Monday, February 28, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I've Mentioned How Much I Like Noir, Haven't I?

Griff Carver, Highway Patrol by Jim Krieg is not the first book to bring a hard-boiled noir hero into a middle school. (See The Big Splash, which was published in 2008.) But it's an excellent offering in what might be called a child noir genre.

Griff Carver isn't a private eye, like Matt Stevens in The Big Splash and some of the classic mid-twentieth century adult noir books. Instead, he's a hallway patrol officer, what you might call a noir cop. He was a hallway patrol officer at his old school, where he did something, we're not sure what, that has made him legendary but also meant he needed to change schools. His mother (known quaintly as "the Old Lady") believes he's going to stay away from the law in his new stomping ground, but he can't give up another chance to wear the badge and joins the patrol on his very first day.

In the middle school world Griff inhabits, we find a head cop, a tough female reporter, and a crooked politician. There's also what sounds like a Chucky Cheese takeoff where a grieving lawman can drown his sorrows in way too many caffeinated soft drinks.

And, finally, there is Tommy, who I guess is the by-the-book officer every tough cop dreads being paired up with. Tommy is terrific.

Griff Carver is told through different points of view, by way of incident reports from Tommy to the head of the hallway patrol, the reporter's reluctantly maintained journal, and the transcripts of Griff's meetings with a guidance counselor. These devices work far better than many point-of-view switches do.

The library where I found this book and Amazon both classify it as YA. I'm not sure what that's about. Perhaps the noir style is considered too sophisticated for middle grade readers? The dark underside of the school is too scary?

Plot Project:The plot here is a traditional noir plot retrofitted for a kids' book. And that's good.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Know A Judge!

The judges for The Battle of the Kids' Books have been announced, and I actually know one. And I don't mean I actually know her in the sense that we have commented on each other's blogs or Facebook walls. No, I mean I've actually been in the same room with her. And I don't mean I've actually been in the same room with her the way I've actually been in the same room with Richard Peck, who is also a judge this year. No, I mean we were actually in the same room, and we actually spoke to each other. I was in the same room with Richard Peck, but he did all the speaking from the stage.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Knew Her Sister!

Okay, I've been hearing a lot recently about a book called The Romeo and Juliet Code. Lots of people have been hearing about it, right? But I've just been skimming things, liked the idea of the book being about a girl relocated to the U.S. during World War II, thought I'd read it if I got the chance.

Well, just now on Facebook I saw a message on my wall from the New England Independent Booksellers Association in which it was promoting the book saying it was "by Phoebe Stone (Middlebury, VT)"


I grew up about 30 minutes from Middlebury. It was the cool place for us to go in high school. It was also the town I had in mind when creating East Branbury, Vermont for Saving the Planet & Stuff.

But, more importantly, I know the Stone name because Phoebe's sister, Abigail, was in my eighth grade math class! With Mrs. Welton!

Now, I would have forgotten all this because we weren't close, and I don't recall Abigail other than that math class. But years later, I learned that her mother, Ruth, is a well-known poet and that others in the family were also writers. In fact, I believe Abigail has published some books, too.

My limited connection with the family came about when they lived in Goshen, Vermont. We went to a union high school that included seven towns. Goshen and Sudbury were two of the tiniest and not near one another. The Gauthiers were a Franco-American farm family (farm is a little too grand a word--subsistence farm would be more accurate), and I knew nothing about the literary Stones, didn't know they were literary, would probably not have known what that meant then if I had. I had no idea what the family had been through with the loss of their father (which would happen in my family when I was a senior in high school). Abigail liked to wear hats, if I recall. That's it.

But I'm just so blown away that two such dramatically different people from nearby locations are so many years later working in the same field. Totally independent of one another. Totally unaware of one another.

Okay, in my carbon-based world, if I told this story to the people I know someone would be sure to say, "Get over it, Gail. It happens all the time." Which is why I am telling this story here.

Oh, and I wrote to my friend Pam about this.

