Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Halloween Story

The Butch and Spike Halloween giveaway is history. Now it is time, girls and boys, to draw around and hear the story of how real life became part of the Halloween chapter in said book.

Okay, in the Halloween chapter, Butch and Spike, who are pretty much what you'd expect from a couple of guys with names like Butch and Spike, take over straight arrow Jasper's front yard on Halloween. They are not exactly Martha Stewart when it comes to Halloween decor, anyway, but in addition, they've been running roughshod over Jasper since the first day of school. He's had enough, and he manages to pull one over on the Cootch cousins.

Where did this idea come from? Why, real life, of course. You're working too hard if you have to make things up.

What happened was, one year one of the Gauthier boys gave up trick or treating in order to...uh...provide some holiday-themed entertainment in the front yard. (We are Cootches through my grandmother Gauthier, as I may have mentioned before.) In addition to whatever else he did, he positioned himself as some kind of zombie lumberjack or chainsaw killer in a chair right next to the front door. (That's his old toy chainsaw he's holding in the picture. Isn't he adorable?) The plan was that he would sit perfectly still, pretending to be a dummy, and then while the kiddies were receiving their treats, he would suddenly move. He envisioned people screaming, running through the night, and a good time being had by all.

I missed out on most of the fun because I was out in the street trick-or-treating with another child done up as a Star Fleet officer. However, I was told that while only one trick-or-treater became upset, her mother got quite snippy about it. That was enough to satisfy the zombie lumberjack. He was pleased with his evening's work.

And his mom got an entire chapter for her second book. She was rather pleased, too.

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Some Day I Will Learn How To Read

I thought Pierre Bayard sounded very interesting when I first heard of him last winter. Now his book, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, is available in this country.

Bayard had some interesting things to say in an interview in The New York Times Book Review. (Though the interviewer, Deborah Solomon, sounds as if she wouldn't agree.)

For instance:

"I think a great reader is able to read from the first line to the last line; if you want to do that with some books, it’s necessary to skim other books. If you want to fall in love with someone, it’s necessary to meet many people. You see what I mean?"

Yes, Pierre, I do. I have learned that there are books I feel I need to familiarize myself with for professional reasons even though I can't possibly bring myself to read them from first line to last. Familiarizing myself with them, having some knowledge of them, enriches my life and shapes how I think of other books in relation to them. Reading every line of them would have killed me.


"You suggest in your book that schools destroy a love of literature, in part because they don’t allow skimming. Yes. Sometimes I help my son write book reports. Guillaume — he’s 14. It’s terrible. The questions are so specific about the names of characters, dates and towns where the heroes went that I am unable to answer the questions. It is the model of reading in France. A kind of scientific reading, which prevents people from inventing another kind of reading, which should be a form of wandering, as in a garden."

I wouldn't go so far as to say schools should allow skimming, but I agree that they aren't doing anything to encourage reading with those assignments that involve finding mindnumbingly pointless details in works of fiction. After going over a page of that sort of thing relating to a sixth-grader's Witch of Blackbird Pond homework, I remember thinking, Gee, I loved that book when I was a kid. I must have been out of my mind.

Not only did the boy in question hate the book, his homework assignment ruined it for me years after I'd read it. Think about it--the schools are destroying the love of reading retroactively.

I can't wait to see if Bayard's book gets taken up by the press and what reviewers have to say about it. Reading the reviews would be sort of like reading the book, right? Another kind of reading?

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Nobody's Breaking New Ground Here

As I get older...and older and older...I am often struck by how little collective memory the reading public has.

For instance, have you been hearing the murmurs about whether or not Jessica Seinfeld committed vegetable plagiarism, snitching from Missy Chase Lapine's book on the same subject? The rumor was simmering for a few weeks before Seinfeld's husband came to her defense on Letterman, thus insuring both authors more sales. Bless him.

The thing is, this is not exactly cutting edge material here, folks. I was reading books and magazine articles on ninja nutrition back in the day when I was sneaking wheat germ and grated carrots into unsuspecting children's muffins and cookies at the end of the last century. It's not as if either one of these women holds a copyright on the concept. Can you call it plagiarism when the idea has been out there for years, anyway?

Back in the '90s, two books came out at the same time on Amelia Earhart. That wasn't brand spanking new material, either. Unfortunately, it happens.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some New Press

A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat was reviewed in the October issue of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. I say October because that's four months after publication. It was one of those mixed reviews that I keep saying writers should be grateful for, so I'm putting my money where my mouth is and mentioning it here. Plus a review in a professional journal four months after publication is fantastic.

The reviewer said Monster Cat is "conceptually inspiring." When my computer guy heard that, he said, "What does that mean?" I said, "I don't know, but I love it." No, really, I do know what it means, and I still love it. Actually the whole sentence was quite good. "More than anything, Gauthier's novel is conceptually inspiring, and it may motivate more than one reader to click off that remote and head into the endless possibilities of imaginative play."

Another good line is "Be prepared to laugh." That's what a writer for The International Falls Daily Journal had to say about Monster Cat. If you follow the link and go all the way down to the fourth from the last paragraph, you'll see it. I only got two sentences in that particular piece, but when one of them is "Be prepared to laugh," you don't need any more.

I was particularly pleased to get a mention in The International Falls Daily Journal because it's published in International Falls, Minnesota, the inspiration for Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, the home of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Rocky and Bullwinkle were cool.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Gail Leaves The Office, Part II

Lunch!: On Saturday while at the Rabbit Hill Festival, I met Susan Thomsen of Chicken Spaghetti. Susan had to cut out after the morning panel discussion but she knows a large portion of the Connecticut population, and before she left, she introduced me to Sari Bodi who then invited me to have lunch with her and her writing group who were attending the festival.

These women blew me away. They are so much more sophisticated about their work than I was at the same point in my career. (Quite honestly, they are more sophisticated than I am now.) These women study writing with a published author, their writing group meets every week (I've been a writing group member a couple of times--every week seems like a big chunk of time to me), and some of them take writing classes in New York City. One woman sitting at our table goes into New York City every week to meet with her writing group.

In my part of Connecticut, it's generally believed that getting into New York City requires a passport. When I was living in Vermont, we knew it couldn't be done without a spaceship.

Oh, and one of those writers has met Fuse in the flesh, not in that pretend, alternative world way that I've sort of met her. I feel very cool now, because I ate lunch with someone who has met Fuse.

What did we talk about at that lunch? Why, we talked about bloggers! For a few minutes there I was the center of attention because I could name names of blogs.

One person at the table asked what I thought was a good question. She wanted to know if there were any kidlit blogs that dealt with writing process. That interested me because for the last four or five months I've been trying to test out writers' blogs looking for that kind of information. Because I'm so haphazard about nearly everything I do, I don't have a good list of writing process blogs, but it seems as if it would be a good idea for someone to pull one together.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Butch and Spike Reminder

Just a reminder that you're halfway through the period in which you can take a shot at winning a copy of A Year with Butch and Spike. Hurry. Halloween is almost here.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Gail Leaves The Office, Part I

I would have said "Gail Leaves The Cellar," because that's where my office is but office sounds less creepy.

So I made it to the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature even though my GPS tried to get me to leave the highway 10 exits early. I was too wily for it.

An over all impression: The last time I went to the Rabbit Hill Festival was probably five years ago. At that time, the audience was made up primarily of women of a certain age. This time I saw younger women, men, younger men, and kids. According to one of the speakers for the event, they had entire families sign up to attend.

