Monday, December 31, 2007

Loonies And Toonies And Monster Cats

A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat made a list of Top Picks in the St. Albert Gazette. That's St. Albert, Alberta and not St. Albert, Ontario, famous for its cheese factory, and which I think I drove through once around ten years ago. Alberta is way west for me.

Of course, I particularly love this list because it includes my book. I'm not going to try to kid you. But it has some other titles I find attractive. Loonies and Toonies: A Canadian Number Book and Canadian Boys Who Rocked the World are too titles I wouldn't expect to stumble upon below the border. I don't know a lot of people who even know what loonies and toonies are. The book that really caught my eye, though, was Is My Dog a Wolf?. That's a question I've never heard down here in southern New England. When I was a kid, though, I would have loved wondering about that kind of thing.

I like seeing book lists that reflect interests beyond the books you might describe as belonging to an international publishing pool. Especially when the list includes one of my books.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'm Not Sure About This, But I'll Give It A Chance

I recently learned that Michael Cera will be playing Nick in the movie adaptation of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. (Hope it's not old news.)

I liked Cera in Arrested Development, and I liked Nick in Nick and Norah. I just can't remember enough about the character to make a decision about how to feel about Cera playing him.

I also haven't had a chance to see Michael Cera in the movies he's been in recently, which leaves me at a disadvantage. I did just see the first episode of the web program he's been creating with Clark Duke at Clark and Michael. I've been hearing about it for a while.

Ah, well, now I've seen episode one. So, Michael Cera can use a few obscenities. That's certainly a requirement for playing Nick.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Maybe I'm Going To Need A Fifth Draft

Much of the kidlitosphere appears to be either on vacation or Cybilizing. I wish. At least to the vacation part. The endurance test that is the holidays won't be over for me until January 1st. In addition, I am still trying to write a crappy last chapter for The Durand Cousins, which will mean that I have a completed fourth draft. If I am able to get up around 5 or 5:30 (as I did this morning) for the next three days, I may be able to do it. And I will be very grateful, no matter what the quality.

While working today, though, I realized that a chunk that I wrote yesterday really ought to appear earlier in the book. A big factor in this decision was reading What Writers Can Learn From The Golden Compass yesterday. I'm sure that at some point I would have picked up on the fact that I hadn't planted enough "subtle signposts along the way" as Laini Taylor said, and I had been asking a central question. But I need to ask another in order to make the ending work. Otherwise, it just comes out of nowhere, which is probably why I've been having problems with it so long. As Laini said, a big moment doesn't have much power if it isn't set up properly.

Oddly enough, this doesn't bother me as much as you'd think it would. Though I really do hope to get the crappy end chapter done this weekend.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Staying On Task

I didn't dislike The Golden Compass anywhere near as much as Laini Taylor did. But she makes some very interesting points in What Writers Can Learn From The Golden Compass, her blog post on the subject.

Chief among them: "What are the Gobblers doing to the kids?" she says, was the central question in the book. The movie didn't have a particularly strong storyline related to the Gobblers and what they were doing. Thus, when you found out what they were doing, it didn't have a lot of impact.

I think she's right about that. The movie was sort of chaotic with lots of cool stuff. But the story didn't stay on task, as I like to say. The writer wasn't careful to choose something to focus on and stay with it.

The armored ice bears carried the movie for me. But they weren't enough to cover up the absence of a serious storyline for a lot of viewers.

Link from A Fuse #8 Production.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Just How Many Books Do You Have To Sell To Get Some Respect Around Here?

For the next week or more we're going to be subjected to yearly round-ups and best of/worst of the year lists on absolutely everything. On Sunday The Hartford Courant got things started here in the Land of Steady Habits and Regular Income with an AP story called Publishing Hits, Misses of 2007. Among the misses, it claimed, was The Higher Power of Lucky because it "only" sold 49,000 copies.

I found that statement incredibly thought provoking. How many copies does a children's book have to sell in order to be considered successful? What does a publisher want to see for sales figures? Does Lucky's publisher consider it a "miss?" How many copies do Newbery winners usually sell?

The children's book the article considered a hit was The Dangerous Book for Boys. It didn't include a specific sales figure for that title but did offer the information that it has sold more than If I Did It, which is supposed to have sold more than 100,000 copies.

In this particular article, "hits" were books that had sold more than If I Did It , while "misses" were books that had sold less. There's a lovely standard for success for you.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Like More Drafts But Different

I've rewritten the first 2,000 words of the last chapter of The Durand Cousins three times. That's sort of like doing three drafts, isn't it? Reworking that stuff over and over is keeping me from pushing straight through and finishing by Christmas Eve.

I'm also worrying that 2,000 words is seven pages, and I'm not even near the climactic moment. And then you need a little post climax denouement. I'm afraid I'm not on the last chapter at all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Me, Me, Me, Me

Speaking of things to look forward to, I received my copy of the Penguin Young Readers Group May through August, 2008 catalog yesterday. For those of you who will be receiving it, I'm on page 40 with A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers.

Sometime before spring, we're hoping to do a Hannah and Brandon mini-page at my website for this series.

How Much Do You Love Jane Austen?

By this time of year, I am looking forward to my favorite month, January. Oh, the splendors of that quiet, winter month filled with quality nothing time! I can't say enough good things about it.

This January has its own special pleasures to offer. On Sunday, January 13, PBS will begin broadcasting The Complete Jane Austen. Every Sunday until the first week in April, you can find something Austeny on your TV.

And look! Scully will be our host! Can January get any better?

Why, yes, it can.

On December 30 and January 6 PBS is rerunning an excellent version of Jane Eyre. I loved it the first time it was on.


Three more days until the My Life Among the Aliens drawing.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Misspent Youth

The child_lit listserv discussion of Twilight has morphed into some fond reminiscing about The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. In reference to Twilight someone had suggested sacrifice is usually considered romantic, but she could only think of examples of men making sacrifices in literature. I suggested Bess the landlord's daughter offing herself in The Highwayman in order to warn her lover that the law was waiting for him was an example of a woman making a sacrifice.

I didn't expect much of a response to that because child_lit is quite an academic group, and while I loved The Highwayman when I was in sixth or seventh grade, I read a few years ago that many critics consider it to be...well...crapola. But it was like a dam broke! Masses of people loved The Highwayman in their tender youths.

One person even linked to a musical version by Phil Ochs. It's not exactly something that leaves you humming. You can hear it again while looking at illustrations.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

All Kinds Of Contests

First, and most importantly, of course, you have less than a week to enter to win a copy of My Life Among the Aliens. Stop putting it off. You're making me crazy.

Next, Chronicle Books is running two contests:

The Taro Gomi Squiggles & Doodles Creativity Contest. The deadline is May 15, 2008. Remember Squiggles?

The Ivy + Bean Friendship Contest. This one's for elementary school teachers to enter to win a school visit with Ivy + Bean author Annie Barrows. The deadline is February 15, 2008. I love Ivy + Bean.

Remember, the deadline for my contest is next Monday night. Christmas Eve. You've got plenty of time for those other two contests, but for mine you've got to get moving.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Adventures In The Afterlife

I can't say I was ecstatically looking forward to reading Everlost by Neal Shusterman. I thought his book The Schwa Was Here had an interesting premise but didn't stay on task too well, so I'd never read anything else by him.

Then I saw him in October at the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, thought he was very engaging and interesting, and decided I would give his work another try. But Everlost, his newest book, is about dead people. Generally speaking, I find books about dead people tend to be a bit maudlin. The writing often manipulates readers emotionally. I don't care for being manipulated, so I avoid them.

