Thursday, February 28, 2008

Serious Adult Fare For Teen Readers


Interested in books that could help YAs make the jump to adult mainstream literature? You might want to take a look at at American Youth by Phil LaMarche.

Setting, both in time and place, is extremely important in American Youth. Teddy LeClare's family is part of a rural, hunting culture that feels itself being pushed out in the '80s by newcomers who are creating and moving into developments on property the locals once hunted and roamed on. Teddy's mother definitely feels that these people are different, not like her and her family. Complicating matters is an economic downturn that's left developments unfinished and meant that a lot of people have had to put their houses up for sale--for what good that does them.

At the beginning of the book, Teddy, who is about to start ninth grade at a regional high school, invites a couple of these new kids into his home. When these brothers find his place boring, he agrees to show them his gun, one of a number in the LeClare house, and even loads it when they ask him to. Teddy has been brought up by gun people. He knows never to point a gun, loaded or unloaded, at a human being. (I remember learning that, too.) But these new kids weren't brought up around guns. And when Teddy steps out of the room, one brother points the gun at the other and kills him.

This is a tragedy, of course. What elevates it to a nightmare is Mrs. LeClare's insistence that her son Teddy not tell anyone he loaded the gun. In the world in which she grew up, her only child did nothing wrong. But in the world that is being imposed on her by these newcomers, she fears the family will be held responsible for the accident and made to pay dearly.

The misery and guilt Teddy feels is compounded by the guilt over the lie and worry over whether or not he'll be caught, since his story conflicts with that of the surviving brother. He's ripe for the picking when a gang calling itself American Youth approaches him. Claiming to support "American" values and the rights of the individual over federal intrusion, the members are sympathetic to Teddy's plight.

At first.

One of the strengths of this book is that it isn't an anti-gun rant. It's not an apology for gun use, either. The gun owners are not romanticized, certainly, but treated with respect. This is a portrayal of a culture, a slice of life.

In terms of YA readers, American Youth is both familiar and unique. Most readers will be able to identify with the teenager struggling to get along, the clique (in this case a gang), and the problems with parents. What's unique is the setting, the culture within which the story takes place. I don't think there are a lot of YA books that go much beyond YA culture. This adult book does. It places what's going on in this poor boy's life within the bigger society. That may be what makes it an adult book instead of YA.

American Youth is well written, but not in a flashy way. There is no wise-ass YA voice, which can become very cliched when it isn't well done. There definitely is no humor. This is a dark tale about a dark period in a young person's life.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And All This Was About Shelving Books, For Crying Out Loud

Scott McLemee wrote an article called Bookshelf and Self that discusses a Time blog post called The Unabridged Rules of Library Management and a response to it called Bookshelves at another blog.

They were all meant to be tongue-in-cheek accounts of the correct way to store books, but as the writers got further and further from the original piece (The Unabridged Rules of Library Management. Remember?), the humor became, shall we say, drier and drier? McLemee, for instance, quoted that gut-busting humorous Francis Bacon.

I am predicting that this will go on for another month or two with writers picking up the subject and writing about what these three authors had to say and then, after that, what the first four authors had to say, and then, after that, what the first five authors had to say, until someone has enough material to get a book contract.

And I'll probably read it. But I'll try to get it at the library because I don't like to have to store and clean books. I pay taxes so someone else can do that.

The link to the third article...no, the first...well, the one I read...wait, I read all of them...came from artsJournal

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Gail's End Games

Sometime this past year, I stumbled upon a blog review of one of my books. The blogger (I'm not going to link to him because I'm not that good and open-minded a person) said the end of my book activated his gag reflex.

Needless to say, that gave me something to think about.

I've been thinking about it a lot these past few days after finishing up The Durand Cousins. I eliminated the last two paragraphs of the book soon after I wrote them not because they made me gag but because they just weren't working. As I explained to a family member, in my experience, if something doesn't work in a manuscript, I probably don't need it. The story is probably better off without it.

I believe that The Durand Cousins is better off without those two paragraphs, but I realized that what dropping them left me with was a Gauthier ending.

