April 30, 2008
This picture shows an American version of the Eisteddfod, with the Gorsedd of Bards (aka the teaching staff in bedsheets) of Cymdeithas Madog's annual Welsh language course marching out into the crowd. The prize there is a miniature version of a real Eisteddfod chair which the winner gets to take home for a year; winning names are engraved onto a plaque on the back side. I had the honor (and surprise) of winning the mini-Eisteddfod one year for a short story I wrote in Welsh (you can read the translation here, as well as view my pen name). I still find it strange that I can win a major prize for writing something not in my first language--in fact, in a language I'm arguably still struggling with--but I feel like I can't get very far writing in my first language...oh well. I still have a piece out there with an agent looking at it, so my fingers are crossed.
More about the Eisteddfod on Poetry Friday--I'll feature a Welsh poet and winner of the BIG Eisteddfod!
No one knows why we did that, but, Gwenda found something better -- a pen name generator. Who hasn't wanted to write something anonymously? I sometimes wish I'd chosen to do that -- but apparently it's something writers do when their careers are flagging -- who knew? If I ever break the mold and start writing SF bodice rippers (Of course, in space, would your bodice rip?) you can bet I'll come up with a suitably spicy nom de plume like Vivianna Isabella Tentadore. (Be on the lookout for that one!)
Amusingly Kelly's pen name turned out to sound like she'll be a writer of historical romance -- at which we both shudder -- and I turned out to sound like someone who writes very dry treatises on naval history -- A.M.S. Marchen. Try it yourself, if you can settle on a single favorite author and character.
Via SF Signal, the somewhat elusive Ursula K. LeGuin reads from her latest novel, Lavinia, and talks about how she decided that she really ought to "get to it" if she was ever going to learn Latin in her lifetime. NPR interviewed this author last week, and revealed the preparation and research she undertook to write this novel. First, she retaught herself Latin. Then, she read The Aeneid -- in the original Latin. You can read an excerpt of the book there, and another one at The Wall Street Journal's Art section.
This book has received a starred review from PW, and the reviewer says, "It's a novel that deserves to be ranked with Robert Graves's I, Claudius." Our Lady LeGuin is seventy-eight.
Were you planning on learning Latin, too? Get to it, then.
Okay, this is also high in the category of Work Avoidance: Extreme Makeover for Spiders. Via Mangesh @ mental_floss, we see an artist collaborating with spiders on web decor. They mostly unraveled her efforts and threw them on the ground (likely with looks of disgust in all eight of their eyes) but it's kind of cool. The idea that the spiders came back to what looked like abandoned webs and basically Just Said No to her artistic license is my favorite part! I wonder if it was merely territorial, or they just didn't approve of red thread?
"It is unlike any maternity clothes on the market." Another entry for the Most Egregious Misuse page? Yes, but it's not the only one. Via Fritinancy, the naming blog, I've discovered Acne Jeans. Yes, people: acne. As in spots, zits, or any other name for the embarrassing and life-altering facial eruptions that stalk our adolescence, and if you're like me, your very, very, VERY late second adolescence-also-known-as-adulthood. Are we forgetting the basic meanings of words, in the quest for advertising dollars? Why yes, as a matter of fact, yes, we are... Acne Jeans. Wear them, and go right back in time to the worst days of your life. Whoo! Fun!
All right, enough malingering. Back to what seems like the sixteenth revision of this particular tale. Cheers!
April 29, 2008
Remember that many young adults decided to teach school after graduating from the 8th grade in those days -- and honestly, if they know how to respond to such questions as:
A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold? 3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
... then they had the chops to at least teach fifth graders... check out the whole exam here.
Imagine treasure-hunting with your granddad -- looking for old cannon balls on a site of a battlefield -- and actually finding treasure. Nine year old Alex found 4,600 silver coins dating from the 13th century -- then archaeologists uncovered almost three thousand more. Hands down, best day out with Granddad, EVER.
Via the Guardian blog -- Shakespeare is being revised -- again -- into "yoofspeak." "Dere was somefing minging in de state of Denmark." Okay, so it's accessible to some -- readable, even, if you're in the know, but the beauty and power of the original language is what makes Shakespeare, isn't it? This isn't an issue for some, because the language tripped them up... Once again, people use the argument that if the Bard were writing now, he'd be writing in "the vernacular" as it were -- but whose? I dunno. I find this a bit patronizing. We're assuming that people who don't choose to participate in the dominate culture only don't because they can't? Hm.
"Smart, funny and cheery, Meyer does not seem noticeably undead in person." Not "noticeably." Well, that's a relief, anyway.
Time Magazine is trying to figure out just what the heck is up with Stephanie Meyers -- how did this 34-year-old observant stay-at-home Mormon mother and housewife turn into a woman being hailed as the next JK Rowling? Seriously, HOW did this happen?! Hat tip to Original Content for the link.
May looks to be a month stuffed with all kinds of fun, games, blog blasts, contests, fluffy bunnies and chickies and ...vampires. Don't forget it's also National Independent Bookseller Month -- if you haven't dropped off the name of your favorite Indie to the ladies at Shrinking Violets, DO SO NOW!
April 28, 2008
Then his best friend Brady takes off. And doesn't come back. Jax knows he's probably off trailing the Grateful Dead around the country (the book was originally released in 1994, before Jerry Garcia died), but Brady doesn't bother to get in touch with him or even his own parents. Jax is left to deal with senior year and his new stepfamily, his father's accident, a long-distance girlfriend, a clingy and troubled short-distance girlfriend, you name it--all on his own.