If I hadn't stumbled upon Everlost at the library, I would have probably missed it altogether, which would definitely have been a shame. If you can get past the "Boo hoo, everybody's dead in this book" factor, Everlost is a very good adventure.

What Shusterman has done in Everlost is create a fantasy world that just happens to be in what we'd call the afterlife. Certain things as well as certain humans pass over into this fantasy world, known as Everlost. The things have to have somehow engaged intense human feelings during their 'lifetimes.' The humans have to have not 'got where they were going.' Our two main characters, for instance, were strangers who died in the same automobile accident on page two, bumped into each other in that long tunnel with the light at the end, and went careening off course into Everlost.

And then, while attempting to figure out what's going on in their new world and visit their homes in their old one to make sure their family members survived the accident that killed them, they begin to have adventures.

This world is very well done. Every character in it is just marvelous. We have powerful protagonists of both genders so this is a good read for both boys and girls. It's written in the third person with point of view characters that shift smoothly.

Everlost isn't a heavenly place by a longshot, so some younger readers might find it a little anxiety-inducing. Yet it's also clear that Everlost isn't all there is to the afterlife. There's still a potential for heaven, as well as a potential for hell. This book about the dead actually ends hopefully, even though none of our major characters have yet gotten where they're going.

Everlost came out in 2006. It's another one of those books I was only vaguely aware of, if that. I'm surprised I didn't hear a lot more about it. It's that good. However, Universal Studios has bought the screenrights and Shusterman (who is a screen and scriptwriter as well as a novelist) will be writign the screenplay. So somebody knew a lot more about it than I did.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How Are Olive, The Other Reindeer, Rebecca, And Bella Related?

That's Bella from Twilight, by the way.

Are you thinking, Yeah, Gail, let's see you connect those three? I hope so. Because here goes.

A few days back, Megan made a comment here at Original Comment about reading Olive, the Other Reindeer to a class and having the kids tell her that the story was actually a "movie" on the Cartoon Network. They'd seen the cartoon, didn't know there was a book until Megan told them about it, and for them the "movie" was it.

This reminded me of an article I saw in which the author speculated that more people had seen the movie version of Rebecca than have read the book. I don't know if that's the case these days, but it may have been the case at the time the movie originally came out. And certainly the movie has cast a long shadow. It may very well influence the public perception of Rebecca just as the cartoon version of Olive, the Other Reindeer probably influences grade school aged kids' perception of that story.

I saw Rebecca just last week. (Eat your heart out Leila.) It's a very anemic version of the book with two major changes that undercut the story's power and one of its themes (power shifts within a marriage), and it played up romance in a big way. In an interview that took place at the time she played Mrs. Danvers in a television production of Rebecca, Diana Rigg said that the movie version was based on a play and not the original novel. She claimed Hitchcock couldn't get the rights to the book, only the play.

Whether it was the people responsible for the movie or the people responsible for the play, somebody wanted to make the central relationship romantic instead of, well, pretty tragic. Thus, to the general public, Rebecca is a romance.

This central relationship--an unequal one between an older, powerful man and a younger, powerless woman--is the same central relationship in Twilight, which has recently been the subject of another conversation at the child_lit listserv. (Though the Twilight books are generally well-received, we unrepentent child_lit feminists find ourselves a little shaken by them.) Bella in Twilight and the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca have no lives beyond their men, for whom they will do anything.

I think this is a very old-fashioned concept of romance. It seems very dated to me, and may be why none of us at The Big Read found Rebecca very romantic. Intense and twisted and satisfying to read, but not anyone's idea of romance.

And yet, so many young girls (and adult women) are falling for that old model of romance in Twilight.

So there you have it folks: Olive, the Other Reindeer leads to Rebecca leads to Bella. Ta-da!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Have Two Words For You--Ice Bears!

I actually have three words for you, but I didn't want to be wordy in a title. The three words are armored ice bears. The Golden Compass is worth seeing for the armored ice bears, alone, especially the outcast prince, Iorek Byrnison, played by Ian McKellen. Really, you will believe that bear is being played by Ian McKellan and be really impressed by how well McKellen can fight.

I have said that all I was looking for in The Golden Compass was thrills. I didn't care about spirituality, depth, or anything else, mainly because I didn't get that much spirituality and depth when I was reading the book years ago. One of my two complaints about the movie is that it was almost too thrilling. One bizarre thrill came right after another. Mrs. Coulter's monkey turns on Lyra and Pan, the gyptians show up, then a boat, then witches. Slam, bam, no thank you ma'am. More slam, bam.

Now, that was exactly what I liked about the book. Seeing it on the screen made it seem a little jumpy and overwhelming, though. Until the armored ice bear showed up, of course. I couldn't have too much excitement and commotion after that.

I also found the golden compass, itself, a little too mysterious. How does it work? How does Lyra manage to figure out what the heck it's saying?

But I felt the same way when I was reading the book. It was just easier to skim over those parts in the book than it was when it was staring me in the face in the movie theater.

I've read more than one review that said the movie wouldn't make sense to anyone who hadn't read the book. I didn't feel that was the case. The guy who was with me hadn't read the book and thought it was great (except for the ending). Dakota Blue Richards was amazing as Lyra. I thought Nicole Kidman was just fine in a Cruella Deville role.

And, of course, the armored ice bear should be considered the male lead in this picture.

The Golden Compass was a fantasy/action film, which was pretty much what I was hoping for.

About that ending: Kelly at Big A, little a said that people were going What? over the movie's ending when she saw it. I had been forewarned, but, yeah, the guy with me pretty much went What? Though I don't remember the book's ending, my recollection is that it was a more satisfying, closed ending than the one in the movie.

But here's the thing--we're accepting all kinds of open, nonendings in serial books now. I don't think we should be that surprised when movie adaptations of series and serial books start using the same device.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Slice And Dice

You will recall, I'm sure, how back in October I was doing posts on my daily output of work on The Durand Cousins. I stopped doing that when my third draft came to a screeching halt because I didn't have an ending. (And because my computer guy complained that I was boring him to death.)

Well, I'm rapidly approaching the end of the fourth draft, though the ending will actually be a first draft because while it will be my third ending, I never actually wrote either of the first two. I'm revising away on all this stuff I was cranking out like mad and feeling so good about a couple of months ago, and thinking, Oh, man. Whatever made me think this was worth writing down?

A lot of stuff is going. A new thread is being added. And now I'm wondering whatever is making me think this new stuff is worth writing down? If the stuff I thought was so great a couple of months ago, wasn't, what makes me think this is any better?

Though, actually, to be honest, a couple of months ago I was just trying to generate words. That may not have been a bad idea. We won't know for another few months. Or even a year. Like they say, only time will tell. It's hard to have to rely on time's judgment.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

An Early Review of the dead & the gone

I'm a Reading Fool got her hands on an ARC for the dead & the gone, Susan Beth Pfeffer's companion book to Life As We Knew It. She has posted a review. It sounds very, very grim, a different kind of grim from the grimness in LAWKI.

Where Have I Been For The Last Ten Years?

Living in my celler, for the most part. That must explain why Olive, the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh was just the tiniest blip on my radar. According to the press release I received with a copy of the tenth anniversary deluxe edition, the thing has sold more than a million copies. And there was a cartoon, for crying out loud.

Really, I am embarrassed.

Olive has a very ingenious premise. A dog named Olive is wrapping presents and listening to the radio when she hears a song that includes the words, "All of the other reindeer..." She hears them as "Olive the other reindeer." She experiences an identity crisis and comes to believe that she's not a dog at all, but a reindeer. Of course, she heads off to the North Pole, and what follows is essentially Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with a dog and no laughing and name calling on the part of the real reindeer. (If they couldn't take Rudolph, who was at least of their species, you'd think a dog would never make the team. But here, surprisingly, they are most gracious.)

