Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
Saturday, March 31, 2007
A few days ago, my computer guy e-mailed me to ask, "how come you don't list motherreader in your list of blog links?" My response was, "I didn't realize I didn't."
I have a long, long list of blogs on my personal favorite list, which is what I use each day (or my blogroll at FlapJacket). I'm kind of overwhelmed and scattered in my reading, as you've probably surmised from other things I've said here. So MotherReader has finally been added to the official blogroll to your left. (Really, I would have sworn she was already there.)
During the question and answer portion of one of the panel discussions I attended yesterday while everyone was discussing work habits, one of the panelists said, "Whatever you do, don't start blogging." The feeling there was that blogging was a blackhole as far as sucking up time was concerned.
Personally, I don't think writing the posts is that bad--it's reading all the other blogs that takes a lot of time. Over the past month or two, I've been trying to find ways to cope with the workload. My newest brainstorm--scheduling. Read some blogs daily, some weekly, some on even days, some on odd days, some during a full moon. I think I'm on to something with this one.
First, though, I'm going to have to take some time to create a spreadsheet or flow-chart or something to work out my schedule.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Memoir--That's One Weird Genre
Not to worry, folks. I am not interested in writing a memoir, fascinating though my life in my cellar office is. What I am interested in is personal essays and creative nonfiction, but no one was running a free symposium on either of those subjects a half hour from my home so I had to go to this one.
The morning panel discussion on truthiness was fantastic. The afternoon discussion on memoir and meditation was not as terrific, though I liked one of the panelists a lot. Why, Gail, you may ask, did you even consider attending a discussion on memoir and meditation? Well, ah, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I was feeling really stimulated creatively until the question and answer period after the second panel discussion, which drifted off onto "writing practice." Everyone in the whole freaking world has better work habits than I do. In fact, by the time I headed home at 4 o'clock I was feeling quite worn out, an indication that I really am not used to doing much if sitting and paying attention to speakers exhausts me.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Another Day Of No Work
Tomorrow I am off to an event called Giving Voice.
This is a symposium on the art of memoir, which a professor at my own college described as being an event the significance of which is only realized once it has passed. I am going to listen to panel discussions in both the morning and afternoon. I'm so hoping the one on "Truthiness: Memoir and the Facts" won't be overcrowded.
Isn't This How Mother's Day And Father's Day Got Started?
Buy A Friend A Book Week arrives again next week.
Buy A Friend A Book Week appeared around the time the publishing world (especially the part involving authors) was filled with doom and gloom because of studies indicating people weren't reading, because privately run bookstores were folding, and because review journals were not expanding while the number of books being published (though not, evidently, selling) was increasing, which meant many books couldn't get much attention. I'm sure there were many other reasons for the general mood of depression, too. The idea behind Buy A Friend A Book Week was to encourage people to buy books. You went out and bought a book for a friend when you had no reason to do so. You would thus be encouraging people to read and possibly helping to support bookstores and authors.
I've always tried to support Buy A Friend A Book Week because it is an attempt to do something about a situation instead of just complaining about it. Some might find it to be a rather modest attempt, but it sure beats sitting around talking the situation to death.
That being said, lately I haven't had much luck with my book gifts to friends. They haven't been going over particularly well, and the last one the recipients didn't even look at. I've been feeling some frustration. I've also been wondering if maybe it was a mistake to choose my friends from among my family members. We're not a particularly mannerly bunch.
Then I realized, hey, the point of this whole thing isn't whether or not these ingrates appreciate the time and effort I put into a gift for them. Hell, no. The point is that I support the publishing world with my purchase. And I do.
Nonetheless, someone new will be receiving the benefit of my largesse next week. I just don't know who it will be yet.
Labels: Buy A Friend A Book Week
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
MotherReader has tagged me as a Thinking Blogger. This was very flattering, especially since here in the carbon-based world not only do I not get awards for thinking, I am often accused of thinking too much.
Like the blogger who began this Thinking Blogger Meme, I think long and hard (there I go again) before taking part in memes because they usually involve personal material. I try to stay on task and topic, though I know many would argue that going on about my problems with my GPS device was pushing the boundary. I am also aware that this is the second meme I've responded to in the last week. But they were both professional!
So I need to tag some Thinking Bloggers. As it turns out, MotherReader and I are in agreement on one (and more than one, of course) topic--we both think Oz and Ends and Chasing Ray are Thinking Bloggers. They get so deeply into topics that interest me that I frequently have to make hard copies of posts (or posts/articles they link to) to read when I have the time to really get into them. At Oz and Ends, in particular, I feel as if I'm getting an education in fantasy literature.
On the subject of memes, in general, I'd like to suggest that this concept predates blogs. I have a young relative who, say, seven, eight years ago, would receive something that looked like surveys in his e-mail from his friends at school. These things would be lists of questions about his preferences for movies, music, etc., which he would answer and send on to others. These surveys often didn't relate to just one topic the way today's memes often do, but I think the basic point and purpose was the same--to get to know people and create community.
Hmmm. I'm getting some ideas for the new project I'm working on now. Thanks MotherReader.
Me Me Me Meeeeee
I was out for a while today and came home to find a FedEx envelope tucked into the garage door. What fresh hell is this? I wondered.
It wasn't fresh hell at all but a copy of the final jacket for A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat. I'm very happy with it, especially since it has a couple of extra cats sprinkled here and there.
It arrived the day this cover made the news!
We also finally have a page up at the website relating to this new book.
Labels: A Girl a Boy and a Monster Cat
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
An Innocent Abroad
I received a copy of Monster Blood Tattoo by D. M. Cornish several months ago. I had a hard time working up much enthusiasm for a book with a monster on the cover and a monster in the title. But I started seeing references to the book here and there on the Internet and finally decided to give it a go.
