I love M.I.A.

She didn’t win a Grammy last night for Paper Planes (She should’ve won! They robbed her!) but she is seriously my idol now, after performing on stage in a sheer dress, 9 months pregnant, on her DUE DATE.

On my due date, hours before I went into labor, I went to a party for the literary magazine One Story. The party was only three blocks from my apartment in Brooklyn, but it took me forty minutes to walk there. I hobbled like a 107-year-old man, pausing on various stoops to sit, trying to muster the energy to stand up again. I wasn’t wearing a sheer dress. (Although when I did go into labor, my doctor said, “Do something relaxing” until the labor advanced, so between contractions I spent hours doing my hair, makeup, and nails, in between bouts of kneeling on the floor—back labor! good times!—and trying not to faint or die. I painted flowers on my toenails and they were quite nice to look at during the days I was laid up in bed after the C-section, staring at the weird life-preserver-things they put on your legs to prevent your blood from clotting.)

When I finally held my daughter in my arms, I cried for a long time…I’d dreamed of holding her for so long, and kissing her, and finally to be able to was the most amazing feeling in the world.

I hope M.I.A. has a nice, quick birth…and if she does have a C-section, then I hope she enjoys all that morphine! It’s good stuff.


I’m off to the AWP conference in Chicago on Wednesday—if you’ve never been to AWP, imagine thousands of writers converging on a hotel to discuss various publishing traumas/literary theories/writer gossip. It’s partly horrifying, partly fun. The best part of all is seeing friends, both old and new–lots of people from both Bread Loaf and Sewanee will be there, and I can’t wait to see them again.

I’m on a panel called “Keeping the Faith,” with Allison Amend, Dika Lam, Lara JK Wilson, Sheri Joseph, and Pinckney Benedict, at 3pm on Saturday, February 14th (Valentine’s Day!) at the Hilton. Here’s the description:

Novels and short story collections take a while—or even longer. If you’re not Jack Kerouac or independently wealthy, how do you sustain the momentum of a project when life, financial pressures, and family get in the way? What can you do with an aging novel that needs a good home? At what point does your present-day narrative become historical fiction? This panel explores specific strategies we’ve used to stay excited about projects a decade or more in the making.

Special Guest Post: Pagan Harleman’s Inauguration Tale

I met the documentary producer Pagan Harleman at the MacDowell Colony in 2002; this fall, she took a leave from her job to volunteer on the Obama campaign, telling them, “Give me the hardest job you have.” They sent her to one of the most Republican counties in Colorado…and the rest, as they say, is history. She sent this great recap of the inauguration to friends, and has kindly let me post it here.

One Campaign Worker’s Abbreviated Tale of the Inauguration including the Purple Tunnel of Doom, the 21 gun scare, and Obama’s thank you to the staff with Jay Z.
by Pagan Harleman