Olive actually is a charming, clever story.

For those of you for whom charm and cleverness are not enough, it's also, like Rudolph, an outsider story. Check out Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein's page on plots and popularity in which she discusses how Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one of two plot structures that outsider stories usually follow. (The other, she claims, is The Ugly Duckling.)

The whole outsider thing gave Olive the Other Reindeer an extra level of meaning that I quite enjoyed. Bring up the concept of "the Other" (as in "the other reindeer"--get it?) when you're reading it with the kiddies and make Christmas extra special this year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Book Giveaway Reminder

You can still sign up to win a copy of My Life Among the Aliens. Remember, it has a Christmas chapter. Nothing says Christmas like aliens.

Sam Riddleburger was surprised to learn that my first book was based on my experiences as a suburban mom. So were my second and third books. Also my sixth book. To a much lesser extent my fifth book dealt with suburban mom Gail, though college Gail plays a big part in it, too. Only The Hero of Ticonderoga can be said to draw upon what my kids would describe as my very lame childhood.

I began working on My Life Among the Aliens after an editor showed some interest in what I thought was a picture book manuscript that I had sent her. She felt the humor was better suited to the middle grades and said that if I would revise the book for that age group, she would look at it again. The book went back and forth between us for a year before I received a contract for it.

As I mentioned earlier, My Life Among the Aliens was my first book. Even though I was quite ignorant of the publishing world while I was working on it, I knew enough to know that even if that book was published, that could be it for me. All the years I'd been writing, all the effort I'd made, could end with that one book. Those are the breaks. Some writers never get any further than that "first book."

During that year while I was working on My Life Among the Aliens, I decided to make it a gift to my children. It would be an ode to them. If I never got another book published, I would, at least, have done that for them. We would have something very few families have.

You can learn a great deal about my children's lives from reading My Life Among the Aliens. The food, the friends, the games, the birthday party, the neighbor's dog--it's all real. There really was a No Mom's Land between our house and the O.'s. There really was an O. family.

Okay, the Christmas chapter never happened. And no one crashed the birthday party. And the neighbor's dog never talked.

But except for that, it could be some kind of suburban memoir! Really!

Looking For Something I Haven't Already Heard About

Colleen Mondor's new Bookslut in Training column is up at the December issue of Bookslut. She also has a feature article this issue on nonfiction for kids called Curious Minds.

I continue to read Bookslut's blog and have started trying to find time to browse through the magazine because I think Bookslut doesn't engage in what I've seen called gang reviewing. I see books and articles mentioned there that I don't see elsewhere. (At least, not in the circles I frequent.)

Colleen's column this month is a case in point. While she talks about a number of books that could be said to be well covered by the gang (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, for instance) she also discusses Bad Monkeys, which wasn't published as YA and which Colleen describes as "only for the high school crowd." She also has good things to say about Indigara, a YA I missed when Wands and Worlds mentioned it back in September.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Feisty, Aren't They?

Skip the post Ethics in Book Reviewing Survey: The Results at Critical Mass and go directly to the Comments section for a spirited discussion of reviewing (or, rather, the lack of reviewing of) self-published books.

In particular, look for the paragraph ending with the term "gang-reviewing." I do think she made an interesting point there. A little further down, another commenter talked about the assumption "that the few hundred literary agents and mainstream publishers who decide mainstream publication ALWAYS know best, and will publish everything worthy of going into print." I'm not passing any judgment on that one. I just wanted to throw it out there for inspection.

Monday, December 10, 2007

My Favorite Dangerous Books For Girls

The Ivy + Bean books by Annie Barrows have been well received, but I don't think they get the amount of attention that a couple of other young girl series have been getting. I don't think it's just one of those unpredictable things that happens sometimes. Ivy + Bean doesn't get more buzz than it does because it doesn't play to grown-up readers the way Junie B. and Clementine do.

Bean could be described as a Junie B. and Clementine type of child in that she tends to go her own way. Her creator describes her as "loud and wild." The difference between Bean and the other leads in the big, girl series is that Bean is comfortable with who she is. She isn't always anxiously interacting with adult characters who reassure her in some way or are involved in helping her learn a reassuring lesson. Most of Bean's interaction is with another child and not adults. She interacts with Ivy, her co-lead, who, superficially, is your stereotypical quiet little girl.

Yeah, your quiet little girl who is into magic and potions, and who is sharp as a tack. Talk about still waters running deep.

These kids don't need a lot from the adult world. Adult readers aren't going to be comforted by story lines in which characters like themselves are in control. Ivy and Bean and the Ghost That Had to Go takes place at their elementary school. (The first book in the series didn't.) Yes, the girls have a very nice teacher. But there's also a satisfyingly retro fifth grade teacher patrolling the halls in pantyhose and high heels for the girls to clash with and overcome.

Yeah. That's right. You heard me. The teacher doesn't lead the children to some meaningful revelation about life. The teacher, an avatar for society and the conforming world, loses to two second graders. That's the way it should be because, damn it, this is a kids' book. (Imagine a Lewis Black rant here, complete with frantic head shaking and garbled noises and concerns about whether or not my head is going to explode over the mere thought that kids should fight the good fight and win in a book about them.)

So, anyway, you can see why adult gatekeepers might find the Ivy and Bean series just a little bit dangerous. We'd much rather direct young readers to books that portray wild girls hobbled by problems and needing grown-ups. We don't want wild girls to know that they can take on the world themselves.

This gatekeeper, however, is making sure her niece gets an Ivy and Bean book for Christmas this year.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Yikes! Well, I'm Still Going To Go See It Next Weekend

From Slate's review of The Golden Compass: "I'm here to tell you that, without at least a working knowledge of the Dark Materials cosmos, Weitz's adaptation is a near-impenetrable murk, a blur of CGI beasties, shimmering dust clouds, and vaguely mystical blather."

Salon's reviewer wasn't as positive. She referred to the movie as "utter, soulless crap."

As I've said before, when I read the book, probably eight or nine years ago, I just thought it was a great, thrilling ride. Really, that's all I'm hoping for from the movie.

Friday, December 07, 2007

And How Do We Feel About Science Fiction?

Why Don't We Love Science Fiction? in the TimesOnLine is a great article on the status of science fiction. It also describes how science fiction and science influence each other.

Though the article pertains particularly to the situation in Britain, I don't think things are much different here or much different in kidlit. My impression is that while fantasy reigns supreme in children's literature, hardcore, traditional science fiction is far rarer.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

This Could Have Been You

Ah, people, any one of you could have been the reader enjoying Club Earth, but you didn't enter the drawing, did you? No, Sam Riddleburger took his shot at winning a book and now he's the one "overcome with emotion" (his words, not mine) while reading it.

You still have a chance at a copy of My Life Among the Aliens, though. The drawing isn't until Christmas Eve. We haven't had that many entries, yet, so don't hold back believing the odds are against you. We're not exactly talking about a one in a million chance here.

And, remember, somebody's got to win. Why not you?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

So What Did We Think Of Tin Man?

I haven't noticed a great groundswell of interest for Tin Man in the portion of the kidlitosphere in which I travel, even though it is a variation on the kid classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The mini-series ran on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings on the Sci Fi Channel. Fuse did wonder what I thought of it, though, and, hey, I never have to be asked that kind of thing twice.

I definitely enjoyed picking up the references to and riffs on the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, which is the only Oz, I know. I liked how they entwined this new story around the old one.

I thought the main character, DG, was a little polarized. She appeared to be feisty, riding a motorcycle and picking up a stick to head into any fight she encountered. But she also looked totally stunned by what she was experiencing, pretty much all the time. I didn't think the two aspects of the character came together very well.

