Chocolate, Revisited

I haven’t posted in a while–I’ve been in writing-hermit mode, working on lots of projects: a new YA novel; finishing a short story collection (3/4 done); and several essays due shortly. And of course motherhood and various sundry stuff and things. But I’m poking my head out of hiding because yesterday I had the BEST CHOCOLATE ICE OF MY ENTIRE LIFE.

Looking back on my life history via the ices I’ve eaten, there have been good ones: Italian ices from Rosario’s, our local pizzeria in Queens; water ices in Philly; Sno Cones from street trucks in Manhattan. Before yesterday, the best ice I ever ate would have to go to Eton on my old block in Brooklyn. I love Eton because they only serve Hawaiian ices and dumplings. (Only in NYC can you have a shop that serves just ices and dumplings, and this, more than anything, is why I love NYC.) When I went there I got a watermelon ice with mochi and sweet adzuki beans (yum) and of course, two orders of their huge, irresistible dumplings, which I ate on the way home. (Their dumplings were recently voted the best dumplings in NYC by Time Out, beating out all of NYC’s 3 Chinatowns….but I digress.)

Then came yesterday, and my first visit to Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs, a little shack we randomly drove by while running errands. I had the Casey’s Famous Chocolate and it has changed my life forever. It’s their own recipe made with sweetened condensed milk and OH MY GOD it was so good. (They also have flavors like Wedding Cake and Boston Cream Pie, which I’m going to try next.) Considering it’s 104 degrees out, I would like to crawl inside that chocolate snowball and live there for eternity. Or at least through August.

In non-chocolate happenings, there’s a great interview in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine with Ruth Bader Ginsburg which should not be missed. I adore her. My favorite parts:

Q: If you were a lawyer again, what would you want to accomplish as a future feminist legal agenda?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Reproductive choice has to be straightened out. There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often.

Q: In the 1980s, you wrote about how while the sphere for women has widened to include more work, men haven’t taken on as much domestic responsibility. Do you think that things are beginning to change?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: That’s going to take time, changing that kind of culture. But looking at my own family, my daughter Jane teaches at Columbia, she travels all over the world, and she has the most outstanding supportive husband who certainly carries his fair share of the load. Although their division of labor is different than mine and my husband’s, because my daughter is a super cook.

Q: Can courts play a role in changing that culture?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: The Legislature can make the change, can facilitate the change, as laws like the Family Medical Leave Act do. But it’s not something a court can decree. A court can’t tell the man, You’ve got to do more than carry out the garbage.

[Hmmm….now there’s an idea. I wish courts could tell a man to take out the garbage, and sweep and do laundry and clean the bathroom and change diapers and do night feedings….maybe Sotomayor can work on that. Here’s hoping.]

Michael Cart on libraries, and “What is YA?”

I first spoke to Michael Cart, former president of YALSA and a columnist for Booklist, when I interviewed him for my New York Times essay a year ago, and I was instantly enamoured by his knowledge of and passion for YA literature. Recently he interviewed me for a podcast that’s up now on the YALSA blog, and it was wonderful to talk to him again.

Michael is a beautiful writer—here is a quote from his book Passions and Pleasures: Essays and Speeches About Literature and Libraries. It’s the best quote I’ve ever read about the beauty and power of libraries:

“I’ve loved libraries ever since I was a kid who felt he was the only one of his kind in the world. Because the library provided the only place where I felt I belonged. It provided my own personal community. It was then, as now, a place of light—and enlightenment—in the darkness. A place of warmth in the cold, of shelter in the storm; a place of sometimes necessary refuge and sanctuary; a place of civilization, of a center that can hold when elsewhere things are falling apart; a place of unfettered, uncensored access to information and ideas in all their myriad varieties of form and format; a place of equalizing opportunity; a place of commonality and community where we can all congregate, commune, discover, and celebrate our common humanity. Thank God for it.”

