January 29, 2007

Monday News

While driving around today running various non-writing-related errands, I found my mind drawn fortuitously back to the written word by good old NPR--don't miss this great little interview with M.T. Anderson about his latest book, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, courtesy of News and Notes (a program I LOVE, by the way--Farai Chideya is an awesome host).

The Horn Book's website has a list of Recommended Books about South Asia that includes books primarily for younger readers. I'm a little disturbed at how short the list is--I can think of at least a couple more books offhand--and I wonder why it doesn't include any titles for older readers; but it's certainly a start.

Looking for some inspiration this summer? The Oregon Coast Children's Book Writer's Workshop will take place July 16 - 20, 2007, in Oceanside, Oregon. The price is relatively reasonable, and instructors will include a range of writers and literary types, including David Greenberg, Patricia Hermes, Mel Boring, Judy O'Malley of Charlesbridge Publishing, and Susan Cohen of Writers House.

January 26, 2007

A Profusion of Prizes

I can't keep up.

This is thought that is mostly rambling and unfinished, but it's something I think about often: Those of us in Children's lit kvetch about the small amount of notice children and young adult literature gets from the outside media (unless it's a Potter book), but it still seems to me that there are so many awards given out that I can't keep up. I know about the Scott O'dell, because I've seen the stickers on books, and I know that award goes to an historical fiction novel like Island of the Blue Dolphins, the work of historical fiction by Scott O'Dell. I know the ALA has an award for a work by a person of Latin ancestry, the Pura Belpré, although I've yet to see that as a sticker on a book. (And that could just be what books I read).

Since grad school, my awareness of awards has increased. Or, it seems the list of awards has grown... A Whitbread (now Costa) Book Award. The Bank Street Books. The Boston Globe- Horn Book Award, umpteen-hundred regional book awards, and now the Waterstone Children's Book Prize, which is meant to recognize new authors and alert young people to new books.

Um. Aren't all awards meant to do that?

In all likelihood, I've never heard of the Waterstone's 's because it's a UK award, as is the Nestlé Children's Book Prize. Probably me having heard of it isn't the point anyway -- As long as it's an award and someone can win a bit of recognition from their peers... (at Nestlé?), maybe that's all that matters. Certainly writers can't be looking for actual deep meaning in winning an award... or, rather I should say, no deep meaning other than "these six people really loved your book." As I learned so well doing the Cybils, awards are based on the opinion of ONE group of people, not the value of your work as decided by all people. (I know I said that badly, but I'm sick of trying to parse that sentence correctly. Moving on.) The nominations we received were wildly varying -- from books that I felt had little or no value, to multiple books having so much value that it was well nigh impossible to narrow the list down and say "THIS ONE is best." (And again, good luck with that, Cybils Judges! Feb. 14th is approaching at a fast clip!) Perhaps in the end it comes down to the old argument about myriad award stickers on a book that makes it a worthy read to someone else... Sticker = Shiny Gold Seal of Approval (from someone, anyway) = more readers. Understand I have nothing but positive feelings toward book award winners, but I do think that win or lose, the awards are based on the opinions of a just one group. It's impossible to determine absolute value of one's writing from an award...

Via Cynsations, read a piece by Institute of Children's Lit writer Jan Fields on how to maintain tension in a story, and not write in a way that can be described as "slight." That's not a criticism I've ever heard, but if you find that you or your character is avoiding conflict, the word 'slight' can be very apt!

I've just discovered Wordy Girls, the blog of four women, one of whose award-winning book, Hugging the Rock is sitting on my bedside table. It's nice to discover the blogs of writers and to know that often, all of us waste time most shockingly. (Not referring to Wordy Girls in particular at all, please note.) So, I close with the writing blogger's creed du jour:

"As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Having anybody watching that or attempting to share it with me would be grisly."
~ Paul Rudnick

Back to staring at my keyboard.

That One Question, Finally Asked

Last night, a person whom I always think of as a "merry auld grig" (One of my fave Dickensonian words) asked me The Question that nobody has asked -- not my mother, not my father, not my curious siblings, not my writing group.

The question? "So, how much was your advance?"

I had a good giggle that he was the one who asked me. I mean, that came entirely out of left field. I had a little mental pool going about who would ask first that didn't even include him. I assumed it would be a family member, someone like my father, who has never thought that I had a real job (Of course, like many people, he's also got quite a short attention span, so I haven't actually bothered to tell him that I've sold a book... I'll show it to him, in 2008, when he can hold it in his hand, and that will be enough notice for him. And then he'll ask, "How much...?"), or my eldest sister, who is, well... forthright. (Otherwise known as nosy). But I'm glad someone asked, actually.

Not that the dollar amount is the point. The reality is that no matter how much your agent negotiates for, your advance is an advance amount on money that YOU are going to earn. It's a payment against anticipated royalties, and, in a way, it's a statement of faith, which explains why JK Rowling received an amount roughly equivalent to $4,000 U.S. (£1500 - £3000 are the amounts I found with some judicious searching), and the gentle suggestion that she keep her day job. Her editors at Bloomsbury UK weren't convinced she could make a living from writing books. Of course, that explanation doesn't always work... because it begs the question of what it means that Kaavya Viswanathan received $500K for a pair of books she hadn't yet written. Little, Brown, & Co. apparently either believed that Kaavya was going to be writing bestsellers forever, or that she was a one-time flash in the pan, and that they'd best pay her off and be done with her.

Anyway. I hadn't ever really given advances much thought, and I smile now to think how much time S.A.M. spent earnestly trying to elucidate to me the vagaries of royalties ("Okay - you get half the money after contracts, and the other half after you do exactly what she wants in the editorial letter, all right?") and what it means to receive money. He was disappointed that my advance wasn't bigger, but I'm okay with what I have... because again, to what do I have to compare the amount? Nada. Maybe I'll get snotty about it later, but I really can't see that happening. If you're trying to write for a living? Honey, just about ANY amount is good.

So to answer The Question? Thanks for asking, the amount is ... just enough for me.

January 24, 2007

MidWeek Blog Bites

Periodically, I rail about the invisible existence of good books for boys, and while I am a great lover of Guys Read there are precious few places to point people on the lookout for the best in male protagonists, etc. Meanwhile, Guardian UK blogger Tom Kelly takes issue with what is offered to boys. Adventure novels, he asserts, aren't all they're cracked up to be. In resurrecting the "Great Adventure Novel," Kelly believes writer are also trying to resurrect a world that no longer exists; one that is predominantly and powerfully white and male, where evil is foreigners, and where a Cold War attitude remains. Or is this just a version of reality?

Via Locus, we hear that Shiny Things, the new YA webzine which is going live in August, is now open to submissions. If nothing else, you've got to love the name. Don't all of us magpies love shiny things?

The CBC reports that Canadian children's author Robert Munsch, a man who receives upwards of two thousand speaking requests a year, created a video conference school visit for a group of First Nations students who had requested that he visit their school for two years in a row. Caring deeply about all of his readers, even those in remote areas, Munsch created the expenses-free "visit" for students at Eel Ground School, and two other First Nations schools, Metepenagiag in Red Bank and Elsipogtog. (Only Canadians know how to pronounce those, and where they are.) Mr. Munsch, who wrote Love You Forever, has convinced these three schools that he really does love kids.

PaperTigers interviews loner Deborah Ellis, author of one of my favorite books, The Breadwinner, and many more. Her interview and her life are entirely intriguing to me.

Ooh! If you're anywhere near the Central Valley (of California, that is), you may want to check out what's going on at the Arne Nixon Center in March! Sharon Creech, Walter Dean Myers, Sarah Weeks, and Avi, four popular and critically acclaimed authors, have joined together to form A.R.T., Authors Reader's Theatre, which will be reading/performing on March 2. "An Evening with Lemony Snicket" is scheduled for March 27th. Check it out!

