October 30, 2008

Toon Thursday: The Countdown's Almost Over...


Yup, that's right--'tis that time of year again! It's nearly November, which means it's just about time to start National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), and if you're like me, you're already raring to go. I have a brand-new idea which is truly epic in scope; I have copious notes about setting (it's a dystopian novel, sorta); and I have budding characters which I hope will flower in the next day and a half left before I need to start writing.


AND, I just found out who's on the list of Celebrity Pep Talkers who will be featured in twice-weekly e-mails throughout the month of November--kidlit and YA fans will be excited to note that the list includes Meg Cabot, Brian Jacques, Katherine Paterson, Philip Pullman, and Jonathan Stroud. Also, the junior-high-aged me was excited to discover Piers Anthony on the list, though the adult me found it amusing in light of the Toon Thursday about The Pun That Wouldn't Die.




A couple of fun seasonal links to round out today's post: check out the October Carnival of Children's Literature over at The Well-Read Child for a host of reviews and interviews to celebrate the fall season. And lastly, don't forget about the Blog the Vote effort, organized by Colleen, Greg and Lee. It's a non-partisan, multi-blog event about why voting matters--remember to post your thoughts on Monday, and remember to VOTE!

October 29, 2008

A little bit of election exhaustion

If you think you've heard it all, that's because... you have! It's synchronized debating! All the same words, most of the time. On one hand, it's good that people are consistent. On the other hand, probably everyone in the whole world could hush just now, and we'd all still hear the echoes in our brains, word perfect...


(Indexed by Jessica Hagy, ©2008)

Gratitude for all of you sitting on the metaphorical couch with your fellow bloggers this week, saying, "It'll all be more bearable in a few days." Through election fatigue, writing blahs, and general Wednesday work doldrums, we're all here for each other (even though we're not... there), passing the popcorn, arguing over who gets the last piece of chocolate, and as always, talking up our favorite books.

This too shall pass.
Happy Wednesday.

Odd Lots

Happy Diwali! The skies were full of lights and color last night, and it was dangerous to walk down the street, as everyone and his brother had fireworks. Fun -- but deafening -- times, all.

Via Chasing Ray's awesome post today, I have discovered the COOLEST thing EVER: I already admire the heck out of the gorgeous and talented Holly Black. Now I find out that she has a secret library? I am deliriously envious!!!

Oh, my word! In the Cybils fever, a lot of us have forgotten about 28 Days Later, the Brown Bookshelf's February celebration of African American literature. According to the site, "We’re specifically looking for new books and books that have “flown under the radar,” but you can nominate any book, as long as it’s a children’s or YA book written by an African-American author published by a traditional publisher for the trade market." NOMINATIONS CLOSE NOVEMBER 1. The organizers of 28 Days are requesting more nominations for middle grade and YA books, so please think about books for older kids which you've enjoyed this year, and go over and nominate, so that these books can have a wider readership.

Also, I'm deliriously jealous? Because Alkelda went to see the Vlog Brothers. She brought back some Molly, though, so she's totally forgiven. Man, I wish I could play the ukulele or the guitar. Or anything usefully stringed. But no. The kazoo. Anyway, I wish that MySpace falls into obscurity for utterly different reasons. Molly is, by the way, far too adorable.

Galleycat reported on Tuesday that there will be sixteen lay-offs at Random House's Doubleday division, which was painful and scary to hear. Original Content gives us a great big heads up on bankruptcy clauses in writing contracts -- and reminds you that you probably have one. This clause decides what happens to you if your publishing house goes bankrupts. Good to know, that.

And now for a PSA:



You can't possibly forget to vote, but don't be discouraged that your voice might not be heard. Vote for whomever or whatever you want, but DO IT. And remember to Blog the Vote November 3rd.

October 28, 2008

Leaving Home: Long May She Reign

Though this is a relatively stand-alone volume in Ellen Emerson White's series about Meg Powers, I have lingering guilt for having read this totally out of order. But I can tell you this--I'll definitely be looking for the others in the series.

Without too many spoilers, Long May She Reign begins with the first steps in a long recovery process from a horrific ordeal. Meg isn't quite an ordinary teenager; she's the daughter of the President of the United States--who just happens to be female. The premise is fun--there's a First Gentleman, and it's taken as a simple fact that a woman would be just as strong, wise, and, yes, complex and troubled, a public figure as a male President.

But Meg--that's another story. Several months before this story starts--presumably in one of the earlier books in the series--Meg had been kidnapped, brutalized, and left for dead. She managed to escape, but her physical and emotional recovery won't be easy...and they haven't been. Especially when she isn't sure what to think of her mother--who refused to negotiate with the terrorists who kidnapped her. Now that Meg is starting college, she will have to face and work through not only her lingering fears from the kidnapping, but also her conflicted feelings toward her mother.

Despite the political setting, this is not a political novel, but a story of recovery and personal struggle. Of course the fact that Meg is the President's daughter informs the entire book, from the Secret Service agents--and paparazzi--that follow Meg everywhere she goes, to the way she's treated by her college classmates. It's exhausting for the reader--as it no doubt is for Presidential families in real life. And, from time to time, Meg herself is a bit exhausting. She refuses to attend therapy, which is frustrating, and she is almost stubbornly self-unaware at times. However, the story is intense and absorbing, and the characters are all very realistically complex and conflicted--and human.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Behind the Facade: Paper Towns

Margo Roth Spiegelman: Runaway. Daredevil. Legend. And Quentin Jacobsen--classmate, neighbor, geek-at-large--is in love with her.

Sure, they've been friends since they were kids. But Margo has always been the instigator of schemes, the quasi-evil genius, and Quentin her loyal sidekick. Even that day when they were nine and they found the body in the park, Margo was the one to approach it. And now that they're seniors--even though Margo is undeniably a part of school lore, while Quentin is merely a nerdy footnote--Quentin finds himself drawn into Margo's orbit once again. But after a wild night of vengeful pranks and sneaking around public property with Margo, Quentin arrives at school to find that Margo has implemented the ultimate adventurous scheme.

Although Quentin's hero-worship is enough to make anybody exhausted, his two quirky and amusing best friends--the "honeybunny"-chasing Ben and the wiki-addicted Radar--are loyal enough to go along for the ride, and as a reader I was happy to ride along, too. Like John Green's other novels, Paper Towns layers humor with emotional depth and intellectual breadth, and doesn't talk down to teen readers.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Do Electric Androids Dream of Sleep?

Did you know Carrie Jones has a new book coming out two months? We are still recovering from the AWESOME that is Girl, Interrupted, and now she's at it again, this time with a scary one. Please note that she is also running for office.

I am starting the rumor that she is an android and does not sleep. Remember, you heard it here first.

Okay, it's freezing, and my girlfriend in New Jersey just emailed me that it's been snowing for three hours. IT IS STILL OCTOBER. I'm becoming slightly concerned about this winter thing. Just a little.

