Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
Monday, March 29, 2010
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Flash Fiction For Kids
Monday, September 14, 2009
Cecil Castellucci Is Writing Short Stories
Friday, September 11, 2009
A Day Of Work!
Today was my first full day of work since the middle of August. I hoped that as a result of this past month's chaos I would learn to concentrate more fully when I had the chance. But no way! I killed most of the morning on exercise, Internet reading, some phone talk, and e-mailing family and friends just like I always do.
I did manage to write a couple of pages, which is supposed to be good. And I sent an e-mail to a journal to make sure that a submission had been rejected, which it turns out it had. So that's done. And I did a little research on some new journals I might want to submit to. And I read some Short-Short Sighted columns on writing flash fiction, which made me think that I should totally revise the potato chip hospital story I've been working on.
So that's an afternoon of work, right?
Speaking of flash fiction, take a look at this flash story called Doofus about a second grader who can't tie his own shoes. What makes it an adult story? Would child readers like it? Could it work as a cross-over?
Answer in a thousand words or less.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Could Theme...Or Lack Of...Be The Problem?
I was pulling out of the grocery store parking lot today and thinking about...theme! I was thinking about how I think about theme so much more with my work these days. And I've also been thinking recently about sending out some short stories again this spring.
So thinking about theme + thinking about short stories = wondering if I haven't been more successful with selling short stories because I wasn't paying attention to theme. I wasn't thinking about what those stories should say about how we live.
Of course, the fact that some of them had too many characters and too much may have been going on in others could be a factor, too.
Today's Training Report: One piece for the 365 Story Project. A couple of chapters of the never-ending story edited.
Labels: Short stories
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Not What I Expected From Shirley
Shirley Jackson's main connection to YA literature is probably through the short story The Lottery, which many students read in high school. I think it's considered attractive to kids because it's scary and surprising. So a lot of readers think, "Oh, Shirley Jackson. Creepy." As Jonathan Lethem said in the Salon article Monstrous Acts, "An unfortunate impression persists (one Jackson encouraged, for complicated reasons) that her work is full of ghosts and witches. In truth, few of her greatest stories and just one of her novels, "The Haunting of Hill House," contain a suggestion of genuinely supernatural events". That is definitely the case with the short story collection The Lottery: Adventures of the Daemon Lover. (This is the original title of the 1949 book and it appears that way on my old paperback published in 1969.)
What struck me about these stories when I reread them last month is that many, if not most, of them are about women. Specifically, they're about women's lives. I'm not talking about a writer making some kind of feminist statement with her writing. (Though her story Elizabeth might be of particular interest to feminists.) I'm talking about a writer showing us women's experience during a particular point in time and in a particular place--mid-twentieth century America. The women in Jackson's stories live extremely claustraphobic, narrow lives. They are almost always referred to as Mrs. Something or Another or Miss Something or Another. They are thus defined in terms of their relationships--or lack thereof--with men. How often do we see Mrs. or Miss or even Ms. used these days the way Jackson uses those honorifics? She creates a very definite feeling of oppression with them.
Jackson's female main characters in these short stories are almost always alone. They are also often trapped emotionally in some way. And many of the stories involve a city woman who has moved to the country, where she is, once again, isolated and trapped.
The Lottery appears at the end of this collection, which is a very good place for it. After having read the other stories, The Lottery doesn't seem all that surprising. Instead, it fits in rather well with Jackson's other stories of women trapped in worlds from which they cannot escape.
It's still scary, though.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Shirley Jackson Broke Us
The Lottery Big Read at bookshelves of doom petered out short of completion earlier this week. I think the problem was two-fold:
1. Short story collections don't generate a lot of narrative drive that makes readers want to move on and see what happens next because what happens next has already happened, and then you have to start over. As my cousin Bobby once said, you have to commit the same amount of energy to getting to know characters, setting, and situation whether you're reading a short story or a novel except that with a short story, by the time you're up to speed, you're done. It hardly seems worth it.
2. These particular short stories were originally published in the 1940s, and, personally, I find work from the forties and fifties dated in a bizarre way. I say bizarre because I've read short stories from even earlier periods that didn't bother me at all. For instance, I read Daisy Miller (set in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century--I can't remember which) a couple of years ago and felt it connected very nicely with some contemporary YA novels I'd been reading. The Hunger Artist, published in the 1920s, didn't bother me, either.
But forties and fifties fiction seems so close to our own time but wrong somehow, as if we're talking about an alternative reality of some kind.
I did finish the book, though. More about that another time.