January 23, 2007

Obsessions, Links, and News Bits

Okay, so I was reading TadMack's post below about obsessing over one's signature (which I often do when signing an edition of prints--it gets tiresome after #10 or so, believe me, especially when I start thinking about how most of them will never get purchased) and I realized that my personal book-related obsession these days is author photos and jacket bios. One of my favorite author photos is one of Carol Plum-Ucci's, which looks sort of like this only she's lounging on some stairs with a cup of coffee looking like a cranky writer up too early. I actually get sort of annoyed when there isn't an author photo or at least an informative bio. In my head I plan out what sort of author photo I'd want to have, and what I'd write in my bio; I debate whether I will keep with my current plan of having a byline of S.J. Stevenson instead of my full name, and how much information to release to my reading public. Of course, this is contingent on having something book-length actually published. I'm still working on that...

I found a couple of fun links for library lovers. I mean lovers of libraries, not lovers IN libraries, although they too may feel free to enjoy these links. Firstly, there's LibraryThing, where you can catalog up to 200 of your books for free and see what other users share your literary tastes, and what else they're reading. You can feel free to look at my page, but it's so far empty because I can't figure out whether I'm "allowed" to catalog books I checked out of the library or otherwise borrowed, or if it's supposed to only pertain to books I actually OWN...

Another link, which I just now randomly found while looking for that author photo of Carol Plum-Ucci, is Literature-Map, which claims to be "the tourist map of literature." If you enter an author's name, it will show you a graphical "map" of other authors which are supposedly similar to that author. The closer on the map another author is to the one you entered, the more similar they are and the more likely a reader is to enjoy both authors. It's a cute little diversion. It's part of a site called Gnod (don't even THINK about spelling it backwards), which has similar doohickeys for movies and music. Fun distractions.

A few news bits:

  • Can't remember if this was already posted here ages ago, but apparently, if I want to catch a publisher's eye, all I need to do is write fan fiction and post it online. Um, yeah...I'll get right on that.

  • I can't wait for this Maurice Sendak pop-up book. Did you know I sent out Where the Wild Things Are holiday cards this year? Yup, found 'em at B&N. Or maybe Borders.

  • 2006 nominations for the Carnegie and Greenaway medals were announced a while back; among the nominees is Eric Schlosser's version of Fast Food Nation for younger readers.

  • I also keep forgetting to toot a horn for The Edge of the Forest, which is silly, since I contributed two reviews this month and one last month. This time around, you can find me in Middle Grade and Graphic Novels. Also, if you've been enjoying the exchanges we've been having about book covers, check out Little Willow's great feature on "Judging the Cover."


This morning I found that I didn't know how to sign my own name.

That's always a disconcerting discovery, no? Lo, these many years of flinging off my breezy (and thoroughly indecipherable) signature, now I find it takes... thought. I was squinting over the swoops, and studying the loops.

It was ... alarming.

Normally, you never look at your signature, unless you're buying something and you've got one of those clerks who scrutinize the back of your debit card to make sure you're you (I seem to get that a lot), or you have a particularly scary librarian (as I also used to get a lot) who doesn't believe you live where you live, when you've just moved and you're dying to just FIND A BOOK TO READ to make all the evil of boxes and moving vans and unpacked linen closets GO AWAY for just awhile...!


But I digress..
I am only obsessing over my signature because I was required to sign four separate book contracts for RH. And initial in various places. And sign my full name. Oh -- and read the whole thing. There is nothing like starting your day by reading lawyer-ese. It's pretty much enough to ruin your appetite. For a minute or two, anyway.
As of this morning, I loathe my signature, I really do. Maybe it was the pen... but something wasn't right. And it's not like a cheque, you can't just -- rip it up and say VOID and start over again. That's a surefire way to start things off on completely the wrong foot with the lawyers at a publishing house, tearing up the contracts they've been fiddling with since OCTOBER (and which were delayed at the last minute on Friday because Secret Agent Man emailed to say he'd found errors. There are a lot of things crossed out on this contract [which is apparently common], which give the contracts an air of being a skirmishing ground, where a war of words was fought with black ink. Go, S.A.M.!). I think not only would the lawyers be skeeved out, my agent would be ready to hang me out to dry, too. We've both been waiting so long for this whole thing to come together.

On the whole, I am pleased with my contract. (It's not like I have much to compare it to -- duh!) I find that I have retained rights I never knew I had (Thanks to S.A.M., who really does do his job); should I decide my novel needs licensed stationery sold with it, or calendars... well, should I actually do that, somebody find me and smack me (I'm talking to you, a. fortis), but hey, options, people. That's what agents and contracts are all about.

Should anyone need me, I'll be scribbling with a black crayon, practicing my book-signing moves.


Happy With a Smiley!

I love the cover of this novel so much, and the fact that the title has an exclamation point! That, to me, signals wryness and a fine edge of sarcasm and snark, which are three of my favorite things to find in a novel. Gail Gauthier's Happy Kid! doesn't disappoint.

Kyle has a tiny problem with negativity -- or so his mother thinks. It all started the time a little incident with the bus and a screwdriver got all blown out of proportion -- in front of everybody -- and things just got worse when Kyle was accidentally placed in accelerated classes, and lost all of his friends. Kyle just wants to make it through school without anyone looking at him, but his mother -- a counselor -- feels like there's more to life than just waiting for the sky to fall. She very annoyingly requests that he reads Happy Kid: A Young Person's Guide to Satisfying Relationships and a Happy and Meaning-filled Life, claiming the book just screamed his name when she saw it -- in a discount store. Only when she offers to pay him does Kyle break down and decide to read the book. But the book has ideas of its own... it won't let him read forward until he follows its advice. And the book's advice lands Kyle in some situations that only grow worse.

Its fast-paced zingers, great dialogue and truisms of the daily woes of middle school will make this book a favorite, and leave you smiling.

No Plain Jane: Good Girls to the Rescue

Jane Jarvis is kind of ... prickly. She's small and short, whip-smart and cranky about the slow-boat life she leads at St. Teresa's Preparatory School for Girls in Providence, RI. Because she's got that Senior-itis bug (and she's recovering from a broken heart), Jane's gotten a reputation with her teachers for being kind of ...oppositional (That "crypto-fascist"comment to one of the Fathers who teaches religion? Um... maybe a mistake?). But she's got a soft spot for her best friend, Allison Concord, who is a crazy, funny person who sometimes freaks out a bit and comes on too strong. Jane would do anything to protect Ally, and she does, even flagrantly breaking a silly school rule to get people to stop staring at Ally the day she throws up all over a freshman girl. Jane is always in Ally's corner, until one day it seems that Ally doesn't need her. She's got everything -- good posture, good hair, good clothes and a new friend in her "Little;" the freshman who has chosen her to be her Big -- her Senior buddy. Why does she need prickly, cranky Jane - who didn't even score her own Little -- anymore?

Well... it's because she's sold her soul. To this girl at school... who is... um... an agent of evil. Her Little, Lanalee? Is kind of ... er, the devil.
Ally needs Jane's help like never before.

With stalking freshman boys from St. Sebastian's, freak hailstorms, creaky, cranky nuns, completely clueless priests and self-igniting history books Devilish is way creepier that I expected, but hilarious as well in that familiar, well-crafted, snarky Maureen Johnson style. A quick read - but you'll want to leave the lights on!


Surely you must hear my not-so-silent screams... The Book Standard reports that JENNA BUSH is shopping a YA book.

Oh, please, God. Please. Make it STOP.

Meanwhile, high congratulations to Sharon Draper for winning the Coretta Scott King Award with Copper Sun, which I haven't yet read, but at least I've seen and heard of, unlike the Newbery winner...

Every once in awhile I pop over to Dooce, the website of Heather B. Armstrong, the woman who blogged a bit too freely (in a completely anonymous way) about her work life, and ended up... fired. Writer's Digest spoke recently about the same thing, as a reminder to savvy writers -- Your blog is not your home, and there are ears -- eyes -- who walk freely through your doors, and -- as you hope, read your words. This might give you pause as you chat about your agent, your editor, your hopes for a work being published. Especially about someone else's work, it's sometimes a positive thing to err on the side of caution... I've been pleasantly (thus far) surprised by the number of author comments I've gotten when reviewing books. Even the great Jane Yolen does what she calls "ego-scanning" and finds out what people are saying about her -- and cares what they say.

I guess everybody really does want to be liked.

