Friday, June 30, 2006
I have a young relative who was a big Tintin fan when he was even younger. He used to drive his local librarians crazy by ordering Tintins they didn't have through interlibrary loan.
I will admit it. I showed him how to do it.
Anyway, if this guy ever finds out that Tintin may actually be literature, it will probably destroy his understanding of life and the universe and everything.
Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for tipping me off to Tintin and the Secret of Literature.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
You're Watership Down!
by Richard Adams
Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're
actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their
assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they
build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd
be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.
Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.
A couple of weeks ago, I sent material to the Calendar section--the Calendar--regarding the bookstore appearance I'm making day after tomorrow. Of course, they didn't run it. They had hardly anything in the "readings" section of the Calendar this week. It's not like they were overwhelmed with material and had to drop something to make space.
I swear, I couldn't get an obit published in that rag. And the paper charges for those. I'm leaving instructions for my heirs. If my obit doesn't run, you get your money back.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
I don't have a plot or, since I'm thinking of this as a series of short stories, a story arc.
So I decided I wouldn't even try today. I would work on cleaning my desk instead and hope that while I was doing something less demanding, I could force a breakout experience and come up with an idea that would help me move this book along.
It took a few hours, but it worked.
I didn't get my desk cleaned, though, because I had to clean a drawer in a file cabinet so I would have a place to put some of the stuff on the desk. Yes, things are that bad.
But, hey! I've got a great drawer now!
I also received my first fan e-mail for Happy Kid!, and I found this blog that indicates a library just bought a copy of Saving the Planet & Stuff.
I'm feeling really good, even though I suspect that tomorrow I'm going to be facing a hefty fine at the library. Because I'm livin' in the moment.
I usually find books on writing too dull to be much use. I tend to gravitate toward books on creativity instead. I focus on trying to create more, then I hunt for information on my specific writing problems. I'm also not particularly keen on reading books on women's issues. I've outgrown that. I'll read a magazine article, but entire books on the subject rarely hold my attention. We're not an entirely different species after all.
So there wasn't much reason for me to pick up Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide To Igniting The Writer Within when I saw it on the shelf at my library. But I recognized Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's name from Readerville, so I gave it a shot.
There's lots of good stuff in this book. And don't be put off by the "busy woman's" business. This book has little to do with women and lots to do with writers. I even started taking notes.
My favorite section of the book is "Getting Started" because DeMarco-Barrett has lots of great ideas for freewriting, something I totally believe in. I didn't think the section on "Craft" was as strong, but, remember, I don't care for books about writing. In a section called "Overcoming Obstacles," though, DeMarco-Barrett addresses some nitty-gritty things a lot of writing books don't. Like housework. Clutter does drag me down--as does stuff dripping down my walls and climbing up my shower stall. It is hard to work in a chaotic environment.
And it's hard to keep working on the project under contract when you keep getting other ideas, too.
Pen on Fire is set up like a traditional self-help book--short chapters with exercises at the end. It really isn't necessary to read each chapter. Read what you need to.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
So it seems to me that this book, which I definitely liked, fits my criteria for a Buy A Friend A Book recommendation this time around--a YA book that adults can like.
One of the things I found so interesting about the book was that it hits on so many kidlit traditions--a teen problem book, an idyllic English story, a war story, an invasion story. Maybe playing with all those "tropes" is something adults find more entertaining than kids do. Kids may not have done enough reading yet to recognize that these story lines are classics.
So here's another book to consider giving to an adult next week.
And why her obsession with killing people off and hinting about it between books? "Guess who will die--no, go on, guess!" Personally, I think there is a school of thought that believes killing off a character in a children's book is the mark of an "important" work. Expose the little nippers to the reality of life.
Death is not necessarily the hallmark of good writing.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Pam Coughlin (MotherReader) has an article on humor books for younger children. I found that noteworthy because humor books are often ignored by adults in kidlit.
Michael J. Ortiz has a piece on encouraging kids to read Shakespeare. One of my young relatives said, regarding having to read Romeo and Juliette, "I dreaded it all year." Needless to say, I read what Ortiz had to say.
And there is a review of Frank Cottrell Boyce' Framed. I loved his Millions and will definitely be looking for his second book.
Bet NPR is sorry it gave air time to that guy now.
I got this link at Blog of a Bookslut, too. I may not have to read another blog today.
I will try to get my computer guy to post a photograph of me at Bread Loaf. Hmmm. I have a number of those photos. Perhaps in August, during the conference, I will publish them here with some commentary. Hmmm. That could be fun.
I found the L.A. Times link at Blog of a Bookslut.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
This sounds awful, but my big interest in conferences (as I've said before in relation to Book Expo America) is collecting free books. Fuse #8 and Roger Sutton are both at ALA right now, and they seem to be doing a lot of eating.
It's not that I'm not interested in eating, but I'm afraid that it would be time I could be using to collect free books. Or fondle them in my hotel room. Or organize and pack them for the trip home.
Friday, June 23, 2006
I don't usually take part in Poetry Friday with other kidlit bloggers because I'm not that into poetry. However, ever since hearing that Donald Hall, the author of Ox-Cart Man, has been named poet laureate, I have, at least, become interested in him.
So on one of my many trips to my local library, I looked for something by the fellow. All I found was The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems, which Hall edited.