Brady would have told him to just forget about all the bullshit. But Brady isn't there. And Jax is starting to wonder if he really ever knew his friend at all. Wish You Were Here is a wrenching and very realistic story about a nice guy who ends up with a rather long playlist of life's problems suddenly dumped on him. Most people wouldn't cope too well, and Jax makes his share of mistakes, but ultimately this is a story of losing oneself in order to find oneself. It does not pull punches. And contrary to what it says on Amazon in terms of age recommendations (12 and up for PW; Grade 8 and up for SLJ), I'd probably say that 14 and up/Grade 9 and up is a bit more appropriate, considering the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.
One day, however, a strange servant girl appears at the offices of Enoch Middleditch, inquiring about a photography session that her mistress has requested. But when Horace and his employer meet with Mrs. Von Macht--in mourning for her recently deceased daughter--they sense that all is not well in the household. The servant girl, Pegg, implies as much to Horace. They soon become friends, and Horace realizes that there's far more to the Von Macht family than appears on the surface. And things REALLY start to get creepy when Horace's photographs reveal the ghostly image of Eleanora Von Macht.
I'd never read anything supernatural by the versatile Avi, but his latest book, The Seer of Shadows, shows that he's not only a master of bringing past history to life (we already knew that!), but also skilled at evoking suspense and mystery. I enjoyed the level of detail he invests in helping the reader visualize the New York of the past--not just the sights and sounds but also the very flavor of the language. This is a fast-paced and deliciously thrilling ghost story, with an underlying theme of friendship nicely woven in.
April 26, 2008
I was immeasurably cheered last week when Galleycat reported that my hometown (when in the US) newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, had expanded their book coverage. People have been sighing about newspapers cutting reviews, and The Chron sometimes has two a day, plus their Sunday Book section. GO CHRON!
They've got a pretty decent children's book coverage going, but my favorite thing of theirs is a new feature where they ask kids about books. Today's question: What Book Turned You Into A Reader? Some creative answers -- and the girls might surprise you.
You've all heard me whining for the last eight months about how cold I've been -- well, I'll have you know, I took off my coat today. It's finally hit sixty degrees! And now I'm off --
Glorious weekend to you.
April 25, 2008
I remember my high school English teacher Dr. Hardcastle reciting this poem from memory with perfect, crisp diction. (Sweet day! So cool, so calm, so bright! was actually a line he was apt to declaim on nice mornings, when the rest of us were gazing longingly out of the windows.) He taught us that George Herbert had been a priest, and this poem part of a liturgical tradition. Knowing this, it is easier to see the poem as both a celebration of seasons and consonants, as well as a dark reminder of a priest's ever present knowledge of judgment and death. It is balanced in contrasts: dawn and dusk, blooming and withering, sweet spring, and its close, a soul and its 'vertuous' reward - life, when all else may be turned to coal.
Dr. Hardcastle was in his early sixties when he was my teacher in high school, and I expect that the fatal refrain of this poem has come to him. Still, every new, dew-bright day in Spring reminds me of this poem, and of him -- a virtuous man gone to his reward, as they say, whatever that might be.
The Temple (1633), by George Herbert:
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridall of the earth and skie:
The dew shall weep thy fall to night;
For thou must die.
Sweet rose, whose hue angrie and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye:
Thy root is ever in its grave
And thou must die.
Sweet spring, full of sweet dayes and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
My musick shows ye have your closes,
And all must die.
Onely a sweet and vertuous soul,
Like season’d timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
Then chiefly lives.
Poetry Friday graces the blog of The Miss Rumphius Effect today; gather round and bring your verses.
April 24, 2008
Stage 1 ~ Stage 2 ~ Stage 3 ~ Stage 4 ~ Stage 5 ~ Stage 6
Next Thursday, don't forget to toon--er, tune--er, stop by for the final cartoon in the series. Thanks to all of you (especially TadMack) for indulging my long and drawn-out ode to writerly rejection.
And now, a few links: via the SCBWI Expression newsletter comes news that audiobook retailer Audible.com is launching a site specifically geared towards audiobooks for kids. I saw Diary of a Wimpy Kid on there and couldn't help wondering how one would translate something with so many visual elements into the audio medium... Also via the Expression, news on a few more international children's book awards--from Ireland (yay for Black Book of Secrets!) and Germany (yay for 2006 Cybils nominee Brian Fies!).
In her post below, TadMack mentioned Cory Doctorow's new book Little Brother, yet another title on my can't-wait-to-read list (especially since Neil Gaiman said "I'd recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I've read this year."). If you're going to be in the Berkeley area on Wednesday, May 21, don't miss the opportunity to see Doctorow read from his book at the new Cody's Books location.
Perhaps I will drag my lazy butt over there...it's only an hour and fifteen minutes, after all...it'll be strange, though. As their website says, they're now located on the site of the former Eddie Bauer store. But way back when I was a student there, it wasn't Eddie Bauer yet, but an old diner called Edy's that served greasy-spoon classics and ice cream parfaits. It had been there since my mom was a Berkeley student in the early '70s. So I feel a lot better that Cody's--another venerable Berkeley institution--will be taking up that spot, rather than a branch of a faceless corporate empire.
I am making a pact not just with A.fortis, but with all of you -- when you find your individual strategies for strengthening your world, let me know. Like Sara's The Very Big, No-Kidding,We're Changing the World, You Bet! Good Deed List or Colleen's impassioned writing about New Orleans, or the 7-Imps rubber-to-the-road support of Robert's Snow -- I know that many, if not all of us have had our hearts involved in ways to change, support or protect the denizens of this planet in ways outside of writing, and it's personally encouraging to me to see where people are carrying their candles to light up the world.
I ran across an interestingly world-changing idea via the the Guardian blog -- libraries full of ...people to borrow. No Dewey Decimal needed, they're filed by stereotype... The idea is fascinating. Imagine checking out 'Immigrant Woman' or 'Gay Man.' Imagine the prejudices within yourself you would encounter just on deciding on a dialogue with a "volume." Is this really worthwhile, or could people learn as much if they'd open a real book?
