July 30, 2006

"Goodbye Cruel World..." Is Not An Option

"You’re better off alive, no matter how messed up you think you might be right now. And you’re better off alive no matter how mean someone is being to you. You are simply better off alive than dead—no matter who or what you are, no matter who or what you love, and no matter what you do. Just don’t be mean. Being mean never works. Never. So that’s the only rule I can think of that’s worth following in life: don’t be mean. Yes, you can be mean to yourself if that’s what’s going to keep you alive. I’m sorry if that’s happening to you. But keep in mind that there are alternatives that hurt a lot less, and I hope you find one soon. Do what you have to do, and stay alive because it gets better. I promise. xoxo Kate"

I constantly belittle people who comment upon books without having read them, but-- Reyhan Harmanci's book review in the Chronicle this morning of Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks & Other Outlaws has given me some food for thought. Written by trans-gendered author and activist Kate Bornstein, the book takes a dark and serious topic and enters into its darkness with the intent of leavening it with humor, compassion and empathy.

Bornstein knows what it's like to be not quite like everyone else. She was born a boy who didn't feel like a boy, and it took a long journey to get to a gender in which she feels comfortable. The book was initially targeted toward lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer teens, but the content applies to any teen who has ever experienced a profound sense of depression and dark thoughts. That being said, some of the 101 Alternatives Bornstein offers are bluntly controversial. Harmanci was disconcerted to see cutting brought up as a viable option. Bornstein accepts that alternatives like "Get laid. Please," "Experiment on animals and small children" "Make it bleed" or "Tell a lie" might not be what a parent would find acceptable from their child. While some of these are meant playfully, others are not. Yet, Bornstein insists if the alterantive is suicide... isn't "unacceptable" behavior preferable?


I look forward to the comments of anyone who has read this book - would you reccomend it to a teen? The mini-version, which includes a Get Out of Hell Free card, seems full of good wishes and love from a person who has already been there. Whatever else this book might be, it does address a timely issue in an accessible, thoughtful way.

Welcome to the World of Tomorrow...

...and boy, doesn't it suck?!

I've been absent a while, and for that I apologize. But I'm back with a couple of futuristic, dystopian adventure novels, both with male protagonists.

Gary Paulsen isn't exactly a name you'd associate with futuristic adventure, but in The White Fox Chronicles, he's brought his talent for writing gritty, down-to-earth real-life adventure into the world of 2057, where war has so weakened the U.S. that it has been taken over by the Confederation of Consolidated Republics. The CCR, a group of vaguely Nazi-fascist-Communist baddies, have enslaved most American citizens and put them into prison camps. Only a few rebel outposts and well-hidden U.S. Army bases remain, fighting for the American cause.

Cody Pierce, also known as the White Fox, is the oldest member of the children's barracks in his prison camp, somewhere in the Southwest. He manages to escape, freeing a political prisoner along with himself; but now the CCR wants to hunt him down. He has to use his cunning and bravery to survive, and to tackle his ultimate goal of freeing the other children of the prison camp. Paulsen's talent for writing clear, unadorned prose and for creating a very solid world of wilderness serve him well in this project--it's not a novel in which internal events take precedence, but rather one in which the adventure is the focus. This is a fast-paced action novel, tightly written and exciting.

Pete Hautman's newest novel Rash also takes place in a futuristic world, this one a little more 1984-ish and restrictive. Imagine what would happen to American society if our litigiousness and our obsession with safety and order were taken to an extreme degree. In Hautman's novel, which takes place seventy years in the future, nobody can walk around outside without a safety helmet, and something like a quarter of the population is imprisoned in corporate work camps for minor infractions such as insulting someone in public or inadvertently injuring someone.

Bo Marsten has let his temper get the better of him for the third time, attempting to punch the annoying Karlohs Mink, who seems to be trying to steal his girlfriend. Three strikes, though, and he's out--to a prison work camp where he's put on a production line making pizzas sixteen hours a day and forced to participate in highly illegal football games. Not to mention that the artificial intelligence bot he created for a school project seems to be evolving from a simple beanie-wearing monkey and has tracked him to his prison in the Arctic tundra.

It's an interesting world Hautman has created, funny and detailed. It certainly provokes the reader into thinking about what would happen if we let certain social tendencies run amuck, though in that respect it is a tad moralistic. On the other hand there's a lot more sardonic humor in this one than in Paulsen's, which is a fairly straightforward adventure, and humor does a lot towards tempering the "this-could-happen-to-you" tone. However, Hautman's characters aren't quite as developed--I had a little trouble envisioning Bo as a cohesive personality, and he had a surprisingly massive vocabulary for a sixteen-year-old thug. Still, it was an enjoyable and quick read. These are two guy books I'd definitely recommend.

July 27, 2006

Classics & Cereal Boxes: A quiet morning rant

Good grief, not again. Yet another over-educated and under-intelligent soul is going off on the reading habits of American children and young adults. Now it's summer reading lists they're disparaging... we're not spending enough time on the classics, and we're turning out a nation of cereal-box readers. Oh, no, not enough classics?!! Who, tell me who will save the children!?

(FYI, there's some really interesting stuff on the back of cereal boxes. And on Silk cartons. And inevitably reading something of INTEREST to you, even on the back of a box of cereal, can spark you to do a little research on your own... as is intended.)

This is NOT a new conversation. Understand, I'm coming from the rather cranky point-of-view of someone whose growing up literary investigations were closely monitored and usually curtailed. However, as I understand it for most people, summer reading is out-of-school reading, which therefore is a.) rare (thus the Wall Street Journal's amusing turn of phrase "seasonal illiteracy"), and b.) is therefore a green light to read whatever you jolly well please, because you're READING, which brings us back to our first reason. Schools and libraries have all sorts of fun programs surrounding summer reading, and encourage people to read -- anything, everything. Books. Graphic novels. Encyclopedias. ANYTHING. And here the Journal is complaining because no one is pushing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Don't those people normally just concentrate on making money? I suggest they get back to that and leave the librarians alone.

How tired I am of people moaning on about the Classics. Do we not yet realize that the so-called 'canon' is made up of a.) old b.) Caucasian and c.) male writers and characters, to a large degree? The difficult language and lengthy descriptions of a bygone world may not be as interesting first off to a young person. We can be frustrated with that, but it's the truth. It takes time and education to appreciate things outside of our milieu. Young adult readers who don't naturally gravitate those directions can be guided into them -- in school. Maybe they're just not asking for that type of encouragement during the summer, but if they're asking, librarians still exist and are there to help. Meanwhile, I advocate a more multicultural and balanced approach where Sandra Cisneros can exist alongside Ralph Waldo Ellison and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Yes, older books are good. But it doesn't necessarily follow that newer books are bad. Relegating Edward Bloor's Tangerine to the category of some lightweight 'sports book' is to woefully misunderstand the subtleties of modern YA fiction, and what it can accomplish. (Moreover, it is to obviously admit that you're commenting on it, and have never read it. Shame, Wall Street Journal. Shame.)

Yes, I read The Scarlet Pimpernel the summer when I was twelve, and then went on to read A Tale of Two Cities because it seemed kind of related. Please note that after that, I reread Anne of Green Gables, a book the Journal would say had "a soap opera plot," because my brain needed a break. Adults have to acknowledge that a kid moves forward at a kid's pace, not an adult pace. There will be time for Ahab and the whale, for feisty Jo and her insipid sisters, for Stephen Crane and Frederick Douglass, and all the others. Life is long. Childhood is too freaking short.

(Thanks to Jen Robinson's Book Page for pointing out both the Journal article as well as Shannon Hale's good rant.)

July 26, 2006

This Ain't Your Great-Great-Grandma's Dickensian Serial Novel

Before I tackle my main topic, I wanted to commend TadMack for her steadfast and fabulous singlehanded maintenance of this blog for the past few weeks while I was lost in conference hell. I really didn't mean to create a scenario in which I said, "Come help me with this blog. Thanks! Okay, bye now! Have fun!" Trust me, it was unintentional. I love this space and I love finding out from my fellow bloggers and our associated blog-links what's going on in the YA world. I can't wait to get caught up and start contributing again in earnest.

