Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where Is Gail?

We're having a rough week at Chez Gauthier, so I don't expect to be posting until the weekend or even later.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Family Thinks I've Made It

I have some science fiction lovers in my family, and they were delighted to see that my last post was mentioned at io9 in a piece called Is The Golden Age Of YA Science Fiction Already Over?. I know I said I would stop talking about Tanita, but she's mentioned, too.

Be sure to read the comments.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Perhaps This Is Why We're Not Seeing More Science Fiction

Earlier this month, Tanita said at Finding Wonderland that real science fiction is getting harder to find in YA. That was her experience after serving on the fantasy and science fiction panel for the Cybils. I served on that panel four (?) years ago and found the same thing to be true at that time in both YA and middle grade.

This past year while I've been doing agent research, I've found that quite a few of them aren't looking for science fiction. They don't say why, and it isn't necessary for them to do so. I, however, will be happy to speculate.

1. Perhaps they are already representing authors with science fiction material to sell and feel there is only so much of the stuff they can find a home for. This would make sense. However, since we're not seeing much science fiction being published, it seems unlikely that they already have their plates full of scifi that they're placing.

2. Perhaps they don't believe they can sell science fiction, so it would be foolhardy to accept new authors with scifi books to market. This would also make sense.

3. Perhaps they just don't like the genre, and not everyone can sell things they don't like. This is certainly understandable. I can think of several types of books I'd hate to have to promote to absolutely anyone, forget about editors.

Whatever the reason, agents are among the literary gatekeepers who control what is published. If they aren't interested in a genre, how is it going to get out into the marketplace?

Of course, all it's going to take is for one unknown writer to do for science fiction what Harry Potter did for fantasy and Twilight did for vampire romances and we'll be swimming in the stuff.

NOTE: I am not really Tanita's best friend. I've just been mentioning her a lot lately. I will go on to someone else soon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where Are The Village Criminals In Contemporary Kids' Lit?

While on that retreat that I will be fondly recalling for months to come, I read another terrific book by Castle Freeman Jr (I've mentioned him before), this one called Go With Me. Go With Me was about three unlikely people banding together against what a minor character calls the "village criminal."

Now, Freeman's books are set in Vermont, and though they are contemporary books, they deal with a Vermont I knew growing up, not the arty-farty, bohemian bourgeois Vermont I experience while on retreat. Not that there's anything wrong with arty-farty, bohemian bourgeois. It's just my people are not arty-farty, bohemian bourgeois. We're the kind of people who say, "arty farty" (though not so much bohemian bourgeois).

I mention all that to explain why the "village criminal" thing struck a chord with me. I knew of village criminals when I was a kid. There were a couple of teenage village criminal drug dealers when I was a teenager and a truly legendary guy a few towns over who I believe was what would be described as a life-long offender of the petty theft type. My Uncle Mickey went to school with him.

A village criminal seems like a perfect character for a gothic or, perhaps comic, kids' book. But I can't think of any.

This may be because generic suburbs are the settings for so many kids' books, and in all the years I've lived in suburbia, I can't recall hearing about any village criminals. Crime isn't reserved for the "village criminal" in these parts. Town hall and insurance company employees are always getting arrested for embezzlement here, to say nothing of doctors ripping off Medicare if not committing far more unsavory crimes against their patients. We had some counterfeiters at the high school a few years ago. They were all nice eighth grade boys from good families, which was not how the village criminals I remember would be described.

I suspect village criminals don't appear in contemporary kids' books because no one would believe a town would produce just one.

I Can't Believe It! I Know Another Award Winner!

Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton is a Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal (pause and take a breath) Honor Book.

I am doubly excited now.

Thank goodness Camille at BookMoot wrote a post that finally caught my eye. I had been flipping through all the award announcement posts at other blogs thinking, Yeah, yeah, yeah. Heard that...heard that... Until I got to BookMoot and realized, No, I hadn't heard that.

Oh, My Gosh! Tanita! It's Your Year!

I just this minute learned that Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis was named a Coretta Scott King Award honor book. Or, I should say, the honor book, since only one was chosen this year, and it was Tanita's.