Aaargh! I'd already read one of these blogs - Colleen's informative post on which are the "important" blogs that authors are sending books to, and how to work the whole blog-tour, blogging author thing (there is no science to it) but Original Content brings in the other half of a question on 'trustworthy' reviews -- as in, if all of your reviewers are friendly fellow bloggers, how are those real reviews? I think watching HGTV with my copious free time is indeed the best option, here. *sigh*
Hear ye, Hear ye! The Prince is Having a ...Writer's Conference! Cinderellas and Cinderfellas, want to go to the SCBWI Summer Conference? Need some money? The Shrinking Violets have got your back. Check it out!!
Have you been CHOKING on the VITM (vitamins?) showing up in the spate of recent reports on badly thought-out children's books? What Very Important Teaching Moment would you like to share with the world via a picture book? Big A, little a wants to know... And, any sponsors out there, she's got a great book pitch for you...
Galleycat on the most important YA novel of this election year: Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, which the reviewer commented, "It's a level of direct political engagement I've seen few "adult"/"literary" novelists attempt in the last few years" -- Cheers for another literate, intelligent YA novel. Big Brother, look out.
The hilarious Sarah Beth Durst is deservingly up for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Andre Norton award. She's all dressed up and ready -- and very, very funny: "Don't misunderstand -- I am not expecting to win. I am up against some really stiff competition (Elizabeth Wein, Ysabeau Wilce, Steve Berman, Adam Rex, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, and some unknown writer by the name of J.K. Rowling). But I am ridiculously excited to lose in person.
And to wear a pretty dress."
Writing is more of a ...sweats and ponytail kind of job, kind of like being a dogwalker, only you walk your thoughts. However, Sarah Beth's dress is gorgeous, and we at Wonderland wish her the very best of luck!!
April 22, 2008
However, it's sometimes hard to square what is essentially a job in entertainment with a world that isn't entirely free to be at ease and entertained.
What does it mean, when you are a writer, that people are starving in Haiti, Egypt and the Philippines? That there's a massive drought in Australia, and a food crisis in South Asia? People have always starved, it's endemic to poverty -- the poor we always have with us, after all -- but things have been drifting quietly downstream for some time now, and in the distance is the roaring sound of the rapids.
...and yet I'm writing books. Is this the best use of my time?
Common sense suggests that paddling this canoe now won't even slightly delay our rush toward white water, but that's not why I'm still writing -- I'm writing because I believe in the power of stories. I do. I think that's a core belief -- something I believe in as strongly as a religious creed. I believe in the power of story.
I remember feeling quite moved when so many SCBWI authors and authors-to-be sent books and flashlights to the kids caught in the Katrina floods, and knowing that if I was miserably hot and stuck with thousands of people in a sticky, crowded, dark room, facing The End of Life As I'd Known It with nothing but the grubby clothes on my back and a few damp possessions -- maybe --, I'd want something else -- quick -- that said, "Once upon a time," and ended somewhere else, maybe not with "Happily Ever After," but with "Happily, Not Here." I believe in the power of stories to distract and distance us from the unpleasant. I'm big on escapism -- sometimes it is A Good Thing.
I also believe in the power of stories to teach. Just the other day, when we all rocked the readergirlz TBD, I was cheered to know that hundreds of hospitalized teens would now have a chance to be distracted -- but more than that, to be taught. So many books have taught us. We know about cancer and diabetes, revolutions, wars and life as immigrants. We can't really be afraid when we know things. Prejudices and terrors stem from what we don't know. When we read, we learn. I believe in the power of learning things to shine a light on our fear.
Story was my lifeline when I was a kid.
Stories are my lifeline as... an older kid.
Yet, the food crisis thing. Starvation. Not just kids, but everyone in some countries. Somewhere the obnoxious idealist in me is shrieking, "Somebody should do something!!!"
I know who 'somebody' is - it's me.
So, I'm writing.
And thinking of what else to do.
April 18, 2008
Mitali survived her TV debut. Mr. DeMille...? About that close-up... Spencer Christian, who was our local Bay Area weatherman when I was a kid, does the interview.
Yahoo Books broke the news -- the ferrets are safe at last. Actually, it strikes me rather painfully that romance author Cassie Edwards has been dumped by her publisher. It was bound to happen -- and Secret Agent Man, in the wake of the original publicity, predicted that would happen, and warned all of his writers that it would happen to anyone who garnered a publishing house negative publicity -- but still, it's sad when an author shoots herself in the foot. Lesson learned for everyone, here's hoping.
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers...
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust...
From The Song of the Jellicles
Jellicle Cats come out tonight,
Jellicle Cats come one come all:
The Jellicle Moon is shining bright--
Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.
Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats are rather small;
Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.
Jellicle Cats have cheerful faces,
Jellicle Cats have bright black eyes;
They like to practise their airs and graces
And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise...
Man alive, do I love T.S. Eliot. The first selections are from his 1922 poem "The Waste Land." My love affair with Eliot's poetry began when I was a child, with the very version of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (illus. by Edward Gorey, of course) that you see there on the right. I also had an audio cassette of all the Practical Cats poems read aloud, which I loved. As a result, at one point I could practically recite most of the poems from memory. The second selection above is from one of those poems, "The Song of the Jellicles" (accompanied by my own Jellicles, although admittedly, the black-and-white one is not particularly small...)
When I was in high school, we read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Hollow Men (plus a few others) in English class, and I was blown away. T.S. Eliot has always been a favorite, and I'm amazed by his versatility and his breadth of knowledge--for sheer intellectualism, he's like the Nabokov of the poetry world. His poetry is riddled with little buried gems of mythology, literary references, and just plain gorgeous and dreamlike imagery.
