Clearly, I have not been blogging, so pray tell, you may wonder, what have I been doing with my time.  Well, many wise people have oft-repeated the cliché to me that once you have children “the days are long but the years are short.”  And holy crap, that is true.  I cannot account for the last three months since we moved to New York—by the way, have I mentioned that?  We moved to New York City?  We did!  For reals.  So other than buying annoying things like garbage bags and toilet paper and winter clothes (I stupidly left most of mine in London—don’t ask), and trying to get us all settled in a new and not-new-at-all country, and yes, working on Book Number Three, time has been moving so fast that it feels like just yesterday, I had my passport stamped while wearing shorts.  Now all of sudden Salvation Army bells are ringing, the Thankgiving turkey has long been digested, and Elili is turning two next week.  TWO.  I am mother to a talking, walking, fully functioning little human person, who makes jokes that are actually funny and knows exactly what she wants when she wants it.  Amazing.

I shouldn’t just slip working on Book Number Three in there, like it was nothing, because in fact, I’ve been working my tush off on a new draft.  Now the three people who actually read this blog may be left wondering—all Carrie from Sex and the City style—wasn’t the book called The Modern Girl’s Handbook? Well stickers for you three–sorry, stickers are a big part of our lives over here and I wouldn’t be surprised if I have one stuck to that hard working tush right this second, as that happens to me a lot—because yes you are right.  Now titles are weird things, sort of like naming babies, and of course, depending on your perspective, you either think I’m brilliant at that or just plain bat shit crazy. With The Opposite of Love, the title came to me very early on in the writing process and stuck the whole way through. With After You, it was a different story.  For a while it was called The Invisible Line Between You and Me, which everyone hated as much as I loved it.  I don’t remember every variation, but even After You was almost changed at the very last second—when the book was on the way to the printers—and the only reason we kept it was because magazines had already gone to print with reviews with After You attached to it.  (Review coverage is so hard to come by these days, it seemed silly to throw that away and confuse potential readers with a title change.)  Which is all a long way of saying, I’m not going to share the new working title, because I have no idea if it will stick, so for now, since I’ve decided The Modern Girl’s Handbook sounds like non-fiction, I’m going to just call it Book Three, or The Book That Tortured Me For Two Years But I Now Kinda of Love.

Speaking of awesome titles, have you guys read The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai?  If not, you should. A kidnapped/kidnapper children’s librarian, a rewriting of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, not to mention Good Night Moon (and a whole host of other children’s classics) and an entire chapter written in Choose Your Own Adventure style makes it a must read in my world.  Oh and how’s this for a perfect first sentence: “I might be the villain of this story.”

I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Rebecca Makkai yet, but I definitely want to now, since I think we could spend a few lovely hours together being children’s book nerds.  In the meantime, her kindly answering the Five Questions will have to suffice.  Without further ado… Rebecca Makkai:

1. Where were you the first time you saw your book in a bookstore and who did you call first?

I’d actually been avoiding my wonderful local indie the way a criminal initially avoids the scene of the crime. When I finally went in, I had the wonderful experience of standing in line behind a teenager who was reading the sign for my author event out loud to her mother and saying she’d heard about the book. And the store owner, thank god, didn’t out me, but just gave me this lovely grin. It was kind of perfect.

2. I’m convinced all writers are a little bit crazy. Do you agree, and if so, what kind of crazy are you?

I’m basically a pathological liar who learned to shunt all that energy into storytelling.

3. If you were going to have another author write your biography, who would you choose to write it and why? Any title ideas?

Someone like Nicole Krauss or, who’s good on the entwining of family history with modern fate. Better yet, a sort of mad-tea-party play by Tom Stoppard where I’m a minor character, a la James Joyce in Stoppard’s Travesties.

4. When did you start to take yourself seriously as a writer?

I think I was about five. But I would argue that my craft improved measurably when, as an adult, I learned to take myself a lot less seriously as a writer.

5. If your house was burning down, and you had time to rescue only three books from your library, what would you choose and why?

I take these questions far too literally. The following three are not actually my favorite books. Because in this scenario the libraries and bookstores of the world are still standing, right? And I’d have enough insurance money to replace the important stuff. Okay, so that said: Ken Kesey drew a flying squirrel inside my paperback of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I’d probably grab that first. My grandmother was a novelist, and although I haven’t read much of her work because it’s in Hungarian, I do have about thirty volumes of hers, so I’d take one of those at random. This is when my grandmother would roll over in her grave and say, “Oh God, you had to pick that one?” And my husband and I received a blank book for our wedding that we had no idea what to do with, so we started recording every book each of us read. That’s now my ten-year reading log, and the only form of diary I have. If I didn’t save that, I’d feel my personal history had been lost.

So originally this post was going to be about what I did with my summer vacation, and a lengthy explanation about why I haven’t blogged in quite a while, but then I remembered–aha!–I have an author interview with the amazing, lovely, and fabulous Allie Larkin about her amazing, lovely, and fabulous book STAY that I still needed to post.  Which means I can procrastinate even further my discussion of my summer of procrastination and how naughty I have been on the (not) writing front, and instead introduce you to a writer that you should absolutely already know about.

