Monday, April 30, 2007

Do Teenagers Still Read Rebecca?

A great article in The Scotsman called Manderley Revisited deals with Daphne du Maurier, whose one hundredth birthday is coming up on May 13. The article suggests in a couple of places that Rebecca is a twist on Jane Eyre. I can see that. (Spoilers coming. You've been warned.) In Rebecca the unnamed Jane figure actually marries the Rochester figure and learns the secret of the first wife later. There's a fire, and the Jane figure becomes caretaker to the Rochester figure.

Now that it's been pointed out to me, I can see the parallels.

The writer of the article talks about reading Rebecca as a teenager. (At the time, I liked it more than I liked Jane Eyre.) These days, while I often read about Jane Eyre, I don't hear a lot about Rebecca. Unless, of course, the BBC has done a new production that is scooped up by Masterpiece Theatre.

I don't see the second Mrs. de Winter as being as powerful a figure as Jane Eyre, myself. But for teenage girls of a certain generation (or two or three) that was probably her attraction. We were not powerful figures and were delighted to see someone weak and meek like ourselves get the fellow and come out on top in the end. Though I do remember not envying the second Mrs. de Winter her ending. She seemed to be facing a lot of work to me. I have, I guess, always had a lazy streak.

I wonder if today's girls who are reading things like The Gossip Girl or Kiki Strike need to identify with a heroine so bland she doesn't have a name.

Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for the link.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I'm On Some Kind Of Writing Quest

On Friday I spent several hours generating more information for my new project. Then I started thinking about doing some first-person work on my characters, though this is going to be a third-person book. (

Then over the weekend, I decided to rewrite everything I've done so far from the first-person point-of-view of my point-of-view character and then translate it back into third person. If this works, I may write the whole thing in first person and then translate it into third.

This may be one of the more masochistic things I've done.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Does Anyone Else Understand This?

The way this whole Save The Review Section, Save Western Civilization movement has turned into an anti-literary blog campaign is fascinating in a "Hey! Look at the five-legged frog!" sort of way. How are newspaper review sections and litblogs connected? I know plenty of people here in the carbon-based world (winky for you, Sheila) who get all their news from Internet sources, but I don't know a soul who gets all of his or her book information from the Internet.

Are the traditional book critics just looking for a dog to kick?

I've started visiting Critical Mass, "the blog of the national book critics circle board of directors." Yesteryday's post Flat Screen Differs From The Book goes on for a while about the difference between reading on a monitor and reading a book, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what bringing up computers has to do with the writer's passion for books, which she talks about later in the piece, and her desire to see them reviewed. Why bring up computers at all? What was the point?

I enjoy a newspaper book section, myself, and have good reason to want to save them. After all, so long as they exist, there's always the possibility one of my books will be reviewed in some of them. Therefore, I certainly hope the pro-review warriors have a better weapon in their arsenal than complaining about litblogs.

Searching For The Ultimate Adventure

I had a hard time finding "real" information on Elizabeth Haydon the author of The Floating Island, though she has published a number of fantasy titles for adults. The Floating Island is the first in a series for children ten and up.

I had trouble accepting the basic premise of the book, which carries the subtitle The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme. According to the preface, these journals were the basis of two of "the most important books of all time," within, of course, the world of the book. But they've been lost. Only fragments of the journals still exist. "Great care has been taken to reconstruct the parts of the journal that did not survive, so that a whole story can be told."

Well, of course, I'm kind of nitpicky, so my thought is, How? How can they possibly reconstruct the story? And who's doing this? The journal fragments really are just fragments.

But once I was able to just put all that out of my mind, the story is engaging. It reminded me of Monster Blood Tattoo in that it is an adventure fantasy with sophisticated writing. Monster Blood Tattoo has a story line that sticks to its premise, though--a world dealing with monsters. The story line in The Floating Island is a bit like a pinball game. Ven is dealing with pirates, with mermaids, with ghost-like beings, with royalty, with prison. He bounces from thing to thing.

Child readers may not have a problem with that. Or with the fact that one aspect of Ven's character isn't developed at all. He's not a human, but a Nain, beings that live much longer than humans because they age so slowly. He looks thirteen but he's actually fifty. But that isn't picked up on at all in this book. (Though one of his friends does notice that for a fifty-year-old, he's an awful lot like a kid.)

Perhaps Haydon plans to build on Ven's race in a future book. My bias about making each book complete, though, leads me to feel that anything that was brought up in this book should have been dealt with in this book. Dragons, for instance. One appears on the cover, and they're mentioned in the preface. They don't appear anywhere in the body of the book. This led Fuse #8 to award the book a Golden Fuse Award for Most Misleading Cover.

After all these complaints, I still feel the actual sentence-to-sentence, paragraph-to-paragraph writing is well done. This would make a good book for readers whose interests lean to adventure but who have good enough reading skills to handle a little more sophisticated writing.

By the way, Haydon has a curriculum for the book available on-line.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Another Excellent Question

YA Authors Cafe has another Open Discussion going. This one is on Who is reading Young Adult books?

As I may have mentioned here before, when I first started publishing in the mid-nineties, I was told by someone at my publishing house that teenagers didn't read YA. I don't think anyone would say that now. I'm wondering, myself, if a lot of adults are reading it. Certainly within the on-line kidlit community many adults are reading it.

And if adults are reading it, will adult views and interests, adult sensibilities, we might say, start to invade the genre (or classification or whatever it is)?

You might also like to check out Jonathan Hunt's article Redefining the Young Adult Novel in the most recent issue of The Horn Book. In it he discusses crossover novels, "those books that appeal to both teenagers and adults, which could have been published for either market."

I Totally Understand

The second of Elizabeth Merrick's interviews at Blog of a Bookslut features Ned Vizzini.

His answer to "What is it, really, that made you become a writer after all?" "Fear of death."

Absolutely. When I was a teenager, I became interested in writing because I thought it would make me immortal. I had never heard of out-of-print.

A Modest Proposal

artsJournal indicates that there is lots and lots and lots of concern regarding the loss of book supplements in newspapers. Newspapers are cutting these sections of their newspapers (and eliminating book editor positions) to save money. Readership is supposed to be going down due to the quick availability of news on-line and at all news cable stations. In addition, publishers aren't supporting such supplements with ads, instead using their marketing money to pay to have their books displayed at chain bookstores (among other things).