In his preface, Hall says (among other things), "Many children's magazines of the 19th and early 20th centuries required verses for recitation, for laughter, or for sleepiness at bedtime. Some of the best of these poems have gradually disappeared.
Here we mean to bring them back into light."
"...for recitation, for laughter, or for sleepiness at bedtime." Excellent reasons for poetry no matter what the reader's age.
Among my favorites from this collection:
Alphabet from The New England Primer, 1727:
The poem for the letter T--
"Time cuts down all/Both great and small."
In case the child reader isn't clear on what that means, the offering for "X" leaves no doubt--
"Xerxes the great did die/And so must you and I."
I don't think this was one of the sleepiness at bedtime poems. But it certainly packs a dramatic punch.
Mary's Lamb by Sarah Josepha Hale:
I think we should pay more attention to the last stanza rather than the first. I was only familiar with the first four lines.
"What makes the lamb love Mary so?"
The little children cry;
"Oh, Mary loves the lamb, you know,"
The teacher did reply,
"And you each gentle animal
In confidence may bind
And make it follow at your call,
If you are always kind."
Barbara Frietchie by John Greenleaf Whittier
When I was a child, I loved this poem about the elderly woman who insisted on waving the stars and stripes as Confederate soldiers marched through her town. Most moving, of course, was Stonewall Jackson's order,
"Who touches a hair on yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on! he said."
I reread the poem this past week and wondered what ol' Babara's chances of survival would be if she did something like that now. Of course, since she doesn't appear to have done any flag waving in front of Confederates back in the day, we don't really know what her chances of survival would have been back then, either.
Oh, dear. I just destroyed everyone's enjoyment of an American classic. This is why I shouldn't discuss poetry.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Hard to see how trying to be organized did me much good.
Except...I found a page on BookHive. BookHive "is a web site designed for children ages birth through twelve, their parents, teachers or anyone interested in reading about children's books." It's an attractive, professional looking site with a search capability. It was created by the Public Library of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, NC). The reviews are written by librarians.
I would have blogged about this site even if it didn't include a review of one of my books. I just feel a whole lot better about doing it since it does.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
I'm also taking weeks to finish a quite good book on writing that I'll be blogging about soon...er or later. And you know how I used to clean my desk between drafts and tell you all about the things I found? Has anyone noticed that I haven't done that in a long, long time?
There's a reason for that.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Now I'm obsessing over the next book. A_____, a________, and a________ _______.
Smiley says: "In the original manuscript, according to the Times' article, someone (no doubt Cathy) applies a "killer coat of Clinique #11 'Black Violet' lipstick." Now that the deal has been cut, Cathy prefers "a killer coat of Lipslicks in 'Daring.' " Of course, this is only my opinion, but I don't know what "Lipslicks in 'Daring' " is. "Lipslicks in 'Daring' " makes no sense as English prose. Score one for authorial integrity.
"Cathy also switches from "gunmetal grey eyeliner" to "eyecolor in 'Midnight Metal.' " I admit that none of these phrases is immortal, but the new, Cover Girl-approved version smacks of ad-speak. Eyecolor? I thought eyes came in blue, green, hazel, brown. Now I find out they come in Midnight Metal. That's scary. Score another one for author integrity."
ArtsJournal.com provided the link for that one.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Yeah, sure, but it's the quality of my reading that mattered.
I begin training for next year's challenge tonight.
Skellig by David Almond; 182 pages
Before Wings by Beth Goobie; 203 pages
I Was A Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block; 192 pages
Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter; 155 pages
Night Flying by Rita Murphy; 129 pages
Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl; 204 pages
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce; 247 pages
Number of Hours Spent Reading:
I believe I spent around 23 hours reading over a 34 hour period. I gave up 14 hours early because I'd run out of books on my theme, thought I would really have to push to read and blog on another book before I would need to pass out for the night, and didn't think any of the other books I had would be as good as the ones I'd just read. I didn't want to wreck the experience.
I also wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't obsessive and could quit when I recognize that the time was right.
Time Spent Reviewing:
I didn't actually keep track of the time I spent reviewing/blogging, but I did try to keep it to a minimum. Though some of those posts look long to me. So I'm going to say 10 to 20 minutes per book, meaning 70 to 140 minutes total, or between an 1 hour 10 minutes and 2 hours and 20 minutes.
What have I learned about magical realism? I'm not sure. I think it's time to read something on the subject. I have questions as a result of my reading, though:
1. All but two of the books I read were about people in crisis experiencing "magical" events. Does magical realism refer to books about people having these kinds of experiences or does magical realism have to deal with a world in which that just is the way things are? That was the case in two of the books I read.
2. Are ghost stories magical realism? Or are they just magical realism?
3. Is it magical realism if there is a possibility that the character experiencing magical events is mentally ill as a result of abuse, crisis, etc.?
Also, my personal goal was 3 to 4 books, which I hoped to exceed, and I did. I keep track of the number of books I read each year. Because of the two-day orgy of reading, I'm up to 50 books so far this year.
I definitely think we should do this again next summer.
This kind of thing is why I love the Internet, by the way.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
I have a couple of kids/YA books that have been kicking around the house for years waiting for me to read them, and I considered taking one of those on this evening. If I could finish it, stay up late blogging or get up early to do it, I'd have knocked off 8 books in 48 hours. A nice even number.
But I've decided not to be greedy. I sometimes go weeks or months without reading a book I think is really good. I just read 7 good to excellent books in 34 hours. I don't want to wreck the experience, and I'm afraid either of those books I was considering for this evening would do just that.
