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I know some of us discussed it, but who else is going to be at Books by the Banks this weekend in Cincinnati?  I will!  Anyone else going to the cocktail party?  I hope so, so I'll have someone to talk to!  

Blog has moved!


I now have an author website and a matching blog..  So goodbye, LiveJournal.  I can't say I liked you much, and now I get to cruise to sparklier surfaces.

I hope to see you at www.jessicaleader.com/blog.  Or at the webpage and accompanying poll: www.jessicaleader.com/stuff.html

Bon voyage! 

As you can tell, maybe, I have a new user photo!  I'm creating a website now, and according to my fellow Tenners, I needed a professional photo taken, so I found an acquaintance to do it, and voila.  You like?  I think I like.  I think it's right.  It's just...

Man, oh man.  When I first wanted to publish a book, I never thought about all the decisions I'd be making about how to present myself publicly.  I"ve written about this a little on here before, and maybe it's old hat to some of you readers, but it's something I'm still thinking about a lot.  Maybe it's hitting me hard because I just got married (which was awesome!!) and that, too, had a lot of unexpected decisions about how things should look.  Was I a roses bouquet bride?  A natural flowers kind of girl?  Nope to both.  What was the middle ground? 

Simiilar with creating a website.  Am I gritty YA?  Now now, at least, since NICE AND MEAN is definitely middle-grade, and though THE BOOK OF THE DEAD is YA, I've got more MG in me and don't want to scare off the friendly sixth-graders.  So what should that look like?  Etc Etc etc. 

Hm.  Yeah, that's not really that interesting, even to me.  I'm trying to keep this the slightest bit current, though, so let's all knock ourselves out, shall we?  And I'll go back to writing the bio for my website.  My favorite part: a baby picture of me where I look like I'm possessed by the devil!

1) Today was a scary day.  It was my first day back working on The Book of the Dead knowing that I'd have to be able to keep going on it, since there were no interruptions imminent.  This means I have to decide, what will I do with the first 120ish pages I've written?  Keep forging ahead, or go back and unwind the tangles?  I'm still not sure, and while I do have a sense of which plot questions I need to answer, it's still scary.  I'm lucky, I know, that this gets to be my fear--this, and not, "Do the students hate me?  Did they understand the homework?" which is my more frequent September fear.  Still: back to the novel you haven't really given over to since June.  Scary. 

But!  There are great things.  Such as:

1) I'm back from getting married!  It was great.  Even though I went nearly insane lining up some of the details, the whole event was incredibly fun and life-affirming and us-affirming.  I don't think everyone has to get married or anything, but I highly recommend it as a fun, if time-consuming activity.

2) My editor says there's just one more round of line-edits to do on Nice and Mean, and then we're on to copy-editing!  No!  Way!  I'm such a glutton for I don't know what--part of me thinks, "But wait!  Aren't there some issues to work out, still?  Don't you need to send me another editorial letter"  But I think that's just the author not wanting to let go, and you have to let go, if for no other reason that you can be paid.  Getting paid--it's kind of nice.  And a good incentive, as it turns out, for letting go. 

3) The reason I signed on: the local library has improved its search engine!  It used to be that if you had one teensy word off, it wouldn't recognize the book you were asking about.  Conversely, it also had really dorky, "Did you mean"s, such as if I typed in, I don't know, "Stay With Me," it might ask, "Did you mean, Stray Winter Beans?"  I always wanted to say, Are you kidding me?  Come on!  Are you in middle-school, and lollygagging so you don't understand the homework! 

But today, when, thanks to my new brother-in-law's recommendation, I typed in, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Running" (by the incomparable Murakami), and the screen asked, "Do you mean, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running?"  (Emphasis added.)  Yes, search engine--I do!  And now the book is on my list and I will get to read all about how hard Murakami finds it to write, which will make me feel better about Scary #1 up there.

