Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Crap Blurbs?

I live in fear that one day I will have an agent or editor who will insist that I grovel for blurbs for an upcoming book. And what hope will I have of getting any after I've bashed them for years here at Original Content? Plus, will anyone buy a book written by a total hypocrite? (Not to be confused with a partial hypocrite.)

Nonetheless, lads and lasses, I feel compelled to direct your attention to What's the Point of Blurbs in The Guardian because the author, Daniel Kalder, describes himself as "a connoisseur of the crap blurb." He also asks " many readers reject a book because they loathe the authority endorsing it in a blurb?"

A penetrating question.

Now, I hate to think of myself as "loathing" anyone (though I really like the word), but, yes, I have rejected books with blurbs by authors whose work I don't care for on the theory that if I didn't like her own writing, I probably won't like any writing that she thinks is good. I also tend to avoid books with blurbs by blurbers who might be described as promiscuous--meaning you see their blurbs on covers all over the bookstore. Come on. Did they really like all those books? Did they really read them all? And, if so, have they ever read a book they didn't like?

I'm in for a really awkward time when I'm ordered to find blurbs. But I burned my bridges behind me blurbwise years ago.

How's That Desk Cleaning Going For You, Gail?

The thing about cleaning the desk is that you really have to address the things you find there. You need to read this stuff that's been piling up for months, then file it away, or toss it or decide that you no longer recall why you kept the thing and toss it without doing anything with it. (Much the way you get rid of the mending once everyone in the family has outgrown the item in question that you never fixed.)

So I found some materials on bookstore appearances that I believe I've had since a NESCBWI Salon last spring. I read them. I felt badly because I won't be doing any bookstore appearances for a while and when I do do them, they are pretty much dreadful and while these things I read were full of ideas so that they won't be dreadful, they were pretty much like reading handouts on how to dance. Reading this stuff won't make it happen. Should I hold on to these handouts? If so, where?

Then I came upon the book on literary agents that I bought probably ten years ago and only started reading last year. And haven't finished. And should I, since the book is ten years old and nowadays you can get more info about literary agents on-line than anyone could possibly absorb and some of that info will actually be good? And up to date. Should I just get rid of the book?

I'm definitely getting rid of the two small cassette recorders I found in a draw a couple of weeks ago and left on top of my desk. I will be old one day, and I refuse to be one of those old people whose house is filled with outdated technology. So I placed those things on someone else's desk. He can deal with them.

Yippee! I was able to put the WWI toy soldier that had been lying on its side on my desk for months with the others that came out of storage for Christmas. I don't know how that guy got separated from his unit last year.

A kids' book I never read has been packaged to send to a family with children who might appreciate it.

The copy of Tae Kwon Do Times that my buddy at the dojang gave me and that I may or may not have read was stacked with all the materials for that black belt book I plan to write some day should I live long enough.

The remains of the sketchbook that I was going to use to create visual aids for works in progress went back into the stationery cabinet because it's been maybe half a year that it's been sitting on my desk and clearly I'm not doing anything with it. I know where it is if I want it.

Oops! And then the desk cleaning went to hell, so to speak, because of a laundry emergency! When I start my new workweek, there will be no laundry done on any of my three workdays. No laundry, no laundry emergencies.

Catching The Scent

I am cleaning my desk today. It's not so much end-of-the-year housekeeping as it is a transition into working again after six weeks of tending to family and Christmas. I'm hoping to be able to start working three-days a week soon, which is going to be the best I can hope for for years to come.

Anyway, I've noticed over the last couple of weeks that I've been getting all kinds of ideas. Primarily, they're ideas for the 365 Story Project, but other things pick at my mind, too. I've got piles of newspaper clippings that I accumulated on the couch and a dresser and there's a short list next to my bed that I need to go over.

The ideas have been coming more and more frequently, and they make me feel just a bit of excitment about the possibility of working again. They do make me think of an animal that's attention has been caught by a scent it doesn't quite recognize but finds intriguing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Am I Doing?

Just yesterday I was telling you about the books I received for Christmas. Christmas. Less than a week ago. I've only started reading one of those books.

So I really shouldn't have ordered three more, which is what I just did. What's more, I've already read library copies of two and a half of them this past month. I just felt I needed to have them. By that I don't mean I needed to own them. I felt I had to keep copies nearby in case I need them some day. What if they go out of print? What if I do need them years from now and can't find them anywhere?

You'll be hearing more about this after I finish that last half volume.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Stats

The best part of Christmas is the week of recovery afterwards. And then the month of January when Martin Luther King's Birthday is the only holiday. MLK's Birthday--a holiday that requires no shopping or cooking. It's rapidly becoming a favorite for me.

What follows is the lowdown on my book presents, both those I gave and those I received.

Those I gave:

Unsold Television Pilots, Vol. 1 for our archivist.

How to Play Popular Piano In 10 Easy Lessons. We have, I believe, five pianists in our family. Soon I expect we will have six.

The Read-Aloud Handbook for one of our teachers.

Gregor the Overlander for my niece. In fact, I gave her a subscription to what I call the "Paperback Book of the Month Club," meaning that I will be buying her a paperback book every month in 2010.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for a hosting gift. The hosts sent me a thank you note, but I haven't heard if they've read it or how it went over.

Dead Until Dark for my hairdresser who loved Twilight. Actually, Katie hasn't received this yet because I have a hard time finding time to get my hair done these days. And I look it.

Those I received:

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I have been baking bread for decades. But I've been relying on a bread machine (I'm on my second one) for the last few years because, like having my hair done, I don't have much time for it, anymore. The one recipe I tried from a library edition of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day was fantastic. I thought it seemed well worth making someone buy the book for me.

A pricie self-published history of the town I lived in that I've wanted for a while, but was way too cheap to pay for. I didn't even ask for this. Some thoughtful soul took it upon himself to buy it for me.

Life Among the Savages, which I've wanted to read as part of my Shirley Jackson obsession.

And...and...Yes! Yes! I got it! I got Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer!

Now I must go read something.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Quotation Mark Shortage?

Laura Miller has a piece at Salon called All I Want For Christmas Is Quotation Marks in which she describes the lack of same in some of your more literary works.

For those of us who believe that writing is a form of communication, and thus writers should never do anything that will make it difficult for readers to receive what we're trying to communicate, refusing to use quotation marks works against what we're trying to achieve. Yes, you want to leave your readers with ideas, but you don't want to make them have to struggle to find them. You don't want to risk them not being able to find them at all.

Leaving out quotation marks seems like literary pretension to me. Does pretension ever assist communication?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hoping To Get This For Christmas

David Elzey reviews Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer.

And Now For A Bit On Author Websites

When the hell that is this Christmas season is over, I plan to do an update of the ol' website. No big changes, just bringing things up to date. Once again, it is time.

What luck. Cynsations has a post up on author websites, in which she interviews someone who designs them for children's and YA authors. Among the things Lisa Firke has to say: "...a site shouldn't be too fancy for its own good... Think of it this way: as a writer you work hard to make your meanings clear and valuable. Your website should reflect the same kind of care."

Yes, yes, yes, a hundred times, YESSS! I can't tell you how many times I have been to an author website full of bells and whistles that I left immediately because it took so long to load. I'm too old to waste precious time waiting for a website to load. In fact, it doesn't matter how young you are. Almost everyone has more important things to do. If there are any clear and valuable meanings at those places, we don't see them. And what about those homepages that have the links hidden in all kinds of arty crap, and viewers are expected to guess where they are? What do the authors and designers think we're there for? To play on-line arcade games? Pas moi, that's for sure.