Many of my books end with the main character experiencing a moment. Everything he or she goes through leads to a moment of not necessarily happiness but maybe satisfaction or comfort or enlightenment. But just a moment. The satisfaction or comfort or enlightenment isn't something that can last and create a happily ever after scenario. In fact, that was what the two paragraphs I ditched Saturday morning were about. Soon the character was going to experience more worries and work. What she was feeling was only for that moment.

Those moments might be interpreted as uplifting and hopeful, which is what some kidlit gatekeepers believe is required of children's literature (and what that blogger probably found gag-inducing). However, while I've been writing endings for around twelve years now, I didn't know about the uplifting and hopeful philosophy until very recently. Those endings might also be interpreted as a bit zenny, but I didn't know anything about Zen until the last few years, either.

Therefore, I have to put the Gauthier endings down to my world view. I am interested in those times when a person can live in a really brief moment of true satisfaction, contentment, enlightenment, or something that is good, unaware that it is only a moment and, thus, really a cause for unhappiness because it won't last. Yup, those are good times, good times. We're lucky if we get them.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Adding With Monet And Picasso




I think many people think of art only as something that is stored in museums, and they steer clear of those places. I loved Math-terpieces by Greg Tang (illustrated by Greg Paprocki) because it connects Art, which may have elitist connotations for some, with something most of us probably believe is far more practical--math. Talk about a multi-tasking opportunity! Parents can get in reading time with their kids, expose them to art, and teach math concepts all at once. Or a parent can hand the book to young readers so that they can get some reading time in with their art and math.

Each two-page spread includes a reproduction of a well-known work of art, a poem related to it that includes the artist's name and a math problem related to groups of items on the opposite page that were "lifted" from the original art work. For instance, if you're looking at Claude Monet's White Water Lilies, the math problem will involve adding together the different groupings of water lilies on the opposite page.

It's lovely to look at and functional, too.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Spinning My Wheels

This is so like me. In so many ways.

In 2006 I was reading Louise Doughty's Telegraph column, A Novel in a Year. Each week she was writing a column on some aspect of writing a book. I was using various suggestions to help generate material for The Durand Cousins. But, as so often happens to me, I fell behind in my reading. At the beginning of 2007, I could no longer find the columns at The Telegraph site. I assumed that was because Doughty was turning the columns into a book.

Then this afternoon I found the columns back at The Telegraph site. How marvelous, right? Well, yeah, except now I'd like to find time to finish reading them.

Now I can't find her columns for A Writer's Year, which she wrote in 2007. I hadn't finished reading those, either.

Falling behind, losing things, finding them much later, losing something else... Really, I think I deserve some kind of award for ever getting anything done.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Thing Of Interest--Violet Bing



I'm afraid I'm very much like Violet Odelia Bing in Violet Bing and The Grand House by Jennifer Paros. My mind is made up about a great many things. I don't care for kids' books about children with funny names like Violet Odelia Bing. As a general rule, I'm not fond of eccentric great aunts (or uncles, for that matter). I think their freaky old houses have been done to death, too. And third-person narrators who speak directly to readers set my teeth on edge.

And, yet, I like Violet Bing. I even like the Grand House she visits.

I think what makes Violet so attractive to me is that she isn't a cute, funny kid. She is an anxious child. She is "against Surprises and Things I Don't Know." She has an objection to every new experience. Such children aren't going to fall into line easily or quickly or--let's be honest, here--maybe even at all. They certainly aren't going to learn a sweet little lesson from an adult, as so many children in books for younger readers do.

Violet refuses to go on vacation with the rest of the family and has to accept staying with her great-aunt who lives in an odd, "Grand House." Usually in kids' books, the child main character goes to visit the great-aunt in her bizarre old lair and is blown away by what she finds there. Not our Violet. Astrid (she's rarely referred to as "aunt," which is a nice touch) tries to entice her with all the house's charms, its "Things of Interest." But Violet will have none of it. "There is nothing of Interest," she says. In what seems to me to be a bit of a role-reversal, Violet is the eccentric relative here.

