Saturday, February 28, 2009

Not All Graphic Novels Are For Kids

Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa is a very impressive work, the story of a father trying to deny his child's impending death. However, in spite of its appearance among the YA graphic novel finalists for the 2008 Cybils, I don't see how it can possibly be classified as YA. The story portrays an adult father going through various stages of grief over losing his young child. That's not a traditional YA theme. On a most superficial level, it doesn't even include any teen characters.

That doesn't mean the book isn't good.

Life is "simple and sweet" for Louis, Lise, and young Joachim until they notice three shadowy figures outside their farm. The figures, it turns out, bring death, and they are bringing it for Joachim. Lise wants to enjoy the time she has left with her son, but Louis takes his boy and runs. He's determined to save his child from death.

Sounds grim, doesn't it? Well, it is. But what it's not is maudlin. This isn't a manipulative weeper, trying to impress us because it's about death. I don't know if it's the supernatural element or the graphic format or just good story telling (through both text and art work, in this case), but Pedrosa treats his material as...oh, I don't know...maybe...literature? While many books about death, particularly a child's death, do little more than make readers feel badly, as if being able to move them to tears is an indication of the author's skill, Three Shadows seems to me to be an attempt to actually understand a life event through art.

Pedrosa is an experienced author of band dessinées, and his work in Three Shadows is very sophisticated. This is an excellent, adult work, and would make a great addition to a library collection of adult graphic novels.

Pedrosa has some interesting things to say about comics, which he holds in high regard:

"But in the past few years in France, as soon as a book of bande dessinĂ©e is something other than the 46-page color hardcover format I described, the book gets called a roman graphique, borrowing from the US term of graphic novel. I don’t know who the clever marketing whiz was that came up with the idea, but it’s clearly designed to lend a stamp of cultural approval by associating with novels, i.e. with “serious” literature for real readers, those with brains...

...Yet these “graphic novels,” as the term is used in France, owe nothing to the novel or to literature. They are pure, and often beautiful, comic books: the language they use, regardless of how inventive the forms used may be, is the language of comics. That’s what gives these creative works their power, and that’s what explains the very distinctive pleasure that their readers take in the process."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Now This Is What Blogs Should Do

Though I read Sherlock Holmes when I was a teenager, as an adult I'm no longer sure what the attraction is for young readers, particularly young readers today. I'm intrigued by all the references I see to him in books for kids, since I always wonder if the child readers get them.

Therefore, I was very interested to read about Laurie R. King's Mary Russell books, which deal with a fifteen-year-old girl who becomes an apprentice to Sherlock Holmes, at Jen Robinson's Book Page. This series appears to have been around for more than a decade. While I do believe I've heard of the first book, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, I've missed reading any of these things. It looks as if they cover a favorite period of mine, World War I and the post-war era, and I'm interested for that reason alone.

Now these are not YA novels, though they have that fifteen-year-old main character. I often find myself drawn to adult fiction with teen or child protagonists (I'm reading The Dead Father's Club now), and I like looking for adult books that might work for younger readers. King's publicist told Jen Robinson that the Mary Russell books have always had cross-over appeal for teenage readers and Jen says, "mysteries are often bridge books by which teens first dip into adult fiction." I would agree with that. So now I've got another reason to be interested.

I love it when blogs intrigue me with talk of books that I've missed somehow. Good work, Jen.

I Love Contradictions!

Another great bit from a Glimmer Train Bulletin: Joshua Henkin uses a couple of terrific personal stories to illustrate what he calls "pleasing contradictions" and says they are "the lifeblood of a fiction writer."

As a humor writer, I look for what I call "incongruities," because I often find the clash that occurs when unlike elements are brought together amusing. So I use those kinds of contradictions when I'm writing humor.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Learning You're Related To Fairies Is Not Necessarily A Good Thing

Okay, folks, it's time to talk about the Cybils YA graphic novel finalists I didn't cover during Cybil season.

Today we will begin with The Good Neighbors: Kin by Holly Black with graphics by Ted Naifeh. This is the first book by Black I've had a chance to read. I've seen the movie made from her Spiderwick Chronicles, and I saw her moderate a panel discussion at Readercon last year. My impression is that she's interested in fairies as subject matter, and sure enough, The Good Neighbors has fairies. Mysterious, possibly evil fairies. My guess is probably evil.

