Saturday, April 29, 2006

Should You Lock Up Your Daughters?

I began my quest to read one of each of the "big three" of wealthy-girl-gone-bad books after reading Naomi Wolf's article Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things in The New York Times last month. I have an authority problem (don't tell me you haven't noticed). So when Wolf had harsh things to say about these series, describing them as having "a value system in which meanness rules, parents check out, conformity is everything and stressed-out adult values are presumed to be meaningful to teenagers," I couldn't just take her word for it and jump on an anti-bad girl bandwagon. I had to see for myself.

I know that one is not a statistically significant number. But I am not a young woman and I just can't sacrifice any more of the precious time left to me reading this stuff. So just recognize that I'm generalizing on the basis of only one example per series.

Will These Books Turn Teenage Girls Into Slutty Shopaholics?

Personally, I can't believe readers take this stuff seriously. I don't care how young they are. And if they do take it seriously, I'd be more concerned about them becoming depressed than running wild in the streets. I thought these things were supposed to be chicklit. Perhaps I don't know what chicklit is. I thought it was light and fluffy. Fun. Humiliation isn't fun. Being ganged up on isn't fun. Binging and purging isn't fun. Having guys corner you in the women's room, pull your strapless evening gown down, and fondle your breasts is not fun.

Not that any of that has ever happened to me. I'm just guessing.

I've read that some adult women say they attended private schools in New York City and Gossip Girl, in particular, is true to their experience. Kudos for living through your adolesence, ladies. But if any of these stories reflect any kind of reality at all, it's a reality that pertains to a very limited portion of the population. The rich portion, of course. The majority of the kids who read these books aren't rich, and they know it. Most of them don't even know where to go to find the Prada that even middle schoolers shop for in these books. Most readers are going to know that this is not about them.

Nonetheless, I suppose you could say that reading books of this kind will make teenagers insensitive to the abuse portrayed or make them accepting of it as normal the way watching violent images on TV desensitizes younger children and encourages them to engage in violent behavior. I don't know if any studies have ever been done that show that reading has the same kind of impact as watching images. I think you have to do more processing when you read than when you watch an image. That extra processing may give your rational mind an opportunity to do some extra thinking and use some judgment that it doesn't get a chance to do when hit directly by an image.

Personally, I need to see some real evidence that these books are having a negative impact on kids before I can believe it. In the meantime, I think we should give teenagers some credit for being able to separate fact from not very good fiction.

However, after reading these things I have to say that if I were a wealthy New York City mother with kids who had unlimited access to money and little supervision, I'd be really worried.

Do These Books Exploit Teenagers As A Market?

None of these books are books in the traditional sense of the word. They do not communicate an author's vision. The ones I read were not even complete--they left storylines dangling to entice readers to buy another installment.

All three series were "packaged books" from Alloy Entertainment. Remember, Alloy
does market research
before the books it sells to publishers are written. According to a recent New York Times article "In many cases, editors at Alloy...craft proposals for publishers and create plotlines and characters before handing them over to a writer (or a string of writers)." Cecily von Ziegesar came up with The Gossip Girl herself--while she was working for Alloy Entertainment. She wrote the first eight books, but according to the May issue of Vanity Fair, with the ninth book she began "to help plot and heavily revise" the books.

The books aren't books, they are marketed products.

Yes, marketing is part of the book business, and I've been moaning and groaning about it plenty here in recent months. But, traditionally, the marketing comes in after the book is written, when it needs to be sold. With these products, the marketing starts before conception.

Kids who read these books are buying into what the marketers are telling them they (the kids) want to read. The wonks at Alloy study the teen market and on the basis of their conclusions regarding what they've learned, they create a product to sell to that market. Then kids line up and buy (literally and metaphorically) what they're being sold.

The fact that those marketers are telling kids they want to read these dark, sad, cookie cutter stories of money, drinking, and sex is really creepy. The fact that kids line up and take it is even creepier.

I'm sure you're all delighted that I'm finally through with this project. Believe me, you're nowhere near as happy it's over as I am.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Perhaps This Is Why I Stink At Marketing

Yesterday I was supposed to remind everyone that we were only three weeks away from The Happy Kid! Giveaway. But I got so excited about doing an honest day's work that I forgot all about it. I am easily distracted.

The Book of Lost Girls

I have completed my mission to read one book from each of the three big wealthy-girl-gone-bad series. Today, class, we will discuss The Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar.

Basically, The Gossip Girl is the the story of Serena van der Woodsen (van der Woodsen--von Ziegesar?), a wild golden girl who returns to her upscale New York crowd from boarding school, after being kicked out because she was carousing in France when she was supposed to be starting a new semester. Her best friend turns on her because she doesn't want competition for her boyfriend. Or competition in general. Slowly but surely all kinds of gossip spreads about Serena and this leader of the pack finds herself an outcast.

That actually sounds interesting but not much really happens in this story beyond rich kids wandering around being miserable.

The book has a bizarre point of view/voice. While it uses a third person narrator, that narrator is the anonymous "The Gossip Girl" who interjects clever, though snide, comments every now and then. The Gossip Girl is presumably one of the nasty rich girls we're reading about. Though, since new characters were introduced right up until the last chapters of the book and this is a serial, maybe she hasn't turned up yet. At any rate, though she is a character telling the story, she is privy to every action and every thought of every other character in the book.

That isn't possible, and I don't think it would be acceptable in a lot of books. However, I will admit that I suffer from point-of-view anxiety and other readers might not notice.

The Gossip Girl doesn't use anywhere near as many product names in lieu of descriptions as The Clique and The A-List do. It more than makes up for it with increased amounts of sex, drinking, and drugs. These kids are major players in the drinking department. If it's true that the brain continues to develop throughout adolescence, they could be in for some serious problems in a few decades. Not only are they served alcohol in private homes (which we know happens all over--read a newspaper), but they can walk into any bar, lounge, or liquor store and buy booze. These under age characters can organize fundraisers for their underage friends where alcohol is served to them by waiters they've hired.

Don't any of these merchants worry about losing their liquor licenses?

I mentioned a while back that I was reading Daisy Miller. In Daisy Miller a kind, innocent girl is unaware of the constraints of the society she has entered. In The Gossip Girl, mean, experienced girls live in a society in which there are no constraints at all. For the most part, their parents only appear at social functions where their underage children are drinking with them, their staff serving champagne to their childen and their children's friends. No one is around to notice Blair binging and purging. No one is around to notice that Nate is baked most of the weekend. Evidently these kids had free-rein to plan that fundraiser.

