Saturday, August 30, 2008

I've Created A Twilight Virus

A little over a year ago, I told you the inspiring story of how I gave my young hairdresser (a self-identified nonreader) a copy of Twilight for Christmas, and eight months later she called me at home to tell me how much she loved it. You remember that, right?

Well, I was in having some work down this past week, and the first thing K. said to me was, "I've finished all four of them." She'd read the entire Twilight series and loved Breaking Dawn. She thought the series ended perfectly. She said she'd like to read all the books over again next summer.

She also said she tells everyone about the books and hopes they all like them as much as she did. She then turned to a client in the next chair and said, "This is the woman" (meaning me) "who told me about that book I told you about." Later, while we were over next to one of the sinks, still another woman comes over to tell K. that her daughter had read over a hundred pages of K.'s copy of Breaking Dawn, which she had loaned her the day before. The girl reader (twelve years old) had stopped fighting with her brother to read.

K. told me she has a Twilight calendar with pictures from the upcoming movie.
Now, okay, I wasn't super fond of the second through fourth books in the Twilight serie. Nonetheless, it is quite a thrill to have excited someone so much about a book and reading that she's spreading the word about the book herself.

Now I need to find a new series for her.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Exciting Cybils News

There's been lots of Cybils news this past week because they're getting the ball rolling for 2008. In my humble opinion, the most exciting Cybils news by far is the addition of a new Easy Reader category. I have gone on at great length about how I think books for younger readers don't get the attention they deserve. A Cybil is just the thing to show respect for books for new readers.

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What Does It Say About You When You Don't Have A Posse?

I found What Your Posse Says About You just a little bit middle schoolish. But if you read the comments, you'll find that I am totally alone in that.

Thanks to cynsations for the link. She is the linkiest.

I Never Got It Anyway

I suspect I was underwhelmed by The Catcher in the Rye because I read it when I was in my thirties instead of in my teens. Thus I'd already read many Catcher wannabes and the original wasn't all that original anymore. The experience was lost on me. Really. Didn't Holden just whine a lot?

GOOD Magazine has a lovely short essay on why it's time for schools to give up on Catcher. The author, Anne Trubek, includes a revised syllabus that includes a couple of YA favorites. Be sure to read the comments.

Link from Blog of a Bookslut.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How Come They Didn't Mention The Pastry Assistant Or The Dish People?

The Washington Times ran an article on the waitstaff at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Did anybody mention the kitchen crew? Nooooo, they did not. What would those waiters have to serve those editors, agents, and literary muckitiemucks without the Bread Loaf kitchen crew, on which the Gauthier family served for two and a half generations? (I say a half because my cousins aren't a whole generation younger than I am.) Nothing! Would anyone pay any attention to their poems and first drafts of the Great American Novel then? I think not.

A Book For Those Who Love Sidekicks

I've been hearing about China Mieville for years. Then his YA novel, Un Lun Dun, was published to raves from reviewers who might not be regular readers of children's fiction. I finally managed to read Un Lun Dun this past month when it was up for discussion at one of my listservs.

This book has a lot going for it, so I'm going to hit what was for me the big negative first, so that I can end on an up note. The negative is that I don't care for books loaded with strange creatures. In a really good interview, Mieville says, "Of all aspects of writing fantastic fiction, the one that never causes me tremendous difficulty is the grotesquerie, the strange figures, the monsters..." He also says he "normally" has to eliminate a few if they serve no plot purpose. He has some marvelous strange figures here, but sometimes the story seems overwhelmed with them. It took a long while for me to start feeling a narrative drive.

That being said, though, Mieville does some clever things in this book about two young girls who discover a secret city, a city that's not London but unLondon. One of them is believed to be the hero a prophesy foretold would come, and they begin an adventure to save Un Lun Dun from something evil that wants to destroy it. Mieville really does know this classic (I'm sure some would say stereotypical) storyline, and he produces some very neat twists relating to sidekicks, prophecies, and quests. As much as I liked that, though, I wondered if younger readers would get it. Maybe you have to be familiar with those types of stories to understand what the author is doing. Or maybe I'm overthinking. It's possible readers can enjoy what's going on without realizing that the author is tweaking a genre.

I thought the danger Un Lun Dun was facing was very interesting, though its human manifestation was obviously a bad guy. All the bad guys were pretty obvious to an adult reader. Given what the danger is, I think this book could very easily have turned into a save-the-environment rant. I don't feel it did, which I very much appreciate. Mieville also has a dry wit I enjoyed.

