This is a test. This is only a test. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

We interrupt this "I am going to do tons of work! Only work! No blogging for me until I get down to ____ manuscripts in my inbox!"* program to bring you and even more important message: The most important thing is always the writing.



You could do everything I, personally, dislike--you could send me a paper form query without my name attached; you could spell my name wrong; you could know nothing about me beyond the fact that I have the word "agent" on my business card--you could even (goodness help you) call up to tell me all about your cat.

But if the writing is good, I'll forgive you. And still want to work with you.

____________________________________
* I was so good about this--you'd think I'd given up blogging for Lent--that I didn't even post a "Wait! I'll be gone! I am getting closer to back on manuscript track!" post because I thought it'd hurry me along. Ha. Incidentally, I've had a lot of great work come in and am more behind than ever.

I want to be Jess Rothenberg when I grow up.

I would not add "Planes, trains, and automobiles" to this list.
Almost two weeks ago, I attended the release party for The Catastrophic History of You And Me--while, fittingly, having a pretty catastrophic day. Mysterious city noises had gotten me up at 3 am (and, no, it isn't true--unlike New Yorkers in movies, I don't carry a "relaxing sounds" tape of cars and sirens when I travel to the country), I sat up thinking about all the work I had to do, and (four hours of fretting later) got up on the clumsy side of the bed.



All day, I accidentally tripped over fellow passengers on the subway, got nasty looks when managing to go the wrong way up stairs (the rule is to stick to the right, except when you don't--it's like passing slow cars on a two-lane highway, except you don't die if you crash into them), got stuck in subway doors, missed elevators, and made the worst small talk ever. I knocked over two cups of tea. It was one of those days.

So, after seriously considering going home and taking in a large dose of Hulu, I roll into the Catastrophic party (which was not at all catastrophic, except for me--it was beautiful--there were artisan pizzas, bevvies of supportive edit staffers; everyone was intimidatingly well-dressed, the store was decorated with  gorgeous paintings of scenes from children's books, and music that fit the book played all evening) and immediately hear my plus one will be a half hour late. Awesome. I'm sitting there reading the book--not a light read, by the way--and something amazing happens.

Jess Rothenberg--aka classiest hostess of all time--comes up to me. I must look, in my schlubby, tea-stained outfit, like a crazy twenty-something loner who still reads YA (and very nearly knocks over red wine onto the store's beige carpet). I'd emailed with her when she was an editor--and she was incredibly sweet then, too--but she doesn't know that, since we'd never actually met.

This store is amazing. Add it to any "What should I do in NYC?" list.

I have to admit that when I saw an online description of the book (which left out its cleverness and stuck pretty much to "Girl dies, is sad"), coupled with the fact that the book was written by a former editor with crazy connections, I had been somewhat skeptical. Granted, I've never actually seen any editor-to-writer projects that totally sucked. But on days when every beverage seems to have a ridiculous gravitational pull toward the floor, the cynicism is there.

"Heh," I had thought before the party, "She even got a blurb from Lauren Oliver. I wonder who's friends with..."

But then she started reading.

And the book deserves all of its praise, and more.

Allow me to elaborate: I was, for the day, hating the world, and thinking the worst of everyone in it. And then, within a few lines, I was in love with this book. 

Now, that's some skill.

It actually is, in fact, "Gorgeous, funny and heartbreaking," just as Ms. Oliver promised. I wouldn't recommend reading it in public, because it's just so affecting--and I'm only two-thirds through. Jess blends emotions in a way that makes them all the more vivid--we get funny-sad, wistful-nostalgic, hilarious-terrifying, and all manner of beautiful-but-finite. It's a slow read, because you want to savor the sentences. You don't want it to be over any time soon. There are wonderful nineties tidbits in there too, to keep the older readers interested (my favorite involves a reference to Ms. Frizzle).


In one of my favorite scenes, the reader goes from preparing to cringe--the now-dead protagonist is watching her best friends go through a box of her private relationship artifacts--to glee at her best friends' cleverness and perfect understanding of what their friend was/is feeling and needing, on a level we didn't even get until that moment--to an acute sadness, because we finally understand, very specifically, what the protagonist lost. 

But back to the reading.

Jess was warm, funny, gracious, welcoming--an excellent guest of honor. She has a great reading voice, and though I'd already read some of the pages before she read them again, I found new nuances in the text while listening to her. She sat up at a table with an enlarged version of the cover next to her, and people kept bringing flowers and setting them on the table. The book is largely about death--the protagonist literally dies of a broken heart--and for a moment (because she does look a bit like the young woman on the cover), there was a slightly creepy "Wow, this looks like a funeral" feel to it. It wasn't bad--it was interesting--and I wondered if anyone had thought of this or planned it.

Jess has a particular talent for making old things seem new again. After all, there are a lot of dead protagonists in YA. But this version of death seems the most vivid, the most likely. Even moments repeated in the book--there are a lot of "Your mama" jokes, which never struck me as funny before--somehow, in Jess's hands, never get old.



So, yes. It's wonderful. It's getting a lot of attention, and deserves it.

As you may know, I spend a lot of my reading time doing cost-benefit analysis: how much work is this project, versus how much do I love it? How likely was I to alienate all of publishing versus how neat would it be to stay and hear the rest? And, most importantly: how sad is this book, versus its sheer awesomeness?

It more than makes up for it. And it's a really, really sad book.

There are a few scenes that are a little out there, and I'd take them out if it were up to me--but these are minor compared to the wonderful things the book accomplishes.

