About Me

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A wise man once said that the only constant is change. I didn’t know WHICH wise man said that, actually, so I Googled it. Turns out it’s a guy named Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher. Man, those guys got all the wisdom. Well, I could use some of that wisdom now as I spring yet another big Mary Kole move on my unsuspecting blog readers. (It’s not true that all of you are unsuspecting, I’ve been getting emails from some of you because I recently got listed as “Whereabouts Unknown” on QueryTracker.com. That’s a bit funny to hear about yourself from your couch in Brooklyn, where you definitely know you’re sitting at the moment. But I digress…)

From my silence here and in Publisher’s Marketplace, you probably have guessed that something is up. It is. After a great year with Movable Type, I have decided to get out of the literary agenting game. It has been a great six years since I first set out into the sparkly and dizzying world of the literary agent, from my first internship as a reader to my position as a Senior Literary Manager with a list of over twenty clients. In the last year or so, I have been finding increasing satisfaction in being a freelance editor. Working with writers one-on-one was and always has been my first love. All of my various roles in publishing, from conference presenter to negotiator, have fallen flat compared to that creative and satisfying calling of digging into a manuscript. Don’t get me wrong. Seeing a book on a store shelf that you have shepherded from its first draft is an indescribable feeling. But that work of honing the manuscript, that relationship I developed with its creator, those have almost always been more precious to me behind the scenes.

I want more time to do that. To roll up my sleeves and get into the nitty gritty with individual writers. I also want a sense of security and calm that a commission-based agenting job just can’t provide. I want to open a manuscript and focus on how to make it better instead of focusing on “Will this sell? And for how much? And what about my rent?” That probably takes some of the mystique out of literary agents for you, and for that I apologize, but it’s not the easiest way to make a living. And that’s especially unfortunate, since you are leading a portfolio of talented artists who count on you for their living, also. Freelance editing has allowed me to free myself up to once again function purely for the love of working with their manuscripts. What a wonderful feeling!

There are also some other big changes afoot. If any of you have been following the murky (I was aiming more for “mysterious” but so it goes!) details of my personal life, I’ve been rather taken with a certain man for a while. He’s a handsome and talented chef, and he’s pretty taken with me, too. It has always been his dream to move to his hometown and open a restaurant. Since I’m in the process of fixing up my own life to make my literary dreams come true, it’s only fair that we make his dream come true, too. In a few short weeks, in the dog days of August, my fiancé and I are relocating to Minneapolis. I’ve been studying wine on the sly for a year and a half and recently passed my Certified Sommelier exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers. When I’m not editing, we’ll be working together on bringing his vision to life. I couldn’t be prouder or more honored to be a part of that.

As for you, my faithful followers, I just want to express my undying gratitude. This doesn’t mean I’ll be shilling my editorial services every five minutes. Or talking about my book more than I have been. I’m looking forward to the pleasure of getting back into strict craft discussion here once a week going forward. After this move, I’ll have all of the pieces of my new life finally in place. Then the real work of serving the worldwide kidlit community–and the hungry local community–begins. Whew! I’ve never chosen the easy road but it’s the only thing I know. Thanks for sticking with me.

In the meantime, though, moving is expensive so…didya know that I now offer freelance editing services? :)

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I have been a terrible blogger for the past two months. With some life obligations taking my attention, more freelance clients, and starting a round of professional development classes for the hell of it, I have heaped much more on my plate than I can chew. Lesson learned. (Or is it? I’m still one of those optimistic people who keeps waiting for life to get less busy. “Maybe it will slow down come summer? Christmas vacation? This weekend? Never? Okay, never sounds about right.” Ha!)

Like the broken human robot that I am, taking on too many things at once has tanked my resolve to update the blog. (For a comedic explanation of what happens when I overload myself with too much, click here.) This is not good. This blog has known me longer than most boyfriends I’ve ever had, and it’s a source of great joy and satisfaction for me. It’s also, from what I hear, helpful to writers and a trusted source of valuable information.