The early part of this book reminded me a great deal of the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. In those books a child whose ethnicity is unclear finds a strange world full of unusual creatures (though nowhere
near as many as in Un Lun Dun) and learns that he is the leader a prophecy had predicted would come to save a group there. In nearly every book he has to go on some kind of journey, so he's traveling through strange places as Deeba does in Un Lun Dun.

I think mid-teen, patient, sophisticated readers who were fans of the
Underland Chronicles when they were younger would be very happy to find Un Lun Dun. They'd be reading something that takes liberties with the storyline of a beloved childhood series without destroying it. Readers who enjoy a high-class creature feature will like Un Lun Dun, too.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Ha! More On My Editing Dream

Check this out. Sounds an awful lot like my first publishing dream, doesn't it?

I'm afraid to go to bed tonight.

Oh, My Gosh! Another Publishing Dream!

Don't worry. This time, none of you were in it. And this dream was nowhere near as disturbing as the first one, because it didn't wake me up. In fact, I didn't remember it until mid-morning when I was on the exercise bicycle. You know, it's true what they say about exercise and mind/body connections and all that.

Anyway, this time I was going to meet with an editor in New York. Unfortunately, I had a whole crew of family members with me. They were family members I didn't recognize because this was one of those dreams where you know who people are even though they don't look like anyone you've ever seen before.

So, I'm with a whole bunch of relatives, and I'm about to leave for my meeting with an editor I've never seen before when one of my Gauthier cousins says, "You're going like that? In blue jeans? In clogs?" Back in the day, my Gauthier aunts liked to dress up, but they're mostly dead now.

I did begin to feel badly that I wasn't wearing a suit and stockings of some sort, though, I have to say on the few times I've been in a New York editorial office, no one dressed like that. Anyway, now I'm rushing off to that meeting and distressed because I'm dressed wrong.

I'm in a car with my husband driving, which he would never, ever do, you could not pay him enough to drive in New York City. And, sure enough, we're caught in traffic and trying to find weird streets that are named after letters of the alphabet. Oh, and by the way, it's getting to be late. I have an appointment at nine o'clock at night to meet an editor. I kept saying to my husband, "Are you sure that's right?" It was as if he was acting as my agent. (Hmmm. A little psychic expression of hostility?)

The meeting ends up being in a hotel room, and, it turns out, we brought a bunch of my relatives with us, including children, who are all wandering around the room while I sit on the bed talking to an editor who looks like an older Meg Ryan. (Yes, I know Meg Ryan is older, but in this dream, the editor looks older still.)

The editor has read my manuscript (not necessarily the one I've been working on for more than a year, some mystery manuscript) and she's suggesting changes, and I'm going, "Yeah, I could do that...Sure, that's alright. I can do that."

Am I a simmering cauldron of work anxiety or what?

The meaning of this dream? I worked about ten minutes yesterday because I was running errands all day. So last night I dreamed about family and work.

Errands are the price we pay for living in an affluence culture. I'm going to do an essay on that some day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Sam Riddleburger has a new book coming out next spring. At his blog he wrote about the decision he and his co-author made to eliminate the swearing that appears in the ARC. I don't yet know what language was cut because I haven't yet read my copy. I'm putting it off so I can enjoy the suspense as long as possible.

Those words we lump into the category "swearing" (or what the Gauthier boys used to call "swears") are of of great interest to me. Professionally, of course. Like Sam, I had to deal with the issue of language in a book. In my case, we're talking blasphemy.

Back before I began writing what would become The Hero of Ticonderoga, I wrote my editor to ask how many times a person could use "God damn" in a children's book. I wasn't seriously looking for a specific number, but I was concerned because Ethan Allen was going to figure prominently in the book, and Ethan Allen's use of blasphemy was legendary, in his own lifetime and beyond. It was an expression of his conflict with the late Puritan culture into which he was born. His use of profanity is very well documented. To not include it when writing about him would be so dishonest as to almost mean I wasn't writing about Ethan Allen at all. (I do love that man, in all his unsavory glory.)

Yes, I could have told my readers something like "Ethan Allen took the Lord's name in vain." But I believe I've mentioned my issue with telling instead of showing when writing. So Tess LeClerc, the main character in Hero, uses "God damn" three times. Each time she is paraphrasing Ethan Allen, and each time she is corrected by someone for her language. That was my way of trying to deal with the use of blasphemy in a children's book.

