Thursday, May 31, 2007


This Washington Post article about Barbara Holland is both creepy and encouraging. Creepy because a smoker's hack isn't really all that cool. Encouraging because it's nice to think you can be a wild woman at any age. Some of us need something to look forward to.

Holland has written three children's books, according to this article. The titles I found were:

The Pony Problem

How's Business? (A joke book)

Creepy Mouse Coming To Get You I love the title. The card catalogue description at Amazon makes it sound like either a problem novel or a thriller. "A young boy finds that it is up to him to shield his sister and baby nephew from her quick-tempered husband, recently released from prison."

She also wrote the foreward to The Ugly Dachshund, another great sounding title.

While I'm Thinking Of It

Today is Thursday, people, and that means that publication day for A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat is only three weeks away. That also means the Monster Cat Giveaway is only three weeks away, too. Mark your calendars.

Of course, my copies of the books haven't arrived yet. But I'm not worried.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm Looking Forward To This

Mark Peter Hughes, author of Lemonade Mouth, recently had a commentary broadcast on NPR. He also recently quit his day job. He's also getting ready to take off on a cross-country tour.

I find the tour part, in particular, fascinating because, remember, I got lost in Worcester, Mass., which is only a couple of hours from home.

Mark will be setting up a blog relating to the tour. I'll be checking it out because I am both masochistic and into drama. If the tour is a big success, I want to know so I can suffer in comparison and feel miserable about myself. In addition, we're talking about a guy with a family to support who just walked away from a paying job to make a living writing. This is the kind of thing people build reality series around, folks.

High drama. I'm getting pumped.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

8 Things Meme

I like being tagged for a meme because it means I'm part of a group. However, because I pretend this is a professional blog, if I take part in a meme, I have to connect it to writing or books. You've been warned.

Camille tagged me with the 8 Things Meme. So did MotherReader! I have never been so popular.

Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

(By the way, I'm sure I took part in a meme similar to this a couple of years ago, but I can't find it now. I hope I'm not repeating myself.)

1. We live in a town with poor water quality. Our well is a shaft directly to hell. Periodically, our water treatment system fails us. Thus, over the years I have spent a lot of time in Laundromats. I'm on a first name basis with the Laundromat ladies at my local fluff 'n' fold. I meet people I know there. A Laundromat is going to figure prominently in The Durand Cousins. I'm about to write a Laundromat chapter.

2. We have a friend who owns two self-storage complexes. This is a great source of fun for this guy because he knows I'm a use-it-or-lose-it type, meaning you don't rent space to store what you can't use, you get rid of it. I hear more about self-storage than I need to. So, of course, I've been planning to put a self-storage complex in The Durand Cousins because, as I just implied, I believe in using whatever you've got.

3. I've recently decided to drop the self-storage complex from The Durand Cousins because when writing you have to have a compelling reason for everything you put into a book. I didn't have a compelling reason for that self-storage complex, so I got rid of it. (Note: I got rid of it. I didn't rent space to store it.)

4. As I have mentioned here before, I have taken only one graduate course and the only thing I truly learned there was not to begin sentences, paragraphs, and complete works with the words "It was." I have become obsessed with this. I can barely control myself when I see those words at the beginning of a paragraph or a book or story. I've thought, He won X Award and he started this thing with 'It was?' What were the judges thinking? If "it was" in other peoples' writing was something I could fix, the way you can fix the pillows on other peoples' couches, I would be frantially erasing and reworking sentences all the time.

5. When I was younger, I was always writing stories about women's experiences, probably because of the influence of feminism. Feminism is not a bad thing. Evidently my stories about women's experiences were.

6. When I was in high school I wrote a story for the school paper that a reporter for the local city paper published over his by-line, word for word. My mother's response was that I should cut him a break (to paraphrase her) because he was an old man. Which was true. He was well enough known that we knew he was an old man, and he still stole a kid's article.

7. When I was in either college or soon thereafter, I saw an article in The New York Times Magazine on a bunch of writers named John--John Irving, John Updike, maybe John Cheever, definitely John Gardner. (He was very distinctive looking. Couldn't miss him, couldn't forget him.) This article was way, way over my head. I couldn't understand any of what these guys had to say. I was extremely discouraged. I didn't see how I could ever be a writer when I couldn't understand other writers.

8. I read Roald Dahl's short stories for adults before I read his books for children. I never cared for his books for children, but I liked his short stories a lot. I would call them an influence.

I tag:







I'm coming up short of people to tag, but I'm guessing this thing will get all over the place, anyway.

Bless The Italians

I received a royalty check today. Though My Life Among the Aliens has been out-of-print for a couple of years now, I received some royalties on it this quarter because of the Italian edition.

Ah, Italy. The people there have good taste in food and literature.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Power of Walking

I just start reading Chi Walking again, which I first began last fall. I was on a treadmill and stationary bike binge this past winter, and, since I read when I'm on those pieces of equipment, I really don't care about chi so I gave up the book. But the weather here in southern New England has been fantastic these past two weeks, and the road has been calling me. So I'm outdoors walking, which led me back to the walking book.

Now, if I'm understanding this chi walking thing correctly, it involves mindful walking and focusing your mind. And engaging your core. If I'm going to engage my core while walking, I'm going to have to focus my mind.

Here's the thing, though: walking is also good for creativity, for forcing breakout experiences. When you find yourself blocked with writing or some other kind of mind problem, if you can release your mind while doing some kind of automatic physical activity, you'll often BAM! have some kind of freaky epiphany that is, at least, the beginning of a solution if not a complete solution.

When I was writing A Year with Butch and Spike, I used to just get up and take off up the street in the middle of the day trying to force a breakout experience. Though I hadn't heard of the term at that point, I sure knew the experience.