I was impressed.

The lack of graphics for this post: I wussed out and didn't take pictures. I mean, photographs of well-known authors standing at a podium wouldn't be anything you hadn't seen before, and candids of them drinking coffee (I almost took one of Jeanne DuPrau doing that) fall into that creepy sphere I'm trying so hard to avoid. So use your imagination.

Speaking of Jeanne DuPrau: I actually went up and spoke to her during the break because I had something fannish to say that made a good excuse to bother her. I told her about a family member who was a big fan of The City of Ember on CD because he's a civil engineer and loved the breakdown of the underground infrastructure. I was trying to think of a way to tell her that he'd really like her to do a book about how the city was built, when she told me that she gets a lot of e-mails and letters asking her to do a book about how the city got there. She appears to have a techie fan following.

Then she looked at my nametag and said, "Do I know you?" I thought, Uh-oh. She found out I wasn't crazy for The Prophet of Yonwood. So I'm standing there going, "Aaaaaah...." Then she said, "Are you on the child_lit listserv?" "Yes! Yes! That's it!"

Andrea Davis Pinkney: Andrea Davis Pinkney started her talk with an exercise she says she uses before she starts writing. You have to place your feet on the floor, straighten your back, close your eyes, and search for the light that is within each person. (Search for your own, not someone else's.) Then after you find the light, let it transport you to your imagined world (meaning the imagined world you're writing about.)

I am sure many of you are thinking, Oh, Gail's going to have a zinger for this. Not at all. I can get into exercises like this, and I got into this one. My light took me directly to the house in Vermont where I left the Durand cousins yesterday while they were dealing with the red-haired man. Here's the thing, though--it was a big, white explosive kind of light that hit me full in the body and blew me to the house. Very out of control. Not at all conducive to watching a scene.

Whoops. There I go. Getting into the creepy sphere again.

I will try this exercise again on Monday. Oh, who am I kidding. I'll have forgotten about it by then.

Neal Shusterman: Shusterman's morning presentation was a lesson in why it pays to be witty and charming and present yourself well. I, personally, had mixed feelings about his book The Schwa Was Here and haven't read anything of his since. But after being charmed by his witty presentation, I almost certainly will.

I will have to give the rest of the details of my day tomorrow. I had to be nice for many, many hours today. It was a whole lot like work, and I'm exhausted. Plus, I really want to wring a couple of posts out of this event.


Friday, October 26, 2007

I'm Getting Out Of The House This Weekend!

I'm all set to go to the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature tomorrow. This is exciting news for you as well as for me because it means that at least once this weekend I'll be writing about something other than what goes on in my head. I will try to take pictures, too. I'm not one to have my picture taken with others, so what I may do is, say, take a picture of Rick Riordan, and then get my computer guy to photoshop me in next to him. That would be fun in a stalker kind of way.

Oh, look! Rick Riordan blogged about the first day of the festival.

Check in for tomorrow's symposium is at 8:00 AM. Yeah. That's going to happen. Since it doesn't take me any hour to check-in and look at my small group assignment, and I don't drink coffee, I'm shooting for getting there a lot closer to when things actually start to happen at 9:00. I have two different sets of written travel instructions, plus I've already programmed the car's GPS, so I'm very confident I should get there at least in time for lunch.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mildly Anxiety Inducing For Control Freaks Like Myself

In Identity Crisis? Not Really Meg Rosoff explains that whether or not her books are classified as YA or adult is determined by her publishers' marketing departments. "The truth is, most writers simply write, and by virtue of the subject matter they choose (divorce, sexual deviance, the Peloponnesian wars), are deemed to be adult writers. The presence of puppies and pigs in a story line usually indicates a children’s book, except when it doesn’t (Marley and Me, Animal Farm)."

I don't know about the Peloponnesian wars, but divorce and, if you define the term loosely enough, sexual deviance certainly turn up in YA.

I have control issues and Rosoff evidently doesn't, which is probably why she wrote How I Live Now, and I didn't. Just writing and letting the chips fall where they may as far as an audience is concerned has worked rather well for her. But to me, knowing whether I'm writing a children's, YA, or adult book is less about audience than it is about knowing what the hell I'm doing. Decisions must be made, people! How can I make decisions about character, voice, setting, theme, and plot, if I haven't made the fundamental decision about what I'm doing first?

Really. I'm feeling quite stressed thinking about this. Rosoff didn't sound stressed in that PW article, did she?

She had a couple of quite interesting things to say toward the end of the article:

You know how traditional wisdom says that kids' read up? Rosoff addresses that. '“In America, novels cross down,” one publisher told me' (Rosoff), “but they don’t cross up,” meaning teens will read adult books, but not vice versa.' Teens continue to read up. What do adults read up to? I've wondered about that before.

Rosoff also describes her new book What I Was as "a love story set in a boy’s boarding school in 1962, narrated by the main character as a very old man." She goes on to say, "In the U.K. it will have two editions. In the U.S., just one—adult."

My understanding of adult vs. YA/kid classifications is that if the narrator of a book is an adult looking back on his youth, than it is an adult book because the story is told through an adult sensibility. That adult has knowledge of what happened past the time in which the story takes place. A YA or children's book has a narrator telling a story of something happening to him in the moment and has no knowledge beyond the time of the story. So Rosoff's new book sounds adult to me.

I think Rosoff's article was meant to try to distance herself from the whole "YA or adult?" debate as far as her own books are concerned. While doing that, though, I think she may raise some questions for readers for whom YA fiction is defined by more than the people who read it.

Link came from the Adbooks listserv.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Halloween Giveaway

Halloween is a week from today, folks. As I announced earlier, I'll be giving away another copy of A Year with Butch and Spike in honor of the holiday because the book includes a Halloween chapter.

Send an e-mail to me ( any time between now and Wednesday, October 31 (Halloween) with the word "Halloween" in the subject line. We'll do the drawing that day.

On the 31st I'll also tell you all the story of the true life experience that ended up in Butch and Spike's Halloween chapter.


I Love This Question

The National Book Award Foundation has interviews on its site with the finalists for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. The interviews are all listed in the column to the left.

The Young People's Lit finalists were all asked the same question (among others): "Now that it's all said and done, what is the story decision that you are most proud of?" Sherman Alexie talks about deciding whether to use the first or third person, so you know I was interested in that. Brian Selznick and Sara Zarr had meaty answers, too.

Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for the link.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

When Do Real People Become Stereotypes?

And, if real people have become stereotypes, should we stop writing about them?

I've been thinking about these questions for a while. It's not unheard of for me to read a book, enjoy it, think it's well done, believe that the characters are drawn from life, but still find them to be stereotypes.

A case in point: Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams. Keep in mind, please, that this is a very good book. But as I was reading it, I was noticing the realtor mom, the dad who drives a car he can't afford and pushes his son in sports, the teen athlete who hates his sport and is pushed into it by his father, and the crotchety old grandfather. Though these characters were all well done in this particular case, we have seen them all before, right?

Yeah. I've seen them in books, but I've also seen them here in town or in neighboring towns. The parents who push their kids in sports are real. They're not just stereotypical characters. They exist. I could tell you stories, but I won't because you probably already know them. And I would be afraid I'd be dealing in a stereotype, anyway. The crotchety old farmer who won't sell his land to developers is a staple on TV, but I hear stories about them around here all the time. The stereotypical mom realtors (We went on vacation with one of those a few years ago; she directed us to a nice condo in Myrtle Beach.) are all waiting for the old coots to die so that their property will become available for age-restricted communities because, try as they might, those cranks can't take their land with them.

