Tuesday, October 31, 2006

This Kind Of Freaks Me Out, And It Has Nothing To Do With Halloween

I just read on the New England Society of Children's Book Writers And Illustrators listserv that a new critique group is forming in central Vermont and will meet at Briggs Carriage Bookstore. The news took my breath away.

That bookstore is about 10 minutes from the house where I lived from third grade until after I graduated from college. Of course, at the time I lived there, that bookstore was also a couple of decades away, so to speak. We were in roughly the same place, but in different times.

When I lived in Sudbury, Vermont, growing up wanting to be a writer but believing it was way too farfetched and unrealistic a job quest, I felt as if I was trapped at the end of the world. We were far from New York City, far from everything I read about or saw on television. I had been to Burlington only twice before I went to the Univeristy of Vermont when I was nineteen. We were really isolated.

And now the next town over has a critique group in a really beautiful bookstore? The word cruel comes to mind.

I've got a Twilight Zone feeling about this.

My Halloween Post

First off, Michelle at Scholar's Blog is hosting the Eighth Carnival of Children's Literature: Halloween.

Then Neil Gaiman has a great essay called Ghosts in the Machines in The New York Times. (Thank you, Blog of a Bookslut. I enjoyed that.)

And, of course, since it's Halloween, it's time to start talking about Christmas. (ArtsJournal.com)

Today I saw Superman riding a motorcyle not far from Shaw's in the next town. Why, I wondered, was the Man of Steel wearing a helmet? One of my young relatives came up with the correct answer, I'm sure. He said, "...obviously Superman was wearing a helmet to show the kids the right way to ride a bike. Safety first." Yeah, that's Superman all over. Batman, being an edgier guy, would have been riding bareheaded.

Monday, October 30, 2006

And Yet I Had Trouble Putting It Down

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is another one of those journal books that I'm really close to hating. Seriously, if I ever start to write one of those things, I hope someone takes me out and shoots me.

However, not too far into the book a meteor hits the moon and things get a lot better.

Life As We Knew It is basically the story of a stereotypical girly-girl high school student who is thrown into a nightmare when an asteroid hits the moon and changes its orbit, which causes all kinds of things to happen on Earth. And right away. Hundreds of thousands are killed in tsunamis. Then earthquakes follow and volcanoes erupt. Civilization pretty much falls.

The writing style is a little uneven. The portions that involve the narrator’s high school life seem flat. Sometimes the phrasing is awkward and simplistic.

I'm unsure of the science behind this novel. I'm just not knowledgable enough to know if there is any scientific basis in what happens, and there's not a lot of "science" in the story to suggest that the events are plausible. This may not matter. The narrator probably wouldn’t have known the science behind what was happening to her. Still, perhaps providing a high school science teacher early on who could do some explaining and predicting would have helped make this a little more hardcore scifi.

After having said all that, I have to admit, this book really grabbed me. Pfeffer's strong point is portraying suffering and the response of people to what is happening to them. The screaming in the streets. The hoarding at the grocery store. While I was reading the grocery store scenes, I thought, “Damn. We’re nearly out of toilet paper.” Would we make it until I could go shopping? While I was reading about the father crying in the car as he drove away from his children, I was crying in my car. (Someone else was driving.) I was anxious while reading this book and talked about it incessantly.

By the end of Life As We Knew It, I was even buying into the main character's teenage fantasies, which by then had become sad, tragic things. And she knew it.

The beauty of a book like this is that the events being described have never happened. They may never happen. For all I know, it may be impossible for them to happen. Readers can place themselves in the characters' shoes (there is an attractive older brother for the boys) and wonder how they would have responded, secure in the knowledge that it's unlikely that they'll ever have to find out.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Just How Am I Supposed To Compete With This?

Not Your Mother's Bookclub links to a YouTube version of the closing Frank Portman used at a library presentation. A couple of weeks ago I saw an author dancing at her bookstore appearance via YouTube.

I've always felt that if I put on makeup and clean clothes before I showed up at a bookstore or library I'd done enough. More than enough. Right now I'm feeling that my poor attitude probably explains a lot about how my appearances go.

Damn. Next Sunday I'm supposed to go to an author reception at a conference for school librarians. I'm going to be depressed all week.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

German Literature In Translation--For Kids

First, a little backstory.

A number of years ago, I was at one of those local events where you end up rubbing shoulders with the parents of your children's classmates. I found myself talking with this dad about how his son wasn't into reading. He said that young Jordan liked very traditional boy things--Scouts, camping, Indians, were his examples. He also said they had trouble finding books about those sorts of things.