Remember, the number crunchers say that somewhere in the area of 150,000 to 175,000 books are published each year. Even if each book were reviewed and marketed properly, how could the average reader have time to even know of the existence of all those titles, let alone read them? What is the likelihood that readers will ever be able to connect with books that are perfect for them?

Now realize that there's not enough marketing money in the world to market them all perfectly. It is physically impossible for all books to be reviewed and becoming more impossible as publications cut back on their review space.

Think of a funnel with the fat part being all this year's books and the narrow part being review space and the white space beneath the funnel being the public. Now you can get some idea why people are concerned about this.

Here at Chez Gauthier, we have noticed that a great deal of the national news in our local big city paper is day old. It's stuff we read the day before on-line. Word for word because the paper is just printing news service stories.

Not a lot of reason for us to keep up our subscription. As I said earlier, evidently others feel the same way.

What might keep me interested in reading a daily paper? Well, expanded local news, of course, which we can't get on-line. And then how about expanded features? More arts coverage both national and local. More coverage of what's going on at museums, clubs, theaters, and...publishing. More coverage of local authors, local literary awards, author appearances at schools.

Am I the only person who would read more of this stuff? To me, this is the kind of material I can't get on the Internet. Why not give me that in the newspaper instead of cutting it out to give me more wire stories that I've already read?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Rumors Of Things To Come

I've just heard a rumor...a suggestion...that the second A Girl/A Boy book might be coming out in the summer of 2008.

It's nice to have plans. Even if they're tentative.

Cybils Press

I just finished reading the March/April issue of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Bulletin, and what did I find on the very last, meaning external, page? An article by Susan Salzman Raab called Welcoming the Cybils Awards.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Perhaps We're Defining The Word "Art" Too Loosely Here

Margaret Atwood and, to a lesser extent, Kazuo Ishiguro regret the loss of the book browsing experience in How internet booksellers are killing art of browsing from the TimesOnLine. Finding unexpected treats, flap reading, rubbing your fingers over those lovely new paperback covers (I added the last item) are all lost when shopping for books on the Internet.

Take a look at the comments to this article. Kind of eye-opening.

artsJournal provided the link.

More Flotsam

Loree Griffin Burns author of Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion was interviewed Monday on WBUR in Massachusetts. Great interview. Seriously. Griffin Burns has some fascinating stuff to talk about.

And I'm not even all that fond of the ocean.

Griffin Burns has a page at her website on the trips she took while researching Tracking Trash that's worth checking out, too.

Thanks to the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators listserv for the info on the interview.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On Second Thought

In one of yesterday's posts Michelle of Scholar's Blog and I briefly (and I mean briefly) touched on how much we should worry about quality in a first draft. I know this must sound like a ludicrous issue. No matter what you do for work, you should always worry about quality, right?

Over the years, I've found writing more and more difficult. This is in part due to the fact that there was no Internet when I first started writing. Now that there is, I would much rather be checking out almost anything there than doing something hard like worrying about whether or not I'm using too much dialogue or how to show young Olivia's interior turmoil. A lot of my books have also gone through many drafts, which is very normal and very good, but sometimes a little demoralizing. And rather than be demoralized, I'd rather try playing a few games or read about actors I've barely heard of as soon as I come to a bump in the road workwise.

Quite some time ago, I read that writers like myself have too strong an internal editor. I read that and thought it was psychobabble. Drivel. However, after experiencing another year or so of the kind of thing I described in the preceding paragraph, I began to wonder if, yes, maybe I was incapacitated by worry over perfection. (Which is what is meant by an internal editor.) Trying to make this paragraph perfect is so difficult that I think I'll just stop working on it altogether.

To try to get over that, I'm trying to work fast, freewriting through worries instead of running from them. The plan is to get a skeleton story down and then go back and work on the muscle and circulation.

More recently I read an entry in Justine Larbalestier's blog in which she describes using a spreadsheet while writing a novel. Just as with the internal editor, my first reaction was, This is ridiculous. This is pointless fill-in-the-blanks work.

Then I remembered that while working on a later draft of Saving the Planet & Stuff I had to make a chart to keep track of who was doing what in each chapter in an attempt to make sure my main teenage character wasn't being overwhelmed by the adults in the book. And today I came up with an idea for using a spreadsheet for the manuscript I'm working on now.

Instead of stopping and obsessing on each chapter because it's not perfect (and spending enormous amount of time on material that might be deep-sixed 150 pages later), I'll make a spreadsheet with columns where I can enter in the problems I know I'm leaving in each chapter and plans for things I know I still need to do. This may allow me to work faster to get through to the end of a first draft. It may also make the second draft go faster.

Or I may spend an enormous amount of time learning to make a spreadsheet for nothing. Life is a gamble.

My Heart Leaped

A family member found a package from a publisher in the garage on his way into the house this afternoon. Ah, just like those glory days last winter when I was on the Cybils SciFi/Fantasy committee and could expect books to arrive at any time.

As it turns out, it was a paperback copy of The Fetch by Chris Humphreys, which was, indeed, a Cybils nominee. It will be released in paperback on May 8.

Michelle reviewed The Fetch at Scholar's Blog during the Cybils reading period.

Other blog reviews:

Book Moot

Library Goddesses

Monday, April 23, 2007

This Time Last Year

Louise Doughty has a nice little column on the publishing experience. Though I have to say I've never had a publisher send me flowers, I've never had a book party, and I don't get much in the way of really good interviews in the papers. And as I was reading this thing, I kept thinking that Doughty had lucked out majorly with this column. As she was lamenting the lack of attention for her new paperback release, she was giving it a nice little shot of press.

I had a book come out last May and another is coming out this June. I've been thinking about the difference between last spring and this spring.

Last spring I made, what was for me, a major marketing effort. I thought I had a really good hook for publicity, and I spent a great deal of time working on a press release and sending press packages to area newspapers, my alumni magazines, and even a couple of radio stations. I arranged for a store appearance in my hometown, though my contact at the bookstore made it clear that this was really against his better judgment because people don't come to see children's authors. Then I sent press packages to the newspapers up there.

