Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bad Books Have Value

This past month I've read two quite dreadful books. They were what I describe as skimmers because I wanted to get through them, but I'm just not such a good person that I can bring myself to read every word of stuff like this. Why did I bother reading them at all? Well, I think it's important for writers to read books they believe are bad. It's what they used to call a learning experience.

Book Number One was an adult mystery, English, a series from a few years back that I'd never heard of before. What did this book in, as far as I'm concerned, was the third person omniscient narrator. The book illustrated the problem my editor brought up when I was trying to use that sort of narrator for my second book. Unless the author is very skilled, jumping from one character's mind to another can be very off-putting.

In this case, the book was described as "A Joe Blow Mystery." However, we are in Joe Blow's mind for, I'm guessing, less than half the book. Well less than half the book. We jump from Guy B to Guy C and we even get into the head of a guy who turns up about the mid-point for the sole purpose of being killed. If the book hadn't said "A Joe Blow Mystery" on the cover, quite honestly, I wouldn't have known who the main character was because he often isn't even on stage. The constant movement meant we never knew anyone very well, never had anyone whose thinking we could follow. It also meant we weren't getting a smooth story.

The second book was YA. It probably wasn't a very unique story to begin with, and I got the feeling the author was trying to be instructive, both in terms of life lessons and history lessons.

Plot Project: I forgot about my plot project, in which I try to determine if the plots of books I've read could have been built around giving protagonists something to want and then dropping roadblocks in the way of them getting it. There's no time like the present for picking it up again.

With the Joe Blow Mystery I'd say yes. Joe Blow wants to find out who has been killing young girls. The obstacles to him finding the murderer are so big as to make the story unbelievable. With the second book, I'm guessing we could say yes, too. However, it wasn't something she was aware of wanting or working toward. It was something instructive that a writer might have wanted her protagonist to want in order to write a problemish book.

So I need to try not to do any of those things.

Yes, There Is A Kidlit Connection Here

Yesterday we had the day off from eldercare, so we went to The New Britain Museum of American Art to see the M.C. Escher exhibit, which is closing up shop in just a couple of weeks. Great exhibit, which I probably enjoyed more because I was with a long-time Escher fan, and a great museum. It's not so large that you can't take the whole thing in, but it it's large enough and sophisticated enough to have some good pieces.

Here's the kidlit connection--among its holdings are two works by George Catlin whose life was covered in Susannah Reich's Painting the Wild Frontier.

There's a great cafe there, btw, far better than you usually see at museums. And there's no admission from 10 to 2 on Saturdays.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

Ah, yeah, those first three chapters. I just realized that I need to tinker with them again. Maybe another draft from Chapters Two through Five now. I need to simplify. You don't want to get bogged down in too much stuff. In fact, that's what a lot of my Chapter One through Three revisions (eight so far) have been about.

Simplify. Stay on task.

My theory is that if I can get the beginning of this book right, the rest of it will write itself. I just don't know who will be president by the time that happens.

I'm feeling much better about these rewrites since discovering that I am an organic writer. I no longer feel inept, I feel organic. (Though from the little I've read on this subject, plotters think organic writers are inept.) Anyway, now I feel that I am hunting for story architecture and that makes me feel as if I'm doing something specific rather than just thrasing about.

I know what I will be doing next week. It is so good to have plans.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I've Been Meaning To Mention...

...that the first episode of Sherlock, an up-date on you-know-who, was fantastic. Among its wonderful elements:

Dr. Watson isn't treated like a buffoon the way he often is in Holmes' movies.

Holmes is not adored by one and all, but addressed as "Weirdo" by at least one character and viewed as same by many more. He refers to himself as a "high-functioning sociopath." One who is really into technology. I don't know if I'll ever by able to watch another version of Sherlock Holmes.

Detective Inspector Lestrade is played by Rupert Graves, who was Young Jolyon in The Forsyte Saga. Loved the book series when I was in college, loved this film version years later.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Fate Of Chapter Four

Okay, so I revised Chapter Four again today, after having revised it yesterday, too. I'm feeling much better about it today than I was yesterday.

