More of the Perfect Bathroom Reading

Awhile back (2013 actually), I wrote a post on the pastime described in the title. Yes, I decided to go there again. (Get it? Go there? Okay, I really should let that go. Ha ha! Aren’t you glad I stuck around four years as a blogger?)

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Anyhow, the subject came up again recently, and since I have a blog, I decided to discuss it here. No subject is too inane for me to write about. Perhaps you wish some were. Well, it was either this subject or a discussion of what I had for lunch (grilled ham and cheese—see, not much to talk about).

So, what makes for good bathroom reading? Need it be waterproof? What are the criteria? Have they changed in the last four years? Good questions. Well, I’m still very particular about my bathroom reading. As I mentioned in a previous post, novels (non-graphic novels) don’t really work for me, unless the novel is something for which putting it down is next to impossible. But if it’s that impossible to put down, I would remain in the bathroom for hours, reading. (Not a bad thing, really, if you live alone. With a family sharing a bathroom, however, this would be a bad thing.)

I prefer something I can flip through, and perhaps quickly read a section. That’s why, at least for me, magazines (the extent of my nonfiction bathroom reading), alumni newsletters, fun catalogs, and graphic novels still make the perfect bathroom reading. (Nothing much has changed in the last four years.) I love the blend of images and text, which makes finding an interesting place to land very easy. And for the most part, I don’t “cheat” by taking my reading material out of the bathroom to finish reading later. Like I said, this is bathroom reading. It remains on the shelf in my bathroom.

This is what I currently have in my bathroom. Yes, that issue of Entertainment Weekly is as old as dirt. But it’s still fun to look at. And that’s definitely not the latest issue of Game Informer. I usually pass those on to some friends as soon as I finish them. Somehow I managed to hold on to this one.

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I also have this series, written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi (books 3 and 7):

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For more about this fantasy series, go here (the author/illustrator’s website):

Maybe a month ago, I read a great article on the work of Sir Fraser Stoddart, a professor at Northwestern University (see photo below left) who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. Now, an article of that depth took several sessions to read. Took over a week to read Game Informer’s article on the three doctors who founded BioWare, the videogame developer. (That was a long article.) An article on George R. R. Martin (bottom right) took a few days to finish.

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But I guess the point I’m making is that I love my bathroom reading. It’s just as special to me as my bedtime reading, though the time I spend doing it is a bit shorter. 🙂

Do you keep reading material in your bathroom? If so, what?

Bathroom image from somewhere on pinterest.com. George R. R. Martin photo from christianpost.com. Sir Fraser Stoddart photo from chemistry.northwestern.edu. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out—Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

Today on the blog is the très fabuleuse Erin Hagar, yet another friend from VCFA. She’s here to talk about her middle grade biography, Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures (art by Joanna Gorham), which was published in May by Duopress.

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I’ll be giving away a copy of this book. But let me talk to Erin first. I hope you’ll join in the conversation later on.

El Space: Erin, it’s great to have you on the blog.
Erin: I am so excited to be on El Space! Thank you for having me!

El Space: How did you come to write a biography of Julia Child?
Erin: Your readers are probably familiar with Brian Selznick’s amazing The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007). The publisher of Duopress had the great idea to adapt this visual format—with large chunks of the story told visually—to a biography. It’s an amazing concept, and I was so glad he approached me to work with him on it. We brainstormed possible subjects, and I suggested Gordon Ramsay because my family loves Master Chef, Jr. After discussing it a bit, we thought, “Why not the television cook who started it all?” Voilà—Julia it was!

Julia-Child

El Space: What is it about Julia’s life that so many people find fascinating? I can’t help thinking of Julie & Julia (2009).
Erin: Isn’t that a great movie? I watched it only after I’d done a lot of research on Julia, because I didn’t want to confuse facts about her life with details from the movie, in case they’d been changed as screenwriters understandably do. But you know what? The parts with Meryl Streep were incredibly accurate! To answer your question, gosh, there’s so much that’s fascinating. I think it comes down to her personality. She just radiated energy and enthusiasm and this remarkable down-to-earth spirit, with a little sauciness thrown in. Pardon the pun.