Violet does begin to loosen up through the intervention of a dog, a neighbor child, and, you might say, a girl much like herself. Oh, and maybe a spider. But the loosening up is slow, as it would be in real life. This reader, at least, was left with the hope that Violet wouldn't change all that much.

Violet Bing and The Grand House sounds as if it might be the beginning of a series. If that's the case, I'm not sure if a less negative Violet will be as engaging as she was in this first book. But in The Grand House she is an intriguing character for readers in the early grades.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Maybe I'll Do Nothing

Leila at bookshelves of doom is running an I, Claudius Big Read. Of the books she was considering, that was the one that interested me the most. However, we're doing The Maltese Falcon as a Big Read in my area of the state next month, too. I think I've already read it, but I've always been interested in Hammett (He was a Pinkerton detective!), and there's going to be a real-world book discussion one evening. (A game of Clue, too, which I could do without.) Plus, I've been thinking of trying to write some kiddie-noir for years. But...there's no speaker. I do like speakers if I'm doing a Big Read in the carbon-based world.

So I don't know what I'm going to do. Maybe I should just read one of the dozens of other books that are lying around my house. That's a third possibility, I suppose.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Patterson Does YA

The New York Times article, An Author Looks Beyond Age Limits, about James Patterson's attention to his YA sales, is interesting for a number of reasons.

Patterson really keeps an eye on his sales numbers. (I'd rather not know about mine, in large part because they don't come anywhere near his.) He's concerned that his YA books don't sell as well as his adult books do and worries that placement in the back of bookstores with the other kids' books could be keeping buyers from finding them. So his publisher is asking booksellers to commit to keeping his YA titles at the front of the store for the same length of time as his adult titles. YA titles should be treated as well as adult titles. Yeah, it's too bad all books can't get this kind of treatment, but that's life, as Mom used to say.

Patterson is interested in attracting female buyers for his YA books, as in mothers. He wants to encourage parents to buy books for their kids as long as they're in the bookstore, anyway. While some might charge that he wants to get parents to buy his books, I'm hoping that if he trains them to buy for their kids whenever they go into bookstores, the resulting sales could help all of us. (Patterson can't have a new YA book in the store all the time, after all. Oh. Wait. Maybe he can.)

YA titles are becoming popular with adult readers. So Patterson's latest book has a cover designed to attract adults as well as kids. I've heard of other books that were published in two editions, one for adults and one for kids, in order to cast a nice big net. Patterson's publisher is trying to be more efficient.

Patterson's Maximum Ride series has an "uncredited co-writer." (Gabrielle Charbonnet) It's too bad she's uncredited, but I respect that Patterson brought in help instead of taking the attitude that just anyone can knock off a YA book.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm Going To Keep Hammering On This Issue

Roger Sutton tips us off to a juicy bit of news with his post For Reals? HarperCollins Childrenís Books has announced that it will be publishing a new series of books for 8-to-12-year-old girls and will offer companies that make products mentioned in the books the opportunity to become sponsors. The chief executive of a marketing group will write the books, I guess because HarperCollins doesn't get enough manuscript submissions from authors.

Now, personally, I've always felt that parents have a responsibility to stay on top of what their kids are reading. Here's one more reason. Product placement in books for any age group is not a concept that I think the average reader is aware of. Parents really need to educate themselves about this so they can educate their kids.

What's more, if it becomes a common practice, English teachers are going to need to address it as part of literature discussion. And not just to protect their students from being manipulated. There's a craft issue involved with product placement.

Years ago, "brand" writing was often seen in adult fiction. At that time, it wasn't product placement. No one was trying to make any money off it. No one was trying to sell anything to readers. It was just a quick and dirty way for writers to describe characters--they were described in terms of what they owned.

The problem with this--and the problem with product placement, too--is that unless readers have seen the products named, they have no idea what they look like and thus the description is meaningless. Jane Smiley explained what I'm talking about back when Cathy's Book was published. Describing characters in terms of the brand names of the items they own and use tells us nothing about how those characters look. It might tell us a bit about their attitudes or social class, but only, as I said, in a quick and dirty way.