At around this same time, we had a grade schooler living on this street who was seriously into hamsters. He did science papers about hamsters. He took his hamster to the science fair. I believe I might have had to feed the thing a few times while he and his family were on vacation.

Now we come to the point of my post. I just finished reading something called I, Freddy by Dietlof Reiche. Or Dietlof Reiche, if you'd like to read something about him in English. Freddy is a hamster. He's the narrator of his story. He's quite the sophisticated little beast.

I, Freddy is not a learn-to-read kiddy book. Scholastic pegs it as being on a fifth-grade reading level. The vocabulary is definitely mature. Freddy teaches himself to read and write and ends up reading The Forsyte Saga! (I, Freddy is the first in a series known as The Golden Hamster Saga.) He reads poetry. The book brings up a couple of complex ideas, too--Freddy talks with his grandmother about religion and gives an interesting explanation for what happens when we read.

But Freddy isn't a priggy know-it-all. He's funny, and he meets funny and interesting creatures.

I, Freddy is a book for kids with good reading skills and traditional kid interests. It's probably a book for lots of kids, for that matter.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Good Book But...

Do you remember the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry has horrified his mother and other characters by making out with a date in a movie theater where Schindler's List is showing? I kept thinking of it while I was reading the first half of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

God help me, I found the first half of a Holocaust book slow. I thought it dragged.

It definitely picked up in the second half.

I like Markus Zusak's writing. I liked I Am The Messenger a lot, except, of course, for the really awful ending. And The Book Thief is a well-written book with lots of good characters. The main character is not your stereotypical bookish girl. She can't read at all at the beginning of the book, and she's taught to read by a man who only has a fourth grade education. She uses coarse language, she fights, and she steals. I like her. The narrator is fantastic. He's Death. A personification, I guess you'd call him. He's a sympathetic fellow who most readers wouldn't mind waiting for them at the end of their lives. He's not the most linear of narrators, though, liking to go back and forth a bit.

If I wanted to quibble, I would suggest that Zusak might get a little pretentiously arty in places. While many of his descriptions are marvelous, sometimes he goes a little over the top. But that's not a serious drawback.

I, personally, have a problem with Holocaust novels, though. It's a problem I've had since I was a teenager and foolishly read three in a row while trying to impress a good looking English teacher. Death, himself, mentions it around the halfway point in The Book Thief. My problem is that we know what's going to happen. We know what's going to happen, and we know it's going to be horrible. We know that though the book we're reading isn't real, that no real people experienced these particular atrocities, real people experienced things just as bad and worse.

I've never read a Holocaust novel that had any kind of explanation for how something this devastating could happen. For me, reading one is a masochistic act.

I was anxious before starting The Book Thief, but, really, I'd forgotten.

A Hot Search Engine

My computer guy took Ms. Dewey to work to share with his techie friends. They were quite taken with her.

Since then I've had to listen to Computer Guy raving about her underlying software code. Mine eyes glazeth over.

Fuse #8 provided the link to Ms. Dewey.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Collective Effort

HarperTeen is running what it calls A Storytelling Event for Teens by Teens. A panel of authors and editors is involved with the project. Evidently teens will get to submit chapters, teens will get to vote on chapters, and authors will review the highest vote getters. The website says they will be creating "an original short story—one chapter at a time," but I think that's probably a typo, and they're really working on a book.

Participants have until tomorrow to vote on a story premise. Look how well romance is doing compared to action adventure/mystery.

This Isn't Exactly New News

Shakespeare's Coffee, a blog connected with The Orlando Sentinel, recently did a post on book coverage in newspapers. It's disappearing.

This has been discussed among writer types for a while now. As the number of books being published escalates, review space is disappearing. If you publish a book and nobody knows...why bother? Rebecca Swain at Shakespeare's Coffee explains why it's happening.

Personally, I think coverage of children's books in newspapers and other mainstream press is particularly bad. Only a handful of children's books get mentioned in general interest publications, and they are famous for being famous. Harry Potter. Lemony Snicket. Some movie tie-ins. All the review journals for kidlit are read primarily by professionals. Your average parent on the street never sees them. Even the adult librarians in our local library are totally unaware of big buzz YA titles.

At Shakespeare's Coffee, Swain says, "Books blogs are picking up some of the slack...but print will always be an integral part of the ongoing literary discussion in society."

