Cue head exploding

Have you ever had so much go on within a short span of time that you feel like your head is just going to pop like a party balloon? That’s how I feel right now. Don’t worry, I’m self-medicating with some Chinese food. I’m on top of this.

Yesterday and this morning involved a lot of back and forth over jacket flap copy for AUT, which is exciting but also nerve-wracking. Has anyone else noticed that it’s really hard to describe your own book? As the person who spent six years writing it, I feel like everything is important, and I don’t know how to boil it down to the essentials without frying all my circuits. Thank God for agents and editors, right? I’m so tired.

That might have a little to do with being out so late last night, though. One of the reasons I’m super lucky to be living in New York is that I have so many good friends here, and they’re all cool and interesting and into a hundred different things. I’ve managed over the course of a few months to pick up several guy friends who are amateur stand-up comedians, but until last night I’d never seen any of them up on stage. Me, Cambria and Nikki headed over to Gotham after work (short pit stop at Dallas BBQ for margaritas and chicken fingers, OBVS, as it’s right there) and were able to see our friends David and Brian (both incredibly funny) perform. There were a lot of funny people, and it was nice to see some lady comics, because when Bri and I went to Gutbucket a few weeks ago there was only one and she was…fine.

Speaking of Gutbucket, one of my favorite comics from that show performed at Gotham last night. His name is Luke Cunningham and I think he’s hilarious, that’s all.

Afterwards we went to Trailer Park, which is just down the street. It’s a kitschy little bar made up to resemble (what else?) a trailer park. I personally think it’s a little too expensive to live up to its name ($5 PBR? That’s highway robbery, that is) but the atmosphere is pretty great and the tater tots are to die for. We hung around with David, Brian, and a bunch of other comedians after the show, including one of the ladies, who I’m pretty sure I gave some material to, although quite honestly it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before on Sex and the City, so whatevs. MD also joined us after her date, bringing the party as always.

I got home around midnight, but then of course stayed up until one to finish Wintergirls, which is so wonderful and traumatizing. Some people don’t like sad, emotionally eviscerating books, but those are my favorite kinds, and Wintergirls is the perfect example. In short, I loved it, Laurie Halse Anderson is a rock star.

Back to work

This morning, I finally (sorry J!) sent the revised MB manuscript off to Joanna, who in turn is going to send it to my editor, who in turn is going to look at it sometime…soon? I don’t know, I can only imagine how busy she must be, and this book isn’t set to come out until January 2011 after all, so I’m not holding my breath. In fact, I’m letting it out, in a huge sigh of relief. AUT is off to copyedits, MB is off to my editor, and I can work on new stuff yay!

I love putting together a book. Pre-writing and plotting are my very favorite parts of the whole process. For me, the process is very much like someone scattered a 500-piece puzzle all over P.Diddy’s mansion and it’s my job to find them all and put them together correctly. I would say I have 1/4 of the pieces for GR right now. I have the short, pithy description: “Lord of the Flies meets The Haunting of Hill House.” I have my cast of characters, my dramatis personae if you want to be as insufferably Elizabethan as apparently I do. I have some background information, I have some clues, I have some ideas for puzzles (that’s right, puzzles–I knew that playing all those Nancy Drew computer games with Em and Fish would come in handy one day), I have the setting, and I’ve done some research about it. I have the soundtrack (lots of Andrew Bird music). I have the structure, and I have some major plot crises. I have a good idea for a couple of relationship and character arcs. My mind is busy day and night, working out the plot knots and introducing obstacles. Pre-writing is the best.

All of this said, I could use a vacation. A real one. I’m going to California for a friend’s wedding at the beginning of May (perhaps I already mentioned this?), but only for two days, if that. I may or may not be going to London in May, also, but again, only two days. Back to California in June for my siblings’ graduations, maybe that’ll be four days, but there will probably be no small amount of frenzied activity and sitting out in the hot sun listening for their names to be called. Back to California in late July for another wedding, this one in Monterey, so it should be a little bit more temperate but no less hurried, unfortunately. Although, I already got permission from my parents to borrow a car so that I can drive to Maggie’s wedding and possibly swing by the John Steinbeck house on my way through Salinas. We’ll see–I really love that drive, though, regardless.

