Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bartimaeus Moves On

I'm having a really hard time keeping up with all the action on the Battle of the Kids' Books. How do those people who follow whatever sport it is that March Madness is all about do it? Is it easier when you can go to bars and watch the action on television?

Anyway, I'm happy to say that The Ring of Solomon has won its third match, thus making the finals.

But What About Spending Time Reading Articles About Dead Actors And Royal Weddings And How Things Are Going On Dancing With The Stars?

Procrastinating Writers has a post explaining that not every nonwriting activity writers do is procrastination. But, you know, a lot of what I do is. Truly. Hardcore procrastination. I'm not bragging, I'm just being truthful.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Kids' Book For Adults Who Like Kids' Books?

If you were an overweight, unpopular, academically unsuccessful twelve-year-old, what would be your greatest fantasy? Forget the freaking wizards, vampires, and fairies. I'd want to be brilliant, rich, and powerful so I would know I was superior to all my tormentors. In fact, I'm not twelve years old or particularly overweight, and I'd still like to be brilliant, rich, and powerful so I would know I was superior to somebody. Anybody.

That is the basic premise behind I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President by Josh Lieb--an eighth grade genius has secretly wheeled and dealed and invented his way to incredible wealth and power--but no one knows it.

I can't recall exactly why it's such a big secret, but the secret is what makes the book funny. As Oliver is pretending to underachieve (almost to the point of appearing handicapped), he is also sending instructions to his body guards and slipping out to his secret lairs. Then he decides to use all his considerable means to win the position of eighth-grade class president in order to get revenge on his father, but we readers can tell that what he really wants is Daddy's love.

I am a Genius is an entertaining, clever, over-the-top ride. But as I was reading it, I couldn't help feeling that the humor was directed at me. The Raymond Carver joke, for instance. I'm not sure how many twelve to fifteen year olds will get that. Same with the references to Nabokov and Nietzsche. I also have to wonder how many kids are familiar with Cream and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

I appreciated lines like "I predict a great future for him in the field of getting-a-dead-end-job-and-dying-alone-and-unmourned" and "...a collection of lurkers, butt-scratchers, and rats taking their first steps toward a glorious future as low-level bureaucrats", myself. But landing dead end jobs, dying alone and unmourned, and ending up as low-level bureaucrats all seem like very adult concerns to me. And while I definitely got all the slams regarding PBS, do teenagers even watch that network? If you're too old for Barney but too young for Depends, will you get PBS jokes?

A lot of reviews compare Oliver to Stewie in Family Guy. The thing is, Family Guy is an adult show.

I am a Genius is on the 2012 reading list for Connecticut's readers' choice award in the teen category, so if I can wait a year, I may find out how the book goes over with adolescent readers. In the meantime, I think it's definitely a book adults will enjoy.

Plot Project: No, I don't think this is a simple, give a character something to want and then keep him from getting it storyline. I think the plot grew out of the clever situation.

Hmmm. "Grow a plot." Maybe that's a line I can do something with.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Few Words For Diana Wynne Jones

This morning I learned of the death of Diana Wynne Jones. I discovered her Chestomanci books a little over a year ago. They will always hold a special place for me because they were comfort books during a grim time. In fact, they are stacked neatly on a shelf in my living room, spines out so I can always see them. Last month I gave a copy of the first volume to my twelve-year-old niece.

Thank goodness there was a Diana Wynne Jones who wrote those books for me.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pratchett News

You may recall that in January I announced that I was starting to read all Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. I have actually completed the first three, and the fourth is floating around upstairs.

Therefore, you can understand why I was interested to read that a Discworld TV series is being planned. It's described as a mystery series about the Ankh Morpork city watch. Having read some of the later Discworld books, I'm familiar with that group, and a TV series about those folks sounds fine with me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm Very Happy With This Result

Bartimaeus won his match in the Battle of the Books. Thus, I can be a really good sport and continue to follow the Battle of the Books.

I am going to say a few words about footnotes here, since a couple of the commenters at the Battle of the Books site mention them, and a a family member and I were just talking about them in the car this afternoon. Here is the thing about footnotes in fiction--The family member in my car who said that footnotes in fictional works take readers out of the narrative and destroy the illusion of being within the story is right. He went further and said they were a mark of laziness.

I will say that Terry Pratchett sometimes uses them, but I think Jonathan Stroud, who uses footnotes in the Bartimaeus books, does them better. His footnotes are more consistently entertaining.