Visit The Well-Read Child for more Poetry Friday fun, and don't miss TadMack's beautiful post below.
Always it happens when we are not there--
The tree leaps up alive into the air,
Small open parasols of Chinese green
Wave on each twig. But who has ever seen
The latch sprung, the bud as it burst?
Spring always manages to get there first.
Lovers of wind, who will have been aware
Of a faint stirring in the empty air,
Look up one day through a dissolving screen
To find no star, but this multiplied green,
Shadow on shadow, singing sweet and clear.
Listen, lovers of wind, the leaves are here!
-- by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton and Co.
It's true -- finally in Glasgow, we have leafage! If you look carefully in the picture you'll notice a branch across the buttercups, and indeed it has the tiniest little leaf buds on it. Flowers -- carelessly showy and quick blooming like the buttercups pictured -- have across the city burst into brightness and just as quickly had their petals brushed into the streets by hard rain and gales, but the leaves -- more cautious by half -- are taking their time and doing their yearly sneak attack. When we least expect it, there will be wind soughing through the leaves again.
Those of you who enjoy writing process "porn" as Gwenda calls it, will enjoy Jules' post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, where she interviews the poets of Cutting A Swath and explores how the six month poetry project process began.
Poetry Friday is hosted today at The Well-Read Child.
April 17, 2008
Oh yes--our writer is slowly but surely recovering from that most insidious of repetitive mental stress disorders: writerly rejection. I mean, bargaining--that's practically normal behavior, right? Right. At this stage, there's nothing that a nice tall glass of iced tea and several hours in front of the television won't cure. (Huh. Don't confuse this with Stage 3, okay?)
Anyway, in other news, I've been cruising around the internets and not having time to post anything due to being sick and blah, so here are a few items that caught my interest over the past week or so:
- Here, via Chasing Ray, comes a really cool-looking graphic novel by Bryan Talbot, who I remember from Sandman days as well as from a more recent read, The Tale of One Bad Rat (which I SWEAR I reviewed, but I can't find it...oh well).
- Speaking of Neil Gaiman (sorta), check out his podcast from the British Library about his film treatment of the great Indian epic Ramayana (and check out the fabulous online Ramayana exhibition).
- Via Slayground, some fabulous authors like Justina Chen Headley, Lisa Yee, Grace Lin, and Mitali Perkins, among others, are getting together to produce Fusion Stories, a website alerting interested readers in great new lit featuring Asian Americans. Hurrah! It looks like it'll be a great resource.
- Via the SCBWI newsletter, check out the nominees for this year's Irish Children's Book Awards (scroll down for the two children's book categories). I was pleased to see one of our Cybils SFF finalists, Skulduggery Pleasant, get a nod.
- Last but not least, Cynsations has a nice interview with Carla Killough McClafferty. Although Carla writes kids' nonfiction rather than YA fiction, I have to give her a nod because she is such a lovely person. When I sat next to her at the faculty dinner for the SCBWI summer conference last year, feeling like I must be a complete loser--as the only person there who hadn't written a published book or otherwise been involved in the publication process; as a lowly blogger, sitting at a table with the likes of Cecil Castellucci and Roxyanne Young (of Smartwriters.com)--she made me feel welcome and encouraged. Thanks, Carla!
April 16, 2008
Thanks to Vintagraph, you can own this gorgeous poster print.
I was speechless over what I found at Kelly's site today. I don't think I know enough words for 'yuck.'
April 15, 2008
It's a bit dim and dark, but this piece of art is from the early
Speaking of guests, Death March with Castles -- and museums -- is on hiatus as my guests go off for a four day jaunt into the countryside (where, I'm told, it's still snowing. Brrr!). I'm home recovering from touristy joy and frantically catching up on housekeeping chores before they return. Meanwhile, the Potter trial is going on, and Galleycat has had fun up-to-the-minute reports about the powerpoint and other details. I know previously I've cracked wise about a single book ripping away all the impact of the Potter series, but apparently the book has a lot of quotes from various Potter books in it, and they're used without permission. Hmmm. Does that change how her resistance to the book's publication strikes you?
Also hat tip to Galleycat, the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence is seeking nominations of full-length fiction by an African-American writers published during the 2007 calendar year. Go to the site for information on how to nominate your favorite eligible novel!
And for today's REALLY cool thing: movie technology that has become reality. From Miss Cellania's Tuesday Gadget Report -- the Terminator eyes are kind of ...real. Creepy.
I've discovered that joy peculiar to Florida, parts of the East Coast and definitely the UK -- closet mold. Back to the bleach. Sometimes I wonder how I *EVER* get anything written!!!!!!
April 13, 2008
(If you can name that musical reference in the post title, by the way, I'll be impressed. And we'll both be old.)
Four Italian teenagers. One drummer, a wanna-be Nazi. One singer, a hypochondriac. One bassist, the quiet one. And the guitarist--our narrator, Giuliano. When Giuliano's dad lets them hold band practice in an old garage on their property, their Garage Band really seems like it's going to take off. The one condition for using the garage is that they stay out of trouble.
Unfortunately, this is four teenage boys we're talking about, each with their own set of troubles--an absent father, overbearing parents...and, soon, a burned-out amp. If they don't replace the amp, they won't be able to record their demo tape. However, their search for a new amp lands them in even more hot water.
Divided into five "graphic songs," this graphic novel by Gipi is a deceptively simple story with a number of subtle and complex undertones. The artwork reflects this nicely, with its loose, slightly jagged ink drawings and neutral-toned watercolor washes. Above all, it's very real--like life, it contains humor, sadness, pain, fun, and consequences. Don't miss the sketches at the back--a nice glimpse into the creative process.
