Monday, August 31, 2009

I Wish The Hometime Folks Would Come Work On My House

Earlier this month, Liz B. of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy did a post on the Betsy-Tacy books. Quite honestly, that is only a name to me.

This past weekend, a family member asked if I'd heard of the Betsy-Tacy books because the episode of Hometime that he was watching involved renovating a Betsy-Tacy House. Whatever that was.

It turns out that the Betsy-Tacy Society owns two Betsy-Tacy houses. Betsy's house is the childhood home of Maud Hart Lovelace, the author of the Betsy-Tacy books. Tacy's House is the childhood home of Lovelace's friend, Frances Vivian Kenney, who was the inspiration for Tacy.

If any home improvement shows are looking for an author's home to renovate, I'd like to point out that I could really use a new kitchen. My office is a sty, too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Great Character, But...

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork is the third autism novel I've read. A few years ago, Anonymous and I had a brief discussion on how many books on the same subject you needed to create a genre. Is autism getting there?

I loved Marcelo, himself, but I may be the only reader of this well-starred book who wasn't all that taken with the story. It seemed heavy on lesson for my taste. All the good characters work for the poor and sick, and all the bad characters are corporate lawyers or their secretaries. (Okay, okay. You're going to say that's just like real life, aren't you?) As I read this book, I felt as if I was supposed to be learning to do good.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to teach readers to do good, of course. I'm just one of those who believe that in fiction, you need to be really subtle about it.

I also didn't get the side trip to Vermont to visit the coarse, beer-swilling farmers. And why include a coarse, beer-swilling farmer with Alzheimer's? If it was necessary to get Marcelo to Vermont so he could be exposed to the restorative aspects of nature or something, it would have kept the story more on task to somehow send him to the Weston Priory. Marcelo did have a special interest in theology, after all, which included a desire to say the rosary. Instead of being friendly with a rabbi, Marcelo could have been friendly with a monk.

Maybe there will be a sequel.

Marcelo in the Real World has a lovely cover, which Blogger won't let me upload for some reason.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Should Author Publicity Photos Be Flattering Or Improving?

I've suffered a lot of anxiety over the years regarding my author photos. I can't tell you how many pictures I've had taken by a long-suffering family member as well as two professionals. My concerns, to be brutally honest, were all related to how I looked. I've never for a moment considered whether or not my publicity pics encouraged good health habits.

Man, I'm shallow.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"You Have To Be Quite Cruel To Be An Author."

Yes, you do.

Terry Pratchett: State of the Nation

A particularly interesting bit: Regarding the constant search for the next J.K. Rowling, Pratchett said, "This, of course, is a bit silly, because they shouldn't have been looking for the second J.K. Rowling, but the first Irving Binglebat, with something new to say."

And that came by way of the adbooks listserv.

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You Are There!

For those people who enjoy visiting authors' homes and the sites of favorite stories while vacationing (and who doesn't?), check out this site that collects information on homes related to the Little House on the Prairie books.

You can thank the kidlitosphere listserv for that one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

So, If It Became A TV Show, That Would Be Weird, Too

Slate has an interesting article about a comic book version of Fahrenheit 451. The author, Sarah Boxer, says that in the original book, "Comic books are the only books shallow enough to go unburned, the only ones people are still allowed to read."

She also says, "Fahrenheit 451 seems to be just as much against movies, theater, and television as it is against comic books...In the novel, insipid housewives spend their time memorizing scripts for soap operas starring themselves..." One character is supposed to be addicted to these programs called, "parlor walls."

Jon and Kate! Except Kate isn't insipid. Jon maybe.

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I Don't Work, So I Have Nothing To Say

I haven't worked in nearly a week and a half and have no expectation of being able to do so for a while. Tonight I went out to eat with a family member who talked about what was going on at his office--clients, colleagues, jobs. I had to say to him, "I haven't been working. I have nothing to say."

It was so bizarre.

