Friday, August 31, 2007

Writing To Authors

Recently the folks at child_lit were discussing children writing to authors. Someone posted a link to the Letters About Literature program sponsored by The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. Essentially, it's a writing contest for students in grades four through twelve. "...readers write a personal letter to an author, living or dead, from any genre--fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or classic, explaining how that author's work changed the student's way of thinking about the world or themselves."

Students may enter as individuals or through their class. Check out the guidelines and rules. The entry period for this year's contest starts tomorrow.

By the way, if you know young people who want to just write an ordinary letter to an author, encourage them to use e-mail, if the author has it. Letters sent to a publisher's office could sit there for months, while if authors check their e-mail regularly they could have it in hours. (Though they may not be able to respond for a while.)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Look! Look! I'm In The Horn Book!

Today I received my copies of The Horn Book special issue on Boys and Girls. A goodly number of children's and YA authors contributed pieces on how gender has had an impact on them as readers or writers. It was very gratifying to have been included.

Please notice that alphabetically I come just before John Green and just after Sarah Ellis, who wrote a great story about Evelyn Waugh.That is not to say that John Green's piece isn't great, too. I just haven't read it, yet.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What Other Bloggers Are Doing

Justine Larbalestier had a discussion going yesterday on YA SF. It included some talk about the difference between sci fi and fantasy.

Oz and Ends is devoting this week to Harry Potter. Expect spoilers in some posts.

Mark Peter Hughes is home.

And then there is the Under the Radar Tour, which I will comment on when it's over. It's a marvelous idea. All good.

You Always Have To Watch Yourself

Recently I read The Best Winds by Laura E. Williams. It's a pleasant picture book about a very contemporary child who laughs at his Korean grandfather's "ancient ways." Grandpa has moved in with Jinho's family after the death of his wife, and he still wears hanboks and likes to drone on about his own grandfather.

I thought the two main characters were quite well developed, but I wondered how many Korean grandfathers who come over to the United States are that old world. It was a nice story, but maybe not all that believable.

Then I was driving in the car the next day when a thought relating to this book just appeared in my mind, fully formed. Why was I assuming the book was set in the United States? If the action took place in Korea, an old world granddad wouldn't be quite so far-fetched.

So I took another look at the book. On the very first page, grandpa is sitting under a long piece of what looks like Asian caligraphy. That might suggest this book is set in another country, but not necessarily. But one of the scenes in the kitchen definitely shows a canister set with what I assume are Korean labels. Then I realized that all the children were Korean. Oh, and, yeah, the main character's name is Jinho, remember, which isn't exactly Billy or Bobby.

This was a humbling expience for me. A reader is just a little too into her own culture if she assumes whatever she reads is set in her own country.

Eujin Kim Neilan's illustrations definitely enhance this book. While her human figures are sharp, the kite that draws Jinho and his grandfather together often appears a little on the abstract side, giving it an air of mystery.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Oh, Thank God

Did anyone else feel very shaken about that poll that was all over the news a couple of weeks ago stating that one in four people didn't read any books last year? I tried to be grateful that I'm a children's writer because at least kids are forced to read by their teachers. Nonetheless, for those of us who hope to continue publishing what we write, all the doom and gloom these past few years over the lack of interest in what we do can be depressing. I mean, seriously, if I didn't spend so much time pumping up my serotonin levels with aerobics tapes and my treadmill, I'd probably be too down to write at all.

Fear not. Thanks to Bookslut, I found this spin on the numbers at the Written Nerd. The most calming part? "The NEA survey" (that's the one that got us all upset a few years ago) "states that 56% of Americans read any book in 2002...The AP/Ipsos survey say that 73% of Americans read any book last year." (Because if 1 in 4 people aren't reading any book, 3 in 4 people are.) "Therefore, if these two respected organizations are to be believed...AMERICANS READ MORE LAST YEAR THAN THEY READ FIVE YEARS AGO."

The Written Nerd can do math as well as sell books.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'll be sleeping easier tonight.

You Still Have Time

School doesn't start here until tomorrow, so you have until the end of Wednesday (midnight wherever you are) to enter the Butch and Spike giveaway.

Hey, I had a book go out of print this summer, my webstats are down (Is the entire Internet located in France and thus taking the month of August off?), and that new manuscript I'm working on refuses to write itself. But the response to the Butch and Spike giveaway has been very gratifying. We won't be doing the drawing until Thursday, so you still have time to enter for a chance to win a copy of the book that made the reading lists for four state readers' choice awards.

And, remember, there's a skinnying scene.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"It's A Stretch To Call That A Prequel To Ember"

Yesterday we did one of our twelve-hour car trips. That meant it was time for a book on CD. The family member I travel with was a big fan of The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau and has been after me to provide the CD of the prequel, The Prophet of Yonwood. He was hot to know how everyone got into the city of Ember in the first place, how it was created, what drove them down there.

As you can tell from the quote above this post, he was disappointed.

Seriously, The Prophet of Yonwood has nothing to do with The City of Ember. It's a totally unrelated, stand alone story. The connection is made in what sounds like an epilogue on the CD.

Perhaps I don't know what the word prequel means.

Oddly enough, Prophet, on its own, kept this listener's attention. I say oddly because it seems to me that the book leans very heavily on a couple of unattractive stereotypes: 1. People of faith are maniacs. 2. Southerners are idiots who will believe and do whatever they're told. I was annoyed, but I listened. If I hadn't been trapped in a car, perhaps things would have been different.

