Monday, July 31, 2006

Grammar and Usage and Stuff Part II: My Subjunctive Story

Here is my total knowledge of the subjunctive, such as it is:

Verbs are moody. They have three moods. One mood is the indicative, which is a statement or a question. One mood is the imperative, which is a command or an order. And one mood is the subjunctive, which is...ah...not used much any more, thank goodness.

You use the subjunctive when you want to set up a situation that doesn't actually exist but could if things were different. I'm aware of it most often with the verb "to be." Normally, the first-person past tense of the verb "to be" is I was. But with the subjunctive, the first-person past tense of the verb "to be" is I were. Thus, you would say "If I were taller, I would look thinner" and not "If I was taller, I would look thinner."

If I have this all wrong, feel free to comment.

Now, I almost got through life without knowing the first thing about the subjunctive. (And even now I probably know only the first thing about it.) However, when I was in college my boyfriend invited me to his home to meet his family. Before the big day, said boyfriend became all apologetic and said something like, "I've got to warn you about my father."

I'm thinking, What? Does the guy walk around in his boxers? Chew tobacco and spit? What?

No. "My father knows you're an English major, and he's sure to ask you about the subjunctive. He's got a thing about the subjunctive."

Now, keep in mind that my boyfriend didn't actually know what the subjunctive was, himself. In fact, he was an engineering student and his father was an engineering professor. Why did any of them ever talk about the subjunctive at all?

So I had to hit the books in order to meet my boyfriend's father.

Even so, I did not have a good grip on the subject. And, sure enough, it did come up. I don't recall how, but my boyfriend's father did start talking about it, and he ended the subjunctive conversation with, "It is my favorite mood."

These kinds of things used to happen to me quite often. People would say things to me like, "Hey, you were an English major, right? So what's the difference between a clause and a phrase?"

You know how anyone with any kind of medical training at all will have people ask her to look at their moles? Well, I used to get the same thing, only about grammar and usage.

I probably would do better looking at moles.

Not everyone suffers from grammar and usage anxiety the way I do. We will cover that in Grammar and Usage, Part III.

Neighborhood News

I have been vaguely aware that J. K. Rowling is going to be reading somewhere with two other authors. I wasn't paying much attention until about fifteen minutes ago. I was going for a walk on my street when Kate the nursing student who lives next door to me drove by and stopped to tell me that she is so incredibly excited because she's going to New York City tomorrow! To Radio City Music Hall! To hear J. K. Rowling read!

This nineteen-year-old young woman was delighted at the prospect of listening to an author read from her work. Kate had been trying to get affordable tickets and had given up. Then a friend, who was supposed to go with his mother, ended up having an extra ticket because mom had very poorly-timed back surgery.

So Kate's making a trip into the city. To hear an author.

Now, I'm not the world's biggest Harry Potter fan. But I have to say that it did my jaded old heart a world of good to see Harry and Rowling bringing so much excitement and happiness to someone.

Rowling is going to be reading with Stephen King and John Irving. As I was finishing my walk, I was thinking that it was a great idea to bring these three very different authors together. Each author will bring her or his fans to the event, and those fans will then be exposed to the other authors' work.

As if Rowling, Irving, and King need more exposure. But, still, it's a good idea.

By the way, Katie O. in My Life Among the Aliens and Club Earth was named for the Kate who lives next door to me and is going to Radio City Music Hall tomorrow.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Grammar and Usage and Stuff Part I

I've been reading Word Court by Barbara Wallraff. I found the book on my To Be Read shelf, where it has lived, neglected and unread, for years.

Word Court's cover has a "design element" that includes the line "Wherein verbal virtue is rewarded, crimes against the language are punished, and poetic justice is done." So I thought it would be a light, easy way to learn something about grammar and/or usage, which is the only way I'm ever going to learn anything about grammar and/or usage.

Every now and then I buy and try to read books of this type. I have The Transitive Vampire, A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed and The Well-tempered Sentence, A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed both by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. Neither of them did me much good. I have marked them up nicely, but I can't remember why.

I am definitely not one of those word and grammar people who worries about the state of the language and gleefully pounces on errors in newspaper headlines. An error in a newspaper headline has to be really bad before I'll even notice it.

I'm interested in grammar and usage because

1. I believe writing is all about communication. I think an understanding of grammar and language means we can all communicate better, whether we initiate a communication by writing it or we receive a communication by reading it.