I'm a little overwrought today. After writing that last paragraph, I'm feeling somewhat better. I'll have to see if there's something else I can jump on.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

And They Say Men Don't Read

Well, maybe men don't read books. But according to a new essay in The New York Times Book Review, they steal them.

Margo Rabb, author of the Missing Persons Mysteries and Cures for Heartbreak, wrote said essay, Steal These Books, in which she describes the most popular books lifted by lovers of literature. It's heartening to read that one bookstore general manager believes that it is mostly younger men who are doing the stealing.

Because I try to think well of people, I have decided to believe that after they get their hot little hands on their ill-gotten books, those younger men do read them. It could happen.

Congratulations To Chris Barton

Chris Barton's book The Day-Glo Brothers was just reviewed in The New York Times. The review is part of one of those round-up columns that covers three books at once, but Day-Glo received plenty of attention. The kind of attention you want your book to get from The New York Times, too.

I think this review, Alarmingly Bright Futures by Rich Cohen, illustrates what's so great about traditional analytical reviews. Cohen says of the books he's discussing, "Each follows the reliable three-act structure of Horatio Alger or “Rocky”: the early breakthrough, the reversal, the triumph." Read and learn--that's what I did with this kind of review when I was a young writer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts On Book Reviews From An Editor Of Same

Edward Champion of Reluctant Habits interviewed Keir Graff, a senior editor at Booklist, on the future of book reviews.

I do hate the use of positive and negative when discussing reviews. Graff's explanation regarding Booklist's original policy regarding so-called "positive" reviews makes sense, though--as a publication for librarians looking for information regarding what to purchase, what was the point of publishing anything but solid recommendations? He says that now, though, "there are books we recommend because there will be patron demand, but that we think are horrible, and we say that — hopefully helping larger libraries know how many copies to buy."

(I think, myself, that there are books that fall well between horrible and requiring a real recommendation that many librarians and readers would be interested in. Just a little aside.)

Graff makes a good point later in the interview: "Much is made of the web’s ability to give people exactly the experience they’re looking for, and that’s exactly why people should be wary of it. So it’s my belief that niche or specialist or genre blogs are terrific but should be balanced by some more general-interest reading, which, at least in terms of book reviews, is what we offer."

An example of what he's talking about--I read a tremendous number of kidlit blogs. My knowledge of what's being published in adult fiction is nowhere near as great as I'd like it to be. I'm guessing the same is true for readers of scifi litblogs, mystery litblogs, or any other specialized blog.

So we need to find review sources that deal with both analytical responses to books as well as a wide variety of types of books. Hmmm. Sort of like Kirkus Reviews. Except, of course, that's gone.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Poetry Friday Post. Seriously.

So I was talking with my mother yesterday afternoon, and she tells me that her friend, Marion, wrote a poem that very morning. This was noteworthy news in that Marion and Shirl are those best friends from high school that you read about in books, so I've been hearing about her for a while (as in all my life), and never has the subject of poetry ever come up. Forget about writing one.

"She ever done this before?" I asked.

"Not that I can recall," Mom replied. "It was good, though. It was about a dog running down the street. She got the idea when she woke up and started writing. And by the time her sister came into the kitchen for breakfast, she was done."

I found this very touching. The idea of someone who is closing in on eighty-two years old suddenly being moved to write her first poem is incredibly fascinating. I should write a short story about it, since a poem would be quite beyond me.

Really, I respect the creative urge. And I love the idea that absolutely anyone at absolutely any time can feel the need to create. I'm not talking about quality, I don't care if it was good or bad, I just am intrigued that this happened at all.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

This Could Be Hysterical

I am sure many people will think the suggestion that Santa needs to go on The Biggest Loser is taking fitness too far. Not me. Not only do I believe ol' Nick is at risk of a multitude of health problems as a result of his BMI, I think a story about his taking off the pounds has great potential for humor.

Personally, I don't care about the important lesson children would learn from such a tale. I want to laugh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Just Heard About This Today!

I kid you not. I picked up a family member at a train station outside Boston, and after he slept in the car for a while, we got to talking about self-publishing. (I can't remember why. But it's terrific to have a family member to talk to about these things.) Back to our conversation. Said family member asked me if I'd heard about Harlequin Horizons, which I hadn't.

If only I'd been keeping up better with my blog reading, I would have known what he was talking about because Greg Pincus mentioned it at The Happy Accident last month.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Demise Of The Book Tour Isn't Exactly New News

Author Book Tour Turns Endangered Species reports on something I believe I've been hearing about for a while. It does cover some new material relating to "new models" of book promotion--authors appearing at corporate offices, for instance.

Found by way of Arts Journal.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Different Standards For Different Books?

Roger Sutton has some things to say about the demise of Kirkus Reviews. He says, '"But kids like it" is a defense mounted in our field all the time, an argument that would be laughed right out of any critical conversation about books for adults. As well, preachiness is tolerated in children's books (because preaching to children comes second nature to adults) even while grownups won't stand for it in their own recreational reading. What Kirkus did was to treat books for children and adults the same in the same publication.'

When Roger says that Kirkus Reviews treated children's and adult books the same, I think he means that it didn't treat children's books as being inferior and thus requiring lower standards. For those of us who don't want to be good for a children's writer or for a woman writer or for anything else, that's a good thing. Expecting us to play by the same rules that everyone else plays by is a way of treating us with respect.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holy Moses!

I literally have my coat on and am about to leave the house. But, having that little obsession problem of mine, I checked one of my listservs first. Thus I have just heard that Kirkus Reviews is on its way out. Or maybe it's already out.

This means that the funnel through which books come to the attention of the reading public has grown even smaller. I'm sure we're going to be hearing that book blogs make traditional review journals unnecessary, which may or may not be the case.

A lot of people didn't like Kirkus, anyway, though the people there usually treated me pretty well.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Yeah, Accident Governs What's Going On In My Mind All The Time

I recently joined UVM professor Huck Gutman's poetry listserv. I received the first message yesterday or the day before, and it begins with a comment about "how much of our emotional lives and our desires are governed by accident." And then Gutman explains that the e-mail we're about to read involves Elizabeth Bishop's Sandpiper because he was on a beach, saw a sandpiper, and thought of the poem.

I was just reading Why Readers Crave The Risk Factor, in which the author, Robert McCrum, contends that readers like writers who have personal backstories that "show a bit of leg, and...have an air of romance about them." This caught my interest because, quite accidentally, I'd been recently reading some of those author bios that describe their subjects' past work experience. It seems as if not being able to hold a job is something to brag about if you're a writer, and I've seen people give long lists of former occupations, such as short order cook, wait staff, taxi driver, dog walker, telemarketer, housecleaner, checkout clerk, animal trainer (which can mean anything), and apple picker.

I guess the point they're trying to make is that they have varied life experience to call upon in their writing. These work histories sometimes left me feeling a little inadequate because I have held very few jobs at all, forget about anything that would give me varied life experience. (Not very inadequate, though, because I'm very much a "What, me work?" type of person.)

Do any of these jobs involve a risk factor, though? Do they include the bit of leg McCrum says readers crave? I think not. I can't say I have much leg in my background, either, but at least I am no longer feeling badly about never having worked as a carnie at the fair.