On that note, I've just received word in my inbox of a new serialized novel for YA readers, which will be posted chapter-by-chapter (in weekly installments) on the author's blog. Mortal Ghost, by L. Lee Lowe, "will be serialized in weekly instalments for the next 38-40
weeks. Thereafter the entire novel will be available as a free PDF download." I've only just had time to scan it over, but it looks like it will be good fun, not to mention a valuable opportunity for the author to get feedback.

This makes me think of the other major serial form of literature which has historically appealed to a YA audience (and an adult audience - I'm not belittling anybody here): comic books. And, like the author of Mortal Ghost, I do wonder what the response will be from young adults. Will the serial online form appeal? Will they lose interest because they have to wait for the next installment, or will it be addictive, like television?

I have my own reservations about posting my writing on a blog, most of them related to potential theft and copyright infringement. That being said, I think it's a great idea--don't forget that when National Novel Writing Month rolls back around, there will be several people blogging their novels as they go. I've also been posting a little writing on my personal blog as part of Flickr Fiction Friday, which is just a small group of people doing a weekly freewrite in response to a randomly chosen photo on Flickr. However, these are, at most, sketches (for me, anyway) and though they might lead to something larger and more publishable, I don't see them as being particularly appealing to writing thieves, if such exist in real life and not just in my paranoid imagination.

After this, I REALLY will get to work. Really.

Someone asked me this morning, in reference to my Blog Against Racism comments, if I'd ever read any Octavia Butler, and after I'd finished waxing poetic and mopping my eyes and explaining that I'd named a character in my latest novel after her (a high honor, from me), I pointed them to her Wiki site. Looking there myself I found that a memorial scholarship has been created in her name.

I never even knew she was a MacArthur Fellow! Shows how much you care about a writer's honors if they write good books.

I always thought I'd one day get to meet her...
I hope she knew how loved she was.

Return to Edit Hell: The Sequel

I have received my editorial letter from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers! Huzzah! I should be working, but I'm not! Again, huzzah!
(Apparently procrastination among writers is catching...)
Let the time-wasting be unconfined! On with the dance!

Kudos to Fuse #8 for pointing out my newest timewaster site: Book-A-Minute, which cheerfully and succinctly ultra-condenses everything you've not got the time to read. My favorite example so far?

The Collected Works of Anne McCaffrey

Ultra-Condensed by Christina Carlson

Female Lead
I secretly love Male Lead. He must never know.
Male Lead
I secretly love Female Lead. She must never know.
(They find out.)


Which pretty much sums up, with deep and painful irony, everything our Anne has ever written, and made me snort my tea. Quel amusant.

Have you ever wondered how a book makes the cut to become part of the literary canon? I have, and apparently some teachers have, too. The Miami Herald this weekend discussed what makes a classic in children's books -- one reader thinks Catcher in the Rye isn't a classic, and a classics professor from the University of Miami names Winnie-the-Pooh in favor of the Potter epics as classic literature. Classics, by Professor Phillip A. Russo's lights, have to be old in order to be classics. Catcher isn't yet old enough, but it will get there. Quoting 18th century author Samuel Johnson, who, when writing about Shakespeare 150 years after his death said that "length of duration and continuance of esteem" are the only earmarks of a classic, Russo doesn't even yet include Joyce, Faulkner or Hemingway in that category.

I don't really adore Catcher; Holden Caufield gets on my nerves. But Holden Caufield did something for millions of people who read it; it touched a nerve, it shaped a generation of outbursts and rebellious thinking for many. The impact of a novel has got to be worth something. (Thanks again to Fuse #8 for this find.)

And speaking of guys with impact, Cool Boys are being collected on Jen Robinson's Book Page. Final list is Friday, so stay tuned for the results, and if you have a suggestion, make yours today! Ooh, and one more new time-waster: I keep forgetting to tell you to take the Teen Angst Novel Quiz. I took it, and found out that I am a book I haven't read yet. Yay!

What Teen Angst Novel are You? - funny, lots of results, with pix, from the author of The Boyfriend List and Fly on the Wall

PREP, by Curtis Sittenfeld. Thought-provoking, class-conscious, analytical, smartly observant. Sometimes irritating. Go read it. It's you. Happy reading! -- E. Lockhart
Take this quiz!


Make A Quiz More Quizzes Grab Code

I'll have to tell you if it's "me" after I've read it.

Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, the next book detailing the adventures of Tiffany Aching, is due in the UK in September... and in the US in October.

I want to move to the UK.

July 25, 2006

No Toys In The Fish Tank!!

They shape the world for her little brother, David. They are a little bit of hope to his sister, Catherine, that someday David will wake up a regular brother, and know just what to do. They're the Rules. The first rule is: Follow the Rules.

David has autism, and so that means that Catherine is stuck: stuck babysitting, stuck dragging him inside when he screams, stuck repeating reassurances she doesn't want to say. David is stuck, too: stuck inside of his own head, where things are loud and confusing. He loves his sister, and he's doing the best he can.

But sometimes life still stinks a big one.

Catherine's a really good daughter, smart and helpful (though her parents don't acknowledge it enough) but she's being plowed under in her family. Her father's too busy with work to tune in at home, and her mother is working from home and constantly dropping babysitting duties on her. Catherine's 12th summer is a turning point in a life of trying to control everything -- from David's embarrassing outbursts to the way the neighborhood bully, Ryan, talks to him, to the impression the new family next door has of her family. Catherine has the opportunity to make two new friends, and suddenly everything changes. Are there rules for keeping a friend?

A book about how sometimes a whole family can revolve around the needs of one kid, and how one sometimes has to let go and live, Rules is funny, bittersweet and heartfelt; a superb novel.

Is it a dog? A statue?

Tymmon almost hates his father, Komus, a court jester whom he sees as solely a buffoon. If only his father were wealthy, Tymmon could be a knight, like his well-born friend Lothar, but there is nothing for him, and there will be nothing for him but to follow in his father's capering footsteps. But the night when thugs break in and kidnap Tymmon's father, he realizes that there must have been something more about Komus than he ever saw or knew. But what?

Tymmon vows to avenge his father's possible death, like the knight he so desperately longs to and sets out to find him. Armed with nothing but his wits and a chance meeting with an animated gargoyle -- who turns out to be a big ugly dog -- maybe -- Tymmon sings and performs and keeps his eyes open. The world isn't quite as he expected. Maybe Komus was right to live the way he did?

The medieval world of Song of the Gargoyle, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder provides the backdrop for a coming of age story as petulant Tymmon finally becomes a young man.

More than a Game

(Greetings to any of Mr. Phillip's 7th graders from Reading Rants who got here by accident!)

The A-Z Antiques and Curio Shop is a place stuffed with cool odds and ends, April thinks, including a bunch of stuff from Egypt. The weird old proprietor of the shop makes it irresistibly spooky to April, and once she and her new friend Melanie discover that the vacant lot behind it is accessible, it's a great place to pretend. Their little game isn't only a game for two for long. Soon Melanie's little brother, Marshall, is in, the new girl up the hall, and two boys from school! Rites and mysteries and mummies, oh my! The six Egyptians are having a ball with their imaginations -- but then, they start receiving oracles from the stuffed owl. Has Egypt gone to Melanie and April's heads?

Zilpah Keatley Snyder's middle grade novel, The Egypt Game and its sequel, The Gypsy Game, are well-loved classics, and both have been used in many middle school reading programs.
The first novel is a good stand-alone, transcending its dated language with memorable characters, while the second is best read after the first, and is a bit more predictable. Both books provide adventurous and fun reading for ages 9-12.


