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This may seem really obvious to people who do it naturally, but to me it was a revelation.

I naturally read all email the same day it arrives. My previous method was to assess “urgent” vs. “not urgent.” This meant that the urgent got taken care of, but all of the “not urgent” was a mess. Finding the things that had become urgent over time but were still undifferentiated in my inbox was daunting.

Now I assess “action required, ever” vs. “no action required, ever.” If there is an action required, any action, even if that action is NOT a reply (for example, if it is “write this date in the calendar” or “I’ll need to refer back to these instructions someday”) I click “reply” then “save.”

Now, instead of having to search back through my too-full inbox for things I might need to do, I just go to my drafts folder, which has become a manageable electronic to-do list.

Ta-da!

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with several book clubs who have read The Whole World. One of the first things that’s often discussed is which narrators people liked the best. There are usually lots of different opinions and lots of interesting points arise.

One character (not a narrator) has been an interesting lightning rod. Miranda, Polly’s mother, is under great stress throughout the book. (Generally, most of the characters in any novel will be under stress; their reactions under pressure and their journeys toward solution/escape are what plot is made of.) She makes some poor, but understandable, maternal choices in the face of those stresses.

This is the interesting thing: I have found that mothers of young children are often disgusted by her, and angry at her. They see plainly that what she does is wrong and, idealistically, see her as something quite apart from themselves. Mothers of grown children, however, have been compassionate towards her, and are more likely to nod in agreement with her motivations even as they disagree with her actions. Both, of course, are right.

One of my favorite lines from a review is “‘The Whole World’ shines as a potent look at the self-absorption and angst of youth and the regrets and doubts of middle age.” (The Richmond Times-Dispatch) I hadn’t consciously highlighted the contrasting ages of the major characters, but subconsciously it was an obvious theme, and one of the points of interest in the book. Similarly, I find that book clubs with a mix of ages have a built-in POV contrast that stirs up discussion and insight.

All of the book clubs I’ve met with have been generous and perceptive. Thanks for being wonderful hosts and sensitive, opinionated readers!

One of the benefits of this job is that people like to show me cool places to dump bodies or, alternatively, interesting ways to murder. (Seriously.)

Behold! An old blocked-up nuclear shelter escape tunnel. The shelter itself is now rented as office space, and we passed through several bank-vault-like doors to get in there. This tunnel is in a corner, behind the air filtration system. Unlike the main doors, this door’s lock is only workable from the outside. Cue evil laughter…

So, I was watching “Jonathan Creek” the other night. JC is a superfun British crime-solving show starring a character who designs elaborate tricks for a stage magician. He uses these talents to solve complicated locked-room-type mysteries.

In one episode I saw recently, his partner is urging him to take on a job that has offered a financial reward. She describes her need for “some of the green” or something like that–maybe not the exact phrase but definitely used “green” to mean “money.”

But, money isn’t green in the UK.

That’s just one example of how Americanisms are legitimately present in UK speech. I watch myself really carefully when I write British narrators, because as an American I’m judged more harshly for my “mistakes.” I could not at all get away with a phrase like that.

Maybe I should stop admitting that I’m American! I could just say that I live in the UK and let assumptions take their course!

I recently stole away for a week to get into the next book. I stayed locally, in a student room at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge.

Look! So pretty!

This is interesting!

I just got the copyedit of my next book, and it’s a completely different experience. When I copyedited The Whole World (about two years ago, I guess) it was done entirely by hand: a printout had been marked up and then Fed-Ex’d to me, for me to mark up in pencil and Fed-Ex back.

The copyedit I just received for The Start of Everything, however, is electronic! I got it this week over email. The edit uses “track changes,” but, instead of “accepting” or “rejecting” the changes, I’m to accept by ignoring, and reject by adding a comment balloon with the word “stet.” (In editing by hand, I would have rejected something by writing “stet” in the margin.)

Two years ago I was amazed that copyedits were still done by hand. Now I kind of miss it! I was looking forward to holing up at a coffee shop again, with a logpile of new pencils…

Quick post just to say how much I am hating whatever new algorithms Google is employing.

I remember back in the day when Google first came out, and I was skeptical that another search engine was needed. I had AltaVista and Yahoo; what more could one want? This new company Google had a lot of TV commercials, and I remember thinking how silly it was to spend so much money on just another search engine.

I was wrong. Google’s mandate to get you the site you were looking for on the first page of results (often the first hit!) was a revelation. I quickly made it my search engine of choice, and continued to be impressed over the past ten years, as it got better and better at “reading my mind.”

Now it’s gone too far for me. It’s hit Microsoft territory, where it assumes that I’m stupid and so makes decisions for me. I feel like I no longer have power to refine a search to mean what I actually want it to mean. Google keeps interpreting what I write to mean what it THINKS I want it to mean.

Things I hate:

1) I will put in a number of search terms, and Google will only use some of them. I have to put a + next to every single word to prove that I actually want Google to search for all of those words. Even the top hits it gives me will include, say, only three of the four words I have searched for. As soon as I put pluses in, those top hits all disappear. Even if it wants to include options using the majority of my search terms, rather than all, shouldn’t those results be lower down? If there are any pages at all using all my words, shouldn’t they be the top hits?

2) Google searches homonyms now. Drives me crazy. While I appreciate spelling variations, like searching for versions of the word “embarrassed” spelled with one s or one r, searching for “break” when I have typed in the word “brake” is madness. I don’t want hits about things that have broken. I want hits about brake systems!

3) While + and quotes used to be reliable for meaning “I want you to search for this exact thing, darn it!” that is no longer guaranteed. I don’t know how to play the game anymore, honestly. I try and try to search for a specific phrase sometimes and the top hits are for variations of what I have quoted and plussed. The TOP HITS. That’s crazy. Just say “no results found” and I’ll vary my terms.

4) I understand why Google doesn’t count apostrophes or really any symbols. That’s usually helpful. But there are times where a symbol actually alters the meaning of the word or phrase, and I would very much like an option (a backslash, perhaps?) for including it.

5) Where has caching gone? I love using cached versions of pages, because my search terms are highlighted. This is especially important on the iPad, because you can’t search for a word in a web page. When the result is a very long page it can be challenging to find the relevant part. Sometimes the “cached” option is there under each hit, and sometimes not. Where has it gone?

Google: your search engine is jumping the shark. Rein it in, please.

My fantastic agent Cameron McClure stopped by after the London Book Fair to spend the day with me in Cambridge, wandering college gardens and floating on the river.

Happy days 🙂
(Also: good Thai food. What more could one want out of an afternoon?)

My sweetheart does a lot of great things.

My favorite “husband of a writer” story is the time the disk I’d been saving a project on wasn’t recognized by the computer. I called him at work to ask his advice. He said, “I’ll be right home,” and indeed showed up shortly thereafter *with a computer from work in his arms.* He tested the disk in the alternate computer. No luck. The disk was unreadable; the project was lost.

So he TYPED THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT BACK IN for me while I read aloud from the most recent printout.

This story has two morals:
1) Always backup your work.
2) Marry someone wonderful.

What did he do this weekend? Because he’s heading off on a business trip shortly, which will leave me on 24-hour single parenting duty for the rest of the week, he took the kids for two straight days so I could write/edit in prep for a phone call with my editor tonight. AND he made a fantastic homemade soup.

Happy birthday, sweetheart. I’m know how lucky I am.

Look what they gave me! So pretty.