Monster Blood Tattoo took me back to my teenage years when I was reading expansive historical novels about characters' struggling through adventures out in the big world. Except that this is no historical novel. It's set in a marvelously imagined and detailed world in which monsters are very, very real, and people have to watch out for them on a daily basis. It sounds a little bit like the nineteenth century (I've read somewhere that the nineteenth century is a trend in fantasy, a move away from the medieval stereotype.) but not any nineteenth century we've known.
A young orphan leaves the institution in which he grew up to set out on a career. But on his way to the new job, he's kidnapped. And it's one thing after another after that. The book is filled with unusual terminology, some of which is defined at the beginning of each chapter. I didn't find that any more difficult to deal with than the terminology in many scifi book or even some historical novels. But for readers who find themselves lost, there is an enormous "Explicarium" at the end of the book. I don't think it's necessary, myself, though it does give you a little backstory on some of the characters. Some great characters, by the way (my favorite is Europe), who appear in illustrations done by the author.
My only complaint about this book is that it's a "Book One" and doesn't actually end. Oh, I suppose you could argue that it ends because young Rossamund completes the first stage of his journey. But it's very clear that we've been left wanting more. There's not a completed story here.
I will be looking for the next book, though, and I can't say that about a lot of serials that I read.
Labels: Monster Blood Tattoo
I Want A Musical!
Monday, March 26, 2007
So This Is Why We All Liked LAWKI So Much
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Good Blog Reading Intentions
Sheila at Wands and Worlds tagged me with a meme that asks for nothing but the names of five nonkidlit blogs that I read. That seems pretty simple--and blog related--so here goes.
I definitely go to artsJournalpublishing every day. This isn't technically a blog. This page on publishing just looks like one. AJ has blogs elsewhere. I like this place because it directs me immediately to articles in other publications. I find lots of good stuff here, particularly book articles in British publications.
I still go to Blog of a Bookslut every day. This blog doesn't have as many offerings as it used to have because one of its contributors (Michael?) left. It still has frightening attitude.
I started going to BookLust because Patricia Storms was an illustrator who worked on children's books, and she's Canadian. I thought I should be paying attention to illustrators, plus I do try not to be ethnocentric. (I've got family members who will say there are other things I ought to be worrying about.) Storms does other types of illustration, and her blog turned out to be more general. She often makes me feel artie.
I started going to Bookseller Chick because I felt I should be paying more attention to marketing. I am a very weak marketer. Well, of course, very soon after I started visiting her blog, her store closed. Now I keep checking in to see what she's going to do. Will she get into publishing school? Will she take a temp job?
I occasionally skim Pub Rants, which is a literary agent's blog. Again, I am lousy at marketing, and I keep thinking going here will help. But I rarely have time to do much reading here. Marketing is always the thing I blow off when I'm strapped for time. If I have a choice between reading about the battle over Anna Nicole's baby and reading about marketing, I will always choose the kid.
Labels: nonkidlit blogs
The Terminator Bunny
Last Monday, I deleted a comment about the short story Mimsy Were The Borogoves from a post because I was afraid it might spoil the movie The Last Mimzy for some readers. As it turns out, I didn't have a lot to worry about.
I like the idea of taking a concept for one age group and reworking it for another, the way, say, Gregory Maguire reworks The Wizard of Ozfor Wicked. With Mimsy Were The Borogoves things went the other way--an adult short story was reworked for a film for kids and families.
And I don't generally get distressed if a movie strays from the written material that inspired it, particularly if the movie is good. I wasn't all that captivated with the short story Mimsy Were The Borogoves, anyway. There were long sections of telling that made my eyes glaze over. But the story was about random acts and their impact, which I liked. And I think the authors tried to take readers away from their traditional way of thinking about things.
Not so with the movie The Last Mimzy. The 1943 short story is brought into the present day as a twenty-first century message movie about humanity polluting its environment and creating a dangerous situation for people of the future who send boxes of devices (including stuffed rabbits) into the past to get help. Remember how Arnold Schwarzenneger went back in time in The Terminator to save mankind? Well, that's what's going on with the bunny.
Personally, I thought the movie was filled with all kinds of cliches and that the Alice material (which does appear in the movie) wasn't very well integrated into the story. And then the Tibetan story line...
I must admit, though, that my computer guy also say the movie this weekend. He loved it.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Gail's Adventures In Worcester
1. Ninety percent of any author appearance is getting there. Well, I made some incredibly inept errors with some highway exits on my way to the New England Roundtable of Teen and Children's Librarians meeting. (Which I won't go into because I don't need to have the whole world know about it.) I was lost in Worcester for about a half an hour this morning. But once it was over, I didn't focus on being lost. I focused on having overcome being lost and getting to my destination still with a half an hour to spare.
Attitude is everything.
2. The conference opened with a stand-up comic, Dan the Librarian. This was a humor conference filled with librarians, after all. Dan was actually funny, and I'm guessing his traditional stand-up gigs are not limited to jokes about the Dewey Decimal System, if you know what I mean. I'm not just giving him a plug because he was able to quote from Club Earth.
3. Kathleen Odean was the first speaker. This was a great talk covering a number of things, including philosophers' spin on humor and why humor doesn't often win awards. Some philosopher (whose name I missed but who cares, right?) described humor as being involved with a sense of superiority on the part of the person who reads or witnesses the humor. I'd never thought of this, but it makes a great deal of sense. For instance, as you read this post you can feel superior to Gail, as in "Thank God I'm not her." Another philosopher described humor as springing from incongruity. That's something I have thought of and definitely agree with.
I got the impression that Kathleen and I might think about a lot of the same things. And I'm not just saying that because she mentions My Life Among the Aliens in her book, Great Books About Things Kids Love.
4. My talk went very well for quite a while. The PowerPoint presentation worked. I spoke from a podium so I didn't have to juggle my script and the device for working the projector. People laughed and seemed to really enjoy themselves for about forty minutes. But then during the last ten to fifteen minutes I really got into this philosophical stuff about why I'm into writing about situations involving the poetry of the everyday. And then I went on to discuss that it is possible to talk about humor. (Some people think you can't.) I realized that no one had laughed in a while. And then I realized that they weren't laughing because this stuff wasn't funny. It wasn't bad (I think), but I'd suddenly stopped being funny.