So, what I'm wondering is, what does it all mean? What are writers to do when the reality of their lives has already been written about so much that the people they know have become stereotypes? Not everyone will be able to pull off dealing with this problem as well as Abrahams does in Down the Rabbit Hole. You can probably make an argument that it's not as pressing an issue for children's and YA writers because everything is new to those readers. I think that's legitimate up to a point, but it just puts the problem off. I think it's always going to be there, because, sad to say, aren't we all stereotypes?

Oh, darn. I think I might have read about an exercise to rid your writing of stereotypes, but I've forgotten it. I can't begin to guess where I found it, either.

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Daniel Handler Does Essays

I forgot to mention in my party post that among the YA (or YAish) books my friends discussed Friday evening was the A Series of Unfortunate Events series. Two people didn't like the books, one person loved them, and I didn't get them. I loved the idea behind the series, I just didn't quite get the joke.

I was reminded of all that today when I read MONEY TALES
Author Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket talks about the last taboo
, an article about Handler's essay, Wining, in an anthology called Money Changes Everything.

Since I enjoy reading about Daniel Handler, I very much regret that I didn't get into his kids' books more than I did. And now I've found out he writes essays, which makes him even more attractive as far as I'm concerned. If you can't get hold of Money Changes Everything, you can check out another of Handler's essays,Adjusted Income, a variation on the same subject as it turns out.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

The Books Vs. The World

Check out J.L. Bell's post The Wizarding World Beyond the Books at Oz and Ends for a discussion of the Harry Potter books vs. the Harry Potter world. (Sometimes known as the Potterverse.) Of particular interest, I think, is his paragraph on other, comparable universes.


Voice! Characters! Plot! Setting!

I stumbled upon a great new teen mystery series while hunting for third person novels at the library last week. Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams bills itself as "An Echo Falls Mystery," a series about theater geek Ingrid Levin-Hill, a thirteen-year-old suburbanite who would be a mind-numbingly typical child if she didn't have a strong streak of Grampy running through her.

Ah, Grampy. Truly, truly, a beloved grandfather.

Down the Rabbit Hole involves Ingrid's accidentally becoming involved in a murder that no one knows she's involved in and her attempts to find the criminal. Of course, that's what so very many murder mysteries are about, right? Down the Rabbit Hole is a very traditional murder mystery, written around a child and her experiences, and written very well.

Voice. Ingrid has a marvelous voice. And, remember, this book is written in the third person. It's harder to do voice in the third person. Maybe it's not so much that Ingrid has a voice as perhaps the book has a tone. I think that what makes Ingrid so distinctive is that she goes her own way. Sure she's into soccer and theater the way so many kids are. She's into Sherlock Holmes the way so many book kids are. But when she goes after this stuff they seem truly distinctive to her. She doesn't seem like a cookie cutter kid.

One problem that I often have with kid mysteries and thrillers is that it never makes sense why the child detective doesn't turn to an adult for help. It just defies logic. I have never seen that issue addressed as well as it is here. Ingrid has very real and logical reasons for continuing to pursue the murderer on her own.

Characters. This book is so good, I was nearly half through it before I realized how stereotypical many of the characters are. (I'll be doing another post on that later.) But they're really good characters. There are no cartoon heavies here.

The love interest in mysteries almost always ruins the books for me. Love lines are so formulaic and tacked on to the story. The kid love interest here is one of the most believable and touching I can recall. I totally bought that kiss after those awkward, stilted telephone calls. The love interest is integrated into the plot far better than the love interests in many adult mysteries.

Plot. The plot in kid mysteries is often very weak for the obvious reason that the child detective has trouble getting around to do her crime solving. Can't drive, can't go out at night, can't do much. Abrahams, who has been nominated for an Edgar award for his adult mystery writing, does an excellent job with this. As a writer, I was reading along going, Oh, that's smooth how he got her to this house. Great how he got her there. Yes, there were a couple of points that I felt were forced and a bit unbelievable, but, quite honestly, you get that in any mystery. The bad guy might be predictable for those of us who've been reading mysteries for a long time (though I didn't catch on to the why until the very end), and the ending was a bit rushed, but the target readers should find this to be high class work.

Setting. Though Abrahams lives in Massachusetts, he's set his kid series in Connecticut. Echo Falls is an imaginary place, but the Echo Falls soccer and football teams play teams from towns in Connecticut that are real. In fact, they are right next door to me. Echo Falls is bigger than the town I live in. (We don't have a police department, for instance. We have to hope the state troopers will get here before our crimes are yesterday's news.) But a great deal of what he talks about is real for this area.

Personally, I like Ingrid Levin-Hill better than Kiki Strike because I prefer loners, or at least individuals, to posses. But the Echo Falls books do seem as if they could be companion mysteries to the Kiki Strike books. One is a classic, small town mystery, the other an urban scooby gang story.

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Great Westerfeld Article

Scott Westerfeld is on tour for his new book Extras. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a great article about him.

I was particularly struck by the following:

Westerfeld, chatting over coffee at his Seattle hotel, said teens relate easily to tales of closed societies governed by arcane rules.

"When you're in high school," he said, "you're in kind of a dystopian movie, so the idea of a controlled society makes perfect sense to them."

High school as a closed society definitely works for me. Speaking as someone who has been through high school twice, once as a parent, what kept coming home to me the second time was that everyone gets so riled up about high school, but it just doesn't matter in the greater scheme of things. So much of our popular culture deals with high school, so many people carry baggage related to their high school experience, but in terms of the great big world--life, death, war, work, research, discovery, nature, nurture, you name it--high school is disconnected from almost everything. It's like a little island in the world of life. A closed society.

I don't know if I'd necessarily say it's controlled or, if so, I don't know who controls it.

Yet, at least here in the U.S., we all fixate so on that nearly universal experience.

The link came from Justine Larbalestier's blog.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

YA Making Inroads Among Adult Readers?

Today we have a party post, like the party posts Fuse does, but different. Instead of taking place in Manhattan, this party takes place somewhere else. Instead of publishing types, this party is for reader types. Instead of sophisticated mixed drinks and canapes, guests at this party are offered Mike's Hard Lemonade, cheap wine, cider, and popcorn.

Yes, people, on Friday night I held another bookswap. Revelers brought a book they liked and/or a book they hated. All books arrived in bags (gifty bags or, in my case, plastic shopping bags I found in the pantry) so that they could be drawn blind from the pools.

Here is what was so interesting about Friday night's event. The second person to draw a book from the loved pool received Twilight. The woman who brought it is halfway through her thirteen-year-old daughter's copy, was loving it, and ran out to buy a copy for my party.

The Twilight person brought up Uglies, which she liked. This led to a discussion of one of the sequels, though I can no longer remember which one. Then someone brought up His Dark Materials. The other two people in the room who had read the whole series didn't have any trouble understanding the religious aspects of the second and third books, which means that my friends are far more sophisticated spiritually or intellectually or both than I am.

I traded Corbenic.

I thought that was rather a lot of YA talk among eight non-YA women. If only we'd known what J.K. Rowling was doing in New York City while we were meeting, I'm sure the Potter lovers in my living room would have had much more to discuss.

