Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dutch Rights!

If you're following this blog (or if you see me on Twitter or Facebook) you know what an exciting week I had last week when my new book deal was announced in Publisher's Weekly!! But the icing on the proverbial cake came in the form of a 6 AM phone call from my agent Friday morning letting me know that Dutch publisher Orlando wanted to pre-empt Dutch rights to the book!!! Needless to say, I am beyond thrilled that MARGOT has already found an amazing home in the Netherlands!

Thanks to everyone who sent me congratulations and well-wishes last week. And for those of you who asked, I'll be posting more details about MARGOT here soon.

Monday, March 12, 2012


I had such an amazing weekend with writers and readers at the Tucson Festival of Books, and now I'm so thrilled to be able to start this week off by announcing some BIG NEWS I've been dying to share: My next book, Margot, which re-imagines the life of Anne Frank's sister in post-war America sold to Laura Perciasepe at Riverhead/Penguin!!!!

Check out the details from this morning's Publisher's Weekly:

Laura Perciasepe at Riverhead Books took world English rights to the literary debut from Jillian Cantor, Margot. Jessica Regel at the Jean V. Naggar Agency closed the deal for Cantor, whose first book, the commercial women’s fiction outing Transformation of Things, was published by Avon in November 2010. The new novel reimagines the life of Anne Frank’s sister, Margot, who supposedly kept her own diary and died shortly before Anne, in 1945. Perciasepe, Regel said, writes about Margot coming to America, after the war, as “Anne’s growing status as a cultural icon dramatically upends [her] own new identity, love, and life.”

I am so, so excited about this book, and could not be more thrilled that it will be published by Riverhead!!!!!! (I'm overdoing the exclamation points, I know, but there are not enough exclamation points in the world to show how thrilled I am!!!)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tucson Festival of Books

I'll be at the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend!

On Saturday, March 10th at 10 AM I'm on a panel called Secrets, Lies, and Double Lives with Laura Fitzgerald, Tayari Jones, and T. Greenwood in the Student Union -- Tucson Room.

On Sunday, March 11th at 10 AM I'll be moderating a panel called Mending Broken Bonds with Jane Green, Jenna Blum, and Diana Abu Jaber in the Integrated Learning Center -- Room 150.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Year Later

This morning, I went to the grocery store. It was a simple thing to do, something I have done countless other mornings. Something I did last year, this same day. January 8th. Last year I left the house to go to the grocery store; only, first I was stopping to meet a new friend for coffee. You know what happened next; I wrote about it here, last year. My new friend and I shared a coffee across the parking lot from the shooting. I stared out the window at the first responders as they pulled up, having no idea what had happened, at first.

After my friend and I parted ways that morning, I stopped at the grocery store, just the way I’d planned (not THE Safeway, mind you, but another store, a block away). It was such a simple thing to do, a silly thing almost. I probably should’ve gone straight home. But instead I found myself walking around the store aimlessly, piling things in my cart without really paying attention to what they were or what I needed. I paid; I drove home. I put the groceries away. My hands were shaking. I was numb. The next morning, I could not find half the things I bought at the store, things that were recorded on my receipt as paid for. I checked the car, called the store. Nothing. Half the groceries were gone. In hindsight, I suspect I might have accidentally thrown them away in my stupor rather than putting them away. Because two or three bags of groceries, couldn’t just disappear.

I thought about it this morning. It has been a year, I told myself. And that is the detail I recalled first: the missing groceries. Already, my memory of that morning has become fragmented and hazy, fogged over with shock, I guess. Then I recalled driving back to the store the next day to re-buy the things I’d lost. They were easy to reclaim; they were only things after all. Food. But other things were not so easy for me. Walking back into that grocery store again, the next day, I was suddenly afraid. Anything could happen. Any time. Any place. I felt exposed. I felt that way for weeks, possibly months, this horrible sinking feeling every time I had to leave my house to go out into the world. Worse, I’d imagine how the people closer than I had been were feeling, and I couldn’t comprehend it. I still can’t.

I didn’t write for a while last winter. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but that at first, I couldn’t. I had no words; no stories to tell that seemed worth telling. I read a lot of news, especially about the shooting and the victims, how they were doing, how they were moving on. I stared at a blank Microsoft Word document for weeks. I have always been good at writing my emotions, and so I kept pushing myself just to write something, just to make myself write through it somehow. I knew it would help me. But for a little while, I couldn’t write anything.

Last spring my words came back. Slowly, I forced myself to begin a new novel. At first, I thought I would write a novel about a shooting – because it was what I was thinking about, what I was feeling. I would do what I was good at, writing my emotions. But a few chapters in, I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe it will always be too soon?

Then I started something else. Something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time but wasn’t sure how, and then suddenly, I was. I was sure of nothing else but this. I was breathing again. I was writing again. The words were all there, and so were the emotions. -- my new character was experiencing so much of what I had, loss and grief, and also, hope.

After I began writing again, I fell into the story. I slept it, ate it dreamt, obsessed over it, and then, the fear slowly began to subside. Going to the grocery store became just going to the grocery store again.

This morning, I went to the grocery store. I wasn’t afraid anymore. But I was filled with an overwhelming sense of sadness. It has been a year. It feels like a lifetime, or maybe, only hours. My memory is already fragmented, but that doesn't mean I will ever forget.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Yesterday I attended the Arizona Library Association's (AZLA) annual conference to accept The Judy Goddard/Libraries Ltd. Award for The Life of Glass! It was such a huge honor that they chose my book this year, and the award is quite possibly the most gorgeous award I've ever seen.

Here I am accepting the award, and giving my acceptance speech!