If I really thought they were going to be terrific, I'd have already read them, right?
So I'll go back to my regular reading at some point this evening. And on Monday I'll do some kind of summary of my two-day reading experience.
In the meantime, I'll be checking out what everyone else is doing.
Go! Go! Go! Allez, allez, allez!
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce is, without a doubt, the funniest dead mother story I can ever remember reading. I was laughing out loud and then wondering if there was something wrong with me because the poor kids' mother was dead. Then I read something else and laughed some more.
Millions is the seventh book I've read for The 48 Hour Book Challenge.
The book deals with two brothers who recently lost their mum--they're English. This is important because the marvelous plot hinges on England giving up the pound for the euro back whenever that happened. Recently, I know.
It also hinges on young Damian who is seriously, seriously into saints. He reads about them. He writes about them at school. He talks about them. He wants to live like them.
And he is visited by them. He is visited by wonderful, gritty saints.
He's got a fantastic brother in Anthony whose serious interest in money. I'm not saying he's greedy. He's knowledgable about it. When the kids come into some stolen money, he wants to buy a house as an investment!
Though Millions won the Carnegie Medal in 2004, I was only vaguely aware of it--mostly from seeing advertisements for the movie. Boyce wrote the screeplay for Millions before he wrote the novel. This is another book that was recommended by a couple of different people when I was looking for magical realism books for kids.
I almost didn't read Millions this weekend, though. One of the rules for The 48 Hour Book Challenge was that the books be for fourth grade and up. The cover for the hardcover that I read said "Grs 3 and up."
This book is so not for younger kids. It doesn't contain a lot of your traditional "adult" content, but the humor is very sophisticated. A lot of it is built around knowledge of saints. When Damian keeps asking adults about the significance of "virgin martyrs" and the adults suddenly have something else they need to talk about--that's a running joke that grown-ups will love. Will kids who, like Damian, aren't real clear on what a virgin martyr is get it?
I'm not saying no younger child will enjoy this book. But it definitely has a lot of adult appeal. In fact, this book definitely could be a cross-over book much like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. (Not that The Dog in the Night-time is funny.) For all I know it is.
This book would also be a terrific choice for a
Buy a Friend a Book Week purchase. I think I'm going to buy it for a family member.
Around 1 p.m. I finished a very clever book called Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl. Yup, yup, yup, I'm still on The 48 Hour Book Challenge.
This is a book I would never have chosen on my own, not in a hundred years, because it's about a shape-shifter, which makes me think of Star Trek:TNG, and while I liked that show while it was on, I don't feel any great need to read about anything I saw there. However, someone at one of the listservs recommended it when I was looking for magical realism titles. It is both a hoot (forgive the pun, which you'll get in a few minutes) and a very decent, well-done story.
Owl, our main character, is a fourteen-year-old shapeshifter, whose alternate shape is, you guessed it, an owl. She's also seriously in love with Mr. Lyman, her English teacher. No, wait. That was me. No, Owl is in love with Mr. Lindstrom, her science teacher, whom she refers to as "my love" abd stalks when she's out hunting for food at night. (Like the teenage vampires in Twilight, her diet makes for problems in the school cafeteria.)
Since Owl's family lives outside the loop a la The Munsters or The Addams Family, she is hysterically clueless about teen life. For instance, she's never ridden in any kind of automobile, and when finally forced to board a school bus, she refers to it as "this mobile home of the damned." She's also stunned to find that when her new friend Dawn holds out her pet gerbil to her, she's not offering it as an after school snack.
Very early on a mysterious character in a mental hospital is introduced. I didn't have a lot of hope for that storyline, but Kindl weaves it in very well. And I must say, as much as I enjoyed the fish-out-of-water character with a crush on her teacher, I probably would have grown tired of it before long. This new character really did become an important part of the book and gave the basic premise a more involving storyline.
At 8:15 this morning I finished Night Flying by Rita Murphy, book number five for The 48 Hour Book Challenge.
Night Flying is the story of an about-to-turn-sixteen-year-old girl who is born into a family of women who can fly. Three generations of them live together in one house under the control of their domineering mother and grandmother, who enforces all kinds of rules and traditions about flying.
While Night Flying is a well-written book, it definitely is a women's story. A women's story for teens. There's even a midwife. Being a traitor to my own kind, I don't care much for special-bond-between-women, mystical sisterhood kinds of story. I've never even been able to sit through an episode of Sex and the City. (Absolutely Fabulous is much more my speed.) So Night Flying wasn't a standout for me. Though I know there are readers for whom it would be a big hit.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Okay, at ten of ten this evening, I finished reading Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter, book four for my 48 Hour Book Challenge effort.
Olivia Kidney has just moved into a new apartment building where her father is the superintendent. One day after school she meets a whole series of bizarre tenants, some of them frightening, some of them sad, many of them connected in ways they are unaware of.
There's also another ghost.
This is another good book, a swift, exciting read.
I'm getting a little punchy. I'm going to take a look at a few blogs and read the paper.
I'm also a little worried that I'm going to run out of books tomorrow. I'll have to either make a quick trip to the library or read a few things from my own to read shelf that aren't necessarily part of my theme.
I finished reading I Was A Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block, book three in my portion of The 48 Hour Book Challenge.
