the written world: dragons, tacos, and the good place

like most right-thinking people on the planet, i forking love The Good Place. (for the uninitiated, it’s a 20-minute sitcom about heaven, hell, moral philosophy, and the redemptive power of human connection). (note that, if you haven’t seen the first season of The Good Place, this newsletter contains spoilers).

i also love Adam Rubin’s best-selling picture books: Dragons Love Tacos, Dragons Love Tacos 2, and High Five.

here’s what they have in common: they both take a good idea, and then take it further. i don’t have the lit-crit vocabulary to say it better than that. it’s the thing where a story begins with a charming or clever premise, and then breezes past it to the next good idea, and the one after that. 

in Dragons Love Tacos the concept is that--spoiler--dragons love tacos. but it instantly introduces the idea that dragons also hate spicy salsa, because it makes them breathe fire, and then the scenario that you (it’s written in second person, which i adore in picture books) are throwing a taco party for your dragon friends, except you mis-read the salsa jar and the dragons burn down your house and then help you rebuild it because they feel bad. you see how the story just goes boom-boom-boom, no brakes?

Dragons Love Tacos 2 keeps it rolling. it opens with a crisis: there’s a national taco shortage! oh no! which prompts my favorite line of either book, exemplifying the whatever-you-call-it i’m trying to talk about: I know we aren’t supposed to mess with the time machine in the garage, but it sure seems like now’s the time.

what a goddang curveball. what fun. 

The Good Place is nothing but curveballs. the first couple episodes are based on the charming-but-not-necessarily-groundbreaking premise that someone not-great has ended up in heaven. it’s a little preachy and moralizing, because you can see how it’s going to play out: trashbag human slowly learns to be good and earns her place in heaven, how sweet. 

except it doesn’t play out that way at all. except (actual, major spoiler alert) it turns out they’re actually in hell being tricked into tormenting one another, endlessly striving to win a game they’ve already lost. by season 2 it’s become an escape room, as the humans try to break free; by season three it’s a quest, because they’ve become convinced that the entire good place/bad place system is unjust. literally every episode ends with the audience saying what!

so the lesson here is something like: don’t be afraid to take your story further.

i think it takes guts (all writing takes guts, which is a bummer because i’m a coward). i think it takes a kind of narrative fearlessness, a cheekiness, a faith in readers or viewers to follow you wherever the fuck you go. i think probably it results in a lot of dead-ends. but i also think it’s worth it.

other reading

  • my husband read this completely batshit article on the author of the mega-bestseller, Where the Crawdads Sing, and honestly i can’t stop thinking about it. it’s like a fictional murder mystery wrapped in a real-life thriller. it’s meta and weird and i don’t understand how publishing twitter isn’t obsessed with it.

  • if you find yourself stressed and unhappy, weighed down by the endless cruelty and buffoonery of the white house, i recommend middle-grade graphic novels. it’s like stumbling into an alternate planet made of radical empathy and charming aesthetics. i especially recommend Nguyen’s Pilu of the Woods, which is about grief and botany, Telgemeier’s Smile, which is about dentistry and middle school, and Jen Wang’s new Stargazing, about K-pop and talent shows and friendship (her debut, The Prince and the Dressmaker, is also a favorite in our house).

  • and i just finished Circe by Madeline Miller. oh my gods and goddesses, my nymphs and naiads. someone go back to my third-grade self--the one who kept hamilton’s Mythology in her desk, the one who named her parakeets zeus and hera--and tell her one day she’ll see all those stories come to life. it’s phenomenal: witchy and angry, human and epic, beautiful and hideous. it’s my new obsession.

news

the first month of having a book out in the world has been wild and distracting and nerve-wracking and great. some very cool things have happened, like a rave review at NPR, like my hometown B&N selling out of my book on the first day, like my publisher using Google Lens and augmented reality to make my book cover move, like seeing my book on the LA Times Best Seller list a month after publication. i’m exhausted and grateful and very lucky.

  • if you happened to be looking for a signed edition of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Carmichael’s Books in Louisville should be back in stock this week!

  • i’ll be at the Kentucky Book Fair in Lexington on Nov. 16, signing books along with very excellent people like Gwenda Hecking Bond!!

  • on january 11th at 6PM, i’ll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, talking with Erin Motherhecking Morgenstern!! (note that this event is ticketed, because Erin)