Friday, July 29, 2005

My Summer Thus Far

My summers are usually pretty nonproductive, and this one is no exception. I did an eighth draft of Happy Kid! in June. I've been slowly working on a mailing to schools in Connecticut. I've been trying to do a little self-study on writing short stories. All of which I've mentioned. I've done little real writing this past month, though, slowly, slowly, I came up with a new point of view and twist to the book for the lower grades that I've been talking about for a couple of years.

Things are just coming around with that, I'm just getting to the point where maybe I can start working on it for real. So, of course, I've heard from my editor. I'll be getting feedback on Happy Kid! next week, which means all other work will stop while I go back to that. That always, always happens.

Actually, for me that is quite a productive summer.

What's more, I've been asked to speak at a teachers' conference next winter! My first one. I've said yes. Unfortunately, I don't know what teachers' conference I've agreed to speak for because my contact has always used an acronym. When I've figured out what it means, I'll get back to you.

And I am reading a YA book that I'm really liking. When I've finished it and done some research on the book, I'll get back to you on that, too.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I Feel So Left Out

I desperately, desperately want to love Harry Potter. And not because I have a crush on the character. (I was hot for Sirius Black. Remember what happened to him?) I want to love the books. I want to be immersed in the experience of reading a new one. I want to look forward to the movies.

Yeah, well, we all want lots of things, don't we?

I had a problem with this new book from the beginning. And the problem was that, not being a rabid fan and not finding any of the books very memorable (rather interchangeable, in fact), all the references to previous events that occur in this book and the flitting in and out of characters introduced elsewhere left me feeling "What? What? When did this happen? Am I supposed to know who this is?"

When the identity of the Half-Blood Prince was revealed, I felt that it came absolutely out of nowhere. I didn't think there was any foreshadowing in HP6, as I've heard it called, and I certainly can't remember anything from the other books that would suggest that this particular character wasn't a pureblooded wizard. It seems as if even Rowling felt the build up to the revelation was weak, because she has Hermione do an explanation at the end of the book, much like the explanations detectives give at the end of poorly done mysteries.

About all that snogging--I understand that teenagers like to buddy up with members of the opposite sex, and I believe that some readers feel this sort of thing makes HP6 more realistic. However, from what I understand about writing (and, yes, my understanding may not be all that it should be), everything, absolutely everything, in a book should relate to the story being told or to the theme. The snogging in HP6 is a distraction. It really doesn't have much to do with the story. It has a lot to do with why the book was so long, though.

Clunky plot. Weak characterization. Unbelievable events. Sigh. Not the greatest reading week of my life.

The reviews for this new book are supposed to be somewhat mixed. But the fans are clear about how they feel. I just wish I could join them.

Monday, July 25, 2005

What's Wrong With This Picture?

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Bulletin arrived last week. And--can you believe it--I've already read it.

Now, I joined the SCBWI maybe four or five years ago in an attempt to form connections with my fellow writers. I hoped that finding others of my own kind would be a little psychic boost. And we can all use a boost of the psychic type every now and then, right?

Well, I sure didn't get one last week. The SCBWI Bulletin carried an article on bestselling children's books for the year 2004. One of the Lemony Snicket books has sold over a million copies. That's just one of them. There are what seems to me to be a large number of books teetering around the half million mark and even more in the hundreds of thousands. As I was reading the article (which was evidently based on a list that appeared in the March 29th issue of Publishers Weekly), I thought, Maybe they don't mean a half a million just in 2004. Maybe that's her total sales. Then I thought, You know, that really doesn't make me feel any better.

I was not envious. I rarely feel envy when I hear about someone's good fortune. No, what I feel when I hear about someone else's great sales figures or how she came up with a brilliant marketing gimmick for her new book is that I am a failure. What the #?!%%% is wrong with you, Gail? is what I always want to know. Because clearly there must be something wrong with my thinking, my drive, my talent, my skills, my everything.

My sales figures are so low ("How low are they?" the audience roared.) that I'm embarrassed to tell my kids. When they were in high school, I worried that their annual incomes were higher than mine. And they worked part-time in a bakery. Washing dishes.