I really liked the neo-scarecrow. He was both a play on the movie scarecrow and very new. The lion was okay, but I didn't realize he was supposed to be cowardly until late in the plot. I found the tin man to be a problem. We definitely got more of a back story on him than on the scarecrow or the lion, but I didn't find him so pivotal to the story that it justified naming the program for him. Plus, his character was pretty much a stereotypical tortured, maybe noir, lawman. I think that could have been neat in Oz, but it didn't really work for me.

One thing that interested me a great deal about Tin Man is how similar the initial portion of the plot is to that of The Looking Glass Wars, which is also a variation on a classic, Alice in Wonderland. In both stories, you have an evil sister who overthrows the legitimate royal ruler of a kingdom. In both stories you have a young female royal family member who is hidden away in the real world for her own safety. She isn't aware of who she really is. (DG really doesn't know. Alyss has become so isolated from her own reality that she finally accepts the one she finds here.) Both young women have to go back to their fantasy worlds to save their kingdoms.

I don't know what that's about. Perhaps evil sisters and princesses in disguise are staples of fantasy and everyone uses them.

So there you have it, my response to Tin Man. In a nutshell, I'd say it was interesting, worth watching if you're at all interested in Oz, but with weak spots.

Speaking of The Looking Glass Wars, today bookshelves of doom reviews Seeing Redd, the second book in The Looking Glass Wars Trilogy. It was published in August. The first book got lots of buzz, but I'd heard nothing about the second one until I read Leila's review today.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

He Didn't Even Mention Books

Sunday's Hartford Courant carried an article entitled The Decline of the Critic in which author Matt Egan described the decline of music, dance, and movie reviews in newspapers. In spite of the furor this past year over book reviews disappearing from papers, he didn't even mention them.

Not that my nose was out of joint over our neglect. I'm just pointing it out.

Evidently, though, all criticism is on its way out in print newspapers. According to Egan "the era of newspaper criticism, seems to be coming to a rapid and unceremonious end."

You mean, it's not all about the tanking of literary culture? How very thought provoking.

Egan makes many interesting points. "As classical music's audience continues to shrink, along with museum attendance, opera attendance, ballet attendance and newspaper readership, arts coverage has withered with it." Newspapers that once employed critics in various fields now either are using stringers or reporters who work in other areas of journalism for the paper and are just filling in. (Of course, that beats what many papers are doing with books, which is just not covering them at all even though the number of books published every year is going up, not down.)

Reading the work of good critics is more than entertainment, Egan says. It's an education. In the past, some movie critics, such as Roger Ebert (who is still working), for instance, were film historians.

Traditional book critics provided an education for their readers, too. Sure you always had your elitist folks who seemed mainly interested in showing off what they thought they knew to the lesser mortals who read their work. But you also had people who truly shared what they knew. You really could learn something from reading book reviews.

The Decline of the Critic makes it clear that the writing is on the wall for print reviewers of all types for many reasons. It also makes it clear just what will be lost when they're gone.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Big Rebecca Read Completed

The Big Read of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier finished up at bookshelves of doom last week. A good time was had by all.

I had read Rebecca twice before, once as a teenager. I had two questions in mind with this third read:

1. Is Rebecca a "retelling" of Jane Eyre?

2. Would this book still be of interest to teenagers?

Well, I don't want to go so far as to say that Rebecca is a retelling of Jane Eyre, but the parallels are striking and fascinating. Poor, young orphaned woman who has been kicked around by a female relative/employer becomes involved with an older, wealthy man who is psychologically scarred as the result of having been tricked into a marriage with a "bad wife." Older, wealthy man has a big, I mean, BIG, secret and a big fancy house. Secret revealed, house burns down. There's more. I'm just hitting the high points.

The contrasts are just as interesting. Maxim de Winter and his second wife have very little chemistry, while Mr. Rochester and Jane come close to burning up the page whenever they appear together. All of us at the Big Read agreed that Jane could whip Mrs. deWinter 2's sorry butt. She could probably stand up to Rebecca, too.

None of this means that Rebecca is a bad book or not as good as Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is a very good book about two powerful, flawed people who find each other. Rebecca is a very good book about two weak, bland people who find each other.

Will teenagers like Rebecca? A number of us at the Big Read had read it as teenagers. Most of us recall liking it. In my case, I know it was because of the suspense angle. I think genre books such as suspense or mystery can appeal to a wider range of ages because whatever makes the books suspenseful or mysterious is the big hook, not the characters or the theme. In Rebecca's case, there is a character who is very young and suffers from the kind of insecurity many adolescents can relate to. On the other hand, in addition to the suspense hook, Rebecca has some very strong themes relating to sexual jealousy and the shifts of power in a relationship. Those aren't the themes we traditonally think of as YA. Without the suspense, I don't know if Rebecca could hold a lot of young readers.

Today I bought two copies of Rebecca to give as gifts to family members, neither of whom is a teenager.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

An Unusual Holiday Gift Option

Hunger Mountain Literary Journal is doing a fundraising auction through December 8. Among the items up for bid are a 200 Page YA Manuscript Critique with Martine Leavitt, the author of Keturah and Lord Death and a Children's Poetry Manuscript Critique with Julie Larios, whose book Yellow Elephant was a Boston Globe-Horn Book honor book in 2006.

We Have A New Cover

Look to the left of this post, and you'll see the cover for A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers, which will be published in July. It is Book Two in what I'm calling the Hannah and Brandon Series, though there isn't an official series' title yet. Hmmm. How many books does a series need before it rates an overall title?

My computer guy is delighted with this cover because now we have eight covers on the homepage. He is seriously into symmetry, and he is so happy now that he feels the page is balanced. Order has been restored to his universe.

I thought of making him drop one of the out-of-print covers, just to mess with his head. But I decided a more positive way of doing that would be to finish the book I'm working on and find someone to publish it. Then instead of getting rid of an old cover, we could add another new one. The page will be asymmetrical but in a much more satisfying way for me.

Reminder For Oz Fans

Tin Man starts tonight on the Sci Fi Channel. I love revisionist spins on classics.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Let's Talk About Santa!

Well, the Club Earth Thanksgiving Giveaway is over and done with, and the winner should be receiving his book sometime next week. Now it's time to turn our attention to a book for Christmas.

My very first book, My Life Among the Aliens, includes a moving Christmas story in which Santa's sleigh is clipped by an alien spaceship on Christmas Eve. It has a mom who is ready to meltdown by the time the big day arrives and sweet young children waiting for someone--or something--to come down the chimney.

While I was working on this book, my editor was quite enthusiastic about the Christmas chapter. "Maybe the aliens could tell Will and Rob the truth about Santa! That would be funny!"

Fortunately, I was older and wiser than Kathy. I had experience dealing with the parents of young children. Parents of preschoolers, say. Parents of elementary school children, for that matter. I knew what Santa Supporting parents would do to anyone who blew the whistle on them.

Maybe the aliens could tell Will and Rob the truth about Santa? I didn't think so. I'd be hunted down like a dog. Dragged through the streets. No life insurance provider would cover me.

So you can enter to win My Life Among the Aliens feeling confident that the Christmas chapter doesn't include any harsh truths. Send me an e-mail at any time between now and the end of December 24th with the words "Christmas Book" in the subject line, and you'll have a shot at reading the book that got my so-called career off the ground.

Friday, November 30, 2007

This Kind Of Thing Makes Me Anxious

This fall I gave up reading a book after page twenty-five. There was nothing wrong with the author's writing technically. No dangling modifiers. No overuse of adverbs. No run-on sentences. No sentence fragments. There were no paragraphs that went on for pages. The author had all that down.