A citizen of Yonwood, North Carolina has what sounded to me like a seizure or stroke, which leaves her incapacitated but muttering a few disjointed words every now and then. A wildly religious woman leaps to the conclusion that the invalid is a prophet whose mind has been damaged as a result of a vision from God. This second woman interprets the invalid's mutterings to fit her own religious views. The entire nation is living under threat of a war with some mysterious group, but Yonwood will be saved, this woman claims, if everyone does what she says the propet is instructing them to do.

And every single soul in town believes every word she says and lets her lead them around by their noses.

Our child main character (who I actually did like) comes from out of town and feels herself being sucked into the town's belief system because she wants to do the right thing. This, to me, was believable. If the story had been smaller, if it had been about an adult forcing her belief system on a youth group or a 4-H Club or a day care group, I could have bought into it. Some of the issues DuPrau deals with are thought provoking. It was just so hard to take them seriously in the context of this particular set-up.

A good character and thought provoking issues. If only the story itself hadn't been so over-the-top.

Registration Time

It's registration time. No, not for school. It's time to start registering for The Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature on October 25, 26, and 27 in Westport, Connecticut.

I just registered for the Saturday Symposium. What's more, you can register on-line.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

OOP Again

I received official word last week or the week before (I'm not that good with time) that Saving the Planet & Stuff is going out of print. My editor and I had been expecting this for a while. Planet wasn't one of my greater successes. In spite of a flurry of renewed interest in it this past spring, it was never picked up for a paperback edition. All my previous books were.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as my father always used to say. Looking back, I think we marketed it to the wrong age group. I saw it as YA. It has a sixteen-year-old main character, and while I was writing it my intention was to create a humorous book for teen boy readers. But we marketed it to ten-year-olds and up. Though kids like to read up, I think the material was of little interest to fifth- or sixth-graders. We're talking environmental jokes here (we called it the first eco-comedy) and workplace humor for kids starting to take summer jobs. There were teen and elderly characters in the book who were going through similar things--how will I spend my life and how have I spent my life? The book came out soon after YA started surging. If we'd placed it just a little differently, maybe things would have turned out better.

Also, I missed a lot of opportunities to try to promote it around Earth Day.

I'm going to ask to have the rights returned to me, and once they are, I may try to find a publisher interested in environmental books. I would have to be very organized to pull off the research and contacts to do that, though, and since I'm not...

I don't get majorly distressed when my books go out of print. I've probably said this here before, but just as extinction is the fate of all species, unless your name is Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, going out of print is the fate of all books. Having a book go out of print means you had a book published, that once, at least, you were a player.

Plus, I'm always working on the next book. It's hard to become terribly despondent about the book you wrote four or five or more years ago when you've got another one coming out next year and you're trying to write still another. The e-mail officially notifying me that Saving the Planet is going out of print was attached to the cover art for next year's Girl and Boy book.

Life moves on.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Does This Sound Like A Great Setting Or What?

We have a family member who designs, among other things, septic systems. As a result, I have been subjected to sewage talk from him and his colleagues at social gatherings, the grocery store, and the dinner table. Don't get me wrong. We're talking fascinating verbal exchanges here. Nonetheless, I am aware that other people talk about politics and religion when they get together rather than solids and effluent.

So my interest was definitely aroused when I learned of the existence of The Qwikpick Adventure Society by Sam Riddleburger. According to the book description at Amazon, the main characters go to a sewage plant! If you go to the The Qwikpick Adventure Society homepage, you can find a list of other sewage-related books.

Who knew there were enough books on the subject to make a list?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What Is It With French Canadian Women And Joan Of Arc?

Colleen Mondor has a recent post at Chasing Ray about Joan of Arc. Moi aussi! I, too, wanted to be Joan of Arc when I was little, not because I wanted to be so good that God would choose me, the way Colleen did (she is clearly a nicer person than I am; but, then, who isn't?) but because I wanted to be strong and powerful and on the side of right while I was at it.

As I say in one of my many unpublished essays, "I have always admired women who kick ass."

A very big moment in my teenage life was seeing Genevieve Bujold in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. We French Canadian/Americans were not one of your cooler ethnic groups when I was growing up in Vermont. Yet, there, on the television while I was babysitting some Franco-American kids, was a French Canadian actress playing St. Joan, one of my favorite saints. I was glued to the set.

Fortunately, none of the six Lamoreux children raised hell or got sick that night, and I was able to enjoy Genevieve and Joan in peace.

Interestingly enough, Colleen's post regarding St. Joan is actually about writing memoirs. She says her desire to be good like St. Joan led her to try to be a good girl. She feels she should have fixated on someone who kicked ass instead of someone who got burned. (I swear, we've both used that same kick ass phrase.) But I always saw our Joan as an ass kicker. My interest in her only made me more combative.

If Only I Had More Time

I've mentioned before how much I like Justine Larbalestier's blog. Unfortunately, I have so many blogs I visit now on either a daily or weekly basis that it's difficult for me to give her posts the amount of time they deserve.

For instance, very recently she did a post on making characters real and believable. She said, "In fiction, unlike real life, characters behave in ways that make sense. There are first shoes for later actions. Nothing comes out of nowhere."

I'm not a hundred percent certain what the "shoes" in "There are first shoes for later actions" unless it's some kind of Aussie saying for creating a path or trail to something.

She also did a great post on adult responses to YA books. Unfortunately, it is the adult response to YA that judges and defines it, even though they are not the audience for this literature. A bizarre situation.

I also agree with her about American Gothic and Twin Peaks.

Trail Magic

Yesterday I blew off work to go hiking with my hiking friends. After a couple of hours, a guy who has to be well over seventy started talking about "back when I hiked the AT." (For those of us who believe we deserve a medal because we managed to keep our hiking boots on for half a day, the AT is the Appalachian Trail.)