I ended the evening with The Dogs of Babel and Tender at the Bone. Not YA, but I was rather pleased with my haul.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Show Don't Tell

The kidlit world is all a tremble today over the news that Albus Dumbledore is gay.

I don't care a whole lot about his sexual orientation in large part because I'm not sure it has anything to do with anything as far as the Harry Potter stories are concerned. Does it support anything that happens in the book? Is it a crucial plot point? Does it reveal anything about Dumbledore or anyone else that must be revealed in order for Harry's story to be told?

But, then, I've always been mystified and put off by the glory that is Dumbledore. The Harry Potter books are children's books. With children's books, it's supposed to be about the kids. Dumbledore has always had way too much power in those books for my taste. (I'm sure I've said that here before.) I've always felt he overshadowed Harry. That may be why adults like him so much. They like feeling there's an adult in there really controlling things just as they like pretending adults control things in the real world.

To me what was interesting about J.K. Rowling's announcement last night that Dumbledore is gay is not that he is gay but that she had to tell us that he is. Does that suggest to anyone else that she didn't show us in the books? I may be wrong because I am not a Potter authority by a long shot, but, except for the last book where we learn about Dumbledore's relationship with Gellert Grindelwald, the friend of his youth who went bad, was there ever any evidence that Dumbledore was either gay or straight? Anything at all? And was that early friendship and the suffering it caused Dumbledore enough to show us that he is gay? No heterosexual has ever had a close same sex friend?

I know that fans enjoy the concept of a universe behind the books in many series, not just Harry Potter. But, nonetheless, we are talking about books, completed worlds, final documents. Whatever we may enjoy believing about our favorite characters, they are what they are in the books. Remember, Dumbledore is not a real person. He can only be what Rowling wanted him to be when she wrote him. If she wanted him to be gay, she had to write him that way, she had to show that he was gay in the books. And certainly if his being gay was all that essential to the books, it had to be shown there.

To tell this information well after the work has been completed may be a great stunt and make for a great headline, but it suggests we're not talking about great writing here.

UPDATE: That last paragraph was way too harsh. To be fair to Rowling, she outed Dumbledore in response to a question from her audience. It wasn't a planned stunt or an attempt to seek headlines. She doesn't need stunts or headlines. I'm also wondering if it isn't overwhelming or even frightening to have such an enormous, uncontrollable fan following that an impromptu remark you make on Friday night becomes major news by Saturday afternoon. Nonetheless, unless she has already written Dumbledore as gay, to say he is now is, in effect, continuing to write books that have already been completed and published. Unfortunately, print on paper is a whole lot like carving in stone.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Crash And Burn

My computer guy says my posts on my daily stats are dull and boring. Yeah, I know. This coming from a computer guy. I laugh. Ha-ha-ha-ha.

My daily stats posts were all about my excitement about entering some kind of weird zenny state where the work was all there was for a couple of hours each day, and just by working I could work. The work created work.

I can't remember the last time this happened to me, so I thought that perhaps I was evolving into a higher lifeform. It was about time. I was hopeful, at least, but in my heart of hearts, I knew it wouldn't last.

Today I received what's known at the home office as the first pass of the galleys for A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers (with art!), which needed to be looked at right away so they could go off to be printed into arcs. Thursday is one of my half days, anyway, and between the galleys, and e-mailing my editor, and getting an e-mail from her, and e-mailing her again, well, I wrote maybe three paragraphs on The Durand Cousins.

Galleys are wonderful because the book is pretty much done as far as the author is concerned, and soon it will be another notch on your pistol grip. But by this point, you've written that freaking book so many times, and seen it so many times that it no longer seems original and brilliant to you and you worry that this will be the book that makes clear to everyone that you have no business publishing. How did she find a publisher? Did she have incriminating pictures? Did she hold someone's child hostage?

You really want to be working on the new book, which you haven't seen too much of yet, so you still think it is original and brilliant and could be your masterpiece, the work you will be remembered for a hundred years after your death. Assuming you don't die too soon. You've got to get that masterwork written fast and you've got to find a publisher for it and get a contract signed before the new book comes out because once the new book comes out no one will want you anymore.

But then working on the old book destroys the flow you finally created for working on the new book, and you know you'll never get it back and all is lost. Lost.

The design work and art for A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers looks really good. And soon there will be arcs! Yippee!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Today's Stats

No, I don't have problems with basic math skills, but yesterday I did make a mistake with some cutting and pasting and one section of work was counted twice. So I only did 1200 some odd words instead of 1650. That's still over a thousand words a day, which is all I was shooting for. More than made up for yesterday's stumble today, though, because...Da, da, da, daaaaaaa...

3,480 words written, almost all of them new and original! That's an enormous number for me. That's like real work.
0 games of Spider Solitaire played. I haven't played it in days.

There may be an end in site to this thing.


I'm Just Plain Masochistic

I've been reading back posts at Shrinking Violet Promotions. I've gone through this past May's (the blog has only been around since February), where I found a two-part interview with Brent Hartinger. The whole point of this particular blog is to encourage writers who are not born performers/promoters, but as one of those, I have to say I found the Hartinger interview a bit of a downer.

In Part One of the interview, pay attention to Hartinger's responses to Question 6, "Is there a window of opportunity for book promotion? A length of time after which one’s efforts make little difference?" and Question 11, "How much impact do you think an author's efforts can actually have on sales?"

Sadly, I think he's probably right on the money with everything he has to say. That doesn't make me enjoy hearing it, though.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Today's Stats

1,650 words. Not new, never before seen, but new, improved. I ended up revising and expanding yesterday's work. I'm no further along, but, I hope, better.

And I'm quite looking forward to work tomorrow, which I must admit is unusual.


Run! Save Yourself!

'It's Carnage...' Inside the Genteel World of Books ought to turn off a great many folks from even trying to write. I know I was quite shaken after reading it.

Thanks to Justine Larbalestier for the link. She described the article as "my favourite on publishing in ages." Clearly, she is hearty soul.


Ever Had To Get Down On Your Knees To Find The Literary Journals?

I have. And thus I've shared an experience with Stephen King. He's the editor of The Best American Short Stories 2007. I'm sure I'll be reading some of that book at some point.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Today's Stats

1,700 all new, never before seen, words written!
0 games of Spider Solitaire played
1 new listserv joined
A few too many cookies eaten, but they were small


I Guess Guys Need This Kind Of Thing Periodically

I've been wondering how The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden differs from The American Boy's Handy Book by D. C. Beard.

They have similar titles and similar retro covers. They both include information on tying knots. The American Boy's Handy Book was all over the place in the 1980s. The Dangerous Book for Boys is all over the place now.

Well, it turns out that The American Boy's Handy Book was originally published back in 1882. The paperback released in 1983 was a centennial edition. Though in the 1980s it was a nostalgia piece (The Washington Post said it evoked "the kind of boyhood that nearly every American man would like to have had himself, and hope that his son (or daughter) might still enjoy"), back in its day it was presumably the real deal. Its author, Daniel Carter Beard, a civil engineer, surveyor, and artist, was also the first National Commissioner of the Boy Scouts. A mountain in Alaska was named for him.