And I can thank accident governing my emotional life for that.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I Find This Hopeful

Being a Connecticut resident, as I am, and a reader of newspapers, as I also am, I've been aware for a while that authors occasionally make appearances at our casinos. Sure, they're usually bestselling adult authors. However, YA author Eric Luper will be at Foxwoods this weekend signing two of his books.

Okay, these two books have a gambling connection. But, come on, a casino recognizing that its customers are interested in reading--that's got to be a good thing.

Learned about this through the NESCBWI listserv, not the local press. But if I see it mentioned this week, I'll let you know.

Hmmm. I haven't been to Foxwoods in a long time. I wonder if there's a bookstore there? That would be interesting.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Problems With Book Reviews

Salon is getting ready to resurrect a feature I don't remember, What to Read. "Every Monday, I'll present a book selected from an assortment of related new titles, tell you why I found this book exceptional and, when warranted, explain why others didn't make the cut. What to Read will regularly recommend a book we think you'll really love."

The columnist, Laura Miller, is being totally upfront that this feature will not be a traditional book review. It sounds as if it's going to be more like a blog recommendation. I, of course, am most interested in reading about the books that "didn't make the cut."

In the Salon article announcing the coming of What to Read, Miller discusses some problems with traditional book reviews that go beyond the fact that they don't generate advertising revenue and are thus being dropped from newspapers. Two of them:

1. The assignment process (editors doling out books to reviewers) can't guarantee that the reviewer will find a book "noteworthy," and thus many reviews don't make for great reading. A reviewer who is a fan of an author's earlier work may be biased regarding a lesser work under review. Reviewers who are also authors may pull their punches.

2. Readers usually know nothing about reviewers' tastes and how they shape their judgments. (My own example--reviewers who don't read widely in children's literature raving about an adult writer's first foray into the field because they aren't aware that the book under review isn't ground breaking because they have so little knowledge of the "ground.")

Presumably What to Read will avoid the first problem by publishing recommendations ("what to read") instead of regular reviews, which could go either way. A recommendation suggests the person doing the recommending does, indeed, find the book noteworthy for some reason or another. It will avoid the second problem because, after a while, readers will learn Miller's tastes and biases and judge her recommendations accordingly. (Though I suspect regular readers of her book writing for Salon have picked up on that already. I only read her reviews if the book interests me, so I have limited knowledge of her work.)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

If She Has The Book, That Means I Can Get It

Reading Fool is a librarian not far from my own personal stomping ground. She's read Liar. That means her library has it. That means I can read it, too.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Replacing Wine With Books

Last year at Christmas time I gave a book instead of wine as a hosting gift. (How's that for a nongender specific way of putting it?) I'm doing the same thing this year and to the same couple. I wanted to get them The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen because I got them something by M.T. Anderson last year, and I thought I might eventually make them into groupies. Plus I think Linoleum Lederhosen would make a great crossover book because of all the references to books adults read back when they were not adults. In fact, I wonder if it might go over better with adults than with kids for that very reason.

But the bookstore I was in didn't have it. It did have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I think is an excellent choice for a male/female couple because it is a truth universally acknowledged that women like Austen and men like zombies, right?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Don't Drink And Blog

We have a family member in a nursing home right now, the second time a family member has been in one in the last five months. This has led me to mull over my own future and to try to plan for a Zenny, mindful, live-each-moment-lifestyle when I make the move into a care facility, myself. (Which may be sooner rather than later, at this rate.) Roger Sutton linked to Now We Need A Drink, and I realized that so long as my kids find me a place with Internet access and can prop me up with whatever passes for a laptop by then, I shall always have reading material to keep me occupied. So I have a plan.

Our Jane Is Still Making The News

My computer guy says that the question of what killed Jane Austen should be filed under the category "Who Cares?"

We do!

Monday, November 30, 2009

It Definitely Was Something We Said

On Saturday, my sister and I were at a family gathering where we started talking about The Sparrow, Twilight, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. After listening to what we had to say about the books, our aunt said, "I don't read, and now I'm glad I don't."

Well, I guess it's good to make your auntie happy.

Rest assured, we did sell one of our cousins on The Sparrow and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Can't Have Too Much Balance

I like to find balance in many situations, so I was attracted to the series of Balancing Acts posts last week at Through the Tollbooth. I particularly liked the first one, Writing for yourself vs. writing for an audience, for this bit: "...we are guests in a reader's hands. How long do we dare go on about our hemorrhoids, he asks? Yes, we have to write for us. But we have to remember there is a reader out there who will toss our book aside for another if we are too isolated, too acute in a personal agenda, too insensitive to his or her needs as a reader."

Repeat the part about "too isolated, too acute in a personal agenda."

Found by way of Cynsations.

Kids Understand Blurbs

Oz and Ends has a post up regarding a child's response to book blurbs. I will say nothing more.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Christmas Explained For You. Or Not.

You will enjoy Diary: Malcolm Gladwell a great deal more if you have listened to Gladwell reading his book Outliers. Which I have done. In fact, if you haven't at least read one of Gladwell's books, you might not enjoy this Vanity Fair piece at all.

Sorry. I just had to send this link to somebody.

Dahl's Shift From Adult To Children's Fiction

Slate has a piece called Outfoxed about Roald Dahl's move from writing short fiction for adults to novels for children.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Thanks For Getting The Second Book In A Series"

I rather liked the first volume of Jellaby by Kean Soo. Well, except for the part about the book not having an ending, of course. But I try to be open-minded about the whole serial thing. I do understand that once the serial is completed, a reader can go through every volume and have a complete reading experience.

But you really do have to have access to every volume in order to get that experience. Jellaby: Monster in the City, begins with Chapter Six, the first five chapters appearing in the first volume. Even I, who had liked that first book, had trouble getting into the story and the characters again. I had trouble seeing how the actual monster carrying-on in this book was related to the first book. And I can't tell if this book is the end of the story. The first book ended right in the middle of some action. This one ends at a point that could be an ending or could be a calm between storms.

How might someone who is being exposed to this serial for the first time with the second book respond? "Thanks for getting the second book in a series," was what I heard from a family member who read Monster in the City after finding it here at Chez Gauthier. Read that "Thanks" as meaning "What were you thinking?"

While I do understand the attraction of a completed serial, as a writer I still have a lot of trouble understanding why I would want to intentionally write a book that won't be accessible to many readers as an individual work. Even once the serial is completed, so many libraries don't carry all the volumes of a series. You often can't find them all in bookstores. I want to communicate with readers. I want to be understood. A real serial puts up so many obstacles that can prevent that happening.

I will say, though, that Jellaby: Monster in the City had a cool twist on the Puff the Magic Dragon storyline. Think Puff the Magic Dragon meets Fringe or The X-Files. But you have to make your way through half the book to get there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Love Children. They Are Delicious.

I don't usually read blog reviews, but the title of the book involved in this one at Tea Cozy was just too eye catching. The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children--the title is so brilliant that maybe the author didn't have to do anything else after he came up with that.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Fights are awful, and messy, and desperate, and things move so fast and one mistake could end it"

The above is a quote from Derek Landy, black belt in Kenpo Karate and author of the Skullduggery Pleasant novels. He is interviewed at Finding Wonderland as part of the Winter Blog Blast Tour.

You know what else fights are? Exhausting, meaning that it is highly unlikely they would ever last as long as they do in the movies.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Missed The Real Fun

Check out Marc Tyler Nobleman's blog post about the Connecticut Children's Book Fair. Be sure to scroll down to the photographs that look as if they were taken at a crime scene.