UPDATE: Pam says it was ninth grade math, not eighth grade, and that seems correct.

Talking About Public Speaking Is Kind Of Like Talking About A School Appearance

The Jan/Feb Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators's Bulletin includes an article by Susan Salzman Raab called Public Speaking Primer. I zeroed in on it because I'm still obsessing over my upcoming school visit, and what is a school visit but public speaking? The public you're speaking to is just sitting on the floor at your feet instead of in chairs.

While describing a presentation's content, Susan says, "Lay out a roadmap for your speech. First, introduce your audience to topics you'll cover, then expand on each of them in the middle of your presentation, finally, close by recapping key points."

This, folks, is what I'd call the classic essay format--Introduction, elaboration, and conclusion. Or, you might also say, Tell them what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them. I do use something very similar with my two standard presentations for schools. "Today, we're going to talk about...." Then we talk about it. Then I conclude with how they can use what we talked about in their own writing.

I think this is a good format for a speech or presentation. Years ago, I was sitting in church, actually listening to a sermon, when I realized that the minister was using topic sentences. She had written out her sermon in an essay format with a thesis statement and topic sentences that kept referring back to the thesis statement. Though I have no recollection of the sermon now, I was able to follow it quite easily at the time, which doesn't happen for me when I'm listening to ministers who are relying on Divine inspiration instead of good essay writing skills when they're standing at a pulpit.

By the way, I met Susan Salzman Raab while standing in line to get something signed at last fall's Connecticut Children's Book Fair.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Watch Sayid Sing And Dance

I saw Bride and Prejudice this weekend, which is Pride and Prejudice with some Bollywood treatment. Loved it, though I do think the American actors were pretty bland. And while Lalita (the Elizabeth Bennett character) seemed very twenty-first century and said she likes to work, we never hear anything about what she does, if anything. But it was terrific picking out all the bits from the original book and being able to shout out to the other person in the room, "That's from the book!" or "Wait 'til you see what the sister does!"

And what was really terrific was watching Naveen Andrews from Lost suddenly begin singing and dancing. I watched that scene four times Saturday and twice today.

I now have a family member whose entire knowledge of Pride and Prejudice comes from watching this movie.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Okay. This Year They Got Me.

I'm not that keen on competitions because, you know, we should all be in the moment, work for the sake of the work, take what we can from any experience without thoughts of winners and losers. Yes, I am like that.

But this year, The Ring of Solomon is a contender, and I'd like to see it do well. I also appreciate the fact that both As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth and The Cardturner are included because they are both unusual, nontrendy, even mature reads, in a nonsexual, nondeath and dying sort of way. (The organizers must have thought they were similar in some way, too, since they will be competing against each other.)

So I'll be paying attention this year, at least so long as my favorites are still in the running.

Liz B.'s post won me over.

Martin Amis Trapped In Children's Literature

You recall that author Martin Amis said he might write a children's book if he had a serious brain injury, but otherwise probably not? Illustrator Patricia Storm thought "Perhaps Mr. Amis just needs to 'get into' some classic kidlit characters in order to truly appreciate the beauty of children's literature." She helps him to do so at her blog BookLust.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I've Found Still More On School Visits

You can listen to two authors experienced with school visits discuss the subject at Katie Davis's Brain Burps blog. Look for School Visit Questions with Expert Alexis O'Neil . (I'm having trouble linking things exactly as I'd like.)

The discussion doesn't start right off in the podcast, and I eventually lost my connection, living, as I do, on top of the Internet hellmouth. I think it will be of most interest to other experienced school presenters. (But, remember, I didn't hear the whole thing.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

She Says It All About The Latest Artemis

I just finished reading Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer. I think I'm just going to refer you to this review by Linda Buckley-Archer. As she says, there are many "comic delights" to be had in this book. (Mulch Diggums is close to being my favorite character in this series). But, yes, "electing to have a hero who annoys and a villain who elicits sympathy does run the risk of sapping the narrative energy." And I do have to agree that we're talking "plotting that doesn't entirely satisfy." But without a doubt the book is filled with "humour and brilliant inventiveness."

