Sunday, May 31, 2009

Unfortunately, Many Writers Don't Think About This

Marianna Baer posts at Crowe's Nest on using distinct voices for similar characters. This is particularly important in YA books, where you often find teen posses, and children's books, where you often find lots of friends.

I find it helpful, myself, to cut down on the number of secondary characters as much as possible. Then, at least, you need fewer voices.

Training Report: I'd hoped to look at some work this weekend. That doesn't seem like asking much, does it? Well, it seems it was. I did, however, mow the backyard this morning. I had one stellar idea while doing so, which I hope I remember.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Lovely Little Find

I was in the library earlier this week, looking at all the special powers books on the new books' shelf in the children's area. By which I mean books about kids learning they have special powers or having special powers and going to special schools to develop them or kids in some kind of fantasy world full of special powers. I understand that children enjoy reading the same kinds of things over and over, and I respect their desire to do that. But, man, it's hard for an adult working in kidlit not to keel over from the sameness of it all.

So imagine my delight when I saw a book about something so mundane as writing thank you notes. Really, we have gotten to a point in children's literature where the mundane is unusual.

Some people might think that Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes by Peggy Gifford is a little gimmicky. The chapters are short with titles that sort of bleed into them. Take Chapter 25, for instance:

Chapter 25

In Which Mark Says No


Plus, young Moxy falls asleep at odd times. And the book uses a third-person narrator who sometimes intrudes into the story.

Other people might point out a couple of stereotypes, like the odd little sister and the divorced dad who makes plan to see his kids but never carries through with them.

However, Moxy Maxwell isn't trying to be Anna Karenina (which, to be perfectly honest, I've never been able to get through). Moxy Maxwell is trying to be a light, clever, amusing story about a girl who is close to over-the-top but in a funny way that doesn't have time to get annoying because the book is so short. And it does that very well.

There's a real storyline here about poor Moxy, who must finish writing her Christmas thank you notes before heading to California with her brother to finally visit their father, a former soap opera actor who is out in Hollywood hunting for a Big Deal. We're not talking random jokes or actions, which is what you sometimes find in books for this age group. But what's most admirable about this book is that it's a funny story for younger kids that treats its readers with respect. The author doesn't assume that child readers only laugh at toilet humor and funny sounds. This is lightish entertainment that a kid doesn't have to feel embarrassed about having read.

And a word about the illustrations, which are photographs by Valerie Fisher--the pictures are supposed to be taken by Moxy's brother as the story is taking place. What we have is a little mixed media going here, and it works better than some more sophisticated attempts that I've seen.

I read a paperback edition, which would be perfect for tucking into a camp trunk this summer, or bringing along for a family vacation.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

But It Lasts More Than Three Hours

Becky Levine's post on How to Pick a Writing Conference reminded me that I was going to check out the Wesleyan Writers Conference's One Day Event, because God knows I can't tolerate a whole week of conferencing. (This morning I was talking with some classmates after taekwondo about how I like circuit training--as well as taekwondo--because I can't stand to do one physical activity for a whole hour.) Anyway, the Wesleyan people have a Novel and Short Story component so I should think about doing this, since I just had another short story rejected by a journal today. I need to learn something.

But, geez, all day? And an hour and a half for lunch? I don't know about anyone else, but I can consume an entire week's worth of nourishment in an hour and a half.

Regarding today's rejection: Included in the rejection letter was a special offer to subscribe to the journal for $2.00 less than the standard rate. The discounted rate is offered only to authors whose work has been rejected. I'm cool with rejection, but I'm not at all sure what to make of the sales pitch.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

This Is Hardly Good News

Those of us who didn't care for him as a teenager are probably not going to like Holden Caulfield any better as a 76 year old. Evidently J.D. Salinger wasn't delighted to hear about this, either.

I like reworkings of classics, myself. But I prefer that they be classics I liked in the first place or find interesting for some reason. And I guess I also prefer that they be classics that are so old that the original authors are dead. If the authors are still alive, the revisionist work is treading on their turf. If they're dead, the reworking brings their work to the attention of new readers.

Just think of the new readers who are going to be exposed to Pride and Prejudice as a result of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I have a friend who reread the original just to get ready for the zombie book.

I might like Catcher in the Rye better if it included some zombies.

Training Report: Oh, woe is me. I lost four days of work what with the holiday weekend and errands and family stuff yesterday. I have a very hard time getting into flow again after something like that. I did manage to revise two segments for the 365 Story Project today and copy one over nicely onto my hard drive. And I did a few paragraphs on my new essay.