Life is But a Dream

This book was a nominee for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

I wish I could express to you just how great it was being in that coma. It's like I lived a different life on a different world as real as the one we all live in.

Though I wasn't a regular reader of the Hernandez brothers' series Love & Rockets, it was definitely one of the more popular comics when I was a teenager, with a very distinctive visual style. So, I was intrigued and eager to read Gilbert Hernandez's Sloth, his first original graphic novel.

Depressed and enervated by small-town life among the lemon orchards which always gave him nightmares as a child, Miguel gradually just drifts inside himself and slips into a mysterious coma. It's his way of coping, and, rather perversely, it's what keeps him sane. He hasn't had an easy life—he was raised by his grandparents after his parents abandoned him as a child.

One day, just as mysteriously as he fell into the coma, he awakens—exactly a year later. Miguel must reconcile himself to living in the small town surrounded by lemon orchards that have been the stuff of urban legends and scary cautionary stories; he must once again get to know his friends, his bandmates, and his girlfriend Lita; and all the while, he must cope with the strange slowness that is the lasting legacy of his coma.

But things have changed during his year of unconsciousness, in ways he can't quite grasp. What is the exact nature of the relationship between his girlfriend Lita and his best friend Romeo? Can their band stay together now that Miguel is…a little different? What about the urban legends about the goatman who supposedly lives in the lemon orchards and is reputedly able to switch places—switch souls—with someone through sheer willpower?

This whole book has a very dreamlike, slightly creepy atmosphere; the story is enigmatic and the black-and-white line art is crisp and stark. According to a quote on the cover by Publishers Weekly, Hernandez has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez; this isn't a bad comparison, since Sloth has qualities of magical realism, of strange possibilities that can't be explained. To be honest, there were times during my reading of this book that I really wasn't sure what exactly was going on, and I was left unsure what actually happened. The story seems to pose the question What IS the "real" world, and is it necessarily static, or can it be changed by sheer willpower? This is another idiosyncratic and original contribution to the comics world from Vertigo Comics, and I hope to see more work from Hernandez in the future.

January 22, 2007

Silver Lining

Just was jolted out of my whining, sneezing, wheezing state by opening the mail.

Some karmic comebacks going on here. After such an awful weekend, today I just felt like I wanted to be able to limit my drug intake (to one per four hours per drug), and stop cursing all blooming trees (Junipers? I'm talking to you.) and maybe clear the cotton out of my brain and perhaps still the tremors in my hands long enough to write. Instead, I hear not just good news, but great news -- many of the books I loved were voted on and honored -- Hattie and Rules and The Book Thief were Newbery Honors, and a Printz Award went to American Born Chinese! -- which raises the bar for not only graphic novels, but cultural awareness in novels in general, and promotes being who you are in a funny, thoughtful and really well-drawn way. A further honor went to John Green's stylishly jacketed An Abundance of Katherines, which is a book I really liked a whole lot. It's indescribable, and if you haven't read it yet, do. (I can't wait to dig into the works of the other honorees and winners, some of which I had never heard of previously!)

Though I was quite pleased for the success of these books, it was a busy weekend filled with unpleasant hives and equally unpleasant people, so my Monday has been spent avoiding sharp edges and loud words. When I picked up my mail, I was a little nonplussed. A big envelope... what now? And then I opened it and read the words:

Random House Children's Books
AGREEMENT made this___ day of ____2007, between TadMack ("Author") and Random House Children's Books, a Division of Random House ("Publisher"); The parties to this Agreement wish to publish and have published a certain work (the "Work") provisionally entitled...

And then suddenly, my evening sort of took a turn for the better.

January 19, 2007

Comics for All Ages

Although Big Fat Little Lit wasn’t part of the graphic novel nominations for the 2006 Cybil Awards, we’re still in a comics kind of mood here at Readers’ Rants. Edited by Art Spiegelman (of Maus fame) and Françoise Mouly, co-founder with Spiegelman of RAW Comics, this collection of kid-friendly comic shorts is good, clean, all-ages fun.

This treasury is nothing if not varied, containing everything from jokes to visual puzzles to retellings of fairy tales. What might surprise older readers who pick it up are some of the big names—in comics, writing, and illustration—who have contributed: Maurice Sendak, David Macaulay, Lemony Snicket, Jules Feiffer, Patrick McDonnell, Daniel Clowes, Walt Kelly, Neil Gaiman, Gahan Wilson, J. Otto Seibold, and David Sedaris, to name several, not to mention Art Spiegelman himself. It’s like a who’s who list.

The writer-artist pairings have resulted in some unique collaborations—for instance, Gahan Wilson’s disturbingly visceral, toothy drawing style is a good fit for a quirky, dark, but endearing tale by Neil Gaiman. And it’s great to see artists and authors who usually write for an adult audience creating work for younger readers—Daniel Clowes, for instance, or David Sedaris.

But the appeal for younger readers will be in the variety of styles and stories; the unique, creative, and interactive puzzles; and the re-readability of this charming collection. The "It Was a Dark and Silly Night" stories are especially appealing. The humor is gentle and reminds me of the sort of comics and puzzles found in Highlights magazine, only it’s full-color and just a bit edgier and more modern. Culled from their three bestselling comic collections, this best-of is a great choice for comix conoisseurs, especially those with small children.

January 17, 2007

Books Bounding Forward

A huge thank-you to Book Moot for aiming me toward a really fascinating new thing --
digital storytelling. I KNEW I was not being unreasonable when I had a huge argument with my agent about digital rights. Many publishing companies are not leaving them with the author, but instead of capitalizing on them, they're sitting on them. Perhaps e-Books aren't huge news for children's and YA fiction (which is what I was told -- "Nobody is doing anything with ePublishing in children's books."), but there's definitely something there... potential, I believe it's called. Anyway, do check out inanimate alice, an online serial children's/YA story told with interactive media (Alice ages a bit each episode, and she'll end at age 20). It's a fast-paced, mysterious story, and the pictures and sounds support the text. It's thoroughly absorbing, as good as having your own little movie, or, since it's interactive, your own little game.

Want to get a fix on what digital books can do for beginning or non-readers? See Jean Gralley's Books Unbound, which capitalizes on the possibilities for picture books, and read her thoughts that were first published in Horn Book Magazine this month last year. I'm a bibliophile and I love the texture and smells of paper, but I am eager to see where this new medium takes us.

January 16, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture, II

Thanks to sharp-eyed Sara for sparking these thoughts...

Our Cybils team scrutinized and dissected novel covers more than I usually do, and since on average I don't spend time judging books by their covers (but I do judge them by their flyleaf copy -- and if it's too detailed or too flippant and tries to strike a stylistic tone -- ugh, I put it down, which is unfair of me, I know) unless their covers really stand out, so it was a new thought to me how much cover art can really make a difference to who you get as readers. Our team additionally found that covers in the YA world tend to be pretty similar, (as did Fuse#8), and to follow trends. But using the same model, to me, seem to be a bit... much. Surely we're not all out of cover ideas -- or models -- this early in the millennium?! Fortunately, though this same model was used on the Review Copy cover of Angel's Choice that I received, I understand that the powers that be changed the cover for the actual publication copy that went out to readers. Since both novels may actually appeal to the same group of readers, this was a smarter move, I think.

Since I tend to find my books in smaller bookstores (and usually head straight for whatever I'm looking for), the display copies are sort of ...well, invisible to me. (As I say this I realize I'm a bookseller's worst nightmare - a focused shopper. Aaargh!) The books I actually notice displayed for YA readers have a definite... well, slant to them. They're either in candy (or is it CUPCAKE or POPSICLE) shades, like the ubiquitous "chick lit" and they look like they're all written for girls.

I wonder, sometimes, why... Good books like Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) or An Abundance of Katherines are likely overlooked because of their covers. I absolutely love the cover Gail Gautier's Happy Kid, and I think the cover of Kiki Strike is awesome - just random enough to leave out a hook for anyone, but artistically relevant. Both of those books are geared to the middle grade set(correct me if I'm wrong on Happy Kid.) - so maybe that's where the breakdown in covers occurs? People often talk about young adult boys not reading... I'm not sure if anyone is actually marketing books in their general direction... the girls are already reading, so why skew everything their way?