Labels: Short stories
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The Big Read IV
My faithful readers are probably aware that when I'm not obsessed with the Transcendentalists, I'm obsessed with Shirley Jackson. So imagine my delight when I learned that Leila at bookshelves of doom is doing another Big Read, this time on The Lottery and Other Stories. And I own all the stories!
November will be wonderful.
I've already told you the story about how I read The Lottery to my kids when they were little. Ah, memories like that make a person get all warm and fuzzy, don't they?
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
A New Volume Of YA Short Stories
In the Boston Phoenix article Ghost Writer, author Nina MacLaughlin says of Kelly Link's new YA short story collection, Pretty Monsters, "Itís amusing and perfectly captures high school, but is also smarter and funnier than any 11th-grader could articulate."
That struck me as an interesting observation. If it's smarter and funnier than eleventh graders can articulate, will they like it? Or will they be glad that the book is able to articulate the smart, funny things that they can't? I expect to read Pretty Monsters at some point, because I liked Link's earlier book of short stories Magic for Beginners. But I'm not an eleventh grader, so I don't imagine I'll be able to make a decison about the articulation question.
Pretty Monsters has received three starred reviews.
Link also has a short story in the science fiction anthology The Starry Rift.
Link from Blog of a Bookslut.
Labels: Short stories
Saturday, June 07, 2008
48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Seven
I've been on the fence regarding Avi. Years ago I liked his Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? a lot, but other books not so much. Some time ago I read another themed anthology in which his offering was the stand-out by far.
His stories in Strange Happenings, Five Tales of Transformation are all quite good, too--well written, and some of them are very original. Being tales of transformation, they definitely have the change element that is required of short stories.
Some of these are what I think would be called fairy tales, something I don't usually care for. A couple of them don't have child characters. I don't know much about fairy tales or why they are so attractive to children. Perhaps there is some kind of change aspect to fairy tales, and kids, who are going to change, connect for them for that reason. This book is from the library's kids' room, not the teen room, and the stories do seem like good quality work for children.
Reading Time: 1 and 1/2 hours
Number of Pages: 147
Blogging Time: 15 minutes
48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Six
Well, Thirteen, edited by James Howe, is no Necessary Noise, I'm afraid. This book describes itself as being "Thirteen stories that capture the agony and ecstasy of being thirteen," but a lot of the agony and ecstasy covered is pretty stereotypical early-teen angst. (Though I do understand that one person's stereotype is another person's classic situation.) And a lot of the writing of that stereotypical material isn't handled in unique or elegant ways. I have to admit, I had to skim at least a couple of these offerings. One of the stories sounded very much like a video you might see in health class.
Some of my favorites, though, were Thirteen and a Half, Rachel Vail's hysterical piece about exposing the young to death (though I wonder if teen readers will appreciate it as much as I did; I also wonder if there's something wrong with me because I laughed); Jeremy Goldblatt Is So Not Moses, a different approach to the teen uniformity story, both in terms of content and structure, by James Howe, and Angel & Aly, by Ron Koertge, in which we get the parents-don't-pay-enough-attention-to-their-children story without feeling we're being lectured on parenting.
Reading Time: 3 and 1/2 hours
Number of Pages: 278
Blogging Time: 15 minutes
Can I knock off another book before I pass out tonight? Let's see!
48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Five
I finished Necessary Noise (Michael Cart, editor) at 9:30 this morning. Then I had to take five hours off to frolic in the woods. I did refuse to drive to and from the event so I could read 60+ pages of book six, and now I'm back in Book Challenge mode until 7 AM tomorrow morning.
I read one of Michael Cart's anthologies a few years back and liked it. This book, too, has a lot of high quality writing. (Though there is one story I found quite dreadful. But I won't dwell on that.) The variety of subject matter/content here makes for good reading, too. Also, I can see the change thing going on in many of these pieces.
Once again, though, I have to wonder if some of these things are specifically YA. Visit by Walter Dean Myers is fantastic but written from an adult's point of view. A Woman's Touch by Rita Williams-Garcia, also very good, is told from a child's point of view (I can't recall exactly what age), and I can certainly imagine a teenager reading it. But I can also imagine adults reading it in an adult literary journal. It deals with a boy whose mother has moved the family in with her quite butch girlfriend, a woman who is willing to take on the traditional responsibilities of father to this boy, which his biological father is shirking. Perhaps I felt that way because the irony of a woman accepting that role seems like something an adult would appreciate more than a young person. Or maybe the story isn't meant to be ironic at all. I liked Lois Lowry's Snowbound a lot, too, and can even imagine myself reading a novel about this family. But this story seemed very adult to me. It deals with an adult fear and while the point of view switches include the children's points of view, not enough.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with YAs reading adult fiction. They're supposed to. They're supposed to make the transition. But, you know me. I'm always struggling with definitions.