So to ease back into posting, I’m giving myself this one as a freebie to reintroduce myself and, I suppose, confirm to my loyal readers and visitors that I’m not dead under a pile of manuscripts somewhere in Brooklyn. I’m also announcing (read: this is for me, not you) that I will now reduce my frequency of posts to once a week, probably on Mondays. That’s a little crappier than my lofty twice-weekly goals but I’d rather have one post once a week than no posts for months and then an apology.

Next week, I will do another Critique Connection to freshen up the pool of available manuscripts and critique partners. Then it will be back to business as usual! Feel free to email me (see sidebar) with your questions in the meantime!

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Welcome back from the holidays! Was your break as relaxing and wonderful as mine? I hope so. It really was a Christmas and New Years for the ages. But now it’s back to work. Speaking of work, I’m offering something new: paid editorial critique and consulting services.

In the fall, right before my book came out, I had a few writers email me to ask whether or not I offered paid critique services. It’s something I’ve always considered doing but the timing never seemed right. As is, I do critiques for my Writer’s Digest webinars, for various conferences, and for my clients (in good faith, without charging a fee) on a regular basis. It’s my favorite part of the job, hands down. I love story, I love craft, and I love rolling my sleeves up and getting into the nitty gritty of a piece of writing, whether it’s a pitch letter, a 10-page sample, a picture book, or a novel. I have a very specific set of skills, some in-depth market insight, and context that many writers have found valuable over the years. This is just another avenue that lets me do what I’m honest-to-goodness passionate about.

It’s gratifying to help aspiring authors get to the next level and I know there are a lot of people out there who want professional help to reach their next writing milestone. After getting some inquiries and taking on a few trial editing jobs, I decided to take the plunge and offer my services officially. You can check out my new website here for more information, including packages offered, rates, and submission information. My main focus so far has been full manuscript edits, which are very time-intensive but also utterly gratifying, but I offer options for picture book writers, query letters, first pages, etc. etc. etc.

I’ve always been very honest and that’s not going to change. I can completely understand why some people have issues with agents or in-house editors pursuing editorial work on the side, just like I understand people having issues with the recent trend of agencies publishing client books in digital form. As a result, I know this won’t be for everyone and that’s perfectly fine. For those who are curious, I’m making every effort to keep the line between my agenting work and my editing work clear. I have the full support of Movable Type, and the conviction that my existing and future agenting clients always come first. My customers sign an agreement that says I will not offer literary representation on any project that I’ve edited, though I could happily recommend it to colleagues if it strikes me as a fit. If you’ve been looking for an editor but don’t want any conflict of interest, email me for the names of several outstanding freelance recommendations with no current agency or publisher affiliation.

It’s four years into my agenting career and I’ve sold many books, published my own book on the writing craft, traveled the world, and fulfilled a lot of personal and professional dreams. I’ve also made some publishing dreams come true for writers, and that is a feeling that never gets old. I have a submission pile that I’m actively hunting through, a full list of clients and projects, some time on my hands, and a commission-only job that pays unpredictably (yes, everything from a love of editing to boring practicalities played a role in this decision).

It’s a new year and, finally, the timing is right.

If you’re interested in my services, please check out my freelance editing website. I won’t be pitching you hard on this blog to give me your money going forward, don’t worry. But I’m here if you’re interested, and I’m genuinely excited to help writers who are looking for a very qualified pair of eyes and some honest and proactive feedback.

Back to our regular programming on Monday! And, for the love of Gertie, if anybody spots a typo in this post announcing my editing services, please do the humane thing and don’t tell me about it. :)

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As of today, I am officially a Senior Literary Manager and the head of Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult at Movable Type Management! This is a wonderful new opportunity for me and I’m leaving with the full support of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, which has been my foundation and professional home for the past three and a half years. A huge thank you to my family of former colleagues: Andrea, Laura, Caryn, Jen, Jenn, Kelly, Jennifer, Taryn, and Lara. I’ve learned so much from this amazing team of women–truly among the best in the children’s book business. I have been blessed and am so grateful to have had my start at such an amazing place.