2. I don't want to look as if I don't know what I'm doing. I don't want to look like a fool. I don't mean that anyone who makes grammatical errors looks like a fool. But I'm a writer. If I make obvious errors, I'm afraid editors, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, readers, and students in AP English won't take me seriously.

I have it on good authority that the copy editors at Putnam get together and talk about the way I use commas. I've also heard there's been some talk around the water cooler about whether I the use of the subjunctive.

I do, as a matter of fact. I don't use it a lot because I don't think any self-respecting child would use it.

This leads to my subjunctive story. I recalled the subjunctive story recently because I'm reading Word Court, as I mentioned earlier. Because of Word Court, I am dwelling on all kinds of things grammatical and...wordie. I'm talking about such things at the dinner table.

I'm going to be writing about such things here.

You can look forward to reading my subjunctive story in Grammar and Usage and Stuff Part II.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

This Is Sad

Paul Acampora discovered that the author of the Wall Street Journal essay that shook the Internet is an intern.

Good journalism on Paul's part. The intern...well, here's hoping he lives and learns.

As far as I'm concerned, he didn't do anything wrong by writing an essay that so many people, myself included, disagree with. No, what he did wrong, in my humble opinion, was select a cliched angle for his essay. Trashing kidlit has been done to death. He didn't have anything new to say on the subject.

What if he was told he had to write an essay disparaging summer reading lists? He should have come up with a new angle. He could have suggested, for instance, that summer reading lists shouldn't exist at all. That would have been different. Or he could have written about schools that require students to read a certain number of books each summer off a list and what students have to do to prove they've read them. I have young family members whose first English assignment of the school year related to their summer reading. This meant, of course, that they read a book off the list the weekend before school started.

It's sad to think of this poor young intern just rehashing what older writers have already written. Shouldn't his summer writing experience amounted to something more?

NOTE: This post was revised. I'm not at all certain if a blogger should revise a post, but I was unhappy with one of the paragraphs. And once I start revising, I find it hard to limit myself to one paragraph.

A Favorite Gaiman Children's Book

My feelings about Neal Gaiman's books are all over the place. I'm a big fan of American Gods and Good Omens (written with Terry Pratchett). I thought Anansi Boys was clever and amusing enough. I thought Stardust was kind of run-of-the-mill. I didn't get The Sandman Nocturnes and Preludes, though I'd be willing to try it again. I didn't care for his children's books, Coraline and Wolves in the Walls.

But last night I read The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. I loved it. The narrator of this picture book swaps his dad, who is intently reading the newspaper, for two goldfish. His mother insists he get his dad back, and he and his sister then have to follow their dad's trail--because he's been traded over and over again.

What's so terrific about this story is the total acceptance of this improbable premise.

My copy of the book--new to my library--appears to be a 2001 re-release. The book was originally published in 1997, before Coraline and Wolves. My copy included a CD at the back on which Gaiman reads the story. So serious Gaiman fans can hear his voice.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

This Is Why I Don't Have Anything To Do With Summer Reading Lists

The kidlit blogosphere is absolutely burning up today over what appears to be an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. Literary Losers is another rant--though a blessedly short one--on the sorry state of children's literature. This one focuses on summer reading lists, which are called uninspiring and said to be filled with formula fiction.

First, off, I'd just like to say that I believe attacking children's and YA literature has become a cheap and easy way for publications and/or freelance writers to create a little controversy. Personally, I'm getting bored with it.

In the second place, I can't stand people telling me what I should be reading, and I can't see why children should feel any differently.

In the third place, come on, are The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows, two so-called classics The Wall Street Journal would like to see on summer reading lists, seriously important works that children will find all that inspiring? They sure didn't do anything for me.

There may well be a lot of fluffy light-weight titles on summer reading lists. (I can't say for sure, because I try to avoid them.) However, hasn't The Wall Street Journal also gone the tired and worn-out route with its suggestions?

As other bloggers have noted, there's not much going on in the kidlit world right now. Believe me, if there were, I wouldn't be bothering with this.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Happy Gail!

I learned yesterday that Happy Kid! received a good review in the July issue of School Library Journal. It's already up at Amazon.

I also found out a couple of days ago that my alumni magazine gave Happy Kid! a nice paragraph in its sidebar to its book column. This was particularly gratifying because I'd sent the editor a press packet back before Christmas as part of my big marketing plan. When nothing appeared in the spring issue, I thought I wasn't going to get any coverage.