However, last night/early this morning I planned how I was going to revise Chapter Four and start Five. I don't believe any of it went into Chapter Four, and, in fact, some brand new previously unthought of material went into it this afternoon. What I had planned to be Chapter Five is now Chapter Six. Chapter Five is a chapter from an earlier draft with some brand new material at the beginning--material I only thought of this afternoon.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. Really, it makes me wonder why I try to plan at all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Homer Price In Space?

I didn't read Homer Price until I was an adult. J.L. Bell's post on the book at Oz and Ends reminded me that at the time I read it I thought that a Homer Price-type book set on a space station or an Earth colony on another planet would be a cool idea.

And that's as far as I got with that.

Exactly What I Was Talking About

This is exactly the kind of agent story I was talking about in Burned. Fears of saddling myself with someone like Agent 1 was a big reason why I didn't seek out an agent.

Link from Cynsations.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Excellent Question Regarding Readiness

No, not school readiness. Readiness for publication.

Almost every time writers submit another draft of a manuscript, they believe they're done. They're good to go. But an editorial eye takes a look and sees they're not. In my experience, this is a good thing. It makes me wonder what many of us would publish without editors.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Now There's A Subject For An Author Talk

I find coming up with material for school presentations difficult, particularly since as soon as I'm comfortable with the talk I've prepared for blah-blah-blah book, it goes out of print. Then I also like to do something other authors aren't doing. And I like to something interesting. And it's all another ordeal for me to whine about here.

Camille at BookMoot recently did a post on a Scott Westerfeld appearance during which he talked about something that I can't recall hearing other authors talk about and that sounded very interesting. And it was related to his new books, which most definitely are not out of print.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Story Of The Young Jimi Hendrix

Gary Golio is both a child therapist and a fine artist, and you can see his interests in children and the arts merging in his new book, Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow - A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix. It’s the first of three picture book biographies he has coming out in the next two years. Golio has said that as a child he enjoyed reading about the lives of artists because he wanted to know how to become one and how other people did it. We corresponded recently about how Jimi Hendrix did it for Day 4 of the blog tour for Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow.

Hendrix’s Historical Significance

Jimi Hendrix is an iconic figure of the 1960s. According to his official website, his "innovative style of combining fuzz, feedback and controlled distortion created a new musical form." Golio’s take on Hendrix is that the musician "thought of the guitar as more of a sound machine than a traditional instrument." "Hip-hop artists, classical musicians, jazz and pop players have all been influenced by Jimi’s approach to his instrument," he says, "as well as his boundary-less take on music and creativity in general."

That mix of innovation and influence means that Jimi Hendrix has historic or at least cultural significance, making him an attractive subject for a biographer. But why a biography for children?

A Child’s Creative Process

Javaka Steptoe, Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow’s illustrator, describes the book as being "about the creative process of an artist." More specifically, it’s about the creative process of a particular child becoming an artist. This child didn’t have the benefit of the traditional music training so many of us provide for our young today with private lessons, music in the schools, etc. The boy portrayed in the book wears worn-out clothes and moves frequently because his father is often out of work. He begins his music training strumming on an old broom before moving up to a five-dollar guitar.

Golio describes the young Hendrix as having "a serious sense of determination and commitment in regard to his music," something he believes child readers will understand. "In fact, the yearning to play music can drive a kid to practice and improve regardless of the equipment. I’m also a big believer in the 'competency model' of human development, which places emphasis on how wanting to be good at something can motivate a person to grow, make changes, and accomplish personal goals. It’s a model kids relate to, because it’s ego-enhancing and suits those who are more independently-minded."

An Element Of Mystery In The Hendrix Story

In Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow, Golio uses a lot of imagery related to color. He describes colors connected with natural sounds and says that the young Jimi wondered if someone could paint pictures with sound. "With every sound, a color glowed in Jimmy’s mind." When questioned about the significance of color for Hendrix, Golio said that he had "a very deep and personal connection with color and sound that influenced his thinking, his perception of the world, his experience of life, and his music-making. Many of his songs focus on the interplay between color and sound (Bold As Love, One Rainy Wish, May This Be Love…), and Jimi himself told friends and associates that he played colors—not notes—to evoke emotions and paint pictures in people’s minds."