Well, good is bound to win occasionally. This time good comes in the form of the the ACLU and a judge who ordered the Miami-Dade School Board to replace the disputed book Vamos a Cuba. Ole!

Meanwhile, in its quiet quest to take over the world, Amazon now sells...groceries. Okay. I'm not going to buy books from them anymore, but I might buy the occasional CD... but groceries?! Not so much. Incidentally, they plan to sell many organic products, trying to score that market share as well. Hm.

Sir Richard Branson of Virgin everything fame is playing that eccentric millionaire type again by getting into books. He's bankrolling, of all things, Virgin Comics -- comic books with Indian storylines. Joined by holistic author Deepak Chopra, his son, Gotham, Indian comic trailblazer Sharad Devarajan and others, this project looks to be really interesting. A South Asian professor introduced me during MFA days to Tibetan, Indian and Filipino folk and fairytales, and the vivid portrayals of dashing heroes, tricksters, lewd buffoons, gods, monsters, tragic heroines and hugely exaggerated villains seem to make comic books and Indian stories an obvious match. I'm intrigued!

Well, for those of you anxiously watching my mailbox with me, the editorial letter is still AOL. The heat wave and power outages in NY can't be helping... Meanwhile, we all just...Keep...Working...

Does this mean I'll finally get it?

The BBC reported early last month that physicist Stephen Hawking is writing a children's book. Usually I whinge when celebrities take on children's lit, but this time I'm all for it. A nonfiction science book written by a... scientist! Bravo! May the tribe of scientists increase.

July 24, 2006

This and That

Strange things in my email:

We've noticed that customers who have purchased A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle also purchased books by Martina Mackova. For this reason, you might like to know that Martina Mackova's Phytoremediation and Rhizoremediation: Theoratical Background (Focus on Biotechnology) will be released soon. You can pre-order your copy by following the link below.

Um, Amazon? You're SO not getting the book connections here. Phytoremediation!? Still, have to give them their props; they're still trying to keep my business... but after all the carnage I've seen them do to independent bookstores, I'm making a conscious choice to buy books elsewhere. Go independents!
I am taking five cool minutes to say hello and let you know about the Carnival of Children's Literature going on at Big A little a. This is a MAJOR undertaking, where a children's blogger does a roundup of all of the fantastic commentary on kidlit going on all over the web. Since Blogger is being an absolute pain, I haven't been able to comment to them what a fantastic job I think she did, but bravo Ms. Kelly, and thanks for all of the links!

Because race continues to be a daily occurrence, I'm going to make an occasional point of talking about race and racial issues in YA and children's fiction, calling attention to those who deserve kudos, etc. The carnival links above netted me a new blog to read I Write For Young Adults, So Take That (which is as good and snarky a title as I've ever loved), and highlighted in On Being Black in Fiction, the article by Pam Noles that talked about the shameful way that the Sci-Fi channel handled The Legend of Earthsea miniseries.

If you're not a sci-fi geek like me, maybe you're not familiar with the charmed and delicious worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin and the novel wonder that is Earthsea. (Become familiar! You won't regret it!!!) In 2004 the Sci-fi channel (and notice no link! I'm still furious with them, and have boycotted the channel.) hijacked her Earthsea novels into a movie... I was so bitterly disappointed I could almost have cried. (I spent the whole time wailing "But that's not how it happened!" to my TV.) The characters, who were brown-skinned in the book, were cast almost uniformly and bewilderingly with Caucasian actors. This completely negated the flipflop that LeGuin created -- that Earthsea was made up of brown people, and that the pale skinned ones were the ones enslaved and shunned, that the brown-skinned people needed to learn to see them as human, etc. etc. It gave readers the chance to ponder a different world, it gave a chance for sci-fi fans of color to finally have a world in which they were represented, and it was ruined in film for a reason I cannot yet comprehend (except for the obvious, my opinion that BOOKS SHOULD ALMOST NEVER BE MADE INTO MOVIES. Ahem. Well, it's only my opinion...).

When we saw the movie, we wondered why LeGuin allowed the wreckage. It reassured me to discover that LeGuin hated it, called it "Earthsea in Clorox" and generally made sure that her readers knew that this was something taken away from her. Though the producers of the film said that they followed the "intent" of the novel (please.) LeGuin straight up said they ruined it.

This is, of course, old news, but it reminded me of some additional books in the fantasy genre whose brave writers, while perhaps not brown-skinned themselves, dared to include brown skinned characters in cool roles in their books. I especially love Nancy Farmer's book, The Ear, The Eye and The Arm, and the warriors and blacksmiths who use magic in Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic books. It can be done and done well! Rejoice!

Incidentally, Studio Ghibli is taking a stab at doing the Earthsea books justice, releasing the Japanese version called Gedo Senki. As the few black manga characters I've ever seen are either evil and male or just incidental characters in crowd scenes, I was interested to see if they would include brown characters for Earthsea. No such luck. Goro Miyazaki's an amazingly gifted artist, and really captures the feel of Earthsea, as the trailer shows. Still, manga is not the place to find positive characters of African or Indian descent... maybe someday.

July 20, 2006

A Big Ol' "DUH!" and other random commentary

(For the record, I do know what random means. Honest.)

My big "duh" moment was realizing I had not listed Pooja Makhijani's book Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America as part of our International Blog Against Racism Week. Of course, my list dealt with the fictional, but this is an important book, especially for me as a writer, as it sharpens my recall of trying to blend in, wishing for another name, another identity, another race, and enables me to recreate that longing and internal dissent within my characters, to address it honestly and write it through. Incidentally, this author also has an online article on Paper Tigers, a website which highlights young readers lit for the Pacific Rim and South Asian. You can find her piece on YA lit for South Asian teens and kids here. Also don't miss Mitali Perkins' piece, A Note to Young Immigrants.
Previously I've blogged about that YA "kernel of hope" thing that was pounded into my head during MFA days. Now over at Rosemary Graham's blog, the question is being discussed: Must YA work have a happy ending? Polly Shulman postulates in the July 9 New York Times Sunday Book Review that that's all YA writers do: make up tidy endings and moralize little lessons for YA readers to take away and ponder. Ms. Graham's question, then, is do writers actually feel compelled to write happy endings through editorial pressure, etc.? And do readers of YA lit expect that happy ending?

Well, I know we were told that's what YA lit is -- stories about life, only told from a hopeful point of view. Of course, the stuff I read isn't artificially hopeful... I tend to throw books across the room if they appear not to be heading towards a satisfying ending -- and by satisfying, I don't mean the girl always gets the guy, or vice versa. What goes up, must come down, is my take on the matter. If my author is manipulating reality, I get ticked off, and feel manipulated as a reader. A manipulated reader doesn't read for long... they feel betrayed.

In many ways, writing is manipulating facts, etc., for the purpose of entertaining or enlightening your readers. And I agree that painting the world with nihilistic ashes is a depressing and somewhat self-defeating thing for a writer writing specifically for young adults to do. I don't want my work not to have a lesson - because life is about learning things. On the other hand, I read enough didactic fiction growing up, and I know how offensive it is. Instead, I think my goal is to create fiction that creates level ground... so the reader can say, "Oh, my life is kind of like that, too." And maybe the way the fictional character deals with things can be of some help to someone. Or not, you know? Either way, life provides no tidy resolutions, so let's hope our art always imitates life.

July 19, 2006

Blog Against Racism Week

At E.Lockhart's blog I read that it's International Blog Against Racism Week, and though I'm late, I wanted to participate. Writers -- especially writers of YA and Children's Lit have to be really aware of the world that they live in, a world in which racism seems to be here to stay. It's the world our readers live in, and so it's relevant. There are many excellent historical novels that deal with racism in a certain time or place... Trudy Krishner's Spite Fences, Christopher Paul Curtis' The Watsons Go To Birmingham, Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and the other books in that trilogy by Mildred D. Taylor, Karen Hesse's marvelous Witness, or many novels by Yoshika Uchida or Lawrence Yep come to mind) but I find the discussion of race as portrayed in modern fiction more engrossing. The reader isn't expecting something as obvious as a white sheet, an interment camp, kristallnacht or burning crosses.

