Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Repeat After Me, "There is only one Georgia Nicholson."

I have gone on record here several times as being a huge fan of the Georgia Nicholson books by Louise Rennison, who has her own fanlisting site--whatever that is. Louise endows Georgia with a voice, an attitude, a world view... How can I describe what Rennison does with Georgia other then to use Georgia's own words? It's "fabby, fab, fab."

Oh, wait. I'm off track. I'm not talking about the Georgia Nicholson books (though I am happy to say there is a fourth book in the series, Away Laughing on a Fast Camel, that I haven't read yet). No, folks, what I'm talking about today is LBD It's a Girl Thing by Grace Dent, which sounds so much like the Georgia Nicholson books that VOYA said of it "Move over Georgia and Angus, the LBD is taking over!" No! No!

I will admit that I didn't give this book a chance. I only read twelve pages and then stopped because it just seemed like too much of what I'd read before--the lame, out-of-it dad, the girlfriends, the voice. If I'd never read Louise Rennison's books, I'm sure I would have loved this. But since I had...

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Oh, No! What Have I Done?

I've joined two listservs! Or maybe just one, since only one of them, Child_Lithasconfirmed that I'm in. I'm even receiving e-mails from the group. That appears to be how listservs work.

I say "appears" because, really, I only have a clue.

Well, I am excited about getting to talk to some more kidlit people. Since I hardly know any kidlit people, at all, you can see why this is a big deal for me. I hope they don't mind that I never seem to like much of anything I read. The listserv I joined is described as being a little on the academic side. A little more rigorous intellectual effort would be good for me, I'm sure. You can never think too much, right? Gee, I hope I can think enough for these guys.

There is a problem with doing this, though. A listserv is a way for a lot of people to e-mail each other. (I guess, because, remember, I only have a clue.) So I'll be getting e-mails off and on all day. Many of which I'll want to respond to. Plus I go to Readerville off and on all day, too. And I have a number of blogs I like to check out each day to see what's going on in the world. Plus I have my workout schedule. Plus I like to update my own blog a few times a week, at least.

What I'm driving at is that it looks to me as if my writing career is pretty much over. I don't have time for it. Wait! I could stop calling my mother! That will buy me more time. Yeah. I guess I'll do that.

Monday, June 28, 2004

A Four Dollar and Twenty Cent Fine. Yikes.

When the overdue notice arrived last week from my local library I knew without even opening it what it was for--two of the Adventures of the Bailey School Kids by Marcia Thornton Jones and Debbie Dadey. I think I'd had them for months because they'd been overdue once before, and I'd paid up and renewed them.

Why was it taking me so long to read these skinny little things? Well, I'd originally had three of them. I took them out of the library because I was interested in writing a book for the same age group (which I haven't done anything about this summer) and wanted to see what other authors were doing. I read one of the books and, ah, didn't exactly find it to be my taste. I guess that's the best way I can think of to put it. So I was having a hard time bringing myself to read the last two. When the overdue notice arrived, I finally read one more book while I was on the treadmill. I gave up after that.

There are close to fifty Bailey School Kids, and the authors crank out other series, also. The two Bailey books I read and the similarity in the other titles suggests that these books follow a strict formula: a group of interchangeable kids suspect that adults in their town are witches, knights, Dracula, etc. and do some lame stuff to prove their point. In one of the books I read it was clear by the end that they were wrong. In the other it wasn't, though maybe I just didn't get it. That's a real possibility since I don't get these books at all.

Now, I am a big believer that a book a kid likes isn't necessarily going to be a book an adult likes, and I'm fine with that. Still...Oh, my gosh.

Since I like to try to be fair, I'm going to point out that I found only really positive reader reviews for these books at Amazon, and they were recommended to me by a library aid at an elementary school I was visiting this past spring.

Still...Oh, my gosh.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I Have a Bad Feeling About This

As a general rule it doesn't bother me too much to have a book manuscript off with my editor because while she's got it I don't have to work on it, right? But after a month or so passes with no word, especially no, "Oh, my stars and garters, Gail, it's the finest thing I've ever read! How do you do it?" I begin to get anxious. Especially if a deadline looms. Or is past, as often happens.

To make a long story short (too late!) I e-mailed my editor today just to see how things were going. She was just lovely in her reply but said nothing that could possibly be interpreted as "Oh, my stars and garters, Gail, etc. etc." It will be sometime next week before I get a serious response.

I'd better finish those two short stories I've been revising and send them out somewhere before then because I suspect July and August are going to be tres horrible and I won't be touching them again until fall. And what's more, I still haven't finished cleaning my desk after the last writing binge. And I wanted to go visit a bookstore I've never been to. Oh, man. I don't know how I'm going to sleep tonight.