As happy as I am to be doing all these things, what I’d love is just to have one long vacation, not these super short trips every month. It wouldn’t even have to be somewhere exotic or touristy–just being at home in California for a week would be fine. My parents and I wanted to go take a trip up to the California ghost towns (research for GR), but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

Still, I mosey. Last night my friends and I gathered at our “local” (and I put that in quotation marks because I live nowhere near it) watering hole, Dempsey’s, for St. Patrick’s Day. It was packed, as one would expect the best Irish pub in New York (according to me) to be on the big Irish holiday. When we got hungry, we went to Artichoke for spinach & artichoke pizza (the line was considerably shorter last night than it had been at three am two Saturdays ago), and I’m not kidding you, this is the best pizza I’ve had ever. It’s niche, of course–you’re not always in the mood for spinach & artichoke pizza, and if you are then I pray for your arteries, but it’s so delicious you don’t even know. 14th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves. That’s a little tip from me to you.

New post up at A-Team and other random things

This post actually went up last night, but I forgot to put a link to it here. Now I did! Go read it and come back, I’ll wait.

Okay, so I’m officially done with AUT revisions. That is a sweet, sweet thing to be able to write. I sent my revised manuscript to my editor via email on Monday (this was the second round), and God bless her she’d had the whole thing read by Wednesday afternoon, when she emailed me with three questions/clarifications. It took me about fifteen minutes to do those and shoot back an email on Thursday morning, and by the afternoon she’d sent an email saying that the ms was going to copyediting early next week.

Now it’s time to start working on something new…

LOL “working on something new”! Since my editor expressed interest in seeing MB after AUT went to copyedits, and since I told her that MB was “ready” (check out that diction choice–notice I didn’t say “finished” or “done” because I know there’s probably some rough revision time ahead of me), now I have to make sure that it is ready. I mean, I think it is, since I sent it to J in October and she sent me an editorial letter of things to change back and I made most of those changes, but it could still use a once- or twice-over, since I haven’t really worked on it seriously since November. That’s what this weekend is about. And then something new!

The annoying thing about “something new” is that I have two books on the docket (is that the correct usage of the word “docket”? Probs not) and my brain likes to alternate between them as if it expects to work on them at the same time, which, let me tell you, brain, ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN. Pick a side! For now I’ve been going with it, but that’s going to need to change soon if I want to be at all productive.

Pre-writing

About a month ago, I put up a post asking people to frequently ask their questions for the FAQ page of my new website, and Alexa brought up a lot of great topics that I decided to do posts on instead of FAQs, so that I could talk about them at length because you know I love to do that. I decided to start with pre-writing, because I do a lot of it, and it’s the easiest topic to get my head around enough to write a helpful post on a Friday, especially since I have my AUT notebook on me today.

If I’m honest, pre-writing is my favorite part of the writing process (this probably explains how exhausted and low-energy I am when it comes to the end of it, a.k.a. revisions). For every book I have a dedicated notebook, usually just a college-ruled spiral-bound cheapie from Target or Office Depot or whatever. I like to get ones with bright covers, so I can tell them apart; the AUT notebook is red, the MB one is purple, the GR one is blue, and so on. SM doesn’t have a notebook yet–I’ve been doing a lot of my pre-writing for that book on the computer for some reason.

This is not to say that programs like Scrivener or a good old fashioned Word document won’t work for pre-writing, because of course to each his or her own. I’ve tried Scrivener and am not enamored, although maybe I could be with more practice, and I have plenty of pre-writing for all my books in Word docs. But the notebook is crucial because it’s portable and it’s tactile. I would never write a book long hand (laziness), but I get way more satisfaction making notes with a pen than typing them out real quick on a computer (although I’ll do anything in a pinch; Google Docs and the Drafts folder of my Gmail are routinely filled with ideas and lines and links to Wikipedia pages for research).