My favorite middle grade/YA books that deal with racism in a more modern world are, in order of no particular relevance:

The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks, which is a fabulous mystery as well as a story about friends and their differences -- and similarities.

*Iggie's House by Judy Blume. This story still has such power to make me cry, even though I have read it over and over again.

* The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson. Gilly learning to love people she thought previously were unlovable -- herself included -- make this a seriously tremendous book, and the language is really spot on. All of it.

Marie G. Lee's If It Hadn't Been for Yoon Jun, and Finding My Voice, are brilliant and painful to read, allowing us to see what reverse racism does to a person -- hating yourself and who you are for what you are in opposition to the dominant culture in your school.

Chris Crutcher's Whale Talk is my almost-favorite Crutcher novel... Definitely a tough novel; you cry, and you laugh, and you cry again as you do in all Crutcher novels, and though the story is dark, the glimmers of light throughout make the tears well worth it.

...doubtless there are MANY more novels, but these are just a few off the top of my head. Feel free to add to my list! And don't forget to join in the discussion. Follow the directions at E.Lockhart's and then link your blog here.

July 18, 2006

Wait! There's More!

Morning Edition gives us the latest in jazzy, snazzy PR ideas for your book... novel trailers! Kind of like movie trailers, only... not.

Is this really a good idea!? Coming soon to a bookstore near you!

Speaking of cinematic efforts, I remember with queasy good feelings my favorite fourth grade novel How To Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell. There were rumors that it was being adapted into movie form by the same company that did the Narnia series last winter, and I thought... well, you know me. I thought uh-oh, because I am convinced that most movie directors don't read the books upon which they're basing their movies. (I vote for adding the word "loosely" before the word 'based' in the movie credits. Case in point: Disney's version of Howl's Moving Castle. In a word: ghastly. Some of the best plot elements were completely obscured to make an entertaining little cartoon for those who've never read the book! And what, then, is the point of basing a movie on a book? [I mean, besides the obvious, that directors don't have original ideas? But I digress...]) Well, I was right to be skeptical about the Worms, it seems. The movie has already been hijacked. Fuse#8 reports on a piece she read in this month's Creative Screenwriting that talks about the director's "vision" for the movie, and his issues with it. Too many worms, for one thing... and since it's a short children's book, he seemed to feel no need to be faithful to the plot.

WOW. Does he have any concept how old that book is, and how long its been around, and how people still love it?! Novel adaptations: they're a disease, I'm telling you! Directors out there: please! We READ EVERY WORD of the books we love, and we expect you to do it, too, and be faithful to the original vision of the author!!! We're trying to encourage people to READ, here!

July 17, 2006

Gretchen Yee, FlyGirl!

"...lust? It's like an urge that disregards all the stuff that your brain knows you actually think."

Gretchen Yee's life feels out of control. Her Dad's dumping her Mom for someone else, her best friend is freezing her out, she can't even talk around the guy she likes -- or talk at ALL around the boy who made out with her and dumped her unceremoniously practically days later. Her world is zooming into the smash zone, and she wishes, just once, that she could be Fly on the Wall on the wall of the boy's locker room. So many of the mysteries of life then would be revealed.
What IS it with guys, with men? How can they be so awful? And why is her Dad smelling like smoke? How could he cheat on her Mom with some smoker?

A Tiny Spoiler: Gretchen DOES become a fly, and yeah, she finds out a lot. Mostly that (ahem) gherkins are just... flesh. And boys are... people: Scrawny, buffed, unhappy, insecure people. Even when they're loud and macho or zit-scarred or well endowed, Gretchen realizes that they're human.

Further, Gretchen learns that she is human too: prone to judgmental thoughts and jumping to conclusions, prone to not really listening or hearing or noticing anyone but herself. She finds out that girls are a lot like guys -- full of hormones and urges and with the inate ability to reach out and give life a push when it stalls -- just like boys can. Instead of hiding behind the comic strip characters in her art, Gretchen learns that she can step out of the frame and be a super flygirl herself.

There aren't too many books where I'm both giggling and briefly grossed out and close to tears all at once. E. Lockhart has really nailed it, and I can't wait to read the rest of her stuff.

Impossible Belief

I am always attracted to books about belief, or lack of it. Dana Reinhardt has delivered a quiet tour de force that explores issues from the ACLU to religion to conscience to what makes a family and what is worth fighting for.

Simone is diferent, and it's not just because she hasn't filled out over the summer and gotten more experienced with guys like her best friend Cleo. Simone is adopted, and she's always felt a little like a party of one, even though she is dearly and truly loved by her excellent and supportive parents and her cute jock brother, Jake. When it comes to think about or talking about her adoptive mother, Rivka, Simone is closed and hostile -- and terrified. Pushed into meeting Rivka for the first time, Simone finds doors opening into questions and answers and experiences she never expected. She's an atheist -- her birth mother is Hasidic. She's shy about boys and inexperienced. Her birth mother has ...advice! Add in her crush on Zach, who is smart and cute and maybe like the girl everyone says is his 'best friend,' and Just Another Chapter in My Impossible Life becomes a well-rounded, through-provoking and amazingly good novel.

A Young Old Lady

I've already said how much I like Diana Wynne Jones' novels, and Howl's Moving Castle is a classic. A little bit crowded with characters and undue chaos at the end, but a satisfying fairy-tale that thwarts the bad guys, helps the good guys, and has time for a perfectly happy ending. Of course, this novel has recently been made into a film-length cartoon, which is why I wanted to read it. Originally published in 1986, it's been reprinted with a sadly less-spooky but more accurate cover.

As the oldest of the Hatters of Ingary, Sophie pretty much figured that she wasn't going to have much of a life. The eldest SON might inherit, but the eldest daughter, well... in most fairytales, the youngest daughter inherits great riches, marries the handsome prince, and everything goes her way. The middle daughter is at least respectable and maybe has adventures, but the eldest...

Ingary used to be a quiet village, but things are changing. The Witch of the Waste is stirring, and the Wizard Suliman is missing, as is the King's brother. The girls of Ingary are warned never to go out alone at night when a moving black castle appears in the hills above town, but it's not the Witch. The castle belongs to the Wizard Howl, who eats girl's souls or something. Sophie Hatter figures she'll never meet him, and is sure her youngest sister is more in danger from him that she is. As Sophie does her boring job, making hats for her stepmother, little does she realize that her life is about to change. Sophie meets the Witch of the Waste. When Sophie meets her, things start to happen.

This is a huge plot that could hardly have been written by anyone else. There are mistaken identities, curses, identical sisters and spells. There are poems and doors that open to different cities each time the knob is turned and filthy windows and cranky fireplaces. This was a thoroughly delightful fantasy, though a little confusing at times, and I really enjoyed it. I doubt the movie will do it justice.

Second in the Seeker Chronicles

I'm still a Betsy James fan. I'm impressed with Dark Heart, the second novel in the trilogy that tells the story of Kat, a sixteen-year-old girl who has run away from her father's strict and colorless home to live with her mother's people -- the Bear folk, who are happy and industrious and who dance and tease. It seems that Kat should be happy with a people so big-hearted, but the mountain people are just as hemmed in as those upslope of the sea; their world is full of rituals that take place "just because," and they are driven by superstition and routine. Kat does her duty and tries to take her place as a woman of the clan, but she fears it is too late, she is too different. She longs for something more -- and more than that, she longs for Nall, the boy of the Seal clan she left behind her. This is definitely not a stand-alone novel in some ways, but if you were to pick it up without having read the first one, you would still enjoy the beauty of the prose. But do pick up the first one first, if you can!

Et In Terra Pax

Just received an email from a friend who has family in Lebanon...