Anyone using footnotes in fiction who is not one of those two authors is being derivative. The footnote ship has sailed. The rest of us have to accept it and move on.

An Opportunity To Aid Japan

Been thinking that you'd really like to do something to help the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami but just haven't been able to decide how to go about it? Children's Authors & Illustrators for Japan can help you with that.

New items donated by authors and illustrators are going up on the auction site each day this week (And maybe beyond, since the auction lasts three week. I'm not sure about that.), and bidding will be open on each item for three to five days. Winning bidders will be directed to send their payments directly to UNICEF. But you can check out the details yourself.

You can also check out upcoming donors whose items haven't been listed yet, in case there is someone in particular whose donation you're interested in bidding on.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More On The Battle Of The Books

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch lost in the first round of Battle of the Books, but I happen to have just finished reading it, and it's definitely not a loser.

Hereville is a quirky little graphic novel that began life as a web comic. It bills itself as being about "Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl." It seems to take place in a fairy tale type world, though the kids go to a school that's contemporary enough to have a cafeteria.

One of the things that I'm not fond of in traditional fantasy is that the world building often becomes very over the top, as if the author has to go further than the last author to publish a fantasy novel. What I really liked about Hereville is that the world building seems to be all about Orthodox Judaism. (I say "seems" because that's how ignorant I am about Orthodox Judaism.) I like my fantasy with a contemporary, real world edge. This book had that for me, it was just a contemporary, real world that I don't know.

The stepmother--not a stereotypical, fantasy stepmother.

The pig--well, not a stereotypical, fantasy pig mainly because I'm not aware of any other pigs in fantasy.

Mirka--could easily have been a stereotypical, fiesty fantasy girl but the bit about being an Orthodox Jew took care of that!

A quick and clever read with an ending that suggests that Mirka might be back to do something with that sword. I hope the Battle of the Books brings more attention to this title.

My Takeaway From Saturday's Overcoming Challenges Event

For a more overall description of Saturday's Overcoming Challenges program, check out Carol Bender's blog post. (Gee, her friend looks familiar to me.)

My own takeaway from this is that while I did not learn anything dramatically different, it is just so stimulating the word I'm looking for comforting? I don't know... to hear other published authors speak about the work they do because, essentially, it's the work I do. For instance, recently I changed my work schedule around (again) trying to do a few hundred words of writing first thing in the morning before I do anything else. Jo Knowles talked about doing 2,000 words before she does anything else. I did not feel chagrined by the difference in wordage. Rather, I felt, Hey, I do something like that, too.

Because I'm now trying to do the writing in the morning, the journal work I used to do then has been tossed aside these last few weeks. One of the panelists talked about doing journal work in the evening. Hey, I thought. I could do that. And last night I did.

All my published writing career I have definitely been sort of a rogue element because I didn't have an agent. I cannot recall meeting other unagented published writers. However, neither of the illustrators on the panel Saturday have agents, and, it turns out, the writer I had lunch with Saturday doesn't have one, either. That was eye opening, though not what you'd call instructive in any way.

When you've been writing and publishing a while, and you've been a member of professional listservs, and you've been training and studying craft and business, you don't often find a lot of new information at any particular writers' gathering. What I look for is more of what you might call worklife connections. I was happy to find some on Saturday.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

So How Did That Experiment Of Yours Go, Gail?

I'm back from the Overcoming Challenges Program at the Eric Carle Museum. I'm sure you all recall that I was planning to introduce myself to as many people as I could over the course of the day, and then get back to you with the results.

Well, here are the results.

I figured I was going to hit twelve or thirteen people at a bare minimum. I only managed seven, and the last one I spoke with but forgot to formally introduce myself to. What happened?

1. A lot of people attend these writer events in groups. Walking into an auditorium where an entire row or rows clearly are a "group" isn't great for introductions, unless, maybe, you're campaigning.

2. At lunch I met someone I knew and then more people I knew, and so I buddied up and the introduciton thing sort of fell by the wayside. Not that I am complaining, by any means. It was great.

Here's what profound meaning I took from this:

1. It is hard to barge into a group and start introducing yourself. So become a bit predatory and look for "stragglers" or single people to, uh, prey upon. Someone who is attending a professional event by herself (and most of the participants at any children's literature event I've ever attended have been women) is actually happy to meet someone. I talked with a new illustrator who was very interesting.