So what's your problem, Gail? My problem was the book was loaded with stereotypical kid characters and situations. You had the middle grade girl whose best friend wants to run with the cool crowd. You had the brother who calls his sister all kinds of names. You had mother/daughter tension. It was all stuff I'd read before, written in ways I'd seen before.

What distresses me about this situation? What is it about this book that makes me, myself, feel anxious?

Well, as I said, there was nothing wrong with the sentence by sentence writiing. This author knew how to do that. What's more, I'm sure the author felt her work had something unique about it, something valuable. All of us writers think that.

If she could be wrong (as I think she was, though, of course, that's just me), isn't it possible that the rest of us are wrong, too? Or at least some of us are wrong? Me, for instance?

How can we be sure that what we've done is as good as we think it is?

I hope that I'm just being self-centered, that whatever I read I have to make about me. Yeah. That's it. This has nothing to do with realizing around 4:30 this afternoon that the chapter I was working on was just talk, talk, talk and nowhere near as good as I'd thought it was. I'm just self-involved. Whew.

It's good to be the queen!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just What Is A Negative Review?

I'd hardly barely begun reading this month's Carnival of Children's Books over at MotherReader when I came upon Anne Boles Levy's excellent Presentation on Advanced Reviewing from Book Buds. Anne's post has so much serious information on reviewing that I made a hard copy to stash away to reread when I have more time.

But Anne said a couple of things that interest me beyond the technical aspects of reviewing. In her blog post, she refers to Steve Wasserman's article published in the Columbia Journalism Review earlier this year. In it, Wasserman describes the "news of books" as an "ongoing cultural conversation" and says that "reviews are an invaluable way of eavesdropping" on this conversation. Reading the reviews is a valuable form of eavesdropping on the conversation, but writing the reviews makes you a participant in the conversation.

So that was Interesting Thing Number One. Interesting Thing Number Two? Anne's presentation was given at the Kidlit Blogger's Conference held earlier this year. As part of her presentation, she asked participants to edit "a short, highly critical review" that had been sent to her by a writer looking for editing advice. She says, "I was surprised when many people (authors all) stalled on the idea that the writer would even bother with a negative review.

Many authors simply couldn't emotionally grapple with the reality of negative book reviews, of their being a vital part of that "cultural conversation."

This subject has been discussed in blogs before in the kidlitosphere, so it's something I've thought about and written about. More than once. But after reading Anne's post, I began to wonder just what people mean by a "negative review."

Are "negative reviews" a matter of tone? Are the reviewers showing off their snarky wit at the expense of a novelist, like the blogger I stumbled upon who said his gag reflex was activated at the ending of a particular book? Or are "negative reviews" merely "critical" in the sense of careful evaluation? I'm thinking here of a reviewer stating that an author sacrificed character development for plot, for instance, or a reviewer believing that the writer's pacing was uneven.

I'm with Anne in believing that reviews are part of a conversation about books. As with any conversation, snark gets old fast and doesn't add any depth to the talk. But careful evaluation is what gives the conversation value. Careful evaluation is what makes reviews useful to readers. It makes them useful to anyone who is interested in books.

It's difficult for writers to have to listen to talk of their work being less than brilliant. And, yes, such reviews do have the potential to have an impact on our careers and our pocketbooks. But isn't that true of people working in any art form? What other arts practitioner would even dream of suggesting that there is no place for "negative" or critical, evaluative reviews in their ongoing cultural conversations? Think of movies, theater, TV, art. Does anyone in any of those fields publish only "positive" reviews? And if they do, does anyone take them seriously?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Stages Of Life, Thematically

Over the years I've heard from people who made it clear that they defined Young Adult fiction as books that didn't include much sex or so-called mature subject matter. I heard of one writer whose publisher was going to market his genre book as a crossover to YA because it was "clean." These folks were living in a dreamworld, of course. In addition, they didn't know what YA was because they didn't understand that it's supposed to be about something, about something different from books that are for other readers.

I frequently find myself explaining that theme is important in YA, since theme, essentially, is what a book is about. A really good YA book includes classic YA themes, such as separating oneself from family, seeking a path in life. Usually the people I'm talking to don't read much YA, so they have no idea what I'm talking about. In fact, I know some of my family members think I'm making this stuff up as I go along.

Oddly enough, I'm clearest on my thinking about YA themes when I'm reading a M(iddle) A(ge) book, as I am right now. MA books deal with disappointment. They deal with coming to terms with what your life has been. That's a very strong contrast to YA books that deal with what your life is going to be.

Books directed to various stages of life address themes important to those stages.

Childhood: After having been the center of the universe in order to survive (cry-get fed, cry-get changed, cry-get attention),I find out that this behavior is no longer going to work for me. How will I get along with others at school, day care, Scouts, the world? How much am I willing to conform in order to get along with others?

Young Adult: Separation. How am I like/different from my family/peer group? What will I do with my life? What will become of me?

Twenty/Thirty Somethings: Life sucks. Shouldn't someone have told me? Now what?

Middle Age: Assessment. How have I spent my life? Did I do good? Is this what I wanted? Is it too late for me?

Older Age: I'm too old to give a damn. My last shot at happiness and fulfillment.

YA fiction isn't the only kind of literature that addresses concerns/themes of a specific age group. Every age has its themes. It's much easier to understand what YA literature is when you understand it in relation to these other types of literature.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Perhaps We Should Be Looking At This Differently.

Colleen over at Chasing Ray threw herself on a grenade for the rest of us and read the NEA report that states that Americans are reading less. Colleen and her commenters discuss the number crunching and what it all means, if it means anything at all.

Perhaps the NEA should be looking at reading from a different angle. Instead of counting readers and nonreaders and adding them up and dividing the sum by something or other and then taking it to another power, maybe it would be more useful to give some thought to why those who read choose to do so.

The New York Times just ran an article called A Good Mystery: Why We Read. "...what is it, exactly, that turns someone into a book lover who keeps coming back for more?" the author, Motoko Rich asks. "There is no empirical answer...The gestation of a true, committed reader is in some ways a magical process, shaped in part by external forces but also by a spark within the imagination."

Well, that there is no empirical answer business may be disappointing, but I think the question is a good one. The NEA studies aren't going to do much to create readers. But if we could figure out why readers read, we'd have a model to work with.

That, at least, would be progress.


Slate has a marvelous slide show/essay called Where The Wild Things Came From on the evolution of children's illustration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It's based on the book Drawn to Enchant by Timothy Young, which was just published in October.

Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for the link.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gilda Rises Above Everything

I was first exposed to Gilda Joyce last year during the Cybils reading period, when I read The Ladies of the Lake and liked it a lot.

I liked the newest Gilda Joyce book by Jennifer Allison, too, though I'm not quite so enthusiastic as I was about the book I read last year. For one thing, I don't remember Gilda being quite so over the top as she is in The Ghost Sonata. She's still funny, smart, and unique, but transporting a number of bizarre costumes to Oxford, England and then wearing them (a 60s mod outfit, a sequined gown to accompany a tiara) seemed to make her a little laughable. Though this book, like its predecessor, functions pretty well as a stand alone book, I do think readers who aren't familiar with the earlier works might be thrown when, well into the story, Gilda starts writing a letter to her dead father. I don't have a problem with Gilda writing to her dead dad, I just think it's not set up particularly well in this volume.

The Ghost Sonata involves Gilda accompanying her friend Wendy to Oxford where Wendy will take part in an international piano competition. I've never been to Oxford, but the setting certainly seemed realistic to me. I've never taken part in any kind of international competition, either, but, once again, that aspect of the book was great. The ghosty stuff was good, too. I looked forward to getting back to the book, plus I didn't quite foresee the ending. I expected a slightly different explanation.