For all my effort, only one area newspaper was interested in me and the resulting article was so poorly written I was embarrassed to show it to anyone. In Vermont I got nothing but tiny mentions in "Calendar" sections of newspapers. I am no longer a hometown girl.

Late in the summer or early fall, I found that my alumni magazine did give me a nice little review and the local NPR affiliate gave me a mention during a book review show, for which I am very grateful.

On the other hand, the bookstores around here wanted nothing to do with me. I was clearly being given the brush-off by a couple of places I called several times and sent arcs. Ten years ago when I was a new writer without an ALA Notable Book and foreign editions to my credit I could get into a few bookstores. I couldn't make much in the way of sales there, but they would have me. Not any more.

This year I sent out a few arcs, contacted an alumni magazine, and at some point I'm supposed to have an essay published in an on-line publication, which should get my name in front of new people. But instead of making calls and mailing packages to people who have no interest in receiving them, I'm working on a new book.

My self-esteem is a little healthier this year than last.

Gail's Progress

The Durand Cousins: I broke ten thousand words today. They aren't ten thousand particularly good words, but it's really important that you not let yourself be burdened by worrying about quality with a first draft. At which point do you worry about quality? A good question.

An Incomplete Education: I'm on page 63 (out of 600+). While I still can't seem to retain much about literature or art, I feel that I now have a pretty good grasp of the Dredd Scott Decision.

NOTE: I wasn't on page 63 of An Incomplete Education. I was on page 93. Heck, I'm almost done!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

News From Down Under

The Children's Book Council of Australia has announced its shortlists for Book of the Year. Included on the shortlist for older readers is a favorite of mine, Monster Blood Tattoo: Book 1 Foundling.

Reader Response

Anyone else notice how short and unreview-like that last post was? For the past couple of months, I've been thinking that maybe I don't really review books at my blog. When I saw Colleen's first post in a series on reviewing at Chasing Ray, it occurred to me that I may not even know what a review should be.

So I've decided that what I write here are reader responses.

Original Content isn't a pure literary blog, anyway. It's my major marketing tool, since I'm so lame at real-world marketing, my way of keeping my name in front of readers and reminding them that I and my work exist. Under those circumstances, is it even appropriate that I should muddy the waters by presuming to review books?

I do like to pretend to talk to people about what I've read, though. But I don't know if what interests me in my reading is what should go into a review. I'm usually interested in how a book represents a certain type of writing. Or I'll obsess about one particular aspect of a book. Or I'll drone on about how a book connects with something else in my life. Or I'll take off on some book that was written back before the Fall, which is hardly up-to-the-minute criticism now, is it?

None of that seems like reviewing. So I'm going to continue doing what I've always done, I'm just going to call it something else.

This is going to get me off the hook with one of my young family members, by the way--the family member with the really strong sense of Moral Values. (Who knows where that came from.) He believes I have no integrity worth mentioning because I won't give the titles of books I absolutely hate, the books I feel have no redeeming social value. He's right. A true reviewer should do that. But my feeling has always been that I am a writer with a blog. Is it right for me to use my personal, self-made soapbox to bash other writers who may not have blogs?

I absolutely believe in discussing what I don't like (and God knows, I don't like a lot), but because I am not a pure review site the way true literary blogs are, I feel I should always find something positive to balance out what I have to say. (Sort of the way Paula Abdul always tells bad singers how nice they look.) Sometimes I have to just link to more favorable reviews to tell readers that mine is not the final word. Sometimes, however, I hate a book so much I can't bring myself to do even that. The fact that positive reviews (sometimes starred reviews) exist for a book I can't stand, puts me into Lewis Black mode. Some awful books I can't name or my head will explode.

If I do reader responses instead of reviews, I can keep my head in one piece.

A Splendid Surprise

Back in the day when I was regularly reading picture books to little nippers, I was always frustrated by books that had few words. And if they had no words, I barely knew what to do. I needed words! I definitely remember my joy when we graduated to a meaty book with chapters. It was an old beat up Disney version of The Sword in the Stone left over from my childhood.

Ah, good times, good times.

Anyway, after I brought home Flotsam by David Wiesner and saw that it has no words, I immediately thought, Ick. But by the third beautiful page I was snagged. What a marvelous book.

And what a marvelous story it tells.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Great Interview With Someone I've Never Heard Of

Blog of a Bookslut started a new feature today (new for them at least), a weekly interview. Today's is with Aury Wallington, who I've never heard of, but her book Pop was named one of the New York Public Library's 2007 Books for the Teen Age. And she has written a number of what look like companion books to The OC, which I assume are read by younger folk.

This is a really good interview conducted by Elizabeth Merrick who asks questions about how Wallington writes. This curious mind wants to know. Wallington also talks about her difficulty writing nonfiction, another subject that interests me.

Best question? "Describe the arch-nemesis of your youth. How has this person appeared in your writing?" Seriously, I think this question could be very revealing.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Negative Side Of Reading A Good Book

It always happens. Whenever I finish reading a good book, the next one I pick up is not. Good.

And that happened yesterday. I picked up a book that's been sitting in my TBR pile for months, opened it, and found...the dreaded journal format! With a very flat writing style and a twinkly grandmother. She made me long for the grandmother in Magic Lessons. Really, I should have given that book more credit for its grandmother. Man, she sure didn't twinkle.

Anyway, I only read a few pages of yesterday's book before saying, "I just can't do this."

I'm reading a book now that appears to include a dragon. After I started that one, I said to myself, "Gail, why don't you just accept that dragons are right up there with fairies as far as things you hate are concerned and ditch this book, too?" But the writing is decent in this book so I'm going to stick with it a while.

How Odd, I Was Just Thinking About Him

Colleen at Chasing Ray reports that Ray Bradbury won a Pulitzer Prize, or at least a special citation from the Pulitzer people.

Reading that was one of those bizarre moments (of which I have so very, very many) because I'd been thinking of Bradbury recently. I was wondering what became of his new book Farewell Summer. It got a little buzz last fall just before and after it was published but then seemed to drop off the radar. I've been thinking that I really want to stumble upon that book somewhere so I can read it.

