Friday, July 30, 2010

BlogHer is coming. Look busy.

It's that time again, folks...the time when hundreds of blogging women (and a few good blogging men) start talking about the big annual conference they'll soon be attending, and hundreds of other bloggers either commiserate, turn green with envy, eagerly follow every detail, or get sick of the whole thing and tune it all out.

This will be my second year attending the BlogHer Conference, and it's nice to have some idea what to expect this time. I expect to be overwhelmed by crowds at times, and to want to duck out early from any parties I actually attempt to attend. I expect to have a hard time deciding which breakout sessions I most want to go to, and to keep my days full and busy with great content. I expect to meet up with bloggers I've met before and bloggers I've been wanting to meet, and not have enough time to talk with any of them. And I know where I'll be at 1:30 PM on Saturday, August 7:
We all know bloggers want to become authors. But with traditional publishers spending less and less on marketing, authors must now become marketers, and that means they must become bloggers too...sometimes they take to it eagerly, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming. Add to the mix how much easier than ever it is to self-publish and the book bloggers who are now being wooed by publishers and even authors directly, and you've got a new publishing eco-system.

The solitary pursuits of writing and criticism are now transparent and sometimes even crowd-sourced. And more authors and critics are now not only the content producers, but their own publishers and business development representatives. The lines are decidedly blurred. But the opportunities seem so much more accessible than ever. We will dig into it all in this session featuring Kamy Wicoff from She Writes (moderator), book blogger Florinda Pendley Vasquez, marketing expert Penny Sansevieri, and author Carleen Brice.

I "met" my fellow panelists via conference call two weeks ago, and am looking forward to meeting them in person at the speaker-training session the evening before the conference starts. They're all professionals in writing and developing writers, and I feel privileged - and a little out of my element - to be working on this with them. In our session, I will do my best to speak to and represent the role book bloggers play in this "ecosystem" - building relationships with authors and publishers, reviewing and publicizing - and try not to make anyone sorry to have me on the panel! If you have anything you particularly want me to talk about, let me know in comments, and if there's a way to work it into the discussion, I'll certainly try to bring it up!

The conference is being held at the same hotel, the Hilton New York, where my family stayed during our recent vacation trip to the city, so I don't want to spend all the time in the hotel! For one thing, the Hilton's lobby does not encourage relaxing and chatting - unlike the Sheraton Chicago, where the 2009 conference was held, there's no seating in the lobby. Considering how much time I spent camped out in the lobby last year, people-watching and chatting and reading, this was a very disappointing discovery. But there's a lot of sight-seeing within easy walking distance or a short subway ride, and with luck, I'll still remember a bit about how to get around. There's one place my roommate and I especially want to visit - the Strand Bookstore. Now, that's a bookworm's idea of a party...

Lots of bloggers have been posting prep tips for BlogHer recently, and have done a better job of it than I would. Whether it's your first or fifth time going to the conference, there's lots of info to help you get ready.

Miss Britt has a list of things the first-time BlogHer-goer can expect: lots of free stuff, lots of parties, and even more parties that you won't even know about until someone mentions them on Twitter and you realizes you weren't invited to them. Expect to be overwhelmed and confronted  with existential questions about your place in the blogiverse. Expect to spend a lot of time on your feet - hence, the Great BlogHer Shoe Debates.  I'd add one thing: expect to enjoy it all just as much as you set your mind to, but what you get out of the experience is up to you.

Cecily Kellogg of Uppercase Woman recommends a few things not to do: skip the fancy shoes, don't getting preoccupied with the parties and the swag, and don't get caught up in (or create) interpersonal drama.

"BLOGGERS ARE JUST PEOPLE. This is my most important point. The other bloggers? The ones you think are super famous? They are just people. They have their own life issues happening at any given moment, and they are trying to have their own awesome conference experience. Plus? Some of them are paralyzed by social anxiety. Some are freaked out about having to speak, and some feel like they just totally fucked up while they spoke. Sometimes they've got food poisoning. Sometimes they just had a tremendous emotional experience and need to have some quiet time to recover. Sometimes they've had too much to drink. Sometimes they get into an argument with a friend. Whatever it is, the moment you choose to approach a blogger you've admired from afar may very well be the worst moment of the weekend for her. So if the blogger you've loved forever is short with you, or doesn't gush back as much as you want her to, or simply walks by without responding to your hello -- whatever it is, IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU."
Undomestic Diva's "Less Than Super Famous Blogger's Guide to Blogher 2010" has "before," "during," and "after" suggestions: order business cards and arrange a ride share from the airport; bring cash, a camera, those business cards, and a party dress (just in case you decide not to blow them off after all); speak up, say hello, and mingle; and don't diss your experience after the fact.