Being in such an enviable position, however, raises its own set of questions: Where can I go from here? What’s the future of publishing and agenting? Where do I fit into the brave new world of books and content and digital? As many of you know, I spent the first six years of my professional life working at a start-up that went on to sell to Google. I grew up in the Silicon Valley. There’s a rebellious and entrepreneurial streak in my blood.

Even though I’d found a wonderful place to work, I caught myself yearning to learn more about some other elements of publishing–namely digital books and packaging–because I believe they will become more and more important in the future. I wanted to amass new skills and explore what another agency is doing–both for my future as an agent and to provide new opportunities for my clients. I wanted my years of experience as a dot.com-er to dovetail with my passion for children’s books. I wanted more of that start-up feeling in my life.

It has been an absolute joy to learn from the very best, but I know that there is no reward without risk. Now it’s time for me to evolve and join a new and like-minded team at Movable Type, a small, nimble, and entrepreneurial agency. So here’s to my new colleagues: Jason Allen Ashlock, Adam Chromy, Jamie Brenner, and Michele Matrichiani. There are so many possibilities out there in today’s publishing world, and I want to learn about them and make them happen for my clients. Plus, I want to grow! I can’t describe to you the thrill of starting a department, enriching my relationships with the children’s publishing business, finding new clients, and truly being responsible for my own enterprise within an agency. This is the kind of leadership role that I’ve been dreaming about and I couldn’t be more excited to get started.

This transition may come as a surprise to some of you. It certainly did to me when I found myself seriously considering walking away from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. But this is the right choice, and I’m thrilled to also have the full support of my client list! That vote of confidence means the world. These last few weeks have been extremely fraught and bittersweet. There were lots of tears, but they’ve all been tears of gratitude. I am completely indebted to my colleagues, past and present, my friends, my family, my clients, my blog readers, and everyone else who has stood by me and decided to go along for the ride. As I wrote in the acknowledgments for my book: “Y’all know me–and you love me anyway!”

Now. Nitty gritty. The blog and my work for Writer’s Digest will not change. Neither will my availability for conferences and events. I’ll still write posts here every Monday and Wednesday. I’ll still teach webinars (including a children’s market overview this Thursday at 1 p.m. Eastern, click here for more information). I’ll still hang out on Twitter and Facebook. If I still owe you a Writer’s Digest critique or a response to a manuscript or query, you will still get it as soon as possible. I still have all of your submissions and correspondence.

Now, though, you can query me at Movable Type! At Andrea Brown, you had to choose from one of nine wonderful agents. In my new role, I’ll be the only one seeing the children’s queries, focusing on picture books, middle grade, and young adult. We are still tweaking the MTM website, but my new email is up and running. It’s MKole@MovableTM.com! My submission guidelines remain the same as they were at ABLA: I want to see your query letter and the first 10 pages of your novel submission or full picture book text copied and pasted into the body of your email. The word “Query” should appear somewhere in your subject line. No attachments please (illustrators send a link to an online portfolio) and no snail mail.

Thank you all for your support and I can’t wait to see what I can do over at Movable Type. I hope to see your submissions pouring in soon so that I can start my new job off with a bang!

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This question comes from PK, who asked it during my Franco-Italian blog break:

In terms of agenting, would an agent of awesomesauce-ness like yourself consider taking on a project they didn’t necessarily love, but thought they could sell? Or vice versa? Or does it just depend on the agent?

I didn’t just pick this question because I was described as an “agent of awesomesauce-ness,” promise. This is actually an issue that I struggle a lot with. There are lots of things that I haven’t gone for that have gone on to sell. I rejected them even though I knew they had a possibility of selling. Do I wish I’d gotten some of those commissions? Sure. Especially when those books go on to do well in the marketplace or receive continued enthusiasm from their publishers. Do I live with myself regardless? Of course. I’ve long ago made it a goal to have no regrets.

