Monthly Archives: June 2009

The author to her ook-bay

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The ook-bay is here!

Oh heavens, that was thoughtless, now you’re all clamoring for your copies (copies, plural: each one of you wants multiple copies) and the sad fact is that only one copy is currently in existence. It is on my living room floor, and despite having resided there for only three hours it is already illustrated with cat hair.

Probably this will be a super-special collector’s item one day. It has a distinctive binding (a bright red, slightly broken binder), not one but two different sections where I three-hole hole-punched the holes into the wrong margin before realizing I had it backward, the cat fur I mentioned, and no indexes. Also, the first page is mangled all to hell. I agreed to let one of my colleagues open the FedEx box when it arrived today: I wanted to support her enthusiasm, and also she had a razor in her hand. It was a very persuasive argument. So she opened the box, but she accidentally sliced up the first page, but I did not criticize her, as she had a razor in her hand.

I gotta say, it’s an attractive book. Now that it’s been typeset with pretty formatting and graphics, it looks like a proper grown-up book, not just a term paper for English class.

It’s also really long. Even accounting for the blank space (the pages in this version are printed on only one side per sheet), it’s still really, really long, coming in at 376 pages, plus front matter, plus the About the Author page (which has the best author photo ever, but you’ll have to consult your multiple copies to see what I mean).

And of course there are the indexes. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate indexing? No?

I hate indexing. Given the choice between indexing or wrestling a crocodile, I would go with the crocodile: it would be over quicker, and I’d have a better chance of survival. Against a crocodile I might prevail. I have read the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. I know what I’m doing. And possibly I’d be able to reason with the crocodile, talk him into forgetting our differences and grabbing a cuppa.

There is no reasoning with the index. For two hours last night I tried working with it, and do you know how far I got? I got through chapter two… (which sounds decent, but let me finish the sentence)…

… of the table of contents.

In other words, two hours of mind-numbing labor got me through one page and a bit of the next of what is, essentially, a short list.

The problem with the subject index (and thank God I’ve already finished the title/author index, all I’ve got to do is add page numbers) is that I have to cross-reference everything. Obviously I need an entry for the “Racial and Cultural Identity” section, but do I list it by itself? Do I link it somehow to Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs, of which it is a subset? And how do I indicate that this is but one section that includes books about racial and cultural identity? People will also want to see the index entry for race (which concludes with “See also under specific races”).

I’d always assumed that the subject index was a fairly straightforward creature, like so:

1. List subject

2. Indicate page number.

In fact it is a complicated organism. Some readers—I don’t think very highly of them, I’m sure you don’t either—will not read my book from cover to cover, but rather will jump straight to the index. For those poor miserable sods, I need to construct the index in such a way that they can get straight to the pages that discuss the topic they’re interested in (even if they don’t know the right vocabulary. “Transsexuality. See also queer identity”).

So I need to cut this blog post short and get back to my index, but I will leave you with a poem by Anne Bradsteet, who has been dead for 337 years and will therefore probably not mind that I am reproducing her full text here. Good ol’ Anne, she’s my spiritual sister. Read on:

The Author To Her Book

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet.
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands, beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.


Advanced reading

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Though I hardly ever speak of it, very perceptive readers will have realized that I spend a lot of my time writing about books. I write about books for the library’s blog; I write about books for the database NoveList; I have relinquished my soul to writing about books by publishing a reference text, a project that has consumed my sanity for more than two years now. (I may have mentioned this a time or two, now that I think about it.) By the way, that reference text is selling for a discount on Amazon, for the low low price of forty-four dollars. They’re practically giving it away!

If you feel guilty that this cheaper price may result in smaller royalties for the author, you may, as I believe I have already noted, make up the difference by buying me a drink. Apparently my hint to that effect last week was too subtle, as absolutely no alcohol whatsoever has materialized since then. (I would be tempted to opine that you’re a bunch of blockheads, all of you, but that might undermine my cause, so I suppose I won’t.)

I even write about books right here on this blog, sometimes, though I haven’t done so recently. With pretty much only one exception, I’ve been reading one book recently. Care to guess what book that is? Here’s a hint: I’m still preparing the indexes for it.

The exception, by the way, was a book by Brad Meltzer. I tried reading one of his traditional books once, because I like a good fluffy thriller now and again, but then I remembered why I hardly ever read thrillers: the prose usually sucks. At least with the Meltzer book I tried I got through a few chapters. My experiment with David Baldacci lasted nearly a page.