Though I did go to taekwondo this morning and was able to discuss how sweaty I got during the heavy bag drill. I had that, anyway. Thank God.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Not Bad For A Death Book


Ryan's life has gone down the toilet since the death of his younger sister two years ago. He's numbed up on drugs that he gets from a sad but funny loser headed for trouble who has become his best friend. Everything starts to turn around, though, when Ryan becomes obsessed with a shallow, popular girl he barely knows after she becomes a coma patient in the hospital where his sister was treated for cancer.

That makes the book sound sappy, and it's not, though it does teeter on the brink of being one of those "learn-something-profound-from-death" stories. There's sly humor and likable characters here. Putting a teen queen stereotype into a coma is a neat idea. And I actually believed the basic premise, that this boy becomes obsessed with someone he barely knows who's hospitalized where a family member died. While trying not to give anything away, I particularly like how things turn out for her. I also thought the parents were treated both realistically and sympathetically, which is always unique in a teen novel.

So, all in all, Deadville by Ron Koertge is a good read.

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Have A Good Time At The NESCBWI Salon

The New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is planning another one of its marvelous salons for September 19th. This one is on school visits and promotion. I will not be there because, assuming everyone is well, I'm supposed to have guests from Canada that week.

But all you other New England members of SCBWI who are published writers with at least one book in print should think about attending.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

This Is So Me

I have let slip over the last few months that we have sick relatives piled up like cord wood around here. That kind of thing can wear on you after, say, a couple of years, so this evening I felt a need to seek out some Zen wisdom. Of course, I sought it on the Internet because the Internet is the source of all knowledge. I stumbled upon a post called On Death and Dying. Note the moving illustration. Read and prepare to be moved.

Kind of.

Fortunately, one of the commenters explained the Zenishness of the story. And I do get it. But what I did before I got it was laugh. It was good.

And then I thought, this is so me. Or maybe it was just my response to the story that is so me. The guy who maintains the Zen Mirror blog appears to be a serious Buddhist who has studied for years while I dabble and not very often. He had something serious to say with that story. I am the one whose response to everything is to find a twisted humor in it.

Okay, that story was funny. But, here I am, looking for a little comfort and what do I find? Something funny. That is appropriate because I find humor, twisted and otherwise, a release and thus comforting.

Perhaps I should tell this story the next time I have to go to a funeral. Or I could write it up in a sympathy card. Wait. Now I am getting twisted.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Oh, Look. An Interview With My Former (Imaginary) On-line Mentor

Craft, Career & Cheer: Jane Yolen at Cynsations.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rabbit Hill Festival

This year's Rabbit Hill Festival in Westport, Connecticut will feature "writers of creative biography and historical events" for middle school students.

I'm not sure what they mean by "creative biography." Is it a genre like creative nonfiction? Or are they just talking about authors being your standard issue creative with their writing of biography?

You will have to go to the festival to find out.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

This Ought To Encourage The Young To Read Nonfiction


Underwear: What We Wear Under There by Ruth Freeman Swain, is a little heavy on text and probably a little too technical for the younger kids in its age range (6 to 10 according to the author's website). But it is very high interest. And while the illustrations are kind of on the traditional picture book side, they are good traditional picture book illustrations. I'd describe the writing style as clear, straight nonfiction. Overall, I think Underwear would be a nice book for helping kids make the transition from reading stories to reading fact.

A Gauthier family story about this book: I like to put books out next to the bed for houseguests. I put Underwear out for an elementary school teacher staying with us, who made the mistake of telling me afterwards that she enjoys picture books, meaning I'll have some waiting for her whenever she arrives. She shared the book with another houseguest, who took particular note of the following passage:

"The bottom half of a union suit got the name "long johns" from John L. Sullivan, an American bare-knuckles boxing champion of the 1880s and 1890s. Besides being a prizewinning boxer, he was known for fighting in his long underwear."

Well, it turns out that the second houseguest works in a financial-type office that shall remain nameless with a guy who will also remain nameless except for the fact that his middle initial is "L" and his last name is "Sullivan." And my houseguest had heard that his Something L. Sullivan was descended from the John L. Sullivan.

Text messages were sent. The passage in question was copied. And when the dust settled, it turned out that, yes, indeed, we have a family member who knows one of John L. Sullivan's descendants. I love it when this kind of thing happens.