Here’s how I see it: If I go into a project thinking, “This is commercial crap but I think it will sell and so I’ll offer,” my head and heart are going to be in a different place. I’ll never bond with the project–or the author–in the same way as I do with those projects and authors of mine that I love unconditionally for their creativity, artistry, and merit. And if I see flaws in the project, even before I go on sale with it, I bet some of those editors that I’ve pitched will be thinking, just like I was, “This is some Grade A commercial crap and I don’t really want to publish it.” The difference, of course, is that publishers are looking to make money and the editor may make a “go” of the acquisition anyway, even with a fluffier book that is mostly meant to generate revenue or capitalize on a trend, and my “I think I can sell this” prediction comes true. But it’s not the same as championing a more “long shot” project successfully, or seeing a book that you’re head-over-heels with come to fruition. And you better believe that when an editor gushes about a project to friends and booksellers, it won’t be BEACH BLANKET BONANZA, or whatever. It’ll be one of the books that they acquired out of love, not money.

Maybe that’s what could eventually drive me out of the agent game, but I have to fall in love with a project. I can’t do the “this is crap but it will sell” thing. This question made me think of that scene in Love, Actually (please forgive me), when aging rock star Billy Mack is recording a shameless moneygrab single, turns to his manager, and says, “This is shit, isn’t it.” His manager replies, “Yep. Solid gold shit.” But who wants to have shit on their record, at the end of the day? I know I can’t feast on my principles or use them to pay my bills, but for now, I know what love feels like with a project, and that’s what I’m chasing. It’s very hard to find, but nothing really measures up to when you do.

The truth is, I’ve tried taking on projects like this, that I thought were a good bet to sell and that I wouldn’t mind representing. Maybe I’m just a really bad judge of what’s commercial, but they never went anywhere. Maybe it was the project. Maybe it was a saturated market. Maybe it was a downturn in the really fluffy/paperback original/beach read sector that went the way of the chick lit. The fact is, I know what happens when I go to sell a love project, and I know what happens when I go to sell a commercial-but-I-can-live-with-it project. I’d much rather spend my time on the former.

Plus, I’m building relationships with clients that I hope will last across multiple books. I have high standards for my authors and illustrators, and I love watching them work and grow. If I take you on with only mild enthusiasm for you and your work because I’ve got dollar signs in my eyes, I worry it will be a false type of relationship from the get-go, and that’s not particularly fair for either of us.

There are plenty of great projects that go on to get published without my help–most books on shelves fall into the category, actually! And I’m happy to let them go. Not all things are for me. Not all things are awesomesauce enough for me to want to read them five or seven times (as I’ve read some client projects over the course of multiple revisions). Not all things are going to inspire me to an enthusiastic pitch. Not all things are going to connect with my target editors like I want them to. And maybe I’m just one of those people who has to have love at the expense of commerce. Of course, the best of both worlds is to have a book I’m desperately in love with that goes super huge in the marketplace. I’m happy to report that this feels really good, also!

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2011 has been a very interesting year for me, and I hope it’s been a fantastic one for you. I’m ready to relax for a few weeks and then hop right into what I hope is a tremendous 2012. Let’s make some books, live to the fullest, and see what adventures lie just around the bend!

I wish you lots of holiday love, warmth, time with family, good eats, laughter, creativity, and peace.

This Christmas, since I’m spending the month of December living in beautiful Napa, my family is coming up to visit and we’ll be sunning ourselves by a mineral hot springs pool. That’s right…a Christmas swim in 100 degree water. It’s going to be bliss!

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It is with great pleasure that I share the following pictures from my wonderful visits to the Tokyo and Hong Kong SCBWI chapters. The first picture is me and the group from Tokyo. We met at the lovely Yokohama International School the Saturday before Halloween and then spent one long day talking about the marketplace, queries, craft, and the submission process. The Q&A session included concerns for the Aussie writers in attendance (there were several!) and, of course, curiosity about the digital changes coming to the publishing industry.

Overall, a talented group of writers and illustrators — and quite a few guys representing the SCBWI in Tokyo! (You don’t usually see a large male population at children’s writing conferences, though that’s not to say that there aren’t wonderful male children’s writers, both published and aspiring.) This brave crowd, well, braved about seven straight hours of talking, first pages, query analysis and Q&A from yours truly…

And then we all went out to dinner to celebrate the end of a long day! The only person missing from the above sea of beautiful faces is Holly Thompson, the intrepid leader of the Tokyo SCBWI chapter, as well as the author or the exquisite verse novel ORCHARDS, out from Delacorte.