I don't think that's the case with kids' books. Book blogs are picking up the slack, but there just isn't much literary discussion of kidlit in print.

And thanks to ArtsJournal.com for the link.

This Is Why We Need Captain Underpants

It's hard for me to see how dressing up as Captain Underpants on Superhero Day (is that a national holiday, by the way?) is significantly worse than dressing up as a traditional female superhero, most of whom are known primarily for their gravity defying chests, come hither looks, and lots and lots of spandex.

That principal should have been grateful those girls were dressed as Captain Underpants.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I Was Excited Yesterday; Now I'm Overwhelmed

Oh, man. The new Edge of the Forest is out, and I haven't read the last one. I realized yesterday that I ought to be doing all this reading to prepare for next month's essay-a-thon, material on my essay subject. But I'm halfway through two hefty books I need to finish soon because I'm also anxious about Cybils reading and want to get started on that. And then there's that short story that took on a new life this morning. A good life, but life is time-consuming.

And I'm trying to keep my desk clean. Don't want to fall behind on the desk.

I'll spare you the details relating to my personal life. But I do have one. Sort of. Which is a real time killer.

On the positive side, for the last two days I've been wasting less time on the Internet. Really. I'm not just saying that. And I believe I've finished all my proofing and approving for A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat.

So I will just pretend that I am getting somewhere. I can do that.

A SCBWI Opportunity

Perhaps some of you remember the lengthy discussion earlier this month at A Fuse #8 Production regarding The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Perhaps some of you remember posters writing about how satisfied they were with their particular regions of the organization, whatever those regions happened to be, while other posters wrote to say they were not.

Well, the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is planning its 2007 conference. The folks there are seeking proposals for workshops. Doesn't this seem like a golden opportunity for members to make suggestions and have a hand in shaping the conference to suit everyone's needs?

The deadline for proposals is December 1. Oh, how I wish I could think of a workshop idea.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What Will You Be Doing Next Month?

I had been planning to take part in National Novel Writing Month again in November until I volunteered to serve on one of the committees for the Cybils. I'm not sure when the reading period starts for that or what I'll have to do, but I'll have to do it in a specific amount of time.

Maybe I'll be able to do both.

I haven't been seeing as much excitement for NaNoWriMo this year as I have in the past, though that might be because I stopped going to Readerville at the beginning of August in an attempt to free up more time to waste at other spots on the Web. I also saw a disparaging comment somewhere a while back about attempting to write a book in a month that I felt had to be directed toward NaNoWriMo.

Of course, it's true that it's unrealistic to expect to write a book in a month. But I enjoy the intensity involved in any kind of short-term, all-out endeavor, whether it's NaNoWriMo, the Cybils, or the 48 Hour Book Challenge. I enjoy going hell-bent for leather at one particular thing and letting everything else fall by the wayside while I'm at it.

If only I could do that with my work on a regular basis.

I'm planning to work on essays again this year during NaNoWriMo instead of a novel. One of the essays I started during last year's NaNoWriMo was published at VerbSap, which is certainly encouraging, and another that I finally finished late in the summer is being considered for publication. I mean, seriously. The creative nonfiction editor contacted me to apologize for the delay and to say that she was torn between my essay and another. So, again, I'm encouraged.

To prepare myself for my marathon, I started reading a book called The Writer's Presence, which I grabbed from a young relative who used it in a college class. He disliked the thing, but I found some useful stuff in the introduction. Unfortunately, I got side-tracked helping with flapcopy for next year's book and trying to finish and perfect a short story so I could send it out.

Anyway, I am getting psyched for November. Just knowing I'm going to be plunged into at least one (NaNoWriMo), possibly two (the Cybils) massive projects is helping me to focus the rest of my life just to get ready.

Clearly, I should be doing this kind of thing a lot more often.

Monday, October 23, 2006


The Guardian has an article on how novels by contemporary authors end up being taught at secondary schools in England.

When kidlit bloggers talk about reading lists and books used in classrooms, we're usually thinking about whether or not kids actually want to read these things. But the author of The Guardian article makes a very good point: If a book is picked up for use in classrooms, it's going to see a nice little boost in sales.

Man, I was so sure The Hero of Ticonderoga was going to be a favorite with teachers in Vermont and Connecticut because of all the historical material relating to those two states. So the historical material related to a man who cursed, drank, and couldn't hold a job. And was actually asked to leave his town. And got into trouble with the law. Surely it would have been instructive as a cautionary tale.