Training Report: We're just not going to talk about this anymore.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Mixed Bag Of Book Trailers

I've been known to voice reservations about book trailers. (I seem to voice reservations about most things.) I've also read that publishing people wonder if they sell books.

I find a lot of book trailers a bit amateurish and...sloooooow. Often times I could read a couple of paragraphs and get some real info on a book in the time it takes to get through some of these things that don't do much more than try to create atmosphere. I don't have time for atmosphere! Life is short, people!

Last month (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm always behind.) The Spectacle ran a post on book trailers that included three examples. I liked The Adoration of Jenna Fox very much, but I don't know if that trailer would have hooked me. It's an example of what I meant by slow. I doubt I would have sat through it if I hadn't already read the book. The Nightmare Academy trailer seemed generic to me. It seemed as if it was just promoting another scary story.

The trailer for Shiver, though--How beautiful. It didn't really tell me much, but it's so stunning that I watched it a couple of times, and I went to the author's website to see what was going on with that story. And now I am interested, and I do want to get hold of that book.

So while the trailer doesn't communicate a whole lot (which I think a trailer really ought to do), it still worked because it is, as Parker Peevyhouse said at The Spectacle, a work of art. Not many people are going to be able to pull that off, but Maggie Stiefvater who wrote Shiver and made her own trailer, did.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Do Kids' Books Need Kid Characters?

Last spring, a few of us here at Original Content got into one of our lengthier discussions on the subject of adult characters in children's books. At that time, I said I thought adult characters could work in children's books, but I thought "that happens when the adult characters are outsiders of some type. Think Skullduggery Pleasant, for instance, who, as a skeleton, can't be said to fit into society very easily. Or at all. Our social order is run by adults, making children outsiders. Outsider child readers can connect with outsider adult characters." Other examples would be Howl from Howl's Moving Castle and Horatio Lyle in The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle.

Something all these kids' books have in common, besides an outsider and even over-the-top central character, is the presence of children or at least younger people to interact with those central characters. That makes sense, right? A kids' book ought to have some kids somewhere, wouldn't you think?

However, some people at the child_lit listserv recommended a children's series to me that has no child characters at all. Sure enough, the first two of the four Montmorency books by Eleanor Updale don't have any child characters interacting with the rogue-who-becomes-a-gentleman (of sorts) main character. They are historical novels about a Victorian era criminal who uses the London sewer system to get around while breaking and entering the homes of the well-to-do. He creates a new identity for himself with his ill-gotten gains.

What makes these books kids' books is the writing style, which is very straight forward, even quite simple in places. Characters often quickly work out problems in their minds, for instance. I think an argument could be made that the first book, in which the main character develops his dual identity as both the criminal Scarper and the gentleman Montmorency, is thematically YA because we see a character in transition, as, presumably, adolescents are. I thought the first book worked pretty well as historical fiction, too--the historical setting was well done without overriding the characters and plot.

The historical detail wasn't as strong in the second book, and five years have passed since the time of the first volume in the series, so Montmorency is getting further and further from youthfulness. (The third book, which I haven't read, takes place thirteen years later.) What's more, he isn't always the center of attention. The point of view shifts among three adult male characters.

I've been told by other adult readers that kids like the Jekyll and Hyde aspect they see in these books. I've also been told by one teacher that she's used them successfully with sixth graders. They might be good for helping less sophisticated readers on the high end of middle grade start to make the transition from children's to adult books.

I can't say, though, that they've sold me on the idea that a children's book can work without child characters.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More About One Of My Least Favorite Things

I've been going on about my reservations about book blurbs for years. Nonetheless, I was interested in The Fine Art of Getting Blurbs because I've met the guest blogger, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, and because she mentions something I've only heard about recently--that bookstore buyers care about blurbs.

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Nobody's Getting Rich

Pimp My Novel has an interesting (or, maybe, discouraging) post on the profits on book sales and who gets them. Note that discounting has an impact on royalties.

