Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cliched Middle School Situations Are So Much More Entertaining When They Involve Vampires

I was recently looking for a vampire book for early readers. My Sister the Vampire No. 1, Switched by Sienna Mercer (a total mystery woman as far as the Internet is concerned) was not what I needed. (Yes, I should have checked the reading age on the back of the book.) But it was a light, entertaining read that would make a great car/vacation book for those 8- to 12-year-old kids whose moms expect them to read in the car and on vacation.

Switched deals with that most cliched of middle school situations, the new girl at school. But super pink cheerleader Olivia Abbott soon discovers that there's a very pale Goth girl at Franklin Grove Middle School who looks exactly like her, has the same birthday as she does, and was adopted as she was. Holy Hayley and Lindsey! They're twinners!

What Olivia doesn't realize, though, is that they aren't quite identical. Ivy plays for another team. When the head of the local teen bitch posse refers to Ivy and her Goth friends as "the walking dead," she only thinks she's speaking metaphorically.

Switched will be fun for readers who already know something about vampire lore and can enjoy the vampiric word play used to describe stereotypical school and teen situations. They'll also enjoy knowing something that one of the main characters doesn't know and the other doesn't reveal until late in the story. This is the first book in a series, so I don't know how well later books will go over once the secret is out.

This one, though, could make good recreational reading for a young one seeking relief from improving books assigned at school.

You Need A Secret Password To Speak To Me Now

On Monday I received real, random spam in the comments for one of my posts, and this morning I had to spend some of my valuable 'net surfing time clearing out the same spam message from a half dozen posts. So we've set up one of those word verification deals in Comments so that evil spammers can't try to do whatever it is they hope they'll do posting gibberish at a children's author's blog.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Week-Long Book Launch? What A Concept!

First a group of new children's and YA authors with debut books coming out in 2007 formed The Class of 2k7 so they could help each other promote their books. This year a group of new new children's and YA authors have formed the The Class of 2k8 to do the same thing.

They have a blog called, of course, The Class of 2k8. Whenever one of the class members has a book reach its publication date, the blog gives him or her a week-long launch, meaning they blog about the book and author for a whole week. Today is Day 2 for Marissa Doyle.

I think this week-long thing is a neat idea. I know, for myself, publication days are cruelly uneventful. As I may have mentioned before, I think I was cleaning toilets once on the day one of my books was officially published. Even here at the blog nothing much happens. I mention that it's publication day. If I've done a book giveaway I notify the winner. And then that's it.

Of course, this blog is all about me most of the time, anyway, but still I'm liking this week-long launch idea. I will have to think about how I can talk about A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers for a whole week and make everyone think I'm saying something new and different and entertaining and not just repeating myself.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Twilight Time

A friend (who is not at all a Twilight fan) called me this afternoon to be sure I saw Time Magazine's article Stephanie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling? Lots of interesting stuff in it.

The author does make some legitimate comparisons between Meyer and Rowling. In addition to that, I think that when most people talk about looking for the next J.K.Rowling, what they mean is the next author who will make big sales. Meyer certainly has done that.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Oh, Come On!

Back twenty years ago, more or less, I used to read that around 40,000 books were published each year in the United States. So many books! According to You're an Author? Me, Too! in The New York Times Book Review the figure for 2007 was 400,000 books.

Does that number boggle anyone else's mind? Remember, according to an NEA study, 53 percent of Americans didn't read a book last year. What are we going to use all these books for? Building materials for forts?

Link by way of artsJournal.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Funny Book About Being Afraid

I've had mixed feelings about the Tim Wynne-Jones books I've read to date. Loved one. Didn't love one. And one seems to have been just okay for me, dude.

But I feel as if he wrote Rex Zero and the End of the World just for me.

Ottawa, the city that young Rex Norton-Norton moves to with his British-eccentric family, is the only Canadian city I really know much about. When Rex rides his bike, Diablo, around the city, I can recognize the references to the Rideau Canal (I biked along it in Ottawa just last fall), and I even know who Diefenbaker was. The French used by the damaged World War I vet in the book is just about at my reading level. I only had to use my French-English dictionary once.

But Rex Zero and the End of the World has a sense of place in time as well as geography. It's set in the early 1960s during the cold war, and the kids in this story are just plain scared. And what they're scared of is the bomb. Some of their parents are building personal air raid shelters, or, as members of government (Ottawa is the capitol of Canada, remember) eligible to head out to the not-so-secret Diefenbunker to sit out the radiation expected after a nuclear attack that the kids expect will turn anyone not protected into mutants.

Rex's parents are pillars of common sense, but his older sisters are just plain brilliant at collecting misinformation. When one of them comes home with a story she's heard about the cosmonauts who are then circling the globe being able to spy on them, to actually look into their bedrooms, Rex's father says, "Nonsense." His mother, perhaps even more practically, advises them to keep their curtains closed.

