When a stranger calls

Things I am looking forward to: 1. Dinner this week with Weetabix! 2. The COMEDIANS OF COMEDY show at the Vic on Thursday. 3. Slightly colder weather. 4. Having stuff in two anthologies to be published sometime late next year. 5. Getting this last book I’m editing at work off to press. 6. The holidays and all the dippy stuff I will do to enjoy them, savoring them like fat schmoopy sugarplums. Are you with me on this?

Things you should not do: Call me at work. Really it’s just the one thing, but it’s a big thing. I mean, if you are actually part of my life you can call me at work, because of course I gave you the number and we have to figure out what time we’re going to Pequod’s for lunch. Obviously, if you’re someone I work with, you can call me at work. And if you happen to be one of the idly curious souls who randomly call my company with questions about the big weird confusing world of children’s book publishing, questions like, uh, do I need to draw the pictures and stuff? (FYI: no), I tend to forgive you on the premise that you don’t know me and therefore don’t even know not to call me, because of course you don’t know anything; you’re like a lumpy little baby at the beginning of time, and your head is all soft, and you’re usually friendly and harmless enough that I don’t mind taking five minutes to tell you to check out SCBWI or The Purple Crayon.

(And now that you’ve just read this and know not to call? That still means you should not call. Just so you know. Your innocence is over.)

But here I haven’t even gotten to when you should really really not call me at work, so I will tell you now: Do not call me at work if you know who I am and think I can help you get your children’s book published. I don’t know how to stress this enough. This doesn’t happen very often, but each time it’s happened it’s been awkward and disastrous and traumatic, both for me and the Person Who Thought I Could Help Him/Her Get Published. Because Person always wants to take me out to lunch or coffee so that I can see what a totally nice person Person is, and then he/she can tell me his/her idea and I can give a few pointers. But see, this never works, because a.) explaining how to become a published children’s book writer is just too complicated and involved to attempt in the timespan of “coffee,” much less in pointerly fashion; b.) Person invariably isn’t interested in becoming a children’s writer anyway and instead has just an Idea—This One Idea, from which at least three books can be made, and probably also an animated series and a line of interactive toys; and c.) nice gets you nowhere, especially when you’re in truth being kind of pushy.

Because the kicker here is that I work for a publisher where you can actually just send your manuscript, unsolicited and without an agent, and I will read it. Thus when people call at work and try to pitch me something it’s doubly uncomfortable, because either they have no idea their whole weird Glengarry Glen Ross schtick is totally unnecessary—or else they do know, but think that those guidelines we post are for chumps and not for People-with-Ideas like themselves. And if you feel this way, DO NOT CALL ME AT WORK, because, like I said, it will not go well. Like I can’t even bring myself to tell the story of the last Person who called me at work, because it was just that horrible for both of us.

(Well, maybe I will, but another time, with many details changed.)

At the same time, I realize that I do know some stuff about writing and publishing—both from my children’s book job and my own experience with the memoir, and for the past couple years people have been writing me (not calling me at work) with questions, and I actually like to be helpful. So in order to make karmic amends for the rage I feel towards People Who Call Me at Work I think I’ll be posting any advice I may have here on the blog. I know I won’t be able to answer every question, but feel free to ask away about children’s publishing, adult publishing, blog-to-book stuff, whatever. And I’ll give it my best shot. (Tip#1: do not call me at you-know-where.)

A time to plan. A time to reap. A time to rinse really thoroughly.

Yesterday was our last organic produce box delivery, which was good because we were getting a little tired of the weekly bounty, which lately had consisted of Rooty Things (beets and radishes and a kohlrabi, always a lone kohlrabi in the box), Squashy Things (and here I mean actual winter squash, although a lot of it has gone squishy a lot sooner than expected) and Dirty Greeny Leafy Things in Wet Bags. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been able to wash and cook and make some really good meals from a lot of this stuff (except the kohlrabi, which started showing up in the box one-measly-kohlrab-at-a-time shortly after I’d blown all sense of culinary adventure on the fucking radicchio), but now we’re ready to get back to pretending that stuff doesn’t come out of the ground. I want my spinach harvested by unicorns, please!

We’re not sure if we’re going to do it again next year. Chris was saying the other night that that while it definitely wasn’t bad to get all this different stuff every week, it was sort of like when a relative or someone comes to town on really short notice and you have to take him out to Navy Pier or something, and even though you wind up having a pretty good time with Uncle Whatshisface, you still wish you could do the thing you were going to do in the first place. And then furthermore imagine that Uncle Whatshisface shows up covered with mud and sometimes gets moldy, or goes a little demented, or even just withers up and dies without warning, and, well, that’s kind of how it is about the produce box.

Slowly ascending

Early colors

If you’ve been looking on my Flickr account you’ve noticed I’ve been off frolicking among big jolly hot-air balloons somewhere. Last week I was visting my dad in Albuquerque, and one morning we attended the Balloon Fiesta, which I believe is Spanish for “Party of the Swellings.” And swell it was! We got up at dawn during the first Sunday of the festival to watch the mass ascension. Apparently you can go right up to the balloons as they’re inflating, and touch them, and pull on their ropes and stuff, and they will not collapse into Hindenburgish balls of flame. Who knew? (Oh, everyone there except me.) It was one of the most awesome things I have ever seen, and I don’t mean awesome the way I usually mean “awesome.” I mean I watched those things and my mind emptied out, and propane torches roared in the void, and whoa. For about two hours of whoa. There were also plenty of specially-shaped novelty balloons (bees, an elephant, a Darth Vader head, etc.) and I tried to think up freaky new novelty balloon shapes of my own (anvil, giant Vicodin tablet, Black Power fist, etc.), but I never got tired of seeing the regular old balloony balloons take off. It was just what I needed after the past couple of weeks at work, which were, hard, like weird back -of-the-eyes-headache hard. I’m cutting back on my hours in a couple weeks, but there are many things to finish first.

So I’m back, and I’m still trying to catch up on job and life and all this new stuff going on. Chris got a new job and it’s close enough to my workplace that we drive in together. I’m trying to work on all these new writing projects. The days have changed their shape and feel and color. I’m slowly getting hooked on Diet Coke again. I’m hanging in there, baby, like that damn cat in the 70s poster.

Oh, and speaking of Friday (which is really what we’re all hanging-in-there-baby for, isn’t it?), I’ll be reading at the Book Cellar with Stacey Ballis, Elizabeth Crane, Jen Lancaster, and Claire Zulkey. Come see us! You can get wine! Maybe we’ll even braid each other’s hair and prank call Witty Male Writers at their readings.  BE THERE.