All these characters are suffering. Perhaps that's the attraction for readers. Maybe girls read about the unhappy lives of rich, attractive teens and feel better about themselves.

Next post: Are wealthy-girls-gone-bad books a danger to your teens? Stay tuned for our I-Team's Special Report.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I Guess It Had To Happen

Little, Brown has withdrawn How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. I know someone who predicted this would happen by the end of the week.

From The New York Times: "In October of her freshman year at Harvard, she received a call from Ms. Walsh, also an agent at William Morris, who told her she was going to start shopping the manuscript around. "Two days later, she called to say Little, Brown wants to buy the book."

Ms. Viswanathan said at the time she could not quite believe all this was happening to her. "It was amazing," she said. "I thought everyone was just being nice to me."

Okay, I know she copied someone else's work. I know she deserves to have her book withdrawn. But I can't help myself. I feel badly for her.

School Visits

I had a speaking engagement at an elementary school in Massachusetts today. It was my only school engagement this school year.

I had a fantastic time. The kids were great. They either liked me or put up a good show. Doesn't matter to me. They made me happy. The teachers were great, too. One teacher came back to see me in the library while her kids were out to recess to say that her class would be writing alien stories that afternoon. If you'd been there, you'd know why that was good news.

Some interesting things about school appearances:

When I first started talking to groups of kids, I had to struggle to keep myself from directing all my comments to the adult teachers with them. I'm over that now. I'm there for the kids.

School appearances are a marketing opportunity for children's authors. Authors of adult books rarely make appearances at schools. We get to go into a school and talk to maybe a couple of hundred kids over the course of the school day as well as their teachers and the school librarian. Those are all people who may truly be interested in our books and who will remember our names when they appear on new books. Two hundred readers rarely, rarely, rarely show up at appearances for children's authors. On top of all that, we get paid for being there. Sweet.

Some children's authors get very put out if the teachers haven't exposed the kids to their books before the day of the appearance. That absolutely does not bother me. As I said above, school visits are marketing opportunities. I am there to sell myself and to make kids want to read my books. That's my job. I don't expect the teachers to do it for me.

In addition to selling myself, I want to have something meaningful and substantial to talk about with these kids. If I do, it won't matter that the kids haven't read my books yet. I started making school appearances while my own children (who I don't like to mention here, but I do have some)were still in grade school. They had a great deal on their plates at school, and I think all children do. They have a lot of material they have to cover, a lot they have to learn. Under no circumstances do I want to waste children's time. I am there to support their efforts to write, to give them some writing assistance they can use right away, maybe even that same day. I use my books to illustrate what I'm talking about, which is how I try to get the kids interested in them.

Eating in the cafeteria with kids is terrific. Yes, it's mind-bogglingly noisy. No, I probably couldn't stand it if I were there every day. But I'm not. When I was a teenager, I probably thought the school cafeteria was a hellhole, much like the gym. But as a writer, it's a place for me to do fieldwork.

Today I learned that fourth graders like to watch The Animal Planet. Who knew? And I met kids who were into forming their own little clubs around their interests. A nature club. An art club. A reading club.

Yeah, I know kids have done the club thing in the past. But I need to know that they're doing it now.

These kids were third and fourth graders. They were little (or big) dolls. I sat at a table in the cafeteria talking with these angelic faces. I watched this pretty little girl turn to the boy next to her and chat away, appearing to have no agenda. All she wanted was to say whatever she was saying. And I thought, "Damn. Are these kids going to turn into those horrible beasts in The Gossip Girl?"

Except for that moment, I had a really good time.

Just So We're All Clear About This

In an article entitled You, To, Can Right Like A Blogger in Wired News, Tony Long (who appears to be that publication's copy chief) says, "And very few blogs involve the kind of introspection that characterizes a serious journal. Most blogging is sheer exhibitionism, either the self-absorbed ramblings of an individual blogger or the corporate site that exists for the sole purpose of making money."

I guess my blog falls into "the self-absorbed ramblings of an individual blogger" category, because if my site exists for the purpose of making money, it's not doing a very good job.

Actually, sometime in the last couple of years I believe I did read an article that argued that Internet activity was improving kids' writing skills, simply because they have to write out their thoughts on IM and in e-mail (and probably LiveJournals, though the article might predate them) in such a way as to make themselves understood to friends, something they don't have to do as part of their regular carbon-based lives.

At the very least it must improve their typing skills.

Blog of a Bookslut gave us that link.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

More Marketing Woes

Yesterday morning I woke up to find an e-mail from my contact person at the only Vermont bookstore where I'll be appearing next month in my feeble attempt to support my new book. The writer wanted to discuss marketing and asked if I had any ideas to help make the event a success.

This was a very legitimate request on his part, and I did have some ideas. But it takes me foreeeever to answer business eeeeeeeee-mails, she whined. I worked on it a long time. I could have used that time to work on the press release I started Monday to send to a couple of Vermont newspapers. I'd also started some work for one of the new books on Monday. I had to forget about that, too.

I got distracted in the middle of answering that e-mail while I tried to find some e-mail addresses for high school classmates. That was a black hole that just sucked up minutes of my life. Maybe close to half an hour. Or forty minutes.

About an hour into this thing, I got a call from the owner of the only Connecticut bookstore where I'll be appearing in my feeble attempt to support my new book. My new book that is coming out May 18th. (That's not just a shameless plug. It's pertinent to what's coming next.) The bookstore owner wanted to change the date of my appearance from June 3rd to July 1st.

Hey, I'm obliging. I've been reading Zen. I can float my boat on the ocean of life, moving with the waves and what have you. However, only two hours earlier I had mailed press packets to newspapers with the June date.

The date has been changed. I am sending follow up press releases to the newspapers. This is awkward, because in all likelihood most of those papers were going to blow me off, anyway. One in particular almost certainly will. So...what am I supposed to say in the correcting press release? That press release you paid no attention to in the first place needs a correction? And it's not because I made a mistake, by the way. The owner did it. Don't look at me.

And now that the date of the bookstore appearance is so far from the publication date, I think those papers will have even more reason not to give my book any coverage.

This is not the end of the world. Yesterday afternoon I received my copy of the completed contract for my two book deal, what I will call The Hannah and Brandon Stories for want of a better title right now. Even with as little media attention as I manage to get, I seem to sell enough books to keep a publisher interested. God knows how or why.

I've had some other good things happen these past few months, too. I'm not enjoying them as much as I should because I'm always in a snit over marketing. In June, after the dust has settled and I know what, if any, results I get from my marketing efforts, I'll give you a run-down. There's something for you to look forward to.