Rex, new to the city, finally falls in with a group of friends who have something more to fear. They are certain that a panther that had escaped from the Granby Zoo has made its way into Ottawa.

If you could choose between being afraid of a panther that might tear you apart and being afraid of a bomb that might turn you into a mutant, should you survive it, which way would you go?

Believe it or not, though, this is a funny book. At the same time that you're feeling for these kids because they are living in fear, you're laughing at the things they do and say.

My only quibble is that I think Rex made a little too much of an intuitive leap in solving the panther problem. And, okay, maybe the beatnik was too obviously a device to get information out about the WWI veteran. But when a book is enjoyable and interesting, we can shrug off a couple of quibbles, can't we?

I've read a couple of reviews that suggested there was too much period detail in this book. No more than The Wednesday Wars, I'd say, which was also a 60s book published last year. Rex Zero, though, has a much more coherent storyline and doesn't try to improve us with anything remotely like Shakespeare.

Rex Zero has just come back this month with Rex Zero, King of Nothing

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cult Books

One of my few ambitions is to develop a cult following. By which I do not mean I want to start my own religion. That is way too ambitious for me. No, I want to be one of those writers whose books are given a choice spot on the shelves in used bookstores because readers obsess over them the way I obsess over Rebecca. I want to be one of those writers who people have to read about even if they don't like my books the way I have to read about the Little Prince guy.

So you can see why I was interested in The Telegraph's list of 50 Best Cult Books. I wasn't there, but one day I hope to be.

Among the books included that might be of interest to kidlit folk:

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

And then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was an adolescent cult favorite at Chez Gauthier. But that may just be the Gauthiers.

A Little Something For My Rebecca Obsession

The Telegraph has an article up called How Daphne du Maurier Wrote Rebecca for those of us who love all things Rebecca. They also have an article on Daphne du Maurier's own personal Manderley. Except it wasn't her own personal Manderley because it had been "entailed" (one of those things you read about in English books) to another family for 800 years, which evidently hadn't come to an end during her lifetime.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

There's A Reason We're Told To Show, Not Tell

I suspect that Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja is supposed to be the story of its narrator, Justin's, response to the bullying a Buddhist outsider at his school endures and Justin's desire to do the right thing by the victim even though it's difficult. It reminded me of a more recent book, Firegirl by Tony Abbott, which is the story of its narrator, Tom's, response to a disfigured new classmate. But in Buddha Boy, Jinsen, the Buddha Boy, doesn't remain a mysterious figure the way the firegirl does, allowing Justin to become the center of struggle and suffering. He competes with Justin for the lead in this book.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that Buddha Boy suffers from a lot of telling. Jinsen gets the living daylights beat out of him, and we find out about it later. We learn about Jinsen's very interesting backstory (which came as a welcome surprise) as Justin's recollection after Jinsen tells it to him, making it, I think, almost third hand. Certainly far removed from the actual event. We're told what the school administrators do about the bullies, but we don't see them dealing with kids.

Earlier this spring someone at one of my listservs said she thought people make too much of the instructions to writers that they should show, not tell. But telling really does undermine dramatic moments. It really does distance readers from what's going on. In the case of Buddha Boy, we lose what should have been a lot of tension and maybe even suspense. Because we never see Justin at the scene of action, he doesn't become a mover and shaker in the story. At the same time, we hear about all these things happening to Jinsen, but we never see that, either.

So we end up with a story without a dominant character.

Check out other responses to Buddha Boy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blogs And Writers

I just stumbled upon a couple of blog posts that discuss blogging and writers.

Colleen at Chasing Ray has a post up called Which Blogs Matter? on the subject of authors seeking out blog reviewers.

Editorial Ass has a question and answer post called Author Blogging, which is about authors blogging themselves.

I will add a point here that will be a sort of link between these two posts: Once you are a blogging author and part of the blogging lit community, Editorial Ass suggests, it becomes very difficult to approach bloggers to review your books, as Colleen at Chasing Ray suggests, because you know everybody. It's too much like asking the guy down the street or the woman in the cubicle next to you at work to put in a good word with you somewhere. The people being asked feel they can't say no, even if they want to, because they know you. Or else they feel they have to say no, even if they don't want to, because they know you. And how much good will the good word do you when the person receiving it knows the person giving it travels in the same circles with you?

It's sort of like finding out that that person you were getting on with like gangbusters at a conference and e-mailing with afterward is the children's editor for a review journal. You get all excited because you know this editor and she seems to like you. Then you realize "@#!!. Now she can never review anything I write because we know each other."

Really, it gets to the point where you begin to feel that networking is actually counterproductive and why don't you just lie on the couch and watch HGTV in your spare time?

Good News For Happy Kid!

Happy Kid! has gone into a second printing. Happyhappyjoyjoy. I must remember this moment when I'm angsting about other things. Yeah. That's right.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Steampunk For Kiddies

I was a big fan of Larklight by Philip Reeve. Starcross, the second in the Larklight series (the third book, Mothstorm, will be published in November) is just as entertaining--at least, for those of us with the background to enjoy the sly, understated humor.