Last week I was feeling really out of things because Kurt Vonnegut wasn't a major figure from my youth. I tried reading him in college, but I didn't actually "get" him. I missed the Vonnegut experience.

Just now I realized that that's okay because I had Ray Bradbury.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Seeking Balance In All Things

A few days ago, Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy passed on a question from another blogger--What is the recipe for good historical fiction?. I happened to be reading A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz at the time, so I gave the question some thought.

I like to see balance in most things, anyway, but especially in writing. All the elements of fiction--plot, character, setting, point of view, voice, and theme--need to be attended to equally. This is much, much easier said than done. That's why you end up with books that are said to be plot-driven or character-driven. And sometimes, particularly in YA, you end up with books that are all voice. The plot is ridiculous, the characters are stereotypes, but there's a voice that someone thought would carry the day.

With historical fiction, the author has to work a lot harder on the setting (time and place) than the other elements, but those other elements have to balance the setting in order to create a good book.

The elements are beautifully balanced in A Drowned Maiden's Hair.

I wasn't overwhelmed by the splendor of the historical detail in A Drowned Maiden's Hair the way I was by the historical detail in The Green Glass Sea but Maiden's Hair had a far better plot/story to go along with its early twentieth century setting. And the characters!

Young Maud, an orphan, is adopted out-of-the-blue by two elderly sisters who lavish her with new clothes on their way home to their large home, but then make her hide in the attic when guests come. Tough, smart Maudie has been adopted for a reason, and when she learns that reason she makes a sincere effort to play her part in her beloved new Aunt Hyacinth's plan.

Aunt Hyacinth is lovely, charming, witty, flirtatious, stylish, and smart. She's a wonder. And easily in her sixties. What a stroke of genious to make this heavy an older woman. (Think Blythe Danner)

Maud, herself, is a wonderfully controlled character. She is angry and needy and smart and stubborn and conniving and heartbreaking and bad and good and wryly funny. She has a voice, in spite of being a third-person character. The absolute easiest way to create a voice for a character is to write in the first person. Maud is really quite an accomplishment.

She is also a point-of-view character, by the way. She's in every scene. Everything is seen from her perspective.

So we have setting, plot, character, voice, and point of view. Hmmm. What does that leave? Oh, yeah. Theme.

Right and wrong, people. It's as simple as that. Good vs. bad.

So if you want a recipe for good historical fiction, take a look at A Drowned Maiden's Hair.

A Drowned Maiden's Hair, by the way, was the Cybils winner for middle grade fiction.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Looks Interesting Even To Me

I have never had a great interest in team sports, and the prospect of reading about them isn't very enticing. However, The Kiddosphere has a list of baseball books that's impressive, in large part because of it's variety. Well, actually, most of them are historical, which may be what attracts me. But Jennifer covers books about Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, the Negro Leagues, and the Girls Professional Baseball League. And then there's a time travel baseball book, so you've got scifi, history, and baseball all rolled into one.

Not Better, Not Worse, Different

Members of the blogosphere (at least the portion I inhabit) are wondering if blogging has had a negative impact on reviewing. This line of thought was inspired by an article in n+1 called The Blog Reflex, which was excerpted at a blog called Jess. (Just out of curiousity, has anyone read the entire article?)

Anyway, Fuse #8 saw the arguments made in The Blog Reflex as being "a slightly rehashed version of the eternal Should a Blogger Post Negative Reviews question that keep popping up."

Read Roger's response was that kidlit bloggers have "created a community of interested parties heretofore unknown in the children's book world...But I'm not sure it has lead to better reviewing: can we truly "all be in this together" at the same time some of us are judging the work of others?"

Here is my spin, which I know everyone is desperate to hear: We should be keeping in mind that the Internet is a different medium. What is published here is not supposed to be the same as what is published in traditional print media. Anyone who is posting "5,000-word critiques of their favorite books and records", as the original n+1 article suggested, hasn't researched her market, as we say in writing. I hate to sound simplistic and simple, but material written for the Internet is supposed to be short. Long stretches of unbroken text are deadly on the Internet.

Readers don't come to blogs to read the equivalent of one of those endless New Yorker articles on say, the quality of literary critism. They come to blogs to learn that those endless New Yorker articles exist and how to get to them should they wish to do so. Literary blogs, in particular, are a sort of directory of, a response to, a conversation about what is being written and read elsewhere and everywhere.

A metaphorical salon, perhaps.

Roger Sutton at Read Roger said in one of his comments that blogging is an "undifferentiated mix of news, gossip, shoutouts, trivia--and reviews." I don't think he meant that to be insulting, and I don't think it is. That is the salon aspect of blogging. The blog is different from other forms of writing. Not better, not worse, different.

Will the "coziness" (again from Roger) of these salons and their blog reviews have some kind of impact on reviewing altogether? I'm not sure. I learned a great deal about writing from reading the New York Times Book Review years ago and not because everything I read there was cozy and positive. Many of the reviews I read (I could get through) indicated a knowledge about writing and literature on the part of the reviewer that went beyond what he or she had to say about that particular book. Blog reviewers may very well have that same knowledge but when they only discuss what they like, they aren't necessarily getting an opportunity to share everything they know. If the coziness of blog reviewing makes the jump to traditional print reviews, I think something very well could be lost.

On the other hand, print reviewers seem to have such a bias against blog reviewers that it's hard to believe they'll be influenced by anything we're doing. In which case, we can all remain in our different worlds doing what we do...differently.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sharp Cover

Scott Westerfeld has finished the first draft of Extras, the next book in the Uglies series. Get a load of the cover. And, while you're at it, look at the number of responses he got to that blog post.

I have that many readers, by the way. More than that many. You guys just aren't very vocal. I'm cool with the introvert thing.

One Thousand More Words, You Slacker

A few days ago, the very nice literary agent at Pub Rants did a post on mentors for new writers. This reminded me of a woman I used to know who was working on a master's degree in writing and kept talking about her "writing coach."

That's what I'd really like. Forget about a mentor. I want a coach who will function like a trainer and plan a writing program for me. "Work on your attention span, Gail." "Study plot." "Attend Program A." "Read Book C." "Set a daily minimum number of pages you're going to write." "Don't worry about the first draft--just write it."