The Dangerous Book for Boys started out in the United Kingdom where, presumably, they don't have The American Boy's Handy Book. According to an interview at Amazon with one of the authors, it was written in response to our overprotective culture that, the author believed, "isn't doing our sons any favors." The Dangerous Book is a contemporary work and covers things Beard wouldn't have known about back in the 1880s, such as paper airplanes and girls.

I think Beard would have appreciated the Igguldens' concern about our culture. In his preface, he says "Let boys make their own kites and bows and arrows" suggesting he thought that in his own time boys were, if not overprotected, at least being given too much in the way of material things that they could just as well make for themselves. (The italics in that quotation were his, by the way.)

I do think, though, that if you're really looking for dangerous things to do with your boys, you might want to hunt up the old The American Boy's Handy Book. In addition to explaining how to make a Buckeye Bow, Beard covers home-made "hunting apparatus," which sounds a little rougher and tougher than skimming stones, one of the topics in The Dangerous Book for Boys.

Yes, folks, there was a The American Girl's Handy Book. I haven't found anything on A Dangerous Book for Girls, yet.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Where's Your Daddy?

You know those sort of blog attacks that kidlit bloggers sometimes get together and do to try to bring attention to particular books and authors? Maybe they work.

Back in August, Kelly at Big A, little a did a series of "Under the Radar" posts on the Ingo books by Helen Dunmore. I happened to own a copy of the second Ingo book, The Tide Knot, which I'd been putting off reading because I didn't care for the cover, and it looked like an ocean book. I came of age in a land-locked state. I'm not exactly drawn to the sea. But Kelly's posts gave me a nudge, and I read the book a week or two ago.

The Tide Knot is one of the most calming books I can recall reading. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but by calming I don't mean dull and boring. I mean it's an atmospheric book. Otherworldly. And being pulled out of your own frantic life into another world can be calming, even if that other world involves what sounded to me very much like a tsunami.

There's a lot of nature talk in The Tide Knot. You've got your Air/ Land people, and you've got your Water/Ocean people. As often happens with fantasy books that involve nature, there's a bit of mystical mumbo jumbo, which I usually find very trying. People have land power or water power, for instance. And in a few places Dunmore teeters on the brink of giving us eco-lessons. But the writing is so very fine and elegant (and then there is that atmosphere again) that the bits I normally wouldn't have cared for just rolled off my back.

The Tide Knot is the second in a series, but I didn't have any trouble reading it. It's clear that some things have happened before the events in this particular book. Dad has disappeared, for instance. But we're brought up to speed with far less awkwardness than you usually find in serial books. In many ways, some might argue that this is a traditional broken family story, but with some twists. The twists are really good ones, though.

The Tide Knot made me think of Victory by Susan Cooper. The actual story may be familiar, but the writing is so good it doesn't matter.

I'm considering buying Ingo, the first book in the series, and after I've read it giving both books to some family members who own a summer house on the coast in Maine. I think it would be fun to keep the books at the ocean house to read when it rains or to have available for guests.

I don't think it would be all that disturbing to read about a really wicked storm when you're going to have to sleep that night right next to the sea.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Good News And Bad News

The good news is that today I finished rewriting the first eight chapters of The Durand Cousins. The bad news is that I began that job at the beginning of August.

Part of the reason it took me so long is that I couldn't just rearrange text as I'd hoped. In order to do what I wanted to do, I had to generate new text as well as rework some of what I'd already done. I have ten thousand more words and two more chapters than I originally had.

I think I'm three-quarters of the way through this draft, with all new work to come. I do think I know what I'm going to be writing, though, which can only be a help now, can't it?

When I finish, I'm going to take a week off to let the dust settle and then start over again. My hope is to take this first-person draft and rework it as third person. The first person draft is generating material, but I really want to write a third-person book.

I have done it before, so it's not as if I'm hoping for a miracle.

Work has been going very, very well this past week and a half. Not only have I been meeting my daily goals, but sometimes going far beyond them.

I'm feeling a little anxious about that next third-person draft. I tried to write A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat in the third person, but it kept sounding instructional, like something from the nineteenth century. So yesterday while I was at the library, I found some third person novels to try to get myself into the proper mindset.

Oh, and by the way, I didn't play Spider Solitaire once this week. No doubt that was a factor in my improved productivity.

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What Should I Put Here?

I recently read MotherReader's summary of her blog promotion talk at the kidlitosphere conference. As a result, I've become self-conscious about using keywords in the headlines of my posts. I don't know if "Haphazard" in my last post will bring me any readers. The same with "Directional Guide" in one of yesterday's posts.

"Creepy" in Tuesday's post brought me my best numbers this week, though still nothing like I was getting in June and July when I never thought about this issue at all.

Haphazard. Yes.

Miss Erin has an interview up with D.M. Cornish author of Monster Blood Tattoo. I particularly liked the portion on writing process. When asked "What is your writing process like?" Cornish replied, "Haphazard."

I like that. I feel that word may define me. Haphazard.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Directional Guide For Me

I found the blog Shrinking Violet Promotions a while back, but, of course, have not yet read a single post. But today while just randomly checking out blogs I found this post there. Clearly, it is a personal message directed directly at me.

See that picture at the top of the post? It's an inukshuk. We got into inukshuks while we were in Canada last month. Not that we went to the Arctic or anything. We didn't get further north than Ottawa. But we saw inukshuks in a number of shops and a big one outside a sports store. We liked the idea that they are directional guides. We're into being guided direction-wise and brought a tiny inukshuk home with us. We have plans to build one out in the yard.

"Plan" is actually too strong a word.

My point is, I think that inukshuk at that blog is a guide for me. At the shop where we bought ours we were told that travelers would put food between the leg-like rocks of the inukshuk to let fellow travelers know that this was an area where the hunting was good. The inukshuk at Shrinking Violet Promotions may be telling me that the reading is good there.

At any rate, it's a cool picture, eh?

I Guess I'll Be Doing A Book Giveaway For The 4th Of July

Look who has a book coming out next year. Me. Amazon says so, so it must be true. Can't wait until I have a cover to go with it.


The Finale

I am having to clear out some of the blogs on my own personal blog roll because I don't have time to go to all of them. (I suspect this is happening to a lot of people. The number of bloggers increased astronomically or exponentially or something these past two or three years, and now there are probably more blogs than there are people to read them.) While doing so I found that I fell...ah...a month and a half behind reading Mark Peter Hughes Lemonade Mouth Across America blog.

In short, the Hughes family has been home since August 25th. Now Hughes, who quit his day job last March, is a stay-at-home parent and writer whose wife is working outside the home. This scenario calls out for a memoir and/or movie a la A Year in Provence, only with lots of sitting in front of a computer screen reading about Anna Nicole Smith, Brittany Spears, and the inquest on the Princess of Wales.

Oh. Wait. That's my literary year.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This Doesn't Happen To Me Very Often

I'm usually way behind on my reading, but last night I finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and what do I learn today? It's a finalist for this year's National Book Award for Young People's Literature. I feel so cutting edge.

J.L. Bell has already done a great deal of work describing this book over at Oz and Ends. Rather than knocking myself out going over it again, I'll just send you over there. To be short and to the point, I'll say that Hugo Cabret is a lovely book that is told through wordless pictures that lead to pages of text that lead to more wordless illustrations that lead to more text that lead to more... You get where I'm going with this.

And it's about the early days of French filmmaking! Can't think of too many kids' books on that subject.