The Larklight books are examples of steampunk, science fiction or fantasy set in alternative nineteenth century worlds before the advent of gas-powered engines and electricity. Reeve, in the case of his Larklight books at least, doesn't take the subgenre too seriously. These books are takeoffs on every nineteenth century British stereotype I've ever heard of and probably a great many I've never known. Swooning young women, boys' adventure stories, retired military figures, drawing room gatherings, empirial attitudes...the list goes on and on.

The basic storyline for Starcross made me think of something you might have seen in an episode of classic Star Trek (not that there's anything wrong with that): While gathered at a resort (think of one of those planets where the Enterprise crew liked to go for rest and recreation) Art and Myrtle Mumby, those classic siblings from the first Larklight book, encounter thought-sucking creatures from the future intent on dominating the British Empire, (the equivalent of the Federation) and only our strapping young boy hero and his ethnically diverse friends (like the crew of a Star Trek away mission) can save the homeworld and her possessions, which stretch out across space. There is also a threat from France in the form of a French secret agent. (Sort of like a Romulan spy.)

I love these books but with Starcross, even more than with Larklight, I wonder about the audience. The writing style is a little on the elaborate side, as one would expect from a nineteenth century novel or memoir. A lot of the humor is very subtle and dependent on at least a superficial knowledge of British history. I've read complaints from adult readers of Larklight about sexism and ethnic stereotyping (to the extent that you can have ethnic stereotyping when you're talking about races that don't really exist), meaning that those grown-ups didn't get the jokes.

How do the middle grade readers the book design suggests these books are marketed to feel about them? Will the YA readers who are more likely to have the historical background to enable them to enjoy them find these books?

Attention For Gail's Vermont Books

A Guide to Fiction Set in Vermont for Children & Young Adults by Ann McKinstry Micou was published this spring by the Vermont Humanities Council. Both my Vermont books, The Hero of Ticonderoga and Saving the Planet & Stuff are included in the guide.

Too bad Planet has gone out of print, huh? I've just had the rights reverted to me, which means that when I can get organized and serious I can try to find a paperback publisher for it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Not All Authors Come Across Well On TV

Mitali Perkins was interviewed for West Coast TV. She is extremely well-spoken. She didn't even get to talk about her writing, and I still watched the whole thing.

So Close And Yet So Far Away

Over the years I have shared with my faithful readers my mild obsession with those wacky Transcendentalists, an obsession which is totally understandable given my various connections with Lousia May Alcott who was up to her neck in all things Transcendental. Since reading Mr. Emerson's Wife last fall, I've been fantasizing about taking a walking tour of Concord, Massachusetts and stopping by the homes of various Transcendental types just as they would have stopped by in their heyday--on foot. Now, I was in Concord a couple of decades ago visiting Orchard House. I have a vague recollection of lots of traffic, so I know the walking thing is probably out of the question. Nonetheless, the fantasy remains.

Well, yesterday I got to Concord. However, I was with a couple of family members who couldn't really see spending a perfectly good Saturday touring the homes of boring old dead guys. So we decided to go biking in Minute Man National Park. However, I had only the vaguest idea what Minute Man National Park was. I did not plan my visit. A family member heard there was a four-mile trail there suitable for bikes. We figured we'd do an hour or so of biking and go out to lunch.

When we arrived, however, we realized something was amiss. As it turns out, April 19th was the day the Battle of Concord was fought (And I used to call myself a history geek! I blush.), and when we got to, maybe, the halfway point on the trail, we were trapped because everything shut down for an hour for a re-enactment.

"This is not my favorite historical period," one of my companions said by way of making conversation. (Yes! We are the kind of people who have favorite historical periods!)

When everything was over, and we were finally on our way biking along Battle Road, I wondered if Henry David Thoreau had walked there before me. (I've never heard anything about him having a bicycle.) Surely, he must have. Yeah, I'm positive my bike's tires touched the same road Thoreau's shoes touched. That is so cool.

It is also the closest I got to the Transcendental world yesterday. Traffic was so bad because of the hundreds of people who were trying to get out of town that I didn't even think to suggest that we try for some kind of Transcendental sighting.

Now, though, my walking tour fantasy has been kicked up a notch. Now I want a Transcendental National Park, one where you can leave your car in a lot and walk along trails from Emerson's house to the Alcott's to Thoreau's mom's and on and on. Transcendentalist houses everywhere. Oh, and there would be tearooms in this park, so you could stop to eat. And bookstores. Maybe in the afternoon there would be a gathering in one of the houses where everyone could talk about deep things.

It kind of makes you tear up, doesn't it?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Somebody Get That Woman A Medal!