As far as the plotting goes, this is book 7 in the series, and I have a feeling I may have missed book 6. There are definitely references to action that is unfamiliar to me. I was able to follow the book, nonetheless, but may have enjoyed it more if I'd planned my reading better. The series seems to have become more of a serial, and readers need to accept serials for what they are and plan their reading accordingly. I stumbled there.

Read 6 first!

Now I will go back to my own work in progress and its plotting that doesn't entirely satisfy me.

I Will Be Obsessing Over School Visits For The Next Couple Of Weeks

Lovely Local Visit.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let's Read About Something That Could Really Happen

I've realized over the past year that I seem to be reading more YA than children's fiction. I think this is because the library I frequent buys a lot of children's series that are often about princesses or are some kind of retold fairy tale or are about girl cliques or are of the generic fantasy variety rather than the witty or edgie fantasy I prefer.

Right now I'm interested in more realistic fiction for the younger reader, which is why I picked up Rex Zero The Great Pretender by Tim Wynne-Jones. (At the same library, as a matter of fact. Maybe the children's librarian is interested in a bit of realism right now, too.) Rex Zero The Great Pretender is most definitely a story about a realistic kid with a realistic life, at least, if you were living in Ottawa in the 1960s.

The Rex Zero books are also a series, the first of which, Rex Zero and the End of the World, I liked a great deal. I wasn't as taken with The Great Pretender, but that doesn't mean kids won't be.

The Great Pretender is a case study in the problems children's books face because they must get past adult readers like myself before they reach their ultimate audience, kids. Adult readers will have read plenty of books about boys with problems like the ones Rex faces in this volume--he's being forced to move with his family, once again, he's being tormented by a bully, and his mom's acting oddly. It sounds very familiar to me, but then I've been reading for a long, long time. Children in the 9-years-old and up age range this book is marketed to haven't been reading anywhere near as long, and they are closer to dealing with the kind of life that Rex is living.

There are plenty of child readers out there who prefer reality in their reading and the Rex Zero books are a good option for them. I'd start them out with The End of the World first, though. The Great Pretender will be better appreciated by readers who are fans of the whole series.

Plot Project: The plot for Rex Zero The Great Pretender definitely could be of the give-a-character-something-he-wants-(friends and stability) and-then-put-up-some-obstacles-to-him-getting-it form.

Monday, February 14, 2011

You Probably Already Know About The Cybil Winners

The Cybil winners were all over Facebook today, so I'm very late with this link. Still, here are the Winners of the 2010 Cybils Awards.

School Visit Coming Up

I have a school visit coming up next month. Now that I know that event is on the horizon for me, I decided to read a SCBWI Tri-Regions of Southern California Schmooze post that I heard about through the kidlitosphere listserv and have been holding until I had time to look at it. I don't actually have the time, but I had the motivation to checkout the schmooze's write-up on its Expert Panel on Author Visits.

Friday, February 11, 2011

British Authors Are So Much Fun

Martin Amis: Only brain injury could make me write for children

Hmmm. Exactly what kind of brain injury compels someone to write for children?

I often read outrageous comments by British authors in that nation's papers. I would never see them without the Internet. Bless Al Gore for inventing it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Yeah, I Could Do That

I am good at working a room if I'm in charge of the event and have responsibility for making sure everyone is comfortable. For instance, I successfully ran a funeral luncheon last year as well as a wedding rehearsal dinner. Perhaps people didn't have as good a time at the rehearsal dinner as I thought they did, and maybe people were inappropriately relaxed at the funeral luncheon, but I went home satisfied after both.

I am nowhere near as good a guest, or perhaps I should say an "attendee," as I am a host. After the last event I attended, for instance, a very dear, kind acquaintance e-mailed me to say I hadn't looked well and asked if I was alright. I was once at an awards ceremony and introduced to the editor of a city newspaper by one of her co-workers. Ever hear the expression "cut dead?" I have never been blown off so completely by anyone in my entire life. And I was one of the freaking nominees! Well, guess what? That editor got fired! Her entire section of the newspaper is gone! So there!

