Archive: May 2011

What do you eat for breakfast?:

“The next morning, the Devil arose and readied himself for another day of soul-collecting. His grandmother made him a breakfast of human fingernails — scrambled, of course — and packed up his lunch bag.”

– Adam Gidwitz
A Tale Dark and Grimm

Peter Nimble in Brazil!

Just a short note to announce that Brazil is the latest addition to the ever-growing list of awesome countries that “get it”  … and by “get it,” I mean “are willing to publish my book!”  The publisher will be Leya, and they will also be using my illustrations — Hooray!

Really, this is just an excuse for me to include a video from Terry Gilliam’s 1985 movie, Brazil:



Recognize that music?  You should, because it’s used in a million trailers.  Have a swell weekend!


Some lovely description:

“…the little village that stood near the Schwarzwald was not dark at all. No, no: It was ringed by trees that, when Gretel arrived, had just slipped into their golden robes of autumn.”

– Adam Gidwitz
A Tale Dark and Grimm


“But she wasn’t a witch. The Brothers Grimm call her a witch, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact she was just a regular woman who had discovered, sometime around the birth of her second child, that while she liked chicken and she liked beef and she liked pork, what she really liked was child. I bet you can figure out how this happened.

-Adam Gidwitz
A Tale Dark and Grimm

My Editor can Beat up Your Editor …

A few months back, my editor and I were caught in a heated “discussion” regarding a certain passage of Peter Nimble.1  Essentially, she wanted me to remove a paragraph on the grounds that it slowed down the action.  Understand that I am usually very eager to rip apart my own work in response to a note … but this particular passage was different.2  When I sat down to write a book, I essentially sat down to write this one passage — and now I was being told to cut it out entirely!

There were a LOT of phone calls, during which I would list countless reasons why these few sentences were necessary to the book.  Every time she would say she understood my feelings, but that she couldn’t in good conscience agree.  Finally, after what seemed like weeks of back-and-forth, I tried cutting it out — just to see how it read.

You know how this story goes:  she was right, I was wrong, “kill your darlings,” blah, blah, blah.3

When I looked over the final proofs of that chapter a few weeks ago, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  My editor is a busy lady, and I’m sure it would have been much easier for her to just let me have my way.  But she stuck to her guns, and the book is better for it.

Shortly after that issue was resolved, I sent over a picture as a sort of peace offering:

Way to be awesome, Editorus Rex.

  1. My editor has a pretty low online profile, so I’ll respect that by not publishing her name … of course if you reallywant to know who she is, it’s printed in back of Peter Nimble!
  2. In fact, both my wife and agent have at times argued that I can be too eager in this regard. Perhaps that’s a subject for another day.
  3. Author and blogger Wendy Palmer has a neat little series on writing rules that are often misapplied — including the infamous “Kill your darlings.” It’s worth reading, if for no other reason than to learn that Faulkner didn’t originate that phrase.

“Now, my young readers, I know just what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Hmmmm. Stealing a girl. That’s an interesting way of winning her heart. Allow me to warn you now that, under any other circumstances, stealing a girl is about the worst way of winning her heart you could possibly cook up. But because this happened long ago, in a faraway land, it seems to have worked.”

– Adam Gidwitz
A Tale Dark and Grimm


I’m a sucker for word-play:

“Understanding them?” the young king asked.
“No. Under-standing them. In the ancient sense of the word. Standing beneath them. Supporting them. Bearing their troubles and their pains on my shoulders.”

– Adam Gidwitz
A Tale Dark and Grimm

Mum’s the Word…

Last month I wrote a post about how my father shaped me as a reader — so I thought today it would be appropriate to talk about my mum.1  That’s her in the photo, reading to my cousins … but it’s a pretty accurate picture of my own childhood.

I come from a family of serious readers.  When my mother was growing up in the middle of South Dakota farmland, she read every book in her local library.  My parents didn’t have much money growing up, but they did have stacks upon stacks of books.  In fact, it wasn’t until I got to college that I learned that reading at the dinner table was considered rude.  Auxiers were readers — end of story.

Or at least that’s how I remembered it.  But recently, I learned something from my mother that made me take a second look at my upbringing … and made me love her all the more:

It happened right before I entered second grade.  It was the end of summer, just before class would start, and my parents sat me down to explain that I would not be going back to my elementary school.  Instead I would take a year off for something called “home schooling”.  At the time, my mother was completing an MA in Gifted Education, and I suspected at once that this whole home schooling thing was something she had made up.  Not that I objected.  As I recall it, my home school year consisted of playing Construx and memorizing lists of random facts she fed me — art history, prepositions, the presidents, and other things no seven year-old had any business knowing.2   At the end of the year, I went back to regular school.  Only I didn’t go into third grade with my former classmates … instead I was put into a second-grade class with kids that were younger.  It was only then that I realized the truth:

I had been held back.

I remember being confused at why my parents might have thought me unfit for the rigors of second grade.  I mean, it’s second grade.  It wasn’t like I couldn’t handle the workload.  So why hold me back?  Whenever I asked my mother, she would just shrug and say that she had wanted to spend some more time with me.

