Eight Belles

I’m running a 5k tomorrow. For all the tough points in a race, I’ve got little mantras that help me keep going. But the one that gets me through at the very end, when it feels like I’ve got nothing left, is an internal chant of “Eight Belles, Eight Belles, Eight Belles…”

For those who might not remember, Eight Belles was the filly that went up against the boys in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

Maybe it’s difficult to appreciate the context after the fact, but there was so much excitement going into that race. It was the year of the presidential election, so horse races of all types were in the collective unconscious of the entire nation.

John McCain had already secured the Republican nomination, but Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were still duking it out in May of that year. It was hard not to make political references in a Derby that featured Big Brown, Colonel John, and the lone filly, Eight Belles.

I remember sitting down to watch the race with my four-year-old daughter. Of course we were rooting for the girl to win: something only three fillies have ever done in the history of the Kentucky Derby.

The race itself was thrilling. Tessa and I cheered like crazy for the filly, but Big Brown was too much. He won convincingly, but Eight Belles ran a great race, finishing second, ahead of the eighteen other colts on the track.

Then tragedy. Seconds after crossing the wire, Eight Belles went down, fracturing both of her front ankles. It happened so quickly, it seemed like no one at Churchill Downs was aware of what was going on. Everyone was celebrating Big Brown’s victory and by the time people even realized the filly was injured, she’d been euthanized.

Gone. Forever.

Hard to explain that to a four-year-old. Big Brown’s jockey, Kent Desormeaux put it best: “This horse showed you his heart and Eight Belles showed you her life for our enjoyment today.”

So, yeah, my little running mantra is just a small personal thing. But it’s in memory of a horse whose toughness and heart I’ll never forget.

This is sportsmanship

Just got finished reading an article about “top 50 sports moments it’s okay to cry about.” Never mind the fact that out of fifty, there were perhaps two moments that included women. And never mind that the list uncomfortably mixed sports blunders (“Wide right”) and slapstick (someone’s mullet) with terrible tragedy (the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre of the Israeli athletes). I simply find it hard to believe that this moment could have been left out:

In memoriam

This post is dedicated to book covers past…


Yesterday, as I was pondering the majestic world that is Pin, I realized how much I miss the days when books had that special “secret picture” behind the front cover. Pin had one, although the most memorable such covers came from the V.C. Andrews series:











Book covers are such a big deal these days. I read blogs with people analyzing every little detail and nuance of the artwork. Which is pretty cool, on an aesthetic level, but I ask…where’s the pragmatism???



You see, back in the olden days, when a pocket paperback came with a secret picture cover, (or big puffy letters or just a strange cheesy picture or a grammatical error in the title)…you knew what you were getting. The cover set up an expectation.










A secret picture cover said: “I may have been purchased in the supermarket.” “I am meant to be enjoyed and not analyzed.” “I can be read in the bathtub and if you drop me, that’s okay.”


Certain other books shapes and artsy covers denoted a literary interior.


Those gritty and dramatic covers told other messages. They said: “I will make you look smart.” “I can be read at the café.” “I can be listed as a ‘favorite book’ on your Facebook profile without fear of ridicule.”

But now? The line between commercial and literary covers has been blurred. This seems especially true in the teen horror genre, which is one of my favorites. But I read all kinds of books and now when I go to my bookshelf, I am confused. Is that Haruki Murakami or is it Stephenie Meyer? There is no visual cue. Just these gorgeous evocative pictures and designs that scream read me, me, me, me, me!

But shhh, I’ll tell you a secret. My biggest complaint regarding the dearth of secret picture cover books is this:

I can no longer judge other people by the covers of the books they read.

Yup, that’s right. A great piece of social data has vanished. Poof!

Ah, secret picture cover, I miss you. Gone, but not forgotten…



SCBWI, literary experiments, and musical brilliance

Ah, it’s been an interesting past few weeks, punctuated by a very last-minute decision to attend the SCBWI conference down in Los Angeles.
I don’t know LA, I’ve never been to a writers’ conference, but…the inspiration just struck. And thanks to the inimitable kindness of the GOTYA and YAHighway writers, inspiration became reality. Once there, I wandered around, slightly starstruck, in the dark depths of the Century Hyatt.
Part didactic learning, part ethnography. I attended Gordon Korman, M.T. Anderson, and Jon Scieszka’s breakout sessions and tried to absorb their passion and wisdom for the books they write and the readers they’re writing for.
M.T. Anderson, in particular, gave a wonderful presentation on literary experimentation in children’s books. I loved that he used Daniel Pinkwater’s “Young Adult Novel,” as an example of letting a story become the metaphysical concept that the narrative is about. And while John Barth isn’t a young adult writer, his famous short story “Lost in the Funhouse” does the same thing: following the teenage Ambrose and his family to the beach while at the same time following a self-conscious narrative about how to write a story.
I also relished the way M.T. Anderson made very clear one of the great literary freedoms of writing for children: books can be playful. They can be playful and experimental for deep, meaningful reasons, and they can be playful simply because, well, l’art pour l’art and nothing more.
For the rest of the conference, I dedicated myself to absorbing the culture: from writers, to agents, to editors. There’s really nothing better than hearing people talk about…books, so I just soaked it up. Brought home heaps of books, too. I was very impressed with the genuine sense of support and community from everybody that I interacted with. Thank you to everyone who made me feel like I’m a part of it all.
In happy music news—well, beyond happy, really: ecstatic, elated, double rainbow rapture news—Three Mile Pilot has an album coming out this fall. You can buy it here. I can’t say enough good things about this San Diego band.
By the way, I’m not a music snob. Not at all. But back when I was in college, I remember traveling with a large group of friends up to San Francisco to see them play. One of those unforgettable, rowdy, hormonal, we’re-so-freaking-hip type of nights.
These days, I’m old and boring and don’t get out to clubs that often. But last winter, when I happened to see that Three Mile Pilot was on tour again for the first time in FIFTEEN years, I didn’t think twice about getting tickets. And when I showed up at Bottom of the Hill, it was like an unannounced college reunion had taken place. A large number of us that had been there, in that same club, fifteen years earlier, all ended up there again…simply because we’d all remembered that earlier show and how damn good it was. I can’t think of any other band that could inspire that type of loyalty after not playing for so long. But 3MP, they’re that good. Truly. Check ‘em out.