I got involved with this conversation when I heard the word "beer." It seems he was out there with some people and came upon some kind of bag by the side of the trail holding four bottles of beer. "Trail magic!" a woman with him said.

"So whenever you find beer, it's trail magic?" I asked. Doesn't that sound just like me? Unbelievably nitpicky.

Well, it seems that whenever people further along the trail leave something good for those who are coming along behind them, it's known as trail magic. It doesn't have to be beer. It can be anything.

Another hiker said that that's not the only kind of trail magic. Evidently down in the southern part of the country where the trail starts, you can get a lot of traffic during prime hiking season. Some local people will set up grills at well- traveled spots and hand out hot dogs to hikers passing by. Someone told about a farm near a trail, and the farmwife will often put out freshly baked cookies for hikers.

Most hikers hoping to cover the whole Appalachian Trail start at the southern end and walk north. This, I learned yesterday, is because it takes a while to walk from Georgia to Maine. So they'll start down south because spring comes earlier in the year down there. By the time they get to the northern states, winter has passed, snow is gone, and the hiking is better. Evidently the Trail is busier down south than up north because many people begin the hike without finishing. Or, at least, they don't finish up in Maine or even New England.

Live and learn, eh?

I'm mentioning all this because I keep thinking that trail magic sounds...magical. This whole concept sounds like something I ought to be able to use in my writing some day.

And if I could, then I wouldn't have to feel badly about having taken yesterday off from work when I am already so far behind.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Gift To Mark The Start Of Another School Year

In my town, school will be starting a week from today. To mark this exciting event, I will be giving away a copy of A Year With Butch And Spike because the year in the title refers to a school year.

Jasper Gordon is the perfect child and the perfect student. His reward? To spend sixth grade sitting between those delightful cousins, Butch and Spike Couture. No one ever described the Cootches as perfect.

My Grandmother Gauthier was a Couture. That makes me a Cootch.

A Year With Butch And Spike is out of print now, so you won't find it just anywhere. And I'm talking about a new, autographed copy, which are even harder to find.

Send me an e-mail any time before the end of Wednesday, August 29th with "Butch and Spike" in the subject line. We'll do a drawing on Thursday, August 30th, and the winner will receive a brand, spanking new copy of the book.

By the way, a paperback book club had an option to buy the club rights for this book and ended up passing on it because of nudity.

Admit it, you all want this book now.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Shockingly Bad

While I definitely do not believe in limiting myself to positive reader responses (I don't believe I do traditional reviews here), I also am too gutless to intentionally bash another author's work, no matter how awful I find it to be. I'll talk about it, but I won't name names. Why talk about it at all? Good question. Partly to vent, of course, but partly because a writer needs to analyze really bad writing. Even though I agree with those of you who think that "bad" is a matter of perception, my own writing might improve as a result of my focusing on what I don't like in the writing of others.

Yesterday, I read about 50 pages of someone else's writing that I really didn't like.

I was interested in the book because it was a YA mystery, and back in March at YA Authors Cafe some people said they felt more mysteries were needed for YA readers. Well, first off, I found the writing very flat and bland. I hate to say that about an author's work because I don't know how to fix something like that. It's like trying to explain color to someone who only sees black and white.

But last night as I was continuing reading, I began to notice that additonally nearly every page contained a cliched situation, if not true cliches. You had your immigrant grandmother who provides obstacles to the female protagonist going into an unusual field of work. You had the parent who is missing under mysterious circumstances. You had the dad who brings his only child into his business. (Shades of Nancy Drew.) You had the taciturn sheriff. (He actually said, "What in the Sam Hill are you doing here?") You had the James Dean-type deputy who admires the protagonist's backside. You had a teenage girl who's into boys. You had someone throwing up at the sight of a dead body. (Though, I will admit, it was particularly revolting. One way I could tell was that everyone kept talking about how ripe it was.)

This book also contained cliched sexual stereotyping like I have not seen in decades. The sheriff wanted to finish up work because his wife had cinnamon rolls waiting. The main character was described by her father as being unlike other girls because she was twice as smart as most of them. Her female friend told her she was like a guy because she was "into science and all that boy stuff."

Soon after that I decided I couldn't even skim this thing and gave up.

This book is the beginning of a series being published by a major publisher. An editor presumably thought this was good writing. I can't help but wonder what manuscripts he or she turned down in order to get this one into the publishing pipeline.

How might my own writing improve as a result of my griping to you about this book? I'll tell you one thing--if I ever have a character bake cinnamon buns, she won't be keeping them waiting for when the little man comes back from work.

Monday, August 20, 2007

No More OCD Jokes

In a cover note Crissa-Jean Chappell included with an arc of her first book, Total Constant Order, she said, "I was unhappy with the way that OCD is portrayed in television and movies, as if it were the punch line to a joke." If her goal was to get readers to take the condition seriously, she was successful as far as this one is concerned.

What Chappell does with her main character, Fin, is get us away from the externals of OCD, the uncontrolled repetitive behaviors we think we're familiar with if we watch Monk, and take us into an anxious mind that needs those behaviors. Fin is into numbers, by which I don't mean she's good at math but that she needs to count, and she thinks of numbers during anxious moments, of which she has many. The counting remains in her head, but she has a variety of other small behaviors she can't control. She's aware that something is wrong, though she doesn't have a name for it.

Her mother wants her to see a therapist, which is interesting given the shape her mother is in. Therapy gives Fin a diagnosis, but it turns out that just taking a pill won't make things right for her.