No matter how it goes, though, I don't plan to ever initiate a serious marketing effort like this again. And this is why: I can't control anyone else. I can't make publications cover my book. I can't make bookstore managers welcome me with open arms. I have very little influence on other people.

I can only influence and control myself. So with the next book, I will spend my time writing, reading, and studying. Those are the things I can make a difference with.

Yup. That's right. I'm about halfway through that Zen book.

Meg Cabot Has A Calling. Guess What It Is.

In a Guardian article, Meg Cabot talks about her new book Queen of Babble, which sounds a lot like a YA book for grown-ups. The Guardian article says it's her sixth adult novel, but during the interview Cabot started talking about her calling and how she doesn't know if adolescent girls think about it, so that's why she included her calling in the novel.

I suspect Queen of Babble will be a cross-over book. I have never read anything by Meg Cabot. Perhaps it is time I did.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Blog of a Bookslut, for this link.

My Only Viswanathan Link For Today

In I Coulda Been A Pretender at Slate, John Barlow talks about his experience working with 17th Street Productions (now owned by Alloy). Things didn't work out for him quite so well as they did for Kaavya Viswanathan.

Oh. Wait. Maybe in the long run they turned out better.

Barlow's Slate article is doubly interesting for us, here, because he writes for adults but was approached to write a kids' book.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Some Serious Detective Work

By now everyone who cares knows that Kaavya Viswanathan has apologized for plagiarizing two of Megan McCafferty's books. Some of us are still wondering, though, what part 7th Street Productions/Alloy Entertainment had in all this.

To get right to the point, I don't know. But I have managed to scrape up some info on this "book packager."

galley cat directed its readers to a really fascinating AP article from last July on Alloy Entertainment. Among the more interesting points:

"It[Alloy] has a staff in New York of about 10 editors who diligently research what's hot in the teen world - what girls are wearing, the music they like, the TV shows they Tivo."

"Staff members are in charge of everything about the book, from creating ideas to finding writers for the books, crafting proposals for publishers and creating the sleek cover art. The company then sells the book, but keeps all the other rights. As many as 50 are published each year and are well distributed among the major publishing houses."

"Lisi Harrison, author of "The Clique" series, was working at MTV when she was approached by Alloy to create books about wealthy, junior-high queen bees."

"Alloy partners with most of the major publishing houses."

Alloy also promotes its books through other businesses it owns, such as a clothing line.

How much say did Alloy have in the writing of Kaavya Viswanathan's book? Her agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, said in a New York Times article, "she put Ms. Viswanathan in touch with a book packaging company, 17th Street Productions (now Alloy Entertainment), but that the plot and writing of "Opal" were "1,000 percent hers.""

And, yet, the same article says Alloy "holds the copyright to "Opal" with Ms. Viswanathan."


Again, I don't know what happened. But if I were Nancy Drew, who was also the product of a book packager, I'd be wonderin'. At the very least, if they were as involved with this book as they are with their others, how could they miss this much copied material?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Oh, My Gosh! Another Connection!

Perhaps you'll recall that I read Daisy Miller and saw a connection between it and the teen girl series books I've been reading? Well, something went down today that definitely has a connection to those series, too. At least in my twisted mind.

Over at Readerville we've been discussing poor Kaavya Viswanathan, who received a big two book deal from Little, Brown at the ripe old age of seventeen and is now facing allegations that she plagiarized a book by Megan McCafferty that was published in 2001. I'm not being sarcastic when I say "poor Kaavya Viswanathan." Personally, I think there are lots of ways this could have happened, some of them unintentional. The girl's only nineteen years old. She had the world by the tail and now, no matter how this ends up, it's going to follow her for life.

What does this have to do with us, you may ask? Well, I don't know how her book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life was categorized by her publisher, but it sounds like YA to me. The San Francisco Chronicle describes it as "the story of Opal, a hard-driving teen who earns all A's in high school but gets rejected from Harvard because she forgot to have a social life. Opal's father concocts a plan code-named HOWGAL (How Opal Will Get A Life) to get her past the admission's office."

The book Viswanathan is accused of plagiarizing, Sloppy Firsts, is definitely YA.

But, still, you're probably wondering how this is connected to the books I've been boring you with these last few weeks. Well, according to a Boston Globe article from back in February, the literary agency representing Viswanathan found her original idea for a novel "much darker than Opal." Presumably, too dark because it "referred her to 17th Street Productions, a so-called book packager that specializes in developing projects in young-adult and middle-grade fiction. The editors there proposed that Viswanathan put her mind to something lighter, something closer to her own background."

And here, finally, is the connection, folks, because 17th Street Productions is part of Alloy Entertainment and Alloy had a hand in creating The Clique, The A-List, and The Gossip Girl. galley cat, which provided the link to the February Boston Globe article, wondered back in February how big a cut 17th Street Productions received of Viswanathan's six-figure advance and today questions whether or not it played a part in this whole mess.

Personally, I'm wondering about something else. Just what does a "book packager" do? The Clique, The A-List, The Gossip Girl all have eerie similarities. Again, what does a book packager do?

Doo, doo, doo-doo, doo, doo, doo-doo.

This Is What I've Been Doing Wrong

I've never had a book party when my books are published, and now it appears that I never will.

"In the past few years, the book party as buzz-generator has been eclipsed by the elegant prepublication lunch, where publishers invite a few dozen editors and critics to a three-course meal at a swish restaurant to promote one or more titles they're pushing that season. Publishers may also organize small events nationwide to start the chattering classes chattering. "It's more helpful in getting attention city by city with influential people in the book world," said the literary agent Ira Silverberg. "You could take over Yankee Stadium for Salman Rushdie and I don't know if it's going to matter to an independent bookseller in Pasadena.""

I've never had a pre-publication luncheon, either. If I were to have one locally, I can't imagine who I'd invite, since I don't know any influential people in the book world. Plus, I don't know if we have any "swish" restaurants around here.

I am having a book exchange party next month, which is only a coincidence because I started holding them twice a year just last year. I suppose I could quickly switch it to a pre-publication cocktail party and try to guilt my friends into buying my book when it comes out the next week.

I am writing this post in the middle of the day instead of the evening because I love this template so, and I'm trying to avoid working on the new, new new book. If I don't get to work, I won't even have to think about pre-publication luncheons. You don't have to worry about them, if you don't publish.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

You're At The Right Place

I told you I was working on creating permalinks for my blog. Now I've got them. Comment capability, too. (I may regret that. Only time will tell.)

You thought I'd forgotten, didn't you?

Actually, my computer guy did all this for me. Which is even better than doing it myself because...I didn't have to do it. Everyone should have their own personal computer person.