So, get yourself some tissues, some snacks (you won't want to stop reading anytime soon), and a reading room of one's own. Ms. Rothenberg, I salute you. You've been able to quiet your well-trained internal editor and write something heartfelt, gorgeous, and many kinds of intelligent. Go out and get it, folks. This book is amazing, and is likely to be one of the most talked-about books this season.
From a query today:

"Women with clean houses do not have finished books."-Joy Held

I agree entirely.

The cutest no-knead bread you've ever seen. If you haven't tried it...well, now you'll want to.

There are many versions of this recipe, but this is my favorite--practical, delicious, and easily accomplished by a four-year-old.

Yes, you read that right.*

I suppose you could call this episode of GK's Kitchen: Are you a better baker than a four-year-old?

Steer your browsers to Steamy Kitchen, and get your bread ready to go down for its nap (yes, nap--hey, you try explaining bread to a small child!): http://steamykitchen.com/168-no-knead-bread-revisited.html

Don't get worried by the start-to-finish times. Most of that time is the bread sitting there while you do something else.

Happily, the bread can nap (and sleep) while you do. 

And yes, the bread really does turn out this wonderfully. Your friends will think you bought it from a bakery.

Would go very well with Nigella's soup, below.

In fact, I think I will make both for my mini dinner party tomorrow.

Thanks, Steamy Kitchen!

_______________________________
*The lawyers at GK Enterprises do not assume any responsibility for loss or damage to bread or children. We recommend keeping children far away from ovens.

Soup for Writing

I don't know about you, but I like snacks while I write. And I'm always cold, so I like soups in the winter (and spring, and fall, and in overly air conditioned summer, too).

This one was a hit at my house. Note that there are two versions--the Food Network version, and the "I live on a writing budget"/"I like microwaves" version.

This is taken from Nigella's holiday book:

There is also a very powerful recipe for a "poinsettia" drink, which is dangerously delicious.  

There are several versions of the book's recipe online. Here are the closest I found. They involve ingredients like Marsala wine, buttermilk, Roquefort, and other things I do not have in my tiny kitchen.
http://www.eatlikeanactress.com/2011/02/butternut-squash-i-love-you.html 
http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/butternut-and-sweet-potato-soup-66 (oddly, not the closest to the book version)
http://eatlittlebird.com/2011/12/21/roast-pumpkin-sweet-potato-soup/#more-2451

GK version:
One normal-sized butternut squash
One sweet potato (a large one)
One large, sweet yellow onion, chopped
Olive oil or butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cubes Knorr veggie bouillon (in your soup aisle!)
3.5 cups hot water
1/2 cup Marsala (if you have it) or white cooking wine (I used the $3 kind)
1 cup minus 1 tbs milk
1 tbs vinegar (white)
1/2 to 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

It looks like this if you have a food stylist.
Step one: Preheat oven to 400. Cut squash into four chunks (half the long way and the wide way), scoop out seeds. Place cut side down on baking sheet. Bake until tender, around 20-30 minutes.

Step two: In the meantime, scrub, poke, and nuke your sweet potato on high for five or six minutes, until it is eating consistency. If a fork goes in easily, you're done. Set aside.

Step three: Also in the meantime, bring the three and a half cups of water to a boil on your stove. Add the bouillon. Cook until it's dissolved. Set this aside, too.

Step four: Brown the onion in olive oil in a large pot.

Step five: When the potato and squash are cooked, scoop out the cooked insides and add to the big pot with the browned onion. Add cinnamon and nutmeg. When everything has had a chance to combine over medium heat (around five minutes), add half to your blender with half of the broth. Blend. Repeat with other half. Return all soup to pan. Add in cooking wine. I used the $3 stuff. It was fine. Stir. Heat, but don't cook.

Step six: Now, to make fake buttermilk! Combine vinegar and milk. Stir. Let sit five minutes. Rinse out your blender, then combine buttermilk and cheese.

Step seven: Eat! Put soup into each bowl, and drizzle with buttermilk and cheese mixture. Et voila! Soup!

You Deserve Nothing

Not you, dear query writer. Not you.

I just finished Alexander Maksik's new novel, You Deserve Nothing, in almost one sitting--in a moral vacuum, I found it a delightful mix of highbrow sentences with lowbrow subject matter (rather like Zoe Heller's What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal--which is, by the way, far better than the movie). In this novel, Paris gives the reader just what the armchair traveler wishes for--cafes, croissants*, idealism, beauty, romance--and existentialism, moral ambiguity, disillusionment, and heartbreak.


I had a vague notion that people had claimed this story was true--after all, it'd be such a neat, fitting scandal, tied up a bow, if it were--so I didn't give it much weight.

And then I read this: How A Teacher’s Alleged Student Affair Became His Acclaimed ‘Novel’.

And now I feel ill.

Did any of you have the same reaction? Did you like the book? Do you believe the rumors? (I have a hard time imagining the real life Marie would make such a thing up--and can only imagine how she feels.)

Is this better than what James Frey did--or worse?  How much of a work needs to change from the original (or real life) version for it to be considered, by the well-researched public, fiction--and to what extent does this need to be provable? Should we assume all first novels are, to some degree, autobiographical? And, if so, when do we assume they're harming others? Should he have taken a pen name--and would that have made it better?

See footnote about croissants in this novel.

This image is taken from Pastry Paris: In Paris, Everything Looks Like Dessert, which is a great gift book for the Francophiles in your life.