Hendrix sometimes appears on lists of musicians who experienced synesthesia, a condition in which one type of sensory stimulation is paired with another, unrelated sense. Golio is careful not to diagnose or label him, saying only that he believes Hendrix was gifted. "In truth, whatever forms the totality of any person—particularly a creative one—is a mystery…"

A Hendrix Story For Everybody

The basic story told in Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow is about a determined and committed child sticking with one thing until he could not only do it, but transform it. It’s the kind of book the young Golio used to look for himself—a story of how one person became an artist. The author doesn’t see children as being the book’s only audience, though. "… a picture book is a work of art, to be read and enjoyed by anybody and everybody, regardless of age," he says. "Jimi is for everybody, and I picture the Seattle Guitarmaster sitting in Music Heaven, reading a copy with a broad grin gracing his lovely face."

Gary Golio did an excellent guest post at Mitali's Fire Escape on how race and racism affected Hendrix. You can also listen to a very fine interview he did with Jordan Rich of WBZ AM in Boston.

The Sounds Like A Rainbow blog tour continues with the following stops:

Day 5 - Friday 10/22, Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Day 6 - Monday 10/25, The Fourth Musketeer

Day 7 -Tuesday 10/26, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yeah, I'm An Organic Writer

As usual, I'm, oh, I don't know, 170 posts or so behind with my blog reading. But I'm going to be jumping ahead to keep up with Procrastinating Writers because blogger Jennifer Blanchard is doing posts on preparing for National Novel Writing Month. I don't take part in National Novel Writing Month anymore because 1. In the best of all possible worlds I'm supposed to be writing all the time, anyway, so I shouldn't need a NaNoWriMo, now, should I? and 2. In the world I actually live in, I only write part-time and National Novel Writing Month can only lead to angst and suffering that I will feel compelled to tell you all about.

I want to read Blanchard's posts, though, because I figure preparing for a writing orgy can't be that different from preparing to write anything.

In her post The 5 Things You Absolutely Must Know About Your NaNo Novel Before You Start Writing Blanchard says, "There’s a lot of back-and-forth arguments between writers with regard to the story planning process. Some writers say planning everything out is the only way to go, while others say they can only write “organically” and allow the story to unfold as they write (these people are known as “pantsers”)."

I thought, Oh, thank goodness. There is a word for what I am..."organic." We're just going to pretend we didn't see the other word "pantser." I am an organic writer. I do not like being an organic writer. I want to be a planning writer. However, I believe in being happy with what you have in any particular moment, and right now in this moment I am quite happy to think of myself as organic.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Now What?

I believe the nominating period for the Cybils is closed. Now what do you do until the short-list and winner are announced this winter? You can go over the lists of nominees to see what you've read and what you want to read. You can also follow some of the panelists' blogs to see if they do any reviews of nominees. You'll find the nominees by genre, Team Cybils, and panelists and judges all listed at the Cybils website.

Later this week I'll be linking to any Cybil nominees I happened to read this year. I know there were at least two.


Okay, I've been dwelling on the dark publishing days we're living in right now, and not just because of that essay I just wrote. Remember the post at Shrinking Violet Promotion about authors who decided to move on to something else after publishing didn't work for them? Notice I didn't say "authors who quit." Quitting has a bad connotation. There's nothing wrong with deciding it's time to do something else with your life.

Well, I also read The Evolution of the Literary Agent at Writer's Digest a week or so ago. That's full of thought-provoking material for those who enjoy having their thoughts provoked.

For instance, while discussing changes happening in publishing "right now," agent Wendy Keller discussed the one million books published last year, three-quarters of which are supposed to have been self-published. She said:

"That many “unsupervised” books will definitely tip the ship in the reader’s favor. When all the people who have written and self-published books that don’t sell—and when all the junky books publishers have thrown against the wall using the old “see if it sticks” model have been exhausted—then there will emerge from this desolate landscape a new breed of books that are excellent, well-thought-out, well-formulated, actually useful to the reader (inform, educate, inspire or entertain). In other words, the pendulum will have completed its full swing, back to quality over quantity."

That sounds really great. But what it means is that fewer books will be published and that means fewer authors will be published. I've been hearing for around a decade that too many books are being published. Even before the explosion in self-publishing, conventional wisdom claimed that more books were being published than publishers could market, that more books were being published than the reading public could absorb. The reading "pie" was only so large and too many authors were trying to get a piece of it. As a result, fewer and fewer people were able to make a living with their pens. Or word processors.