Rue is an angst-ridden teenager whose mother is missing and whose father appears to be depressed. That's kind of ho-hum for YA, but then she starts seeing creatures other people don't see. This doesn't make her feel any better. Neither does finding out that she's connected to these beings through her missing mother. And then there's the creepy grandfather.

The Good Neighbors: Kin includes a couple of either classic or stereotypical YA situations: the child who learns a secret about a parent and the child who learns there is something special about herself. Kin is the first book in The Good Neighbors serial, and I can't say a great deal happens in it. Rue is miserable and finds out all these secrets about her family and herself and then the book ends.

Ted Naifeh's artwork for this book was some of the most attractive I've seen in the graphic novels I read this past year.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Reason For Writing?

In a Glimmer Train Bulletin, author Roxana Robinson says:

"All the fiction I write arises from the same sort of impulse: it's a feeling of discomfort, a kind of unspecified anxiety, a need to uncover something that troubles and disturbs me. I write toward that feeling."

I'm not sure if she's saying that that is why she writes, but needing to write because you're disturbed and uncomfortable about something would certainly be a good reason as far as I'm concerned.

In this essay, Robinson also gives a great explanation of the difference between writing short stories and novels. And she does it in a nice, concise manner, too.

An Indication Of YA's Significance Now?

Condoleeza Rice has signed a contract with Crown Publishers to write three books. Two of them will be memoirs about her family--one written for adults and the other "a young adult edition."

I think this is impressive news--a former secretary of state writing (or having revised for her, who knows?) a YA version of her memoir. Crown must think it can sell it, meaning it thinks teenagers will read it. Or maybe just that libraries will buy it for their YA nonfiction collection, which is not quite the same thing.

The book isn't coming out until 2012. If it is well done and successful (or at least successful), could it end up being followed by other books by former government officials, politicians, financial leaders (if there are any anymore), etc.? I know there have always been kiddy bios of famous people, especially dead white guys and sports figures, but this seems different to me.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mine Eyes Glazeth Over

I have tried several times to understand The Hero's Journey, but, seriously, I can't even get past "The Departure."

Link from Children's Writing Web Journal.

A Winning Fairy Tale Variation

I happened to read Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with graphics by Nathan Hale, winner of the Cybil award for elementary/middle grade graphic novel, right after reading Shannon Hale's adult novel, Austenland. I was struck by how similar they were.

Okay, Austenland is a light romance about a twenty-first century woman off at a Jane Austen theme park to work out her Pride and Prejudice fantasy and Rapunzel's Revenge is a reworking of Rapunzel set in the American west of the late nineteenth century. But they're both feminist-tinged reworkings of what I think of as traditionally girly fairy tales/fantasies. One involves a woman meeting a man who is initially unpleasant but turns out to be a real catch and the other involves a woman being saved by a man who turns out to be a real catch. Hale gives these two stories a contemporary mid-section, but she doesn't change the fairy tale ending.

In the case of Rapunzel's Revenge, Rapunzel isn't a passive figure who is saved by a man as she is in the original fairy tale, at least as it's commonly known. She saves herself, she saves others, and she still gets a very positive ending. Actually, this scenario of a female overcoming adversity could almost be described as our new, twenty-first century fairy tale, especially when, as here, all comes out well in the end.

Rapunzel's Revenge has more going for it than just girl power because it plays with more than just the Rapunzel story. Jack and the Beanstalk and that golden egg laying goose tale I've never been a hundred percent clear about both enter the scene. We have the Old West equivalent of an evil witch here, one who uses spells to enslave others. I wondered if there were more fairy tale twists that I wasn't getting. For instance, Rapunzel saves a golden haired child who is kidnapped and keeps complaining about having to eat sticky gruel. Is she supposed to be Goldilocks?

It doesn't matter, though, because there is a basic story in Rapunzel's Revenge that readers can enjoy even if they've never even heard of Rapunzel, herself. And while I've dwelled on the female interest in the fairy tales Shannon Hale deals with, Rapunzel's Revenge is not just for girls. Rapunzel's male sidekick gives boys someone to identify with, too.

Rapunzel is a first-person narrator in this case, so when we see narrative boxes in this graphic novel, they are used for her to tell us things in her voice. Nonetheless, the story is still carried primarily by graphics and dialogue.