I am sure many of my faithful readers have been wondering what became of my quest to read An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't, which, it turns out, I began a year ago this month. This was the Buy a Friend a Book Week gift I bought for some family members that didn't go over all that well, so I decided to read it myself.

You may have thought that I stopped reading the 678 page book because I haven't mentioned it here since May 17th. If so, you obviously don't know me at all. No, I stopped talking about it here because my professional and booky lives are so very, very full that I had many other things to write about.

What I'm getting around to telling you is that I finished reading An Incomplete Education this morning. And, no, I didn't read every word because I'd have to be insane to do that, wouldn't I? But I read lots. Lots and lots.

Here's what I've retained: Henry IV (Henry of Navarre) is the king of France who said, "Paris is well worth a Mass."

The end of the book included a vocab section with lists of words that are used improperly by many people, including myself. I've decided that I just won't use any of those words anymore.

The next improving book I plan to read is Herding the Ox: The Martial Arts as Moral Metaphor by John J. Donohue. I'm looking forward to it because even though it includes the words "moral" and "metaphor" in the title, it is only 133 pages long.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Justine Explains It All To You

I wish I had time to read Justine Larbalestier's blog more frequently and not because I want to read about her fantastic travel life. (My big trip in March was to R.J. Julia Booksellers and that wasn't even for a special event, just a walk-around when I was in town for a school appearance.) No, what I like about her blog is that she occasionally covers writerly stuff.

For instance, in one of her recent posts she linked to an earlier one in which she explains how advances work. In talking with people I find that there's a lot of misunderstanding out there about how little money is involved in most book deals and how many years it takes to collect it. It's not unusual for me to meet folks who think they can knock off a book to generate extra, steady income.

The only thing I would add to Justine's description of how money is paid out is that many unknown writers won't be able to make a sale just on the basis of their pitch and a few chapters. They'll have to submit an entire manuscript for consideration. So while they may be receiving their advance over a four-year period as she describes in one example, they may have spent six months, a year, or who knows how long, working on the manuscript they submitted before they saw any money at all. So I think you need to keep that in mind--when you spread your advance over the time you worked on the book and not just the timeframe of the contract, it comes to even less per year.

For instance, I worked with an editor for a year on my first book before she offered me a contract. I can't even recall how long I worked with her on the second without a contract. In my mind, I have to include that work time when I'm thinking about how much money came in from those two books.

By the way, many book business people would suggest that you not do what I did--work for a long period of time without a contract. In the case of the first book in particular, I had had only two short stories published and no one else was beating a path to my door begging for my work. My reasoning was that I had nothing to lose, and it did all work out for me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

So Much Going On

Are they traditional 1930's English mysteries?

Are they creature features?

Are they time travel stories?

The Invisible Detective books by Justin Richards include all those scenarios. At least the two I've read did. They are incredibly multi-layered and enjoyable to an experienced reader who recognizes what's going on. And this experienced reader still hasn't read the first book in the series, so I'm at a bit of a disadvantage. Ghost Soldiers is the the third book, and then I went back to the second because that's how I happened to stumble upon them at I'm a Reading Fool's library.

Our basic premise involves four kids in 1930's London who have set up this imaginary detective, Brandon Lake, who holds court above a locksmith's shop. People come to the so-called Invisible Detective with their problems, though he sits with his back to the room so no one knows that the deep-voiced man in the big chair is actually a boy named Art Drake who's maybe thirteen or fourteen years old. Since I missed that first book, I don't know how they managed to get this started. But people who speak with Art leave him a little money, which he shares among his Scooby gang, one member of which lives on the street.

So here you have your 1930's British detective set-up. To make it a little more palatable to twenty-first century child readers who may not be into that kind of thing, the Scoobies all have what might be described as very modest "super" powers. Meg can tell when people are lying. Jonny is the fastest boy in London. And Flinch, our street urchin, is some kind of contortionist and can wriggle her way in and out of tight spots.

Art's power? He is a leader. What's more, the story occasionally shifts to his future as an elderly man with a grandson who is also named Art Drake. And this Art Drake has some kind of psychic connection with the Art Drake his grandfather used to be back in the 1930's when he and his friends fought crime.

What kind of crime did they fight? Creepy sci-fi crime. Giant mutant rats. Super soldiers who have been created by mad scientists.

I think the sci-fi crime storylines were the weakest element in the books I read. A little too over-the-top. I'm a bit mystified with what's going on with the two Art Drakes, too, probably because I haven't read the first book.

These books strength are those four 1930's kids, who stick together and care about each other and are, for the most part, on their own. What becomes of them in the decades after they function as The Invisible Detective? We know Art lives into old age and has a son who becomes a Scotland Yard Detective just as his own father was back in the '30s. But what about the others? Could that strange girl in the young Art's time who knows more than she should about The Invisible Detective of the '30s possibly be descended from Meg? Could that old guy in the shop where young Art found his grandfather's casebook possibly be Jonny? And what was poor, sweet, illiterate Flinch's fate?

