Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Put Down the Phone

07 Apr

I have to do it. I do.

I have a strange new addiction to watching videos in the evenings on my phone. Comics, beauty, organization. It’s like a visual, moving Pintrest of ideas and music and smiley faces. Games. And social media, memes … just flipping, flipping, flipping through … crap on the Internet.

It is quite the opposite of reading books. And I kind of miss those. Books.

I spend my days, quite naturally, reading. E-mails, manuscripts, proofs. Researching and fact checking. Often when I’m actually working on an actual story, I’m not “reading.” I’m editing. Or proofing, or looking something up in a style book …

The truth is, at the end of the day, cracking open a book, which used to feel like freedom, is often the last thing I want to do. Hence, the videos.

But I do miss it. I do like a time when I can read for reading sake, without taking an editorial eye to it. People who are not in the biz always make the assumption that editors will be quick to correct a person’s grammar when they’re speaking. This is simply not true. And not just because correcting someone’s grammar would make said editor seem like a pretentious a-hole. But because people talk how they talk, and verbal communication is very, very different from the written word.

Ergo, it’s so very difficult for me to take off an editorial hat when reading a book. Especially if it ain’t all that great. Know what I’m sayin’?

A great book, however, can totally bring out the writer in me. I find myself thinking and writing in the voices of characters I’m reading. I’m envious and appreciative of the actual writer, because they thought of this genius and I did not. I often find myself inspired and contemplative.

It’s what most often makes me put the phone down.

So it’s my goal, a new goal, to dive into a pretty good stash of books I’ve yet to read, and to start working them back in to my professional life. Another assumption of editors is that we are well read. And we are, up until the point where we start reading for money, and then the only thing we’re reading is our work. See the cycle?

So with this is my own pledge to start reading. And start reporting back. Stay tuned.


The Children’s Corner

15 Sep

I have read a lot of children’s literature. A lot. Once upon a time, when I worked with a big-name publisher, that was my job. Yes. My job was to get dressed up, go to an office (or a library) and read children’s books. All. Day. Long.

My eyes were very tired. Also, very dry hands. I didn’t read much for myself at night. But it was fun. SO FUN.

Now, as a children’s book editor, I am reading plenty of submissions and manuscripts and plenty of new and exciting new titles that are flying out and about. But occasionally we hit the library or the bookstore and find a gem that I have missed. A book that just really screams, “I need to be in your collection!”

So I’m starting a new column here for the ERE blog, a series of children’s book reviews that bring up not only great literature, but books that may have been passed up by our new generation of readers.

First up:

Front cover of Pete, feeling groovy.

Front cover of Pete, feeling groovy.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons

Art by James Dean (creator of Pete the Cat)

Story by Eric Litwin

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

ISBN: 978-0062110589


What’s In It

Like many of the Pete the Cat books, there’s lots of repetition, and a song this one about how much Pete likes his four groovy buttons. As Pete moves about his day—doing a little skateboarding, a little surfing, having some ice cream—one by one he loses all of his buttons. But, as the story goes, “Does Pete cry? Goodness, no! Buttons come and buttons go.” Pete keeps on singing his song about loving his groovy buttons.

Mom’s View

Frankly, Pete the Cat is just a hit at home. Both of my children (ages 5 and 2), are ob-sessed with this series. My eldest son, Max, started off his first week of Kindergarten using teaching materials based on Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, and his teachers noted to me how much he was responding to it. So Four Groovy Buttons made its way into my Amazon cart.

I chose this particular title because I thought it would parallel the first book for Max, and it does immensely. He immediately began reading along, counting with me and repeating some of the refrains from the White Shoes book.

What surprised me also was how much little Andy loooooved this book. Since it entered the house “more kitty” is a pretty constant request. If he sees the book, or if Max and I already have been reading it, he wants in on the action.

I like the little incorporation of math. Each time Pete loses a button, the reader is asked how many are left, and then a little equation (4-1=3) is included. I also quite like the size of the product, which is about nine by eleven. It feels like a storybook you want to pick up and read.