I chose a this book because Block's name was tossed around on one of the listservs as an author who writes what could be described as magical realism. Her bio at her website does say "Block's early influences expanded to include the magic-realist fiction of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende."
I also loved the title.
I Was A Teenage Fairy made me think of a really, really, really well-written The A-List. It has that same California, money, Hollywood thing going on. (Plus a really bitchie fairy.) It's a much deeper book, though, and for a large part of the story there is the possibility that the fairy, Mab, is a figment of the main character's imagination. Barbie has a controlling mother, a distant father who abandons her, and she's molested as a child. You don't have to have aced Psych 101 to see what's going on here.
This is a very decent book, but the sophistication of the writing and the grittiness of the situations may make it of more interest for the older teen/young twentysomething crowd.
In fact, it might be a Buy A Friend A Book Week selection for a twenty-something reader who is into California/Hollywood stories and would be surprised by the fantasy element. Or it might be good for girls who are fond of the wealthy-girls-gone-bad series. It has some of those same elements, but it would be taking readers many steps toward an appreciation of better quality writing.
It's a little before 2 p.m., and I just finished reading Before Wings by Beth Goobie, book two in my 48 Hour Book Challenge. It took me twice as long as the first book. It was a little more dense, but just as good.
I've read two good books in one day. I'm living some kind of fantasy here.
I selected books that had been recommended as possible examples of magical realism for children or YAs. I don't know enough about magical realism to make any definitive judgments, but I suspect Before Wings is more of a ghost story than an example of magical realism. Or are ghost stories magical realism?
Before Wings is also very Canadian, which I enjoyed very much. Lots of references to things like Coffee Crisps and Zellers.
Now you'll have to excuse me. I haven't had a shower yet today, and I'm getting hungry again.
It's 9:10 a.m., and I've just finished my first book for The 48 Hour Book Challenge. I'm off to a marvelous start with a marvelous book called Skellig by David Almond.
The book jumps right into the story. Michael has found a...man...in his garage.
His family bought a new fixer-upper while his mother is pregnant. The baby is born and isn't well. So while his parents are consumed with worry over his very young sister, they also have to contend with moving into a new place.
And Michael has to contend with what he's found in the garage.
This is a very well-written book. It includes one of those smart girl characters who are always spouting all they know who usually give me such a pain. But even she is very tolerable. Which just goes to show the power of good writing.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Yeah, I know, I'm taking Friday off to do this. But I don't feel I'm being obsessive (really) because I'm doing all my reading on one theme--magical realism--so I'm sort of spending the day studying or doing research. Plus, my next book is headed to the copy editor, and I had a really good idea for the second one while I was eating a bowl of cereal this morning. So I'm kind of ahead on my work. If you think about it.
I collected my list of books from members of the child_lit and adbooks listservs. I took the list to two different libraries last week. I'm not sure how many books I brought home. I just kept snatching them off the shelves.
Today I read an article entitled What Is Magical Realism, Really?" to give me some context for my reading. (Or, in other words, to give me some idea of what I might be doing for the next two days.)
I believe in setting modest goals, so I'm expecting to read only 3 to 4 books, but hoping to do much better than that.
Now I'm going to go walk on the treadmill to increase my endurance for the ordeal ahead of me.
And I'm going to spend the evening checking the MotherReader blog because she says she's going to post more rules. More rules! Like what? What?
I finished Scott Westerfeld's Specials earlier this week. It's the third book in his Uglies trilogy.
At first I really liked it. I liked the way all three books were written from the same character's point of view, but in each book she is quite different (and yet the same) because of the surgery she has had to make her "pretty" or "special." But Specials has more of the preachy environmentalism that marred the first book. And, remember, I actually like environmentalism. He was preaching to the choir as far as I'm concerned, and I still felt that his message was distracting and intrusive.
The last few chapters of the book cover a major event in a very rushed manner, too. In order to get through it, there's a great deal of telling, though the drama of the situation could have made for a lot of great scenes. Maybe even a fourth book.
Specials has a comic book superhero quality, though, that I actually liked. (Though last two pages went a little too Batmanish for my taste.) And the book holds some surprises. I never suspected the location of the New Smoke, for instance.
Scott Westerfeld was all over the May issue of Locus that I keep talking about. Everyone was mentioning him. Gary K. Wolfe did quite a lengthy analysis of the Uglies Trilogy in his Locus Looks at Books column. In his discussion of Uglies, itself, he talks about other sci-fi titles related to beauty.
We don't pay for traditional television. We can choose to pay for cable channels, but the airwaves are free for the traditional broadcast networks. Advertising foots the bill, and what is product placement but advertising?
Books, however, we pay for. So if companies pay publishers to have their products placed in books, which is advertising, folks, shouldn't we readers get some benefit from that? Shouldn't we benefit from being used as a market? Certainly it doesn't seem right that we should pay so that companies can try to sell us their products.
So I would like to suggest that if a book includes product placement, its cover price should come down.
Yes, I know that product placement and honest-to-God commercials are already in movies and movie theaters, with no dip in the price of tickets. But there should be! If I'm trapped in a theater watching commercials for a couple of minutes before a movie, I shouldn't have to pay nearly ten dollars for the privilege. And if I have to wade through references to this company's lipstick and that company's shoes while I'm reading, I shouldn't have to pay top dollar for the book.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
And bloggers are responding to the response.