As my publication experience grows, I look forward to seeing just how hard or aggravating it is for authors to deal with the novel cover selection process. One of my MFA profs said told that we as newly fledged authors would have no say in how our covers appeared, for at least our first several novels. He had at that point three in print, and only had gotten his say because he'd a.) taken a business course and b.) presented his professional opinion after begging to sit in on a publication meeting. They listened to him, he said, because he'd gone the extra mile to prepare something. And to humor him. YA/Children's Lit might be different. Here's hoping... If they're open to it, when I am famous, I'm going to bug A.Fortis into designing my cover for me. (A.F., you have lots and lots of time to prepare.)

And now for something on the more random side of life: if you're really keen to get into the marketing nuts and bolts of your novel, you can start by building your ideal male (an amusing promo for Anatomy of a Boyfriend), or just design a cover for that steamy romance novel you've been dying to write.

Oh, stop, you know you have one stashed somewhere. Cheers!

Peering Into the Winner's Circle

This just in: the newest Edge of the Forest is up and out, and features a great piece on cover art... since finding out that the cover art for the Little House series is in transit, and after finding how cover art really impacts my assumptions about YA fiction, I found this especially interesting. Also great is the round-up of historical fiction, and the realization that for once, I've read most of the books everyone is talking about! (Yay, Cybils!) Head on over and enjoy!

After serving on the Cybils YA team, I have thought more and more about the process whereby we come up with "winners" in children's books, and whether the process is really inclusive and reflective of all of the best books out there.

To be quite blunt, I've never thought that the major ALA awards did the majority of books justice. One of the reasons for this is that in grad school, many of the books we studied were award winners, and there was a marked lack of ... diversity in these books. Even books about characters of certain ethnicities were generally written by Caucasian authors. In the end, it was an overall combination of my contempt for my professor's YA lit choices (sorry, KR), and generalized contempt for the awards themselves. Serving on the Cybils team gave me a great new compassion for award committees... I still believe that some really deserving books are being overlooked, but I got a glimpse of some of what committee panels are up against. (And for a bit more strife, check out the UK's Commission for Racial Equality's pending suit against an ethnic book award - [thanks to Read Roger]).

During the lovely Blogger Brunch last weekend, one of the things we discussed, amid the detritus of half-empty plates and far too many cups of tea, was the issue of ethnicity in Children's literature. Tockla's PhD work is regarding the editorial process that has affected books written by non-white authors in the UK since the 1970s, and how the process of publishing, which in children's lit is mostly white and female (until the upper echelons, and then it's largely white and male), has changed a work from one thing into another more 'acceptable' thing. A.F. and I have been working with depicting characters struggling with various Typical Young Adult situations who happen to be ethnic minorities, and we've both had some seriously odd experiences with editors and other in-charge types asking for various manipulations of characters to better reflect their ideals of what a character of a particular ethnicity would do. We both found it revealing to talk with Tockla about the various experiences her interviews with authors have given her, and the phenomenon that sometimes authors are asked to peel away things their characters were and did, in order to make them 'acceptable' to mainstream publishing. We discussed the question as to how literature then changes to become shined up for a mythical 'everykid' who does not, in fact, exist.

These thoughts led to us wincing laughter over the funny story of an agent seeking out every African American editor they knew in order to more successfully pitch a novel ... despite the fact that the character was biracial and the storyline wasn't particularly ethnic. And, when it was strongly suggested that the author remove the bi-racial character's other race, and just make the character "plain old black, like you," it was, well, shocking.

I wished then, as I often do, that I could have expressed why the whole thing is so troubling to me -- funny on one level, but on myriad others, upsetting. (I, sadly, will forever be one of those people who can only think of a comeback exactly twenty-five minutes later, which is why I write... and try not to talk!) As the weekend went on, I tucked our brunch conversation away in my mind, then just happened over to Mitali's Fire Escape, and was relieved to find her usual articulate discussion on ethnicity and literature. Her thoughts touch on mine, and though she was talking mostly about ethnicity based children's book awards, she put it beautifully:

"Winning the Super Asian Writer Children's Book Award could reinforce your vocation as an "ethnic" writer, which in turn might relegate you and your book to a (short) list of obligatory "multicultural" reads in a book-buyer's blackberry. Your stories will then be forced on kids by adults like some sort of necessary vitamin pill for the soul. Yum."

(Vitamin Pills for the Beleagured Soul. I believe Mitali could give the Chicken Soup people a run for their money!!)

You know, I can imagine NOBODY who wants to be put in a corner and generalized as a writer of a particular ethnicity that is only of interest to those who are OF or interested in that particular ethnicity, or those who have that ethnicity thrust upon them by well meaning teachers one few days a year (one in January and perhaps a few days a month in February, along with a class video of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and couple of Phyllis Wheatley poems or a few by Langston Hughes). Part of diversity must be defined by integration -- both integration of peoples and their cultures, and the books about them. In the great Someday, our best world would be one where I could go and grab a novel about a Pakistani girl and just read it and appreciate the commonalities of our lives without particularly feeling like I was reading a South Asian Novel, but as we continue to grapple with the Now, that isn't maybe as realistic. While I personally don't want to be relegated to the portion of the bookstore for African American books (nor shunted off to African American editors), at the same time, I understand that some people's minds are segregated like that, and maybe that's what will create success for minority writers and their books. Maybe that's just the way it has to be, in the here and now.

Seems a pity...

January 15, 2007

This Week In Blog

Mindy from Proper Noun brings up a bunch of really great points about the whole Cybils thing, and what she's learned from it. She comments,
"...I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t blog very critically. My reviews are more likely to capture my personal reaction than discuss literary devices, and I’m okay with that."
It is, in fact, true that people who read blogs aren't usually after things like long discussions of story arc and protagonist motivation, but I find that once I'm sitting down to write a review, I kind of have to do that kind of thing anyway. For me, it helps to think of story and characters from every direction that I can, because I tend to be a bit... inelegant with my descriptions. Inarticulate. Scrambling for words.

See, here's the thing. I get a book. I breathe in that Book Smell. I ignore the flyleaf and check out the cover art. Then, I settle in to read. For me, reading is much akin to sampling desserts. There are some you instantly like, some that are too sweet, some not sweet enough, but since I read quickly, I tend to just take myriad books in at once. When I find a tasty book, I just want to squeal "Ooh! Ooh! I like that one!" and with no further thought, go on to the next one. That's... not really reviewing, but more recording-gut-reactions, enjoying the experience, and having far too much fun, which is why I tend to defer to a. fortis when any actual thinking about writing is done.

Sure, once I've thought about a novel for a bit, I can start deconstructing... I eventually (ahem)managed to do the work for my degrees in litarature. The problem is, like many others, I tend to only blog about books I like -- or ones that I dislike so much that I must let everyone know how disappointed in them I am. I am hoping to learn to be more balanced and intelligent about literature (like A.F or Tockla or MotherReader, who can be counted on to say what she thinks quite clearly and hilariously), but sometimes I don't care... Frankly, it's just a lot of mad love and catching-up-from-a-fiction-deprived-childhood that I'm doing, and that's okay, too.

Of course, when you're being looked to to provide a bit more... discrimination in your reading responses (as in, you're a Cybils nominator!), you have to really slow down bolting your books and chew each chapter thoughtfully. That was the hardest thing about working with the list of eighty-some books we had - to tone down the enthusiasm at being allowed bunches of free (!!!!!!) books and try to sift through, reading and re-reading them critically and consideringly.

The second painful thing was that shortlist -- and discovering that four of the final five are from one publishing house. We hadn't noticed until we 'heard' that house described as having a stranglehold on the category. Ouch!

Additionally, it was hard not to feel regret for those books that we could not choose. I had to laugh, the night after we'd turned in our list -- our team emailed each other about ways to highlight our personal favorite books that didn't make the cut. It was difficult for people with such varying temperaments to choose well as a group, and I continue to hope that each of us felt our opinions were heard and respected. Certainly I think next year will be harder, as people will be more familiar with the format and maybe more confident. I can say this: we chose well this year - next year we will choose awesomely!