Heads Up: When I first read this with Max, he picked up on the line “Does Pete cry?” which is in the White Shoes book as well. The response in that book is “No, no, no.” For some children with learning disorders and other challenges, repetition is a big thing. Particularly their designated repetition. However, he accepted the response of “Goodness, no!” and was able to go with it.

There are downloadable songs to go with this series, and subsequently, YouTube videos that include the entire story narrated and sung with images from the book. I quickly ditched the video after one viewing, for fear they would never want to read the actual book again!

Also, see my Editor’s Note.

Art Notes

It’s not my fav.


I know. But I’m an editor. I like clean lines. But, plenty of folks love this art style, and it does have a nice movement to it, like we could hop right over to a slow-motion animation version of Pete for Saturday morning TV. And it’s super bright and friendly and colorful, which is part of the reason my children were so attracted to it.

Editor’s Notes

Repetition is a key ingredient to early readers, and especially for books that are intended as a read-aloud from parent to child. I do appreciate the repetition, but because it’s Pete singing a song, and the song repeats so many words, this may pose a difficulty when reading aloud. You can choose whatever rhythm you like, but there is an actual rhythm to follow with the song. The idea is that you go download the song, which you can simply play on an electronic device. See my Heads Up as well.

Those four GROOVY buttons.

Those four GROOVY buttons.


The Books of My Childhood

20 May

For mother’s day, I got this little treasure:

Pinoneer girl2

It’s a book that has been on my mind, ever since I posted this story about Pioneer Girl, and its rampant success. And in reading the introduction—just the introduction, mind you—has me pondering those books of my childhood.

Now, as a children’s book editor, I’m obviously spending a great deal of time thinking, reading and editing children’s literature; but just talking about and reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder brings up such distinct memories of my early love of books.

It was a complex conglomerate of things I connected to; I look back now and realize it was the simplicity of their day-to-day activities that was so appealing to me. I loved Ma’s regime (common at the time): Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday, Bake on Saturday, Rest on Sunday. It also was the appeal of living in a time when the family was confronted with all sorts of situations—many threatening to their very lives and they just … did. Doing is so part of my Gemini nature, and it was as a young child.

Think about the prairie fire and everyone soaking sacks to keep a perimeter around their house, or the time the blizzard came and Pa dug a tunnel from the house to the barn (where did he put all that snow?) or *shudder* … the locusts.

I also was totally entranced by the food. I was fascinated by the scene in the big woods where they would make molasses candy by pouring it in the snow in cute little shapes. One winter I filled a plate with snow and poured pancake syrup over it. (Mmm … pancake syrup slushie.)

I still picture Mary and Laura arguing over making sage or onion stuffing. Or Pa cooking in his little smokehouse. Or the girls fighting over who would get the pig’s tail. Ma making Johnnycakes, which spawned many days of me mixing up some Bisquick, pressing it into an aluminum pie tin and baking it in the oven.

The concept of a barrel of salted pork was fascinating to me. It’s a wonder I didn’t become a chef. Or a butcher.

The memories of those books are lovely, and pressing further, Pioneer Girl has me once again inspired to work, which to most people may sound silly. But it’s a misconception that writer’s actually write every day, which really means writer’s create every day. They don’t. I don’t. I certainly sit at this computer, I type quite a bit, but it’s mostly in the form of critique (which sometimes can be creative), or more boring things like invoices or emails.

This book is a peek into the creative process, before the term “creative process” even existed. Pioneer Girl is brought forth by a team of editors and scholars that have studied and combed over every detail of what exists from that original manuscript, plus Rose Wilder Lane’s diaries and correspondences, photographs, scans of actual written pages … piecing together the actions and steps that lead to Wilder’s series, to Lane’s novels … it’s just delicious. It is quite large, and heavy, which I actually like. Makes me feel like I’m studying Laura a bit. A Little House 101.

So if you have a moment, go find it. It’s so worth it. Pioneer Girl reminds you that the process matters … picking one project up and putting another down or writing for days and days and getting frustrated—it’s all a part of creating, which is the best part. It’s the hot, roasted pig’s tail.


