Saturday, January 26, 2008


Feeling bored? Of course you are--it's January. (OK, maybe you're not bored if you're in Florida or Arizona or someplace like that. If that's the case, just try to empathize.)

Anyway, there's a contest going on over at the Class of 2k8--a scavenger hunt, in fact. It looks like a hoot. The prize, you'll be amazed to hear, is books.

We're having one contest every quarter, so this one will end at the end of March. Not a minute too soon to get started!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ship That Baby Out!

It's finished!

After two weeks of dithering, I just Fedexed my copy-edited manuscript to Harcourt in New York. That's it on the left there, 270 pages of it--the yellow post-it notes are the changes, mostly responses to style questions. I have style issues up the ying-yang because my setting is an island settled 300 years ago, whose inhabitants have renamed plants, animals, and themselves according to function. And modern Islanders still lapse into archaic English. That'll teach me.

So, should the Island name for rockweed be Cropfodder or cropfodder? Does the wood of the Sap Tree have to be Sap Tree Wood, or can we shorten it to Sapwood? Should unspoken quotations from The Book be italicized and in quotation marks, or just italicized? How about words-used-as-words (e.g. "The word of the hour is 'blabber.'")--should they be italic or just in quotes?

Oh, and would some Mainland trader have told an Islander about sweaters for the first time in 1900?

There were only a few content questions like that one (and the sailboat issue I mentioned in my last post). Some of the answers were in my head but some meant I got to revisit a few research sources--such as the Old Sturbridge Village site to find out exactly what the grist mill and sawmill should look like (for the map, I guess).

And just today the Oxford English Dictionary reminded me that "dost" is second-person singular and I twice had it first-person singular. And despite what you may hear on TV, the -eth ending on a verb ("he stinketh") is third person only.

I think I need to get out more.

I also got to check out a brand new library book, which the local librarian discovered and lusted after when I asked for help with the sweater question. It's No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting and it shows pretty conclusively that Americans didn't know about sweaters until the late 1800s.

Ah, the writing life. Glamorous, ain't it?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lisa Schoeder!

Over at the Class of 2k8 blog, it's Lisa Schroeder's week. She's on there now with an interview about her newly published verse novel, I Heart You, You Haunt Me. It's about a girl whose boyfriend dies but is reluctant to leave the world. So he haunts her! Early reports are that you need a tissue handy about halfway through.

The fact that the book is in verse makes it (surprisingly, to me) more accessible to reluctant teen readers, Lisa says. Simon & Schuster must have agreed, because their teen imprint, Simon Pulse, snapped it right up after her editor read it on his bus ride home.

I, meanwhile, am still slogging through my copy-edited manuscript. Should quotations from The Book be italic and quotes or just italic? What should be capped and what shouldn't? My characters use archaic language sometimes, which adds to the fun. Did you know that thou is first person singular, and ye is the first person plural? Try and keep track of that while figuring out about whether Sap Tree should have initial caps.

My best friend from high school, Shelly Perron, is a copy editor by profession and insisted on reading the manuscript. I couldn't imagine why, until I saw the results. Nothing against Harcourt's copy editor, who's amazing, but Shelly filled in some important gaps. For instance, at some point during my many revisions, I took out an exchange in which the Goatman told the main character, Medford Ruyuin, that he had arrived on Island by sailboat. And yet, in the existing manuscript, Medford still tells his friend Prudy how the Goatman got there.

Oh yeah? Shelly said. And how does Medford know that, hmmmm?

Heaven bless copy editors, that's all I can say.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Moving Day and a Review or Two

This is an old and yet new blog. I just decided to move here from Wordpress, and cut and pasted all my posts from the old blog onto here. The comments at the bottom of each post are from my previous life on Wordpress, just to be confusing.

There were many things I liked about Wordpress, but I couldn't make my blog look the way I wanted to. I think Wordpress is for those who really understand the digital world. Possibly the entire inanimate world.

The inanimate world and I have never been friends. Up to now, I’ve thought of computers and web sites as animate. But I guess they line up with the doorsteps and pill bottles, out to get me.

On to the world’s best animate objects: Books.