Hero was an ALA Notable Book, and the paperback is still in print. However, I don't know how often it's used in classrooms, and I've always wondered if the language was a stumbling block for schools. I did receive one complaint about the blasphemy. So when Sam says that they made the decision to change their language on the advice of a teacher who felt their book would be more "classroom friendly" without it, I certainly understand what he's talking about.

Language came up with the never-ending book I'm working on now, too, as I explained a year ago. In this case, I decided to go with that old Vermont favorite, Jeezum Crow.

Oddly enough, I've been wondering lately if my characters need expletives, after all. Sam says that in their case, "Using the swear words helped us write the book." But they didn't actually need them once they were done. I may find that to be the case, too.

Especially since I'm imagining a New York City editor going, "Jeezum what?"


Monday, August 25, 2008

Reminding The World Of Richler's Work

The Globe and Mail reports that a new Jacob Two-Two is in the works. Though original author Mordecai Richler was under contract to write a fourth Jacob Two-Two when he died in 2001, this new book will be written by Canadian author Cary Fagan. Richler's first three Jacob Two-Two books will be re-released with new artwork by Dusan Petricic.

This new book and the rerelease of the original ones should make a big splash in 2009. I hope it will remind readers of Richler's great adult work, too.

Thanks to Big A, little a for the link.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Do Authors Dream Of Failure?

Last night I dreamed that I was in a room with tables and lots of people. In my hand I was holding a book I had written that had just been published. It was a Little Golden Book about Lassie. The cover was very blue.

Mitali Perkins was there (I dreamed about her because last night I made a comment at her blog), and she was all friendly and nice and started looking at the book. What did she find but a big, big copy editing error. (I dreamed about copy editing errors because we were talking at one of my listservs earlier in the summer about how they are so much more common than they used to be.) Mitali found a one-sentence paragraph that wasn't capped and didn't have a period. She started flipping through the book and found that it was riddled with errors, which she underlined with a pencil.

I was mortified and torn about what to do because I didn't know who my editor was for this project. (I dreamed about this because I have been working on a book for over a year, a book that I have only submitted one place and have no editor for.) However, there was an elderly man sitting at a table in the room we were in who was the book's publisher. I wondered if I should tell him about the copy editing mess because maybe they'd only printed a few of the books and we could still change the others. But I didn't know if it would be inappropriate for me to approach him with my Little Golden Book because he was a publisher and maybe you shouldn't approach publishers with little things like that. I started looking at the copyright information to see if an editor's name was mentioned in there but found none. (I dreamed about that because I'm not at all confident I'll find an editor for my new book. And, of course, a publisher.)

Remember, I said I had written a Little Golden Book about Lassie. Mitali starts talking about how the publishing rights for Lassie were about to pass from its original publisher to someone else. If we were to get the rights to the Lassie story, we could publish a whole series of Lassie stories written by different children's authors. It could become this really cool thing for people to write Lassie stories. (I dreamed this because I read that Mitali has an economics background, which, in my mind, makes her very business-like, unlike myself, who can't figure out publishing house etiquette.)

I said, "M.T. Anderson could write a Lassie story! He is totally into nostalgia and would love to write a Lassie story." (Like I know what M.T. Anderson would love to do.) "He would write a great Lassie story." (I know he would do that.)

After the flurry of excitement over the prospect of the Lassie story series, I looked down at my own Lassie story, my Little Golden Book, which I was holding in my hand. It would never be part of a cool series of Lassie stories because it was so poorly done. It was doomed. There was no hope for it. I knew it.

I woke up feeling very anxious. Or maybe depressed. I'm not sure.

M.T. Anderson is welcome to my Lassie story idea, such as it is. I would love to read an M.T. Anderson Lassie story.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

This Would Make A Good Children's Book, Don't Ya Think?

For a number of years, we had flocks of turkeys on our street. In fact, our local turkeys made it into A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers. Though I no longer live in a hunting culture as I did when I was growing up in Vermont, the turkey population has plummeted to the point that this year we've only been seeing one down at the other end of the street.