Regardless, if I were his agent or his editor (and he hadn't told me, or I hadn't noticed, the fact that he was fired from the same school as the one in the novel), I'd be very upset.

And would be somewhat annoyed with his way of describing the teacher (or, er, himself) as so charming, attractive, doted-upon, brilliant, sophisticated, talented, sexy--even if morally flawed. But that's a minor point.

What do you think?  Have you read the book? Did you like it? And can we enjoy fiction even while knowing that it is, likely, true?

________________________________
* There are at least twelve croissants in this book. I would count, but I'd rather spend my time eating them. Several were filled with chocolate.

January, submitting your book, Agent Yes Mode, surviving air travel, and truffles

Hello, readers and writers! I am back in the office (survived air travel! Foiled gravity yet again!) and have seen one question going around the internet quite a bit.

This doesn't strike me as a safe mode of transportation.

Now. As always, everyone will feel differently. I've seen the opposite advice given.

Once again, you'll see that agents are, in fact, people. We disagree often. And not just about which cookies are best. (I, for one, am partial to chocolate almond, formed into package-shaped cubes with icing ribbons.)

Here's the question:

Should I hold off on sending my query/manuscript--even if it's ready to go in January? I don't want it to get lost in the shuffle of New Year's resolutions.

First of all, I think most of us are resolving to do things like eat less sugar and exercise more--and, even if we decided that getting published is our goal for 2012, that requires a bit more time and prep work (one would hope) than the four weeks of January.

Even NaNo takes a full month, which would place the hopefuls squarely into February--even with a "type the last word, hit Forward to agents" approach.

Shudder.

That said, I have two periods of the year that yield more than the average number of excellent queries and manuscripts:

One is September.
The other is January.

What the two have in common is that they follow a period when it is traditionally a bad idea to send work.

Therefore, the less savvy writers have all sent their work last week and will send some this week. (Or they send their work in August, when most of publishing is very quiet and/or on vacation.) It's a self-selecting group.

So, in late December (and August), I get a lot of:

Dear Sirs, 
My book will sell a gazillion copies and you are a fool if you don't publish it and what's an agent? I think I'll self-publish, but if I have to have an agent, I guess you'll do, I suppose, but really, my book about my cat that kills agents is a bestseller even if...

And, starting the second week of January, I get a lot of:

Dear GK,
I am writing to you because [something that proves research here] with [excellent story idea here, usually described with varied sentence rhythm, a lively voice, and advanced punctuation used correctly]. 

As I've said before, the people who do research are almost always the better writers. Savvy is as savvy does.

Now.

Let's say I get more excellent work in a short period of time than usual.

Let's say that, of the 50 daily queries and the seven or so I normally request, I decided to request an additional seven--14 total. And the seven extras are things that I find myself chattering about to my interns, my boss, my friends, the super, the guy at the corner store, random people on the subway...

This puts me in Yes mode.

I'm more likely to say yes to a work if I've just said yes to another.

Then, in my mind, they start to build. I start to get bouncy with the prospect of all of the wonderful work I'll be reading. It starts to feel like, very possibly, I'll be falling in love with a work soon. The odds seem better, so I'm more hopeful (and probably eat more chocolate, never mind my New Year's resolutions). Because the odds for each work coming in seem higher, it's as if each one comes with a recommendation.

Therefore, January and September are, in my mind, excellent times to send work.

The opposite may be true of other agents--theoretically, more queries could mean less time spent on each, which could mean an "I just want to clear my desk" approach. It could also mean that, with all of the great queries floating around, an agent could have a mental quota--if s/he gets 50 queries a day, s/he will usually request about the same amount--so only the top (perhaps most agents request five or so) will get a Yes, and the top spots will have more competition.

Now, is there a handy pie chart for how many agents (and which ones) fall into each camp?

No. But, as a consolation prize here's a great truffle recipe, perfect for belated holiday parties and for those of you who need a delicious, easy, impressive treat for under $8. Note that they'll take a few hours, start to finish. You can also freeze the ganache to hurry the process along.


http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/chocolate_truffles/

Note that you can substitute the liquor or liqueur of your choice for the vanilla. I've tried Peppermint Schnapps and Bailey's. Pretty much anything you have on hand will do.

And I prefer to, after step three, coat the spheres in tempered melted chocolate (nuke chips 30 seconds, stir, 30 seconds, stir--until melted) before rolling them in cocoa. Helps it stick, and makes a nice shell.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season.

What happens at the Vegas library...

...stays, it would seem, at the Vegas library.

Never mind that it would appear to involve missiles and women from the 1950s. That's some reading room!

It was very warm in the Vegas airport, where this ad resides--but probably not warm enough for these outfits.

I had a two hour layover on my treacherous journey (I did not ford the river; my oxen did not die) west and I did, it would seem, survive. While transfering terminals, going through three times the security as is in the JFK airport ("I would like to request the alternate screening," I said, so surprised by the presence of a body scanning machine I couldn't seem to sound like a human--and so tired from the journey I was not about to play along), I noted several odd things about Vegas:

1) There are videos all over the terminal of middle-aged women--presumably mothers--exclaiming excitedly about how "the women here are just so glamorous!"

2) It's very nearly impossible to find a beverage both diet and caffeine free, but if you ask someone in the Hudson News for help, he will take the time to list every store in the airport that may have one. (We're certainly not in New York anymore!) I eventually found a peach Snapple. Yum.