I'm not singing and plugging my ears, but close. Worlds away, bombs are falling as usual. The literature of a time period usually lags about ten years behind, but according to a recent study, already themes of war and terrorism are filtering into children's lit. There's always been talk of war, because this country always seems to be at war -- or having a 'skirmish' or doing a 'police action' somewhere somehow. Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario, of the Monash's School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, did her study on J.K. Rowling's Potter series, Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy, Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series and, oddly enough, the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. Do Rozario's study determined that authors are finding ways to examine and interpret world events in a way our readers can understand. Check it out.

Meanwhile, Cynsations' War & Peace in Children's Literature is also a great resource.

Infernal Inferno Monday

Word of the week: rejuvenile. Are you a rejuvenile? Though it's the new hipster word of the season (kind of like metrosexual, only not), for me, it's not a match. It's simply a matter of never having gotten out of my adolesence in the first place, so there's no "re" before the 'juvenile' for me.

NPR's Talk of the Nation last week featured author Christopher Noxon, who coined the word, and talked about all of the grups in the world nowadays (Oh, come on; don't tell me you don't remember 'grups' from that awful episode of Star Trek? ); the guys who ride skateboards to work, the girls who have kickball teams and get together to watch Sponge Bob, the folks who collect metal lunchboxes, Pez dispensers, and play hacky-sack in the parking lot of the grocery store.

While 'rejuvenile' a sort of fey concept, I think it's only that -- another hipster concept. We're supposed to be getting in touch with our lizard brains in the wake of the attacks in 2001. We're supposed to be sort of backlashing into a state of worry-free bliss and revolting against the 'despotism of facts,' or whatever, but I think it's not really true for the majority of people into kid stuff. To me, the truth is that we're a nation who has fattened on the cult of youth, and we cannot let it go and grow up to save our lives. This is not to say that I ever plan to change my focus from YA fiction to anything else! But it is to say that I realize that time has passed, and I can still enjoy what I enjoy without trying to prolong some artificial childhood cool that I never even had.

Incidentally, I notice it's only the 'cool' kid stuff that's up for grabs. The uncool stuff still belongs to the uncool kids... stuff like books that don't have movies tie-ins! If you're really still more interested in reading young adult fiction than adult fiction, and you take weeks to get through adult novels, even a copy of Julie & Julia, even though it's fairly lightweight and a bestseller that has people talking... well, then your friends think you're just plain weird, and not hip at all. But you know? Así es la vida.

Man, I love it when someone else is ranting!
Today's feel-good rant comes from our friends at Book Buds, going off on the "floozies of the book world." Hee!!! Since I'm not a librarian, I don't quite share BB's angst on the same level, but let me tell you, books that flash and twinkle and glitter to attract readers -- and I mean people who can read, not toddlers who need something crinkly to fixate on while they gum the pages -- they really work my nerves. Why? Because one of the things I've learned in working on getting my novel (two, now are being read by the same editor. Huzzah!) to print is that writers are supposed to come up with all of these little gimcracky ideas as in a 'marketing plan' to help market their books...

Fact: I don't want to market crap to children. I don't believe in encouraging kids to think that they have to have money and spend money and have more stuff. I wish that there could simply be enough school and public and semi-private libraries where any kid or teen could check stuff out and read to their hearts' content. I mean, anyone remember adolescence? That time of life when you are flat broke and have a horrible babysitting job? The world seems to aggressively normalize that Other lifestyle, where every kid has various cool technologies, a cell phone, an iPod and they all know that if they're not Jimmy Choo's, they aren't shoes. When books come with tank tops, backpacks, commuter coffee cups (honestly -- that was Gingerbread -- a cute enough book, but pimping coffee mugs!?), colored rubber bracelets and more, it makes you wonder if someone's trying to cover up the fact that the book's... a dud. Anyway, I agree with BB - less consumerism, more good books!

Spooky YA author Laurie Faria Stolarz, together with Lara M. Zeises (say 'Lara' like 'Sarah') is teaching a very cool sounding online revision course called LEARNING THE LAYERS OF REVISION: A SIX WEEK ONLINE COURSE. Part of their 'Novelist's Toolbox' course, this class is going to end with each person getting an in-depth critique (by the instructors) of the first ten pages of your revised work-in-progress and working synopsis. How cool would it be to work with these award-winning authors? Though I haven't read much of the spooky stuff, I adore Lara M. Zeises' work, and this really sounds worth checking out. The course starts August 30, so you've got that fully back-to-school thing happening as well, and hey, you can get yourself a new lunchbox just so you feel in the mood! Six weeks to learn to actually understand and appreciate revision? Is this a message from the universe because I've been whining about editing? Could be...

Okay, I made a conscious decision not to have AC in my wee house, so that I could not be involved in global warming, blah blah blah. Plus, I live by water. I need AC maybe two days a year. Okay. The two days have just expanded to two weeks. It's so hot I feel guilty even having the computer on so - more anon...

July 13, 2006

"Fiction is the truth inside the lie." -Stephen King

Writing and waiting seems to be my entire world. I'm less writing right now than moving around blocks of words, playing Rubik's Cube with paragraphs. 'Edit' is such a clean and sharp-sounding word. Pity the reality is so messy.

The Books section of the Independent this weekend made me smile, with its rather good and snarky take on Children's lit: Guess what? it's not easy!

Now that writing a bestselling children's book has begun to edge out winning the National Lottery as the fantasy escape route of the stressed professional classes, a demonstrable truth stands in danger of neglect: that stories for children are just as difficult, if not more so, than stories for grown-ups, and not simply a refuge for dreamy adults who can't be bothered to write properly.
I'm so glad that someone recognizes the power of a well-written YA or children's book. Where would we all be without them? But to think that the writing is supposed to come easily? Hah.
Only someone who's never tried to wrestle fun and fancy into a few words for a picture book, or only someone who hasn't ever really tried to recapture the true voice of adolescence - strangled with pain, envy, impatience, anger and unspeakable joy - only those deluded souls think writing children's literature is easy, an instant path to success. The rest of us who know that writing is more like... life... know that it's not exactly impossibly difficult, but it's complicated, full of skidding and pulling and stumbling and coasting, as all true creation tends to be. As I try to keep my garden entirely clear of weeds, I remember that life breeds disorder. As I jumble together ingredients, I am reminded that eggs must break, milk must spill, dough must raise and be punched down before anything is finished. There are papercuts, nicked fingers and scalded wrists along the way. And so we persevere... and persevere...

"Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand -- a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods -- or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values." - Willa Cather

It's not really hard. I am not whining. I enjoy this. And I am not just saying so to convince myself. Really.

“Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow.” Mary Anne Radmacher
Someday I will look back on this madness in Edit Hell as a happy time. Until then, let's all say it together:

I will try again tomorrow.

Midnighters Again

Last December work started on bringing Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters series into serial television form. The Sci-Fi Channel News reported that the show might even have a Fall 2006 pilot ready. I'm ambivalent... seeing as how I hate most novels made into movies, could TV be much better? Well, with myriad episodes, maybe, just maybe, the medium of television can do these novels justice... but maybe not.

It's hard to review sequels, so allow me to summarize all of the Midnighter novels:

The first novel in the Scott Westerfeld's Midnighter series taught us what every Midnighter knows: that there are really 25 hours in a day. If you were born anytime between about 11:30PM and 1:30AM, you could be a midnighter, someone who takes advantage of that magical thirteenth hour, someone who is awake when all else in humanity is frozen and still. In the first novel, the Midnighters in Bixby find each other. At least, most of them do...

The second novel in the series explores why Midnight exists, and reveals the Midnighters learning who they are, and how their talents work together. Dess finds she protects the group best as a polymath, and thinks of multiple tridecalogisms with their thirteen-lettered power, creating weapons of will and intent in bright untarnished steel that do more damage to the Darklings than before. And Jessica Day, the new girl, is wanted fiercely... by someone. The Darklings? The weird old Seer? Who? And who is Jessica, anyway? Melissa uses her mindcasting skills to find out.