Rapunzel's Revenge is the kind of graphic novel I particularly like--a real, complete story.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I Have Wanted To Do This So Many Times

I had to go to church today because it was my turn to greet. Another way to put this is to say I was a greeter. Or, as a young family member calls it, a Shaker because greeters are supposed to chase down unsuspecting churchgoers and shake their hands in order to make them feel either welcomed or stalked.

My point is, I spent around fifteen minutes (yeah, I was late and should have been there longer) standing by the door, staring dead on at it, so I saw everyone who came in. This explains how I came to see the teenage girl headed up to the loft with a book under her arm.

I have frequently wanted to bring a book to church. You know, just in case I had some free time before service or it took a while to get out of the building because the minister insisted on talking to everyone on the way out. I would have chosen something by Anne Lamott or maybe some kind of philosophical essay or better yet a magazine article about celebrity religious observance, since I might have a prayer of finishing that. At any rate, I would have chosen something I could have pretended was at least spiritual in case a deacon caught me with it.

But the young are fearless, and the girl I saw this morning was lugging a Stephen King novel to service with her.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

This Week's Writing Lesson

Meg Rosoff is blogging at (Thank you, Leila.) In yesterday's post, she begins:

"Let’s talk about writer’s block.

First of all, I don’t get it. I can always write."

I was only three sentences into the post and muttering obscenities at my monitor. But then Rosoff continues with:

"What I can’t always do is plot, in fact I’m somewhat hopeless at plot, and am always amazed that my books emerge with any story at all."

At which point, I was going, "Why, yes, Meg dear, I know exactly what you mean."

I wonder if a lot of people mistake not knowing what to do next (which is all about plot) for writer's block. I spend a lot of time not knowing what to do next.

One thing I learned this past week while I didn't know what to do next, was that sometimes when I don't know what to do next, it's because what I just did wasn't right. (Again, we're talking plot.) You need a good platform from which to spring to the next thing, and if the platform isn't there, maybe you just can't get anywhere. In my case this past week, I even knew what the next thing was going to be. All I needed was transitional material.

What I finally realized was that I needed something better from which to make that transition. When I went back and wrote something better at the end of Chapter...I think it was Thirteen...I was able to go on with Fourteen.

I suspect I've had this revelation before and then forgot it. I hope I remember it now.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Complete Adventure

Into the Volcano by Don Wood is another one of the elementary/middle grade graphic novelCybils finalists I'm determined to tell you all about.

Volcano is a well-done graphic novel (no narrative and plenty of wordless panels where the images carried the story) that is also a realistic adventure. It has that classic kidlit device of the missing, mysterious parent, but in this case she is not some fantasy figure but (be still my heart) a scientist! (This feminist-leaning woman of a certain age could just weep.) She's also sort of an adventurer out to collect some kind of pearl. She has a falling out with her sister who is also a partner in her pearl gathering scheme. Her two sons, who had been living in what appeared to me to be the United States with what looks to be their wealthy father, are invited out to visit their aunt, who plans to use them to help find scientist mom and the pearls.

In a volcano.

So the kids take part in a dangerous adventure that is resolved by the end of the book. Personally, I'm always satisfied when a story is wrapped up at the end of a book, and this one also involves a change for one of our main characters. Meaning readers get some character development with their adventure.

In the event that you are one of those adults who can't resist pushing a little education with your kids' recreational reading, you can check out Wood's Story Behind Into the Volcano for an account of his research--told graphically.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Read Across America

Monday, March 2nd is Read Across America Day. I'll be reading a selection from A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers to a couple of kindergarten classes here in Connecticut. This appearance came about because of my involvement with my local Kids Heart Authors Day event.

It's the second year in a row that I've been invited to take part in Read Across America, so I'm feeling very popular right about now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Every Author Should Have One

And now Tanita S. Davis does. Tanita has been blogging at Finding Wonderland for a while. (It seems as if I've "known" her for a long time.) She'll be continuing to review there, but has her own blog at her author site, too. (With years of posts archived there.)

While I'm at it, I've been meaning to mention that Chris Barton of Bartography has his author website up, too.

Both writers have new books coming out this summer.

Something To Share With The Young Ones

There's a Wolf at the Door: Five Classic Tales, Retold by Zoe B. Alley and illustrated by R.W. Alley, is another of the Cybils finalists for elementary/middle grade book in the graphic novels category. It's a graphic charmer, though I don't know that I'd call it a novel. It's more of a collection, as its subtitle suggests.