There are many different types of pre-writing that I do. They include:

  • Character manifestos
  • Dramatis personae
  • Soundtrack
  • Map (if necessary, although I always think it’s good to have a map of the area your characters will be operating in, so that you can keep geography straight)
  • Research (for example, my GR notebook is full of information about the real-life towns my fake town is based on)
  • Any other notes. For me, this usually includes a long stream of ideas about where the novel could go that basically read as I’m thinking them: “Maybe Neily could secretly be a mermaid! No, that’s probably not going to work, but if he’s got an aversion to kryptonite (change name?) then it makes it impossible for him to go to school for three days while Audrey”*…etc., etc.  I also apparently wrote impassioned rebuttles to some of my thesis adviser’s criticism, peppered with rambling philosophical arguments (well I was in grad school at the time). There’s a whole section on Sartre’s “good faith” v. “bad faith” that I’ll try to remember to reproduce for you someday when the book comes out (it’s spoilery)–EL OH EL I’m a loser.

Of course, you don’t really need all these things, and I don’t have all of them for every book. The most important thing for me to have is the dramatis personae (it’s pretend-like-you’re-Shakespeare Friday, didn’t you know?), which combined with the synopsis makes up the treatment for the novel. The dramatis personae is where I dump all of my notes regarding physical appearance of each of the characters, full name, personality, relationships with other characters (from an objective perspective–the character manifesto is for the character’s thoughts about themselves and their lives and their relationships with others, as well as the other characters themselves), etc. I want to keep track of their age, their year in school, their family structure, all that stuff.

The synopsis–well, you could write a whole blog post on the synopsis (and people have), probably a series of blog posts. I just try to put down in a completely straightforward way what happens in the book. My “treatments” (always Word docs) also usually have a catch-all brainstorming section, when I want to accomplish things but don’t really know where to put them. “Heroin lollipops” was in the AUT brainstorming section for a long time, probably too long, considering they never made it into any version of the manuscript. I just thought it was an interesting idea, but I replaced it with another, much better “something concealed in something else” device.

Even though pre-writing seems like the beginning of the process, it’s something I’m always doing. I try to get very prepared to write a novel beforehand, but there’s always new things to take note of and the brainstorming process is ongoing. Because of that, I always carry a notebook and a pen with me. In a pinch, I’ll write a text message and then save it to draft when I get home, or use the notebook feature of my iPod Touch to make a reminder, but the best is really to have a notebook on me at all times. For a long while I also carried notecards around in a plastic bag, which was great, too. Do it any way you please.

As an aside, I was going through my AUT notebook and I found something I’d totally forgotten about that I thought might be interesting. As regular blog readers probably know, AUT is about two teens who team up to solve their friend’s murder. The friend is named Carly, and it’s not a spoiler to say that Carly is dead because that’s the entire premise of the book. Thus, it is also not a spoiler to say that Carly has a headstone, and that headstone has a quotation engraved on it. If you’d asked me this morning if that was always the quotation on headstone, I would’ve said yes, because I’d completely forgotten that the headstone once had another quotation on it–although probably not in any actual manuscript version. I’m married to the quotation on the headstone now, and perhaps this one is way too heavy-handed, but I’m sorry I couldn’t use it because it’s really beautiful. It’s from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “A Musical Instrument”:

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain–
For the reed which grows nevermore again
As a reed with the reeds in the river.

Isn’t that just the best? Sigh.

*Not an actual excerpt. Obviously.

Oh, so THIS is what it feels like to be productive

Ladies and gentlemen, I had one of the most productive weekends ever. I’m very proud of myself for getting stuff done, because I normally have big plans for my weekends and then I end up sitting in my pajamas all day eating ramen and watching Monk on Hulu (I did that anyway this weekend, but for once I balanced it out).

As you probably already know, finishing my revisions has been the monumental goal in my life for the last week, so Friday I opted not to go out with friends and instead went home to work. I got through about thirty pages, which is respectable, but not great. I also watched some TV on the Internet, because I’m incorrigible, and I finished reading Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, which was pretty good and I even solved! the! mystery! before Poirot exposed the criminal(s).

On Saturday, my friend/coworker/web designer/brother from another mother, Eric, picked me up and took me to IKEA, because he’s just that awesome. I bought a bookcase and a new dresser (mine is quite literally falling to pieces), plus some knives (IKEA has the best knives, you heard it hear first), some extra plastic utensils, a replacement corkscrew (ours cost $3 at a bodega and is a terrible piece of worthless plastic; the IKEA one cost $2.50 and is an indestructible brushed steel), a couple of document boxes, and two chocolate bars.