This new look is all due to a new template. If I understand this whole thing correctly, I couldn't do permalinks with my original template because this blog is so old that the template I was using pre-dated permalinks. My blog seemed old and dowdy and out-of-step. My hope is that it is now the blog equivalent of a hot knee-length leather skirt and a hip, short, spiky haircut.

I'm never going to get either of those things in real life so I want them here!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Why Blog?

I went over to slate today where I found This Is My Last Entry: Why I shut down my blog by Sarah Hepola. Sarah Hepola isn't a children's author, but I have a hard time resisting an article on blogging so I didn't even try.

Hepola would like to write a novel and has been contacted by agents and editors who had noticed her because of her blog and work she did for an online magazine. "The e-mails were flattering, but, ultimately, they all asked the same annoying question: Have you written a book? Apparently, this was a requirement. When I told them I hadn't, they moved on to the next blogger with potential..." While the blog was originally good for her writing, she shut it down because she now feels it's keeping her from writing. Maybe writing that book.

This got me thinking about the various reasons for keeping a blog, especially if you're already a writer.

Websites, as I've said before, are very static and require some work to update. Some writers use blogs in addition to their websites because blogs are easier, quicker, and cheaper (you can do the work yourself) to change when you have information that changes frequently. I learned through Big A little a that Lois Lowry has recently started a blog for that purpose. She calls it an experiment, a way to "update readers to news about new books, signings, speaking engagements, and the ever-changing world of movie-making."

Some writers may be using blogs instead of websites, again, because they're easy, quick, and cheap. I can't find any examples of that, though.

Maintaining a weblog and updating it frequently so that readers/fans will stay in touch keeps your name in front of them, so therefore it can be a marketing tool.

Actually, all the above reasons can be said to be marketing tools.

For me, though, the blog is an opportunity to talk about books and things that are going on in kidlit world and pretend someone is listening. I have a need to communicate. This stuff that I'm communicating doesn't distract from my regular writing because...well, that's different. I was also worried that my website was boring because it didn't change often, and I hoped that a blog would juice it up. There's nothing, absolutely nothing, worse for a writer than being boring.

Here's Something I Feel Compelled To Communicate

We're reading Daisy Miller by Henry James at Readerville. Because I've been reading those rich-girls-gone-bad series, I can't help but make a connection. If things had gone differently for Daisy, she could have been the great-great-grandmother of one of the girls in The Gossip Girl.

I've never been a big Henry James fan, but Daisy Miller is so much better than the series books I've been reading.

And, Finally, A Little Marketing Talk

I meant to remind everyone yesterday that May 18th was exactly four weeks away, but by the time I finished writing about The A-List, I thought we'd all had quite enough. That means the Publication Day Giveaway is four weeks from yesterday. My computer guy has created a special directory for receiving the e-mail entries, and he says he's writing a little program to randomly select the winners.

Does that seem like a lot of work to anyone else?

By the way, I'm not making people write "Congratulations, Gail" in the subject line just because I'm vain and crave attention. I'm also trying to keep these e-mails separate from all those I receive from people trying to sell me pharmaceutical products and stock.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Now You Can Write Your Own

Thanks to Rosemary Graham for this link to Create Your Own Young Adult Novel.

They Weren't Talking About This Kind of YA Novel, Though

Yes, folks, I finished reading The A-List by Zoey Dean, who you would think would have a website. If so, I couldn't find it.

I found The A-List to have a weak, stereotypical moral code underneath the slutty Twenty-first Century behavior. The secondary girl characters are definitely sexually active, but they're all quite awful people--except for one, who is not very bright, which I guess is the equivalent of being awful. They also have trouble in their backgrounds. One girl is a size ten and thus has body issue problems. (Yeah, me, too.) The meanest and most nasty girl can't sleep away from home, even with a guy, because the night of her first sleepover at a girlfriend's house her mother died. If she leaves home, she's afraid her dad will go, too.

I have trouble seeing how anyone can find these characters people they'd want to emulate.

Anna, the "good" protagonist (who comes from old money, unlike the A-Listers who are children of Hollywood) never actually has sex. Whenever she does something slutty or out there--goes into an airplane bathroom with a guy she's just met, lies, wears slutty clothes--she's punished by being humiliated. She gets naked with a guy she's known less than a day, but she decides to hold on to her virtue, after all, and says no at the last possible minute. She is punished for the naked part, though. The guy abandons her--sort of--miles from home.

Whenever Anna's in a tough situation, she draws on her mother's blue-blood mannerisms, even though she doesn't appear to have a good relationship with her mother. I found that rather interesting.

Another interesting point is that though there is talk about the characters' sexual activity, it's not at all erotic or enticing. We're told, for instance, that a character keeps a lipstick and a condom in her designer clutch bag. I can't see anyone getting all hot and bothered about that. Twilight was a far more stimulating book.

Product names are used instead of description in The A-List just as they are in Best Friends For Never. In the The A-List you also have name dropping to show that characters are supposed to be smart. There are references to Lady's Chatterly's Lover and Anais Nin, who had a reputation for writing a sexy thing or two in her time. Personally, I thought the joke about a girl being hot enough to make the Iceman cometh was clever. I wonder how many teen readers get it, though. You can't convince me that this book is read primarily by prep school students.

I know that there are some teenagers who live much like the kids in this book in terms of having large sums of money at their disposal and virtually no supervision. I suspect that most of the kids who read it, don't. I'm guessing that, what with the book's stereoptypical characters, stereotypical phrasing, and lack of a real ending, most readers aren't going to take it terribly seriously.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

And People Say TV Has Nothing To Offer

At the risk of sounding like an old coot, I am going to admit to occasionally watching Masterpiece Theater. Over the last two weeks that program has offered film versions of books of interest to children. Books I'd never heard of, by the way.

Two weeks ago the Masterpiece People aired My Family and Other Animals, an adaptation of a memoir by Gerald Durrell. The story centers on the Durrell family's experiences living in Corfu just prior to the Second World War, when "Gerry" was twelve- to thirteen-years-old. This is definitely one of those eccentric English family stories, which I happen to like, anyway. Durrell's siblings really do appear to be a handful for their long-suffering mother. (The woman was a saint, a saint, I tell you.) I don't know if the book is as entertaining, but this video version seems to me as if it could be a great introduction for younger kids to the idea of a memoir. Except for the guy who explains to Gerry that he had his wife sewn up after their second child was born. And the mother trying to explain sex to Gerry. It just depends on how sensitive the adults at the school are to that kind of thing.