There is so much going on in these books that I do have to wonder if some child readers will be able to keep up with everything. This adult reader, though, will pick up the next Invisible Detective novel she happens upon.

Okay, I Get That

Since the publication of the last Harry Potter book, whatever to heck its title was, sometime last year, I have occasionally felt that its author was just a little bit of a! I know. Bore! A publicity bore! All those post-publication appearances talking about her feelings about the book got her more attention, I thought. The great outing of the old guy who I always felt got too much face time in those books was one more way to remind the media that she was still around.

Today, as I started to read an article about this court case she's got herself involved with, I thought, Yup, once again ol' J.K. is right where she wants to be, in the spotlight. Then I was directed to a news article in which she is quoted as saying, "You know, these books, they saved me, not just in the very obvious material sense, although they did do that. ... I would have to say that there was a time when they saved my sanity."

Those words took my breath away. For just a moment. I didn't pass out or anything. But I felt her pain. I could understand why she seems unwilling or unable to let go of Harry and his gang and move on to the next project the way the rest of us do. Or try to. Or have to.

How do you just walk away from something that saved you? And what will become of you, if you do?

The woman must be terrified. Rich, I'll grant you, but terrified nonetheless.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I Don't Talk Too Much, Do I?

My on-line chat with the kiddies in Maine went very well today, though there was a little snafu when one of their computers didn't connect with me the way we expected it to. I was asked some very good questions, some of which I hadn't heard before. Plus, I was able to ask one. Last week I reread A Year with Butch and Spike, which was the main subject of our discussion, and I began to worry that "Butch" and "Spike" weren't very contemporary names. But the people there said they knew a couple of Butches and a Spike, and they were all kids. So, huzzah!

While I was typing away, though, I was worried that I was typing too much, droning on and on. I even stopped everything and asked, "Am I talking too much?" They didn't respond to that. Do you suppose they were just trying to be polite? You know, as in if you can't say something good, don't saying anything at all?

I did e-mail with my contact for this event, and she seemed happy and felt everything went just fine. I didn't ask her if I talked too much. I phrased it differently. I said, "I did worry that my answers were too lengthy. How did you feel? Was I giving the kids too much information?"

I felt that was a less pathetic way of asking if I'd talked too much.

Anyway, I love the idea of doing "appearances" from my office in the cellar and hope to get more of that kind of work.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

We Scooped The New York Times Book Review

Kelly at Big A, little a, The Globe and Mail, and I all scooped The New York Times Book Review on the most recent news of the fate of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

I had trouble figuring out just what the dead prince had to do with everything in the NYTBR article.

All Things Bologna

In our extended family, we have people trying to get started on careers, to stay in their new careers, to hunt for first homes, and to stay afloat in construction- related professions. So here at Chez Gauthier we do think quite a bit about what's going on in the economy and, I'm sad to say, how it impacts us and not just all those people we read about in the press.

So when I read the first line in Wrapping Up Bologna, about the Bologna Children's Book Fair, I thought, Doesn't this sound as if it could be a good thing for people like me? The article starts out, "The state of the U.S. economy hung over this year’s Bologna Fair, as American publishers found the market tough for buying, but great for selling." In a related article, also in Publisher's Weekly, an American publisher said, "For selling books, I say ‘Thank you, George Bush’ every day. But I would not want to be a European rights director selling to the U.S. right now."

What's going on, as I understand it, is that American rights for European books are pricie for us to buy now, but American rights are cheap for Europeans to buy. Our stuff is selling, but we're not buying as much as we used to.

I know that in the greater scheme of things, the world of literature suffers. Yes, I do want to be exposed to books from all over the world. But in terms of Gail, an American writer who needs to sell books, doesn't this mean that 1. Foreign rights to my most recent books have a better chance of selling? (It has been a few years since anyone has snapped up rights to my books, and I do have a new one coming out this year.) 2. Fewer foreign books coming into the U.S. market means less competition for buyers and readers here in this country? (Though, come on, we're still talking mind-boggling numbers of American books being published. I don't seriously expect to see any jumps in my sales because fewer European books are being translated into English and sold here. I'm just looking for a silver lining. For somebody. Anybody, but particularly for me.)

Well, I only took one baby economics class when I was in college, and I don't remember it having anything to do specifically with publishing.

Other Bologna news:

Horror may be the new fantasy.

There's supposed to be a lot of interest in books about humor with boy characters, which, you know, just happens to be my stock-in-trade.

Evidently in France publishers are being overwhelmed with electronic submissions.

And get this--Eddie Gamarra, who is with a management/production company was quoted as saying, "Some authors report that editors pressure them to tone down the prominence of adult characters in children’s lit. Hollywood needs castable roles for bankable actors. There are very few bankable child stars. This issue was another big point of conversation as book folks ask me to explain what the heck Hollywood is looking for and why."