2. Also, a couple of people I introduced myself to looked a bit familiar to me or their names seemed familiar. So I said, "Gee, you look familiar. Do we know each other?" Turned out we didn't, and they were new people! Seriously, that wasn't a come on. I did think they looked familiar. However, it occurred to me later that it could be a come on. It could be a way of smoothing your way into an introduction. And it isn't a lie because after you've been to a few of these things, you do start seeing people who look familiar.

3. Finally, when you've been forcing yourself to act friendly, you start feeling friendly. That's why when I actually saw someone I really knew while she was in the hallway by herself, I called out, "Hey, Dana!" And the first thing I knew, I had company for lunch and some great talking.

So while I didn't meet as many people as I theorized I would, the experiment was fascinating.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Other Battle Of The Book News

I have read neither of the books that went head-to-head in Round 1, Match 2, though I did read the three books that came before A Conspiracy of Kings. I am commenting on what happened here, because the judge gave the decision to Kings' opponent, Countdown, in part because "I haven’t read any of the other titles in Turner’s series. Though I have heard many reviewers posit that A Conspiracy of Kings can stand alone, I would argue that it does so on wobbly legs. While I have no doubt that everything one wishes for in an engrossing read is right here in these pages, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d arrived too late to the party. I didn’t even know that Sophos had been missing! For two whole books!"

Serial books are a risk. Just saying. And, you know, I've said that before.

Round 1, Match 3: Haven't read either of the books and have no thoughts on this one.

Round 1, Match 4: I happen to be reading one of the books, so I'll wait until I finish to read the judge's comments, though I do know her decision.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Weekend Goal

Last month I posted about How to Mingle at Publishing Events at Blue Rose Girls. I was particularly interested in suggestion 2, regarding goals for an event. As a general rule, mine is to get to these things on time and then live through them, because, you know, I believe in achievable goals. But the writer at Blue Rose suggested goals regarding meeting people. "Maybe you're shy: make your goal to introduce yourself to at least one stranger. Maybe your goal is to get at least two business cards, and/or give your card to at least three people."

Well, I was discussing this whole thing at my professional facebook page with someone who will be attending Overcoming Challenges: A Program for Writers and Illustrators at the Eric Carle Museum this Saturday. As will I. I suggested we should run a little competition to see who could introduce herself to the most new people. My facebook acquaintance was not all that taken with this idea, though she will be in a position to totally clean my clock in such a competition.

I, however, have decided to run a little experiment and write about it here. I am going to introduce myself to as many strangers as I can over the course of the day. We've all heard about putting ourselves forward and meeting others when in new situations, right? But, seriously, how well does that actually work? Do people really like being approached by strangers? Just what will be the response as I burn my way across the Eric Carle auditorium and around the cafeteria introducing myself to one person after another...and keeping track of numbers in my little notebook?

Maybe I should bring a camera.

Keep in mind, too, that over the last few years I've become a compulsive handshaker. It's a martial arts thing. I never did it before I started training. When I was growing up, my Franco-American aunts were big kissers, but I just can't recall seeing much handshaking going on in my working class New England world. As an adult, I thought it was a guy thing and was kind of freaked out when I saw my little boys doing it. But in the dojang, one is always shaking hands with and bowing to one's training partners, and it was the first change I saw in myself after I started training. I don't think I bow often, but I do shake hands.

So I'll be at the Eric Carle on Saturday, shaking hands and taking notes, and seeing what kind of profound meaning that brings to my life. And then I'll tell you all about it...the professional networking...the professional humiliation...the use of hand sanitizer...the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We've Got A First Round Decision

I actually liked both the books in Round 1, Match 1 of the Battle of the Books. (You don't often hear me talking about that much liking.) I probably would have gone with As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth over The Card Turner, myself, because I felt that Falling of the Face of the Earth was a more unusual story. But I can be happy with either choice in this case.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Imagine If This Had Been A Teen Writer

During my school appearance for Read Across America, I had a fifth grader ask me about how to go about publishing the book she was about to finish writing because her mother said it was really good and she ought to publish it. Now, I don't think children should be trying to publish. Period. I think they should be training as writers. As a general rule, we think it's tragic when someone with only a fifth grade education is out trying to make a go of it in the work world. Yet adults tell children, heck, yeah, go out and compete with people who have been training as writers for years. Encouraging children, even teenagers, to go out and seek publication instead of impressing upon them the need to train and learn is not helping them at all. Would children be encouraged to go out and practice medicine because they had helped an injured or sick friend and seemed good at it? Would they be encouraged to apply for jobs as mechanics because they showed skill with machines?