So here's the issue I keep coming back to with these product placement books: We're not just talking about taking advantage of young people, which is certainly not to be taken lightly. We're also talking about writing quality, something publishing companies shouldn't be taking lightly.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Will It Find Its Audience?



In an NPR interview with Peter Sis, Scott Simon never refers to Sis's book The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain as a picture book. Instead, he calls it an illustrated book. That could be a good term for books published in what we think of as picture book formats but with content most definitely not for the child readers we usually associate with picture books.

The Wall is a marvelous memoir of Sis's childhood in Cold War Czechoslovakia. Sounds riveting, doesn't it? The Cold War is a subject, I'm embarrassed to say, that has always left me...uh...cold. I always thought of those Eastern European countries under the Communist's heels as gray, colorless places, much like Sis's sophisticated, highly detailed illustrations. The Wall may have changed all that for me.

On one level Sis uses mature, cartoon-like illustrations with classic minimal picture book text to tell the story of his childhood and adolescence. In addition, though, he adds historical detail along the margins of those illustrated pages. On top of all that he has six big pages of journal entries going back to 1954. That's a lot of material.

Too much, of course, for your preschoolers and first grade students for whom picture books are usually written. This would be one rough read aloud. Too much, I'm guessing, for anyone under, say, fourth grade. It should grab the attention of much older readers, too. (For instance, the part rock played in these young peoples' lives should be of interest to a lot of teenagers; a lot of adults, for that matter.) The Wall would make a great reading list addition to a social studies curriculum.

But will the grown-ups who teach those classes be open to giving credit for reading an "illustrated book?" Yes, the book is good enough to read on your own. But how will young people of the right age to appreciate it find it? It was on the new picture book shelf in the kiddy area at my library. How much is it going to circulate in that age group?

I think this book would also make a great addition to an art program. Sis says at the end, "I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it's hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life-" Does anyone else see an art project there?

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

More Business Talk

If you are a writer who publishes with a traditional book publishing company, your books probably get into bookstores by way of sales representatives. ShelfTalker has a post explaining a great deal about what sales reps do. Wizards Wireless described getting ready to meet a sales representative.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Consumer Reports

You know how for years book pundits have been saying that too many books are published, though no one ever suggests that anything should be done about it? Well, evidently books aren't the only things of which we have too many.

In other news, bookstore sales were up a bit last year. Let us all light a candle for Harry Potter. Seriously.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Marie Blogs

Today, Poetry Friday, I bring to your attention a new (since this past December) poetry blog called A View from the Potholes. This blog has nothing to do with kidlit, but it does carry info on literary journals and poets. Plus, it's maintained by a poet named Marie Gauthier, and this blog is maintained by a writer named Gail Marie Gauthier.*

And as I said earlier, it's Poetry Friday.

*I believe that all my Gauthier aunts were named Marie. Literally. Marie Therese, Marie Aline, Marie Cecile, Marie Simone, Marie... Well, there was a bunch of them. According to family lore, back in the day, French Canadian Catholic families gave all their daughters Marie (a variation of Mary) for their saint's name, and the saint's name came first. This was all lost on us kids who thought we had an Aunt Tessy, an Aunt Aline, an Aunt Simmy, and so on. I used to hear something similar regarding Irish Catholic girl names.

I mention all this because I've been known to cannibalize my family for work. If I can find a way to use this detail, I will.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

And The Cybil Goes To...

The Cybil winners were announced today. As with so very many awards, I haven't read a single one of them. I've been interested in The Professor's Daughter for a while, though, and The True Meaning of Smekday looks right up my alley.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

Kids get a lot of heat for asking authors how much money they make. Believe me, adults want to know, too. They just aren't as honest about it. They'll say things like, "Do well with that, do you?" when they hear you're a writer to try to get a feel for how much cash you're taking in. (The correct answer to that question, of course, is a simple no.) Or they might ask, "Does that pay well?" or "How does that pay?" so that they can pretend they aren't asking how much you, personally, make. But they are.