I am excited.

Thanks to Book Moot for the news.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Coming Soon

I received some catalogs from Chronicle Books this past week. Thus I can now tell you that soon you will be able to buy a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wall calendar for 2011, a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies journal ("The ideal accessory for the literary undead, this journal features beautiful, elegant pages—smattered with blood.") and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies postcards.

Run right out and up-date your wish lists, everybody!

Get Your Dose Of Musings On Historical Fiction

One of the good things about falling way behind on your blog reading--maybe the only good thing--is that when a blogger is doing a series on a subject, you can sit down and read them all at once. You can do a study, so to speak.

I just finished one over at Oz and Ends on the subject of historical fiction. J.L. Bell began writing about it on January 8th and appears to have wrapped it up on January 15th. The Storm in the Barn, which just won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, got the ball rolling.

Some Academic Sounding Stuff

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation is accepting applications for its Minigrant Program for Public Schools and Public Libraries. Note that the deadline for applications is September 15th.

The Malka Penn Children's Book Collection on Human Rights (scroll down) was established in 2005 as part of the Northeast Children's Literature Collection at The University of Connecticut. Michele Palmer, who writes under the name Malka Penn, has donated more than 160 books on human rights topics to the collection.

Michelle and I were in the same writers' group years ago.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Mature Cinderella

Back in my youth, it wasn't unusual to see feminist variations on Cinderella, in which we were treated to what happened after the heroine got the prince and was stuck with the reality of dealing with a man every day of her life. The point was that women couldn't rely on princes. So true, so true, but the tales tended to be a little strident and pedantic.

Cinderella in Autumn by Hilary Mantel is much better done and brings Cinderella into the reality of our celebrity obsessed world. Without giving anything away, I can say that the ending is terrific because, indeed, there's no convincing some people that a prince isn't the answer. You'd think they would learn, but no.

Today was child_lit day with my listserv reading, and that's where I found this link.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wow, Tanita

Tanita S. Davis has been nominated for a NAACP Image Award in the category Outstanding Literary Work--Youth/Teens for her book Mare's War. Does this mean she'll be at the televised awards ceremony? Are the winners for her category at least announced at the televised awards ceremony?

I love that Tanita says at her blog that finding out she was nominated was "beyond startling." Startling. I like that word, anyway, but I'm really enjoying it in this situation.

Good News, Bad News

While I didn't check my e-mail during retreat week, a family member with me figured what the hell, he would. Thus I learned on Tuesday or Wednesday that A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat will be published in Hebrew. I was very excited about this because things have been very slo-o-ow in the publishing world for Gail. Here it was, only January of 2010, and look how much better things were going!

Then we got home on Friday and learned about a rather big rejection. And it's still only January.

But Monster Cat is going to be published in Hebrew!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Retreat Weeks Can Be Productive

So, here I am, back from my retreat. No, we did not stay in the cabin to the left. We hiked there on snowshoes yesterday. That's my back you see in the interior shot. I'm stripped down to my thermal undershirt, which, I believe, had a paint stain on one of the cuffs. Can't imagine how that happened. As my companion said, we didn't look as if we'd come up from the resort; we looked as if we'd come down from the mountain.

While retreating, I refused to check my e-mail. It was a lot easier than I would have thought, in part because Internet access was so slow at our timeshare unit last week that there wasn't a lot of temptation to go on-line. This morning I decided that I could live like that. Not without e-mail, but without checking it so often. Certainly without checking it first thing in the morning.

I check my e-mail first thing in the morning, and if I find things from family members, I feel compelled to blow off thirty or forty minutes of valuable workout/workbook/worktime responding. Or sometimes I get inquiries from people regarding appearances. I blow off valuable workout/workbook/worktime responding and almost always never hear from the inquirer again. Sometimes I'll see listserv e-mails I want to respond to. And there goes some more workout/workbook/worktime.