By the time all this was going down, I was back from my trip to the ER, had finished my calm down reading, and was asleep. It's probably a toss up as to who got more sleep that night.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reading Is Manly

The Art of Manliness has an article up called 50 Best Books for Boy and Young Men. I can't help but notice that I've read maybe half of them.

This site intrigues me so that I'm going to sit down right now and send a link to all the men in my family.

Doesn't This Make You Want To Run Out And Find One Of Her Books?

I've never read anything by Enid Blyton, at least, that I'm aware of. However, learning that her work was banned by the BBC for thirty years make her sound very desirable to me. Evidently, her work was disliked by many people. And, yet, one of these articles says she is supposed to have sold over 600 million books. Hmmm.

Less Canoodling, More Dogging

It is Cybil season, and while I am not cybilizing, myself, I am fondly recalling days when I was. Thus, when I stumbled upon Bloodhound: Beka Cooper, Book Two by Tamora Pierce, I jumped right on it because I liked the first book in the series, Terrier, which was nominated for a Cybil...oh, I don't know. Back the year I was a panelist for scifi/fantasy.

The Beka Cooper books have a lot of things going against them as far as I'm concerned--made up worlds and words and names and societies. (No fairies or dragons so far, thank God.) What makes them so very readable for me is that they are police procedurals. Beka and her companions are "dogs," her society's equivalent of police officers, with crimes to solve. In this world, the dogs and the rats (or criminals) are sometimes not that different. But you see that in police procedurals of all kinds.

Bloodhound wasn't as strong a book for me as Terrier for two reasons: 1. Beka is given a love interest, and 2. I noticed a lot more attention to details.

The love interest seemed like a diversion that took away from the plot. Yes, we don't know if the love interest is a good guy or a bad guy but that wasn't enough to keep me from wondering when we were going to get away from Dale touching Beka here and there so we could move back to the story.

That story also kept stopping so we could get descriptions of clothing and jewelry--how many earrings this guy wore in his right earlobe versus how many and what kind he wore in his left, what kind of brocade was on this or that tunic. Sure, detail enriches a piece of writing, but there is a tipping point after which the reader is just buried in the stuff.

We also got more talk about who was sleeping with whom than I think we needed. I didn't think it supported the story or moved it along. Okay, this is a world that is cool with sex. I got that early on. I wanted to move on to the crime!!

Now, I was also a little put off by a bit of discussion of gender issues, as in some talk on the place of women. I like a world where women crack skulls and no one talks about whether or not they should be doing it. But evidently these Beka Cooper books are part of an extended world that Pierce has created, and in this world's future things will be different for women. Pierce discusses the "Cult of the Gentle Mother" in an interview at The Torch Online.

Clearly, I found this outing with Beka a little disappointing, but not so much so that I won't be looking for Mastiff, the final book in this trilogy, which will come out sometime next year.

Bloodhound has been nominated for a Cybil this year.

Would She Have Loved Him If He'd Lived In A Box And Walked To School?

Fair Hypocrites: Twilight By Way Of Pamela is a really interesting take on the Twilight books by Emily Colette Wilkinson. It appears at The Millions, which I only recently discovered. However, I was directed to this particular article by someone at Adbooks.

Money Changes Hands With Many Awards, By The Way

Salon has an interesting story up today called Vanity Book Awards about one specific award that appears to make a winner or finalist of every book that enters and pays the entry fee.

What many members of the book-reading public may not be aware of is that some very legitimate book awards require entry fees. According to its website, there's a $125 entry fee for the National Book Awards (not $69 as the Salon article indicates) and publishers, who must enter the books, have to agree to come up with another $1,000 if the book becomes a finalist. Some of the state book awards (not to be confused with the state readers' choice awards for children's books) also require an entry fee.

There's nothing wrong with this, but I think the public should be aware that awards are given for the best book entered in the event, that not every book out there is considered. It wouldn't be possible to consider every book out there (the Salon article says 400,000 books are published each year in the U.S), and, sure, not every book out there is worthy of consideration. But money comes into the picture when making the decision about what is worthy to consider. And that means the people putting up the money have to make some shrewd decisions about which books they're going to gamble on.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Like Memoir But Different

I was reading How Memoirs Took Over the World at Salon in which Laura Miller begins her article on Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda with the question "Has the memoir become the "central form" of our culture, as Ben Yagoda insists in his breezy new consideration of the form, "Memoir: A History"?" She later says that today material that was once written as fiction (she uses The Bell Jar as an example) would more likely be written as memoir. And, of course, she mentions the story of how James Frey couldn't find a publisher for A Million Little Pieces when he was trying to sell it as a novel, but when he (or somebody) decided to call it a memoir, it was a go.

As I started reading this article about the ascendancy of the memoir, I immediately started thinking of all the first-person fictions in children's books and YA. Couldn't these "I" books be described as pseudo-memoirs? With the use of "I" isn't the author trying to create the illusion of a memoir?

So what's that about?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Good Times...Good Times

This year's Connecticut Children's Book Fair was a great day for me. My presentation went well, pretty well attended and with me coming in under the twenty-minute time frame I had been given so that the audience had time to ask questions. Plus my PowerPoint slides were some of the nicest I saw because my computer guy is an artist.

For my signings I was set up between Pegi Deitz Shea, who I've known for years, and P.W. Catanese, who, I learned when attending his presentation, has sold over half a million books. Pegi has a new book out Noah Webster, Weaver of Words, illustrated by Monica Vachula. Very attractive. And Paul (see, I'm among those people who know the "P" in "P.W." stands for Paul) has a new series, The Book of Umber.

Leslea Newman did a great presentation about her book Hachiko Waits. Marc Tyler Nobleman's talk was terrific, too, especially when he started in on Superman because who doesn't love Superman?

Remember Janet Lawler, whom I mentioned back in September? She is my new B.F.F. We bonded in the green room and then ate dinner together in the evening.

I also met the children's services librarian who maintains Jacket Whys a blog on Children's and YA book covers. I won't out her by giving her name (though I'm among those people who know it) because she doesn't use it in her "About" section.

Before I left the house yesterday morning, I explained to a family member that I hadn't invited anyone to attend the dinner with me because I didn't want anyone to see how poorly I schmooze. He agreed that it would be a painful thing to watch. However, I pretty much schmoozed all day (except for an hour break late in the afternoon when I did some more reading of Walden at the library.) I even made it through the forty-five minute pre-dinner cocktail ordeal pretty much unscathed, too.

Oh! Oh! Lois Lowry ate dinner at the table next to mine! I didn't notice until dessert, though. I had a camera in my bag, and I could have tried to sneak pictures of her, but it would have been tacky. Someone asked me if I could give Lois (I'm not among those people who can call her Lois, but she'll never know.) instructions on how to get back to her hotel, and I offered to give her a ride. But by that time, she'd already left the building. It was just as well, because while I know I could have gotten her there (it was within walking distance of the Dodd Center, where we ate), it might have taken me a couple of shots to find the right tiny, cramped road to turn onto.

So I left feeling very professional and more positive about work than I have been, but then...but then...but then I ended up spending an hour and a half or so in a hospital emergency room in the middle of the night with one of the elders!

Where, I am ashamed to say, I read still more of Walden while he was off having tests. And I read more of it today after we brought him home.