Reading Time: 3 hours
Number of Pages: 239
Blogging Time: 20 minutes
Friday, June 06, 2008
48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Three
When I go on these study binges what often happens is that I find myself more and more confused as I am exposed to more and more information.
Book Number Three was Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes. Now I don't know a lot about Gothic literature, though I've certainly read some over the years. In her introduction, Noyes raises the question of whether or not a gothic story is a horror story. I had thought they were dark and creepy but within reality--freaky old houses, mysterious older men, damsels in distress, dark secrets. Noyes says that "...it's probably more accurate to think of gothic as a room within the larger house of horror...In horror stories, the boundaries between innocence and malevolence are often clearly marked in blood. In the gothic, evil frequently triumphs; beauty certainly fades; monks may be wicked and thrive; murderers can and do claim the moral high ground."
It's almost as if there's more justice and closure in horror than in gothic.
Many of these stories in Gothic! did seem like horror or ghost stories to me. That's not to say they were bad. I had just never thought of gothic stories in terms of that, and now I have to.
Regarding the business of whether or not something happens in these stories that changes the protagonist, which is supposed to be the mark of a short story: Well, if you're alive at the beginning and dead at the end, I guess that's a change. If you have a face at the beginning, and you don't at the end, that's a change I suppose.
We these stories, since they are supposed to be YA (in the introduction Noyes says as much), you have to consider what makes them YA. Is it just a teenage protagonist? Or should a gothic story have something thematically about it that makes it YA?
I don't know. This is what I mean by becoming more confused.
I think the best story in terms of being both what I think of as gothic and what I think of as YA is Gregory Maguires' The Prank.
Reading Time: 4 hours
Number of Pages: 234
Blogging Time: 25 minutes
48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Two
I remember ripping through books during Year One of the Book Challenge. Things seem to be going much more slowly this time around.
I read one or two of Jack Gantos's collections of Jack Henry stories years ago and definitely admired them. Today I read Jack Adrift and feel the same way. Gantos writes short stories readers of any age can enjoy.
Most of these short stories, while interconnected, also fit the classic description of a short story in that something happens to the main character that changes him. I think reading these in the class room would give students a pretty good idea of what a short story should be.
One of the things I like about the Jack Henry books is that the parents are struggling yet not dysfunctional. They aren't a sitcom couple, but they're there for their kids.
Reading Time: 3 hours
Number of Pages: 197
Blogging Time: 10 minutes
48 Hour Book Challenge--Book One
Many books of short stories for kids and young adults are "themed books," meaning someone came up with an idea for a book of short stories and then contacted some writers to ask them to write on that theme. Well, Friends, edited by Ann M. Martin and David Levithan, is one of those. It describes itself as "Stories About New Friends, Old Friends, And Unexpectedly True Friends," but it doesn't actually use the term "short stories" anywhere.
That sounds as if I'm nitpicking, but some of these things read like memoirs--memoirs that were dashed off quickly between other writing jobs. Some of the pieces here come across as just telling what happened to me without much filtering or shaping into a piece of literature. Most of the memoir-type pieces don't come off very well, except for Virginia Euwer Wolff's Doll, which is excellent.
Among the better short stories are Shashikala: A Brief History of Love and Khadi by Tanuja Desai Hidier (though it may be a little too sophisticated and difficult for younger readers), The Wild Prince by Brian Selznick, and Flit by Patrick Jennings. I think kid readers would probably find Flit to be the best fit for them.
The reviews at Amazon describe this book as being for the upper elementary grades or middle school students.
Reading Time: 3 Hours
Number of Pages: 181
Blogging Time: 15 minutes
Sunday, January 06, 2008
A New Project?
For a couple of years I've been thinking of trying to write a book of one page stories for kids. I had one of those books when I was a kid. In fact, it's on a shelf where I can see it right now because, as I said, I've been thinking of doing something similar for a couple of years.
I haven't progressed very far with this. Steps to make the project, if that is what it is, move forward:
1. Work on list of story ideas.
2. Come up with a one-page formula that I can start with. I think of a formula as being like a recipe. I rarely follow a recipe word for word because it's a rare recipe that has a complete list of ingredients that everyone at Chez Gauthier will eat. Some things have to be dropped, others added. Thus, I don't get too upset about the prospect of jump-starting a project with a formula.
3. Find that book of flash fiction I was reading last year or the year before.
4. Read it.
Labels: Short stories