In this book, five "wolf" stories are linked together--The Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood---You get the idea. The same wolf moves from story to story, always getting the worst of any situation he finds himself in. The retelling of these stories is witty (the sheep in The Boy Who Cried Wolf keep up a running commentary on their young shepherd, for instance.) The book is the size of a picture book, meaning the panels are large, which should be a help for young readers.

A couple of quibbles--There's a lot of narrative in the panels. The images aren't left to tell the story. They often end up illustrating narrative instead. And, oddly enough, there are often dialogue tags. Instead of using a dialogue balloon above a character to indicate he's talking, dialogue will sometimes appear in a circle or a square with quotation marks and a tag, as in "Give it your best shot," said Blake. It's almost as if the author and illustrator weren't interested in creating a "true" graphic novel type of work but more of a traditional picture book in panels.

And that's okay. The book is entertaining and attractive, whatever it is.

Last fall someone commenting here raised the question of whether or not graphic novels could be read aloud. I think adults reading with one or two children could make There's a Wolf at the Door work as a read aloud, particularly if they stuck to just one tale at a time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Edgy Tale Of Little Outcasts

Superficially, Jellaby, a Cybils nominee for elementary/middle grade graphic novel by Kean Soo, is a traditional story of the unhappy, isolated child who bonds with some kind of similar outcast. This particular story has considerably more edge, though, in large part because our protagonist, Portia, isn't a stereotypically sympathetic child. Sure she is a fatherless child who has nightmares. But she can be plenty demanding and argumentative, especially regarding Jason, the other class misfit, who you'd expect her to buddy up with.

Those eyebrows...that mouth...This girl is drawn in such a way that makes it clear that she's comfortable putting up a fight.

One night after a bad dream, Portia finds a purple creature out in her yard. Feeling pretty confident that the thing isn't going to eat her (I'm so glad she's the kind of kid smart enough to realize that's a possibility), she takes him in. He's sort of her special pet, one that is a bit nicer than she is and encourages her to help out Jason when he's attacked by bullies.

And so our three outsiders are brought together and end up on a journey to learn Jellaby's origins. Portia's nightmares about her missing father suggest they might learn something about him, too.

This is a graphic novel that does a good job of combining its graphics and text. The story is shown totally through images and dialogue. I didn't see any boxes of narrative.

It is, however, a serial. There isn't anything remotely like a complete storyline here. That's not a drawback for those who enjoy serials, but it does mean that it's hard to make any kind of comment on the quality of the overall work because the entire work isn't here.

What is here in this first volume is engaging and easy to read for elementary and younger middle grade readers.

The second book in the serial, Jellaby in the City, will be published in April.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What About Those Cybils?

I paid dearly for my good time at Bank Square Books on Saturday with a full day of home-related work on Sunday. So I am forty-eight hours late with my Huzzah! The Cybils Winners Have Been Announced! post.

In the category I was judging, graphic novels, the winners were:

Elementary/Middle Grade: Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, with graphics by Nathan Hale

Young Adult: Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki, with graphics by Steve Rolston.

I have been what I would call uncharacteristically silent about the Cybil finalists these last six weeks. That was because we were asked not to blog about the finalists. (I forgot about this rule and managed to get a post up about Chiggers before a reminder went out.) This was killing me because I feel the Cybils' biggest asset is that the blogger panelists and judges can bring nominees into a salon-like book conversation. All kinds of titles can be discussed and brought to readers' attention. The finalists, in particular, deserved to be part of all that buzz. I very much fear that in our polarized winner/loser culture, talking about the finalists after the winner has been announced is going to make many of them seem like also rans.

They most definitely are not. A specific group of people came to an agreement on one particular title among the five that they were allowed to choose from. Another group of people might have very well agreed upon another.

Once you get down to only five books, all the titles are worthy of attention. So you'll be hearing about them here in the days to come.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gail Loves Kids Heart Authors Day

I had one excellent morning at Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut, which hosted five author/illustrators for Kids Heart Authors Day. We had a nice, steady stream of people stopping by (and purchasing) and great booksellers who did a wonderful job preparing for us.

I also met some terrific new people. (But what kidlit people aren't terrific, right?):

Deborah Freedman, author and illustrator of Scribble.

