about writing and when the good folks at Chronicle asked me to offer writers a NaNoWriMo tip, I knew exactly what inspiration I wanted to offer.

It's all here, along with a few of my photographs. And one silly picture of me. What I wouldn't give to be pretty. What I wouldn't give.

Wait. I'm off topic. I'm also off again, and running —

Read more...

Celebrating our Veterans, the Mighty Moms, Kevin Ferris, and Dava Guerin at the Union League

Yesterday, the Armed Services Council of the Union League of Philadelphia hosted a celebration of Veterans Day. Well more than 300 people turned out for what was a moving remembrance. My friend Cindy was there; four generations in her family (including her son) have served our nation. General James L. Jones, the 32nd commandant of the United States Marine Corps and a former National Security Advisor to President Obama, was there, receiving the Union League Lincoln Award. The people to my left at the luncheon were remembering Coast Guard duty. Across the way was a man who, through a not-for-profit organization, helps those who lose their limbs to walk and write again.

And in that hallowed space, the Mighty Moms and Wounded Warriors of Walter Reed were honored—by flowers, by gifts, by standing ovations, and by the book, Unbreakable Bonds, released yesterday. Written by Dava Guerin and my friend Kevin Ferris, the book features forewords by President George H.W. Bush and Connie Morella. It tells ten moving stories about young people wounded at war and the mothers who will not leave their sides throughout the healing process. My thoughts on the book, published by Skyhorse, were first shared here.

Kevin isn't just my friend. He is an assistant editor with the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer and a man who served in the US Army from 1976 to 1979. He's the sort of person who consistently shines the light on other writers and broad national and local issues. Yesterday was our chance to thank him and Dava and the Mighty Moms and the Vets and those who love them.

It was, as well, our chance to sing a medley of Service songs—the songs of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. My father, who also served, sang those songs to me when I was young. It was hard to get through them without wiping away a few tears.

Read more...

Songs of Freedom, at Masterman High in Philadelphia

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I took the story of the Berlin Wall to Philadelphia's academic magnet school, Masterman—meeting with the students of two exquisite and clearly well-respected history teachers, Liz Taylor and Janel Vecsi.

In the Spring Garden neighborhood, inside a circa-1876 building that has inspired filmmakers and hosted President Obama, we talked about risks, responsibilities, and choices. I met students with a personal tie to East Berlin. Students who knew history and the world around them. Students who watch the news out of curiosity and not out of an assignment. Students who work extremely hard at school and at home—and excel. Students who willingly make art and share it. We hear about the terrible struggles of the School District of Philadelphia. We meet and write about the teachers who work so hard under difficult circumstances. Then we hang out with the students themselves and are (again) reminded how important this teaching enterprise is, how necessary it is to get it right, for them.

I came home with a fat file of graffiti art and poetry. What do you want that you do not have? I'd asked the students, after sharing Wall stories, playing Bruce Springsteen, reading from Going Over. What separates you from your dreams or those you love? What is the cost of desire? What are the consequences of change? What are the lessons of the Wall?

And student after student thoughtfully answered. A mere sampling:

I know why the caged bird sings
because I am that caged bird.
My wings are clipped,
my legs are tied,
yet, I will still warble in
this dark, pressing night.
I will walk up to this barrier,
this solid thing that embodies
all forms of constriction.
I don't care, I will fly,
my ropes are loosening,
my wings are growing.
The bird knows its risks.
Yet it flies, it flies.
The bird has one
thing that I cannot attain:
freedom.
Freedom is on the other side.
Will I jump?
I know why the caged bird sings.
He's telling me to jump.
*

It's safe to stay where I am.
That's what people say, at least.
It's too risky
To risk the distance,
Defy the borders.
Your life is fine here, easy.
But I don't live to feel fine.
I live to feel alive.
To do what I want to do.
To pursue freedom.
To chase my own dreams.
I don't live to listen to washed-up lyrics
Written by tyrants.
I live to dream.
To dance.
To dare.
*

Walls separate
Mentally, physically, emotionally...
On one side, ideals.
The other, truth.
People have ideals,
A set mind on how they
Want to live.
But then there is the truth.
How they are living ...
If there ideal is their truth
There would be no wall.
*

The cost of desire is terror—
the Terror you feel when change occurs,
when it does not turn out the way you thought.
like you wanted it to.
You do not know what answer you will get.
What feelings you will have.
What the long-term outcome will be.
But you try and you try
And you hope change will go your way.
*

Walls.
They protect but also confine.
They keep out the bad but
also the good.
They protect us from the outside world
but also block us from the outside.
So break down the walls
and let yourself free.
Because the walls can't protect you forever.
And when they break,
make sure you're ready.