I felt Hugo Cabret was well-written, but, except for the great historical details, the basic story seemed familiar. A pioneering genius in some field (here it is film) disappears from public view only to be rediscovered by children who bring him to the attention of the public after years of neglect. Granted, it's going to be a fresher story to a child who hasn't read as much as a grown-up. Another problem this adult reader had is that I could never get immersed in the story for any length of time. Whenever I was beginning to get into the world of 1930s Paris, I'd have to shift from reading to following the narrative through images instead of words. The jolt took me out of my reading zone. This long-time reader needed more text. Again, a child reader who isn't set in her ways probably wouldn't. She'd probably be more flexible and be able to shift back and forth much more easily than I could.

Last winter while I was at a library conference, one of the participants spoke very highly of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. She said the book worked marvelously for reluctant readers. The pages of illustration aren't just illustration. Each page carries the reader through a portion of the story--say, a chase scene. Evidently this gives gives kids who don't care for reading a break. They're still moving along, but not at that task they don't like. Books like this may encourage such children to read.

In spite of my own reading experience with Hugo Cabret, I have no problem with it being a finalist for the National Book Award. It's an innovative piece of work, and innovation isn't always rewarded. It's good to see it get some attention here.

At his website, Brian Selznick links to George Melies'A Trip to the Moon, which plays an important part in Hugo Cabret. Once the astronomers get to the moon, the movie really does become quite impressive, and it's easy to see how early filmgoers would have been taken with it. Selznick also links to a Smashing Pumpkins video that uses imagery from Melies' movies.

Going to both those sites ought to keep you busy for the next fifteen minutes or so.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Was This Creepy?

I was at the library today, where I happened to meet my friend H., who is my main reading buddy. We ended up by the YA stack (notice I said stack not stacks) so she could pick up Octavian Nothing, and then I got her to take American Born Chinese. She's a substitute teacher at an intermediate school and is hoping that walking into class with a graphic novel will make her cool.

So we're chatting away about this and about that and the subject of the Stephanie Meyer vampire books comes up because I'm still dwelling on it, okay? When this young woman, maybe somewhere between 15 and 17 years old, comes around the stack holding New Moon and starts talking about how much she loved Twilight. She'd already read New Moon because she ended up reading that first and going back to Twilight and she was hoping to find Eclipse, which wasn't there, though it wasn't my fault because I returned it last week.

So, I didn't talk her ear off about how Eclipse offended my feminist sensibilities because I'm not stupid. No adult woman-of-a-certain-age says something like that to a teenager unless she wants to be thought a pathetic old fool. I can get that from young people I'm related to, I don't need to go looking for it from strangers. So I just said that I found Bella too dependent in Eclipse, but that I loved Twilight, too.

So, then, I say to my friend, H., "This book is so hot, so erotic, but nobody actually has sex."

Teenage Girl says, "They can't."

Friend H. says:, "Because it's YA?"

I laugh and say, "Oh, no. YA is full of sex. No, they couldn't have sex because he was afraid that if they did, he would kill her."

So then I tell Teenage Girl that I'd been to the author's website and that two more books are planned for the series. She was ecstatic. I told her I'd heard a rumor that Meyer might write the next book from Edward's point of view. (Actually, I heard her say it in an interview.) She said, "That would be so awesome."

Friend H. says something like, "Don't get your hopes up. My favorite author just died before he could finish his series."

I assured Teenage Girl that Stephanie Meyer is very young.

At the time, I was feeling all excited to be able to talk about a book I liked with someone else who also liked it and thinking that maybe I should just hang out by the YA stack more often. But a few hours later, I started thinking about how I'd been in the library talking to a young person I had never seen before about an erotic book, which is a bit like talking to her about sex. Yikes! "Hey, Mom! The town children's author was talking to me about sex at the library!" (My computer guy came up with that line. He got the seedy implications of this story right away. Computer guys do that.)

On top of that, that teenage girl has probably read a lot hotter books and is thinking I'm a pathetic old fool even though I didn't let slip the feminist bit.

Oh, well. I've survived worse encounters.

Where's The Mystery?

Remember when some commentors at YA Cafe suggested that more YA mysteries were needed? Colleen Mondor reviews eight of them at Eclectica Magazine. Included is a mystery by Nancy Springer, whose book, Rowan Hood, was discussed here a couple of weeks ago.


Monday, October 08, 2007

A Balance Of Power

In an article in the most recent issue of The Horn Book, Roger Sutton makes a reference to "...some of today's voice-trumps-all YA novelists..." Oh, so true, so true. Some of today's YA novelists do rely very heavily on voice, and those voices often sound very much the same. How often have you seen a blurb on a YA book about "A unique new voice in YA!" only to find you're reading about another Holden Caulfield clone or a Georgia Nicholson wannabe?

D.J. Schwenk's voice in Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock is self-deprecating and wry. What's more, it is also the voice of a farmer from the midwest. This is not another member of a teen bitch posse or an outsider girl who is fighting that teen bitch posse. No, D.J. is busy morning and night working in the barn to keep the family farm going while her father recovers from an injury. It's hard to see how she could be further out of the school social loop as most of us know it from teen books and movies.

The book has more than a voice. It has a strong setting in the Schwenk's midwestern farm. It has powerful characters in D.J., her silent brother, her hostile yet strangely endearing father, and her mother, a farm wife with a professional job outside the home. Even Brian, who starts out as a stereotypical ugly jock, is turned around and becomes something else here. This tale of a girl who isn't worried about a date for the prom but about whether or not she is mindlessly doing just what she's supposed to do also has a strong plot. D.J. wants to strike out, and this is the story of how she does it.

Dairy Queen is a very balanced book.

It also has a romantic element. Brian, the aforementioned ugly jock, is a great looking quarterback from a rival school. Oh, he has super grades and comes from a solidly middle class family with no cows, too. There's no doubt this boy's going to college. In the traditional high school universe he is definitely superior in every way to poor D.J., who has had only one date in her life, has had to quit the basketball team, and has recently failed English. But that's the traditional high school universe. As D.J. says, the Scwenks aren't very bright and aren't much on looks, but they definitely can work. In her farm universe, which Brian is forced to enter, she knows how to get things done. She is the power figure.

In addition to being hard workers, the Schwenks know football. Brian is sent to D.J. by his football coach for training. Some readers might find that just slightly contrived, but, hey, if you're reading a book that is only slightly contrived it's your lucky day. At any rate, D.J. has trained with her older brothers, both high school football stars attending college on football scholarships. She has knowledge Brian needs. She can hold her own with him in training.

All the good looks and money and smarts that he has are balanced by her knowledge, skill, and strength. Their romance is one of equals. Their power is balanced.

The romance doesn't take over the story, either. I couldn't help but notice the contrast.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Speaking of Hero

Speaking of The Hero of Ticonderoga, as I was yesterday, look whose first line is is twittered at today.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Long Distance Appearance

I have an on-line chat scheduled for next April with a 5th grade book discussion group at a public library in Maine. I'm excited about this because I've been interested in trying it for quite some time. You may have picked up on the fact that I'm not a great traveler. I'm not in Chicago this weekend because if I'm going to get on a plane, either a near and dear relative is going to have to be intensive care with plans to stay there for a while or someone is going to have to give me an enormous award, probably international in nature. I don't mind driving, but even with GPS it's a crapshoot as to whether or not I'm going to get where I'm going, so I don't go too far.