Come on.

Back to my day at the school and the child whose mom wanted her to publish her book--I had to be very careful how I answered that. I tried to explain to her about researching markets. (Does anyone discuss this with kids who want to publish?) Other kids got involved in the discussion and finally a couple of them told me that a four-year-old had published a book. And she won an award!

I have not been able to find any information about that, and I have tried.

I recalled this whole situation this morning when I read What's behind the world's worst music video ever? at Salon. The article involves a teen singer who created a music video and got hammered big time for its quality by Internet viewers and some critics.

Here's the thing folks: When you tell children who have only a child's grasp of a skill that they are ready to work on an adult level, you are exposing them to the same kind of criticism that adults get. A lot of adult writers don't believe they should have to endure criticism for their writing, which is why from time to time we hear entertaining stories about virtual bitch slapping sessions between authors and reviewers. If adults have trouble with it, how will a child cope?

What are people thinking?

Some commenters on articles about this video suggest that it's a parody and that people just aren't getting it. Even if that's the case, the not getting it part means that a young girl is taking a critical beating that people much older and better trained than she is would have trouble withstanding.

I don't want to be responsible for pushing child or teen writers into a similar situation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Maybe We Were Down On Church Street At The Same Time One Day

While reading my alumni magazine yesterday, I learned that Leslea Newman and I were both at The University of Vermont at the same time for two years when we were undergraduates.

I've tried to remember anything I did that she might have done, some way that we might have been in the same room or bar or something. But I'm drawing a blank.

I did hear her speak at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair a couple of years ago. In fact, Holy Moses, we both spoke there in 2009.

Yet, still, we never met.

Seriously, this kind of thing happens to me all the time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

All Jane

A new version of Jane Eyre will be hitting movie screens soon. Don't think for a minute that I wasn't aware of it just because I hadn't mentioned it.

Slate carries a run-down of Jane Eyre adaptations. I totally agree with the author about the splendors of the 2006 version.

Why are there so many film treatments of Jane Eyre? This is a question made far more interesting to me because I am one of those who believe Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a Jane Eyre variation, and that thing gets a film remake in England very regularly.

Yeah, what's that about?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I May Be Becoming A Fisherphile

Sapphique, by Catherine Fisher, is the sequel to Incarceron, and it concludes the story of Claudia and Finn who have been living in parallel, created worlds.

These are books I found both frustrating and intriguing. I thought the narrative drive was slowed up by the constant problems the characters are confronted with, especially in the prison portions of the books. The so-called "chaingang" in Sapphique seemed to just be there to fill time, for instance. On the other hand, I liked that there were so few likable characters. I think the publishing world makes way too much of the need for a likable character for readers to root for. These flawed people are interesting and realistic. Even the one truly good guy is flawed in the sense that he has a serious illness.

I also like that these books are demanding reading. They seem to be well received, and I believe the author has a real following. But we're not talking popular, light reading. These are books for people who are willing to invest time and energy into their reading.

According to my post on Incarceron, I risked getting to my martial arts class late to finish reading it. With Sapphique I started getting interested about the halfway point, kept sneaking time from my work day to read it, and stayed up late to finish it. I really liked that the last portion of the book recalled the decay and illusion that appear in my favorite Fisher novel, Corbenic.

Decay and illusion--I guess I love that stuff.

Plot Project: See my Incarceron post.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Writing Groups Vs. Critique Groups

I was a member of a critique group for a couple of years, back, maybe, five years ago. While I liked being with people and networked with one writer I am still in contact with, I found it very time consuming. In addition to the two monthly meetings that usually ran a couple of hours each, there was usually an hour or two of reading and critique prep to do before each meeting. That doesn't sound like a lot of time, but when you consider that many writers don't work eight-hour days but whatever number of hours they can fit in, we were talking the equivalent of a nearly a work day a month. (Though the meetings were in the evening when I wouldn't have been working, anyway, some writers do work evenings, so an evening meeting would be taking from their work time.)

So I've been avoiding writers' groups since then, especially now that my writing time has actually decreased.

But last month The Spectacle did a post on writing groups--in which writers get together for a writing binge. These writers also network, but some of the time they're gathered these writers are actually writing.

Now I've heard of a few writers getting together for their own weekend writing retreats every once in a while, retreats where they write before doing anything else. If I actually had time to get away, I'd think that was a great idea. But a group of writers who get together maybe once a month for a morning or an afternoon to work for a couple of hours and then catch up on professional news seems workable. A writing group also seems far more time and energy efficient than one in which you talk and then have to do homework.