In 48 hours we'll be having another weekend!

What I Did Instead Of Working

I read Thirteen Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Done. I still haven't started working.

Here I go. Right now.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Has This Been Covered In YA?

I recently finished reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. In it, a fourteen-year-old girl learns that she is, in fact, a boy. The book is a very wide-ranging story told by the adult Cal in which he talks a great deal about his very interesting ancestors but also of his childhood and early adolescence when he was Calliope. (A Greek family.)

As I was reading those sections of the book, I wondered if any YA novels deal with the same situation.


Cynsations has an interesting interview with John H. Bushman, an educator who is the co-author of Using Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom. He says, "Kids come out of elementary school with a great desire to read and enjoy what they are reading, and they are then often faced with Great Expectations." Also, "I have never said that the "classics" are bad in and of themselves. I do believe that they are bad for sixth through eleventh graders. Seniors--most of them--have the intellectual ability to understand the complexity of plot and of language. They can work with the classics."

By way of BookMoot I found Kenneth Oppel: The Times Interview. Interesting quote: '“I’m really the product of years of playing Dungeons and Dragons,” he says. “A lot of parents get very concerned about kids gaming, but everything I learnt about storytelling . . . came from that discipline..”' I've read other interviews in which Oppel talks about his background with gaming.

Monday, May 25, 2009

This Kind Of Thing Is Work, Too

I spent part of Saturday with a few in-laws at an emergency room where the family patriarch was being treated. (He was home by three that afternoon and taking part in Memorial Day festivities today.) Because we had one too many people there and I wasn't actually related to anybody, I got to go out to the waiting room where there were chairs and a TV, making it far superior to where everyone else was.

Seeing my chance, I pulled out a notebook and went to work.

What I did was some freewriting on a character known as Grandpa Mike who is a hoarder, thus able to provide the kids in the 365 Story Project with all kinds of junk. At the end of last week, I'd decided to make him a bigger presence in the book. I needed to do a better job on why he has all this junk and where it is and how the kids get to it, anyway, and if I started using him more, he could provide me with a lot of material.

So I'm freewriting away trying to come up with what he did for work before he retired and how that related to the hoarding thing and what place he will have in Tanner's life. After doing that for a while, I realized that, no, I did not need another character to deal with, particularly an adult character, since this was a kids' book. Plus, a character should never be used just to fill space. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I was no further ahead in doing a better job on why Grandpa Mike has all this junk and where it is and how the kids get to it. But now I knew that I didn't want Grandpa Mike around all the time, calling on the phone, and turning up at Easter and the Labor Day picnic. That may seem like a step backward, but not really.

Okay, that happened during the day on Saturday. That evening I was reading just before I went to bed when I suddenly came up with an idea for what Grandpa Mike could have been doing for work that fits in with all the junk he's collected all his life! That, my little lads and lasses, is what is known as a breakout experience. I'd been working on the problem, collected data, had let it go and relaxed, and voila! A problem solved!

I've got my idea written down on a piece of paper from my Nancy Drew notepad, and the paper is floating around somewhere on my nightstand, just waiting for me to go back to work. Whenever that may be.

Friday, May 22, 2009

How Do I Avoid Writing Mary Sue?

Kelly Herold of Big A, little a has a new blog called Crossover where she will be blogging about "crossover books"--books that end up with two audiences, adult and YA or adult and even younger. She got the ball rolling with a discussion of America's most recent crossover, Twilight.

The blog comment that really got my mind spinning was Kelly Fineman's regarding Bella being a Mary Sue, who has moved from being a proxy for the author (Mary Sues were originally defined as characters based on authors' idealization of themselves. See the second Urban Dictionary definition) to being a proxy for readers. I think she has a good point.

The other character I've come across recently who seems like a Mary Sue to me is Mary Russell in A Monstrous Regiment of Women. I've heard that the Mary Russell series is also read by both adults and teens.

Mary Russell is a more traditional Mary Sue than Bella Swan in that she has so many superior qualities--intelligence, sophistication, a college degree, money. Anything she puts her hand to she's successful with. Plus she appears as the love interest for a character who already exists (Sherlock Holmes), which is how Mary Sues got their start in fanfiction. Bella, on the other hand, is pretty bland and inept, though she is loved by all. Her love interest is a type that has existed before (a vampire), though Edward, himself, is new to her series.