So this afternoon I'm reading a bit of the chi book and worrying that if I'm walking along doing all this focusing, I'm never going to have breakout experiences, which I rather desperately need or I'd never finish writing anything. After dinner this evening, I went for a walk, focusing on keeping my core engaged, leading with the upper part of my body, and keeping the trunk of my body in the shape of a C. I got to the end of the street, noticed that that nasty little dog that was barking at me this morning wasn't out, and turned around to head home.

BAM! I had not one, but two breakout experiences (or perhaps we should just say thoughts) relating to The Durand Cousins. I was still quite a way from the house and worried sick that I was going to forget them. Which meant, of course, that I was no longer focusing on my core. But I got home and since we had three computers up and running most of the day, I was able to find a free one and make some notes.

The chi walking guy says that learning to focus on your walk will teach you to focus on other things in your life. God knows, I would love to see that happen. Of course, I've been hoping for something like that to happen with the taekwondo classes, and I've been doing that for nearly five years with no substantial decrease in the amount of time I waste on-line and playing solitaire each day.

Still, I'm a self-improvement junky. Nothing excites me like something new to try, even if it only relates to cleaning the shower or organizing the pantry. And with this new walking program, we're talking chi!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Talking About Books

The most recent issue of The Horn Book includes Roger Sutton's Gryphon Lecture, Problems, Paperbacks, and the Printz: Forty Years of YA Books. In it he describes talking about books when he was a teenager. "As mid-adolescents, my freinds and I wanted to grapple with big issues...I don't think I've ever again discussed books with such freedom and passion and unselfconsciousness..."

When I was a teenager, I got into an argument with someone over I Never Promised You A Rose Garden. I insisted it wasn't a true story because it was shelved with the fiction. If you follow this blog at all, you know I like things to be categorized and defined, and this story proves that that desire goes way, way back.

That Rose Garden argument is the only nonclassroom literary discussion I can remember having during my entire teenage years. Reading was something I did totally in isolation. I wasn't even aware of many other people reading. I figured they were all out dating.

So imagine my delight now that there are young people in my own family who read and like to talk about it.

BDT, of course, reads children's fiction and we discuss books we've read by e-mail. But we have another young man in the family who reads and, I swear, calls me up to talk about it. He becomes absolutely passionate about what he's read. Of course, what he reads is nonfiction relating to economics and business. The last call was to discuss an article on subprime lenders, a topic I barely knew existed. It's a little difficult for me to hold my own in these discussions, but it's exciting to hear his excitment. Well, he says it's not excitment, that what he reads often just makes him mad. But he is engaged. He reads and responds. To me, this is what you want to see readers doing.

And then there is The Third Man. The Third Man almost always disagrees with me when we (rarely) happen to have read the same work. Unfortunately, he also almost always has a good reason.

For example, somehow we got into a discussion of footnotes in fiction. I know The Third Man dislikes them, which is why I've given my Bartimeus books to BDT instead of him. Bartimeus uses marvelously witty footnotes.

But The Third Man says that footnotes are a nonfiction device. They don't belong in fiction. In fiction, you do the same thing with parenthetical devices--parentheses, for example, or dashes.

I thought, Okay. That's a good point. But being older and more flexible, I'm willing to see, and even enjoy seeing, "devices" jump from one type of writing to another.

And then The Third Man went on.

He said that people don't think in footnotes. If you have a piece of fiction that is written as if it is a nonfiction report (Oh, that would be interesting, wouldn't it?), then footnotes would be appropriate. But with a piece of fiction the reader is supposed to enter a mind or a world, is supposed to be immersed in that world to such an extent that he's not aware that this created world is any different from the one he really inhabits. And every time a footnote appears, the illusion that you are part of this book world is destroyed because that's not how a first-person narrator (who isn't aware he is writing a book) would think. Same with most true third-person narrators.

I always thought that if I ever had people to talk books with regularly they would always agree with me. Great minds meeting and all that. But when The Third Man explained his footnote argument, I wasn't disappointed. I was proud. Because, damn, that was a good one.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Catching Up On Interviews

I'm not even two weeks late reading Seven Imps' interview with Colleen Mondor, which for me is like not being late at all. Read the Seven Imps' lead-in and you'll discover that the name of Colleen's blog is seriously significant for those of us who were into Ray Bradbury when we were young. Read the interview, itself, and you'll learn that Colleen, she wrote song lyrics about French Canadian history, her.

What I like about Colleen's writing at her blog is that it seems to come from an independent mind. Perhaps it's because she's got that aviator thing going on.

Familiar Names At SCBWI Conference

I just received the announcement for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators summer conference. A number of familiar names appear on the faculty list: Kelly Herold, Gina Ruiz, and Cynthia Leitch Smith. In addition, Tamora Pierce and Tony Abbott, two authors whose work I read for the first time this past year, will be serving as faculty. And Ellen Wittlinger, who I heard speak at I'm a Reading Fool's library, will be there, too.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I Did It Again

Or, rather, I didn't do it again. The publication date (and book giveaway) for A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat is four weeks from yesterday, and I meant to remind everyone yesterday. You know, do a little countdown. For the second week in a row, I forgot the Thursday reminder.

Well, so, now you're reminded in a really awkward way.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Now That's A Simile

Yesterday I wrote about similes that didn't work for me. After giving up on the book I found them in, I started reading Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce. He uses similes that I can't help but understand.

"Dr. Ramanan's car, for instance, was that deep red you only get on a Toyota. It looked like a big lady's fingernail."


"She's got two pigtails. That sounds nice and girly, but actually they make her look like a Viking."