I guess not.

There's Always More To Say About Catcher

Void Magazine includes "a few proposals for sequels" in its October issue. Included is "Second Base in the Rye," a "no-holds-barred comedy." Yes, I would definitely be interested in reading that.

I had never heard of Void Magazine before finding a link in Blog of a Bookslut. However, I see that Debra Hamel, the mind behind Buy A Friend A Book Week, reviews books for the publication.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thrown Back Into The Past

I was actually going to make an extremely rare Poetry Friday post Friday night when we lost power for four and a half hours. This was the third or fourth time we've lost power for an extended period of time since June. It always happens in the evening. This time it was a little after six p.m. in October.

Meaning it was getting dark fast.

I kept thinking about Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Really, life must have been miserable back then. Candle power is nothing to cheer about. If any of you saw Bleak House last year, you may have noticed the interior and evening scenes seemed pretty...bleak. They were probably very authentic.

Reading by candle light is a chore, in case you haven't tried it lately. When we finally accepted that the power wasn't coming back any time soon and broke out the gas lanterns, things got only marginally better. I can understand now why you always read about nineteenth century people playing cards at evening social gatherings. It's a whole lot easier to see a few images on a card than it is to see text on a page. I know because after I gave up trying to read The Book Thief Friday night, I lost a number of games of solitaire.

I'm guessing that people didn't read much in the evening pre-Thomas Edison (who should be named a saint, by the way). They must have read during the day when they had better light. So...who read? People who didn't have other things they had to do? Of course, there wasn't universal education back in the day, anyway, and your poorer people didn't know how to read. But they may not have needed to because their work didn't require it, they had no leisure time for pleasure reading when it was light out, and reading was just too difficult after dark.

Try to imagine living in a world lit only by fire, so to speak, and you have no idea things could ever be any different.

I think I'm going to look for a history of reading. Someone has to have written that.

Evidently a large number of my readers live near me because my site stats plummeted Friday night.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

You Know, I Was Thinking About This Very Thing Last Week

The New York Times has an article about this fall's book season. The author, Julie Bosman, says: "Since the fall months see higher sales in stores and online, publishers purposely release big books during this season to maximize attention and sales." The higher sales are due to the holidays, by the way. Bosman also says, "For companies that choose fall publication dates, it means taking a risk that a book that might snatch a best-seller list spot in a quieter month will be muscled off by an even bigger book." Over the last decade I've heard a couple of different times about a publisher that didn't choose a fall publication date for a particular book for that very reason.

All this is enlightening for me because while I was reading the Sept./Oct. issue of The Horn Book (You hoped I was through talking about that, didn't you?), I couldn't help but notice that The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party", Sold, and The Rules of Survival were all reviewed. They all happen to be National Book Award nominees. They were all published in September. American Born Chinese, the fourth nominee, was also published in September. The fifth, Keturah and Lord Death, won't be published until November. (To be eligible for this year's award, books must be published betwen December 1, 2005 and November 30, 2006. Proofs and bound galleys are acceptable. See Entry Rules & Guidelines, below.)

Big books from the fall season?

According to the Entry Rules & Guidelines books are submitted by their publishers. There is a $125 entry fee. Publishers also have to agree "To contribute $1,000 toward a promotion campaign if the book becomes a shortlisted Finalist."

So, yeah, I can see where a publisher would want to submit its "big books," which often happen to be published in the fall to take advantage of the holiday shopping season.

ArtsJournal.com provided The New York Times link.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

My Goodness These People Move Fast

The folks behind the first Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards already have a website up and running. They're already taking nominations!

Sheila at Wands and Worlds is administering the fantasy and science fiction portion of this program. She still needs committee members, if anyone's interested. I'm not sure about the status of the other committees. I've been careful to pay attention to what's going on at fantasy & scifi because I volunteered to serve there.

My Teen Read Week Post

We're right in the middle of Teen Read Week, which has been on my calendar since last year since this is exactly the kind of thing I usually miss. In its newsletter (which arrived this week) teenreads.com does the rah-rah thing for Teen Read Week and announces its own Ultimate Teen Reading List, which is actually quite good. It's a mix of 250 YA and and adult titles the people at the site put together because "We have found that required reading lists for school --- especially summer reading lists --- are not exactly inspiring."


"Our dream," they say, "is that schools will use this list to help them make their own for summer reading, or even better, suggest that students just read what they want from this list."