But to this day I've never read anything that laid it on the table and made clear that in order to cut back on the numbers of books being published, some authors were going to be left out in the cold. Of course, some writers never get published and that is the way it has always been. But what we're talking about now is published authors, traditionally published as well as self-published, being, essentially, shown the door. And, of course, that's always happened, too. There have always been "one hit wonders" in publishing just as there have been in music. Sales have always been the key to staying in the publishing queue. Limited sales, no place in the line.

The difference now is that we're talking about bigger numbers of authors losing their place in line because so many were published over the past decade and so much money for library and school book purchases has just disappeared. Who will stay and who will go? It's kind of like Dancing With the Stars or American Idol or Last Comic Standing, isn't it?

I'm thinking that the key to survival may be to think about our careers the way we think about houses. In the '90s and early '00s everybody wanted a big house, just as we wanted a big career. But just as we're having trouble sustaining those big houses--the payments, the heating bills, keeping the damn things clean--we're having trouble sustaining the big writing careers with a new book every year or two and lots of public appearances. All we need to do is cut back to whatever we can sustain in terms of a house and a career. We can still have granite counters in the kitchens and bathrooms and some nice windows looking out over the yard, we just won't have so many rooms to maintain. We can still publish our writing, but maybe not as much of it or maybe in different venues.

Maybe we just have to accept that life doesn't necessarily end up being the way we think it will be. But it's still life.

A Little Nepotism

I've just learned that one of those literary tournaments that have become popular recently was conducted back in April at a website called Scarriet. The Nootch referred to in the first paragraph is my cousin.

A New Essay Published

My essay, Burned, has been published at The Millions. The essay deals with what's been happening with me professionally the last couple of years. That probably won't be news to some of you. However, if you read Burned, you'll also learn about one of my TV viewing preferences.

And you've all been dying to know that.

Burned isn't the first essay I've published, and I have a number of unfinished essays filed away here and there around the office. This fall I came up with an idea for a book that would appear to be a collection of the main character's unpublished essays. All you would know about her was what was revealed through her writing.

It's not an idea I'm rushing to work with. I'm afraid it would end up being too much like those books that are all letters or journal entries.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Tour With Hendrix

The blog tour for Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow--A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio with illustrations by Javaka Steptoe starts tomorrow and runs for more than a week.

Day 1 - Monday 10/18, Picture Book of the Day

Day 2 - Tuesday 10/19, Mitali's Fire Escape

Day 3 - Wednesday 10/20, The Brown Bookshelf

Day 4 - Thursday 10/21, Original Content

Day 5 - Friday 10/22, Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Day 6 - Monday 10/25, The Fourth Musketeer

Day 7 -Tuesday 10/26, Great Kid Books

Yes, as you can see, I am on tour with Hendrix. I interviewed author Gary Golio about Hendrix's historic significance and the creative process while still a child. You can read all about it on Thursday.

Jimi Hendrix was barely on my radar when I was young, but I've become very interested in him as a result of my experience reading this book and working on this blog tour. I'll be following the whole tour.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

So I Did Work This Weekend

Just yesterday I talked about trying to work on the weekends. Well, this morning, while working in a family member's yard, the brain was snapping away on The Fletcher Farm Body (or should I call it The Fletchers of Grand Mount?). I came up with a couple of ways for my main character to learn important information. I also realized that I need to dump another chapter.

Just about a month ago, I wrote here about having revised the first three chapters of the present project for the sixth time. Well, soon after that I realized that the third chapter had to go. It had to be replaced entirely. Why? Because I took my character away from his task so he could visit a place I like and I could write cool, amusing stuff about it. But I wasn't staying on task with my writing subject.

So, that wasn't too bad, but then last week I finally accepted something that I had been trying to avoid. A character needed to go. She was a very, very cool adult character. But her function was going to end up being providing information for the main character. No, no, no. It's about the kids, stupid. The task of a children's book is to be about kids. So I worked this week on getting rid of her.

This morning while I was doing yard work I also came up with some ideas for beefing up a teen character, who has not yet appeared in this draft, to take over some of the function of the adult character I eliminated last week.