One of my favorite parts of this podcast is when Michael starts talking about how we define YA literature. He says: “It’s a fascinating time in the evolution of young adult literature, and frankly, I’m supposed to be an expert in YA, and I’m not so sure anymore that I even know what that term ‘young adult literature’ or ‘young adult novel’ means. It’s a question that one is asked all the time by people who are interested in YA, by writers and librarians and educators and teens themselves…and I’m struggling with my own re-definition of YA. But it’s wonderful. I think it’s glorious. It’s opened up the field dramatically. And I think it has really been the making of young adult literature. And it has also made possible the advent of the literary novel for young adults. In the past that would’ve been a sticking point, because your book for example is very reflective…it’s told in the first-person voice of your protagonist Mia, but it’s all about how she deals with the various stages of grief, and in that sense it’s a very interior novel which would not have been terribly welcome in young adult literature less than ten years ago.”

“I’m not even sure how welcome it is now,” I said, “since I’ve had three different YA authors tell me they thought my book wasn’t YA. Because of the short story structure or because it’s such an interior novel.”

Michael said, “Tell them Uncle Michael says that’s hogwash! It is a YA novel, but it’s a new kind of YA novel. It’s in the vanguard of the new YA novel. For years and years people regarded that term ‘young adult literature’ as an oxymoron—but not anymore. It does seem to me—as I have said to you several times—YA is presently one of the most dynamic areas of publishing. It’s not the easiest field to work in however, because it is changing dramatically, and nobody is quite sure what it is, nor are they quite sure how to market it or how to sell it.”

Seriously—he is wonderful.

Get with the ladies

A friend sent me the link to this LA Times blog piece about another 100 Best Books list, this time on NPR, that has 93 books by men and 7 by women on it. (And I like how Nicole Krauss is tacked on as the last one, as if the writer was thinking…”Oh yeah, who’s that chick who’s Jonathan Safran Foer’s wife?”)

What’s depressing is how reflective it is of other lists, especially the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels, which included 92 books by men and 8 by women. And almost all of those by white people.

It’s reflective of the history of major literary awards in adult fiction:

Nobel: 94 men, 11 women
Pulitzer: 64 men, 28 women
National Book Awards: 43 men, 15 women
National Book Critics Circle Awards: 26 men, 12 women
PEN Faulkner: 23 men, 5 women

Statistics like these make me want to crawl under the covers. At least in YA fiction, more recently-founded awards, such as the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (started in 1996) and the Printz (started in 2000) have been more egalitarian:

Printz: 5 women, 5 men (hurrah!)
National Book Awards: 8 women, 5 men (hurrah! hurrah!)

Let’s hope that keeps up—it’s yet another reason to celebrate the YA world.

My First Rodeo

My friend Bonnie (who’s also from NYC) and I went to our first rodeo recently, and we had the time of our lives. All my cowboy experience heretofore has come solely from multiple readings and weepy viewings of Brokeback Mountain. And from seeing guys dressed as cowboys in gay bars in the West Village, which is just not the same as real live serious wearing-cowboy-hats-not-only-for-Halloween cowboys.

Bonnie and I were agog. Agog and smitten. I’m from Queens! We don’t have people there who can rope a calf in 8 seconds! And ride a bronco! I didn’t even know broncos were real. I thought they were just in movies.

The whole place smelled like cow. In a good way. And I ate my first corn dog–not a lot of corn dogs in Queens either–and it was sweet and salty and delicious.

We also got to meet Miss Rodeo Austin and Miss Rodeo Austin Princess in their sparkly outfits. They were signing photos and Bonnie and I got signed photos of them as gifts for our husbands.

They signed them: “Cowboy up!” And “Rope your dreams!”

I’m going to frame their signed photos. I mean, if you’re having a crappy day and then you look up and see Miss Rodeo Austin telling you to Cowboy Up! And Rope Your Dreams! It has GOT to make you feel better.

My fave cowboy of the night was a 19-year-old named Tuf Cooper. So, yes, I am officially changing my Secret Fantasy Boyfriend to Tuf Cooper. How can you not fall in love with someone named Tuf Cooper? Even if he is a tad young for me. Who cares! He can rope a calf in 8 seconds! Can Nate Silver rope a calf in 8 seconds? No f-ing way. Sorry, Nate.