Yesterday morning I was out for one of the the three or four attempts at jogging I've been making each month this summer. I was on my way back home, in walking mode, when I see the lone turkey in the road. Just two days before a neighbor had told me this bird had attacked an acquaintance, so I crossed the road to stay away from it. I also picked up a big stick. Actually, it was a branch. I felt like a fool, but, hey, this was a turkey. I passed the thing, thought I was safely away from him, dropped my branch, crossed the road so I'd be walking into traffic again, and continued up the hill.

I haven't gone far when I notice this gobblie little sound behind me. I look over my shoulder and the beast is jogging up the hill after me.

My jogging is not so good that I want to do it going up hill. Plus, I was afraid that if I started running, it would chase me. Don't wild creatures take flight as a sign that humans want to play tag? I hurry along, cross the road again, the bird stays with me. Fortunately, a car pulled out of a driveway and by the time the turkey had chased me up onto a lawn, the driver and her husband pulled up alongside me. To make a long story short, they'd had run-ins with the creature before. By the time the turkey's tail feathers were displayed (which I took as a sign of aggression and not some kind of mating ritual as my computer guy later suggested), the guy in the car was out in the street with me. The two of us were able to shout and clap our hands enough to finally chase the feathered fiend off so I could go on my way.

By the time I got home, I was thinking that maybe this incident was something I could use in a book. A lovely picture book, perhaps. Some possibilities:

Toxic Turkey: A violent, mad turkey is created as a result of exposure to toxic waste. The book will be a cautionary tale instructing children not to pollute.

Turkey Bully: A big, nasty turkey is mean to all the other turkeys on the street. A hunter teaches him a lesson about getting along with others.

Misunderstood Turkey: The turkey isn't really violent and mad or big and nasty. The other turkeys just don't understand him.

Turkey Hogging Attention: A rough, noisy turkey tries to attract attention to itself. A hunter might figure in this story, too.


Friday, August 22, 2008

A Great New Rule For Me

Crissa-Jean Chappell, author of Total Constant Order, was interviewed for The Miami Herald. Be sure to read the very last paragraph, which quotes Chappell regarding her No. 1 rule of writing.

Seriously, remembering that might help me.

Link from Cynsations.

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This Is Painful

I'm working on the seventh draft of the book I wrote last year. I believe I only have to make major changes in the early portions of the book, but those early portions go on and on. I'm having big problems linking bits and getting from A to B. I'm sometimes only able to struggle through a page a day, or even less.

And I've only had one reader for this manuscript. With this draft, I'm responding to a couple of her suggestions that I felt were very appropriate. So, seven drafts with only one reader. If this ever gets picked up by a publisher, we could easily end up with a total of ten drafts or more.

I've always felt that writing becomes more and more difficult the more drafts you do because after a while the well runs dry. Where will the new material come from? After the experience of writing this book, I'm beginning to think that there are limitless things you can do with plot and character. You may have to dig them out of your own internal organs, but they're there.

In fact, it's a little frightening to think that a person could go on writing the same book forever.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Left Me Wanting More

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed reading these enormous historical novels that covered several generations in the same family, sometimes spread over a century or more. So I was attracted to The Snows by Sharelle Byars Moranville because it's about four generations of the same family. It begins during the Depression and ends in 2006.

Each of the four members of the Snow family are caught during a pivotal moment when they are sixteen. These moments are pivotal to them, personally, but definitely relate very strongly to the period in which they live, too.

I had a bizarre experience reading this book. At first, I got kind of excited because I thought I was really going to like it. Each Snow speaks in the first person, though, and I found that disappointing because I felt they sounded a bit too much alike. Then I became intrigued again. Each character's section seems a little weak at first. The author is trying to cover a lot of ground in not much space, so there's a bit too much telling for my taste. However, each section also has a strength. Jim's depressing road trip...Cathy's stay at a place I won't describe so as not to give anything away...Jill's experience with campus activism... Those settings really draw a reader in.

These days I often read books that are far longer than they need to be with lots of drawn out scenes and repetitive information. The Snows is just the opposite. I wanted to know so much more about these people. Though we do get to know some of the young characters in the earlier sections as adults in later sections, I still wanted to know much more about them. I wanted to know more about many of the secondary characters, too, especially many of the women. I felt a little feminist history-thing going on here, which I liked. Was Jill's mother depressed because of the lack of opportunities for her in the 50s and 60s? And what was with Jim's mother who read to the point of neglecting her family? (Who hasn't done that?) Both these women ended up with a female descendant who was a highly successful professional woman.