Okay. I will admit that I have never seen a Viking in the flesh. But I have a cultural understanding of what a Viking is. Or was. Or at least an understanding of what one would look like. So I can take the unknown girl, Terrible Evans, and compare her to a Viking and get an idea of what she looks like.

Taken in the context of the paragraph, that second simile also tells us something about the character its describing that goes beyond her appearance.

I say that anytime you can make a bit of writing double its workload, go for it. Make those similes work like mules.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why I Nag

A family member has asked several times recently why I seem to be so committed to nagging. One day I realized that the subject of nagging would make a great essay topic. Why I Nag. I could cover the rewards of nagging (it works), my connection to a long line of honorable naggers through my maternal line, nagging's place in the greater society, how nagging has been perceived throughout history, turning points in history that were influenced by nagging, nagging as the foundation of the American family...

I see this piece ending up as one of those never-ending New Yorker articles. Hell, I see it ending up as a book.

When I told my family member that I thought Why I Nag would make a great essay topic, he said, "How come you want to write about everything that happens? Everything?"

And I thought, Gee, that would make a great essay. I could write about all the things from my life that inspired every aspect of my books. And then I could get started on all the life experiences that inspired my unpublished writings, of which I have very, very many. And when I finished with that, I could write about all the things I've been inspired to write but haven't gotten around to yet. And then...

Am I Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

I guess not.

Last night, while suffering through a really impressive attack of insomnia, I promised myself I could quit reading Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge. I'm not proud of myself. The book is supposed to be for kids in Grades 5 and up, after all. But I felt totally overwhelmed by what seemed to me to be a complex religious system for the world of the novel as well as the political skullduggery being carried on amongst two guilds, a group called the Birdcatchers, which probably has some religious significance, but maybe not, and which may not still be around at the time of the story, and a crazy Duke who pines away for some seriously creepy twin Queens. (I rather liked that part.)

After looking at some on-line commentary about Fly By Night, I'm now guessing that the never-ending list of bizarre household gods or saints or whatever they are is supposed to be funny. That shot right over my head. And I could not for the life of me figure out who were supposed to be the good guys and who the bad guys. And that's fine. I agree. That's sophisticated. But in this case, I could just barely keep these people with their funny names apart, let alone figure out who was after whom and why.

And I read 267 pages out of the total of 483.

Our heroine, Mosca Mye, is an attractive character, though she falls into that stereotype of motherless girl who is bookish because she has been brought up by a scholarly father. She travels with a vicious goose. That was mildly amusing, but I kept wondering, Why a goose?

I also found reading the book very slow going. I've been working on it for a good week, I'm sure. I think that perhaps the language is a little...artie...for my taste. Very elegant, maybe, for the sake of being elegant? Many similes, for instance, which are supposed to compare something unknown with something known, didn't quite do the trick. "His every sentence began in a deep, sonorous, church-bell voice, and ended in a chatty, rough-cut tone like a peddler's shamble." I believe the author was comparing a character's voice to a peddler's shamble, but I don't know what a peddler's shamble sounds like. That description, and others like it, weren't very helpful to me. They were just words for me to slug my way through.

Fly By Night isn't a bad book. I think there was probably a story, or maybe even stories, in there that I would have enjoyed. I just think that maybe there was too much in the book. Too much for me, anyway.

Not for Fuse #8, though. She loved Fly By Night, as did other bloggers.

It's A Sorry State Of Affairs When The Colbert Report Has The Best Take On A Subject

Stephen Colbert interviewed Salmon Rushdie on the disappearance of book reviews. Except for one brief reference to the Internet that included no judgments (though I did think I saw Rushdie turn up his nose just a bit), the interview stayed on the subject of why traditional book reviews are necessary.

Rushdie's argument--reviews are necessary because they bring books to the attention of the public. In a world where there are so very many books, reviews push some titles out in front of readers.

There was no talk of how book reviews are necessary because critics "have read and studied literature, the great books, and have some outside knowledge to refer to when critiquing our work." There was no wildly taking swings at bystanders (like litbloggers) who have nothing to do with what's going on in the print media.

Perhaps limiting the time for a response to a couple of minutes helps keep a person on task.

Thanks to BookLust for the post.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reading On-line

I am almost always overwhelmed by the amount of reading I'd like to be doing. Right now there's a lot of good stuff on-line. (In addition, of course, to all the many blogs I read regularly, anyway.)

Chicken Spaghetti has a really good Carnival of Children's Books up right now. I particularly liked the post from Book Nut on Caddie Woodlawn, since I've read the book and a similar discussion took place on one of my listservs recently.

The new issue of The Edge of the Forest is up. My favorite bit this month was Kim Winter's A Day in the Life column on getting ready for a writers' conference. The title of this article included the words "Part One," so I hope that next month's issue will carry an article on Kim's experience at the conference. I also liked Kim's What's in their Backpack? column about the books conference-goers brought with them.

If you'd like to get royally p.o.ed, read Colleen Mondor's Monday post at Chasing Ray on how the so-called critics at Critical Mass continue to shoot themselves in their collective feet.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Zora Neale Hurston For Kids

I'm embarrassed to say that my knowledge of Zora Neale Hurston is limited to recognizing her name. This past winter, Hartford took part in the NEA's program involving her book Their Eyes Were Watching God. The events planned for young readers and families included:

Group readings of Hurston's essay, How It Feels to be Colored Me

Story times developed around Six Fools, which appears to be adapted from Hurston's collection of folktales, Every Tongue Got to Confess

A writing project for slightly older children developed around Hurston's book of tall tales, Mules and Men.