Some readers may think of Total Constant Order as a problem book. I don't mind a problem book if it deals with one specific problem in a well-developed, coherent way. I think Total Constant Order does that. For a while I wondered if Chappell was piling the problems on a bit because Fin has recently moved so she's a new girl at school and her parents have recently separated and her father is dating and she has a lot of conflict with her mother. Wasn't OCD enough? Why not stick to that? But Fin has always had OCD tendencies. It's the extra anxiety from all these events coming all together that have intensified her symptoms and made her life miserable. What's more, you have to wonder how much the OCD in Fin's family had to do with creating some of these problems in the first place. We're talking a bit of a loop here.

I know many college-aged and slightly older young men and women. Among them are a surprising number of people suffering from depression or anxiety. OCD is only one kind of anxiety disorder, of course, but, nonetheless, Total Constant Order may reflect a reality for this generation. If so, Chappell has an interesting take on how the depressed and anxious may learn to cope. It begins with acceptance of your own difference.

Total Constant Order will be published in October by Harper Teen.

By the way, Fin moves to Miami from Vermont and comments on the good radio stations back in Burlington. That is so true.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Illusive First Draft

In a Writer's Year blog entry from back in June (Yes, I am behind in my reading. Did you really expect anything else from me?), Louise Doughty says, "Over the last week I have realised that I am still at the stage of needing to suspend self-judgment, at least until I've got a rough first draft under my belt."

Yes, yes, yes. I agree with that. But if I was ever able to whip through a draft of a book years ago, I sure can't do it now. If things aren't going well--if I don't have a voice I like, if the logic of the plot is no longer working, if I decide that what I want to do at Point M will only work if I go back and change something at Point D and once I've done that everything has to be reworked because we're talking domino theory--then I have to back up.

Oh! This analogy just popped into my head! Seriously. Writing is like driving on a dirt road that isn't terribly well maintained. If you start to spin, there's no point in just staying there reving your engine and sinking further and further into the mud. It's better to shift into reverse, back up, and try to avoid the mud hole by driving around it. Or getting out altogether and putting down boards to drive on. Or perhaps your GPS is telling you to take another road altogether.

I'd hoped to have the first draft for The Durand Cousins finished at the beginning of May. Then I thought it would be terrific to be done by the end of this week. Now I have a fantasy about being done sometime in September when I'm leaving for vacation in the Great North.

While I don't seriously expect that to happen, experience tells me that at some point it will get done.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

This Is Brilliant

Look what Stephen King did in this puffy piece on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: He said all kinds of lovely, gracious things about Harry and J.K. Rowling. Very nice, very nice.

He also mentioned a number of other books, including one from a new author. His column surely pulled in a lot of readers because it was about Harry Potter and he is Stephen King. He used his soapbox to give some face time to other writers, giving the most prominent position to one, Lauren Groff, whose first book will be published next year.

What a clever and generous thing to do.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Baloney Vs. Bologna: An Editing Dilemma

Bologna, the sausage, appears in the second Girl/Boy book. I wanted to call it baloney because I don't know anyone, myself, who pronounces it bologna, and this is a book for first through third graders. I didn't know if they'd even be familiar with the word "bologna." I don't know many adults among my acquaintances who would know how to pronounce that word if they saw it in print. Though that may just be the company I keep.

Well, I looked up baloney in a couple of dictionaries. Both of them described it as a variant of bologna. Good enough, I thought. I should be able to use it.

When the book came back from copy editing, my favorite copy editor had replaced baloney with bologna. So when I responded to the copy editing changes, I asked if there was a compelling reason why we couldn't stick with baloney. It wasn't a make or break issue for me, by any means, but I wondered if it wasn't a case of being realistic vs. being excruciatingly correct. Given a choice, I'll always go with being realistic.

Between the time I sent off my responses and the time I talked with my editor, I read Melvin Beederman Superhero, Terror in Tights. Bologna, the sausage, figures prominently in that story, and the word appears as bologna, not baloney. This gave me pause, since the Beederman books are written for the same age group as the Girl/Boy books.

So my editor and I discussed this over the phone this past week. By that point, I was no longer confident that I wanted to stick with baloney, but I still wanted to run it past everyone. My main editor (think conceptual/content editor) got together with my copy editor (think grammar and usage editor), who felt quite strongly that bologna is the sausage and baloney is foolishness.

My concept editors and I have always had a policy of deferring to the copy editor on lines, words, punctuation, etc. Given that she wanted to go with bologna and Melvin Beederman went with bologna, I am now going with bologna. And I'm very satisfied with that decision.

It took three of us to resolve this dilemma, and it only related to one word. This is why I like editing and editors. I don't want the burden of making these decisions by myself.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I am trying to get through all the Harry Potter posts at the child_lit listserv. It may take the rest of my life. I just found a link to this eye-popping condemnation of Harry at The Nation. This reviewer definitely wasn't enjoying being immersed in the serial aspects of the story.

For balance, you might also like to consider Cheryl Klein's blog post Seven Reasons Why People Love Harry Potter.

Catching Up On More Australians

Justine Larbelestier and Scott Westerfeld finished their writer-in-residency at Inside a Dog on August 6. Two of their later posts that I particularly enjoyed: Writing That Drives Us Crazy and So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night..., which includes the finalists for their LOLYA contest. I thought these truly were laugh-out-loud funny, though my computer guy said the humor was lost on him.

I feel very badly that I didn't like the one volume (the second one) I read of Larbelestier's Magic or Madness trilogy more than I did, because I really like her, or, at least, the her that appears in her blog writing.