April 12, 2008
Oh, cool! Mitali's live-blogging from the Northeast SCBWI conference! She's hung out with Laurie Halse Anderson, and now she's sitting next to Nancy Werlin!
Via Bookshelves o' Bookish Doom, -- Harlequin has been wading into the YA market for awhile now, as we know -- but we've never taken a look at the writer's guidelines for the Kimani Tru series before. Okay, WOW, specific, maybe? And we thought it was cool that Colleen had a pocketful of plots.
Life with house guests, or "Death March with Castles," as I like to call it, continues through Tuesday, so the posting will be a bit erratic, but I'm still here! And I'm hearing rumors of a sestina challenge with the Poetry Princesses, and they claim *I* started it.
Man. Some poets. Can't take a joke.
April 11, 2008
Salon has a touching piece on a mother who wrote a book for a son whose father has been deployed to Iraq again. It's not that there aren't hundreds of children's books on the topic, several, even that are very good. It's just that... talking about war is like talking about faith. Everyone has to do it in their own way. (Membership or site pass required.)
"A writer is often a lonely person, I think: Our worlds are populated by the things we imagine, the things we remember or dream. For me, the voice of childhood is the one I hear most clearly. And often it comes to me in the cadence and diction of the boy in The Yearling, a book I return to again and again." NPR's You Must Read This hears from Lois Lowery on the beauty and loneliness of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' The Yearling.
I'd been wanting to read more of his work, and I have another book of his, "Human Wishes," sitting on my shelf--if not entirely unread, merely browsed so far. I lucked out and found two poems from his new book at the end of a fascinating online interview. I usually don't feel like getting too political on this blog, but I couldn't help but think about last week's contribution from D Elzey from a book of poems entitled "America at War." This Hass poem would make a great addition, methinks:
From Horace: Three Imitations
Odes, 3.2 Angustam amice pauperiem pati
Let the young, toughened by a soldier’s training,
Learn to bear hardship gladly
And to terrify Parthian insurgents
From the turrets of their formidable tanks.
Also to walk so easily under desert skies
That the mother of some young Sunni
Will see a marine in the dusty streets
And turn to the daughter-in-law beside her
And say with a shudder: Pray God our boy
Doesn’t stir up that Roman animal
Whom a cruel rage for blood would drive
Straight to the middle of any slaughter...
Click here to read the rest of the poem. More crown sonnets and Poetry Friday contributions can be found at A Wrung Sponge.
It seemed fitting that I'd find out about a Berkeley professor winning the Pulitzer on the same day that I was giving something back to the school by volunteering as an interviewer for alumni leadership scholarships. Last night, I spent about four hours in a little room with three other alumni, asking local high school seniors about their leadership experiences. There were 14 interviews, each one of them awe-inspiring and humbling.
When I write about young adults, I usually try to write about characters who are intelligent, creative, and relatively socially aware and busy; but these students were exceptional. It made me wonder: do I "dumb down" my characters, make them less complex and active than they could be? Do any of you other writers find yourself struggling over how much your characters should achieve in order to remain realistic and/or still appeal to the non-overachievers out there? I'm curious!
We all remember -- some of us more vividly than others. There are the daily skirmishes with academic entanglements offset by intermittent clashes with authority over real or imagined offenses. The subtle disputes over position within groups, the internal battles to hold the line, to not pout or whimper or weep at the wrenching disappointments and setbacks. It seems at every moment there's something to test the resolve, to challenge the dreams, to weigh down and hold back the dreamer.
A few of us set out to remember it from a new angle.
It started... with one insanely optimistic woman who was joined in both insanity and optimism by a group who jokingly began to call themselves Poetry Princesses. It seemed a good title for a group of women armed with the rules of poetic form, but not yet the power needed to make them work. Princesses aren't quite the heads of kingdoms, after all, but they know the rules, and can be counted on to take up arms to rigorously defend them.
And to continue with the strangely twisted metaphor, a princess is a not-yet Queen, like a high school student is a not-yet adult - full of the promise of what will be, armed with the determination to become. In honor of the high school students we know, and were, and wanted to be, we wrote a crown of seven interlinked sonnets. It was an amazing undertaking.
Our crown leaped into life with Sara Lewis Holmes, leapt into flight with Laura Salas, found its dancing shoes with Miss Rumphius' Tricia, waxed luminous with Liz in Ink (who has the whole crown at her site), became a mist-shrouded island here, then a rock in a stream at A Wrung Sponge, and finally hurtled off into space with Kelly at Writing and Ruminating.
Imagine the whistle of the épée as we salute you. The battle is engaged. En garde!
Cutting A Swath
My name will be too small to hold me soon.
Unnamed, traversing now this darkling plane
called school. Fey, fickle, Royalty arcane,
Bequeathed with charm and crowned with mystic runes,
Their sorcerous hold upon the madding crowd
Points social scepter, friend or foe to choose.
Those Named hold sway: I do hereby refuse
To be so owned; stand rowan-straight, unbowed.
Swift, fleeting, “Shadow” is my sobriquet.
Invisible. To none allegiance owed,
My scholarship I practice, moments seize.
Small magics my cold iron will displays,
Four years I serve. I pace this treacherous road,
My eyes, now disenchanted, my soul free.
Poetry Friday is hosted at A Wrung Sponge, where you will find myriad other lovely bits of poetry, though nothing like this original linkage of royalty. Happy Poetry Friday, and thank-you, Poetry Princesses, for lending me your shields.
April 10, 2008
Yes, our intrepid writer has ventured out of the house! The recovery process is well and truly underway. As you can see, this also marks the return of Le Cafe Snooty, our cartoon writer's favorite hangout...
Lately it seems like I'm mostly a toon monkey, but I promise to post some links soon which I've collected over the past few days--I have a few really good ones!! Also, I have something in the works for Poetry Friday tomorrow, too. It's frustrating to be blog-absent--I've hardly even posted on my personal blog. Ah, the tribulations of work...