Let's see, where was I? Oh, yes, given my said track record as a professional hand-shaker/backslapper, I thought I'd better read How to Mingle at Publishing Events at Blue Rose Girls. I enjoyed it.

I particularly liked Suggestion 2, "Have a goal/agenda for the event." I say, set the goal high. Plan to speak to ten or twelve people. Plan to introduce yourself to M.T. Anderson or Jane Yolen. Or if they're both there, plan to introduce yourself to both of them. At the same time. While they're at dinner.

I also liked Suggestion 5, "Have some conversation topics prepared." Oh, my gosh. Let's see..."What do you think the ratio of men to women is here?" "How do you think the keynote speaker got this gig? Because, you know, her last book sucked. Sure, it sucked in that formulaic way that awards committees love, but sucking is sucking, is it not?" "You know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see Sarah Palin write a picture book. No? What about Bristol? Her kid could be the main character. Or maybe someone could do a chapter book--a whole series--about that little Palin, Piper, who everyone's so crazy about."

I'm registered for a NESCBWI event in March. And now I'm ready.

I found the Blue Rose Girls post through Cynsations.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

How Do We Feel About The Term "Kidlit?"

On the kidlitosphere listserv we've been hashing out whether or not the term "kidlit" is offensive, to whom, and should we do something about it. Oddly enough, sometime in the last month or two someone in my carbon-based world asked me if I was offended by the term "kidlit" because he or she (I truly can't remember who it was) had heard it was derogatory.

I've heard it's derogatory, too. Unfortunately, I didn't hear that until the term had become part of my vocabulary. For me it expresses the idea of a culture that includes writers, readers, publishers, reviewers, academics, and everyone else involved in any aspect of children's literature. I think of it has a descriptive term for a working/reading culture. And it's a term that many people, especially here on the Internet, recognize and understand immediately.

Within the academic world and, I understand, the field of library science, the term has often been used to demean those who work in the field of children's literature. There really is no such thing as separate but equal. If two groups are not the same, one must be inferior to the other, and a field that involves children, who are powerless in our society, gets the inferiority label. Over the years, women have been associated with children's literature--in publishing and in academia. Historically, they've struggled with the power thing, too. Dr. Francelia Butler is an illustrative case. (I was what was essentially an administrative assistant in the College of Extended and Continuing Education at the University of Connecticut when Butler brought Margaret Hamilton to the campus.)

So "kidlit" has a history, and I respect history. It also has a new life here on the Internet where children's literature bloggers have claimed it. For them it is all new and represents their literary life networking with other children's literature people all over the globe.

A search of my blog indicates I've used "kidlit" 202 times over the last nearly nine years. It also appears in the masthead to this blog. I'm going to eliminate it from my writing in the future out of respect for the people like Butler who came before me and for the people who even now are struggling with lack of respect for their work. After all, I jump up and down in indignation when people use "suffragette" instead of "suffragist," and don't get me started on using "girl" to describe females of voting age.

I will have to leave "kidlit" in the masthead, though, because I'm part of the contemporary Internet kidlitosphere, and there just isn't another term that describes that world.

So that's how I feel about the term "kidlit."

UPDATE: Author Katie Davis covers this subject at her most recent Brain Burps podcast. She had permission to quote from the e-mail discussion at the listserv. She quotes primarily from the people in favor of using "kidlit," though she did question Betsy Bird on the subject (A line from one of Betsy's Fuse #8 blog posts inspired the whole discussion.) and Betsy did a good job of explaining the position of the people who object to the term.

This was my first time listening to Brain Burps. It made me wish I had a more sophisticated method for listening to podcasts, something beyond sitting in front of my computer while the sound pours out of it, with nothing to do but stare at my screen.(I have played solitaire while listening to podcasts, but not this time.) That being the case, I only listened to the terminology discussion, which came during the first fifteen minutes.