The chapter I decided to eliminate this morning is going off to join other abandoned work because it doesn't get my main character any closer to accomplishing his task.

It's all about the task. Goals. Objectives. Stay...on...task.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rah! Rah! Rah!

I "liked" Procrastinating Writers Facebook page. Now on Fridays I'll often find a post on my news feed saying something like "What's everybody writing this weekend?!!" At first this was demoralizing because my Saturdays are spent making the rounds of relatives, and on Sunday I'm usually struggling to clean a toilet, fold last week's laundry, vacuum for the first time in weeks, or make a feeble attempt to think about what we'll be eating for the next couple of days.

But I have to say, on a couple of recent weekends I've managed to do a few minutes of something like work, even if it meant just reading over a few paragraphs. That little bit of "work" gets me primed for Monday, meaning I can get into a real work day faster.

So, yay, Facebook.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Story Of A Boy And The Woman Who Loves Him

Perhaps some of you remember when, a year or so ago, I was seeing father stories everywhere. Well, in Factotum by D.M. Cornish I'm seeing a mother/son bond between an impressively nonmaternal woman and her "little man," who doesn't even notice her lack of hugs and kisses because he's never known anything like a mother, anyway. Or a father, either.

Factotum is the concluding book in what used to be known as the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy but has been renamed The Foundling's Tale trilogy, at least in this country. (The author is Australian and the series has retained its original name somewhere, presumably there.) It's set in a world called the Half-Continent in which everymen must protect themselves from a wide array of different types of monsters. Some monsters are truly monsterish, others far less so.

The first book, The Foundling, was a journey story about young Rossamund leaving the orphanage in which he's always lived to travel to Wintersmill where he is to train as a lamplighter, one of the people who light lamps along the highway late in the day and then put them out early in the morning. He's kidnapped along the way and falls in with an aristocratic and personally powerful monster killer, Europe, who is one kickass woman. The second book, Lamplighter, is about identity. Rossamund is beginning on what he believes is to be his life's work. But questions arise about just who he is, questions that put him in danger. In Factotum Rossamund is now a general and rather important assistant to Europe. (By the way, I want my own factotum.) It becomes clear early on in this volume just who he is. The question dealt with for the rest of the book is what will become of him because of it?

I found the plot murkier in Factotum than in the earlier books. It wasn't until the end that I realized that someone (who shall remain nameless so as to avoid spoilers) had been guiding things for a while. Before that events seemed a little random to me. Things get a little rushed toward the end of this book, too. Some bad guys from book two are dispatched offstage, for instance. Someone comes and tells the main characters about it in order to take care of that old storyline. Anyone who stumbles upon this book without having read the first two is going to have a difficult time, since there are references to characters in earlier books who never appear here. You really need to treat this trilogy as a serial and read it as such.

One of the strongest assets of these books is the world building. But this time I felt almost overwhelmed by it. There are so many created people and things that I often felt as if I were reading a foreign language. Factotum, like the earlier books in the series, includes a glossary. I found myself using it the way I would a French dictionary.

Nonetheless, The Foundling's Tale deals with a lot of true YA themes within its demanding setting. Who am I? What am I going to be? How do I separate from loved ones? And though it includes a very powerful adult character, she frequently needs the assistance of the child protagonist. You don't have a grown-up fixing everything here.

This past year I read two series, one of which included eighteen or nineteen books. The thing I learned from those experiences is that the best way to read a series is all at once--just get yourself into that world and stay there for the duration. Now that The Foundling's Tale is completed, readers can do just that.

A letter from the editor, which came with the ARC, suggested that while Rossamund's tale is done, the author may be writing more books set in his world, the Half-Continent.

Factotum will be published in November.

NOTE: This post was edited to eliminate a spoiler.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Well, That Hit A Nerve

Last month Shrinking Violets did a post called For Those We Lose Along The Way, dealing with authors who have become demoralized even after publication and thrown in the towel. It was followed by many comments.

As a general rule, I'm not all that interested in getting together with others to dish about woe. I'm more a look for a positive moment to live in and get on with it type of person. But, you know, that was good. Damn good.

Link from Cynsations.