This is so creepy. Editors of children's books are supposed to pressure their authors to tone down adult characters because they are writing...stay with me here...children's books. What is going to happen to children's literature if books are written not for kid readers but for Hollywood producers who are looking for adult characters in order to cast adult actors? Come on, just write a screenplay in the first place.

Though, this might explain why we got an inquiry from a production company about Saving the Planet & Stuff just on the basis of the Kirkus Review's review. That book did have a couple of great adult characters. Though, perhaps, not great enough, since no sale was made.

Well, I've never been all that interested in the Bologna Children's Book Fair. But after reading these two articles, I'll be paying more attention in the future.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Maybe You Can Get Too Much Of A Good Thing

The Complete Jane Austen ended on Masterpiece last weekend. I still haven't finished watching the first episode of the last installment. I'm having a hard time getting up any enthusiasm for it.

I've read a number of Jane Austen books over the years, but I liked some more than others. And I read them over the years. When taking in all her work, even on-screen, in only a few months, it's hard not to notice that she's a bit predictable, what with the happy endings and love conquering all and what not. And while I've been a fan of Pride and Prejudice, reading the book twice, watching at least one film adaptation, this time I felt that maybe Mr. Darcy (who appears on many readers' Book Boyfriend lists) is kind of a pain in the arse.

I can't say I found Gillian Anderson's readings off the teleprompter all that stimulating as far as introductions are concerned, either.

All in all, it wasn't as exciting an experience as I was hoping for.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Yesterday our so-called good computer, which has been holding on by a thread only because of my computer guy's skill, appeared to have given up the ghost. This wouldn't have been a major crisis, since I'm doing a study month. However, on Monday I have my first ever on-line chat with a school in Maine and the software was loaded on to the computer that appeared to be on its back with its feet in the air. I was frantically making plans to download the software onto another computer and get the materials on the people I'd be chatting with from...somewhere.

Well, Computer Guy passed his hands over the machine, and it appears to be working again. We will be loading up a laptop this weekend, just in case.

Geez. This was supposed to be easy.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More Good News For Happy Kid!

Happy Kid! is on the master reading list for the Sequoyah Book Awards in the Young Adult category. That's the Oklahoma Library Association's readers' choice award.

Monday, April 07, 2008

All About Editors

The March/April issue of The Horn Book does a lot on editors with an article on Ursula Nordstrom and some shorter pieces by contemporary authors on their relationships with their editors. I have to admit, if it were not for The Horn Book, I wouldn't know who Ursula Nordstrom was. Nonetheless, I believe I've read every word they've ever published about the woman, and I read every word of this issue's The UN Tapes by Leonard Marcus. The UN Tapes is a collection of first person recollections of Nordstrom put together from interviews Marcus did with people who knew her when he was working on the book Dear Genius. I was left with two reactions: 1. The Ursula portrayed in these accounts and I probably would have had nothing to do with each other, and thus would have gotten along very well. 2. As I read along, I felt poor Ursula (I should call her Ms Nordstrom) was being violated a good twenty years after her death and even longer after she was a mover and shaker in publishing. As a general rule, I'm not at all bothered by the exposure of historical figures' warts. I like humanity in history. But while I understand why Nordstrom is a giant in our field, I question whether she is a big enough figure in the overall scheme of things to justify exposing so very much of her vulnerability. The tone I heard in this article was often, "The queen is dead. Now's my chance to voice a little simmering resentment in as nonjudgmental a manner as I can muster." Or maybe I just like Ursula more than I think I do. Other articles in the magazine discuss authors' personal relationships with their editors. Those pieces filled me with anxiety because I barely have a personal relationship with my editors. Kathy and I used to talk about The X-files a bit when we first knew each other, and Susan and I went to the same university. But she doesn't get the alumni magazine anymore, and I don't think either one of us gives a damn about collegiate sports, so once the work's done we don't have much to talk about other than whether or not we had a good time over the holidays. (We always do.) Years ago, people at Readerville used to talk about buying their editors Christmas presents. I thought, Come on, who does that? Now I'm wondering if maybe everyone does, and I didn't get the memo. Susan went to Bologna and has been out of the office for a couple of weeks. Perhaps I should run out and get her a welcome home gift? Maybe I should haul my heinie into New York and make her go out to lunch with me? Won't she think I'm stalking her? By the way, Kathleen Krull has the final word on editors in The Horn Book's Cadenza feature. It's called How a Children's Book Manuscript Gets Bought (or Not): The Inside Story, and it's hysterical.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I Should Be So Lucky

Sometime last fall, a college student preparing for a trivia contest contacted me to ask if I could help him identify what he believed to be a children's book illustration that was included in a contest preparation packet he had recieved. Of course, I couldn't, so I contacted the folks at the child_lit listserv. Some people there recognized it immediately as the scene where Portia and Julian meet Aunt Minnehaha in a Newbery Honor Book from 1957.

And that is how I learned of Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright.