Here is a question teachers' could ask after showing the video: Gerald Durrell wrote this memoir in 1956, close to twenty years after he lived these events. Do you think his book would have been different if he had written it while it while these events were happening?

I should have been a teacher, huh?

Last week, M.P. aired Carrie's War from the children's book by Nina Bawden. Carrie's War deals with the experience of siblings evacuated from London to Wales during the Second World War. (The Brits do like to write about the Big One. Though, I guess if I'd been bombed as often as they were, it would be weighing heavily on my mind, too.) Like the heroine of Carrie's War, Bawden, too, was evacuated from London.

The evacuation of children from London during the Second World War has inspired almost a genre of books, such as Good Night, Mr. Tom, about what was for many children a traumatizing experience. I haven't finished watching Carrie's War, yet, so I can't comment too much on this particular story. I'm liking what I've seen so far, though.

I also like this quote at the M.P. website attributed to Nina Bawden: She said that children are "a kind of subject race, always at the mercy of the adults who mostly run their lives for them." So true, so true.

Bawden has written 19 books for children and 23 for adults, two of which were on the short list for the Booker Award. Not too shabby.

And to think I'd never heard of her.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Something Instructive For A Change

Today I was at the library, and I found Amelia's 6th-Grade Notebook by Marissa Moss. Amelia's Notebook is very much what it sounds like--it looks like an old-fashioned notebook with lined paper filled with printing and pictures, as if it were a sixth-grade girl's thoughts and doodles.

Amelia's thoughts all have to do with starting sixth-grade at middle-school, a big change for her. She struggles with the things most kids starting middle-school struggle with--finding her way around the building, dealing with so many teachers, figuring out where to sit in the cafeteria, living in her trouble-making older sister's shadow. She has difficulties with one particular teacher, and a big part of the story is about how she deals with him.

I had a feeling that many aspects of the story were supposed to be funny, especially the notes she writes under the pictures she draws. But the humor just wasn't there for me. In addition, the whole book is very lesson-heavy. Studying art is good, and you can learn things in that class that carry over into other parts of life. Stand up to bullies, even when they are teachers. (The whole teacher plot semed a little over the top to me, though I definitely believe there are teachers out there who enjoy bullying kids. I just didn't find this one very believable or the meltdown that improved things for Amelia.)

The book really does seem like a guide for kids in Amelia's position. In fact, there are a whole series of Amelia books that deal with all kinds of kid problems--long car trips, gossip, bullies. While I didn't find Amelia's 6th Grade Notebook particularly interesting or entertaining, myself, I would certainly look into picking up an Amelia book that dealt with a problem area for a particular child.

In fact, when I saw that whole list of Amelia books at the Simon & Schuster website, I couldn't help but feel badly for kids. It's a rough world out there. Moss could go on writing Amelia books indefinitely.

Plans For Happy Kid! Giveaway Completed

As I mentioned earlier, I'm going to try to make this year's Publication Day special with a book giveaway. I'll be giving away six copies of Happy Kid! on May 19th in honor of the books's publication on May 18th. Go to my home page to learn how you can become one of the lucky winners.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Another New Blog

I've been seeing references in other blogs to A Fuse #8 Production. Turns out it's a three-month old blog belonging to a librarian who appears to be part of the child_lit listserv. I don't mean to brag, but she has my blog listed on her page right between Neil Gaiman's and Rick Riordan's. Yes!

Hey, Naomi! How About Some Gossip Girl Read A-Likes?

No, I'm not off the Naomi Wolf anti-girl series thing yet. Neither is she. The American Library Association is not going to let Wolf get them down. To help out teens who like these books, the ALA/YALSA has created a list of books for young adults who enjoy 'Gossip Girl' series. Included is one of my all-time favorites, Angus, Thongs, and Full-frontal Snogging.

Thanks to Rosemary Graham for the Oprah link and kids lit for the link to the ALA.

Now, excuse me, but I have to go finish reading The A-List.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Reading And The Young. And The Very Young

I have a couple of youngish relatives who are education majors. One of them will be graduating with a master's degree next month and is applying for jobs even as we speak. I have been nagging this guy, who we will call Relative 1, for years about reading kid and YA books. Last spring for his birthday I gave him Gregor the Overlander. I gave him Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane for Christmas. Over the winter he finally had time to read both books. He liked them so much that he went out and bought the third one in the series for himself.

Last Friday I gave him The Lightning Thief for this year's birthday. He e-mailed me today to say he'd already finished it and that it made him want to study mythology all over again.

So, I saw Relative 2 today. I told her, "Hey, I gave Relative 1 The Lightning Thief last Friday, and he's already finished it."

"He's making me look bad!" she replied.

To which I said, "Exactly."

Here's why I'm always on these guys about reading kids' books: They're going to be teachers. Part of the job is going to be to teach kids to read, hopefully, to encourage them to read. What better way to do that then to read and be exited about books children are likely to want to read? How can you excite someone about something that you don't do yourself?

You always have to remember, children do not read book reviews. They don't read publishers' catalogs. They have no way of knowing what's out there for books unless an adult tells them. They see their teachers day in and day out for something like 180 days a year. Who is in a better position to tell them about good books than their teachers?

Good books are the absolutely best encouragement for reading.

Nagging young teachers is my personal mission. But here's a little something I heard from a nearby librarian relating to even younger readers: Circulation among grade schoolers is down at her library. Not down a little. Down thirty percent. We're talking a so-called nice, comfortable, middle class small town.

She doesn't know what to make of this. Is the library at her local elementary school doing such a fantastic job that kids no longer need to use their town library? Are children so overscheduled that they no longer have time for recreational reading? Kids can't get to this library without a ride from an adult. Why aren't their parents bringing them in?

She says that in the summer they have a large number of kids sign up for their reading program so they can get whatever goody bag the library is giving away as an incentive. The kids take a couple of books out early in the summer, but they don't continue through the whole program.

She's even seeing a drop off in the preschool programs, which have always been heavily attended. The heavy attendance is technically still there. The kids and their moms show up for the story and the craft. But far fewer kids are checking books out than in the past. "They come for the show," she explained.

What is going on?

This librarian had some interesting things to say about early literacy programs, which is what these preschool story hours actually are. I always thought reading to little kids encouraged them to read because it was a warm and fuzzy experience, reading is fun, etc. All of that is true, of course. But it turns out that there are some very practical, nitty-gritty reasons for reading picture books with children. When kids read with parents, they get practice turning pages. They get practice scanning pages. As parents read and point things out to children, the kids pick up on the fact that, in this culture at least, we read from left to right.

Try to imagine learning to read without knowing any of that.