I have two thoughts on all this:
1. I don't think books with product placement should be boycotted. It's a free country, we have freedom of speech. I do think, however, that absolutely everyone should know about it. Such works are marketing devices in addition to whatever else they may be. Readers should be aware that they are being marketed to. They should be able to make judgments about such marketing just as they make judgments about commercials they see on TV.
2. There are 305 book reviewers?
Well, CNN.com took a shot at knocking down that wall with A child looks at children's books by Andrew Oglesby (age 6). I think Andrew did very well and had some very illuminating things to say.
However, he may be learning a hard lesson in what happens when you bring your family members into your writing. "If grapes were alive, when they get old they would turn into raisins just like my Grandma and Grandpa and Nana."
I hope Grandma, Grandpa, and Nana are over this by Christmas.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Before there was Georgia Nicholson, before there was Bridget Jones, there was Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. And his adventures, taken together as The Adrian Mole Diaries are available for young and old alike to enjoy.
Adrian is supposed to have been huge in England back in his day, and Helen Fielding has admitted to being influenced. So you could call him the boy who launched the chicklit journal craze. He is, however, significantly deeper than his female followers, though still very funny. I have been a fan since discovering him in a local middle school library.
Quite honestly, I don't know if this book was originally published as YA or if it is being promoted as YA now. It deserves to be better known in this country and could easily be a cross-over book. So go out and buy it for a teenager or adult you know.
Now, I just sit in my cellar office blogging about books.
Thanks to ArtsJournal.com for the link.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for the link.
One of the interesting points The New York Times article makes is: "Many popular young adult novels, of course, already spread references to brands throughout their pages in series like "The Gossip Girl" and "The A-List," although there are no actual product placement deals."
I'll have to take the author's word for it. But, really, in The Gossip Girl and A-List books I read there were so many products named. What was going on there, if there were no deals? I have always been under the impression that using product names instead of description is poor writing because readers unfamiliar with the products will get no description at all. So, again, what's going on here?
That's the second time in less than a month that I haven't been careful enough with my reading. I would never have believed this could happen, but maybe I'm trying to read too much.
My mistaken belief that there were no YA titles at the BAFAB site was the inspiration for my plan to occasionally recommend some. I'm going to continue on that course, which will give me opportunties to mention BAFAB Week several times before the beginning of July when the event actually takes place.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
I'm totally into Buy a Friend a Book Week. I've bought books for each of the first three events. But I do think the BAFAB are being a little...exclusive...by limiting their recommendations each BAFAB shopping period to adult books. I'm not just being a kidlit activist here. YA is huge. Everybody is reading it. To ignore it is to ignore something big that is going on in publishing.
So for the next couple of weeks I am going to take it upon myself to make BAFAB week recommendations. When I think of it. I don't do summer reading lists because there's something about the sight of a summer reading list that makes me want to dig in my heels and watch television. But I can recommend a book to purchase every now and then. If I don't forget.
Unfortunately, the first book I was going to recommend appears to be out-of-print, which seems to make it totally inappropriate for Buy a Friend a Book Week.
I don't think the lack of sex and violence was any big draw for young readers even when they had less sophisticated reading materials to attract them than they do today. What Christie novels had to offer was an orderly universe that had been thrown into chaos by violence; a universe for which order was then restored. Teenagers may like sex and violence, but children like the reassurance of order. And back in the day, Christie novels were reassuring for adolescents who were making the transition from childhood to adulthood. The books were filled with adults who were always made to pay for their transgressions. If we were going to have to join the adult world--and it certainly appeared that we were--it was nice to know that there was a moral order that we could rely upon.
Of course, now even the young know that bad guys sometimes win. If Christie is unfashionable with the young today (and I have no idea whether or not that is true), the lack of belief in a moral order is a more likely reason than the lack of sex and violence.
All this is on my mind because this summer Masterpiece Theatre is running another series of Miss Marple adaptations. Is this an opportunity to get, say, twelve- to fifteen-year-olds interested in this character?
Miss Marple has sometimes been described as an avenger. Geraldine McEwan plays her with a sort of glee, an intensity that makes you believe that this old lady really is someone you'd want helping you out if you were in trouble. The two-part episode that concludes tonight includes a hot, young 40's or 50's era blonde and flashbacks to her childhood, so you do get someone for the young to relate to.
These new productions play fast-and-loose with the Miss Marple mythology. Last season's episodes included the information that as a young woman Miss Marple had been in love with a married man who was lost during World War I, a detail I don't remember from the books. And evidently she has been added to two Christie book adaptations, though she did not appear in the original novels.
But those of us who haven't read the books since we were teenagers aren't going to remember every detail, anyway. (Well, the married-man-thing was hard to miss.) And teenagers who haven't read them yet aren't going to know--at least, not unless they become interested enough to read the books for themselves.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Interestingly enough, many of the authors whose essays were published in the May issue of Locus addressed that topic either directly or indirectly. Some of the things a few of the writers had to say:
Scott Westerfeld:"When you're writing about adults, there are a lot of false conflicts. But I feel like I am forcing the dramatics less when I write about teens, because conflicts can flare up and go away really quickly. That lends itself to adventure and intensity. If you have a bad day when you're 50, it's just another bad day, but have a bad day when you're ten, it's a disaster."
Ursula K. LeGuin: "There was a period about 20 years ago or so, when the editors thought that young-adult books had to tackle very contemporary problems...Now that's all over with; they overdid it, they ran the social relevance into the ground."
