February 28, 2010

The Very Awesomeness of D.M. Cornish

The jaw-droppingly talented D.M. Cornish has shared a visual on his ubiquitous NOTEBOOKS, the famous ones which contain the seed that sprouted into his massive tomes of awesome! Monster Blood Tattoo (I don't care what they're calling it now -- The Foundling Trilogy? Really? So that whole Lamplighter confusion was for nothing??) is still one of my all-time favorite fantasy adventures, and wins hands-down for sheer creativity and richness of worldbuilding and language. And how can you not love Rossamünd Bookchild?

...you might not remember, but in 2007, Mr. Cornish mentioned that the Jim Henson Company had optioned film rights to the books. These things always seem to take forever, but he confirmed at the beginning of this month that they have a writer and a director and are moving forward.

I don't know - love me some Henson, hate me some book-to-film adaptations. But I admit that I am a sucker, and would GIVE MUCH to see the world of the Half Continent realized... if they do it right.

So, that's my little Squee! for today.

February 24, 2010

Cybils Graphic Novel Finalists, Elementary & Middle Grade

Now that we're no longer under our judging-period decree of silence, I can post my impressions of this year's graphic novel finalists. This was my first time on the round II committee for graphic novels--last year I was a YA judge--and it was a very different experience from being on the round I committee. The finalist titles all had compelling merits, and though I had definite personal favorites, I think they're all worth featuring here. I'm looking at the elementary and middle-grade selections in this post, and I'll look at the YA finalists in a future post (or two).

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis gets some extra kudos from me for having a) a female author/illustrator and b) more than a few stylistic nods to graphic godfather Chris Ware. In terms of the graphic storytelling, I found it a little busy, but the book is peopled with fun (and multicultural!) characters, each with their unique form of endearing nerdiness. The story's a reasonably familiar but fun one about foiling a crook, with echoes of classic superhero tales with the kids as the heroes. As characters, the kids possessed realism in addition to humor, and each was a fully realized character with his or her own quirks and flaws. Readers will love the zany, off-the-wall inventions that fill the kids' hideout and help them catch the copycat crook--and it's a neat way to sneak in bits and pieces of true-to-life science. Well-deserved congrats to Ms. Davis on her winning title.

Eric Wight's Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom has a very cute, Indiana-Jones-like premise. It's endearing to see Frankie's imaginings in comic form as well as his (mis)adventures throughout the story. At the same time, it's a sort of moral tale, in the way that many classic children's books are--teaching through misadventures and ensuing hilarity and/or havoc, not unlike Ramona Quimby. Though it's more of a hybrid form than a straight GN, the use of comics vs. text is nicely done. A fast-paced read that should have broad appeal for younger kids and is fairly gender-neutral. The humor and references to Indiana Jones will probably keep parents enjoying it, too.

Amulet, Book 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibuishi is the second book in what I think is a trilogy--I didn't have a chance to read the first one before having to read this one, but now I'd really like to. This might have been my favorite for the younger set in terms of the visual aesthetic--it combines the best of both stylistic worlds of manga and traditional American comics, and leaves behind the goofier elements. The characters are very expressive and sympathetic, and I enjoyed how color was used to unify the overall feel of the book. The robots and animal creatures have a kindly and fantastical appeal without being too saccharine--there's definitely danger and fighting to balance the cuteness. The story also has an epic Narnia-ish quality that gives it a classic feel. The good-vs-evil setup, while not necessarily breaking new ground, is executed in a unique way. Because I liked it so much in every other way, I kind of wished the dialogue was a little more striking...but overall, this was a definite keeper for me.

You can check out my review of the other two GN finalists for younger readers, Adventures in Cartooning and Creepy Crawly Crime, in this earlier post.

February 19, 2010

Publisher's Gamble: Free eBooks from Front Street/Boyd Mills Press

Frankly, it's an increasing challenge to get attention for novels, particularly first novels.
We want everyone to know about these books.