What a wild ride, huh?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Connecticut Children's Book Fair Is Tomorrow

In my enthusiasm for moaning and groaning about the miserable situation for writers these days, I almost forgot to remind everyone that I will be at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair tomorrow. It's on the UConn-Storrs campus, in the Rome Ballroom. (Rome Hall.) I'll be there from 11 to 2 or thereabouts. I'm speaking at 12:15.

I have a PowerPoint presentation, for those of you who enjoy slides. Everyone enjoys slides, right?


Last night I was reading Straight Talk on Tough Times For Writers at Mitali's Fire Escape. (I'm not really stalking Mitali. I'm just catching up on my author blog reading; Concord posts will always catch my eye, and this year the same is true for posts on agents.) That post led me to this one at Pub Rants (which I would have read eventually because I read Pub Rants, but I'm behind on reading my agent and editor blogs, too). All bad news, my little lads and lasses, that is definitely affecting me.

Then this morning I received an e-mail announcement regarding the new issue of Narrative. They're headlining a piece about Robert Olen Butler writing forty-four stories, five novels, and (if you read the actual article) a dozen full-length plays that were never published. You have to sign up to read the material, but the article is short. I'm afraid it's a lot of the usual stuff about writing from the place where you dream, the unconscious, and what all. I am of the gritting your teeth and willing your work into existence school that Butler isn't so fond of.

Perhaps this explains why Robert Olen Butler is Robert Olen Butler, and I am Gail Gauthier. You might notice that we've both had books translated into Japanese, however. I'm Butleresque in that way.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Want To Go To Concord!

I so wanted to get back to Concord last spring. Or this fall. Or anytime. It's not going to happen this year. Knowing that Mitali Perkins has recently been to both Walden Pond and Orchard House only rubs salt in the wound.

Orchard House is wonderful.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some Cybils Fantasy/SciFi Titles And Authors

Sheila Ruth has the list of 2009 Fantasy/SciFi Cybils Nominees up at Wands and Worlds. I noticed some familiar titles and authors. Among them:

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan.

Ottoline Goes To School by Chris Riddell.

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman.

Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run by Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger.

Authors I've read with nominated titles I haven't read:

Joni Sensel, Jonathan Stroud, Anne Ursu, M. T. Anderson, Angie Sage, Derek Landy, Michael Buckley, P.J. Haarsma, and Holly Black.

And, finally, I noticed that Pamela F. Service is nominated for Camp Alien. It's been years since I've read anything by Service, but she is memorable at Chez Gauthier for Stinker From Space.

For someone who isn't a major fantasy fan, I seem to have read a lot of it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Sweet Natured Little Devil

I have to say that if I had a gun pointed to my head and was told to choose a book from any book award list, I'd choose something from the Printz. I've had a lot more luck with finding enjoyable reads from those winners and honor books than with any other award.

Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins was a Printz Honor Book in 2008. It's marvelously witty but also very moral. In fact, at some points the book teeters on becoming a bit instructive--"girls with big butts are worthy of love," for instance. I think the sophistication of the moral issues saves it from going over the edge into preachiness. The book is too serious--in a funny way--to be a sermon.

Repossessed is the story of a demon who has had all he can take of hell for a while and steps into the body of a teenage boy who was about to step in front of a truck and buy the farm, as we used to say back in college. The kid wasn't going to have a use for the body in a couple of minutes, so our demonic friend, Kiriel, hasn't really done any harm. He's hell bent on experiencing material life, though he doesn't think he's going to get to do it for very long. He will be missed.

But not by the Creator, who has never noticed him. Kiriel clearly is suffering--or at least has an attitude--because of his separation from God. For those of us who taught Sunday school for years and years...and years...this suffering because of separation from God will sound very familiar. Jenkins is dealing with what appears to me to be a very Christian concept. (Though I can't guarantee it doesn't occur in other faiths, too.)

Hell is interesting in Repossessed. The damneds' eternal torment is due to the guilt they, themselves, feel for their human behavior.

One of the many things I liked about this book was the treatment of Jason, the younger brother of the boy Kiriel has replaced. Jason clearly has ADHD, but the term is never used. ADHD books often involve some of that instructive stuff I was talking about earlier, so that we all know what's going on. In this one we're just shown this poor boy whose behavioral problems have led him to a sad, solitary life.

A thought I had while reading this book--This is definitely YA, dealing with the theme of what will I do with myself? (Kiriel wants to make a difference, wants to have a hand in shaping things, which is what led to his becoming a fallen angel in the first place.) But if Jenkins had placed her demon in an adult's body and given him adult concerns, she could have easily turned this into an adult book. Not that I'm saying she should have. It was just something I thought about as I was reading.

You can catch an interview and question and answer session (in the comments) with A.M. Jenkins at YA Authors Cafe and another interview at Cynsations.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Interesting Bits From The Horn Book

Though I haven't read any of its articles, I have whipped through the new Horn Book's reviews. Two things jumped out at me.

1. I had never even heard of the Cathars until a couple of months ago when I read the second book in The Youngest Templar serial. Then I stumbled upon them again while doing some quick research on the historical figures in a book by Geoffrey Trease. Well, the Horn Book's review of White Heat by K.M.Grant tipped me off that the Cathars are back in another novel. White Heat is the second part of a Cathar story. K. M.Grant wrote one of my favorite recent historical novels, How the Hangman Lost His Heart.

2. In all the angst this past summer over the cover of Justine Larbalestier's new book, Liar, I totally missed that it's a...Oh, wait. Larbalestier makes a big deal at her website about not giving away any spoilers, and perhaps this is a big one. So I won't repeat what The Horn Book reviewer let slip. (Assuming she let anything slip, because the book is called Liar.) But, still, somehow I got the impression earlier this year that the book was just a teenage problem novel. I am much more likely to read it now that I know that it's

Sunday, November 08, 2009

I Want To Go To Concord!

I've been writing about reading Walden at my Amazon blog. Mitali Perkins was actually at Walden Pond last month! I have a family member going to Concord one morning a week for a while, and I thought of tagging along. But since I'm down to writing only three days a week these days, I can't lose that much time.

Besides, I do have a picture of myself standing in front of Walden Pond. It's just so old that it predates our digital camera. I may try to find it to post when I finally finish reading the book.

New Respect For The Original

I saw the Twilight movie last night. Wow. It really makes the book look like art, doesn't it?

I thought the thing Stephanie Meyer did very well in the original Twilight was create sexual tension. The first book really was kind of hot. The attempts to reproduce said tension in the movie were funny. My favorite sexual chemistry scenes take place in the biology lab, particularly when Bella poses in front of a fan like some kind of teen model with her hair flying around and looks over to see Edward with his hand over his nose because her scent is being blown toward him, and he can't stand it. Talk about meeting cute.

I've been invited to a private showing of New Moon on the morning of opening day. I'm planning to go because I've never been to a private showing of anything. I hope I don't laugh out loud the way I did last night.

I've heard there's a new director for this second movie, so I was thinking that maybe Edward would be allowed to hold his head normally this time around instead of keeping his chin on his chest. That looks so uncomfortable. And it would be terrific if someone did something about the weird lighting that makes all the characters look white with bright red lips. The trailer suggests that I can forget about that happening.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Are Formulas Important For Some Reason?

You may have noticed that I'm on a little graphic novel kick this fall. That's why I picked up Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi.