I often get asked to blurb books, and I often say no, not because I don’t want to help a new up and coming writer–in fact, there is nothing I enjoy more than helping a new up and coming writer and paying forward all of the generous help I’ve received (and still receive) along the way–but because the truth is I’m terrible at managing my time, and these days, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.  (Case in point–that last sentence should be edited down to a more manageable length, but am I going to?  No, I’m not.  See, that’s me being ruthless with my priorities, which is what a life coach would tell me to do to feel more on top of things, if I had the time to hire a life coach.  Which I don’t.  A life coach would also tell me to stop all my freaking digressions and focus.  SCREW YOU life coach. I’m going to digress all I want, because I haven’t even hired you yet.  Are you worried about me now?  Don’t be.  Blame the cold medicine mixer I’m downing like Kool Aid these days.)

Back to my original point: blurbing.  About two years ago, I made an exception when STAY arrived at my door.  I was about eight million months pregnant at the time, and so distracted and bloated, I couldn’t do much other than lie down on my couch and cry while watching babies being born on TLC.  And all of a sudden a book with a cute dog on its cover arrived unannounced on my doorstep, and before I knew it, somehow, during a time in which I couldn’t focus long enough to read a recipe, I was reading an actual book.  Even crazier, I could not put it down.  Not even for a What Not To Wear marathon.  Here’s my blurb that ultimately landed on the cover: “Charming, witty, and surprisingly touching, Larkin deftly examines what it means to be family. A pleasure from start to finish, but buyer be warned: after closing the final pages of this compulsively readable novel, you might just find yourself ordering a one hundred pound German shepherd from the internet.”

I’m so glad I picked up STAY and I’m even happier that I’ve gotten to know Allie Larkin over the last two years. And before I finally getting around to posting, huge apologies to Allie who got me this interview weeks–make that months–ago, and for only putting it up now.  This time, I can’t even blame pregnancy or TLC, so, instead I’m going to blame that life coach I haven’t hired yet.  See, he told me to focus on my book, and so the blog fell by the wayside…Wait?  What’s that you say?  I haven’t been working on my book?  Oh, I mean he told me to spend the summer away from work and the internet, and instead spend all of my time with my beautiful daughter.  Which I did.  And it was awesome.

See what I just did there?  I multi-tasked!  Now you know what I did with my summer vacation AND I introduced Allie Larkin. I’m amazing!  If this writing thing doesn’t work out, I’m totally becoming a life coach…

1.  Where were you the first time you saw your book in a bookstore and who did you call first?

I’m a regular at the Greece Barnes & Noble (Greece, NY, not Greece the country). They called me when STAY hit shelves, and I ran over to see it for myself.  I bought a copy and had the bookseller who sold it to me sign my copy.  It was a really weird and wonderful moment. I’m not sure who I called first.  My husband was with me, so probably my sister-in-law.

2.  I’m convinced all writers are a little bit crazy. Do you agree, and if so, what kind of crazy are you?

There’s probably something not normal about playing with imaginary friends as a grownup.  And I can’t deny the fact that I’m on the quirky side of things.  I am dreamy and neurotic and require insane amounts of alone time (even though I love being around people), I talk about my characters like they’re real (I swear, I know they aren’t), and I have a constant (and irrational) fear that I’ve left the oven on.

3.  If you were going to have another author write your biography, who would you choose to write it and why? Any title ideas?

Oh, that’s a terrifying thought – having someone else write my story.  If I had a choice in the matter, I’d have my friend, Neil Gordon, write it.  He’s a ghostwriter, among other things, and has the most amazing talent for finding the story in any information you pass his way. Plus, I’m assuming that would give us plenty of excuses to chat without feeling like we both need to be getting back to work.  I’d let Neil title it.  He’s better at those things than I am.

4.  When did you start to take yourself seriously as a writer?

I always took my writing seriously, but that’s a different thing from taking myself seriously as a writer.  My dedication to my writing was really just about my characters for a long time.  I loved them and wanted to write the best story I could for them. I was in it for the long haul, and I was very serious and business-minded about navigating the process of finding an agent, but there’s something about calling yourself a writer that’s a little daunting. It’s an admission.  It’s not just telling people what you do, it’s telling them who you are and what you hope for.  Once I had an agent, I finally got to the point where I could tell people I was a writer without too much hesitation, but it’s certainly something I had to grow into.

5.  If your house was burning down, and you had time to rescue only three books from your library, what would you choose and why?

My dogs are safe, right?  Because that’s the first concern (and probably what’s up with the whole oven thing).  But if they’re safe, then I think my three books would be:

1.     The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy – My copy is so worn out that the cover has almost disintegrated, but it has notes and underlined passages from my high school self.

2.     The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye– It was my favorite book as a child. I lost that copy, which was a paperback, but my publication present to myself was to splurge and track down a hardcover copy.

3.     The copy of Stay that my bookseller friend signed.

This blog is just turning into one big love letter to my favorite writer crushes.  Oh well.  Let my inner fan girl shine, because today, I’m featuring Laura Dave who is one of my favorite people on the planet. Not only is she an amazing person and friend (she is one of my go-to people when I need publishing advice) but an absolutely brilliant writer.  Every time I finish one of her books, I have the exact same thought:  ”Damn, I wish I had written that.”  She is just so good and so smart and I going to use that fake word that blurbists always use and I hate but I can’t think of a better one: her books are all unputtdownable.