Read more...

The El Salvador nuns—in the news, thirty years on

Monday, November 10, 2014

Readers of this blog know that I married a man from a land that was foreign to me. El Salvador. That I traveled there. That I studied it. That I tried to make sense of that world in a memoir that took years to write, Still Love in Strange Places. I read every last news story I could find at the time, every antique coffee brochure, every photograph made available to me (this one, here, I especially love, featuring my husband's grandfather on the far right). I talked to dear Aunt Adela, my brother-in-laws, Mario and Rodi, my mother-in-law, anyone who had the time.

But the story is never over, and this morning I found myself spiraling back toward El Salvador while watching this New York Times retro reportage on the four American nuns who were murdered in December 1980. Their story horrified me when I first heard of it (a few years before I met my husband). I never could make sense of it. But love and memory keep a story alive, and justice finds its way.

For those interested in footage of El Salvador that I never saw and in a story that has many twists and turns, I highly recommend this story by Clyde Haberman and important video.

I am off to Masterman High, in Philadelphia, to talk with students about the Berlin Wall, about the world beyond, about risks and responsibilities. There is, I believe (I stake my small legacy on it), nothing like the real world to inspire meaningful conversations. 

Read more...

The Caldecott Panel—Chris Van Allsburg, David Wiesner, Brian Selznick, Jennifer Brown—celebrates Children's Book World's 25th

Sunday, November 9, 2014




Today is not just the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. It's the 25th anniversary of the remarkable, enduring, smart, and somehow simultaneously huge and intimate Children's Book World of Haverford, PA.

As part of the celebration, CBW hosted The Caldecott Panel at Friends' Central School—the very best of the very best right there on City Line Avenue. Chris Van Allsburg. David Wiesner. Brian Selznick. And Jennifer M. Brown as moderator of what quickly became a wide-ranging conversation about black and white vs. color, visual narratives, filmic translations, the plot power of the artistic media, the certain school of design attended by all three of these great storytellers (RISD), and who taught who, or who might have taught who, or who wished they had taught who.

There they sat on one long couch and two book-ending chairs, surprising each other, while Jenny Brown, who knows this business better than anyone anywhere (our Ambassador of Children's Literature, I've always said), asked her intelligent questions, sat back, and enjoyed the surprises, too.

A packed house. An eager audience. Dozens of hands flying up during the Q and A—half of those hands belonging to children.

You want to celebrate one of the top children's book stores in the country? I can think of no better way.

Congratulations, CBW. The lovely lady with the dark tresses, by the way, is CBW's own Heather Hebert.


Read more...

8,000 Balloons Celebrate the Fall of the Berlin Wall — and tonight are set free

LICHTGRENZE from Fall of the Wall 25 on Vimeo.

These past two days, 8,000 lit balloons have been floating above a ten-mile stretch of the original Berlin Wall.

Tonight, 8,000 citizens with keys will each unlock a separate balloon and it will escape, free, to the atmosphere.

It's part of the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, an art installation by Christopher and Marc Bauder that has been in the works for many years.

My friend Bill sent me this video and article. I am pleased to share it here and encourage you, too, to watch this New York Times coverage of the installation. It's extraordinary art and essential history.

Tomorrow, I will take my Berlin Wall novel, Going Over, into Masterman, a Philadelphia school, and talk about history, risks, freedom, and responsibilities. On Friday the conversation will move to my alma mater, Radnor High. 

But today I wish I was in Berlin to see those 8,000 balloons fly free.

More on the wall and what it did, who tried to escape, how much it hurt, can be found here. 


Today your job is this: Take nothing for granted.

Read more...

on seeing Bill Cunningham in person (!!), silvered friendship, good news for my son, the Caldecott Panel

Saturday, November 8, 2014


There was no evidence of a bicycle, but Bill Cunningham, New York Times style photographer and the subject of this amazing documentary (watched here because Melissa Sarno gave me the word), was out among the nearly 200 craftspeople at the 38th Annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show.