Holly was kind enough to take me to the Sankeien Gardens in Yokohama after a more relaxed day of one-on-one critiques on Sunday. Because so much of my Japan trip revolved around food, here’s a picture of me from that afternoon with a soba noodle trio. I’m so grateful to her and all the SCBWI Tokyo members for the hospitality!

I’m so blessed to work from home and be able to add travel time to my conference duties. After ten nights in Japan, I flew over to Hong Kong on Thursday, November 3rd. There, I was greeted by Mio Debnam for critiques first thing Friday morning, then a delicious Shanghainese lunch. What a lovely introduction to a city that’s all about food. I would’ve posted a picture of the sea cucumber and abalone that we devoured, but it was gone too quickly. (A heads up: Sea cucumber does not stay on chopsticks well, and therefore doesn’t make very graceful eating. Sorry, Mio!)

On Saturday, I did another marathon day of talks, first pages, query critiques, and Q&A with the Hong Kong members. Here we are, below:

Everyone is looking pretty relaxed in those plush leather chairs. I’m glad you can’t see my feet in this shot, because this is probably after I took my shoes off. (That’s Kole Code for: “Now I mean business…”) Something about public speaking always makes me want to go barefoot.

I eventually shut my mouth and put my shoes on for a lovely post-conference dinner at the China Club with Mio, several members of the Hong Kong chapter, and Kathleen Ahrens, the International Coordinator for the entire SCBWI. She has the fascinating job of helping regions all over the world develop chapters and programming, and I also owe her a huge debt of gratitude for this amazing opportunity.

Here we all are at dinner. Mio, our gracious hostess, is wearing red in the back, and Kathleen is my gray-attired bookend on the opposite side of the bottom row. It was fantastic getting to know these writers over delicious soup dumplings.

Overall, the trip was wonderful. Truly the opportunity of a lifetime. And it was so great to meet writers in the larger SCBWI community. I’m still processing everything — and trying to find the energy to upload all of my pictures to share with friends and family.

Just as I was ready to go home this past Wednesday, my overseas adventure refused to sink quietly behind the International Date Line. My plane from Hong Kong took off in bad weather and suffered some kind of damage. They tried to fix it in the air for a few hours but were unsuccessful. The pilot decided he didn’t want to risk the trans-Pacific flight back to San Francisco. The plane was full up with enough gas for a 12-hour flight — a long-ish haul for a 747 — and we were too heavy to land, so we flew out over the ocean and dumped fuel for about two hours. That was a bit unnerving. In case anyone doesn’t have the memo, I’m an uneasy flier (even though I do it at least once a week…and, because I’m a glutton for punishment, apparently, I was home a day before jetting off to Southern California for the weekend, got back yesterday, and am flying again tomorrow). With jet fuel spraying out of the wing right outside my window and the plane shuddering from the aforementioned bad weather…let’s just say I was a bit on edge.

Long story short: We returned to Hong Kong, were rebooked on new flights, and I was back in the air about seven hours later c/o Singapore Airlines. I’m so happy with how it went, overall, and the United’s decision to turn around and be safe, even though it was the longest day I’ve ever had (40 hours). And that little hiccup was nothing compared to the absolutely tremendous time I had exploring Japan and Hong Kong and meeting my fellow children’s book enthusiasts across the globe!

I’m still having trouble sleeping because of jet lag, but I’m back stateside, baby, and ready for Big Sur, client business, and lots of new and awesome projects in my inbox! :) If you’re still curious about my food adventures, head on over to my older post from Chowlit. I plan to add a Hong Kong edition tomorrow, if I ever get all those pictures organized…

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Austin, TX is the gift that keeps on giving, even when I’m in its hipster-sister city of Portland, OR. After my amazing weekend in Austin a few weeks back, I have been keeping up with my new friend Tolly Moseley (of PR By the Book and her own blog, the Austin Eavesdropper). It is through Tolly from Austin that I learned about this really awesome artist named — what a coincidence — Austin Kleon. (Fun fact: the guy who did my tattoo in Austin is also named Austin. Another fun fact: the woman who colors my hair in San Francisco is named California.)

