Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I Have Been Challenged!

One of my listservs was buzzing this afternoon with the news that Jenna Bush's YA book has been accepted for publication by HarperCollins. She wasn't exactly being embraced by the kidlit world, to put it mildly.

I was going to pass on discussing the situation because it's the kind of thing everyone is already talking about, anyway. Plus, it's not a discussion to which I have a lot to offer. What was I going to say? That I find ganging up on a new writer distasteful? Wait until the book comes out and, if it's as bad as so many believe it will be, dump on it then when it's justified?

Yeah, I'm something of a wet blanket on this particular subject. So I was going to let the whole thing pass.

But, then, Kelly at Big A, little a threw down the gauntlet. "Gail, you know I adore you, but defend this one," she said.

Actually, I just wanted to repeat that line about someone adoring me.

Okay. There are, as I see it, two issues here.

One is that Jenna Bush hasn't paid her dues and got a book deal before reaching peri-menopause. She got this book deal because of who she is. Well, you know what? This happens. Over the years it has happened a lot. And not just to celebrities and not just to presidents' kids. People get book deals because they know somebody or their professor knows somebody or they went to the right school or they had the right idea at the right time or they were really good looking and charming and the marketing people at their publisher's home office thought they could sell books. Or, worse yet, they'd had something horrible happen to them and someone thought that would sell.

It's a fact--a fact that really doesn't have anything to do with me. I can't change it. I can only do my own work. I just cannot get fired up with animosity toward these people.

Now, I know there are those who will say, "But she's getting $300,000! Thirty real unpublished writers could each get $10,000 advances with that money!"

That argument has been used about "big-name" adult writers for a couple of decades. I guess the fact that it has made it's way to kidlit is a tribute to the fact that money is now being made here. But here's the counter-argument: Those who defend the big advances for so-called big books claim that those big sellers actually fund smaller, newer writers. Your Stephen Kings, Patricia Cornwells, Daniel Handlers, and J.K. Rowlings keep their publishers afloat and provide them with the wherewithall to make offers to authors who aren't going to become bestsellers.

Honestly, I don't know which of the above arguments is true. And I also doubt that Jenna's nonfiction book is going to pull in big bucks and make it possible for a bunch of Gails to get contracts. But, nonetheless, there are two sides to the argument.

The second issue? Jenna is quoted as saying, "she 'very, very modestly' hopes her book will have some of the influence of two books about girls caught up in the Holocaust: Lois Lowry's novel Number the Stars and Anne Frank's The Diary of Anne Frank." And, really, it isn't very, very modest of her to voice that hope.

Come on. She's what? Twenty-three years old? Twenty-four? She mentioned two books she presumably admires. Is she immodest or is she naive?

By the way, I thought Number the Stars was a run-of-the-mill World War II story. Personally, I question Jenna's judgment in holding it up as a model for herself. I'd like to have seen her show a little more depth.

I feel really bizarre coming out all sunshine and rainbows over celebrity authors. (Not that Jenna Bush is actually a celebrity. She's famous for being someone's daughter, not for being famous.) It doesn't seem like me, does it? I'm the wicked witch of the northeast who is hypercritical about so much that she reads.

But here's the thing--it's the work that's important to me, not the worker. I have to see the result, then I'll decide whether or not I'm going to start bitching. And you know the chances are that I will bitch.

Did I go on too long about this? Blame Kelly! I hope she still adores me.

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