As God is my witness, I had a slide on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Has anyone ever laughed about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?
Well, I did finish promptly so I didn't make anyone late for lunch.
5. Lunch. I talked with some librarians about learning to write. I met Diane Mayr, a name I know from the NESCBWI listserv.
6. Jarrett J. Krosoczka gave a great--and totally funny--talk on his work, art, and writing. This guy is charming, funny, self-deprecating, cool, and very articulate. A great speaker. I sat there listening to him, feeling totally inadequate, and I thought, Okay, Gail, your reading of Zen, such as it is, is supposed to help you in situations like this. How? Oh. That's right. Desiring things like charm, humor, cool, and articulateness (it is a word, a noun) leads to unhappiness.
You're damn straight it does.
This guy really is good. You can find lots of links to interviews with him at his website.
I hadn't heard of him. However, when I went to his blog, I recognized this image, which made its way around the Internet last month. Plus, Fuse #8 has posted about him in her continuing series on the hot men of children's literature.
Not that I found Jarrett hot, myself. No, tragically, I have reached that incredibly advanced age when I see an attractive young man (or men, since Dan the Librarian isn't half bad, himself) in his late twenties and think, What a darling boy! Come here, sweetheart! Let me pinch your cheeks. Stay right here. I'm going to go bake you some chocolate chip cookies.
This afternoon I was wondering if there was anything in my reading of Zen that would help me cope with that realization. I think not.
7. During the panel discussion I managed to plug the Cybils.
8. The book signing was one of the more satisfactory that I've been involved with. One librarian brought all his library's holdings of my books so I could sign them. I was delighted. They had at least three of my books! And it wasn't a town I lived in.
9. The trip home after an author appearance is absolutely pressure free. So long as you have gas and toll money, it just doesn't matter how long it takes. That's a good thing, because I got lost in Worcester again on my way home. I'd still be there, but I figured out how to use the GPS system in my car. In my case, this involves pushing a button that says "Home" because someone (not me) has programmed my address into the thing. Even so, I had to make some incorrect turns because I kept getting into turning lanes. Then the computer would say, "Please make a legal u-turn...Please make a legal u-turn...@#%!! it! Make a legal u-turn!"
This was one of my more glamorous days.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
It's Almost Show Time
Tomorrow is my day with the New England Roundtable of Children's and Teen Librarians. Now that I have my talk performance ready (I think) and my slides burned onto CD and my route planned, I'm feeling pretty good. I'm even looking forward to this.
This is the biggest event I've ever been invited to. But I'm feeling remarkably calm. I cannot even begin to speculate about why.
I preloaded the car's CD player this afternoon. (Who came up with the brilliant idea to place the CD holder under the front seat?) I'll be listening to Melissa Etheridge and Snow Patrol on my way to Worcester. I also have New Agie stuff, but I probably should be trying to get myself hopped up a bit. This is a conference on humor, after all.
Labels: New England Roundtable
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
To Say Nothing About What Could Be Done With Make-up And Lighting
I'm considering turning down a request for a library appearance because it will require me to travel through a bit of New York City in order to get to the Garden State Parkway. So this article on authors giving up tours in favor of movies...spoke to me, shall we say?
Though, seriously, if people won't come out to a bookstore to see a live author, why will they turn up to sit in chairs and look at a short movie that will almost certainly not be shown on a big screen? And will not have any car chases or nudity?
More Post-Disaster Thrills
If you are a member of the Adbooks listserv and haven't been keeping up with your messages recently, you might want to check them now. This month they've been discussing Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. And who should show up to share some very interesting information about the book but Ms. Pfeffer herself.
She has given me permission to pass on the news that she recently finished a "companion volume," though she is going to refer to it as a parallel book because the action parallels what is happening in Life As We Knew It. The new book is called The Dead and the Gone, and it takes place in New York City with a male protagonist. The book is written in the third person--no diary format this time. The story begins on May 18th when the moon is struck by the meteor and continues until...well, I don't believe in giving too much away.
The Dead and the Gone won't be coming out until next spring at the earliest.
A lot of adult readers never got over the disaster-induced anxiety of Life As We Knew It. We've got some time to try to toughen up for the next installment.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
A Book For Your Younger Boys
A few weeks ago a conversation was going at one of my listservs on books for rowdy boys. (I'm up to six listservs now. I haven't even looked at three of them in over a week.) Someone suggested the Jacob Two-Two books by Mordecai Richler.
Well, wouldn't you know it, Richler is another meaningful figure for Gail. I took two semesters of Canadian lit when I was in college, trying to get in touch with my ancestors. It didn't work because the course didn't cover any French Canadian literature for the obvious reason that it was taught in English. (Or maybe there was something political going on. I mean there should have been some English translations of French Canadian work, right?) So I left the academic world with no greater understanding of my forebears but with the feeling that people like Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, and Mordecai Richler were friends of my youth.
So after being reminded that Richler had written for children, I went right out and found (at A Reading Fool's library) a copy of Jacob Two-Two's First Spy Case. Though the book was published in the 1990s (not so very long ago) it has a retro feel that is charming rather than dated. It's probably due to the fact that Richler began the three-book Jacob series twenty years earlier, in the mid-70s. (Evidently adult authors have been dipping into the kidlit pool for a while.)
Though it might be retro even for that period. Jacob is the youngest of five children, at least a couple of whom have some unusual interests. Dad is loving but a little on the curmudgeony side. The book seems a little bit of a throwback to stories about slightly eccentric English families.
That's not a complaint, by the way. I like those books.
There's lots of wordplay, which I'm not terribly fond of, myself, though I understand kids like it. The book also has a lot of material built around very traditional kid interests--spies, card tricks (a very good one), superheroes, and over-the-top adult nasties at school. Who are, of course, defeated by Jacob.
And these books are truly set somewhere--Montreal. A lot of short chapter books don't have a strong sense of being about any particular place.