I did find the point of view switches awkward, though. The Ghost Sonata is written in the third person, with a point of view character who changes. Usually Gilda is the p.o.v. character, but sometimes it's her friend Wendy. A few times it switches to other, more secondary characters.

The writing done from these other characters' minds is good. Wendy, in particular, is a good character. But the switches seemed abrupt, and they came irregularly. It made the storyline seem as if it was broken into chunks. It's one of those things, like footnotes, that pulls a reader away from a story.

Now, this may not be the result of poor work on the author's part. It may be that I so rarely see books written this way anymore that I no longer can move along with the narrator. The omniscient point of view--a third person narrator that shifts from character to character--isn't very popular these days. A third person point of view with a point of view character who remains the same through the entire work is more common, when third person is used at all. Particularly in children's books and YA, first person is king.

I don't think Allison used this kind of shift in The Ladies of the Lake. Whether or not what she does her with point of view in The Ghost Sonata is one hundred percent successful, I think she deserves some credit for doing something different with one of her series' books.

Gilda Joyce is still a great series. A popular one, too. I just tried to renew my copy at the library and found there was a hold on it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Are You A Tripods Fan?

Sam Riddleburger is doing a John Christopher Week at his blog.

You know John Christopher, of course. The Tripods Trilogy? Post-apocalyptic books about life on Earth after it has been invaded and overrun by aliens? The museum scene may stick out in your mind, as it does in mine. That and the escape from a tripod city.

And I read the books as an adult.

Somebody's With Me On Beowulf

I'm not the only person who has a thing for Beowulf. Camille at Book Moot has actually seen and heard part of it performed by a bard speaking in Old English.

I was more than willing to go watch a movie that included both male and female cartoon nudity, but I don't know if I would have gone out for a clothed bard speaking in Old English. I think Camille has me beat.

All Things Sparrow

School Library Journal has an interview up with Mitali Perkins. The interview focuses on Mitali's Sparrowblog, which focuses on the 2008 presidential campaign by way of news relating to the children of the candidates. Many of of those children also have blogs, it seems, just as the main character in Mitali's book, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I Just Can't Keep Up

Today I received some promotional material from what looks to be a very nice literary magazine. It made me feel guilty because I don't subscribe to one. A number of years ago, I read that we all have a responsibility to help support literary magazines, and to do so we should all subscribe to at least one journal.

Well, I thought that made a great deal of sense, so I did subscribe to one. It didn't even cost me any money, because the subscription was given to me for Christmas. Two years in a row, in fact.

That had to have been four or five years ago. I still haven't read the second year's issues. That's why I gave up on asking Santa for subscriptions. I knew I couldn't do the reading and having the journals stacked up around the house or on my To Be Read wears on me.

Kelly at Big A, little a has been doing posts on Making Space for Writing. This sound counterproductive, but one of the things I try to do is be realistic about what I can read. I limit the number of magazine subscriptions coming into the house. I've also learned that a lot of the single issues that I bring home carry pretty much the same articles month after month. I try to be selective. I try to accept that I'm never going to do anything with those glittery, pretty journals and leave them be instead of hoarding them somewhere and letting them grow stiff and mildewy.

I feel like a Philistine, but loading up my time caring for publications I have no hope of reading really does cut into my writing time, which is cut into plenty with all the reading I do do.

Friday, November 23, 2007

You Thought I Was Getting Off Topic With All That Beowulf Stuff, Didn't You?

Wednesday morning, I heard from BDT. He had just finished reading Beowulf with his sixth grade class, and, he said, the kids really liked it. I found this very interesting because just the night before I'd had a revelation about Beowulf while brushing my teeth.

Okay, here is the basic Beowulf story. Beowulf, while at the height of his strength and power, kills a couple of monsters and saves the day for Hrothgar, the king of a foreign country. Then Beowulf goes home where he is a king to his own people. Time passes. A new monster or dragon or something comes and poses a threat to Beowulf's kingdom. The old hero battles the monster to save his people. But not being at the height of his strength and power, he doesn't survive the experience.

I think this story basically tells the story of human life. We make our greatest achievements while at our physical and mental peak. Then time passes, we grow old, and can't do what we were able to do before. Or, at least, not as well. The people who created and first told Beowulf were expressing this fact of life that no one can get past. The story has endured, not because people loved it but because they recognized that it truly was making a statement about the human condition.

Not exactly a story I would have thought sixth graders would appreciate, though. It's not a story I would think teenagers would care for much, either, but there were a number of them in the theater this afternoon for the showing of the new Beowulf movie. I'm guessing they liked it well enough because the movie has been juiced up quite a bit with sex. In it, Grendel's Mom is a hotty who seduces men, who are then corrupt and lost because they did the deed with her. They also provide her with sons who years later seek their fathers out and wreak havoc upon them.

True, the movie version has a peppier story line than the true Beowulf. It also has a story that's easier to take. We don't want to believe that monsters will just randomly attack people. Random things could happen to us, too, after all. We want to believe that victims do something to bring their fates upon themselves. Beowulf didn't just grow older and weaker the way we all will. He got what was coming to him because of what he did with the Angelina Jolie cartoon.

Actually, that storyline probably is better for kids. There's a moral there for them. With the true Beowulf they're just told a fact of life. With the movie, they're told not to have sex with beautiful monster women who live in caves.

It is good advice.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Picture Books Are Not Just For Preschoolers Anymore

I have been saying for years that the publishing world should create a category of picture books for adults. Well, to my knowledge, no one has done it yet. But I am seeing some movement upwards in the age range for picture books.

A couple of weeks ago when I was looking for Kevin O'Malley books at my local library, I found his very clever Mount Olympus Basketball. It's a beautiful and witty picturebook in which a team of Greek gods take on a team of Greek heroes at basketball, complete with twenty-first century commentators and an "up close and personal" type half-time feature on ancient Greece. ("Thanks, Chet. That was fascinating.") This thing reads as if someone went to O'Malley and asked him to do an educational picture book on mythology, and he said, "You've got to be kidding." You get your info on the gods, alright, but in a satirical, twisted way.

As I was reading Mount Olympus Basketball, I kept thinking that all this was great. Greater than great. But only if the reader already knew quite a bit about mythology. You had to have some base knowledge to get the joke. Would the picture book crowd have that base knowledge?

I took a look at the publisher's suggested age group for the book. It was 6 to 11. This was a picture book for middle grade students. They really should enjoy it.

Now, Mount Olympus Basketball was published back in 2003. Perhaps picture books have been being published for older kids for a while, and I just missed it. If you take a look at the most recent issure of The Horn Book, you'll find reviews in the Picture Book category for even older readers. Margaret Wild's Woolvs in the Sitee (illustrated by Anne Spudvilas) is described as being for Intermediate and Middle School students. And Shaun Tan's The Arrival is listed as being for Middle School and High School students.

That's darn close to adults. I'm hopeful that it will only be a matter of time before we have picture books marketed to them, too. Of course, some would say that all picture books are marketed to adults, since preschoolers don't do their own shopping. Still, I'm talking about picture books marketed to adults for adults.

Final note: I can't help noticing that The Arrival and Woolvs in the Sitee are written and illustrated by Australians. You think maybe those folks are a little more interested in picture books for older people?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Don't Care. I Still Want To See It.

Salon slams the movie Beowulf big time, comparing it very unfavorably to The Lord of the Rings movies.

Fortunately, I've never read any of the Rings books, and I've never seen any of the movies. Tolkien Shmokien.