I've been trying to work differently on my new fiction project. So, presumably, I will eventually end up with a new manuscript and a new writing process. A twofer.

The Durand Cousins: 6,367 words.

Reminded Me Of The Old Days

I have way too much to read stacked up in my own house, but I can't stand leaving a library empty-handed. So the last time I made a run to the library for returns, I picked up some picture books.

I've been hearing about Jamie Lee Curtis's books for years, so when I saw her new one, Is There Really a Human Race?, I snatched it up. I'd heard that Curtis was inspired to write this book when one of her own children asked her if the term "human race" meant that there was some kind of race that humans were running. I like that. I like inspiration coming from every day events and interactions with people.

But I did find this book a little...preachy. Essentially, it's saying don't scramble to get ahead. That's certainly good advice, but that's what the book is all about...advice. I wonder, too, if a small child will understand all of it.

"Do some of us win? Do some of us lose?
Is winning or losing something I choose?
Why am I racing? What am I winning?
Does all of my running keep the world spinning?"

I know adults who would find that too deep.

Believe it or not, I used to teach Sunday school. For eleven years, in fact. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. They were short on warm bodies to prop up at the front of the classrooms.) I began my Sunday school teaching career in the preschool. Each week we'd gather the 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds together for a fifteen-minute worship service. Instead of a sermon, the worship leader read them a picture book. Not all the picture books she chose were Bible stories or even spiritual. Some of them were just well-intentioned and...instructive.

I can easily imagine Is There Really a Human Race? being read aloud in that setting, with the leader stopping every few pages to ask questions and make sure the kids get the jokes. Being read aloud during a Sunday school story time isn't a bad thing by any means. But it seems like a more natural place for a child to hear Human Race than, say, right after school while snacking on crackers and cheese or while curled up with a parent for a bedtime story.

Of course, instruction may have been Curtis's intention. If you go to The Books section of her website, you'll find that each of her titles is labelled with a topic like "Self Control" or "Moods & Feelings." (The label for Is There Really a Human Race? is "Self Awareness.") A teaching theme may be her interest as a writer.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Literary Fight!

The end of last month Meg Rosoff got a nice little pissing match going over at The Guardian's Books Blog. Do these kinds of things happen over here between writers and general readership?

In Selling Yourself As A Writer Rosoff wrote a "how-to" list for writers based on what she learned during her years working in advertising. One reader, in particular, took offense because "Marketing is important" was placed at the top of the list. The fight was on, with Rosoff, herself, getting a couple of pops in.

At one point she said, "Stop reading the blog. It'll improve both our lives." I have to agree with the reader who didn't find that response terribly profound.

Well, she did call the post Selling Yourself As A Writer. What did readers expect to find there? It's not like she suggested that writers plan to spend their advance on promotion, hire private P.R. people, or send gifts to their publishers' marketing staff, all of which I've heard elsewhere.

Thanks to not your mother's book club for the link.

Such A Waste

My local big city paper carried an article last week called Writing Reduces Stress. I'd known that writing can have a positive effect on people emotionally, but I'd never heard that type of writing given a name as it is in this article--expressive writing.

"And what do you do with your text when you are finished?" the author asks at the end of his own piece of writing. "Shred it, burn it, delete it."

What!? Throw writing away? All I could think of was that if I wrote about the most miserably unhappy events of my life, I would finish, look down at my paper, and say to myself, "There's got to be some way I can use this stuff."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Earth, Wind, And Fire. Wait...And Water

Shannon Hale has a new book coming out soon for adults. So I decided it was time for me to read her most recent book for young people, River Secrets.

River Secrets is described as a companion book to two earlier Hale works, The Goose Girl and Enna Burning. I liked The Goose Girl enough that I actually went out and tried to read some fairy tales since it was based on one I wasn't familiar with. I skipped Enna Burning but had no trouble coming up to speed with River Secrets.

Hale's books exist within an imaginary universe that seems somewhat similar to a late medieval world. There are princes and princesses, transportation is primarily by horse, and guns don't appear to exist. There are soldiers rather than knights, though. And within this universe there are people who can control the elements. Sometimes it's wind, sometimes it's fire, sometimes it's water. (In The Princess Academy , which I've also read, some young women can communicate somehow with rocks. I don't remember the exact details.)

This power is random and democratic. A princess or a young noblewoman might have it but so might a working stiff. Though in these books women seem to have it more often than men.

River Secrets, however, centers on Razo, a powerless character who appears in earlier books. He's a poor, young soldier, a very charming Everyman who isn't all that adept at even run-of-the-mill soldiering, forget about having a grasp on anything supernatural.

So Hale has a well-developed setting, good characters, and some elegant writing--particularly at the beginning of chapters. What's she's not quite so good at in River Secrets is plot. (Hey, plot is hard. Believe me.)

In an earlier book Bayern (Razo's homeland) fought a war with Tira that Bayern won because Enna, of Enna Burning, has power over fire. She used it to assist her people but at a heavy cost to the Tirans, who are still bitter. A Bayern ambassador with a military escort (and Enna as a waiting lady) goes into Tira to try to make nice. But burned bodies keep turning up, the implication being that someone is trying to sabotage the Bayern mission by framing them for these murders.

So the book seems to be a mystery. I like cross-genrization, myself, and this idea definitely worked for me. However, the elements of the plot don't necessarily lead from one to another, there's often long gaps in the action, and big questions are never dealt with. For instance, who the heck are these dead people? We find out at the end, but, logically, wouldn't someone have missed them and raised questions? The Tirans have no organization in place to investigate crimes and stop criminals? One character tries to kill Razo, he knows who does it, but nothing happens to her. Why not? He didn't tell anyone? And, if so, again, why not? And, finally, the ultimate antagonist isn't very well-integrated into the story.

Then there are romantic elements that are not unattractive, by any means, but because those aspects of the book are better done than the mystery, they tend to make the mystery's failings stick out even more.

My concerns don't seem to be shared by others. The book received at least two starred reviews, and bloggers turned cartwheels over it. This is one case where I can understand the response. I think that Hale, like Megan Whalen Turner, is a very decent writer who has created a universe her fans like so much that they're willing to turn a blind eye to any missteps in order to enter it once again.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Hey, Look! Gail's Doing A Poetry Post!