Tuf, I wish I knew how to quit you.

TLA top 10

1. I met so many amazing women…I laughed so much at our table at the Random House dinner that my face hurt. Librarians are incredible. And sexy. Single men, get thee to a library conference.

With the lovely Kelly, Random House publicist extraordinaire

2. Dinner with Nancy Werlin the first night. We talked about books and writing and love…she’s an incredible person. It was one of those dinners where time seems to stop, and afterward you feel renewed and happy.

3. Wings & Waffles at the Breakfast Klub. Yes, I ate fried chicken for breakfast, and it was FANTASTIC.

4. Meeting the fabulous Readergirlz— Dia Calhoun, Lorie Ann Grover, and Justina Chen Headley—the same day they recommended my book. I’ve always loved their site and it was a pleasure to meet them in person.

5. Our panel about women in YA was so much fun. We spoke about (among other subjects): the unique nature of the YA genre, the differences between YA and adult lit, and the importance of writing about the inner lives of girls and women.

Cool signing poster

Cool signing poster

6. Drinking champagne and toasting Cassandra Clare’s debut on the NYT bestseller list!

7. Crazily fun late night talks in the hotel bar about very non-PG-rated subjects with Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld, John Green, Cassie Clare, Varian Johnson, Jenny Ziegler, Chris Barton, and Margaret Miller. (Non-PG-rated talk may have been enhanced by champagne.)

8. After watching me ogle the fashion book Born-Again Vintage, the very sweet Dave on the Random House adult side gave me a copy the last day. Thank you, Dave! I’m kind of obsessed with the re-created vintage clothes in this book. I just need to learn how to sew now…

9. I MET MEG CABOT. And she was incredibly nice and wore a gorgeous green dress and shoes. I kept thinking: I am talking to Meg Cabot about zappos and net-a-porter and I think I love her.

10. Room service breakfast! Two cups of coffee…one for me and one for John Green. Just kidding. The second cup belonged to Jenny Ziegler, who was lots of fun to room with. Jenny and I stayed up till all hours talking about books, love, books, boys, books, motherhood, and more books… (John Green was such a lazybones, he didn’t even wake up for the room service breakfast. I guess the night with me and Jenny knocked him out. Understandably…)


I’m leaving tomorrow for the Texas Library Association conference in Houston, and I’m really looking forward to it. This is my first conference since I went to NCTE/ALAN in November. One of the best parts of that conference was a dinner out one night with four fabulous women: Linda Sue Park, Nancy Werlin, Elizabeth Partridge, and Tanya Lee Stone. Here’s a photo of us afterward, looking full and happy (sadly I forgot to take it until after Elizabeth left):

I think we look like the Children’s Literature version of Sex and the City.

Here’s my schedule at TLA:
Tuesday, March 31
2-3:50pm: Women of YA Lit +1 with Nancy Werlin, Cassandra Clare, Justine Larbalestier, and Patrick Jones
Convention Center, Room 370

Wednesday, April 1
11am-12pm: I’ll be signing books at the Convention Center Autographing Area

Thursday, April 2:
1-1:30pm: Texas Teens For Libraries (TT4L) Author Chat with Scott Westerfeld
Hilton Americas, Grand Ballroom D&E

I have an interview on the Young Adult Round Table blog here. My favorite question was “BBQ or Tex Mex?” though, upon reflection, I’m sorry I didn’t mention the amazingness of Taco Deli chocolate mole tacos. And their breakfast tacos (especially the spinach ones with chorizo…) In fact I just had one this morning and it was SO GOOD. What else can you get that is so incredibly delicious and only $2?

If you can’t make it home to Brooklyn…

…it’s nice when Brooklyn comes to you. I was in the airport last Sunday wondering: What is all of Williamsburg doing in the Austin airport? There were more hipsters than I’d seen in ages—tons of guys with shaggy hair, crayola-colored sweaters and matching crayola-colored sneakers, cigarettes dangling from their mouths as they waited for their instruments to come off the baggage carousel. I’d forgotten it was SXSW.