1) Woke up at five thirty am.
2) Put on long underwear and four layers of clothing and then walked to the capitol accompanied by about a million other people.
3) Felt like I was staring in a music video as all around me people walked out their front doors, down their front path and fell in behind us.
4) Got to the purple gate — I and my three friends plus 60,000 people had tickets for the standing purple section — and then proceeded to walk to the back of the line only to discover that the line snaked around three blocks and ended in a tunnel underneath the capitol which was later nicknamed the “purple tunnel of doom.”
5) Had visions of being stuck in this purple tunnel of doom during a nuclear attack.
6) Decided that waiting at the end of 30,000 people in an underground tunnel for several hours was not a wise choice so went back to the front of the line and — along with 10,000 other people — tried to wedge our way in.
7) For one hour pushed and shoved and hoped that the 40,000 people behind us did not get too excited and start a stampede.
(8) Watched as the DC police rode up to try to control the situation, made an announcement, and then gave up.
9) Realized that we were packed in so tight we could not raise our arms above our heads and wondered if this is what it was like at Altamont.
10) After another hour of shoving and pushing with panic attacks erupting around us decided that we would rather watch from a bar so gave up.
11) Walked back down to the purple gate just out of curiosity.
12) Just happened to reach the gate as they finally opened it an hour late.
13) Walked in to the capitol lawn to witness history (while inadvertently cutting in line in front of 60,000 people).
14) Felt really bad for the thousands of people still stuck in the purple tunnel of doom.
15) Struggled to watch Barack take the oath on the jumbotron which was blocked by a tree.
16) Was totally startled when the 21 gun salute started because the cannons were about 20 feet from us and sounded like a gunshot.
17) Cheered.
18) Cried.
19) Waved goodbye to Bush’s helicopter as it pulled away from the capitol above our head.
20) Walked out and had a fabulous lunch.
21) Took a nap.
22) Went to the western inaugural ball, one of the ten official balls, which feels like a cross between a prom and a trade show.
23) Watched as Mark Anthony rocked the house (turns out he can slam down on the salsa).
24) Lamented that there weren’t more Latino people at the ball because all the white people were just standing around watching Mark Anthony sing. Actually half the people were sitting on the floor in their gowns and tuxes watching him sing.
25) Formed our own impromptu dance floor where we did partner salsa which would normally look pathetic but since we were surrounded by gringos looked pretty good.
26) Clapped wildly when they announced “President of the United States Barack Obama.”
27) Watched Barack and Michele do a lovely dance and thought once more, wow, they are really in love.
28) Met a congressperson from Oregon who complained that normally the balls don’t make you buy drink tickets but this year they were cheap. He also said that at the Clinton balls it was so crowded that the sequins on women’s dresses stuck together.
29) Met a bank president who admitted that he was using his bailout money to make acquisitions not lend and who said that the government was just “giving money away without restrictions”.
30) Met about 30 people who told of their horror stories waiting in the purple tunnel of doom and never making it to the inauguration.
31) Waited for an hour in the coat check crush that is apparently a ritual after inaugural balls.
32) Met several congressional staffers who said everything they knew about government they learned from the TV show “The West Wing.”
33) Waited in line on the metro.
34) Arrived home very happy that finally I would hear the words President of the United States and not cringe.
35) Woke up really late.
36) Logged onto google earth and found the tree we had been standing near at the inauguration and calculated that we had been 572 feet from the historic spot where Barack took the oath.
37) Attended the staff ball which since it was organized by Obama’s people, not the inaugural committee, rocked out with FREE BOOZE, awesome food, tables, and great entertainment.
38) Had my heart swell when Obama came onstage to thank us. I was even more emotional then when he took the oath because I thought, wow, I was really a part of this. He made a half hour speech which went something like this (I’m paraphrasing.) There are three reasons why I won this race. The first is Michele. If she weren’t such a force of nature, so steady and so strong and capable in her own right, I could have never done this. The second is David Plouffe. Not many people choke me up but David always does, because he never lost focus. He never did a press interview, never wanted to meet with famous people, never goofed off, he always stayed focused on his job. The third reason I won is you. (BIG ROAR FROM THE ROOM.) Look at you all, you are so young. (They were, out of a staff of 4,000 maybe 85% are under 25). You are so idealistic and naive even that when the pundits said that I couldn’t win this campaign you didn’t know better so you said yes he can. And when they said he can’t raise money on the internet you said yes he can, and when they said he can’t run a different kind of campaign, one of inclusion, you said yes he can. You all helped me win because you were courageous enough to believe. And now I want you to listen to me. I want you to take that same conviction and creativity and resolve that you all applied so masterfully to the campaign and use it for things besides campaigning. Use it in your life. Bring creativity and courage to everything you do in your life. Don’t let somebody tell you what you can’t do. Go out and meet with your neighbor, form a group, and make change happen. You know how. You helped elect the president of the United States. So don’t let anyone ever tell you what you can’t do. (BIG CHEER AROUND THE ROOM). Now Michelle is looking at me because I promised to keep it brief and I have been going on for awhile so I have to go, but I just want to truly thank you all for all that you have done. Good night.
39) Watched Jay z come on and do a slamming show to thank us for working for Obama.
40) Found myself surrounded by a bunch of kids in their twenties jumping up and down chanting, “I have 99 problems and the bitch ain’t one” (I think that is what we were saying).
41) Took photos with my awesome Colorado staff.
42) Went home very happy and ready to change the world.

Pagan and friends at the Capitol:

Pagan Harleman is a documentary producer and writer whose most recent credits include Hopkins, a verite documentary series about Johns Hopkins Hospital by ABC News, State of the Union, an ABC special on America’s political divisions hosted by George Stephonopolous, and Crazy Sexy Cancer, a personal story of one woman’s survival with cancer which debuted at South by Southwest Film Festival. This fall she worked for Obama’s campaign as a GOTV (Get-Out-The-Vote) Coordinator in Colorado.