Jacob Two-Two is a very real character. His books would be great for the kind of traditional boys boy who thinks books aren't for kids like him.
And in Canada you can watch Jacob Two-Two on TV. It looks as if he's been on Cartoon Network, too. And there's a Canadian band named Jacob Two-Two. They definitely have a Richler connection. If you click on the line "Mordecai Richler's Letter," you'll see copies of the letter a band member wrote him and his response. His response--priceless.
Forget about the freaking Newbery Medal! I want a band named after one of my characters!!!
Monday, March 19, 2007
What's Going On Out There
I'd like to take a look at the 12th Carnival of Children's Literature, but I feel that first I should mention The Edge of the Forest, which I actually did visit soon after it was published. (Last week, I think. But what is time, anyway?)
I was particularly interested in the What's In Their Backpack? feature, which this month was an interview with Elizabeth Bluemla of The Flying Pig Bookstore. Pay particular attention to what she (and interviewer Kim Winters) have to say about teen readers and problem novels. (Then you might want to visit the open discussion at YA Cafe again to see what those people have to say about what teens would like to see in their books.)
I checked out Pam Coughlin's how-to article Be a B-List Blogger. Pam notes that the best blogs update several times a day. This kind of freaked me out because I'm already snowed under with Internet reading, and most of the thirty blogs I visit nearly every day update only once in twenty-four hours.
I'd like to get started reading Margo Rabb's blog tour because I kind of knew her when we both hung out at Readerville. But I tend to avoid reading interviews and even long reviews unless I've read the book the author is promoting or that is being reviewed because I just don't have time. There's a interview with M.T. Anderson floating around the kidlitosphere that I would like to read because I'm a Lederhosen fan. (Octavian who?) I still haven't read 7 Imps' interview with Susan Thomsen, and now they've got one with Jen Robinson I'm not going to be able to get to for a while. (I knew she was an engineer, by the way.)
I've started using JacketFlap's personalized blogreader hoping I could save time by just going to the blogs JacketFlap tells me have updated since the last time I was there. But I don't actually trust JacketFlap. What if it's wrong, and I miss something?
Part of what I like about blogs is that the bloggers preread articles and books I wouldn't find on my own and tip me off about which things I should be looking into. Now I need someone to preread my blogs for me.
Labels: reading blogs
An Alice Connection
The Last Mimzy, which is supposed to be opening this Friday, is based on the short story Mimsy Were The Borogoves by Lewis Padgett. The story was available on-line so recently that I actually have a hardcopy and have read it. (Not that I'm gloating or anything.) It appears to have disappeared on the Internet. (The Mathematical Fiction site I just linked to also has spoilers, so don't read it if you're planning to see the movie.)
The short story was published in 1943 and seems very mid-twentieth century middle class to me. The parents have drinks before dinner. The family has a housekeeper. Mom is intelligent and seems well-educated but doesn't appear to do anything. The story is also quite dark. As I was reading it I thought it sounded like a Twilight Zone episode. It wasn't, but another short story by Padgett was the basis for a Zone.
Gee, I've mentioned The Twilight Zone two days in a row.
Anyway, the title of the original short story, Mimsy Were The Borogoves, comes from The Jabberwocky, which appears in Alice Through the Looking Glass. The Alice connection continues in the short story. I'll try to get to the movie to see if it appears there, too.
But I'm not giving anything away now.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Or Maybe I Just Live In The Twilight Zone
The coincidental occurrence of events that seem related but can't be explained as having some kind of conventional causal relationship is known as synchronicity. I know this because I just looked it up.
Okay, you will all recall, I am sure, that last weekend one of my young relatives and I got going on popular vs. literary fiction. And then, just two days later (Two days is a recurring theme--see my last post.), I stumbled upon a couple of posts on that very subject. (Getting goosebumps?) Nathan Bransford says that in genre (popular/commercial) fiction, the plot tends to be above the surface and that in literary fiction it tends to be below the surface. If I'm understanding his entire post, popular fiction could be said to be about exteriors and literary fiction about interiors.
Now, this same week, I receive a call from my local library (not yours, A Reading Fool) telling me that the copy of The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively that I'd requested through ILL had arrived.
Though I'm interested in Penelope Lively, I only requested this book because Michelle at Scholar's Blog is leading a book discussion on it this month.
Have you got all that? Have you got how random it all is? How unconnected?
Everything that happened earlier in the week led up to my reading The House in Norham Gardens. Everything that was discussed in the car and read on-line led up to my reading that book.
The House in Norham Gardens is about a teenager living with elderly aunts in a house the family has owned for four generations. It is filled with stuff from the family, right down to great-grandma's fancy clothes. And including an item that great-grandpa, the anthropologist, brought back from New Guinea--an item that represented ancestors to the people there just as all the old things Clare lives with represent all her relatives.
This may be the most literary book for young people I've ever read. Most definitely, the plot is interior. Nearly everything that happens, happens in Clare's mind. She is changed as a result of the incidents in the book, but they almost all involve her own thoughts. The exterior events that are described are almost all of a very mundane, daily-life variety. The writing is very lush and detailed and focuses on life.
The House in Norham Gardens was originally published in 1974. (The edition I read is not the one pictured here. I couldn't even find mine on the Internet.) As I was reading it, I kept wondering if it would be published today. I don't think it would. We're in love with the first-person narrator now (she said, almost always using a first-person narrator herself), and a "YA voice" that is nowhere near as introspective as it thinks it is. Perhaps A Certain Slant of Light could be described as literary. Maybe The Book Thief. But I can't think of anything I've read that comes close to The House in Norham Gardens in the literary with a big L category.
Is anyone interested in this kind of thing now? Are people prepared to read it?
*The first paragraph of this post was edited because I realized I made a mistake in my recollection of an event I attended. Plus, the material was pointless and unnecessary.
On Friday A Fuse #8 Production included a post about three books that were about to be published in paperback with different covers and titles than they had when they were originally published in hardcover. I, of course, offered my two cents, which was, essentially, "Blah, blah, blah, blah-blah."