3) For a city so obsessed with sin, it sure seems to have a strong 1950s theme. One can't help but picture an otherwise well-behaved housewife spending her days drinking and gambling--but still coming home in time to make a perfect pot roast for dinner.

4) Guns! This ad very nearly made me stop in my tracks and ask the nearest person if it was really legal:

In other, probably less violent news, the house smells like pine tree and cookies and, as always, this is the winning recipe. There's been a failed attempt at salted, chocolate caramels (the candy thermometer was, we later found, off by ten degrees--and it has, I noted with some satisfaction, met an untimely death by filling with water in the sink), and later, there will be espresso profiteroles. This is mostly because we found a small coffee shop in a historic windmill--and, on the tables, there were adorable cookbooks. After reading about choux pastry--I'm charmed by the word, and the way that it puffs--well, that seemed a necessary addition.


Mine will probably look nothing like this.
Hope this finds you well, warm, and far away from semi-automatic weaponry.

Happy holidays.

Ryan Gosling Works in Publishing

Just in case you haven't seen it...


Ryan Gosling Works in Publishing is very amusing.

Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses, macarons, flying, and barely passing AP Physics

This, for me, is always a high pressure shopping time of year--not just because of presents (though there's that, too--everyone, this year, is getting a book and a sweet treat, ranging from macarons to the best caramel popcorn on the planet) but also because I know I'll need a book that I am in love with.

Pretty and delicious. Flavors include wonders such as honey lavender, cassis, rose, caramel fleur de sel, creme brulée... 

Why's that? Well. For those of you who, like me, forced your AP Physics teacher to explain how planes work--and because it didn't sound believable, asked again and again--and still remained unconvinced--well. You'll know how I, preparing for a cross-country flight, feel.*

I need an excellent book to take my mind off the seeming impossibility of my safely being 36,000 feet in the air, where even natural creatures of the air (birds, paper airplanes) dare not travel. Strapped to a too-small (and I'm short, so I can only imagine how a normal-sized person feels) seat. Perhaps with small children screaming and kicking. For. Five. Hours.

And I believe I've found it. I'm 96 pages in, but I rather doubt it's going to suddenly drop off in quality.



Enter Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses It has all my guilty reading pleasures wrapped up in one delicious package--vivid food descriptions, lines that spotlight meaningful moments in everyday life, delightfully quirky characters, beautiful settings, snappy dialogue--and an incredibly justified, occasionally violent, and seriously pissed off narrator.

It's difficult to find a book that is at once pretty, furious, effective, and elegant--and, while tackling some very serious subjects, the sort of thing that makes one grin inappropriately on the subway. It's also difficult to make the reader have far more fun than the protagonist--but it seems Ms. Mileti has accomplished just that.

The work feels dishy--like A Reliable Wife (also recommended), it feels, at times, like reading a literary, much more believable episode of Jerry Springer.** In the best way possible. And without the referees, because the protagonist manages an impressive attack on her enemy, which lands her--hilariously, in that "I shouldn't be laughing about this, but I can't help it" way--in anger management classes.

The protagonist is a chef who runs a successful, innovative Italian restaurant in the Village. She's flawed, but in a way that is perfectly understandable--and there are not many furious (and eminently lovable) female protagonists out there, so this is new, impressive terrain. Her business partner and co-owner, her soon-to-be-ex husband, has taken up with the seductive (and infuriating) maître d' just months after the birth of her daughter, Chloe. From a beautiful Italian olive oil supplier with lessons on love and life, to a gay man from her past with a thing for butter rolls, to a very clever divorce lawyer, the cast of characters is varied, enjoyable, believable, and--overall--quite wonderful.

So far.

But I like the first 96 pages so much, I had to tell you.

Hope this finds you well and happy, that your holiday season is pleasant and relatively stress-free, and that all of your flights are smooth.
__________________________________
* Then again, I also managed only a C+. Eh. I still got into college.
** Is that show even still on?

Was Jane Austen murdered?

Goodness, I hope not.

See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/jane-austen-death-murder_n_1095160.html?ref=authors


But I'm certainly interested in the new novel on the subject: The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.

Should any of you feel like killing off famous historical figures in your novels, note that it wasn't until 1836 that human bodies could be tested to see whether they contained arsenic.

Lots of opportunity. Now you just need a motive.

___________________________________
Disclaimer: Just to be clear, GK does not approve of murder, unless it is fictional.

If you had my crazy slushpile, you'd use these disclaimers, too.

Yes, I am judging you on your "here's my manuscript" note.

And, in all fairness, you can totally judge me for not posting in forever. Bad GK.

So.

As a general rule, every line of communication between you and an agent can affect how that agent thinks of you. Last week, I was very much enjoying a manuscript--but then got a check-in with more than three excruciating abuses of the English language (the writer didn't even bother to capitalize his name). I haven't yet returned to that MS. I will--but not until the effects of that note wear off.

So if I get your manuscript with a grudging, feet-dragging, "I hate publishing but I guess I might as well send this" and/or "Here goes nothing" note, you're not going to get bumped to the head of the pile. In fact, your lack of enthusiasm usually translates to a lack of enthusiasm on my part, too.

Other possible outcomes from lackluster notes: I assume you have a huge group of agents clamoring for your work already, and they work in skyscrapers and have already promised you a column ad in the NY Times; you only submitted to me on a whim because my business card says "agent"; you don't actually know who I am.

It's like the pop psychologists say: smiles are contagious (except in New York at rush hour). Enthusiasm is, too.