Let me opine for a second about the IKEA chocolate bars. My friend Marisa handed me a dollar on Friday and asked me to bring her one. She also said, “Please get one for yourself; you won’t regret it.” I did what she said and I bought two milk chocolate bars, even though I’m not the biggest fan of sweets (I’m much more of a salty/savory person by nature). Guys? I ate the whole thing as soon as I got home. It was delish. Late last year I bought a Cadbury bar at the grocery story, as my once-every-three-months sweet tooth demanded, and it was not very good. I would later discover that the Cadbury brand in the US is actually just Nestle or Hershey’s or whoever owns them–it’s not actual Cadbury chocolate. Gross, right? Well, IKEA tastes just like Cadbury, so I was very gratified. It’ll hold me over until May, when I’m going to England and plan on importing several Cadbury chocolate bars.

On Saturday night I went out to dinner in the Financial District, which, guys? Just don’t do it. This is a little New York advice from me to you. I’ve spent more time in the Financial District than I ever cared to in the year and a half I’ve lived in New York, and other than Trinity Church and some of the old New Amsterdam stuff still around (which is way cool), it’s pretty worthless in the off-hours. I came up from the subway at 9:30 and of course it was dark and deserted and while I didn’t feel unsafe, necessarily, I get really turned around in that neighborhood and it’s just not great. Also, the restaurant was totally empty, which is creeptastic on the weekend at the dinner hour. Then we went to a ridiculous house party at this giant apartment that used to be a nightclub that our friend Kyle’s friend owns; there was a salsa band and Kyle somehow got control of the remote for the projector and put on The Beach (??) and it was PACKED, although we stuck together and didn’t mingle because none of the people were interesting to or interested in us. You can only have a party like that in the Financial District; anywhere else and your neighbors would call the cops in three seconds.

On Sunday I watched like 15 hours of Psych on Hulu, put together my bookcase, rearranged the living room a little, went to Bed, Bath and Beyond and got a bunch of stuff including a vacuum (!!), took out all the garbage and the recylcing in the entire apartment (which was a lot), moved all my books out to the bookcase and now I can finally BREATHE in my bedroom, and cleaned my room a little. I thought that was enough; I was like, “Anna, you don’t have to do any more revisions today, you’re good.” But then I was watching Psych and Friday Night Lights and I just kept going, “One more page, I’ll just work on one more page,” until everything was finished. Finished! Although not quite finished. I still have some flags in the MS of notes I have to go back to, and my editor gave me a one-page editorial letter with some clarifications and I have to make sure all those got taken care of. But the big work is done. And I’m feeling very accomplished.

It’s business time

  • First of all, this, JIC you didn’t catch the reference. I’m not the world’s biggest Flight of the Conchords fan, but this is pretty funny. Also, “Jenny”.
  • Second of all, I have a new post up at The A Team. Go read it!
  • Third of all, sorry my posts have been kind of lame (although very informational, right?) this week–like I said over at The A Team, I’m in the midst of revising AUT according to a deeply line-edited manuscript I picked up from my editor last week. As a result, I spend all day staring at a computer screen at my day job, then I go home, eat dinner, and spend two or three more hours staring at a computer screen, typing in changes and threatening to kill Microsoft Word’s track changes feature. So, I’m tired and cranky and headachey. But I’m over halfway done, so hopefully I’ll finish this weekend. Next stop for AUT after that: copy edits.
  • Fourth of all, I’m 9,176 days old today according to this handy calculator which I found via fellow Tenner Irene Latham. Fun fact!
  • Fifth of all, I gave up Diet Coke for Lent. This will not go well.
  • Sixth of all, my friend Eric is taking me to IKEA this weekend so I can get a damn bookshelf, which I badly need because, as I told my mom a couple of days ago, all the books in my room are a hazard to my health. I’m pretty sure someday one of the huge stacks I have will topple over and smother me to death. Also, I need a new dresser, because the bottoms are falling out of the drawers in my current dirt cheap IKEA model. Sigh.
  • Seventh of all, I’ve been watching a lot of 30 Rock while I work and before bed and so have had two dreams about Liz Lemon recently. In one of them, she and Pete Hornberger were buying a house in my friend Kim’s parents’ neighborhood.
  • Eighth of all, Gossip Girl has been renewed for another season! This is such good news! I call for rejoicing in the streets! All men should wear ascots and purple velvet jackets in honor of this truly momentous occasion!