Yesterday Blog of a Bookslut included a post by a guy from New Britain, which is of modest interest to those of us who know people going to college there. Said blogger linked to four essays on memorizing and reciting poetry. I chose a shorter one with large print so that I could read it on the treadmill. (That's my criteria for much of my reading material--Can I read it on the treadmill?)

So I read Preface: Recitation Considered as a Fine Art by Jerome McGann. Favorite bits:

As we know, students--most ordinary and intelligent people, for that matter--imagine poems are difficult, full of deep meanings that have to be deciphered...Above every poem we "teachers" have inscribed a hellish warning: Abandon hope, all you who enter here.


In my experience, many difficulties of meaning disappear when students begin to construct and perform recitations.

Falling Off The Wagon

Colleen at Chasing Ray had an interesting post a couple of days ago about her writing projects and how they're going. She's working on two projects--a YA urban fantasy and a memoir. I'm working on two projects, too--a middle-grade science fiction thing and a collection of essays. (Yeah, like those sell so well.) Colleen has been feeling stuck, but for the last couple of weeks I've been feeling as if I'm finally getting into a writing groove.

I was in the process of giving up my dependence on a lengthy morning ritual that involved surfing the net for a couple of hours in favor of some tricks. I was doing far better with free-writing than I've done in the past (even though I think it's the key to everything) and that free-writing was involving outlining. I mean, I really need to have some idea what I'm going to say.

However, if the beginning of my workday is upset in some way, I'm usually wrecked until I can sleep it off. And if the beginning of my workweek is upset, it can be hard for me to pull myself together until the following Monday, no matter how much I sleep.

This week, the plumber was here on Tuesday.

It wasn't the worst week I've ever had by a longshot. I made some progress on the middle-grade story and totally revised one and a half essays. But today I really fell off the wagon and was checking my e-mail all day (I've been limiting myself to three times a day this week) and constantly doing my ritual rotation through a couple of news sites, Salon and Slate. Really, they do sometimes put up new material during the day.

Fortunately, I am not beating myself up about this because I'm an evolutionary person, not a revolutionary. I don't expect change over night. Or in one day. Or one week. If I live long enough, I'm going to get a handle on this writing thing.

I'm So Sorry

The Seven Imps have an interview up with John Green. I usually can't get to their interviews right away, but for reasons that will become clear in my next post, I'm a little ahead with my blog reading today so I went for it.

This guy sounds so interesting that I'm left feeling really sorry I didn't like Looking for Alaska more than I did. I have hopes for An Abundance of Katherines, but I haven't read it yet.

I felt the same way after reading Miss Erin's two-part interview with Dia Calhoun. Calhoun's sincerity in wanting to write about her response to the attack on the World Trade Center was very touching, and I wished I liked the result, Avielle of Rhia more than I did.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So What Do We Think About So-Called "Mature Content"?

YA Authors Cafe is having an open discussion on sexual content in YA books. So if you have any thoughts on the subject, you know where to go.

Edited Title: I edited the title of this post on the advice of my computer guy who was concerned about attracting unsavory spam. He may be erring on the side of caution, but it may be easier to try to avoid receiving smut than to try to get rid of it after it starts arriving.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Little News For Saving The Planet

As I've said before, it's always gratifying when one of your older titles gets some new attention. School Library Journal recently included Saving the Planet and Stuff in a list of titles to use for Earth Day.

As luck would have it, I just happened to look at the calendar today, notice that Earth Day is coming up, and thought how I'd missed the boat again on trying to promote Saving the Planet in conjunction with that event. And then School Library Journal did it for me!

A really big thank you to Sheila at Wands and Worlds for letting me know about this.

Revisitng The Softwire With BDT

We haven't heard from our young elementary school teacher, BDT, for a while, so I thought I'd do a post on what he had to say about Cybils' nominee, The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1.

Some Cybils folks were just talking this past week about how few true science fiction nominations we received in the Fantasy/SciFi category. I think it's fair to say that The Softwire by P.J. Haarsma was the most hardcore nomination we saw. It had aliens. It had space travel. It had computers. It had humans interfacing with computers. Many of the traditional scifi bases were covered.

And covered pretty well.

BDT agreed for the most part:

"The story was good, but I found myself skimming through parts to get to the climax. The idea of human slavery in space was interesting; I also think that would be what would happen if we encountered "aliens". It seems they must be smarter than us, especially if they're already in space.

The book overall was quite good. It took me away from TV and videogames, which is saying something on my days off. I hope there will be a sequel."

BDT's prediction that we'll be enslaved if we encounter aliens reminded me of his uncle. Said uncle has always believed that if aliens come to Earth it would only be for one reason--to eat us. I guess his feeling is that the only reason to travel any distance is to go out to eat.

You can check out an article on author, P. J. Haarsma at Booklad. According to Booklad, new Softwire books will be coming out in August over the next three years, which should make BDT happy.

It's a long piece, but there's a lot of interesting material in it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

I mentioned a while back that I had bought a book for some people who never even looked at it. Well, the "people" were family members who kept complaining that they hadn't learned anything in college or weren't learning anything in college. So I bought them An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned But Probably Didn't.

I was just being thoughtful.

As I said, to my knowledge, they never even opened the cover. So I decided, Hey, I didn't learn anything in college, either. I'll read this thing.

Well, this thing is the size of a city telephone directory. I'm reading a few entries every night. Unfortunately, the authors don't number each item so while I'm on page 48 (still Chapter 1), I don't know how many of the "3,684 things" I've knocked off. I've only got 630 pages to go, though!

So I had this idea. I thought I should start another blog about my experience reading An Incomplete Education. You know, like The Julie/Julia Project or Blogging the Bible. And then some publisher could offer me a book contract. Then there would be a movie. And a television series.

But here's the problem with that plan: Though An Incomplete Education is very readable, even entertaining, I'm not retaining anything. I still can't tell you anything about Ezra Pound or William Carlos Williams...Wait! No! Yes, I can! William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician!

I finished reading a section on American intellectuals last night. How has this changed my life? I keep thinking, Intellectual. Just how do you apply for that job? What's the pay scale? Are there benies?

If I learn anything interesting and can recall it long enough, I'll blog about it. I wouldn't expect much, though.