Her latest novel, THE FIRST HUSBAND, I read in one day, on the day it came out.  No matter that Elili kept pulling on my dress and begging for attention. That’s what television is for, right?  Ok, kidding about the television, but I did find a way to sneak in all that reading, because THE BOOK ROCKED. Don’t believe me?  Here’s what the reviewers had to say (and look, the reviewers aren’t Laura’s aunt Edna, but PEOPLE MAGAZINE. PEOPLE, people.)

“A fresh, funny take on the search for a soulmate.” —People Magazine

“Playful, unpredictable and emotionally resonant.” —USA Today

And here is Laura herself. Did I mention I love her?  And that you will too? (Oh and one more thing–Her previous books THE DIVORCE PARTY and LONDON IS THE BEST CITY IN AMERICA are both also awesome, so add those to your to be read list too.  Man, I’m getting mighty bossy in my old age…)

1.  Where were you the first time you saw your book in a bookstore and who did you call first?

I was in New York City at a Barnes and Noble.  I called my best friend and started screaming.  But it was New York City so I don’t think anyone noticed.

2.  I’m convinced all writers are a little bit crazy. Do you agree, and if so, what kind of crazy are you?

Totally agree.  I like to think I’m lovable crazy.  Which is really a way of saying, if I start getting too specific, the crazy will show itself in ways I’m not sure you’re ready for!

3.  If you were going to have another author write your biography, who would you choose to write it and why? Any title ideas?

I would like several writer friends to each take a chapter, essay style: Jonathan Tropper, Allison Winn Scotch, Emily Giffin, you… so then it could be as much about you guys as about me.  And as far as I’m concerned, Julie has Writer’s Blog is a pretty great title.  I will leave the titling up to you, if you can take it.

4.  When did you start to take yourself seriously as a writer?

After I finished graduate school, I moved back to New York City and spilled water on my computer—and lost my first book! All that work simply washed away from one glass of water.  It was a bad afternoon.  But shortly thereafter, I started over. I just sat down and put pen to paper and began writing the book again.  It didn’t really occur to me to do something else.  That’s when I figured out: I was in this for the long haul.

5.  If your house was burning down, and you had time to rescue only three books from your library, what would you choose and why?

I love this question and it is entirely too hard, so I will answer it how I would actually do it—which is to say pick the first three I see in front of me, and think: YES!  Must take.

The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter

This novel, which pays homage to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is ethereal and romantic and lovely in every way.  Each narrator is incredibly compelling and I adore the different ways their stories move together to say something new and interesting about love.

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

I love everything about the way Tropper writes.  In this novel, he invites us into the world of a famous novelist who finds himself returning to the hometown he wrote about less than lovingly.  This is the best kind of book—one you want to give to friends to read so you can discuss together how much you love it.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Take me to East Egg anytime.  And I’m happy.

I am kind of obsessed with Ernessa Carter.  Since reading her debut novel 32 CANDLES, which I loved, loved, loved, I’ve been cyberstalking her on her awesome blog, Fierce and Nerdy, (perfect name, right?) and on facebook, and have decided she and I are going to be friends whether she likes it or not.  I don’t usually cyberstalk–not that I’m above such things, but more because I’m too busy these days–but Ernessa is that cool.

But before we get to Ernessa herself, I want to say a few words about 32 Candles.  And those words are: Read it.  Seriously.  Read it.  It’s awesome and funny and charming and will give you that wonderful dreamy feeling that you can only ever get from watching 80′s movies.  It’s also smart and touching (I cried) and there is one scene with a particular yellow dress, that though I read the book months ago, I cannot get out of my head.  The book is heartbreaking and perfectly rendered and takes a sharp shift halfway through and keeps you guessing and and and and….Have I made myself clear?  Buy this book.  Now.

Since Ernessa is as awesome as her book, she kindly agreed to answer the Five Questions, which of course made me squeal just a little bit. (Yes, I have a bit fat girl crush, okay.  I admit it.)

1.  Where were you the first time you saw your book in a bookstore and who did you call first?

I was quite intentionally at Vromans in Pasadena. My husband and I went before our release day celebratory dinner at Roy’s next door. He even took a picture of me with the book, but I was having a really bad hair day, so it’s never seen the light of the internet.

2. I’m convinced all writers are a little bit crazy. Do you agree, and if so, what kind of crazy are you?

I don’t think all writers are crazy, but I do have a word for those who aren’t: boring. I don’t want to tie down my crazy with labels, but I will say it’s pretty general, a constant companion if you will.

3.  If you were going to have another author write your biography, who would you choose to write it and why? Any title ideas?

My one goal in life is not to do anything that would garner me anything other than a bibliography. If there’s enough going on in my personal life to base a book on, then I seriously effed up. But if a biography had to be written, I’d want my daughter to write it. I think all daughters should be required to write a biography on their mother before they become mothers themselves. I’ve written a ton about my own mother, and that’s really illuminated my own motherhood.

4.  When did you start to take yourself seriously as a writer?

I wrote my first story in second grade, and from that point on, I knew I was going to be a writer, it was just a matter of when and how.