GOSSIP GIRL

See? I’m working!

grnotes

That’s the synopsis I’m doing for GR. I had to do it handwritten, because I kept getting blocked when I was trying to type it. I told a friend recently that I didn’t believe in writer’s block, but I think it would be more accurate to say that I believe there are times when you have a failure of imagination, but that the best way to remedy that would be to try something else. Even though I hate writing longhand, it does often feel more productive to scribble rather than type.

In other news, please ignore how ridiculously unkempt I look in this picture. Sometimes I look cute! I’ll prove it to you:

regular

Move along

I’ve made a decision. This is the last weekend I will spend working on MB for the time being. By Monday, it’s going to be ready to go to my editor. The truth is that I’ve been playing with it on and off since I turned in my AUT revisions, but it’s getting to the point where all changes are pretty infinitescimal. I could keep doing that forever, if only I could live so long, so I have to cut the cord and let it go out into the world before I lose my mind over the relative difference between “smiled” and “grinned”.

This is not to say that MB is in any way done, only that it’s “done” as far as I can be done with it for now. Once my editor takes a look at it and gives her feedback, I’ll start revising all over again. I’m ready to work on new stuff. I’m ready for GR. I really am. I wasn’t for a long time, and I’m still a little afraid of it, but I’m going to move on to it anyway because I’m so excited to write it.

Some things about GR: It’s going to be different than anything I’ve ever done before. The cast of characters is going to be much bigger, the scope of the story is going to be much wider. I’ve been working on what I would call “close” stories for the past, I don’t know, my life? Stories that are either in the first person or close third and limited to a pretty small dramatis personae. It’s always been the place I’ve felt comfortable: inside somebody’s head, or hovering over their shoulder, following them on a road to discovery.

Not so with GR. I’ve decided (this could change) to write it in alternating POVs: one section in first person, one section in third person omniscient (!!). The organization is different: instead of straightforward chapters (or parts split up into chapters, like AUT), I’m writing it by days (i.e. Day 1, Day 2, etc.) separated into chapters. At this point, according to my (admittedly small plot outline), Day 1, Chapter 1 will be third person omniscient, Day 1, Chapter 2 will be in May’s POV, Day 1, Chapter 3 will be third person omniscient, and so on and so forth. I like this format; it feels tight and efficient, which I need to reign in what seems like it’ll be quite the sprawler. My third person omniscient narrator knows everything, obvs, because that is the definition of “omniscient”, and I have a feeling that he/she/me would go off into wild, marginally related tangents about people, places, or ideas if I didn’t have some kind of strict structure in mind.

Also, I have one main character, two second-tier characters (like, they’re not the focal point of the entire novel, but they do have huge parts), eleven third-tier characters, and a literal host (possibly two hundred?) of extras populating the world. I’m going to need at least one more third-tier character, perhaps a few more depending on how I want to do that part of the story (this is where the third person omniscient narrator comes in). There are going to be massive meteorological events, a brilliantly eccentric mansion, puzzles and secrets, feuding factions, gunshots, escape attempts, romance, betrayal, etc. It’s basically Lord of the Flies meets The Haunting of Hill House. It’s going to be AWESOME, you guys.

So, I really need to get MB off my plate, because dude: I can’t wait to get started.

Little things to get excited about

J and I heard back from my editor today and she’s happy with my AUT edits. It seems like all the big stuff is fixed and something that has been a major obstacle throughout has been surpassed, which is such a relief to me. It also seems like the fifteen or so pages that got added in the revisions aren’t a big deal, length-wise (I worry about the smallest things sometimes). Now my editor is going to go through and do another line edit (I got a marked-up manuscript with my revision letter, so this’ll be the second time we do line edits, which is really good because I would feel weird if we went straight to copy edits without having at least the new stuff line edited first) and then I can make those changes and then…I’m guessing copy edits!

Also, we’re supposed to see a cover treatment tomorrow, although I’m sure I won’t have permission to share the cover on this blog for many, many months so I’ll just put that out there right now. I will want to, but I will refrain. I’m excited to see it (obviously) because my editor went over their ideas for the cover with me several months ago but I’ve never seen any art or the results of a photo shoot or anything, so it will be completely and utterly new to me. I’m going to write more on this subject over at The A Team blog later, but for now I just wanted to share the thrill. Oh, and I’m going to post over there tomorrow, too, just about my journey to where I am now. I’ll link to the post over here.