Sandra Horning, who wrote The Giant Hug

Laura Jacques who illustrated Whistling Wings (among other things--I saw some of her other books there today)

Nancy Tafuri who has written and illustrated a number of books but was signing The Blue Goose today, as well as I couple of other titles I didn't catch because, well...

...we were all talking and having a good time!

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Little Something On Magical Realism

By way of cynsations, I found Jennifer Mattson on Magic Realism at The Spectacle. Mattson talks about what they're calling "magic realism," though I've always heard it referred to as "magical realism." (Picking nits.)

In the Mattson interview we get some definition and examples and discussion of how this genre fits in with kidlit.

Another example of magical realism--Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl.

Should We Be Concerned When Myths Get Picked Up In Fiction?

So now I'm doing some back reading in the child_lit listserv. There I found The Myth of Lost Innocence from the New York Times Opinion Blog Domestic Disturbances. In this post, author Judith Warner tells us that all the attention given to teen "rainbow parties" a few years back might have been a little bit over the top.

Warner quotes Linda Perlstein author of Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers on her experiences when approached by media outlets back then. No one was interested in interviewing her once she told them she didn't believe the rainbow parties were happening. The adult journalists wanted to believe.

This isn't the first time I've read that rainbow parties were more fantasy than fact. What interests me about this situation is that something like this--should we call it an urban legend?--becomes accepted by at least a portion of the general population. Then it becomes accepted by the publishing world. Then the publishing world produces books about it. Then the general population is reading fiction that it believes reflects reality.

But it doesn't. Will the acceptance of this fantasy behavior in fiction help make it a reality? Will something that wasn't real in the first place become...more the real world because it's portrayed as reality in fictional worlds? If you follow me.

Evidently not. At least, teenagers, overall, do not appear to be engaging in wild sexual behavior so there's no reason to believe they're influenced to do so by fiction that doesn't have a whole lot of connection to reality. Unless, of course, they're not reading it and thus can't be influenced by it.

Who knows?

Personally, I think readers are most interested in reading fiction that somehow, in some small way, reflects their reality or a reality they want to be part of. So books that portray sexual activity that just isn't happening may be read, but they probably won't have a whole lot of impact.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yes, This Is Exactly How It Happens

Clearly, I need to spend a lot more time reading my editor and agent blogs. Nearly a month ago, Nathan Bransford directed readers to a post at Galley Cat that includes a video that will tell you everything you need to know about the publishing industry. In three minutes and thirty-seven seconds.

It's worth the time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One Space Or Two?

I swear, the issue of double versus single spacing after periods came up for me a couple of years ago. I had a new editor, and she asked me to stop putting two spaces after periods. She never said,"Move into the computer age, you old hag," but since I hadn't even been aware that I was doing anything that could be considered incorrect, I did feel a bit twentieth century.

What a pain in the neck it was making the shift. I got over it, though, because I'm still young enough to be trainable.

And What Will Happen After All That Work?

I had a pretty good day today, working through an info dump and making a good intro/ transition on a chapter that didn't have one. I'm almost at the point in this manuscript at which I decided before Christmas that I needed to start over once again and do a ninth draft. That's good because if I recall correctly, the end was in sight back before Christmas, so it ought to be making an appearance again soon.

I'm about a month behind in reading my editor and agent blogs. I don't recall how I originally stumbled upon The Crowe's Nest, but I found this January 9th interview with Simon Pulse editor Michael del Rosario interesting. The part that related to my day was in his answer to the first question. In it he talks about how many people have to sign off on a submission before they even begin negotiating with an agent.

Jeezum Crow, as one of my characters would say.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For Every Reader Who Ever Went, "What?"

The Horn Book has some neat essays in this issue, all under the heading The Confounded Critic. Five reviewers write of their reactions to books they've reviewed in the past that left them wondering what, exactly, they had stumbled upon.

Sarah Ellis discusses When the Wind Blows. The book was published in 1982, but I'd never heard of it until last fall. And now the title has turned up again. And still I haven't read it.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A High Class Mystery

I like a British YA voice. I think it's because of the novelty of hearing someone talk about a "bloke fancying my mum" and "tenners." So I was taken with Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine right away. I did wonder if there is a first-person British YA voice that sounds similar in many British YA books the way there's a first-person YA voice over here that most definitely makes a lot of YA books sound alike. But I decided I didn't care.