I would much rather have a kid ask me how much money I make than how old I am. Once a kid did ask me that. I laughed it off and said I didn't answer that question. Someone raised her hand and said, "Tell us when you were born, and we'll work it out ourselves." (The correct response to that is, "Children your age can't work with figures that large.")

Thanks to Camille at Book Moot for the Slush Pile link.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Little Bit Of A Split Personality


After I finished reading Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, I stumbled upon their Afterword. In it, they explain how they originally tried to "sell" their idea for a story about a teenage boy who is part of an organization trying to protect multiple Earths (none of which are aware of the others' existence) from being overrun by two different empires--one technical, one magical--to television producers. They then put it in novel form, hoping to make those same TV producers understand their concept. Interworld never did make it to television and was released as a novel.

That was one of the most enlightening afterwards I've ever read, because after reading it I realized that Interworld does, indeed, read very much like a kids' television show. A sophisticated cartoon, perhaps. You've got a young boy who is bullied and can't get the girl but who becomes a hero in an alternate world. A pet-like creature attaches itself to him. He develops a group of diverse friends. (In science fiction, diversity means something different then it does in other kinds of fiction.) The group is under the guidance of an older, male authority figure. The ending sets us up for next week's episode.

Now some of you are probably thinking, Oh, Gail compared Neil Gaiman's book to a cartoon. Slam. Not at all. A book that helps cartoon fans make the transition to reading is a neat idea. I think in this one some kids might find themselves struggling at some points because our everyman main character will frequently begin spouting heavy science (or science-like) technospeak that seems alien to him in other parts of the book. But they may find the basic story to have enough drive that they can just skip over those parts. (I did.)

Note: Michael Reaves used to write for an animated show called Gargoyles, which caught my attention a number of times as I walked through the living room while a younger family member watched it. I never had time to watch a whole episode, but I used to sit down to see what was happening every now and then.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Writers, Writers, Everywhere

When Everyone's An Author in The Australian describes the abundance of writing programs--and writing students-- at colleges in Australia.

Sounds like home, doesn't it?

Interesting points:

"...writing students may well outnumber those studying traditional literature." (I've never seen anything to suggest that's the case in the U.S.)

"The creative writing boom throws up striking paradoxes. It seems students have an insatiable appetite for expressing themselves in print at a time when mainstream publishing opportunities have diminished." (I don't know if we can say that publishing opportunties are diminishing in this country when the number of books being published keeps going up and up and up. But, certainly, the opportunities for making any significant money writing are diminishing, since there are far more books published than the reading public can purchase.)

"And while the under-25s are often perceived as a generation of reluctant readers, more interested in the Ten Network's Big Brother than in the Orwellian version, unprecedented numbers of them apparently want to be writers." (Yeah, that's how under-25s are perceived in this country, too. Presumably an unprecedented number of them want to be writers since there are so many writing programs that didn't exist a generation ago.)

"Tony Birch, creative writing lecturer at the University of Melbourne...'There is little understanding among undergraduates about how difficult it is to be published. They are very naive about that.' (I find that to be the case among people of all age groups, not just college undergrads.)

"The fact is [Nicholas Jose] says bluntly, that most creative writing students will become schoolteachers." (I used to hear that most graduates of writing MFA programs became instructors in writing MFA programs. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Writers who support themselves with their writing are few and far between. Historically, many writers have been teachers. Plus with the number of writing programs skyrocketing, there's probably a bigger need for writing teachers than there is for writers.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Read Across America

I'm going to be taking part in Read Across America programs at two different schools this year. I'm going to be a Mystery Reader in a fourth grade classroom on Feb. 29. Then on March 3, which is actually Read Across America Day, I'll be doing the Gail thing with the third and fourth graders in another school as part of their Read Across America observance.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why Writers May Not Make Great Friends

This past week I spoke on the phone several times with a friend who was having a problem with a person she deals with regularly in a volunteer situation. She was very distressed. We talked a lot about the things this man said to her and how he behaved. We talked about what she should do.

While these conversations were going on, I sat with the telephone receiver to my ear and thought, "Man, this guy would make a terrific character! What a dramatic situation. There is potential here for a story."