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El Space: Ha! Love the pun!
Erin: On top of that, the details of her life are remarkable—her service during WWII, and how hard she worked to find something she loved to do, how tirelessly she worked for her success, her pioneer show on television. All of it is amazing, really.

El Space: Did you try any of her recipes while you wrote this book? If so, which ones?
Erin: I confess, right here on El Space, that I am not the greatest cook. But my daughter is, and together we made Julia’s Duck L’Orange for Christmas dinner this year. It turned out pretty great! Mostly thanks to my daughter. But I did read a lot of Julia’s recipes, of course, to get a sense of her voice and her attention to detail which is amazing.

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Julia Child’s Canard à l’Orange

El Space: I just read this article about Flynn McGarry, a 15-year-old Michelin-starred chef. How does your book motivate young novice cooks to challenge themselves?
Erin: What a great story! I wouldn’t mind getting on the guest list for one of young Flynn’s amazing supper club events. It’s funny, though, because Flynn’s experience is the polar opposite of Julia’s. Julia didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life until her late thirties. She was just an eater until her time overseas, and while she appreciated good meals later, she was a disaster at making them for a long time. So what I hope kids take away from this book is that—while it’s great to have amazing, talented young people in a field like cooking—you don’t have to be excellent from such a young age to make a name for yourself later on. That’s true in any field. Be a kid! Bumble around! It’s okay!

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El Space: What was your research process for this project? Did it involve a lot of fact checking?
Erin: I’m lucky to have had lots of information to work from. There have been several amazing biographies written about Julia Child, notably Bob Spitz’s Dearie and Noël Riley Fitch’s Appetite for Life, which were huge helps. Julia also wrote her autobiography, My Life in France, with her nephew, Alex Prud’Homme. That book, along with a collection of letters Julia wrote to her best friend, gave me lots of “dialogue” for my book, which I hope lightens it up and gives a readers a sense of her voice. In addition, there is an incredible collection of Julia’s papers at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University. I spent a good part of a week there researching, which was a lot of fun. I could have spent much more time there, actually.

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El Space: Any advice for a budding writer who wants to tackle a biography?
Erin: Go for it! In many ways, you’re doing the same thing as fiction writing: bringing a person’s story to life, using the best details you can find to show their transformation over time. The difference is, of course, the need for those details to be entirely accurate as well as telling. Knowing what to leave out is as important as what to include. I struggled a lot with that in the early drafts. Thankfully my editor, Robin Pinto, is super smart and always knew what to take out.

El Space: This is usually a tough question for authors to answer, but I need to ask it: Which authors inspire you right where you are in your journey as an author?
Erin: I have a crazy amount of respect for any novelist who finishes a novel. Seriously. But you probably want me to be more specific, don’t you? Okay, I loved Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap for its magical realism, and I love the way Kekla Magoon wove together the many points of view in How It Went Down. Lindsay Eyre just published a chapter book called The Best Friend Battle, and it’s one of the best examples of “kid speak” and “kid think” I’ve ever read.

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El Space: What are you working on?
Erin: I just wrapped up another nonfiction for Duopress—a slightly shorter book about the history of the LEGO brick titled Awesome Minds: The Inventors of Lego. Super fun! It will be out in Spring ’16. I also have a picture book coming out with Charlesbridge in Fall ’16 about the Woman’s Land Army of America during World War I. Think Rosie the Riveter, one generation earlier, on farms. And I’ve got this middle grade novel I’m trying to tame. It’s been a long haul with this story, but I’ll get there. Someday.

Thank you, Erin, for being my guest. You’re awesome!

If you’re looking for Erin, check out her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Or, visit the Facebook page for Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures.

Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be giving away a copy to a commenter. Winner to be announced on June 10. When you comment, please share a dish you like to make or eat. I’ll start by saying I make a mean coq au vin. Yes, I do!

Book covers from Goodreads. Movie poster from madeinkitchen.tv. Kid chef from multiplemayhemmamma.com. Julia Child photo from indianapublicmedia.org. Julia Child’s Canard à l’Orange photo from foodista.com.

Does Passion Always Lead to Success?

You’re probably familiar with this scenario: Person A gives her all to pursue her passion—practicing; researching; talking to individuals who share her passion—whatever is necessary. Person B stumbles upon this particular passion and decides, Maybe I’ll give this a shot. On her first try, Person B achieves a level of success Person A only dreamed about.

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When I was an undergraduate, I roomed with someone majoring in performance studies. She seemed very passionate about the craft, often walking around singing loudly and quoting from well-known plays. But over the years, I’ve never seen her name in lights anywhere. Yet a guy in my graduating class who never seemed to care one way or the other about the performing arts (he had an entirely different major actually) went on to gain recurring roles in television shows and in movies.

Life has its twists and turns, huh? My life has taken some strange ones. A few years ago, a publisher asked me to write curriculum for kids 3—8. “Why me?” I asked. “I don’t know anything about kids this age! I never studied early childhood development. I don’t even read books or watch TV shows geared toward kids this age!”

Don’t worry. I wasn’t silly enough to say those words out loud. Instead I said, “Okay,” thinking that project was a fluke, surely. Yet last year someone at another publisher said, “I saw on your resume that you’ve written preschool curriculum. We’d like you to write preschool and kindergarten curriculum.” Again, I thought, What?! I still don’t know why I was asked to write for this age level before!

In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell mentioned opportunity as a factor that has led to success for some. He said

Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. Page 267

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Whether or not you agree with this book, my experiences above show the beckoning fingers of opportunity. Yet when I analyze the years I spent writing preschool curriculum—yes, years—I have to say that passion did indeed have a part. I have a passion for producing a quality product. I’m willing to work hard to produce that product, even if I’m asked to write for an age level about which I know very little.

Am I always successful at that? Nope. I’ve been fired from projects. “Here’s a kill fee,” one editor at a magazine told me after reading (and disliking) an article I had written. Also, over a decade ago, I was passionate about a four-book series I had written for a publisher. Yet that passion did not keep it from going out of print within two years. But I learned something in both cases: to persevere through utter failure. So in a way, both projects were a success though not in the way that I had envisioned.

Does a lack of opportunity or opportunities that seem to lead to dead-ends mean that our passions are misplaced? Not necessarily. Sometimes failure can point you in a direction you wouldn’t have considered had you succeeded right away.

Opportunity may give us wings, but passion makes us soar.

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A good article on passion is “Unleash Your Passion to Unlock Your Leadership.” Find it here at Forbes.com.

What do you think? Does passion or opportunity lead to success? A combination of both? Neither?

Passion image from lifebites.com. Malcolm Gladwell from nbforum.fi. Outliers cover from Goodreads. Flying people from rock.genius.com.

Quiet, Please!

5600141240_29faa7aeedEvery so often, I discover a book that makes a deep impact on my life. When I was a kid, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle made me decide to become a writer of fiction for kids. As a teen and later an adult, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy made me decide to write fantasy. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a nonfiction book I’m reading right now that makes me accept what I am: an introvert.

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That’s not a newsflash to those of you who know me. And perhaps you’re shrugging your shoulders in a so-what manner at such an admission. But being an introvert always seemed like a negative based on feedback I’ve had over the years and my own observations. Who often gets the most attention in class or at the office? The one who talks the most. And how about these statements: “You need to be more assertive.” “You need to promote yourself more.” “You need to be more outgoing.” Ever hear this advice? I certainly have—even on the job.