5.  If your house was burning down, and you had time to rescue only three books from your library, what would you choose and why?

If my house was burning down, I’d rescue my laptop, my iPad, and my iPhone and get out, knowing that I could download whatever I lost in the fire. That’s one of the saving graces of living in our current times. Before ebooks I would have committed seppuku if I lost all of my books – okay, not really, but I would have been super-depressed.

So anyone who knows me or perhaps even occasionally reads this blog knows that I’m pretty much always in flux. It’s no coincidence that one of Elili’s favorite words is “suitcase.”  My husband and I are big movers, and we have a tendency to shake stuff up.  (Did you notice how I said “stuff” instead of “shit”?  You see that?  That’s the result of being a mom of a kid who now repeats every word I say.  I think that may also mean I am officially a grown-up.)  Anyhow, the point is I’ve been a little MIA lately, and probably will be for the next month or so, as this last phase of major flux begins to wind down a bit and we start settling down again.  But before I go away, I’m going to be posting some summer must-reads over the next couple of days, alongside the 5 questions.  First up is Diana Spechler and her fabulous new novel SKINNY. Now, if you are one of those lucky people who feels good about the way they look and has never had a moment’s doubt about the circumference of their thighs, then don’t read this book. Instead, please go eat and enjoy a milkshake, on me, so then I can live vicariously through you.  If you are, however, like everyone else I know, and have struggled with body issues, this is a fascinating look at the intersection of food and love and loss and the various ways we seek to fill ourselves up.  This book is honest and painful and frighteningly real.

Thank you Diana for so graciously agreeing to answer the Five Questions:

1.  Where were you the first time you saw your book in a bookstore and who did you call first?

In 2008, to celebrate the release of my debut novel, WHO BY FIRE, I gave a reading in Dallas, where my family lives. The day before the reading, my mother and I drove to a nearby bookstore because I’d heard through the publishing grapevine that authors should “sign stock” to get their autographed copies on display at the front of the store.

I asked the first employee I saw, “May I sign my stock?”

“Oh,” she said, pressing her fingertips to her chest. She cocked her head, smiling as if I’d used broken English and she didn’t want to offend me by asking me to repeat myself.

“I’m an author,” I said quietly. I still felt uncomfortable with that identification; I’d been an author for approximately fourteen hours. “I can sign my book.”

She asked me for the title and then scampered off to find it. Waiting in the front of the store, I heard a throat clear over the loud speaker. And then: “Shoppers!”

I looked around. The “shoppers” in my line of vision didn’t flinch. They continued drinking their coffee, running their index fingers along rows of book spines.

“We have an author in the store!” the voice continued. Then she tried to pronounce my name: “Di-an-a Spe-speshler.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and looked around again at the shoppers. When no one reacted, I wondered if I was dreaming.

“Go on up to the front of the store and say hello. She wrote a book,” she said, somehow making wrote a book sound like finally went pee-pee in the potty. “And she’s here to visit with us.”

A minute later, the employee emerged with two copies of my book and a black marker. Smiling, she said, “Just stand right here. I’m sure everyone will want to meet you.”

No one wanted to meet me. Why would anyone want to meet me?

I stood around for five minutes, smiling at no one like a pageant contestant, and then I ran back outside to my mother’s car.

2.  I’m convinced all writers are a little bit crazy. Do you agree, and if so, what kind of crazy are you?

Of course I agree, although not necessarily with the “a little bit” part. I’ll give you a couple of personal examples:

I have a writing dress, a giant black sleeveless tent from the Gap. I wore it every single day last summer. I began to think that if I didn’t wear it, I would get writer’s block or someone’s favorite baseball team would suffer a losing streak.

I’m also prone to the kind of crying jags that transcend jags and teeter on seizures. If I read a book I love; if something reminds me of the house I grew up in; if I see an old man, alone, eating a muffin and dropping crumbs on his shirt, I’ll cry so hard, I’ll suffocate. If I decide to call someone (because who wants to cry alone?), I respond to “What’s wrong?” with something made up because I’m crying too hard to justify the true catalyst.

I’m that kind of crazy.

3.  If you were going to have another author write your biography, who would you choose to write it and why? Any title ideas?

Some months ago, I asked my four- and six-year-old nieces if they wanted to write books. For each of them, I folded a few pieces of computer paper in half and stapled along the crease. Then they talked and I transcribed. The four-year-old wrote a semi-incoherent story called I Married The Fire. Then, laughing maniacally, she crayoned furious orange scribbles all over the cover. I held the finished product up to study it and decided that her book wasn’t in fact incoherent, but a satire of modern marriage. I decided that she was a genius.

She can write my biography, title it, and do the cover art.

4.  When did you start to take yourself seriously as a writer?

High school. I wrote poems about death, even though I’d never met anyone who died, except my dog. Once, I stapled all of the death poems together and gave the “book” to my best friend. I think she still has it.

5.  If your house was burning down, and you had time to rescue only three books from your library, what would you choose and why?