Well, I was telling one of my family members about this whole thing at dinner (Yes, Fuse, we talk about you at the dinner table) two days later, when I realized I'd had something similar happen with my second book, A Year with Butch and Spike. The title remained the same, but the cover changed. I have no idea why this happened. I believe I asked once, but if I got an answer I've forgotten it. I'm not very good about details.
Bringing up A Year with Butch and Spike in this context would be shameless, shameless self-promotion on my part except...the book is out of print! In hardcover, in soft cover, in any cover at all! You can't buy the thing anywhere!
But the covers were nice, weren't they?
Saturday, March 17, 2007
What's Missing In YA?
YA Authors Cafe is doing an open discussion this week on genres or subject matters that seem to be missing from contemporary teen literature.
I saw a few comments suggesting that mysteries might be underrepresented. That is interesting. I'm trying to recall if I've read many mysteries with characters above the age of thirteen or fourteen. The Gilda Joyce books feature a freshman in high school, but I can't recall anything else right now.
Like Mindy at Propernoun.net, I was a fan of historical fiction when I was a teenager. I suspect I was reading a lot of adult stuff, though, and probably a lot of historical romance. Mindy has a post on Historical Fiction for Teens that includes a link to an article called What Are the Rules for Historical Fiction? and a list of teen historical fiction titles. Actually, she has a link to an article at Chasing Ray on the subject, too.
When will I get a chance to read all this?
Labels: historical fiction
Friday, March 16, 2007
In Roger Sutton's post on authors and reviewing, he says of children's book reviewers, "There is also a tendency in the allied children's book fields to be "nice," which isn't good for literature..."
I've been wondering recently if this isn't the case. I often see some at least passable reviews of books that appear to me to be really poorly written. What's the harm, you may ask?
Soon after I got out of college, I read an article in Ms Magazine on whether or not women's literature should be judged differently than...whatever you want to call what else is out there. I don't recall the justification for judging it differently. All I recall is the justification for not doing so.
The author of the article said, essentially, that in our culture "different" often means "unequal" and "unequal" often means "inferior." Thus if the authors of women's literature were going to be judged by a different standard than the authors of mainstream literature, they ran the risk of having their work considered different from and possibly inferior to mainstream literature.
If women writers wanted to play the game as equals, they had to play by the same rules everyone else played by.
If children's writers want to play the literary game as equals, we can't expect to be treated differently than other writers are treated. Being treated nicer can very well mean that our work is being given a pass because we aren't considered as good as writers whose work is reviewed more vigorously.
If we want to be taken seriously as writers, we have to play by the same rules everyone else plays by. That's better for us as individual writers, and it's better for children's writing in general.
It's Time For Me To Do Something About This
A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat will be coming out in June, so I guess it's time for me to distribute some of the arcs I received from my publisher. I made a serious effort to promote Happy Kid!, which did finally get some results. But that was just last year, and I'm having a little trouble getting pumped up to promote again so soon. I just realized I haven't even created a Girl/Boy page at my website.
Last year I approached bloggers about reviewing Happy Kid!. This year, however, I feel somewhat awkward about doing that because I sort of know a lot of the bloggers now. I don't want to make anyone feel they have to say, "Yes, I'll review the book" leading them to then feel uncomfortable if they need to give the book a mixed or worse review. (See Roger Sutton's post on this very situation in reviewing children's books.)
So, I will just say, I have a limited number of arcs. If anyone is interested in receiving a copy for a possible review, go ahead and contact me. (You can do so via e-mail by way of my website, if you'd like some privacy.)
And let the chips fly where they may!
Thursday, March 15, 2007
I saw an advertisment somewhere for Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich by Adam Rex, which led me to pick up the book when I saw it at my local library.
This well-reviewed volume seems to me to be what I think of as a picture book for adults. It is beautifully illustrated but it's a book of poems about classic movie monsters--Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, etc. I don't know if young children are familiar with these figures. You can definitely make the argument that they could become familiar with them after reading this book, of course. But the poems that accompany the illustrations are often...long. And even when they're clever, as in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Henderson , they're rather mature. Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Henderson, a bore at parties. Will kids find that funny? How old do you have to be before you're aware of bores?
Some of the references also seem geared to adults. A recurring poem is all about The Phantom of the Opera who can't compose new music because he has other tunes stuck in his head. A couple of them are common children's songs. But one is The Girl From Ipanema. I did find that funnier on the second reading. But I'm not five years old. Does that forty-year-old song appear on a lot of kiddie music CDs?
The book isn't bad by any means. I just wonder if kids will get it.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
How Much Are We Influenced By Childhood Reading?
I have been treating, and will continue to treat, you to my Peter Pan obsession. Unfortunately for you, I also fixated Little Men and to a lesser extent Little Women when I was young. I've even read Jo's Boys. This has has also led to an up-and-down interest in Louisa May Alcott and Transcendentalists. All of which led me to read Susan Cheever's American Bloomsbury.
Which leads me to this: Susan Cheever says Little Women is a significant book because in it "Louisa May Alcott invented a new way to write about the ordinary lives of women, and to tell stories that are usually heard in kitchens or bedrooms." She says that in Little Women she learned "that domestic details can be the subject of art, that small things in a woman's life--cooking, the trimming of a dress or hat, quiet talk--can be just as important a subject as a great whale or a scarlet letter."
Next week I'll be giving a talk in which I will address my interest in what I (and others) call situational humor and what situations interest me. I don't write about divorce, death, abuse, or any combinations thereof and not just because those situations are not traditionally funny. I am interested in what has been called "the poetry of the everyday"--mundane events that can have a huge impact on our lives.
And now I'm wondering how much Louisa May had to do with that.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Ye Don't Even Have To Seek And Ye Will Find
When I go to a blog like, say, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, and I read a post about, maybe, Buffy, and I see that that post received 3 comments, I actually read the comments. What's more, if an individual making a comment is someone I don't know, I may very well follow his hyperlink.
