Thursday, June 30, 2011

So What Is It Editors Do?

John Green sounds seriously overcaffeinated in this video post, but he does touch upon what editing books is actually about.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Past Is A Foreign Country You May Not Want To Visit

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell has a cute cover, and a lot of the reviews focus on the "fun premise" and humor. The premise is engaging, and a lot of the humor works. It's not that embarrassing strained stuff that turns up in a lot of kids' books. But I think there's a little more going on here than just a funny fish-out-of-water story.

Genevieve Welsh has been dragged against her will to a "frontier family history camp." Gen, along with her brother and both her parents are going to be living in the year 1890, along with three other families who have all paid to stay for the summer with a family of three who have turned their backs on the twentieth century and live in, what for them, is a better time. Hmmm. Or have they?

The campers have to give up all twentieth century technology, as well as twentieth century clothing, food, plumbing, standards of hygiene...everything. Gen doesn't quite do without, because she manages to sneak in her brand new cell phone. The texts she sends to her friends end up on a blog one of them creates as part of her computer camp assignment.

Yes, there's a lot about how hard it is to do without twentieth century comforts. What's interesting, though, is that there isn't a lot about how incredibly wonderful things were back in the good old days. Yeah, there's some fun times playing with other kids every now and then, and, sure, freshly baked bread smells good--if you can figure out how to make it. But a number of the campers...of the adult campers...are suffering big time trying to make the 1890's grade, just as they would have if they'd been living back then. And Ron, the guy who runs this place, is a bit of a sadist, playing people against one another, pressuring them to kill chickens to earn points, and insisting that campers plan an improvement for their individual "farms," which he just happens to own.

I sensed a dark edge to this book, a dark edge I liked. Davitt Bell seemed to me to be trying to maintain a balance between a traditional tween girl story with some mean girl conflict and a potential boyfriend and a deeper tale exposing young readers to something more thought provoking. Why should we do without the technology of the period we were born into? What, exactly, is wrong with refrigeration and showers? Why is the past when people worked themselves to the point of despair and didn't survive accidents (or sometimes even unpasteurized milk, something I couldn't help thinking about as I read this) such a great place?

This might make a good kids' reading group book or a parent/child book club selection. It's out in paperback, and I'm thinking about getting it for my niece.

Oh, and it's also an example of mainstream fiction--no paranormal or fantasy elements.

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."--The Go-Between.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Literary Mash-ups For Young Readers

Though I liked Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I haven't made a mad dash to read other classic/paranormal or horror mash-ups. It seemed like an idea that worked marvelously once, but would quickly become a leap-on-the-bandwagon sort of thing with other books.

However, I do like the idea of mashing up Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty with ninjas and vampires. I think what's attracting me is the hope that these characters will become women who do something instead of women who have things done to them.

I'm not as crazy about the "special twist" giving readers "the opportunity to make key decisions" for the main characters. But if I come upon one of the books, I'll give it a chance.

Sounds Like Someone I Should Be Able To Get Along With

I spent Saturday evening at my only nephew's wedding. The ceremony and reception were held at a day camp dear to the couple and their friends because they'd worked there, or, in my nephew's case, attended camp there as a child and then worked there as a counselor right through college. It was a beautiful and unique event, but very labor intensive for the bride and groom in terms of decorating and getting the place ready for guests. In fact, the bride started making decorations last winter.

So what did this young woman do to relax yesterday, her first day of married life? She went to a used book sale at a library.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Will You Pay Just To Be In The Same Room With An Author?

Too bad Come Meet the Author, but Open Your Wallet appeared in The New York Times the Tuesday before Save Bookstores! Day. It deals with the issue of bookstores charging patrons to see authors making appearances, something that's a bit of a turn-off for some. It's a method of generating income for struggling bookstores, but authors and publishers aren't one hundred percent enthusiastic about it.

From an author's point-of-view, an appearance isn't just about selling one particular book at one particular moment, which is, of course, what the bookstore needs to do. For authors, an appearance is also about creating name recognition with the public and promoting an entire career. The hope is that people who don't buy a book at that particular appearance, may ask for it as a gift, purchase it in a paperback edition later on, or buy a future book because they remember your name, which got them to lift the new title off a shelf and read what it was about. None of that can happen if people don't come into the store to meet us because they couldn't or wouldn't pay an admission charge.

R.J. Julia Booksellers, which is mentioned in the article, is here in Connecticut and has been doing this for some time, which I was certainly aware of because they promote their events in the press. They get big name authors, and the store's system of charging a fee, which can be used toward purchasing the book, appears to be working for them.