Monday, June 21, 2004

You Want to See an On-line Book?

You want to read one? Try Hover Car Racer by Matthew Reilly, who is a best-selling author from Australia. Though he is a suspense writer for adults, Hover Car Racer is written for a Young Adult audience.

I haven't read Hover Car Racer because I'm not interested enough in racing to read a book about it and maybe not even a magazine article. And though I love the Internet and I'm interested in alternative ways to publish fiction, I don't think I can sit in front of a computer screen while reading 27 page chunks of books. However, people who have grown up with the Internet may be happy to do so, which is why I thought it was worthwhile to bring this book to the attention of younger readers.

Here is an interesting idea: Reilly is able to make Hover Car Racer available for free because he has two underwriters who will be advertising at the site. Has he broken new ground here? Is this the future?

Here's something else you may find interesting: I linked above to an article about Reilly instead of his website because I found his website unusable. Slooooow to load and then I couldn't move around once I got in it. I bring it up because, well, here's a guy who's publishing on the Internet but has a website that is so difficult? Irony, folks!

Friday, June 18, 2004

Writer Worries

So I'm at my writers' group the other night, and we're discussing this short story I wrote in which I have a character say, "Boloney."

Steve says to me, "I hate to nitpick, but you've spelled 'boloney' wrong." (Steve actually is a very good reader so he's totally forgiven any time he really does nitpick.)

So we talked about that for a few minutes, particularly my concern that if I wrote the word "bologna" readers would pronounce it in their minds "bologna" as in the meat instead of "boloney" as in, well, "boloney!"

So I'm revising the story this morning, and I Google boloney and find out that it's also spelled baloney. So now I have another problem. And, of course, the spellcheck function for this blog said I should have spelled "boloney" "Boolean" (which I think has something to do with classifying stuff or logic or Internet searches) and "baloney" "baleen" (which I think is a whale) and "bologna" "Bologna," (which I'm sure is a city.)

Geez. Maybe I'll just think of something else for that character to say.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

In Honor of the End of the School Year

Last month USA TODAY carried an article called Contemporary vs. Classic by Greg Toppo, who is, I believe, an education writer. The article was about bringing more contemporary books into high school English classes, and mentions a book called Great Books for High School Kids by Amy Crawford and Rick Ayers. The Crawford/Ayers book talks about nearly 400 books they believe would enhance a high school curriculum. They are not, according to Toppo, suggesting that classics be replaced by contemporary books.

I found this article interesting for some personal reasons. I read classics when I was a teenager, but I read them on my own. I think I was on some kind of self-improvement kick or something. But the point I'm trying to make is that I didn't have teachers improving the experience for me OR ruining it. You run that risk when a teacher is involved. If I were the kind of blogger who talks about her own family a lot, I could mention the AP English class my son just finished in which he said the students ideas about what they read were regularly shot down in favor of the teacher's "correct" interpretations.

So my point is that exposure to a few classics could be a positive thing if the books were handled like books and not "classics."

On the other hand, I'm a big believer in recognizing and being part of the culture you're actually living in. Exposure to contemporary literature is part of that culture. Bringing that into a high school classroom will, in my humble opinion, encourage teens to be active members of their own culture by becoming active readers of contemporary works.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

My Stepford Experiences

I have a little obsession with The Stepford Wives by Ira Levine. And I have found a way to justify writing about the new movie version (which I just happened to see yesterday) here at a blog for children's and YA books and writing.

You see, when I was a YA I read The Stepford Wives. The brand new book was serialized in some woman's magazine my mother got. I read the first installment and could not wait for the next issue. I have a vague recollection of being a little disappointed when I finally read the rest of the serialization, but like a book that much--at any point--is a great experience.

As a budding feminist I probably should have been a little horrified by what was going on in the book. But as a farm kid moving out into the greater world I have always seen The Stepford Wives as a cautionary tale about how uniform and conforming our society is.

Regarding the new movie (I know I saw the old one but don't remember much about it): Reviews are mixed. I think one reason is that Glen Close, who is marvelous through most of the movie, kind of explodes at the end. Someone should have told her to control herself just a little bit. There is also a little question of whether or not the Wives are robots because sometimes they shoot sparks and sometimes they appear to just be women with chips inplanted into their brains. And the movie is now a comedy instead of a horror movie, which seems to bother some diehard fans of the original.

To which I say, Get a sense of humor, people!

And that is how I managed to write my blog entry about The Stepford Wives.

Monday, June 14, 2004

The Last I Have to Say About Harry

For a while, anyway.