At the very least, I should be able to read that essay.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Yes, Patty May Have Gone Out In A Blaze Of Glory

In Patty Campbell's last Horn Book column, The Pottymouth Paradox, she coined two new phrases that may become part of publishing lingo. I don't have the guts to repeat them here because this blog is connected to my website, and I do encourage children to come to said site so there's always the incredibly remote possibility that some ten-year-old will stumble upon this post. But those new terms really are good. And what makes them good is not that they include the f-word (Oops! Sorry kids!) but that they accurately describe what Campbell's describing.

The other interesting thing about this article is that Campbell says that school buyers are more conservative than public library buyers (and the general public in...general..) and that some publishers are trying to tone down language in order to attract those library sales. Or some books will include the language in a trade edition while cleaning up a library edition.

Though I'd heard stories in the past about one particular publisher doing that sort of thing, I wasn't aware that it was happening all that frequently with others.

But enough about that Horn Book article. How can I turn this post around and make it all about me? Let's see...I know! I can tell you my nudie story.

A publishing company that will remain nameless because I'm not stupid and I'm not going to bite the hand that may one day write me another check bought the paperback book club rights to my first book, My Life Among the Aliens. The deal included an option on my next book for Putnam, which ended up being A Year with Butch and Spike. Said company eventually decided not to exercise its option on that book because, as my editor put it, "the full-frontal nudity" in Chapter Three.

No one suggested we make any changes.

We did make changes in Butch and Spike, though, for the German edition. These changes had nothing to do with nudity or language but with cultural differences. There were portions of the book that German readers just wouldn't get. I can't remember what they were now, and I'm too lazy to go hunting through correspondence from years back, but I think we might have dropped a chapter related to Halloween.

Anyway, making changes for that reason didn't seem wrong to me. We weren't talking about people not approving but people not understanding. And, once again, to me writing is all about communication so it made sense to do it.

Intrigued about the frontal nudity in Butch and Spike? Try to find a copy of the book or be sure to enter when I run a contest for a copy of the book sometime this fall.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Interview With Debra Garfinkle

YA Authors Cafe has an interview up with Debra Garfinkle who had a new book, Stuck in the 70's, published earlier this month.

Ah, those Putnam editors!

I Was Called To This Obituary

So Thursday evening I still hadn't made my way to the book review section of last week's Sunday Times. But in said paper I stumbled upon an obituary for a man named John K. Lattimer. This was a long obituary for a person I'd never heard of. But I kept reading it. He was an interesting guy who, in addition to doing important things within his profession, maintained what was described as a "virtual miliary museum" at his home "until his collection when into storage last year."

That kind of hooked me because though I'm not into collecting historical artifacts (or anything else), I am interested in history. So I kept reading and reading and reading.

I got to the third from the last paragraph when I found what I clearly had been meant to read:

"Among Dr. Lattimer’s most prized possessions was a sword that belonged to Ethan Allen, who in the predawn hours of May 10, 1775, led a band of Green Mountain Boys in capturing strategic Fort Ticonderoga, on Lake Champlain in upstate New York — a turning point in the Revolution. Two hundred years later to the hour, Dr. Lattimer — Ethan Allen’s sword in hand — led a re-enactment of that battle."

Oh. My. Gosh. Ethan Allen is my main historical man. (To date, anyway). And, you know, I lived about thirty or forty minutes from Fort Ti back in 1975. I remember a big event going on there around then. I remember it because I didn't go, and I always remember all the fun things I missed.

The fact that I have not always realized that the desire to attend big celebrations you can't get to leads to nothing but unhappiness is neither here nor there. What is significant about this story (and it is significant) is that this guy, John K. Lattimer, was thirty or forty minutes from my house on May 10, 1975. And he was holding Ethan Allen's sword!

And then, twenty-some years later, I would write a book in which Ethan Allen played a part. And still later, I would read John K. Lattimer's obituary.

Come on. Tell me this isn't some kind of psychic connection across time and space.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Will You Read Moby Dick Because Alton Brown Is?

The issue of how to get book titles out in front of the public was of interest to me even before all the excitement over the demise of the book review section. Even with the newspaper book reviews that were recently dumped there were nowhere near enough review spots for all the books that are published each year, forget about reminding people about the books that came out three years ago that they still haven't read.

But I'm into history, and for me that means that I can accept that things change. Other ways of talking about books are evolving even as we speak.

I have a family member who is a big Alton Brown fan. While said family member was at AB's website, he noticed a page called What I'm Reading. As you might expect, a couple of the books are about food, but AB is also reading Moby Dick (seafood!) and Watchmen.

I found this interesting. Is this a way for entertainers and other people who the public enjoy following to share their interest in books? Will their fans care enough to check out their reading material?

I know some will blow off this sort of thing as being celebrity-based and thus shallow. But a lot of TV viewers feel close to the personalities they watch regularly, especially the ones who, like Alton Brown, appear as themselves. How is this exchange of book info substantially different from talking about books with friends?

Well, except that the friendship is one-sided, of course.

The publishing industry isn't in such good shape that anyone can give these kinds of recommendations a cold-shoulder. Read faster, Alton! Read some kids' books!

Another Example Of My Marketing Ineptitude

As if you need one.

Liz B. mentioned Meg Cabot's Pants on Fire Tour this morning. This reminds me that Cabot will be at R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut tomorrow at two o'clock, by the way.

What am I doing to support my new book, A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat? I'm giving away books on publication day, June 21st. My plan was to mention the giveaway every Thursday to build up to the big day.

That was all I had to do.

Needless to say, yesterday I forgot. I was all excited about someone else's book and forgot about mine.

So, anyway, the giveaway is five weeks from yesterday.

I swear, last night I was reading the list of upcoming author events in the local newspaper and thought I felt what might have been the beginning of a panic attack coming on. It passed very rapidly, though.