October 27, 2008

Diversity: One Little Red Snowsuit At A Time

Via the fabulous blog of Miss Rumphius:

Celebrate The 50th Anniversary Of THE SNOWY DAY
By Ezra Jack Keats
Help Create A Commemorative Postage Stamp

The U.S. Postage Stamp Citizen’s Advisory Committee, the group that decides what subjects are chosen for our country’s commemorative postage stamps, is considering celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the publishing of THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats. This book is not just an American classic beloved by generations of children and parents around the world; it is also the book that broke the color barrier in mainstream American children’s book publishing.

It takes three years for the subject of a postage stamp to be considered, accepted and developed. The fiftieth anniversary of THE SNOWY DAY is in 2012. Help us gather signatures to send to the Citizen’s Advisory Committee to let them know how welcome this stamp would be to families and educators across the country. Help us show the world that Ezra’s character Peter, playing in the snow, a character they recognize and treasure, is as valued here as it is abroad.

To support the creation of THE SNOWY DAY 50th Anniversary Commemorative Stamp visit the website of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and add your name to the Support the Stamp list. Tell your friends, your students, your teachers and your parents to add their names to our petition. Names will not be used for any other reason than for THE SNOWY DAY Stamp Petition, nor will they be shared or sold to any other entity. Help make 2012 a celebration of American children in all their diversity!


Oh, I am ALL over this. I love, love, LOVE this little book, even though I was way too old for it the first time I read it. I remember thinking it was so startling -- so much color on a snowy day...! If you're of a mind to be a part of making this a fabulous postal stamp, head on over to Ezra Jack Keats. org and their petition site.

October 26, 2008

Saffron on the Seven Seas

It starts with a death.

No, really. Swashbuckling pirate Emer Morrisey, just moments away from giving up the pirating life and retiring with a treasure and a love with whom she's only just been reunited, is having the worst luck. The man she's been running from has just killed her one true love, and now... her. She dies, sadly covered with... dog hair. She's been cursed, and not just with fleas. It's the Dust of 100 Dogs, and she's now doomed to live out her life ...as a dog.

For three hundred years.

How on earth did Emer become a pirate? That question is one of the three main story strands, which takes the reader through Emer's childhood, to the day she ...er, dies on the beach in what would be Jamaica. The second storyline is her life with her aunt and uncle, until she is sent to France. The most contemporary storyline takes place in the 70's, as Emer -- now called Saffron -- has to be bored through babyhood and childhood before she can get on back to her treasure and her independence. Meanwhile, there's... high school. And her really disturbing parents. And hormones and emotions and a whole lot of homework.

The scenes of 17th century Europe are gritty and realistic. Emer is treated like chattel, which is what most women were during that time. The pirate are adventurous, the stuff of tall tales and myth, where Emer wins every time -- until she gets lazy. This is a completely original, crazy story that will suck you in and hold onto you.

Also, this book is practical! Should you ever want a puppy, there are tons of cool dog taming trick in here -- after all, Emer was a dog, she knows from what she speaks!

While The Dust of 100 Dogs has a cool cover and is gripping and fantastically entertaining, I'm left with a couple of questions -- mainly, why the dust of 100 Dogs? Where'd it come from? Why didn't anyone use magic against Emer before then? Why did the first mate curse Emer, when she didn't even know who he was? (Why was he so loyal to the Frenchman when he was dying, when loyalty didn't seem to be all that common amongst pirates?) Why did everyone else age in the present day, and only she is eighteen? How many lives did they have? Were they all dogs?

These are trifling little questions compared to the scope and sweep of the story. This is A.S. King's first book, and it's a zinger. Check it out, and you'll be soon asking for more.

Buy The Dust of 100 Dogs from an independent bookstore near you!

A Winter's Read


Canadian author K.V. Johansen has published a slim collection of short stories in which nothing is as it seems.

A gangling warrior princess on the surface is at heart a skald. A burly man is really a demon bear, and his companions is not a storyteller, but a woman with a grudge against the gods. In the Bronze Age, love and family is something even the slaves find a joy, and devotion to gods and family go hand in hand -- unless it's the wrong god, and then all is lost. Betrayals and the nameless losses of war reanimate the last days of Arthur and the English at the Battle of Maldon, when the Vikings vanquished them and for a time, their way of life.

This small book is a feast in one slow swallow, a perfect book to pick up when you've just got a minute to read. Its intended audience is older teens and adults.

Buy THE STORYTELLER AND OTHER TALES from an independent bookstore near you!

October 24, 2008

Poetry Friday: Telling the Truest Tale


A couple of years ago, I was really excited to meet Our Jane Yolen in person. Okay, yes, I didn't actually meet her; I stood next to her in a hallway while we sipped tea and sat in the row behind her at a conference, but I was this close to saying hello. Anyway, I admire her greatly as a writer, but why I refer to her as Our Lady, Jane, is because of her poetry, which generally contrives to smack me right between the eyes with a small silver hammer called Truth.

I've posted this poem before, but especially now, in the thick of election furor and angst, in the days when acrimony and hope war side by side, it's time to share it, gratefully, again (and since it was passed out at the conference on bookmarks, I am sharing it in full). Let it smack you with that hammer, set you thinking and being and doing. May you see the Other in all your tales in a truer way.


Once Upon
by Jane Yolen © 2007

Once Upon A Time
there was a Wolf,
but not a Wolf,
an Other
whose mother
and father were others,
who looked not like us,
Republican or Dem
in other words--
Them.
They were forest dwellers,
child sellers,
meat eaters,
wife beaters,
idol makers
oath breakers --
in other words, Wolf.
So Happy Ever After means
we kill the Wolf,
spill his blood,
knock him out,
bury him in mud,
make him dance
in red hot shoes.
For us to win
The Wolf must lose.


Poetry Friday is hosted today by its creator, the one and only Kelly@BigA, little a.

October 23, 2008

Toon Thursday: Behind the Scenes

Okay, so this is really a shameless attempt to cover up the fact that I don't have a new cartoon to post today. Truly, I tried. And I did in fact start a toon--but then once I finished the underdrawing I decided I didn't like it enough to post it. Crap on a cracker.


Instead, I thought I'd post my unfinished sketch for you in the context of a little behind-the-scenes look at what happens when I make a Toon Thursday.


1. The Concept. Usually while driving around running errands, I come up with an idea. If I'm particularly inspired, something I encountered on the web or the news that week might serve as my subject matter. If not, I try to milk old ideas like the never-ending series "Common Species of the Literary World."


2. The Supplies. My supplies for these are really ghetto. If I'm doing a formal project, I might bust out my set of Rapidograph technical pens, the Speedball dip pen with its set of nibs, or even the bamboo reed pen. For Toon Thursday, as you can see, I have a sketchbook, a mechanical pencil, an eraser, a black Uniball Micro, a Sharpie, and a cheap plastic ruler (so I don't get Sharpie on our nice metal rulers). Oh, and the couch.


3. The Sketch. First I draw the rectangle which the cartoon will occupy, in pencil. I divide it into any necessary compartments, and then I ink it in with a Sharpie. This can be seen at right in my rejected cartoon for this week. Then I pencil in the interior text and drawing, and ink that in with the Uniball and sometimes a finer-point Sharpie. Then I use the eraser to erase the pencil. Often, at this stage, I forget to sign the cartoon.