That's how I came to stumble upon a post called Confessions of a Reformed Commercial Fiction Slut at a blog called Confessions of an MFA Seeking Writer. That post included a hyperlink to a blog maintained by one Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent and his post What Makes Literary Fiction Literary?
Both these guys said pretty much what I've always heard--commercial/popular fiction=plot; literary fiction=character. But they went into more depth and sophistication. And Bransford, in particular, was respectful of both types of fiction. The stereotype you usually hear about is literary people looking down their noses at commercial people and commercial people getting all defensive because they feel looked down upon.
What really was astonishing about this whole thing--creepy even--is that I was talking/wondering/ruminating about this very topic just two days ago.
Now I must go back and read posts I've found at Bransford's site on whether or not editors edit. That's another subject I've been known to ponder.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Fairy Tales For The Guys
I wanted to check out some of the Further Tales Adventures by P. W. Catanese because the author lives in my state. I only read one, The Eye of the Warlock, but I think the series might be of interest to young readers who like plot-driven stories.
With "Further Tales Adventures" Catanese takes a well-known fairy tale and uses it as a starting place for another story. In the case of The Eye of the Warlock, he uses Hansel and Gretel. A middle-aged Hansel comes back to the scene of the gingerbread house where he almost met his end to look for treasure he had hidden there. Along the way, he picks up three youngsters, one of whom is related to him. The plot involves some outer-limitish type characters who are connected to the witch Hansel helped do in so long before. That wasn't particularly compelling for me, but I think it could very well be a draw for younger readers, who are, after all, the book's audience.
The quality of the writing is decent in terms both of basic putting words together into sentences and plotting. Something is always happening in this book, which will make many readers happy. But Catanese also tries to get some depth into his story--Hansel is not a brave man, by a long shot, but one who tries to do the right thing. And don't get any ideas about living happily everafter. You can only live as happily ever after as can be expected.
Though there is a powerful woman in this book, the young girl characters aren't too exciting. If the entire series is similar, these could be books that will appeal more to boys. As I was reading The Eye of the Warlock, I kept thinking of The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, another book that's drawn (more traditionally) from a fairy tale but one that's very girly. Gail Carson Levine does a lot with fairy tales and girl characters, too. I wonder if Catanese isn't doing for fairy tales and boys what Hale and Levine do for fairy tales and girls.
One of the things I like about the Further Tales Adventures book is that they are published as trade paperbacks. That means there's a better chance that kids can afford to go out and buy them themselves. They're more accessible.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Let's Face It--I Will Never Know How To Read A Book
My failure to take instruction on how to read is well documented in this blog. I am still attracted to books I hope will improve my comprehension, though. I'm always worried I'm not quite getting it. Or, in some cases, not getting it at all. I'm always hoping that I will one day be more than I am.
Well, after reading Think you know how to read, do you? by Tom Lutz, I'm considering throwing in the towel. He does a review of a number of books on the subject, and, to be brutally honest, I sometimes had trouble working through even what he had to say forget about making my way through any of the titles he reviewed.
But what I did get from his essay (assuming I knew how to read it) is that a lot of people who write books on how to read books are just a little bit elitist. I mean, according to Lutz, many of these books are written by academics who don't even like each other forget about readers like myself who see the expression "the text" and find our minds filled with white noise. And then they appear to be very into telling us not so much how to read but what to read. Many of these how-to books include reading lists.
You wanna bet whether or not those lists include Buffy novelizations? Danielle Steele? John Grisham?
Lutz quotes one author, John Sutherland, as saying, "How can we identify the 10 percent, or less, of fiction available that is not crap?"
When I see something like that, I think, Yeah, I do want to be able to identify the crap books in the market--so I can go out and read them!!!!
Is it any wonder my family members struggle in the academic world? I think there's something wrong with our genes.
Labels: how to read books
An Interesting Question About Literary Versus Popular Fiction
My computer guy was in a bit of a panic today when he saw that I hadn't posted anything since Thursday. I think he was afraid there was something dreadfully wrong with the blog and that he was going to get stuck dealing with it. Not the case, though.
Part of the reason for my absence was the arrival of a young relative who had the misfortune of being stuck alone in a car with me for an hour yesterday. We discussed his short story writing class.
I, too, took a couple of fiction writing courses while I was in college back in the day, though they were not specifically geared to short stories. He is reading and discussing short stories, not just writing them. I don't recall reading any published fiction in my classes. If memory serves me, we wrote a great deal more than he seems to be doing.
I don't know how I feel about that. Certainly, I didn't get much out of my writing classes. I sort of just floundered around and can't say I learned much of anything. I can't recall discussing point of view, plot, anything at all. Reading and discussing some published works might have done me some good. I definitely don't believe that a person can learn to write simply by writing just anything.
But that is my frustration. Young relative is experiencing frustration of his own because he is a popular fiction kind of guy and college is a literary fiction kind of world. The short stories he's being exposed to are meaningless to him. "Nothing happens," he keeps saying.
All this leads up to the interesting question this young guy asked me in the car: Are there publications that publish mainstream fiction that is not what we call "literary?" There are all kinds of literary journals and The New Yorker for so-called literary fiction. There are all kinds of publications for science fiction and mystery. But are there magazines and journals that publish mainstream fiction that would be described as "popular?" By which I guess we mean accessible.
Accessibility should not necessarily mean without depth. And, of course, obscurity is not necessarily profound.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
A Question About Citing Sources
Didn't that title get you all excited about reading this post?
Okay, I'm still enjoying Susan Cheever's American Bloomsbury. Oh, that Ralph Waldo Emerson! What a guy! But I have a question about the endnotes. There aren't a great many, and they aren't marked with numbers in the text. So I have to guess what material might have a note citing its source. And none of the things I expect to have citations have citations.
For instance, when an author of a piece of nonfiction says that someone actually said something, doesn't that have to be cited? When you state that both the Thoreau boys were in love with the same woman and each proposed to her, doesn't that information have to have a note stating where you found out about it?
