Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Isn't This a Lot Like Turning on Your Own Kind?

I don't object to Paul McCartney writing a children's book (you'll need to scroll way down at this site to find out what it's about). No, what I found disturbing was this Guardian article by Michael Rosen saying why shouldn't McCartney write a children's book? "After all, it's not terribly difficult." We at the Readerville Writing for Children Forum were all ticked off about this today. As one person said, "Okay, who is Michael Rosen?"

Ah...I think he's this guy.

Monday, March 28, 2005

I Think I Have a Problem

Well, probably any number of problems. But the one I'm talking about today involves the library.

I can't seem to stay away from the place. Every time I drive by I figure I might as well stop. I do the same thing with grocery stores--if I'm driving by one, I stop because there's sure to be something I need to pick up.

I was at the library last week and picked up An American Tragedy because of it's connection to A Northern Light, which, you may remember, I didn't even like. As I was pulling An American Tragedy off the shelf, my eye fell on a book on the shelf above. It was The Tea Rose Jennifer Donnelly's adult book. I didn't like her YA book, so I decided to bring home her adult book. That makes sense, doesn't it?

I went back to the library today to return some books and I picked up three more even though I still have Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates and 300by Frank Millerand Lynn Varley, which I only got because Frank Miller writes the Sin City graphic novels and the movie is all over the news.

Now, I'm supposed to go on a car trip this weekend, which should mean I can get some reading done--though we are supposed to have some guests with us and some people might think it's rude to read when you have guests. Really, do I have much hope of getting much of this read? An American Tragedy is one big book. And today I picked up Best American Essays 2004 when I haven't finished Best American Short Stories 2004. And I also picked up Dancing in My Nuddy-Pants even though I think I may have read it.

I just can't stop myself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Gail the Witch Strikes Again

Here I am again, the only person in the world who doesn't like a particular book. I feel like the Simon Cowell of the kidlit world. I know, I know. I'm giving myself way too much credit. I'm not important enough to be Simon Cowell.

Anyway, today I am here to complain about A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, a book that has even won awards in other countries. A lot of the reviews and press for this book made me think it was going to be a variation the real life murder case behind Theodore Dreiser'sAn American Tragedy. I was psyched. And the book starts out with the main character working at the resort near the lake where the murder took place.

But then A Northern Light turns into a bookish-misunderstood-girl- trying-to-escape-the-farm story. I know this story might be new to teenagers, but I've read it before. The murder story and the historical novel about resort life at the turn of the last century, which I would really have liked to have read, were just a minor part of the book. The flipping back and forth between the book I wanted to read and the book I didn't want to read again was annoying as all getout.

I think Donnelly could have kept the focus on the resort story and still covered the thematic material she wanted to cover--the girl trying to get away, the status of women at that time, the lure of a boy with whom this particular girl can never be happy. All these things could have been part of the lives of the employees and guests at the resort. Instead, we have one cast of characters for the resort and another cast of characters back on the farm. We also had your classic teen novel with problem piling up on top of problem. A lot of it was so unnecessary.

Here's something interesting, though. The main character's last name was Gokey. I thought, How interesting. When I was a girl I used to have people tell me that my name was pronounced Gokey. (Which it wasn't, but people were always telling me how my name should be pronounced when I was a kid.) Lo and behold, around page 143 it turns out that the family's real name is Gauthier. The nonFrench speakers in the area just called them Gokey.

Another interesting by-product of having read this book is that now I want to read An American Tragedy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More on a New Spring Book

My March 18 post mentions Looking for Alaska by John Green. On the basis of the review of Alaska that I read in The Horn Book Magazine, I was planning to give the book a pass. It just sounded like more YA trauma for the sake of trauma.

However, a site called MB Toolbox carries an interview with Green in which he sounds self-effacing and pleasant. (And hot, John. Hot.) So I have changed my mind. If I stumble upon Looking for Alaska at a library I will, at the very least, read the flap content. And perhaps the whole book.

I do have one issue with the Green interview. Green was asked "What's the difference between writing a YA book and an adult novel?" This was an interesting question given that Alaska is supposed to be his first book, and thus he's never written an adult book. Green's response was, "These days, the distinction between YA books and adult books is, at least to an extent, marketing. So insofar as it's just the marketing decision of your publisher, there isn't much of a difference at all." I'm guessing that what he means by that is that he just wrote his book, and after he was done, his publisher told him it was YA.