Wouldn't life be better, I thought as I lay on my wonderful bed at my mountain guesthouse, if I waited until mid-day to check my e-mail? Wouldn't my day be off to a much better start if I tended to my workouts and that so-called writing meditation I've been doing in my workbook and then got some real work behind me before I faced whatever turns up in the e-mail? Wouldn't I accomplish so much more? Wouldn't I at least feel better?

Then, while I was still lying there in bed, I came up with this idea regarding my listservs. Instead of wallowing around in all of them every day, why don't I assign each one one day of the week? I only check child_lit on its assigned day. I only check the kidlitosphere on its assigned day? I could go on and on re. all my listservs, but I'm sure you get my point.

With all the time I'll be saving with the e-mail plan, listserv assignments, and avoiding tabloid news stories, I should be able to write a new book every six months.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stephen Huneck

Vermont artist Stephen Huneck, who was also the author and illustrator of a number of children's books, has died. We have seen his work at a number of Vermont galleries over the last few years and were sorry to hear of his passing.

Friday, January 08, 2010

I Have Only A Vague Idea What This Is

Oz and Ends just did two posts on urban fantasy. I can't say I've read a great deal of the stuff, certainly not enough to know that it requires some romance. I thought urban fantasy just meant I was safe from the icky parts of high fantasy--wizards and dragons and princesses and fairies.

Or maybe I should say that I thought that in urban fantasy if there were any wizards and dragons and princesses and fairies, they'd be much cooler than they are in high fantasy.

How Sweet Is This?


Thursday, January 07, 2010

So Should Writers Be Shooting For Synergy?

A number of years ago I was asked to speak at...ah...some kind of literary event. I was doing something with some elementary grade students in the morning (Damned if I can remember what, which probably explains why I'm not more popular as a speaker.) At the same time, Colin McEnroe, who is a big noise here in Connecticut, and LuAnne Rice, who is a big noise many places, were doing something with adults somewhere in the building. (I thought LuAnne was sitting across from me in the lobby, but I wasn't sure, so I didn't think I should say anything. What was I supposed to say, "Should I know you? You write something, don't you? What?") Everyone got together for lunch, and during dessert, I got up and gave a talk about Ethan Allen. I didn't exactly have the crowd in the palm of my hand.

Anyway, a number of things were going on in that building that morning. The guy who organized the thing kept saying to me, "We're going to get some good synergy going."

I thought, Hmmm. So synergy, whatever it is, is a good thing?

Yesterday I wrote about a book that's "whole didn't seem greater than the sum of its parts." I Googled that phrase to make sure it meant what I thought it did so that I wouldn't look like a fool to the masses of people who read this blog. And, lo and behold, I found that it is connected to synergy. After looking about a bit more, it seems the term "synergy" is used particularly in business when discussing groups and team work. You've got your various members of the team doing their thing, and when all their "things" are put together a greater "thing" should result that isn't exactly like adding everything together. It's a little leap beyond that.

Presumably sometimes you can add all the parts together and you won't get that leap, that synergy.

Thus my organizer's comment about creating something with his literary event that would be greater than just adding together the components. He was hoping for that little leap, that synergy. (If he didn't get it, I sure hope it wasn't my fault.)

So I immediately had this thought when I read about synergy and the whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-part thing. A piece of writing is made up of elements--character, plot, setting, point of view, and theme. Aren't writers trying to achieve a whole with those elements that isn't just patching or piecing them together, adding them together in some mechanical way? Aren't we shooting for that leap, for synergy? Aren't we most definitely hoping to create a whole that transcends the sum of its parts?

Or have I just wasted a lot of time thinking about this?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Somewhat Disappointing

I'd been looking forward to reading Pinocchio Vampire Slayer by Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins. Perhaps I was looking forward to it too much.

It wasn't a bad book, by any means, but it did seem like a generic lone-puppet-saving-the-world story. I like the business about Pinocchio using his wooden noses as stakes, and there was one surprise for me toward the end. Okay, and yes, the two bad guys were very clever if you're familiar with the original story, as well as some of the lies Pinocchio tells to make his nose grow when he needs it to. But the whole didn't seem greater than the sum of its parts, as they say.