The festival was lots of fun, as much for the people-watching as for the music. Some new music discoveries:

Local Austinite Amy Cook, especially the song “Hotel Lights”

Vetiver’s “Everyday”

Last, but definitely not least, Japanese hair metal band Quaff.

If I Live to Be 100

While staying in a hotel last night, I came across a massive shelf of books that guests had left behind. I love seeing what books people read while traveling—there were a lot of mysteries and thrillers (but also, strangely, a copy of the reference book The Best in Children’s Books, 1985-1990 –left behind by a librarian?) I took it back to my room with about ten other books, trying to decide which one to read. I read parts of all of them until I settled on If I Live to Be 100, a collection of centenarians’ stories that was originally an NPR series. I’d never heard of this book before, and I’m so glad I found it. One of my favorite stories in it is by Anna Wilmot, who at 103 lives alone, happily, by a lake. Every day she reads romance novels and mysteries, and she has such joy in daily life. She loves to skinny-dip—“But only if it’s foggy and there’s no fishermen around!”

You can listen to Anna’s story, and others from the series, here.

I love this book also because Neenah Ellis talks about what it’s like to be an interviewer, that strange and mysterious interaction between interviewer and subject, and the intense connection that’s sometimes made when you look into someone’s eyes and hear their stories. . .
A few links:

Laurel Snyder has an essay on Jewish children’s literature in Nextbook. It’s a great essay! Don’t miss it.

Two beautiful poems by Major Jackson in failbetter: “Leave It All Up to Me” and “Lorca in Eden.”

My friend sent me the link to this blog that posts writers’ daily routines. I forget who said it, but I once read a quote that said when writers ask each other what their writing routines are like, what we’re really asking is, “Are you as crazy as I am?”

Hot Vampire Cowboy Love

Our Delacorte Dames and Dude Society is profiled in the Austin Statesman today!

(My husband said, “Why are you holding an umbrella when it’s not raining?” Well, it was raining when we got there…and the photographer told me to. He also said I should hold my red handbag, but I nixed that idea.)

Vampire Cowboy Love will, charming as it sounds, probably *not* be the title of my new YA novel. I have about 200 pages of a rough draft finished, and there are no vampires in it yet (but who knows, maybe they’ll pop in during a scene or two.)

11 AWP highlights and lowlights

1. Favorite overheard quote: “AWP is like speed dating 7,000 writers.”

2. Biggest mistake I made: Forgot to warn my friend Jim, who was embarking on his first AWP, about FADS (First AWP Despair Syndrome, in which the sufferer is unprepared for the experience of being surrounded by thousands of writers and the resulting angst it produces.) Sorry Jim!

3. Most inscrutable 30 seconds: Catching random parts of poetry videos on the elevator TVs. Who at the Poetry Foundation thought poetry + elevator = good idea?

4. Favorite beverage: Mexican hot chocolate at Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge. I want to marry that hot chocolate and have its chocolate babies

5. Favorite non-conference moment: checking out the snow sculptures across the street

6. Best lunch companion: Justin St. Germain—read new pages of his book, which is going to be a modern classic. It’s the best. I love him.

7. Second favorite overheard quote: “Snuck into the VIP party and it was a geriatric cocktail hour. What are we supposed to aspire to now?”

8. Ickiest moment: Drunk poet at the bar stroking my arm and saying, “Tell me moooore about youuur poetry”

9. Third favorite overheard quote (after seeing Air Force One out the window as our plane was leaving the gate): “There’s Obama! He couldn’t get into the VIP party either.”

10. Proudest moment: Alex Chee gave me the Best Shoes of the conference award!

11. Favorite quote from Pinckney Benedict during our panel: “Abandon those dreams of audience, prizes, and fame because when you achieve them, they’re ashes in the mouth compared to the beauty of making the words on the page. As much as you can, abandon any ambition for the novel except the page you’re working on that day. Make that page ecstatic and beautiful.”