The Jewish Zodiac

A friend told me about this site, Jewzo, and I was thrilled to find out that I was born in the Year of the Bagel. Here’s the description of the Year of the Bagel types:

You’re pliable and always bounce back, although you feel something’s missing in your center. If this persists, get some therapy. Compatible with Schmear and Lox. Latke and Knish, not so much.

My husband is the Year of the Latke! Uh oh. I told him we were incompatible, but he was unconcerned.

My daughter is the Year of the Blintz. Hers is accurate, too:

Creamy and dreamy, you’re rightfully cautious to travel in pairs. You play it coy but word is with the right topping you turnover morning, noon and night. Compatible with Schmear.

Speaking of blintzes, I’ve had not one, but TWO amazing meals of blueberry blintzes here in humble Austin, at East Side Cafe and Blue Dahlia. Now if only I can find a place that makes good bagels…

Witnessing History

I heard this story told by Sam Harmon on NPR three years ago, and I never forgot it; it made me cry when I first heard it, and when I’ve listened to it every time since. It’s such a sad, honest, and eloquently-told story of our country’s painful past, and it resonates even more profoundly after the inauguration. Definitely listen to it if you can.

Yay Obama! On a lighter, fashion-related note: How much did I love Michelle’s inauguration dress and green gloves? And Malia and Sasha’s coats? (Although I hope Rick Warren’s very weird “Ma-leee-a! And Sashaaa!” intonations leave my head soon. Did he intend to sound like he was introducing them at a Vegas child beauty pageant?) I’m also coveting Jill Biden’s stiletto boots. I’m planning on wearing stiletto boots when I’m 57 also. Here she is with Lynne Cheney, in a One of These Things Is Not Like the Other moment:

If you happen to live in Austin, I’m performing a five-minute monologue Friday night at Five Things:

The subject is women talking about men and their various grooming/icky habits. I’ll be talking about one of the worst jobs I ever had, cleaning men’s bathrooms.

The Garbage Plate and Other Eating Adventures

Our holiday travels to Rochester, NY brought a culinary discovery: the Garbage Plate.

My husband grew up in Rochester, but he somehow never before mentioned that this is the signature dish of his native city. What, might you ask, is a garbage plate? It’s hash browns, macaroni salad, two hamburger patties or “two hots” (aka hot dogs), smothered in mustard and onions and meat sauce. I consider myself to be a willing eater of all things disgusting (cheeseballs; cow intestine sandwich; I even liked haggis, for god’s sake) but I have to draw the line at a garbage plate. Seriously. Yuck!

Thankfully, after a few days we left Rochester for Toronto, where we ate the antidote to the garbage plate:

Soup dumplings! Soup dumplings are one of my favorite foods on earth. We ate them at Asian Legend, and they were delicious. (One day soon I’ll write up an entire post about soup dumplings in NYC…my sister and I once did a soup dumpling pub crawl, eating at about 8 places till we found the best ones. We ate so many that night that we couldn’t even look at a soup dumpling for a long time afterward. Thankfully, we’ve since recovered.)

We also had a fantastic meal of dim sum at Lai Wah Heen. Oh. My. God. I’m going to dream about this place for a long time. This is not your ordinary dim sum place—it’s very high end, and I have to say I was a little suspicious at first, since I’m partial to the greasy order-from-the-cart kind. But I love this place and would go there again in an instant. We had the dim sum tasting menu, and one of my favorite things was cured pork and shrimp in puff pastry, with sweet red bean on top—it was kind of like a cured-meat-filled cupcake. It was SO GOOD.

In Toronto, we also went to St. Lawrence Market, which was heavenly too. If you ever venture to Toronto, you must go there! I would like to live inside St. Lawrence Market. The Olympic Cheese Mart stall has an amazing selection. (And some very cute cheesemongers too…not Lucali’s-level cute of course, but quite nice. And they know their cheese…what more could you want in a man?)

Happy New Year!

Hanukkah in Texas, Christmas in Connecticut

I’m not spending Christmas in Connecticut, but I kind of wish I was, since I love this 1945 movie starring Barbara Stanwyck.