Bank Square Books, also in Connecticut, has a model I like, though I've yet to take advantage of it. They charge even more for some of their events ($25 vs. $10, which is the figure I usually see), but that includes lunch with the author and a copy of the book. I don't know what lunch involves, but that price still seems as if the store can't be making a lot. I wish I'd been able to go when they had Susan Cheever in.

If you live anywhere near Mystic, Connecticut, it would be worth your time to get onto Bank Square Books e-mail list. Or the store also has a Facebook page.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My First Career Day

Though I have been speaking at elementary schools for years, I took part in my first career day today at my local elementary school. It was the school's first career day, too.

My loyal and maybe even occasional readers are probably aware that I am more than a little obsessive. So while I couldn't commit a lot of time to creating a career day presentation, I still managed to go overboard. I received criteria and suggestions from the organizers and, just as if I'd received a letter of comments from an editor, I went about choosing the ones I wanted to include. And then I included them.

I revised an early version of my general school presentation in order to cover how I moved from being a child writer to the publication of my first book, which gave me an opportunity to discuss high school and college course work and a job I held when I finished school. I then went on a personal mission to explain the difference between traditional and self-publishing because in talking with and reading about inexperienced writers, it seems to me that many don't understand that they're responsible for selling their own books with self-publishing. The school requested that speakers try to talk about how they use math, science, or technology in their work, so I laced a technology thread through the program, talking about journal software as well as Internet promotion.

I didn't get a lot of questions in the ten minutes I carefully scheduled after my wild trainride of a talk. I may have overwhelmed the young ones, especially since I never had more than six students at these PowerPoint presentations and at one of them only two. Or the program may have been so incredible that there was nothing left for them to ask. Yeah, that could be it.

Believe it or not, I came away with an essay idea from this experience. (I think I did mention to one of the teachers that everything I do, maybe even every moment of my life, can end up in my work. I don't know how strongly I made that point with the kids.) I've also started thinking about investing in some journal software as a result of planning this thing. Oh, and I used a smartboard instead of just working off a laptop the way I usually do.

So, really, even if the kids thought it was a complete waste of time for them and wished they'd signed up to see the meteorologist who works for the feds chasing hurricanes, it was a really good experience for me. On top of everything else, I had lunch afterwards with the hurricane guy.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Seriously, I Would Have To Make People Up

I just finished reading A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley. I am a great fan of Flavia de Luce's, so this book does not at all support my theory that the longer the acknowledgments, the worse the novel they're attached to.

Bradley's acknowledgments go on for four and a quarter pages. I considered counting all the people he mentions, but I'm sure the number would be beyond me.

I imagine some poor writer...myself, for instance...having to make up names for an acknowledgments page. Or maybe even pulling out names of people she knew years before, people who would have no idea they were being ackowledged because they would have forgotten the writer, if they'd ever paid any attention to her in the first place. Or perhaps some of them would find out they were part of the acknowledgments and be mystified.

I need to go put all this down in my journal.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Surprise From Karen Joy Fowler

Subterranean Press is a speciality publisher of horror, suspense, and "dark mystery genres." Its website has a Subterranean On-line feature, which this month is doing a Special YA Issue. I read Younger Women by Karen Joy Fowler of Jane Austen Book Club fame.

It was a very good story, but I definitely wouldn't call it YA. It has an adult protagonist with definite adult issues. In fact, one of the really intriguing aspects of the work is that it seems like a very mainstream "women's" story with a paranormal element that I don't want to tell you about because it was a bit of a kick when I read it, and I don't want to ruin it for anyone else.

The main character raises some great points about the paranormal genre she finds herself in.

I found the Subterranean Press site by way of Jennifer Represents, which I'll be following for a while because I attended Jennifer Laughran's presentation at last Saturday's conference.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Or Perhaps I'm Just An Ungrateful Wretch

Back when I first started publishing in the last century, you didn't see a lot of lengthy acknowledgments at the back of books. It seems to me that it's something that's started turning up in the last decade. And I've often noticed that the length of the thank yous has a connection to the quality of the book--the longer they are, the worse the work.

I just finished a novel I'd looked forward to reading because I'd enjoyed an earlier book by the same author. I liked the historical setting, it was plenty moody, but the plot was seriously clunky with some events seeming very tacked on. The threads were not well integrated. We're not talking seamless here.

The acknowledgments went on for two and a half pages.

I was left feeling kind of glum because I don't have two and a half pages of people involved with my professional life to thank. I'm also wondering if there might be some kind of jinx at work here. If I did manage to scrape together a lengthy list of folks to thank, would that doom my book? Would they end up wishing they just hadn't been mentioned?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is This Also About Plot? Or Am I Just Obsessed With That Element Of Fiction?