Gone-Away Lake is the story of how two cousins, Portia and Julian, learn of the existence of an abandoned summer colony on what was once a beautiful lake but has now become a swamp. Living in two of the deteriorating houses are an elderly man and woman, a brother and sister who had lived at the colony in the summers back at the end of the nineteenth century with their wealthy family. Portia and Julian spend their summer hanging out with their new friends, Aunt Minnehaha and Uncle Pindar, and learning what life was like back in the day for that class of people who used the word "summer" as a verb.

That's it. That's about all that happens. Aunt Minnehaha and Uncle Pindar aren't ghosts or child molesters or criminals hiding out or victims of land developers. Julian and Portia aren't escaping from monster parents. Aunt Minnehaha and Uncle Pindar don't teach the kids any big life lessons about death or aging.

There's nothing here that will provide a big, climactic scene or even much of a plot. Gone-Away Lake is just a lovely, elegant, atmospheric story about a really good summer.

Back in the 1950s it probably gave child readers a window into an earlier, more elegant time. What I find interesting about the book is that now, after all these years, it gives us a window into the 1950s.

After reading Gone-Away Lake, I envision the 1950s as a time when young boys dressed up in flannel suits to travel by train. Their older sisters wore hats while traveling. Boys (but not girls) carried "killing jars" so they could off the various bugs they collected. (There's something you don't see often in kids' books these days.) My gut twisted up into knots when the kids decided they would keep Gone-Away a secret from Julian's parents because it was fun to have something just for themselves. But keeping secrets from your parents doesn't appear to have been dangerous back then. Nor was it dangerous to enter a stranger's ramshackle house. And nobody thought twice about elderly people squatting in abandoned houses because they didn't have the money to live anywhere else.

It was a different time. Not a better time. Not a worse time. Just different.

Aunt Minnehaha and Uncle Pindar, stepping out of the past and talking about their childhood, are characters who work just as they did in the 1950s because they were from a different time even then. The contemporary elements of the story, though, are dated in a quaint, intriguing way.

I've written a number of what I call my "suburban books"--stories rooted in the lives of 1990s and our turn-of-the-century children. Fifty years after their publication, they should be dated just as Gone-Away Lake is. I just hope that in 2048, someone wandering the stacks in the children's room of a library stumbles upon a copy of, say, A Year with Butch and Spike the way I stumbled upon Gone-Away Lake a few weeks ago.

I can accept being dated. I just want to still be around.

Friday, April 04, 2008

I Need A Theme

The 48 Hour Book Challenge is coming. I'll spend the next two months trying to come up with a theme for my reading. I get very excited for this event, which suggests that my life is sad, sad, sad.

Still A Mystery

I've been hearing about the lack of YA mysteries for a year now. Colleen at Chasing Ray is still looking for them.

I'd Forgotten Just How Disturbing This Is

Or maybe I never realized how disturbing the story of Hansel and Gretel is. I definitely don't recall being upset by it. I probably focused on how marvelous it would be to find a house made of gingerbread and candy.

While viewing a Hansel and Gretel slideshow relating to an exhibit that has already closed (remember, I'm catching up on my reading), this adult began to get creeped out. Kicking the evil witch into the oven didn't bother me at all, by the way. Instead it was the parents unable to feed their children and abandoning them, and the evil woman taking them into her home that made this grown-up start feeling anxious while sitting in front of her computer screen.

And maybe a little inspired. We'll see.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Retro Vampire

Libby Gruner writes a column for Literary Mama called Children's Lit Book Group. Her most recent article, Vampire Love, is about the Twilight series.

In it, Gruner says, "Vampire stories are, of course, perfect for teenagers. Vampires stay out all night, scare the respectable citizens, take crazy risks, and live, seemingly, forever. And they're both sexy and dangerous. Their feasting is intimate, and it's transformative: the first time matters."

Excellent point.

Gruner also suggests that Edward is a parody of the stereotypical 50s girlfriend with his insistance on "waiting for marriage" before "turning" Bella. (The wedding night will involve both first sex and murder in Edward and Bella's case. Analyze that.) She feels that "Meyer's novels seem anxious about modern life," which I can also agree with.

You Still Have Time To Buy A Book

Buy a Friend a Book Week is half over, but you still have time to go out a buy a book for somebody. Any book. Anybody.

Today I bought a book for the person in my life I know will appreciate it most--moi. I ordered myself a copy of Ghost Empire: How the French Almost Conquered North America by Philip Marchand. I've wanted it since last fall when I read a review at Critical Mass.

See? Blogs do sell books.

I am so excited about this because I only have two shelves of books to read upstairs...and half of one of those baskets that are supposed to hold firewood but at our house hold books...and a half a foot of professional books and journals on a table here in the office...and a dozen library books...and four books on the floor next to my bed...and another foot or so of magazines and newspapers next to the couch...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Far More Serious Historian

We in the kidlitosphere usually think of J.L. Bell as being a kidlit guy because of his blog Oz and Ends. But he's also a history guy who was quoted in The Boston Globe recently in relation to the historical accuracy of a certain HBO series. You know. John Adams.