I’ve suffered through office Christmas party activities usually chosen by extroverts who assume that “everyone” loves to shout lines of Christmas carols or act them out in front of a crowd because “it’s fun.” And if you don’t see it that way, well, guess what? You’re not fun! That’s why I especially understand this notion: “If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain” (6). Oh yes. I have felt that pain.

This bias is what Cain in the introduction to the book identifies as the Extrovert Ideal:

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” (4)

9e9eb78d63b565d97ce72d382a691b3aIf you read Divergent by Veronica Roth or saw the movie starring the delectable Theo James (oh and Shailene Woodley played the lead role) you saw this notion played out. In a post-apocalyptic Chicago that has been divided into five factions based on virtues, the coveted faction is Dauntless—the risk-taking group that leaps off moving trains instead of disembarking at stations and jumps off buildings. They are the loudest and the brashest—the ones who gain the most attention.

In an Internet poll of faction choices (http://www.epicreads.com/quizzes/pollresults/id/341/), Dauntless was the faction of choice by a large margin.

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Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley leaping off a train in Divergent

In Quiet, Cain demystifies the Extrovert Ideal and discusses times when an introvert should act more extroverted. But this post isn’t a book report or a book review, so you’ll need to read the book for yourself if you’re interested. Cain’s book is a bestseller, if that gives you any indication of how it has been received.

This post is a celebration—it’s okay to be an introvert! (And yes, it’s okay to be an extrovert too.) Many writers I know are introverts. (Not all are of course.) But the world of book promotion—an extroverted activity—is one that takes us out of our comfort zone. We have to put ourselves out there to be noticed (i.e., blogging, social media, book trailers, interviews, arranging for book signings—whatever). Even if we’re querying agents, we have to sound “comfortable ‘putting [ourselves] out there.’”

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Naturally, this is the area in which I struggle the most. But I’m willing to try out of love for my stories. It’s like being a proud parent. You want people to notice your child and love him or her, so you do what it takes to get people to notice him or her. I’m grateful for the family and friends who help me in this venture, who encourage me and give me the kind of advice that helps me do things my way.

Cain’s book also has helped me understand how I can be assertive in a quiet way without pretending to be something I’m not. And that gives me hope.

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Broadway Books, 2012, 2013. Print.

Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

Book covers from Goodreads. Librarian photo from mrsbossa.wordpress.com. Movie still from alicemarvels.com. Balloons from bubblews.com. Theo James photo from divergentsociety.net.

Check This Out: Dorothea Lange—Grab a Hunk of Lightning

Greetings one and all. With me on the blog today is one of the four awesome advisors who guided me while I was a student at VCFA. Please join me in welcoming the amazing Elizabeth Partridge. Welcome, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction books, including Marching for Freedom; John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth; Dogtag Summer; This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie; and Big Cat Pepper—just to name a few. Cool, huh? And if you’re wondering which awards she won, here’s a handy list: National Book Award Finalist, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Michael L. Printz Honor, SCBWI Golden Kite Award, SLJ’s Battle of the Books, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.

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9780670059546_zoom_1Impressive, huh? Elizabeth is represented by Steven Malk at Writers House. She’s here today to talk about her latest nonfiction book, Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning (Chronicle Books), which debuted last month. Even if Dorothea’s name doesn’t sound familiar, I’m betting her work is. Recognize the photo at the right? This photo, “Migrant Mother 1936,” is one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century. According to Amazon, this book “is the only career-spanning monograph of this major photographer’s oeuvre in print, and features images ranging from her iconic Depression-era photograph ‘Migrant Mother’ to lesser-known images from her global travels later in life.” One of you will win a copy of this book. But let’s talk to Elizabeth first!

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Elizabeth: 1. I write nonfiction and fiction for kids and young adults, and nonfiction for adults (so far).
2. I live in the house I grew up in. It’s a big, huge Berkeley house.
3. I live with my 96-year-old dad, my husband, our son, his fiancée, dogs, cats, and chickens.
4. I was an acupuncturist for more than twenty years.