Christine Koh from Pop Discourse advises a "less is more" approach to the conference based on being realistic:
"Be realistic about the conference program…and take a step outside your comfort zone.
Wherever you are on the program stamina spectrum, I suggest mapping out what sessions you plan on attending in advance and keeping the number of sessions reasonable. Obviously, this number will vary from person to person, but I might recommend identifying 1-3 must attend sessions then a handful of additional sessions across the conference to add on depending on your stamina for sitting and listening. And if you’re mostly going to BlogHer for networking, I recommend scanning the program and attending 1-2 sessions  beyond your reach or comfort zone.

Take a realistic look at your social calendar.
I’m taking a realistic look at my calendar (and a map of Manhattan) over the next couple of weeks, stripping out double bookings and un-RSVP’ing for events where I’m pretty sure it would be un-fun or impossible for me to get from point A to B to give the event’s organizers any meaningful amount of my time...I’m taking a firm line and politely declining if I already have a conflict, no matter how tempting the event is or how much I’m fretting for people about their event planning. These two action items will not only make social events more reasonable and fun for me, but will open space for other people."
Related to the social-calendar item, I'd second Christine's suggestion to make plans with friends you want to make certain you see there - either in advance, or via text/IM on-site. It's a huge event, and while you may find there are some faces you seem to see everywhere you go, you'll also find there are others you won't manage to see at all unless you make a point of it.

Jean from Stimeyland had a couple of very practical recommendations I didn't see anywhere else:
  • Don't forget the Advil, but bring the Pepto-Bismol too. (My addition: If you do forget either one, there's a Duane Reade just up the street. There's a Duane Reade every few blocks, actually. In New York City, they're like the Starbucks of drugstores.)
  • Bring small bills - the drinks may be free, but the tips aren't.
Also, she suggests that while part of the excitement at BlogHer comes from seeing old friends, it's good to take some down time to get to know someone new.

And here are five of Kim Tracy Prince's "Top 10 Tips for Survival at BlogHer'10":
  • "Pace yourself with the alcohol – for God’s sake!  You are an adult person.  Drink responsibly.  Also, pack ibuprofen.
  • Wherever you go, you will miss something, but you’ll have a great time there.  There are so many simultaneous events that unless you have figured out how to clone yourself you will indeed miss several things.
  • (echoing Cecily's point) Remember that some bloggers are much more comfortable at home in their pajamas and are socially awkward.  If you run up to someone with squee in your brain because you are excited to meet her and she remains nonplussed – it’s not you, it’s her.  Most likely. 
  • Try not to miss breakfast.  There are plenty of tasty, healthy treats to stash in your bag for later, in case you forget to bring the granola bars.
  • DON’T worry if you’re not invited to the party, or you don’t know where the secret swag room is, or if the mommy bloggers get all the cool stuff.  Focus on what’s happening, on the people you’re meeting, on the information you’re learning.  You’ll be much, much happier and more satisfied."
Are you going to be at BlogHer'10, or just in New York City between August 5th and 7th? It would be great to see you - please leave a comment, @ me on Twitter, or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com if you'd like to make some plans! And if you make it to my ROYO session, please come by and say hello!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Talk: *Every Last One*, by Anna Quindlen

Disclosure: I purchased this book in e-book format to read on my Amazon Kindle. *I am an Amazon Associate. Use of purchasing links in this review will generate a small referral fee for me.

Every Last One: A Novel by Anna Quindlen

Every Last One: A Novel
Anna Quindlen
Random House (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 1400065747 / 9781400065745; eISBN 9780679603726)
Fiction, 299 pages

Opening lines: "This is my life: The alarm goes off at five-thirty with the murmuring of a public-radio announcer, telling me that there has been a coup in Chad, a tornado in Texas. My husband stirs briefly next to me, turns over, blinks, and falls back to sleep for another hour. My robe lies at the foot of the bed, printed cotton in the summer, tufted chenille for the cold. The coffeemaker comes on in the kitchen below as I leave the bathroom, go downstairs in bare feet, pause to put away a pair of boots left splayed in the downstairs back hallway and to lift the newspaper from the back step."