What really struck me about this book is how incredibly formulaic it is. The word "rigidly" might apply. In a prelude, a child sees her parent killed. At the real story opening, the rest of the family is heading off to a creepy new home (new homes are always bad news) that has been in the family for years. (As I was reading this today, I thought about how these days, old family homes are probably sold to create new subdivisions.) Immediately, the kids find a of jewelry, are led into a strange world, and have to start a quest to save their surviving parent. (Did she seem just a little bit bitchie to anyone else?) A mysterious and brilliant ancestor figures into the story. (I'm not sure if that last part is original to this formula or if I just saw it in The Spiderwick Chronicles movie.) Some cute characters are thrown in as helpers.

Maybe there is some reason why adhering to formulas like this are important in children's literature. Isn't repetition of words and sounds supposed to help them learn to read? Maybe reading the same formula/pattern/storyline over and over again assists them in some way I've just never heard about.

As luck would have it, David Elzey has just reviewed the second book in this series at The Excelsior File. He liked it a great deal more than I liked the first one. In fact, if you do just a little bit of digging around on the Internet, you'll find that this is quite a well-regarded series.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Avoid All These Things

If you NaNoWriMoers have a moment to do something other than write, you might check out Why Your Manuscript Can Get Rejected (Part II) at Guide to Literary Agents. Among the most interesting of agent Donna Bagdasarian's top reasons manuscripts are rejected:

"4. Not having the protagonist involved in the climax." This seems as if it would be impossible to do. However, a few years back I read a YA novel in which the protagonist was unconscious in the hospital during the climax, heard about it afterwards, and, being a first-person narrator, told us about it at that point. I was somewhat startled, and not in the good sense of the word. (Assuming there is a good sense for "startle.") However, the book did get published and bloggers and listserv people, and reviewers for that matter, loved it. So maybe no one else noticed it. Or maybe this agent and myself are the only people who care.

"8. Know how much is too much. If you can cut a scene and the story still works, you must cut it." In my experience, this is absolutely the case. It's true of business letters and blog posts, too.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Science Fiction Formulas

I was reading some of the responses to last night's premiere of V. I thought it was better than I expected (I wasn't a fan of the original, though I did like the mini-series--I think they should have left well enough alone after that.), but, you know, it is just an invasion story. The character in that crowd scene last night who said, "This is Independence Day!" hit the nail on the head, as far as I'm concerned. An invasion story is an invasion story.

I feel the same way about apocalyptic novels. Have you ever read one that didn't involve civilization falling, leading to a dystopian world? Talk about a rigid formula. Did I have to read more than a half dozen? Or, for that matter, more than one?

I'm sure this was why I had trouble coming up with more enthusiasm for The Hunger Games.

One Issue Down, Another To Go

I'm feeling very good today about my presentation for the Connecticut Children's Book Fair on November 14 at UConn in Storrs, Connecticut. Now I just have to work out what to wear.

Sad to say, I actually have already been thinking about this and poking around at some of my possessions. When the seasons change, I sometimes am pleasantly surprised by what I find in the bins in my closet. Not so much this fall.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Repeat After Me, Class..."Ruritania"

I learned a new word today at The Trease Project. While referring to one of Geoffrey Trease's books, blogger Farah Mendlesohn writes, "This is a ruritania, set in an unknown Latin American country."

I must admit, at first I thought "ruritania" was some kind of typo. But I looked it up and it's for real. As used at The Trease Project, it means a "setting of adventure, romance, and intrigue." It is derived from the name of the setting of some books by Anthony Hope, including The Prisoner of Zenda.

Don't ruritanias appear quite frequently in fantasy novels? I'm thinking of a number of Shannon Hale's books, for instance.

My own favorite ruritania is Moldavia, scene of the Moldavian Massacre on Dynasty.

Monday, November 02, 2009

More Graphic Novels

I was in my favorite library last week, and what do I see on their new book shelf, but another Ottoline. I thought, What the heck, Gail. Give the series another shot. And that's how I came to read Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell. I liked this Ottoline better than the first. It has a little more substance, what with Ottoline being attracted to a new friend and Mr. Munroe (whatever he is) feeling left out. The new friend is interesting because she is both upper class snotty and sympathetic at the same time.

The Ottoline books, this one in particular, use a lot of oddball names and situations, which always annoy me in a children's book. This one is so lovely looking, though, and the basic story good enough, that I was able to turn a blind eye toward all the Orvillises and Wilburtas. Plus, Riddell is British, and I should try to show compassion toward the British because no doubt they are still suffering from all those years of Monty Python's influence. That can't be a good thing.

I've also just read To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel, which is not a novel at all but a memoir by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel. Because To Dance is a graphic...I hate to say "novel" when it so clearly isn't...written for young readers, I was able to read it quickly. And reading it quickly made me feel immersed in Cherson Siegel's young life as a ballet student. It definitely made me feel that having such a strong vocation so young must be very special. Maybe it's not, of course. Maybe a lot of kids lose their youths to studying for a vocation. But that's not the feeling I came away with from To Dance.

Cherson Siegel writes about reading A Very Young Dancer by Jill Krementz. I wondered if her own book would end up being another generation's A Very Young Dancer?

I have only one reservation about this book. Though not a ballet fan, by any means, I recognize many of the dance names of the period when Cherson Siegel was studying ballet--Balanchine, Baryshnikov, Suzanne Farrell, etc. I think it's unlikely child readers will know those names, and I'm not sure how that will affect their enjoyment of the book. On the other hand, the fact that dance is visual and this memoir is written in a graphic format may mean that child readers can see who these people were and having previous knowledge of them won't matter.

An End Of The Year Gift

Another one of my obsessions, Louisa May Alcott, will be getting an American Masters special on December 28 at 9 PM. Evidently we're going to learn that she was another unhappy writer.

Is there any other kind?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

How Much Do We Want To Know?

Janet Maslin spills all kinds of juicy gossip in The New York Times about J.M. Barrie in For Starters, A Satanic Svengali, a review of J. M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of "Peter Pan" by Piers Dudgeon. But the line "But his real evil, in Mr. Dudgeon’s view, was more satanic than sexual, and “Neverland” goes into overdrive when it unveils Barrie’s cloven-hoofed side" left me going, "Which was? What? What was it?"

The monster of Neverland: How JM Barrie did a 'Peter Pan' and stole another couple's children by Tony Renell in The Daily Mail gets into a lot more dirty detail. And guess what--There's a Peter Pan/Rebecca connection.

Two of my favorite obsessions are linked. How marvelous is that?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

How Do You Spell Success?

According to The Chicago Tribune article Irish author Derek Landy trying to get his skeleton-detective hero into Americans' skulls (Is that really a title or the entire article?), the Skullduggery Pleasant books are nearly Twilight/Harry Potter successful in England. Not so much here in the United States.

I wish the article had explained what it meant by "haven't caught on" here. What kind of sales are we talking about? Because I've heard of Skullduggery a lot on-line. It's a teen nominee for Connecticut's Nutmeg Award, which suggests a certain amount of acceptance by the gatekeepers who run that show.

Is the book considered not to have "caught on" because it isn't the kind of hit it is in England? Is it just moderately successful here?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Have Details

I've been meaning to mention that I have details about my appearance at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair. I'll be there on Saturday, November 14th with a presentation at 12:15 PM and signings from 11 AM to noon and 1 to 2 PM. The fair will be held in the Rome Commons Ballroom of Rome Hall on the South Campus of UConn in Storrs, Connecticut. Here are your driving directions.

I am working on a new PowerPoint presentation. Whenever I make an appearance I seem to need a new PowerPoint presentation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quick! I Have Books Due At The Library!