He just kept passing by—lanky and tipping up on his toes, camera in hand, a coy smile when someone called out, "Are you Bill Cunningham?" Oh, jeepers, his smile said, recognized again. He just kept looking and nodding, his presence electrifying the crowd. Bill Cunningham in Philadelphia. Yes, we Philadelphians felt proud.

Meanwhile, I bought a glorious something from Cathy Rose of New Orleans (worth taking a look at this link, truly her work is remarkable)—an addition to my small but growing doll and mask collection. Meanwhile, my husband and I went off for a Reading Terminal lunch—Salumeri's, of course. Meanwhile, we returned to a lit-up sky and I slipped out for a Kelly Simmons rendezvous—a gir's afternoon, silver and gold. When I returned home, walking a brisk dark, a full moon rising, my son called with deliriously good news. You want to know the definition of perseverance, creativity, optimism, extreme hard work, and lessons in hopefulness? I will tell you the story of these past few months and my son. I will tell you everything he taught me, and I will say, again and for the record, I would be half the person that I am without him.

Today I'm off to the woods to teach memoir at the Schuylkill Center, part of the Musehouse Writing Retreat. I'll slip away afterward to see my friend Karen Rile. And then I'll come home and get ready for tomorrow, when I'll see my dear friend Jennifer Brown moderating the Caldecott panel—Chris Van Allsburg, David Wiesner, and Brian Selznick—at Friends' Central School in Wynnewood. (Two o'clock, and hosted by Children's Book World.)

And then I, like the rest of the world, will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I will just sit and think on it all.

Read more...

The Berlin Wall poetry and art of Downingtown West (incredible)

Friday, November 7, 2014


Yesterday, as part of the Speak Up for libraries program (of which I wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer here), I spent four consecutive periods with the very special students of Downingtown West and their beloved (for such good reason) librarian, Michelle Nass. We talked about the role of libraries in our lives, and the treasures we've found there. We learned some of the history of the Berlin Wall (history libraries helped me uncover) and reflected on the metaphorical and physical walls that still separate us. We listened to Ada and Stefan of my Berlin novel Going Over weigh the consequences of freedom, asked ourselves when, if ever, we'd take the risk to jump a wall, wrote poems, and made graffiti art.

After school during the book club hour, we talked about how books get made, what editors do, the difference between writing and publishing, and the writer friends I've come to love.

I was staggered by the receptivity, creativity, and generosity of these students. Their willingness to dig in deep, to answer hard questions, to write—and eagerly share—their work. I came home with a fat file of poems and art, wanting to share every sentiment and drawing here. Space is my limitation. I share a few poems below, a collage of art above, but please know this, Downingtown West: all of it was special, and so are you.

Write about what risks are worth taking, and freedom is, I prompted. This is what happened:

What is life
but a bundle of risks
a handful of desires.
We get thrown in the mix
of temptations and hopes
but in order to obtain
the things that we want
we must go through pain.
— Mike Lodge

Freedom isn't free.
Yes, that's the irony.
We hear its cry.
We hear its call.
Yet here we are
at an ancient wall.
A wall we cannot live without.
A wall that fills us up with doubt.
And some of us will take a risk.
Some of us will die to have it all.
That freedom filled with irony.
For that I would fall.
— Micky

Freedom
It's not impossible,
but it's not clear.
It's what lies in the future that is feared.

But what's life without freedom?
A life of being caged?
The only thing that gives us freedom
is change.
— August Walker

Not much is worth risking my life for.
Family, friends, love, freedom come to mind.
Would you risk everything now for a chance at freedom?
If everything could be lost, would you try?
One moment you're there, the next you're gone.
Never to see your loved ones again.
Is it really worth it, for a chance at freedom?
— Samantha Goss

Can you go against the stream?
Fight the system?
Make your own path?
It will be hard.
Blood. Loss. Isolation.
You are a soldier with no army.
You are a lone soul looking for a place
to call home.
Stay strong.
— Megan

To rebel against the evils which control
our very lives.
In hopes to prevail against the wings of Freedom
and its vibes.
These days our right to think different is
challenged by all.
Yet without the help of others our ideas
will surely fall.
What is worth my life?
What is worth my death?
What will hold me back?
What will set me free?
Love
Freedom
Freedom
Love
That is all I need.
— Emily Gibbs

Many, many thanks to Michelle Nass for organizing this day. Thanks to the students. Thanks to the librarians who do what they do and keep their doors open for us. And thank you to Jennifer Yasick, with whom I began this beautiful day.