Partners In Uncrime

If you can believe that a kid superhero is making L.A. a safer place, Terror in Tights, the fourth in the Melvin Beederman series by Greg Trine isn't half bad.

After having read so many books for younger readers this summer that were just rambling lists of gimmicks and instructional wordplay, I found Terror in Tights a relief. Yeah, I wasn't crazy about the characters interacting with the narrator, but that definitely is just a personal quirk on my part. Though the book is the fourth in a series, it was a separate story. Young readers should be able to follow it even if it is the first of the Melvin Beederman books they've stumbled upon. (I was able to follow it, anyway, and it was the first of the books I'd stumbled upon.)

The book has only three major characters, and they're all kids. It has a number of illustrations (by Rhode Montijo) and a country song that should be sung to the tune of Man of Constant Sorrow.

You could do much worse.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Maybe He'll Write A Children's Book!

Karl Rove is supposed to be interested in writing a book. Wouldn't it be cool if he did a picture book? Or maybe a YA?

The Down Under Tour

A number of bloggers are taking part in a One Shot World Tour highlighting authors from Australia and New Zealand. In years past, I've noticed a number of good authors from that part of the world, including:

Judith Clarke. I liked her The Heroic Life of Al Capsella.

Maurice Gee. I was a big fan of The Fat Man.

Paul Jennings. His short story collections, such as Uncanny and Unreal, were fascinating to me when I first came upon them because they made no attempt at being what kids should be reading. I don't know if I'd feel the same way about them now, but that impressed me back then.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Book Of Revelation

My impression from reading my listserv and other blogs is that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows discussions are so over. I, of course, just finished reading it two days ago and am just bursting with thoughts.

For instance, I was reading along in my borrowed copy when I got to page four hundred and something and a character who had not appeared at all in this book suddenly showed up to save our hero's sorry heinie. I had one of those flashes of unsupported insight that Harry often gets. You know, where he suddenly knows something and thus the story can go on?

What happened was that I was reminded of the evening when I was watching one of the seasons of 24 and Tony Almeda suddenly showed up to save Jack Bauer's sorry heinie. I jumped up and down on the couch and shouted, "Toooooneee! Tony's back!"

And at that point in my Deathly Hallows reading it hit me. The reason I have trouble appreciating the uber-serial Harry Potter, and all serials, is that I keep thinking of them as books. Really, they are far more like television series.

Each book is the equivalent of a television season with actors/characters moving in and out, which causes no problem because the audience expects that sort of thing. That is how you watch television, and that is how you read these books. A character showing up halfway through a book, with no foreshadowing, no build-up, is a big flaw in a traditional novel. But it's not a flaw in these serials because the readers/audience are the book's fans and will recognize characters from earlier seasons/books. And if readers/audience members don't recognize a character, particularly a minor character? We figure it must be somebody from the last season/book and keep moving on.

A character is a whole lot better with magic than we remember? It must have happened in one of the other books. (With TV that kind of thing happens in other seasons while we were in the kitchen getting something to eat.) A lot of scenes drag on and on? Doesn't matter because we've been reading about Harry, Ron and Hermione for six books/seasons now, and we really don't care about the action, we care about them. (Sort of the way the politics behind the Mafia business in The Sopranos was always way over my head, but I didn't care because I was only watching for Tony and Carmella.) A major character we've barely seen this season/book dies and his story is told in a series of flashbacks afterwards? Okay. We're used to flashbacks. (They use them all the time on Lost.)

One of the things that kept freaking me out about serial novels was that writers were intentionally writing third or fourth or sixth or seventh books that a big chunk of the reading public couldn't possibly get much from. Why would a writer do such a thing? Why write a book so many readers won't be able to make heads or tales of? We're supposed to be communicating here, and these writers were setting up huge barriers to the communication process. Well, the writers of shows like The Sopranos and Lost don't worry about attracting new viewers with seasons three, four, six, or seven, do they? They worry about writing for and keeping the fans they already have.

Besides, new viewers can always buy the DVDs and catch up that way, much as they can buy the earlier books in serials.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying, "Oh, woe. Television has influenced literature, and civilization is going to fall." I like TV. I can see what's attractive about these books to a reading population that has been watching TV for three generations. And we're only talking about one type of literature, here, after all. Serials can co-exist with other literary forms, much as wizards can co-exist with Muggles.

You just have to understand how to read them.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Lot Of Talk. A Little Action.

I've written here a lot about what I'm sure many readers think of as my obsession with essays and essay writing. Well, now you can read my recent creative nonfiction effort, Mom Memory, which was published by Literary Mama.

That's one essay a year for the past two years. I'm going to have to hustle if I want to keep up that pace.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Immersion Theory

I think I may have mentioned here before that the more I work, the more I can work. Earlier this summer I was knocking off a thousand words a day on The Durand Cousins, which is a very good pace for me. I was able to do it because I was able to stay immersed in the work. If I went for a walk, I got ideas. If I was driving in the car, I got ideas. Any non-writing moment might trigger a breakout experience and an idea. I'd outline that idea in a story file so it would be ready when I was back working on my thousand-word-a-day objective. (My goal being to finish this draft.)

At the Chapter 8 point, nearly 40,000 words in, I ground to a halt because in order to go on, I needed to rethink. I'd done lots of angst and misery and was now getting to a thriller point, way, way too late in the work. I needed some yippee kai yay much sooner. Things were dragging and it was going to be hard to slog on to the end just so I could have a draft of some kind.

