Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Literary Journals

Last week I went to Borders where I inspected literary journals. I need to scope some out because I'm finishing up a graduate course on creative nonfiction (as my legion of regular readers are well aware), so now I want to try to publish some and literary journals publish that sort of thing. It's important to study the markets. A journal devoted to, say, the fiction of Afghanistan is not going to be interested in my essay on the joys of studying Taekwondo so I should save everyone a lot of time (and, on my part, embarrassment) and not submit it there.

I found maybe six to eight different publications, which was way too many for me. I was overwhelmed. What to buy, what to buy? I finally gave up and purchased Riverbank Review , which really won't help me much as far as my essays are concerned because it's a review of books for young readers. But, read what you know, right?

I wish I could report on what I've read in Riverbank Review . But, of course, I've only read part of the first article. However, it's about nature writing, and, interestingly enough, I've just read two books of nature writing in my class. Well, actually, I read only one of them because I'm a really lousy student. Still, isn't it strange that nature writing keeps turning up in my life?

Perhaps someone is trying to tell me something.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

But I Have Slides!

I am in the middle of at least four projects, not counting some correspondence I should be taking care of. One of these projects involves developing a new school presentation for two jobs I have lined up this winter.

This presentation is on the history behind Tess LeClerc's Ethan Allen report in The Hero of Ticonderoga. In addition to creating the text, I'm working on planning slides, which my webmaster (have I mentioned that he is a god?) will make in a PowerPoint program. I will then have to drive that program to a film developer about an hour from here where the PowerPoint slides will be made into traditional slides. (Because no matter what you've heard about the wonders of PowerPoint, most of the schools and libraries I deal with don't use it.) Then I'll have to drive back there the next day to pick everything up. Right now I'm just outlining the presentation so we can get the slides done before Christmas. My first presentation is in the middle of January, and I need lots of time to work on the text and practice because of this performance anxiety issue of mine.

Yeah, I know. You now know far more about me than you want to.

The point I'm getting to is that as fascinating as the history related to Ethan Allen is--I could just go on and on about it--I'm worried that kids won't find, say, the Puritans as interesting as I do. Even though I have a slide of Cotton Mather. I'm hopeful they'll like my material on smallpox in the Revolutionary era, though. Who wouldn't like smallpox? Why a professor named Elizabeth Fenn likes it so much she's written an entire book called Pox Americana on the subject of smallpox during the Revolutionary War. I haven't read that book and probably won't, but my point still stands--smallpox is interesting stuff. Ah, but the Enlightenment...My gut feeling is that without the Enlightenment those of us who are not descended from aristocrats would still be living in huts and turning in a percentage of what we make to the lord of the manor. Because of the Enlightenment, learning matters. (Unless I totally don't understand that period, which, of course, is possible.) But will kids, who are probably more than a little ticked off because they have to go to school and learn nearly every day of their lives going to see the value of that? Even though I have a color slide of John Locke to flash on a screen while I talk about his enlightened philosophy?

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Lack of Appreciation for a Beloved Author

I'm not talking about these young whippersnappers who don't appreciate good literature. I'm talking about my lack of appreciation for same. And the author involved is E. B. White.

I know I should be talking about Charlotte's Web or one of White's other books for children. (Stuart Little, for instance). But I've never read any of them. The rumors I've heard about kids crying over Charlotte's death (which also may be only a rumor because, remember, I've never actually read the book) were a serious turnoff. But White was an essayist before he was a children's author, and we've been reading his essay collection One Man's Meat in my graduate class. Actually, we've finished with the thing. Though, I have to admit, I stopped around the halfway point.

One Man's Meat is about White's experiences after he left New York City to live on a farm in Maine. Think Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence except in Maine instead of the south of France. And instead of renovating a house White raised chickens. And instead of writing about great food White wrote about Nazis.

Usually I like personal essays, but White's are often just a little too much like random thoughts for my taste. In his defense, he was writing these for a column in Harper's magazine so the original readers of these essays got them in much smaller, easier to take, doses. Nonetheless, it's not unusual for White to be writing about, say, helping a neighbor drag a sheep home, use a few asterisks, and start writing about something else. This suggests to me that he had a certain number of column inches he had to fill each issue. The essays are interesting historically because they were written in the late 1930s and 1940s about topics people are still writing about today--big agriculture and big education, for instance. One essay on children's literature sounds as if it could be published in The Horn Book today and fit right in. But there's also an aspect to some of his writing that suggests that any thought he had was worth expanding and publishing. Since this is E. B. White we're talking about I'm sure there are many readers who will say that any thought he had was worth expanding and publishing. I, personally, don't know if western literature would be any the worse if he hadn't told us about the farm publications he happened to be reading the day he wrote his column or the state of his hen house.

Okay. I'm an awful person. I just bashed E. B. White.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

What I Found on the Young Adult Shelf

I want to talk about the difference between a book for young people and a book with a young character. I believe I've done this before, but, well, I'm doing it again.

This line of thought was inspired by I Never Liked You by Chester Brown, which I found in the Young Adult section of my local library. I Never Liked You describes itself as a "Comic-Strip Narrative." It's very much a comic-strip memoir. (Does anyone else besides Chester Brown and myself remember that on the Daniel Boone television show Boone had a sidekick named Mingo?) I Never Liked You is a little disjointed and rambly, but the episodes it describes are very true to adolescent life.

Does that mean it's a book for adolescents? There are panels of full-frontal nudity as well as large sections involving very rough language. Both the nudity and the language are appropriate for the story line and true to life. Would I want to hand the book to my 12 to 15 year-old-child? Hmmm. Do I think it should be promoted as a YA book? Definitely not.

The adolescent experience is one that still interests many adult readers. It makes sense that books for them will be written with adolescent characters. I Never Liked You appears to be one of them. I can't find any information on Brown that suggests he thinks of himself as a Young Adult writer or that anyone knowledgeable about independent comics/graphic novels considers him to be one.

However, the adult comic is such a new genre in this country (actually, Brown is Canadian) that literary types are having trouble categorizing it. Yeah, I know, categorizing is bad, and I guess this is an example that illustrates why that's so. While I Never Liked You is sitting on the YA shelf where it may be picked up by a teenager whose parents may find it too mature for their offspring, adults who could really appreciate it don't know it exists.

It may not even be accurate to assume that graphic novels are a genre teens are particularly interested in. I Never Liked You has been in my town library for seven months. I was the first person to take it out.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

I'm Ba-a-ack

Miss me? Did you even notice I've been gone--due to software problems?

I've been working on a new presentation to use in schools, writing essays for that graduate class I keep telling everyone about, and reading essay collections. I've managed to read two kids' books. I've also managed to write a second chapter on the new, new book--not to be confused with the new book, which is coming out in June. Two chapters all fall is nothing to brag about. Actually, it's only one chapter this fall. I think I did the first one in August.

So, anyway, I should have some things to write about.