Boy, do they EVER.
Wonderland received an email today informing us that The Powers That Be at Front Street Books & Boyd Mills Press have encouraged the executive director of the Highlights Foundation, which is their umbrella company, I guess we'll call it, to take a gamble on eBooks. Between now and April Fools' Day (that's April 1, if no one's pranked you lately) if you visit them online, and put in a unique I.D. code for each book, their site will allow you one downloaded copy in whatever format you need. (They believe they can work with any eReader device, and Steven Roxburgh is available to answer any questions.)

This is called Stepping UP.
I've wondered, to myself, how long publishing companies could afford to send out ARC's to bloggers and other reviewers. I knew that smaller, indie publishing companies don't always have the budget for the all-out 24-7 onslaught many houses use to trumpet the news of a new novel. And the YA market is ...tight. There's tons of new stuff out every week, and not all of the good rises to the top where it can get noticed.

Enter Front Street/Boyds Mills Press - offering free ebooks.

A business using the word "free?" Stepping out of the mold of "this is how we've always done it?" That takes guts, people. Necessary, crucial-to-survive-in-the-new-game guts.

Bold move.

These are the books available -- all this year's first run books: ACCORDING TO KIT by Eugenie Doyle (2ce4), CITY OF CANNIBALS by Ricki Thompson (d35f), THE DOG IN THE WOOD by Monika Schröder (3bd5), and WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE by Nancy Bo Flood (2ac4)

This is how you get your free electronic copies:

...go to www.namelos.com and locate the book by title or author by browsing or use the "search" option. When you get to the book page, enter the unique code provided for each book (shown in parentheses above) in the box in the lower-left corner of the page (under the list of prices) and click "submit." You will be asked to provide your name and e-mail address and to select the file format you want. You will receive an e-mail with a link that will download the file you selected to your hard drive, from where you can transfer it to your preferred reading device.

Those who read ebooks probably have more questions -- queries about digital rights management, how and if the author really benefits from this, why anyone thinks this is a good idea -- but I'm intrigued, and interested to see how all of this goes. Is there really a YA audience for this, or will the ebooks only be for reviewers? Would that be a good enough move to level the playing field? Time will tell...

Woot! It's the Nebula Awards!

The nominations have been announced, and it's a kick to see how many of the Norton (YA) nominees I've either read or heard good stuff about:

ANDRE NORTON AWARD NOMINEES, for the Nebula Awards, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America 2009:

Hotel Under the Sand, Kage Baker (Tachyon, Jul 09)
Ice, Sarah Beth Durst (Simon and Schuster, Oct 09)
Ash, Malinda Lo (Little, Brown and Company, Sep 09)
Eyes Like Stars, Lisa Mantchev (Feiwel and Friends, Jul 09)
Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi (Tor Aug 08)
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, Jun 09)
Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (Simon, Oct 09)

I'm sad, sad, sad about Kage Baker, but I'm so glad there's one more book of hers I've never read. Can't wait to get my hands on that one. Meanwhile, good luck to our nominees! It's hard to even say who I want to win, because the list is just so stuffed full of awesome. Wow.

February 15, 2010


You know the 2009 Cybils winners have been announced, right? You DON'T?? Well, then get yourself over there right now, missy (or buddy) and check out the winning titles! Go! Now! Do it!!

And check back here sometime later in the week, because I'll be posting my thoughts about the Cybils Graphic Novels finalists (we judges are finally released from our judging period vow of silence!).

February 12, 2010

Almost Here...Drum Roll...

I can hardly believe it's almost time for this year's Cybils announcements! Just another day or two until the winners are revealed...

...in the meantime, while you're waiting, check out Little Willow's Smile giveaway at Bildungsroman in honor of Raina Telgemeier's new graphic novel. Telgemeier illustrated the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel, but Smile is a bit more autobiographical. Relate YOUR most embarrassing dentist's office experience in 500 words or less and win a copy of the book. And also go check out Raina Telgemeier's interview with Graphic Novel Reporter.

Speaking of graphic novels, the ALA released their Top 10 Graphic Novels for Teens last month, as well as their master list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens. And, via Graphic Novel Reporter comes an interesting article about using comics in the university classroom.

Lastly, just for fun, here's the YA book game for the unpublished by Pen and Ink Blog.