I did a little graphic novel reading this fall, and I can't renew the books at the library again, so I guess I'd better blog about them, if I'm going to.

First, I read a couple of the Babymouse books by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. I think what makes these books work is that they are graphic novels. While the stories are fine, the basic plots of the two I read, Skater Girl and Puppy Love, weren't particularly unique. But joining those plots with the graphics and the mouse, definitely elevated them.

I found it a little unusual that the books sometimes use a third-person narrator who speaks directly to Babymouse and wondered if kids found that confusing. Presumably not, since there are a lot of Babymouse titles.

Our library classifies Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell as a graphic novel, though I think I'd describe it as more of a heavily illustrated novel for younger readers. It's a beautiful looking book with an interesting basic story, though I could have done without the Cousin It-like character, myself. Readers frequently have to stop reading to study the illustrations, which do, indeed, sometimes tell part of the story. (Though sometimes they're just illustrations.) I wondered if young readers would find that frustrating. On the other hand, a young, not-very-enthusiastic reader might find it a relief to stop and enjoy the scenery.

If you go to the Original Artwork From Children's Book Illustrators site, be sure to watch the slideshow of Riddell's Illustrations to Unwritten Books. It's very clever. Among my favorites...Hot Comfort Farm and Wuthering Tights. But there's lots of good stuff there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Index Cards Come In How Many Colors?

I'm going shopping for index cards later this week. I read Pick A Card, Any Card at R.L. LaFevers' blog (referred there by Becky Levine), and now I'm thinking that colored index cards could help with the story arcs (which are like mini-plots) in the 365 Story Project. They could certainly help keep track of characters meandering through the year of stories.

I'll let you know how that goes.

"Feminism Has Gone Down The Toilet"

Last week I was with some friends of a certain age. We were talking about how we could remember a day when the word "girl" was derogatory, and how could the present crop of young females not only allow themselves to be spoken of in such a way but even use the word to describe someone over the age of fifteen or thereabouts themselves? Back in the good old days, we wanted to be women. And we made damn sure we acted the part, too.

"Feminism has gone down the toilet," my friend Pat said.

I thought of that just now while reading a Globe and Mail interview with Mavis Gallant. The female interviewer asked Gallant (an eighty-six-year-old award-winning writer) if women can be fulfilled without giving birth. What the Hell century is this? I thought.

You'll notice Gallant gave her a good reply.

Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for the link.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Perhaps It's Just A Matter Of Finding The Right Terminology

I haven't had good luck over the years with writing in a journal regularly. I have dozens of them and have used them successfully in fits and spurts, but nothing that truly satisfied me.

I've tried meditation in the past, hoping it would help my concentration. You know--staying on task and all that? I think that if you have to concentrate on meditating you might be missing the point. Or if you're trying to use meditation you may be lost before you start. At any rate, it didn't work.

Earlier this year, though, I combined the two and started calling my journal work writing meditation. That I'm able to do several times a week. Of course, this is Gail we're talking about, so writing meditation for me is probably not what anyone who actually knows anything about the subject would call writing meditation. But I like the words "writing meditation." And so I use the journal more. (Perhaps if I used it less, I'd write more offical saleable stuff. Perhaps writing mediation is not a good thing. One morning I will meditate on that in my journal.)

I've had a similar experience recently regarding first drafts. I've written here frequently about my difficulty getting through a first draft. I love the advice so many writers give about just get through it and revise later. I can never do that, though, because by the time I get to Point G I've decided I want something to happen at Point M that can only happen if something different happens at Point C. So I have to go back and make changes. Many of these changes are good. They make it possible for me to proceed for a while. Until I have to do another do over somewhere along the line.

Well, last week I discovered the term "discovery draft." My moments of on-line research lead me to suspect that many people who use that term simply mean "first draft." It may just be a pretentious way of saying first draft.

However, the idea of a discovery draft makes me feel so much better about not being able to get through a first draft without starting over...and over...and over. Because what I'm doing with that discovery draft is discovering material and if it's just about discovery, then it's okay--in my mind, at least--to do things with those discoveries.

So what I'm thinking right now is you just have to find terminology that makes what you do make sense to you.

We'll see how long that works for me.

Re-establishing His Eccentric Self

Great article on Sherman Alexie in The New York Times.

Alexie was adored after the publication of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. It was very successful, and he was embraced by the YA world. He could have followed up Part-time Indian with another YA book and got himself some more lovin', at least from YA people.

But he didn't. Instead, he published War Dances, a volume of short stories and poetry. In the Times article, In His Own Literary World, a Native Son Without Borders, Alexie says, "I think the new book was an attempt to re-establish my eccentric self: ‘I’m not supposed to sell as many copies as I just did, so let me write something that won’t.’"

Yes, short stories and poetry should do the trick.

I also liked Alexie's description of how he works: "I’ll write whatever’s going well for a few months at a time and move around." He might write 150 pages and jettison it or turn it into a small part of a poem.

And what was really terrific was that he didn't just write Part-time Indian and go, "Well, would you look at that--I wrote a YA book," or have an agent or editor point that fact out to him, the way many writers of adult fiction write their first YA books. He was aware of his audience and studied YA novels while "figuring mine out."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wasn't It Just A Couple Of Years Ago That Everyone Was Looking Down At Blogs? That's All Over.

A New-Media Read On Books At Huffington Post in the Los Angeles Times is thought-provoking in so very many ways. I will mention just one:

"Hertz argued that authors, their editors and publicists should all be pushing their books on blogs, engaging their readers in direct conversations and opening their publicity campaigns months earlier than they have in the past."

Presumably she means in their own blogs, which would obviously be about marketing and thus on the up and up as far as the FTC is concerned.

I'm fine with that plan, since that is exactly the kind of blog I have here. But there's something about the L.A. Times article that made traditional reviews seem very...quaint. Though we in publishing liked to make reviews about selling by quoting any possible bit that could make us look good, in reality that's not what their function is. It would be a shame if criticism/analysis can't co-exist with marketing.

Link from

Mary Sue Has A History

I suffered some Mary Sue Anxiety last spring. I don't know if learning she's been around the track a few times makes me feel better or not.

Hey, Robert Cormier Started Out As An Adult Writer! Who Knew?

In Minders of Make-Believe Leonard Marcus says that Robert Cormier's first three books were for adults. His agent suggested submitting his fourth, The Chocolate War, as YA. I've heard of that happening a number of times in recent years. By the way, I have a Robert Cormier story: I used to be interested in genealogy, before I finally accepted that it was way too exhausting and that there were far, far easier ways to waste time. Besides, one of my cousins found my family line back to the early 1800s posted on the Internet, so my work is done. But I was still dabbling in early Internet days, and in looking for French Canadian material, I stumbled upon a Franco-American site. At this site I learned that Robert Cormier was "our leading Franco-American writer." I found this interesting because I wasn't aware that "we" had a leading Franco-American writer, and how cool that if "we" did have one, he was YA. Within a couple of months, I heard that Robert Cormier had died. God forgive me, my first thought was, "Does this mean the position of leading Franco-American writer is open? How do I apply?" As it turns out, the competition for leading Franco-American writer is way too great for my taste. I have, however, made a list of Famous Gauthiers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"A Rattling Good Story"

Collecting old books seems like something I ought to do, being who and what I am. Maintaining old books seems to be a lot of work, though. I've heard they require special storage. Plus, I'm not seriously into the scent of mold and mildew.