Or is that just the case when you're an undergraduate student?
I'm not questioning Cheever's scholarship because last year I read a memoir/account of a murder (Girls of Tender Age by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith) that did similar things. In fact, in that book the author gave accounts of conversations among police officers that took place a few decades back with no citations regarding how she came to know of them.
That book, too, was quite decent reading.
So my question is, has something happened regarding the rules for citing sources? Do particular types of books--maybe, popular history, say--not require the same rigorous documentation?
Labels: citing sources
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Guess What I Figured Out!
Both A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy and Kids Lit recently featured the blog I'm a Reading Fool. I read a little bit about the blog, took a look at the picture of the blogger, and shouted, "Eureka! I know her!"
After doing a little checking, it turns out I do know her. When I mention having made a trip to the library here at Original Content, there's a 50-50 chance that I'm talking about I'm a Reading Fool's place of employment.
What was the real tipoff? I'm a Reading Fool read Life As We Knew It in November. I read it at the beginning of November. It was the first Cybils nominee I read. I got the book from I'm a Reading Fool. It had just been purchased by her library, and one of the other librarians called her at home to see if she'd let me take it before she had a chance to read it. So I ended up reading it first.
This is serious detective work we're talking here.
Here's what's exciting about this: Now I know a kidlitblogger here in the real carbon-based world. When I talk about my kidlit buddies with my family, they treat me like some kind of pathetic cybergeek who lives in her mother's basement. Hey, not anymore.
Talk About A Change Of Pace
I've been reading a great deal of fantasy the last couple of months, particularly kids' fantasy.And though I've enjoyed a lot of it, I've been looking for a diversion. On Monday while I was at the library, I stumbled upon American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever. The book was on that list of things to read that's buried in my mind because I'd read a review. So I snatched it up.
I've been interested in the Transcendentalists since my college days when I took a course on the history of women in the United States and wrote a paper on Louisa May Alcott. That is not to say I've ever actually understood what Transcendentalism is. Or pursued the interest very rigorously. (I have many interests I don't pursue very rigorously.) But I have been to Orchard House and Fruitlands, which is sort of like pursuing a Transcendental interest. But not very.
Anyway, on the second page of the book Cheever claims that our Louisa was in love with Thoreau and Emerson. (But not at the same time.) Cheever also says that Henry James gave one of Louisa's books a bad review but then "appropriated the adorable, defiant character of Jo March...as a model for his headstrong and independent American woman, Isabel Archer, in Portrait of a Lady."
Wow. I couldn't get through Portrait of a Lady, but, still. Wow.
I've never been so excited on page two of a nonfiction book. I really, really love historical gossip.
And I'm hoping I'll understand Transcendentalism by the time I'm finished. Because everyone should understand that, right?
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
I Have Been Challenged!
One of my listservs was buzzing this afternoon with the news that Jenna Bush's YA book has been accepted for publication by HarperCollins. She wasn't exactly being embraced by the kidlit world, to put it mildly.
I was going to pass on discussing the situation because it's the kind of thing everyone is already talking about, anyway. Plus, it's not a discussion to which I have a lot to offer. What was I going to say? That I find ganging up on a new writer distasteful? Wait until the book comes out and, if it's as bad as so many believe it will be, dump on it then when it's justified?
Yeah, I'm something of a wet blanket on this particular subject. So I was going to let the whole thing pass.
But, then, Kelly at Big A, little a threw down the gauntlet. "Gail, you know I adore you, but defend this one," she said.
Actually, I just wanted to repeat that line about someone adoring me.
Okay. There are, as I see it, two issues here.
One is that Jenna Bush hasn't paid her dues and got a book deal before reaching peri-menopause. She got this book deal because of who she is. Well, you know what? This happens. Over the years it has happened a lot. And not just to celebrities and not just to presidents' kids. People get book deals because they know somebody or their professor knows somebody or they went to the right school or they had the right idea at the right time or they were really good looking and charming and the marketing people at their publisher's home office thought they could sell books. Or, worse yet, they'd had something horrible happen to them and someone thought that would sell.
It's a fact--a fact that really doesn't have anything to do with me. I can't change it. I can only do my own work. I just cannot get fired up with animosity toward these people.
Now, I know there are those who will say, "But she's getting $300,000! Thirty real unpublished writers could each get $10,000 advances with that money!"
That argument has been used about "big-name" adult writers for a couple of decades. I guess the fact that it has made it's way to kidlit is a tribute to the fact that money is now being made here. But here's the counter-argument: Those who defend the big advances for so-called big books claim that those big sellers actually fund smaller, newer writers. Your Stephen Kings, Patricia Cornwells, Daniel Handlers, and J.K. Rowlings keep their publishers afloat and provide them with the wherewithall to make offers to authors who aren't going to become bestsellers.
Honestly, I don't know which of the above arguments is true. And I also doubt that Jenna's nonfiction book is going to pull in big bucks and make it possible for a bunch of Gails to get contracts. But, nonetheless, there are two sides to the argument.
The second issue? Jenna is quoted as saying, "she 'very, very modestly' hopes her book will have some of the influence of two books about girls caught up in the Holocaust: Lois Lowry's novel Number the Stars and Anne Frank's The Diary of Anne Frank." And, really, it isn't very, very modest of her to voice that hope.
Come on. She's what? Twenty-three years old? Twenty-four? She mentioned two books she presumably admires. Is she immodest or is she naive?
By the way, I thought Number the Stars was a run-of-the-mill World War II story. Personally, I question Jenna's judgment in holding it up as a model for herself. I'd like to have seen her show a little more depth.
I feel really bizarre coming out all sunshine and rainbows over celebrity authors. (Not that Jenna Bush is actually a celebrity. She's famous for being someone's daughter, not for being famous.) It doesn't seem like me, does it? I'm the wicked witch of the northeast who is hypercritical about so much that she reads.
But here's the thing--it's the work that's important to me, not the worker. I have to see the result, then I'll decide whether or not I'm going to start bitching. And you know the chances are that I will bitch.