And, finally, I'm happy, happy, happy because I'm just a few pages away from finishing the first draft of the second Brandon and Hannah book. I'm hoping to have it in the mail on Monday. And then it's fun time for August! I'm going to:

work on short-term projects like essays and short stories

update my website

catch up on A Novel In A Year

clean my desk

read a lot more at the Storyglossia weblog

paint my bedroom

maybe buy a new car

I am so excited.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Maurice Gee

Someone at child_lit let the rest of us know that Maurice Gee has won a major award in his native country, New Zealand.

I am a big fan of one of Gee's earlier books, The Fat Man. It's a Depression-era story that came out a few years before Out of the Dust, which I didn't care for nearly as much.

Evidently The Fat Man was controversial at the time of its publication. The controversy seemed to focus on whether the book should be classified as children's or YA. (One of my favorite questions, right!?) It was classified in the Junior Fiction category for judging purposes for the New Zealand children's book awards and won in that category as well as their Supreme catgory even though one critic said "that at a stroke the judges had deprived children of their innocence; the book 'neatly equated' evil with physical imperfection; moreover, it would disturb or even damage nine to 12-year-olds."

Well, I loved the book. The child main character was a little flawed, the bad guy had some legitimate complaints, the book made readers feel the desperation that I assume people felt during that period, and the ending...Well, let's just say the ending was thought provoking.

At Amazon you'll find some unflattering reader reviews for The Fat Man from what appear to be child readers. In an attempt at fair play, I feel I have to acknowledge them. There are only a few of them--there are only a few reader reviews, period. Do they mean anything? As usual, I just don't know.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I Am Overwhelmed--Yeah, Again

Kelly is hosting what I think is the largest Carnival of Children's Literature yet over at Big A little a. I found an enormous list of new-to-me blogs there. I couldn't get through them all this evening, and just trying meant I had to pass on reading my usual evening blogs.

It is a huge carnival.

"A Gloriously Fearless Heroine"

Last week, I was looking for a kids' quest story. What I found was The Illyrian Adventure by Lloyd Alexander. I've certainly heard of Alexander, but I'd never read anything by him.

Well, now I have.

On the backflap to the 1986 hardcover of this book, Alexander says, "The Illyrian Adventure was intended as an entertainment, with a gloriously fearless heroine, legendary heroes, inscrutable mysteries, and fiendish villains." I don't know how inscrutable the mystery was and the villain was a garden-variety fiend. But the heroine, Vesper Holly, was gloriously fearless.

The Illyrian Adventure reminded me of the historical novels I enjoyed when I was a teenager--a strong, outside-the-box heroine in a historical setting. The book is actually narrated by the orphaned Vesper's guardian, a somewhat inept, Watson-type figure who is constantly referring to her as "dear girl."

I've known of mothers looking for books with strong girl characters for their young daughters. The Illyrian Adventure would be a good suggestion. It's the first in a series of Vesper Holly books that girls in, say, fourth through seventh grade could really enjoy.

One objection--I read a book from the 1980s with a cover fitting with the historical period (1872) in which the story takes place. The new covers on the current paperbacks look as if Vesper is a cross between a camp counselor and Indiana Jones (who I've never cared for, by the way). I'm not certain, but I don't think her hair is even the right color, forget about being a style that would fit her time period.

The Vesper on the cover definitely clashes with the Vesper in the book.

Friday, July 21, 2006

My Turn To Moralize

TADMACK at Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Weblog brought up the question of whether YA fiction needs to have a happy ending and referred me to Rosemary Graham's blog, Not-So-Terrible After All, where the same question is being discussed.

Evidently this was all inspired by a New York Times Book Review by Polly Shulman that begins "Moralizing may have gone out of fashion in adult fiction a century ago, but it remains a staple of children's literature. The annual awards lists are full of inspiring stories in which a brave and sensitive young person triumphs over modern evils like political oppression, sexism and racism." It ends with "But the tidy resolution, a staple of both the 21st-century serious young adult novel and its Victorian forebears, lacks conviction, as if Glass doesn't quite believe in the redemption her genre requires." (The book being reviewed is The Year the Gypsies Came by Linzi Glass.)

TADMACK and one of Rosemary's commenters talked about having studied writing for YA and learning that such writing should offer at least a little hope. This is where my lack of education in my field reaches up and bites me in the backside. Because when I read Shulman's review, I couldn't apply it to anything I'd learned about providing redemption and hope for the young. All I could do was think, "How condescending."

When I think of "inspiring stories in which a brave and sensitive young person triumphs over modern evils like political oppression, sexism and racism," I don't think YA. I think Oprah! YA doesn't require redemption. Women's victim stories do.