I live in a small studio apartment, so I try to get rid of my books as quickly as I read them. I just don’t have space for a library. Besides, if I read a great book, I want to give it away. It’s like love. Wait…is it? No, I’m more possessive in that department. It’s like music. When I hear a great song, I want everyone to hear it. Anyway, I don’t have many books, but maybe that’s not the point of this question. If you’re just asking for a few of my favorite book titles, then I’m making my answer needlessly complicated.

I love so many books, it’s impossible to choose, but three I loved within the past year were The Adults by Alison Espach, A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and Room by Emma Donoghue.

Holy crap!  My delinquency is taking on epic proportions!  I was supposed to post this interview weeks ago.  I think it came in while I was on vacation and then I got sucked into draft edits, and I…sorta, kinda, forgot, and somehow convinced myself that I had already posted.  I’m so sorry Julianna Baggot (aka Bridget Asher) who so kindly agreed to answer the 5 questions.  I suck.  If it makes you feel any better, you are not the only thing to fall through the cracks. I never managed to pass my UK driving test (after having failed before I even left the test center), I’m due for a dental cleaning, and a trip to the bathroom just confirmed that yet again I am wearing my underwear on inside out.

Those of you who “like” me on Facebook (and if you don’t why not?  click here!  as I’ve said many a time, you don’t have to like-me, like-me, you just have to think I’m, well, okay enough) have already heard about THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKEN HEARTED, which sounds awesome.  For those of you who haven’t, here’s what you need to know:

“Fans of Under the Tuscan Sun will adore this impossibly romantic read.”
People magazine

“Readers who enjoy … Lolly Winston’s Good Grief and Jane Green’s The Beach House or travel-induced transformation books like Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love will find common themes … and become quickly invested in the lives of the deftly drawn characters.”
Library Journal


Want to hear something crazy?  Julianna is the author of SEVENTEEN books. Yup, that’s right. SEVENTEEN.  I’ve been teaching Elili to count these days, and when she gets to six, she invariably says: “six, eight, TEN!”  and then starts clapping with enthusiasm for being just so right.  And I’ll admit it has occurred to me, since I can’t even put my underwear on correctly, that perhaps this is my fault.  That I’ve somehow forgot to mention, you know, seven and nine.  So, right, back to Julianna.  My point is SEVENTEEN books is a lot o’books.  SEVENTEEN is no joke.  SEVENTEEN makes me want to stop writing this measly book number three, and go home and climb back in to bed.  And maybe teach Elili seven and nine.  You know what SEVENTEEN tells me?  SEVENTEEN tells me that Julianna’s underwear is not on inside out.

Okay, the 5 questions:

1. Where were you the first time you saw your book in a bookstore and who did you call first?

I haven’t yet. I’m holed up at home – on deadline for a new novel (a dystopic thriller, oddly enough, called PURE, how’s that for a switcheroo in tone?) – and touring virtually as Bridget Asher instead of literally (and I MUCH prefer this pajama version). It’ll be in Target starting April 3rd. We’ll plan an excursion – during which we’ll also buy some summer gear and unders, of course (5 for $20).

2. I’m convinced all writers are a little bit crazy. Do you agree, and if so, what kind of crazy are you?

Basic hypochondriac germaphobe with a little over-scrupulosity and some overriding anxiety that can occasionally manifest in a panic attack (rare, though the Xanax is on hand) and some bouts of sleeplessness.

In other words: garden variety.

3. If you were going to have another author write your biography, who would you choose to write it and why? Any title ideas?

Blake Bailey. Hands down. I’m hoping the title isn’t Julianna Baggott: Garden-Variety Neurotic. But I’d take that over Julianna Baggott, Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode: A World of Utter Madness.

4.  When did you start to take yourself seriously as a writer?

I used to say that I wasn’t a writer unless, at that moment, I was writing – because I hadn’t published anything really to point to, something lasting. This mindset instilled a great work ethic. I still consider myself a writer mainly when I’m actually writing.

5.  If your house was burning down, and you had time to rescue only three books from your library, what would you choose and why?

Aside from old photograph albums, I’d grab the signed book of Atwood poems, the signed book of Heaney poems, the signed copy of Lee Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies. (I assume I’ve grabbed the husband, children, the dogs, the cat….)

Hey!  Anyone in the New York area?  On May 23rd, I’m going to be on a panel with none other than Tiger Mom herself (and the amazing Emily Bazelon who writes for Slate), talking about all sorts of parenting-related stuff, like that horrible word “balance” or even worse, that expression “having it all” and the challenges of being a working mom.  Want to come?  Please do!

The full details can all be found here, but here is the gist:

  • What: MOTHERLODE: Lawyering, Parenting (and Writing About It) in the Age of “Having it All” (A Special Presentation of the Harvard Law School Law & Arts Initiative and the Association of the Bar of New York City)
  • WHEN: Monday, May 23, 2011 6:30 pm
  • WHERE: Association of the Bar of New York City 42 West 44th Street New York, NY 10036

I’ll be honest with you: I’m punching out of my weight class on this one—I am by no means an expert on anything motherhood related and have no idea what “having it all” actually means—but I figured it was great opportunity to meet Amy Chua.  I was going come up with some funny Tiger Mom pun here, but then realized that I am not so good at keeping my animals straight. (Damn you Tiger Mom!  It would have been so much funnier if you had chosen the cougar instead.) The other day, I was kindly corrected by my friend’s three-year-old when he overheard me talking to Elili about bears.  “Ms. Julie,” he said.  “Bears don’t roar.  They growl.”  So right, Thompson.  And now I leave all animal-related education to my husband.

