Friday, April 29, 2005

More Awards

From The Book Standard here are the Edgar Award nominees and winners for Young Adult and Children's Books:

Best Young Adult

Story Time by Edward Bloor (Harcourt Children's Books)
In Darkness, Death by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler (Philomel Books)
Jude by Kate Morgenroth (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)
The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick (Wendy Lamb Books)
Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly (David Fickling Books)

Best Juvenile

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (Scholastic Press)
Assassin: The Lady Grace Mysteries by Patricia Finney (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
Abduction! by Peg Kehret (Dutton Children's Books)
Looking for Bobowicz by Daniel Pinkwater (HarperCollins Children's Books)
The Unseen by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)

The only one of these books that I've read is Story Time, which definitely was not award material as far as I'm concerned. (Thanks to Blog of a B.S. for the Book Standard link.)

Welcome to Welcome to Lizard Motel

I've finally started reading Welcome to Lizard Motel by Barbara Feinberg. Feinberg took a beating in the press regarding her take on YA books. In a Salon article, Michael Cart, a professor of Y.A. literature at UCLA's school of education, was quoted as saying of Feinberg's book, "It was the same old thing -- like, here they come again, attacking one small aspect of a field that they don't understand and don't know very much about." Hmmmm. And more recently in an article in AlterNet called New Adventures in Censorship Feinberg was accused of wanting two books "struck from as many reading lists as possible"--a charge Feinberg wrote to deny.

I'm only on page 41. I'm finding the writing style a little on the pretentiously literary side. Is it really necessary for me to know about the weather and what the slats on her chair felt like while she was reading out in the yard? And though her own children inspired this book, so far I think she's running the risk of involving them too much in her argument. If the book becomes too personal, it won't have enough to say about the general population.

All that aside, though, I think Feinberg brings up questions that I feel the kidlit community has totally blown off and been unwilling to discuss. So, while I continue to read the book, I'm going to use my blog as a reader's journal and I'll discuss them.

My tens of readers are looking forward to that, I'm sure.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

How Weird Is This?

Yesterday I wrote about how I didn't care for what I call the "storyteller voice" in The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. And then I casually mentioned that I had had a book manuscript rejected.

Well, last night it suddenly came to me that I had used a very similar "storyteller voice" in the rejected manuscript. I didn't go as far as DiCamillo did and start addressing the readers, themselves, by I was definitely doing little asides. I was interested in trying to do something like Fay Weldon did in her adult book Mantrapped. I thought it was great there, not so great in Despereaux. And clearly it was even worse in my manuscript.

Isn't that an incredible coincidence?

YA Author Roundup

I've only had time to read half of this, but it was a very good half.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, a Spool of Thread, a Servant Girl, a Rat, a Red Table Cloth...

I've heard lots of raves for The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. The book won the Newbery Medal somewhere along the line, and it's always good to see the award go to a real kids' story, not an adult weeper disguised as a kids' book.

I can't decide how I feel about this book. There's a lot of really clever stuff here that I enjoyed reading. And DiCamillo didn't waste anything in this story--anything she writes about she uses and connects with at some point. I always like that in a book.

However, the narrator kept speaking to me, something I don't enjoy. I like being sucked into a book, and when the narrator keeps addressing me as "Reader" and asking me how I feel or explaining the meaning of a word I keep remembering that I'm reading a book, I'm not living this adventure.

So, I just don't know. I wish I could speak to some kids who had read the book to see what they think.

My favorite character was the rat, who was supposed to be the bad guy. A sensitive, misunderstood bad guy, but a bad guy nonetheless.

I had hoped to study up on how to include images in my blog so I could use the cover of Despereaux today. However, I spent the afternoon reading about the Great Pyramid instead.

Oh, and then I received a rather major professional rejection. I think I'm in shock, because I'm not too distraught about it at this point.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Another One?

Yesterday I read about another writers' conference in this state. This one, at Central Connecticut State College this weekend, is for young writers, as in high school, college, and graduate students.

It's mind boggling the numbers of conferences and programs for writers while the lit world complains about lack of readers. I'm not saying people shouldn't want to write, but, golly, maybe some of these people should think about becoming astronauts or supermodels or something.

Some Support for My Point of View--At Least, I Think So

I've always had a concern about teachers talking about publishing with grade school students. And by talking about publishing I mean encouraging them to write books and to think they can publish. I think kids that age should be learning how to write before they think about publishing.