However, I have acquired a nice little stash of old children's books, all of which came from family members. Last weekend while visiting our homebound family member, his wife took me into a room and said, "You want any of these books?"

Why, yes, Ruthie, I'll just help myself to these few you and your parents held on to for, in some cases, the better part of a century. Or more.

Now I am the proud owner of, among other things, Two Young Inventors by Alvah Milton Kerr, published in 1904. Publishers Weekly said of it, "Here is a rattling good story. Mr. Kerr has written a tale of mystery, mechanism and getting on in the world that will be a boys' favorite for years."

The Bookman went into more detail. "An exciting tale of two youths who secure a mechanical education as a result of their efforts to construct a flying-boat that will rise in the air, as well as skim the water. During a stirring experience they render an important service to the North Shore Railroad, for which they are rewarded by positions in the department of engineering."

"Getting on in the world" is an interesting phrase. Maybe good children's books should be about "getting on in the world."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oh, I've Got To Read That Wimpy Kid

Last night while I was making dinner, I caught most of Some Parents Wary Of 'Wimpy Kid' Series on NPR. I haven't read any of the Wimpy Kid books, but I was intrigued by the phrase the "moral voice outside of the text," which was used during the program.

I think it suggests there should be a moral voice in the text, but I'm not sure. Nor can I decide how I feel about that. It will require a great deal more thinking that I can do right now.

The "wary parent" being interviewed was Tanya Turek of

Hours Spent Gambling

I blew a big chunk of today researching submissions. Years ago, making submissions was exciting because maybe something would happen! Experience has taught me better. With the vast majority of submissions nothing's going to happen that anyone will like. And maybe nothing will happen at all.

Submitting work for publication is a lot like gambling. No matter how much time you spend checking out publication websites, trying to read journals to see what their editors are interested in, and following the rules, you're still rolling the dice and hoping something good will turn up. A big percentage of the time, you're going to be rejected and you're sort of vague on why. You have a general idea that you haven't played your hand correctly and that maybe you don't even know all the rules of the game. But you don't know how to become a hustler.

(Hey, did I extend that metaphor enough? I've been reading Walden. Man could Thoreau extend a metaphor.)

Nowadays I feel that my time would be better spent on writing. Though, being the kind of writer who wants to see her work published in her lifetime and not discovered after she's dead (though that's my fallback plan), I do need to go through the angst of submitting.

Be Part Of The Cheerios--I Mean Democratic-- Process

Cheerios (the cereal, not the Glee cheerleaders) will be putting children's books in boxes of O's in 2010. You can help choose the titles. I've heard you can vote through October 30th, and maybe more than once. Maybe even more than once a day.

But since I got that info through a listserv, it's kind of like gossip. Nonetheless, there's no doubt that you can vote because the buttons are right there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Even Better With Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith is just terrific. It's funny but not so overwhelmed by the running zombie joke as to make the story pointless.

I know there's nothing people hate quite so much as a woman getting all feminist political, but, nonetheless, I'm going to go forward and say that the zombie menace seemed to work very well in the context of the original Pride and Prejudice story because in Austen World the hunt for a husband is life and death, much like encounters with zombies. As I once read elsewhere (no idea where), as foolish as Mrs. Bennet is, with her obsession on marrying off her girls, she is also correct. Life without a man will be very grim for her daughters. Yet, once the hunting is done, and an Austen woman is married, life is pretty much over for her. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Bennet daughters, like many other upper class Britons, have all trained in the martial arts in order to fight for the Crown against the zombie menace. They have pledged to serve His Majesty until they "are dead, lame, or married."

And marriage, remember, is the good fate for women.

I wondered if this Pride and Prejudice and zombie mash-up wouldn't bring more readers to Austen. (We like to believe that that this is a classic read by teenagers, but I suspect many of them rent one of the movie versions.) Sure, Austen's portrayal of romance within a rigid world order isn't to everyone's taste. But who doesn't love zombies? Unfortunately, if you're already Austen-adverse, the zombies, no matter how endearing, may not be enough to win you over.

I suggested to my computer guy that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might be just the trick to get him to finally read...sort of...the Austen classic. He said that zombies didn't do it for him. "Now, if they'd worked it in with Star Trek..."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yeah, I'll Get Right On That

I have hundreds of blog posts to read at my blog reader, but instead I just read another New Yorker article I found through the child_lit listserv. Subject: Our Marketing Plan by Ellis Weiner is hysterical.

This Pretty Much Ruined Picture Books For Me

The Defiant Ones, a New Yorker article by Daniel Zalewski, left me rigid with fear that I won't be able to figure out the behavioral lessons that picture books are evidently supposed to teach. Perhaps I should just avoid them for a while and look for lighter reading.

Link from child_lit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In Days Of Old, When Knights Were Bold, And Voice Hadn't Been Invented

Farah Mendlesohn, an academic and critic who has written about fantasy, among other things, has started a new blog devoted to the work of British author Geoffrey Trease. In her first post at The Trease Project, Farah says Trease (who I'd never heard of), "set out to write a new form of history for children, which didn't focus on great men and women, but on the you and me of history."

Well, didn't that just speak to me. I've never gotten over my first history class as a college freshman, which was taught by a professor whose car license plate was stamped "Bodo," the name of a medieval French peasant living at the time of Charlemagne. Pretty much all I took away from that class was the importance of the so-called common man. That was enough.

Farah also spoke to me when she said she planned to read and blog about "everything Geoffrey Trease wrote (fiction and non-fiction) in the order in which he wrote it, at the same time, reading contemporary discussions about the teaching of history." Everything that's obsessive about me loved that.

I sought out what I could find of Trease's work and ended up reading The Barons' Hostage. It was originally published in 1952, so it will be a while before Farah gets to it, since Trease started publishing in the 1930s.

I found The Barons' Hostage kind of flat in style but also readable. In the article from British Children's Historical Novels, linked to above, the author says of him, "If there is a criticism to be made of his writing I would say that it lacks emotional depth; intensity wasn't his style, and his understated approach has its own strengths." I think that pretty much hits the nail on the head...lacking emotional depth and intensity and understated. I would say the book also seemed lacking in voice, though that might not have been a big issue in the time it was written. Nowadays when voice is so important in children's books, it was striking by its absence.

The Barons' Hostage tells the story how Edward I, while still a prince, was held hostage by his uncle, Simon de Montfort, who was leading a baronial revolt against Edward's father, Henry III. Two child characters are added for child interest, but as I read this book, I felt that the story about the kids was just an excuse to tell the rather charismatic Edward's story. In fact, if you follow the links on Edward I and Henry III and scroll down on the material it leads to until you find the name "Simon de Montfort," you'll find the basic storyline for The Barons' Hostage.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. When I was a kid, I loved historical kings and queens. By which I mean real ones, none of this fairy king and queen business. I probably would have sucked this book up. In fact, reading it a few weeks ago led me to research these two kings and Simon de Montfort, none of whom I knew anything about.

Reading this book and what Farah has had to say so far at The Trease Project has raised still more questions for me about what a historical novel should be, particularly what a historical novel for children should be. The whole story of children's historical fiction having its own history--how fascinating is that!?

Simon de Monfort has quite a web presence. And get this...his father, also Simon de Montfort, fought against the Cathars. The Cathars appear in the second book of The Youngest Templar serial.

How bizarre is it that I would be reading about all this linked stuff this fall? I love it when this kind of thing happens!