Off to take a walk (not, alas, a run.  I don't talk about anything when I talk about running except how much I generally hate it.  But when I walk, I will think about Scary #1, with the hope that it will become less scary. 

I have just returned from the wilds of Michigan, where I was embedded (I still think that is a neat word) with six teenagers and two counselors on a trail-maintenance crew, as research for the young adult book I'm working on, currently titled The Book of the Dead

It was so fun!  I learned so much about living in the back-country on a long-term basis, and my hosts were so gracious in sharing their thoughts on their experience.  They were also eager to hear about the story I’ve started, and felt very free in weighing in.  “Leslie?!” they exclaimed, when they heard I was naming the bad-ass counselor Leslie. “No way. That name’s too prissy. You should name her ….” and off they went. “That character’s going to do what?” they asked about something else I was planning. “I don’t know. I don’t think he would do x. He might do y, though.” 

I never really talk through my plots with anybody, except, at certain intervals, my grad school advisors and my sweetie. When the crew members asked, though, I thought, Why not? I have nothing to lose except my ego, or maybe hearing suggestions that don’t jive. I agreed with some of what they said, disagreed with other suggestions, but their impulses felt true. More importantly, though, I was glad I’d taken the risk, because I got to benefit from their expertise as trail-workers and, well, teenagers. 

A further thing that struck me after meeting the crew members was that people are both more and less complex than you expect them to be. You can be fifteen, eschew texting and speak lovingly of your parents. You can grow up in a major city and aspire to be a dairy farmer, or be a boy who commutes from the suburbs to take cooking classes. Those things are a little surprising, but not actually that unusual, and yet, how often do we see those things presented as anything except wild exceptions? It actually made me feel good about the characters I’ve created: mainstream in some ways yet offbeat in others, and not feeling particularly unmoored for having those qualities. 

Below are a few photos from my trip. I didn’t feel right posting the kids’ photos anywhere, so these are just shots of nature and the campsite, but hopefully, they’ll give you a little flavor of life in the back-country.  Actually, now that I've uploaded them, I realize they're mostly photos of the lakeshore, since the photos I took in the woods have the kids in them, but trust me when I say that they were isolated in there.  By this I mean, no showers, no bathrooms.  For a month.  Impressive, no? 

And I should add—thanks to the Kentucky Arts Council for underwriting this research trip!
The view from Sleeping Bear Dunes, MichiganWho knew Michigan had a lakefront so tropical?  Not I.

The view from the path to the beach.                               The beach!  Who knew Michigan had such a tropical-looking lake shore?

Cooler where food is stored--with cute descriptorsdish cupboard?  Try hammock.
Protect your food from rodents--and give it cute labels.          Pots cupboard?  Try hammock. 

Beautiful thistle on the walk down to the beach!
The thistley field, with dense trail-area in the background.

Ask the Experts, Part II

My next draft of NICE AND MEAN is due July 8th (!!), and for this draft, I'm hunting down every last thing I'm unsure about, trying to make sure it's all accurate.  So I did something I haven't done since the early stages: asked the experts. 

In case you don't remember intimately the details of NICE AND MEAN, it tells the story of Sachi, a truly nice girl, and Marina, a truly mean one, when they are forced to work together on the film they hope will change the way people see them.  There's a fair amount of movie-making in the story, and Sachi frets about the future in the form of video nightmares, so I needed to capture the film details correctly.  Also, Sachi is Indian-American, having come to the US when she was five, and though I've done a bunch of research on relevant subjects, no Indian-Americans had read a draft in quite a while.  So it was time to ask the experts--my friend J, movie-maker extraordinaire, and new friends, C and D, both of whom are Indian-American. 

First of all, I am hugely grateful to J, C and D.  J just came off a crazy shoot at a historic home (watch out for that lamp!  ohh...), and C and D have just started a majorly taxing component of their new profession, so the fact that they took the time to read my stuff, then talk with me, is something I can never really repay.  (I did offer to name two minor characters after C and D, though--we'll see if they take me up on it!)