"'The basis of drama is ... is the struggle of the hero towards a specific goal at the end of which he realizes that what kept him from it was, in the lesser drama, civilization and, in the great drama, the discovery of something that he did not set out to discover but which can be seen retrospectively as inevitable.'" David Mamet in Lunch with David Mamet.

Perhaps you've heard that plotting scheme that involves giving a character something to want and then keeping it from her? I've heard it a lot, (and talked about it here frequently, too) and I've decided I don't like it. I don't think it's a method for creating a plot. I think it's more of a formula for a plot. And then there's the question of what character? And what do you give her to want? Where the hell is all that supposed to come from?

I like the idea of characters having goals, because I think it's more dynamic and provides some narrative drive right off the bat. And the quote above from David Mamet struck me, maybe because he used the word "goal." Though I question whether something always has to keep characters from achieving goals. Why can't the move from objective to objective toward the goal be a workable and dramatic plot?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Truly Horrid Child

I mentioned recently that I've been reading more YA than younger children's books because my local library purchases a lot of series titles, which just don't attract me. However, I made an effort and tried a couple of books from the Horrid Henry series.

I think it's fair to say that that title pretty much sums up the star of these books. Henry really is horrid. You know, a lot of kids' books will be about some nasty sprite who is redeemed in the end, and we can all feel warm and fuzzy about it. Not Henry.

I respect that.

It took a while for me to warm to the first book because the author, Francesca Simon, uses a lot of cute names for her characters like Perfect Peter and Moody Margaret and, well, Horrid Henry, for that matter. But I'm willing to concede that child readers may like them, and the books are for them, not for me. What won me over is that the books are collections of short stories, and Simon really is able to write short stories for younger readers around child subjects.

Henry's unrelenting horridness works for me, too. Simon has broken the writing rule about creating a main character readers will want to identify with, and good for her. I doubt identifying with Henry is why kids read these books. I think the draw here is that children know horrid kids. The mere fact that these stories of a horrid child exist validates readers' experience. These books prove that the adult world knows about the Horrid Henries of this world. They're writing books about them instead of making them straighten out, but, still, it must be a relief to read these things and think, There. Someone else knows a guy like the monster in Ms. Dufrane's classroom.

I was discussing these books at lunch Saturday and misspoke because of the familiarity between the title of this series and the one about Horrible Harry. It's been years since I've read a Horrible Harry title, and I don't recall him being as truly dreadful to child and adult alike as Horrid Henry is. One of my lunch companions asked if Horrid Henry is British. Indeed, he is. Notice the cover above with the title Horrid Henry and the Bogey Babysitter? The book I read was called Horrid Henry and the Scary Sitter, obviously translated into American from the British.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Well That Was Stimulating

I had a great day in Fishkill, New York where I attended the SCBWI Eastern New York's Mid-Hudson Valley Conference. Susan Campbell Bartoletti gave the keynote address. Quite honestly, she is kind of a goddess. I have yet to read any of her books, but she's a tremendous speaker, and her primary research sounds very impressive. I don't mean to brag, but I got to talk to her personally because I cut out of the last session early and caught her while she was by herself at the signing table.

I also went to my first literary agent talk and my first digital publishing talk and on top of all that, I ran into three people I know. They were other Connecticut escapees hitting the New Yorkers' conference.

So I am quite happy right now, even though tomorrow is a home maintenance day, which isn't exactly what anyone would call something to look forward to. Ah, but remember what the Zenny folks say--don't dread the future, live in the moment.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Have I Mentioned That Plotting Is Hard?

I have discovered quite recently that I am an organic writer, meaning that my plots...I don't know...come from some otherworldly place. I'd tell you where plotters' plots come from, but I don't know. I can't even guess.

So imagine the impact of A Dastardly Plot on someone like myself. I may have nightmares.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

"When A Book Is Good, It's Better Than TV."

That's a quote from my mother.

It took a while (like a couple of years), but she finally got interested in the copy of Holmes on the Range that I left at her house. Evidently Otto and Gustav's charms became more apparent to her once they found a dead body in an outhouse.

If my mother continues past book one, she'll be the third family member I've sold on the Holmes on the Range series.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Helping Bookstores Helps You

The Andrea Brown Literary Agency is launching a Save Bookstores event. The idea is for people to surge into bookstores on Saturday, June 25th, and buy a book--or four, as they put it.