4. The Final Product. The last step is to scan the cartoon into an image-editing program--for this purpose I use the user-friendly and less memory-hungry GIMP rather than Photoshop. In the GIMP, I add header text, sometimes my initials and the date, and then use color, pattern, and gradient fills of various types to color everything in. At the end, it looks like the Toon Thursday you know and love.


5. Resources. I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the years and years of doodling and noodling I did as a result of a book my mom bought me when I was about ten entitled How to Be a Cartoonist (right). I really did want to be a cartoonist for a while, and I have been, to some small extent, in various voluntary capacities. Little did I dream of that, back in the days when I drew Garfield and Odie all over my notebooks, or later, Bill the Cat and Opus (or, earlier, my own cartoon character, Dork the Duck).

October 21, 2008

Running After Race

Each month our writing group has Craft Chats, where we read a few articles and discuss the craft of fiction. Aquafortis last night came up with a great discussion starter on dialogue, and we debated the merits of dialogue as an indicator of cultural, ethnic and racial identification.

I disagreed strongly with one article's premise that dialectal English is a positive way to convey ethnicity. While I'm not a fan of the foodie descriptors -- the mocha-caramel-chocolate-cinnamon skin/eye combination -- I'm also not a fan of the "Fraulein, vee haf vays of makingt you talk!" school of dialogue, either. People may feel comfortable with exaggerating the characteristic accents of their own culture, but it seems like a cheap shortcut most of the time, and is a slippery slope to caricature and stereotyping.

Of course, if all of one's characters are written to reflect the dominant culture, this perhaps need never be an issue... Or, maybe, as is being discussed at the Fire Escape authors maybe shouldn't describe race at all.

Most writers describe race if a person is nonwhite. Rarely do writers spend time discussing or describing a character of the dominant culture unless it's a romance/relationship/"chick lit" kind of thing, and it's deemed important for the reader in order to engage their imagination and allow them to insert themselves into the story. (Of course, a writer always wants this, but somehow, in romance there's just more description. Appealing to the physical, etc.) In young adult literature, class seems to be more closely described, and race is often left in the foodie stages. (Sure, sure, she's got mocha skin and long licorice lashes, but does she have an iPod and 7 Jeans?) Race, for some, is dismissed as an outmoded thing, a social construct that doesn't really have any meaning. After all, didn't Stephen Colbert already say that he doesn't see race? (Therefore no one does, right?)


When a character's ethnicity isn't explicitly defined, can't a reader still identify with things about them, like their fashion sense, strength, or love of algebra? Is hoping that readers will identify with a character simply because they are described as being of a particular ethnicity, racist? Or are you offering your reader a representation with which to identify?

From the writer's point of view, it's been strange to write -- to be honest, the character of Lainey was meant to be biracial, but I was discouraged from this. Another manuscript featured a Caucasian male, which was shocking to a few people, and eventually I was asked to rework that novel entirely. I may, someday. (Or not.) My recent WIP has a character with AFOs -- ankle/foot orthosis -- and crutches. A member of my writing group suggested that I add more description because it wasn't apparent what the character looked like. At the time, the comment didn't strike me as strangely as it did later on. Once again, I'm afraid that I am not, as a fellow MFA'er once told me, "representing" properly.

A commenter at Mitali's blog sagely remarked that "show, don't tell" is always the most important rule, but how, really, do we show race? Or can we? Saying that race doesn't matter doesn't equate with treating people equally, nor does it erase the desire of many readers to know who they're dealing with.

But...why is that?
Why does it matter?
Are we trying to identify? Or differentiate?

October 20, 2008

Succumbing to Peer Pressure

Thanks to the challenge issued by the Disco Mermaids, I'm forced to post this fuzzy-lensed, chin-posed-pertly-on-fist monstrosity. I'm not sure what the deal is with my bangs, either. Actually, I do--I believe I was doing that halfway-up, halfway-down thing that was so popular at the time. Sigh.


I'm also embarrassed to report that, at my 10-year high school reunion (about 5 years ago now), I was one of the people voted "least changed since high school." I realize that's probably supposed to be a compliment, but...oh, for crying out loud. I was drinking a beer. I sure didn't do that in high school, come on now. (No, really--I didn't.) And my hair is so much shorter. Please.


I also had a second version of the portrait with a standing pose, but I couldn't find a copy. So this is all you get.




One more famous children's book author for you--this one makes a bit more sense, though. I heard on NPR's All Things Considered a while ago that Berkeley Breathed, who penned the comic strips Bloom County, Outland, and Opus, is leaving the cartooning world for a time and entering the children's book world with a picture book about a pig and an elephant--Pete and Pickles. No sappy tale is this, however, says Breathed:


"I can't resist the great moment of truth. It's what draws me to a story. ... Most children's stories ... are afraid to bring a moment of danger and threat and potential death to a story, which I think is absolutely critical in carrying a child in through the arc that is required for him or her — as long as you show them the other end of that tunnel and the decisions made to get out of it."

I have to admit to being very interested in Pete and Pickles--I was a HUGE fan of Bloom County when I was growing up, and became quite accomplished at doodling Bill the Cat and Opus the Penguin in the margins of my high school class notes.




One more NPR tidbit: looking to expand your reading tastes? NPR's Day to Day suggests this list of The Best Foreign Books You've Never Heard Of. According to the piece, "Only about 3 percent of all books published in the United States are works that have been translated." David Kipen, director of Literature and National Reading Initiatives at the National Endowment for the Arts, put together the list to challenge readers to broaden their horizons.

McGraw & Mug Shots


Mug shots. Probably not the nicest way of saying it. But ...okay. I said it anyway. Mug shots: those senior portraits.

I mock because I love, but I'm not doing it.

No, I have to ...think about it. But Jay (and Robin!) of the Disco-ing Mermaids have once again thrown down the peer pressure, so the rest of us must assemble our high school geekesque selves and post our senior pictures. Betsy Bird has shown us the way, as has Sara -- looking wholesome and sweet (why, yes, like granola, Sara!), and really, Jay and his bad boy guitar and Robin with her fluffy hair are adorable. I stole my friend Dan's sweater for my senior picture, and it LOOKS like it. Plus, my chin is all weird. SO, no, I'm not posting mine, although I just looked at them this weekend. *shudders.*

Okay.
Now, I ...I... MotherReader, can you hear me? I'm going to have to get out the BACA stamp and put on my kickers. What IS IT with these autumn titles!? And Doret, his HEAD IS ON THE COVER.

"It's something that as a father you kind of have to sacrifice what you want to do, because boys do what you want to do. If I want to go to the farm and shoot guns or ride four-wheelers in the mud when it's 40 degrees ... the girls aren't really interested in doing that," he said.

But McGraw said he's found that his daughters like coming along while he does simple, everyday stuff, like running to the grocery store or stopping by the office.


Tim McGraw, talking about his daughters and his children's book: My Little Girl.

Perhaps it would have been better if he'd put in My Stereotypically Simple Little Girl. Or, maybe, just.. you know, The Little Woman.