I don't actually panic much. If I did, maybe I'd do more.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Love That Monkey King

I love the term feral reader. That's how I feel about myself--I'm a feral reader with a poor attitude. I usually find it difficult to enjoy books I'm supposed to enjoy. Award winners, for instance. If a book has some kind of sticker on it, I can usually be assured I'm going to find it formulaic or a victim story or derivative or sappy or often some combination of all the foregoing.

Notice I didn't say the book would be any of those things, just that I'd find it so.

Even honor books often rub me the wrong way.

But I really am delighted when I can be like everyone else and love one of them sticker books the way I love American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Oh, man. I loved all the parts and never saw what was coming.

I've read a few graphic novels over the years, but I've never read one that I so completely "got." The panels completely merged with the text so that I just knew what I supposed to know as I was reading.

Or I thought I did. Maybe I didn't know what I was supposed to know, just what I thought I was supposed to know. Nonetheless, I loved the book.

If, like me, you want more of the Monkey King, try visiting the Monkey Kingdom.

Some People Might Find This Discouraging

I rarely buy The New York Sunday Times. I don't have any objection to the NYTimes but, for me, it's a week long job to read the Sunday version. And that's even with dumping parts of it directly into recycling because I don't live in New York and just don't care about some sections.

For the first time in years I bought the Times on Sunday. Here it is Thursday, and I still haven't found the book review, the reason I bought the whole thing in the first place.

I have read an interesting article in the Business Section, though. The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller is all about how unbusiness-like the publishing business is. By unbusiness-like I mean unlike other businesses. Agent Eric Simonoff is quoted as saying that when he talks with people in other businesses "they're stunned because it's so unpredictable, because the profit margins are so small, the cycles are so incredibly long, and because of the almost total lack of market research."

According to the article, 70 percent of mass market titles don't turn a profit. That seems like a lot, but how else should I interpret "with an estimated 70 percent of titles in the red?"

For a number of years now I've heard things about how much publishers favor debut authors. A second or third book is a hard sell if your debut wasn't big. Well, this article explains why. Publishers don't make huge amounts of money on big selling books by star writers because those books cost the publishers a lot of money. Those authors get big advances and those advances have to be covered by book sales before the book starts making money for the publisher. Where publishers really make money is on "surprise best sellers" by unknowns who accept smaller advances. They don't have to sell a million copies just to cover the big advance.

I had a much easier time understanding this article than I did the Economics section in An Incomplete Education.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Could This Work?

When I first read about BookSwim, I thought it might work. I have a relative who won't use libraries because she knows she'll never get the books back on time, and she doesn't want to pay fines. And I heard a librarian tell a story about a mother and child at the library to pick up DVDs. When the kid asked if he could get a book, the mom said, "No. We never get them back in time."

So, I thought, BookSwim could be just the thing for those folks.

Then I realized that if you don't want to pay, say, an 80 cent fine for a book four days overdue, what are the chances you'll want to pay a $15 to $25 a month rental fee?

I Will Miss Patty

I just began reading the new The Horn Book yesterday and managed to get through Roger Sutton's editorial where I learned that Patty Campbell won't be writing her "Sand in the Oyster" column any more.

How much have I liked Campbell's columns? Quite a bit. I liked one in April, 2003 and another in September of that same year. Then she wrote a column in October, 2004 that must have been really good because I seem to have agreed with pretty much everything she said. In February, 2006 I was so taken with one of her columns that I started taking notes. In fact, I liked it so much that I mentioned it again three days later.

I haven't read Campbell's last column because it's at the back of the magazine, and I read The Horn Book in a very linear way. There's a very real possibility that I'll be mentioning it here at some point.

Wow. Campbell's leaving The Horn Book is kind of a personal loss for me. I'm feeling kind of shaken.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Some More Nontraditional Titles

I feel as if recently I've been covering titles that don't fall into any kind of traditional kid category. Well, here are a couple more.

I haven't read Opening Day by Susan Bartlett, but it caught my interest because it deals with a subject that would have been considered traditional generations ago but now is of interest to a select group of children. But to those kids, it is probably of great interest, and I suspect they don't see many characters like themselves in contemporary children's literature.

I'm talking about hunting. I'm not a hunter, myself, but I grew up in a hunting culture, the same hunting culture Bartlett presently lives in. I had family members who hunted. When I was in high school, each year on the day before hunting season opened, the principal announced over the intercom, "Tomorrow is the first day of hunting season. It is not a holiday." And yet attendance always went down on that day.

So I can understand that there's a kid population that may be looking for books like Opening Day, which was published May 1.

According to The Hartford Courant Call Me Henri by Lorraine Lopez has won the 2007 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People. Call Me Henri was published by Curbstone Press, which has been publishing books and promoting educational programs from Willimantic, Connecticut for over thirty years.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

You Must Not Cheat The Reader

I'm sorry, I like to think that I don't get all elitist and pretentious about literature and art and all that, but when this kind of thing happens, it's hard to pretend that asli[l. Argh;. Blah.

I find this disturbing. I'm disturbed to the point of being inarticulate.

Maybe it bothers me because I have this thing about writing being a form of communication between writer and reader. Readers are reading out of a need to connect with someone. When the name on the book doesn't belong to a person who really wrote the book but is merely there as a marketing brand so some other person or organization can reap profit, what kind of communication is really taking place? The reader is being cheated.

Yeah, I know. V.C. Andrews has been dead for years. For decades. Does that set a precedent? Maybe in another quarter century or so, "her" readers will catch on. What happens when her ghost writer dies?

And What Was I Doing?

My editor was at the International Reading Association convention today, where she talked up A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat.

I went biking.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Real World

Mitali Perkins has an interview up at her blog with Karen Day whose first book Tall Tales was published this past week.