In Touching Darkness the danger is increased, as the Bixby Midnighters find themselves unprepared for the level of pain the Darkings are ready to inflict. Their Seer, Rex, is kidnapped and finds the Darklings have a way inside of him. Jonathan's acrobatic skills in the blue hour help save his life, but Melissa reaches inside of Jessica and Dess's minds to save him -- frightening them all, and maybe destroying some friendships and some minds for good.

Blue Noon, the third and final piece to the Midnighters trilogy, returns with Rex, Dess, Jessica, Jonathan and Melissa moving confidently through the frozen stillness of what Dess calls "the blue hour." Midnight isn't just a time to Dess, by defined by her mathematically, it's a place governed by laws and longitude and latitude. And these days, the blue hour isn't following the rules. Midnight has begun to arrive at seemingly random intervals -- noon one Monday, six a.m. one Sunday morning. Dess is baffled, and more than a little scared. Rex seems to know something... but he's not telling. The "slithers," the monstrous Darklings who prowl through that time to feed on human nightmares, are plotting something... something to gain control over the waking world. It might be that Rex knows what that is, too, but he's not telling, and for once, Melissa can't make him. It's got something to do with Jessica, the 'flame-bringer' according to the ancient lore. She's supposed to be there, but why? Jonathan's determined that nothing should happen to her -- and he really wishes nothing would change about the blue hour. But it is changing, and Bixby isn't safe anymore -- for anyone.

An open-ended conclusion to the Midnighters series, leaving room for further single adventures from Dess in a larger world that Bixby, and keeping its fast paced and nerve-wracking plot twists until the very end. Mostly satisfying, even as it fails to feed reader greed by tying up the ending nicely or promising sequels. Readers will hope it's not the end of the Midnighters for good!

A Market for Flesh

Scottish author Nicola Morgan's love of history and research produced Fleshmarket, a disturbingly vivid piece of historical fiction highlighting the early 19th century medical trade in Edinburgh. Pioneering surgeons often used hangman's corpses to practice their anatomy skills, and to teach their students. Many doctors found that their one-corpse-a-year allotment was not nearly enough, so they employed "Resurrection Men" who robbed fresh graves and brought back their decaying inhabitants to be used for teaching cadavers. Grave-robbing was a serious offense, and the public looked askance at doctors and medical things in general.

The Age of Enlightenment was upon the larger world, but it moved slowly among certain members of the medical community. Many believed that God brought pain to mankind to test them, and they treated the people with callous disregard as they practiced -- and the word "practice" meant that most doctors were still trying to perfect their work while charging their patients to act as guinea pigs. 19th century surgery was a rough science at best, and an inhumane butchery at worse, and at times it was difficult to separate the surgery from the butchery.

Young Robbie hears his mother's screams as her breast tumor is removed, but she stands and curtseys her thanks when the surgery is over, and dies five days later. Robbie's confusion, bitterness and grief only deepen through the years, as next fire destroys his father's business, forcing them into poverty. The father turns to alcohol and basically disappears from the plot, while Robbie plots to kill the surgeon who started the chain of bad luck, one Dr. Robert Knox.

Saddled with caring for his younger sister Essie, despondent over his father's absence and his mother's death, Robbie take stupid risks and makes worse choices in order to keep them housed and fed. The stench of the tenements, the watery broth upon which they subsist, the poxy faces and the corrupt and grasping hands of the poor are horrible and memorable. Morgan interweaves factual characters and incidences to create a believably dark tale reminiscent of Dickens, lacking only his satisfying conclusions and unconventional plot twists that make a good tale great. Until its tepid conclusion, this is an excellent snapshot of the unsteady beginnings of medical science as we know it today.

July 12, 2006

We interrupt this summer to say...

Hey! Fuse#8 pointed out that The 48 Hour Book Challenge was briefly featured on the School Library Journal. How cool is that? Thanks again Motherreader for a great idea. I feel I was a part of history... Maybe next year I'll actually do a better job of clearing the weekend and read a decent amount of books!

It's a quiet week on the book front. Secret Agent Man has "summer hours," as all of the houses do. No work on Fridays, lots of martini lunches... ahh, the good life. (Or something.) All a poor writer has to do is ... read ... (which I have been doing in volumes, and scaring my local librarians!)... AND, fortunately, write fun stuff without worries about edits! I'm looking forward with great excitement (okay, and also a little hysteria, it's the heat) to joining in the Flickr Fiction. You're invited to drop by my fiction blog Fridays and see all the stories. Mine will likely stick to the YA genre, but the others don't necessarily have genre limitations. It's an awesome chance to flex some underused flash fiction muscles and maybe get some story starters in the bargain. Join in!

Happy Wednesday!

ps - Hang in there, A.F. See you when its over...

July 10, 2006


Really, you've got to love a world where there are people crazy enough to pay $9,050 for a paperback, YA fantasy novel. I know the movie is going to be released this December (A good thing? A bad thing?) but poor Christopher Paolini's head just must be spinning at the amount bid for a first edition copy of Eragon. $9,050.

I've read the first two Paolini books, and I don't know... they were solid fantasy, but I'm just not as crazy about them as the surrounding hype seems to be. I was pleased that the author was young and coming from his own love of the genre to do it justice, but it's all just blown up so wildly it makes me a little nervous for him.

Fame. Fortune. Children's authorship.
Now, which one of these doesn't seem to belong?!

Truth and Consequences

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Annabel Greene looks like one of those "It" girls -- thin and pretty in a family of thin and pretty, with thin, pretty friends, and those ubiquitous "It"girl accesories: a 3.3 GPA (smart, but not too smart) a prestigious boyfriend and prospects for more. The appearance of being an "It" girl is furthered by Annabel's modeling jobs, one of which lands her on a back-to-school promotion from the Kopf's Department Store, which plays on TV's all over the state. But reality is rarely the same as appearances. Annabel is alone, broken and lonely. Her best friend deserted her in a confusing scene that now involves rumors and lies floating around her high school. Her family of 'thin and pretty' is now too thin -- her older sister Whitney has horrible anorexia, and her eldest sister has quit modeling for good -- which Annabel longs to do, but can Mom take it if someone in her family isn't actively working towards 'pretty?' Annabel has replaced being quiet for being truthful, which works out -- until she meets Owen, who is truthful to a frightening degree. He's also starting to get too close to what Annabel can allow him to know. She wants to be friends with someone real like that... but she can't.

Truth is a major thematic element in all of Sarah Dessen'swork, and this novel returns to that theme and happily resurrects some fun characters (and the hatred of Spinnerbait!) from her other novels. This novel made me laugh and cry and made me envious of all those good friendships which begin and end in truth. Dessen has channeled the magic again: pick it up, and Just Listen.

Friendship Through Better Plumbing

Ginny Forrester, Stan Claxton's best friend and up and coming tennis star is "in trouble" this summer. Her game is suffering, and Ginny's mom, Ginny's Dad, Ginny's coach, and Ginny's psychologist all want Stan to step in and help. Stan's willing, but he's got a busy summer ahead, hanging out with the guys and coaching the tennis runts at the rundown rec center in Seattle where he works. Still, Stan's always got time for Ginny. As a matter of fact, Stan's beginning to wonder what else he's got for Ginny.

Where's the line between 'best friends' and 'more than friends?' Between a stolen tennis racket, box seats at the ballet and The Whistling Toilets, seasoned YA author Randy Powell and his zany novel invites readers to enjoy Stan's crazy summer and find out.

Historical Fiction Too

Michelle Torrey writes of the disappointments and drama aboard the fleet of the famed Ferdinand Magellan as he strives to find a westbound route to the Far East, To the Edge of the World, for the kingdom of Spain.