*mumbles, kicks dirt, says bad things under breath*

Tami Lewis Brown and Liz Gallagher are exploring horror at the Tollbooth. And Cynthia L. Smith is being interviewed on GottaWrite Girl. Check her out.

Monday's Mug of Linkosity

New books in the world today: first, Bay Area SCBWI member Deborah Underwood is the ghost writer on Whoopi Goldberg's new children's book (!), Sugar Plum Ballerinas. Doret@ Happy Nappy Bookseller gives it a vote of confidence -- surprise, surprise. Apparently, this is NOT a BACA Book (though if you're in need of some real snark on the topic the Guardian can still make you laugh). Props to Deborah Underwood!

The 2008 Cybils Nominees are all wrapped and packaged and ready for reading. Take a zip through the list, which is thoughtfully broken down by genre, and get ready to do some holiday shopping! It's definitely going to be a book year in our family; I just found out my wee nephew calls spiders "Kill-its" (thanks to his paranoid and beastly father) and so I shall be forced to buy him a book that displays spiders in a positive role, uses their actual name, counts their legs, etc., until he graduates to Charlotte's Web and learns of arachnid fabulosity himself. (Since he's 14 months old, we have a ways to go.)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed 60 years ago, in 1948, by the United Nations General Assembly at the end of World War II, and if you've never looked at it, please take a minute to do so! You'll note that it has a lot of ... words in it. Honestly, they're good words and gorgeous words, and words that will make you put your hand on your heart and close your eyes and dream hard of a better world. But, there's also a lot of "whereas"-es and "thereins" and that kind of thing in it. Enter We Are All Born Free a lovely children's edition of the UK version of the declaration (spelled with more u's), illustrated by the bright lights of children's literature here, the sale of which will benefit Amnesty International.

This beautiful little volume came out the first of October and I WISH I'd recommended for the Cybils! Since I didn't, I'm going to flog it here. Go and page through it online and tell me it's not something that would be really amazing for not necessarily just small children, but bigger ones, who need to know the awesomeness of the dream that was held for the world, once upon a time, before things got messy... What a great, tangible reminder of a way to get back on track, and what a good personal reminder about individual freedoms, and that basically, not even your parents have the right to force you to do things -- nor do you have the right to force others. Everyone should know their rights, and relish the right to be left alone, and politely demand from their governments what is due to each.

Ooh, new vampire book from Marcus Sedgewick. I'm still traumatized from the first book of his I read; I may have to wait until summer to read this one.

I'm used to finding the odd (and in the case of The Slidy Diner VERY odd) Random Illustrator Features over at the 7-Imps, but was pleasantly surprised to discover this illustrator interview with Nicole Tadgell over at Big A, little a. No Mush Today is a book by Sally Derby from Lee & Low, and it's adorable and colorful and full of disgust for squishy hot cereal and squishy, stuffed-toy-stealing baby brothers. (I completely relate to this book as I am still smarting from the theft of a particularly cute lamb toy by my... *cough* a perfidious baby I know. Who is now, like, seventeen. But I digress.) Nicole is a fabulous, lively illustrator, and I love that there are pictures of her working -- I can never get enough of seeing regular people at their desks, doing their thing.

And speaking of regular people at their desks, procrastinating, that's it for me. Happy Monday.

October 17, 2008

Poetry Friday: the Writing on the Wall

Epigrams are like the graffiti of the poetic world. They're not generally more than four lines with varying rhyme schemes, and the only real requirement is that they're witty and concise, which is what I suppose what people who scrawl things in public spaces think they're being. (Yet so often, they're just incoherent. Like this bird...thing). I love them, and enjoyed paging through my Norton poetry book to select a few for today. These caught my eye~

Epigram, by Peter Pindar, ca. 1780

Midas, they say, possessed the art of old
Of turning whatso'er he touched to gold;
This modern statesman can reverse with ease --
Touch them with gold, they'll turn to what you please.

It absolutely slays me that this was written in seventeen eighty!!!

Epigram, by Matthew Prior, 1710-20

Rise not till noon, if life be but a dream,
      As Greek and Roman poets have expressed:
Add good example to so grave a theme,
      For he who sleeps the longest lives the best.

A more modern epigram comes from Countee Cullen, and while bringing a smile, also brings a bit of a wince:

For a Lady I Know, 1925

She even thinks that up in heaven
Her class lies late and snores,
While poor black cherubs rise at seven
To do celestial chores.

I don't think Mr. Cullen ever bothered trying to straighten her out. I like his wry tone, and how he carefully doesn't say she's exactly wrong, but... you get the point anyway.

Finally, J.V. Cunningham reminds us that all things will take place -- eventually.

All in Due Time, 1950

All in due time: love will emerge from hate,
And the due deference of truth from lies.
If not quite all things come to those who wait
They will not need them: in due time one dies.

And on that cheery note, I invite to you join the gang at Becky's for Poetry Friday.

October 16, 2008

Toon Thursday: Back on the Writing Track


After last week's detour into politics, I'm back on track again with a writing-related cartoon--this one pertaining to craft, since we're going to discuss voice and authenticity during our writing group chat next week. Of course, dialect (or even, dare I say, idiolect) is only one component of authentic narrative voice, and I'm most concerned with the idea of creating an authentic-sounding teen narrator...




Well, the Cybils nominations have closed--hope you had a chance to nominate some worthy books. In thinking about book awards, I remembered a link that a friend of mine sent me called Death By Newbery Medal. Although clearly the Somebody Must Die trope isn't ubiquitous among Newbery books, it happens often enough that someone with a lot of time on their hands created a wiki article and list. It's rather amusing, though I resent the allegation that "medal awarders are morons." I'd like to think that our lovely Cybils panelists are a bit more discriminating than that.




Should boy books be judged by slacker standards simply because there aren't enough of them, or enough good ones? A review of a dystopian novel over at Interactive Reader prompts an interesting discussion in the comments. I would have to say my answer is--to quote Andy Warhol--uh, no.




Lastly, in perusing more of the reports from the Kidlit Conference, I just wanted to link to a post by Mark Blevis (of Just One More Book) about the powerful community we're building here in the kidlitosphere. Mark raises some important ideas about how we're all changing the industry in little and not-so-little ways, just by virtue of our communication and coordination as a group.

October 15, 2008

Today's the Day!


The new leaner, meaner (in a nice way) Cybils nominations close tonight at 11:59, Pacific Time. All aboard who are coming aboard!

Although, I have to LAUGH at myself -- having left everything to the last minute, I'm finding that MANY of the books I nominated are already taken. Fortunately, there are some great organizers who are helpfully giving suggestions and memory joggers; take advantage of the "what's missing" roundups here and here; it is not yet too late!!!



So, here's ...a BACA you might not have heard about. The 200 lb. plus actress "Mo'Nique has committed herself to a four book series for plus sized teens. Now, I know my kidlit blogosphere peeps don't usually cut celebrities any slack for writing young adult literature; however, these books are semi-autobiographical. And probably no one else is writing the kinds of books she wants to write, to the specific audience. Does Mo'Nique still get a BACA OFF? Is it ever okay for a celeb to grab hold of an Issue and make it their own? Perhaps a better question is, could anyone else make an Issue/Problem novel sell in this era??? Inquiring minds...