So, anyway, I've thought this on-line meeting business could be the way to go for someone like myself who, as one of my family members once observed, wants to be beamed places. I've just never done anything about trying to set anything up. Fortunately, this library sought me out. And for a very interesting reason.

This town has a population with a French Canadian background. I'm guessing that for most kids these days that will mean French surnames, that their great-grandparents were the immigrant generation, their grandparents grew up speaking French, and the language was lost after that. The librarian has been reading A Year with Butch and Spike with fifth graders because Butch and Spike are named Couture and I am named Gauthier. So they're interested in me because of my Franco American connection.

This spring the kids taking part in the discussion will be given copies of The Hero of Ticonderoga after we talk. That book should be perfect for their purposes (if I do say so myself) because though we usually talk it up for its historical aspects, when I was writing it, I was very interested in portraying how families are assimilated. The LeClercs are losing their language, they are losing their food, they are even losing their names. At home, Therese is Therese. Her teacher, however, calls her Theresa. Her brother is Marcel at home. But when Therese runs into a non French speaking high school boy who knows her brother, he refers to him as Marc.

No one else has shown any interest in this aspect of the book, so I'm quite excited about talking about it with these kids.

Anyone interested in the French experience in America might enjoy reading French Canadian Lit: Clark Blaise on Philip Marchand a review of Marchand's book Ghost Empire: How the French Almost Conquered North America.


Friday, October 05, 2007

How Exciting

I just got The Invention of Hugo Cabret from Reading Fool's library yesterday and look! J.L. Bell has done two posts on said book at Oz and Ends! I try not to read in detail about books I'm planning to read, so I haven't yet looked at more than the titles of those posts. But they're there. You can read them.

I Was Going To Try To Be Nice But...I Just Ended Up Being Humiliated

Okay, so now we've established that I am a humorless, irate feminist and extremely long-winded, too. It's time to move on.

I wanted to do something positive today. I wanted to do something nice for somebody. I thought I might try to do something nice for those parents who worry about their children being fed a steady diet of depressing literature at school. I'd been thinking about that recently because there's just been a new essay on the subject. Whenever a parent speaks up on this issue, the kidlit world tends to see it as a red flag. The troops seem to rally, and it seems to me that it becomes a them against us issue.

I've known parents who have voiced such concerns. They were educated, intelligent people who had their children's best interests at heart. They were speaking from their own personal experience. I don't feel that I have any right to tell them that their life's experience is wrong and mine is right, that the literary world is a great free forall and their kids should just get in there and start swinging, trying to hit as many books as they can before they pass from this vale of tears. Let the battle shape them as it will.

I don't know what can be done to address these parents' issues, but I think their points should be taken seriously. We shouldn't react to them in a kneejerk fashion. We should show them the same sort of respect we'd expect to receive ourselves.

So I was thinking about saying something like that, and then I read this article and the wind went right out of my sails. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. The serious people who want to raise this issue as a legitimate topic for discussion cannot be happy about this.

Thanks to Kelly at Big A little a for the link.

Update: Damn! There was a part of me that thought that The Happy Ending Foundation story might be a joke, but I didn't listen because we've all heard weirder stuff, right? Right? And now look what leila at bookshelves of doom reports. The whole thing appears to be a marketing ploy for the Lemony Snicket books. As if they need to sell any more of those.

Thank God it's the weekend because between my self-righteous indignation yesterday and my humiliation over falling for this thing today, I am exhausted.

This blog needs an editor.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

When A Book Offends Your Value System Part III

Calm yourself, Gail.

If you've read my last two posts, you know that I was quite...disturbed...over the portrayal of a female character in Stephanie Meyer's new book Eclipse. But even before I finished reading the book, I began to wonder whether a person whose personal belief system is offended by the book she is reading can make a rational judgment about it. Is this a bad book because I don't like seeing female main characters portrayed as weaklings happy to be cared for by men, happy to kill themselves for a guy? Quite honestly, what really bothers me is that Bella loves the situation she's in. Yeah, she's angsting like crazy over whether or not she's hurt Edward or she's hurt Jake, but the fact that she has no desire for a life of her own, doesn't realize it, doesn't care, seems outrageous and outdated to me.

But if I were a really good feminist, wouldn't I be fine with a woman being whatever she wants, even if what she wants is to spend a mindnumbing eternity doing nothing but basking in the glow of her fantasy man? Perhaps I am merely too attached to my concept of women as being capable of independent thought, ambition, etc.

There are two more books planned for this series. I may skim the next one out of morbid curiousity.


When A Book Offends Your Value System Part II

In her new book Eclipse Stephanie Meyer appears to be presenting us with a straight forward (though with vampires) romance. This isn't some kind of heavy portrayal of twisted love (except for the undead lover). My impression is that we're supposed to find this romance romantic.

I can understand and appreciate heavy portrayals of twisted love, particularly with an undead lover. But I had a lot of trouble finding this romance romantic.

Bella, our main character, who started out at least scrappy in Twilight, has become infantilized in Eclipse. She is distressed if she has to be without her vampire boyfriend Edward, who drives her to school, holds her hand in the halls between classes, spends the afternoon and evening with her, and then watches while she sleeps at night. Okay, the argument could be made that he stays in her room with her at night because she's in danger from other vampires. But he doesn't need to sing her to sleep. Edward and Bella, themselves, use the word lullaby. Edward also frequently picks Bella up and carries her. He is constantly telling her that he will take care of her, that he won't let anything happen to her. She gets in trouble with him (though, of course, it all ends in kissing) if she strikes out on her own. While it's true that from his point of view she's endangering herself, it doesn't change the fact that she's in a position of childlike dependence upon him.

And she likes it. She is completely bowled over by Edward's physical beauty, his intelligence, his strength, his kindness, his wit, his textbook romantic heroism. Sometimes just being in his presence is enough to stun her. She wants nothing so much as to ensure she can be with him always, which entails becoming a vampire herself. The fact that she will be forcing Edward or one of his "family" members, who have committed themselves to preserving human life, to become a murderer doesn't seem to enter her head.

This relationship no longer has any pretence of equality. Edward is beautiful, intelligent, strong, kind, witty, wealthy, worldly. You name it, he's it. Bella, on the other hand, appears to be none of those things. She goes to school where she's not a stellar student (which I like, by the way), she does the family laundry, and makes meals for her father. Except for a very part-time job and visiting a second boy "friend," that's it in terms of activity. It's hard to tell what she does with herself when Edward's not around to entertain her.

In the first book, we were told that Edward was attracted to Bella because there was something unique about her blood and scent that inflamed his desire for her. This explained his side of the relationship. It brought a little equality to the table because we saw that she did, indeed, have something to offer him, though it was just physical. But it wasn't mentioned in Eclipse probably because if Bella gets her way and becomes a vampire so she can be with her beautiful boyfriend forever, she'll no longer have that blood. Will poor moral Edward be in for the surprise of his very long life, obligated to stand by Bella through eternity when he no longer desires her?

Various characters try to talk some sense into Bella. Her mother, who has no idea Edward is a vampire, notices that her daughter's life seems to revolve around him. That's not the kind of thing a mom likes to see her daughter doing with a mortal man, forget about a creature of the night. One of Edward's family members explains to Bella that when she was a young girl in the 1930s, all she had wanted was a home and children. She now faces an unending life without them. Happily ever after for humans, she points out, includes a gravestone. Nothing makes an impression on Bella until she falls in love with someone else, someone who could offer her a more normal future, and she realizes she is giving up the opportunity for a real life with an extended family and children. Bella, it seems, can only comprehend things in the context of a relationship with a man.