Anyhow, I have a feeling that I’m going to be the mom on the panel who has spit up on my dress and about half-way through the evening finally just admits that I have no idea what the hell I am doing.  I don’t have a parenting philosophy of any sort at the moment, other then, you know, get through the day with as little crying and as many laughs and as much reading time as possible, and somehow also find time to write a book during daylight hours.  Does fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants count as a legitimate philosophy?  Let’s hope so.

And now here’s what I need from you:  Please come watch and throw me soft ball questions to make me look smart.  You can do that right?  (Like, “Julie, tell me about your writing routine?”  Or even better: “Julie, how many children do you have, and how old is she?”)

Tina Fey (yes, I warned you last week that I am obsessed) says in her new memoir that the rudest thing you can ask a mother is “How do you manage it all?”  I disagree.  I think the rudest thing you can ask a mother is, “How come your kid isn’t wearing any pants?”

So let’s just hope that the nightmare I had the other night doesn’t come true. Because I kid you not, I had a dream that I accidentally showed up for the panel naked.  Yes, naked.  On the plus side, I didn’t smell like spit up.

As you may or may not have noticed, I went on an internet hiatus recently.  Actually, chances are you didn’t notice, because that’s the strange thing about the Internet.  There are so many voices clamoring for our attention, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter if one of us slips in and out from time to time.  So here’s why I consciously decided to go MIA for a while: I realized I was spending way too much time on Facebook and Twitter and not nearly enough time, you know, writing my book.  Yes, that girl I went to Junior High with has adorable children, but do I really need to look at all 127 photos in her album and then wonder what her husband looks like?  No, no I don’t.  There are wormholes in Internetville and I’m very susceptible to falling down them.  Just the other day, Indy was showing Elili what a real gorilla looks like on You Tube, and somehow they ended up spending an hour rocking out to Gorillaz’s videos.  You see my point?  An internet diet is never a bad idea.

So, yes!  I finished a first draft of THE MODERN GIRL’S HANDBOOK!  Which is a huge milestone and really exciting, until that moment when I realized that simply means I have three hundred and some odd pages of words that still needs to be rewritten a bunch more times until it becomes a real book.  That’s how my sausage gets made: I write a draft. And then I write it again. And then I write it again. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat.  I only stop when I start throwing things at my computer screen.

I also snuck a big vacation in there.  Elili got to meet her great-grandfather for the first time, in a much overdue visit, which was totally awesome-sauce.  She particularly loved riding on his walker.

Since this is a book related blog though, I’ll stay off Elili-related tangents for the moment, and I’ll tell you instead about all the great stuff I’ve been reading lately.  Just finished BOSSYPANTS, Tina Fey’s new memoir, and it rocked.  I had read one of the excerpts in the New Yorker and wasn’t particularly inspired. Then I read the book and realized that someone had just done a poor editing job trying to squeeze two chapters into one piece for the magazine. The book is so much cleaner and funnier and sharper than the excerpt.  I’ve always been a Tina Fey fan—I mean come on, who isn’t?—but now I’m sort of, kind of obsessed.  And that’s exactly why she is so brilliant—she seduces every reader into believing that should we meet her in an elevator or on a playground we’d instantly become the best of friends. Despite knowing that this is her trick, I’m still convinced that we should hang out. To use an obnoxious writing word, that chick has a Voice. So seriously, Tina, give me a call.

Speaking of funny ladies, I’ve noticed a bunch of profiles popping up all over the place—The New York Times Magazine on Kristen Wiig and The New Yorker on Anna Faris, every piece covering BOSSYPANTS, and they all seem to have the same angle:  See, you can still be funny and have a vagina!  (But of course, you still need to be pretty too.)  Or maybe that’s not quite fair—the pieces are really saying that all these women are facing a battle in reminding people that there is such a thing as a funny lady, and that they have to constantly convince movie executives that people will actually spend their hard-earned money to watch them.  I won’t get into the debate here—actually there is no debate—women are just as funny as men, there I said it—but I think my good friend Tina does a great job in describing the discrimination against women in comedy.

I think in the novel writing world, we luckily don’t have to fight that fight since most of our readers are already women and don’t need convincing. Of course, the reviewers are a whole other matter—funny ladies write “chick-lit”, funny men write novels worthy of New York Times reviews—but alas that’s a discussion for another day.

I also finally read Kim Wright’s LOVE IN MID-AIR, (you may remember that Kim kindly answered the FIVE QUESTIONS back in July) which is a brilliant and poignant and yes, funny portrait of the crumbling of a marriage.  Highly recommend this one.

Was sent an ARC of Diana Spechler’s SKINNY a few months ago to blurb, and sadly didn’t get around to reading it till recently.  The book is out this week, and for those of you who have any sort of body issues (read: all of us) it’s a fascinating look at the intersection between food and love and loss, and it is as smart as it is heartbreaking.  Diana has also  agreed to tackle the Five Questions, so we’ll be hearing more about this one in a few weeks.