Via Bookshelves of Doom I found a freebie; Alan Gratz' Something Rotten is at his blog until November 30th, for free. You'll want to pick up his new book the minute you can; he really is working this Shakespeare thing really well.


I am just SHRIEKING out my congratulations especially to Laurie Halse Anderson and E. Lockhart for being National Book Award Nominees for Young People's Literature. Oh, it is SO HARD to choose from so many amazing books. Can I say how deeply glad I am NOT to be on that committee? Again, congratulations, awesome authors!

October 12, 2008

ALL CAPS ALERT: Three Days Left...




CLOSE FOREVER!?
Okay, yeah, that’s overly dramatic.
BUT THERE’S VERY LITTLE TIME to make sure THE ONE BOOK YOU LOVE BEST in each of the GENRE CATEGORIES has been nominated.
What categories, you ask? Why THESE!


STUMPED? Don't have a book to suggest for every title?
Check out the list of titles that aren’t yet on the list… and let it jog your memory. But MOVE FAST.
TIME is RUNNING OUT!


What's Missing on the Cybils list? Check here.

October 11, 2008

Ink and Possession

Jack's always been the sidekick; the boring, steady, go-along guy whose the perfect audience. Charlie's the fun one with the hip, dark looks, the right clothes and the cool attitude. However, when Charlie's Dad splits, even Charlie's cool is shaken. He's locked into a knot of pain and fury into which Jack is too timid to intrude, and when a stranger runs into him on a London street, Jack fears that Carlie's impulsivity and rage is going to get the both of them neck deep in all kinds of unpleasantness.

As it turns out, Jack's right -- more right than he could possibly know. 'Cause what Charlie's gotten them into is a secret society -- that's supposed to guard the resting place of a demon whose only goal in his dark and twisted life is to awaken a dragon which will unravel the fabric of the universe.

Small detail: the demon's escaped, and the secret society members are dying, fast. They're in need of new members, and suddenly Charlie has all the right moves.

But ...where did he get them? And what gives with that cool black tat that's suddenly insinuated itself all over his back and down his arms?

But soon the bad outweighs the cool, and things get mucho, mucho weird. Charlie's not acting like himself. It may be it's not just his best friend in there anymore... from the black tattoo that flows over his body at times, Jack's figured it out: Charlie's possessed.

And it's up to boring, steady, go-along Jack

                      ...to go to hell and save the world.

This is... a trippy book, with some lighthearted moments that catch you by surprise and make it a little lighter. It may have as much in terms of deconstruction as you might want -- there are a few "whys" in the philosophical realm that get unanswered, but it's definitely fast-paced action and a sidekick character the reader actually cares about.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

X-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

A Quantum Leap -- !


Oh, Amber's day has basically just gone from bad to worse.

It's not as if getting lost by a cemetery on the way to a party is fun -- and then falling into a patch of nettles and messing up her outfit, when she so wanted to look pulled together in front of the new girl, Trinidad, to whom she'd offered a ride to this thing. Even though she meets a boy, overhearing a nasty comment from the hostess that she's basically a loser tag-along really ruins everything for her.

Amber goes home, then.
And gets hit by a mail truck.

Some people just cannot catch a break.

After Amber's near-death experience, when Grammy Greta tries to direct her back to Life, she takes a wrong turn -- and ends up inhabiting the body of the most popular girl in school -- one who's missed a few days, due to... a suicide attempt?

Amber is disbelieving, and frantic. And, she's also... stuck.

They say you never understand a person 'til you walk a mile in their shoes.
Amber might have a bit to say on that one.


Buy Dead Girl Walking from an independent bookstore near you!

October 10, 2008

Fall into Mystery: Gratz and McClintock

These reviews first appeared on Guys Lit Wire.

Call it a Whodunit x 2. Or perhaps a Two-dunit. Or even a Who-DUO-nit. Okay, maybe not. I'll stop with the puns. But whatever you choose to call it, there's an autumn chill in the air—and you'll get even more of a chill from two gripping murder mysteries that provide a bit of a twist on the usual mystery mold.

Macbeth--the Shakespeare version—has its share of murder, mayhem, and mystery, so it makes sense that the Bard's old standby might inspire a modern-day whodunit. In Alan Gratz's Something Wicked, fans of his first book will be pleased to see the return of Horatio Wilkes. Horatio himself, though, is somewhat less than pleased at having to spend half a week at the Scottish Highland Fair with his friend Mac, who's been acting pretty weird ever since he got together with the bewitching Beth. (Just take the word "bewitching," remove a few letters, and add a "Y," and you'll have a pretty good idea of what she's like.)

And then poor Horatio stumbles upon Duncan MacRae lying dead in his tent in a pool of blood. At first there's an obvious suspect—Duncan's son, who would stand to inherit substantial land upon his father's death. But in the world of feuding Scottish clans, with scheming and swindling going on left and right, it's hard to know who's to blame and who's merely a pawn.

If you know the story of Macbeth, you'll probably have a pretty good idea who's the guilty party—but you're also likely to get a kick out of how Gratz has adapted the various Shakespeare characters to fit a modern-day setting. Horatio's narrative voice is funny, and there's a lot of humor as well as good old tension and mystery. Even if you're a Macbeth expert, don't dismiss it as a rehashing of the play—the story may be inspired by Macbeth, but it's original and engaging as well as just a little bit tongue-in-cheek.

For something a little grittier, there's Dooley Takes the Fall by Norah McClintock, an award-winning Canadian mystery/crime author. Well, let's say a lot grittier. Ryan Dooley is seventeen years old and already an alumnus of the juvenile detention facility. For now, though, he's trying to keep his head down and his ass out of trouble. He lives with his uncle, an ex-cop, works evenings at a video store, and is just trying to make it to the end of high school.

He means well, but sometimes it's difficult to keep his mouth shut when he thinks something isn't right. And there are times when trouble just seems to gravitate in his direction, like the universe knows he's a screwup. One night, walking home from work, he decides to take a detour through a ravine, under a bridge. He looks up, and a body falls from the bridge. He runs over, but it's too late—by the time he gets there, the guy is dead. But it doesn't look good for Dooley. He's already got mistakes on his record, and moreover, the dead guy was someone Dooley knew.

Of course, there's nothing anyone can pin on him for this situation, which could well have been an accident. But something doesn't feel right about it. And Dooley can't help being curious, even as the police are keeping an even closer eye on him. The tension just keeps escalating as Dooley finds himself more and more wrapped up in the mystery—and the more he finds out, the less certain he is about whom he can trust. Edgy and gripping, this one is a page-turner, and I was rooting for the well-intentioned Dooley the whole way.

Buy Something Wicked and Dooley Takes the Fall from an independent bookstore near you!