Monday, February 07, 2011

My Favorite Djinni

Almost immediately after learning that Bartimaeus was back in a prequel to The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I stumbled upon said book, The Ring of Solomon, in my local library. Yes, I often feel embarrassed being beating out all the YAs in town to be the first to read a new YA title. I just don't feel embarrassed enough to stop doing it.

In The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud we see Bartimaeus, a reluctant, sarcastic, hysterically funny djinni, in an adventure that takes place well before the time of The Bartimaeus Trilogy. That series took place in an alternate contemporary England. Bartimaeus, however, has been around for a couple of thousand years. The Ring of Solomon takes place in what I can only call an alternate Old Testament world.

In the universe of the Bartimaeus books, magicians call various spirits out of another dimension, where they appear to be quite formless and happy, and enslave them to do all kinds of things for them. These spirits can take any form, flipping from demonic to human and everything in between. Bartimaeus takes different forms, but he is always the same character, whether he's in the shape of a handsome young Summerian male or something with a tail and maybe horns.

The set up in this book involves King Solomon, who has a ring that controls an incredibly powerful spirit. His kingdom of Jerusalem is filled with powerful magicians, all with an eye on the ring. Solomon, who only has 700 wives, has an eye on the Queen of Sheba. Through some political skulduggery, the Queen learns that Solomon is going to attack her kingdom. The Queens of Sheba surround themselves with female heriditary guards. This queen sends a young guard named Asmira to assasinate Solomon and steal the ring. Asmira runs into Bartimaeus who has been enslaved by one of Solomon's more evil magicians.

And fun and adventure and explosions follow.

Stroud sometimes writes from the point of view of characters other than Bartimaeus. These sections are clearly marked and written in the third person, while Bartimaeus's sections are in the first person. Sometimes we see Bartimaeus from these other characters' points of view (particularly Asmira's), sometimes we're just getting story. There's nothing wrong with this, but, loving Bartimaeus, as I do, I miss him when he's not on center stage. And I'm going to do a bit of nitpicking here and say that we also get some anachronisms from Bart. For instance, at one point he wishes he had some popcorn while watching some disasterous scene. It's funny, but out of place. He's not traveling back and forth in time; he hasn't brought knowledge of popcorn back from the future. He hasn't gotten to popcorn times yet. Okay, maybe they did have popcorn in 950 B.C.E., but someone's going to have to prove to me that they had a tradition of chowing down on it while watching entertainment.

But what are a few minor anachronisms, right?

While I was reading The Ring of Solomon, I kept wishing I was still teaching Sunday school. Hey, wouldn't reading this book be an enriching activity for some religion class studying the Old Testament! (Not that I recall covering the Queen of Sheba's encounter with Solomon. In my experience, Christian education texts tend to focus on Solomon's wisdom, not his way with the ladies.) I also kept looking at the picture of Jonathan Stroud at the back of the book and thinking, This guy looks so serious. Yeah, he looks as if he ought to be teaching Sunday school and not making jokes about elephants breaking wind.

I hope The Ring of Solomon means we're going to be seeing more of Bartimaeus. I wouldn't mind seeing him with Asmira again, too. She seems to be his kind of woman.

Plot Project: My guess is that once Stroud came up with the idea of mixing Bartimaeus with King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, he didn't have to worry much about what he was going to do for a plot. I think the plot must have grown from there, rather than giving Bartimaeus something to want and then coming up with ways to keep him from getting it.

Could This Be The Beginning Of A Turn Toward Reading?

E-Readers Catch Younger Eyes.

Branding = Identity?

We've all been hearing about branding for authors for a few years now. Sometimes it sounds very hardcore marketing/sales, something that not everyone is comfortable embracing. But this post at Seekerville makes branding sound more like recognizing an author's identity. Having an identity--knowing who you are--might be something that can help writers with the day-to-day writing process, forget about being able to present yourself to the public and publishing world in a quick way.