Big plans on my end tonight. I’m going to swim laps with my friend Alex at my new! gym! and then if I’m not too exhausted I’m going to go grocery shopping and then cook some lazy chicken cacciatore after I do the massively piled up dishes. Lazy chicken cacciatore (or, as I sometimes say it, “kitchen chakitory”) is one of the many lazy dishes that I’ve discovered over the years that resemble things I ate as a kid but are a lot less work.

Lazy Chicken Cacciatore:

1 green pepper, sliced
1/2 an onion, sliced
.8 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast (I always buy the prepackaged stir fry strips because, yes, I am THAT lazy; I cut them up into little cubes)
1/2 jar pasta sauce (I used Brad’s Organic reduced fat garlic flavor, but that’s up to you)
a pinch of minced garlic (from a jar, obvs)

Put some olive oil in a pan and then add the green peppers, onions, chicken and garlic. Simmer (on high heat if you’re really impatient like me, but don’t let it burn!) until the chicken is cooked through (everything else should be cooked by then). Once it’s done, turn off the heat and pour pasta sauce over it. I serve it over whole wheat rotini or penne and it makes about four servings. So easy, right? I know. Next time I’ll give you my recipe for Annachiladas, which are nothing like real enchiladas, but is also a lazy recipe especially if you don’t bake them because you don’t have a functioning oven!

Edited to add: I told my coworkers I’d be seeing a cover treatment tomorrow and my friend Mary sent me this:

bomb-dot-com

You’re welcome.

Recreation

The big idea is recreation. You know what that means? …Well, let’s break the word down, shall we? Re-create. To create again. Begin again. To start over. People need to do that. Work is fine, but every now and then, you’ve got to take a break and re-create…Remember, recreation isn’t about relaxing. It’s about redefining…whatever’s become undefined.

This past weekend I did a little recreating myself. (That quotation is from Joan of Arcadia, by the way.) I didn’t really plan for the weekend to go exactly as it did, but I’m glad I changed my plans at the last minute. Super glad. Like, “What was I thinking when I made my previous plans?” glad. This weekend was the emotional and social equivalent of one of those cleanses where you only drink lemon water with honey and cayenne pepper or some such; you flush the toxins out so there’s more room for the good stuff. Or more toxins. I guess it kind of depends on how dedicated you are to what comes next, which I TOTALLY AM you guys.

I left New York on Friday morning. My flight was scheduled for 10 AM out of La Guardia, so I caught a cab a couple of minutes after eight. It would’ve been exactly at eight except for some unfathomable reason I was locked IN to my apartment building. I couldn’t get out through the front door because I guess it was locked from the outside? This has never happened before and it was totes weird, but I didn’t really have time to go knock on my super’s door and explain to him patiently that the fact I pay rent to this building doesn’t make me its PRISONER. I went to the basement, shimmied up the fire escape and then rappelled down the side of the building to get out, and let me tell you, that is not easy when you’re carrying a twenty-five pound duffel bag.

It was one of those mornings where New York throws you a freaking bone (except for the getting locked in my building part). I got a cab no problem, there wasn’t any traffic, security was a breeze, and my flight was on time. I did sit next to an elderly couple who were complaining about Barack Obama and how because he’s from Illinois he’s probably corrupt because “everybody there is on the take.” Oh, Blago. Why’d you have to go and give the Land of Lincoln a bad name just when people were starting to believe? Whatever. Old people make the darndest assumptions about state politics that are probably more or less true!

We landed in O’Hare a little bit early, but I don’t know if you knew this, O’Hare has seceded from the nation and is now its own country, so it took me six hours to walk across it and I didn’t even get to go through the tunnel of light, which is my absolute favorite part! Bygones. The El was pretty easy to find, but also a squillion miles away from my gate. Because I am awesome, I still have my Chicago Card from two years ago and didn’t have to worry about getting a CTA pass, which is why I didn’t notice until a little bit later when I was reading some of the signs on the train that a single ride on the El has gone up to $2.25! With 30-day passes at $86! That’s more than New York (although I’m sure that our fares will get hiked again really soon). Also, my train went express for no reason. Chicago! It really is just like New York except with lower taxes and less bodegas! Here’s an idea: let’s have the 2016 Olympics there.