Finally, the worst thing about all of this? Parting with the books. I actually sat down to take a few to the library of a school. And then I said, "But I like this one. And this one. And this one..." and I was quite dismayed that I could part with no more than five or six of them. Am I that big of a book hoarder? Why, yes, I am. I'm still going to be giving some away -- that's a personal goal, to pare down the list by two-thirds -- but to salve my wounds, I promised myself new bookshelves.

It's the little things, people.

More on the Bay Area Children's Book Blogger's Brunch (the truncated version, since it was sort of spur of the moment, and there were only three of us) and the reason I'm saving my resolutions until the Lunar New Year on February 18th... later.

January 12, 2007

Family Drama

This book was a nominee for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

I can say unequivocally that Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is one of the best graphic novels I've read this year, or maybe in several years, which is why I was so happy to see it prominently displayed in the local Corporate Book Depot. It's not the typical story promoted on commercial bookshelves—a memoir in comics, this is the hilarious, tragic, no-holds-barred story of a young woman coming to terms with her father's death and her own sexuality.

Well-written, complex, subtle, deep; I can't say enough good things about it. Really. The only qualification I have is that it's most suitable for older YA readers and adults, because it is a story from a very adult, very worldly and educated perspective. Literary allusions to James Joyce and Marcel Proust were a bit over my head, let alone the heads of readers under age 16 or so. However, Bechdel works in these references and others incredibly skillfully, telling the story of her family's turbulent relationship with her father as they grow up in and around the family business, which just happens to be a funeral home.

Weaving skillfully back and forth in time between the narrator's adolescent years and the hindsight of young womanhood, Bechdel deals with tumultuous events—her father's hidden battle with his own sexuality, his untimely and possibly not accidental death, and her own realization of being a lesbian—with sometimes touching, sometimes morbid humor and a distinctive artistic style.

The combination of varied pen-and-ink lines with blue-gray background washes creates a sense of nostalgia and memory that's well-suited to a thoughtful autobiographical exploration. Echoes of classic American comics meld seamlessly with a more modern sensibility, and the whole thing is infused with a love of words and literature. And, frankly, though it's not necessarily a happy story, it's laugh-out-loud funny in many places. Graphic novel gold.

January 11, 2007

Middle Of the Week, Huzzah!

Thanks to my fellow Flickr Fiction blogger, Chris, for this completely time-wasting exercise in aristocracy.
My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Venerable Lady Tadmack the Deipnosophist of Westessexchestershire
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Dearling, please hand me my diadem. Oh, wait. You want to know what a deipnosophist might be? You're not sure I am one? Tut, tut. The word deipnosophist is derived from Greek elements meaning 'meal' and 'wise man,' so we can assume it means someone wise in mealtime conversation...it could also just mean a gastronome, but if you spout it at a dinner party, I guarantee no one will ask you to which meaning you refer... everyone else will silently be trying to figure out if you've insulted them or not.

Meanwhile, why no, I am not a Deip·nos·o·phist n. (d ī p*n ŏ s" ō *f ĭ st) -- I am dreadful at dinner conversation, which is why I eat at my computer. But still - everyone needs to be the lord or lady of something... even if it's just rumors.

I am really loving the t-shirt of the week thing going on at ye olde Bookshelf. Like many others, I am not a fan of conjecture with regard to Hogwarths & Co... I don't even want to think about HP-Finis until Book 7 is in my sweaty little paws ... but it chortles me no end that you can get total strangers to argue with you about it just by having an opinion and a t-shirt. Yay for readers! When roused, we're such a scrappy, shirty lot.

I guess we writers are also rather scrappy. This week, Simon & Schuster's Sobol Prize was cancelled, due to a lot of people expressing patent disbelief that one should have to pay an $85 entry fee for a contest meant to reward agentless authors with a $100K book contract. The idea that after winning, one must also have a Sobol-picked agent also sort of guaranteed that S&S had a lock on the author, body and manuscript, which, in the sharply competitive business of publishing, didn't necessarily mean good things for the author. How smart is it to have an agent who is totally involved with one house? So, yay, writers. Way to save that $85 entry fee to spend on postage for your query letters and sample chapters instead of on yet another contest to potentially exploit people desperate to get fulfil their dream of getting published.

I remember cringing through my high school production of 12 Angry Men, which, in the interest of the myriad girls in my drama class was renamed 12 Angry Jurors. How horrified I would have been, had playwright Reginald Rose appeared in our musty high school auditorium with the ugly mottled green carpet and theater seating, to watch us struggle through what is supposed to be one of those marvelously critical studies on the human psyche in the face of stress and responsibility. Seeing me as an incoherent, raging Juror Number Five (sound and fury signifying... um... nothing much, I fear...) I think Mr. Rose might have decided never to write again...

Students in Birmingham, Alabama had a simillar experience (only their play was most excellent) when Harper Lee attended their high school adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.How cool is that!? Yay for the future writers and playwrights of Birmingham, Alabama, and for Ms. Lee, who was gracious enough to come out of her usually quiet life to honor the students with her presence and be honored in turn.

Philosophy isn't a subject that most young adults spend much time on, but UK author Lucy Eyre has an original take on the notions of Socrates and other philosophical greats that might make philosophy identifiable again as something other than a line of cosmetics. The book, If Minds Had Toes sounds both whimsical, silly and deep, and worth looking at as reading for the more clue-full young person in your life.

All right... back to work.

January 10, 2007

Writing Along...

Wow, has anyone else been trying desperately to get Blogger to function for the past three days!!? Sorry for the lapses between posts... good grief! I think this is all a plot to get us all to update our systems... well, I'm GETTING to it! At some point. Anyway... today's thought: I'm not dying for anything to do with Harry - my Potter of choice this month is Beatrix! I hold out the idea of seeing the newly released movie as a little treat to force me through all of the necessary tasks of my week. That and the pile of books next to the bed are my carrot and stick this month.

Now that the Cybils voting has been over for a couple of weeks, I'm in novel recovery, reading wildly all over the place and selecting books that are only on my personal list, plus the inevitable "random handful" that I gather on my way out of the library toward the self-check machine. I've gone British with Diana Wynn Jones' Chrestomanci series, enjoyed being introduced to Joyce Lee Wong's Emily, and I also hope to sink my teeth into the rest of the Middle Grade Cybils list as well as some standouts I've heard of like That Girl Lucy Moon, or one of Ellen Kushner's fabulous swashbuckling historical fictions for girls in her Swordpoint series.

Thanks to the many blogs and bloggers out there, I'm picking up things I'd never considered reading before, and I've found some surprises that still resonate with me these many weeks later. Though not all of these ended up on our Cybil's shortlist, there are a couple of novels that I truly enjoyed that came with the theme of "You Can't Tell Me What to Do!" These rebel yells were found in:

Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet. Ever heard the saying "the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice?" It strikes me painfully that it's not only American persons of color but many other cultures who favor a European beauty ideal. In India where this story takes place, Jeeta is taught that she is too dark to be happy, too dark to be fortunate, too dark to marry well. And frankly, marriage is all that seems to be on the table for her future. This quiet novel could have been even more direct, but three cheers for the idea of not letting society have all the say about what is beautiful, who deserves to be happy, and how we should all behave.

Adora is a girl who struck out against what she perceived to be an unfair class system in her high school. Tired of being on the edges of the crowd, this Fringe Girl stepped up to change things by using a class assignment. Of course, she wasn't totally successful, because when she started, she wasn't totally sure of what she wanted, or what to do once she got where she was going. I was a teensy bit disappointed that the novel didn't go deeper into the implications of class and social structures, but I have great hopes for another novel-in-process called Latte Rebellion, which is also about a social movement gone wildly awry which involves race... and coffee.

Don knows that you can put up with anything if you have a goal. Even the thug beating him up during PE is something he can just sort of ignore, because he's got a goal -- something more real to him that school, friends, and the people around him, including his mother, the Half Alien to be, and his Stepfacist. (And wouldn't that be a great group: Half-Alien & the Stepfacists?) The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl was one of my favorite novels because it is a bright and shining reminder that there's life beyond high school -- and that nobody can box you into their narrow idea of who you are unless you let them.