That said, all of these are better than no note, and/or just putting all of the materials into an email and hitting Send.

So, here we go (and, as always, keep in mind that there are many kinds of agents out there, and some prefer a more stoic response--you'll probably be able to make an educated guess based on their interviews and online presence):

You say potato, I say meh: 
Dear GK,
Here is the manuscript you requested.
Signed,
[Author]


Better:
Dear GK,
Thank you for your interest. Here is the manuscript you requested.
Signed,
[Author]


Best:
Dear GK,
I'm so glad to get your request! Here's my manuscript, with synopsis attached.


I look forward to hearing from you!


All best,
[Author]


Bestest (not a word, but hey, I work in publishing; I'll stretch rules):
Dear GK,
So glad to hear from you. I [something personal that proves you know who I am here].


I look forward to hearing from you!
All best,
[Author]


Now, the six-figure question: where's the line between enthusiasm and sucking up?

I think that usually boils down to two factors: genuine feeling (it's always better to only say things that are unstretched truth, even if it puts you into "best" versus "bestest" territory) and quirkiness. I still remember one of my favorite responses, which involved a happy dance in a grocery store.

And I believe that was more than a year ago.

So, no. You do not have to drive yourself to the grocery store (or, since it's been taken already, the pet store, Chuck E. Cheese's, the movie theatre, or your local amusement park), embarrass yourself in front of strangers (or if, like me, you're from a small town--friends of friends and their mothers), and burn a few great story-earning calories, all in the interest of a really neat "here's my manuscript."

But if you did--and if you put it on YouTube--I'd bake you a gold star cake and send it to you.*

Cake stolen from myrecipes.com.
It looks a little like it's made of cheese, doesn't it? That could be delicious.

Hope this finds you well and enjoying your holiday season.

___________________________________
* First person to do this only. And if you live in the US, leave the video up on YouTube, and let me post it.
** As always, other agents may feel differently 
An agent's perspective on the NY Times Amazon article:

Really, New York Times??



Consider it recommended reading--pairs well with the (yes, rather one-dimensional, panic-inducing) piece we all read earlier this week.
A lot of people have been asking me about in-person pitches at conferences.

Here is, I think, my best answer: Author-agent speed dates, Diet Coke, Purell, and self-deprecation that doesn't work.

And yes, someone really did accuse me of sneaking wine into a pitch session, of requesting work (I can't make myself type that phrase again!) just to suck up, and yes, my hands really did get crunched.

Enjoy!


These are both effective and dangerous. They're the most portable, self-sufficient form of caffeine I've found--which is great for conferences that, for some reason, think caffeine is a sometimes drink*--and dangerous, because if you don't know (as I didn't) that Coke Zero is far from caffeine-free--and, for some reason, decide to drink two of them before bed before an important event like your cousin's wedding in which you are a responsibility-laden bridesmaid--you'll be in trouble. 

From "cookies are a sometimes food"--a sentiment I strongly disagree with.

Anna Dressed in Blood

In case any of you were on the fence about this book, do know that it's very likely to end up on GK's (eventual) future list of favorites.

I powered through 184 pages in a single sitting last night. And can't wait to read more.

Recipe Comix

I love this! Every recipe should have pictures.


http://www.saveur.com/article/Comix/laura-park-slap-it-in-a-pan

Survey Time!

Survey time! Do you think the piece on Amazon in the NYTimes today signals "the beginning of the end"? All opinions welcome. I promise.

See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/technology/amazon-rewrites-the-rules-of-book-publishing.html?scp=2&sq=amazon&st=cse
Someone asked an excellent question of Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Justine Larbalestier, Chris Moriarty, and Delia Sherman--all taking part in last night's Big Read: Before and After Harry Potter: YA and Fantasy talk: "What books do you recommend?"

I scribbled down their answers as quickly as I could. Here's the list of the panel's top choices:

Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor--described as a Nigerian Harry Potter with excellent world building

The Thief (The Queen's Thief series) by Megan Whalen Turner

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor--note that this was not only a YA Buzz Panel book, but also has 99 revies on Amazon and a 5-star rating

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake--on my TBR list too. Hurry up, NYPL!


The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking series: Book One by Patrick Ness

How to know if you will love The Night Circus

Working on world building? Do I have the book for you!

I don't believe it's just in NYC--it would seem everyone, everywhere, is talking about The Night Circus and how it is the best book that ever happened to them. Ever. Like, whoa. Accelerate the presses and pre-order the DVD of the movie adaptation that hasn't been made yet. OMG. Can't wait. Squee, squee, squee.

(Yes, I realize I sound like the circus Grinch. I actually also had my first incident of boot-on-subway-door violence today. Not a swift kick, but still. And not to worry, everything was fine. I was not charged with, say, defacement of public property. No doors were dented. And you would have been miffed, too, if the subway doors didn't open for thirty full seconds, thus preventing you from transferring to the express train across the platform.)

I first heard about the book at this year's BEA--and remembered it because it came with a free bag of (perfectly fine--I can hardly expect anyone to give out hundreds of bags of, say, the Jacques Torres caramel corn with dark chocolate) popcorn that sat in our office freezer for weeks. Edible advertising. Excellent.

And I finally sat down to read it last week.

The world Morgenstern has created is extraordinary. The book's design is, fittingly, gorgeous--even if the interior stripes can make one dizzy after too much staring. And this is the prettiest book world I've seen in a very long time. It's Victorians, travel, an enchanted night circus, and confections that the Food Network can only dream about. It's enjoyable. It's vivid. I won't soon forget it. I loved the twins, Bailey, the magic kittens, the imagery.