A Lesson In Writing Humor From Scott Adams

Check out How to Write Like a Cartoonist by Scott Adams to get an idea about how humor should be written.

By the way, Adams has quite an impressive blog, with posts that read like personal essays. In fact, I think that's what they are.

I'm the only person at Chez Gauthier who has never been a major fan of Adams' Dilbert books. Some family members would suggest that this is because it's been so long since I've held anything like a so-called real job. However, I would definitely read a collection of Adams' essays.

The Zen Shorts Guy Has A New Book

Zen Shorts

Interview with Jon J. Muth on Zen Ghosts.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"What Is Steampunk, You Ask?"

Last month, author Arthur Slade talked about steampunk at Cynsations.

I recently gave my niece Airborn with a note saying that it was an example of steampunk. So I've been concerned that she might ask me what it is. I like Slade's definition--"it’s science fiction inspired by the aesthetics and atmosphere of the Victorian era." Now I just have to rework "aesthetics" and maybe even "Victorian era" for a twelve-year-old.

Friday, October 08, 2010

This Explains A Lot

I fall into almost all the Top 10 Productivity Pitfalls for Writers to Avoid. The only one I'm sometimes able to avoid is No. 2. I'm definitely able to set short-term goals. Big on the old goals.

I'm not going to beat myself up about this because, seriously, if I were to work on all the things I do wrong, I wouldn't be able to do anything else.

Link from Cynsations.

Well, At Least It's A Golden Age For Children's Literature

I heard Richard Peck speak once, and my experience was that this guy is not shy about saying what's on his mind. He recently spoke at the New England Booksellers Association's conference where he described his writing career as having "fallen between two great revolutions, the revolution of the 1970s that cost us our system of learning and literacy, and the present, electronic, digital revolution that is bombing the ruins."

I am sure there are people who would beg to differ. But I do like to know where a person stands, and there's no doubt with Peck.

He also described us as being in a golden age for children's literature. "Never in the history of any country or language has so much talent, graphic and linear, shared its gifts with the young."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Hey, I've Heard Of The Hemingway Method

Years ago I read that Ernest Hemingway always finished his writing day knowing exactly what he'd write first thing the next day. Gail Giles describes what she calls The Hemingway Method in a guest post on writer's block at Cynsations.

I used to be on a listserv with Gail Giles. I believe I was known there as "the other Gail." As long as I was known as somebody, I was happy.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

For You Hardy Boy Fans

The Hardy Boys Need No Eulogy at The Millions.

I must admit, I read that title and thought, Did they die?

I must also admit that while I would have sucked up every word if this essay had been about Nancy Drew, I only skimmed a few paragraphs since it wasn't.

I Must Get To The Sales Too Late To See These People

Confessions of a Used-Book Salesman.

One of the things that interested me about this piece was it's tone--confessional, of course, as if the author is exposing something negative about himself. That is the case with many personal essays. I must say, that it is the case in some that I've written.

Why do we feel a need to expose our flaws? What's more, in many cases (such as this one) the flaws aren't all that flaw-like. Come on. He traffics in used books, not drugs or prostitutes.

I wondered about how this could have been rewritten in a joyful way. Hey, I've got this great device that helps me to do my job faster and without having to have a lot of knowledge about what I do!

I guess that would be an advertisement rather than an essay.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Upcoming Kidlit Events In Connecticut

Book Launch Party: This Saturday, October 9, from 12:30 to 1:30 at the Lutz Children's Museum in Manchester. This is a launch for Leonardo's Monster by Jane Sutcliffe. I understand that refreshments will be served.

Tassy Walden Awards Submission Workshop: Thursday, October 14, from 7 to 9 pm at Barnes and Noble, Glastonbury. This is one of four workshops being held this month to assist Connecticut writers and illustrators considering submitting material for the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children's Literature, which is becoming rather a big deal here. This particular workshop will be facilitated by Lynda Mullaly Hunt whose book, One For The Murphys, won the award last year and will be published by Nancy Paulsen Books in 2012. The workshop is free, but they are asking for reservations, which can be made by email to

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Flow Thing

I can't make any big claims about writing in a flow state. However, I do think that when I'm...shall we say...flowing?...I continue to work after I leave my work station. Thoughts come unbidden while I'm making dinner and cleaning toilets. Problems are resolved while I'm driving or mowing the lawn. I have more breakout experiences.