As the New Year dawned, I was finishing The Fall of Troy by Peter Ackroyd, prizewinning author of history, biography, and historical fiction (often, like this one, a mixture of the three). This odd little book is about Heinrich Schliemann (here renamed Heinrich Obermann)–the flamboyant archaeologist who uncovered what lots of people think was ancient Troy–and his young Greek wife, Sophia.

I don’t know enough about Schliemann to know where history ends and fiction begins. In Ackroyd’s version, Obermann is obsessed with finding the Troy depicted in Homer’s Iliad, but the realities of ancient life keep emerging inconveniently from the Turkish dust. Obermann steadfastly ignores, misinterprets, or falsifies his findings in the service of his obsession. As an archaeologist, moreover, he has a split personality: sometimes the truth-seeker, but more often the treasure-hunter with a cache of ancient gold hidden under the floorboards.

His wife, a scholarly lady who barely knows her new husband, keeps digging up increasingly disturbing evidence that he isn’t what he seems. She, too, tries to ignore the truth until it finally gets the better of her.

This is a quick read and a fun one, although the character of Obermann is so heavy-handed that it seems Ackroyd must have had it in for Schliemann for some reason. The character of Sofia makes up for him–nuanced, absorbing, mysterious in her own right. While this isn’t the best novel I’ve read, it made me want to read some of his others.

Since I finished Troy I’ve been reading Christmas presents, this year almost all mysteries. I started with The Dead Cat Bounce, one of the “Home Repair is Homicide” series by Sarah Graves of Eastport, Maine. I’ve wanted to read one of these for a long time and I wasn’t disappointed. As a writer “from away,” Graves does a pretty good job of depicting Maine people as intelligent and unquaint (although you should bear in mind that your informant is herself “from away”). The plot is OK, the characters 3D. She’s no P.D. James, but I had a good time.

I moved on to Janet Evanovich’s Lean Mean Thirteen, which made me laugh out loud in places. All her books are similar, so you don’t want to read two in a row. But if I can reread Pride & Prejudice every eighteen months or so, I can be an Evanovich fan that often, too. So there.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Literary Theft

The Class of 2k8 blog is getting to be quite a hoot.

Last week, the feature was Liz Gallagher, author of the newly published The Opposite of Invisible. Next week it’ll be Lisa Schroeder, whose I Heart You, You Haunt Me is also out this month.

This week, various class members are blogging about things they “stole” for their books. (Not, I think, deliberately planned to coincide with the current brouhaha about romance novelist Cassie Edwards .) In 2k8’s case, the thefts are the likes of Elizabeth Bunce taking the name of a dog from Jane Eyre and Sarah Prineas studying Tolkien’s Elvish language to give her magic spells a little…well, magic.

This worries me, because I can’t think of anything I stole for The Unnameables. I know there has to be something. How could there not be? My mind’s a trash heap of trivia–surely there must be a line from Narnia or Harry Potter in there waiting to hit the page.

The Unnameables does create and quote a publication called A Frugall Compendium of Home Arts and Farm Chores by Capability C. Craft (1680)–sort of a combination of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, Martha Stewart, and Miss Manners. I acknowledge in print a bunch of sources for the “tips” in the Compendium, my favorite being the sixteen-year-old George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. I keep racking my brain to make sure I didn’t lift anything verbatim.

George’s reminders to himself about proper behavior bring home the fact that the Founding Fathers once were proper Englishmen. Here’s Tip #26: “In Pulling off your Hat to Persons of Distinction, as Noblemen, Justices, Churchmen &c make a Reverence, bowing more or less according to the Custom of the Better Bred, and Quality of the Person. Amongst your equals expect not always that they Should begin with you first, but to Pull off the Hat when there is no need is Affectation, in the Manner of Saluting and resaluting in words keep to the most usual Custom.”

This one’s my all-time favorite, though: ”9th Spit not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it.”

OMG. While looking for quotes from George I found this: “keep your feet firm and even.” I did incorporate those exact words into one of the Book’s behests. Hmm. Better check with my editor.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tiny Town

There are thousands of reasons why I love living in a tiny coastal Maine town (population 900, in the winter anyway). One of them is my neighbors’ ability to combine concern for each other with respect for each other’s privacy.

A couple of weeks ago, a lady in her mid-80s (we’ll call her Jane) ventured down her icy driveway to get her mail. On the way back from the mailbox, she either passed out briefly from a medical problem or slipped on the ice. Whichever it was, when she came to she found she couldn’t get up. So she left her mail scattered all over the driveway and crawled to her front stoop. She still couldn’t get up, so she lay there in the snow.