Reflections on NaPoWriMo

09 May

Last month, I took on the NaPoWriMo challenge: to pen thirty poems in thirty days. The exercise was to write a poem every day, and I nearly stuck to that. Poets work on an honor system, which involves pretending that we sat down to write a poem every day, instead of five in one day, or five poems for the entire month.

As a writer I try not to compare my writing with others, rather, I read as a reader. After the month of April was finished, I decided to check out some of my fellow NaPoWriMo-ers (at least, those that linked their web-published works to the NaPoWriMo site.) I thought during this project that I was constantly falling behind; that there was this demand for my words. As I clicked through more and more poetry blogs and sites, I realized many of the fellow writer’s did that whole artist thing … posting for the first few days, leaving off the last three, continuing past the month of April. Very few posted complete April collections.

I get it. The process itself was not an easy one. I kind of catalog it in “Writing,” how at first it was exciting, ideas falling out of the sky really, just by opening up my eyes to look around the room. By week three, it was more like: Dammit I have to finish a copywriting job, edit twenty more pages, unload the dishwasher, call my mom, give the baby a bath and finish the three poems I started four days ago …. Crap! And write today’s poem.

That isn’t to say that daily poetry writing is all bad. Some poems are a force; they just come right through you; the written equivalent of bursting into song. Other poems, like “Ritual,” just whisper themselves to you while you’re in the middle of the act itself. Others are woooorrrrk … it may be a great spark of a concept that never takes off; the words just lie there like dry seeds. Some experiments with topics (mothers, or love or tacos) soon fizzle with a sing-song like mediocrity. Many poetic starts just stayed in my notebook, not even making it to a Word file.

And yet. NaPoWriMo was a satisfying process, not just accomplishing the feat of writing 30 poems in a month, and not just jump starting creativity. Now, as I read back over the verse, it reads like a lovely little catalog of my days … my regular, everyday life is there, along with the spectacular thoughts and feelings that come with them. It is a sort of picture album of poems; which I am taking great pride in creating.


In Memory of Adrienne Rich

29 Mar
“A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.
The beak that grips her, she becomes.”
-Adrienne Rich, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law”

There have been many bloggers discussing the life of Adrienne Rich this week; she passed away on Wednesday at the age of 82. And the Baltimore-born feminist certainly left a legacy in life and the written word, one worth visiting again and again.

There is a special sadness when one you have studied leaves the world; like losing a teacher you have never met. In trying to honor her, I began to do what one does to gain insight to a poet: I began reading, and sometimes re-reading, her poems. And in doing so, it seems only fitting that this blog became a poem itself, to one so fearless, and so beloved.

She Becomes

Like the luxury of copying famous quotations

Into a notebook,

On a bed in Tuscany.

That same author brought

Me to write of women monsters,

Springing forth from Adam. From Earth.


They didn’t call you a monster,

The chosen insult was: “political,”

What they really meant to say was, “liberal.”

They didn’t know—

Couldn’t know as a poet knows. Not provocative

In order to provoke;

But merely to respond to that

Which made you move.


I don’t believe

You would have wavered into that space … or carried

Old knives.

Had we met

I am sure we would have discussed the moon,

And light waves and men and their teacups,

And touched on the importance of

Style and form.

Yet your letters make me wonder,

If you will wander the halls still,

Who is your Rilke? Your students.

We will write our own requiems,

And then act upon them.


An Open Letter to Kindle, for Book Lovers

07 Jun

Dear Kindle Marketing Team,

I liked you so much better when you were busy trashing the iPad, not trying to turn book lovers into silly, naive people that display weaker spines than those found in the books they read.

Truly, you are trying to convince non-Kindle users to come on over to the dark side by pitching: a. “Books don’t have glare, Kindles don’t have glare!” and b. Readers can do away with that pesky task of folding down a book’s page to save our place; an effort, apparently, we relish. Ugh.

Let’s discuss the bit about reading in bright light. The thing is, book lovers do not consider the concept of glare when reading books. It’s a non-issue. Trying to contrast a Kindle, a glare-free book-reading tool, to a book … a glare-free um, book … is ridiculous. It’s like saying that the Kindle, like a book, won’t slap you in the face while you read it. Or start your house on fire. Or steal your car keys. I get you’re trying to convince us to not buy the other guy’s e-reader, the one that does glare, but c’mon. You’re not fooling anybody.