Hey, and what was with Jim? He grew up with what looked like a mildly depressed, but functioning, father and then went out and married a depressed, and barely functioning, woman.

Of course, it may be that I wanted to know about adult characters and expanding on them would have meant that this wouldn't be a YA book. Still, I think Byars Moranville should treat The Snows as some kind of arty, literary exercise and rewrite this book, expanding on everyone, showing us everything about everybody. What would her storyline be? Well, something relating to the evolution of the Snow women and their connection to their individual time periods would be nice. And she should also give us more of the brother, father, and grandfather who wanted to take care of them all.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Connecticut Events

Registration is now open for the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature. The Festival will be held in Westport, Connecticut on October 23, 24, and 25. This year the Rabbit Hill folks are focusing on picture books. Registration is on-line.

As long as I'm talking about Connecticut kidlit events, The Connecticut Children's Book Fair will be held on November 8 and 9 on the University of Connecticut campus. This is a fair, so you just drop-in without pre-registering. Check the schedule to see who will be where, when.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Who Blurbed?

More on blurbing from The New York Times Book Review.


Writing About Writing

L. Rust Hills, a former fiction editor for Esquire, died last week. He's not a big name in kidlit, by any means, but I see him and his book Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular quoted frequently in books and articles on writing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I've Been Thinking About Accelerated Reader, Too

How fortunate that Becky mentioned Accelerated Reader in Friday's comments, since I wanted to mention it today, anyway.

When lexiles came up the other day, I did think of Accelerated Reader, a computer program that provides some kind of reading instruction used in many schools. I don't know if The Lexile Framework for Reading includes any kind of reading instruction, but the connection in my mind came about because Accelerated Reader attaches a grade level to book titles and the Lexile Framework attaches a number.

I know nothing about Accelerated Reader as a parent or an educator, so it would be inappropriate for me to make any kind of judgment about it. In fact, I know so little about Accelerated Reader that I would be hard put to come up with enough thoughts to make an inappropriate judgment.

However, for those who are interested, I have heard about children's writers wanting to get their titles into the Accelerated Reader system, hoping that that would improve their books' chances for sales with school systems that use the Accelerated Reader program. You could call that AR from another angle, an angle that has nothing to do with the quality of the program.

By the way, all my books are AR titles, including both volumes of The Hannah and Brandon Stories.

Friday, August 15, 2008

So What Do We Know About This?

Thanks to a correspondent, I learned yesterday of the Lexile Framework for Reading. The company homepage describes it as "an educational tool that connects readers with reading materials using a common measure called a Lexile." I will be honest, here, and admit that I found the background material explaining Lexile measurement a bit intimidating. As soon as I saw the charts, my brain froze. But my wild guess is that this is an attempt to more accurately determine the reading level of a book then just calling it a "middle grade novel" or saying it's for kids 8 to 12 or 10 years old and up.

My first four books have Lexile scores available at through the Lexile site's database.

So is this something a lot of you have heard about? It was totally new to me.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Trust Her On This

I don't know how I missed this, but last month Becky at Young Readers gave A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers a terrific review. Note that the Young Readers blog deals specifically with "board books, bath books, picture books, early readers, and chapter books." Or, as the title suggests, books for Young Readers.


Not As Much Fun As Hell

A few weeks ago, a couple of us at one of my listservs were saying that we thought Anne Ursu's The Shadow Thieves hadn't received the attention it deserved. The Shadow Thieves was the first in a trilogy called The Cronus Chronicles. The second book, The Siren Song, came out last year. I totally missed hearing about it until I found it on the new bookshelf at my local library.

The Siren Song continues the adventures of Charlotte Mielswetzski a few months after she gets back from Hell. Hades, actually, since The Cronus Chronicles is part of that sub-genre of fantasy that contends that mythological gods are the real thing, and it's Greek gods Charlotte keeps running into. In the first book, Charlotte and her cool British cousin Zee had to save humanity from a hellish plot in the underworld. This time around, the bad guy from book one is out for revenge against Charlotte.

The Siren Song seemed to have some plot problems to me. (I am very sympathetic to plot problems, since I struggle with them, myself.) I think I was nearly a third of the way into the book before the serious action began to kick in. Zee disappeared for a big chunk of the book. A new character was introduced but not until quite late in the show.

The Siren Song still had a lot of wit. It just didn't come together and work as well as The Shadow Thieves. Plus, it may have suffered a bit because there may not be as much at stake in a vengeance-against-one-person story as there is in a save-the-world story.