There should be a definite difference between YA and adult fiction, a difference in theme and character at the very least. YA is a separate and specific genre. I hope that Green's publisher made its decision to publish his book as YA because someone there believed it was a YA book. Whatever reason would there be to make the "marketing decision" to publish a book as YA? Especially since, as a general rule, YA doesn't sell anywhere near as well as adult fiction.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Gleanings From the Internet

Earlier this month The (a British site, not that there's anything wrong with that)carried an article called Rethink publishing...and expand the market with books people want. (Sure wish I could remember who directed me there, but since I can't...) Anyway, the article was about ways to sell more books to light- and non-buyers. Research, it said, indicates that people would buy more books if they were cheaper--and if more were available in supermarkets.

Then the article continued: "There is also a call for more credible descriptions on jackets to assist people in working out what's inside the book. Blurbs are widely mistrusted..."

I certainly mistrust them. How many times have I read a book covered with rave blurbs only to find that the blurber must have read something totally different from the book I was holding in my hand? It happens over and over again. I'm at the point now where I rarely bother reading blurbs until after I've finished reading the book. And then when I do, more often than not, I go, "What was she thinking?" and "Well, if this is his idea of a good book, I'll never read anything he writes." Personally, I wonder if some writers agree to blurb books just to get their names in front of readers. It's like another form of marketing for the blurber.

Okay, it's true. No one has ever asked me to blurb a book. But how could I ever agree to do such a thing? Let's face it, I don't really care for fifty percent--okay, sixty or seventy percent--of what I read. What am I supposed to say? "This wasn't the worst book I've ever read. It might not be a total waste of your time to give it a try?" Oh, yeah, I'm going to be a real popular blurber.

Ayelet Waldman was hammered by readers responding to her debut column onSalon. This has nothing to do with children's books or writing for children. I'm mentioning this to give myself an opportunity to observe that writers want columns the way entertainers want talk shows.

What exactly Waldman's column will be about is something of a mystery to me, but I find that to be the case with a lot of columns. A lot of talk shows, too.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Great Stuff From the Horn Book

Are there any other bloggers out there who like to talk about what they read in The Horn Book Magazine? I love this thing, and I just caught up on with my reading this past week.

Here's something juicy from the January/February issue: In an article entitled On Spies and Purple Socks and Such Kathleen Horning states that Harriet of Harriet the Spy fame is a cross-dresser. According to Horning, Louise Fitzhugh created a gay subtext for her book.

I didn't read Harriet until I was an adult. I remember finishing the book and going, "What?" I really didn't get it. Maybe if I had known about the gay subtext it would have made more sense.

The March/April issue had some interesting reviews:

Looking for Alaska by John Green is about a teenage guy who is in love with a girl who is killed in an automobile accident. Where I Want to Beby Adele Griffin is about two sisters, one of whom is dead. Upstream by Melissa Lion is about a girl whose boyfriend is dead. (The live girl in Upstream lives in Alaska while the Alaska in Looking for Alaska is the dead girl.) And Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles is about a girl whose great-great-aunt dies and who then has to choose between saving her cousin or her dog so one of those two dies, also.

The Grim Reaper is one popular dude this spring. Ironically, Barbara Feinberg's book Welcome to Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Up: A Memoir is reviewed in this same issue in the Of Interest To Adults section. Feinberg got a lot of press last year for questioning the use of so many problem books in schools. Not all of that press was positive, though Feinberg is most definitely not the only parent to voice concerns about what her kids are reading at school. She's just the only who has managed to write a book about it.

People do die, and, therefore, death is an appropriate topic for literary works. However, we do other things, too. Doesn't the kidlit establishment's commitment to death and other tragedies of one sort or another in book after book after book eventually create a numbing effect on readers? Aren't these very serious issues trivialized from overuse? Are death and problem stories just becoming stereotypes for young readers?

They sure are for me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Talk About a Mummy's Spell

I'm on a mummy kick right now, and this past week I read Under the Mummy's Spell by Kate McMullan and Mummies in the Morning by Mary Pope Osborne.

Now, Under the Mummy's Spell was okay. It's one of these two story lines/two time period things, and, personally, I kept swinging back and forth as to which story I preferred. The really, really interesting thing about the book, which was published in 1992 and appears to be out-of-print, is that Amazon has people offering it for sale at...$49.95 and up! "And up" as in up to $149.96. And that's for the used books. One of the people selling new books is asking $303.60.

Hey, I've got out-of-print books. The most anyone is asking for any of mine is $18.00

Fortunately, I do not feel envy.

Regarding Mummies in the Morning, which is part of the Magic Tree House series: I often read kids' books that I just love. I enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy reading anything else. I can't say I felt that way about Mummies in the Morning. However, I think that back in the day when I was a very young reader, I would probably have loved the Magic Tree House books. Just the fact that we're talking a tree house would probably have been enough to grab me. Then it's a tree house filled with books some mysterious person left there? And I can travel all over the place by opening them? And come home safely? That definitely would have been right up my alley.

I definitely believe that it's important for people who write for kids to remember that they write for kids and not for adult editors, reviewers, writers, etc. Osborne may be doing just that.