Be sure to read what Karen went through to get her book published. I think it will be an eye-opener for many, but I also suspect her experience is far more common than not.

Will The Young Read Westerns?

A few weeks ago, I experienced an uncontrollable urge to read some adult books. But when I went to the library, I found myself drawn to titles that had a young slant of one kind or another. I was drawn to Holmes on the Range by Steven Hockensmith because of the Sherlock Holmes connection. Traditionally, Holmes has been connected with young readers, though I'm not at all sure if he's of much interest to them these days.

Holmes on the Range has a marvelous premise. A cowboy is exposed to some Sherlock Holmes stories and becomes so enamored of them that he wants to take up deducing himself. The book has a wry, dry, and earthy wit, many engaging characters, and what appears to be an authentic setting. Is it a book of interest to the young? Well, for older teens and early twenty-somethings, I think it could be.

Otto and Gustav Amlingmeyer are cowboys who drift from one cowpunching job to another. Otto is twenty years old (young character!) and known as Big Red because he's the enormous red-headed brother. (Ho! as one character often says. Red-headed brothers! Red-headed League!) Gustav is twenty-seven and known as Old Red because he's the older red-headed brother. Gustav is a bright guy. More than bright, maybe. But he is totally illiterate. Only his "little" brother, the youngest and only surviving member of their family, learned to read and write. He reads and writes well enough, in fact, to have worked in a feed store as a teenager.

It is young Otto who reads the Sherlock Holmes stories aloud to his brother while they're around campfires or in the bunkhouse. And it is Gustav, whose crazy uncle taught him not to believe in the predestination that many of their German calvinist neighbors still subscribe to, who cannot accept that he will be nothing but a poor, ignorant cowboy. He wants to be more. He wants to be a detective like his hero, Sherlock Holmes. (Who is real in the world of this book, though he doesn't actually appear.) He sets out to find himself a case to solve and find one he does. Solving the case means real life or death for the two brothers, but for Gustav it means spiritual life or death as well.

By the end of the book, the Amlingmeyers, who have had no direction in their lives other than staying together, both have plans for a future. Who am I? What am I going to be? Sounds like a YA-related theme to me.

And, really, in spite of the rather impressive body count by the end of the story, Holmes on the Range is a hopeful book.

Now the book includes what some might call classic western situations and some might call western stereotypes--the European ranch owners, the eastern dudes, the cowpoke who can't speak to women. Whichever attitude you take, Hockensmith does fun things with them. On top of that, the last generation and a half didn't grow up on a steady diet of TV westerns. This may be new, fertile ground for them. Or, having no concept of the Old West in their psyches, they may feel too removed from it to be interested. It could go either way.

Don't hand this book off to some delicate thirteen-year-old looking to move up from Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, by the way. Hockensmith does some wonderful things with similis but a lot of them are built around the business of outhouses. The dead bodies are graphicly described. And some of the characters exhibit the racist attitudes you might expect of the 1890s. By no means are the black cowboys portrayed in a racist way. But there are a few racists among their compadres.

If you want a less adult but equally entertaining western for younger readers, try Sunshine Rider, The First Vegetarian Western by Ric Lynden Hardman. The book was quite buzzworthy back when it was published in 1998. And that was when there were nowhere near as many Internet sites to create buzz.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sort Of Off Topic, But Still Bookish

I used to see Tao Lin's name now and then back when I spent my time at Readerville instead of blogging. I was never entirely sure if he was for real. It seems he is.

Lin has two books coming out. According to the TONY article, "Eeeee Eee Eeee concerns the travails of Andrew, a twentysomething pizza delivery guy with a penchant for intellectual contemplation and zero career ambition." This sounds as if it could be for that mystery age group of late teen/early twenty-something readers.

Here was the part of the article that really struck me, though. "It’s the first double-book fiction debut since Ann Beattie released Distortions and Chilly Scenes of Winter simultaneously in 1976."

I remember when that happened! Beattie had attended UConn. Maybe for graduate school. I can't remember. And I was working at UConn. Beattie got an enormous amount of press at the school over those two books. I, on the other hand, wouldn't have my first short story published for another seven years.

I was bitter and angry. That was before I found Zen, of course, and learned that desire leads only to unhappiness. I'm much better now.

By the way, that was also before UConn had heard of basketball.

Free Books

A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat will be published six weeks from today. To celebrate that event, we're going to be giving away five copies of the book on publication day. You can learn how to take a chance at winning one of the books at my homepage.

I'm going to be doing some giveaways throughout the year. On August 13th, I'll be giving away a copy of My Life Among the Aliens to celebrate the Perseids. I might do a giveaway around Labor Day with A Year with Butch and Spike to celebrate the beginning of the school year.

If only I had thought of this a few weeks ago instead of a few hours ago. Today is the anniversary of the taking of Fort Ticonderoga by the Green Mountain Boys. It would have been the perfect time to give away copies of The Hero of Ticonderoga. Oh, well. Instead I'll have to give away a copy in January on Ethan Allen's birthday.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I Was Hoping Someone Would Tag Me

I'm not a very meme person, but I like to indulge when they are seriously grounded somehow in books. So I was happy to see that Gina at Amoxcalli tagged me for the What Books Are You Reading? meme.

I am reading the following:

Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith is a very clever genre bender--mystery and cowboy. I expect to be blogging about it later, even though it is an adult book.

An Incomplete Education, which I've mentioned before. I'm on page 138! I'm in the middle of the section on economics, God help me.

Herding the Ox: The Martial Arts as Moral Metaphor by John J. Donohue. This is good, but it's gone on a back burner since I started concentrating on The Durand Cousins instead of my essay collection.