The end of this second book suggests the third one will involve "something that may affect the fate of us all." The mysterious Mr. Metos should be back. I suspect the new character I liked will be, too. And our bad guy most definitely has not been vanquished.

Book three should be coming out either this year or next. I will have to watch carefully for it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Is Why I Love The Internet

Twilight Trailer.

Twilight Trailer Spoof.

I laughed so hard over this thing that someone in the next room complained. Notice the guy doing the Michael Phelps Victory Dance when he captures a human using a candy bar trap. Evidently it is innate to vampires as well as humans.

Thank you to Leila.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncomfortable Memories

Google Reader is working out fantastically for me. I definitely have more time. In fact, so much time that I just went through all 50 of The 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters.

Unfortunately, they reminded me of how, when I was a girl, my whole family would go visit this other whole family in another town who had a daughter my age. Instead of visiting with Vicky, I'd read her brother Roger's DC Comic Books. If it wasn't for ol' Rog, I'd hardly know about DC because I was a Marvel woman, myself.

Now, looking back, I realize I was an incredibly rude child who probably had issues with socialization. However, in my defense, Vicky was kind of into boys and clothes. What in Heaven's name would we have talked about?

She's supposed to have married an Italian commercial airplane pilot and ended up living in Rome. I don't think she was too scarred by my behavior.

The link above came from Blog of a Bookslut.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Just Finished Chapter Two


I'm still worried about a possible information dump. Oh, who am I trying to kid? It's definitely an information dump. I'm just hoping that the dump is threaded with young Olivia's suffering, too, so that the dump will be broken up by character development.

Maybe a dump is okay if it doesn't appear too dumpy. I hope so, anyway.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Need To Teach

I just recently got around to reading Unhappily Ever After, which appeared in the July 21st issue of the print version of Newsweek. The article deals with kids' apocalyptic fiction, which is always a fun genre.

What I found really striking in the piece were the quotes from a couple of authors suggesting that children need to learn something from these books. Jeanne DuPrau said, "We have more ways of ending the world than we had before...These are big, hard truths that are facing kids, and they need to know these things." And Michael Grant told Newsweek "...there's a direct conection between things they may do and the end of the world..."

Now this attitude that children's literature should be improving and instructive has a long tradition, and I'm respectful of that. However, I wonder just what it is apocalyptic fiction has to teach children. I liked the thrills that went along with Life As We Knew It as much as the next reader, but what hard truth or connection to their own behavior could kids have learned from that? Don't let an asteroid hit the moon? How I Live Now was pretty terrific, too, but what teen reader could possibly do anything to prevent another country from invading her own? Isn't that expecting rather a lot? Don't young readers realize that?

I wonder how many kids read apocalyptic fiction as instructive and come away from it determined to do good? Or do they get from these books what kids often get from reading science fiction--an opportunity to try out frightening situations, safe in the knowledge that these worlds aren't real?


Saturday, August 09, 2008

In Conclusion...

The press has made a great deal this summer about Stephanie Meyer being the next J.K. Rowling. The number of books sold and amount of money made, I believe, was the focus of journalists' interest.

I think these two authors are similar in other ways. They're both women who, according to press accounts, come from outside the literary establishment. They are not graduates of fine arts programs in writing. They haven't spent years attending writers' conferences and workshops. In short, they came out of nowhere with stories people wanted to read.

Keep in mind that there are thousands of people who think they've come up with stories others will want to read. Either they don't have the native skill to write them coherently, or they're just plain wrong. So Meyer's and Rowling's connection with readers is a major achievement. It doesn't matter what they write in the future.

I enjoy this outsider, maverick pattern, which is probably why I kept reading these books, even when I had complaints about them. I'm kind of psyched to see how long we have to wait for another Meyer or Rowling to come along.

Friday, August 08, 2008

So What Was The Problem?

Can you believe Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer has been out less than a week, and I've already finished reading it? Big book, too.

Okay, so I rushed to read this book because of talk about disappointed fans. I checked out some of the 1,800+ customer reviews at Amazon this afternoon and stopped by a Twilight Moms forum. While there certainly are plenty of unhappy readers, there are plenty of happy ones, too. Plus, some of the negative responses at Amazon seem to come from readers who weren't hardcore fans to begin with.