Read more...

Speak Up for Libraries Day — in the Philadelphia Inquirer and at Downingtown West

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Today, authors and illustrators from across the state of Pennsylvania are out in force, speaking up for libraries as part of the PA Forward campaign, a Pennsylvania Library Association initiative designed to shine the light on what libraries do and why they are vital to the communities in which we live.

As part of that initiative, I reflected back through the years—on the libraries I have known, the shelter they have provided, and the books they have helped me write. Hanby Jr. High Library (pictured above). Radnor Memorial Library. Van Pelt Library. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Free Library of Philadelphia. These and so many other libraries have been essential to my life, my work, my process, and I celebrate them and PA Forward in the Op/Ed pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer today, here.

I'm also heading out to Downingtown West, where I'll spend the day talking with students about libraries and about the most recent book—the Berlin Wall novel Going Over—that was born, in part, of stacks and microfilm. Just three days until the world remembers the 25th anniversary fall of the Berlin Wall, I'll say. And then we'll be off and talking.

With thanks to Margie Stern and all the librarians. And a special thanks to Michelle Nass, my Downingtown hostess with the mostest for the day.

Read more...

the addicting, educating genius of "Breaking Bad"

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

So I'm late to the party. So it took me awhile to catch on. Still, it is impossible to avoid reporting on my awe.

"Breaking Bad," the AMC TV show that won all those Emmys, all that acclaim, all that morning gossip, has snared me.

The moral genius of it. The propulsive force of it. The entangling tangling complex complete story line. The text and subtext and collaborative creatives. Aaron Paul (MisTer WhiTe). Dean Norris (it was you). Betsy Brandt (acres of purple). RJ Mitte (give that guy a good car). Anna Gunn (New Mexico in her blood). Giancarlo Esposito (because he's a man.) Bryan Cranston (I am the danger).

And Vince Gilligan. A million Heisenberg hats off to Vince Gilligan, the guy who didn't study chemistry but who compensated for that by reading Popular Science and hiring consulting experts and believing in the color blue.

Any writer out here, wondering how story gets done: Take the time to watch "Breaking Bad." Binge it, as I have. Banish your bedtime. Chart the course and count the risks. Consider all the "rules" you've been taught and how this show leaves them in shambles. You think the hero of your story needs to be likable? Think again. You want to give your characters a really long time to swat at a fly? Go right ahead, so long as you interlude and conclude with confessions that fall just shy of getting heard. You want to assert a theme without ever explaining a theme? The path has been laid. You want to go hog wild with the color purple? Tuck it into nearly every scene.

I had no interest in writing while binging on "Breaking Bad." I stopped serving real meals so that we could sandwich up and watch the Cook. I stopped thinking I knew something about poetry.

Read more...

Taking GOING OVER to the schools

Monday, November 3, 2014

In just a few days the world will turn its eyes to Berlin, which will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall.

In the days to come I'll be taking that story, and GOING OVER, into a series of schools—Downingtown West, Masterman, Radnor, others—to look back, through, over walls. Why was the wall there? What did it mean? What did it do? What stories has it left behind?

Readings and workshops. Conversations and research. A few poems, a few songs, an animation. I look ahead with optimism, as I always do when I am about to meet with teens.

(With thanks to the ever gracious Ellen Trachtenberg for her great help in all of this.)

In the meantime, an utter surprise, Sister Kim of Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls, will be teaching the book in the third semester this year. A joy for me.

Also in the meantime, unbeknownst to me, GOING OVER was found in the window of the University of Pennsylvania bookstore by a friend not long ago. Thank you, Kathye, for stopping to take this photograph.

Read more...

What does success do to a writer? Florence Gordon/Brian Morton: Reflections

Brian Morton (Starting Out in the Evening, among others) writes about writers. The hopes, the blockades, the pretenses, the indignities, those rare moments of glory. He writes as one who has struggled and one who has taught, as one who has come to believe in stories first, and also in patience, as he noted in this Ploughshares interview:
Nabokov said that there are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. More and more, my only goal in writing is to tell stories—tell stories and bring characters to life. If there’s enlightenment or enchantment to be had in what I write, I’ve come to believe that I can’t force it; it’ll show up or not show up on its own. 
 