Lucas, our first-person British YA voice in Me, the Missing, and the Dead, could easily have ended up as the protagonist in a traditional problem novel. Dad is missing. Mum is depressed. Older sister is behaving badly. Younger, fatherless brother never knew Dad, having been born after he disappeared. Grandpa has dementia. Grandma's a corker but falls and breaks something so you know how that's going to go. Family friend is an alcoholic. Girlfriend's mother has cancer.

I mean, seriously, this is the kind of book I usually find laughable because of the problem pile on. Let's not miss anything.

But Lucas has that great voice, and he has a mystery to solve. The problem-ridden characters are just that--characters and not set-ups for some kind of coming-of-age learning experience. The adult characters, in fact, are so incredibly multi-layered that Me, the Missing, and the Dead could easily serve as a crossover book, a great title for an adult/teen reading group.

Right off the bat Lucas stumbles upon an urn of ashes that has been abandoned in a taxi company's office. Feeling for the neglected occupant, he manages to get custody and becomes obsessed with it. And, slowly, he realizes that the ashes that were once an elderly woman have a connection to his own father's disappearance.

There's a little twist of what might be called magical realism in this otherwise dark, deep mystery told with attitude. And Lucas could be said to have evolved as a result of his experience solving the puzzle of the urn. But the mystery is the point here, not some story of a child learning to live with a sorry state of affairs.
Jenny Valentine has another book coming out next month, Broken Soup.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Remarkably Similar Situation

Nothing in Publish, and your book will probably perish was news to me, even though the Globe and Mail article was about the publishing situation up north.

Yesterday I wrote to a friend's daughter who is interested in getting into illustration. Today I'm wondering if I should be directing people like her to articles like the Globe and Mail's . I don't want to discourage anyone, but I also think people shouldn't go into writing and illustrating expecting a whole lot. Go into it because you enjoy a booky or inky lifestyle, not because you hope to see your books on the front tables at Barnes & Noble.

Though a family member did tell me tonight that he saw Three Robbers at his library yesterday. I'm happy.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

And Then You Die

I have an obsession with Beowulf, perhaps because it's the only epic I think I understand. To me it expresses the most basic fact of human life--We achieve when we are young and strong, then grow old and die. "Come in what shape it may, death will subdue even thee, thou hero of war." (Hinds' version.) This to me seems far more profound then what little I got from The Odyssey--Men are pigs.

I first became aware of Gareth Hinds' graphic version of Beowulf two years ago, and just stumbled upon it on the new book shelf at the library this past week. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to read something that grabbed my interest once upon a time, because usually I just forget about these things.

I think you have to have read a traditional version of this story to really appreciate what Hinds has done here in terms of telling the tale with so little text. Yes, there are pages with larger narrative boxes then we usually see in a graphic novel and there are no dialogue balloons at all. But there are far more wordless pages, pages that take us through entire battles. This Beowulf really demonstrates how a graphic novel can show action.

The overall visual impression is stunning, and the narrative sticks to the original storyline. There's no sex in this Beowulf the way there was in 2007's movie version. You can't pretend that Beowulf got what was coming to him because he did the nasty with someone he shouldn't have.

In this graphic Beowulf, just as in the original old text, Beowulf got what is coming to all of us.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Writing Glimmers

Today a family member was telling me about how his e-mail in-box is always empty. As soon as something comes in, he deals with it. Job-related messages go immediately to their appropriate folders, other items are responded to and filed or deleted, junk is trashed. Everything is taken care of right away, he told me. No build up. In-box empty. All the time.

I almost said, "Ya gotta point?"

He inspired me to try to read some of the Glimmer Train Bulletins to which I subscribe. (Glimmer Train is one of the many fine publications that have turned down my short stories over the years. Yeah, I know. Some day they will all be sorry.) About fourteen of the things were languishing in my in-box. Now I'm down to twelve. Good work, Gail!

I found a couple of interesting things:

Crossing the Blank Page Fearlessly with a Roll of the Polyhedral Gambling Apparatus by Brian Ames

Yes, I was shaken by the appearance of the word polyhedral, too. But what Ames has done is create a chart for generating ideas from magazine articles. In the past I have been very turned off by the idea of using charts while writing. But a couple of years ago, I decided to try using a spreadsheet, and now I'm much more open-minded.