Poetry Friday: A Selfless Scourge


Today I pulled out one of my college texts, a Heath Anthology of American Literature. (One semester for some reason we strayed from the Norton, and here almost three thousand pages of proof.) I found a poem by Theodore Roethke, 1909-1963, a strangely troubled man from Michigan who grew up amongst his father's commercial greenhouses and is described as a heavy drinker who drank to seek oblivion, a rudely aggressive tennis player, and an "inveterate casual pawer of women." He wrote beautifully of birth and death in growing things, and curiously and eloquently of old women. He won a Pulitzer, a Fulbright and twice the Guggenheim. There is no accounting for who we are and where we come from to what we can produce. A lesson, perhaps.

from Meditations of an Old Woman
Elegy
1958


Her face like a rain-beaten stone on the day she rolled off
With the dark hearse, and enough flowers for an alderman,
And so she was, in her way. Aunt Tilly.

Sighs, sighs, who says they have sequence?
Between the spirit and the flesh, -- what war?
She never knew;
For she asked no quarter, and gave none,
Who sat with the dead when the relatives left,
Who fed and tended the infirm, the mad, the epileptic,
And, with a harsh rasp of a laugh at herself,
Faced up to the worst.

I recall how she harried the children away all the late summer
From the one beautiful thing in her yard, the peachtree;
How she kept the wizened, the fallen, the misshapen for herself,
And picked and pickled the best, to be left on rickety doorsteps.

And yet she died in agony,
Her tongue, at the last, thick, black as an ox's.

Terror of cops, bill collectors, betrayers of the poor, --
I see you in some celestial supermarket,
Moving serenely among the leeks and cabbages,
Probing the squash,
Bearing down, with two steady eyes,
On the quaking butcher.


I wonder if everyone knows an Aunt Tilly; tart-tongued and not suffering fools, putting up with no nonsense, and getting things done. The Aunt Tilly's and Miss Pross' (from A Tale of Two Cities of the world ...rock.
Poetry Friday is at Picture Book of the Day, Anastasia Suen's blog.

October 09, 2008

Toon Thursday, Plus Neil x 2!

And now for something completely different...



This is a historic moment. The reason is twofold (or should that be "the reasons ARE twofold"?). Firstly, though I've been writing like crazy this week, apparently the toon part of my brain was watching way too much CNN, so for the first time ever, here's a political cartoon on Finding Wonderland. I hope it is an entertaining diversion. Secondly, this is a historic moment because this cartoon occupies the very last page in my sketchbook. Said sketchbook is mostly cartoons, too, which made me realize just how dang many of these I've posted. But now I'll have to either start using the giant sketchbook, which is unwieldy but has many blank pages left; or buy a new one. Hmm...




I've been meaning to post a few of these links for almost three weeks now, which is very sad. Firstly, thanks to the GoodReads newsletter, I ran across interviews with two authors whom I really like--Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson. Definitely two iconoclastic people.


Okay, I guess I wasn't done with politics for today. Back on a political note, visit ArtsVote2008, a program of Americans for the Arts, to find out both presidential candidates' positions on arts policy.


Right. Back to lit stuff. I was informed by Gina R. that FW is featured on an aggregator site called Alltop - Top Children's Literature News--above the fold, no less! Readers' Rants is on there, too, along with a host of other familiar faces from the kidlitosphere. Lastly, speaking of the kidlitosphere, don't forget to nominate your favorite books for the Cybils! Now you can also help spread the word--and the love--with a downloadable and printable flyer that includes a list of all 2007 shortlisted titles.


Reminds me I've gotta sit right down and come up with MY nominees...

October 07, 2008

White Sands, Red Menace

Spoiler Warning: If you haven't read The Green Glass Sea, go read that first!

In this sequel to The Green Glass Sea, World War II has been over for half a year, and Dewey Kerrigan has unofficially become part of the Gordon family—with her father and grandmother dead and her mother an absent mystery, she's got nobody else. So she's got no choice but to move from the Hill in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where her father and the Gordons helped work on the "gadget" that ended the war, to Alamogordo, where they're trying to make a new life in the post-war years.

The first book took place against a much more overtly dramatic historical backdrop; White Sands, Red Menace deals with the quieter dramas of family and friendship. As Suze's father gets involved with a rocket-testing project, Suze's mother, Terry, becomes an activist working towards curtailing the use of the Bomb. The resulting tension isn't easy for Suze and Dewey, either, as they try to settle in to their new school in a new town.

But even as Suze and Dewey grow together, apart, and together again, they learn to be themselves as individuals—Dewey pursues her interests in math and science, and Suze develops her artistic skills; Dewey meets a boy, and Suze makes friends with a Mexican-American girl from the wrong side of the tracks; and they both learn that when it comes down to it, the meaning of family has nothing to do with biology.

As before, Ellen Klages wonderfully evokes the time period through her use of details of setting, atmosphere, and language, as well as through the more encompassing struggles that come out of being a strong intellectual woman during the late 1940s. White Sands, Red Menace will be out this month from Viking.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Cybils, Silliness & Stories


Ah, that Alfred. Loves a good book, that man. This is your Cybils Reminder! Things have changed this year, and the nomination time is quick-quick-short! One book per category, and it must be published in 2008. There, that's not so tough to remember, is it?

Via Book Moot, more Heroic Tales of the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Our man has finally gotten his medal -- which he will show to you if you even are on the same side of the street as he is -- and recently he went to Washington to ...fix things, and read bits from his autobiography, Knucklehead.

Operatives from both the Children’s Book Council and the Library of Congress had asked Ambassador Scieszka to perhaps refrain from reading certain chapters of Knucklehead. Chapters like the one titled Crossing Swords, a meditation on going to the bathroom with all five brothers, together, at the same time.


Ah, yes. Since he couldn't READ that piece, he described it. To the President. 'Cause he's that "funny dude," and he had a Job To Do.

Meanwhile, if you missed our man's Ambassadorial efforts last summer you must catch up.. Ambassador Jon -- blazing a trail for Young People's Literature and saving it from anything remotely approaching seriousness.

Many people know that Neil Gaiman has been touring for The Graveyard Book, and has been reading bits from it. You may also know that he's been reading a full chapter at each stop, and by the time he gets home, he will have read the whole book aloud. And now all chapters thus far are on video. You can listen to that delicious voice read and watch... *cough* Erm, yes, you can now watch Mr. Gaiman reading. Tip of the hat to SF Signal.

October 06, 2008

My Name is Alfred, And I Approve This Message


mental_floss is celebrating some of their very first blog posts back in 2006 -- and have resurrected this awesome time waster.

Like you really needed that to kick off your week. Oh, well. You'll get some work done eventually.

Happy Monday.

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: Non-Pink Jean

Welcome to the first Monday of the month, and another episode of Wicked Cool Overlooked Books! I completely missed September somehow -- but I'm back!

Even now, if I sit down and just read the first few pages of a Beverly Cleary book, I'm hard pressed to set the book down. There is something about the tone and setting that make even the most dated of her books seem as alive and real as they must have been when the first readers opened them ages ago. So, when I saw an old copy of a Cleary I'd never read at a used book sale, I immediately picked it up.