I read this book and was thrown back into a time when being disabled meant that you were treated like you were completely a non-person. Accidents of Nature was an eye-opener. I was riveted by both of the main characters. Jean believes that she is just as mainstream as everyone else, and acts that way, while Sara sort of rebelliously revels in her other-ness, and forces others to not only see her as inseparable from her disease, but to accept her as she is. This novel was tough to read at times, as the young adults with full physical abilities at times seemed criminally stupid or unfeeling, and I wondered if this was just a bitterness of the character, or a reality in the 70's. The ending is fairly enigmatic, but this is a novel that sticks with you for a long time.

I was never much of a prairie novel fan, but Hattie Big Sky won me over because Hattie just has so much heart. Nobody thought she could do anything more than be somebody's wife or somebody's maid, and in the end, what she chose to do was, in fact, too hard for her (although in real life it wasn't... and I'm still not sure why the author chose to have her fail. I know it's more realistic, and most people DID fail, but Hattie didn't...? Anyway...), but she still gave it her everything, in her own quiet, rebellious way. Beautiful.

Sneaking out to audition for Oye Mi Canto isn't the most rebellious thing Ali does. She concentrates on being herself -- which is the gutsiest thing of all. Adios to My Old Life was full of twists and turns of show-biz, and really enjoyable. Though things didn't go the way Ali thought that they would, she still came away with success. One thing I liked was that success wasn't narrowly defined. Other contestants in the show lived life in different ways -- some loved adulation, some loved flirting and jewelry, etc., but there was no defining "this is the only way to do it" type of rhetoric. I loved that the Latino people were portrayed as intelligent and educated and as varied as peoples of all nations actually are. It's actually vanishingly rare to see Latin peoples portrayed that positively, and I hope this book attracts all of the readers it deserves.

To round out my Super Seven, I chose Nothing But the Truth and a Few White Lies, which I had the privilege of reading before it was nominated. Despite its deceptively pink cover, this is a riot grrrrl book, and Patty Ho is kind of queen of the rebels, as she first rebels against every stereotype placed on her by both her Asian and non-Asian acquaintances, and then she escapes from the narrow role she's defined for herself. She's not an Egg, a Banana, or any other schizophrenic snack-oriented racial category. She is just herself: and that has to be good enough. This novel's gift is that it transcends race, hapa-ness, and other categories to appeal to anybody and everybody who hasn't fit well into the categories other people have carved out for them. This novel gives readers the gift of knowing it's okay to fight to be oneself.

Others have shared the fun and frustrations of being on the Cybils panel with so many great books and so few to choose. Check out what Little Willow and Mindy have to say about their favorite Cybil picks which did or didn't get onto our shortlist.

Meanwhile, is anyone else still thinking about resolutions...? The longer I delay writing them down, the longer I don't have to do them, right? ... Oh, okay. I'll get to them. Soon.

January 05, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

Before I get to the meaty part of this post, I want to give you this quick update, before I forget (and apologies for its lateness): L. Lee Lowe's online serial fantasy novel Mortal Ghost is now being podcasted, read by a young UK theatre student! Download or listen online to the first installment here.

And now for the REAL procrastination. (Yes, I have work to do; no, I really don't want to do it because we're getting a new washer and dryer delivered this afternoon and I'm inordinately excited about it). After looking at the latest issue of the Writer's Market newsletter, which contained some writers' resolutions for the new year, I was inspired to come up with a few writing resolutions of my own. I wasn't very concretely productive over the past month or so, so I think setting a few specific goals might help. These are actually goals I have in mind most of the time, but articulating them for the world to see might provide that extra guilt-induced kick-start.

1. I will write at least two brand-new short stories (literary, for an adult audience) to add to the manuscript I'm trying to build up. I currently have four finished stories. I will also revise the story I did a first draft of in 2006.

2. I will send out copies of said short stories (new and already-existing) to at least three places (contests, literary journals, etc.) per month. Of course, this entails massive updating of my calendar of submission deadlines, unless I just want to attack this project randomly, which is also possible.

3. I will finish the first draft of my Latte Rebellion YA novel, which I got about 4/5 done with during NaNoWriMo; revise it; and send it to an agency which was recommended to me by TadMack.

4. I will finish rewriting my Olwen novel, which has been on hold for a few months. If the rewrite is still unsatisfactory, I will give up on this project for a while without any regrets. (HA! Easier said than done.)

5. I will stop being such a writing flake: I will faithfully post to this blog and Readers' Rants at least once weekly. I will spend three or more hours on writing/revising at least twice weekly. (This doesn't sound like much, but believe me, it's hard sometimes.) I will make writing a priority and I will try my best not to use reading (or housework, or blogging, or e-mail) as a convenient way to procrastinate.

Clearly, #5 will probably be the sticking point. But I encourage all of you to sit down for a few minutes and think about your own writing resolutions. Just the act of articulating them, writing them down, and maybe taping them above your computer desk or your calendar will help you remember to keep your goals in the front of your mind. Make them realistic--but make them optimistic, too. Remember that this is your work, but it's also what you love. (And believe me, I'm saying all this to remind myself, too.) We here at Finding Wonderland wish you a productive and writing-filled new year!

January 03, 2007

Slowly Losing Yourself

This book is a finalist for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

They say that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find yourself…but sometimes you just end up lost. Carla, a young woman of Mexican-American descent, decides to leave behind her Stateside frustrations and travel to Mexico to explore the land of her father and the heritage he deprived her of by disappearing. When she shows up on her ex-boyfriend Harry's doorstep in Mexico City, looking for a place to stay, she tells him she's only there temporarily, but she knows in her heart she's in it for the long haul. She's in love with Mexico, "delirious" with it.

But delirious dreams so often hide a darker side, and this is true of Carla's seemingly idyllic new home, too. Though she gets a job teaching English, starts taking Spanish classes, and makes friends with some locals, she becomes annoyed at the exclusivity and apparent self-righteous superiority of trust-fund baby Harry and his Anglo journalist friends. In return, she herself reacts self-righteously, taking the side of her Mexican friends—as she sees it—and ends up alienating the American expats.

She strikes out on her own and finds a roommate and a new place, despite the protestations of her fellow Americans. They don't trust her friend Memo, a rabid Communist who loves to argue with anyone and everyone, especially those he sees as elitist or capitalist. But things really hit the fan when her boyfriend, Oscar, gets mixed up with some shady characters. As Carla's denial and naiveté about the seriousness of her situation reaches epic proportions, something happens that turns her world completely upside down.

La Perdida, written by Jessica Abel and starkly illustrated with expressive black-and-white brush drawings, is a detailed, gripping story—and a Harvey-Award-winning one at that—and well worth reading. It's definitely for older YA readers, probably 14+, due to some mature subject matter, but it's not to be missed.

Dreams of Dance

This book is a finalist for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

Big, empty spaces always made me dance…

More and more memoirs are taking advantage of the graphic novel format to relive the events of a life using both visual and written communication. However, you don't see many of these aimed at a middle-grade/young YA audience. To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel does a fine job of targeting a younger age group with a story that's sweet, inspiring, and true-to-life.

Though it might not be appealing to readers who don't have at least a passing interest in dance or the dancing life, it provides a nice, vivid glimpse into the life of the young dancer Siena. Touches of gentle humor offset some of the harsher realities of what it's truly like to train as a dancer—painful feet and legs, nervousness on stage—as well as the background story that hints at problems within Siena's family.

The art style is cute, and reminiscent of the illustrative style of Quentin Blake—simple yet expressive and funny. There are some inconsistencies in the artwork; on occasion the main character was given a more detailed, baby-doll kind of look that I found distracting from the overall narrative. Aside from this very minor quibble, I really enjoyed this piece. Anyone who ever took dance classes as a child and had daydreams—momentary or permanent—will recognize some of the scenes and feelings evoked; and it's hard not to cheer for Siena as her dance career takes some unexpected turns and she comes to realize that dance will always occupy a special space in her life.

Gorey Details

This book was a nomination for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

I have all three of Edward Gorey's other collections in the Amphigorey series, and though Amphigorey Again isn't quite as polished or as consistently excellent as the first three, it's still going to be a winner for most Gorey fans. This one contains a lot of previously uncollected, unpublished, and unfinished work, so it has a little less of the tightly-drawn, minutely-inked, lushly detailed art that characterizes his more polished finished works.