In order to rework the earlier material (I had already started over once before after getting to Chapter 3), I had to do some thinking but I was thinking without being immersed in the material because I was no longer doing a thousand words a day. In addition, one life-related thing would come up and then another, and I didn't work at all for days.

Again, no immersion.

It was a real effort to finally get started. I only began really roaring toward the end of last week.

So yesterday was Saturday. I don't usually work on weekends, though during that thousand-word-a-day period I was always coming up with ideas and jotting things down in that story file I mentioned earlier. But, anyway, yesterday at mid-day, I was getting ready to go to a birthday party, which meant taking a shower because I'd been doing unpleasant things earlier in the morning. I'm in the shower, and my mind starts madly cranking out material for the next scene for The Durand Cousins. I had to dry off and get dressed as fast as I could so I could go downstairs and get this stuff down so I could run with it on Monday.

I was a half hour later arriving at this party then I'd planned, and I was already planning to get there late. It worked out, though, because when I went up to the guest of honor's table to say hello, I was invited to sit with her. Like that would have happened if I'd arrived there on time.

I'm telling you, immersion works.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Potter Punctuation

While I've been avoiding my listservs until I finish reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I did see a couple of e-mails regarding J. K. Rowling's use of punctuation. What people were talking about was Rowling's use of run-on sentences in this particular book. They said she was frequently using commas where she should have been using periods.

I'll say. Over and over again you'll find complete sentences joined with a comma instead of separated by a period. Colons and semi-colons are used to separate/join sentences, too. I think I'm seeing more colons and semi-colons while reading this book than I've ever seen in my life.

I don't recall seeing this in the earlier Potter books. I'm not passing any judgments here, folks. (Given my own sporadic comma use and fondness for incomplete sentences, that would be foolhardy.) I'm just making an observation.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

What's Catching My Eye This Evening

I was a good person today and didn't drift around to blogs instead of working. (Though I did play a number of games of Spider Solitaire.) So this evening the blogs are all new to me, and I'm picking up on some interesting bits.

Thanks to Camille at Book Moot I now know that the Artemis Fowl series may be coming to an end soon. That's probably a good thing. The most recent book was okay, but the one before it...oh, man. How does an author know when it's time to go? You certainly don't want to overstay your welcome.

Bookseller Chick links to an interview with the group Punk Farm. I still haven't read that book, though I have met the author.

Colleen at Chasing Ray says the new Smithsonian has a number of literary-type articles. That magazine does end up floating around my house, so I'll try to grab that issue. I definitely prefer reading about Hemingway to reading Hemingway.

Chicken Spaghetti links to the Atlantic's interview with Ann Patchett discussing her experience speaking at Clemson University about her book Truth and Beauty: A Friendship. The book had been chosen for one of those freshman summer reading experiences. Things did not go well for Patchett at Clemson U. I found this interview interesting because we have a few relatives who've been through the summer reading assignment for incoming college freshmen. I, of course, thought it sounded like a wonderful idea. However, it doesn't appear to have been terribly successful at either of the colleges my family has been connected with. In one case, professors who were supposed to discuss the book in class didn't, so students felt they'd wasted their time. (Our family member found the book deadly, too.) In another, a majority of the incoming students didn't read the book, in part because as it was handed out during orientation they were told they didn't have to. (Another factor, no doubt, was that the book was a serious downer.) I've also heard of poor attendance at author appearances supporting these reading initiatives. I love the idea, myself, but in my family's experience, it doesn't go over well with the population it's intended for.

I've been trying to read more blogs by writers and not keeping up very well. But I did catch a post by Justine Larbalestier on writers' income. She's so right. Over the years, I've read a number of articles by writers embittered by their lack of big income. I can't help but feel that if they'd known what they were getting into, they wouldn't feel such disappointment. Either they would have realized that they need to find their satisfaction in their life as a writer or they would have gone into another field. There's nothing wrong with that, by the way. Knowing you need a certain income, that you want to be able to support a family in a particular way, and seeking out a job that will provide you with same is nothing to be ashamed of. Choosing not to be a writer--perfectly legitimate life choice.

I've barely read a quarter of my blogs, but I need to call it a night.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Edge Of The Forest Interview

The Edge of the Forest has an interview with Linda Buckley-Archer, author of Gideon the Cutpurse. The interview was conducted by Michelle Fry of Scholar's Blog.

By the way, the paperback version of Gideon the Cutpurse has been renamed The Time Travelers. While Gideon the Cutpurse probably wasn't the most apt title for this book, it was, at least, interesting.


Kelly at Big A little a is going to start doing monthly book giveaways. This reminded me that I was going to do a book giveaway around August 12th but forgot about it because I am so consumed with the book I am writing, which is torture. Now the 12th is only 4 days away, so I'm just going to forget about the whole thing until the beginning of September, when I'll do a giveaway related to the start of school.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Wizard Books

In the past, I've been a regular reader of Bookslut's blog but not the magazine. No particular reason. I've started browsing recently since I've been reading Chasing Ray, Colleen Mondor's blog, because Colleen writes for Bookslut (among other publications).

This month Bookslut has an article called Judging a Book By Its Cover: Wizard People that deals with, well, the covers of wizard books. (I so like a title that truly matches the content of the article that follows it.) Included in the list is Jane Yolen's Wizard's Hall.

I've been hearing muttering for years about a Yolen wizard book that sounds much like another wizard book That Does Not Need To Be Named. Well, Wizard's Hall is the book in question. Heather Smith, who wrote the Bookslut article says of Wizard's Hall, "J.K. Rowling has been occasionally accused of poaching a few plot points from this book, but the Venn diagram of books about boarding schools and books about wizards has intersected many times before". I suspect that that could very well be the case.