I've just started reading Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hill. (Interesting name, no?) He says in his introduction "...there's got to be a minimum basic kind of competence before you can even begin to think of writing..." That's exactly what I mean. I think it's wrong to tell young people anything different. And it's wrong not to teach them "a minimum basic kind of competence, too."

Friday, April 22, 2005

Shirley Jackson Could Get Her Own TV Series

If you scroll down far enough on this article, you'll see that the Sci Fi Channel is considering a television series about Shirley Jackson.

I loved Shirley Jackson when I was a teenager. I loved her. She wrote. I wanted to write She lived in Vermont. I lived in Vermont. She was a mom. Being a mom made her seem normal, and I thought writers were odd, like astronauts or presidents. She wrote creepy stories and mom stories. Her books were among the first I bought when I was a teenager and intent on building my own library. (I no longer want my own library because I don't want to take care of all those books. Yet we probably have a couple of thousand here.) I thought many of her books were deep and profound. I read The Lottery to my kids when they were in grade school.

I think I may have a book of her short stories somewhere around the house. I'll have to go look for it. Especially since I'm obsessing about writing and publishing short stories these days.

Thanks to Blog of a B.S. for the link.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ah, That Was Fast

I believe it was just yesterday that I was posting about all the manuscripts I have out for consideration. I sent out another one yesterday. It was rejected today! Now that's not the fastest rejection I've ever received. A couple of years ago I sent an essay to Salon that was rejected the same day. When you consider that Salon's editorial office is on the west coast, and I'm on the east coast, what with the time change and all, that submissiion may have technically been rejected before it was submitted.

Today's rejection, however, contained some decent feedback, which almost never happens with short story submissions. And an invitation to submit more work, which occurs more often. Anyway, as a result, I have no complaints about VerbSap.

I think it's time for me to do some professional reading. I was doing that kind of thing last year and the year before and just sort of drifted away from it. I need to do some studying on writing short stories.

Could We Please Connect This to Children's Literature?

The cyberwriter world is in a tizzy over The Atlantic Monthly's announcement that it will be publishing short stories in an annual issue instead of monthly. The Atlantic and The Decline of the Short Story quotes various magazine people as saying that reader surveys indicated that readers of glossy general interest magazines just aren't interested in reading short fiction. Quinn Dalton says in the article

"One possible explanation is that short stories are a tough sell because they're short. Just as some writers make the mistake of thinking they're easier to write, perhaps some readers think they're not long enough to offer a return on what they demand: more concentration and less guaranteed payoff (such as the acquisition of new information) than nonfiction in all of its forms. Readers have to give themselves over to stories, if only for an hour or so at a time, in ways that I think even the deepest narrative reporting doesn't require. But writers have to look at what they're producing, too, and ask ourselves if we're really breaking new ground with stories that editors, and readers, will find be unable to ignore."

I agree with everything she says there. And, I, too, wonder if writers and editors shouldn't be looking at what is being published to see if there's something about the stories themselves that's keeping readers away. Not that I'm saying there is. I'm just saying the big Why? ought to be asked.

And here's the kidlit connection: I had two college students at my dinner table several times over the past weekend. Both of them prefer reading nonfiction to fiction. Why? They hate analysis. They hated having English teachers tell them what the author meant when, in their minds, how could anyone really know? They hated being told what to think about what they were reading.

I don't want to blame the decline in reading overall and reading short stories in particular on the schools, because they get blamed for everything, but maybe we've turned off a generation...or two...from reading.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Some Writer Life Stuff

Last Friday I visited a third grade classroom. The kids there had just finished reading My Life Among the Aliens, so I had a very good time.

Then on Saturday I spoke at an American Association of University Women luncheon. This is the speaking engagement I had a meltdown over when I found out that a former medical correspondent for NBC was going to be one of the other speakers. Well, he was a no show!!! And I did just fine, as did the other speaker/writer, Kathleen O'Connor, who has short story experience missing from my professional life.

I have been sending out stories, by the way, as well as two essays, and a book manuscript these past three and a half months, with absolutely no response. Now, one of the essays was sent to a well known e-zine. I sent it to the book editor. I think they've just changed book editors. Meaning, I sent it to one person but another person, just three weeks later, is now editor. So now I have to decide--should I resubmit? Was my submission lost in the shuffle, and sending it again would be a legitimate professional thing to do? Or would it be a lame, desperate thing to do?