My identity as a writer is something I've been toying with in those rare moments when I can toy with anything. I used to think of myself as an outsider writer, someone who wrote characters who existed outside the mainstream of the literary worlds in which they existed. Since I believe children are outsiders in that they are powerless, adults run the world and control them, I felt comfortable in what I was writing for them.

With the Hannah and Brandon Stories, however, I felt I was moving from writing about outsiders to writing about children trying to control the worlds they lived in and take control of who they will be. That was even more so the case with Becoming Greg and Emma, which has yet to find a publishing home. Again, I felt control themes were appropriate in children's books because powerless child readers could see child characters trying to exert power.

It is a shift in identity/branding for me, though, and I have occasionally wondered who I am as a writer now. On top of that, I don't know if either of my identities/brands are ones that the publishing industry can recognize or market.

Okay, the rare moment when I can think about this has passed. I must go on to work.

I found the Seekerville post through Routines for Writers.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Not Crazy About Lists

I heard about Bitch magazine's 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader, probably on Facebook, but never looked at it because I'm not super fond of lists, anyway, and this one had 100 items. Sorry. I'm lazy and probably shallow, too.

Well, evidently the list hit the fan, as they say, and three titles have been removed. Colleen will give you the lowdown.

There are so many issues with this whole thing: What's the point of any list, anyway? Why do people feel compelled to pull a list out of the sky? What was the point of this specific list? Who was in charge? What did they use for criteria? Why did they put books on the list they hadn't read?

And those are the questions I can think of without addressing whether or not Bitch should have removed titles when readers objected to them.

By the way, Tender Morsels was one of the books dropped from the list. I am mortified to say that I can barely recall the scene that caused the uproar.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Attending A Conference In My Sweatpants

Last night I checked out The Official SCBWI Conference Blog, which is, in case you haven't looked at it, a blog relating to the SCBWI's Winter Conference that was held in New York City last week. It's a neat idea because it opens the conference up a bit to all of us who weren't there. And, in my case, to someone who has never been to an annual conference.

I was particularly taken with the post about Sara Zarr's Keynote address. She is semi-quoted (paraphrased, I guess) as having said, "Your greatest creation is your creative life...Rejection can't take it away; reviews can't take it away. The life you create for yourself as an artist, may be the only thing that's really yours..." That is sooooo true. "Celebrate career milestones, but remember that they aren't the point. What's important is the love of the work." Yes! Yes, yes, yes.

Because sometimes the milestones don't come. Or sometimes they come for a while and then don't any longer. If you don't have a creative life that you enjoy, those TV adverts for antidepressants are going to have special meaning for you.

Book Orphans?

During my time in the office that I told you about yesterday, I found my copy of Pucker, a book I remember fondly from my Cybils' year. I thought I'd see what the author had been doing since 2006, when Pucker was published.

Well, if you go to author Melanie Gideon's website (which is kind of like a blog disguised as a website), you'll see prominent information about her memoir, The Slippery Year. (Published in 2009.) The most recent information at the Home Page/Blog indicates that she's working on a new novel Wife 22, which sold last year.

She refers to it as "my new novel," but the quote she's posted from Publisher's Lunch describes it as a "debut novel," even though it is, in fact, her third. I've heard of this kind of thing happening before. If you write something in a genre you're not associated with, you can be called a debut writer. To me this is a little like being referred to as a virgin every time you begin a new relationship.

Anyway, the only reference I could find to Pucker at this site was on the About page, which inclues the sentence "She is the author of two young adult novels, The Map that Breathed and Pucker."

This is such a shame because Pucker is an excellent book (as I remember it, anyway) that deserves to be supported and brought to readers' attention, even if it is five years old and thus not this season's shiny, new thing and even if it is YA and its author is now writing in other genres. At its own author's site, the book is nearly abandoned.

Though this site is built around a blog-like structure, there is a dedicated page for the memoir. How difficult would it have been to also create a page for the author's YA work?