I know feedback is good, but in my experience, work is even better.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Yes, I Was Once A Bookmobile Patron

From grades three through seven I attended schools without libraries. (To be honest, they didn't have indoor plumbing, either. Or running water. We had TVs, though. I kid you not.) Periodically, we'd be visited by bookmobiles. Everyone would pick out a couple of books, and after we finished reading them, we'd trade them around in school while waiting for the bookmobile to come back.

Now, you'd think this would lead to all kinds of stories about various kids' reading interests, and who would line up to get Denise's books when she was done and who would want Tom's. I can't recall anything like that.

I'm guessing that a bookmobile will one day figure prominently in some work of magical realism, if it hasn't already. Or maybe a zombie story.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Child-To-Child Sharing

I've been hearing some muttering about something happening at The Guardian website relating to children's books and finally checked it out. To make a long story short, The Guardian has set up a space on its website at which children will be reviewing books and interviewing authors. The people behind it want to "encourage child-to-child sharing with older children discussing their favourite books and authors with the younger ones."

Guardian Books Editor, Claire Armitstead says, "When you think of the resource that older friends or siblings represent, it seems astonishing that child-to-child reading gets so little attention." I've never even heard the expression, but I definitely like it.

I've often written about my concerns regarding the fact that adults in publishing and education can only guess at what children are interested in reading. Adults function as gatekeepers for child readers, and gatekeepers can be both good and bad. The Guardian website could help kid readers get around the adults who want the best for them in terms of improving literature so that they can find juicie reads that children really do enjoy.

We'll see how this thing works out.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Another Year Older And Not Much Wiser

Tomorrow is Original Content's ninth anniversary. Since I avoid the Internet on Sundays in an attempt to improve my character, I am mentioning it today.

I have probably linked to my first blog post a few times on other anniversaries. Birthdays tend to be the same old, same old.

What is particularly interesting about this anniversary is that I've sort of cycled back to where I was when I first started this thing. I have no idea what my readership was the first few years, but I had very little interaction with readers and there were very few children's literature bloggers for me to interact with. I was also only posting about three times a week. (I recall that as my weekly objective at one point when I was doing weekly objectives.) Things picked up for me around 2005/06 when children's lit blogging exploded. I invested in a site meter for my entire website (this blog was a part of it), and I was posting nearly every day. I was definitely on a roll for several years--up and down a bit, of course, but a roll nontheless.

I crashed and burned, I think in the summer of '10. The blog is no longer connected to the website, and I have a site meter just for the blog that indicates that readership is way down, as is interaction with readers. I'm also unable to post as frequently.

So, really, it's like the old days.

Original Content is very much me in that I am seriously into perseverance. I stick with things. Quality may vary. My attitudes may or may not remain the same. But I persevere.

See you next March.

I Particularly Liked "Sciency Fiction"

Loree Griffin Burns has a guest post at Cynsations on nonfiction genres. I had thought about this type of thing in the past, but only in relation to true nonfiction--say, the difference between types of essays. Loree includes fiction in her analysis, if the fiction has a nonfiction element, as in historical fiction and science fiction.

I totally agree with Loree that the term creative nonfiction has caused confusion. I have read nonfiction that included totally made up conversations, for instance. I was confused. I remain confused about that.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

It's Time To Start Talking Women's History Month

Now that we're through celebrating Read Across America Day, it's time to think about National Women's History Month. I'm personally of the opinion that it's too damn bad that we need a National Women's History Month, and I look forward to the day when women's history is part of our concept of history, period.

However, that's probably not going to be happening in the next 29 days. During that period, you can see what children's literature bloggers and authors have to offer on the subject at Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. It "will be featuring a post each day in March by a different author in children's literature or by a blogger who specializes in writing about children's or young adult literature. Each post will tie into Women's History Month."

And How Was Your Read Across America Day?

I had a great Read Across America Day a the Western Connecticut Academy of International Studies. I gave five presentations, one to each grade level, with grades one and two getting the same presentation, and grades three through four getting another. We did questions and answers. We did brainstorming.

I got some particularly thought provoking questions this time around. I spoke with the first grade about how authors "experiment" with different drafts, and one boy asked me, essentially, "How do you know when you're done?"

Yes, how indeed. Excellent question.

It was the first time in quite a while that I'd done a day of author talks. Now I'm quite pumped up to do it again.