Well, guess what? We're having a wedding in the Gauthier family on Saturday, June 25th, so, once again, I'm not available. (Though I'm not complaining, since we're talking a wedding and not a funeral.) Perhaps June 25th is not convenient for you, either? Not to worry. It's going to take more than buying one book on one day to save bookstores, anyway. Fortunately for you, you can help save bookstores and save yourself some money while you're at it.

Many bookstores are hurting, in part, because it is so very, very easy for us to order books over the Internet. A lot of us don't have a bookstore in our neighborhood. And how often do we go into bookstores and they don't have the book we're looking for because what bookstore can have absolutely every book available on its shelves all the time? Then there is the little factor of the discount that one particular on-line bookseller offers. You can understand why shoppers have moved to the Internet.

Here's the thing, though--Discounts aren't offered on mass market paperbacks and the inexpensive paperbacks I buy for my niece. Over the last year or so, I've sometimes paid twelve or thirteen dollars for a book with a cover price of $6.99 or $7.99. I started thinking, There's got to be a better--meaning cheaper--way for me to do this.

Sure enough, there is. Bookstores, the real ones like you see in movies and on TV, will order books for customers. And if they do, and you pick the book up in the store so they don't have to ship it to you, you don't get charged shipping. The shipping bringing the book into the store is part of the bookstore's normal overhead.

Okay, you might be thinking. You save money, bookstore makes money. But isn't it a pain in the neck to have to call and order a book? The bookstore I use lets me search and order on-line, giving me the option of picking up the book in the store, thus avoiding paying that shipping fee I was talking about earlier. I either get a call or an e-mail letting me know the book is in.

Okay, you might be thinking. That's fine for you, Gail. You have a bookstore nearby. Actually, I don't. However, an elderly family member does. She's within walking distance of quite a nice one--the one I've been ordering from lately. Yes, I am up seeing her at least once, usually twice, a week so it's convenient for me. But look around. You may be able to find a bookstore in the vicinity of some place you frequent, if only once a month or so. Plan your orders for times when you know you're going to be in town.

Seriously, you bought books before there was an Internet, didn't you?

Last week I had someone with me and had to drive to the bookstore. Even with the parking fee and sales tax, I still saved money on the book I had ordered. Plus I browsed and found another book for my niece while I was there. I saved some more shipping, and the bookstore made some more money.

It's like one of those symbiotic relationships you hear about on nature shows or the Syfy Channel. One of the good kinds of symbiotic relationships in which both organisms benefit.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

And Now For Something Different

I've got to stop ranting for a while and do some Reader Responses. So here goes.

It seems as if I've been reading a lot of YA lately. My own local library purchases a lot of series books for younger readers, which don't attract me particularly, though I will have a post on a couple sometime in the future. So I've had to branch out a little in my book foraging. I found The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman by Ben H. Winters at another library I've started hitting occasionally. What caught my eye is that it's a contemporary, school-based book. No paranormal elements. Not a serial. No obvious signs of a sequel.

Really, it's a unique offering in today's children's literature climate.

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman involves some kids discovering a fascinating secret about their very dull music teacher, Ms. Finkleman, and what that knowledge, once it gets around, leads to. The book uses a third-person narrator without a point of view character--the point of view shifts among characters. This is most unusual in children's literature today. The first-person dominates, and when the third person is used, only one charcter's inner workings is usually featured. That character is on stage all the time. The author manages his shifting point of view just fine, and it will be a bit of an eye opener for a lot of child readers.

Another interesting aspect regarding Ms. Finkleman: It's a book with rock elements, but those elements work much better here than I've seen them in other children's/YA books. I've read a number of YA books in which a character has some rock music obsession that sounds totally unrealistic, particularly if the obsession is with rock music from a decade or two before the kid was born. (Oddly enough, the music was probably from an era when the author would have been listening to it. Hmmm.)

With The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, however, punk rock is far more organic to the story/plot. It also isn't used to simply define a character. As in, oh, that's the outsider kid who listens to rock. There is one of those, but he's significant to the story, a story that has to do with punk. He's more than just a few characteristics.

I do think the adult characters are a little over the top. They're cartoonish, while the child characters are far more rounded and realistic. The assistant principal, for instance, is a whipping boy for the dragon lady principal, and one dad makes a rare appearance to encourage his daughter to blackmail a teacher. I think, myself, that this is an illustration of how going for humor can sometimes undermine a story element.

Nonetheless, The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman is a good read, and a definite relief from the relentless parade of fantasy and girl group stories. For kids who particularly like realistic fiction, it will be a joy.

Though I didn't mention it, Ms. Finkleman has some mystery going on, enough so it was nominated for an Edgar Award. So was Griff Carver by the way.

