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:
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.