worth celebrating

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's been hot in this house (a mild understatement) and I haven't been sleeping long hours (ditto). But I've had horses and children to keep me company by day and this brand new book project to keep me curious and calm in the middle of the night. I had a notion. I pushed it. I am digging in deep with the historic record. A nugget grows.

I'm not writing a book yet (or, I should say, I've written but 3,000 words).  I'm letting that book linger. Making calls to historians, checking the records on Library of Congress databases, reading old newspapers online, thanks to my friends at Radnor Memorial Library (thanks, Pam Sedor). Festering isn't always a good thing, but in this case I think it is. I have moved away from the land of vague ennui and unnerving uncertainty to be fully engaged once more.

Every time I learn this lesson, it feels brand new: I can't live fully without being inside a project. It just doesn't work for me.

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The heat of the days: a photo essay




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My new screensaver

Monday, May 30, 2011

and my thanks to those of you who have so kindly commented on the photographs these past few days. I am a peaceful person, when I have a camera in hand, when my only responsibility is to see. To wait for the horse to find me, to wait for the child to laugh, to wait for the sun to fall to just the right place. Photography slows me down. It forces patience. And I love having an outlet for it here, on the blog.

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Rumblers and Waltzers and Heartfelt Thanks







Many exquisite things trundle and waltz by my home on Memorial Day weekend. There is, for example, the annual carriage parade. There are the dogs of the famous dog cotillion. And then there are my fabulous, witty, smart, and loving neighbors—so entirely and brilliantly in love.

Exquisite things waltz into my world as well, and this morning I would like to send my heartfelt thank you to Florinda, for this especially moving post about our time together at BEA. Caribousmom, I thank you, too, for including You Are My Only in your Book Buzz: Fall Reads; you've assembled an immaculate list of titles, and I'm so grateful to have my book included on that list.

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A few things that are making me happy

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I am stealing a meme from dear, so-talented, and missed Eating a Tangerine with this up-to-the-moment report on what is making me happy.

First, the cherished memories of my trip to the BEA this past week. Thank you, so many of you, for being such an integral part of my adventure, thank you Armchair BEA for the love, and thank you Florinda for the conversation.

Second, the news that Dangerous Neighbors has been chosen as the summer read by a lovely local private school. I have so wanted that for this book of mine, and I am grateful.

Third, the happy reality that, after allowing myself to stall for a few days (as I imagine most authors waiting to hear about circulating manuscripts do), I have found my way back to my prequel-in-progress to Dangerous Neighbors. Research proved to be the key. I have lucked onto something astonishing and juicy—a little known fact that will give my story heft, suspense, momentum, and (I'll toss the word in there) thrills. I have myself a riveting something. Now I just have to write it.

Fourth, spending time at the Devon Horse Show, taking photographs of horses, children, riders, and the big jumpers. Today I'll be photographing the carriages that are rolling down my street (two just did, so I interrupted this blog to catch them) as well as the famous puppy contest.

Fifth, spending an hour with Kim, my former student, at the show yesterday.  There she is, petting a three-month-old mini. Both are, I think, beyond words.

Finally, receiving and reading the richest imaginable e-mails from my son, now in his fourth day in London. The Brits are treating that great guy of mine exquisitely well, and he is turning most every hour into something worthy of a story. In exactly two weeks I'll be there, in London, too. Laughing, I'm certain. And listening.

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The horses, jumping


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The children of the show: a suite of portraits









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Four Young Riders and an Even Younger Buck

Saturday, May 28, 2011





Scenes from the Devon Horse Show.

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You know how I talk about the beauty of my students?



Well, you see?  I never lie.  Here is Kim, glorious Kim, walking the Devon Horse Show grounds with me.

Thank you, Gareth, for sharing her this afternoon.

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The Beauty Shot: One Horse, One Show

From last night, at the Devon Horse Show. The competition had begun. The crowds were beyond. It was just this horse and me and a wide angle lens.

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My video conversation with blogger Florinda

Friday, May 27, 2011


I'm off to teach at Agnes Irwin today, while back in New York City, the book bloggers have gathered in force. A few days ago, as those of you who followed the Armchair BEA know, I had the chance to talk to Florinda while Elizabeth Law of Egmont USA videotaped our conversation. I re-post the video here, in celebration of the book bloggers I have come to know and love.