Anyway: Meltzer’s a tosser when it comes to normal books, but he did fine, just fine, with the graphic novel Identity Crisis. The other night I’d been talking with one of my volunteer computer instructors, these very nice people who do for free what I get paid to do, so let’s have a nice round of applause for them, yes?

Anyway, my instructor, in addition to teaching classes for me, reads a lot of comic books. I read a lot of comic books, too (or graphic novels, to be precise) but there’s a gaping hole in my knowledge: I don’t read many superhero books.

(Two gaping holes, actually: I don’t read many manga books, but that’s because I don’t usually like them. I do read one now and again, so as not to be completely ignorant.)

The reason I don’t read superhero books is because I am intimidated. I don’t know where to start. In my childhood, when I should have been discovering the canon by way of comic books, I was instead reading grownup books that, on reflection, were way out of my league. (Seriously, Mom: you had me read The World According to Garp when I was, like, ten. Are you sure that was wise? It did increase my vocabulary with regards to prostitution, though, can’t complain.)

So by the time I finally started reading books where the pictures come in panels and the dialogue comes in balloons, I had only the faintest familiarity with heroes of the caped variety. I’ve been wanting to ease my way into the genre, but I’m scared because I don’t know the back story for all the different people. I’m the sort of girl who insists on reading a series in order, so that I have context for character development. With the superheroes, we’re talking sixty years’ worth of character development.

At any rate, my computer instructor read a lot of superhero books, so I asked him where I should start. He thought, and he thought some more, and then he gave up. It’s not an easy question.

But then he emailed me a few days later and told me I should read Identity Crisis, so I did, despite its having Meltzer for an author. Throughout the story I was aware that I was missing out on some details, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t keep up. I have cautiously concluded that I like Green Arrow, and I think I’d like to know more about him (or any other superhero, for that matter.) Suggestions?

Back to our main narrative: I write about books a lot. Are we clear on that? Everyone with me? Jessica writes about books a lot.

So, it was with absolutely no suprise whatsoever, I mean this did not catch me off guard in the least, it was completely expected and not at all out of the ordinary, that today I received an email from a book publicist asking if I would care to review books. Apparently she’d found my blog and decided to see if I’d be interested.

(Naturally, my first action was to google the hell out of her. She’s legit.)

The nice thing is that she doesn’t expect me to review anything. She’s going to send me ARCs (that’s lingo for “Advanced Readers’ Copies”; now you know) and I’m going to do whatever I want. I’ll read them or not read them, I’ll review them or not review them, when and if I please.

What does she get out of it? Reviews of books (possibly), which is good for her, because she’s a book publicist. What do I get out of it? Free books!

…the thought of which would have thrilled me to no end, four years ago. Before I workd in a library, an environment where I am taunted daily by thousands upon thousands of free books, I would have been delighted. As it is, I have free books everywhere. I cannot walk from the front door to the kitchen without tripping over free books. At least the library is nice enough to take them back. The ARCs I’m stuck with.

Just, you know, try to act surprised if you receive a Christmas gift from me this year and it’s a very-slightly-used advanced copy. Try very hard to act surprised if you receive a Christmas gift from me even though we’ve never exchanged gifts (“That’s odd, Jessica’s never given me a present before. Why would she? All I do is bag her groceries at Food Loin”). Try very VERY hard not to act surprised if you receive a Christmas gift from me even though we do not actually know one another (“Who the hell is Jessica Zellers and why did she send me a book?”).

Can’t judge a book…

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The nice folks at Libaries Unlimited have faith in me. This is heartening. They are certain that I will have the time, the patience, and the sheer moral fortitude to finish indexing and copyediting by August 30. I know this because of the Amazon page featuring Women’s Nonfiction: A Guide to Reading Interests.

Do note that you can place your pre-order now. At a mere $55 per book, these will make excellent Christmas presents. Start your holiday shopping now! Please also remember other gift-giving holidays such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, birthdays, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Thursdays.

I fully expect that everyone clicked on that Amazon link like they were supposed to. Failure to have done so constitutes immediate, irrevocable termination of any friendship, feelings of goodwill, or benevolent tolerance between the reader and me. For those of you who chose this inadvisable course of action, or rather inaction, I present to you the cover art (but remember: we are no longer on speaking terms, you and I):

“So what do you want for a book cover?” my editor asked.

“Oh, I’m not picky,” I said. I am an easy-going spirit. “How about a group of women of various races? Or if it has to be just one woman, that’s fine, just don’t let her be white. I’d like to suggest inclusivity.”

So here we have a picture featuring one white woman. Also on that Amazon page, and I KNOW everyone clicked on it, we see a blurb about the book. Attentive readers will see that my last name is misspelled. Sigh.