What both characters have in common is a sexual tension with a male character who is also idealized, one who watches over them while also serving as a threat. In Twilight Edward, who might go mad with lust at any point and kill Bella, controls her by treating her like a child. In A Monstrous Regiment of Women Sherlock Holmes "saves" Mary with physical violence--injecting her with drugs at one point and hitting her at another.

Now, I don't think many professional writers sit down and plan to write Mary Sue characters. (Though maybe we should, since they appear to be very popular.) However, it happens. For example, I've read that some critics believe Harriet Vane in the 1930's Lord Peter Wimsey novels is a Mary Sue for Dorothy Sayers, the books' author.

So my thought now is, if writers use their own experience in their writing (and this one sure does), how do we avoid writing Mary Sues? Do they always appear as a love interest? If I stay away from romance, will Mary Sue characters stay away from me? If I don't write about anyone over the age of thirteen will I be safe? What if I use male main characters? Will that work?

Training Report: Started a new piece of creative nonfiction today! Started one segment for the 365 Story Project. Decided to keep the grandfather around for the year, which will mean big rewrites in the first three months, but, heck, I'll do that next year. Did a little bit of planning for future segments. Hope to do some work this weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Yes, I Actually Have Plans To Go Somewhere

I will be one of the featured writers this fall at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair. Among the other authors attending will be Holly Black, who chaired a panel at Readercon last year, and Katie Davis, who I have actually met.

I have already begun planning what I will speak about during my presentation. At this point, I expect it will involve dead mice.

I Think Therefore I Think

Yesterday I was looking on-line for some ideas on teaching philosophy to children. I came up with a few interesting things.

Philosophy for Children (They've moved the site, but I find it more cluttered and confusing so I sent you to the old one first.) includes material on using books to discuss philosophy with kids. The new site will also tell you whether the titles involve things like metaphysics or epistemology--which will be far more helpful for those people who know what metaphysics and epistemology are, which I don't.

The Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children also has a literature list and some lesson plans for specific titles.

The Director of the Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children (see preceding paragraph) has a blog, Wondering Aloud: Philosophy with Young People.

Training Report: Ouch. Finished the last segment I started yesterday. Though, actually, when you consider that I didn't start working until after three, that's probably not bad.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Catching Up

This interview with Gail Carson Levine at A Pen and a Nest is interesting because I heard her speak a couple of years ago at a literary event, and I've read a couple of her books. I'm always more interested in reading about authors I've seen in the flesh or whose work I've read. What makes it really interesting, though, is that it focuses on one specific thing--where and when Carson Levine works. I liked narrowing the info down like that. The link came from Cynsations.

I read HipWriterMama's interview with Jo Knowles because I met Jo in a parking lot a couple of months ago. This interview is part of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, which I almost missed altogether this year.

Oh, look, Jo is also interviewed at lectitans. Another Summer Blog Blast Tour event.

Oz and Ends
provides us with a short history of miracle technologies.

And here we've got an interview with S.E. Hinton at Nathan Bransford's blog. Best bits: "I think I've tried every writing process there is, trying to find an easy way to write a novel. If I do find it, I'll publish it and retire." "How interesting can a person be who spends a lot of her working hours staring out a window?" I haven't met Hinton, and I haven't read any of her books. I do have a family member who was obsessed with The Outsiders when he was a teenager, though.

Training Report: Two and a half segments today, and thoughts for another. Put two little stickies up on the monitor saying "self-control" and "fragmented." Have done nothing for me so far.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Failure Is Important, Too

I am once again playing catch-up with my on-line reading, on this occasion because of all the time I'm spending e-mailing with relatives about our various unhealthy family members. In fact, I just finished one e-mail and ought to try to do another before I finish up here. The number of decrepit Gauthiers and Gauthier connections is truly astonishing.

Surely I can do something with this material from my life. A kids' book, of course. A picture book, most definitely. And funny!

I did manage to read In Praise of Failure, a translation of Pierre Bayard's introduction to his book Comment améliorer les oeuvres ratées (How to Improve Failed Works). This piece is interesting for a couple of reasons.

1. The translator, Suzanne Menghraj, includes a very interesting "introduction to the introduction" in which she explains how she became interested in Bayard's works. Comment améliorer les oeuvres ratées doesn't appear to have been published in English, and Menghraj admits to being far from fluent in French. I find that...intriguing. Even admirable. She wanted to know his work so badly that she made what had to be a considerable effort to decode a language in which she, herself, was weak.

2. What Bayard has to say in his introduction relates, I think, to that old argument we keep having here on the Internet about literary criticism of those works that aren't one hundred percent perfect, that aren't hits. "...whereas perfect works, isolated by their completeness, hardly offer a hook on which to hang a critical thought, failed works offer insight into the intricate mechanisms of creation by which we might come to recognize the improbable alchemy that gives rise to great literature."