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My friend and comedienne extraordinaire Anna Lefler has a book deal

It may be true (I'm talking to you, Florinda, you) that I've never actually met Anna Lefler in person. But I have talked to this west-coaster countless times and for innumerable hours on the phone, shattered my fragile bones over her genius blog funnies, watched her perform on You Tube for the most sensational crowds (my own sensational snickering husband at my side), and been on this awed and grateful side of her steadying wisdom and stupendous generosity. I've interviewed Anna, and I've read her books in progress, kept her cards and icons and treasures on my sill and near my heart.

It wasn't long ago that my friend called with some news that she can now make public: Anna Lefler has her first book deal! She was sought out, thanks to her riveting blog. She said yes.  She plunged in with the professionalism, discipline, and completely lovably twisted eye she brings to all things under the tilted sun and orbed-out moon. And you will not have to wait long for your copy of a book every woman will soon have.

From Publishers Marketplace:
Comedian and "Life Just Keeps Getting Weirder" blogger Anna Lefler's CHICKTIONARY: FROM A-LINE TO Z-SNAP, THE WORDS EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW, a humorous lexicon of the terms women use and what they're really saying when they use them, to Diane Garcia at Adams Media, for publication in October 2011, by Betsy Amster at Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises (World).

I'll admit: I've seen a few early entries. I'll admit again: I was sitting at the hair salon when Anna's most recent entry flew in over my phone. I read the final line to the ladies I was with. Here is what they, in unison, said:

Oh my gosh, that's going to be a bestseller!!!

Congratulations, Anna Lefler! I know I've never had a chance to give you a real-live hug. But I did see you floating down the street one day, high above the crowds. I took the picture here, so that I might someday say: I knew her when. I was in her audience.

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My new iPad2 carrying case—handmade, with love

Thursday, May 26, 2011


It was my husband who insisted on getting me an iPad2 for my birthday. He was responding to my talk about wanting to make new kinds of books. He was thinking of my shelf space, or lack thereof. I was terrified of the machine, however. I am strongly committed to paper and ink (though I also love trees, clearly muddying my religions). And I had no idea how I would properly use it.

A few days ago I wrote here about my second month with the iPad2—the books I'd read, the experiences I'd had. I still hadn't taken the machine out into the world with me, however—hadn't had the courage to take it so far as, say, the dance studio, where I often sit on my own, waiting for lessons to begin.  I didn't want to scratch or ding it.  I didn't trust it to just sit there.

I remedied the problem by buying this absolutely beautiful, well-made, professionally delivered iPad2 case from a seamstress known as Ani Balan.  Please take a look at her work, which is imaginative and exacting, full of color and joy.  Please believe me when I tell you that her dealings with me with extraordinarily professional and prompt.  My iPad2 fits perfectly into this bright and happy padded sleeve, and I even got an adorable change purse as part of my purchase.

Few things make me happier than supporting artists who do fine work. So thank you, Ani, for this.

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The You Are My Only Giveaway/Armchair BEA

Yesterday, as I wrote below, I had the great privilege of video interviewing Florinda for the Armchair BEA event that is going on all this week long. My great thanks to Chris, Tif, The 1st Daughter, Chrisbookrama, Michelle, Amy, Pam, Emily, and Florinda herself, the organizers of this runaway-hit of a program, for also making room for You Are My Only, which is due out in October, and for facilitating a giveaway of a signed book and poster. There will not be many such giveaways with this book, and so I encourage those who might be interested to head on over and listen to what Florinda has to say about being a book blogger (and what I have to say about my love of and great appreciation for bloggers).

Please note that I donned my Undercover stance with this interview, hiding, for the most part, behind my humidity unstraightened hair.  This was not intentional, but I'm going to pretend that it is.  I write fiction, after all.  Or I do, at least some of the time, when I'm not teaching students how best to tell the truth.

Thanks to Elizabeth Law of Egmont USA for the great camera work.

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As the crowds gather at the BEA: a video tour

video video video
I wanted to find a way to share the essence of the BEA with you kind readers, and so I turned on the video mode of my Sony camera. Here, in order, are the early-morning lines of those just waiting to get in through the doors, the quiet of the exhibit booths before the official opening, and the crowd surge minutes after the doors opened.