Four hours later, the sun set. A neighbor glanced out her window and noticed that Jane’s house was dark–no lights on. So the neighbor’s brother (or husband–reports vary) went over to see what was what. Finding the mail scattered all over the driveway speeded him up a bit. And there she was, soaking wet, still conscious, lying in the snow at the bottom of her front stoop.

By some miracle, Jane survived all this. (Apart from her native feistiness, she can thank her stars that this happened when the temperature was in the 30s rather than the teens, as it had been the day before and would be the day after.) She’s now staying at her daughter’s in Southern Maine while everyone tries to convince her she shouldn’t live alone anymore.

This tale reinforced our understanding that we need to watch out for our neighbors, especially if they’re old and especially if it’s winter.

Fast forward to last week, when some regular early morning dogwalkers noticed that another older couple’s chimney had no smoke coming out of it for the second day in a row.

This couple is extremely private. They’re lovely people, but they do not welcome visitors and have distanced themselves from just about everyone. They live in a small house with a yard that consists of a vegetable garden and a gazillion woodpiles. Once in a blue moon, the dogwalkers get to say hello to Mr. Jones (as we’ll call him), but usually they hear the door slam before they get close enough.

So there was the smokeless chimney on a cold day. And the truck wasn’t out front. Did that mean they weren’t home? Or was something wrong with the truck, so they were in there freezing to death with no way to get help? Adding to the unease was the rumor that Mr. Jones had been in ill health.

Nobody wanted to knock on the door for fear of upsetting Mr. and Mrs. Jones. So the dogwalkers went home and called around, finally finding the one family in town with whom the Joneses have stayed in touch.

Turned out the truck was in the shop and the Joneses were perfectly warm. They may not have gotten up yet when the dogwalkers passed by, and so hadn’t lighted the stove. Whatever. They’re fine.

And their privacy is slightly frayed, but basically intact.
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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Editing Terror

I got my copy-edited manuscript today, along with a letter from Harcourt’s managing editor gently reminding me how expensive and risky it will be to change anything beyond this stage.

I started writing this novel in November 2003. I’ve revised it five times, three times since Harcourt bought it almost two years ago. That’s four years of waking up at 2 a.m., grabbing a pen, and writing something like “would they know about prunes?” on the pad of paper beside my pillow.

Now the former Medford and the Goatman is called The Unnameables and is in the Harcourt fall catalogue. Once I finish going over this manuscript, that’s it. If I wake up at 2 a.m. and realize that Medford could not possibly know about prunes, that thought is arriving too damn late.

He would know about prunes. His language is basically the English of 1705. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Shakespeare wrote about prunes in “Measure for Measure” in 1603. The word showed up in household accounts in the late 1400s. I know this. I looked it up twice.

At 2 a.m., though, who believes the Oxford English Dictionary?
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January Thaw

Turns out I'm living in the past, or possibly some parallel dimension.

There I was, out in the unfeeling world looking for an after-Christmas sale on cross-country ski equipment.

And there was everyone else, looking for exactly the same thing.

Elementary marketing: When there's a ton of lovely snow, people rush around buying skis even before Christmas. Even after Christmas, supply is low and demand is high. Sale, schmale.

It wasn't just that nothing was on sale. Nothing existed. I couldn't find anything in my size in Ellsworth, so I went to Bangor. I found one pair of boots in my size (well, maybe a tad too big but OK with thick socks). Fortunately they and the skis were gently used. Almost like being on sale.

I went skiing once (gorgeous). Then the temperature shot up to 50 degrees and the rain started. It's been in the 40s and 50s for three days now. The ground is bare in places.

I am not responsible for the January thaw. I am NOT responsible for this! Many, many other people bought skis when I did. This is not my fault. Not.

I'm so sorry.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Class of 2k8

The Class of 2k8 is celebrating the start of Our Year at its blog, .

Two of our number have books coming out in January--Lisa Schroeder with I Heart You, You Haunt Me (young adult, Simon & Schuster) and Liz Gallagher with The Opposite of Invisible (young adult, Random House). They sound amazing and I can't wait to read them!

Added later: There's a web site, too! It's