Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I Have Been Challenged!

One of my listservs was buzzing this afternoon with the news that Jenna Bush's YA book has been accepted for publication by HarperCollins. She wasn't exactly being embraced by the kidlit world, to put it mildly.

I was going to pass on discussing the situation because it's the kind of thing everyone is already talking about, anyway. Plus, it's not a discussion to which I have a lot to offer. What was I going to say? That I find ganging up on a new writer distasteful? Wait until the book comes out and, if it's as bad as so many believe it will be, dump on it then when it's justified?

Yeah, I'm something of a wet blanket on this particular subject. So I was going to let the whole thing pass.

But, then, Kelly at Big A, little a threw down the gauntlet. "Gail, you know I adore you, but defend this one," she said.

Actually, I just wanted to repeat that line about someone adoring me.

Okay. There are, as I see it, two issues here.

One is that Jenna Bush hasn't paid her dues and got a book deal before reaching peri-menopause. She got this book deal because of who she is. Well, you know what? This happens. Over the years it has happened a lot. And not just to celebrities and not just to presidents' kids. People get book deals because they know somebody or their professor knows somebody or they went to the right school or they had the right idea at the right time or they were really good looking and charming and the marketing people at their publisher's home office thought they could sell books. Or, worse yet, they'd had something horrible happen to them and someone thought that would sell.

It's a fact--a fact that really doesn't have anything to do with me. I can't change it. I can only do my own work. I just cannot get fired up with animosity toward these people.

Now, I know there are those who will say, "But she's getting $300,000! Thirty real unpublished writers could each get $10,000 advances with that money!"

That argument has been used about "big-name" adult writers for a couple of decades. I guess the fact that it has made it's way to kidlit is a tribute to the fact that money is now being made here. But here's the counter-argument: Those who defend the big advances for so-called big books claim that those big sellers actually fund smaller, newer writers. Your Stephen Kings, Patricia Cornwells, Daniel Handlers, and J.K. Rowlings keep their publishers afloat and provide them with the wherewithall to make offers to authors who aren't going to become bestsellers.

Honestly, I don't know which of the above arguments is true. And I also doubt that Jenna's nonfiction book is going to pull in big bucks and make it possible for a bunch of Gails to get contracts. But, nonetheless, there are two sides to the argument.

The second issue? Jenna is quoted as saying, "she 'very, very modestly' hopes her book will have some of the influence of two books about girls caught up in the Holocaust: Lois Lowry's novel Number the Stars and Anne Frank's The Diary of Anne Frank." And, really, it isn't very, very modest of her to voice that hope.

Come on. She's what? Twenty-three years old? Twenty-four? She mentioned two books she presumably admires. Is she immodest or is she naive?

By the way, I thought Number the Stars was a run-of-the-mill World War II story. Personally, I question Jenna's judgment in holding it up as a model for herself. I'd like to have seen her show a little more depth.

I feel really bizarre coming out all sunshine and rainbows over celebrity authors. (Not that Jenna Bush is actually a celebrity. She's famous for being someone's daughter, not for being famous.) It doesn't seem like me, does it? I'm the wicked witch of the northeast who is hypercritical about so much that she reads.

But here's the thing--it's the work that's important to me, not the worker. I have to see the result, then I'll decide whether or not I'm going to start bitching. And you know the chances are that I will bitch.

Did I go on too long about this? Blame Kelly! I hope she still adores me.

9 comments:

MotherReader said...

Okay Gail, but how about where Jenna says the book "about a 17-year-old single mother in Panama who is living with HIV--will end with a 'call to action.'"

She might start with calling her dad on his non-progressive, non-compassionate policies. Just a thought.

gail said...

I don't think her family should be a factor in her writing. Mine isn't.

Should people never be able to take their own positions because of who they're related to?

Of course, just what is a "call to action" going to be in a book of this nature?

civilguy said...

History is full of presidential children writing books (both children's books and adult books, fiction and non-fiction). Just a few include: The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer (Amy Carter), Sharp Focus (Susan Ford), Julie Eisenhower's Cookbook for Children, the Capital Crimes Novels (Margaret Truman),A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children (Caroline Kennedy). Rather that prejudge because of who these authors are, let the marketplace decide if the books are good or not.

gail said...

Yes, I find the prejudging on the basis of who the author is disturbing.

By the way, I suspect that many of the books civilguy listed disappeared into the void. But that's the fate of a big percentage of books no matter who wrote them. The fact that many of these people write bad or pointless books doesn't seem like a legitimate argument for prejudging them because many people write bad or pointless books. Can we prejudge all of them?

Kelly said...

Thanks, Gail!

Liz B said...

Gail, this is why I love you! Yep. Let's wait and see what the book is actually like.

And personally, I was a bit relieved that JB showed knowledge of kidlit by naming a couple of authors, instead of doing the whole "there are no good books out there" celeb thing.

Reading Fool said...

The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer (Amy Carter) Really? I have got to find a copy of this! What the heck is a snoogle-fleejer?

Gail, you sound like the voice of reason to me. It's easy to gang up on the Bush twins. They've given us some good ammunition in the past. But that was several years ago, and they have presumably both matured since then. There's certainly no public evidence to prove that Jenna is not a good writer. It is possible to be a well-known person and have some talent for writing. Let's see the book before we decide how good or bad it is. And though she may be slightly less than modest when she says she hopes her book will have the impact of Anne Frank's diary, why shouldn't she want that? Why bother writing a book if you don't want people to read it and be affected by it? And at least she named two books popular with the age group her book is for. It shows she knows something about her audience.

gail said...

Yes, I suspect many writers hope to have the influence of writers they hold in high regard. It's just that most of us realize we'd better not say so.

Bill Coughlan said...

I should point out that -- in the context of the original article -- Bush's comment was not that she admired Lowry and Frank, but that her book would be comparable to theirs (even if in some small way). That's a pretty big distinction. Just as we have to (grudgingly) accept that her celebrity (or notoriety, as the case may be) is what garnered her a book deal, she's going to have to work with the baggage of what that celebrity brings. And when a girl who's really only known for her partying lifestyle starts comparing herself to Anne Frank, then I say criticize away.

Should we reserve judgment on the writing itself? Probably -- though an ill-advised choice of words in a promotional interview does strike me as a fair indicator of her writing ability. Will I make such a judgment myself? Um... no. I doubt I'll even pick the book up. Because this announcement/interview has done nothing to counter my already-extant impression; if anything, it's reinforced it. And -- barring some stellar reviews turning my opinion around -- this one just ain't making the cut.