Now, who do I know who hasn't been tagged? I haven't seen bookshelves of doom on any lists yet. And how about Miss Erin, since I know Rebecca is on her TBR list, and I'm a Reading Fool, since she agreed with me about Snow in August.

Prizes And Failing To Win Them. And Reviews. And... What?

I never actually figured out what The Prize Bigger Even Than The Booker is. I think that title might be metaphorical or something. I also wonder if there isn't a typo in the sub-title "Most literary endeavour ends not in failure, says Robert McCrum," because in the article he says, "...most literary endeavour ends not in prizes, but failure."

However, the author's (presumably this Robert McCrum of the subtitle) contention is that book prizes "play an indispensable role in identifying new writing of consequence." He feels that this is especially true now that there are so many sources of opinion relating to books. A reader can get confused.

He may be right. I don't have an opinion, myself. I tend to read prize-winning books long after the rest of the reading public has forgotten about them, so I sometimes miss the consequential part.

McCrum includes a quote from Samuel Beckett that I liked a lot. "Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Fail better. That is absolutely profound. It's probably the best that many of us can ever hope for.

I also was kind of impressed by the banner ad for Gas-X along the top of the page. There may be something profound about that, too.

The link came from artsJournal.

So What Is Everyone Doing Then?

Conventional wisdom states that people aren't reading because they're watching television. Evidently that isn't the case.

Well, nothing I can do will make that link work. It should have led you to a CNN article called "Where Have All The Viewers Gone?" which said, essentially, that TV viewing is down.

Folks aren't reading. They aren't watching television. What are they doing?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Now I Get It. Maybe.

I was e-mailing BDT about golems today because he's reading the second volume of The Bartimeus Trilogy. (That will be another post). I mentioned Snow in August by Pete Hamill because a golem figures in that book.

Snow in August was published ten years ago. I'm never right on top of things, so I probably read it eight or nine years ago. I remember not caring for it very much, in part because I felt the fantasy ending came out of nowhere. Make up your mind! I thought. Are you a realistic book or a fantasy book?

Today I realized that Snow in August might be an example of magical realism, which I knew little, if anything, about back then. In fact, this magical realism site lists it as an example of magical realism for young adults.

I agree with categorizing it as a book for younger people. At the time I was reading it I kept thinking, If someone had edited out this long, dull part in the middle, this would be a kids' book. And, of course, if I had known anything about magical realism, maybe I wouldn't have found the middle long and dull.

Gee, I thought a lot while I was reading that book.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Doesn't This Defeat The Purpose?

The Quills Awards, which were supposed to be a people's choice award, are taking power from the people. In the past, the public was presented with five book nominees in nineteen categories and got to vote on favorites. This year, librarians and booksellers will do the voting on all but one category, Book of the Year.

So I don't really see what the point of having the Quills Awards is now.

The awards never took off. Maybe the public didn't like the choices they were given. (Sort of like what often happens during presidential elections.) It will be interesting to see what happens with the Cybils in a few years. That award works in a directly opposite way. Instead of the award administrators choosing a few titles for the public to vote on, the public chooses a lot of titles for the administrators to vote on.

Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.

Yeah, I Grew Up Feral, Too

And I'm afraid I stayed that way.

Bookseller Chick had a good guest post yesterday by Marta Acosta on the divide between genre and literary fiction. She says, "Because I grew up feral in the wilds of the public library, I never learned the rules about books. No human explained that literary fiction was superior and distinct from genre fiction; no one cautioned me against the acute boredom of a thick literary tome."

And so she innocently read everything.

Sometime in the last couple of months I read a suggestion that literary fiction is, itself, genre fiction. It's a "type" of fiction, a classification, and thus a genre. Sorry I can't remember where so I can attribute it properly.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Blogger Problems

I've been having trouble with Blogger for several days. For instance, nothing I could do would make it place spaces between paragraphs in the last post.

"I Did Not Pan Out"

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte is never going to make one of those Bests Books for Young Adults lists. For one thing, the main character isn't a young adult but a thirty-something.

For another, while the classic theme for young adult novels is "Who am I?" or "Who am I going to be?" the theme of Home Land is "Life sucks and then you die." (Which might be said to be a classic theme of thirty-something novels.)

And, finally, some critics claim that young adult novels must also carry a message of hope. For instance, young men reading King Dork-type books may leave the experience hoping that young women they barely know will offer to perform sexual acts for them. Young women reading The Gossip Girl and her many copiers may be left with the hope that one day they, too, can be nasty bitches with lots of expensive stuff. The message of Home Land is that, nah, none of that stuff is going to happen. And if it does, it's going to be seriously disappointing.

But in a weird, twisted way Home Land is sort of the next, logical step for readers of YA. It has an outsider, first-person narrator writing about high school and what happens after high school. It's like YA but older and with lots more drugs and unwholesome sex.

Just how much of an outsider is the adult Lewis Miner? This poor, miserable guy lives on his own only because his mother is dead so he can't live with her. He spends his free time (of which he has quite a bit because he rarely works) writing updates for his high school alumni newsletter. None of these are ever published for what might be called obvious reasons. But he covers all the classic high school stereotypes and what became of them after they headed out into the real world. None of it's pretty. No one comes to a good end.

Which makes a great deal of sense. Have you ever thought of what will become of those girls in the rich-girls-gone-bad stories? Or what about those sad boys who just can't catch a break? YA books are filled with these kids, and we finish them thinking that things are going to turn around for them.

But will they?

Home Land is not a quick read. Lipsyte writes with a rich, sophisticated style and a sly wit. His book is heavily populated with characters I couldn't always keep track of--much as I can't keep track of those girls in bitch posses.