The June 4th edition of The Hartford Courant carried an article called School's Out for Harry in which the author, Kathleen Megan, says that the Potter books are used more often in college level classes than in grade school.

She quotes English teachers calling HP "middle- or lowbrow literature" and thus not appropriate for the classroom. The terms "middlebrow and lowbrow" are considered fighting words in many circles, no matter what piece of writing they're referring to. Another teacher had a really interesting thought. "We feel that if it's something children loved or found on their own, it doesn't make sense to turn it into an assignment."

Ah, what? Wouldn't assignments be a lot more interesting if they did involve books kids loved or found on their own? Well, I guess we can't have that.

No one mentioned the length of these books as a problem when considering adding them to a school curriculum. Even in paperback, it would have to be costly to purchase enough books for a class or two. And how long would it take a class of, say, twenty kids to read and "discuss" one of these things? A semester? I can remember one of my kids reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond when he was in grade school. His class read a few pages, filled out a deadly worksheet, read a few more pages, filled out another worksheet. It was mindnumbing. Imagine doing that with the last Potter book. They might still be working on it a couple of months after they got into seventh grade.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

As I Was Saying

Okay, to continue with the interesting thing I mentioned in my last blog: Professor Jenkins mentions a website called The Daily Prophet in his article Why Heather Can Write (I figured out how to link us! Sort of.) He describes it as "a Web-based 'school newspaper' for the fictional Hogwarts," and says it is run by a teenager, who hires columnists and edits their work.

Which is all very cool and supports Professor Jenkins' thesis (Yikes! I said "thesis!")that writing fanfiction encourages writing and gives young people opportunities to have their work read and critiqued. And the site is very sophisticated looking, by the way.

But what I found really interesting was that when I did a search for The Daily Prophet I found masses of sites with that name. (No, I don't know exactly how many items make up a "mass.") You had your newspapers and your message boards and maybe a blog. I couldn't figure out what some of the sites were supposed to be. A number of them hadn't been updated in a year or two.

And then I found this one site that had a true piece of fanfiction in it. A manuscript-type story involving Sirius Black and another character, who I only vaguely remember from the books. And they like each other. They like each other a lot.

I wish I knew if the author was a teenager. And I wonder if Professor Jenkins has seen this site. Which I'm so tempted to link to.

Friday, June 04, 2004

A Harry Potter Tie-in

While cleaning something in the house I found a hardcopy for an article from MIT's Technology Review. (Yeah, I know. Me reading Technology Review.) Unfortunately, I can't find a way to link to the article from Feb. 6, 2004, which isn't all that old when you consider how much unread clutter I have hanging around here. So, since the new Harry Potter movie is probably opening as we speak and this article mentions HP, himself, several times, I'll have to tell you about it.

Why Heather Can Write by Henry Jenkins,is all about "how participating in popular culture may help kids to master traditional literacy skills." I will try to translate for Professor Jenkins. His article is all about how kids writing fanfiction about Harry Potter may actually be improving their writing skills even though there are no teachers involved. Hey, it could happen.

Jenkins says that kids write fanfiction it and post it at sites, some of which review and critique it before publishing. He says that "Through online discussions of fan writing, the teen writers develop a vocabulary for talking about writing and they learn strategies for rewriting and improving their own work."

Jenkins talks about Harry Potter fanfiction, but I assume the same could be said about any kind of fanfiction.

I'm just getting to the really interesting part, but this post is getting too long for my taste. So... be continued!

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Book Expo What?

BookExpo America starts today in, I believe, Chicago. I think this is a big industry event at which publishers present books they're hot for, though I'm not exactly sure whom they present them to.

I think I should be all bent out of shape because my publisher has never asked me to go. However, since I'd hardly even heard of BEA (That's what those of us in the know call Book Expo America. You can call it that now, too.)before I started going to Readerville, it's hard for me to get up a lot of agony over it. Flying half way across the country so I can sit at an autograph table where it's very possible no one will talk to me? I can do that at the local mall, thank you very much.

However, what I'd really like to do is go to BEA as a guest who just wanders around and looks at the booths. I'd like to do that because I've heard the publishers give away free stuff. You know how you go to a home show and come away with free notepads, yard sticks, little rubber things for opening jars? I've heard that at BEA you come away with free Advance Readers' Copies. (Which those of us in the know call ARCs. You can call them ARCs now, too.) ARCs are the bound galleys publishers send out to reviewers. So if you go to BEA, you can get books before they're available to the general public AND you don't have to pay for them.

At least, that's what I've heard. Because as I may have mentioned, I've never been to BEA.