Unfortunately, I then said all those things out loud. My friend didn't seem to mind, but she did point out that she doesn't know anyone else who speculates about motivation for behavior when talking about real people.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Handselling Books And A Question About Big Advances

Alison Morris has an interesting handselling report at her PW blog, Shelftalker: A Children's Bookseller's Blog. Note that many of the titles her booksellers report handselling are not necessarily Big Name books. And, yet, the books are selling nonetheless.

Also pay attention to the quote from a speech by Karl Pohrt. He talks about selling the top selling 500 titles. While independent bookstores sell only 9 to 10 percent of the top 150 books, they exceed their market share for titles in the 150 to 500 range. He also says, "It should also be noted that the 150 to 500 range of titles is where publishers are making money, because they havenít made huge investments that they have to recuperate in contracts with best-selling authors and large ad campaigns."

I've heard something similar before, but only recently. I find it extremely interesting, because years ago many in the publishing industry justified huge advances to bestselling authors by claiming those authors made big money for publishers, making it possible for them to use their profits to take risks on new writers/literary writers/you name it. That's not the case anymore?

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Good Adaptation

Speaking of Neil Gaiman, as I was yesterday, reminds me to pass on that I just saw the movie adaptation of his book, Stardust. The book had quite a following somewhere on the web (maybe Readerville), so I read it. (Because I maintain a blog, I know I read it nearly four years ago, back when I wasn't posting anywhere near as often as I am now.) I wasn't blown away, but I thought there was "lots of unique stuff that made me want to keep reading."

The movie is very well done. It's beautiful, clever, and the acting is just fine. There are shifts among the differing story lines, but they weren't abrupt or gimmicky. I particularly liked the dead princes who are observing the carryings on of their remaining mortal brothers. I should tell you that I had to explain some things to the guy I was watching it with, but it wasn't the first time I've had to explain things to him.

I thought the movie was very faithful to what I remember of the book, though I don't recall if Captain Shakespeare was as over-the-top as he is on film.

My only objection is the same one I had regarding the book. Stardust is "one of those mythic journey stories about a guy finding his birth right and his beautiful maiden." You may feel you've seen that storyline before. But at least in this movie, you'll see a very well-done version.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why Does This Book Inspire These Kinds Of Reviews?

Thanks to bookshelves of doom I learned about this really fascinating review of China Mieville's Un Lun Dun, which ran in The New York Times Book Review. Others have already commented on the lovely tone of reviewer Dave Itzkoff's first paragraph: "I sometimes wonder how any self-respecting author of speculative fiction can find fulfillment in writing novels for young readers...where's the artistic satisfaction? Whereís the dignity?"

One could ask the same question of book reviewers.

What I found particularly interesting about this review is that last March Salon carried a review of the same book in which the reviewer also saw her opportunity to turn her nose up at children's books, for which she called Un Lun Dun an "antidote." "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?"

I still haven't read Un Lun Dun, but the impression I'm getting from these both snarky and gushing reviews is that people who don't normally like children's books or may not even read them as a general rule find themselves embarrassed to have to admit that they really, really like this one. Thus they have to find some kind of excuse. If I don't like children's books, but I like this children's book, then it must transcend its genre. Yeah, that's the ticket.

By the way, the column in which The New York Times review of Mieville's book appears also includes a review of Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, which just happens to be waiting for me upstairs.

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Doesn't This Sound Great?

I heard about a Writing and Yoga Retreat through one of my listservs. I think it sounds fantastic. I must admit that I have family members who believe I work so little that my life is pretty much a retreat, anyway.

I don't have a professional chef, though.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Am I A Genre Writer?

J.L. Bell has a post up at Oz and Ends on genre novels. In it he refers to an article by Charles McGrath in which McGrath says genre writers have an "implicit contract with the reader, which is to deliver on the promise that a particular genre entails--whether itís a murder solved, a cold war plot thwarted, a horror unmasked, a love requited."