Look, this is what a writer's life is like. The time you're not spending writing, you're spending trying not to look lame and desperate.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Wow. What a Coincidence

Yesterday I spent the day at the Jane Ryan School where I had a wonderful time. (Yes, I am capable of having wonderful times, though you'd hardly know it after reading this blog, would you?)

I was having lunch with some fourth or fifth graders and, after a very interesting conversation about American Idol, the girl sitting across from me said that she was reading the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz. And then that afternoon a boy mentioned them, too.

These are the very books I wrote about on Tuesday in a somewhat negative way. What do I know?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I'm Feeling Somewhat Better

I went to my taekwondo class this morning and felt much better about what's going on at my publisher's. There's nothing like kicking the stuffing out of targets and heavy bags to lift the spirits. Unless it's breaking into a good stenchy sweat. If only I could go to taekwondo every few hours.

Jane Yolen has this kind of publishing bump happen to her, and she doesn't fall apart. She doesn't have taekwondo to sustain her, either.

Yeah! I've got a black belt, and Jane doesn't! At last! I don't have to feel inferior to her about something. Okay, so it's a martial art that most people have barely heard of. How does that change anything?

Back to My Witchie Self

Children's Fiction: Give Them Fights, Cameras, Action by Charlie Higson is all about the thrill of the thriller, and shouldn't kids get to enjoy them, too?

Good question, given the arguments and controversies regarding problem books. And mentioning the article is a marvelous segue into my discussion of Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz. I was looking forward to reading Point Blank because Horowitz writes (and I think created) the television series Foyle's War, which I absolutely love. (That's right. You heard it. I love something.) And as I began Point Blank, I was impressed. I thought the writing was good, and I liked the opportunities Alex Rider, the main character, had to defeat drug dealers and bullies. I think that when I was a kid I would haved liked the vicarious thrill I'd get from seeing the bad guys get theirs. I thought Horowitz was doing a very delicate balancing act between reality and and going too far with Alex's exploits.

Then, when I was a little more than halfway through, the book descended into a mad scientist story. You're mad, mad, I tell you. And your girlfriend is ugly, too! I made up that dialogue, but that's the flavor of the book from that point on.

Now, I get that the Alex Rider series is a Bond takeoff. That explains the snowboarding on the moving train scene. And I respect messing with pop culture. I really do. The problem is...

...well, I never actually liked James Bond.

Monday, April 11, 2005

I Knew Something Was Wrong

For weeks, maybe even a month or two, I've had a feeling of doom regarding my career. Even though I have a new book coming out next spring, I've just had this sense that something wasn't quite right with my publishing house. More specifically, I've been thinking that the people there hate my guts. Though I had absolutely nothing to base this on. But when you have a sense of doom, people hating you could be causing it. It could happen.

Well, today I got the news that there's a little shake-up at my publisher, that someone near and dear to me is moving on to a new job. This has nothing to do with me. She's not leaving because she hates me, and we may work together again at some future time. But my sense of security--what was left of it--is shot to smithereens.

And I knew it was coming! I had the doom thing going, I just misunderstood it.

Plus I have those six manuscripts that may or may not be under consideration at various journals, magazines, and e-zines. I've been feeling that all that effort is doomed, too. Now I must send out even more manuscripts to more publishers to make myself feel that I am doing something to salvage my career.

But they'll only be doomed, too.

Oh, my gosh. I've got to go do a mile or so on the tread mill and maybe a little weight work. Boy, do I need an endorphin surge.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

How Much of This Do We Need?

A while back, someone at Child_Lit wrote about her child who had run into one of those lists of classics students should read before entering college. Her daughter had gone over the list and noted that she hadn't read all that many of them. The mother had read far more at the same age. Mom's question to the group: Is reading YA literature cutting into young peoples' reading of classics?

Though not too many people were interested in discussing this, I thought it was an excellent question for a number of reasons.

1. Until recently, conventional wisdom was that people deep into their teenage years didn't read YA at all. It's only been with the big sales of books like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants that anyone has come to believe that teenagers read YA. So the question of whether or not reading YA cuts into reading time for other books would have to be a very new one.

2. If YA reading cuts into reading of the classics, so what? Should I care? Who decided that things like Around the World in Eighty Days and Ivanhoe are classics? Do such classics have something to say that is so life-enhancing that people need to read them and need to read them before they turn eighteen?