If you thought someone giving you the plot was going to make your writing easy-peasy, then, shucks, I not only have a bridge to sell you, but I know you'll want to check out what Powell's Book Blog recently reported -- the terrifying news of the launching of WEbook... "You are the "we" in WEbook. Work with friends on your inspiration or add a few lines to someone else's. The very best work will be published as WEbooks," the site trumpets.
Conceptually, it's fiction by committee -- which, for some reason, fails to excite me. Hm.
Your Neighborhood Librarian is pretty sick of those lame-o READ posters with disinterested looking, badly dressed celebrities loosely clutching books they probably haven't even read. She thinks they're fugly, and has a much cooler poster in mind. Hat tip to Smart Bs/Trashy Bs for the fun link.
Booksluts in Training this month is all about the animals -- and if you love your reptiles like I do, you'll want Lizard Love to be the next love story you read. The cover is GORGEOUS! A great roundup of YA novels with animal protagonists, antagonists, characters and causes, plus a brand new Charles de Lint. Don't miss!
Completely off-topic, except if you're a Kiki Strike Irregular: Ananka reports on a REALLY disturbing bodily waste recycling idea at her blog... it's all in the name of science though, right?
Right. And now back to work.
April 09, 2008
If you want to write a YA nonfiction book of which Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke would approve, write one about money. Kids, Bernanke says, have to learn to be a bit more savvy with money. Um. Mr. Bernanke? Young adults did not create the recession. I'm just sayin.'
Mr. Federal Reserve's remarks that young adults' ability to handle money is "an essential part of their well-being and a critical factor for the nation's economic health," is somewhat true, yet somehow really, really bugs me. Yes: I'm all about everyone being able to balance their checkbook and pay their debts, and I'm positive that's something you should learn in school -- preferably before college when credit card companies start sending you applications. However: EVERYONE should be taught to live within their means. Everyone. Not just young adults. I really hate to think Mr. Federal Reserve Chair is inferring that "Sheesh, the world is screwed. You kids had better be prepared to deal with it and/or fix it." Let's hope he didn't mean that at all.
Okay, in my opinion? Jen just showed us her bookshelves to make me jealous. It was all a vicious plot as far as I'm concerned...
Speaking of people with lots of books, the Shrinking Violets are soliciting the name of your favorite indie bookstore! Their National Independent Bookseller Month celebration is a chance for your favorite little corner of bookland to be honored. Let them know all about it!
And speaking of announcements and dates, MotherReader has announced the June 6-8 48 Hour Book Challenge! Go! Sign up! Don't make the woman track you down! Also -- authors and artists, this is a great chance to donate a signed copy of your book or ARC or a fun book or reading or cool giftie for a prize. I am the proud owner of both a framed flower photograph (with an inspiring quote) taken by the awesome flower photographer cloudscome as well as handmade jewelry by MotherReader, a signed copy of Sara Lewis Holmes' book, Letters from Rapunzel, among other signed author copies, a Buddhist prayer flag, a handmade coffee sleeve and matching journal cover, and quite a few other awesome things that just made my day to receive them. I'm not telling you everything I won to make you jealous (although you should be: The prizes? AWESOME.) but to remind you that you have something to share with the kidlitosphere, too! You *definitely* need to get involved in the fun. Happens but once a year, so sign up today!
If you've tried calling over to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and gotten the machine, and Eisha's voice sounding like she's on helium... well, there's a reason for that. The Imps have hitched a ride to Paradise...
You're cordially invited to join a couple of ducks as they learn to dance. Kelly was Writing and Ruminating and got the ball rolling with the logic behind poetry revision, and Sara followed in three quarter time -- and came up with a bunch of raccoons. (You have to go there.)
Everywhere, writers are working -- constructing manuscripts and poetry, and they're also working on pulling together the best Summer Blog Blast Tour ever. Books are being scrutinized and lists of questions drawn up for our panel of guest authors and illustrators. Stay tuned for some challenging questions, thoughtful answers and some good fun next month!
April 07, 2008
There are myriad mysteries for middle grade readers. Remember Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown books? I loved those because they always surprised me. Some of my more recent MG mystery favorites are Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes series, which I adore. Endymion Spring is so involved that it could have interest for older readers, but the age of the protagonist puts it squarely in middle grade territory, ditto for lovably loony psychic investigator Miss Gilda Joyce.
My only exposure to classic young adult mysteries outside of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys tradition has been Joan Lowery Nixon, whose mysteries were cozy and somewhat predictable for me, but at least depicted strong female characters who did things. Canadian author Graham McNamee's 2003 novel, Acceleration, is classified as a mystery, but much of the action and the emotion takes place in the character's head, also making it a psychological thriller. Pitching this question to my writing group brought up the name Nancy Werlin, also known for her psychological thrillers which delve into the darkness of the human psyche. Again, a thriller isn't exactly a mystery, at least not by definition.
To me, a thriller is like... let's say it's like the game Jenga. You already have all the pieces, it's just a matter of trying to carefully delay the tower of facts all falling down on your turn. A mystery is more like a two thousand piece jigsaw puzzle -- without the box lid. You've also got everything in your hands, but... how does it all fit together?
Sometimes I'm not in the mood for the hard work of figuring out whodunnit and can't deal with the high level of anxiety created in psychological thrillers. It's then that I turn to my favorite frothy mystery, Black Taxi, by Australian author James Moloney, which uses both elements of suspense and mystery with a little comedy on the side.