And then there is the scene in which Bella begs Edward for sex. I'm not talking some hip, sophisticated repartee here. I'm talking honest to God pleading. Romantic? Or degrading?

The draw in these novels now appears to be readers' desire to learn whether or not Bella will be able to persuade the more mature and responsible Edward to take her virginity and her life. It seems a moot point to me, because this poor, sad girl has already wasted her present and thrown away her self-esteem and individuality for the sake of a pretty boyfriend.


When A Book Offends Your Value System Part I

Last summer some posters at one of my listservs started talking about "anti-woman" aspects of Stephanie Meyer's vampire series. There were also complaints about how boring the main character is. How could this incredibly unexceptional girl attract one guy, forget about two? (Actually, there's a third, but he doesn't matter because he's just a regular teenage boy.) At the time, I thought they needed to lighten up. Yes, Bella's obsessive, over-the-top behavior regarding her vampire love would be ridiculous and self-destructive in an adult woman. But Bella's a teenager. Aren't teenagers supposed to be obsessive and over-the-top? And, yeah, it was true that Bella had absolutely no interests or talents of any kind, but doesn't that give readers who feel that they, themselves, are dull and talentless someone to identify with? Hey, maybe we could attract two cool guys someday, too! (I seem to recall enjoying the torn between two-lovers-scenario when I was a teenager. Now I find the prospect exhausting.)

Then I read Eclipse, the third book in the series. Good heavens.

The first book, Twilight, had a thriller storyline to go along with its very erotic but sexless romance. I keep pounding on the point that books really need to have a story. Well, Twilight had one. Jen Robinson described Twilight as having an Elizabeth Barrett and Mr. Darcy thing going for it. One of the things that makes the Elizabeth Barrett/Mr. Darcy scenario attractive, by the way, is that the characters are on an even footing as far as their personal power is concerned.

New Moon became more of a star-crossed lovers story than a thriller. And Eclipse is almost all romance all the time. There's a threat to Bella from the evil vampires who first appeared in New Moon, but that story doesn't pick up until the middle portion of a very long book. What you get instead, is back story on the werewolves and some of the vampires and lots and lots of discussion of our relationship. No matter how close Bella and Edward are to being overrun by murderous, blood-sucking vamps, they always have time to stop everything and talk about their love for one another.

And a lot of their discussion is very disturbing.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

But I Don't Whiiiiiiiine

Yesterday I did around a thousand words on The Durand Cousins, and today I did around twelve hundred. Unfortunately, today's twelve hundred words replaces yesterday's one thousand.

I know I shouldn't be revising at this point--I should be pushing through to the end. But one of the things I keep doing with this book is whining. (Sort of like I do here.) And once I get bogged down in the whine, I have trouble with a voice that drives the story. It's almost as if having the correct voice generates material.

That was today's reason for revising. By the way, I wasn't planning to revise when I sat down at the computer. But, as I said, I really was stuck in a whine bog, and you can't just walk out of something like that.

I've nearly revised all the material I decided to revise when I realized some time ago that I was bogged down in whining. Unfortunately, that time I didn't notice the problem until I'd done around forty thousand words.

Here's the sad thing--When I finally finish this first draft, having started over a couple of times and reworked all kinds of material before I get there--I'll still have a crappy first draft. Yet I will be so happy because I won't have a couple of hundred blank pages.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Roaring Back

I enjoyed Rick Riordan's first book, The Lightning Thief. I didn't care for The Sea of Monsters, the second book in Riordan's Percy Jackson series, quite so much. It wasn't that the book wasn't well done or wasn't as good. It was more that I enjoyed the uniqueness of the set-up in The Lightning Thief and in The Sea of Monsters it wasn't unique to me anymore.

However, I'd heard good things about The Titan's Curse so I gave it a try. I think it's back at the level of the first book of the series. Though, to be truthful, The Sea of Monsters involves a quest on water, and I just might prefer quests on land, which is what you have in the first and third books.

One of the things I particularly enjoy about the Percy Jackson books is Riordan's treatment of the Greek gods. While he takes the premise for the world he's created seriously (the Greek gods still exist in the present day), he doesn't take the gods themselves too seriously. He twists their traditional characteristics and turns many of them into contemporary parodies. Thus Apollo, the god of poetry (among other things), writes haiku that no one wants to hear.

I can't recall how the first two books ended, but Titan's Curse ends with a cliffhanger, meaning the series is now a serial.

I'm going to be hearing Rick Riordan speak at the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature later this month. And the title of the fourth Percy Jackson book will be announced this Thursday.


Yeah, That Sounds Like Shakespeare

A production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) was stopped mid-performance by a school official in Arizona who had brought 700 6th through 12th graders to see the play. She said, "There was inappropriate language and the content was very suggestive."

I'm guessing the kids missed most of the inappropriate language and suggestive content, and now they're kicking themselves for not paying more attention.

Monday, October 01, 2007

I May Be Responsible For This Post

This past weekend MotherReader ran a post on whether or not the blogosphere is keeping up on its blog reading. Well, I just checked out a blog I haven't visited in a couple of months and found a post I'm pretty certain I inspired. Clearly, I need to be doing a better job with my reading.

pixie stix kids pix is maintained by the Executive Director of the Association of Booksellers for Children, which I joined this past year. Last summer Bookseller Chick wrote a column for another site in which she suggested authors bring cookies in to booksellers to help promote themselves with them. While the column was somewhat tongue in cheek, I have, quite seriously, read of authors who bring chocolate into the office while visiting their editors and who send Christmas gifts (coffee mugs imprinted with their book titles, for instance) to all the publishing staff they have contact with. The closest I've ever come to doing any of these things was when I sent my editor taekwondo pins to distribute at the launch meeting for Happy Kid!, and I've been cringing ever since.

Anyway, I brought the article to the attention of the ABC listserv with the question, Does this work? Remember, I'd been published for years before I had the nerve to ask if I could sign stock. I'm going to start bringing cookies to strangers in stores? It was discussed on the listserv (they seemed kind of split on the cookie issue) and then, in August, pixie stix ran a post entitled The Cookie Theory: Author's Secret Weapon or Crummy Mess? that summed up the listserv's discussion. This is good because she made some suggestions to the listserv that I meant to save to read later, and, of course, I have no idea where they are now.

So, I feel much better about finding this than I felt when I found a Megan Whalen Turner fansite that mentioned me in a "What's with her, anyway?" kind of way because I hadn't loved the last Eugenides book.

Gleanings From My Listservs

Tomorrow morning Click by Nick Hornby, Roddy Doyle, Gregory Maguire, Linda Sue Park, David Almond, Tim Wynne-Jones, Ruth Ozeki, Deborah Ellis, Margo Lanagan, and Eoin Colfer is going to be featured on NPR's Morning Edition. Arthur Levine, the editor, and two of the book's ten authors, Ruth Ozeki and Linda Sue Park, will be interviewed. Click is being published by Scholastic as a benefit project for Amnesty International.

Remember Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky? Well, this year was Gramatky's one hundredth birthday, so a "restored classic edition" of Little Toot was published last month. Gramatky was a watercolorist as well as an illustrator.