Austin Kleon gave a graduation speech a few weeks ago to a college class in upstate New York about creativity. Even though he’s a visual artist (with a book out), there’s a lot of rich material there for any writer, artist, or creative person. I’ve been writing recently about creativity, because it’s so important to nourish that part of yourself, whether writing or just living life.

You can read his speech here. I don’t just love it because he quotes Kurt Vonnegut a lot, by the way, though that certainly helps. (Fun fact: for the longest time, I wanted epitaph to be a Vonnegut quote from GOD BLESS YOU, DR. KEVORKIAN: “Everything was beautiful. Nothing hurt,” but this weekend I changed my mind. Why? Because, per my whole “being alive” philosophy, life does hurt sometimes, and that’s what makes it even more beautiful.) As Lady Gaga says in a really fascinating interview (which I’ve linked to once before), here, her favorite quote is, “If you don’t have any shadows, you’re not standing in the light.”

My new epitaph candidates are: “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” (from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot) or “Only connect!” from HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster. If I really wanted to do Vonnegut, perhaps “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center,” from PLAYER PIANO. Or, you know, I could always do the favorite from SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE: “So it goes.” Why the gravestone thoughts? I just read STIFF by Mary Roach. Good, chilling, mind-bending fun, and really well-written.

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity, authenticity, and the publishing industry lately. I’ve also been trying to get back in touch with my own creative self. I minister to the creative selves of others for a living. I find that, in order to do that well, I need to refuel my own creative source.

This past (looong) weekend was just the thing the doctor ordered. And it’s not even over yet. I’m writing this from Portland, OR, where I’ve been staying with my inimitable friends, Nate and April, in a rented salmon-colored summer house. They were actually called away to Eugene halfway through my trip and I’ve ended up spending a fair amount of time alone and carless…just me, the sloping green backyard, and the sound of the (everpresent) rain. It has actually been perfect.

On Thursday, I ate perhaps one of the best croissants ever, bought really cute sky blue shoes, and ordered a pair of über-hipster glasses that I just pray are ready before BEA, where I will blow all the other publishing hipsters out of the publishing hipster water with my hipsterness. (Not that I care about being hipper than other hipsters, of course, since I’m a hipster and hipsters, by definition, don’t care.) We spent the night at the Kennedy School and I relaxed in the saltwater soaking pool for hours and hours and hours. My dear Suzanne Young showed up to take me out to dinner and drinks on Friday, stoking my perma-fire for good Cajun food and getting me even more excited for the week I’m spending in NOLA in June for ALA. (Fact: I go to New Orleans at least twice a year because it is one of my favorite US cities.)

On Saturday, Jeff Geiger (Grand Poobah of Radness) crammed into eight hours what would’ve otherwise taken eight days in Portland: a coffee tasting, three breweries, a beer festival, two meals, and even a little bit of Ben Folds goodness. Omakase is a Japanese phrase meaning “it’s up to you” or “I am in your hands.” If you want to make a sushi chef happy, say this and let them serve you whatever they want. That’s what I said to Jeff: I am in your hands. Give me the raddest, baddest, hippest tour of Portland. And he knocked it out of the park. And brought me the present of limited edition beer, to boot. (Bryan Bliss is decidedly unhip in that he did not show his face for these festivities. Boo. Hiss. Weak sauce. Martha Flynn and Melissa Manlove have hyperactive imaginations, but I would still like to invest in a limited print run of “What Wouldn’t Mary Do?” t-shirts. (Fun fact: ladies, you both like me more, so just admit it to yourselves and one another.))

I am so blessed to have these friends. I am so grateful for this time to recharge, listen to Ben Folds, read Kurt Vonnegut (BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, natch), think my thoughts, and methodically reread the New York Times Modern Love column archives (some of my favorite essays ever).