What struck me most was that while many of their comments had to do with correcting facts or formatting, they really had to do with good writing.  J, for example, noted, "Why is Sachi shaking out the arm she's used to hold the camera if she's been using a tripod the entire time?"  Oops.  She also made me laugh by noting the number of times I had written "off-stage" when I should have written, "off-screen."  I have very little experience in film and have logged many hours reading, writing and directing plays, and it really showed!  And I would like to state for the record that theatre's "blackout" has nothing on screenplay language's "fade to black."  Fading is so much more active!  I mean, it contains a verb.

Similarly, while C and D gave me some useful factual information ("You say the town, 'Ahmdavad,' but it's still spelled 'Ahmedabad'), many of their thoughts about whether I'd veered into stereotype actually just revealed hazy writing.  When they said Sachi's older sister wouldn't be so parental, they were partly correcting my thought that in Indian families, older sisters keep the younger ones in line.  Really, though, I should have showed why the sister was so annoyed when Sachi went against her parents.  Maybe this is the kind of thing better understood when you've actually read the book, but hey!  In just under a year, you'll have the chance to do so.

Once again, thanks to J, C and D.  And once again, the power of talking to people is extraordinary.  There's that line in Hamlet about how the world contains more things than you can dream of, and I think that's true about the place where fact meets fiction.

Onward with line-edits!

Hi again

I updated this blog 3 weeks ago?


Go, me!

I must have been busy, since I can't even remember having done that.  I've been directing that children's play I mentioned, which kind of takes up all my brain space.  I'm pretty much done with it, though, since it opened last night to great applause, has another show in, oh, two hours, and closes tonight. 

The kids have been great.  I can't say too much about it since, you know, there are expectations of confidentiality and all, but I will say that they've been fun and creative and many of them are much cooler than I was at that age (shocking, but true.)  I'm glad I took that on. 

The other big event was that my motherboard crashed the night before I was supposed to turn in my final grad school assignment!  I didn't know it was the motherboard at the time and thought I had just poked my computer in an unwise manner and somehow sabotaged myself.  Do any of you ever wonder things like that?  Like, "I stubbed my toe after I thought something mean about someone--I'm trying to tell me something!"  Whether magical thinking works or not (I know it doesn't, but I still seem to do it), I was relieved to know that I wasn't responsible for my computer's sad turn, but it *stank* to go through all the machinations of buying another computer and loading up the replacement disks.

Wow.  Am I really blogging about my computer troubles?  How boring would I like to be?  ::Stands on head!  :: ::does little dance::!  Directs you over to twitter (@JessicaLeader), where I occasionally post about the Great Condiment Undertaking in my household, wherein my sweetie and I are locked in a fierce competition as to who can use up the most condiments in order to see the back of our fridge.  She is totally winning, but it is a win-win situation, because our fridge hasn't looked this great since the Great Condiment Undertaking of January (or so.)  Go, go, fridge light!

Off to take a walk in the blasting heat before show #2

Peace out, brussel sprout,


A slippery spiral

Actually, all spirals are slippery, aren't they?

I know I need to update this blog more frequently.  I don't because:

* I still sort of post on my private blog on blogger and know I'll have to give it up because the domain name has nothing to do with me or my book.  And I think the blog needs to be all about the book

* Sorry, LiveJournal, but I don't like you.  You take too long to load, you're look baroque compared to blogger, and I can't figure out how to do anything fun on you

* I'm BUSY.

As in, trying to get lots and lots done on The New Manuscript, aka, The Book of the Dead, so my dear darling beloved advisor at Vermont College can see as much as possible before I (sob! sob! drowning myself in sobs!) graduate in July.

In the middle of that, I start directing a play with kids. Yay!  Actual kids!  Can't wait.  

But in the middle of that, I have to finish up the second round of revisions on NICE AND MEAN.