Read To Your Toddler--Because It Does No Harm

This Slate article is sad and disturbing and possibly wrong, since I've been around long enough to know another study is bound to come out next year contradicting this. Still, right this minute I'm not feeling anywhere near as foolish as I usually do about having read Newsweek out loud to my older son when he was sitting in his little infant seat. No one has done any research on Newsweek and kids.

To my knowledge.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Horn Book Reviews

And the reviews from this issue of The Horn Book that stood out for me (drumroll):

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. I think this sounds much better than his first book.

The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett. I like WWI stories.

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett. I want to read some more Pratchett, and this one got a star.

Just in Case by Meg Rosoff. The reviewer says the book offers "an intelligent, uniquely embellished view of teen angst gone too far." Oh, man. Teen angst. You've gotta love it.

It May Be Too Late For Some Of Us

According to Blog of a Bookslut, this is the list of book titles included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Why am I talking about this in a blog devoted to books for the young? Because those who want to make it through the list might want to consider starting while they are still young. Very young.

Start Thinking About Titles

I'm a day or two late on this, but if you get over to Big A little a you can read about the First Annual Children's Book Awards, Blog Edition. A site is going to be set up specifically for nominations. So start thinking about some.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Speaking Of The Horn Book

I have more to say about the September/October issue.

Nancy Werlin had an interesting article on What makes a good thriller? called Working with Fear. In it she shares a "thriller writer's secret." She says,

"Fear has ruled me since I can remember. Not because my childhood was extraordinarily traumatic. I think it is simply my temperament. I remember distinctly, for example, being ten years old and looking at illustrations of North America during the Ice Age. I plotted how my family would escape to Florida if the ice suddenly returned. I imagined us taking the last airplane out, fighting our way past other frantic refugees."

Yes! Yes! I know what she means! Except, of course, I've done that as an adult. And not regarding the Ice Age. More with just a generic failure of civilization.

Nancy Werlin's book The Rules of Survival (reviewed in this issue of The Horn Book) is a finalist for this year's National Book Award.

In an article called One Week in August in this same issue, Susan Cooper finally explains for me what the heck Children's Literature New England is. Bless her.

More Than You Probably Want To Know About The Boston Globe Horn Book Awards

And she's not done! It sounds as if there will be more juicy stuff to follow.

I Have Something To Say About Snicket After All

I wasn't planning to blog about The End hoopla because I had nothing new to say about Lemony Snicket, given that I've only read a couple of "his" books and didn't really get them.

However, I was channel-surfing this morning while exercising (remember class, the longer you exercise, the longer you can keep the TV on) and I stumbled upon the end of an interview with Daniel Handler on NECN. This guy was every bit as brilliant as he is said to be. He was doing his "I'm speaking out against the author" routine and holding the book up so the camera could get a good shot while he told everyone that they shouldn't buy this horrible book. The reporter interviewing him asked if he was using reverse psychology to sell his book. Handler said something like, "I'm using sincerity, something you probably don't understand, being a member of the media." Her mouth dropped. Then she asked him if he had children. He immediately responded with something like, "Yes, I'm happily married. But if my marriage should fail, I will call you immediately, Ms.__________. Not to worry." At which point her eyes popped.

He had such total control of that interview. It was a sight to behold.

This is probably an example of publicity doing what publicity is supposed to do. Because I'm now thinking I should give his books another shot. Maybe next year if we do another 48 Hour Book Challenge, I'll try to read them all in one weekend. I'll be taking a terrible risk, but I am a reading warrior.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Conference For Children's Writers In New England

I rarely, rarely have insider information on anything. So when I do stumble onto something, I want to share it.

Just two days ago I learned from one of the administrators for the Whispering Pines Writers' Retreat that they have lined up their writer/speaker for next year's event. Said writer/speaker is...Laurie Halse Anderson.

The Whispering Pines Writers' Retreat will be held on February 23 through 25, 2007 at the Whispering Pines Conference Center on the W. Alton Jones Campus of the University of Rhode Island. An illustrator and two editors will also attend.

Let's Talk Horn Book

Roger Sutton mentioned the next issue of The Horn Book Magazine at his blog, which was my cue to get going and finally read the September/October issue.