And here I am doing a panel with the other state award winners, Amanda Noll, Jody Feldman, Me, and Jennifer Ward. That's Mary our excellent moderator on the end :)

Here we are signing books after our panel!

And here is a picture of my AMAZING LOOKING award!!

I'm so grateful to all the amazing librarians in Arizona (and everywhere!) who always support my books. It was a great day, and I felt like a rockstar! I have my award sitting on my desk, where I definitely think it will bring me good luck!!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Penn State

I have spent the past week thinking a lot about college. I keep thinking I should write something here -- and people who know I went to Penn State have been asking me and emailing me about the events unfolding and wanting to know what I think. But to tell you the truth, I haven't felt I've had the words to say anything meaningful enough. Like so many people, and I guess, PSU alumni especially, I have been glued to all the press coverage. Horrified. Outraged. Shocked. Sickened. My husband (also a PSU alum.) and I have been discussing every new detail, dissecting all of it. Trying to make some sense of any of it. Of course, we can't. How could so many adults stand by and do nothing while children were being harmed in this way, and at our college, while we were going to school there? In many ways, to both of us, I think it's all felt surreal.

I guess it's because us Penn Staters, we feel our college years were something special. We are bonded together by this knowledge of four years spent in the idyllic Happy Valley of central Pennsylvania. I am always surprised, even now living all the way across the country, how often I run into Penn State grads, and how connected I feel to them. Nearly every time I wear my Penn State sweatshirt I find a connection. More than once, a stranger has called out the infamous "We are. . . " from across the street. Not that I don't do the same -- if I spot a Nittany Lion, I'll start talking to a stranger, too. A fellow PSU grad is not a stranger, after all. When I was in graduate school, I had a professor who always confused my undergrad school and thought I'd attended Penn, not Penn State. Sure maybe Penn is ivy league, but so what? I always corrected him. We PSU grads, we are a proud bunch.

And it's not just football. For me, it's not about football at all. Sure, I went to some games when I was there, and that was fun. And yes, when we saw Joe Paterno walking through the dining commons, we'd stop talking and stare, as if we'd spotted a celebrity in our midst. But these are not the things I think or remember when I think about my time at Penn State. I think about the people: my friends and my teachers. And the place: the snow and the brick buildings, the walk-able town. I long for that place sometimes now, the feeling that somewhere an idyllic small town, where people are nice and wholesome, that that still exists. I think about taking my kids to see it, when they're older. I think about what it was like to live there for some of the most formative years of my life. And I think for me, that is what has been taken away this past week. That all the beauty and the wholesomeness, that the entire idyllic backdrop of my college years, that it was a lie. And the worst kind of lie, at that. Because Happy Valley was not a safe and idyllic place after all, was it?

But, there are still the people. And I'm not talking about Paterno or Spanier or any of the rest of them, because these are not the people I think of when I think of Penn State. I think about the friends I made. I think about the graduate students and professors who taught me a lot, and not just about English, writing, sociology, theater, and yes, even astronomy. But about life. I learned to be a reader and a thinker and a dreamer. I made friends who did the same. And when I see another PSU alum, a stranger, these are the kinds of connections I feel I share with them.

One of the first nice things I've read about Penn State this past week led me to this website where Penn State alums are banding together to raise money for abuse victims. Their goal is to raise $500,000 and already, they are more than halfway there. My guess is, they will exceed their goal. That is the kind of Penn State I remember, anyway. I am happy to see that it wasn't all a lie.

Monday, September 12, 2011

In Tragedy, a Writing Lesson

Ten years ago, when 9/11 happened, I was in graduate school. Yesterday, I was trying to remember that time, that week, and very little of it comes back to me. I know I was sad and terrified and numb, even though I was living across the country from the terror attacks and didn’t personally know anyone who’d been affected. I remember a sense of shock, the feeling that nothing would ever be the same, but I can only remember this in the vaguest sense. Was school cancelled? I was teaching, but what did I say to my students? I have no idea.

There is one odd thing I remember vividly, though. Maybe it was the day the attacks happened or the day after or later that week, but I was sitting in a fiction workshop class. It must’ve been the first one we had in this new world, because the professor, an older and slightly frightening man who I felt would never understand me or my writing (and mostly, I was right about that part), sat in front of the class and began by saying this: So let’s talk about what happened.

It seemed obvious what he was going to talk about, what everyone was talking about then. But then he said something else: “My dog died,” he confessed, “and I can’t get over it.” He went on to talk about how his dog, who’d been with him for years, had passed away over the weekend or maybe on 9/11 – that much I can’t remember now. “I know I should be sadder about 9/11 than about my dog,” he said. “So many people died. But I didn’t know any of them.” Then he added. “My dog was with me for so many years. My house is so empty without her.”

Maybe because it was a fiction writing workshop, and because he felt he was dedicated to teaching us, even when none of us were in the mood for learning, he added that there was a writing lesson in this. “It’s the smallest tragedies that are the ones worth writing about,” he told us.

At the time, it sounded all wrong to me. I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying, or why he was saying it then. I am an animal lover, but still, it felt like the wrong conversation to be having at the time. There were so many other things to say, to think about, to worry about, to mourn.

Yet, something about it has stuck with me all these years later. When I think about the days and weeks surrounding 9/11, this is one of the only things I remember with clarity. In fact, this is one of the only things I remember from two years worth of intense and soul-crushing writing workshops with clarity. Why?

The new book I’ve been working on takes place against the backdrop of an enormous historical tragedy, yet the story I am choosing to tell is a deeply singular and personal story of one woman’s loss. I’m finding the best part of writing it is in the details of this one particular woman and the people closest to her who she has lost and loved.

And I keep thinking about this one professor telling my class about how his dog died on 9/11, how it’s the smallest of tragedies that are worth writing about.

Is he right?