Yes, the annual awards lists may be full of these kinds of titles. But, personally, I think it's because the adults who select the titles like to read them. It doesn't have anything to do with the requirements of the genre itself.

But maybe if I knew more about what I'm doing, I wouldn't find reading these kinds of things so annoying. A little more education could provide a calming influence.

I Can Never Find What I'm Looking For

I was fumbling around on-line today looking for information on quest/journey stories. I think the person leaving on the quest/journey brings three items with her, which she uses as gifts for three people who then do something for her. But there may be also be something about three good deeds. Or three bears. Or three little pigs. Or some such thing.

I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find Myths Writing Workshop With Jane Yolen, which is part of Writing with Writers at the Scholastic website.

These workshops are meant for children. But, I will admit, that over the years I've been known to dip into kids' how-to's, particularly on things like art history and French.

Yes, I know. This explains a great deal.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Could I Have Had Anything To Do With This?

Book sales went went up in May. Possibly because I had a book released that month?

It seems unlikely since I've only seen it in two bookstores myself.

A better theory would be that all the people who didn't see Mission Impossible III were home reading.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

More Than Honorable

I've been hearing about Honor Harrington by David Weber for years. A young relative and some of the YAs at Readerville are fans. The Honor Harrington series is supposed to be a "cult hit" ( Her first adventure, On Basilisk Station, has been on my To Read Shelf for years. This summer I'm actually hitting the shelf, and I finally picked up the book and read it.

School Library Journal reviewed On Basilisk Station for YA, though Honor is both 24 and 40 years old, depending on whether you're using the calendar of her own planet or ours. I think that's brilliant, by the way. It makes Honor a character two generations can relate to.

On Basilisk Station is set well in the future, hundreds of years after humans have moved out into space. The system of planets Honor is from maintains an aristocracy, which I found odd at first, but it made a great deal of sense once the situation was explained. The Honorverse of the book is extremely well-thought out. Star Trek usually comes to mind any time I'm reading a book set on a space ship. Not so here.

I've seen the books described as Horatio Hornblower in space. Since I haven't read Horatio Hornblower, I can't say. But I think the point is that these are seafaring war stories moved into the future.

As genre fiction goes, I think Honor Harrington is pretty good. There's none of the Stop the story! I've got to describe something! factor that you find in a lot of lesser efforts. Traditional female cliches are avoided. Early on Honor has a run-in with the aristocratic captain of another ship who she clearly has a history with. I thought, Oh, no. They're going to be old lovers and play catch me, catch me through the rest of the book. Not at all. A pleasant surprise.

Another pleasant surprise was the status of women in this story. There was none of the trials of a woman in a man's world because this isn't a man's world. Women are hardened marines and engineers with absolutely no one remarking on it. And when battle time comes, women die as regularly as men.

I have to say that I found the setting and situation more interesting than I did Honor, herself, though I suspect that could change in future books. And I also felt there was an awful lot of talking going on. But the battle scenes were great. I hate myself for having to say this, but I liked them the best, especially the ones on the alien planet.

So while I can't say that I was so enthralled by this book that I'll continue reading the series, I'm glad to have read it.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Another Weird Obsession

I often find myself obsessed with books and/or authors I know little about or don't even particularly care about. For instance, when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came out, I read everything I could find in the press about C. S. Lewis even though I totally didn't see what was the big deal about his book.

Well, now I'm on Tintin. And this time around I know even less about the subject of my obsession than I did with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I've never read the books, folks. I wanted to watch the PBS program on Tintin's author, Herge, but haven't managed to find it.

Now I just tried to read ILLICIT FREQUENCIES, OR ALL LITERATURE IS PIRATED: AN INTERVIEW WITH TOM McCARTHY, the author of Tintin and the Secret of Literature. I couldn't even manage that.

Sure, I was interested to read Tom McCarthy say, "I genuinely rate Herge's work, and wanted to read it alongside Balzac, Baudelaire, Bergson, Bachelard and all the rest..." because I haven't read Balzac, Baudelaire, Bergson, Bachelard and probably all the rest. But if Tintin is on the same level, maybe I can just read that and be done with it. But when I got to this sentence: "After all, your Tintin is primarily a semiologist who "can navigate [a key word in the McCarthy canon] the world of signs" (Tintin and the Secret of Literature p. 22), a deciphering cipher who embodies (along with Snowy?) the presence of absence -- the Melvillian "whiteness of the whale" (p. 161) -- but also, of course, Barthes' "ecriture blanche"," which came pretty early on, I thought, Gee, isn't there something I could be watching on television?