Speaking of cool things…I just found out (maybe I’m the last to know, I haven’t really been following the movie news) that my gorgeous, fierce, and talented friend from college, Tara Macken, is going to be a tribute in the HUNGER GAMES movie! Woo! Everybody go and “Like” her Facebook page, here.

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Being Alive

Now, I don’t write a super lot about my personal life on this blog, but sometimes I gotta. The reason this time? I have a cool and unusual fact in my history: I wrote my college thesis on Stephen Sondheim. Not a lot of kids can say that. I wrote my thesis on human relationships in two of Sondheim’s musicals: Company and Follies. In the former, Bobby is the eternal third wheel. He goes back and forth on the idea of marriage and companionship, love and what it means to be attached to another person. His foils are all of his “crazy married people” friends, some in the midst of a happy divorce, others happily hitched and unable to admit it, still others terrified on their wedding day.

Bobby is a flake, seemingly content to be alone, always taking the easy path. He’s a bit of a cipher character, actually. Until the last few minutes of the show. He goes from asking that someone “Marry Me A Little” at the end of Act 1 and singing “I’m ready now” when he doesn’t really mean it…to realizing that he must surrender himself to the possibilities of love, life, and other people, both good and bad, when he sings “Being Alive,” the penultimate song of the show. That’s when he’s really ready. Here are the lyrics:

“Being Alive”

ROBERT:
What do you get?
Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep.

PAUL:
That’s true, but there’s more to it than that.
SARAH:
Is that all you think there is to it?
HARRY:
You’ve got so many reasons for not being with someone, but
Robert, you haven’t got one good reason for being alone.
LARRY:
Come on, you’re on to something, Bobby.
You’re on to something.

ROBERT:
Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell.

DAVID:
You see what you look for, you know.
JOANNE:
You’re not a kid anymore, Robby. I don’t think you’ll ever
be a kid again, kiddo.
PETER:
Hey, buddy, don’t be afraid it won’t be perfect. The only thing
to be afraid of really is that it won’t be.
JENNY:
Don’t stop now. Keep going.

ROBERT:
Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.

SUSAN:
And what does all that mean?
LARRY:
Robert, how do you know so much about it when you’ve never
been there?
HARRY:
It’s much better living it than looking at it, Robert.
PETER:
Add ‘em up, Bobby. Add ‘em up.

ROBERT:
Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who’ll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive.

AMY:
Blow out the candles, Robert, and make a wish.
Want
something! Want something!

ROBERT:
Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I’ll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!

This wasn’t the original ending for Company; it was added in previews. And it’s brilliant. I love the turning point of the song, after Amy begs him to “want something,” when Bobby realizes that he’s not rejecting “someone to hold you too close,” he actually wants that yet-unknown Somebody. He craves someone he can take care of (per the scene after “The Ladies Who Lunch”). For the first time, there’s a sense of ownership: he wants to be an “us” (that word is used very pointedly in the lyrics above) and swears “I’ll always be there.” Those are heavy words for a third wheel! Creativity, humanity, and a life lived well are all immense responsibilities. They take courage, and he’s finally found it.

In the 2006 John Doyle-directed Broadway revival of Company, all of the actors played their own instruments. There was no orchestra. In a very symbolic touch, Bobby (played by Raúl Esparza, who is the ultimate Bobby, in my opinion) was the only one in the cast to refrain from playing an instrument until he sat down at the piano for “Being Alive.” It is the turning point in his life, the moment he decides to participate, the second everything changes.

This song doesn’t just speak about this one character’s experience, it speaks to the nature of life and human relationships, to love and fear, to vulnerability and authenticity. Those are all things I have been thinking intensely about in 2011. This year so far has seen the end of a relationship and the death of my beloved Sushi cat, a deeper bond with my colleagues and family, new culinary inspirations, a new group of friends in New York and across the country and truly fulfilling career successes. I’m also happier, personally and professionally, than I have ever been in my life.