I wish you could see my copy of the book. Harper Collins has done a reissue, and so all of the new editions are bound either in sort of girly-pink with party dresses or sort of random pink with hamburgers and telephones and other stereotypical sixties teen era detailing. Now I love the pink and I love the sixties, don't get me wrong, but this is an atypical YA romance, and I prefer my cover. My library bound, 1965 edition of Jean and Johnny, which was first published in 1959, is a distinct brick red and has a beige and black drawing on the front of a boy in a plaid shirt walking with a shy-looking girl with horn-rimmed glasses and a realistically slightly terrified expression. It's adorable.

And so is the story. Jean Jarrett is fifteen, and enjoying the first day of a two week Christmas break. She's a terrible dreamer sometimes, which shows up in her work -- though she's made her own skirt, it's plaid, and none of the lines match because she forgot to leave enough material for the skirt to gather, which is kind of a disaster. She's a decent girl who admires her older sister, Sue, as being the smart one and the pretty one -- though it's worth noting that she admires her without angst, which is refreshing. Both girls wish for something exciting to happen, to maybe meet a nice boy. When Jean, wearing her horrible skirt, goes down the street to her friend Elaine Mundy's house to write to her pen pal, they take an unexpected trip to Mrs. Mundy's club, to drop off some Christmas decorations. A holiday party is in progress, where gorgeously attired dancers spin in a room of candlelight and flowers. The girls stop to watch the dancers -- and Jean gets asked to dance.

In her hideous skirt.

It's both deeply embarrassing, and completely magical, as Jean realizes that dreaming about a boy is vastly different from the reality of trying to dance with one, and make small talk. Jean is quickly obsessed with finding out more about this boy, Johnny. He's a senior at her own high school. Why did he even notice her?

The late fifties setting of this novel gives it a really fun feel. The television commercials are described with Cleary's drolly sardonic touch. Jean's contest entering mother, competing for appliances by writing why she likes specific products (in twenty-five words or less), and her newspaper-rattling sarcastic father who makes disparaging comments about Jean's choice of television shows, are perfect. At school, the band kids and the dramatics of the modern dance girls give a humorous, realistic touch and remind the reader how little high school has changed in some ways in the last fifty years.

The Jarretts are definitely working class, and certainly aren't rich -- the sisters sew and only splurge occasionally on Cokes because they know the value of a dime (which is what a bottle cost back then). However, the girls also know when to buy a store-bought dress, and their father knows when to give them a little spending money. In subtle ways, Beverly Cleary has constructed a loving, functional, balanced, frugal family, who sometimes quarrel but always make up. They're not perfect, but they're real.

I read this book the first time, expecting Mrs. Cleary to have written a traditional girl-crushes-on-boy YA romance -- and to have earned that pink cover -- but it in fact, this story isn't routine or predictable, especially for its time period, which is why I am so glad I took a gamble and bought it. Jean learns a thing or two about relating to boys which are still relevant to this time, and more than that, Jean learns a thing or three about her herself -- and comes out definitely ahead of the game. This is one wicked cool book, and if you see it in your library, by all means, pick it up!

More Wicked Cool Overlooked Books today at Chasing Ray!

October 05, 2008

Kidlit Conference 08: Part 3

Yeah, yeah; I know it's been days that I've been promising I'd wrap this up already. Well, here goes. After a congenial but slightly rushed lunch, we all headed off to the 1:10 session, "The Bridge Between Authors and Book Reviewers: A Conversation" with Laini Taylor and Jen Robinson. I enjoyed the discussion of the differences between author blogs and kidlit blogs (and, of course, between kidlit blogs and other kidlit blogs). I learned that some authors really get annoyed if a blog review's got too many spoilers in it, which is something I really try to avoid in any case. Lastly, I was reminded that blogs can be a creative tool for writers as well as an information resource. TadMack and I used to spend a lot more time exploring this aspect of our blogging lives as part of an online flash fiction group; unfortunately, I haven't had time for it lately. Maybe I ought to get back to that someday soon...


At 2:10, we were treated to a very entertaining talk on Book/Blog Promotion via Social Networking Tools by the very funny Greg Pincus. He talked about search engine optimization and the idea of titling your blog posts in a straightforward, easily-searchable way. He talked about the idea of making one's book or blog a brand in the marketing (argh!) sense--giving it a recognizable style; and about using Feedburner to publish and even combine feeds. He's even put together a handy wiki site on book promotion via social networking. In the event of my actually publishing a book someday, I will be ever-grateful to Greg, since authors seem to be given increasing responsibility for marketing efforts. Little did I know, when I left my actual marketing job, that I'd end up having to do marketing anyway. Sigh.


At 3:10, we again split into two group sessions, one on Managing a Group Blog, with the Class of 2K8/2K9, and one on Balancing the Personal and the Professional on your Author Blogs with Sara Zarr (see doodle at left). I took copious notes at this one, partly thinking of, again, my...er...authorial future, but mostly thinking of TadMack since she can actually USE this information. :) Sara talked about the fact that your author blog is the one part of your PR that you actually have control over, and it portrays the persona that you want to show to the world. As such, you don't want to be shy--remember to share your good news. It's the kind of thing that can help you connect with your readers. By the same token, you don't want to be too much of a downer, so it's worth thinking about limiting the bad news you post. This is probably good blogging advice in general, methinks.


She extended this advice to remind authors to always be professional, and if there's career-related news such as a new book deal, it's a good idea to ask your publisher before you post about it. Similarly, don't exploit your private life (or that of your family) for blog purposes. More people, she pointed out, are reading your blog than you think. Other good advice: Be a champion of other authors, e.g. Cynthia Leitich Smith. With controversial posts, try to be compassionate about other points of view. Protect your creative time--don't let blogging take over entirely (Hmm.). And be aware of what your comfort level is in terms of topics of online conversation. Great session!


After all the sessions were over, there was an hour-long meet and greet in the main conference room. Authors and illustrators set up book displays, and conference attendees got to wander around and enjoy cool freebies and great conversations. My personal highlights of the hour: Getting a signed copy of the new Babymouse book, complete with a little cartoon drawn on the spot by Matthew Holm. Talking to Worldweavers author Alma Alexander and having her tell me that the Readers' Rants review of Gift of the Unmage generated some of the highest site traffic she's had. Getting the cutest postcard from Johanna Wright. Talking to Anastasia about how strange it is that little boys can be born obsessed with vehicles. Getting a comic chapbook from Sara Ryan and talking about how she and her husband worked together on comics (something Rob is persistently bugging me about). I know there are more great moments.


At dinner, I shared a table with Alkelda, Adrienne, Barbara Shoup, and Bridget Zinn, with a few others drifting in and out. I was pleased to see that MotherReader chose my handmade book that I donated as a raffle prize, and that Adrienne chose the autographed copy of TadMack's book that Alkelda donated. Woo hoo! I received a raffle prize by proxy thanks to Alkelda's winning, and generous, spirit--a copy of Ellen Emerson White's Long May She Reign, which I've already read, enjoyed, and procrastinated about reviewing.