In short, it is important to discuss all types of literature, not just to promote what we, ourselves, like.

As Menghraj says, it's sometimes hard to tell if Bayard is one hundred percent serious in all he says, though his basic ideas are always thought-provoking.

Link from Blog of a Bookslut.

Training Report: Half a segment today and grateful to have got that far. Two yesterday.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Self-Control Thing Isn't Working Too Well For Me Today

I was inspired to brush up on my self-control as far as work is concerned and planned to today allow myself only limited access to the Internet. Well, how does one define "limited?"

Anyway, I just found this neat little video interview with Jeffrey Eugenides that I had to drop everything and watch because I'm presently reading Middlesex. I particularly liked the interview bit in which Eugenides says that his first book was about voice, that he was learning to plot with Middlesex, and that he's presently working on creating deeper characters.

As it turns out, you can also read an interview with Jeffrey Eugenides. And here's another

Now I'm going to put some self-control stickies up on the computer monitor.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Have One Word For You--Birdhouse

I blew off all kinds of responsibilities to go hiking today, hitting four state forests in nine and a half or ten hours. The work never stops, though, because during one of my turns to drive (I read when I'm not driving--don't know where I am or what's going on) I noticed these bizarre tall poles along the side of the road in front of two houses. On the top of the poles were a variety of little wooden birdhouses. (Or they appeared to be wood from the road.) They didn't look very functional. The word "decor" comes to mind.

They'll be going into the 365 Story Project in a couple of weeks.

I am grateful to have come up with an idea that I'm quite certain I can use for a handful of segments. But I can't help but wonder--I was on the road or in the woods for around nine hours. Why the birdhouses? Why did that become an idea and not something else?

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Dysfunctional Fantasy Family

I had only just started reading The Witches of Dredmore Hollow by Riford McKenzie when I realized it was one of those books about a kid learning he has strange powers and some quite awful family members. Charlie Bone and The Fetch come to mind. Even Harry Potter does a variation, though in his case the wretched relatives are the ones who aren't related to his newly found mysterious powers.

I can understand readers' attraction to stories about seemingly run-of-the-mill folk discovering they have magical powers. We all want to be special, right? But what's with all the books about nasty kin?

I have a theory, of course. And here it is.

I started thinking that all these dysfunctional fantasy family stories sound similar to the stories I hear from so many of my friends about their families. My friends just can't do magic. And then I started thinking about all those family drama novels with mothers who are like witches but different and dads who are up to all kinds of no good. No magic there, either. And then there are the adult memoirs, which are almost always about something grim, and no one has any super powers. And in between the kids' dysfunctional family stories and all this adult angst, you get the YA realistic problem novels where teenagers find out that life stinks and there's nothing they can do about it.

So the dysfunctional fantasy family stories are just the child version of all these other misery stories. Because they're for kids, we include magic powers for the child protagonists so they can deal with their creepy family members, thus giving the child readers an unrealistic sense of hope.

Enjoy it while you can, kiddies.

Training Report: One segment yesterday. Two today. Could have been worse. I am now up to the second half of April in the book, making me less than a month behind where I want to be. So that's good.

As Usual, I Am Overwhelmed

Elizabeth Bluemle meant this post on marketing for publishers. But because I've read so much about authors getting out there and selling books, selling themselves, selling, selling, SELLING, I found myself getting palpitations long before I got to the end.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

For Anyone Who Was Ever Creeped Out By Goodnight Moon

I appreciated the Sheldon take on Goodnight Moon because I was never exposed to Margaret Wise Brown's book until I was reading it to my own littlies, and by then it was clearly too late for me. Where the hell's the narrative drive? I wanted to know. Did the person who wrote the endings to The Walton's episodes read this thing?

But, I must admit, I buy Goodnight Moon as a gift for for new babies.

Training Report: I wrote four segments for the 365 Story Project! Huzzah! And I'm getting into flow because I have segments planned for tomorrow! Huzzah! Huzzah! And I did some moving around and additions to the essay I'm working on! Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah! All this despite killing mass quantities of time e-mailing relatives and researching knee surgery and orthopedic surgeons, as well as starting to read Middlesex. To top off this pretty decent day, a family acquaintance had the lid fly off the top of his septic tank, while he was trying to open it. Material!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Has Losing Its Book Editor Made A Significant Difference?