In a Horn Book article called Stars, Roger begins, "On a financial impact-per-inch basis, starred reviews are probably the most valuable product of The Horn Book Magazine." I'm sure that's true. In fact, I wonder how many people read the magazine only for the reviews. That would be too bad, because the articles are so...involving. Horn Book articles make readers feel involved in the kidlit world. Their authors write about things we've thought about ourselves (though not so eloquently, of course) and make us feel a part of what's going on. Or they write about things we've never given a thought to but will from now on, thus changing us.

Sometimes, I actually prefer the articles to the reviews.

In this issue Richard Peck wrote an article called What Makes A Good...Beginning? In it he said something that addressed a theory I've been kicking around, that perhaps writers read differently than other people.

Peck talks about spending an hour a week in a bookshop copying out first lines from other people's books. His current favorite comes from Feed by M.T. Anderson (who really needs his own website, imho). Peck says of this line "I'm not even jealous. It's not my kind of writing, so I can admire it with a pure heart, how its jaded, conversational tone pulls the young reader in."

I totally understand what he's talking about. I think writers sometimes read on two levels--there's the sucked-into-this-world-and-this-experience level that everyone reads on and the how-did-they-do-that? level that someone who knows there's a wizard behind the curtain reads on. I think that writers may be both involved and removed at the same time.

If you've ever known and spent time with an engineer, you've witnessed something similar. We see a dam and go "Oh. Big thing! Look at all that water!" They go "Oh. Big thing! Look at all that water!" and then want to talk about the spillway's capacity. They are experiencing what they're seeing on two levels.

Peck also describes a first-line workshop he did at a college youth writing festival. I both admired the workshop he put together and felt for him in dealing with those kids, having worked a similiar event a few times myself. I also liked the way he walked away from that experience with something he could use in his work.

Correction: Richard Peck's article was actually called In the Beginning. It answered the question, "What makes a good...beginning?"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jane Explained

This Slate article by Ann Hulbert seeems to be about The Illustrated Jane Eyre, but it really has marvelous things to say about the original Jane.

"Brontë's guiding insight into life and literature, to simplify only somewhat, is that surfaces are suspect: Beware of assuming they are a reliable sign of the real passions within." Yes. Yes!


"And of course, Brontë's most famous character, the "Quakerish governess" Jane, is a prime case of deceptive packaging herself. Out of a "poor, obscure, plain, and little" victim emerges a commanding—and demanding—narrative voice, proclaiming a right to bold self-creation almost as jarring today as it was a century and a half ago." Yes! Jane did create herself!

Hulbert quotes an early Jane Eyre reviewer as saying "The love-scenes"..."glow with a fire as fierce as that of Sappho, and somewhat more fuliginous."" I had to look up fuliginous. It means "sooty." Was that reviewer saying the love scenes were dirty? Or so hot that they left only ash?

Hulbert also talks about the power of Jane as a first-person narrator and says, "I'm not sure the outspoken "I" looms quite so large for adults as for children; on revisiting Jane Eyre, an older reader may be distracted by assorted kinky undercurrents his or her 13-year-old self missed completely."

Perhaps that's true. I was probably closer to 16 or 17 when I read Jane Eyre, and I didn't find Jane and Rochester as "fuliginous" then as I did six or seven years ago when I reread the book. In fact, the thing that really stuck with me from my original reading was that party scene where Jane sits over in a corner with a book while everyone else is having a good time.

You don't have to have done better than a "C" in Psych 1 to figure out what was going on in young Gail's mind. Have I ever mentioned here that I was not a cheerleader in high school. I was a library aid?

Anyway, I've been reading about The Illustrated Jane Eyre by Dame Darcy for a while. After reading this article about the original Jane, I'm interested in at least taking a look at the new one.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Now This Is Really Exciting

Many writers talk about the thrill of publication day. It's lost on me. Believe me, nothing happens on publication day. Even my family members don't notice.

My attitude is that by publication day, you really ought to be on to other things.

However, when the jpeg for the cover of a new book arrives, now that is exciting. A book is actually coming together. It's time to be talking about flap copy. This is real.

So here you see the recently approved cover illustration by Joe Cepeda for my next book, A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat, which will be published by G. P. Putnam's Sons next June.

And oh, my gosh! Look! Amazon knows about it!

This image isn't larger than usual because I'm vain, but because I've been having trouble posting images on Blogger the last couple of days so Computer Guy had to wave his hands over the keyboard and work some magic.

These Kinds Of Things Are Always Happening To Me

This afternoon there was a discussion at Adbooks about the televised version of Carrie's War by Nina Bawden. See And People Say TV Has Nothing To Offer.