So, the internet diet continues, but now I’m sort of in the maintenance phase as they say in Weight Watchers parlance.  So, I’ll be checking in on Facebook and Twitter and keeping up with this blog as best I can, but I’m also hoping to work my arse off on THE MODERN GIRL’S HANDBOOK.  No wormholes for me, unless they are Tina Fey related.  But you know, that’s only because I am good friend.

I’ve long had this fantasy of curating the perfect library for Elili.  I just re-read that sentence and realized just pretentious that sounded.  What I mean is that I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of Elili having a kick-ass bookshelf.  Obviously, I am a big reader, but for me it’s about more than that.  Reading, books are a religion for me.  And I’m not saying that in a casual way, like how someone might say, “Glee, is like, totally my religion.”  I mean that reading for me borders on the spiritual.  (Interestingly, I might even go as far as to say that reading, even more than writing, is my religion.)  For me, besides the added perks that books can help foster intellectual curiosity, and maybe even more importantly empathy, I use them—and I will freely admit this—as a way to self-medicate.  Comfort, refuge, and best of all, a never-ending supply. No judgment from the outside world either.  No one has ever said, “Man, that lady should really lay off the books.”

So, yes, I’ll confess: I very much hope Elili grows up to be a reader.  And one way I’m encouraging this is by buying her lots and lots of books, and reading with her as much as possible.   (Yes, a nearby library would do the trick too.) I realized yesterday that I actually know a lot of people who know a hell of a lot more about children’s literature than I do–writers, booksellers, book bloggers, a ton of moms and dads—and so I crowd-sourced the question on Facebook and Twitter: What is your must-have children’s picture book?

I asked.  You all answered.  Here’s the master list.  Can you hear my American Express card weeping?

If I’m missing anything, please chime in via the comments. (Those with an * are Elili’s current favorites.  For point of reference she’s fourteen months.)

THE WHEELS ON THE BUS, by Paul O. Zelinsky * (Can’t recommend this one highly enough)

KNUFFLE BUNNY, by Mo Willems *(Both E and I love this one. Hate to say it, but this is perfect for the hipster parent. It has Brooklyn and goatees and a Laundromat.)

DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS, by Mo Willems

GOODNIGHT GORILLA by Peggy Rathmann *(E and I both LOVE this one. Absolute favorite in our house.)

10 MINUTES TILL BEDTIME by Peggy Rathmann

HEADS, by Mathew Van Fleet *(E. has a bunch of his books, and they are all beautiful and amazing on a technical level.  I’ve made the editorial decision to list HEADS, because it’s a bit harder to destroy.)

GOODNIGHT MOON, by Margaret Wise Brown  (E. has multiple copies.  I love it, because I remember reading it with my mom.   E. indulges me.  According to a children’s librarian I know, though, anything by Wise Brown is great for bedtime.)

ON THE NIGHT YOU WERE BORN, by Nancy Tillman *(Beautiful book.  Too many words for E. at the moment, but she loves the pictures.)

Anything by Sandra Boynton (I happen to like MOO BAA LALALA.  E. prefers BARNYARD DANCE.)

LITTLE OWL LOST by Chris Haughton * (E. has the British version called A BIT LOST. She loves, loves, loves it, even though I read the word “biscuits” as “cookies.”)

Anything by Dr. Suess *(E. loves HOP ON POP.)

THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR, by Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.

BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR WHAT DO YOU SEE?, and POLAR BEAR, POLAR BEAR WHAT DO YOU HEAR?  Both by Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.  * (E. loves identifying the animals.)

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY (Slightly inappropriate for children, and yet I still read it to Elili, because it cracks me up.)

THE GRUFFALO by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE  by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

STELLALUNA by Janell Cannon

MY CAR by Byron Barton

THE CLICK, CLACK MOO, Cows that Type Series, by Denis Cronin (Hilarious, but for kids a bit older than E.)

PROFESSOR WORMBOG IN SEARCH FOR THE ZIPPERUMP-A-ZOO by Mercer Mayer (Rumor has it anything by Mercer Mayer is great)

DEAR ZOO by Rod Cambell *(I added this one, because E. loves it.)

THE NAPPING HOUSE by Audrey Wood

HECKETY PEGG by Audrey Wood

OWL BABIES by Martin Waddell

CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert

YOU CAN’T TAKE A BALLOON INTO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Glasser

GOOD DOG CARL, by Alexandra Day

THE MAX AND RUBY books by Rosemary Wells

THE MCDUFF series by Rosemary Wells

Any of the MAISY books  *(E. loves, loves, loves Maisy, though I have no idea why.)

Quiet LOUD by Leslie Patricelli  *(Fun to read aloud.  Apparently her others are supposed to be great too: BIG Little and Yummy YUCKY)

THE LADYBUG GIRLS (series) by Jacky Davis and David Soman

PIG IN THE POND by Martin Wadell

JEEPERS CREEPERS, A MONSTROUS A B C by Laura Leuck and David Parkins

WHERE’S MY MUMMY? by Carolyn Crimi and John Manders (A Halloween book, not a British one)

SHEEP IN A JEEP by Nancy E. Shaw and Margot Apple

ANGELINA BALLERINA by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig

THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein (E. is too young still for this one, but it’s a family favorite.)