More recently, the same site did a post on sales and advances relating to children's books. In describing the difference between middle grade and YA fiction, he said, "MG plots tend to center on the protagonist's internal world, whereas YA plots are more complex and are more concerned with the protagonist's effect on his or her external world."

I had never heard that before. I will have to think about it.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

"Lots Of Books With Female Characters Arenít Really About Being Female"

I'm really late with this, I know. This open letter to School Library Journal tickled the edge of my radar for a while but didn't actually make it onto the screen until I was doing some back blog reading during mealtime today. The Spectacle had a good response to the letter author's request of publishers that they crank out more boy books. "I've noticed that lots of books with female characters aren't really about being female," she said. "In fact, in many cases, the main characters could just as easily have been males..."

The idea that a book with a female character should be "about being female" struck me as odd. Call me hormone deficient, but I'm not even sure what that means. I know that in adult fiction you hear of "women's books" and you certainly hear about "women's movies." But that's a marketing thing, isn't it? It's not thematic? How would you phrase a theme relating to a story that's about "being female" or "being male?"

For instance, I'm sure there are many people who think Jane Eyre and Rebecca are women's books. But are they about being female? Or are they about people and situations not being what they appear to be?

And, yes, I tend to fall on the side of those Spectacle post commenters who point out that men have had the bulk of the main roles in fiction for centuries. Be sure to read those comments, by the way. There's lots of discussion about marketing books to girl readers, especially by way of covers, which probably does have an impact on boy readers. But that doesn't mean that there aren't enough boy books.

Hmmm. Perhaps boy books aren't being marketed as aggressively now because of the belief that girls read and thus buy books?

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

We've Always Known About Those Bookstore Returns

Authors are very aware that booksellers return books that don't sell. Painfully aware, might be a better way of putting it. I'm sure I'm not the only author who was interested in To Return, or Not to Return at ShelfTalker. Be sure to read the comments, too.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

So Happy For "Me, The Missing, And The Dead"

I loved Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine, so I was delighted to see that it's a finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. And look at the names of the folks on the award committee--two of them are very close to my stomping ground here in the land of steady habits and regular income.

It would be very cool to set up your own book award during your last days. If I can scrape together enough money, I think one of my criteria will be that the book be one that no one has heard about.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Covers, Covers, Covers

Lots of buzzing today about the new cover for Liar. Coincidentally, I just read a post from last month at The Spectacle that linked to two articles comparing and contrasting the covers of U.S. and UK editions of fantasy titles. A 2005 post at The InterGalactic Medicine Show does a nice clear job describing what interests editors in both countries, using adult titles as examples. Sarah Rees Brennan does something similiar with YA covers.

Training Report: In spite of never-ending angst, I managed to do a little bit of run-of-the-mill work today.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Fanfiction And Literary Mash-ups

Liz Burns from A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy is the co-author (with Carlie Weber) of When Harry Met Bella, in this month's School Library Journal. They discuss writing fanfiction and using it with student writers.

At one point, they talk about the difference between fanfiction and works like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Wouldn't you know it, just yesterday I read an interesting post at Storytellersunplugged called Pride and Prejudice and Bitching and Moaning on those types of books, too. The author, Richard Dansky, says such works, which he calls "literary mash-ups," have received some of the same criticism Liz and Carlie write about when describing fanfiction.

Training Report: Well, today I went to one of those strange, crowded pharmacies that sell equipment rather than drugs to purchase a cam walker boot for a family member. Sure hope I can use that in a book because otherwise today was pretty much a bust workwise.

I might be able to use the pharmacy.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

More Reading Material

Hunger Mountain now has an on-line journal to go along with its print journal. The print journal is going to come out once a year (It used to come out twice.) and the on-line content is supposed to be changing regularly.

What's particularly interesting about Hunger Mountain's on-line journal is that it's carrying young adult and children's literature as well as those traditional litjournal staples, fiction and, these days, creative nonfiction. And note, too, that within the young adult and children's section there are what look like essays and interviews as well as fiction.