The SCBWI has a lot of unpublished writers among its membership and, I'm assuming (and hoping), a lot of people like myself who are not major players. What's the point of running articles about the sales figures of bestsellers? At a writers' forum I take part in I'm always reading about writers who are terribly frustrated because they can't make a living or can't get the kinds of sales figures they'd hoped for. Most writers don't make a living, don't get the kinds of sales figurs we hope for. We have to accept that about our work, the way plumbers and public works people and doctors have to accept that they're going to work some odd hours. Isn't it terribly counter-productive for a writers' organization to be suggesting differently by waving these kinds of sales figures in front of its membership?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Summer Study

Over the summer I've been trying to study up on the writing of short stories, since I've had such stunning lack of success selling the things. I've just finished reading Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills, about whom I can find very little on-line, though he appears to have been an editor for, I believe, Esquire. I chose this book, quite honestly, because it was the only one on writing short stories I could find in two different bookstores.

I got a lot out of reading this book, a lot of stuff I hadn't heard of before--the difference between static action and dynamic action, for instance. I tend to write slice-of-life types of stories in which I try to expose someone's soul. I like to write about characters who aren't aware, themselves, of what they're really like. Hills insists over and over again that short stories should be about something happening to someone--the someone should change as a result of something happening to her. In my stories the main characters often don't change. What's supposed to change is the readers' perception of her.

Hmmm. Perhaps this is what I've been doing wrong?

I think reading this book has actually changed how I read short stories. As I'm reading them, I am aware when they seem to fit into Hills' philosophy. For instance, on July 3 The Hartford Courant's Northeast Magazine (a publication I'm not terribly fond of, as a general rule) carried two marvelous short stories. As I was reading Experiment by Jennifer Vanderbes and Monsters by Sabina Murray, I kept thinking, "Yes! Yes! That's exactly what Rust Hills was talking about!"

I must say, though, that I also found Hills' book somewhat disorganized and rambly. I need organization to help me retain information. After getting about halfway through the book, I had to go back and take notes to try to get a better grasp on the content. Hills has a very conversational style that seems very down-to-earth on the first page. By the middle of the book, it starts to become really grating.

I mentioned this book in this blog back at the end of April. It really isn't that long. It shouldn't have taken me two months to read it. Wanting to remember what I was reading slowed me down.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Harry Potter Sightings

Last Saturday I went to the 11:15 adult class at my local school of taekwondo. When I arrived there were a couple of kids from the previous class waiting for their rides. One of them was holding a big book. I said, "Is that what I think it is?" It was. The boy had gone to one of the bookstore events the night before but only stayed until 11:30 so he couldn't get his book. He went back to Barnes & Noble that morning before his martial arts class to get his book. The store had one for him because he preordered. I mention this because one of the instructors said he was sorry he hadn't preordered a book.

Then today I was back at my local school of taekwondo to assist with a junior advanced class. When we finished up a friend of mine was out in the waiting area waiting for her kids and what did she have but the new Harry P.--the English edition published by Bloomsbury. The family had gone to London July 8th (the day after the terrorist attacks) and returned home yesterday (the day before more explosions in London). They had gone to a bookstore in the middle of the night, too, which meant they got their book 5 hours before anyone in the U.S.

So, I am making my way through the book. I'm not hating it, but I do think it tends to drag a little. And I'm finding the bad guy characters a little over the top. However, as I'm reading of all the heightened security in the wizard world, I can't help but think about what's going on in London right now. It just seems as if the book went on sale at a moment in time when it can sort of provide a backdrop to reality. Which isn't exactly how I want to put that. Maybe a better way will come to me later.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What I Did This Past Weekend

Over the weekend I went to a couple of craftshows here in town. At one of them I ran into an author selling his books from a booth.

Steve Burt is a UCC minister (this is Connecticut and we have lots of them here) who writes YA horror. One of his books tied with a book by Clive Barker for the 2005 Bram Stoker Award for young adult horror. (He also writes inspirational books.)

One of the most interesting things about Steve is that he is self-published. Conventional wisdom says that self-published writers aren't supposed to be successful. But Steve has won awards and had his stories published in Family Circle and Chicken Soup for the Soul. He makes all kinds of school and other public appearances and sells his books at various shows. He's putting a lot of effort into his marketing, but it appears to be working for him.