THE CINDER-EYED CATS by Eric Rohmann

PEEK A MOO by Marie Torres Cimarusti and Stephanie Petersen

POODLENA by E.B. McHenry

LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA by Anna Dewdney

COLOR SURPRISES, a pop up book by Chuck Murphy

FANCY NANCY series by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser

Favorites that might be out of print: THE CAT WHO WORE A POT ON HER HEAD by Jan Slepian, TIMMY NEEDS A THINKING CAP by Charlotte Steine, WHEN I WAS YOUNG IN THE MOUNTAINS, by Cynthia Rylant.

Finally, the children’s librarian I know, suggested “Melaine Watts for insanity and Van Dosen for rythmning. Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphiums for gift books.”

One last note: if, like me, you are going to go on a big book buying binge from this list, if you are lucky enough to still have an independent bookstore in your neighborhood, please support them!  They are a dying breed, and we need every last one of them.  They do good things for the world.  And they are my supplier.  So, please don’t cut me off, man.  I’m not ready…

Yeah, so I’ve been a bit MIA lately and neglecting this blog. But, as those of you who follow me on Facebook already know, I’ve been knee deep in studying for the first part of my UK driver’s test.  Phew, I passed this morning, but let me tell you, that thing was hard.  I kid you not, it involved a driving simulation where they measured my reaction time to a herd of sheep.  Seriously, a herd of sheep?  It’s times like these when I ask myself where the hell do I live that this is my life: that I actually spent hours of my time–whole hours when I could have been eating chocolate or playing with my child or you know having intimate relations with my husband or maybe even writing–but instead I chose to spend them learning the road rules of sheep herders and horse drawn carriages.  Not to mention, the million illogical road signs they seem to love over here, and oh yes, remembering the whole drive on the left thing.

Watch out world, because next up is the actual road test.  Wooo-eeeee, I’m excited.

There’s also been some flat hunting, and a couple of colds (both Elili and I keep passing them back and forth) keeping me busy, and I almost forgot, writing too.  Remember that, Julie? Your book?  Yeah, maybe you should get back to that.  I keep imagining calling my editor and apologizing for blowing my deadline:  “But Susan, did you know that when driving past a herd of sheep you must give way, and give wide berth?  Yes, I know I promised you a manuscript, but how about a few sheep puns instead…”

So, instead of a hearty post from me, I’ve decided to outsource today and introduce you to the fabulous Mary Sharratt, whose book DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL just came out in paperback.   In the book, Mary brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching novel of strong women, family, and betrayal inspired by the 1612 Pendle witch trials in Lancashire, England.  See, I knew I could bring this full circle: England!  Don’t know if there are sheep in her book, but there are witches, which we all know is far cooler.  According to Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review: “Gorgeously imagined . . . Sharratt crafts her complex yet credible account by seamlessly blending historical fact, modern psychology, and vivid evocations of the daily life of the poor whose only hope of empowerment lay in the black arts.” (By the way, you can watch a video about the Pendle witches here.)

Mary was kind enough to answer the five questions below:

1.  Where were you the first time you saw your book in a bookstore and who did you call first?

Back in 2000, my first novel, Summit Avenue, was published in the United States while I was living in Germany. I didn’t actually get to see it in a bookstore until I flew over to the US for my book tour. Suddenly I was live on the spot giving readings to friends and strangers in Quechee, Vermont!

2.  I’m convinced all writers are a little bit crazy. Do you agree, and if so, what kind of crazy are you?

I have time to write and to ride and care for my horse, but if people want to talk about the latest television series that is getting all the buzz, I sadly tell them I don’t have time to watch TV! This makes me very, very odd. Seriously though, being both a writer and a life-long expat (I have lived in the UK since 2002 and before that I lived in Germany for twelve years, and I have also lived in Austria and Belgium), I have an excuse to be as weird and eccentric as I want. Nobody really expects me to be normal.

3. If you were going to have another author write your biography, who would you choose to write it and why? Any title ideas?

Louise Erdrich is one of my favourite writers. I love the way she makes ordinary people appear mythic and makes the land itself appear as a vast epic tableau. Myths and fairy tales have always inspired me. I think a good title would be Through a Dark Forest, because life is a journey through a forest full of both darkness and light, marvels and wonders and mystery.

4. When did you start to take yourself seriously as a writer?

I started writing as a hobby in 1988 when I was working as a Fulbright Fellow in Innsbruck, Austria, teaching English and American Studies at a school run by Ursuline nuns. I didn’t own a television and this was before the internet, so to entertain myself in the evening, I started writing the first draft of what would become my first published novel. I wrote longhand, in a spiral notebook. It became addictive. The notebook grew and grew. The story went through successive drafts. Suddenly I realized that almost by accident I had become a serious, committed writer.

5.  If your house was burning down, and you had time to rescue only three books from your library, what would you choose and why?

That’s a tough one. I think Grimms’ Fairy Tales because they are as magical and illuminating as they are dark and brooding. Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion because this was the book full of such soaring heights of literary magic, it made me long to be a writer. And Little, Big by John Crowley, a huge epic magic-realist family saga that I reread year after year.