Book description: Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener, or even her life as the wife of a doctor.  Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount.  And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence. What happens afterwards is a testament to the power of a woman’s love and determination, and to the invisible line of hope and healing that connects one human being with another. Ultimately, in the hands of Anna Quindlen’s mesmerizing prose, Every Last One is a novel about facing every last one of the the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live but must be brave enough to try.

Comments: The opening lines quoted above exemplify one of the notable qualities of Anna Quindlen's latest novel, Every Last One - the details, every last one. The author uses the proverbial thousand words, and then some, to create a fully realized picture of the day-to-day life of the Latham family - mom and business owner Mary Beth, doctor dad Glen, and their three busy teenagers, daughter Ruby and fraternal-twin sons Alex and Max. The Latham house is a second home to many of their children's friends as well, particularly Ruby's. The family has its issues, but for the most part they're close-knit, functional, and weren't at all difficult for me to understand and relate to. They're so everyday, in fact, you might begin to wonder why they even merit a story.

I'd read a few reviews of Every Last One before I read the book, and I knew something happened partway through that turned the story on its head, but I didn't know the details - and I won't spoil you with them, either. I tried to anticipate and guess what would happen, though; I was wrong - and utterly stunned. But what didn't change from that point on was Quindlen's focus on the details, as she continued to build and develop her characters and make their situation feel convincing and real.

It feels like a lot of the books I read specifically for review are authors' first and second novels, but when I choose books for myself I have many favorite writers I like to come back to, and I appreciate being brought through a story by a seasoned pro. For my money, this is Quindlen's best novel in some time, and may turn out to be among the best fiction I read this year - the story was riveting, I cared about the characters, and the writing was accomplished and somehow unobtrusive at the same time. I read almost two-thirds of this on an airplane; while it's probably the opposite of "escapist" fiction, it was excellent vacation reading.

Rating: 4/5

This counts for the Read Your Own Books Challenge (10/20)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Vacation Story: NYC - A night on Broadway, a day at the museum

We didn't have much planned for our Wednesday in New York City until evening...but before that, Katie needed to find some shoes. Wet hopped on the subway headed to the 34th St./Herald Square Station. These days, nearly every city has a Macy's, but there's really only one MACY'S. Two full city blocks, seven floors, those historic wooden escalators...and the shoes!

After our shopping trip to Macy's, we rode back uptown, stopped at the hotel to drop off Grandma and our packages, and went back out to find some lunch - which we did, at Five Guys in the next block. Satisfied with burgers and fries, we walked a few blocks up Fifth Avenue to visit the Land of Toys, F.A.O. Schwarz. I was looking for a birthday gift for my nephew, but that was just an excuse.

Previous installments of our New York adventures are here and here.

Shoe Heaven, 7th floor!

Katie's shoes completed this outfit
This is the Vasquez family, not the Addams Family!
That evening, we were Broadway-bound to see the new musical, The Addams Family. I didn't find the songs particularly memorable, but the book was hilarious (and for the most part, appropriate for all ages - the ten-year-old was in stitches for most of the show), and I thought Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth were perfect as Gomez and Morticia.

Thursday was our last full day in the City, and we decided to spend a Day at the Museum (of Natural History, of course!). But before we got there, we had our only real public-transit blunder of the trip. We didn't go in the wrong direction, but we overshot our stop; it does make a difference whether you get on an express or a local! However, once you do get on the correct train (B or C), the Museum conveniently has its own stop at 81st Street. We didn't see everything - that would take more than one day - but we made sure not to miss the Hayden Planetarium or the prehistoric critters and fossils.

Teddy Roosevelt is historic, not prehistoric

We left the museum and walked down Central Park West, looking for a cab to take Mom-in-law and the kids back to the hotel; Tall Paul and I had a couple of other places we wanted to see. They're obligatory stops on the pilgrimage for lifelong Beatles fans like us.

We spent a little while walking around Strawberry Fields and people-watching in Central Park before getting back on the subway at the 72nd Street station, across the street from The Dakota, and returning to the hotel to pack. We had an early flight home the next day.