Blog of a Bookslut led me to that 3:AM interview.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Speaking Of Reading And Age

I was in the car with a young relative for several hours this past week. We were talking about YA fiction and what ages that classification includes. I told him that some people suggest that YA should extend into the early twenties because eighteen- to twenty-something is a niche group that isn't being marketed to. I know. I should have said, "whose needs aren't being addressed" so as not to turn this young man into some kind of cynic.

Whoops! Too late. He's already there. His response was, "Well, the eighty-eight to death age group isn't being marketed to, either. How about publishing books for them?"

I thought he made an interesting point.

I Still Don't Get This

I have brought my LibraryThing collection up to date. Remember, I am only listing the books I've read this year, not the books I own. Listing the books I own seems like a thankless task.

I'm going to continue with this for this calendar year. I guess it's a quick way to see what I've read in the event that I want to refer to something. But, really, I'm not seeing any other advantage to doing this.

I do realize now, though, that I'm reading way too many kids' books. I need to spend more time reading my own age. So I got the new Fay Weldon novel from the library yesterday.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Your July/August Horn Book Review

The most recent The Horn Book carried the Newbery and Caldecott Medal acceptance speeches. Now, I have read the text of speeches and enjoyed them. But I thought I'd skip award acceptance speeches. They just seem like long, awkward ways to say thank you.

Then I noticed that the Newbery speech was by Lynne Rae Perkins. Lynne Rae Perkins, I thought. Shouldn't I know that name?

Of course, I should have. She wrote Criss Cross, which I totally loved. So, of course, I had to read her speech. My favorite lines:

"But writers write because they want to connect." Yes!

"It takes two people to make a book--a writer and a reader--" Yes, yes again!

Virgina Duncan, Perkins' editor, contributed an article about Perkins that made her sound exactly like the counter-culture-type I fantasized about becoming when I was young and didn't realize how great middle class life could be.

What was reviewed this issue?

Clay by David Almond, who also wrote Skellig

Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins, who wrote all the other Gregor books

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos

Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast by Meghan McCarthy Seriously, when I was a kid I read anything I found about that radio broadcast. (This book was already reviewed at Bartography and A Fuse #8 Production, by the way.)

Friday, July 14, 2006

This Could Explain A Lot

I'm looking forward to finishing the first draft of the second book in the A Girl, a Boy, and a _________ for any number of reasons. Among them, I'd really like to clean my desk, which has become a source of embarrassment even to me.

Last night I was looking for something related to my cell phone plan when I found a hard copy of Writing for Children by Diana Wynne Jones. I have absolutely no recollection of downloading this or even of having found it on the Internet in the first place. I cannot imagine how it happened.

Well, I read it today, and it was filled with fascinating things.

First off, recall that earlier in the month, I raised a question regarding whether or not Anansi Boys should be considered young adult. I didn't see why it would be included in a list of Best Books for Young Adults. I didn't see much of anything in the book that would attract young readers.

Okay, Diana Wynne Jones has this to say on the subject of characters in children's books:

"It follows that they usually have to be fairly strong, dynamic characters, and some of them have to be people that children will follow willingly into the action. For this reason, it was thought at one time that the main characters always had to be children. This turns out not to be long as someone in the story is likeable, understandable or a loveable rogue and so on."

I think the most important part of that last sentence is "loveable rogue and so on."

Rogues don't fit very comfortably into the adult world. Kids and YA's don't fit very comfortably into the adult world. That kind of adult character may very well be attractive to young readers. They may be able to identify. They may also feel that these roguish "and so on" characters make adulthood a little more palatable.

Remember, Diana Wynne Jones is the woman who created Howl in Howl's Moving Castle, who certainly falls into the category of "loveable rogue and so on." And Spider, in Anansi Boys, does, too.

This provides some of the definition that, as I've mentioned before, I desperately need.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I Should Watch This

I was talking about Tintin here a while back. Tintin is a subject I rarely even think about since I've never read the books.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I was wandering around at the PBS website looking for God knows what and found that a program on Tintin premiered this past week. I had missed it, of course. However, it appears that it's going to be rerun on my local affiliate at four o'clock Sunday afternoon.

Not the most convenient time, perhaps, but it does give me another chance to watch a program on a subject I've never cared about in the past. Yet it keeps coming up.