But of course, patience is still the most necessary thing. Patience, tenacity, perseverance, stubbornness, devotion—in terms of the writing life, they’re all different words for the same thing. I think the only way to keep going as a writer is to find a way to love the writing process in its every aspect: to take pleasure not only in the moments when it’s going well, but to find pleasure even in the difficulties.
Morton's new novel, Florence Gordon, is about an aging feminist who has just received an astronomical New York Times Book Review, her dangerously affable and endearingly well-read cop son, his perched-to-leave-him wife, and their feeling-guilty-to-grow-up-but-is-growing-up-and-how-we-like-her daughter who is, at the moment, between colleges and assisting her prickly grandmother with research. It's also, as Morton's books are, about New York, where those who master the Manhattan walk may just decide to call the place home.  

Florence Gordon (which was sent to me by my good friends at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a decisive, deliberate, quick beat of a novel; the pages quickly turn. It is also a novel that slyly defies convention, leaving the reader to imagine conversations and to knot (or unknot) story threads. It made me laugh when I desperately needed to laugh. It put me in mind of writers I have known, of conversations overheard. It is a bright mirror of a time and a place and, also, a career, which is hardly the same as a profession.

It is about success—insidious, embittering, disorienting, impossible, and never enough. From Florence Gordon, just after Florence has received that glorious, late-career-changing review:
Vanessa was a psychotherapist who worked with people in the arts. She proceeded to give a few examples. A painter who, after selling one of his works to the Whitney, began to speak of himself in the third person. A writer who'd so long suppressed her desire for fame, so long suppressed the narcissism near the root of every creative life, that when she finally achieved a bit of recognition, all her hunger for it had come bursting out—a ferocity of hunger that no degree of success could satisfy—and she was plunged into a depression that took her months to recover. Another writer, a woman who'd always seemed a model of tolerance and tact, who, after finally writing a book that brought her a degree of acclaim, felt nothing but anger toward all the people who were celebrating her. Late recognition, Vanessa said, was the stage for the return of the repressed.

Alexandra too believed that success could make you crazy, and she too had a theory. Buried deep in the psyche, she thought, is a sort of lump, a creature that craves nothing except stability, and as far as the lump is concerned, change for the better is just as bad as change for the worse.

Read more...

What we said about YA at Penn's Kelly Writers House

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Yesterday's bleak rain had nothing on Kelly Writers House. Indeed, as it so often does, the old house on Locust Walk sheltered the alums and prospective students, the local community and faculty who braved the weather and found their way in. It sheltered and fed them.

We were there to talk about the making of books for younger readers. We were ably, intelligently led by Liz Van Doren, Editorial Director of Book Publishing for Highlights for Children and Boyds Mills Press. We—Kathy DeMarco Van Cleve, Lorene Cary, Jordan Sonnenblick, and I—were, perhaps, as different as four writers could be.

Where do books begin?, we were asked, and one said with an image, and one said with tone and sound, and one said with a plot, and one said with an idea about the world, an idea about books as vehicles for getting something done.

What do we do about those adult figures who figure in books for the young? Make them real, one said. Don't let them overwhelm the story, one said. There's a reason why Harry Potter was an orphan, one said.

How do we make historical fiction pop?, we were asked. By making the characters gritty (a graffiti artist, a thief, an angry pregnant girl), one said. By not worrying about whether or not the story pops, but about whether or not it feels lived in and true, another said.

How do we maintain authenticity in the voices of our young characters?, we were asked. By hanging out with teens and listening to how they talk, we all said. By testing our work in laboratories made of child readers, one said. By not being afraid to write differently, one said, for not all teens sound the same, not all fit the currently popular formula of some parts ironic softened by some parts tender.

And so we went—building on each other, challenging each other, defending one's own cover art as being fully born of the book itself (okay, Jordan, that tag is for you). A rigorous conversation moderated by a woman with great knowledge. So many in the audience with leading questions of their own.

Respect for the form, for the art, for all the ways that we can write to the music in our heads—that was what was on display yesterday. Different instruments. Different beats.

With great thanks to Jessica Lowenthal, for making this event possible and for doing such consistently fine work at the Writers House (Jessica has made it possible for former New Yorker fiction editor/former Random House editor/author of the fine My Mistake Daniel Menaker to visit the House next February 24, but more on that soon). With thanks to Ilene Wong, for this photography, above. With thanks to all who came. (Kathye, Chelsea, so many — I'm looking at you.)