Now This Is Important

I am so far behind in my reading of editor and agent blogs that I just this minute learned that Nathan Bransford has revamped his blog. (Yes, that link is dated December 7.) His blog now includes discussion forums, one of them called All Things Procrastination.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

An Intense Weekend On The Internet--But Not For Me

The second Bloggiesta will be held this coming weekend, Friday through Sunday. It appears to be a marathon weekend of blogging and blog housekeeping. It's the kind of short, intensive burst of energy I love. However, if all the grandparents stay stable, I'll be leaving for an abbreviated annual retreat week on Sunday, and it will be all I can do to get ready for it on Friday and Saturday. Maybe next time.

Friday is also the first day of the Comments Challenge. That lasts 21 days, so I might pick up on it after I get home. (I have internet access on the retreat, but I feel that the whole point of a retreat is to take classes at the fitness center, frolic in the snow, read, and eat out in restaurants. The closest I want to come to working is reading back issues of professional magazines and writing in my journal. I try to avoid the laptop because it makes me feel as if I'm back in my office.) I didn't do very well with the Comments Challenge last year because for years I've been trying to avoid mindless prattle (um, except here) and lots of time I couldn't think of comments that didn't sound like mindless prattle or as if I were saying anything that came into my head so that I could reach a commenting goal. But perhaps I will try to do just one comment a day instead of five. You'd think I could come up with one thing to say each day that didn't sound mindless.

So everyone have an intense time without me this weekend.

Is Kirkus Back?


Thanks to the Kidlitosphere listserv for this news.

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Last year I made a New Year's resolution that I actually kept. The resolution was to moisturize more. Notice how modest this resolution is. Notice that I merely said I would moisturize "more." I didn't set an arbitrary amount. Also, I didn't set an outcome. I didn't resolve to moisturize more so that I will look ten years younger or get rid of those dreadful creases around my eyes. I just said I would "moisturize more." Thus, any moisturizing I did meant I was successful.

I have learned from this experience.

This year I have resolved to read less so-called entertainment news of the What Dreadful Thing Has Jon Gosselin Done variety or Celebrities Without Makeup variety during the workday. I actually got started a little before the beginning of the year on this, and it's going pretty well. Notice, I said I would read "less" of this stuff, not that I would stop. And I also allow myself to read it during the evening or on weekends. Though I'm finding that I'm not having to do that. Yet.

Today's Resolution Stats: I did not read How Elin Nordegren Spent the Holidays, Celebrities Another Year Older..., or Susan Sarandon Spent Quality Time With Some Young Guy I've Never Heard Of.

My Desk Is Like Every Other Part Of My Life

This post on workspaces by author Kathleen Kudlinski initiated a pretty big response on the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators listserv. If it wasn't so much work, I'd take a picture of my work area in the office and post it here. But it is so much work. So just imagine the worst.

My Wolfie Boyfriend

If left to my own devices, I will avoid reading romances. I think this is because they generally all end the same way, and how girl gets boy isn't all that compelling a storyline for me. So under normal conditions I would never have picked up Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater because it's a paranormal romance. However, last summer I stumbled upon the trailer for Shiver, thought it was lovely, and picked up the book when I happened upon it at the library.

I am not the first person to notice the similarities between Shiver and Twilight--star-crossed paranormal boyfriend and teenage girl, paranormal boyfriend drives teenage girl to school, paranormal boyfriend watches teenage girl do homework, paranormal boyfriend spends chaste nights with teenage girl in her bedroom. Shiver just does a lot of things better than Twilight.

Basic story: A few years before the start of our story, our main character, Grace, was dragged from her tire swing by a pack of wolves who were seriously hungry. She notices one particular wolf, who also notices her, and ends up saving her. In the intervening years, he often shows up at the back of her yard where they watch each other, developing a relationship, so to speak. Then, sure enough, you guessed it, he turns up one day on her deck as a real, naked boyfriend! And then you go on from there. Will Grace or won't Grace get to keep Sam in her life?