So imagine my surprise when I saw that Michele at Scholar's Blog reviewed another Bawden book this past Monday. How weird is that?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

If You Have A Spare Half Hour...

I missed seeing Stephenie Meyer when she came to Connecticut, but thanks to A Fuse #8 Production, I was able to see a webcast of her appearance at the National Book Festival.

If I were a bitchy, embittered, envious harpy (which I'm not, by the way), Stephenie Meyer would be an easy person to hate. She's a young mother, attractive, and admits success came easily. Plus she sounds a lot like Lauren Graham, and the The Gilmore Girls set my teeth on edge. (Okay. I am a harpy.) But Meyer is modest and thoughtful, and she has intelligent things to say about her work and her characters.

The half hour I spent sitting in front of my computer watching her was definitely a good use of time.

Is This A Good Thing Or A Bad Thing?

I became very excited on Sunday when I read that this fall (a week from today according to Amazon) Ray Bradbury has a sequel coming out to...Dandelion Wine!

Dandelion Wine was probably the most magical book I read when I was young. The fact that I was never able to interest the young 'uns in our family in it was a minor heartbreak. So when I read about Farewell Summer, I immediately started making plans to reread Dandelion Wine in preparation for the follow-up.

And I probably will do that at some point (there's so much to read!), but I think I'll be taking a chance. A number of years back I read a big chunk of Dandelion Wine out loud to young family members. It held up just fine. But what will I think of it now? And will the second book do the first book justice? It's been a long time between books. Bradbury is an elderly man, and I'm not getting any younger, myself. The publisher describes the book as being about "...the age-old conflict: the young against the elderly, for control of the clock that ticks their lives ever forward."

That could be a downer.

But I'm a reading warrior, right? I will take my courage in hand and go forth.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Loved The Wolf

Listening to audio kids books is turning into a travel tradition here. We polished off Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver yesterday because we couldn't quite finish it on our way home from the Cape.

Wolf Brother is set 6,000 years ago, which is not my favorite time period. However, the characters transcended their setting, probably because Paver wasn't so intent on showing me all she knows about the past that she forgot about characterization. There was an excellent balance between research/setting, story, and character. I sort of guessed the ending (in a satisfying sort of way), but Paver gave it a nice little twist I wasn't expecting.

As with Sabriel, when things started getting all mystical, I began to get lost. In this particular case, my falling asleep at a crucial point in the story while another family member was driving contributed to the problem. (I'm not slamming Paver by mentioning that--the book hasn't been written that can keep me awake.)

My traveling companion was so into the story that he kept saying, "Maybe there'll be a sequel!" There is. And look! It's out on audio! And Ian McKellen is reading it just as he did Wolf Brother! (This guy was so good. Be sure to read what he has to say about Spirit Walker in The Telegraph.)

Anyway, I know what I'll probably be listening to in the car on the way to Vermont in January.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Negative vs. Positive Reviews

What with getting ready to leave town, leaving town, and getting back into town, I appear to have missed a discussion on reviewing books. Since I so often seem to dislike a great deal of what I read and say so, I think I ought to give this matter some thought. And, of course, if I think about it, I have to talk about it.

Some Internet reviewers believe in only reviewing books they like. Some reviewers are fortunate in that they tend to enjoy most of what they read. Some only seek out books they believe they'll enjoy.

I try to be balanced when I review a book I don't like. I try to be clear that other reviewers have felt differently about the book. And if I truly can't think of a single positive thing to say about a particular book, I won't mention its name. I have no desire to try to prove how witty and biting I can be by ripping apart someone else's work. If I'm going to be witty and biting, I'll do it in a manuscript and try to get paid for it.

But I don't ignore the bad books and write only about the good because I think real, thoughtful, balanced criticism is extremely important. As a young writer, I learned a great deal from reading book reviews, far more than I did from any book I've ever found on writing. That was only possible because I was reading the work of people who knew writing, who understood fiction, who could express all kinds of thoughts about it. I can't believe I would have learned anywhere near as much if all the reviews I was reading had nothing but good things to say. Mainly because I can't believe that every book is good.

Unlike other reviewers, I don't read entirely for pleasure. I read to keep up with what is happening in my field. That's why from time to time I dip into graphic novels and magical realism, for instance. That's why I read The A-List, The Clique, and The Gossip Girl. I try to analyze works like these, to understand what the existence of these types of books has to say about what's going on in children's and YA literature right now. I'm not just looking for a good read. A good read is great. But it's important for me to read things I don't care for, too. And my response to those books I don't care for becomes grist for my mill.