I can't even say I like Beowulf all that much. I can't say I really understand it or get the point. In the Salon essay, Gary Kamiya says Beowulf is "unfathomable." "The inscrutability of "Beowulf" has made it contested ground for scholars for over a century...even experts cannot agree on what it means..."

That intrigues me. Beowulf is "the earliest piece of vernacular European literature," according to Kamiya. Why? Why did this story engage early Anglo-Saxon people? Why has it survived all these centuries?

Oh! Oh! I'm getting a story idea here, folks! What about the epics that got away? The ones people loved back then that disappeared? What do you suppose those were like?

Oops. Sorry, sorry. What was I talking about? Yes. Beowulf. It intrigues me, whatever to hell it means. And every few years it turns up again in my life in some form or another.

So, I'm hoping to get out to see it this holiday weekend. The question is, do I bite the bullet and drive all the way to the IMAX theater or just dart down to the local spot where I can see it for nothing because I have gift certificates? I'm too lazy and cheap to go far and spend much. But, on the other hand, what if IMAX is the way to see it, and I ruin the experience by being lazy and cheap?

Only One More Day

You have only one more day to try to to win a copy of Club Earth.

Both Club Earth and the earlier My Life Among the Aliens are among my suburban books, as I might have said here earlier. (You can't possibly expect me to remember everything I've said here. We're talking over 1,300 posts.) All my work draws heavily on who I am, and these books draw on Gail the suburban mother.

Thus in Club Earth you'll find a chapter about an alien arriving on earth thinking he's going to summer camp, because my kids did summer camp. An alien gets hauled along to a father/child campout that is modeled on Indian Guides, as it was called when my family took part for around six years. (The pig roast in that chapter is pretty much what I was told happened.) There's a chapter on alien traveling salespeople helping kids out with school fundraisers because my kids once took part in five fundraisers in a two-month period. The kids in Club Earth have hamsters because the Gauthier boys, being allergic to cats and dogs, had a hamster and an Egyptian spiny mouse. In fact, most of this book was written on a computer set up next to their cages.

So, one more day, folks, to have a chance at winning stories of all that domestic bliss.

Monday, November 19, 2007

To Read Or Not To Read


I'm hoping that some math geek will do an interview giving these figures a more positive spin. It could happen.

Or maybe only an English major would think that.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Could This Be The End Of Captain Raptor?

I was browsing near the new children's book shelf at my local library when a book called Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates by Kevin O'Malley and Patrick O'Brien caught my eye. "Another Captain Raptor Adventure!" was printed above the title, so I went over to the stacks to see if we had the first one. Sure enough, we also had Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery. (According to the cover, this one was written by O'Malley with O'Brien illustrating. Both of them are listed as authors on the second book with O'Brien still illustrating.)

And that's how I discovered these clever, shall we say, graphic picture books.

You know how there are some young kids who are into space travel while there are other young kids who are into dinosaurs? Well, these books are for kids who are into either or both because Captain Raptor and his brave crew are dinosaur space heroes, traveling in their ship on missions to save their planet, Jurassica. Their adventures are both thrilling and tongue-in-cheek. Whenever the going gets rough, the question "Could this be the end of Captain Raptor?" arises. That's always a sure sign that we'll turn the page and see him pull his tough hide out of another tight spot.

Lovely to look at and delightful to know. I hope that Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates will not be the end of Captain Raptor.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Looking Forward To A Retreat Could Get You Through The Holidays

I like to have something to look forward to at the beginning of the year to help get me through the ordeal of the holidays. If you're a member of the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, looking forward to the 2008 Whispering Pines Writers' Retreat on Feb. 29 through March 2 could be what you need to make the month of December bearable.

The author mentor at the 2008 event will be Mark Peter Hughes. You remember Mark Peter Hughes. I was obsessed with him this summer, not because I'm a fan of his books (I've never read any) but because he quit his job this year to focus on writing full time and then took off on a cross-country promotional tour with his family. I was expecting trauma, if not on the trip, then when he got home and had to face writing full-time without a visible means of regular support. If that's the case, he's been keeping it to himself. No sobbing or chest pounding at his website. Maybe he'll talk about it at Whispering Pines.

Ilene Richard will serve as the illustrator mentor. Kaylan Adair of Candlewick Press and Emily Mitchell of Charlesbridge Publishing will attend as editor mentors.

Another Thing That Could Make December Bearable
: The prospect of winning a book. Forget about finding jewelry, stock, iPods, or computer innards under your tree. You could find an e-mail from me on Christmas Day telling you you've won My Life Among the Aliens.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gaiman And Beowulf

Neil Gaiman was one of the screenwriters for Beowulf. My young family member BDT is teaching sixth grade this year, and he and his colleagues were reading a version of the epic-that-just-won't-go-away to their classes.

According to Salon, maybe they shouldn't be planning any field trips to see the movie. I was thinking of going, though. It's playing on IMAX nearby.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Robert's Snow Interview

Check out Wild Rose Reader's interview with Mary Newell DePalma, one of the artists involved with Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure. I just met Mary this past Sunday.

But The Movie Looks Good

I read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke more than three years ago. My main recollection is that I thought it would never end. When the main character escaped the bad guys and then turned around and went back to their lair, I wanted to wring her little neck.

But Book Moot posted a link to a trailer for the movie, and it doesn't look half bad. I know you can't trust trailers, but this one almost looks as if it focuses more on Mo, the father, than on...ah...ah...whatever-her-name-was, the daughter. If that's the case, some fans might be disappointed (it's supposed to be a kids' book, after all), but I won't mind.

I don't mind Helen Mirren as the freaky aunt, either.

Why Not A Little Healthy Competition?

You've got less than a week to enter the Club Earth Thanksgiving Giveaway but more than a month to take your shot at winning a copy of My Life Among the Aliens for Christmas.

Anyone can enter, of course, but if you teachers and librarians want to have some fun, you can encourage your students to enter to win the book for your library or classroom collections. The more kids who enter on your behalf, the better your chances of winning. Why not start a little competition with that third grade teacher down the hall who you've never really cared for?

Today I heard from an education major looking to start her personal classroom library.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How To Live A Good Life

I am a member of the very, very small group of readers who were not bowled over by Looking for Alaska by John Green. In fact, I may be the only reader who wasn't bowled over by it.

But it wasn't because Green is a bad writer. He is a decent writer who wrote a book I didn't care for. That is perfectly acceptable. So I decided to give his second novel, An Abundance of Katherines, a shot.

Okay, first I'm going to talk about a negative so I can end on a positive note, which will be a novelty for me.

I found the book a little gimmicky. For instance, our main character is always creating anagrams out of names. Plus, the book uses footnotes, a great many of them particularly early in the book. I will admit I've read a few novels with footnotes that I enjoyed. But here they are distracting. A little of the material in the footnotes does pertain to the main story. It could easily have been included in the text. But a lot of it is merely fun, clever stuff that pulls the reader away from the story. Green has a good story here, much more original than in Looking for Alaska, and it's entertaining. But for a long time I didn't feel any compelling need to go back to the book because I couldn't stay in the story. I was always being pulled out of it by footnotes, anagrams, or subtitles warning us that a flashback is coming.

Of course, given that mathematics has such an important place in this story, perhaps Green was trying to make his piece of fiction look like a scholarly work, complete with diagrams, subtitles, and footnotes. That is a neat idea, but it sure wreaked havoc with the narrative flow.

On the other hand, I think Green had some great material here. Colin Singleton is a former child prodigy trying to come to terms with the fact that he may not do anything particularly significant with his life. (He also wants a relationship, but who doesn't?) We're coming off a couple of decades during which many, many kids were identified not as prodigies, perhaps, but as gifted. And what does become of them when they grow up? After having been singled out throughout their schooling and working their butts off (Colin worked many hours a day from the time he was three.), are they left scratching their heads and wondering what they're supposed to do with themselves that's all that different from what their classmates who were merely smart or even average are doing? We're talking a story for our time, wouldn't you say?