And then, dear ad gurus, you try and sell the book lover on the Kindle by bringing up the pagefold=bookmark. *insert sigh*

Book lovers, true book lovers, do not fold down the pages of books. We do not rest an open book face down. We do not write in books, and when forced to write in books, say, in college lit classes, we use a pencil. As a book lover, I try to repress the childhood memory of coming upon a picture book that was my mother’s, and being horrified to discover that my mischievous Auntie Ro at some point had taken a marker and scribbled in the pages of the book, and in my child mind, ruined it forever. We honor and respect the book.

When we do want to mark our place in a book, we use bookmarks, which are like fun accessories for books, and us. We do not, under any circumstances, take pleasure in folding down the corner of the page. We will search for any other method to mark our place (a stray envelope, a random receipt from a purse or wallet, a paperclip, straight-up memorization of the page number) before we will cringe and forever mar the books we so love.

I have such sentimental attachment to bookmarks that the one time I accidentally left one—a souvenir from my honeymoon—in a library book, I called the library in a panic, and thanks to a very nice, bookmark-loving librarian, now only use said bookmark when reading books I own.

My point is, sirs and madams of the Kindle marketing team, is that if you want to turn the book readers of the world into e-book readers of the world, or at least convince us that your e-reader is the lesser of all evils, then try not to insult us, make us seem unintelligent and deem us as un-cool, simply because we prefer the pages of an actual book.


Lisa A. Schleipfer, un-official representative of worldwide book aficionados


Haunting Words for Halloween

26 Oct

The Eden Rivers Top Ten Horror Stories

In honor of All Hallow’s Eve, it’s my top ten scary stories from literature short and long. In no particular order, so read them at your own pace. If you dare.

Haunted Cemetery

“The Tell-Tale Heart”/”The Cask of Amontillado”
Edgar Allen Poe

It’s a tie. I don’t know what creeps me out more, the thump of a heart in the floorboards or a man bricked into a wall, alive … a trick that has been used in film a million times over, and yet Poe is the one who gets it right. If you are a Hellboy fan (or are near a video store), the awesome 1953 animated feature “The Tell Tale Heart” can be seen in the bonus features. Or click here for an online version.

The Shining
Stephen King

The movie was iconic for sure, but once you delve into the book, suddenly images from that film take on an uber-level of creepiness. Re: The man in the dog costume. The dead little twins. The oversized animal-shaped hedges on the front lawn. King’s words can make these images come alive in the reader’s head, and make the next viewing of the film a scarier one.

House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski

This novel has a plot within a plot, and it’s a pretty hefty size, about a man who begins making a documentary about his home. It begins as a closet and a hallway appear within the house in a place they didn’t exist before, opening up a dimension of dark, ever-moving pathways within the house that defies physics. Images of Will Navidson crawling around in the dark, or perhaps the ever-changing catacombs and the ultimate fear, being lost in the dark, was creepy. My friend Jason lent me the book and insisted I couldn’t read it at night, making it more creepy, and for a month or so I refused to open any of my closet doors.

Bram Stoker

From Van Helsing, to Lucy to Dracula, the famous characters are all here, in the most impact-ful vampire tale ever written. What makes it so frightening, is that the story unfolds in the form of letters, journals and other third-party writings, which means the horror may begin on the page, and we the reader cannot save the character, for the next entry is always after the disaster has occurred.

In Cold Blood
Truman Capote

I happen to have a strange aversion to home invasions, so this one was a personal nightmare. And not just from the heinous murders, but the way Capote infiltrated the murderers lives, immersed in their worlds and manipulated them to tell the story. It is so beautifully written, the reader can quickly believe he or she is reading a fictional novel, but it is not so. These are murders that did happen, criminals Capote did meet and befriend. That is what compels the horror of the story.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
Joyce Carol Oates

Arnold Friend. However can we forget you? Short, smooth-talking man who lures girls out of their houses and promises to be nice—the first time. Not only that, but lures them out, to make them believe there is no other choice. Every one of Arnold’s lines is creepy: Now, put your hand on your heart, honey. Feel that? That feels solid too but we know better. Where’s my mace?