Grace in Shiver is a far more dynamic character than Bella in Twilight. She does things, she helps others, she directs the action at various points. She even has a sense of humor. Once you accept the werewolf thing, Sam is a far more realistic character than what's his name...oh, yeah. Edward. He is far from a picture of male perfection. Grace and Sam are a balanced couple, one partner doesn't have all the power. This book is not as sexually charged as the original Twilight, but the sex is more realistic and dignified than in the Twilight series overall. (I'm still cringing over the begging-for-sex scene in one of the later books.)

I have to say I still found some of the love scenes a little long. I felt as if I were just treading water while waiting for more wolves to show up. But, still, Stiefvater does some intriguing things here. She makes stereotypical nasty rich kids more interesting without actually making them nicer. We've got an intense father/son relationship. The readers in this story work particularly well. For me, characters in books who love books usually don't work. There's something fake or maybe improving about them. But in Shiver the readers are tragic because they won't always have reading in their lives. I like tragic much more than I like improving.

Thematically, Shiver works very well as a YA book. It explores these teenagers' places within their "families" as well as their movement away from their families. And then, of course, there's the whole human transforming into wolves in a werewolf story just as children transform into adults during adolescence. What will the kids in Shiver end up being?

I was actually sorry to learn there will be a sequel to Shiver. Why mess with a good thing? Is there really more to say about this situation? Well, I'll probably find out.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Speaking Of Being Late

I am also late mentioning that the Cybils short lists have been announced. There are many titles and authors on these lists that I haven't heard about. For me, that's the point of the Cybils. I like to think it's a rogue award that doesn't feel a responsibility to honor the books that everyone else is honoring or everyone else is talking about.

Look What I Got For Christmas

I know it's late to be talking about my Christmas presents, but we're all well aware here that I am slo-o-ow.

We have a family member who is a serious and accomplished wood carver. He has an incredible workshop, attends carving retreats, and does some very impressive work. Such as this bookworm making its way through The Hero of Ticonderoga that he made for me this year.

I am absolutely certain that no one else received this.

Friday, January 01, 2010

My 2009 In Books

I read 88 books last year, which is nothing to write home to Mom about. Two thousand and nine was not a stellar year at Chez Gauthier on many levels, but I did have a few standout experiences with books. Two of them involve nonfiction. I read nonfiction slowly, gnawing away at it when I'm not being distracted by fiction, which can pull me away from just about anything. I've decided that it's good that it takes me so long to read nonfiction. It draws out the experience out and makes me feel as if I've lived with the books and their authors. One of my nonfiction treats last year was Minders of Make-Believe by Leonard S. Marcus. This is a marvelous book, well written and logically presented. This book is, essentially, about all the grown-ups behind children's books and how they've shaped children's literature in the United States since the time of the Puritans. I like history. I like kids' books. Sooner or later, I was going to find this book. I'm glad it was sooner than later. My big nonfiction reading experience last year was Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I actually started reading this in the fall of 2008 and after a trip to Concord. I wanted to read some Emerson, but I didn't have any of his books. What I did have was a twenty-year-old copy of Walden that I had first read probably in the early '90s while I was a member of a book discussion group. I even had some notes in the back on some research I'd done on Thoreau. I had done little underscoring on the first read, but from what I had done--and from what I can recall--at that time I found Thoreau to be an intellectual snob and physically lazy. In the intervening years, I've become zennier and now much of what Thoreau had to say in Walden just happens to conform with what I've come to believe myself. I can't say reading Walden taught me much. It's more as if I found a kindred spirit in Henry D. Okay, yes, I think he's still a bit patronizing, and he definitely romanticizes nature. But so many times this past year I would be sitting on the end of my yoga mat in front of the bow window reading my few pages of Walden and thinking, Yes, yes! I thought of that, too! I never thought this, though: "A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself." I never thought it, but I am now left believing that in Walden the relic Thoreau left was near to his life itself. Or, perhaps, to what he wanted to believe his life was or to what he wanted us to believe his life was. At any rate, I very often felt that I was reading something both intimate and universal. Reading with Henry D. was one of the high points of my year.