Monday, November 29, 2004

Blurb...Excuse me-e-e-e

The Hartford Courant recently carried an article by its book editor, Carole Goldberg, entitled Jacket Flak. It carried the subtitle "Do Book Blurbs Bear Sincere Praise Of Peers, Or False Fawning Of Friends?"

Now, I barely knew what a blurb was until a couple of years ago when I joined the writing community at Readerville. Many of the writers there were very concerned about finding authors to read and "blurb" their new books, meaning write a nice little quotable quote that could be quoted on the cover. I had seen such things but didn't know it was my responsibility to approach writers to do it for me.

Needless to say, there's never been a blurb on any of my books.

I don't loose any sleep over the matter. What does worry me is what do I do if someone asks me to blurb their book? My legion of frequent readers know what a crabby reader I am. Just what are the chances of my reading a book that's handed to me and liking it at all, let alone enough to be inspired to come up with a marvy quote someone would actually want on his or her cover? Not great. Thank goodness my opinion doesn't matter to anyone, and I've never been approached.

Goldberg's article didn't cover that aspect of blurbing. Wally Lamb was quoted as saying he'd passed on blurbing an important novel, but he didn't say how. What do you say to an author whose book you've read and hated? Is it too late to say, "Thanks, but no thanks" at that point?

Evidently some writers do blurbs a number of times a year. Some of them want to help new authors, which really is very kind of them. But isn't getting your name on someone else's book free advertising for yourself, too? Doesn't it suggest that you're important because people care what you think? Not that I'm saying free advertising is a bad thing. Hey, I spend plenty of time trying to come up with cheap, easy ways to get my name out in front of as many people as I can.

But here's the thing: When I read a book with glowing blurbs from well-known authors and I think the book is breathtakingly awful, my opinion of the blurber drops significantly. Especially if I've only heard of the blurber and haven't read anything by her. Is that just me or do other readers feel that way?

If I'm not just a one-of-a-kind witch, maybe blurbing isn't worth the risk.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

I Am Such A Witch

Sometimes I don't know how I can stand myself. Particularly when I dislike a book everyone else in the world seems to have loved. Take Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan, for instance. This book was really well reviewed. It has generated buzz.

I finally had to start skimming to get through it.

I found Ida B. to be one of those really annoying book childen, who are almost always girls by the way, who are wise, have unusually large vocabularies, and behave eccentrically in a stereotypically eccentric sort of way. Ida B. was into nature and her valley, something I, a farm kid, never understood until I did research for a book on Ethan Allen a few years ago and finally realized that in days of old without land you didn't eat. No wonder people were obsessed with holding onto their land. But the romanticized "the land, oh, the land" raving thing in books and movies is usually lost on me. As it was here.

Ida is dealing with a traumatic situation. Her mother has been diagnosed with cancer and because of her illness Ida's life changes in ways she doesn't like. Personally, I thought she was a selfish brat. I wouldn't have had a problem with Ida being a selfish brat under those circumstances. Stress makes all of us selfish at one time or another. But I didn't feel her behavior was ever really recognized for what it was. We got a lot of talk from Ida about her cold, hard heart, which I think I was supposed to find charming. I didn't.

We also got a lot of Ida talking to trees. The trees talked back. I think I was supposed to find that charming, too, but I kept thinking, "Hey, this kid is crazy. When are they going to do something about this kid being crazy?"

Like I said, it must just be me because everyone else loved this book.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Throwing Together A Post--Again

I am obsessed with reaching the 50,000 word point on the novel I'm writing for National Novel Writing Month and angsting over whether I should test for black belt at the end of December or wait until the end of March. Which I wouldn't mention, but I need a plenty big excuse for the lack of posts recently and justification for the meager thought I'm putting into this one.

And What's the National Book Award Winner About?
Godless by Pete Hautman won the National Book Award for Young People's literature. If you go to the Godless link at the beginning of this paragraph, you'll find that Amazon doesn't have any reviews up for the book except for a few from customers. Doesn't seem to be hurting sales, though.

A New Kidlit Site
Just a year or two ago kidlit sites were few and far between. Not so any longer. Wayfarer's All is my most recent find. It's very new with only a few posts to date. But I love the title.