Nonetheless, I am pleased to see the book cover. It means, most likely, that there will in fact be a book. You can pre-order with confidence.

Now I expect that most of you—those I still count as friends, I mean—most of you will be inclined to congratulate me. To facilitate this process, I present to you a fun, interactive quiz:

How to Congratulate Jessica Now That Her Book Is On Amazon:

1. Which of the following is acceptable?

A.) “I know it was a lot of work, but don’t you think it’s worth it, now that you see the Amazon page?”
B.) “So when are you going to write another?”
C.) “That’s nice and all, but considering all the work you put into it, you must be exhausted. How about I do your laundry and empty the litter box, give you a break? I might help you with your other extant writing projects, while I’m at it.”

Answer: C.


2. “Fantastic,” you say. “Let me buy you a drink ___________”:

A.) When the book is published
B.) When Jessica completes the indexing and copyediting
C.) Now. Right now.

Answer: C.

3. “And not just a drink,” you continue. “Please permit me the pleasure of also buying you dinner at _______”:

A.) Nawab, for the Indian food
B). Das Waldcafe, for the German food
C). Sacred Grounds, for the healthy food and the artsy hippie atmosphere

Answer: Either A or B. Unfortunately, Sacred Grounds is closing. This is a national tragedy.

4. With fifty-five dollars, you could buy

A). Groceries for a week
B). My book
C). One hundred and ten paperback books at the library booksale

Answer: B.

….If you answered all of the questions correctly, you can level-up to the next quiz, Exactly What Type of Drink Should One Buy for Jessica? Contact me for details.

Icktayed offtay

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Summer’s here. My calendar is trying to suggest to me that it is still spring, and will be for another few weeks, but in this case I am right and my calendar is wrong. Charlotte (my car, not my colleague) informed me the other day that the temperature was one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. This, in any worldview I am to accept, means summer.

If three-digit temperatures don’t convince you, I have another bit of evidence. This bit of evidence, we shall see, explains why I am up at 1:00 on a worknight. I can’t sleep. Let’s find out why!

A bit after midnight, I headed toward bed. Usually I lure myself toward sleep by composing stories in my head, but tonight I wanted to stay conscious for a bit, as I had just painted my toenails. Wouldn’t do to kick nail polish about in my sleep.

So I decided to sing for a bit. This is guaranteed to keep me awake, and also probably the neighbors, but anyway. I have a good reason for it. I need to practice if I am to be the next incredibly unlikely underdog darling of Britain’s Got Talent. I don’t suppose I can dazzle the judges with my tuba playing, because honestly no tuba anywhere has ever dazzled anyone, and I have a hunch that the judges would fail to be impressed by the way I can pick up objects with my toes, so clearly my only recourse is to sing my way to stardom.

I am not in fact British, but this is easily rememdied. Prior to the talent show I will find a nice British citizen to marry. Easy as pie.

So there I was, trying to remember song lyrics, and furthermore trying to remember song lyrics to pieces that fit within my range, and adjusting accordingly in a great many cases. (“Goodness, there’s no way I can hit that note, I wonder how this song sounds pitched a fifth lower?”). Being a solo artist frees me of sticking to any particular key. It’s one of the perks. Also I don’t have to share my celebrity with anyone.

But then the soy milk blended with green tea and cherries I’d enjoyed earlier caught up with me, so I hummed my way toward the bathroom. Upon returning, I did a stretchy little yawn thingy, and passed my hand over my back.

“Weird,” thought I. “I don’t recall that scab. How’d that get there?”

Ran my finger over the spot again. “Wait a second…”

Third pass. The scab wriggled.

“Ohmygodohshitohmygodohshit it’s a tick.” This was delivered at considerable volume. The judges of Britain’s Got Talent would have taken note.

My immediate priority was to remove the ick-tay. (I do not get along well with icktays. I dare not speak the name aloud, etc.). This somewhat conflicted with my immense need to not touch the icktay.

Several courses of action presented themselves. One of them I was already engaged in, namely, hopping about from foot to foot in a great frenzy. This seemed very sensible, though unfortunately it did nothing to dislodge the icktay.

I considered calling Mom and Dad. That’s what I always do, when presented with a challenge outside the scope of my experience. Diligently I tried to come up with justifications for calling them at 12:30 in the morning, but hopping from foot to foot was making it difficult to think, so I instead turned my thoughts to Plan B.

