Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Kind Of Impact Do Awards Actually Have?

My computer guy reads The Globe and Mail regularly, because the Canuckistanis are our neighbors to the north, and he believes that someone really ought to be keeping track of what they're doing. So he referred me to Literary awards are abundant in Canada, but some see a downside.

I nearly forgot about it, but I'm behind in my Bookslut reading, and while I was there catching up, I noticed posts about this prize and that prize, and this other one and oh, my goodness, another. Whoops. I missed one. It appears that literary awards are abundant all over the place.

Evidently you can make some serious bucks in Canada winning literary prizes. Maybe similar to that woman who supported her family with prize winnings. Supposedly a literary prize for poetry has made poetry cool in the great icy north, and I certainly have to respect that.

But, The Globe and Mail article says, literary awards also "have become as essential to the business of marketing books today as retail stores once were..." Jean Baird, an independent scholar, is writing a book on award culture and disputes just how effective this marketing is. Except for the Giller Prize, she says awards don't seem to raise sales. "Even the Booker doesn’t really sell books – unless you win," she claims. Nonetheless, she says there is a sense that if your book hasn't won an award, it has lost them.

I am not the type of person who has any great expectations or worries about winning awards, whether they are literary, academic, or service. I've even gotten over not being in the running for World's Greatest Mom. But I would like to see my books read, which means a little spreading the good word of their existence. That's my objection to award obsession, which occurs here in America, too. When children's literature listservs are hosting discussions in March about what books have already been published that year that could be considered for the Newbery, that encourages its members to read those books and may even create a self-fulling prophecy. The same is true of keeping some kind of spreadsheet on starred books and dishing about it regularly. Award and starred book discussions encourage readers to focus on those limited titles. Thousands of children's books are published each year, and while I will instantly agree with anyone who claims that a certain percentage of them are dreck, I also believe that more than the handful that are perceived as award books and garner stars are worth reading. But people have to learn about them, which is difficult to do if the literary discussion is limited to what are perceived as award contenders.

And I'm not even getting into the perception question: What is perceived as a potential award winner and who came up with that? Someone could also ask if it's possible to write to the award. I'm just saying the pack mentality that chases award winners (hmmm...the literary equivalent of the popular kid?) actually hurts reading in general, to say nothing of sales.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering An Author I Never Knew On Memorial Day

Back in February, 1998 I attended an author presentation at my local library. The author was Richard White, on whom I can find very little information, and the book was Jordan Freeman Was My Friend. The author's presentation was primarily a reading. He was selling copies of the book, which had been published in '94, at a discounted price. I bought one and had it inscribed for my sons. Under their names he wrote, "With the best wishes of the old man who wrote this little book."

Neither of the Gauthier boys ever read it, nor did I. I tried the first few pages and for whatever reason decided not to go on. In fact, a few weeks ago while collecting books for that local library's book sale, I considered donating it. But it has my kids' names in it, so I thought I'd hold on to it a while longer.

Well, last weekend, an adult Gauthier son was going to meet a friend for lunch in Mystic, Connecticut. The friend needed to kill some time, so they had plans to go to Fort Griswold. I pulled Jordan Freeman Was My Friend down off the shelf, handed it to the son in question, and said, "Hey, this book involves Fort Griswold. And look at the title page." The story came out about how I came to have the book, and I left it with him.

Lo' and behold, I learned later, he read it. "It was pretty good," he said.

I'm telling this story because this is what authors dream of happening. Once they give up their fantasies of national fame, magazine covers, and awards, they just want to be read. They want to be read long into the future. In fact, I recall as a teenager wanting to be a writer because I thought it would make me immortal. After I was dead, someone would stumble upon one of my books on a shelf somewhere, and I would live again. I sincerely believe "the old man who wrote this little book" would be delighted to know it was still being read.

So, Richard White, wherever you are, whatever you're doing, a young man starting out his professional career read your book sometime in the past two weeks.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

But I Love The Em Dash!

The Case--Please Hear Me Out--Against the Em Dash.

As much as I love the em dash, I will admit that over the years I've become aware visually when I've used them too liberally. They become the punctuation equivalent of an echo, which occurs when an author uses a word soon after already using it so that the reader is aware of the repetition. Therefore, I've tried to cut back on them for that reason.

Otherwise, I'd be sprinkling them in paragraphs like jimmies on cupcakes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

There Are Only So Many Ideas

Aliens on Vacation sounds a little bit like Club Earth. My guess is that the major difference is that in Aliens on Vacation the child main character appears to have to protect his grandmother's alien B&B from being exposed while in Club Earth the child main characters are coping with aliens who keep turning up at their house, which is functioning as an intergalactic resort whether the family likes it or not.

And, of course, Aliens on Vacation is in print and Club Earth isn't.

I Told You Yesterday That I've Been Thinking About Nonfiction

Last night, for the first time in many weeks, I managed to write in my workbook (my workbook because the word journal is too loaded with expectations for me). I wrote about Caroline Leavitt's essay Why is someone else in my book's author photo?. I wondered if it was a personal essay, which I read defined, years ago, as an essay that deals with a personal event and relates it to the greater human experience. Many personal essays, I find, are strong on the personal part and don't quite pull off the relating to the greater human experience bit. Should she have tried writing a piece of narrative nonfiction instead, I wondered. If I understand narrative nonfiction correctly, to do that she would have needed to take her interesting personal experience and treat it as a narrative, as a story with a climax, while maintaining its factual integrity. Or may be she should have used her personal experience as a jumping off point for a short story, maybe something about an author losing her identity or getting lost somehow.

Then this morning I just finished reading Caught Telling Fiction in which the author, Jessica Francis Kane, comes off as sounding a bit defensive because her new book is sometimes considered historical fiction. She seems to want to think of it as mainstream fiction that is "historically imagined" (her quotes). She says, "Here’s an analogy: movies and after-school specials. Calling a movie an after-school special seems to broadcast something lacking about it. The same thing happens when a book is described as historical fiction."

My knee-jerk reaction as I was reading her essay was that here was an author who just is having trouble self-identifying what she does, trouble connecting and engaging with her own work, and is way too concerned with how others perceive her and her work.

But her book deals with a disaster with survivors who are still living. And she goes on to talk about dealing with their response to her fiction. Her experience meeting a survivor and others affected by the tragedy she wrote about..after she'd completed the book...is something that might shake someone's view of themselves and what they do. I'm left wondering if what she is trying to defend in her essay is not historical fiction but fiction, period.

Anyway, I finished reading the essay and then noticed that up above the title is a kind of column title "Personal Essays." So here was an essay definitely being classified as a personal essay (by somebody), and I guess it does move from the author's personal experiences to something more universal because she is writing about something more universal--what is historical fiction--and not just her experiences answering questions about her book.

So, there, folks, is a little nonfiction experience prepared for you almost as I was living it, myself. I wonder if there's a name for that kind of nonfiction writing?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Interesting Nonfiction For Kids

I could have sworn that I mentioned the blog I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids here at some point in the relatively recent past, but if I did, I can't find the post now.

The people behind I.N.K. also have a website, INK THINK TANK, relating to bringing nonfiction authors to classrooms. As it turns out, I am familiar with or even sort of know a number of INK THINKers.

I've been thinking about nonfiction a little more than usual since reading Elizabeth Partridge's essay, Narrative Nonfiction: Kicking Ass at Last and writing about it when I did the When Bob Met Woody Post. Narrative nonfiction is Partridge's preferred term for creative nonfiction, which I've been interested in writing for a while now. My feeling is, if I could pay more attention to nonfiction for children, specifically history related nonfiction, since history is an interest of mine, it might enhance my own nonfiction writing.

Hmmm. Does that sound as self-serving as I think it does?

Be that as it may, you nonfiction people should check out INK, both blog and website.

I Don't Know How Much This Would Have Bothered Me

Why is someone else in my book's author photo?

For my eighth book, in a foreign edition, after some of the dreadful author photos I've had taken? I think this would probably have rolled off my back.

If you can tolerate picking through the nasty comments, there are a few interesting ones from readers who say that, for them, author photos don't provide a connection to the author, a concern for the author of the essay.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Book For That Worrisome Teenager You Want To Scare Straight

When I heard a few years back that Jack Gantos had written a memoir about his imprisonment for drug running when he was twenty, I thought, Gee, you'd think there'd be some parent or adult group somewhere having a hissy fit about a childen's writer with a background like this. Not that I thought someone should have a hissy fit about it. It just seems like the kind of thing someone always is having a hissy fit about.

Hole in My Life is probably a book that every teenager ought to be forced to read. Holy Moses. Talk about a cautionary tale. And I don't think Gantos was trying to do the instructional thing. His writing style is very plain, but the story is an eye popper.

Seriously, even before he gets to the crime he talks about getting so drunk he was vomiting caustic substances. That sure makes being blind drunk look attractive. And before he got caught he had to worry about one of his co-conspirators killing him. Wouldn't a lot of young minds read this kind of thing and think, Nah, I'll just get a job at Target, after all?

Interesting note: Hole in My Life also deals with Gantos's evolution as a young writer, and his movement toward becoming a children's writer. While in prison, he enjoyed recalling his childhood and thinking of childhood events in terms of stories. Some of his short stories do have a very autobiographical feel to them.

Jack Gantos is the author of books of short stories and the Joey Pigza books.

It Pays To Read Comments

You'll find a sophisticated discussion of the pencil-necked little weasel episode from earlier this month at Read Roger. Some of the commenters sound as if they actually know the funding situation in Minnesota.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Blog With Balanced Reviews. And I've Been Missing It!

I've "known" Ms. Yingling for years, but somehow her blog got kind of lost in the shuffle for me. But today I visited Ms. Yingling Reads. Check out the fantastic reviews I saw there. What's so fantastic about them? They include what she considers to be the books' weaknesses as well as their strengths.

I rarely read blog reviews unless I am already interested in the book for some reason. I don't read them because so many bloggers have a policy of publishing only what they call "positive" reviews. What, then, does the review have to tell me other than what I already know--that the reviewers like the books because they only write about books they like?

Yes, I may recall titles if I see them at a lot of blogs, and that will lead me to pick up a book if I stumble upon it somewhere. But I often don't get more than that from blog reviews because I just can't get excited about reading a post when I know I'm only going to hear sweetness and light about the title under discussion.

Look what Ms. Yingling does: She begins her reviews with sort of an abstract describing the story and then in subtitled sections that you can't miss states the books' strengths and weaknesses. These things are so quick and easy to read. Oh, my gosh, what an opportunity to be exposed to more titles.

As I've said here so many times before, when a reviewer does a "balanced" review, including criticism that doesn't necessarily fall into the warm and cuddly category, it's not necessarily a loss for the author. Take a look at Ms. Yingling's review of Horton Halfpott, for instance. Under Weaknesses, she says, "Remember, I couldn't stand Snicket, so this was hard for me to get through. The names and Victorian setting, which may delight students, irritated me." Many readers loved the Snicket books. Mentioning that that aspect of the book irritated her has the potential to convince some readers that this is just the book for them or for the people they buy for. If Ms. Yingling had a policy of only doing reviews of books she totally loved, her readers wouldn't have been exposed to this title--a loss for the author and his book.

Also, Ms. Yingling blogs about other things, too.

Well, it's too bad The Spectacle gave up the ghost, but now I have another blog to replace it. Am off to add it to my reader right now.

The Spectacle Wraps Things Up

The Spectacle, a blog maintained by a group of middle grade and YA writers of science fiction and fantasy, announced yesterday that it is calling it a day. "...the original group of posters agreed to keep it going for 843 days exactly." Yesterday was Day 843.

I think creating a short-term blog (not that 843 days is a short period of time--it's just not open-ended) is a fantastic idea for people who have in mind a particular project or topic they want to research and write about. If I had a better grasp of time, I'd try it. But I don't, so don't hold your breath expecting me to do one.

As usual, I am more than a month behind with my blog reader, so I am rushing back to read all The Spectacle posts from around April 21 so I can wrap things up with them. In preparation for their end times, the bloggers were interviewing each other.

I found Parker Peevyhouse's chat with Joni Sensel particularly interesting because they talked about Joni's plans to publish a POD and e-book this fall. Then they got into how useful blogs and being part of on-line writing communities are for assisting writers in promoting themselves. Parker says, "I would say it has built up support, but has it “made” writers’ careers?...The blogging is fun, and I like chatting with commenters. I don’t know that it did a lot to increase book sales for our bloggers. So the real value is getting to talk about stuff we like to talk about!" Joni later says, "I’ve seen several not-very-scientific studies that suggest the same thing–blogging and social networking are fun but probably don’t sell books."

I have to say that everything I've read on the subject agrees with Joni and Parker's impression. I've never heard of any documentation that actually proves that an Internet platform by way of...anything, actually...helps sell books. And, yet, I am here.

Parker's post on her Christmas Kindle was also good. You can download free classics you've never read but always meant to! And at this Christmas Kindle post I learned that when I get a Kindle or a Kindle-like device, I must be very careful to never load it with games.

Then here is Parker talking to P.J. Hoover about P.J. self-publishing a book with the assistance of her literary agent.

The folks at The Spectacle finished up their blog project with some fine material. Good luck to them all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When Bob Met Woody--Outsider Narrative Nonfiction

When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio and illustrated by Marc Burckhardt tells the story of how Bob Dylan became a musician and his early attraction to singer/composer Woody Guthrie's work. The book's publisher describes it as a picture book biography, but I prefer to think of it as narrative nonfiction. Though perhaps all biography is a type of narrative nonfiction.

In the March/April 2011 issue of The Horn Book, author Elizabeth Partridge says in her essay Narrative Nonfiction: Kicking Ass at Last that writers of narrative nonfiction are "making sure we are telling a story." "Nonfiction often gets accused of just being about plot," she goes on, while "narrative nonfiction takes people, places, and events, builds bridges between them, gives them meaning and emotional content."

This is what I feel Gary Golio has done in When Bob Met Woody, as well as in his earlier book, Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow—A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix. These are not extensive, complete life stories. Instead, Golio has recognized the narrative possibility of some portion of Dylan’s and Hendrix’s lives and told a story about it. Or, to put it another way, he’s recognized that there’s a story there and tells it.

To bring in some more of my nonfiction reading about nonfiction, both When Bob Met Woody and Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow are nonfiction with themes. They have a shared theme, to be more precise, the outsider with a desire to create that is so great that he overcomes his outsider status in order to do it. I like theme, particularly outsider themes, and these two books drip it.

Golio portrays Dylan, as he did Hendrix, as a self-taught musician from a family that couldn’t assist him in his musical training. In fact, in Dylan’s case the family appears to have opposed his musical goals. "Dad didn’t care for Bob’s music and thought playing the guitar was a waste of time." His parents "hoped he’d be an engineer." Both men, as boys, were also influenced by what they heard on the radio, which is probably a factor of their having been contemporaries, with Hendrix being born in 1942 and Dylan in 1941. I wonder what impact, if any, radio has on young people these days but at the time Dylan and Hendrix were growing up, radio would have been an accessible source of music for people without money to pay for records, tickets, or music lessons. Golio even picks a sort of Hendrix-like quotation to describe Dylan’s feelings about Guthrie’s music. "Woody made each word count. He painted with words." This is a kind of imagery Golio used in Jimi: Sounds Like A Raindow, in which he described Hendrix’s music visually, as color.

It's at that point that the two books really part ways. When Bob Met Woody branches off into different territory once Dylan becomes taken with the music of Woody Guthrie. We get a sort of journey/quest story as the twenty-year-old aspiring musician hitchhikes half way across the country to meet the older, established folk singer, who is hospitalized with Huntington’s Disease. Journey stories are terrific for narrative drive, and I was thinking that someone should pitch this tale as a movie as I was reading this part the first time.

I often read children’s books on two levels. I read for my own enjoyment, of course, and When Bob Met Woody’s outsider story makes the book for me, as does all its references to writers and musicians I have at least a familiarity with. Its great post story material in the form of an afterword and author’s note is a draw, too. But while I'm reading I’m also always aware that I am reading a book that was written for someone else, for someone without my years of experience and reading background. I particularly obsess on that question when I’m reading nonfiction for children. With When Bob Met Woody we’re talking about two figures whose names are probably unfamiliar to children, so I had to think about whether or not child readers would be interested.

While children may not have heard Guthrie or Dylan’s names, it’s very likely they’ve heard their music. One of the interesting aspects of their professional lives is that both men were so prolific and so well-regarded by other musicians, that many people of all ages may have been exposed to their work because so many artists have performed it. More importantly, what makes the Bob Dylan story as presented in When Bob Met Woody child worthy is, once again, that outsider theme. The child who had to struggle against his social world to do what he wanted to do is compelling to young readers because to some extent all children are doing that at some point in their lives over one issue or another. That story is relatable.

Regarding Marc Burckhardt’s artwork: The March/April 2011 issue of The Horn Book also includes an article called
What Makes a Good Picture Book Biography?
by Viki Ash and Thom Barthelmess. The authors say that the illustrators of such books use "sophisticated imagery to complement the narrative with a sense of the time and place of the subject’s life." I think Burckhardt’s illustrations have a retro, mid-twentieth century feel that definitely do provide a setting for Golio’s story without the author having to waste a lot of time telling us, say, what radios, cars, and cash registers looked like at the time Bob Dylan was growing up.

Marc Tyler Nobleman describes his favorite scene from When Bob Met Woody. Mine is the one showing a teenage Bob holding a telephone to his ear, his coat and hat already on, while he tells a nurse at the hospital where Woody Guthrie is being treated, "I’m coming out there...Tell Woody I’m coming out to see him."

The When Bob Met Woody blog tour has already stopped at
The Fourth Musketeer and
Noblemania. You can follow it next week at:

Monday, May 23 Picture Book of the Day

Tuesday, May 24 Deo Writer

Thursday, May 26, The Brain Lair

I Love It When I Have These Interactions With The Universe. Is There A Word For That?

The last few days I've been working on a post for the When Bob Met Woody blog tour. I won't say too much about the book today, since I'll be going on about it in some length tomorrow. I will just point out that it involves the young Bob Dylan's interest in Woody Guthrie's music.

Okay, quite apart from that, I have become very bored with the CDs in my car CD player. Some engineering genius came up with the idea of putting CD players under the front seat of cars (at least under my front seat), which means it's very inconvenient to change them. I end up listening to the same things for months, and I reached the breaking point yesterday morning, when I knew I would be in the car for a while.

So, just before I went tearing out of the house, late as usual, I stopped at the CD shelf/stacks/mess and, with no forethought, picked up a Sammy Hagar CD and Nanci Griffith, Other Voices Other Rooms and then managed to get them into the CD player before I was off and running.

It's probably been years since I've listened to the Nancy Griffith CD, so I ended up spending most of my time with that one. I'd gone all the way through it once, and was on the second run through, when I thought, "Hey, Nanci Griffith is folky. I wonder if she does any Woody Guthrie songs on this thing?" Because, you know, everyone does Woody, right?

When I checked out the CD, I found out that not only did she cover a Woody Guthrie piece, she did one by Bob Dylan, too! And Dylan played harmonica on it!

I know, I've said it here before, but, really, these kinds of weird connection type things happen to me all the time. It's seriously creepy, but I love it, anyway.

Nancy Griffith singing Woody Guthrie's Do Re Mi.

Nanci Griffith singing Bob Dylan's Boots of Spanish Leather.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What Are The Chances?

What were the chances that I would ego surf today and find a brand new post on Anne of Green Gables at Archimedes Forgets that refers to me? I don't ego surf a lot, in large part because I don't find enough new stuff, so how's that good for my ego?

Hmmm. In that first sentence I think I used two prepositional phrases and a phrase beginning with that, all of which modify "brand new post." I think "brand new post" is an object of some sort. I don't know if I was supposed to do that.

Copy editor!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Touring With Dylan

Next Thursday I'll be taking part in a blogging event for When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio. You'll be able to find other bloggers' thoughts on this book at the following places and times:

Tuesday, May 17, The Fourth Musketeer, which specializes in historical fiction and history-related non-fiction for children and teens

Wednesday, May 18 Noblemania, author Marc Tyler Nobleman's blog. Marc has written picture book nonfiction, including Boys of Steel.

Thursday, May 19 Moi. Ici.

Monday, May 23 Picture Book of the Day, one of author Anastasia Suen's blogs. Like Marc, Anastasia has written nonfiction for children.

Tuesday, May 24 Deo Writer, librarian and writer Jone MacCulloch's blog. I've been hearing about Jone for years and have even corresponded with her upon occasion.

Thursday, May 26, The Brain Lair, a librarian blog that is new to me. Its keeper is a frighteningly prolific reader. I am ashamed to even bring up my 2011 reading.

In addition to all this Dylan/Guthrie content, you can check out the review that will be appearing in next weekend's New York Sunday Times.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Now That's Some Serious Self-Promotion

How Writers Build the Brand suggests that we are all sad PR amateurs compared to the writers who came before us.

You Know, The Guys Can Have Curious George

New Study Finds Gender Bias in Children's Books in The New York Times. I don't doubt this, but I can't say I ever felt any loss because Curious George is a guy. He's kind of a bumbler.

The comments after the article are more interesting than the article, itself.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A New Penderwicks

I just heard on facebook that there's a third Penderwicks book. That's one of the better, more useful, things I've heard on facebook.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Is To Kill A Mockingbird Love A Generational Thing?

The Long Life of a Mockingbird appears in the most recent The Horn Book. In it, author Chelsey Philpott talks about Mockingbird's impact on popular culture and young adult literature.

I find To Kill a Mockingbird a lot like Catcher in the Rye in that it is an adult book that has cast a very long shadow on YA literature. Just as there have been many books in which unhappy teen boys have discovered that life sucks since Holden Caulfield whined his way into American literature, there have been plenty of books in which girls learn something big and meaningful about life while living in small towns, surrounded by eccentric, kind of mystical, small town characters. That business about learning something...anything...may be the reason these adult books became part of the high school canon.

But questions have arisen over just how meaningful young readers find Catcher. To Kill a Mockingbird came up in a recent booky correspondence with my nephew, the elementary school teacher, and he described it as a title that was shoved down their throats when he was in high school. He definitely didn't seem to find it highly significant in any way, and I haven't run into any other people his age who embrace it.

Certainly not the way I embraced it when I was in my early teens and reading it on my own, before anyone started teaching it. It was probably one of the first "literary" adult novels I read. I'm guessing my experience was similar to that of many readers my generation--the generation that places books on reading lists and approves them for teaching in classrooms. We loved it, we think we learned something from it, so it must be important enough to teach to another generation.

When I reread Mockingbird a second time, maybe twenty or thirty years after my first reading, it held up pretty well. But I didn't see it as some meaningful work about racism. Instead, it seemed like a daddy book to me. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But wouldn't father worship make an interesting class discussion with YAs. "What? There are people who worship their fathers? Why?"

My experience teaching Sunday school in a main stream Protestant church also raised a big question for me regarding Mockingbird. "'Remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.' That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something...," Scout says. As a Catholic child at the time I was reading the book, that was a powerful statement. But my children didn't hear a lot about sin in their religious instruction, and I suspect our church wasn't alone in avoiding discussion of that concept with the young. "Remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." What does that mean to someone who hasn't had a good, strong education in just what sin is and what it means to be a sinner?

If To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye don't maintain their position in the YA canon, and I, personally, think they won't, it will be interesting to see what adolescents are being taught in another twenty years or so.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Oh! Oh! A Literary Fight!

Well, it's not a truly literary fight the way the Lillian Hellman/Mary McCarthy thing was, because Neil Gaiman was the only literary figure involved. And he wasn't really fighting, he was just laughing at the Minnesota politician who called him a "pencil-necked little weasel" because he accepted a payment from a Minnesota state arts fund for speaking at a Minnesota library. But the politician did say he hates Gaiman. And it was all very entertaining.

The question that arises for me (And I always have a question, don't I?--Oh! There's another!) is did Neil Gaiman hold a gun to someone's head and say, "Stand and deliver, your money or your life?" I understand that people involved with providing funding for organizations that engage speakers may not want to see a lot of their money going to any one individual speaker. (Gaiman was not poorly paid.) But isn't their issue with the organization's policies and not with the speakers who enter into contracts with the organization? The organization did not have to hire Gaiman. He was not forcing anyone to do anything; he was hired to perform a job.

Don't get all riled up, anyone. I'm not saying funding should be cut for anything. I'm not stupid. I'm just saying the complaint here should have been addressed to the administrative organization that wrote the check and not to the laborer who received it for his work.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Oh, The Humanity!

If you don't follow my personal facebook page, which is not to be confused with my professional facebook page, where all the photos are, you don't know that I was quite seriously traumatized yesterday. I realized that I had lost Chapter 11 of a fifteen chapter (to date) work in progress.

I understand how it happened. It's totally logical. A couple of months ago, I started working on the bedroom laptop for a half an hour or so first thing in the morning. This has really improved my output. But on the laptop I save directly to a flash drive (also known, I'm told, as a thumb drive, and, at our house, as a sticky thing). I also work on a desktop in the office where I save to the computer's hard drive. I save the hard drive's work to the flash drive and transfer the flash drive's work to the desk top's hard drive, thus, presumably, always having two copies of everything.

Things became more complicated about a month or more ago, when I decided to write a new Chapter Six. Each one of my chapters is kept in a separate file. So once I did a new Chapter Six, the original Chapter Six became Chapter Seven, and everything had to be moved from that point.

I am sure there is some logical, techie way to have renamed everything, but I shuffled instead. Between the moving back and forth between drives and the shuffling, Chapter Ten, which should have become Chapter Eleven was lost, and Chapter Eleven and Twelve were duplicates.

Sad, sad, sad.

Well, guess who saved the day. Yes, yes, that's right. Computer Guy. He backs up the desktop's harddrive every week, but he doesn't override past backups because...Well, we won't get into that. It is enough to say that he was able to find the missing material in the back up from a few weeks back.

I didn't work much today because am still recovering from this experience.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Yes, YA Is About Identity

Chris Barton on Unbridled Silliness & Carefully Researched Truth-telling is an excellent guest post at Cynsations. Chris, who I kind of know in that weird Internet way, writes about how his new book, Can I See Your I.D.? came to be and says that the book is about identity "a theme that a YA audience, especially, can relate to. They’re at a point in their lives when “Who am I?” is neither an idle nor an uncommon question."

I've never thought of nonfiction as having themes, but it's an interesting idea. Just at dinner this evening, a couple of us were talking about documentaries, and one I saw that I always describe as being just random information. "It had no point," I said. After reading Chris's piece, I think what that documentary was missing was some kind of thematic organization.

Now I will look for that in my nonfiction reading.

How Lovely Are These?

Camille at Book Moot linked to A publisher's postbag--in pictures, a selection of illustrated envelopes sent to a British publisher.

Was anyone else reminded of Griffin & Sabine?

Monday, May 02, 2011

I Need To Come Up With An Answer For Those Questions

While I was at that shower yesterday, I met someone who asked me both of my least favorite questions. She was a family member of a family member, so she knew I was a writer. In fact, when we met, she said, "Oh, you're the writer," which sounded as if we were getting off to a great start because, believe me, I very, very rarely hear that. Even after someone learns that I'm a writer, they're rarely impressed because I didn't write Harry Potter or Twilight. (Believe it or not, in the circles I travel in, no one has heard of The Hunger Games. Maybe after the movie comes out.)

Anyway, we're talking a bit about how I may have visited one of her kids' schools, and this woman says, "So you make a living writing?"


I said, "Well,it's definitely not a living. I don't know any writers who make a living writing."

That was a very defensive thing to say, but it's also true. The most successful writer I've met, personally, was still working part-time as a technical writer. I'm not talking about writers sitting up on panels at conferences, of course. (I've been in the same room with Rick Riordan, and once I was so close to Tomie DePaolo I could have hit him.) I'm talking about writers who ate lunch with me at conferences.

How Authors Get Paid by Cinda Williams Chima explains why so few of us make a living writing.

Okay, so after we've made clear that I can't support myself, she asks me, "What else do you do?"

In case it's not clear, she meant "What else do you do that generates income?" Now that's another awkward question. And it's not awkward because I do a lot of traditional women's homemaking/family care-type work and feel that that is unworthy in some way. I am a feminist. I hold traditional women's work in high regard. No, this is not a gender thing by any means. That second question is awkward for me because it is usually, if not always, asked by people who I know do not have the luxury of living in a home with one breadwinner. Most must have two. And, in this case, the question came from a single woman who absolutely had to work and make enough income to live on.

So I have to tell these people that I am supported by a male worker so that I can choose to work in a field that pays too poorly to provide for myself, forget about a family. And, yeah, I don't like having to do that.

Every time these questions come up, I promise myself that I will come up with a stock answer that I'm happy with. But always, after a couple of days, I'm busy with other things and forget about it.

You Never Know Why Someone Might Like Your Work

Yesterday I spent three hours at a bridal shower. I've written before about how lame I am at conferences. Showers, the same thing. There is some question about whether or not I have a hormone defiency that makes it impossible for me to get all excited when some poor engaged woman has to cut a ribbon on a package and everyone cheers because that's supposed to mean another child for the happy bride. What the hell century are we living in, anyway?

Here's what's weird, though. If you look at the picture at the right taken at the shower, you will see that it looks amazingly like lunch at a writers' conference. Seriously. I'm not making this up. Other writers--am I right?

But that's not the point of this post. The point is...is...yeah...here it is:

One of the other guests was a reading teacher from the local middle school, whom I just happen to know. We chatted for a bit, and she told me that she's still using The Hero of Ticonderoga with some of her slower readers, even though it's a middle grade novel and thus somewhat young for her seventh graders. She says that what ups the difficulty level for this book and her readers is the father's dialect. He speaks with a French accent, him.

The fact that Nancy, she grew up in Vermont, her, with two Franco-American parents who spoke like that is a draw, too.