Rosie Sinclair left school to be a hairdresser like her leopard-print wearing Mum, but at sixteen, she's back, because it all fell apart. Her beloved granddad, whom Rosie admits is "just a bit bent" has gotten busted on the last job of his 30 year petty crime career. His inevitable arrest means he's entrusting Rosie with the keys to his gorgeous classic black Mercedes, and his cell phone. Of course, Rosie is thrilled. Sure, sure -- okay. He's left her with the responsibility for chauffeuring around all his geriatric friends, and the phone is ringing off the hook with the querulous demands of the 'wrinklies,' but the car is awesome, and the guys it's attracting are hot.
But Grandpa Larkin is a well-known crook, and someone else has the number to his cell -- someone who is threatening bodily harm to Rosie and her grandpa, if she doesn't return 'the ring.'
What ring? Rosie wonders. And then the real fun begins.
This novel was possibly not as well received in the U.S. because Rosie is considered a high school dropout and her best friend, who is two years older, is an exotic dancer. This is unfortunate, since the Australian educational system, which releases sixteen year olds from compulsory education who don't wish to go on to University, doesn't label them 'dropouts' at all. I actually read a review that named Rosie's best friend as a prostitute instead of an exotic dancer -- which is patently false, and shows that the reviewer either did not read the book, or read FAR more into it than was written. While Rosie is definitely not polished and demure, the friendship shown between she and her best friend is true and solid, and the novel is entirely G-rated. Best of all, the decisive and funny conclusion will make you cheer. The mystery itself isn't that taxing, but there are some surprises, and the lightweight storyline moves quickly. This is definitely a Wicked Cool Overlooked Book.
Now that Colleen has asked the question, I'm going to be looking around for more really good young adult mysteries, and encouraging a few people in my writing group to, for heaven's sakes, FINISH THEIR BOOKS. *cough*
If you enjoyed Foundling, the first book in the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy by D.M. Cornish, then you'll be happy to hear that the second book, Lamplighter, continues to deliver on the richly developed story started in volume one. Though the beginning of the book felt a little detail-heavy with respect to the setting and world-building, after a couple of chapters I was drawn in yet again to the adventures of Rossamünd Bookchild.
Rossamünd has finally settled in to his training as a prentice lamplighter at Winstermill, the main facility for the schooling of lamplighters in every aspect of their service to the Empire. Besides military-type drills and classes in theory and chemistry relating to lamplighting, there's the actual lighting of the lamps—troops of prentices accompany fully-fledged lamplighters on their rounds, lighting the lamps at evening and dousing them in the morning. That's the way it's been for ages.
But everything is starting to change, as things tend to do. Firstly, the manse at Winstermill has taken in their first female prentice: Threnody, the daughter of a noblewoman and calendar. Calendars are women who roam the country defending its citizens from monster attacks and other troubles, either by traditional firearms or by the augmented mental powers of a lazhar. Threnody happens to be a type of lazhar herself—but an untrained one whose powers are more harm than help. So she's decided to become a lighter, to the consternation of her uncompromising mother.
Another thing that's been changing is the increase in monster attacks—theroscades—along the lighted Wormway that wends its course across the lands. Rossamünd first encountered Threnody during one of these unexpected theroscades, and there are more attacks to come. And when Rossamünd and Threnody are sent by the scheming Master-of-Clerks to the furthest, most dangerous outpost of the Wormway, they realize that more is afoot than simply a random increase in monster attacks—and that life isn’t nearly as simple as they thought. "Monsters bad, humans good" just doesn't seem to apply as neatly as they were raised to believe.
As with the first book in the series, Lamplighter is filled with rich detail and a thoroughly developed world with its own mythology, social structures, and history. It might be a bit much for those looking for a fast-paced adventure, but for those who like to savor a complex, layered, and fully realized setting, this book is astonishing in its level of detail. The story doesn't disappoint, either—once it really gained momentum, I was thoroughly caught up in Rossamünd and Threnody's adventures and developing friendship. A very strong second installment in the trilogy.
I was really excited to read John Van De Ruit's Spud--I'm not sure I've ever read any young adult fiction by a South African author. While I was reading I couldn't help comparing the overall aesthetic, the way certain topics were treated, etc., to the way those topics are handled in American or British or Australian YA lit. Most of all, I was fascinated by how the school system differs from the traditional American public school system—for this is a story about thirteen-year-old John "Spud" Milton's experiences at boarding school.
To me, it seems much like British prep school. Spud (so named by his peers because of his, erm, modestly endowed and not-fully-developed male region) is a scholarship student at a reputable school, where he goes to live with a colorful, varied, hilarious, and sometimes over-the-top cast of characters. Nearly every one of his new dorm-mates has a nickname, flattering or not—Rambo, Fatty, Earthworm, Gecko, and so forth—and everyone gets into some kind of trouble or another on a regular basis. Bossy prefects, disastrous rugby matches, infantile pranks, and neurotic roommates are de rigeur.
But this story has its serious side, too, and Spud, though he gets teased mercilessly, is also admired—by teachers for his thoughtfulness and quiet potential, by his fellow students for his friendship and his talents as a singer and actor in the school musical production, and by his first-ever girlfriend. He has to deal with an array of parental dramas, romantic traumas, joys, and griefs, and he's occasionally tripped up by his own faulty judgment—just like anyone else.
Written in diary form, Spud is funny, a little crude (would you expect less from a teenage guy?), and definitely eye-opening, and Spud himself has an endearing, clear-eyed perspective that's also still very innocent and goodhearted. I was very pleased to note that there will be a sequel to Spud's misadventures.
April 04, 2008
What Do I Write With?
Do I write with a bloody dagger?
I could write with the atoms of the air.
I can write with a touch of a hand.
I can write with lightning.
I can write with the power of sunlight.
I can write with the water of a sponge.
I can write with an oyster's pearl.
I can write with God's hand.
I can write with life.
I can write with my pumping heart.
But what do I erase with?
--Seth Durrant, 8, San Francisco
THE MAGIC OF THE PENCIL
What does writing mean to you
With words that gulp and swallow?