The evening provided even more opportunities to meet and greet, as we congregated in the downstairs bar & grill to welcome newest Readergirlz diva Holly Cupala. They gave out copious amounts of Readergirlz pins, prizes, and even jellybeans. I like it when people give me jellybeans. Or chocolate. Or any kind of food, really, short of olives (which I hate) and walnuts (which I'm mildly allergic to, and also kinda don't like).


Anyway, a few more highlights of the evening: Cat's cradle expert demo from Adrienne and Alkelda. (Really brought back memories!)

Zombie puppet show, with Betsy Bird and many others of whom I don't have photos. A wonderful and encouraging conversation with April Henry. Having breakfast the next morning with Colleen, the Readergirlz, and a few others, and getting some much-needed writing encouragement. And you know what? I came back energized and revitalized, in a lot of ways, from being around such a friendly and enthusiastic crowd of writers, illustrators, and bloggers. I mean, jeez, this week I wrote a new novel chapter AND a 1500-word article.


Upshot: I'm so glad I went.

Real Life Novel Ideas

Boo. Banned Book Week is over. I had planned to do a whole bunch of ranting on particular books that are fabulous but being challenged, and talk about how, while I understand the fears that people have for their kids that banning isn't the answer and reading is, and talk about how all of the challenges and rechallenges of certain books are getting on my nerves, and thus create a bunch of scintillating posts.

Instead, my real life took over.

Our household had two days of food poisoning/stomach ick during which I wrote four more chapters on my current work-in-progress with very little sleep, went to Bach rehearsal, signed up for a German course at the University, cleaned the house, actually dusted, which I hate, went to the chiropractor, got lost in the East end of the city (I've been here a year, and still occasionally take the wrong bus) and then received a big box of advanced review copies for my next novel.

After that, I kind of panicked and spun out for a day.

August was not a good writing month for me, and I feel like I wasted a lot of time, though any time you write isn't really wasted, exactly. I ditched six versions of my novel which wouldn't have worked, and really, it's better that I ditched them then my agent having to do it with a worried look in his eyes. However, the fact is I really need to work hard and finish my current manuscript. And, since it's a new style of writing for me, I'm kind of terrified I can't.

Fear always feeds itself, always gets me running around in rodent circles, always nibbles on the edge of my sanity and piddles doubt everywhere. And in times like these, I go into my email archives, and pull out a letter I received last September from my absent Muse and remind myself to take a breath already.

Take a long view of this. Your career is more than one book. This is your grand adult life where you get to be a professional writer. Who do you want to be in that context? How do you want to act and feel? What kinds of books do you want to offer the world? Who are the people you want to serve?

I think a writer does best when she treats a book like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) did. (The Shrinking Violets wrote about this recently too) -- Elizabeth wrote her book for one friend who was down. Just one. She found her person and told them a story of her own life. The book was intimate and loving and personal -- and that feeling of "this is for me" was felt by so many people that the book turned into a huge NY Times bestseller.

I think I've found the person to whom I am writing this book. I think I've found my niche. Now, all I have to do is trust my novel ideas, and remember how to work.

It's never easy, but I hope you find your place in the world, too. And if you periodically get lost, come back, and read this again. Remember who you are, and why you want to write.

Happy Sunday

October 03, 2008

Poetry Friday: Breathing Through Change


It's as if someone flipped a switch: autumn. Leaves are suddenly transfixed in livid red, and if we haven't had frost by the end of the next week, it'll only be that the mercurial northern winds turn to come suddenly from the East. If not, it will freeze by tonight. Running errands this morning was brutal; the temperature is 43° and windy.

At times, the weather seems to reflect our state of mind. Knife-edged breezes spin leaves along the sidewalk, and push us into traffic. We hunch into our coats and wonder vaguely if the malevolence is imagined or real. It feels like we're at the cusp of doom. In so many areas of our lives, so much feels to be at stake, and the approaching clouds seem to signify that we are in for hard times.

We teeter on a precipice, balanced precariously in a season of change. So much is at stake it seems, that we can only grit our teeth and hold on, until the season passes.
But pass it will.
It always does.

Cold Poem
by Mary Oliver

Cold now.
Close to the edge. Almost
unbearable. Clouds
bunch up and boil down
from the north of the white bear.
This tree-splitting morning
I dream of his fat tracks,
the lifesaving suet.

I think of summer with its luminous fruit,
blossoms rounding to berries, leaves,
handsful of grain.

Maybe what cold is, is the time
we measure the love we have always had, secretly
for our own bones, the hard knife-edged love
for the warm river of the I, beyond all else; maybe

(read the rest of the poem here.)

I love the phrase "the warm river of the I." The poet captures how easy it is to be in love with ourselves and only ourselves, to solely cherish our cold singular souls in a time when everyone is freezing, everyone is broke, everyone is worried, everyone is scared. But even in this season that feels so chancy and perilous and fraught and lonely, may we hold onto the sliver of light that connects us. If we support each other up through the bitter season, we can all make it through.

Yes, we can.

Poetry Friday today is held at the blog of Two Writing Teachers.

October 02, 2008

Toon Thursday: Twilight Movie Poster!

You just have to read a toon to see it! Ha!



Okay, I know this one is just silly. So sue me. (On second thought, don't--I'm pretty sure my inclusion of the movie poster doesn't really qualify as fair use...) There wasn't really room, but I wanted to include the newest Harry Potter movie, and give it a rating in Merlins or Gandalfs. Oh, well. (And yes, in case you were wondering, this cartoon includes the shameless reuse of images from Bogus Book Reviews #1. But I did rename the newspaper, at least.)


I promise more Kidlit Conference fun later tonight or tomorrow--yup, the exciting conclusion! Now with photos! Well, not really now as in right now, but you get the idea.


Oh, yeah--if you haven't nominated your favorite book for the Cybils, go do it now! (And yeah, that time I really meant now as in NOW.)

A Touch of Gorgeous


It's always cool to find a little bit of gorgeous in an unexpected place.

That's kind of what readergirlz and GuysLitWire are -- a little bit of gorgeous. As people go on and on about how, in this economy, publishing is dying, books are dying, young adults are dumbing down and the world is wearing Heelys and going downhill to Hades, it's nice to see that others are striving to recognize a little bit of good. Mad props to readergirlz & GuysLitWire for positivity and basic awesomeness, and to the folks at Galleycat for noticing.

Gives us a little incentive to keep on booktalking, book lending, and book loving. Cheers.

October 01, 2008

Banned Books Week Meets the Cybils



HAPPY OCTOBER!

(You'll have to actually click on the poster to read the quote, but it's a great one, props to Kelly Fineman at Writing and Ruminating for putting it on her quote skimming post the other day.)
It's the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness -- or, if you're in Glasgow, freezing cold weather, and blue, blue skies (interspersed by random attacks of icy rain. Go figure). It's also the season of The Cybils, the annual young adult and children's blogger literacy awards!

Wow, is this the Cybils' third year already!? Congratulations on another year of the Cybils, Kelly and Anne! Here's to books of all kinds -- including those controversial books!

Go NOMINATE!



Happy Cybils, everyone!