I've had problems getting to that point this past year because I'm most likely to get into a flowish-like state when I'm working regularly. I have to stay involved with the work. As in every day. With the schedule I'm living with now of work work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and family work on Tuesday, Thursday, and weekends, it's hard for me to stay involved enough to keep my mind working away while the rest of me is doing something else.

I had something interesting happen this weekend related to this. Out of the blue a writer friend I haven't spoken to since maybe March called me Saturday evening. A family member claims we talked for an hour and a half, though I wouldn't know. (Hmmm. Perhaps I was in flow.) I found the experience stimulating enough that I couldn't wait until Monday to get back to work.

So yesterday afternoon, while sitting next to a fire to tend a pot on some coals (I'll spare you the details about how I got started on that) instead of reading a magazine I brought my workbook with me and worked out what I needed to do today to, essentially, deep-six a chapter and replace it with something else that would incorporate some of the same material and yet be totally different.

As a result, today's work went really well, in spite of having a plumber sharing the house with me for the better part of the day.

So I'm thinking that I really need to do something--even something small--every day.

Yeah, another desperate plan. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Vampire Book For Teens Who Want To Think

Fat Vampire by Adam Rex is not a perfect book. But, then, I don't read a lot of those.

Fat Vampire is an ambitious book. It starts out as a novel version of one of those unpopular/outsider teen boy movies, complete with a trip to Comic-Con. Doug, our main character, is a recently turned vampire trying to stay under the radar. Becoming a vampire was a major surprise for old Doug, and when our story starts, he's really just trying to function. That's all a lot of fun because Doug is no Edward Whatshisname from Twilight. He's no sparkly beauty, he's not rich, and he doesn't even have his driver's license at the beginning of the story so forget about a hot car. Oh, and yes, he's pudgy. (Though we're not talking anything like Jules Duchon in Fat White Vampire Blues.) So the clash between vampire story and outcast teen boy story generates laughs.

The problem is that Rex wants to do more than just be funny. He wants to do some deep, thinking stuff here, and I give him credit for that. An older vampire explains to Doug how he changed from something loathsome to a more palatable type of vampire because the "world changed its mind" about what vampires were after Dracula was published. When he says, "How often do we find ourselves pulled to other people, becoming a different kind of person whilst inside their aura? How often do we remake ourselves to suit the expectations of society?" I thought, Damn, he's not talking about vampires! He's talking about life! And later when Doug starts thinking about how he had been using humor--that was a theory of humor I'd never heard before. I was impressed.

The problem, though, is that the more ambitious parts of the book aren't integrated into the teen boy comedy parts all that well. The plot is probably a little clunky, too, with people being brought in here and there to serve certain purposes in the plot. Which, in reality, is what always happens in books--you bring in characters to do certain things. But I think they're something else that's not that well integrated.

The ending is odd for a YA novel, which is not a complaint as far as I'm concerned. I just reread it, and I think I get it, but I'm not sure.

Fat Vampire is an example of a book that deserves to be read and discussed, in spite of its flaws, because of what it tries to do. Some readers at goodreads appear to be disappointed because it isn't a straight American Pie vampire story. But I think others who are attracted to it for it's just-plain-fun elements will be surprised to find themselves enjoying the thinking bits, too.

Blog Buddy Quoted

Camille Powell of BookMoot was quoted in an article on the Ellen-Hopkins-invitation-retraction thing that was all over the place at the end of the summer. We're talking about an article in Time, people.

Friday, October 01, 2010


The nomination period for the Cybils starts today and runs until October 15th. Scroll down to each category title and you'll find a link so you can check out the nominees to date (and there are already a lot).

Ah, the Cybils. I get excited and nostalgic all at the same time. I can't help but fondly remember my months as a panelist/judge during the Cybils' first year, when a somewhat stunned looking FedEx guy kept coming to my door with bags of books. Good times, good times.

Carnival Time

The September Carnival of Children's Books is up at Great Kid Books. It's a particularly festive one, and I would say that even if I didn't have a dog in the race. (I was able to pull my act together enough to submit a post this month.)