Sometime last year The Hartford Courant, my local big city paper, lost its book editor. So what else is new, right? Lots of papers lost their book editors last year.

I'm guessing the average Courant reader barely notices the difference.

Back in the day, The Courant ran book reviews on Sundays. Maybe you'd see a half dozen reviews. New books from known state authors like Stewart O'Nan, Luanne Rice, Annie Dillard, etcetera, etcetera, would be reviewed as well as buzzworthy books from new literary writers.

In the months since we've been without an editor, we're still getting around four book reviews on Sundays. There's usually a review or an article by the former book editor, such as this past weekend's piece on Connecticut author Chris Knopf. Then we get a couple of reviews that are picked up from some service, such as Sunday's review from Newsday of Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton. This past weekend we also had a review of Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir by Christopher Buckley, which originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times just four days earlier.

Diversion: If other newspapers are picking up book reviews from services rather than paying for their own, doesn't that make the service reviews unbelievably important? Isn't there going to be a uniformity of opinion on, say, Laura Rider's Masterpice, if a lot of newspapers are all running the same review?

Back to our regularly scheduled post:

So we're getting a lot of the same kinds of things in The Courant that we got when we had a book editor. We're also getting something we didn't get when we had one--reviews of children's books.

Once a month, The Courant carries one of those theme columns on children's books, this one written by Nicholas A. Basbanes. I can't find his columns archived at The Courant's site, but he has the column that I'm looking at in Sunday's hard copy of The Courant up at his own website. According to his "About the Author" info, this column appears in a dozen newspapers.

Okay, a gang/group syndicated kidlit review when the adult books are given individual ones (even if most of them are are syndicated, too) definitely indicates The Courant considers children's books second rate. But the thing is, back when we had a book editor The Courant didn't know kids' books existed, forget about having an opinion about whether or not they were second rate. Every few years it would mention the authors attending the Connecticut Children's Book Fair, usually in a weekly insert that no one I know reads except for me. It might do an article on some phenomena like Twilight or Harry Potter, but only after everyone else in the world had covered it. Real reviews of children's literature--zip.

So a monthly children's book column is actually an improvement over what we had when we had a real book editor. I can't complain about the change.

Training Report: Trouble in family Gauthier. We have an older member with torn cartilage in her knee, which is why last week was such a disaster for me workwise. And I'm not the one in pain. I just managed to get in one segment for the 365 Story Project today, though I do have a new story arc to work with. Plus I now know what a meniscus tear is, and don't think I won't use it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Writing And Identity

Nathan Bransford has a post up called Writing as an Identity in which he argues that writers shouldn't be wrapping up their identity, their sense of self, in being a writer. When writers begin to identify themselves as writers, when they treat it as something more than just fun, they "begin to wrap up their identity with the publication process, the rejections become personal, and a judgment on a book becomes intertwined, in the writer's eye, with a judgment of self."

Now, he's probably right about people taking rejection too personally. However, nowhere in his post does he mention that people in other fields identify with their work. In skimming the 432 comments to his post, I didn't see anyone else bringing it up, either.

They may have been totally focused on writers being some kind of special artist different from the rest of the world. But we're not. We're like many other people in many other fields of work who get a sense of identity from what they do every day of their lives. That's not a bad thing. If anything, it's a good thing.

I'm not talking about workaholics who wreck other aspects of their lives. That's not the same thing at all. I'm talking about people who live their lives with a certain sense of purpose or live their lives in a particular way because they are engineers, nurses, or teachers, to name the professions I'm most familiar with in my personal life. They think a certain way and respond to situations in a certain way because of their training and the way they've spent so much of their work lives.

I think people are lucky if they're in a line of work that fits their psyche so well that they identify with it and are engineers or health care professionals or teachers or...writers.

Just When You Think You Can't Take Any More Vampires

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at the new YA books in my local library. Vampire, vampire, vampire. Vampire schools. Vampire this. Vampire that.

I didn't even take them off the shelf. I used to enjoy the occasional vampire book, but, come on, publishers. This is getting ridiculous.

Then by way of Oz and Ends I learned of Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer. In a graphic novel, no less.

Perhaps that's the will to read vampire fiction that I feel stirring within me.

Training Report: Two segments for the 365 Story Project, and not much planned for the rest of the week. Then I decided to work on this essay I started last week. Or the week before. And while going through my Word files, I found that I had done six pages on this topic...I don't know. Last year, maybe? How mortifying! How lame is that?