Plan B involved running to the family in the apartment next door. “Hi, um, I’m Jessica, from next door? I’m sorry, I don’t remember your names, and I realize it’s quite late, but as the walls are thin, my singing probably woke you, and if not the screaming certainly did. I, um—oh God, I’m naked, aren’t I, wow this is awkward, um anyway THERE’S A TICK ON MY BACK FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET IT OUT GET IT OUT GET IT OUT!”

I considered this. I considered this seriously. Only with the greatest reluctance did I eventually abandon Plan B.

Finally I resolved to vanquish the icktay myself. Being a resourceful woman, I ran into the bathroom and grabbed about a gazillion sheets of toilet paper. I am the kind of person who consideres three sheets of toilet paper to be a decadent, irresponsible extravagance, at least in the normal course of the day, but the rules change for icktays.

I swiped at the icktay with all the powers of a woman possessed. I caught a glimpse of its squirming body before I cast it into the toilet. I flushed it to its watery grave. I had won.

Then I touched the spot on my back and felt something… bristley.

I screamed like a girl. To be exactingly grammatically precise, I suppose I should say I screamed as a girl. Regardless, I achieved those high notes that had been giving me trouble previously. I achieved them at great volume.

The fangs, pinchers, gaping maw, what have you— some hideous part of the icktay was still lodged in my tender flesh.

I reconsidered visiting the family next door, but I concluded that I couldn’t spare the time. Every second the icktay appendage stayed in me, the closer I was coming to Lyme disease, salmonella, rubella, gangrene, amputation of the torso, if such a thing’s possible, and slow gruesome death.

So I grabbed another tree’s worth of toilet paper and scraped at the wound. I felt it give. A savage growl of triumph sounded throughout the room, and most likely throughout the southern United States.

At this point the green tea soymilk cherry concoction caught up with me again, but I decided to hold it as long as possible, preferably till I got to work the next morning. Wouldn’t want to risk the icktay climbing out of its soggy hell to renew its attack. Those buggers are hard to kill. And really: if a tick on one’s lower back is bad…

I returned to bed and flipped on the lights, further disturbing three kitties who’d already been alarmed by all the screams and foot-hopping of the evening. I had no choice. I had to inspect the bed for the nests of icktays that were surely lying in wait.

The icktays were not to be found (probably they’re just very good at hiding), but strangely, I was unable to sleep. Instead I moseyed out to the living room, which brings us to the present.

And that, ladies and gentlement of the jury, is my concluding argument for the arrival of summer. The icktays are here. Also I really have to pee, though I guess that’s beside the point. And my toenails are dry. Good night.

Conspiracy theories

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“Wow!” said the patron. “My daughter’s name is Jessica!”

“That is, bar none, the most truly remarkable coincidence I have ever encountered,” I gasped between convulsions. I was, as you probably guessed, suffering a severe bout of hysterics brought on by the staggering enormity of the unlikelihood of my sharing a first name with another person. “This is, literally, incredible. This is Bigfoot and Area 51 and the JFK assassination all rolled into one. I am going to call the press. No: I am going to call the president. Right now. Or at least once I stop convulsing.”

Okay. I’m lying. This is how it actually went:

“Wow!” said the patron. “My daughter’s name is Jessica!”

“Oh,” I said.

Perhaps I am just grumpier than normal (though honestly that’s difficult to imagine, but let’s assume so for the sake of argument), but lately I have had increasingly less tolerance for tedious conversation. This is grossly unfair, as none of the topics in my conversational repertoire are capable of generating the least bit of interest, to anyone, anywhere. But though my material is severely limited (viz., my cats, the books I’m reading, my job, the writing assignments I’m avoiding, and the weather), I like to think I deliver those topics with style. If that’s not the case, I hope you’ll be so kind as to keep your observation to yourself.

Digging once again into the Heard-at-the-Reference-Desk files (unless you’d rather hear about my cats…?):

A library patron was railing at me about government spending and explaining to me that the Obama administration was sending us all to hell. For quite some time I was treated to a lecture about the perils of spending taxpayer dollars on social programs.

(I’d like to note that I listened politely, with an admirably neutral expression on my face. )

Then the person spoke at length about how great the library is.

This is my new definition of irony.

(My heroic failure to point out the irony to the patron ought to qualify me for some sort of library service award, don’t you think?)

I’d like to write more, but I am—have I mentioned this lately?—I am rather behind on some writing assignments, and I am fresh out of new stories about the cats (they’re shedding a lot), the books I’m reading (only some light nonfiction over lunch, on account of my reading time being consumed by writing assignments), and the weather (it’s bloody hot). Stay tuned for the next riveting post, guaranteed tedium-free, in which I discuss my role in the JFK conspiracy.