Jonathan Stroud: "In general terms, adults are prepared to put up with all kinds of digressions and fallow patches in their reading; a lot of adult fiction (in all genres) is consequently self-absorbed and tedious. Children are much more choosy. If something bores them, they toss it in the bin. This breeds efficiency in the telling: children's fiction tends to be swift and supple, qualities which adults are discovering they quite like, too."
Holly Black: "The teenage years are the point where many people stop reading, so keeping kids reading and keeping them interested in books is a really great thing to be able to do. With middle-grade and slightly younger books, these are people you're making into readers...They call middle grade the golden age of reading because that's when kids have a lot of time to read and they can go through an enormous number of books in an extremely short time. That's when they become readers for life. There's a lot of competition for kids' attention...But there's a lot of pleasure for kids to read books in series because they can read so much. They want the next book, then the next one."
These writers had a lot of interesting things to say even if, like me, you're not a serious sci-fi reader, just a dabbler. I definitely had a better respect for fantasy after finishing this magazine, if only because it keeps kids reading. And Holly Black definitely made me feel more positive about series with what she had to say about how they encourage children to read.
I believe the new issue of Locus is out, but if you're interested in YA or sci-fi/fantasy it would be worth your time to track down a copy of the May issue.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
I need definitions!
To the best of my understanding (Ha!), a platform is something authors bring with them to the publishing table along with their books. It's something that will give their books a marketing edge. Does the author already have a large following for some reason or another? (Celebrity authors, for instance.) Does the author have something about her that will make the media want to cover her? (Brangelina's baby.)
A platform has nothing to do with the merits of the book. You can sell a bad book with a good platform. You can't necessarily sell a good book with a bad platform.
I'm not sure, but I think being really good looking is a platform. A good one.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
By the way, I've done a lot of talking lately about wanting an alter ego. So I want to go on record as saying that I am not "Anonymous." Either one of them.
Over the last couple of years when problem novels have been discussed at listservs, I’ve often read about concerns regarding bibliotherapy. Were problem novels being used as bibliotherapy? Should they be “used” so? Therefore, I was interested in reading Maeve Visser Knoth's Horn Book article What Ails Bibliotherapy? Knoth, who is a librarian and not a therapist, is uncomfortable with adults who try to fit a problem book with a child’s problem. She suggests that books dealing with life problems be read before the children have them. “Rather than address what is happening in the present, I am inclined to prepare children for emotional experiences before they occur. I would rather inoculate children than treat the symptoms of the emotional trauma.”
Later Knoth says, “My main objection to bibliotherapy as practiced by many parents and teachers is that books, for all the good they do, can be limiting and can be too close to a situation....What if, after thirty-two pages, the reader does not feel better? What if he feels worse?"
What indeed. I, an adult, often don't get what I think I'm supposed to from books. I've become pretty hardened to that situation, though. Jaded, in fact.
Perhaps having untrained people trying to use books therapeutically on others is like having your relatives try to fix you up with someone. "This book is just the thing for you! I know you'll love it. You have so much in common with the main character. She's just like you."
Haven't we all heard that one before?
My quick search of the Web suggests that bibliotherapy is used with children, not adults. Man, just think what it would be like to go to a therapist who treated adults with bibliotherapy. I'd be making up problems so I could go.
Sarah Ellis had a really clever essay at the end of The Horn Book called Title to Come. As you may have guessed, it's about not being able to think of a title for a manuscript. As you may have also guessed, it struck very close to home. There's no title in sight for my next book.
"...all the good titles have been taken," Ellis says. So true. So very true.
As I’ve said before, I so need an alter ego. Especially one who is a bestselling author.
(“50m” does stand for 50 million, doesn’t it? This article is from an English publication, and I just feel you can’t be sure.)
And thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for this link.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I will admit to loving Nancy Drew when I was a kid. By the time I was in college, though,I was referring to her as Nancy Drew, Defective. Now my seven-year-old niece is reading Nancy Drew for kiddies.
I think that's the circle of life or something.
Anyway, now my interest in Nancy Drew relates to her being created by a writing syndicate, much the way The A-List, The Clique, and The Gossip Girl series were all created by Alloy Entertainment. In fact, The Gossip Girl is now even being written the way the Nancy Drew books were--Cecily von Ziegesar is supervising the writing of future books instead of writing them herself.
I think someone should do some kind of scholarly comparision of the Nancy Drew series and the wealthy-girl-gone-bad book: How do they represent their eras? What do they say about the cultures that produced them? All that kind of stuff.
I also think that someone should not be me.
In the meantime, we have bookshelves of doom.
I am not a fan of stories about eccentric southern families. In the great northwoods that I hail from, familial eccentricity usually involves serious personal debt, vulgarity, willingness--no, desire--to voice ignorant opinions, and a little substance abuse of one sort or another. Twee tales of flighty aunts and cornpone, but wise, elders really grate on me.
But The Vacation by Polly Horvath is a southern eccentric story I was able to tolerate very well.
A lot of southern eccentric kids' books are sort of loosie goosie about the time setting. It's as if the authors, themselves, can't believe this kind of stuff can be going on in the here-and-now, so they try to create a Never-Never Land somewhere between the late forties and 1968. Horvath, however, plants her story squarely in today. Her characters use cell phones and computers, and the aunts are businesswomen.