I think one thing to keep in mind with the Twilight series is that it's what might be called a paranormal romance with a big, big emphasis on romance. Laura Miller in Salon said the Twilight books are "romance novels, and despite their gothic trappings represent a resurrection of the most old-fashioned incarnation of the genre." Many of the negative comments I've seen about Breaking Dawn object to its ending. (I'm trying not to give anything away.) Two other recent series, Harry Potter and The Underland Chronicles, ended with bloodbaths. The Twilight Saga ended differently because it is a romance. I think some readers may have been confused by the vampires and werewolves.

Some readers also objected because they felt that some characters, in particular Bella, behaved out of character in Breaking Dawn. I think Bella remained Bella pretty much right to the end of the book. She is a female who is defined totally by her relationships to others. She has no real "self." When she appears to behave differently in Breaking Dawn, she does so because of her relationship to someone else. For instance, she appears to grow a backbone in this last book, both literally and figuratively. But when she does so, it's because of her relationships with two other characters. She becomes powerful, even, but only because of her love for others. And in the final sentences of the book, the power she's developed she gives away as an act of love.

Love--romantic, familial, maternal, and even sexual--is treated pretty much as a cult here. Some readers objected to a character who had never shown any interest in children suddenly being willing to die for one. But that makes sense if you're into the cult of maternal love. I found an extended section regarding a pregnancy and childbirth sadistic, and it appears that a number of other readers were turned off by its "ick" factor. But, again, when you're talking the cult of maternal love, a woman becomes noble through such suffering. Is this a storyline that's going to be compelling to YA readers, though? I wonder if the whole maternal love thing is an adult interest, not YA.

In fact, The Twilight Saga may have moved out of YA in this final book, which could explain the response from some of its readers. Bella and Edward are no longer in high school. They're dealing with grown-up, family problems, not teen problems. When young readers were reading about people they could relate to in the earlier books, they were willing to ignore the way so many characters roll their eyes, chuckle, and snore, the improbabilities regarding plot, and the scenes that went on way too long. But Bella becomes matronly in Breaking Dawn, and Edward seems as if he ought to be out playing golf.

These characters may have outgrown their readers.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Information Dumps

One of the things I learned about sometime during my reading weeks this past summer was the information dump. Information dumps occur when a writer is trying to get out a lot of material readers need to know about. They slow down the ol' narrative flow and bore the living daylights out of readers.

I'm afraid that's what I've been dealing with this past week--an information dump. One way to make these things less dumpy is to break them up with dialogue. Preferably, of course, witty repartee. Witty repartee that moves the story along and doesn't just bear the burden of the dump.

Yeah, we'll have to see how that works for me.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

You Know, Except For Having Murdered Someone, He Was A Marvelous Guy

Gail Giles is a member of one of my listservs, and I've been interested in reading her work for some time. And now I have.

Kip McFarland was nine years old when he set a nine-year-old boy on fire and killed him. After years in an institution, he and his father start out on a new life, in a new state, with new names. Right Behind You is the story of what it's like for him to carry that kind of past around with him. It's highly suspenseful but not in the sense that readers will be waiting to see if Kip kills again. Rather, they'll wonder what he's going to do to himself.

I think Giles was better on Kip's dark and miserable side then she was on the lighter portion of his life when he's fitting into high school post-murder and post-institution. I felt that portion of the book seemed a little rushed. Or maybe I just like dark and miserable more than I like happy high school. But, all in all, I'd say Right Behind You could be described as both thought provoking and a bit of a thrill ride. A very good combination.

Take a look at Giles' other titles and covers. Do I see some kind of pattern here? Perhaps thought provoking and thrill ride is her thing.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Yes, Perhaps I'm Overthinking This

Usually I try to stay home on Mondays so that after I'm through with my ritual time-wasting, I'll have a little more time to write. Yesterday, however, I had to go run an errand. Just before I left the house, I decided to hit the library to see if by some stroke of luck I'd find Breaking Dawn just sitting on the new book shelf. Hey, it wasn't just a fantasy. It happened to me with one of the Harry Potter books.

Well, sure enough, there it was. So I've got it before all the teen girls in town (except for the one who, the librarian told me, had reserved the second copy).