February 06, 2010

News of the Week

I need to do this more often: just share my interesting blog-reading from the week. I love it when people do that on their blogs. Why shouldn't I share? So here I go--a few tidbits from my week of online reading.

Venta de Libros. Amazon vs. Macmillan has fomented a HUUUUGE amount of discussion in the blogosphere, provoked by Amazon's choice to remove the "buy" link from all of their Macmillan titles. Amazon explains their reasoning here, Roger Sutton offers another viewpoint on the matter over at Read Roger, and the vast, multi-story-Galactic-Senate-Building-on-Coruscant-like conglomeration of bloggers is off and running. Don't you just love us?? And thanks to Carmela Martino at Teaching Authors, I learned another side of the story from Author's Guild about Macmillan's e-royalties and a new Who Moved My Buy Button? website that enables authors to keep track of their Amazon pages. All veeery interesting.

Social Networking. I enjoyed reading Gregory K's take on Facebook Friends vs. Fans over at The Happy Accident--not to mention the comments from others weighing in on how they view their various online communities and how they deal with those periodic baffling "Do I know you?" friend requests that come out of nowhere. And, speaking of social media, those in journalism--and those who like to approach their blogs as a more professional endeavor--should take a gander at the Radio Television Digital News Association's Social Media and Blogging Guidelines. Professional journalists are supposed to adhere to a code of ethics, but when it comes to the online world, things can get a bit confusing. They've got some helpful do's, don'ts, and examples.

Tea Cozy Binge I went over to A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy to see if Liz B. had any posts up about the Amazon/Macmillan thing and instead got sidetracked by a bunch of unrelated but equally interesting stuff: reviews of Rosemary Clement-Moore's The Splendor Falls (which I just finished reading) and Varian Johnson's Saving Maddie, plus a great post on the annoying shoulds of being a blogger. (Those dang shoulds in my own head...those are the kicker, aren't they?)

On Getting Back to Work. I found a great site on the topic of getting your mind to focus on your creative work called 43 Folders (by the most auspiciously-named Merlin Mann). There, I found a link to the SFWA's list of 50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work as well as Merlin Mann's own post, Hack Your Way out of Writer's Block. Also, don't miss his 3-part series on devoting attention to creative work: it's called Making Time to Make and I think we all need to be reminded of this from time to time.

February 04, 2010


We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you the following library porn (thanks to my mom for the link):

For more ultra-drool-worthy libraries, check out the full slideshow from The Huffington Post. (Sadly, no Berkeley Doe Library, though in my opinion it deserves a nod.) Don't you wish you could teleport at will to any of these libraries? And just sit there? Perhaps for several hours or days? Maybe it's just me...

STOP: Don't do it. [Egregious Eyes]

Things Eyes CAN do:
Squint. Twitch. Shut. Open. Widen. Water. Narrow. Focus. Adjust. Blink. Glance.
Things Only Scary Bad Fiction Eyes Can Do:
Pop. Scythe. Raze. Flame. Flash. Freeze. Bug. Laser. Drill. Undress. Flicker. Glow. Dim.

(Feel free to add to either list in the comments!)

    -- from SB Sarah:

Seriously. Can we stop with the flicker of fear, the fleeting hint of desire, the flash of rage? COME ON. Couldn’t a hero have tension between his eyebrows, a wrinkle near his eyes that indicated rage that smooths out before she gets a good look? Something other than an emotion floating in his eyeballs that she gets a glimpse of?

Oh, see, I really have nothing to add to this. Nothing.

-- except to say: unless you have an x-ray machine and/or are a doctor of psychology and fairly certain about your patient, the human body can only tell the reader what anyone would be able to see from the outside. Unless you've got an ophthalmology license, there's just not too much you can read in someone's eyes. And if they're flashing? Just think POLTERGEIST. Or, very angry djinn. And run.

BONUS: Freebie short story by Sherwood Smith at Book View Cafe!

Awesome eyes courtesy of Webweaver Free Clipart. Thanks, guys!

February 03, 2010

Smart People Speaking

Glasgow Uni D 597Psst!
Don't miss this month's What A Girl Wants#11: Feminist is not a Dirty Word. Do today's young adults recognize feminism as an ideological concept? Is it reflected in young adult literature? Is it a positive, or an old-school thing that needs to fade? The brilliant young adult authors who discuss this have a lot of intelligent and surprising things to say. Check it out.