As an added bonus, it reminds you of words like "exsanguination" in a manner that prevents their future relegation to second-string vocabulary. Yes, you too can have conversations like this:

Me to a friend this weekend: I was dumb and put my red sneakers in the washer. Now they look exsanguinated.

My friend: ...

*

Why, then, did I nearly put the book down without finishing it?

I did finish--and I'm glad I did--but then I saw on GoodReads that there's a vocal minority that can't stand the work for the simple fact that it's approximately 80 percent description.

This stuff costs $8.50 a bag. And, even on my publishing budget, I think it's worth every artery-clogging penny. Yes. It's that good. 

So. How do you know if the work will annoy or enchant you?

Think of its emphasis as divided up like a circus candy apple:
  • Extraordinary world building/atmosphere/concept--the apple
  • Writing--still quite good, mind you--the caramel
  • Characters--the candies stuck into the caramel on the apple
  • Plot--the thin popsicle stick that will probably break before you finish said apple
Will that work for you? Maybe.

Or, if you liked The Science of Sleep--which is, like The Night Circus, pretty much (and I'm not giving away anything here that you can't assume from the book jacket) Boy meets Girl, Boy and Girl explore strange magical world, Boy loses Girl, Boy gets Girl back through magical means, The End (or, in TSoS's case, Fin). One contains Le Cirque des Rêves; the other, La Science des rêves.

I confess I prefer the latter to the former--even though I think most (if not all) things Victorian are very pretty.

If you're especially fond of magic, circuses, Victorian items, you'll probably like this.

If you require pat, perfectly pinned down resolutions, explanations, and plot points, you may not.

If you're a fan of impossible love stories in any form, put this on your TBR list.

If you're a linear thinker and need linear narrative, this is not good for you. I went back and forth about the book's ordering, and have since concluded that it's necessary, even if it requires some flipping back and forth to figure out what happened when.

Tell me what you think. I can honestly see both points of view.

Also, it's possible I'll wake up tomorrow on the other side of the bed, start clamoring for sooner movie release date, proclaim myself a rêveur, start selling scarlet scarves on Etsy, and whisper sweet nothings to subway doors. You never know.

You will enjoy this.

http://yaconfidential.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-to-write-like-man.html

I've just learned a new acronym: NSFW. So, this is Not Safe For Work if you work in a giggle-free office. (I am quite pleased that I do not.)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Random House joins It Gets Better Project



Further proof that people in publishing are awesome.

Vintage Typewriter Ads

Having just read this rather depressing piece on what may become the future of funding for writers--and having been firmly told, "There will be no books in six years! Just get over it!"--well, I thought I could use some cheering. 

So,  here you are: vintage ads for typewriters.

They will all enlarge when you click on them.

Enjoy!



Whoa there, Mad Men era. A typewriter designed to protect one's manicure.



"It's the in thing with teenagers who want to swing college!"



Clearly I did not compile these statistics. 

They "anticipate every demand of every user"? Really? I'd like a macchiato, please.
Apparently the typewriter is now mightier than the sword.
And here's my favorite: too hungover to type? Want to have a drinking problem and a job? Try this quiet typewriter!

I should give credit where credit is due. This all started with this image:


From this interview.

Carrie Nation, the Prohibition documentary, theme drinks, and Victorian ladies smashing things

May I highly recommend the Prohibition documentary?

Well. It's excellent. My favorite part, so far, has to do with Carrie Nation, an older woman (in Victorian garb, no less) who would go into bars and, well, smash them.

Can you imagine this woman smashing things? Neither can I.
It also does a fabulous job of making both side sympathetic--and of weaving in other historical occurrences.

Now, if someone on Etsy would just make tiny bathtubs for the serving of gin, would I have a theme viewing party for you!
Publishers Marketplace has a selection of excellent graphs today!

Hooray for quantitative data!

Here's my favorite:

Six-Figure US Deals in September: Children's


I must explain that I never liked cozy mysteries. I thought of them as easy presents for my grandmother--I imagined most had puffy lambs and pristine countrysides and murders committed with fluffy yarn nooses--but they struck me as such a strange combination of cutesy and faux-scary that I never bothered to read many.

And then this one cozy crossed my desk, which started the aforementioned Publishers Marketplace searches. It's terribly clever and wholly pleasing.

In any case, this is yet another example of how writing can matter a great deal more than genre.

Funny and punny cozy titles on PM

I spent the morning giggling at funny and punny cozy mystery titles on PM.

Here are my favorites:

ETERNALLY 21, the first of a new series featuring Mrs. Frugalicious, who trolls the malls for savings -- until she's framed for shoplifting and suspected of murder.

(Dun dun DUNNN!)

PROBABLE CLAWS, in which feline fancier Theda Krakow investigates a shelter poisoning and finds herself on trial for murder.

Hee hee hee...

And, yes...I want to read them. The beginning of fall seems perfect (purrrrfect?) for mysteries, cozy or not.

Unfortunately, most NYC landlords frown on indoor fires.

Michael Moore comes out in support of the St. Mark's Bookshop

Whether or not you agree with Mr. Moore, it's hard to argue with the fact that a celebrity coming out in support of an independent bookstore is pretty darn awesome.

That, and the older woman's exclamation at the beginning is hilarious.