I'll be back in the City soon, for BlogHer'10 - and after that, I hope it won't be another twenty years until I visit again!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Tuesday in NYC: Meeting St. John and Lady Liberty

On the day we arrived in New York, I received an unexpected - and more than welcome - message from a dear friend asking if we might be able to meet up during my time in the City. Ann and I met over 20 years ago, when I was an accounting temp and she was a secretary for a communications company in Ithaca, New York, and hadn't seen each other since I moved to Memphis in the fall of 1991. But we've stayed in touch, and I've followed her progress in the path toward the ministry. She was ordained as an Episcopal priest a couple of years ago, and while her home parish is on Long Island, she was scheduled be in the city celebrating a Mass on Tuesday morning. We made plans to meet for breakfast, with my family in tow, on the Upper West Side. It would be our first trip on the subway!

You may have seen this place before:

It's not really called Monk's, the interior is very different from the Seinfeld set, and they serve a pretty good breakfast!

After breakfast, Ann took us down the street to give us a little tour of the famously unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, where she sometimes celebrates Mass in one of the chapels. It's a beautiful and fascinating place, surprisingly eclectic in style - or perhaps not so surprisingly, since it's been under construction for over a century - and there are little touches throughout nodding to other faiths and cultures. Ann told us that more of the money the church collects goes to its missions and ministries than to building, so there's no estimate of its completion date. However, this vibrant faith community has a beautiful, if still incomplete, home. I was thrilled to visit it, especially in the company of my friend. (Note: the better-quality photos were taken by my husband.)

There are peacocks that live on the Cathedral Close. When this white one shed a feather, Spencer picked up a unique souvenir.

We got back on the subway after leaving the Cathedral and rode to the tip of Manhattan Island - we were headed to Battery Park to board the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Like the monuments we visited in Washington, "Liberty Enlightening the World" isn't done justice by her photos; up close, she's even more imposing and beautiful. Tall Paul and Spencer made the long climb inside to the statue's crown; I visited the small museum in the pedestal and didn't go any higher than its observation deck, but the views from there were pretty good all the same.

Hey, look, it's the Statue of Liberty!

This cross-beam at the Cathedral and this sphere in Battery Park are both relics from the World Trade Center site, 9/11/2001

Grandma and the kids were ready to call it a day after that, so they stayed at the hotel while Tall Paul and I went back out. We (inadvertently) found our way to Carnegie Hall, and had a terrific dinner across the street at the Brooklyn Diner, where I ate what may have been the best baked mac &  cheese I have ever had!

At  Battery Park, Spencer shares his current reading obsession, the Warriors series. (And yes, Katie's t-shirt does say "Frak off.")

Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Talk: *Bird in Hand*, by Chistina Baker Kline (TLC Book Tour)

Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher, via Trish at TLC Book Tours. *I am an Amazon Associate; purchasing links are provided by Amazon.com and will generate a small referral fee if used.

Bird in Hand by 
Christina Baker KlineBird in Hand: A Novel
Christina Baker Kline
Harper Paperbacks (2010), Reprint, Paperback (ISBN 0060798904 / 9780060798901)
Fiction, 288 pages

Opening Lines
: "For Alison, these things will always be connected: the moment that cleaved her life into two sections and the dawning realization that even before the accident her life was not what it seemed. In the moment that it took the accident to happen, and in the slow-motion moments afterward, she still believed there was order in the universe - that she'd be able to put things right. But with one random error, built on dozens of tiny mistakes of judgment, she slipped into a different story that seemed, for a long time, to have nothing to do with her."

Book description: The accident was just that -- an accident. It was dark, it was raining, ALISON had two drinks in her, and the other car ran the stop sign. She just didn't get out of the way fast enough. But now a little boy -- not her own -- is dead, and Alison finds herself trapped under the twin burdens of grief and guilt, and feeling increasingly estranged from her husband . . .

CHARLIE, who has his own burdens. He's in a job he doesn't love so that Alison can stay home with the kids (and why isn't she more grateful for that?); he has a house in the suburbs and a long commute to and from the city each day. And the only thing can focus on these days is his secret, sudden affair with . . .

CLAIRE, Alison's best friend. Bold where Alison is reserved; vibrant where Alison is demure, Claire has just had her first novel published, a thinly-veiled retelling of her childhood in South Carolina (which is also Alison's, in a sense). But even in the whirlwind of publication, Claire can't stop wondering if she should leave her husband . . .

BEN, an architect who is thoughtful, kind, and patient. And who wants nothing more than a baby, or two -- in fact, exactly the kind of life that Charlie and Alison have . . .

Four people, two marriages, one lifelong friendship: everything is about to change.