I know a sign when I see one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Pinocchio Experience

Up until this past week, my knowledge of Pinocchio was limited to a Little Golden Book version of the Disney cartoon, which I received for Christmas when I was in first or second grade. I liked the colors, but beyond that the story never grabbed me.

Well, last week I read Pinocchio, The Adventures of a Little Wooden Boy by Carlo Collodi. I read a twenty-five-year-old paperback that used a translation and illustrations (by Richard Floethe) from a 1946 edition.

I read the book because I wanted some material on Pinocchio for the second A Girl, a Boy, and a.... book, which I'm presently working on. If I need a sentence of material, I spend hours on-line researching. I wanted to do a chapter related to Pinocchio so, of course, I felt it was necessary to read an entire book.

Fortunately, Pinocchio is an extremely interesting read. Some people, I'm sure, would find it very moral, maybe even preachy. Boys who won't go to school and choose to do whatever they want turn into donkeys. And that is bad, very bad. Lazy puppets are chastised. I wondered if there wasn't a biblical thing going on with Pinocchio being a prodigal son who goes his own way, has a great time, and suffers for it until he returns to his father. And just how many cases of a person being swallowed by a whale can you find in western literature? Or any literature at all, for that matter?

What saves the book is Pinocchio. The kid--or puppet--is hopeless. He seems unteachable. He gets into one mess after another. He means to mend his ways, but then another stupid scheme comes his way, and he falls for it. And talk about bending to peer pressure. If there's a bad crowd anywhere in the area, Pinocchio will find and join it.

This guy gets into truly horrific situations. At one point he is strung up in a tree and left for dead. (Being a puppet, he survives but just barely.) After he becomes a donkey, his owner decides to kill him and use his hide to make a drum. How does he plan to do the dirty deed? He ties a rope around donkey Pinocchio's neck and throws him off a cliff into the ocean so he will drown. When he pulls what he thinks will be a dead donkey out of the water, he finds that fish have eaten away the donkey's flesh leaving the puppet boy unscathed.

You don't find adventures like that in just any kids' book.

I'm sure I'm not giving anything away to say that in the end Pinocchio becomes a real boy. But he's rewarded with humanity not because he finally learned to be well-behaved, but because he had a good heart.

I know one mother who would have been happy to read that book with her wild little good-hearted guys.

Yesterday's Post

Yesterday I wrote about What Makes A Children's Book A Children's Book? at PROPERNOUN.NET (also known as Mindy's Book Journal. When I went to publish the post, Blogger was down for maintenance, and the whole thing was lost.

So, go check out Mindy's explanation for the use of child protagonists in adult books.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Voice Is Not Enough

I've heard talk of a "YA voice"--as I may have mentioned here before--and one editor I know believes said YA voice needs to be in the first person. Evidently a lot of people feel that way because so many YA books are first-person stories.

A strong voice can make a big difference in a book. Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci was a well-done but somewhat predictable out-sider novel that was elevated by a terrific voice.

A strong voice, though, cannot carry a book by itself. Finding Lubchenko by Michael Simmons is pretty much all hip, too-cool-to-care voice. The thriller/mystery story line is very thin and not supported to any great extent by most of the material in the book. I had to work through 24 pages or so of Evan, the main character, talking about himself and his complaints about his father before finding anything about what the story was supposed to be about. I think I was a third of the way or more into the book before "Lubchenko" was mentioned. I'd forgotten about him.

I eventually started skimming. I was able to blow through entire chapters that were pretty much just filler. I will admit that perhaps teenagers will enjoy the chapter-long party scenes even though they don't advance the story in any way. And I also understand that many people want a pointless love interest in every book they read.

Still, the climax to this story is singularly unexciting. And Evan is an extremely nondynamic character. He is a liar and a thief at the beginning of the story, and he's a liar and a thief at the end. He is totally untouched by anything that's happened to him.

All he's got going for him is his mouth. For this reader, it just wasn't enough.

Happy Kid! Galleys

I've received a few extra advance readers'copies of Happy Kid! from my publisher. If any reviewers or bloggers would like one for review, contact me either with a comment to this post or at the e-mail at my website.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I Knew It! I Knew It!!!

I knew before I took the What Teen Angst Novel Are You? quiz that I'd end up being The Catcher in the Rye. I am so depressed.

Wait. That's probably why I'm The Catcher in the Rye.

I should have lied.

I am never anybody or anything good when I take these book tests. Why do I bother?