This little bookstore (not so little--medium-sized, I suppose) has an excellent selection--with very smart staff, who make my favorite "staff picks" shelf in the city.

Their landlord, Cooper Union, has threatened to raise the rent far beyond this bookstore's capabilities--and, though they've laid off most of their staff to keep up, they're still in trouble.

You can sign a petition asking Cooper Union for fair, affordable rent--non-New Yorkers welcome!--and check out the Shelf Awareness piece the situation here.

"You'll have no choice but to tear through this book!"

The above blurb is from Jay Asher. If you haven't read his 13 Reasons Why, pick up a copy--and you'll see why I'd be willing to read just about anything he recommends.

I love to ask editors about their favorite books, and last week, not one, but two mentioned Before I Fall--a work I'd been avoiding because, frankly, I'm not a fan of Groundhog Day.

But I got a copy, and it's true--after I got past my skepticism (it seems impossible that a story with this premise could be as good as it is), I totally tore through it.

Lauren Oliver has set up quite a task for herself--the bulk of the story is the same day repeated seven times--and yet it's always new, interesting, and--yes--the sort of thing one must rush through. It feels like time has frozen, and the protagonist can walk around the people in her life, finally realizing everyone's motivations--all while knowing she can do anything, try anything, and none of it matters--because she'll just wake up with a clean slate the next day.

Oliver does a great job with showing the inner workings of life at the top--her protagonist is one of the most popular girls in her school--and we get to watch her become more empathetic, more likable, more multidimensional.

This is another example of how works in the real world (albeit with a time twist) can be incredibly interesting.

I'm terribly behind on my "GK Recommends" list, but this work is most certainly on it.

Editor Cat


Heh heh. 

The Manuscript Buffet

I found this very clever.

Would every agent find it clever? No. Some are all about the succinct emails. I, however, can't get over the all-you-can-eat manuscript buffet. I really like salad bar buffet restaurants--and, yes, the ones with the carb (pizza and pasta and macaroni and cheese and bread and...) stations, too.

Yes, that's right. Sometimes I get NYC fatigue and just want a nice suburban restaurant with fluorescent lighting, logo napkins, and scalloped, plastic bowls for pudding served with a ladle (which I will cover in soft serve and chocolate syrup).

Naturally, she's from a diet website. It suggests packing healthy snacks in one's suitcase. Ha! The best part of vacations is that calories don't count.

With the writer's permission, here's my favorite "You just rejected this one, but you said I could send you the next one, so--awesome, no hard feelings, hooray, will do" email:

Dear [GK]:
Thank you for taking the time to consider [title of manuscript]. As a blog follower, I understand the GK plate is submerged under the weight of an all-you-can-eat MS buffet, and truly value the individual consideration you allowed my work.

My first MS, [title of work] remains dear to my butter-clogged heart. Currently, I am plugging away at number two and hope you will consider giving it a read once the T’s are crossed, I’s dotted and vodka finished.

With Thanks,
[Writer]
Just in case you're wondering, sometimes we go through that, "Arrrgh! I can't think of anything!" period while writing our pitch letters, too.

Today's ritual involved lots of coffee, lots of tea, lots of mayo (unhealthy treats distract one from the pain of writer's block), lots of complaining to my intern.

Not to worry. She had very amusing works to keep her upbeat. (See below.)
Terribly important pots de creme update: they never got cold enough to hold together. Perhaps because I took them on the subway at rush hour.

So. If you were planning to invert your pots de creme--well, don't. You'll get a sticky mess.

However, I just went to Michael's (yes, it's only a matter of time before I grow into one of those women--I'll probably even scrapbook with those special scissors that make decorative edges--but I had a good excuse: I was looking for items for a themed gift for a friend's book party), and they have a huge selection of unique cupcake wrappers. Many would coordinate well with, say, dark chocolate.
I love it when my interns giggle while reading manuscripts.
Today's project: not eating the dark chocolate pots de creme I made for book group.

They're in the office fridge now, a mere thirty-five feet away.

I made them in muffin tins, with little bright papers--a pattern of pink and lime green fitting for, say, a Sophie Kinsella cover. I'm going to cut teeny strips of lime skins, knot them, and maybe (if I can) grate small amounts of lime zest over the top. (I'm always worried that I'll be getting mostly food grade wax, the stuff they put on grocery store limes to make them shiny. Well. Desserts should be shiny too, I guess.)

All of this after accomplishing what may be a ridiculous, miraculous feat--flipping each one over, removing the paper, and somehow getting it perfectly centered on a dessert plate.

Yes. We'll see how this goes.

But first--a day spent not eating them.

When it rains, it pours.

I can't speak for everyone, of course, but we're extra super crazy busy at the moment (with lots and lots of wonderful things). I think this happens to many New Yorkers in September--everyone tries to cram everything that didn't happen in August into an already-full month.

So I would assume it'd be normal to have longer response times, etc., this month. 

Sit tight. It's not you, it's September. 

Field Trip to Borders

So. I had to go see the carnage.

It's hard to believe that, a little more than a year ago, Suzanne Collins signed copies of Mockingjay in this very spot (well, against the now-red wall):

They repainted.
Note the "ALL SALES FINAL" sign. And the sales tags on all of the cases.

Those racks were filled with CDs, and yes, people were queued up around them. 

And yes, that's where I was told to put away my recording device. Ah, memories. 

Though the books were pretty picked-through--there were only a few left--I did walk away with one of these: 


I've always wanted one. 