Comments: Christina Baker Kline's Bird in Hand is a novel where not much happens, but what happens could happen to almost any of us, even if we'd rather not think about it. What it's ultimately about are the things we'd rather not think about, and the questions we really aren't sure we want to ask ourselves, because then we might have to answer them...and the answers could change everything.

Kline's character-driven domestic drama focuses on the shift in relationship dynamics among four people - two couples with a long history together - over the course of a year in which one of the women is involved in a fatal car accident and the other publishes an autobiographical novel. The narrative viewpoints shift between the two women, old friends Alison and Claire, and their respective husbands, Charlie and Ben, and the structure of the novel mixes flashbacks through the couples' shared past with the crises of their present.

The characters are, in many ways, people we've met before, and that helped me connect with their story. The fact that I have - not totally by choice - struggled through some of the same conflicts and life questioning that they're going through was another attribute that made me fly through this novel; it struck several chords with me. I really wasn't sure I'd like any of the characters early on, but gradually I developed sympathy for each of them and their place in a complicated situation.

That's another thing that Kline does well in Bird in Hand; she recognizes that the questions we prefer to avoid can have difficult, sometimes scary, answers...and yet, those answers might be the right ones, at least at the time. We may find ourselves questioning them again later on. Bird in Hand doesn't really say anything new, but it says it well, and is a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece of women's fiction.

Rating: 3.75/5

An enlightening "Five Questions" interview with the author on SheWrites.com

tlc logo.png

Monday, July 5th: Book Addiction
Wednesday, July 7th: Lit and Life
Tuesday, July 13th: The Winey Mommy
Wednesday, July 14th: Til We Read Again
Monday, July 19th: Coffee Books and Laundry
Wednesday, July 21st: The Lost Entwife
Thursday, July 22nd: Reading at the Beach
Tuesday, July 27th: My Random Acts of Reading
Wednesday, July 28th: Staircase Wit
Thursday, July 29th: Books Like Breathing

*Buy Bird in Hand: A Novel at Amazon.com*

Friday, July 23, 2010

A vacation story, continued: New York, New York!

The Washington, DC portion of our trip was recapped here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Days 7 & 8, Sunday-Monday June 20-21:
For Tall Paul's first-ever train ride, we boarded Amtrak's Acela Express at Washington's Union Station on Sunday morning bound for NYC's Penn Station, just like East Coast natives travel! We passed through Baltimore, Wilmington DE, Philadelphia, and a couple of New Jersey stops before arriving in the City around 1 PM.

We really hadn't planned much for the day, so once we got settled in at the centrally-located Hilton New York (6th Avenue at 53rd St.) - where I'll be returning next month for BlogHer'10 (still wearing my sling? too soon to say!) - we got an early dinner and, as we enjoyed doing in DC, walked around the neighborhood for awhile. "Around the neighborhood" took us from Rockefeller Center, up Fifth Avenue to the southern end of Central Park, across to Columbus Circle, and back down Broadway to 53rd Street.

We were back at Rockefeller Center - the legendary "30 Rock" - first thing Monday morning for the NBC Studio Experience tour. We saw Studio 8H, home of Saturday Night Live, the set of the NBC Nightly News and the adjoining MSNBC studios, and an "interactive news studio" where Tall Paul delivered the weather report in front of the camera. We have that performance on DVD - but they didn't allow pictures on the tour, so I can't show you anything other than the official souvenir photo:

After the tour, we had lunch plans with my aunt and uncle - my mom's sister and brother, who live north of the City - and they surprised me by bringing one of my cousins along! It's been a long time since I've seen them all, and only my uncle made it to Tall Paul's and my wedding, so I was thrilled to introduce some of my favorite people to one another. We had lots of fun joking, chatting, and catching up over lunch, but it was nowhere near enough time!

We went back to 30 Rock after lunch to take pictures of the city views from the Top of the Rock observation deck on the top three floors of Rockefeller Center.

That was enough action for Grandma and Spencer, who returned to the hotel for the evening, but Katie, Tall Paul and I walked down to Times Square and the Broadway theatre district. The crowds were thick, but since most of the theatres are "dark" (no performances) on Mondays, they could have been a lot worse! We located the Lunt-Fontanne, where we would be seeing the musical The Addams Family on Wednesday night, and stopped in at the Hershey's Store on our walk back to the hotel.

I'll finish posting about the rest of our New York visit next week, so it'll be wrapped up before I go back to NYC for BlogHer'10 - I'll be there two weeks from today! But today I'm actually in San Diego at Comic-Con, and my report from there will be coming soon...