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Year Of The Pick-up Truck

BookPage ran a review of Semiprecious by D. Anne Love that includes a cover that looks a lot like the cover on Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora. Love's website and the Simon & Schuster site show a cover with the image flipped and an additional figure, suggesting the final cover was changed.

This could actually work to both books' benefit. I'd never heard of D. Anne Love before, and now I've noticed her new book because its cover, particularly the version BookPage used, is so similar to that of another book I've already read. And here I am mentioning Defining Dulcie again.

So here's hoping the cover will work for both authors.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Now Look What I've Started

My Anansi Boys post got a discussion going at Read Roger. The discussion is not so much about whether or not Anansi Boys is YA as it is about the function of YA librarians. Be sure to read the comments to Roger's post. One commentor links back to her LiveJournal where she makes the argument that Anansi Boys is, indeed, YA.

Liz. B. continued the discussion at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy. And one of her commentors makes the argument back at his blog that YA fiction is a category that is "primarily the creation of marketers and not readers or many of the books' creators."

I don't have a clear definition of YA, myself, though I'm always looking for one. And I'm always looking for one because I am a writer. I believe writers should always know what they're doing. We should be in control of our material. Yeah, yeah, yeah a piece of fiction changes and evolves while you're working on it. Some things work, some don't, you have to keep throwing things out and starting over. (That's how work has been going for me these last few weeks, by the way.) Writing is chaotic.

But when the dust settles, the writer should have control of her themes and how her storylines and characters express those themes. I can't control what marketers or librarians do with my books. But I really should control what I do with them.

Part of control involves knowing what you're doing. If we're hoping to write YA or children's literature, we really should know what a YA or children's book is. That's why I am always asking questions like "What makes Anansi Boys a YA novel?"

I need definitions people! I have control issues!

BYAFB Week Roundup We are deeply into Buy A Friend A Book Week people. To recap my suggestions for kids' books that would be appropriate for adult readers:

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

I Was A Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block

The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend

So what did I buy? Well, I invested in a copy of Millions to give to a young relative. But then I decided that the book might not be right for him. So I got him a copy of Unshelved.

Millions will go to another relative.

You still have a couple of days to do your part for the publishing industry. Buy books!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Yes, I Did It, Too

I happened to be listening to NPR this afternoon and heard one in a series of segments they're doing on what they call "buttonhole books"--"the ones you urge passionately on friends, colleagues and passersby." They're asking authors to talk about their favorite buttonhole books. Julie Powell talked about Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

I'm not a fan of the whole trilogy, but I thought the first book, known as The Golden Compass in this country, was incredible. Just breathtaking. I've probably said that here before. It was one of the first kids' books I recall crossing over and being popular with adults, too.

And I did go around urging it "passionately on friends." I believe I bought an audio version for a gift for someone who was going to be traveling with kids.

I Don't Really See The Point

I think I've mentioned Library Thing in passing before. I actually signed up recently after visiting the website of one of my commentors and seeing that she was doing it.

I signed up for the thing, but there's no way I'm going to try to catalog my own books. It's not that I have so very many, but if I have any extra time, I'm going to mop the bathroom floors and paint my bedroom. Buy food. Something like that. So what I've been doing is cataloging what I've been reading because I keep track of how many books I read each year. Oh, if only I'd thought of this back in January.

Oh, wait! I've only read something like 55 books since January 1! I could take the time to enter all those. I could do it when I'm avoiding writing. Yeah! And then on New Year's Eve, I'd have a catalog of all the books I've read this year.

Assuming I wanted that.

But I'll keep trying for a while. We'll see what happens.

The Ol' Gail Has Returned

Has anyone else noticed that I've been unnaturally pleasant lately, enjoying the majority of the books I've been reading? Yeah, well, it's over.

I picked A Bundle of Sticks by Pat Mauser McCord up off my To Read Shelf where it has been for at least a year. It was a gift from the guy who runs my taekwondo school, and I meant to read it this spring because it's a kids' book with a martial arts story line, and Happy Kid! is a kids' book with a secondary martial arts story line.

A Bundle of Sticks has an interesting publishing history. It was originally published in the early 1980s, I think by Atheneum, but I could be wrong. At that time it was reviewed in the right places and won three readers' choice awards. It was reprinted in 2004 by Turtle Press, a Connecticut publisher that specializes in martial arts books and DVDs.

Personally, I found the writing style a little...awkward. Not very compelling. However, you could definitely call this a problem book, and as with most problem books, the problem is all-important. The main character is being victimized by a bully. His father pressures him into studying a martial art so that he'll be able to defend himself. To McCord's credit, she tries to make clear that studying a martial art isn't about learning to fight. Ben, the main character, gets something from his studies beyond the ability to whip his tormentor.