Jane Yolen Update
I haven't mentioned my addiction to Jane Yolen's on-line journal in a while. She hasn't done an update recently, either. In the past I've wondered if reading about Jane's powerful work ethic wouldn't improve my own work habits. However, recently I've noticed that not only does Jane spend more time working than I do, she also spends more time shopping and going out to eat than I do. I'm wondering if reading her journal isn't bad for me.

This post includes the word "Again" in the title because I wrote it two days ago, couldn't make it upload, and then lost the whole thing. Just want you to know I've been trying.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A Review of a Review

Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book (a favorite magazine, though I'm always 2 to 3 issues behind in reading it), had a review in the November 14 New York Times entitled 'The Red Book' and 'Into the Forest': Metafiction for Beginners.

Though I've heard Sutton speak and enjoyed him, I have to admit that some of this review was a little over my head. For instance, I don't know what "self-reflexive stories" are. I also had trouble figuring out why he wasn't crazy for Into the Forest. Did he mean a kid couldn't understand it without help from an adult? And I was really disappointed that the word "Metafiction" was in the title but never used in the review. Not that I'm such a big fan of metafiction. I was hoping he'd explain what it is.

At any rate, I thought that both The Red Book and Into the Forest sounded as if they're worth a look.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Hey! I Read Some Nonfiction!

I don't believe I've mentioned that my book, Saving the Planet & Stuff is a finalist for the Connecticut Book Awardin the children's literature division. I am one of four books nominated, all the books being dramatically different. My fellow finalists are Patricia Hubbell for Black All Around (a picture book with rhyming text), Pegi Deitz Shea for Tangled Threads(a young adult novel about a contemporary immigrant), and Winfred Rembert for Don't Hold Me Back, a memoir by a folk artist. I just finished reading Don't Hold Me Back a couple of days ago.

Rembert is a folk artist whose work illustrates his memoir of life in the south in the 1950s and beyond. What little I know about folk art suggests that such artists use their art to document their lives, and that's what Rembert does here with both his pictures and his text. He writes about a culture that was certainly different for this reader. I found it disturbing to think that someone who is nearly my own contemporary had to pick cotton as a child and saw the bodies of lynched black men still hanging from trees. And it was very moving to read that he was afraid of white children when he was a boy.

I think this would be an excellent book for elementary school libraries not just for the historical aspect but because it helps to illustrate how writers pick events from their lives to write about.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Third Book

Okay, so almost three weeks ago I read three younger kid books while on a car trip, and I still haven't told you about the one I liked best. I've got to get moving on this because 1. The books may be overdue at the library by now and 2. I'll be back on the road in another week and reading another batch of books.

So, my favorite book from my last car trip was...ta-ta-ta-ta Franny K. Stein: Lunch Walks Among Us!, which is one of three Franny K. titles by Jim Benton.

Just as my beloved Artemis Fowl is a master criminal, Franny K. Stein is a mad scientist. In Lunch Walks Among Us she has trouble fitting in with the other kids at her elementary school--as one might expect a mad scientist would. Adults might find this "be true to yourself" tale a little predictable. But adults aren't the primary readers of this serious, so to heck with us. There are clever, noncloying illustrations on every page, and Franny definitely saves the day through her own ingenuity.

Franny K. Stein, herself, has been named one of the "Year's Hottest Hotties" by The National Enquirer. I kid you not.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Common Ground?

I spent the day giving author talks at an elementary school and spoke with the teachers there at the end of the day on "Techniques to Encourage Children to Read and Write." Yeah, I know. That sounds very grand coming from me.

However, I think that writers and teachers both share a concern regarding reading. Teachers teach readers to read. Writers write books for readers to read. The NEA report that came out this summer (I'd link to it, but I'm tired. Did I mention I did an honest day's work today?)indicating that people of all ages are spending less time reading is of concern to both groups. For teachers, why are they doing all this work teaching if no one is going to use what they learn? For writers, why are they doing all this work writing if no one is going to read what they write?

Plus writers need to sell what they write to make a living. And publishers don't want to publish the work of writers whose books don't sell. Fewer readers, fewer sales. You see where I'm going with this.