El Space: Cool! Now, this isn’t your first book on Dorothea Lange. How did this new project come about? Where did the title—Grab a Hunk of Lightning—come from?
Elizabeth: Dorothea Lange was my godmother. My father, Rondal Partridge, knew he wanted to be a photographer when he was a teenager, and his mother, Imogen Cunningham, sent him to work with a couple photographers she called “family friends.” Ron worked with Ansel Adams for a while in Yosemite, and then went to work for Dorothea. He packed her camera bags, drove her around the backroads of California, developed her negatives, printed her prints, etc. Gradually he was folded into the family, and we all grew up with her. She was the undisputed matriarch of our family, and had more influence on me creatively and politically than anyone else.

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Elizabeth Partridge with her godmother, Dorothea Lange

WhiteAngelBreadlineSF1933The title of the book, Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning, comes from something Dorothea said. She was a portrait photographer in San Francisco when the Great Depression hit. One day she was looking out her second floor studio window and saw an unemployed man below come to the corner and pause. He didn’t know which way to go. She decided she better make something happen. So she went out with her camera and took a few photographs. She went back to her studio, developed and printed the images, and put one up on the wall. She said she did it to see if she could “just grab a hunk of lightning.” The photo, “White Angel Breadline,” became one of her best known images.

Dorothea’s granddaugher, Dyanna Taylor, is making a film by the same title. It will air on PBS’s American Masters in the fall of 2014. Dyanna is one of my lifelong best friends, and it has been a blast working on this project together.

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of working on this book? How long was the process from start to finish?
Elizabeth: Challenging? Hmm. Probably the schedule. Books take a long time once they are turned in to the publisher before they are in the bookstores. We were really burning the midnight oil on this one. I think I did the whole thing in about 10 or 11 months. The fun challenge was to put images in the book that had never been seen before. Between never and rarely seen, I think I got about 15 or 16 images in.

El Space: Some nonfiction books have come under fire over the years because the authors were less than factual. What tip(s) do you have for ensuring accuracy in nonfiction?
Elizabeth: I’m a stickler for Telling the Truth. Get it right. The best way to do this is to track back to primary source documents.

El Space: You’ve written a number of biographies. Is there a dream biography you’d like to write? If so, whose?
Elizabeth: A dream biography. . . . Yep, I do have one in mind. But it is still a secret until I see if there is enough material for me to do it. Hint: the most dramatic and important and heartbreaking part takes place in WWII.

160057El Space: What book, if any, inspired you as a child or teen?
Elizabeth: I could have been a poster child for a bookworm. I used to walk to the library on Friday and pick up a stack of books to read. I was pretty omnivorous. I loved those biographies that now we know are all made up . . . a whole series of important people. They had blue or orange covers, depending on when you read them . . . first or second printing I suppose. For some reason lately, I’ve been thinking about one of my all time childhood favorites: David and the Phoenix [by Edward Ormondroyd]. It made me feel the world was alive with all kinds of magical creatures, all kinds of possibilities and adventures. It also was one of those stunning moments after I read it when I read the back flap and realized . . . real people write books.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Elizabeth: Right now I’m working on a book on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. I’m interviewing vets who came back. Through their stories I want to tell the stories of those whose names are on the wall: the men and women who didn’t come back. It’s an honor to do these interviews.

Thanks, Elizabeth, for being my guest! Interviewing you has been an honor for me!

Looking for Elizabeth? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books

One of you will win this beautiful book for your collection. Just comment below. Winner to be announced on Thursday, December 19.

Author photo and covers from Elizabeth Partridge’s website. “Migrant Mother 1936” photo from historicalphotographsoftheworld.blogspot.com. “White Angel Breadline” photo from columbia.edu. David and the Phoenix cover from Goodreads.