There is a lot of fear in “Being Alive,” but a lot of strength, too. And, finally, love. Life takes all of the above. So this song, for me, focuses on the intense, the vibrant, the close, the passionate, the terrifying, the inspiring…all the things life is if you just open yourself to it and make yourself vulnerable to truly being alive. That means love, and other people, and being yourself, and admitting when you’re afraid, and knowing that sometimes it feels like you’re just barely surviving, but survive you do because without feeling acutely all of the parts of life, you aren’t truly human. You’re not experiencing the immense power of your time here. (This intensity and immediacy of feeling is also, by the way, why I love great YA fiction.)

When Bobby finally decides to throw himself headfirst into life and love, which is my impression of this song, he’s deciding to open himself up. It may not work out, but, as Peter says, “don’t be afraid it won’t be perfect. The only thing to be afraid of really is that it won’t be.” So when I went to magical Austin, I decided to give myself a permanent reminder to be open, be creative, be positive, be vulnerable, be aware, be disciplined, be principled, be true, be inspired, be full of life, be a part of a community, be held too close, hurt too deep, crowded with love. In short, to simply be. Be alive.

It’s on the inside of my upper arm, a little bit private, mostly for me to read and remember. (Sorry, Mom!) Plus, it says a pretty universal thing that even the Sondheim uninitiated can understand, just in case I don’t feel like explaining the reference. My smartass response will be: “Well, it’s literally what I’m up to right now.” You can see Raúl Esparza’s performance of “Being Alive” here. I was definitely watching it a lot last weekend. :) This moment in my life is one I’d like to remember. It’s me saying, like Bobby, that “I’m ready now” for the next step, the next love, the next move, whatever that might be.

My deepest gratitude to Austin at Black Cat Tattoo in Austin, TX for the excellent bedside manner and the great take on the font I chose (an adapted Steelplate Script), to Jeremy Howell at Francisco’s Salon, also in Austin for the recommendation (and the sizzlin’ hot haircut), to John Cusick for going with me, providing moral support, and for buying me whiskey afterward, to Barbara Fraser at Santa Clara University for igniting my Sondheim passion with her senior seminar, and, finally, to Stephen Sondheim himself for crafting the story and the music that has resonated with the world so deeply.

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A few months (Weeks? Days? Time has been flying so fast…) ago, I mentioned that I was working on a secret blog and a secret project and a secret area of my agenting and life. I invited guesses. Was this Green Day related? (I wish.) Theatre or Stephen Sondheim related? (No, but I am going to see the New York Philharmonic production of Company tonight with Neil Patrick Harris, Christina Hendricks, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Cryer, and I am so excited that I literally can’t stop dancing.) People wondered if I’d be writing about all manner of stuff.

Well, wonder no more because all is revealed!

(Or, um, you could’ve gone to my personal website, www.marykole.com, and figured it out instantly, but I don’t want to ruin the aura of mystery…)

FOOD, homeskillet. The answer is food.

I’ve had the food bug for as long as I can remember, and I was blessed and lucky in my life to have three things:

  1. An amazing mother who always cooked. Always. After we immigrated from Russia, she was so happy to have access to fresh and diverse food that she cooked all the time and sent me to school with delicious, homemade food every day.
  2. A New Yorker step-dad who is a very talented gourmet cook and took us to all the best restaurants whenever we would visit Manhattan from California.
  3. The incredible experience of working in a 2-star Michelin kitchen a few years ago. (I wrote a post about it a while back…that was your big hint!)

Since then, it’s been kidlit and food in my head, all day, every day. My adult reading hobbies, aside from all the children’s books I plow through, have always been cookbooks, travel and food memoirs, travel and food anthologies, and other food/culture/travel subject books. And it was only recently that I realized — duh! — that I could also represent food books like the kind I love to read (with Andrea’s blessing, of course). So that’s what’s going on. In the meantime, I’m learning about that arm of publishing, making contacts, and doing even more food reading, even more cooking, and even more learning. Don’t worry. My love of kidlit isn’t going anywhere…I just want to add to my portfolio so that I can pursue both of my passions!

The blog I’ve been working on is pretty bare bones so far, but you can now also find me on Chowlit.com on Fridays! Bon appetit and cheers!

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