Except, Zen suggests that instead of being horrified at my ineptitude, I should be grateful. Hey, I had a much better start on this thing than I thought, and did some more on it today. So, yeah. Om. Grateful.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mom As Powerful Immortal

What better time then Mother's Day to discuss a book in which a pivotal figure is a go-to Mom who really can fix, if not everything, a whole lot?

Mothstream by Philip Reeve with illustrations by David Wyatt is the third in the Larklight series. This series is particularly notable, I think, because its third book is as good as its first. Reeve isn't running out of ideas or humor.

When I read Starcross, the second Larklight book, I wondered if kids would get the humor. (I know, I know. I'm always wondering about that.) I think that Mothstorm may actually be more accessible to young readers. If so, that may be because of all the focus on Mother.

In the Larklight series, Art and Myrtle's mother is some kind of immortal being who has created the life forms across our universe and lived for millions of years in various of her creations' bodies. She has now chosen to become a human woman, a wife, and a mother. She has done this in an alternative Victorian world in which the British Empire has extended into space by way of ships that look a whole lot like the ones used to maintain that empire in the world we know.

When Her Majesty's holdings are threatened by another immortal being very much like Mother but nowhere near as ladylike, her kids, Art and Myrtle, turn to dear old Mum for the wherewithall to once again save the day.

Mothstorm is very much a female-oriented book. You have a heroic mother/creator. You have an evil female antagonist who has enslaved a race of women warriors. You have the scrappy daughter of a missionary. You have a youngish (and inept) Queen Victoria. And you have Myrtle, that wonderful, walking stereotype of a nineteenth century British young lady who has a clever and extremely funny storyline this time around.

Art and Myrtle looking for Mother, hoping to save Mother, and relying on Mother gives this book something that kids can follow and want to pursue, whether or not they get every nineteenth century joke.

Mothstorm was published back in 2008. I'm not aware of its receiving the same kind of buzz the first book in the series did. I hope people aren't losing interest or simply not noticing another Larklight book.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Noir Mom

I kept stumbling upon father books this spring. Now I've stumbled upon a book just in time for Mother's Day weekend that may not be a "mother book" but certainly has a strong mom.

What I Saw and How I Lied takes a long time to get going. The first person narrator often speaks in a noir manner, but it seemed odd to me that she doesn't have a noir voice when she's narrating.

But those are my only objections to this tale of the femme fatale's daughter.

I love What I Saw's 1940's setting. I love the idea of a YA noir novel. I love that this thriller is actually a historical novel. I love that while the adults are such powerful characters here, it is the young, innocent daughter who takes control of them.

I love that the ending of this story is not particularly uplifting and definitely leaves readers dangling. (The same could be said of Octavian Nothing, by the way.) Some descriptions of YA insist that such books need to have a hopeful ending. In What I Saw, our main character becomes a much more powerful person and we believe she'll turn out okay, but she's not particularly happy. And there's not much hope that she ever will be in terms of her relationship to her parents.

Earlier this month, I wondered if there were any YA books that covered the situation used in The Go-Between, in which a young character gets enmeshed in an adult couple's romantic relationship. Well, we do have something similar in What I Saw and How I Lied.

And we also have one spectacular mom. Beverly's that hard-boiled blonde babe from every noir movie you ever saw. What's so very fascinating about her is that she is a woman with nothing in a world where women still are pretty much just wives. If they're lucky. But she has great personal power because of her sexuality. She wields a lipstick and a cigarette as if they were sophisticated weapons. At the same time, she realizes exactly how precarious her situation in life is, and she tries to keep her daughter young and innocent so she'll have to use her brains instead of her looks.

While we're taking about moms, Grandma Glad is no slouch, either. She may be a harpy, but if you find yourself facing a possible murder indictment, you may be grateful to have a mom like Gladys flying in from Queens with a bag of money.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

You Just Have To Think Up A Name That Works For You

I am always looking for the discipline that will make me...disciplined. I've tried using a journal first thing in the morning off and on for years. I thought it was supposed to make me more creative, if not more disciplined. It didn't do either.

Then last fall I added a short yoga practice to my workout a few days a week (which has done wonders for me physically--yoga cures everything). So I added some meditation to that because I read that some people find that meditation helps improve their concentration. In my case, not really.

But I've also read about various kinds of moving meditation, and I thought, hmmm. Why not writing meditation? It would be like those morning pages Julia Cameron talks about, only I'll call it "writing meditation."

This has been working for me very nicely. I'm writing about anything, about what I'm reading, about what I'm writing, jotting down ideas. It's really just all the usual junk you put in a writer's journal or notebook. I just call it "writing meditation," and that's made all the difference.