On top of all that, children who are read to regularly have a larger vocabulary then children who aren't read to. That's a big aid when learning to read and in the early years of reading because it's a whole lot easier to sound out a word you recognize if you've heard it before.

If you're reading a kidlit blog, you probably don't need any encouragement to take your kids to the library and help them check out some books. But here's an idea you may not have thought of: The end of the school year is coming up soon. If you're thinking of an end of the year gift for a favorite teacher, how about a kids' book?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

What To Do? What To Do?

According to Stop Me If You've Read This in the L.A. Times, it's hard to come up with a good book title that hasn't been used before. There's lots of repeats.

This is actually a load off my mind, because I still have to come up with a title for the new, new book that hasn't been finished yet. I'd been thinking of trying Fun With Hannah and Brandon, but now that I see that a lot of titles aren't original, anyway, why not just go with Fun With Dick and Jane? I could change the characters names to fit the title. In fact...that might be kind of retro and weird.

I haven't been working on those books much because I've been spending some time on another little project that sort of falls into the marketing category, of course. When I get back to work on Hannah and Brandon, I will post updates on the title issue. It was originally called Playing With Hannah. Going way back, it was called Prince Whiskers, which was a great name, but there is no Prince Whiskers in the book now, so I'm not comfortable using it.

(Link from

My Teen Girl Book Obsession

According to Chasing Ray, a blog I just discovered this morning through Adbooks, which is discussing YA blogs, the new Vanity Fair has an article on Cecily von Ziegesar of Gossip Girl fame--or infamy. Now I have to try to find the thing. What Chasing Ray had to say about the article was so...provocative...that I think I'd better read it myself before commenting about why I am so provoked.

I've started The A-List by Zoey Dean. So far, I have to say that it makes Best Friends for Never (April 8th post) look like art.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

More Vampires

I've been binging on vampires this spring. In addition to Twilight, which I talked about a while back (and which the folks at Adbooks say is wildly popular), I've finished Peeps by Scott Westerfeld.

Peeps is definitely a good book, with a very engaging nineteen-year-old main character. (I mention the age because I often read books described as YA with twelve-year-old main characters. ????) I think I'd describe it as a conspiracy thriller that just happens to include vampires rather than a straight vampire book. It reminded me a bit of Sweetblood by Pete Hautman, which I talked about back in July of last year. The main character in Sweetblood believes that back before diabetes was recognized and treatable, the symptoms suffered by diabetics led to the vampire legends. In the world of Peeps, vampires are created by parasites. Infected humans are known as "parasite positives" or "peeps."

Our hero, Cal, was infected by a vampire during his first sexual encounter (There's a lesson for you there, kiddies.), but, it turns out, he's a carrier. So while he has a lot of peep characteristics--he's super strong, always hungry, and craves sex--he's not a maniac the way peeps usually are.

The craving sex part actually makes sense. Read the book.

Cal now works for a super-secret organization that's been fighting vampires for centuries. He can never have a sex again so long as he lives because, being a carrier, he'd spread the vampire parasite to his partner. Sounds a little bit like a teen problem novel, doesn't it?

As I was reading--and enjoying--Peeps, though, I wondered what about this book made it a YA novel. Did Cal have to be a teenager? Could Harrison Ford play him in the movie?

I decided the book is YA. Adolescence is a time of transition, and Cal has made a big one. YA books often involve separating from family or finding your identity in the family. Cal is hunting for the woman who infected him, his progenitor, which you could say is sort of a pseudo-parent. Adolescent literature is often about searching for your place in the scheme of things. Now that poor Cal is what he is, just what will his role in life be?

Of course, all of this won't keep Harrison Ford from trying to play Cal in the movie.

Every other chapter in Peeps is a mini-lesson on a parasite. Don't skip them. The ending will make a lot more sense if you've down your homework.

My next vampire book is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which I am finding just a little bit slow.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

To Critique Or Not To Critique

Chris Barton at Bartography is considering getting involved with a critique group again. I had a chance at the end of February to join one. I know that lots of people find them useful, swear by them even. I've done the writers' group thing twice, though, and I can't say I found them all that terrific.

The first group I was asked to join was made up only of published children's writers, and it met once a month. The group only lasted a few months. (I think the force behind the group was a member of two critique groups, and this one petered out. Or maybe they continued meeting and just didn't tell me.) I had just had my first book published, and I was already working with an editor on my second one. I can't recall if I ever brought a manuscript to the group because I won't discuss a manuscript with anyone once I'm working with an editor, and I can't remember if I got to the point of starting something else that I could discuss with them.

I really, really enjoyed hearing about what these people were doing professionally, though. What conferences they went to, who they knew, all that kind of stuff. If the group had stayed together, I might have done some good networking through it.

I was a member of the second group for several years, off and on. I was the only published writer in this one, and we didn't limit ourselves to children's literature. I was interested in publishing adult short stories by that point, and I had a lot of them filed away that I retooled for discussion. This was in addition to whatever I was working on with an editor, because, remember, once I'm with an editor nobody sees what we're doing but the two of us.

Originally we just read aloud at the group meetings, which meant we were there for quite a while and the critiquing was sort of haphazard because it was all first impressions. We also met every week for a long time. Every week is a lot.
I got some very good feedback from some of these people, but nothing that resulted in published work.

We finally started meeting twice a month and bringing manuscripts to distribute, read at home, and then comment on at the next meeting. That meant I was spending a couple of hours of work time reading other peoples' manuscripts and then a couple of hours at the meeting. That's the equivalent of more than half a day every two weeks. And I still wasn't getting anything published.

My work habits just aren't that terrific that I can afford to spend that much time on something that wasn't getting results. So I finally quit.

I did make one friend there who I'm still seeing. And, interestingly enough, even as we speak I have a short story out at an on-line journal right now that was extensively revised after getting feedback from a guy who came to only one meeting. (He was really good.)

When I read about writers who are part of critique groups, I'm always a little envious. At first. Then I remember that they just didn't work for me.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Do Kids Read These?

I have enjoyed a few art books for kids in my day and have even read a few to young ones. But, truthfully, I've never seen or heard of a kid reading one, and I've never known of another adult who looked at them.

But my social circle is somewhat restricted.

Thanks to Bartography for the link.

"Kids Like Us"

In an interview on NPR, Beverly Cleary explains that, back in the 1940s when she was working as a librarian, boys would come up to her and ask, "Where are the books about kids like us?"

Leading her, of course, to go out and write some. The rest is history.

She also tells an excellent story about how seemingly unrelated events came together to inspire The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

For that link we owe a thank you to Blog of a Bookslut.