Dedicated "in fond collaborative memory" to all the anagrams and aliases he used in many of his short works—Ogdred Weary, Regera Dowdy, D. Awdrey-Gore, and so on, the collection begins with the single-panel (perhaps unfinished) "The Galoshes of Remorse" and includes a variety of classically Gorey titles: "Neglected Murderesses," "Tragedies Topiaires," and "The Unknown Vegetable," among others.

His titles alone usually bring a smile to my face, and his sense of humor—skewed as it may be—has always appealed to me, ever since my first exposure to his work during the opening credits of "Mystery" and in an old version of T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. There are a few standouts in this collection, too—"Tragedies Topiaires" is a set of postcard-shaped panels, captioned in French, depicting unfortunate topiary occurrences: l'Ours (the bear), for instance, shows a child trapped in the arms of a topiary bear. Le Canon shows a man being propelled out of a topiary cannon.

My favorite by far, though, was "The Raging Tide," a sort of Edward Gorey version of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story. However, the story is completely ludicrous, and the choices are so surreal as to be nearly Fluxus. For instance, on page 2: "Figbash scattered cracker crumbs on Hooglyboo," reads the text. "If this makes you uncomfortable, turn to 3. If it doesn't, turn to 8." Or page 9: "Naeelah dropped from the chandelier onto Figbash and Skrump. If you find this not unamusing, turn to 17. If you want to benefit spiritually, turn to 15."

Some stories seem like he was still working on them—the art is little more than thumbnail drawings—and there are a few true sketches, too. But if you're a fan, you'll want to add this one to your collection, too.

Caught Up In the Action

This book was a nomination for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

Japanese schoolgirl Chiko is pretty, popular, and rich. She's got everything…including a stranger's cellphone she found at the train station on the way to school. Before she gets a chance to take it to the lost and found after class—in addition to all her other fortunate attributes, she's also a fairly nice person—it rings. She picks it up. A voice tells her that if she doesn't get to the train station before 3:50 that afternoon, somebody's going to die.

Line, by Yua Kotegawa, is a taut, fast-paced manga thriller that follows Chiko through a harrowing nightmare that she unwittingly tangled herself into by picking up that cell phone. Only she can save the person at the train station, says the voice on the phone, so Chiko rushes there…but she's too late. A girl from her school—someone she doesn't know—has jumped from the roof. Shaken, Chiko hardly knows what to do. Only Bando, a quiet, smart girl from school, witnessed what happened and is there when Chiko gets the next phone call urging her on to a new location elsewhere in Tokyo.

On the run, Chiko and Bando rush to try to prevent the next person from jumping off the roof of a skyscraper. The mysterious phone voice leads them from place to place; and the two girls, who barely knew one another at school, are suddenly tied together by this strange and nightmarish chase. Though this wasn't a deep story, and the artwork was relatively traditional-style manga, it was well-drawn, nicely paced, and a definite page-turner. Chiko and Bando are both very different but sympathetic characters, and the plot was unusual enough to keep me reading till the end—which had a good (if a bit obvious) moral and a few surprises.

January 02, 2007


Things meant to bedevil: the new ISBN thing. Thirteen numbers instead of ten. And why? Because we're running out of numbers... sigh. I know I should go back and fix all of my websites and make sure they're using the 13 number isbn's, but... well... laziness. It's a sad thing to encounter this early in a new year.

And this year is a Potter year, according to the UK Guardian. Even if I'm not in a lather over the final year of the Harry Potter series, I do think that writers ought to take note of how JK managed things. The Guardian had kept track of what she's done to keep hold of the series -- and no doubt it's been quite a wrestling match for her. But she insisted that all the movies be shot in Britian with an all-British cast, and that the major film sponsor donate $18 million to charity. And everyone did just what she said. She's told them to back off, she's told them to jump, and everyone has said "how high." Of course, people have also called her names and figured her to be a poor sport about all of her money and fame. It's amazing how people expect to own you once they've put you in the position of having to run from photographers... No matter that I don't think that her series is the best thing since sliced bread -- and I do believe there are other much better fantasy writers -- I do have to tip the hat to JK, and I wish her well for what's next... because I fear that is when people will judge her most harshly. Not this year necessarily. But next year...

The Golden Fuse Awards are cool, and they remind me that I need to come up with Best Villain in our YA Cybil Nominees. I'm leaning toward the dystopic football coach in Rash, but I feel like that's almost too easy. The bodyguard in Speedos in Bad Kitty? Just being in Speedos, while criminally unhip, isn't actually villainous, exactly... Still thinking, thinking... We may also need to come up with a "What Were They Thinking?" category. Not for the authors, of course, but for the characters. Like Mary Shelley: Indeed, what was she thinking to run off with that fey poet? More to come, indeed...

Finally the world acknowledges what we already knew: that our Jack is the Poet Laminate of children. Or laureate. Whatever. I love that Prelutsky describes himself as "99% the same as the next guy." It's just that 1%... that makes him completely weird, believable and amazing.

I am crushed that Cynthia Lord's Rules didn't make it into the Cybil Middle Grade finalists. Then again, I know that the Middle Grade people had just as bad a last few weeks as we YAers, with so many excellent novels, and just so few slots... I'm so glad that the book was nominated. If you haven't yet -- go! Read! This I beg of you! Such goodness so easily discovered at your local library... sweater-clad librarians and chipper bookstore clerks await you! Go!

You know you want to create your own romance novel cover. Thanks to Bookshelves O' Doom for the hilarious things-to-do-when-avoiding-actual-work assistance.

Ah, well. I suppose I should get back to that... Actual work thing...

January 01, 2007

Happy New Year and Happy Cybils!

With the list of final graphic novel nominees officially posted on the Cybils site, the nominating committee can now breathe a huge sigh of relief and let the judges handle the tough part! Like TadMack with the YA committee, I was amazed at the range and quality of so many of the nominees, and it turned out to be very difficult to eliminate some of them without at least noting a few standouts. So I thought I'd do something similar to the post below (only much shorter) and give recognition to a few finalists and non-finalists who stood out for various reasons. (I'll also be reviewing many of these on our sister site in the coming days--I'm woefully behind on that.) Anyway, to the awards:

Lifetime Achievement Award:
Edward Gorey, for Amphigorey Again. I'm a huge Gorey fan, and though this isn't the best of his compilations, even his unfinished and unpublished work is amazing, and there are gems in here.

My Personal Favorite:
Flight, Vol. 3, by Kazu Kabuishi and others. What an incredible variety of artists and stories, some funny, some serious; some realistic, some surreal; all of them excellent. I also really liked Castle Waiting by Linda Medley, even though I was only able to track down the first volume.

Biggest Surprise:
A three-way tie.
Dramacon, Vol. 2., by Svetlana Chmakova. A manga about manga? Who woulda thought?
Runaways, Vol. 5., by Brian Vaughan. A series about teenage superheroes? Who woulda thought?
Sloth, by Gilbert Hernandez. The first-ever graphic novel by the co-creator of Love & Rockets? What a pleasant surprise.

Most Sassy:
Girl Stories by Lauren R. Weinstein. Not just sassy: hilarious, gross, and true-to-life (for many).

Most Pink and also Cutest:
Babymouse: Beach Babe, by Jennifer and Matthew Holm. You just have to read it to understand the extent of the pinkness.

Best True Story:
A three-way tie between
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies
The 9/11 Report Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. All three of these were real standouts, though the first two arguably are not YA. Which brings me to the next award:

Best Crossover Book:
This was a close race between Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies, but ultimately I'm picking Fun Home. It's definitely in my personal top five in the whole pool of nominees. Incredibly well-written, well-drawn, smart, funny, and sad.

Most Interesting Use of Multiple Languages:
La Perdida by Jessica Abel, and
Gray Horses by Hope Larson.

Best Manga (Top Three):
1: Dramacon, Vol. 2 by Svetlana Chmakova
2: Kat and Mouse: Teacher Torture by Alex de Campi and Federica Manfredi
3: Line by Yua Kotegawa

Best "Important" Story:
There are four of these, and they all deserve mention.
Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies
The 9/11 Report Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
Everyone should read these if they can. Heavy reading, but these are stories that need to be told.