How well has this been working for me? I've had to miss some mornings this past week, and I feel myself drifting and feeling unfocused and somewhat lost. I definitely am less disciplined without the writing meditation.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I'm Giving Up

The next NESCBWI Salon is the same weekend as this year's 48-Hour Book Challenge. Two events I love. Fortunately, I don't have to make a choice because I'd already decided to give up trying to do anything work-related on weekends this summer.

During the months of June, July, and August we are overwhelmed here at Chez Gauthier with family events. We even "bundle" celebrations--one birthday and Father's Day for a grandfather are celebrated together in June, for example, and three August/September birthdays are all dealt with at once--to try to make summer less of an endurance test for everyone involved.

This is why I love the dead of winter, by the way.

Work will be far pleasanter and more productive during the week if there are a few moments of rest sometime during the weekend.

This is not to say I won't change my mind if something very booky happens, say, twenty minutes from home. But I haven't heard of anything of that nature yet.

Training Report: Two new segments for the Story Project and a revision of a third! In spite of spending most of the afternoon with an older family member! Could have been much worse, even if I'd been home all day.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Thinking About Octavian

Reading Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves by M. T. Anderson made me understand why some readers love serials. While I don't know if I could have read Volume II without having read Volume I first, I definitely could have read about Octavian for months. For years.

I love that the two volumes of Octavian Nothing were a historical fiction serial rather than the more common fantasy serial. Though in an author's note, Anderson says that these books resemble a fantasy novel. I think that's true in that historical novels and fantasies require extensive world building.

The first Octavian Nothing had an incredible premise. It was about a carefully nutured boy who slowly comes to realize he's a slave. The second book is about Octavian's war exploits. The story does slow down, which I find to be the case with a lot of books that deal with war and battles. There's a lot of hurry up and wait. But during the slow times Octavian is moving on. He is searching for and finding the personal history that had been denied him in the first book.

Book II has a feature that is almost as intriguing as the enslaved child in the first book. The Colonial revolutionaries are not heroic or noble by a long shot. No, we do not come off looking good here.

And the book even has a father/son thing going on! Octavian's tutor, Dr. Trefusis, ends up serving as a father(or grandfather--both terms are used)figure to him. This is not a role that he accepts out of the goodness of his heart, but one he seeks out. He wants this young man for his child. "Send my boys back. Send them back to me, save and sound, and I shall grant anything," he writes in a letter when Octavian doesn't return from a foraging trip.

This book has been out for a while and others have already written about the quality of the writing, the incredible characters, and Anderson's accomplishment in writing it. I can't add anything new. I will say that a lot of well-regarded historical fiction is very lop-sided. A great deal of effort is obviously put into the historical setting while the plot is something you've seen before and the characterization is barely there. That is not the case with the Octavian Nothing books. They have everything--setting, plot, character, voice (in abundance), point of view...You name it, it's there.

Training Report: Bad day. I did only one part of one segment. And I only did that because I wanted to be able to say I did something.

Yesterday, by the way, I prepared some materials for one of the Bridget Zinn fundraisers. I'll be contributing books to the middle grade book basket for the silent auction and raffle in Portland, Oregon on May 29th. An on-line auction is underway now.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A Feminist Of A Certain Age Rants

An Octavian Nothing vs. Hunger Games discussion is underway over at Read Roger. One commenter said that in addition to its other attractions, The Hunger Games offers what she described as a "'two worthy men are in love with you' scenario that never fails to satisfy."

I have to agree with her that many people like that scenario. But it seems to me to be an incredible cliche. Talk about an old warhorse that ought to be let out to pasture. (Speaking of cliches.)

Why is what I prefer to call the torn-between-two-lovers triangle trotted out over and over again in books for both teens and adults? Why do people like it so much?

Is there a sports thing going on here? Is there a competition going on in these books between the two males with readers taking sides? (As they did with the Twilight books.) In which case, of course, the female character is the prize. Female as a thing a man wins. (Try to imagine me speaking that line out loud.)

Is the torn-between-two-lovers set up the remains of some kind of genetic memory in which either males competed for a female or females chose among available males? We'd then be attracted to it (well, not me) because we recognize it as coming out of our past?

Please don't tell me it's romantic. That's creepy.

In the last couple of decades the female character will sometimes choose neither of the male characters. She chooses instead to do something, herself, that doesn't involve defining herself in relation to a man. This is a nod to late twentieth century feminism. Huzzah.