I finally went over and took a look at Mr. Bell's other blog Boston 1775. I am now embarrassed to have called myself a history geek here, since I know he sometimes drops by. The difference between J.L. Bell and myself is that he reads history and about history. He's a primary source reader, and I'm a secondary source reader.

Believe it or not, though, I am interested in smallpox in pre-Revolutionary times. As luck would have it, Boston 1775 has a post on same. Who knows what other great stuff is over there?

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

Some children's writers complain (sometimes at length) about children e-mailing them for help with their homework. A couple of days ago, I finally got one of those. A girl told me that she was supposed to read The Hero of Ticonderoga for a report but had had to return it to the library before she was finished. She said she had one question. "How many pages is it?"

I'm sorry. I thought it was funny.

I'm sure there are writers out there who would say, "Well, if you were a popular writer and received questions like that every day, dozens of questions like that every day, you wouldn't be laughing."

I hope I would.

Talk Talk Talk About Author Talks

I've been interested in author presentations this spring because I did one last month and have two more coming up. Many children's authors who do school and library presentations would be embarrassed to have so few lined up, but I find three overwhelming. The next one is an on-line chat, which sounds fun and should be easy. (That means I'm riding for a fall, of course.) But the one in May is at a junior/senior high school. In another state. And the library media specialist said I could eat lunch in the cafeteria with the kids, which means he must have read my website page on presentations (the brochure) where I say I like to eat lunch in the cafeteria with the kids. And I do. But in a junior/senior high school?!! I've written scenes in two books (one unpublished to date) about the horrors of eating in those cafeterias. Who's going to want to eat with me? It would be like eating with their mother.

On top of all that, I have to revise my presentation for that age group.

So, anyway, I've been thinking about all that lately, and I've noticed that Mitali Perkins has been thinking about it, as well, because she's been doing author presentations, too.

I also finally read (skimmed) Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers by Toni Buzzeo and Jane Kurtz. Toni Buzzeo is a kind of guru of author presentations here in New England. Or maybe the United States. Or maybe the world. The book she wrote with Jane Kurtz is filled with information, but primarily of interest to media specialists and teachers planning author events. Though new children's authors looking for ideas for preparing a school presentation will certainly get some from Terrific Connections. In fact, even I got a little inspiration for my high school talk.

For anyone interested in finding an author to come visit a school, I've recently learned about Author School Visits BY STATE!, a new blog that collects websites of authors who do school visits. Which is pretty much what its title says.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Loving Anne Shirley, Too

I sometimes find Margaret Atwood's nonfiction a little rambley. She doesn't seem to subscribe to the "tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them" school of essay writing. Sure enough, in Nobody ever did want me, Atwood's "salute" to Anne of Green Gables on its one hundredth anniversary, she does meander. But she covers lots of good stuff.

1. She explains the attraction the book holds for the Japanese, which is probably a little more intense than the attraction it holds for Canadians, since Japanese tourists have to travel so much further to get to Prince Edward Island and the Green Gables site. And believe me, they do travel there. A Japanese family was taking pictures in front of the house the day I was there.

2. She points out the grim fate of most orphans at the time Anne of Green Gables was written. "Outside of fiction, however, orphans weren't only exploited, they were feared and despised as fruits of sin...This is why Montgomery goes to such lengths to provide Anne with two educated, respectable parents who were married to each other. But a real-life Anne would have led a Dickensian life of grinding child labour and virtual bondage as an unpaid mother's help..."

3. She talks about author Lucy Maude Montgomery's "disheartening" personal history, which I've been hearing murmurings about over the last couple of years, and how it could have influenced Anne of Green Gables. Atwood says, "Anne's plaintive cry, "You don't want me! . . . Nobody ever did want me", is a child's outraged protest against the unfairness of the universe that seems to come straight from the heart. Montgomery was an orphan sent to live with two old people, but, unlike Anne, she never did win them over. Marilla and Matthew are what Montgomery wished for, not what she got."

4. And, finally, Atwood suggests that, "There's another way of reading Anne of Green Gables, and that's to assume that the true central character is not Anne, but Marilla Cuthbert...Her growing love for Anne, and her growing ability to express that love - not Anne's duckling-to-swan act - is the real magic transformation."

As I said, Atwood has lots of fascinating things to say about Anne of Green Gables. What she doesn't do, interestingly enough, is talk about it in terms of "children's literature," as Janet Malcolm did with The Gossip Girls. But, then, Anne of Green Gables is so huge a phenomena in Canada and internationally that it probably doesn't need to be discussed in terms of anything but itself. And while Malcolm's article leaves readers wondering how much she knows about children's literature, Atwood's leaves us in no doubt that she knows her Anne.

This is another story I found as a result of catching up with my Adbooks reading.