I was filming all of that for you and was just finishing my crowd-surge footage when Julie of Booking Mama surfaced on my little screen. She's like that, my friend, Julie. Always there when you need her. You can catch her right at the tail end of the last video. Beside her but out of view (in the crush of the crowd) is Kathy of BermudaOnion.

Thanks again to Egmont USA for bringing me to the 2011 Book Expo America.

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A photo (and link-rich) tour of my morning at the BEA





I left the house at 5 AM yesterday, and walked, in the breaking dark, toward the train. The carnival lights from the Devon Horse Show grounds were shining just for me.

I arrived early to the Javits Center and took a walk first within the silence, then among the onslaught of crowds. Soon I was at the Egmont USA booth, interviewing the wonderful Rob Guzman, part of the Egmont USA marketing team. (Later in the day I had the privilege of interviewing Egmont USA's Alison Weiss.)

In impromptu fashion (under Rob's raised eyebrow) I began signing books right there at the Egmont booth, flashing my spanking-new bookmarks whenever I could.  It wasn't long before I was in the presence of Florinda of the 3Rs, a beautiful book blogger and a member of the Armchair BEA team. We had a conversation, Florinda and I, and, thanks to Elizabeth Law, our dialogue was captured for all of time on film.  Check the Armchair BEA blog later today to see what Florinda and I had to say.

Elizabeth Law of Egmont USA was my guide throughout the morning; in the rush of my signing, Florinda took our photograph. Soon, were we joined by some beautiful people—librarians, teachers, readers, parents, and blogger friends. There I am with Kathy of BermudaOnion (I finally met her and she's as lovely as I knew she would be) and Julie of Booking Mama (isn't she gorgeous?). Later, I had the privilege of seeing (among so many others) the uber-smart editor/blogger behind Beth Fish Reads, the design whiz Alea of Pop Culture Junkie, and the incredibly gracious writer and blogger Melissa Sarno of This Too. I was signing at the very last table and beyond me were authors of huge celebrity and appeal. I cannot sufficiently express my appreciation for those who stood in my line and gave me the chance to meet them.

Just before I left the premises to walk across town to Grand Central to take a (strictly un-airconditioned) bus on a (bumper-to-bumper expressway) to JFK Airport to see my son just ahead of his departure for London, I had a few near encounters with famous people, including Olivia the Pig and Michael Moore, pictured above. I also finally got to meet my last editor at HarperCollins, Ruta Rimas, who helped usher The Heart Is Not a Size into the world. She's cuter and sweeter than I can say. I picked up a single galley at the show, from Grove: Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind, which is enjoying a whole lot of early buzz.

I will miss my son enormously. But he is on an adventure all his own, and I could not be happier for him.

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On the making of a young editor: my interview with Alison Weiss of Egmont USA

Wednesday, May 25, 2011



In this brief chapter from my morning at the BEA, I spend some time with Alison Weiss, the youngest of the Egmont USA editors. She talks about her evolution as a lover of books to a maker of them.

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2011 BEA: An Interview with Egmont USA Marketeer Rob Guzman



I'll be posting a few videos from my travels to the BEA today. Here we meet the terrific Rob Guzman, an integral member of the Egmont USA marketing team.

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This utterly and completely made my pre-BEA day

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I strive, always, to give as much space as I can on this blog to the work of others; it's a community out here, and I'm privileged to share in it, don't ever want this blog to be too much about me.

But for this moment, on this day before I head off to the BEA, I revel in the generosity of There's A Book, which has called You Are My Only one of the most anticipated books of 2011, along with some other fine titles.

Check in later in the week at There's a Book for a YAMO giveaway.

And picture me dancing. Don't let any writer tell you any different: We do care, enormously, what our readers think, especially readers who have been as generous to our work as 1st Daughter has always been to mine.