3. And what about the value of YA? Is it valuable enough to justify taking time from reading a so-called classic?

Well, I'm going to argue that it does have value and enough value to justify stealing time away from reading, say, Northwest Passage. Here I go--

People, I believe, read because they are seeking a sense of community, of connection with others like themselves--the authors of the books they read or at least the characters in those books. They look for books about characters like themselves or characters they'd like to be like. They look for books about situations they've been in or want to be in or believe are important somehow. Reading is a process that causes the reader to change--we change somehow when we read and form that sense of community with the author. Everything I'm saying here has been influenced by my exposure to the work of an anthropologist named Victor Turner, whose theories about change and communitas spilled over into other fields in the 1970s and 1980s. I have only a vague understanding of what he was talking about, but I definitely believe that readers are seekers of this connection with. With this connection with others, we have some hope of achieving a better understanding of themselves.

And where will YA readers find this connection with others and understanding of themselves? In the works of Herman Melville and James Fenimore Cooper? I don't know about that. I do know that kids need to read about kids and YAs need to read about YAs. We're denying them something when we tell them that the only literature that has value is adult-oriented works on some list somewhere. Time has to be made for YAs to read YA literature.

And if that means they can't squeeze in reading The Mayor of Casterbridge, I just don't think that's going to do them any harm.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Golden Age? How Can We Tell?

This article from The Guardian suggests that "We are right in the thick of a golden age of children's literature." But why? Other than that I'm publishing kidlit now, of course?

A little discussion of this article took place at Child_Lit where the question of how to determine a golden age came up a few times. Is the fact that specific titles are selling in large numbers, as The Guardian tells us, an indicator that we are in a golden age? Do adults reading kids' books mean we're in a golden age? The fact that publishers will spend a lot of money promoting a few big name kidlit authors--is that enough to prove we're in a golden age?

Probably the quality of the writing should be the biggest factor in labeling a period a golden age of writing. But has their ever been a period when a writing community didn't believe that its writers were doing fine work?

I wonder if an assessment of a point in time can best be made after that point in time is over. Those who come after us will need to decide how golden our time was.

Monday, April 04, 2005

What I Did Over the Weekend

Like you care--except that I did read when I wasn't driving during what was close to twenty hours I spent in a car over three days.

I tried to read 300 by Frank Miller of Sin City fame and Lynn Varley, who really needs to get herself a better web presence. 300 is a graphic (as in pictures, not gruesome, folks) retelling of the story of Leonidas and the three hundred Spartans. I'm familiar with the tale, and I still couldn't follow what was going on in this book. So I gave it up.

In all honesty, I have to admit I sometimes have trouble with graphic novels. I may be too linear a person to follow both a text story line and a pictorial story line. As a general rule, the images don't help tell the story for me. I loved Marvel comics in my early teen years but don't have the patience for them now. Maybe graphic literature is a young person's game.

I am relieved to report, though, that I did read a book I liked--Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. I think The New York Times blurb Prepare to be astonished was going way too far, but, nonetheless, I did like this book. It's the story of a young woman WWI survivor who becomes a private investigator. Instead of being an aristocrat like Lord Peter Wimsey, probably the most famous post WWI detective, Maisie is a former house servant who was educated by her employer and has some mysterious intuitive skills of her own. I like the post WWI period and recently it's been the background to some other mysteries, most notably the Inspector Rutledge books by Charles Todd, which I found very disappointing. (Come on, you didn't think I'd like more than one book per post, did you?)

Anyway, the plot isn't perfect in Maisie--the mystical part isn't terribly clear or well thought out and some readers might find the climax a little sappy. However, if you can keep your mind open to how horribly scarred the British must have been by the First World War I, you might be able to accept it. Maisie Dobbs is the first in a series, and I'll definitely be looking forward to the next volume.

Why am I mentioning an adult mystery in a blog for kids? Because a lot of older children and teens read adult mysteries from the Twenties and Thirties, including Agatha Christie and the aforementioned Lord Peter, before moving onto stronger stuff. Maisie Dobbs would be a great addition and a great reading list title since it has such a very, very strong sense of its era.

I was also in Border's this weekend and the new Artemis Fowl book was prominently displayed by the front door! I'm much more excited about reading this book than I am about reading the new Harry Potter book coming out in July. In fact, I see reading Harry as a bit of a chore.