Hey! I just remembered that years ago I made a stab at writing a wizard book. A couple of stabs, in fact. The story took place in the Dark Ages, there was no boarding school, and the wizard couldn't do magic. I guess we can see why I didn't get too far with that.

Speaking of wizards, though, I started reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows yesterday. I need to read it so I can go back to the Child Lit listserv. I figure it will probably take me as long to read all the Child Lit Harry messages as it will take me to read the book itself.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Promo Time

This past weekend I was so involved with my thoughts regarding Gregor and Ripred that I forgot all about putting in a good word for A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat. I have some new reviews to share.

The July/August issue of The Horn Book gave Monster Cat a very satisfying review. "Take one boy stuck at a neighbor's house, mix in one girl with an overactive imagination, add one vicious Chihuahua, and you have a perfect recipe for havoc...Cepeda's familiar black-and-white sketches add just the right energy to an already lively chapter book." The Horn Book also lists Monster Cat on its web page collection of pet stories. (It also has a page called Web Watch that includes my classroom materials under "Reading Guides.")

School Library Journal posted its review of the book at its website. "The outrageous situations, quirky characters, and black-and-white cartoon illustrations are certain to appeal to children who are looking for an easy chapter book that is pure fun." That was satisfying, too.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Saying Good-bye To A Favorite Series, Part II

Often when I think about a book I've enjoyed reading, I start finding all kinds of problems with the writing, the story line, etc. One of my family members insists that I overthink, and this would probably be an example to support his argument.

With The Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins, I experienced something totally different. I was disappointed in the book while I was reading it, but enjoyed it more when I thought about it afterwards.

Talk about overthinking.

Here's what I've been overthinking about--Collins is interested in war. She was interested in writing war stories with the Underland books, and with the final one she definitely did. Many soldiers do think they aren't going to survive the situations they're in, as Gregor does in The Code of Claw. From what I've heard about going to war, there is a lot of hurry up and wait, stretches of time between real fighting, as there is in Collins' book. People do die off stage or off the stage that any particular individual is acting out his life upon. War-time romances have probably been ending up the way Gregor and Luxa's does for thousands of years. And the end of this book for Gregor is probably a very accurate portrayal of the war experience for many soldiers.

Some reviewers have called the ending to the Underland Chronicles hopeful. They probably are saying that because Collins comes out with a heavy anti-war sentiment at the end. But I don't find the ending hopeful at all. I don't think that's a bad thing, either. I think when kids have finished this book, they will have simply seen a portrayal of wartime experience. And that's plenty.

I still think this was too much to impose on a twelve-year-old character. Yes, I know that children have been fighting in wars for generations and that somewhere in the world there are probably children fighting right now. But no one expects them to be saviors the way the Gregor is expected to be a savior. Children fighting is a tragedy, not heroic.

But after thinking about the book for a while, I respect what I think Collins has done with it.

Saying Good-bye To A Favorite Series, Part I

Last week Becky Levine contacted me about what was then my recent mystery post. I said that mysteries with amateur detectives, particularly child amateur detectives, had to be forced and unnatural because there's no logical, realistic way to bring mysteries to an amateur over and over again the way detectives in police procedurals can be presented with mysteries over and over again. Becky is finishing revisions on a mystery for young readers and said, "There does have to be a semi-false construct, maybe a bit more suspension of disbelief, but what I find is that I'm working more in the world of what kids WANT life to be, rather than the way it is."

An excellent point, one that I think is true for adult readers as well as child readers. Often we do want an author to create a world that doesn't just reflect life as it is for us but as we want it to be for us.

But even so, readers want to believe that the life we'd like is possible if not probable. And that, folks, is my lead-in to my thoughts on the end of one of my favorite series, The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. The Underland books are fantasy thrillers, not mysteries, but I think the problem with child main characters in that genre is even more difficult than with mysteries.

Collins has always been clear that she sees the Underland books as war stories. The first four volumes, though, were also quests (the first three self-contained), in which our hero, Gregor, must travel to achieve something that the human occupants of the Underland believe only he can do because of the prophecies they've been living by for generations. In the course of these quests, Gregor, who is only eleven at the beginning of the series and twelve at the end, learns to fight and acquires certain skills. It is very unlikely that a child Gregor's age could do the things Gregor learns to do, but the quests propel the stories and we are (or I am)able to accept the improbabilities because they're not the biggest part of the narrative.

The final book, though, Gregor and the Code of Claw is all war, all the time. There is no journey to propel the story. We have a traditional war story (except for the giant bats and talking rats, of course) complete with a war-time romance. Except that the main character is twelve years old. He's a child. Most of the other children in the book aren't doing what he's doing. When their city is attacked, they end up carrying stretchers. Gregor didn't seem realistic even within the world that had been created for him.

As I was reading The Code of Claw the whole set-up was no longer working for me. The fourth book in the series was the first that didn't have an ending, and this final one didn't have a beginning. It just picked up where the last one left off, which was disorienting. Characters who appeared in earlier books are brought back, mainly so they can be killed off. And you've got this twelve-year-old kid believing he's not going to survive and angsting over his love for the female lead, who is also only in her early teens. The humans are attacked, the attack is over, everyone sits around. The humans are attacked again. People die off stage. One character dies and comes back, which I found more than a little bit manipulative.

My beloved Ripred gets a heart, which I didn't like at all. Though, to be honest, he doesn't let it bother him much.