Once you eliminate the obvious traditional genre books in children's literature, Bell asks, "are there children's novels that come with no implicit contracts and expectations to fulfill?"

He goes on, "Even the most serious and literary fiction for children is expected to leave readers with a "sense of hope." The young protagonist is supposed to grow and learn valuable lessons about life, at least a little. Does that recurring pattern make children's novels as a whole a sort of genre?"

Bell is right that many people in kidlit believe children's literature should be instructive and improving. I'm not one of them. Adult readers don't tolerate lessons in their fiction. (We have self-help books.) Why should kids?

Writers have a responsibility to create worlds that readers can feel part of and explore, where they can perhaps try out new lives. Perhaps they will learn something about how they feel about various situations. They may share the author's world view, for instance, or they may reject it. By accepting or rejecting, they may change.

The contract children's writers have that makes their work different from that of writers for adults is that they must write about people--children--who are fundamentally different from themselves. That's what they've agreed to do when they've taken on the task of writing a children's book. If children's literature is a genre, it's because the children's writer is expected to create a true child character living in a true children's world with true children's issues to cope with.

All that stuff about teaching them something and leaving them with hope--that's an adult concern.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Magic For Readers


About a month ago, I was roaming in my local library's YA area when I came upon new a volume called Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link. Now, this did not look like YA to me, and my longtime readers are probably thinking, Oh, Gail must have had a meltdown right there in the library because she needs everything to be very clearly defined. Well, I thought of it. But then I recalled reading something I think Roger Sutton once wrote about part of a YA librarian's function being bringing the young to adult literature. I like to think that I am teachable, so, okay, I was able to understand and appreciate that philosophy.

And I brought Magic for Beginners home.

Now, Magic for Beginners is a collection of what might be described as weird ass short stories. And I mean that in the best possible way. I will say right up front that they tend to be the kinds of short stories that I finish reading and go, "Ah, what?" There may be an epiphany thing going on here, and I find that with those kinds of stories I often don't share the main character's revelation. Nonetheless, these are endlessly inventive tales. I believe we're also talking nonLatin American magical realism, edged with a tinge of horror. Link is obsessed with zombies, for instance, so much so that by the time I got to the story Some Zombie Contingency Plans I was beginning to think, Yes, perhaps I should have one. One of her stories takes place near Ausible Chasm, which I assume is Ausable Chasm. When I was there, maybe fifteen to twenty years ago, the infrastructure for getting about seemed a little old and creepy. Perhaps there could be zombies down there who come up to go shopping at a local convenience store as Link contends in The Hortlak.

In addition to dealing with the magical in every day situations, Link has a couple of stories in this volume that sort of telescope into themselves. The title story, for instance, appears to be about rabid fans of a television show until you realize they also appear to be living within an episode of that program.

Many of these stories have YA or at least older teen characters, which certainly would make them attractive to younger readers. On top of that, part way through reading this book, I suddenly experienced a flashback to my own teen years. Back then, I went through a Richard Brautigan phase and have held on to the three books I bought then, even though I can't say I ever understood much of what's in them. Brautigan's attraction for me was that his stuff was weird and different, unlike the books I found in my high school library. His work was a tipoff that there were all kinds of strange and marvelous things out there to read, if I could only find them. I got the same thrill yesterday when I was in the UConn Co-op looking at books you don't find stacked on those tables at Barnes & Noble.

Link's work, to me, is far more accessible than Brautigan's, but it gave this reader that same feeling of possibility I remember getting back when I was first exposed to Trout Fishing in America. Magic for Beginners could very well encourage older teen readers to go looking for more of the same.

According to Link's website, she has a YA collection, Pretty Monsters, coming out from Viking.

You can read the first story from Magic for Beginners, The Faery Handbag.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

A Sort Of Poetry Post

Friday is poetry day in the kidlitosphere, and I have a post that is not poetry, by a longshot, but about poetry. Poetry's Eternal Youths from the Guardian's The Blog Books (an awkward phrase) deals with the subject of young poets. Very young poets.

The piece rambles, and, personally, I still haven't determined exactly what point the author was trying to make. But you might get more out of it.

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