More On That Monster Cat

Jen Robinson has also reviewed A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat. My favorite line? "Hannah is almost entirely ruled by her imagination, seeing villains around every corner, and converting tree limbs into helicopters."

Bloggers are on the cutting edge as far as Monster Cat is concerned, getting in with reviews before the traditional journals.

By the way, thank you to Liz B. for shortening the title to Monster Cat. I hadn't thought of that, and now I can't think of anything else.

Still Here

The Cybils site hasn't gone into hibernation during this non-nominating, non-reading period. In fact, a new interview with Sylvia Long, author of the non-fiction winner An Egg Is Quiet, has just been posted.

And speaking of all things Cybil, Confessions of a Bibliovore recently reviewed one of my favorite nominees, Larklight.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My Incredibly Miserable Life

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga is a very well-written formula story, the formula being bitterly unhappy genius teen loner meets suicidal girl and no one lives happily ever after. I was kind of anxious while reading it because I pretty much knew what was going to happen, and I kept hoping things were going to be different because I hated to see such good writing doing the same old, same old.

Fanboy isn't a massive book but it seemed to take me a long time to get through it. Some of the scenes seemed to go on and on, particularly when Fanboy and Goth Girl were fighting. For instance, there's one scene in which they're talking about girls' breasts that seemed as if it could have used a little nip/tuck. And yet, the ending seemed rushed. I had trouble seeing how ol' Fanboy got to various points in his thinking. I felt he was making some creative leaps and not taking me with him. I think one could make an argument that the ending was more upbeat than it could have been, but it's hard to see exactly how Fanboy got there.

I kept thinking of Boy Proof while I was reading Fanboy because while Boy Proof covers a lot of the same ground--brilliant, arty teen who doesn't fit in--it doesn't seem as oppressively formulaic.

Check out the Amazon reviews for more positive responses to this book.

Monster Cat Review

Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy has come in with what appears to be the first review for A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat.

Liz said, "Part of the humor is from Hannah herself; she is blunt, confident, and has no idea she may rub someone the wrong way. Upon meeting the new neighbor, Hannah asks "is your house haunted?" Brandon recognizes that the new neighbor does the equivalent of back away slowly from Hannah; Hannah herself has no idea that she's scared the neighbor."

I've talked here about the significance of reviews, any kind of review, not just good ones. But here's an aspect of reviews I haven't mentioned--It's nice to feel that someone gets you. After one of my books was published, my then editor and I were talking on the phone about the reviews, and she said of one of them, "She gets it."

I'm always going on here about reading being a way of seeking connections. Perhaps writing is, too. It's very satisfying to have a reader get you, get a character, get what you're talking about.

Liz got Hannah.

Shirley And Me

Back in 2005 I got all excited reminiscing about Shirley Jackson because of a post at Blog of a Bookslut. Well, it's about to happen again because Jessa is reading Shirley.

If you read that 2005 post I just linked to, you saw that I read The Lottery to my kids when they were in grade school. Well, the older boy gets to high school where, lo and behold, they read The Lottery in one of his English classes. He goes, "Hey, my mom read this to us when we were little."

Evidently the other kids in the room were impressed. And not because my boy was so well read. He got the creepy mom award that day.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Seeking Inner Peace Through Picture Books

I have never meditated for more than five minutes, tops, and then only because I was in a yoga or martial arts class that required that I sit there and not get up and walk away, so I figured I might as well try. Nonetheless, I think meditation is probably a very good thing. It's one of those activities that I plan to get into someday.

So I was attracted to Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee MacLean when I stumbled upon it at my local library. (Not yours R.F.).

For someone like myself, whose meditation skill is on the level of a preschooler's, this seemed a good introduction to why a person might want to meditate and how to begin.

I kept getting distracted, though, because the pigs were naked. Distraction isn't great for meditation. Of course, I didn't beat myself up for it. I just called my mind back to the book.

Though this book was published back in 2004, I found it on the New Book Shelf in the children's area. That was a very encouraging sight for a writer. I often get the impression that my books are toast as soon as the following season's book catalogue comes out. It was good to see a three-year-old book still selling.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Interview With Adam Rex

I am finally visiting the most recent Carnival of Children's Literature, and I found an interview with Adam Rex at Kelly Fineman's Live Journal. Rex wrote and illustrated Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich.

Hitchhiker Interview

The first issue of Darker Matter, an on-line science fiction magazine, includes an unpublished 1979 interview with Douglas Adams. I mention this because Adams was wildly popular with a couple of teenagers around here a few years ago. In fact, one of them turns up his nose at Hitchhiker-like fiction because he sees such authors as Adams-wannabes. He accepts no imitations.

Link from Blog of a Bookslut.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

More Great Reading I Just Have To Talk About

I knocked off the March/April Horn Book today. My favorite article was An Interview with George M. Nicholson by Leonard S. Marcus. I had never heard of George M. Nicholson, and the interview was all about the history of children's paperback book publishing. Doesn't sound riveting, does it? Well, it was. Redefining the Young Adult Novel by Jonathan Hunt (a name Adbook listserv members will certainly recognize) was also interesting. He has a lot to say about crossover novels. He places The Book Thief and Octavian Nothing in that category, though I thought a book had to be published as an adult novel (as Book Thief was in Australia) in order to "cross over" to YA. A few of this issue's interesting reviews: Margo Rabb's Cures for Heartbreak. Penni Russon's follow-up to Undine, Breathe. Cynthia Leitch Smith's Tantalize. Geraldine McCaughrean's The White Darkness, which was published a couple of years ago in England and shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Prize and the Carnegie Medal. I was particularly interested in this title because McCaughrean wrote Peter Pan in Scarlet, which I loved. And, I just learned, she also wrote A Pack of Lies, a book I liked very much except for the ending. Perhaps I'm becoming a McCaughrean fan.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Glad I'm Not Doing YA This Year

According to Pub Rants, Barnes & Noble is the main seller of YA, and that chain doesn't have any plans to expand shelf space for teen books. She suggests that perhaps B&N thinks the market is a little too crowded.

That's the second time in the last few weeks I've read something that suggests that maybe the YA explosion is becoming a little less explosive. Unfortunately, I can't remember where I found the first suggestion.