28 Days Later: twenty-eight of the best and brightest in youth literature in the African American community, going on right now at The Brown Bookshelf. Today, our girl Kekla is up. Woot!

Bookslut looks back at the recent episodes of whitewashing with children's book covers (and no one mentions Liar by name, and yet, there it is) and interviews authors as to their take on what happened and why. Full disclosure: I have the last word, amusingly enough.

So, You Want To Write About Sex? Of course you do. And now that I have your attention, check out the article in this week's Hunger Mountain, which is the Vermont College of Fine Arts online journal of the arts. They have a whole bunch of essays in YA and children's lit including that sex thing. What I really love is the fiction included in each edition. Some good stuff.

If you haven't joined the Sesyle Joslin Hine fan club on Facebook, you should.

Also: does anyone else think this unicorn/dragon thing is disturbing? They're everywhere here, but I hadn't taken the time to look closely at their haunches... which end in claws. And their horribly weird necks. *shudder* Monsters amongst us.

February 02, 2010

YA Literature: Interstitial, Speculative, and More Than Just Vampires

Just for fun, I'm going to get a little intellectual here and discuss genre.

I'm currently reading an anthology called Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing. One of the cool things about it—besides the fact that reading it sort of feels like I've found more kindred spirit writing peeps—is that it includes an interview with the editors by our own Colleen Mondor, as well as short stories by YA author Cecil Castellucci and Guys Lit Wire contributor Will Ludwigsen.

It's also cool because, although the stories themselves aren't specifically YA, they ARE what I'd call speculative, or, as this anthology calls them, "interstitial." As the back cover copy puts it, "It's all about breaking rules, ignoring boundaries, cross-pollinating the fields of literature. It's about working between, across, at, and through the edges and borders of literary genres. It falls between the cracks of other movements, terms, and definitions."

And it struck me that some of these descriptions can apply just as aptly to YA fiction. It often exists across genres. There are liberties that can be taken with setting, with character, with format, that aren't tolerated as generously in the "adult" world of grown-up fiction. It often falls between the cracks—or, more often, is relegated to a very specific niche by who see teen fiction as solely series books or vampire tales, Harry Potter clones or rehashings of Judy Blume coming-of-age stories. (And frankly, I'm getting tired of explaining to people "ha ha, yes, the Twilight books are very popular, ha ha, no, I don't write about vampires" while inside I die just a little more each time.)

Those of us who know the scope of YA literature know how inapt those labels are, how much more YA fiction is than simply genre fiction for a younger audience. How much YA fiction—like the best of adult fiction—breaks boundaries, sprinkles a little coming-of-age here, a little fantasy there, and tops it off with a healthy dose of questioning convention. Isn't that a critical part of young adulthood—questioning? It's a critical part of being human, I think, and of reading thoughtfully.

Of course, in some ways it's an illusion to consider YA a cohesive genre or even a definable age range. The way I see it, it's a marketing category, a convenient label that can be used to encompass (or lump together) a very disparate, diverse, and elusive area of fiction.

Wonderfully, gorgeously, and blessedly elusive. Interstitial, even. A place where a weirdo like me can fit in—unlike actual teenage life, or even adult life, but like life should be...leaving room for the mysterious and undefinable, a zesty and constantly surprising gallimaufry.

February 01, 2010

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: Racing to the Future

It's the first Monday of the month, and while you're still trying to figure out what happened to January, it's already time for February's Wicked Cool Overlooked Books!

A recent conversation at The Spectacle had a lot of great things to say about series books. From writer tips on creating characters, to a discussion on what a writer who writes series owes to their readers, it was a wide-ranging and intelligent conversation with great input by all those involved. It got me thinking about "hard" science in young adult science fiction books, the kind of books I'd like to read and write, and a series I read years ago and really liked, and can't believe I never told you about.