I love hearing about people who manage to beat the system.

Friday, July 15, 2005

In Honor of Harry Potter Day

The Guardian ran an article on how many people believe children's authors are rolling in dough. (I've often been given the impression that others think I'm making money hand over fist.)

Here's a little something to enjoy while you're waiting for your copy of the new Potter book.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

What's Happening Out There

There was lots of talk last week about a New Yorker article entitled Candy Man about Roald Dahl. Not being a major Dahl fan, myself, I just got around to reading it. The author says that Dahl is more popular with kids than adults, which is as it should be since he is a children's writer. Personally, I prefer his adult short stories>

The new Horn Book has a review of a book called The Diary of Pelly D by L. J. Adlington that I think looks promising.

The Connecticut Center for the Book puts out a publication called Readings. The Summer, 2005 issue includes an article called Drawn to Books by Christine Palm that says original children's illustrations are becoming very collectible. And valuable.

And finally Blog of a B.S. reports that the Disney version of Snow White is going to be remade as...a martial arts movie! The seven dwarfs will be replaced by seven martial artists! I can't manage a link to the original article, but I saw it! And I can't wait!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Harry Potter Backlash

Meo-o-o-w! The Guardian disses Jo. (Thanks to Blog of a B.S. for link.) And so does Joel Stein in the L.A. Times. I'm a Stein fan, but I have to say, he's done funnier stuff. (Thanks to Child_Lit for the link.)

Would Our Men and Women in Iraq Appreciate A Used Potter?

While researching what to send to a relative serving in Iraq, I found Operation Paperback, an organization that collects lightly used paperbacks to send to American service people in any number of countries. Of course, I think that's a good idea, even though there's absolutely nothing in it for me because the organization asks that you not send books geared toward a teenage audience.

Which opens up the can of worms discussed at links I posted earlier today. Is Potter for adults or not?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Wrong Time, Wrong Place, As Usual

I missed the last Buy a Friend a Book Week, and I'm way too early for the next one. It seems like a good idea, though. I hope they'll put up a kids' book or YA title before October.

Another One?

Look! Another kidlit blog. It appears to be an infant, only three months old.

But the Book is Sure to be so Big

I ought to write something about ol' Harry Potter, huh, since he's due to make an appearance any minute. It's hard to get up any enthusiasm. I'll read it because I feel I ought to, but I'm not looking forward to the experience. Those are big books to be reading in bed. Fortunately, my sister preordered a copy months ago. I'm planning to latch on to it at some point.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

What if a Problem Book is About a Problem That Interests You?

There's just no way I can finish my problem book monologue.

Last week I read Sweetblood by Pete Hautman. Sweetblood is about a teenage diabetic with a big interest in vampires. On top of that, she's angry and frustrated about the constraints her illness puts on her life. Big, big problem, right? Plus there's a first person narrator with an attitude, which is oh, so common in problem books. Though I am a little bit of a sucker for a vampire story (Get it? Sucker? Vampire?), there were various points where I felt this was just another problem book, vampire interest or not.

Here's the thing, though--I have a young relative who has had a chronic health problem for a few years, since he was around 16. The problem is nowhere near as serious as diabetes, but it impacts every day of his life. He was a pissed off teenager, anyway, (pardon my French, as they say, but the main character in the book is always talking about being pissed off and wondering how that differs from being angry) and having his health issue gnawing at him all the time definitely made him more so. He's frustrated and negative, and his mom, just like the mom in Sweetblood is always wringing her hands and fearful of how he'll be today or, when he's at college, how she'll find him if she calls.

I think the author nailed a lot of things right on the head. And I thought the ending was both positive and realistic, suggesting the main character could change her way of living and her attitude without changing who she is.

So, what am I saying here? That a problem book is okay so long as it deals with my problems? I can barely sit through the crummy ones when they're about someone else's problems. I've read that some writers believe their problem books are serving a therapeutic purpose, and my own experience suggests that may be true. But these books will only be therapeutic if they fall into the hands of people who share the problem.

This is one of the many, many things in life that I mull over but never resolve.