So, as I said, while I was reading the book, I was pretty bummed out. I wasn't finding any of this possible or probable.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Something You Don't See Every Day

My computer guy was waiting for coffee at one of his regular coffee stops when he saw a woman in capris, a sleeveless top, and a full arm tattoo of...The Little Prince.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Teen Book Lists

The ALA and YALSA have announced nominations for the 2007 Teens' Top Ten list. Teenagers can vote for their favorites during Teen Read Week, which will be October 14 through 20 this year.

Among the nominees are Tony Abbott's Firegirl and Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It. Also, Stephenie Meyer's New Moon, the sequel to...Twilight!

YALSA also has the nominations up for the Best Books for Young Adults for 2008. Included on this list are Sherman Alexie's Flight, which I was just carrying on about a couple of days ago. I was also very happy to see The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar on the list. Good Fairies isn't YAish the way Flight is. But it's definitely a book older teens and the college crowd can enjoy. It's also a book that appears to have been around for a while with a new edition released in 2006. It's great to see it getting some attention.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Let Us Now Praise Famous Cats

Thanks to Sheila at Wands and Worlds, I learned that galley cat is doing this cat picture thing. Authors are sending in pictures of their pets looking literary, and galley cat is posting them.

Hey! I thought. I've got a literary cat picture!

Here's the thing, though: Take a look at that photo. Baby Lynx was not working on a laptop. He wasn't working on a desktop, either. He wasn't even working on an IBM Selectric. That portable typewriter is so old, I can't even remember what brand it was.

We're estimating here at Chez Gauthier that Lynx the Wonder Cat went on to his reward nearly thirteen or fourteen years ago. Somehow, it doesn't feel right to be sending his picture anywhere at this late date. I can't quite put my finger on a reason. Maybe because I have a gut feeling that galley cat was thinking live cats?

Lynx really was a marvel, though. In fact, he was the inspiration for my first published short story. I had been writing quite a long time before I broke into print, so I really owe him one.

He was irreplaceable--mainly because after his death we learned that three-fourths of our family members were allergic to him.

An Inspirational Story Involving Vampires

Today I received a surprise call hair stylist! She's a lovely young woman about twenty or twenty-one years of age who once confided, while I was under the scissors, that she just wasn't into reading. She'd never cared for it and didn't do it now that she was out of school.

Well, that was like throwing down a gauntlet, as far as I was concerned.

So for Christmas I gave her a copy of Twilight the really hot YA vampire book by Stephenie Meyer. (And, no, I don't have a long line of stylists fighting over who gets to do my cut and colors. Why is that, do you suppose?) I told her, "This book is hot." If you weren't into reading, wouldn't that be about the only thing that would entice you to give it a shot?

As I said, she is a lovely young woman and obviously well brought up because she expressed great appreciation for the gift. But over the months it was clear that she hadn't run right out to read it.

But today she called me, all excited because she had finished Twilight, and she had loved it. She had already gone out to buy the sequel, New Moon. I told her, "You know, the author has another book coming out later this year."

"August 7th! It's coming out August 7th!" she replied.

She told her mother about the book, and her mother said, "You read an entire book?"

I swear, K. told me, "You gave me the gift of reading."

Now, I know that may be going too far because she'd only read the one book. But, still, wow. I feel like some kind of missionary. An evangelist.

I know another young woman who is going to get Twilight for Christmas this year.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

So Why Isn't This YA?

Sherman Alexie has a YA book coming out in September that is being chatted up in some circles. That's all I know on that subject.

However, Alexie's book Flight came out in April, and I do know that it's just wonderful. And it seems darn close to YA to me.

At the beginning of the story, Flight's fifteen-year-old main character is angst-ridden for very good reasons. He falls in with bad company and ends up dead. Then he starts traveling through time, always (well, with one exception) ending up in some confrontation between Native Americans and whites. Sometimes he's in the body of a white character, sometimes he's in the body of a Native American. (Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, uses the term Indian in the book and at his website.) In almost every case, someone is trying to force him to commit a violent act.

The book involves a young character who is definitely in search of self. It also takes acne seriously, which we tend to think of as the curse of the adolescent. Don't laugh. The book doesn't make light of it.

Why wasn't this published as YA? Because Alexie was publishing another YA book this year?

Sometimes I'm embarrassed by my need for novelty. I like YA, but sometimes you do see a lot of similar material published in that genre. For instance, you get your boarding school with a dead character books. You get your Holden Caulfield books. You get your girls with posse books. You get your books in the form of diaries.

While I was reading Flight, I was so excited because, at least as far as I was concerned, this was new ground.

Here's the positive aspect of publishing Flight for adults. Maybe that way it has the potential to become a cross-over book like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

But Do We Need Another Boarding School Novel?

Today Salon carries a review of The Headmaster Ritual by Taylor Antrim. Since I'm still waiting to recover after having read Looking for Alaska, I won't be rushing out to hunt for Ritual.

Speaking of Looking for Alaska, check out this review I just stumbled upon at Bookslut from back in 2005. It begins with "John Green’s debut novel Looking for Alaska has been labeled as “young adult” fiction. This is surprising because the book is so very engaging, mature, and complex."

Yikes! Does that sound to anyone else as if the reviewer is saying that YA isn't "engaging, mature, and complex?"

It ends with "Green handles the slippery subject matter with grace and humor and this book transcends its genre of young adult fiction to be a fine book that anyone will enjoy."


Perhaps I Haven't Gone Over To The Essay Side After All

When I came upon Anne Fadiman's seventeen-page essay on ice cream in At Large and At Small, I said, "Nope. I am not reading that."

I am not saying it's a bad essay. I am not saying there's anything wrong with ice cream. I am saying I have my limits.