The aunts also have little in the way of wisdom to impart to their nephew, Henry, The Vacation's narrator. They keep him alive and fed and, for the most part, sheltered, but that's about it. There's not a whole lot of love lost between the maiden aunts and their sister's child.
And then there is Henry, himself, who is very much like a twelve-year-old Garrison Keillor. Not everyone likes Garrison Keillor. I, however, do.
The Vacation is a very enjoyable read, at least for an adult. But I think that, like Criss Cross, in order to really enjoy The Vacation, you have to come on a little Zenny. You have to just enjoy what you're reading as you're reading it and forget about what it has to do with a storyline. You have to get into the moment. In fact, Horvath almost tells us as much in her last couple of pages.
Some of Henry's vacation adventures with his aunts don't seem to have the substance Horvath seems to think they do. The section on visiting the family who all retire to their separate rooms and don't interact with one another wasn't all that shocking or unusual. Look around. People are doing that all the time now. On the other hand, the section where they run over the cat and eat dinner with its owners who then tell them a story about how their horse was murdered...well, that alone was almost worth reading the entire book.
Monday, June 05, 2006
This book has an illustrator, Joe Cepeda, who sounds far more accomplished than I am. Among other things--many other things--he illustrated Nappy Hair, which some of you may remember. I am feeling somewhat intimidated.
I just looked up Santiago Cohen, who did the illustrations for my first and third books. He has a beautiful website that I don't recall from back in the day. And look! He remembers me! Bless his heart.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
I thought this sounded marvelous. But, then, I started wondering if free DVDs will become junk mail for a lot of people, and they won't look at them any more than they look at post cards or any other kind of marketing material.
No, I'm just being negative.
I have been broken.
Last summer I began reading How to Read a Book, The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. I've read 238 of its 346 pages (not counting the reading list and exercises and tests at the end). I've decided to throw in the towel because life is just too short.
Clearly, intelligent reading is beyond me.
One of the things the authors suggest readers do is write in their books. I'm totally with them there. In the front of my copy of How to Read a Book I wrote out the fifteen (that's 15) steps to reading a book. In addition, I wrote out the four questions to ask about a book, the four ways to look at words, and the four ways to look at facts. (My notes also say these are also the four aspects of encyclopdias.) The last 100 pages must have had more lists, but since I can't remember the ones I wrote down it seems unlikely that I would have gained anything from reading and writing down the rest of them.
I found How to Read a Book repetitive. It also used long analogies that increased the verbiage.
Quite honestly, I only remember those points because I wrote them down along with all my lists.
How to Read a Book was originally written in 1940 and the last copyright date is 1972. It's very dated, and not just because the authors keep referring to readers as "men."
My own faithful readers (the ones who are still with me since yesterday) will recall that I just wrote about the large number of books being published today. Far, far, more books are being published now then when How to Read a Book was being written or even when it was being revised. While many of the individual steps Adler and Van Doren suggest are worthwhile, it just isn't practical for readers to keep a couple of dozen tasks in mind while trying to keep up with today's load of reading.
At one point, Adler and Van Doren suggest which steps to keep in mind while reading a book for the first time. Other steps are saved for subsequent readings.
Okay, sure, researchers planning to write a scholarly work better read their texts more than once. But the rest of us? Let's face facts. It's just not going to happen.
It's very possible that I could use some advice on how to read a book. I couldn't get through this one, after all. But I need that advice to be readable and practical and relevant to the situation I find myself in--"so many books and so little time." That appears to be a much different situation from the one that existed when Adler and Van Doren were writing their book.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
I can remember a time when the number of books being published annually was usually considered to be around 40,000. For the last few years I've been hearing estimates of anywhere from 140,000 to 175,000.
That's a lot of authors who have attained the success of becoming published. That's a lot of authors with books to sell. A lot of authors trying to get press for their books.
Last month I had a new book come out, and for the first time I became seriously involved in trying to promote it. It was a frustrating and not terribly productive experience, not because my book is bad (can't be that) and not because the world is full of awful people who don't recognize a good book when they see one. No, it was a frustrating and not terribly productive experience because there are just too many of us out there scrambling for the same limited amount of press.
My publisher takes care of marketing to a great extent. I was merely working on local media. I sent out press packages with arcs to seven newspapers in two states, and three magazines. I also contacted two radio stations. I contacted seven bookstores in two states. (That's not a lot, I know. I wasn't exactly killing myself over that one.)
I received coverage in one very local newspaper. Really. It only goes to households in two towns, one of them mine. The most obscure magazine of the three reviewed Happy Kid! favorably. I did one bookstore appearance and have one to go.
I didn't even contact the local paper that did an article on me. I contacted another paper in its chain, a paper that goes out to many more towns. Its publisher bumped me down to the local publication because, I was told, the publisher said that if he printed something on every writer who contacts him, he'd be publishing a book review.
One of the reasons I got so involved with promoting this book is that I thought I had a hook. Happy Kid! includes a martial arts story line and I'm a martial arts student...of a certain age, let's say. Hey, as God is my witness, I thought that was human interest. I knew the next book--and I am on to the next book--doesn't have a hook, at least not one that I can think of, so I thought I should shoot the works on this one.
I had some very good things happen relating to the promotion for Happy Kid!. They were just things that weren't part of the marketing plan I created a couple of years ago, and, to some extent, didn't have a lot to do with me.