One thing to keep in mind regarding this issue is that just because a book review is "negative" does not mean that the reviewer is necessarily turning readers away from the book. The fact that the book was reviewed at all and brought to readers' attention is hugely important. For many readers, a book's subject matter is more important than the reviewer's opinion. But they would never know about the book's subject matter if the reviewer hadn't reviewed it in the first place.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if all reviews are positive, they eventually lose any meaning, significance, validity. A librarian recently told me that she had cancelled her subscription to a particular review journal because "they never read a book they didn't like." She no longer trusted what she read there.

And a third thing to keep in mind is that a review is just an opinion. I respect my readers enough to know that they recognize that. Readers may very well disagree with me when I have something negative to say about a book. But here's the thing--they may disagree with me when I have something good to say, too.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

An Eye Opener Regarding The SCBWI

Boy, did A Fuse #8 Production hit a nerve with her post about The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. What became really interesting in the comments was the way the discussion moved away from Fuse's original post regarding the organization being for-profit to whether or not published writers get much from being members.

My experience with SCBWI is a little backwards because I didn't join until after I'd published a few books. I've never attended a national conference, and I've only gone to one regional conference. The conferences for my region moved further from me and the offerings seem directed primarily at new writers, so I don't bother making the trip.

However, at the one conference I did attend, I went to a workshop on storytelling that absolutely revolutionized my school presentations and the way I speak in public, period. For the better, by the way. At least, the presentations are a whole lot easier on me.

Some of the posters at A Fuse #8 Production said that all they got for their dues were some publications in the mail. I actually like getting those publications. Yes, I have felt that some of them were a little amateurish. But I don't go out to the office for work. I don't meet colleagues at the water cooler or in the ladies' room. I rarely see or speak to anyone who does what I do. The materials I receive from the SCBWI give me a little feeling of connection with other writers.

I'll probably stay with the SCBWI until something better drops into my lap. (I'm too lazy to actually go looking for something.)

By the way, my regional newsletter arrived while I was on vacation. I haven't read it yet.

More Talk About YA Books

When I got home from vacation, I found that two of my listservs were buzzing about Anita Silvey's article The Unreal Deal, which appeared in School Library Journal.

Silvey believes that teen readers are moving away from realistic problem books to genre fiction. I don't think genre fiction is any new discovery for teenagers. Young people have been reading Tolkien for decades. And in days of old young people got their fix of mystery and romance from writers like Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer. As someone at one of the listservs pointed out, publishers publishing genre books specifically for teenagers may be new, but teenagers reading genre is not.

Silvey also says that Catcher in the Rye was the prototype for young adult novels. I definitely agree that it was the prototype for one kind of young adult novel. I wonder, though, whether Catcher was published as YA. I was under the impression that it wasn't. That would make the shadow it casts in YA all the more interesting.

Silvey is the author of 500 Great Books for Teens, which was just released by Houghton Mifflin.

Friday, October 06, 2006

While I Was Out

I hope you all remembered Buy A Friend A Book Week even though I wasn't here to remind you. I actually bought two books to give away while I was on vacation.

Also, during the month of September, my webstats were all over the place. (Perhaps I'm competing with the new television season?) So imagine my surprise last night when we stumbled upon a computer station at our hotel, and I found that this past week, while I was not updating the blog, my webstats were great.

Perhaps Michele at Scholar's Blog or Frank Portman at Dr. Frank's What's It had something to do with the jump.

Frank Portman was very cool about my lack of enthusiasm for his book. I can be cool, too, which is why I'm not upset about what Bottomless Pit had to say about me in "Comments." Hey, s/he spelled my name right.

It looks as if a King Dork discussion is about to get started at child_lit. Only one post so far, but it was pro-Dork.

An Unsuccessful Vacation

I just returned from a vacation that was unsuccessful in terms of reading. I was reading three books at the same time, so, of course, after a week I'm only halfway through all three of them. This explains why I didn't bother buying Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau, though I fondled it several times at National Parks' shops. I really needed to be reading a fourth book this past week, and I'm not a major Thoreau fan, so it seemed unlikely I'd be reading Cape Cod anytime soon.

I think I'll ask for it for Christmas, though.

I also read three picture books over vacation. I wasn't particularly taken with any of them. Two were nonfiction and seemed very...instructive in an...instructive...sort of way.