Teens probably don't need to be exposed to this kind of stuff. They'll find out about life soon enough on their own. Plus some of the sexual content is what might be described as unsavory. I don't want to be accused of not warning you. But that mystery age group between 18 and, say, 24 might suck this up and say, "Yes! Yes! This is exactly how life is!"

I like reading a book like Home Land once in a while, myself. I can't make a habit of it, though, because my insurance isn't so good that I can afford to stay on anti-depressants for any length of time.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I Swear, I Don't Make This Stuff Up

Why would I make up something like this?

So last night I had an appearance at a middle school in a town near here. The event was a "Literacy Luau," one of those events schools sometimes run to celebrate reading and books. Someone did a lot of work on this thing. They had games planned in various locations, a book fair, a book drawing, a book swap, a bake sale, and readings by two poets and an author. (The author being me, of course.) And they were offering my most recent book for sale.

I have a friend who subs at this school, and she had called me earlier in the week to tell me that every time she subbed in an English class, she had to read Happy Kid! during the read-aloud time. Yesterday afternoon she told me the school had been promoting the event all week and kids were going to get extra-credit for showing up.

Yesterday I was thinking, Gee, maybe I should prepare a mailing for middle schools with ideas for using Happy Kid! and send it to the reading teachers instead of the librarians, since my contact at this school was the reading teacher and she was really working for me. This could be the beginning of something big!

Well, I get to the school last night. Adults greet me, they're happy to see me. Yada, yada. If you can think ahead at all, you've probably figured out what happened next.

Not a soul showed up for my reading. And I was supposed to do two.

However, there were people across the hall where the poets were reading, in large part because in addition to the adult poets, student poets were going to read their work. And where you have students, you have their parents. So my contact decided to move me across the hall with them, and we'd all do one big reading.

That was fine. The poets were good and created a very coffeehouse-like atmosphere. But I'm sitting there a little worried that when I get up to read at the end, everyone will leave because they've only come to hear their kids after all.

Fortunately, a couple of kids read stories, which provided a nice little segue to my fiction reading. I was introduced as their featured writer (which was putting a nice face on a bad situation). And I did nail the reading. Fortunately, I have a great deal of experience with poorly attended appearances, and I wasn't as rattled as I would have been if I wasn't used to this sort of thing.

The reading seemed to be a hit, people laughed, seemed engaged. Then I was moved back across the hall with anyone who would like to talk with me while something continued in the poetry room. (I don't know what.)

Two parent-child units came by as well as a substitute teacher. The school sold two books, which was two more than I expected. I was very happy that I don't sell my own books at these things because the school ordered twenty or thirty, and I already have cases of books in my cellar.

A number of people who saw me afterwards said how great I was, though.

The reading teacher felt very badly and was worried that she hadn't promoted me well enough. (I truly don't think that's the case.) So I ended up in the hallway consoling her by telling her stories of all the author appearances I've made that were busts.

As you can imagine, we were there a while.

Thank goodness for my virtual life. While I was sitting in that room trying to listen to those poets, I was working out how I'd describe the experience on my blog.

I'm now thinking about trying to become the Harper Lee of kids' lit. She never makes appearances, and she seems to do quite well with sales. And she's only got the one title. So I'm thinking about refusing to make appearances and spreading stories about being a recluse, which wouldn't be that hard since I only go to taekwondo class and the grocery store.

It's what you might call a reverse marketing plan.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


This morning I remembered that desire, as in desiring to be like others, does nothing but cause suffering. Oh, yes. I'm feeling better now.

My lightness of mood comes in part because I mailed off the seventh draft of A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers this morning. Right now that's the title of the book coming out in the summer of 2008. And I'm very close to being finished with my portion of the work.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

This Kind Of Thing Depresses Me

I should probably be reading more articles like this one describing how Jackie Davies did this great job at a bookstore promoting her new book The Lemonade War. You'd think this kind of thing would inspire me, wouldn't you? Oh, no. Not at all. I'm just left trying to repress the memories of many of my own book signings.

Actually, I was recently contacted by a bookstore (can't tell you how seldom that happens here) and asked if I'd do an appearance with Davies and another author. I had to pass because we'd already committed to going to a wedding that day. After reading this article I'm glad because all I bring to book signings is a pen, and how lame would that be compared to a lemonade stand and chocolate chip cookies?

Sigh. I'm doing a couple of readings at a middle school tomorrow night. I was thinking of looking in the office for my business cards tomorrow. You know, so I won't be totally empty-handed.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

An Unusual Fundraiser

The literary journal Hunger Mountain is running a fundraiser that someone out there might be interested in. It is auctioning off manuscript critiques that will be conducted by published writers. Fiction, poetry, and young adult fiction critiques are offered.

Among the writers offering their expertise are poet and essayist Maxine Kumin and Newbery Honor winner Carolyn Coman.

We're Better Than You Are!

When I read things like America's Death March Toward Illiteracy I am almost overcome by a desire to run and turn on my TV for a few hours.

The author had me ripping from her first two sentences. "People who read books are different from other people. They're smarter for one thing." Really? Well, some of them certainly like to think they are. It doesn't necessarily make it so.

A few paragraphs later she goes on with "Soon, who knows? Maybe we'll be burning books in the town square chanting: We don't need no dadgum books. We got Innernet porn 'n' satellite TeeVee!" Keep in mind, this was another save-the-book-section essay. People who write these things just can't seem to make an argument without attacking somebody who has little or nothing to do with the subject at hand.

To suggest that people who don't read are rubes who watch porn is so freaking offensive I am almost speechless. (But only almost.) Do the people who write these kinds of things ever think for a minute that maybe their intellectual snottery is exactly what turns people off from the world of books?

Thanks to the Blog of the Bookslut for this one. Jessa summed up my feelings. "Oh good god."