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.