My second try at second grade was a blast.  The big thing I remember was a year-long reading competition.  Students were required to fill out little book reports, and the kid with the most book reports at the end of the year got an awesome plastic trophy.3  My parents, who are some of the least competitive people I’ve ever known, were uncharacteristically invested in the event — there were constant trips to the library, and a gentle-but-unmistakable pressure to make sure I handed in those reports.  All told, I read 88 books that year.  Even better than that trophy (which I totally won), were all the great authors I had discovered!  Over those months, I had transitioned from stupid formulaic mysteries to Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, John Fitzgerald, and Lloyd Alexander.

It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that I made the connection between these two memories.  It came while I was teasing my mother for taking me out of school just so I could learn to say all my prepositions in a single breath (which I can still do).  To this she replied: “I couldn’t care less about prepositions … I took you out of school because you didn’t like reading.”

Huh?  I loved reading!  What was she talking about?!

My mother explained that even though I knew how to read as a kid, my teacher had warned her that I didn’t seem to enjoy it very much.  And so she made an executive decision:  pull me out of school and FORCE me to love reading.  Every single day she would sit down and read a book to me, and then she would make me read a book myself.  After that, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted (Construx!).

To this day, I have no memory of this home school reading regiment.  But when I think about the year that followed, about all the wonderful books that I devoured, I start to see that it may have worked.  Thanks, mum.

  1. Yes, Canadians actually say “mum.” Why? Because we’re adorable, that’s why.
  2. Mary has since informed me that lots of kids are forced to learn prepositions — but nobody can touch this guy for shere awesomeness.
  3. In my day, you had to earn those dollar-store trophies, damnit!
AFTERWORDS: I’ll Chop off Your Head Alot!

One of the things that bothers me most about social media is its ephemerality.1  I hate that idea that a person could spend hours crafting a witty tweet, only to have it disappear by the next day.2  And so I’ve decided to try out a new feature on The Scop — a sort of roundup of things I’ve found on the internet each week.3  It will also be a chance for readers who subscribe to my RSS feed or only check the site once a week to see the Marginalia quotes taken from books I’m currently reading.  We’ll see how it goes …


First thing’s first — Saturday is National Free Comic Book Day.  Yes, it’s as good as it sounds — just show up at a comic shop and they’ll give you a comic.  More info here.  Also, kidlit podcaster Katie Davis just posted a great interview with comics veteran Barbara Slate about her new book designed to teach kids how to make comics — it’s worth a listen.


Since we’re on the subject of comics, let’s talk about Axe Cop.  For the unitiated, Axe Cop is a brilliant webcomic in which artist Ethan Nicolle collaborates with his six year-old brother to write the ongoing adventures of a cop with an axe. It’s truly amazing. Even better, there is now a cartoon version of Episode Four: The Snow Planet.  Eat your heart out, Hoth.


I had a lot of responses from readers about my recent post on how my wife hates pigeons. Every friend, to a person, made a point of telling me that they, too, hate pigeons. So it was a nice change of pace to see author Lisa Brown post a link to a New York Times piece written by Mike Tyson about how pigeons are great.


And in silly movie news. Some website re-drew all the big Summer blockbusters as Lego products. Which might be cool were it not for the fact that Lego is totally lame.





And finally, this little gem from Salon magazine, talking about the trend in which hot movie starlets fall all over themselves to declare their geek bona fides. I am embarrassed for parties on both sides of the equation.


Ooh! One more thing! Cartooning genius Allie Brosh is finally writing a book. I think we can all agree that the world will be the better for it.




This week, I finished posting the last of my favorite lines from Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. This man is a much better writer than I am …

From chapter 25: “‘That’s right,’ Jerry said, his voice small, a wrong-end-of-the-telescope kind of voice.”

“Rippled” is the perfect word: “A second chocolate followed the first. And a third followed the second. His mouth was crammed with the candy now and his throat rippled as he swallowed. ‘Delicious,’ he said.”

Talking to a crank caller: “‘Who is this?’ Jerry asked. And then the dial tone, like a fart in his ear.”

Chapter 31: “Why did the wise guys always accuse other people of being wise guys?”

Talking while jogging: “‘He got transferred,’ Jerry answered, squeezing the words out of himself like toothpaste from a tube. He was in good shape because of football but he wasn’t a runner and didn’t know the tricks.”

The book’s central question: “The poster showed a wide expanse of beach, a sweep of sky with a lone star glittering far away. A man walked on the beach, a small solitary figure in all the immensity. At the bottom of the poster, these words appeared — Do I dare disturb the universe? By Eliot, who write the Waste Land thing they were studying in English.”

To see more Chocolate War quotes (or quotes from any other books I read), check out the marginalia section here.  Next week I’ll be posting favorite lines from Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark & Grimm.  Have a good weekend — may you all succeed in disturbing your respective universes.

  1. Come to think of it. Ephemerality is also what bothers me about life in general.
  2. Yes, I have actually spent hours on a tweet before. What can I say?  I’m a big fan of the editorial process.
  3. I’m aware that a lot of blogs already do Friday Roundups, so if you don’t want me to add to the noise, please let me know.

Chapter 31:

“Why did the wise guys always accuse other people of being wise guys?”

– Robert Cormier
The Chocolate War

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