The Virgin Suicides
Jeffrey Eugenides

This is one novel in which I will say, yes, see the movie, it’s just as good and tightly follows the novel (and Giovanni Ribisi makes an amazing narrator). It is sad and haunting and beautiful, a book to read again and again, and what can be more brilliant that the suicide tale of five young beautiful sisters, told from the point of view of the neighborhood boys who admired them?

“A Rose for Emily”
William Faulkner

I read this for the first time from an anthology my mother had for a short story class she was taking… I didn’t see the ending coming, but it’s an image I’ll never get out of my mind. The husband is always on the right side of the bed, her smooshed pillow on the left, and there’s a round window on the wall, past the foot of the bed frame, so that the light fades as your eyes pass over to his bones. Eeeeewww.

“Mad House”
Richard Matheson

The author of I am Legend has penned plenty of short horror and suspense short stories, and this one hits close to home. For any writer out there, this story is the ultimate nightmare… in which the macabre elements are placed into everyday situations, making Chris Neal’s problem with anger and the way it reverberates against these every day issues more frightening then the supernatural elements of the story. It is an ideal tale for any procrastinating writer.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Washington Irving

On any walk, in any wood, upstate New York or not, there is a back-of-your-mind fear of meeting the Headless Horseman. It’s a brilliant folktale that still holds a great thread of scary storytelling. There is something about a dead man seeking his head, and taking others in the process that has an eerie, keep-a-lookout quality. Add a covered bridge and a fall evening and *shudder*. I mean, what if? What if you looked up, and there he was?


Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling

09 Feb

So today, at the Today website, a new article was published about the wacky world of grammar snobs. Entitled, “Fastidious spelling snobs pushed over the edge,” this quirky little story takes a peek into the world of those who love, love, love to correct the grammar.

The argument of the story is that although bad punctuation has plagued city signs and menus around the country for decades, the stress of war and economy have made folks a little snappy with the spelling corrections.

Although a fun read, I’ve got to disagree on the timing here. Grammar snobs, vigilantes, habitual correctors, what have you, have been around for as long as words and sentences have been written.

The idea that stress equals a rise in public tongue lashings on grammar to help the grammarian feel more in control is ridiculous. Why are there not reports about stress leading to cleaner bathrooms throughout America? More spontaneous creative graffiti on building walls? A rise in chocolate sales?

The truth is there are two camps in the grammar world: Those that are literally exposed to it on a regular basis due to career—such teachers, those in publishing, media or public office—and those who are not.

The new specialized unit of grammar police could simply be a case of the non-exposed running into and around with the fully exposed crowd. Aka: the Internet, excessive blogging, etc.

The truth is, those of us in the exposed grammar crowd are much harsher on one another than on the general population. The razor-sharp tongues of those inside publishing houses over a missed grammar correction, well, would make a layman blush. Or just really, really angry.

It’s been a habit of mine to argue on the side of the error-makers. Yes, part of the job is no visible “mistakes,” once that book/magazine/paper has gone to print. But it isn’t rocket science. Nobody died because there was a misplaced modifier in a sentence. Most of the rules are up for debate anyway. Just look at the serial comma.

On the other side of the coin, in the non-exposed grammar world, a little gentle chiding from the grammar elite is to be expected. In the way musicians poke fun at boy bands, or historians critique every epic war movie ever made. Heck, I still cringe when I think about the little Oklahoma establishment of Boswell Animal Kare, an establishment, I am almost certain, was the only vet in Boswell. Good times.

But the Today article sites people who likely would have climbed up that twenty-foot vet sign with a can a spray paint and a stencil for the letter “C.” I mean, cringing at an “overuse” of “quotation marks” for example, is one thing. Defacing public property to correct an error on a storefront sign or on a diner menu, however, is just… bizarre.

My advice, the next time the urge strikes to correct a flyer, or you notice a mistake in a local newsletter, hang back. Instead, pick up the phone and ask the organization if they could use a copyeditor. After all, extra cash in these hard economic times could be a stress reliever.