Bullies are a big, big issue for kids. I've had lots of students mention them when I've been visiting schools. For many kid readers back in the 1980s, the content of this book was so significant that they didn't care about the writing style. I'm guessing that school culture has only become worse. No doubt there is still an audience for this book.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Spider Men

YALSA has named Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman a Best Book For Young Adults 2006, which mystifies me. Not that the book isn't good. It just doesn't appear to me to be YA. It doesn't appear to me to be published as YA.
They could have named it an Alex Award winner, meaning it was an adult book that appeals to young adult readers. But they didn't. They categorized it right with the YA books.

I think even an Alex Award would have been a bit of a stretch because I don't see a whole lot here to attract YA readers.

Anansis Boys revisits the fantastic idea behind American Gods--the gods of other cultures still exist here in America, though in a somewhat down-to-earth form. They have children who don't necessarily know their own fathers. Anansi Boys is much lighter than American Gods. Almost more run-of-the-mill, though certainly still an entertaining read.

Anansi, who has been hanging out in Florida, dies and his two adult sons meet for the first time. One of them is a godlike being. The other is some kind of an accountant.

There are themes here about identity and understanding your place in a family, which certainly are common in young adult literature. But there are no young adult characters and no compelling reason why the book should be considered more young adult than adult. Sure, anyone can read and enjoy this book. There's no reason in the world why it shouldn't make its way to some high school reading lists. But is it young adult?

I don't see it myself.

What They Really Mean

You all know my feelings about book blurbs. If not, read Blurbs Fail Me. You'll get the idea.

By way of Blog of a Bookslut.

Oh, That Controversial Cobblestone

I learned at the NESCBWI listserv today that Cobblestone, a high-end history magazine for kids, has found itself in just a bit of hot water.

I'm guessing that it's not often that Cobblestone makes the news.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Someone Is Taking This Way Too Seriously

And They All Died Happily Ever After is the New York Times response to J. K. Rowling's tease that she might snuff Harry Potter in the last book.

Killing off characters has become just a little bit predictable for Rowling. Hasn't it been said that when Shakespeare didn't know what to do in some of his plays, he created a blood bath in the final act? You can't deny that that wraps up story lines.

Here's my prediction: If Rowling kills off more people--particularly Harry--in her last book, word will get out within 48 hours of publication day because Potter fans are maniacs (in the very best sense of the word) and that's plenty of time for them to polish off a Potter book no matter how much it weighs. Once the death becomes old news, the serious fans who haven't read the book won't out of outrage. And people like myself won't read it because why bother? We'll know how it ends.

Here's a story line Jo can have on me--how about if Harry has to sacrifice his magical powers in order to save wizardom? And then he has to go back to the muggle world and live like a Dursley into middle age and beyond. Or maybe he can even lose his memory of having been anything but a miserable teenager and then go on to work in an office selling paper products until his brain dissolves and flows out his ears.

Now, that, my friends, is real tragedy.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

My Afternoon Reading

While my bookseller friend and I were hanging out this afternoon, she showed me an incredible picture book called Mama by Jeanette Winter. What's so incredible about it, you ask?

Mama includes only two words of text--mama and baby. Otherwise, the story is told through the pictures. This, I heard once, is what a good picture book is supposed to do. It's not just supposed to illustrate text. Its pictures are supposed to follow their own storyline.

Mama is the true story of a young hippo that was separated from his mother during the 2004 tsunami. He is rescued by humans and eventually bonds with a tortoise that's over 100 years old.

This is a story, a nature story, I guess you'd call it, that a very young reader can "read" by following the illustrations. I can imagine it becoming part of pre-school and kindergarten curricula for years to come.

And I mean that in a good way.

And I'm Done!

I finished my meager marketing push for Happy Kid! today with a two-hour visit at a lovely little bookstore in a small town on the Connecticut River. Beautiful, beautiful.

We sold one book.

Was this a waste of time the way I've felt that so much of my marketing efforts were a waste of time? No. I spent the afternoon chatting with the bookseller and looking over her stock. We discussed, among other things, magical realism and whether or not writers are influenced by their reading.

On top of that, this woman has had my books in her store for a couple of months and has been selling them. I signed all her stock, and she'll be keeping them prominently displayed for a while. Best of all, she has read Saving the Planet & Stuff, is a fan, and has been handselling it.

That was well worth two hours of my time.