Plus, I do get a lot of ideas from magazines. And I'm trying to come up with an idea a day for the 365 Story Project. (Actually, I prefer to come up with several ideas at a time, so I know what I'm going to be doing for the next few days.) So I may give some variation of Ames' idea a try.

The Importance of Journaling by Cynthia Gregory

I hate using journal as a verb. Nonetheless, Gregory says something very interesting about writing in journals. "Write knowing that your journal is not about you...Rather, it is like a Polaroid camera that you aim at everything around you and with which you snap a photo...It is a recording."

Be sure to read the next to the last paragraph, in which she talks about her ex-husband's grandmother's journal. That sure sounds like an idea for a novel to me.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A History Of That Wimpy Kid

All you need to know about the wimpy one's history, as told at Oz and Ends. And he's got some other wimpy stuff, too.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Show And Tell

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman, which will be published this month by Scholastic, is described as a multimedia ghost story. The term "multiplatform" was used in a Publishers Weekly article. The idea is to mix both traditional text with video--the reader reads for a while, then is directed to a video on-line that continues the story for a few minutes, then goes back to the text, back to another video, etc.

It's like the hybrid novel/graphic novels I was seeing a couple of years ago, but the graphic novel portion has been replaced with video.

I wasn't wild about Skeleton Creek's basic story. (See A Year of Reading for a very positive response.) Though the text definitely has an eerie atmosphere and an interesting protagonist in the fearful Ryan, his portion of the novel is done as a diary. One of the reasons I'm not a fan of diary books is that it's very easy for the writing to fall into a "tell" mode, and that seems to be what happens a lot in Skeleton Creek. We're told that the town is weird. We're told that something odd is going on. But the only odd, weird things we see occur on the videos.

You really are getting both show and tell in Skeleton Creek.

The multimedea format, though, is intriguing. I found myself frustrated several times because I reached a portion of the book directing me to the Internet to check out the video while I was reading in a place where I couldn't do that. (I was reading in bed, okay? And while, believe it or not, I do have a laptop in my bedroom, it's not one of the three computers in our house with Internet access.) However, the book isn't all that long, so I imagine children engaged with the story and with time on their hands could just sit close to their Internet connection. And if this format were to catch on, in future years Internet access will probably be more...accessible...through cell phones and other techie devices. (Forgive my vagueness on this subject.)

What I find most interesting about Skeleton Creek is all the questions it raises and possibilities it opens up.

For one thing, in the Publisher's Weekly article, Patrick Carman says, "In the past, when technology has been included in one of my book projects, I’ve never felt like it was deeply connected to the story. A web-based add-on that has no meaningful connection to a book often feels hollow for readers, as if it’s been bolted on as a bonus rather than essential to the experience." And later he says he asked, "Was there a story that could be told in which the printed word and online videos could contribute equally?"

I think what he means is that the technology needs to be integral to the story. For this format to work, there has to be some legitimate reason for the video to exist. In Skeleton Creek, there is. Ryan's partner, Sarah, does with video what he does with his journals. I'm wondering, though, how many story lines can authors come up with in which that happens? I'm sure there are more, but will coming up with logical reasons for the video to exist limit the number of stories you can use this format with?

And once you add video, you can run into some problems you don't have to worry about with text alone. For instance, what if a reader doesn't like an actor in the videos? What's that going to do to the whole reading experience? What if a reader has committed to the character on the page and is disappointed when s/he turns up in a video? (For the record, when Ryan appeared I thought he was perfect.) The actors in the videos are going to have an impact on the readers. For instance, I liked the actor who played the ranger in Skeleton Creek. But I didn't think he played the ranger as particularly weird and creepy the way Sarah kept telling us he was. I felt he was more...annoyed. Not that I blamed him.

But if you can overcome those problems, you've got some interesting possibilites. Carman is interested in using technology to "enhance the appeal of the printed word to today’s young readers." Of course, that's important. But I'm thinking about the creation of a whole new genre and what could happen with it in the future. Why shouldn't this format make the leap to adult novels with far more video so that you can merge a dvd with a full-length book?

How many people do you think would look forward to spending a weekend with that type of novel?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

She Almost Had Me Convinced.