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Caleb's Crossing/Geraldine Brooks: Reflections

Several years ago I had the privilege of reviewing March, the book that ultimately won Geraldine Brooks the Pulitzer Prize, for the Chicago Tribune. I hadn't yet attempted to write historical fiction. I did not know the perils. I merely found my way inside Brooks' story and emerged with this impression:

It is harder, sometimes, to review a glorious book — to convey its power and influence without relying on suspicious adjectives.  Good books can be slotted, characterized, explained; great books often cannot.  I believe Geraldine Brooks’ new novel, March, is a very great book.  I believe it breathes new life into the historical fiction genre, the borrowing-a-character-from-the-deep-past phenomenon, the old I-shall-tell-you-a-story-through-letters tradition.  I believe it honors the best of the imagination.  I give it a hero’s welcome.  And that should be enough, somehow, but let me try to explain it....
In time, I would write my own history-indebted books. I would come to an earned understanding of how difficult it is to both honor the past and make it relevant and pressing for modern readers. One has to make decisions about authenticity, completeness, recorded truth, the shaping of language, the admission of now to then. One has to yield to the novelist's first obligation, which is to craft a moving, timeless story.

With Caleb's Crossing, Brooks' newest book, this far-ranging author finds her inspiration in a spare record concerning the first Native American graduate of Harvard College. We meet this young man in the wilds of mid-seventeenth-century Martha's Vineyard. We follow him through his troubled negotiation with two religions and languages. We come to know him, most of all, through Bethia, a Puritan minister's daughter, who discovers Caleb along the beach and dares to continue to meet him there—privately and at great risk to her fortunes and reputation. Ultimately the two travel to an early version of Harvard University, where the air is fetid and the quarters are close and racism and inequity are present evils.

The story is told by Bethia herself, in notes she sets down throughout the years. Our view of Caleb's life is restricted by Bethia's own necessarily limited encounters, but Bethia herself is a magnificent creation—fully alive to her times, utterly capable of capturing the mist along the shore, on the one hand, and the fetid, close quarters of mostly male instruction in early Massachusetts, on the other. Brooks gives us the language of the time, the odd chores, the strange antecedents. We believe we are there, but we are glad we are here, turning Brooks' care-invested pages.

A quieting passage. Bethia lies by the shore:
I lay down again and closed my eyes against the glare, listening to the sound of the surf as it arced all around me, the thrumming fall of breakers, the shush of the receding waves. Every now and then I felt my skin cool slightly as a cloud passed across the sun. From time to time a gull would voice a rich cry, high and urgent.

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Month 2 of iPad2: A review of books and apps; a chronicle of experiences

Monday, May 23, 2011

I'm well into my second month of cohabiting with the iPad2, and I'm frankly still getting used to the creature. Still learning how to navigate and sync. Still trying to discover how to make it work for me.

Some reporting, then, from the field.

I have found the iBooks (I bought Bossypants and a guidebook to Croatia) to offer a more alluring read than the Kindle books, thanks to the preview capability, the extras, the ease of navigation, and the more generous simulation of actual-book reading. And yet, I have leaned more heavily toward Kindle books because the titles I have wanted—In Zanesville, A Visit From The Goon Squad, Please Look After Mom, When We Danced on Water—have been either more readily or more cost-effectively Kindle available. During these past six weeks I have continued to go into bookstores and to buy books proper, continued to hold proper paper-and-spine books such as Cleopatra, Caleb's Crossing, Sweet Dreams, and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius on my lap. I don't think I will ever willingly give up on my old book-buying habit.

I have also made use of the PDF Reader to read both my own adult novel-in-progress (I wanted to approximate the feel of the read before the book was sent out to editors for review) and Dana Spiotta's magnificent Stone Arabia. I'm clearly not a skilled PDF Reader user. I am not thrilled with, and could never look past, the floating nature of those pages, the inability to truly mark the text, the sense that I was reading a mere facsimile. I'm buying Spiotta's book when it comes out in July because I want to own it, have it on my shelves, pick it up with ease, flip to a favorite page. And certainly I am hoping that my own adult novel will move past the PDF Reader stage.

On the other hand, I have loved—loved—reading The New York Times on the iPad2. I still retrieve the weekend edition from the end of my driveway, still settle in with the paper version of the magazine. But I find the overall newspaper to be easier to handle on the iPad2—more alluring, more easily reviewed, more packed with the bright lights of videos and links.  I don't annoy my husband with the crinkle and snap of the paper while he sits on the other end of the couch watching his monster river fish and World War II shows, and I am more connected to the news than I was, and that, alone, is worth the price of this machine. The New Yorker still arrives via the old mangled mailbox each Tuesday. I'm not quite sure that I want to go digital with that particular publication just yet.