As you can see, this leaves not much time to acquaint myself with a baroque system when I can't even change the font and help you not squint.  So I'm reduced to whinging about how much I have to do, which is pretty lame, because I don't have kids, and I don't have a whole bunch of other responsibilities.  I'm pretty lucky, really, and now I'm thinking, Yeeps, I hope no one reads this post, because I sound a bit jerkish.  But I just wanted to write something to explain why I'm not writing.

When I have my real blog, though, then you will see a lot of writing.  And really, you should visit me on Twitter (@jessicaleader.)  I have time for that. 

The Art of Making Art

Do you recognize that quotation?  It's from one of my all-time favorite pieces of literature, Sunday in the Park with George.  It's a Sondheim musical, and it details the process of Georges Seurat as he creates his masterpiece, "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (think I got that right.)  In the second act, we see the struggles of an artist who may or may not be Seurat's descendent.  As Joss Whedon famously said (so famously, Sondheim wanted to meet him after he said it), the first act is about the pain of being a genius, and the second act is about the pain of not being a genius.  (Which pain would you rather have?  Hard to know, but probably the first.  Then again, if that was your pain, would you know it?)

A mentor recently cited the song "Finishing the Hat" as one of his favorites.  That drew me back to my old cassette-tape soundtrack, with all its attendant musings on art, and then to my books about Sondheim, collected during high school.  Something funny happened: while I had originally read those to delight in the gossip and insider information, now I read them and felt less alone in my artistic process.

In the past, when I'd read about authors and especially theatre-makers struggling to complete a show, I'd thought, "Oh, it just took them a while to find the right solution."  Or, embarrassingly, "Wow, they didn't know what they wanted from the start?  Why not?"  Because it's hard!  Duh! 

Reading it now, I realized that I'm not the only person ever to pack a story too full of themes and have to winnow away.  Not the only one to think, "How to explain this character trait?  Blame the parent.  Ooh, this reader says that character is a cipher.  Must beef her up.  Wait, that reader other reader says the explanatory character is superfluous to the story.  Find a balance.  Hope it meets with approval."  Etc.  Okay, maybe that particular iteration of the revision process is unique to me, but the point is, even Sondheim grasps around for the right solution.  Even James Lapine goes in with one approach and comes out with another.  Both struggle to balance work habits, incorporating outsiders' opinions, and more. 

The title of the song I've quoted in my header is "Art isn't easy."  This is true.  It's a lot easier, though, when I remind myself that I'm not alone.  As Sondheim says, in fact, "No one is alone."  And "Connect, George.  Connect." 

Back from the B'Ded

I call this entry, "Back from the B'Ded" because I'm not back from being anywhere close to dead (just a bad case of the flu), so really where I'm back from is Bed, but that sounds a little salacious for an activity that involved something like 20 hours of sleep in a 28-hour period.  It was a real flu--I'll spare you the details--but I think my body was telling me to take a break from writing.  In major deadline mode (as in, draft due to editor in 6 weeks), I should probably be revising every day, but I think my mind really needed a break, so my body gave me one. 

I can't say I'm rip-roaring excited to turn back to the manuscript today, but at least I watched a little House, Gossip Girl, ANTM in the meantime and...oh dear.  Not only am I giving away my shameful taste (well, 'House' I stand by), but also what I did with 4 of the hours I was awake.  The other 4 I was watching my students perform their American history plays and getting a cavity filled!  Those are all worthwhile activities, I think. 

ps I used to really like Serena on GOSSIP GIRL, but ever since I saw the runway episode in which Blair tells her everything is so easy for her, I've thought, "She's right!  I don't like Serena as much!"  These are big changes, my friends. 

And re: the episide I watched online: those kids are having crazy way too may interactions with that teacher Rachel.  Talk about unconvincing motivation.  If there were a rumor about me having an affair with a teacher or a student, would I seek them out in public and in private?  I think not.  You can tell me it's true love between her and Dan, but I think it's true lame.