Giving the mundane its beautiful due

January 29, 2009

Not my words (oh, that I might be so eloquent) but those of John Updike, whose death was announced this week. But what a wonderful phrase to describe the high calling of writers, whose job it is to memorialize and bring to luminous signficance the small everyday worlds that we all inhabit. And what a reminder as we struggle with the issues that dominate our time and attention – whether it be chores, getting the children to school (or keeping them entertained at home on snow days), battling with getting Page 26, paragraph 3, line 6 absolutely perfect, opening the mail/inbox to yet another request or rejection . . . Yes, most of our lives are very mundane – but when seen through the eyes of a writer, there is also beauty to be found.

All this is in my mind as I move at speed through an incredibly busy couple of weeks, just about keeping my head above water. Or perhaps I should say above the snowline, since we’ve been ‘deep and crisp and even’ here since Monday. Not good when your vehicle is the fabled red-and-black Mini Cooper with teeny-tiny wheels, no 4-wheel drive, and a distinctly stunted stature next to the mighty pick-up trucks that stare down at us from a great height. So I’ve been staying in, ploughing through a ton of stuff – concluding a contract that’s taken months to negotiate (but all the better for waiting), making a couple of submissions to publishers, doing a lot of reading, talking to a prospective author about her manuscript, helping my Rights People colleagues prepare materials for Bologna – and talking daily to Julia Churchill who started on Monday over in our London office. It’s a lot of fun having Julia on board and, as you Brits will discover (if you’re lucky enough to have her sign you up), she’s got a pretty good sense of humour and a great turn of phrase! You’ll find out a lot more about Julia next week when I’ll be interviewing her on this blog, by which time you should also spot some amendments to the Greenhouse website to reflect her arrival.

But it’s not just the weekdays that are packed – it’s weekends too at the moment. Last weekend’s trip to Florida for the annual conference of the Space Coast Writers’ Guild was quite a treat – not only because of the gorgeously balmy weather or my fleeting moments of dreaming solitude on the white sands of Cocoa Beach, but also because I met some really tremendous people there. Many aspiring and highly committed writers (lots of one-on-one sessions listening to pitches), agents like Deidre Knight and Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency, Jennifer Schober of Spencerhill Associates (hi, Jennifer!), Mary Sue Seymour – and more. And then there were the editors – Alyson Day of HarperCollins and Dedi Felman of Simon & Schuster. It’s always great fun to get together with others in the industry and shoot the breeze informally, but we also joined forces for a panel in which we all pitched in to answers writers’ questions about the publishing business.

So now it’s nearing the end of another hectic week and I’m packing my bag again to fly to New York at 5 am tomorrow. YES, I REALLY DID SAY FIVE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING. My New York trips are always busy and this is no exception as I grab a cab from the airport to the offices of Farrar Straus to see various editors, then to Harper to see Michelle Corpora of Greenwillow, moving swiftly on to Clarion’s Jennifer Wingertzahn via a stop-off with new Hyperion publisher Stephanie Lurie (fairly recently moved from Dutton). Alisha Niehaus of Dial rounds off the afternoon before we both head down to the pre-conference cocktail party that launches SCBWI’s Winter Conference.

But I’m still lingering over the passing of John Updike and the eloquence of his words, quoted by the New York Times yesterday.

‘To condense from one’s memories and fantasies and small discoveries dark marks on paper which become handsomely reproducible many times over still seems to me, after nearly 30 years concerned with the making of books, a magical act, and a delightful technical process. To distribute oneself thus, as a kind of confetti shower falling upon the heads and shoulders of mankind out of bookstores and the pages of magazines is surely a great privilege and a defiance of the usual earthbound laws whereby human beings make themselves known to one another.’

I bid you good day and the most pleasant of weekends.

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