Okay, so here's my thought after reading maybe a quarter of the book--Forget about the vampires, the Twilight series deals specifically with traditional (or stereotypical, depending on how you look at it) women's issues. It's very retro, meaning it deals with women's issues from a time when the mainstream didn't understand that everything--science, economics, religion, war, peace, the fate of nations, the fate of mankind--was a woman's issue. Our heroine is totally focused on love/mating. The female vampires are all about beauty, fashion, and the home. None of them hold jobs. (Though, in all honesty, only one male vampire has enough interest in life to go out and work.) All of the female vampires are coupled up with a male. So far in this fourth book, everything is built upon a traditional women's issue that hadn't come up before.

Now, I think that when a book becomes wildly, wildly popular, the reading public is interested in the content more than the quality of the writing. There's something in the story that means so much to readers that any failings in the quality of the writing just don't matter. For instance, readers wanted a story in which Christ got to have a family and become a father, with descendants who walk among us today. (The DaVinci Code) Readers wanted a story in which a put-upon child becomes a magical, heroic figure. (Harry P.) And, right now, female readers want these stories that are throwbacks to an earlier time when women were considered to be weak and frail and needing to be cared for by men.

Why? Why, why, why?

Monday, August 04, 2008

We Were Just Talking About This

Mitali Perkins brought up blurbing at her blog last week and now Salon has an article on the same subject.

I may have mentioned before that no one at my publishing house has ever said a word to me about blurbs for my books. This may be that I'm so far down the food chain it doesn't matter. I wasn't even aware that authors had to look for their own blurbs until I heard writers talking about it on-line. I don't think I even wondered about why other authors' books had blurbs and mine didn't. Though, I hope that at some point I would have just as proof that I wasn't braindead.

I don't think I have to worry too much about my publisher asking me to look for blurbers at this point because of all the negative things I've said about blurbs here at Original Content. Plus, there's a possibility that I may have ticked off a lot of people here and so would be wasting my time asking for blurbs, anyway. So I'm hoping I'm safe from the whole blurb issue.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Uh-oh. What Happened With The Twilight Series?

I just saw a letter at one of my listservs that suggested that reader had a negative response to Stephanie Meyer's new book, Breaking Dawn. I didn't read more than the first couple of sentences because I was afraid there'd be spoilers. Then this is just in from Justine Larbalestier's blog. Some disappointed readers among the 439!!! reviewers at Amazon.

Even though I've gone on record as not being crazy about the Twilight series, I don't take any pleasure in seeing Meyer hammered by her fans. I enjoyed her first book, and I definitely respect that, according to press accounts, she comes from outside the literary establishment and made a success of herself.

I wasn't all that enthused about reading this last book, but now I can't wait to see what she did to tick off those people! I'm in your corner now, Steph!


Getting Into Work

When I am seriously working on a project, I'll continue "working" even when I'm not at my desk. I've called it immersion theory in the past. For several weeks this past month, I was stuck on the same paragraph, which you may remember because I whined about it here. Part of what held me back on that, I'm sure, was that I kept taking time off from work to go here and there and never got immersed in the job.

Last week immersion finally came. Yesterday, an intense housework day for me, an idea came related to a chapter I'd just finished revising. And today, while driving for a couple of hours, I got a big idea for changing a character in that same chapter. I didn't even know there was anything wrong with her. But now I'm sure she's just a dull, hollow shell.

She won't be after tomorrow.

It's good to be immersed.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Do Bloggers Who Review Even Want The Same Kind Of Respect Print Reviewers Receive? I Mean, Received?

In Will Blogs Save Books?, Lisa Warren opens with news about two more newspapers cutting back or possibily even eliminating book reviews. After which she asks, "...why don't we as readers give book reviews on blogs as much respect as book reviews in major market papers?" Then she goes on to advise bloggers on how they can write reviews that will sound more like the print reviews that nobody wants any more.

Also, I wasn't terribly surprised to hear that The Hartford Courant showed its book editor the door. The Courant is in the midst of cutting its staff by...ah...some huge percentage. The Courant cut back on the space it gave to books a year or two ago and given the way things are going with book reviews over all, I sort of expected its book editor was on her way out.

The paper rarely covered children's literature, so I don't think the loss of its book editor will have much impact on kidlit in Connecticut. We have the largest children's literature archive in the northeast, plus at least two very good annual children's literature events--The Connecticut Children's Book Fair and The Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature. Children's literature is well covered here.

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You Can Read About Me All Over Again

This month's Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Read. Imagine. Talk. Among the offerings you'll find there is Jen Robinson's interview with me for my Three Robbers Blog Tour. So you can read it all over again!

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