With a bath and some new paint (I'm thinking a sassy, shiny red--just on the grey parts), it'll be good as new. 
If someone attached a heart rate monitor to me while reading queries--and it beeped above a certain number--I bet it would do a pretty good job of predicting when I was saying Yes to a work. (My heart was certainly pounding a moment ago. My. I do hope that manuscript comes in soon!)

Either that, or it would tell me to chill with the caffeine. I'm trying a new experiment: no Splenda (or sugar, or stevia, or sweet and/or low) allowed. I'm taking all beverages black. Perhaps it'll slow me down.

Haven't decided if lemon is allowed. Extra Vitamin C, right?
If you happen to hear about any stories of working in the industry in the fifties, sixties or seventies, please send them my way.

Thank you.

And no, this is not just because of Banana Republic's new Mad Men line.

The Last Days of Summer

When I was in summer camp as a child--one of those places where they force you to walk a good half mile to the mess hall, where watery soup and neon pink milk carton-ed juice await--a girl told me that her parents often allowed her to take extra sessions of camp, and miss the first two weeks of school.

This seemed fanciful, indulgent, ridiculous at the time--miss school? On purpose?

But then I started to wonder if her parents had wonderful stories about summers, and thus wanted to elongate them as much as possible for their child. For all I know, their memories were as warm as Country Time's commercials, and the rest of the year was mere waiting.

Well. This year, for the first time, it seems I've adopted this practice. It's well into September and I am still wearing flip flops. My toes are a scandalous reddish pink called "party in my cabana." I assure you there are neither cabanas nor parties in the office. Today. The latter would be more likely than the former.

And--perhaps most surprising of all--I have not purchased a single school supply (choosing notebooks, pens, and backpacks used to be one of my favorite activities) or a single new fall cardigan.



What, then, have I been doing in the past few weeks?

  • Encountering jellyfish. Apparently they frequent NYC beaches in August and September, but I'm not sure why. There were days when the waves were perfect--just enough that I could jump over most of them and only get knocked over a few times--and they were scarce. But, on calm-watered days, they hung out--usually in pairs. Supposedly these do not sting. I did not wish to find out. 
  • Surviving hurricanes. As I'm sure you heard, it was a non-event. However, out of duty (though I thought they--and the enormous line at TJ's for the bottled water--were overreacting), I got candles. Saw that someone was tweeting as the hurricane and giggling about how we'd all be fat and hungover the next day. Sounds about right.
  • Traveling. My cousin got married, and I was in the bridal party. She was kind--our dresses were deep purple, and only somewhat spherical. The groomsmen walked down the aisle to the U of Michigan football fight song. 
  • Making scones. It's hard to get them to be the right amount of crumbly without being too dry. When I figure this out, I'll let you know. 
  • Hiring interns. We have a new army, this time of seven. Very sadly, IFI is on to bigger and better things, but you can still check out her blog (see the post below for link). 
  • Meeting writers. So many have come through the city, and as someone who's bossy ("Go here! Take this train!") it's hard to resist the opportunity.
  • Trying to get ahead on reading. We always get a huge number of wonderful works in September, so I'm trying to clear the inbox. We're at about 50 fewer than the number before, all while requesting at the same rate. This is significant progress. 
  • Reading so many excellent book-books and getting to the point where I may just splurge on reading chair + ottoman + lamp + delivery. (I tried to take a huge ottoman on the subway once. That did not go well.) My current set-up is only comfortable for a little more than an hour, which is not ideal for days that could be better spent reading. 
  • Attending various vaguely publishing-related events--garden parties, museum parties, agent get-togethers. Other activities with cheese plates.
  • Stalking Dîner en Blanc and then realizing I was busy during registration and could not escape to a computer.
  • Picnics in the park.
  • Book club. Writing group. Book club...
  • Watching Daria online. If you have Hulu Plus, you can too. Highly recommended.
  • Making awkward thank-yous to firemen and their wives in the city this weekend.
  • Trying to start up a "Save the post office and make the world better by sending real mail!" campaign. Really. The world would be better.
  • Readings--so, so many readings. It's like they were all waiting for August to be over. It seems I could attend three every day if I just had the time and energy.
Pretty as they are, I don't think we'd get along. 

So, yes. Lots happening over here at GK Industries.

What have you been up to?

_____________________________
* Sure, I faked sick--but only for the duration of P.E.

A little hope for your Tuesday.

Survey Shows Publishing Expanded Since 2008:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/books/survey-shows-publishing-expanded-since-2008.html?_r=3

And I can tell you firsthand that I've seen shrimp and (even better) soft cheeses at publishing parties--which is a most delicious economic indicator.

Am I worried? Er, yes. A little. But there are reasons to be very hopeful, too.

And the winners are...!

Through the totally subjective process (defined loosely as "What made GK giggle-choke on her breakfast?"), the winners are:

1. For pure cringeworthiness and irony: Elizabeth Reinhardt!

2. Because I can totally picture this invite changing the full nature of the party (and, also, because the things that stay with us for years often do so for a reason), Jayneorama!

3. And simply because I made a similar gaffe in high school, Diana, with her fortifying chips!

Ladies, please email me at AgencyGatekeeper (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing addresses. I'll reply with a questionnaire to help determine the best treats to send your way.

Thank you, everyone, for playing!


The winners of the Grammar Girl Giveaway will be announced Monday afternoon.
I rather enjoyed this article on the making of The Help, the movie.

Due to popular demand...

...the Grammar Girl giveaway deadline has been extended to Friday, August 5.