A story web is a thin thread
Your heart can always follow.
For words of pencil, not of mouth
Emote all of humanity.
And when a man speaks from his pen,
He's still thought to have his sanity.
Yet when that man speaks this in tongue
It becomes an empty stencil
He should have spoken all those words
With the magic of the pencil.
--Charlotte Constantin, 10, San Rafael
Looking at how kids view the writing process is both enlightening and humbling, to me. It makes me feel like I've forgotten so much, lost touch with a certain clarity of viewing the world. At the same time, it's inspiring--I can remember that sense of play, of the joy of just picking up a pencil and writing or drawing (and often both!). Check out both of these fabulous poems and many more on SFGate.com. And if you just can't get enough, here's a link to more poems by Bay Area kids.
Don't miss TadMack's striking contribution to Poetry Friday, and go cruise by the full roundup over at Becky's Book Reviews.
I first read this poem last November, and its words have reverberated since, as clearly as the roar of tides. No matter what side you land on in terms of his political writings (the poet is primarily a political essayist), the man's poetry is arresting and brilliant, as he puts words to the silent struggle for balance and sanity. So, anyway, this poem is for Kel and Jennifer, who can walk on water.
Maybe the moment recurs daily at six, when commuters,
freed from the staring computers,
elbow and bump in unsought intimacy on a station
platform with you, and frustration
rots what is left of your strength. Maybe the hour comes after
dinner, when televised laughter
seeps from a neighboring room; maybe the time is the dead of
night, when you ponder, instead of
dreaming. Whatever the time, you will escape it—by sinking
down with a book, or by drinking
secretly out in the dark studio, or by unbuckling
pants on a stranger, or chuckling,
one with a mob, in a deep theater. Soon, though, the hour
comes to corrode all your power,
pleasure and faith with the damp dread that it daily assigns you.
How you evade it defines you.
-- by essayist Michael Lind, from Parallel Lives © Etruscan Press, 2007
Poetry Friday this week is hosted at the bookish Becky's blog. Poetry Princesses: the countdown begins!
And onward to more mundane but no less exciting items: This is the week for cover girls. Mitali's Secret Keeper has enviable eyelashes, and John Green's Paper Towns has two covers with the same gorgeous girl -- one subtly ...well, dirtier, thus targeting a difference audience. (Which audience are you if you like a girl with smudges on her face? Inquiring minds now want to know the plot.)
Finally, SB Sarah asks a brilliant question over at Smart Bs/Trashy Bs that has resonated with me both as a writer and as a reader: does romance in novels influence the way readers view relationships? Do YA's expect to find guys who make snappy comebacks like in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist? Do guys expect to find girls who are somewhat passive, like Stephanie Meyers' Bella? This post combined with the poem really made me stop and think... and think some more.
April 03, 2008
I also participated in Art By Committee again this week, over at the blog of illustrator James Gurney (of Dinotopia fame). This week's was pretty tough--I'm not sure mine quite lives up to the others, but I had fun given the limited time I had this week. And I look forward to participating in Poetry Friday tomorrow--I have fun stuff! It's all picked out already!
April 01, 2008
Anyway, back to the actual topic of YA writing: Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market blogger Alice Pope has co-written a how-to book--Writing and Selling the YA Novel--with K.L. Going, author of Fat Kid Rules the World and other books. The book will be available next week, according to Alice's newsletter--the Amazon link says otherwise, but check Writer's Digest Books--it might be available there.
While I am sort of sick of hearing about Elizabeth Gilbert (apologies to everyone who just LOVES her book) I was happy to find out that her sister is Catherine Murdock Gilbert... the YA author who wrote Dairy Queen and its sequels. Cool, no? Putting aside Elizabeth Gilbert's meteoric rise to fame, the Oprah-bump that Eat, Pray, Love received etc. ad nauseum, ad infinitum, the really cool thing about her that The Violets have zeroed in on is how she wrote her book. She wrote it to ONE person, a friend who was troubled, and whom Gilbert felt would benefit from hearing about how her life had changed from her travels and various interactions with nations and people. Just one person. The whole novel was a letter.
In my MFA craft classes and in my writing group, the topic has often turned to audience. Who are you writing for? one of us will ask the other when we're not sure the story is communicating clearly to its intended readers. We often debate whether or not it's important to have an audience, a target toward which to aim the appeal of the story. Some of us try to write for everyone -- adults, teens, middle graders, small children. Others of us consider this futile and just try to write for ourselves.
There has to be middle ground.
Being all things to all people never works in life, not to mention in writing. But writing in consideration of an audience seems scary -- what if the audience is made up of hostile critics who don't respond to your work in the way that you want? -- Picturing yourself writing to a sea of unknown faces may not work, but Gilbert's idea of just writing to one ...is ponder-worthy, and maybe even a tiny bit magical.
What an idea: communication. One to one.
Tons of people knit little hats and donate soft toys and stickers for kids in Children's Hospitals. But, if you're sixteen, those things really aren't aimed for you. What you really need is a BOOK. Books are portals that open onto new worlds, bring entertainment, distraction, and sometimes can help blunt the pain. If you can't avoid the hospital, at least there should be tons of books there, no? Rock the Drop, people. April 17th. Go see the readergirlz and get involved.
It's NOT a joke: effervescent novelist, Carrie Jones... is running for Maine State Legislature. Whoa! AND we have the same birthday. Which is a coolness unto itself. Go, Carrie, go, Maine! Whoo!
All RIGHT... Because it's ...traditional this first day of April, I have to include some weirdness- so, here are things I WISH were complete jokes, via Ypulse in the last couple of days: Paris Hilton, inspiring role model to young girls. What. Ev. Er. And ...Christian... jeans. No, really.