Another Great Way To Start The Day

On Monday I started my work day by reading The Essentials of Plot by Cheryl Klein. Today I started by reading Mitali Perkins' article for School Library Journal, No Place Like Home.


Mitali's essay begins with the premise that teenagers who are moving between cultures like to read books with a strong sense of place. Any place. It's an interesting point, but now that she's brought it up, I wonder if it isn't true of all kinds of teenagers. They're all in transition, anyway, moving from childhood to adulthood.

At any rate, as I was reading along, I thought, Gee, Kiki Strike, which I just finished reading, had a strong sense of place. Lo and behold, Mitali used that very book as an example while explaining techniques used to describe a setting.

What's more, she also provides an excellent theory for Harry Potter's popularity. Those are not my favorite books, but, yeah, I think she makes a good point regarding them.

No Place Like Home doesn't just have a lot of interesting content. It's also very well-written in a traditional essay format. I think it might be an excellent example for teachers teaching essay writing skills to middle and high school students, since you'd think they'd be interested in the subject.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Scooby Gang Takes On A Girl Posse

Kirsten Miller works in advertising, and her debut book, Kiki Strike Inside The Shadow City, reads as if a really savvy marketer took a piece of many high profile stories and melded them together brilliantly. You've got a girl spy/criminal in the tradition of Artemis Fowl with her own Scooby Gang (nod to Buffy) that takes on a mean girl posse from...well, any number of recent books and movies. Then you've got a princess, and we love princesses. Really. You've got a world under New York, though it's more like the old Beauty and the Beast series than the Underland.

And you've got some history and mystery, too.

All these elements are worked together very well. The Scooby Gang is known as the Irregulars, which Miller says is a tribute to the Baker Street Irregulars of the Sherlock Holmes' stories. What's more, the book is narrated by a Watson-like character with a voice that is notable and not imitative of other first-person kid narrators. Though I did figure out the ending, I didn't do it right away. And there were plenty of twists and turns before I got there.

Kiki Strike is definitely a good entry in the early teen mystery category.

Markus Zusak Is A Brave Man

Markus Zusak is Writer in Residence at inside a dog. He's uncomfortable about blogging, so he's decided to post chapters from a side project he works on "when things are going poorly with the book I’m trying to write."

I think working on more than one project at a time is a marvelous idea, something I aspire to but not very vigorously. Zusak's post really sounds like something he's just tinkering with at this point, and I admire his guts in exposing it to the world.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Here's Something I Don't Think Of Often

Collen Mondor of Chasing Ray has written an article on young adult adventure books for Eclectica Magazine. Adventure stories for teenagers--there's something about that that sounds very retro. Not that that's a bad thing. In fact, it's very intriguing. I just can't recall reading about that subject recently.

One Of These People Is Having The Best Day Ever

That would be me. I had one of my best work days ever. It began with me reading The Essentials of Plot at Talking Books, editor Cheryl Klein's website. (I found this site because Roger Sutton has spoken of Cheryl a few times.) This write-up of a speech Cheryl gave is fantastic. I've been anxious about the plot for a new project, and reading this speech got my day off to a great start. I finally finished the first chapter, with an ending different and better than I had expected. In fact, I didn't expect that ending until it happened.

I'm hopeful that I can forget about the plot and just work on the story in the future, as Cheryl suggests. I have a great deal of trouble moving ahead in a project until I have a first chapter I'm happy with. It's a foundation thing.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Importance Of Reviews

A few years back I used to refer to Jane Yolen as my on-line mentor because I was obsessed with her On-line Writer's Journal. (If she knew I existed, she probably referred to me as her on-line stalker.) As with most of my obsessions, it finally burned itself out, and I don't go to her journal anywhere near as often as I used to. But the last couple of times I've been there I've found some very juicy stuff.

If you go to her Journal and scroll down to March 11, you'll see a fascinating post about how receiving no reviews for a book is far, far worse than receiving a bad review. Talk about "Telling the True."

Many years ago I was a member of a book club, and we were reading what I thought was a quite fascinating nonfiction book by a couple of professors at UConn. (I can't remember the title or the authors. Really.) It must have been my month to lead the discussion because I researched the book, looking for reviews, and couldn't find any. I asked my local librarian about it. How could there be no reviews for a book that was only a year or so old?

Her response? "The journals must not have thought the book was important enough to review."

I'm not scared of bad reviews. I would prefer not to get them, but I'm willing to take a punch because a bad review means your book is important enough to discuss. You're still a contender. But no reviews? That is my big fear.

More Literary Fiction For Kids?

When I started reading Firegirl by Tony Abbott, the only thing I knew about it was that it was written by a guy from Connecticut. I've had some of my very best reading experiences when starting a book from a position of nearly total ignorance like that.

First-person narrator Tom Bender appears a little dull in the opening pages of Firegirl, and at that point a reader can't be blamed for wondering if she'll be able to stand being with him for very long. His best friend is an obviously shallow classmate Tom clings to because he doesn't have anyone else. Even his fantasy about saving the girl he's attracted to doesn't seem all that engaging...though he does dream of doing it with the help of various small superpowers. Nothing too ambitious for this run-of-the-mill kid.

When a new classmate appears, a jaded reader might begin to worry that this is going to turn into a problem book. The new classmate is, after all, a terribly disfigured girl who is undergoing treatment at a local hospital for the burns she suffered over a large portion of her body.

But Firegirl isn't about Jessica and how she deals with her personal tragedy. No, it's about sadsack Tom and how he deals with Jessica entering his life.

This poor boy is struggling so hard to hold on to his one friend, who really is no prize. At the same time, he is overwhelmed with the desire to do the right thing by Jessica whose injuries are so horrible that his classmates are shaken by her presence.

The intensity of Tom's turmoil and Jessica's family's suffering as well as the mystery around just what happened to her elevate this story well above a traditional what-would-you-do-if-this-happened-to-you tale.

At the end of the book, Tom, himself, says that very little has happened. Externally, he's right. The plot to this book is all inside Tom. A few weeks ago while blogging about another book, I talked about the difference between commercial (above-the-surface plot) and literary (below-the-surface plot)fiction. Firegirl seems to be a very fine example of the latter.