But the torn-between-two-lovers triangle is still there. Why include it at all? Why does there need to be a second guy?

What? To create conflict, you say? But there's no law that requires conflict to be created in that particular way. Conflict can be anything.

So again I ask, why is this incredibly overused situation slapped into so many books, and why do readers like it so much?

Training Report: I was right. I didn't get any writing done over the weekend. I did do some planning, though. I wrote three segments today. What's happening now is I'm thinking of more and more segments I need for January through March, months which I'm supposed to have finished. So I'm writing those segments with no specific plan for where they'll go. I'll work it out next January. This means that at any point in time, I will have more segments than I'll need for the numbers of days of the year that have passed. That is a good thing. It's always good to generate material.

Things Are Hopping This Time

Hunger Mountain is running a spring fund-raising auction up until noon this Saturday, May 9th. They are really seeing some active bidding. Look at the number of bids for the critique with Tim Wynne-Jones. Lots of other authors and a couple of agents are offering critiques, too.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Gleanings From The Internet

Jen Robinson reports that The Postcard by Tony Abbott won the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. While checking this out at the The Mystery Writers of America site, I saw that The Witches of Dredmoore Hollow by Riford McKenzie was a nominee. I've recently requested that book from ILL because the author graduated from my college and because Dredmoore Hollow is set in the 1920s. Neither factor alone would be enough to get me to read a book, but the two together encouraged me to give the title a shot.

Sheila Ruth reviewed the third Softwire book. The first book in the series was a Cybils nominee the year I served as a panelist.

Camille did a post on audio books that included a mention of The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau. We have an adult family member who's a big fan of that series and is listening to the audiobook on his way to and from work.

My former editor used to make notes on my manuscripts along the lines of "Punch up the humor." "Make it funnier." "Not funny enough." So What's so funny? was a little painful to read. (By way of ArtsJournal.)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Maybe This Is What They're Talking About

Some authors who have written for adults and for kids/YA say they prefer writing for younger readers because younger readers are more demanding and less tolerant of things like, say, indulgent padding on the part of writers. I kept thinking of that as I read The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley.

I sought out The Go-Between for one reason: Its prologue begins with the line "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." I've always loved the line, even though I didn't know where it came from. I can't say that I understand how it pertains to the book that follows it since (modest spoiler) the main character is carrying on at the end pretty much as he did fifty years before. So what is it that was done differently in the past?

You know how I've gone on and on about how I keep stumbling upon father books? Well, The Go-Between isn't one of them. It is, however, an adult book with a child main character, another type of novel I keep finding myself attracted to.

Leo, writing in the 1950s, is recalling the summer of 1900 when, for a few weeks just before he turned thirteen, he stayed with a well-to-do boarding school classmate and his family. He is very taken with his friend's older sister and when he ends up serving as a messenger between her and one of the local farmers, he doesn't realize that he's helping them carry on an illicit romantic relationship.

(Lady Chatterly's Lover meets Atonement. In fact, Ian McEwan provides one of the blurbs for the edition of The Go-Between that I read.)

This story's bones are marvelous. I've been trying to think of any YA novel has covered the same material but truly as YA, not as an adult book with an adult protagonist recalling the experience. And the writing is elegant.

There is just so much of it. Any scene that could be covered nicely in paragraphs goes on for pages. And pages. And a scene that needed a few pages went on forever.

I am willing to concede that maybe I'm just not up to this type of literary reading. But I would also like to consider the possibility that this is what those writers I was talking about in the first paragraph were referring to when they said that adult readers put up with a lot from their writers.

On a more positive note, I think The Go-Between has the best epilogue I've ever read. I usually don't like them. They seem like some little tack-on to make readers who can't give up their characters a look into a happy future. Someone has her dead lover's baby, so we can all feel good about that. Everyone grows up and marries the person they were attracted to at school, which is supposed to make us happy. You know what I mean. But this one actually adds to the story and even extends it. Very good.

Training Report: Two segments for the 365 Story Project, and I finally started an essay I've been thinking about for a while. While I am concerned that I haven't got the next few Project segments planned, which will almost certainly mean I won't be doing any writing over the weekend, I did do some research for background for one of the characters and his family. And since that background involves yoga, it is appropriate for me to refer you to Ogden: The Inappropriate Yoga Guy.

Oops! Missed A Landmark

I recently passed the 2,000 mark with posts. When I realized what had happened, I thought, Eww. What did I say? Was it something profound and meaningful? Then I thought, Of course, it was! This is Original Content.