Did I go on too long about this? Blame Kelly! I hope she still adores me.
Monday, March 05, 2007
This Explains A Lot
I've whined here before about how last year I was taking part in A Novel in a Year, a column written for The Telegraph by Louise Doughty. Each week she wrote about some aspect of writing and those of us who were working on a book with her used those columns for our own projects. And, of course, I fell way behind, and when I went back to the site in January, everything was gone.
Come on. Stuff stays up on the Internet for eternity, right?
Well, today I discovered that Doughty is writing a book, A Novel in a Year, based on the column. Coming out in June. This may very well be why all her material was removed from the website. She quite logically doesn't want to give away what she will be charging for in a few months.
Say! My next book is coming out in June, too!
Not that the two events are in any way related. But I thought I should mention it. Again.
The column Doughty is writing this year for The Telegraph really isn't doing much for me. It's about a writer's year, and since most writers' years are far more fascinating than mine, it seems rather masochistic to keep reading it.
Labels: A Novel in a Year
Thank Goodness An Adult Writer Has Written A Children's Book
I've been thinking of reading something by China Mieville for years. As with so many other things in life, I just haven't gotten around to it. Now he has written a children's book, which seems like a good excuse to give him a try.
I have not yet read his Un Lun Dun and only just heard of it about twenty minutes ago. What I have read is Laura Miller's glowing review, Un Lun Dun, in Salon. She comes to praise Mieville but also to bash kidlit.
Miller says, '"Un Lun Dun" is not only sleek of line and endlessly (but not needlessly) inventive, it also offers a nimble, undidactic antidote to all the dubious clichés of the genre. Sick of seemingly insignificant characters who discover they have a secret identity and a momentous destiny? Tired of stories that hinge on cryptic prophecies and the retrieval of magical talismans? Miéville dares to insist that nerve, heart and determination is all a hero(ine) really needs.'
Build up Mieville's book by knocking down a whole genre. Yet according to Miller, Un Lun Dun is set in an alternative London. How many alternative world books exist in children's literature? We're not exactly talking a revolutionary new concept here.
Miller also says, "The authors of children's books have always had remarkable leeway when it comes to echoing the classics. Sometimes the results are merely derivative, but in this case the allusions to Carroll and Baum and Norton Juster and Gaiman only highlight how original "Un Lun Dun" feels."
"Sometimes the results are merely derivative..." is a statement that really needs some documentation of some kind. Also, as much as I've liked Neil Gaiman's writing for adults, he seems a little young to be referred to as a writer of "classics."
I really want to read Un Lun Dun, and I certainly hope I'll like it because I don't enjoy spending time reading books I dislike. But this review has set my teeth on edge so that I'm not going to be going into it with an open mind. Oh, well. Maybe by the time I finally read the book I'll have forgotten about the review. Let's hope.
Another, less worshipful, review of Un Lun Dun appeared in The Los Angeles Times.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Cinderella Is All Over The Place
This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I tend to pick up picture books that are on subjects of interest to me, hoping, I guess, that I'll pick up information written on a level I have some chance of understanding.
For years now I've been thinking of writing a book with some Egyptian material, so when I saw The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo on the new book shelf at a local library, I snatched it up. Sure enough, this is an Egyptian variation on the Cinderella story. It is a little creepy that the Cinderella figure is rather fair-haired and pink-cheeked while the servant girls who take the place of the evil stepsisters are much darker. I'm not sure what to make of that, since Rhodopis (the Egyptian Cinderella) is picked on for her looks. Is it some kind of subtle racism since the white girl gets the pharaoh? Or will young readers think of race differently, since the palest character is the one who is treated badly?
In spite of that worry, I do like the idea of Cinderella stories from other cultures. Climo and her illustrator, Ruth Heller, also produced The Korean Cinderella, and with another illustrator Climo published The Persian Cinderella.
By the way, though I found The Egyptian Cinderella on a "New Book" shelf, it is not a newly published book. It was published in 1989. Way to go, Shirley. That's a good long time for a picture book to be in print.
Friday, March 02, 2007
Finishing Work Means I Can Check Out Forest
My talk for the New England Roundtable of Teen and Children's Librarians is in good shape (I think), I made two inquiries in the last few days and one fiction submission. Okay, it's not the kind of accomplishment Jane Yolen would even bother mentioning, but for me it was a big week!
So after doing so very, very much, I took a little time off this afternoon to finally take a look at the most recent The Edge of the Forest. My favorite articles? You care? You really want to know?
Well, I particularly liked Little Willow's (Allie's?) piece on Rachel Cohn because it led me to this interview with Cohn and David Levithan. (They wrote Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, of course.) Get this: Levithan edited sixty of the Baby-sitters Club books. Perhaps I should read one. If memory serves me, I recall a young male relative reading one or two in his younger days.
Another article I found particularly interesting was Michele Fry's Introduction to Penelope Lively's Works for Children. My knowledge of Penelope Lively is limited to her book for adults Moon Tiger. I have to admit that I don't remember a great deal about it. Except that at the time I thought it was fantastic.
So that's another author I need to read more of, should I live long enough to do so.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
How Much Otherness Do We Really Want?
It's March first, and I just read the January/February issue of The Horn Book. Believe me, I've been much later. I'm probably just in time. They've got what looks like the cover for the March/April issue up at the website, so I should be receiving it any day.
If you still have your January/February issue, check out the article by Deirdre F. Baker called Musings on Diverse Worlds. Baker discusses whether children's fantasy is truly "'other'-oriented" and says, "We can map a history of attitudes toward race and diversity by means of fantasy for children." Contemporary fantasy, she contends, is "tied to a certain kind of celebration of cultural diversity." But not among protagonists.
She has something very interesting to say about how Megan Whalen Turner describes and visualized Eugenides versus his peaches and cream appearance on the cover of The King of Attoila.
And, finally, she points out that a great deal of fantasy draws upon European medieval culture. Which tended to be white, I believe.
I am intrigued.