How Weird Is This?

The New York Times carried an article on April 7 called Responses to Naomi Wolf's Essay on Young Adult Fiction. The article was about blog responses. The blog posts cited were almost a month old.

What is going on here? I guess The Times' attitude is that not everyone reads blogs and thus this content will be news to those people. But, still, the information was nearly a month old! I linked to a couple of those blogs almost a month ago!

Thank you, Chicken Spaghetti, for that one.

Teen Posses' Literary Grandmothers?

At Readerville, we are discussing Edith Wharton's Xingu. The story is about a group of pretentious and shallow women who "pursue Culture in bands."

Having just read Best Friends For Never by Lisi Harrison, I immediately started thinking of these women as a posse. Instead of wealthy teen girls forming a tight backbiting group, you have wealthy (or at least very comfortable) adult women forming a tight backbiting group. In Xingu the materialism of teen posse stories is replaced by the women's concept of culture and art. The trappings of culture and art are status items for these women just as material things are status items in today's teen books.

You even have an outsider girl, Mrs. Roby. The fact that a man finds her to be "the most agreeable woman he had ever met" confirms her status as outside the female clique. At the end of the story, the clique is getting ready to reject the outsider just as teen posses are always trying to do.

Hey, I bet this is an analogy your average college professor doesn't see every day.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Not As Bad As It Could Have Been

I'm sure everyone is dying to know what I think of the three girls' series everyone was in such an uproar about after Naomi Wolf wrote about them back in March. Well, I am finally ready to weigh in on one novel in The Clique series by Lisi Harrison.

To get right to the point, if Best Friends For Never is any indication, this particular series for the younger end of the teen girl spectrum will only harm the morals of those girls who have already been corrupted by materialism and greed or are so incredibly impressionable that they probably would be harmed by anything they read. One reviewer referred to the book (the second or third in the series) as "soap operatic fun," and the characters do remind me of the dramatic and demanding teens I remember from my mother's soaps.

Best Friends For Never is the story of Maissie, a wealthy, cruel snot, and Claire, a sort-of-poor and sort-of-noble girl next door. The girls are brought together by their parents, who are friends. Claire's family lives in the guest house on Maissie's family's estate. Claire very much wants to be friends with Maissie, though I can't imagine why because, as I mentioned, Maissie is a cruel snot.

I have to admire making a character as unlikable as Maissie a focal point of a book. And I think we are supposed to believe Maissie is quite awful. Conventional wisdom says readers won't want to relate to an awful person. Perhaps teaming her up with Claire gets around that problem. Claire is there for us to relate to.

I also think this book has a traditional moral code under all the nastiness and greed. Occasionally we see that Maissie is still a child. Candy is a big symbol for innocence here, one associated with Claire who enjoys eating it. But Maissie on occasion breaks down and eats some, too. This witchie girl's main confident is her dog, and the fact that the communication can go only one way isn't lost on her. The two girls attend an exclusive school (How does Claire's family afford that?) whose initials are OCD. Kids in the upper grades and middle school probably won't realize that that also stands for obsessive compulsive disorder, but adult readers should. Maissie is definitely a compulsive shopper, buying more than she can possibily use and maybe more than she even wants. A beautiful classmate who has had plastic surgery just happens to be really dense. She can fix her face, but not her mind. And at the end, Maissie loses the contest she has entered and the boy she wants. She doesn't come out on top. For the time being, that is, because those plot lines are left up in the air. If all the books end like this, The Clique is more of a serial than a series.

The moral code may not be apparent to all readers because, while the book isn't badly written, it's not really well written, either. Changes of scene are marked by announcements of location and time, much like journal entries. This means there's no transitional material. The characters are all stereotypes right out of teen movies. Many of Maissie's friends are interchangeable. Claire is a confusing character, always missing her more innocent friends back in Florida and recognizing what Maissie is but wanting to be part of her crowd, too. We don't really see what there is about Claire that would attract a wealthy boy from another private school to her rather than Maissie. A great deal of the description in the book is limited to the names of products. The girls wear Jimmy Choo boots and carry Coach bags, for instance. For the thousands of readers who have only the vaguest idea of what the various brands are, that's no description at all.

I think this particular volume in The Clique series could have been a satire or could have been a really good book on the humanity of a nasty girl. At any rate, I don't think it's going to do many girls a lot of harm.

If you want to read something interesting, go to the Amazon listing for Best Friends For Never and read the 50 plus reviews from readers. Most of them read like book reports or reader responses.

And now I have to go on to The A-List.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Night Out

I went out last night to hear author Ellen Wittlinger speak at a nearby library. I had never heard of Wittlinger, but I probably should have. Her book, Hard Love, was a Printz Honor Book in 2000 and has won a decent list of awards.

Last night Ellen read from another book, Sandpiper, which sounded just fine, if perhaps a little on the relationship and issue side for my taste. Then she read from an advance readers' copy of her new book, Blind Faith, which won't be out until this summer. When Ellen talked about Blind Faith, it sounded as if it might be about the mystical mother/daughter bond. I don't actually understand that touchy-feely mother/daughter stuff. Neither does my mother.

But when Ellen got to the actual reading, said mother and daughter were approached by a medium at a family funeral asking if they'd like to get in touch with the dearly departed. You know me. It was at that point that I started to get interested.

So I'll be looking for Blind Faith this summer.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Mystery to Me

I finally caught Howl's Moving Castle on DVD. If I hadn't read the book, I wouldn't have had a clue what was going on. In fact, by the end of the movie, I didn't have a clue what was going on anyway.

To me the novel was absolutely made by the presence of one great character, Howl. In the movie he was very lackluster. And a little prone to mood swings. He seemed like a pretty regular guy at first, then fell apart because of a bad dye job. His out- there personality appeared earlier in the book and was more evenly sustained.

This movie was very well reviewed and was an Academy Award nominee. (I don't know if it won.) Another example of Gail just not getting it.

Somebody Gets Gail

It pays to ego surf. Though I would have found the April 5 review for one of my books at Reading YA:Readers' Response, anyway, because I often make a quick stop there.

"...Gauthier kind of makes fun of we earnest, non-leather wearing, tofu-eating types." Nah. I love you guys. When I was a college student in Vermont, I thought I was going to be one of you. Then I left the state and look at me now.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I'm Already Bored With This

Page Burners: Sex and the teenage girl in Newsday is more (see March 13th post) on the moral fiber--or lack thereof--in series teen books like The Gossip Girls, The A-List, ya-da, ya-da.

It's interesting the way mainstream press is so interested in controversy in YA. Remember how much press Welcome to Lizard Motel received? And that was just about whether or not the educational establishment was pushing depressing books.