There's masses of stuff I'm interested in reading at this site. I'm afraid I'm not going to get to it, though, because to be honest I have two back issues of Hunger Mountain on my TBR shelves from back in the day when I subscribed that I still haven't managed to read. And I get newsletters from Glimmer Train and Yoga Journal that I can't keep up with, either.

I'm going to die some day leaving so much unread.

Training Report: Tuesdays are short days for me, so I've decided that it might be more efficient to use this time for agent and submission research, maybe some essay writing. Yeah, we'll see how that goes. And I've heard a rumor that I may have another injured relative. You know, if these people had all been reading Yoga Journal when they were younger, maybe we wouldn't all be in this mess now.

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Does Art Define Our Nation's Soul? For That Matter, Do We Have One?

Or do we think about having one? Do we think we should have one?

The Soul of a Nation appears in the journal Descant's blog. Descant is Canadian, as you'll notice when you read the post. But much of Soul of a Nation describes how other countries "seem to define themselves by their writers." Canada doesn't, according to the blogger, identified as "litguru."

Do we? If so, which writers define us?

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Transcendentalism For The Picture Book Crowd



I discovered Henry Hikes to Fitchburg and Henry Builds a Cabin, written and illustrated by D.B. Johnson, when I read about the first title at our local library's blog. (See, blogs do encourage reading.) They are both wonders and what makes them so wonderful is that they are truly picture books for little readers that really do express something about the adult historical figure that inspired them.

The "Henry" in these books is a bear, but he's modeled on Henry David Thoreau and these books clearly draw on Thoreau's Walden, which I just happen to be rereading this year. (I say "this year" because at the rate of a few pages a couple of times a week it appears that it's going to take me that long to finish it.) Sounds kind of adult philosophical, does it not?

The illustrations for Johnson's books are lovely and all kid with plenty of focus on the bear characters. And the text is limited to one or two simple lines per page. What's amazing is that those few words tap so well into my understanding of Thoreau and Walden.

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg illustrates what I think was Thoreau's contention that we become enslaved to jobs to buy ourselves things when we could live fuller lives by doing with less. In this case, Henry's friend puts in a great deal of time working at jobs to earn the money to pay for a train ticket to Fitchburg, while Henry just makes the trip on foot.

"Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!" Thoreau said in Walden. In case he hadn't made his point, he added, "Simplify, simplify." Henry Builds a Cabin certainly illustrates that as Henry Bear points out to his bear friends, Emerson and Alcott, the areas outdoors that will serve as his dining room, library, and ballroom.

I couldn't find a passage in Walden that stated that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott lent a hand, but Thoreau does say, "At length, in the beginning of May, with the help of some of my acquaintances, rather to improve so good an occasion for neighborliness than from any necessity, I set up the frame of my house. No man was ever more honored in the character of his raisers than I. They are destined, I trust, to assist at the raising of loftier structures one day." He also says he moved in on the 4th of July, just as Henry Bear did.

I think these picture books do a great job bringing a philosophy to child readers.

Johnson has written and illustrated three more Henry books.

Training Report: All was quiet with the injured and worn family elders last week, and I had a fantastic few days of work. We're back to what has become normal at Chez Gauthier--medical appointments, research, and e-mails to relatives. And, seriously, we don't even have anyone with a crisis.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Evidence That I Am A Horrible Person Just Keeps Piling Up

Earlier today, as in just about two hours ago, I learned that a young family member had a rough experience dealing with the death of the father of one of his young students. Within half an hour of hearing about this situation, I thought, Gee, beloved nephew could do a personal essay on this. This sure sounds like a case of a personal experience that would connect with all humanity.

Then I was ashamed of myself for always turning experience into writing.

Just now, really, just two hours later, I saw this post over at Read Roger. Roger Sutton writes about helping to choose the next National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and he lists all kinds of lovely qualifications for the position. I immediately thought, Wouldn't it make a hysterical story if some person who wasn't a "Dynamic and engaging personality" and didn't have a "Known ability to relate to children; communicates well and regularly with them" got the job? Wouldn't it make a really funny, say, Judd Apatow movie if an Adam Sandler or David Spade-type character was named to a position like the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature?

Maybe I'm just too nasty to be writing for kids.