Anyway, writers tend to sit and complain about this situation. It seems to me that instead we ought to get together with teachers and somehow work together on encouraging a culture of readers.

If I figure out a way to do this, I'll let you know.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

When Do We Get To Move On?

Philip Pullman, author of the glorious Golden Compass (I'm not being sarcastic--I thought the book was breath taking), has said that George W. Bush would make a good villain in one of his books. It sounds as if it is was only one thing he said in an interview relating to the release of his new book, The Scarecrow and His Servant.

It is a mildly interesting comment, especially given that Pullman doesn't live in the United States and isn't a U.S. citizen. But everyone has been quoting him and linking to the article, using Pullman to make a political statement for them.

Give it up, people. The election is over. Okay, a lot of us didn't get what we wanted. That's the way the American system works. Move on and pick up your work again. If you think the situation is that bad, then get moving and do something about it. Get involved with one of those schools that's losing funding. Volunteer to help promote reading or writing somewhere. Subscribe to some publication that's having trouble keeping itself afloat because it can't get a grant. You don't like what's going on in Iraq? Write your Congressperson. Write him or her again. Support a service person or an Iraqi relief agency.

But stop your whining! Especially those of you involved with children. What kind of role models are you? You didn't win so you're going to pout and stick your tongues out at the people who did? The whole thing is going to begin again with another presidential campaign in maybe 3 years or even less.

And then we'll get a chance to do the whole thing over again. Personally, I'm looking forward to it.

And that is the end of my political rant. Everyone is doing one, and I didn't want to be left out.

Friday, November 05, 2004

More on My Car Reading

Today, folks, we will discuss my second least favorite book (or second favorite, since I only read three) from my car trip last weekend.

Here is the problem I see with The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer--it's not one of Colfer's Artemis Fowl books! Colfer made the mistake of writing a series of books that is too good. It's hard to keep up the standard when you're moving out into other topics.

After getting that off my chest, I must admit The Legend of Spud Murphy is not bad and will have much to recommend it to those reluctant boy readers I read about earlier this fall. It's about a couple of wild brothers who are forced to go to the library where they must contend with an evil librarian who tries to keep them from reading books. It's not terribly long, and it's light in tone. I, personally, felt the ending was a little predictable, but I've read a lot more books then the seven to eleven year olds this book is published for. They may very well be surprised.

This would be a decent book for them to make due with while they're waiting to grow old enough to enjoy Colfer's Fowl series.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Doing Good in Cyberspace

Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure is an online auction of artists' snowflakes, proceeds from which will go to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund. What looks to me to be an extensive number of artists have created snowflakes that will be auctioned off through eBay through December 12, 2004. Read all about it and view the art. Oh, and buy it, too.

Best wishes to the Robert who inspired this art sale.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Not a Favorite

This past weekend I spent the better part of 12 hours in the car. Again. This time I was loaded with younger kid books. I keep getting them from the library and taking them back, overdue and unread. Not this time. I read three new books. That's right. I said new books.

Today I'll tell you about my least favorite of the bunch, Winchell Mink by Steve Young. Like Rob Thomas, who I've mentioned before, Young is also a TV guy. He's written for a number of shows including Boy Meets World, which I think was a kid favorite, but I wouldn't want to bet my life on it.

Now, about Winchell Mink. The philosophy behind this book seems to be that kids like wild and wacky things and that wild and wacky things are all a kids' book needs. The book is filled with wild and wacky episodes that are barely strung together. Winchell Mink does have a point, though I have to admit that I've forgotten it. I think the Captain Underpants books do a much better job in the wild and wacky department because the two I read had story lines.

Winchell Mink is subtitled "The Misadventure Begins," suggesting there will be more books. We'll have to see about that.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Hmmm. Text and Sound

There's lots of kidlit material in the blogs today. I could just fill up my own post with material I've ripped off from others. But that would be wrong. Besides, I'm all worn out from my first day of National Novel Writing Month activity. So I'll just refer you to Strong Bad's Children's Book, with many thanks to Kids Lit.

I considered e-mail this link to my writers' group, but those folks don't always get me, forget about Strong Bad.

Well, some people need to go get an ice cream sandwich. Gail needs to go get an ice cream sandwich.