Now I just need to comb through TadMack's reviews so I can take a list to the library and gorge on YA for a while...

War and Happy Endings Don't Mix

This book was a nomination for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

Of the various socially topical graphic novels released this year, only one deals with the harsh realities of war through the eyes of those living creatures least able to understand or affect its course, but who are no less affected by it. Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon, is inspired by the true story of a small pride of lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during American bombing in 2003. Hungry and desperate, they roam the deserted, destroyed streets in search of food and safety.

Vaughan and Henrichon's version is a harsh, emotional story about survival in the face of war, as well as war's cost to all living things in its wake. The patriarch lion, Zill; his two wives, the matriarch Safa and the younger, more impetuous Noor; and his son, Ali, reluctantly decide to leave the dubious safety of the decimated zoo. Their keepers had tossed one last carcass at them before fleeing, and then the walls of their enclosure were torn apart by explosions. They argue about the cost of freedom versus safety as they discover that the city streets aren't any less dangerous. Is it worth it to be free under these conditions? Does it even compare to the freedom Zill and Safa remember from before their life in the zoo?

The lions' life becomes a microcosm of the important questions faced by the war's human victims, but this is no Disney Lion King. The demons the four lions must face are all too real and have nothing to do with the circle of nature. In fact, the end of the story is ultimately quite violent and harsh, which is why I had mixed feelings about this piece. There was almost no room for hope; the best this story offers is the opportunity to learn from one's mistakes and not repeat them. Sadly, this is an all-too-accurate reflection of the horrors of war; but as a result, this isn't a piece I'd recommend for middle-grade or even young YA readers. It's definitely a 13-and-up story in terms of the message readers will take away from it.

However, I can't say enough about either the importance of that message or the excellent artwork. Henrichon shows a real skill for draftsmanship and a nice artistic sensibility in terms of color and composition. The idea of anthropomorphized animals might annoy some readers, but the lions' facial expressions are nicely done and aren't too cute or Disney-esque. The visuals are exactly what this story calls for. Highly recommended, but with the caveat that this is not an uplifting piece.

Huzzah! A Clean Slate to Start Cybil-ing Again!

Propsero Año Nuevo!

It was the best of times, it was... okay, let's be serious. Making up the shortlist for the 2006 Cybils Award was bloody hard. Really, at times it was agonizing. We argued and posted lists and whinged and lay on our keyboards. We let our cats type (heh) and groaned and tried to defend our choices while deconstructing the novels for their innate... pickability. It was days and days of work. We sweated. We toiled. We completely blew everything off, took naps (ahem) and ate too much holiday junk food.

But hey - it's done. And now we can gloat. And we can also think gleeful thoughts toward the judges who are having one helluva time deciding how to whittle down our top 5. Judges, we await your decision with interest! (And relief that it's not us!)

Some of the more indefatigable and creative members in our team came up with more fun things to do with our list of nominees -- aside from reading all of them, I mean. Because it was so hard to let some of them... go... (sniff) and because we could only have five in our shortlist (and may I just argue for SEVEN next time?! Please?!), we gave some props to a few characters who we think that readers will love. Of course, not all of us actually agree on our nominations -- you didn't think we'd all reformed since our shortlist discussions, did you?

You can read full reviews on each and every one variously good, bad or unique books on our book review site, Readers' Rants, and I hope you'll check out ALL of the books nominated. I've been so fortunate to be a part of this! I've picked up and read books that I might never have discovered had they not been nominated. And that's what this has been all about -- bringing some of the best new books to light!

Cybils Nominee Valedictorian
Colin from An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Did you love Colin? Did you want to smack him? Did he remind you of that geeky someone in your high school chem class whom you secretly loved?

Most Likely to Win a Grammy
Ali from Adios to My Old Life by Caridad Ferrer (pop/rock)
Liz Scattergood from Blind Faith (classical)
Ali ROCKS. Props to Liz, too, but Ali was my grrrrl.

Most Likely to Kick Butt (Literally)
The Gallagher Girls from I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
Halfdan Strongbowfrom Viking Warrior

Drama Queen (and Most Fashionable)
Ashleigh from Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
I need to add Polly the BeDazzler Queen from Bad Kitty here. I mean, adventure plus a BeDazzler? Is she dramatic? Is she fashionable? People, do you know how hip she is?

Homecoming Queen
D.J. from Dairy Queen

Prom King & Queen
Nick & Norah from Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Awww... This year's favorite urban fairytale.

Cutest Couple (tie)
Rachel and Howard from Goy Crazy by Melissa Schorr

Most Haunting Inanimate
Death from The Book Thief
Fate from Just in Case
I'm going to vote for Death. Because Death - gender free - has a sort of airless sense of humor. Fate? Sarcasm. That I could so do without.

Most Artistic
Betsy from
The Pursuit of Happiness
Fanboy from
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl
I never got to say how much I liked Fanboy. So cool. So ...smart. So right about the alien life form in his mother's womb. And the phrase "step-fascist!" Quel hilarious.

Super Sidekicks
Hassan from An Abundance of Katherines
Rudy from The Book Thief
Is it wrong to love Hassan in part because there's so much of him to love? Will there someday be a book where a plus-sized girl is a wise-cracking, faithful, clear-eyed, hilarious sidekick AND where she gets a boyfriend, and it's not some weird self-conscious screed constantly referring to her size? Inquiring minds...

Most Likely to Succeed
Leo Caraway from Born to Rock
Hahvahd? Of course that boy's going places. Probably on a motorcycle...

Captains Courageous
Matthew from The Rules of Survival
Lakshmi from Sold
Courage - real courage - means accepting help sometimes. Two stories with impact.

Most Popular
Morgan Carter from More Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet
NO comment.

Most Ambitious
Meg from A True and Faithful Narrative
Hattie from Hattie Big Sky
We love Meg too, but Hattie's our GRRRL! Even though they didn't have riot grrls in rural Montana during WWI. But if they had? Hattie would have been all over it. Tenacious. Determined. Courageous. Fending off the Cute Boys and the Easy Way Out. Yay!

Class Bookworm
Liesl from The Book Thief
Cordelia from This is All
Cordelia deserves some kind of award for longevity. Not hers. Her keyboard's.

Top Mathlete
Patty from Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies)
Ouch! Poor Patty still can't catch a break. Top mathlete? When all she wants to be thought of is normal - and maybe popular, and maybe get awarded for something that has nothing to do with her being stereotypically Asian or stereotypically smart? I vote Patty for Super Sister and Stereotype Slammer. It's not every high school that has this category - and hey - what Patty learned is that sometimes, you've gotta make your own.

Most Valuable Players
Bo Marsten from Rash
Toyo Shimada from Samurai Shortstop
I may not be much of a sports fan, but I like darkly humorous dystopia and the well-researched historical novel. I wondered why the besoburo boys had to pee so much, however! Indicative of something!?

Best Dancer
Estrella Alvarez from Estrella's Quinceanera
Ah, family fights, bad outfits and parties. Reminds me of the holidays.

Amateur Sleuths
Jessica Ortiz from Hollywood Sisters: Backstage Pass
A Super Sister Sidekick.

Cameryn Mahoney from The Christopher Killer
Details I never wanted to know.

Future Therapist (or always in therapy)
Ruby from The Boy Book
Look, people, if I had as cool a cool therapist as the gum-'smoking' Dr. Z, I'd stay in therapy forever. Ruby rocks!

Girl Next Door
Alice McKinley from Alice in the Know

Boy Next Door
Nathan from Blind Faith
I'm going to have to step in and disagree again -- I think Fisher from
The Real Question is my boy next door. He was such a Boy Scout - and then he found out that adults aren't all they're cracked up to be, and that sometimes you have to kind of take risks to find out things you need to know. Another worthy boy-next-door is Craig from It's Kind of a Funny Story, because truly, mental blips can happen to ANYBODY - even the boy next door.

Hippest D.J.
Owen from Just Listen

More random thoughts on Cybil Nominees Forthcoming!