Mitali Perkins' post last month on authors using social networking was very convincing. The numbers of people who showed up at her book parties would be good anywhere, forget about a town where she didn't live. (A few years ago I had lunch with the author of a collection of literary short stories. He told me that he'd had a signing scheduled in the town where he lived. No one showed up, so he went home.)

I was truly considering trying a social network after reading Mitali's post. But when I was talking about it at dinner, a family member who is all too aware of my work habits, asked, "But when will you write?"

He asked the same thing tonight when I brought up the possibility of teaching a writing course.

I think he's quite right about the course, by the way. Given how slowly I do everything, a writing course could take a big bite out of my writing time.

What? Me? Work?

Well, my taekwondo class went quite well this morning, considering we were sparring, not my best skill set to say the least. And at the end of class, the blue belt who teaches art at a local community college asked if I'd be interested in teaching a children's writing class at his school.


I'm just to think about it, and I'd need to submit a plan for approval and all that. Nothing would happen before fall if then.

But...this sounds an awful lot like regular work. You know what I mean. The kind of thing where you go somewhere at a regular time

This guy was telling me about how much he likes teaching winter session classes, every day for two hours for three weeks. I could feel myself getting lightheaded.

However, I thought it might be fun to sort of tinker around with class ideas here, so I'll be doing that a couple of times a week.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Where Do Brands Come From?

Yesterday I found (and read) Advertisements For Yourself by Jill Priluck through Blog of a Bookslut. It deals with the subject of whether or not authors can and should become brands. Then this morning I got on the treadmill and what did I find on the bookrack but last fall's SCBWI Bulletin, which I'd been pretending wasn't there while I read other stuff. It included an article called BRANDING--To Be Part of the Herd? by Tim Myers.

So, I've been thinking about branding these last twenty-four hours.

I started reading about branding probably last year. Usually I would see it in relation to bestselling authors. The idea was that they had become "brand names" in the sense that they had a large following of readers who were such fans that they would buy anything the authors wrote just because they wrote it. These buyers associated the authors' names with a certain type of writing that they liked, just as other buyers associate names with a certain type of detergent or food they like.

Thus, if you can somehow make yourself a brand name, you'll then have a following that supports your new books. But how can an author do that?

Priluck says, "Traditional branding—a mix of ads, media appearances, and book tours-is dying." But when discussing James Patterson, whose name frequently comes up in book branding articles, she says of his books that they are "practically encoded with unifying, Patterson DNA—from the title to the packaging to the hook and hanging cliffhanger." Isn't that something totally different from advertising?

Is branding something that has to be in the writing, which can then be advertised?

Myers in his Bulletin article suggests that branding is simply a distinctive style that makes someone recognizable, giving Tomie de Paola and Bob Dylan as examples. Branding, therefore, could occur naturally for such people. And once it did, it could then be marketed.

I wonder if today's brand writers aren't similar to your old-time cult writers, who had small followings that could be counted on to buy books and turn out for readings. A brand writer's fan base is a lot larger and has more money, of course. And is more mainstream. And a brand writer gets a lot more publicity. And while cult fans probably enjoyed their status as the lonely few who understood their favorite authors, brand fans may enjoy being part of a large, excited group turning out on publication day.

But except for all that, they're kind of related.

Hannah and Brandon Get Some Attention

Ames Public Library blogs about A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat and calls the book's humor "perfect for 2nd and 3rd graders."

Remember, I did not say that. The wise and discerning people at Ames Public Library did.

Yeah, that's right. I've been ego-surfing.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Random Reading

The Chronicle Books spring and summer children's catalog arrived last month. I only had time to browse, but Classic Western Stories, compiled by Cooper Edens, caught my eye because I'd recently recommended a western novel for YA readers. Plus, I've wondered in the past if kids would read western.

Chronicle Books publishes a lot of art books, including art board books.

Then back while I was on vacation (can you believe I'm still talking about that?), I bought a copy of that week's Sunday New York Times, a treat that goes back to my college days and one that I rarely have time for. That issue included an article called Hapless Boy Wins Eager Friends, about the popularity of the Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney. I've only just read the article because I was on retreat from all kid reading while I was on vacation.

I have not yet read any of the Wimpy Kid books because they're written in diary format, and I have trouble getting enthused for reading those kinds of books. However, I hear a lot about them when I go into schools. Kids love them. The diary format doesn't bother them one bit.