Read more...

looking back at the photographs (for a new project)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

For a new project due out next fall, I just reviewed some 25,000 digital photographs taken over the last fifteen years.

I skipped the gym.

Tomorrow, in the company of John and Andra Bell (and my husband), I will watch slender young things dance their hearts out in Bethlehem, as part of the "So You Think You Can Dance" tour.

I will wish, watching them, that I'd gone to the gym.

Read more...

A page from FLOW whisks across the face of the Water Works

Friday, October 31, 2014

FLOW Festival 2014 / Architectural Projection Model from Greenhouse Media on Vimeo.

When the good people of the Fairmount Water Works asked if they might borrow the first prose page from Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River for a festival finale, I said yes, of course. This movie (rendered here) was projected onto the entrance house facades of the Water Works building as night fell a few weeks ago. The words come from the prose poem, "Rising."

Credits:
Habithèque Inc.— Creative Direction
Greenhouse Media— Video and Editing
refreshtech and LUCE Group— Lighting
Blair Brothers Music— Original Soundscape
Beth Kephart—The poem "Rising" from her book Flow

Read more...

Cicero's peeps throw a book party (or, authorial self-promotion is hardly new)

In Cicero's day authors ready to launch their newest work would gather their friends at home or in a public hall for a spirited recitatio, or reading. Audiences would cry out when they liked a particular passage. Nervous authors enlisted their friends to lend support, and sometimes even filled seats with hired "clappers." They were keenly aware of the importance of networking to get influential acquaintances to recommend their works to others. The creation of books started off as something both personal and social; the connection embodied in that dual nature is at the heart of what makes books so good at refining and advancing thought. It was just that the practicalities of publishing in the printing-press age made the personal connections a bit harder to see.

"From papyrus to pixels: The digital transformation of the way books are written, published, and sold had only just begun" — The Economist, October 11, 2014 

(This fascinating in-depth reporting on self-publishing, book formats, and sales figures can be read here.)

Read more...

you know that super smart brother of mine?

Thursday, October 30, 2014



He's helping to lead the IBM team now at work on this revolutionary technology in the Cognitive Environments Laboratory. When Jeff describes this to me, he asks me if I remember the film Minority Report, the technologies for which were conjured a decade ago by fifteen scientific researchers during a three-day, Spielberg-assembled think tank.

From the Yahoo Finance article where the video above appears:

Using the capabilities of IBM's pioneering Cognitive Environments Laboratory (CEL), Repsol and IBM researchers will work together to jointly develop and apply new prototype cognitive tools for real-world use cases in the oil and gas industry. Cognitive computing software agents and technologies will be designed to collaborate with human experts in more natural ways, learn through interaction, and enable individuals and teams to make better decisions by overcoming cognitive limitations posed by big data.

Scientists in the CEL will also be able to experiment with a combination of traditional and new interfaces based upon spoken dialog, gesture, robotics and advanced visualization and navigation techniques. Through these modalities, they will be able to learn and leverage sophisticated models of human characteristics, preferences and biases that may be present in the decision-making process.
Jeff, who was inducted into the IEEE two years ago (and whose children respectively dance and race the Rubik's Cube clock), possesses a mind that seems capable of the impossible. He has to dial his intellect down several notches so that he can communicate with ordinary people like me. He has spent many years at IBM doing various fascinating things—and many nights working until 3 AM or later (on concepts, on coding, on new ideas, on computer screens) to be ready for his team the next day.

If you watch this video, you'll see my brother beginning at minute 2:20 in a blue shirt at a long table, thinking. He has blue eyes, light hair, and a brain that is also seemingly unrelated to me.

Thanks to Donna, Jeff's wife, for sharing the article and video, and to my father who was on this news early today.

Read more...

on book dedications (and One Thing Stolen)

There comes that quiet time, in the life of a book, when we must make a decision or two about dedications. My son, my family, two editors, my agent, my students. I have had my reasons.

Yesterday, home from Hilton Head and binge-watching "Breaking Bad" in the late dark after a long work day, I stood, went to my office, and retrieved a galley copy of One Thing Stolen. I opened it to an early page, turned on the light, called to my husband.

I keep meaning to tell you, I said.


Read more...

  © Blogger templates Newspaper II by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP