Thursday, August 31, 2006

I'm Glad I Checked This Out

I finished Lost in Place, Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia by Mark Salzman a few days ago. You will remember that Lost in Place is the book I read years ago and forgot about until a high school in Connecticut removed it from its One Book One School program because "the language is filthy."

Okay, so let's address the filthy language issue because, quite honestly, that's what we're all interested in, right?

Lost in Place is very meticulously written. However, it is a memoir, and Salzman writes about the man who taught him kung fu when he was a teenager. The guy was...hmmm...not exactly your stereotypical martial arts master. I don't think most people think of them as shouting obscenities at their students. Or drinking before class. Or offering to find their teenage students prostitutes while they're off at some kind of martial arts meet.

If this is what the guy was like, then it is appropriate to show the kind of language he used. This book was written years after the fact, of course, and it seems unlikely that Salzman remembers every @## and candy%&& exactly as it was uttered. Still, I think it's unjust for this book to be labeled as containing filthy language on the basis of the characterization of a real person.

Now that that's been taken care of, the next question one might ask is whether or not this book was a good choice for a One Book One School program. Maybe, maybe not. Salzman was not your typical teenager by a long shot. At the age of thirteen he took up kung fu and became obsessed with Zen. He spent years studying this stuff. I don't know how many kids would be interested. I don't know if I was particularly interested the first time I read the book.

I'm sure you can find some teenagers who would be interested in reading about another teen's experience whether or not it had any connection to their own. On the other hand, some of the younger kids might not get Mark.

So, I just don't know.

I, however, have another of Salzman's books, Iron and Silk, waiting for me upstairs.

And It's Here

I just received the newsletter. The entire thing is devoted to Cathy's Book, which got a lot of press back in June for authentic product placement.

The first two books featured at this month are Cathy's Book and Meg Cabot's How to be Popular, which has what I guess you could call a corporate sponsor.

What does it all mean?

I know if I ever accept product placement or corporate sponsorship, I'm not messing with make-up companies. I want a car manufacturer, someone who will provide me with a set of wheels. (I'm car shopping this week. Can you tell?)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I thought The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference concluded today, but it ended on Sunday. Clearly, I am not writers'conference material.

I've considered attending a writers'conference. But I had such a good time at the ones I went to back in the day because I wasn't a writer. I could spend my spare time swimming, hiking, reading, and talking with my friends. Listening to panel discussions or manuscript critiques couldn't possibly be half as fun.

I'm published now. The good times are over for me.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I Can't Be The Only One Who Thinks This Is Going Too Far, Can I?

A while back I told Fuse # 8 that I thought I was a reading anarchist. Imagine how freaked out I became when I read about this at her website. I think if I were a child in that school district I'd see how many books I could read that weren't part of the reading assignment.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Continues

The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference continues. You can read the conference's daily newsletter to see what you're missing. Last Monday they had their annual picnic at Robert Frost's cabin. They have been doing that for decades.

We hated having to get ready for that freaking picnic.

Those of us who worked in the kitchen at Bread Loaf were always fascinated with the poor writers, some of whom worked with us as waiting staff. We were always watching them, always waiting for them to do...something. Anything. My first year at Bread Loaf I was warned about the writers’ conference for the entire six weeks of the English school that preceded it. The summer before, I was told, a well-known science fiction writer had done his laundry—all of it—and then sunbathed naked while he waited for it to dry. There had been a dance in the enormous old barn, which then housed a lounge (and a colony of bats in its rafters), that same year. The gyrations of one male writer, according to a kitchen employee who had been watching him, were “obscenity in motion.”

But nothing much seemed to happen during the years I was at Bread Loaf. I went to some kind of cocktail party, hung around the fringes of a women in literature meeting, and snuck into at least one reading (Lore Segal a children's writer, among other things, though I had no interest in children's books at that point.)

The most significant occurrence during my three years at the writers’ conference wasn’t an occurrence at all. In fact, it was just the opposite. I was always missing people. Julia Alvarez was a student at Bread Loaf—in the years before I got there. John Irving was on the faculty—“in the mid-1970’s” the magazines always say. Does “mid-1970’s” include 1974 and 1975, the last two years I was there? If he was there, I didn’t know it. Toni Morrison served on the faculty, too—the year after I left. David Huddle, a fiction writer who is often mentioned in articles about the conference, was my creative writing professor for two semesters at the University of Vermont. Was he there when I was? Of course not.

This is the story of my life, people. I always manage to miss everything.

In the interests of journalistic integrity, I must tell you that I think the photo included with this post is of waiting staff at the English school and not at the writers' conference. But graduate students in English look very much like aspiring writers.

Every Cliche--And Yet...

Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl by D. L. Garfinkle is about a teenage boy.

His parents are divorced.

His older sister is attractive and popular while he is a tall, skinny, high-achieving geek.

His father is distant and uncaring.

His mom is going back to school.

His mom has a new boyfriend.

His dreamgirl is in love with someone else and uses him.

He has an elderly wise friend.

He goes to a funeral.

He keeps a journal, which provides the structure for this novel.

There may be a cliche...or two or three...that I've missed.

However, in spite of the fact that this book contained nothing new, I actually looked forward to reading it. Storky, himself, is engaging and witty. And that journal format? Great for reading on the treadmill. Because journal books don't include much in the way of transitional material, the reader doesn't have to do much.

In fact, I enjoyed Storky enough that I picked up another teen journal book that I've seen promoted quite a bit. Unfortunately, it's no Storky. The long, tedious entries telling me about the main character's cliche-ridden life are a chore.

While I looked forward to going back and reading more of Storky, I think I'm going to forget about the other book. No matter how trite I may find the journal thing, not everyone can pull it off. I think it's only fair to say that Garfinkle does.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Modest Progress

Last week I was horrified to find that The Telegraph has removed 26 weeks worth of material from A Novel In A Year. I'd pretty much caught up to that point, but I was still mulling over some of the earlier exercises and assignments. Must work faster. (Like that's going to happen.)

I have finished a draft of the essay I was working on. However, I want to submit it to a site that's interested in creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is nonfiction that reads like fiction. So I have to rewrite it. You'd think I'd be rather down about that, but for some reason I'm not.

And I should be able to finish cleaning the office next week. If I don't, the parts I've cleaned will be getting dirty again before the whole room is done.

I finished painting my bedroom, though. That's one thing done.

Adults Are Reading YA

Grown-ups Turning To Teen Books in The Philadelphia Inquirer gives a number of reasons why adults are now reading YA fiction.

One book store manager is quoted as saying, "It used to be content. Sex, incest, drugs, abuse, all used to be adult themes only - but that's no longer true."

The article doesn't say that that's one of the reasons grown-ups are reading YA, but I'm sure it doesn't hurt.

Another favorite quote: "One of the reasons the YA age group is hard to tack down is that there is no industry standard that forces publishers to define the genre uniformly."

That makes me crazy! I must have a standard! I must have uniformity!

I found this article through

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion

A couple more reviews for Happy Kid! have turned up on the web, one at Jen Robinson's Book Page and the other at Anne Marie Pace's Journal (scroll down to 2006-08 post).

And Teens at Coventry Library had good things to say about Saving the Planet & Stuff.

A Great Sequel

I enjoyed Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, but I think the sequel, Skybreaker, is even better.

I've been arguing all summer with a young relative about foreshadowing. There has to be a logic behind the things that happen in books. When the heroine saves the hero, the reader has to think, "Of course! She was able to do that because of something she did in the second chapter!" You have to plant the seeds ahead of time, so to speak.

Kenneth Oppel does a wonderful job of that in Skybreaker. Sure, there were a few times I could tell what was coming, but what was coming was still well done.

One thing I find particularly interesting about both Airborn and Skybreaker is that the main character, sixteen-year-old Matt Cruse, seems a little flat and bland to me. What brings him alive are the more flamboyant characters around him. The wonderfully flawed Captain Hal Slater and his Sherpa crew do an excellent job of building a fire under our hero as they all sail off together to salvage a ghost ship.

The young women in Skybreaker are extremely interesting because, though the book is set in an alternative past, it's a past we can almost recognize. So the young women are living under Victorian restrictions. Yet they are still very powerful characters.

Anybody can have a great time reading this book.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Child Prodigies--What's The Attraction?

For several days the folks at child_lit have been discussing child prodigies. Can children excel at writing at an early age? How old do you have to be before you are no longer considered a prodigy? And more! Much more!

The discussion (which really is interesting) reminded me of an incident at my local elementary school. (Forgive me if I've told this story before--not much happens to me, so I tend to repeat myself.) The challenge and enrichment teacher called me to ask if I would meet with a particularly gifted second grade child who just loved to write. I was never sure what I was supposed to do with this kid, and I couldn't make a commitment to meet with her regularly. But I did agree to talk to her a couple of times.

Well, she was a very attractive child with an excellent vocabulary whose writing probably was very good. However, because I watch television, I could tell that a lot of what she was writing about wasn't original.

Now, I don't think small children should be pressured to be original. If they want to learn skills by practicing them on story lines from their favorite TV shows or books, that's fine by me. I think they probably can learn a lot that way. But I don't think that's any sign of genius, either, and I don't think it's a good idea to be encouraging such children to think they're doing something unique when they are, essentially, practicing drills. Though, once again, drills are very good.

This experience and the discussion at child_lit has led me to wonder if we adults aren't overly fascinated with brilliant kids and want to find some sort of unusual brilliance in children who are "merely" intelligent.

Really, it is enough for children to be smart. They don't have to go overboard with it.

Think of all the children's books about gifted kids. I don't want to suggest that gifted kids don't make good subjects for books. But adults write those books. Adults are the ones who find them so fascinating.


Calling It Drama May Be Going Too Far

A "drama" is being developed based on the The Gossip Girl series. I think the president of Alloy Entertainment is right. TV does make a lot of sense for The Gossip Girl. Probably more sense than a book.

Link comes from bookshelves of doom.

Monday, August 21, 2006

So True, So True

In an article (very long) called How To Read, Nick Hornby says: If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity - and there are statistics that show that this is by no means assured - then we have to promote the joys of reading, rather than the (dubious) benefits.

Tell it to the people who come up with summer reading lists for kids.

I've actually read The Polysyllabic Spree, a collection of Hornby's Stuff I've Been Reading columns for The Believer, which he refers to in this essay.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

My Conference Experience II: The Armpit of Bread Loaf

I've heard that it's difficult to get into the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference as a writer. I wouldn't know about that, but I can say that even the kitchen staff was an exclusive group when I was there. We had a large number of private college students working there. Even the employees who attended public institutions had something unique about them. The girl from Michigan had grown up in Europe, where her father was a school administrator and an opera fan. He had splurged on an airline ticket so he could attend Jackie Kennedy’s second husband’s ex-girlfriend’s farewell performance. The dental hygiene student was from the town in New Hampshire where J.D. Salinger had been carrying on with Joyce Maynard. Debi said absolutely everyone had known about it.

I found that story very interesting since I was extremely jealous of Maynard because she'd had a cover article published in The New York Times Magazine the year before. I had never even written an article that some could publish. This seemed totally beside the point to me.

How, you may ask, did a state university farm kid get in amongst this crowd? Well, I had connections. I was a second-generation Middlebury College kitchen employee. My Aunt Tessy, who had worked in a couple of Middlebury College kitchens, including Bread Loaf's, used her pull to get me in.

The kitchen staff really was the best place to be at Bread Loaf. We could get in to nearly everything that was going on, we didn't feel any pressure about doing readings, and instead of paying to be there, we were paid.

And most of us had private rooms whereas the students at the English school and the writers had to double up. Our rooms were over the kitchen and very garret-like, which I loved. Everyone should get to spend some time in a garret when they are young. I felt very literary even though I seldom wrote anything.

Now that I have written something, I feel I deserve ac at the very least.

I've heard that these rooms have been renovated and turned over to the writers. How sad. Kids like I was back in then won't get to use them anymore.

Perhaps This Series Can Be Saved

It looks as if Eoin Colfer is trying to break some new ground by having Holly Short, former officer with LEPrecon, go into business as a private investigator in the fifth Artemis Fowl book, due out this fall. I hope so. Loved the first three books. The fourth one, not so much.

Thanks to Big A little a for the link.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Thank Goodness This Book Is No Longer Required Reading

I'm almost certain I've read Lost In Place: Growing Up Absurd In Suburbia by Mark Salzman and forgotten about it. Fortunately, the book was brought to mind because it made the news when the high school in Brookfield, Connecticut removed it from its One Book One School program because "the language is filthy."

The title is what stands out in my mind. I was interested in the "growing up absurd in suburbia" part. I remember nothing about the author being interested in Zen and martial arts. Now I want to read the book again because I'm interested in those things, too. And, of course, the filthy language is a real draw, too.

I'm off to the library tomorrow to get this thing. This makes me wonder how many books that are banned by schools are later read by adults who would never have heard of them.

Bizarrely enough, I think I've read one of Salzman's other books, too, The Soloist. A School Library Journal review at Amazon describes it as YA, by the way.

Yeah, Patrick, I'm Not Crazy About Summer Reading Assignments, Either

Rick Riordan says some things at his blog about summer reading and Newbery books that are very similar to things I've said here. So I'll let you get a fresh spin on those topics from him.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I'm Speechless On This One

NPR reports that L. Frank Baum wrote editorials supporting the extermination of Native Americans prior to his writng the Oz books.

Bookslut provided the link.

My Conference Experience

Yesterday was the first day of this year's Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, which is held on Middlebury College's beautiful mountain campus in Ripton, Vermont. The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference is considered quite a big deal in circles where writers' conferences matter, and over the years I've read a few accounts of participants' experiences there.

A few years back I wrote my own essay about my time at Bread Loaf and shopped it around. No takers.

You don't suppose the stunning lack of interest was because I spent my three summers at Bread Loaf working in the kitchen, do you?

One of the other members of the kitchen staff once referred to us as "the armpit of Bread Loaf." That was probably true. However, the very best place to experience Bread Loaf when I was there was in the armpit.

From time to time over the next two weeks, while the present writers' conference is taking place, I will post my recollections of my only experience at a writers' conference.

In the accompanying photo, I am just to the right of center, the long face over a blue check sleeve. Our uniforms were provided by the college (we also worked at Bread Loaf for six weeks before the conference, during the English graduate program) from a stockpile of outfits employees had worn in summers past. I always chose an old-fashioned checked thing that looked as if it came out of a diner. I wore green high top sneakers with it.

I thought I was making a statement. I can't remember what it was.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Twist On Mother Love

Stories abound about mothers going over the top with obsessive love for their children. Jack Gantos provides an...intriguing...twist with The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, a tale of children who go over the top with obsessive love for their mothers.

Young Ivy lives across the street from the elderly Rumbaugh twins, whose apartments are located above their pharmacy. Ivy and her mom hang out with these creepy guys whose hobby is taxidermy. They really, really loved their mom back when she was living. In fact, obsessive mother love is a curse in their family.

So why does Ivy obsessively love her mother, too?

Jack Gantos is a very, very fine writer, and Love Curse is elegantly done. I found myself getting seriously creeped out while reading the book, though, and not in a positive sort of way. I was anxious for Ivy's mother, who was the only character with anything that approached good mental health. And that's not saying much. But I finally realized I should lighten up and enjoy Love Curse as a horror story.

The book's introduction refers to gothic elements, as do some reviews. That was lost on me, since I'm not knowledgeable about gothic literature. (A young woman trapped in a lonely house on the moors, a mysterious guy, maybe some rain...that's gothic to me.) However, if you read the book, do watch for the arrangements the twins and Ivy make with embalmed animals. Those are clever.

Once again, I wonder if this book shouldn't have been directed to an adult audience. I'm not worried about young minds becoming unsettled by the macabre aspects of the tale. I just think that maternal obsession is something adults have more experience with and understanding of.

Besides, by the time most people reach their thirties or forties, they almost certainly know of at least one person who isn't all that different from the Twins.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Things Aren't Exactly Moving Along Here

I sent my manuscript out two weeks ago. Since then I have made minimal progress on the short story and essay I started quite some time ago, I haven't caught up with the Novel in a Year exercises because I've spent so much time going over the exercises I'd already completed, and I haven't finished cleaning my desk. In addition to all those partially completed tasks I now have a partially painted bedroom.

I think the only thing I've finished is updating my website. That's because I told Computer Guy to do it.

Today while I was working on my desk, I found a really good pen, which I hid from the rest of the family, a hardcopy of an e-mail about the significance of cursive writing (what was I thinking?), and a small newspaper clipping regarding a book on biking.

Well, you can't move a river, right? You can only flow with it.

This Is Heartening

Mega bestsellers usually get all the press, so it's easy for a writer with...modest...sales to feel inadequate. Take my word for it. Fixated by Facts: Nonfiction taking over includes sales figures for a couple of well-known literary writers and quotes Ron Charles, fiction editor for the Washington Post's Book World, as saying, "In fiction, less than 10,000 copies is considered successful for a first novel."

I wish this kind of information was commonly known. Not only would I feel better, personally, but I think many people going into writing have unreasonable expectations about sales and income. I also think many readers think a book that doesn't sell like The DaVinci Code or any Harry Potter must be a dud.

Be sure to check out the last paragraph of this article, too.

The link came from

Monday, August 14, 2006

Lord Peter With A Hook

First off, I want to be very clear that I am a fan of Eugenides, the main character in three books by Megan Whalen Turner. I think the books are uneven, but Eugenides is a big enough draw to keep me reading.

He first appeared in The Thief, a marvelous book in which a thief isn't exactly what he appears to be. I wasn't as fond of The Queen of Attolia. For one thing, Eugenides is maimed by a woman he loves and later marries. That's way too close to victimization for my taste. If the genders had been reversed, if a female character had been maimed by a man she loved and later married, I think I wouldn't have been the only reader who was left with a bad taste in her mouth. But, still, Eugenides is a compelling character who I wanted to stick with.

The King of Attoila is an improvement on the second book. I don't think I'm giving away anything to say that Eugenides is now a king. A lot of the story is told from the point of view of a young guard, Costis. I liked that, but it did make for a problem. In order to get information out about Eugenides and his queen, those two characters have to behave somewhat revealingly in front of Costis and courtiers. That didn't seem realistic to me. And so much of the story involves Costis that when Turner jumps away to scenes without him--a couple are even in another kingdom--the movement is very awkward.

I also had a lot of trouble following the court intrigue. I never figured out why Eugenides told the Queen to have a couple of characters arrested, why one of them was released relatively quickly, and the other tortured.

Nonetheless, I stayed up late reading this book and kept stealing time away during the day to keep reading. Eugenides is that great a character.

In this last book, he reminded me a lot of another famous aristocrat--Lord Peter Wimsey. In The King of Attolia, Eugenides presents himself to the court as weak and ineffectual so that he can pursue his own aims--just as Wimsey does. He is knowledgeable about literature and all manner of other things--just like Wimsey. He suffers nightmares as a result of the torture he experienced in an earlier book. Lord Peter suffers from shell shock as a result of his experiences during World War I. Eugenides has Costis. Lord Peter has Bunter.

Of course, Eugenides has a hook instead of a right hand, while Lord Peter only has a lousy monocle for one of his eyes.

I first learned of Eugenides at the YA forum at Readerville. We got into a big discussion there regarding Eugenides' age. The younger YAs saw him as being a young teenager, maybe fourteen or fifteen. Older readers felt he had to be in his early twenties.

He is referred to in The King as being very young, though he has now acquired the sophistication (and battle scars) of an adult man.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

This Was Enlightening

Yesterday I attended the 2006 Twilight Zone Convention. Hey, give me a break. I went with a relative for his birthday.

Serious fans, the kind who go to conventions, are often viewed as... Well, perhaps having too much time on their hands? One often senses that they may be just a little too into whatever it is they are interested in. I will admit that I tended to feel that way, myself.

Not anymore.

I walked into that convention, and boy, did I feel at home. It was very much like literary events I've attended. Actors or other folks connected with The Twilight Zone in some way sat at tables at the convention just as authors sit at tables at, say, book fairs. The actors signed photographs, the authors sign books. The actors receive a fee for their autographs, the authors receive a royalty for theirs. Your Lois Nettletons (yesterday's Twilight Zone Convention) and your Tomie de Paolos (last year's Connecticut Children's Book Fair) have long lines of fans waiting to speak to them and get an autograph. At yesterday's convention there were also celebrities who weren't seeing much action, just as at literary events you find authors at tables, ignored and sitting in torment waiting for this hell to be over.

The Twilight Zone Convention had episodes of Twilight Zone running all day. At a book fair one author or another will give little talks during the day. There was a panel discussion yesterday afternoon. Yes, you get your panel discussions at, say, book festivals. We didn't stay for last night's dinner, but supposedly one of the celebrities was going to be seated at each table of guests. Yup, several years ago I attended UMass's Perspectives in Children's Literature Conference and there was an author at each table during lunch.

Book fairs, book festivals, literature conferences, store appearances...they are all fan events just like the fan events created around television shows. Our fans are no different than Buffy's fans, though she has a lot more than I do.

You'll never hear me laughing about a Star Trek convention again.

By the way, I was only vaguely aware of who was going to be at this convention yesterday. So imagine my surprise when I found myself standing right in front of Mary Badham's table. Who is Mary Badham, you may ask. She was Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird! I met Scout! She was also in the last original episode of The Twilight Zone, which is why she was there.

I met Scout!

I met Lois Nettleton, too.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Okay, I'll Do It, Too

Yes, I will take a shot at the book meme that's been making its way around the kidlitosphere.

One book that changed your life

What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies. Whatever understanding of and appreciation for art I have, I learned from this book.

One book you have read more than once

When I was a child, I read Little Men so many times, that the last page in the book fell out. I wanted to be Jo in Little Men. To a great extent, I got my wish.

One book you would want on a desert island

I have a great fear of being stranded on a desert island. I'm afraid of being bored. I'd rather not think about this.

One book that made you laugh

The standout recently was Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

One book that made you cry

The ending of How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn.

One book you wish had been written

I wish someone would do a contemporary novel with a Lord Peter Wimsey-type character. I'm seeing Lord Peter's grandson in the twenty-first century. No room for amateur sleuths these days so the brilliant nobleman with the nitwit persona has to work for Scotland Yard in order to flex his mental muscles. It's a more democratic world, so I see him having to work for Bunter's granddaughter.

One book you wish had never been written

The fourth Artemis Fowl book. I found it very, very weak. A sad decline.

One book you are currently reading

I finshed The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner this afternoon and went right into The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos. And, of course, I'm still reading Word Court by Barbara Wallraff.

One book you've been meaning to read

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos. Unfortunately it's not on the two shelves that are filled with other books I've been meaning to read.

Friday, August 11, 2006

More Adventures in Desk Cleaning

That's right. I'm still not done. Exactly. I can't stick with a job very long.

A couple of days ago I found a couple of e-mails from my former editor. I know I didn't make hard copies of them when I received them--back in 2003 and 2004--because I can remember wondering if I'd ever find them again on my hard drive. Well, I must have sometime since the last time I cleaned my desk.

One of the e-mails included a list of reading association websites. Reading associations have conferences to which the associations often invite writers to speak. Said writers usually submit a proposal suggesting something they would talk about, and then they get an invitation. This is a good thing because the conferences attract hundreds of teachers and librarians, who recommend books to others. Promotion. Marketing. Etc.

Okay, so the reason it takes me so long to clean my desk is that when I find something like this e-mail from my editor with a list of websites, I must visit them. So I did. I've missed my chance to submit conference proposals for this year, which is just as well because conferences usually have topics. As a general rule, I draw a blank over topics.

This past winter I spoke at a teachers' conference in New York. The topic I was given was easy--I was asked to speak on how teachers could use my book in their classroom. Concise. I understood it. To paraphrase Captain Jack Sparrow, it was a simple plan, easy to remember. But usually conference topics are more like "Literacy Learning and Teaching: Reaching for New Horizons" and "Bringing Life to Literacy." (Connecticut and Delaware's topics this year.) What? That is way too vague for me. I cannot imagine what I would say about those things.

So I didn't make much progress cleaning my desk because I was looking at all these websites and feeling badly about myself.

While I truly believe that getting rid of clutter and simplifying your surroundings improves your general well-being, my well-being this afternoon wasn't feeling all that terrific.

Uh-oh. I Feel An Obsession Coming On

I'm afraid I'm becoming obsessed with all things Meg Cabot just as I'm obsessed with Jane Yolen's Journal. It's not as if I'm a major fan of these writers. I've never read anything by Cabot, and I haven't read anything by Yolen since my children were small. (We will not get into how long that's been.) It's the personas these women project on-line that I find so...riveting.

Jane just suffered through another case of food poisoning while at a writers' conference. She has absolutely horrifying experiences alone in motel bathrooms. On the other hand, though, when she's healthy she spends a great deal of time shopping and going out to eat. You have to admire her guts. If I'd been as sick as she's been after eating in restaurants, I don't think I'd let anyone else cook for me.

Meg Cabot is extremely photogenic. I chose this picture because I have one of myself in blue jeans speaking before a group (of 10 people, 6 of whom I was related to) over Memorial Day Weekend. When I left the house that morning, I thought I was going to look like Meg does in this picture. Then in this vidlit promotional thingie (thank you bookshelves of doom) we learn that on a typical day, she wakes up to over 2,000 unread e-mails, most of them about one of her books. On a typical day, I wake up to 5 unread e-mails. They are all offers to sell me sexual dysfunction products or watches. (Watches?)

Jane and I both read Ruth Rendell novels. Meg and I both watch House Hunters.

I feel as if the three of us are forming a little on-line writers' community. In my head.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Can We All Get A Piece Of This?

My first thought on reading Fuse #8 Production’s post Cabot Gone Corporate was to agree with her. Absolutely.

My second thought was, what corporate promotional deals can I swing for my books?

How about Oil of Olay since there's a grandmother in Happy Kid!? Also Clairol because Nana dyes her hair. Hey, if I have some kind of deal with those companies, shouldn’t I get a discount on the products I use?

Then there's Adidas because it carries a line of taekwondo uniforms and tkd is a big part of Happy Kid! I wear cheaper doboks, but if I had a deal with Adidas and they gave me a discount, I’d be happy to wear theirs.

A composting toilet company makes sense because I give those things a shout-out in Saving the Planet & Stuff. In fact, I’ll consider a promotional deal from any environmental company. Marketers of products for solar homes ought to give this some serious thought—particularly since I would love a solar home and, once again, I’m hoping for a discount from my sponsor.

Finally, St. Albert Brand Cheese in St. Albert, Ontario works because it sells cheese curds, which are mentioned in The Hero of Ticonderoga. My Great-uncle Oscar also worked there once upon a time, so I have a family connection as well. Two reasons for them to promote me and send me free cheese curds, which I cannot find anywhere around where I live.

I'm sure there are more ways I can think of to work together with corporations to our mutual advantage. Thank you, Meg Cabot, for opening the door.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Grammar and Usage and Stuff Part IV: Diagramming Sentences

Someone asked a few days ago if I was going to blog about diagramming sentences.

Well, in Word Court, Barbara Wallraff quotes a number of linguists who believe that diagramming sentences won't improve anyone's writing or speaking ability. I suppose this means that:

1) Those people who learned to diagram sentences were wasting their time;

2) Those people who learned to diagram sentences and think the world is a sadder place because young people aren't learning to do it are continuing to waste their time;

3) Those of us who were supposed to learn to diagram sentences, didn't, and feel inferior about it are wasting our time.

Really, Word Court is quite a marvelous book. I have finished the section on grammar and am now reading the section on usage. I am amazed--stunned--by the things I didn't know and have been doing wrong all these years. Who knew there was a rule regarding the use of "due to" versus "owing to?" When the amazement passes, I'll probably begin to feel inferior again. (See Item 3 above.) In the meantime, I'm really enjoying the amazement.


I couldn't wait to finish writing the second Hannah and Brandon book because I wanted to get on to other things--among them, other writing projects. I was going to whip through that essay I started months ago and crank out that short story I've been thinking about. Then I was going to get them both published.

Well, yesterday I sat down to work. I managed a sentence or two on both jobs. Then I was done. I don't mean I was done as in a completed essay and short story. I mean that was all I had. The old well was dry.

My A Novel in a Year project didn't seem as terrific yesterday as it did last week, either. I have an idea, no plot, the idea keeps shifting. I mean, man. I've written eight books. Shouldn't I be able to do this stuff by now?

I have started doing morning pages again, so maybe that will help.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Still A Good Book

I snatched up Gregor and the Mark of Secrets by Suzanne Collins when I found it on the new book shelf at the library, even though I knew I wouldn't be able to read it for a while. I liked knowing it was waiting for me.

I found The Mark of Secrets the weakest of the Underland Chronicles, which still makes it a good book. I recall the first three books as standing alone, complete books. The Mark of Secrets builds on earlier books to such an extent that the author was still recalling earlier events when she passed page 80. It seemed to take our hero and his cohorts a lot longer to start their journey this time. And the book doesn't end. Instead, it just sets up the next book.

But between the long build up and the no-end ending, we have another great journey story. One of my favorite characters in contemporary children's literature, Ripred, was as marvelous as ever. This giant rat could define anti-hero.

I'm actually looking forward to the next book.

Great Minds, As They Say

I may have to get my computer guy to add Chasing Ray to my blog roll. She's loving The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, which I enjoyed , too. She's also going to have a short story up at Storyglossia. I'm hoping to get back to reading the Storyglossia blog soon.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Sometimes I think that there's no suprises left in life. Then I read something like Harry Potter and the mystery of an academic obsession, and I'm delighted to find myself sitting in front of my computer monitor with my mouth gaping open.

It seems that our intrepid reporter, Carole Cadwalladr, attended Lumos 2006: A Harry Potter Symposium in Las Vegas. She found the participants to be overwhelmingly female. And some of them were into fan fiction...of a homoerotic nature.

Read this article and become educated on the history of slash fiction (as in Kirk/Spock). Which, honest-to-god, I already knew. But the Harry Potter connection was new and...intriguing.

Actually, I stumbled upon a piece of Potter fan fiction a while back. It involved Sirius, I think, getting it on with that old witch who lives somewhere around the Dursley's so she can watch out for Harry while he's staying with them. Though she wasn't really an old witch in the fan's story. She only appeared to be. She was actually young and good looking. And she wasn't a guy.

Thank you, for this link. You have all the best stuff.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

And That's The End of That

I've never been certain just what Children's Literature New England is. However, it ran its final Summer Institute this past week. You can read all about it at Where is Walter This Week? because last week he was at the CLNE Institute.

This thing was held on the campus of St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont. Colchester just happens to be the town where I suffered through a horrible student teaching experience at a school that doesn't appear to exist anymore. I thought it was called the John F. Kennedy Middle School, but all they have is a Colchester Middle School now. Maybe I'm repressing.

But back to the CLNE Institute--According to Walter, they had many, many big names there. Like Margaret Mahy, Katherine Patterson, Gregory Maguire, Tim Wynne-Jones, and more, more, more!

It sounds as if they talked about some interesting things, like Airborn and Wonder Woman. And I liked Walter's description of events because while he seems to have loved everything, there was a bit of subtext to his blog that maybe suggested that every moment wasn't sweetness and light.

"Then Suzanne Fisher Staples evoked a South African novelist whose name I never quite got (Van der something), but her usual concise speaking style was not in evidence and my mind began to wander--"

"TUESDAY started with poetry, as is the CLNE tradition, by a diverse set of writers, including Langston Hughes, Kay Winters, Leonard Gibbs, and ending with some Yeats. It always interesting to see how the selections relate to the theme. Sometimes, it is not clear..."

This institute had a theme, The Heroic Ideal Revisited. I don't know if I have enough attention span for five crazy days and nights of listening to people talk about the same thing, especially that. I think people tend to get a little...other worldly?...gushy?...pretentious?...when they talk about anything that includes the word "heroic."

I try to imagine myself at a five-day event where I have to be with large groups of people who are not bound to me by blood or vows. It ain't pretty. For that matter, five days with a large group of people who are bound to me by blood or vows would be a serious trial.

I do have some experience with conferences, though. A writers' conference, in fact. Later this month I plan to blog about it.

To conclude, though, I've never been certain what Children's Literature New England, and now it doesn't even have its institute.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

This May Actually Work

I spent some time yesterday at the Novel in a Year site. I fell about nine weeks behind, and I haven't even begun to catch up because I went over some of the early weeks' materials. All I did with this last winter was jot down a few ideas in a file. Yesterday I created separate files for each of the assignments I was particularly interested in.

I think Louise Doughty, the author who is running this on-line fiction class, is right. These assignments are generating material for me. I don't expect to have a book at the end of the year, but perhaps I'll be ready to write one.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Grammar and Usage and Stuff Part III: Not Everyone Shares My Anxiety

I actually studied grammar when I was in sixth and seventh grade or so. Of course, I also studied geometry and algebra in high school, though you'd never know it now. In fact, when I was young I'd probably put grammar in the same category with geometry and algebra--they were all total mysteries to me, and I really couldn't see the point. After all, though grammar slid right off me, I thought I was quite the writer.

When I was young, I really didn't believe I needed to know anything.

By the time I got to college, though, I wasn't quite so confident. I was a pretty decent English student (in an average sort of way), but I was beginning to worry about my lack of knowledge of grammar. I can't remember if I just thought an educated person ought to know it or if I was concerned about the quality of my writing. But when I was informed that I needed to take a grammar course to fulfill some kind of requirement (I was an English major within a college of education), I was fine with it. I was ready to learn grammar.

Unfortunately, the course was on transformational grammar. Wish I could tell you what that is. Really, I don't think I understood anything that went on in that classroom, and, therefore, I got a D in the course. I was devastated. A D in my major area!

After college I had an awful job at The University of Connecticut. While there, I took a half-semester course on grammar. Now that course was a revelation. I had been under the impression that every single word in the English language was a particular part of speech and that each word and its part of speech must be memorized. Any fool could see that was a hopeless task. But what I learned in that mini-course was that you didn't have to memorize each word's part of speech. Instead, you learned to recognize the word's function in a sentence. That was how you could tell what part of speech it was.

This seemed much easier to me and helped to compensate for the fact that many words can function as more than one part of speech. I didn't have to memorize all the different words and their (possibly) multiple parts of speech because I could work it out according to how the word was used in the sentence.

That was somewhat naive of me, but it was progress.

So, anyway, I have a long history of grammar anxiety, which was what led me to buy Word Court a number of years ago and to actually start reading it this summer.

However, in talking about the book I've found that other productive members of society don't share my anxiety about grammar. For instance, a young relative told me recently that he doesn't know what a predicate is. And my computer guy claims that he knows what nouns and verbs are, but he's kind of iffy about adjectives.

You're not going to see me throwing my hands up and shouting, "What's this world coming to?" over this because the young relative just made dean's list at a fairly competitive private college and Computer Guy has a master's degree as well as some kind of graduate certificate in graphical user interface. (Perhaps like transformational grammar but for computers?) They seem to be getting along quite well and I'm guessing they never give grammar a thought.

Yet, I can't let my grammar worries go. Today I read about absolute adjectives in Word Court. I'd never heard of the things before, and I can't say I've suffered as a result. But I'm clinging to the hope that this new knowledge is going to take my writing to another level. Or at least make me appear to be a well-educated person.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Fuse #8 Production had a post yesterday regarding conspiray theories related to Dumbledore's death in the most recent Harry Potter book. Evidently some folks are hoping that we aren't really rid of him. Fuse links to a post at Petrona that includes the following: "My fellow JKR fans will know that I do not believe Dumbledore can be dead; my view is that Harry has to think that Dumbledore is dead so that Voldemort (who shares part of Harry's mind) is convinced of it. Thus in book 7, Dumbledore will be able to prepare for the final confrontation unimpeded, and also (maybe) help Harry in the quest to destroy the horocruxes."

My faithful readers are probably aware that I couldn't possibly care less about Dumbledore's fate. However, I can understand why Maxine at Petrona would feel the way she does. The Harry Potter plots are dependent upon characters lying. The stories move forward because characters lie, either overtly or through omission. It seems to be acceptable behavior in the Pottersphere. I'm not a Potter authority, but I'm guessing the only character to have noted that anyone lies is Snape. And who cares what he thinks?

Dumbledore, himself, told a whopper in an earlier book. I can't quote you chapter and verse, but in one book there is some kind of contest going on--perhaps between Harry's school and another wizard school. Harry is in some kind of race to free other students who are under water. He has been told that if he fails, someone will die. Dumbledore, himself, set up the rules.

Forgive me for not remembering exactly who. Please, someone who recalls this episode leave a comment.

Harry succeeds at his task, and after he's done, we find out that oh, of course, Dumbledore wasn't going to let anyone die. He just said he would.

I don't recall anyone objecting or complaining about this violation of trust.

The greatest representative of authority in the book lied to other characters and to the readers. To me, this was a big turning point in the Potter Saga--nothing in the world of these books could be believed. Anything that happens could end up being false.

We're not talking "Oh, magic and light! Anything can happen!" here. Writers create a universe when they write a book. They can create any kind of universe they want, but the universe has to have a certain order. There is no order in the Potterverse because you can't believe anything that happens.

Dumbledore has a history of lying, of tricking the people he is supposed to be responsible for. So it's very understandable that readers might believe that he's lying and playing an elaborate trick in this case, too.

Personally, I think it would be incredibly shabby if this turns out to be the case. But I can understand others believing it's going to happen.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Cleaning My Desk

I finished the draft of the second Hannah and Brandon book Monday and mailed it yesterday. That means that yesterday afternoon I started cleaning my desk.

When I clean my desk, I always find bits of paper with website urls written on them. Often I've never visited the sites. Even more often, I can't remember why I was interested in the first place.

This time I had a magazine on my desk with a whole list of recommended websites for writers. I had started going through them months ago and given up. Yesterday, I continued the job.

Many of these sites were very busy and cluttered. They definitely didn't encourage anyone to stay and browse. They could have used a little feng shui. Or a lot.

A number of these sites were also marketing products to writers. There's nothing wrong with that, but many of them seemed to be selling similar things--writing coaches, editing services, workshops, on-line courses, writers' groups. A beginning writer could just be overwhelmed with this stuff.

I found one site I liked. Bill Thompson's Eye on Books is described as "Author Interviews You Can Listen To." The site includes a page called The Writer's Craft where you can find authors speaking for just a few minutes on one particular aspect of what they do. I only checked out one interview--with Adam Gopnik because I've read his book Paris to the Moon, and his interview was on the first-person essay. I thought what he had to say was very interesting and helpful. And, bless him, he said it in just a minute and thirty-two seconds.

So this is something good I found while cleaning my desk. I'm guessing I'll be working on this job for another couple of days. I wish I'd taken a picture to post before I started. Too late now.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I had the very good fortune to read Airborn by Kenneth Oppel while knowing next to nothing about the book. I'd seen the dirigible/airship thing on the cover, but that was about it. Every thrill was doubled because it was unexpected.

Even the opening pages are exciting, in part because you think you're reading about a kid in the crow's nest of a sailing ship and then realize that, of course, you're not.

I don't want to give too much away so that other readers can have the same experience I did. I'll just say that if Airborn isn't true alternative history, it at least involves an alternative world. Once you accept that alternative world, accepting everything else that's going on is no problem.

While reading the first third of the book, I felt that Matt, the main character, was a little on the flat and dull side. Something exciting would happen, and then we were back to dull, old Matt. But he became more dynamic and interesting as the story progressed.

And get a load of this website! (But stop after the introduction. If you read the newspaper, you'll be tipped off about things that are going to happen. Don't want to spoil any of the thrills.) I think it's the sound that grabbed me.