For instance, Barnes & Noble placed a decent pre-publication order because its people liked the cover. I didn't have anything to do with the cover. I happened to have an essay published in VerbSap, which also then published an interview with me. Edge of the Forest also interviewed me. Both Book Moot and Big A little a did reviews.
Almost all my best promotion came over the Internet. That's where I'm focusing in the future. Instead of spending time writing press releases that have to be tweaked for various hardcopy media, I'm spending my time writing and submitting to journals. Any arcs I receive from my publisher will be distributed to interested litbloggers.
Think about it--for the most part I was focusing on media in my state. Even if I'd had a good result, I'd only have reached people in my geographic area. But litblogs are read by people all across the country. And while the space for book reviews in traditional media is supposed to be decreasing, new litblogs are springing up all the time.
So, that's how book promotion for Happy Kid! went. I certainly haven't abandoned the book, but it's time to be writing, not marketing.
You can all breath a sigh of relief. I'm through whining!
Friday, June 02, 2006
My post was about classifying books--should particular titles be classified as adult or YA and who gets to decide? I quoted Harper Lee, herself, as saying of her book, To Kill A Mockingbird, "It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they’re reading a child’s book."
Well, Harper Lee never said that. Flannery O'Connor did. Mallon attributed the quote correctly in his article. I just totally blew it.
I've always been afraid to write historical nonfiction because I've always been sure I would make exactly this kind of error. Wait. No. I was worried about not attributing other researchers' material correctly. Which is then usually referred to as plagiarism. So now I have an entirely different kind of mistake to worry about.
Many thanks to Charles J. Shields for bringing the misquote to my attention in a very gracious e-mail.
I'll be making a note in the original post pointing out the error.
I became interested in The Mote in Andrea's Eye for two reasons. One, it was begun as part of a National Novel Writing Month project, raising the possibility that I should try writing a book again this November. Two, the book's publisher (Gale/Five Star) chose it for its Clean Reads program, raising the possibility that it is appropriate for all ages.
In recent years a number of books have been cross-over hits between age groups, and the Young Adult Library Services Association names 10 such books each year to its Alex Awards list. The youth market for adult books has become large enough that publishers of adult books are intentionally seeking youth sales.
In a cbc.com article entitled Sharing the Love: How publishers are rebranding adult fiction for young readers Andre Mayer says:
"The fact that teenagers are picking up ostensibly grown-up fiction is hardly novel. I remember spending recesses in Grade 7 thumbing through Sidney Sheldon’s salacious trash with other curious 12-year-olds. And lest I forget my high-school English reading list, which included gems like The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, as well as a whole lot of tedious, self-consciously portentous fiction. The difference nowadays is that publishers and vendors are becoming more proactive with young bookworms." (Italics are mine.)
Mayer goes on to say, "There’s no fail-safe formula for winning over teens, but The Curious Incident, Life of Pi and, to a certain extent, The Girls provide hints as to what it is in adult fiction that engages young readers. All three narratives feature youthful protagonists, are told in the first person and exhibit a healthy scepticism about grown-up behaviour."
Gale/Thorndike's description of its "Clean Reads," on the other hand, goes like this: "A mix of appealing, wholesome general fiction, mystery and romance titles. These are stories without graphic violence, explicit sexuality or strong profanity. These are entertaining stories, full of encouragement, warmth and humor that you’d be comfortable giving to your grandmother!"
I'm not seeing much overlap between those last two paragraphs. Yet the cover the publisher slapped on Andrea's Eye definitely looks as if it's going for a younger crowd.
The Mote in Andrea's Eye is short on youthful protagonists--the child in the first portion of the book grows up rather rapidly and does, indeed, end up old enough to be someone's grandmother. It's also long on technical detail. I don't think that necessarily kills it as a book for younger people. Andrea's Eye is a thriller about trying to control hurricanes. I can remember teenagers and even grade school kids reading Michael Crichton's thrillers, which can be a little on the techie side, too. Nor is Crichton noted for his first-person, young-adult narrators.
So, as Mayer said, "There’s no fail-safe formula for winning over teens..." I do think, though, that publishers that really want to do it, should do some research. A clean book you'd feel comfortable giving to your grandmother is not necessarily a book a teenager is going to want to read.
This particular clean book went over well with my computer guy, though. He liked the monster hurricane, character lost in time, and guys huddled around monitors.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Then I thought, I, too, could have a guest columnist. I could just make one up. That way, the guest columnist would only say things I wanted her to say. (It must be very annoying when they don't.)
I haven't given this a great deal of thought, but what little thinking I have done about it involves creating a really distinctive character. Though, of course, I do not know distinctive how. I am leaning toward a male character. Or perhaps a French woman. Someone who has some favorite kind of book. Or maybe someone who hates a particular kind of book.
The possibilities are limitless.
I am mentioning all this so that if I do do it, no one can accuse me of crimes of a James Frey nature because I've told you I'm going to do it.
Well, I might do it.
Then I realized that Esme Raji Codell has other sites, Planet Esme and The PlanetEsme Reading Room. And that's why her PlanetEsme name sounded familiar to me.
This woman is ambitious.
The whole welcoming thing reminded me that I've been meaning to mention a blog that isn't new. Somehow I stumbled upon Propernoun.net, the book journal of a young librarian who does a lot of YA reading. She's also been around for three years. She's old compared to the many kidlitblogs that were born this past year.