Since I am soon bound for London and Berlin, I've also bought some travel apps and played with these.  I'll be honest: I'm still going out to buy a travel guide or two. Call me old-fashioned. I like to dog ear my instructions to foreign places. The Berlin app, for the record, was far superior to the London app.

Last night I spent about four hours searching for new apps—reviewed several but remained unconvinced and finally went on over to Salon.com to get the kind of reading I was hungry for. In the midst of it all, I studied those increasingly famous Kindle Singles, feeling just a little amazed that Susan Orleans earned an entire NYT article for a piece called "Animalish" that appears to be the length of a single New Yorker magazine story. What, I wondered, would happen if all magazine stories got NYT reviewed?  And while I absolutely adore Tim Gunn, I was surprised to discover that his Kindle Single "memoir" is but 15 pages long. Maybe I'll buy it anyway, to help mitigate the long flight to those foreign places.

I'm headed to the BEA on Wednesday and I think I'll likely be carrying a regular old book in my bag—perhaps a classic like Mary Karr's Liars' Club. I hope to come home with a regular old galley or two as well. I'm on the hunt for Michael Ondaatje's forthcoming The Cat's Table and I'll be stopping by the Grove Atlantic/Black Cat and Graywolf booths to see what these two fantastic imprints are up to. 

All in all, I guess I'm saying, I am making my way. I'd love to hear from others on this journey.

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Remembering my mother on her birthday

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Today I remember my mother on her birthday. Her love of fine fabrics and fashion. Her kitchen artistry. Her green-flecked eyes.

Here she is, outside one of her favorite stores on Walnut Street. My father waits in the reflected glass. I lift my camera to my face.

It is the serenity of this photograph—her serenity—that so appeals to me.

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Stone Arabia/Dana Spiotta: The Book of This Year?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Let me call this one as I think it rightly is: You might be headed to the BEA next week in search of the Book of the Year, the Big One, the Ultimate Prize Winner. You may imagine yourself wending down and through those Javits Center aisles, your shoulder a book-bag-burdened sloop, your ears somewhere between burn and buzz, the whole of your senses gone hyperkinetic as you pile on the galleys and pack in the giveaways and assure yourself that somewhere, inside all that brilliant literary mayhem, is the Best Book of This Year.

But unless you somehow find yourself a copy of Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia (and at the moment copies are scarce) you are (I am sorry to report) not in possession of this year's best. You may just have to wait until July 12, when this slender volume sets sail.

Because maybe Jennifer Egan and her music-saturated, technically daring Goon Squad captured our imaginations in 2010. But Dana Spiotta, with her own lyric-besotted, indie-spirited Stone Arabia (Scribner), does something different, something more. It's a book about losing, fudging, and outfoxing memory. It's about a brother and a sister in their reeling mid-lives—that brother's life as an almost-musician, that sister's lonesome, fated love.  It's about the anomie of living right now—when the news affronts and hallows, and the tragedies of perfect strangers make us cry, and we lose ourselves within the portals of internet knowing and emerge merely more lost and a lot less knowing. (It's also, in small part, a calibrated riff on our blogging culture, but I only smiled, took no offense.)

We are a half step from forgetting, Spiotta reminds us, and we are a half step from being forgotten, but we are not vanished yet. We still have it in our power to live beyond the authoritative record, to tinker with our own legacies. The brilliance of Stone Arabia is matched by its beauty, which is to say that this is a fiercely intelligent book and also (importantly) an utterly humane one.

A personal note: I found Lightning Field, Dana Spiotta's gorgeous first novel, in a bookstore and brought it home a decade ago. Soon enough, Spiotta's second novel, Eat the Document, was nominated for the National Book Award. From time to time, then, in conversations with other writers, I would hear about Spiotta's graces as a person—her unshowy intelligence and big heart noted by writers like Rick Moody and Ken Kalfus.  Her university workshop students seem to love her, too; I've heard a fine tale or two about that.

But none of what I thought I knew prepared me for the power of Stone Arabia.  I hate that it's late May and that you'll therefore have to wait until mid-July to read it.

Read it, though, as soon as you can.

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It stopped raining.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The sun came out.

I took a walk.

With my son.

The iris bloomed through the rain, but held on.

This is the news, where I live.

Also news: I am hosting another special meal, this time for my dad and in honor of The Boy Who Goes to London (Much Too) Soon.

The kitchen awaits me.

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