It was SO COLD in Chicago on Friday, you guys. SO COLD. My friend Marisa told me this horrifying story about a friend of hers whose ear fell off when it was that cold (this may or may not be apocryphal, but it certainly gave me a mental picture I did not want), so I was reasonably worried about my extremities, and the four block walk to Browne & Miller HQ did make me want to lay down and die, but all was well when I arrived (a teeny bit late for a late lunch) to two famished literary agents. Obvs, we vamoosed right out of the office and down the street to Mercat, which has amazing fries, if you ever find yourself hungry on S. Michigan Avenue.

I love Joanna and Danielle. Not only are they amazing agents, but they’re really smart and fun. Lunch was long and delicious, with lots of talk about marketing and the industry, and when we went back to the office Joanna and I talked about what comes next. I have to finish MB for my editor so that I can get it to her, I hope by the end of January–it would be nice if showing her MB coincided with sending AUT into the copy editing stage, but that depends on if there is still any work to be done on AUT. We’ll see. But also I have my two other books in the pipeline, and after talking to J it looks like I’m going to follow my instincts and work on GR first. I have about twelve pages and a page of synopsis for GR, so there’s a lot of work to be done. I’m excited to write a book from scratch again, it’s been a long time since I’ve done that, since when I was writing MB this summer I was writing off a synopsis and six chapters I’d written almost a year before.

I spent the rest of the (mercifully a little bit warmer) weekend with my aunt and her family in the suburbs. My beloved cousin Emma picked me up from the train station and when we got home my aunt was waiting for me with a glass of wine, and my uncle came in approximately fifteen minutes later with Giordano’s pizza. My cousin Matt grew approximately sixteen feet, Jacob Black-style, since I’d last seen him a year ago. On Saturday, Emma and I went to see Slumdog Millionaire, which was excellent, and then we went to Matt’s basketball game.

Now, about this basketball game. Matt’s team was solidly beating the other team until the second half, when the difference between the two scores was a point or two throughout. With twenty seconds left, Matt’s team scored and it looked like they were poised to win, but in the last SIX SECONDS the other team was able to get the ball two thirds of the way across the court and a guy SHOT and SCORED at the buzzer. It was sad our team lost, but also, that’s pretty amazing. As my aunt said, “That boy will remember this day forever, and we got to be here. Isn’t that cool?” Then we went home and watched The Dark Knight, which they LOVE but which I’d never seen. Not to beat the obvious horse completely to death here, but Heath Ledger was a super star. His performance in that movie was so impressive.

On Sunday my aunt and I went to fetch my grandmother from the city and we went to Jameson’s, a steak house in the suburbs. It was so good to see my grandmother; I realized then that I’d only seen her once since I moved out of her house and to New York. I wish I’d gotten to spend more time with her, but hopefully we’ll be in Chicago next Christmas so there will be plenty of time for that. I’d also like to go to Chicago one more time before then, so we’ll see what kind of flexibility this summer affords me. That evening we watched the season premiere of Big Love and I watched an ENTIRE EPISODE of Desperate Housewives AND Brothers and Sisters, both of which I dislike, although I will say that the DH episode was sweet and interesting. On the other hand, Snoozeville, Population: Bros and Hos. Also I indulged in some Jon and Kate Plus Eight, because you know how much I treasure that show.

On Monday we went bowling (God, this is probably so boring, I realize that now–sorry!) and, true to form, I sucked. But I still had SO much fun. This whole weekend was very calm and restorative and full of love and laughter and right now I’m giving y’all diabetes with my sappiness, but I’m telling you, if you have family you adore, make all efforts you can to see them. It’s better than Prozac.

So, how to take a happy girl down a peg? Give her a two hour delay on the tarmac and a crazy guy in the cab line and a two thirty AM bedtime. Oh well. I’m exhausted, but Barack Obama is president now and I’m going to see Equus after work with three of my best NY girlfriends. Recreation.

P.S. I had a dream I was friends with Stephenie Meyer and we were at her son’s school. I wish there was an emoticon for “mildly confused shrug”. Dream Stephenie was super nice, though.