I still have some of these Gossip Girl-type novels waiting for me upstairs. I have a hard time getting excited about reading them. Especially when I hear them described as "'Sex and the City' for teens," as they are in the Newsday article. I have never been able to sit through an entire episode of Sex and the City. I just want to shake those women and say, "Would you please get a life?"

Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for the link.

In The Planning Stages

May 18th is publication day for my new book, Happy Kid!

People who don't write think publication days are big events, like weddings or royal christenings. Publication days are extremely run-of-the-mill. The books are available for sale that day, but that has absolutely no impact on the authors' lives. Our publication days are not big news, very small potatoes as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Nothing happens. In all likelihood, if we go into bookstores on the big day most of us won't even find our books there. Particularly if you're a children's writer. Most bookstores carry only hardcovers from big name children's authors.

I still have to make dinner on publication days. I may have forgotten some of them were happening. I wouldn't be surprised if I cleaned a few toilets or did some vacuuming on publication days.

So this afternoon I suddenly had this idea to mark the day. A contest. Some lucky people will win autographed copies of Happy Kid! on May 18th so that my publication day will be noteworthy for them, at least.

Details will follow.

Monday, April 03, 2006

I Guess It's Okay To Talk About This

No, I'm not talking about something dirty. I'm talking about the book offer I received in February. I just signed and mailed the contracts out today. The publisher still has to sign off, so it's not carved in stone yet. I won't give out the publisher's name.

I will say, however, that it's for two books. This is the first time I've been offered a two-book deal.

This is wonderful and everything, but now I have to write them.

Another One of Them Carnival Thingies

The Third Carnival of Children's Blogs is us up Semicolon. I guess it's just as well that we still haven't figured out how to do permalinks because the carnival had a theme this month. Poetry. The only poetry post I have is the one from last week that involves an Anne Sexton reading and skinnydipping. Totally inappropriate. Just totally, totally inappropriate.

A Hot Read

I've been hearing that the YA book Twilight by Stephanie Meyer is flying off library shelves. I can see why. The book is about hot, steamy, teen sex without the sex. I mean, just look at the opening screen at the official website. The book is called a "love story with bite." Very true. I don't like love stories, myself. I guess I liked the bite part of this one.

Isabella leaves her home with her mother to stay with her father in the state of Washington. Evidently it's overcast there a lot of the time, which is good for vampires. Not for the reason you're thinking, though. (Read the book.) At her new school she can't help but notice a group of incredibly good looking siblings seated together each day at the cafeteria during lunch. They never eat. One thing leads to another, and she and Edward the Beautiful enter into a classic "I can't stand you! I can't stand you! Wait! I just noticed! You're the hottest thing on two feet! I've gotta have you" relationship.

Yeah, I know. That's a cliche. But it's better in Twilight. You know. Hotter.

The vampire and victim thing has had a sexual feeling to it since Dracula, and maybe before for all I know. According to a recent article in Time, vampire romances are very popular right now. Vampires are the ultimate bad boy, it seems. Personally, I thought this vampire/teen romance works better than the (admittedly few) vampire/woman romances I've read. Personally, I always find the latter a little unbelievable because I expect an adult woman to have some kind of sense of self-preservation. But teenage girls have a reputation for being attracted
to bad boys, and I can believe that a young girl would think she'd rather be dead than not be with this guy she is so in love with right this minute.

We're discussing this book at adbooks. We're all coming up with all kinds of flaws in the story. Too much talking about the relationship, for one. (We adults grew tired of that long ago.) And why don't the young vampires go nuts and stake themselves after having lived as high school students in one place or another for the better part of seventy or eighty years?

But a lot of us agree, while we were reading the book, we really enjoyed it.

There are supposed to be two sequels to Twilight. New Moon will be out this fall. I don't hold out much hope for it, myself. Sexual tension was the big attraction with the first book, and I think it's going to be very hard to maintain. Plus, the relationship was left a little vague at the end of the first book. That's probably the best we can expect. In my reading experience, vampire/human relationships never come to a good end.

As it just so happens, I'm reading another good teen vampire book right now. And I've got an adult vampire book waiting for me. I'm guessing that will be it for me for vampire stories for a while.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

One Fantastic Day

I spoke at an American Association of University Women's luncheon yesterday, and it went extremely well. I spoke at one last year around this time and went nuts getting ready for it. Because I'd already spent a lot of time prepping for other speaking engagements these last few months, I didn't get into worrying about this one too much. I revised last year's talk, liked it better, and just practiced it a few times. I did wonder a bit on the drive there if maybe that had been a mistake. I find that the severity of a situation descreases in direct proportion to the amount of time one spends worrying about it. I didn't worry about this talk so the potential for it blowing up in my face was great.

But it didn't. People bought my books. Some teachers and a librarian stopped by, made purchases, and talked. People said they liked my speech. I enjoyed the other speakers. The meal was good.

It's very, very rare that a public appearance goes this well for me. I usually do well at schools, but otherwise I'm pretty disappointed in myself.

I Seem To Find Something About Children's Books Everywhere

I recently read most of Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005 by Margaret Atwood. Atwood and I go way back, though she doesn't know it. I read some of her poetry while I was in college studying Canadian Literature because I was trying to get in touch with my Canadian roots. Of course, Atwood's roots are English Canadian while mine are French Canadian, which meant we didn't connect all that well. Especially since I didn't understand her poetry. But I continued reading her fiction and was a fan of The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace, though I couldn't get through The Blind Assassin.

Okay, what does this have to do with kidlit, you're probably asking. Well, Atwood has written six children's books, most recently Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda. And some day I will read some of them. Really.

What I did want to talk about today was something from Writing with Intent. The book includes an afterword by Atwood for Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery. She says:

"...for a Canadian woman--once a Canadian girl--Anne is a truism. Readers of my generation, and of several generations before and since, do not think of Anne as 'written.' It has simply always been there."

I think that is true of many children's books. Some people might say it's true of books for adults, too. But we read adult books as adults. We remember a before. Little Women and Little Men have always been there.

Of course, Anne of Green Gables may be in a league of its own. I don't know if we have anything in the U.S. that compares to the Anne obsession in Prince Edward Island. As you approach the province, you find Anne becoming more and more of a presence, with Anne dolls and knick knacks being sold in all kinds of weird places in New Brunswick.

Yeah, I've been to both Orchard House and Fruitlands, but I've never seen Jo March potholders or chocolates, the way I saw Anne Shirley potholders and chocolates in P.E.I.. You have to see that place to believe it.