The next time I'm in a grade school I'm going to ask around and see how the kids feel about these books.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Writer Angst--Otherwise Known as Whining

I spent a significant amount of time this past month preparing a speech for an AAUW luncheon at which I was one of three authors invited to speak. I also worked on postcards, which took up some time. I am a disorganized worker and poor with time management so this was all time I could have used writing, researching, etc. However, I get few opportunities to promote my work and this AAUW thing sounded like a good one--these people actually want to hear writers speak, which doesn't happen too often at bookstores in my experience.

Well, I woke up Saturday morning to a decent snowstorm and the event was cancelled. My first thought was, bummer because of all the work I'd done (I was actually dressed for the event and putting on my make-up, too)and my second thought was relief because I didn't have to do this thing I was stressing over.

My contact told me I'd received a little press for this event in a particular newspaper but that the paper hadn't used all the material she'd sent, including my picture. I looked up the article on line. One of the other authors writes mystery novels. The article was totally built around her with a photo of both her and one of her book covers. The second author and myself got a sentence each.

My point being that I'd done a great deal of work for one sentence of publicity.

Now, this was no one's fault. (Well, maybe the newspaper reporter who by-lined the article could take some blame for slighting a couple of us.) It could be said that I gambled with my time and lost, got next to nothing for my effort.

Is there a lesson in this? Should I be ignoring the whole promotion thing? Probably not. It doesn't matter how good a book is if no one knows about it. And if you don't sell, you probably won't be publishing again. However, there are tens of thousands of books published each year and there are very few opportunities to promote them. So those of us who aren't big names have to take every chance we're offered, even when those "chances" are just chances. As I said, we're gambling with our time.

On the plus side, I have another AAUW speaking engagement next month when I can use the same speech. Now I have to wait another month, though, to find out if what I've done is any good.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

What's Happening in Kidlit Today

Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools maintains a website "to inform parents and the community about poor quality literature and vulgar subject matter (profanity, sex, occultism) in graded reading assignments in the Blue Valley school district in Overland Park, KS." I would link to the site but there's too much vulgar subject matter.

BBC Radio did a program on adults reading children's literature. The feeling among the panelists (Anne Fine, Anthony Horowitz, Howard Jacobson, Steve Rubin, Marian Gross, and someone whose name I missed)was that the whole idea of adults reading children's book is disturbing. It indicates a lowering of standards and a dumbing down in the world of education.

They were really down on J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman, either one of whom probably sells more than all the panelists put together.

Makes ya think.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Working and Liking It

I had a much better workday today than I've had for a while, actually staying on task. I have a new system that just might work for me. I'm mentioning this because I think I've been whining lately.

My tech guy bought me this cool new thing called a flashdrive. The day after he gave it to me I saw Kiefer Sutherland using one on 24. I used it to back up my files for the first time today. Unbelievably easy to use. Unfortunately, the one I have doesn't have enough storage space so someone has to go back to the store.

It's That Time of Year
A number of writing conferences are coming up in Connecticut this spring:

The 2005 National Writers' Workshop is coming up in Hartford on April 16 & 17. It's sponsored by The Hartford Courant and The Poynter Institute. It actually appears to be one in a series of weekend workshops held at various locations across the country. It is really inexpensive.

Then, the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Assocation is holding something it calls a university, in Hartford on May 7.

And then there's the Wesleyan Writers Conference in June.

All of which are only marginally connected to kidlit.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

And This is How I Do It

John Irving (who does not appear to have a website--I respect that)appeared at an event of some kind in Austin, Texas yesterday. He's going to be giving a talk of which he says, "The talk will be about the writing process, about my process in particular. It's how I construct a chapter, how I construct a book. I will read the first chapter..."

If I were to give a talk about my writing process, it would go something like this: "Well, I write a couple of sentences, then I check my e-mail, go to Readerville, and see what's happening at Salon. Then I write a few sentences, check my e-mail, go to Readerville and play some solitaire. Then I write a few sentences, check my e-mail, go to Readerville, and check to see if Salon has added any new AP stories. At some point I get something to eat. I might put in a load of wash. Then I write a few sentences, check my e-mail, go to Readerville, see if anything new has happened at Salon, and play some more solitaire.

I wonder how much people would pay me to give a talk like that? I wonder if people would pay me to give a talk like that?

Nonetheless, I did finish another draft of a new book last week. And I am closing in on an ending to my AAUW talk. Really.

Why, Gail, you might ask, are you talking about John Irving here when this is a kidlit blog and he is not a kidlit kind of guy? Well, the extremely photogenic (IMHO) Mr. Irving has written a children's book.

Yeah, I know. Who hasn't?

Thanks to h20boro lib blog for the Irving/Austin link.