Monday, June 06, 2011

I'm Bored

I am saying nothing about the whole Wall Street Journal Darkness Too Visible brouhaha because anything I would say would be something I've said before, just as that entire article is something that anyone who has been involved in children's and YA literature has heard before. Someone does a "Damn, those YA books are full of grim adult crap, huh?" article every couple of years. In fact, six years ago, someone wrote an entire book on the subject.

It's as if a generation only lasts a couple of years these days and YA is all new to the writers of these articles who are stunned...stunned, I tell you! what they find on the YA bookshelf. And then the people who read the articles are apparently the equivalent of a whole new generation, too, because their response to the Bad, Bad YA article is to be...stunned! Absolutely stunned!

Come on. Could we get a collective memory, which, I'm sure you'll remember, I was just talking about a couple of days ago, so we don't have to do this same thing over and over again? Because you know I have very little tolerance for repetition.

I have to go work on a new chapter. And get something to eat.

Friday, June 03, 2011

I Hope I Wasn't The Last To Know

How come I had to find out about Libba Bray's new book Beauty Queens by way of a hand-me-down copy of Entertainment Weekly I got from my sister? If I hadn't needed something to read on the treadmill, I would never have looked at it. What's more, my workout routine, such as it is, is shot to hell, so I could very well have missed finding out about Beauty Queens, and it sounds funny.

I know I've cut back on my blog reading, but still, didn't Bray win the Printz Award just last year? I know awards don't mean a lot to me, but I thought they did to other people. Doesn't she deserve a little buzz for her next effort after that?

Or do we have no collective memory? That may be the case. I've wondered about that.

Read And Blog Furiously

Today is the start of this year's 48 Hour Book Challenge. Have a great time all you reader/bloggers who will be taking part.

History Essays In The Form Of Blog Posts--Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

The following "flash nonfiction" was accidentally posted yesterday as if it were posted a couple of days ago, because I started writing it a couple of days ago. I'm reposting it today to give it its best shot at getting an audience.

A couple of days ago I learned that some historians and journalists are marking the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War by "blogging" about events leading up to it. I think the posts at Disunion are a little more like real essays that are being published every day than true blog posts. Meaning that they're somewhat long. Of course, these things may be what historians and journalists think of as short.

I haven't been all that excited regarding this Civil War anniversary I've been hearing so much about because the Civil War is an event that has been pretty well covered over the years. But in this interview, one of the contributors to Disunion says of the war, "It’s been called the American Iliad, and it’s a little bit like Homer and the Homeric stories probably were to the ancient Greeks. Each generation for a thousand years in ancient Greek and Roman times, they would find different ways to retell, and to paint, and to carve that story. So I think, in our time today, we have a chance to tell the story of the Civil War, to look at the story of the Civil War, to paint the story of the Civil War in a different way than it was done in past generations"

I'm not a big fan of classic epic, either, but this view of the Civil War makes it more interesting to me. Also I like the way the Disunion posts I've seen so far cover aspects of the lead up to the war that I'm unfamiliar with. (Which would be many aspects.) And, of course, I'm interested in blogs, which I see as a form of flash nonfiction.

So I'll be giving that blog a shot, hoping to educate myself on nonfiction historical writing as well as the Civil War.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

When People Talk About Government Plots, They Aren't Always Being Paranoid

Victory through Carrots at The Children's War.

I will be far more suspicious of...well, just about a result of reading that.

Aren't We Already Supposed To Have The Ideas?

I'm always thinking about plotting and how to do it. One of the things I think about is how to explain plot creation to others. My being able to do this is dependent upon my figuring out how to do it, myself, of course.

When I think about explaining plot creation, I always end up ruminating about the beginning point--the idea that leads writers to think they've found a story. (Hey! I just used an em dash!) I feel as if I can't help other writers with that. If you don't have an idea you're interested in writing about, you don't need to worry about a plot.

Here's A Guaranteed Way To Generate A Backlog Of Writing Ideas at Procrastinating Writers intersected with my idea/plot thoughts. I agree that magazines (and all kinds of publications) are hotbeds of ideas. But if a writer needs to sit down and hunt for ideas, maybe she doesn't need to worry too much about writing at all.

That sounds sort of judgemental. Perhaps I'm being too organic with that attitude, too much into the concept of writing process being integrated into every aspect of writers' lives, making ideas something they live with every day. I attended a Madeline L'Engle lecture in which she said that Bach was asked where he got the ideas for his music and replied that it was all he could do not to fall over them when he got up in the morning.

Isn't that how ideas come for everybody?

Procrastinating Writers has a post today on freewriting, which I must try to read soon, since I'll be talking about that a bit at an elementary school in a few weeks.