This Portuguese explorer faced the antipathy of the Spaniards on his crew, harsh conditions of storms, extreme heat and cold lost ships and attempts at mutiny only to be done in by battling the enemies of a Filipino chief who was newly baptized as a Catholic, and who connivingly told Magellan that the neighboring tribe were enemies of good. The proselytizing mania that drove many of the Catholic 'conquistadors' to maim and pillage in the name of the Church proved to be Magellan's undoing; in trying to punish evil, he was killed in action, and many of his crew as well never returned to Spain.

Torrey attempts to put a comprehensible face on something her young readers may have previously struggled to understand, and mostly succeeds.

Around the World In...

There are people on earth with whom we become simply incredible. When we are with them, the fairy dust drifts off of them and shimmers onto us, and we believe we can do anything, be anyone. 17-year-old Ginny Blackstone's Aunt Peg was her magic maker, a woman in whose presence she shone. But now irrational, irresistible Peg is gone for good, and Ginny has to find out if she can bring magic to life on her own.

Peg's still helping, though. She's given Ginny 13 Little Blue Envelopes full of places to go and people to meet, from New York City to Edinburgh, to Amsterdam to Paris. But Ginny finds that magic's not predictable. In life, nothing is. Maybe that's the best lesson Aunt Peg could ever have taught her.

The cover might put you off a bit, but this is a fun and thoughtful trip through Europe and the Mediterranean with many of the dangers lessened and the bad smells diluted with charm. It struck me as a little unbelievable that Aunt Peg's envelopes made Ginny's parents surrender their daughter, as the instructions she left included the directive for her niece not to communicate with the U.S.! Apparently, this is a measure of a mother's trust in her despaired of, flaky 'artiste' sister, and one last thing she could do for her now that she was gone.

Another Child of the Night

Vivian isn't like all the other girls at her Maryland high school.
Correction: Vivian isn't like any of the girls at her Maryland high school.
That's because she's one of the loup-garoux, which is kind of like being part of a family, but is much more like being the member of a pack of wolves. Vivian does want the same things other girls want, however: acceptance, friends, and someone who knows all about her, but loves her anyway. Someone, preferably, outside of the pack, who have been a leaderless, infighting, squabbling mess since her father died and they had to leave their West Virginia home.

Viv thinks she's found someone to love in Aiden, a boy who writes poetry about werewolves, and is sweet and blind to Vivian's animal side. But the pack isn't happy -- not her immature and flirtatious mother, Esme, not her ex-boyfriend Rafe, not Gabe, the newest packleader, and her mother's former beau. Soon Vivian is in over her head, and then no one is happy, least of all Vivian herself.

Annette Curtis Klause has already sold the movie rights to Blood and Chocolate and Cynsations carries a great author interview with her.

July 07, 2006

The Maze

Greek mythology is full of lush imagery and strange, fickle characters. The lives of the gods of Greek myth can seem a little over the top, filled with incomprehensible rivalries and interwoven with history and myth. When when author Patrice Kindl wrote Lost in the Labyrinth, she had somewhat of a daunting task set before her. How could she illuminate Greek mythology and also create an easily accessible novel?

Kindl creates personalities for the faceless characters of traditional myths and makes Knossos and ancient Crete alive in readers' imaginations. The tragic tale of the Minotaur and Theseus, and the story of life in the maze brings this complex mythology to life.

Turning Back the Clock

Prolific and imaginative British author Diana Wynne-Jones is the undisputed queen of the fantastic. Her work inspires both small children and adults with tales of the charming, slightly crazed and magical. Many people are just getting familiar with her due to the popularity of Howl's Moving Castle an animated adaptation of her novel by the ever awesome Hayao Miyazaki.

Wynne-Jones manipulates plot and tension by mixing a little of the known with the unknown. In A Tale of Time City, we are immersed into the known: the chaotic exodus of London's children into the countryside during the eve of WWII. We are immediately drawn into Vivian Smith's worried mind as she clutches her possessions and strains to stay unmussed and still and clean on the journey to the unknown Cousin Marty. How awful, to be sent to a relative she doesn't know, in exchange for safety. And what about her Mum and Dad back in London? Vivian is full of worries, but never in her wildest concerns would strangers, believing she was some nefarious creature, turn up and steal her away -- to another dimension. Time City flowers as a place of ultimate strange futuristic marvels -- butter pies and low-grav belts, time ghosts and mechanized boats. But not all is different in the future. Deceitful people still exist, and things could go very wrong for everyone, if Vivian doesn't think what she can do to help. Time City is on the verge of collapse, and Vivian's got to get home!

An exciting and fun novel to find again after all this time. Wynne-Jones' work is timeless, suspensful and enjoyable.

Cinderella + Snow White + the Madwoman in the Attic

Once upon a time there was a fairytale that wasn't really about magic. It was about... science?!

Author Tracy Lynn combines traditional faery fare with the tale of a mad scientist, and produces ... kind of a madwoman in the attic, only she's in the lab. Snow escapes her evil stepmother's designs for her, with the help of the boy who holds the mirror for her and tells her she's beautiful. Really, all her stepmother ever wanted was a son and heir, and to be beautiful. The way she schemes to get these things is both surprising, and disturbing. quirky, unexpected tale, Snow discards conventional conclusions -- after all, the Duchess does not marry the Duke -- and the novel ends with a beginning -- the long sought "Happily Ever After" that makes every tale complete seems like it might just have a chance of happening for real.

Though I might have wished for more depth to the scientific portion, and more discussion of the impact of a woman scientist in a patriarchial kingdom, I realize this is a fairytale, after all. A quick, light, fun read.


Hey, remember awhile back when I blogged about Vamos A Cuba, the Cuban books that the Miami Dade school district tried to ban? Well, the news says they're safe... except now the Miami Herald reports political activists are trying to ban ANOTHER Cuban book.
What IS it with Dade County? Is it still the Elian thing?

For more aggravation, consider the Wilsona School District down in L.A., which has made the questionable decision to remove twenty-three books from all district library shelves. "Books now cannot depict drinking alcohol, smoking, drugs, sex, including "negative sexuality," implied or explicit nudity, cursing, violent crime or weapons, gambling, foul humor and "dark content."' Seriously. And if they don't completely remove the book, they're going to Wite-Out the "inappropriate word." (Kudos to Bookshelves of Doom for this.)

Imagine the library shelves! What's left will be riddled with invisible words. Imagine a world without Artemis Fowl. He's cheerfully negative, a criminal mastermind, is quite foully humorous and darkly content. Oh, whoops, I'm sure that's not what they meant... Apparently, PBS Kids' Clifford series has been wrong all along. The Big Red Dog is objectionable as well.

Imagine The Great Gilly Hopkins dotted with Wite-Out.
I imagine the kids reading it will just make up their own words.

You know, I grew up with parents severely opposed to fiction, so I sort of understand that people can mean well when they want you to just concentrate on things that are true and real. (I'm trying, anyway. Work with me, here.) But reality -- which is what drinking, drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc. is -- as depicted in children's fiction is important. It's important that young people see that some people live the same way they do, and deal with the same things. Equally crucial is the realization that other people live in other ways, and that if a reader chooses to live their life differently when they grow up, it's possible. That's truth. How can anyone honestly object to that?

Rarely do I read a book where potentially kid-unfriendly topics are discussed carelessly. If the Wilsona School District wanted to find some specific books that they felt discussed these topics in a controversial way, and put some kind of warning note on the inside cover like "If you don't understand what you're reading, talk to your teacher, or Mom or Dad," that would be one thing -- a big something, actually, because it's hard for me to even see that as something I'd want done to my book, but I understand that some school librarians feel that they've got that responsibility because they're part of a school. But, them trying to make a judgment call about the maturity and the needs of an entire district, and what they should be exposed to in the world... they're making themselves far more important to the lives and the moral development of the children in their district than they really are.

AND, I must ask again: Has everyone on that board read every book they're removing or vandalizing? Of course not.


July 06, 2006

A Perfect Daughter, Everywhere Except Inside

Wait for Me, by An Na, is wrenching novel about priorities, the past, selfishness and love.