In addition, the whole how am I going to live my life? thing is one of my favorite themes, and it's the major question that drives An Abundance of Katherines. The three teen characters--Colin, his best friend, the marvelous Hassan, and the girl who is not named Katherine who they meet in a general store--are concerned with how to live a good life. A good life, not the good life. Work, relationships (of varying kinds), and faith are all issues they deal with.

Whatever flaws An Abundance of Katherines may have, it is thought provoking and witty. I guess I'll be reading John Green's next book, too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Loss Of Contact

On Monday night, the company that provides our Internet service suffered some sort of massive power outage. They got their power back relatively quickly, but they then had a huge problem rebuilding their data. We had general Internet access and personal e-mail yesterday, but the status of my website, blog, and professional e-mail was a mystery. They were some of the things the techies were still trying to rebuild.

I am not at all sure of the connection between loosing your power and having to rebuild your data. I'm just repeating what I was told when I called them yesterday.

My computer guy assured me this would work out. "These people better have had backup somewhere offsite." Well, yeah. If days passed with no improvement, he could have republished my website, and we hoped that Blogger had my five and a half years of blog posts stored somewhere. I will spare you the details of my angst over losing all that. Let's just say I was feeling very Gail Who? without being sexy and fun.

If you entered our Books For The Holidays contest yesterday, please enter again since we may have lost e-mail while all this was going on.

UPDATE: I just noticed that in all the rebuilding data trauma (And I'm talking trauma. My computer guy had to throw cold water on me to calm me down.) one of my Monday night posts didn't make it onto the Internet. So go back a bit to read all about the writers and illustrators I met this past Sunday.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Carbon-based Vs. On-line Book Discussions

Leila at bookshelves of doom is running a discussion of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier at her website. She's calling it The Big Read.

I am so excited.

Years ago--and I mean years ago--a friend and I started a book club at our local library. Forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but we're not exactly a big reading town. As a result, most months we had three to five people show up. Five, in fact, was a crowd.

During the first few years, it didn't matter what we read, we always ended up talking about religion and sex. But after that, we deteriorated into the stereotypical joke book club. After a usually pretty weak ten or fifteen minute discussion of the book, the next hour and a half was spent talking about our kids and the awful things that were going on at the schools in town. Frequently only one or two people would have read the whole book. We'd often select some heavy titles-- nineteenth century novels, for instance--that took a lot of time to read, then we'd get to the meeting and find that only one other person had bothered.

The group meets to this day. You've got to hand it to the people who stuck with it. As I said, they don't get a lot of support. But I'm not there. The separation wasn't ugly, though. I managed to do one of those "It's not you, it's me" things. And, actually, it was.

After that I attached myself to a few on-line book discussions. Many were jut as bad as the real world book groups. But when you get a good on-line discussion, it is fantastic.

The first time it was good for me with an on-line group was at Readerville where the YA Forum discussed Jane Eyre. I had read Jane Eyre as a teenager and really wasn't all that impressed. But the discussion at Readerville made me a Jane fan. Some of the posters were graduate students who had studied the book and they brought wonderful stuff to the table.

The beauty of an on-line discussion, I found, was that you could mull over what others said and respond at your leisure. An extended book discussion allows for thought. Thinking adds a great dimension to talking.

Later, another group did a discussion of a Chuck Palahniuk book that was led by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. The discussion was supposed to last a month, and she kept it going until the very last day. It was great.

Those were peak experiences, of course. Not all discussions will be that great. Even the citizens of Readerville couldn't pull off a good conversation every time. And listserv discussions, in particular, tend to peter out fast.

But when an on-line discussion is good, it is very good. I have great hopes for the Big Read of Rebecca. If you have any interest in that bizarre little classic, head over to bookshelves of doom and check out what's happening.

A Meet And Greet

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Massachusetts School Library Association Author Fest, which was part of the organization's conference. We were in the vendor's hall, which was like a trade show for librarians. In addition to a cash bar, which is always greatly appreciated, this group also had a live band. A good time was had by all.

I learned that The Hero of Ticonderoga has been on some reading lists in Massachusetts, which was very good news, and that A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat is making its way into a number of libraries. Happy Kid! is also known by Massachusetts librarians. So I am a happy author today.

I also met a bunch of people. Many librarians, of course, but some writers, too.

First and foremost (and first, really, because she was the first person to greet me when I arrived--we both still had our coats on), was the kidlitosphere's own Mitali Perkins. Mitali and I kind of know each other in that weird way we have here on the Internet of knowing people we've never actually met in the flesh. But it turns out that knowing someone in cyberspace really is knowing someone because Mitali and I were just off and running as if we talk together all the time.

Seated in front of me at the cute little author tables was Beatrice Gormley who does a lot of nonfiction but also has a new historical novel out. I also met Marcella Pixley who has just published her first book, Freak.

At dinner I sat next to the very neat author/illustrators Mary Newell DePalma and Anna Alter. As it turns out, Anna is one of the Blue Rose Girls. She has also designed a snowflake for Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure that was featured at The Longstockings on November 3. Mary has also done a Robert's Snowflake, and, as luck would have it, it will be featured at Wild Rose Reader this Thursday.

These women were great to eat dinner with. Illustration is a really interesting topic for dinner conversation. I'll be repeating a lot of what they had to say to my sister-in-law during Thanksgiving dinner.

Actually, my entire MSLA experience will probably be my subject for social conversation right through the holidays. Thank God I was invited.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Perhaps This Is Some Kind Of Tribute

Last weekend, Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy did a post on the similarities between the covers for An Abundance of Katherines by John Green and the The Attraction Equation by Charlie Eppes who isn't a real person but a character on the TV show NUMB3RS. Notice that both covers include not only a group of people but mathematical thingies around the titles.

I was forwarding a link to Liz's post to a family member when I realized that the similarities between these books are not limited to the covers.

John Green, a real person, wrote a real book called An Abundance of Katherines about a former child prodigy who is working on a theorem relating to those who are dumped versus those who do the dumping with the intention that somehow this theorem will predict relationships. Charlie Eppes, an imaginary former child prodigy, wrote an imaginary book about his own equation that has something to do with attraction among people, which would also have something to do with relationships. I can't say exactly what because I understand very little of what Charlie Eppes says, I only watch the show because the actor who plays him looks like the family member I was e-mailing today. IMHO, though no one else seems to have noticed.

Anyway, I know I recently said that sometimes two books on the same subject come out at the same time. And, of course, a book and a TV show could appear with similar material at the same time. Except that An Abundance of Katherines came out in September, 2006, while the fake Charlie Eppes wrote his fake book last spring and the fake cover appeared on TV screens this fall. So that's not exactly simultaneous.

Here's what I think should happen: the people behind NUMB3RS should say, "Gee, we don't know how this happened. Perhaps Fate has pulled all this together for its own mysterious purposes. For whatever reason, this has happened, and we're going to put John Greene's book cover up at our website so everyone knows about him and he can sell a million more books."

Or--and this may be even better--the real John Green can sue the pretend Charlie Eppes as part of a NUMB3RS episode. It could even be part of a two- or three-part story arc. And John and Charlie can come up with some kind of mathematical thingie that explains how this whole thing happened. It doesn't even have to be a real mathematical thingie because even though the producers of the show say the math is real, nobody who watches the program has a clue what Charlie's talking about, so it really doesn't matter.

Of course, none of this can happen until after the writers' strike is over.