I first saw it on television randomly a few years ago, and have watched it every year since. I’m not exactly sure why this movie would appeal so much to a contemporary New York Jewish girl…but I think it’s partly because I love, love, love Barbara Stanwyck.

She’s in her late thirties when she appears in this movie, but she looks twenty. She plays a young writer for a women’s magazine who writes a column about cooking, cleaning, mothering, and housekeeping, even though (unbeknownst to everybody) she has no husband or child and can’t flip a pancake.

Dennis Morgan plays a soldier home from the war who she’s supposed to entertain for Christmas. It’s impossible not to fall in love with him. There’s a hysterical scene when he shows her how to bathe a baby…and in his uniform…let’s just say I would not be displeased if I had to entertain Dennis Morgan for Hanukkah, Christmas, or even Secretaries Day.

Or maybe I love this movie because there’s something incredibly romantic about falling in love in the winter. What could be happier than romance in the snow?

Happy holidays, everyone! Hope yours brings you some good chocolate, lots of great books, and some snow and romance (of the film variety…or any variety at all.)

“I Hate YA Novels”

“I hate YA novels; they bore me,” says Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic.*

Flanagan loves her Bill O’Reillyesque hyperbole, whether she’s writing about teens doling out blow jobs like factory girls, irritating women angsting over how to treat “the help”, or hating Hillary. When I read Flanagan’s work I always get the sense that she’s perfectly tickled with herself as she pecks at her keyboard, thinking she’s lighting a match under the ass of contemporary culture. Occasionally, at her best, she’s contemplative and insightful; often, however, she’s just annoying.

At least people who actually know something about YA literature will now be foisting upon her the works of Robert Cormier, Peter Cameron, Laurie Halse Anderson, Meg Rosoff, Markus Zusak, and Sherman Alexie, novels so beautiful and rare that it isn’t possible to lump them into the same category as Gossip Girl and Twilight. I mean, really. So can we please stop making reductive dismissive statements about entire genres already? Can we just get back to important things, like blow jobs?

*Ironically, a magazine that published a chapter of my YA novel.

Loving Laurie Colwin

During this season of gleeful wanton gluttony, in between gorging on deep-fried turkey and deep-fried Milky Ways (Is there anything deep-fried that doesn’t taste good? Hmmm…no) I’ll be re-reading one of my favorite, favorite, favorite writers: Laurie Colwin.

Laurie Colwin wrote about food and love and domesticity, about joyful misanthropes, levelheaded adulterers, and happy depressives—all in a way that’s both hysterically funny and deeply true. To sit alone at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, reading her books, is my idea of perfect contentment.

I recently published a piece in the “Recommendations” column of Post Road about her. She died in 1992 at the age of 48…. it makes me unspeakably sad to think that there will be no more books by her. If you’ve never read Laurie Colwin, here are a few titles to start with:

Happy All the Time (a novel)
Another Marvelous Thing (a novel in stories)
Passion and Affect (short stories)
Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (essays)

Her short story “An Old-Fashioned Story” was adapted into a film called “Ask Me Again,” which was broadcast on PBS on American Playhouse, and is only available now on obscure VHS tapes at public libraries. If your library has it, you must see it. I’m going to make my sister watch it with me again this weekend, as we recuperate on the couch from all our pigging out.

Our Secret Society

Our (not-so-secret-anymore) Delacorte Dames & Dude Society is featured in Publisher’s Weekly!

Here are a few outtakes from our photo session.

Shana Burg, me, Varian Johnson, April Lurie, and Jenny Ziegler hanging out outside Bookpeople:

Crouching behind bushes, hiding from elitist adult authors with snobby attitudes about YA:

Inside Bookpeople, scandalously reading banned books:

Texas Book Festival photos

The Festival was so much fun. Here’s the pictorial recap.

Me and Jennifer Ziegler at the children’s authors’ party:

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, Melissa de la Cruz, me, and Paula Yoo at the Not for Required Reading event:

Martin Wilson, Michael Harmon, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Shannon Hale, Varian Johnson, Sheila Moses, and Travis Nichols at Not for Required Reading:

The Violet Crown and Teddy Book Award winners:

(Does the National Book Award give you a teddy bear with the trophy? I think not.)

More photos are on Galleycat and Paula Yoo’s blog.