Mina's mother wants her to be perfect: a genius with the Best Grades, going to the Best College, marrying the Best Husband, and having the Best Life. A star-spangled happily-ever-after would be the best, in her eyes, to make up for her own less than illustrious life. But Mina's not the girl her Uhmma hopes for her to be. She can't take anymore of her mother's tirades against her father, her cool disdain of her little sister, Suma, whose hearing aid and sleepwalking only make matters worse. Mina's life is a house of cards about to collapse. She's lying, stealing, using people and scheming: she's getting out. What's holding her back is her little sister. She won't ever survive her cruel mother alone. But what can Mina do?

Suma, albeit blindly, senses the drift of her sister's pain. Something isn't right, she knows, but she feels flawed and helpless against it. She's trying so hard to grow up, trying to have her own voice and be an individual, but she was a sickly baby, and a miserably scrawny child, and it's so hard to even get her mother to look at her. She feels Mina drifting away, but what can she do?

The young musician with the soulful eyes walks into the fragile balance of Mina and Suma's life, and everything implodes. Mina knows what her mother wants from her, what Suma needs. But what does Mina want?

The Ghosts in the Closet of Latin America

Marta adores her father Don Miguel Maldonado -- loves him, with his highly emotional political diatribes, with his eloquent speeches against the General, with his cluster of male friends who lend an aura of mystery to their home, arriving by nightfall, talking animatedly, ruling her world. The government will change someday, Marta's father tells her, but until then, she, her brother Ricardo and her mother must go. It isn't safe to be a journalist in Latin America in 1955, especially a journalist whose newspaper has been closed by a military junta, but who still manages to print from an underground press. The family withdraws all the rest of their dwindling funds from the bank, and decides to immigrate.

Escape to Costa Rica seems like a prudent idea -- but the escape is cut short. Instead of freedom, Marta and her family endure exile in the mountains -- damp and cold, in a freezing hut made of stone. No doctors, no medicine, no mercy. Marta's father, who has a chronic pulmonary disease, is being slowly worn down into death. And what good are his words now?

Tense, fraught and painful, this is the history of Latin America. It could be any country, that isn't specified by name, but the history of political outrages, the deaths and disappearances are all the same. Winner of the 1989 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, The Honorable Prison brings the images of war-torn countries on the news into harsh and real life.


Mental illness isn't the usual topic of YA novels, but through the years it has slowly begun to lose its stigma. How All This Started, by Montana author Pete Fromm is the painfully realistic story of Austin and his idolized and bipolar sister, Abilene.

Austin and Abilene know that they are love children, conceived during their parents' six year anniversary jaunt through the U.S. But once they had children, their parents settled down... and in Austin's mind, just settled, living out on the fringe of the desert in a stark and blasted landscape. There's nothing else to do but play baseball, and Abilene is the best pitcher anyone in their little town has ever seen. But Abilene's goal is to make her brother even better -- a fireballer like Nolan Ryan. She's obsessed with it... and she's pushing herself and her brother out onto the edge.

Austin loves his "Ab'lene," but can he follow where she's leading him? Depicting a complex and painful love between a brother and sister, this novel will leave you a little bruised, but the triumph is well worth the ride.

Ideas sleeting through the Universe

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.
- Euripides (484 BC - 406 BC).

...or, they make a writer.

And you know you're a writer when you wake up at two-thirty a.m. with the entire first chapter to a new novel in your head and you find yourself lying down on the floor of your office with a pad of graph paper, writing longhand by moonlight, and when someone tries to hand you a flashlight or ask what you're doing, all you can manage is an urgent "Shh! Shh!" as you write as fast as you can, practically with eyes closed, trying desperately to capture the fragments before they go skittering off into the landscape.

One of my favorite fictional characters is Leonard of Quirm, a Terry Pratchett invention who is a Renaissance man based on the actual Leonardo di Vinci. He is a dabbler in many arts, he paints, he draws, he engineers in his sleep. Even his doodles have doodles on them, in the margins, with numbered parts for siege engines and other nonsense that he would never want invented, because they might hurt someone. But ideas are always sleeting through the universe into Leonard's head, and he can't stop inventing to save his life. He's a nut, of course. He's been put away in a nice safe house where he can't hurt anyone. But he lives the life of the mind, so as long as there are birds to watch, he doesn't notice.
Parallels, anyone?

In answer to the next question: sixteen pages. Medium print, actually sort of legible. (I wore my glasses. I used to try to capture the dreamspace by not wearing my glasses. Legible is definitely better than 'authentic dreaming.') And no, I couldn't go back to sleep.

It's a good thing someone else around here has a day job. And, mind you, I'm not complaining, but why does this always happen when I'm working on something else?! Oh well... maybe it's my subconscious promising me that I won't be in Edit Hell forever... eventually I'll get out, and then there will be more stories to create and enjoy. Cheers! And keep writing, good people. May your sleep be filled with dreams.

July 05, 2006

Random Giddiness

Total timewaster: A Fuse #8 Production discovered this highly amusing and pointless book quiz. Which character are you most like? Just so you know...

I'm To Kill a Mockingbird!
by Harper Lee

Perceived as a revolutionary and groundbreaking person, you have changed the minds of many people. While questioning the authority around you, you've also taken a significant amount of flack. But you've had the admirable guts to persevere. There's a weird guy in the neighborhood using dubious means to protect you, but you're pretty sure it's worth it in the end. In the end, it remains unclear to you whether finches and mockingbirds get along in real life.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Hm. This is actually kind of cool, in a no-that's-only-me-in-my-dreams kind of way.

Last week's big news was that "that Rowling woman" (as many writers call her, crossly) has announced that she's going to kill off yet more characters. Now, normally we all strive to keep this a Harry-free zone, but I have to say this: That bites. No, nothing to do with ye olde elusive kernel of hope. More to do with my original complaint about the entire series -- is not one adult in the whole of England competent? Muggle or no, the whole of Hogwarts Academy is surrounded by idiots. No wonder the children will never grow to adulthood, what's the bloody point!? May as well die fighting "pure evil" (as per Rowling) than grow up to be vaguely menacing or well meaning but bumbling. The whole lot of them crosses my eyes. I read each episode faithfully, because I can rarely start a series without finishing it, but I wager there will never be another Harry novel as good as the first one... the cool-plot-twists-per-page gimmick is fighting mightily against solidly-character-driven-prose and winning, because the characters are just not as clearly defined anymore. As a reader, I feel really manipulated by the plot for some reason. Never mind -- if announcing more deaths keeps Rowling readers riveted, it's a great marketing ploy, and I wish her luck as she wrestles this huge beast to a conclusion... I just hope the books don't keep getting longer!

More YA Brit-Lit news is that the eagerly awaited Pullman movies (well, eagerly awaited by some, you know how I am about movies vs. novels) will begin shooting on schedule. The Guardian reports that after technical difficulties and some casting about for cast members, they've found an unknown to play Lyra, and things are on a roll. Okay, if an adventure novel has to be made into a movie, His Dark Materials is actually a great choice.

In other movie news, Bookmoot reports that one of my fave old Sci-fi novels, Robert Heinlen's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, is also due to be made into a movie. Heinlen, if you'll recall, is famous for that YA novel which led to the horrible movie Starship Troopers, a fine example of why a novel sometimes should just be... a novel.

And finally, some sad news: Awhile back I reported on some great new old fashioned sci-fi publishing going on. Jim Baen's Universe was going back to the old tried and true way of publishing science fiction -- by giving unknown writers a chance. The L.A. Times reported today that Baen died of a massive stroke this past Wednesday. I understand that the magazine will carry on, as will his goals of reviving science fiction and fantasy as a vibrant and boundary-pushing genre, and opening the Web to ebooks and freebies. A man of grand ideas and fierce loyalties to his readers and writers at Baen Books, Jim Baen's point of view will surely be missed.