Charles Dingillia -- aka "Chigger" -- lives underground in Bunker City, near El Paso, and is sick to death of his whole family. His parents basically hate each other, and his Dad, Max, has unforgivably walked out on his Mom, Maggie, leaving he and his brilliant older brother Douglas and his spoiled younger brother, Bobby -- AKA "Stinky" -- with nothing but vague promises, for his twice a year visits, of great trips to places like Disneyland. Of course, they've never been. Thus, Chigger greets his father's grandiose suggestion that they go to the moon with a little Yeah, Dad, whatever shrug like it deserves.

Chigger knows very well they're not going to the moon. For one thing, the Dingillia's don't do family trips. They're always a disaster. They start out with Dad being jovial, then Stinky usually whines until he wets himself or throws up, and Douglas -- aka "Weird" -- is off in weirdville on his own, as usual. Chigger is stuck in the middle, asking his father awkward questions, which pisses him off enough to dump the lot of them at home again. Plus -- Dad's broke. He's always broke. Add to that the fact that his mother has gotten a court order that straight out prevents his Dad from removing them from the planet -- well, there you go. They're not going. No matter how craptastic Earth is, no matter how high the UV danger on the surface, or how brown the smog-choked sky, just because other people are emigrating from the planet, doesn't mean they're going. The Dingillia's are stuck, and they're not going anywhere.

Except: they do. Dad comes and takes them for a month -- a solid month -- and they do tourist things like checking out meteor craters and everything. And then, they go... further, and Chigger is well aware that his father is maybe kind of kidnapping them. But -- they're in Ecuador! And they're going up the space elevator! And maybe, just maybe his Dad really is finally going to make up for all the crap he put them through, and all the broken promises. And maybe, the Dingillia guys are going to hang together, and be okay.

...aaaand then again, maybe not.

From the moment the orbital elevator reaches the top, it's clear to Chigger that this isn't a typical tourist trip. Immediately, there are people in uniforms, searching the tourists -- has Mom called the authorities already? -- and Chigger finds another kid blending in with the crowd, trying to evade notice. Of course, Stinky acts like the little spoiled brat he is, and Weird starts mooning after some guy he's met, but something is more than a little off about this Dingillia Family Vacation. It seems that there are people following them -- and they're not just the people their mother has hired to find them. International -- intergalactic?? -- smuggling, kidnapping, and a whole lot of fleeing make up the bulk of this book -- leavened by smart remarks, sibling spats, and moments of surprising kindness and humor. It takes a family law court and the word of a judge, but eventually Chigger gets to make his own choices about his family. The book explores the reality about who we come from being only a part of who we are -- and that we choose who we want to be.

And that's just the first book of three.

Gerrold wrote two other books in this series, and the wild adventures just continue. Things Chigger escaped from on Earth have a tendency to follow him, and more smugglers, courtrooms, judges, bounty hunters and more brushes with the law continue in Bouncing Off the Moon and Leaping for the Stars. In the end, Charles Dingillia finds the life he wants, and the family he needs, and gets to try out a whole bunch of really cool tech along the way.

The word "juvenile" is used in many of the reviews of this book, coupled with the name "Heinlen," which gives you a real clue to the seriously old, old, old-school tone of this book, despite the fact that it was published by Tor in 2000. While there are plenty of inclusive, modern touches in the novel, and a lot of discussion of ideas of gender identity and family, there are a lot of classic elements as well, including an in-depth exploration of the "what if" tech involved in geosynchronous orbit, which allowed for the creation of an orbital elevator to get people to the moon. These books also have a very aggressive storyline, which rapidly entangles the characters into multiple predicaments, which is fully a bow to the adventuring genius of Robert Heinlen. While novelist David Gerrold definitely has his SF writing chops, he isn't entirely comfortable with the young adult voice, and the reason for that could in part be that he started publishing about five -ten years before AF and I were born. At first, I couldn't suspend my disbelief in Chigger as a child, because the tone was pretty clunky -- and more adult than it should have been, but the emotions behind Chigger's Holden Caufield-esque observations on the world rang true, and his eventual and grudging affection for his family won me over.

Somehow, I doubt this was marketed very heavily toward young adults -- because how could it have just vanished without a trace like that? This is a good, energetic, intelligent trilogy for YA science geeks - guys or girls - and I think it would be fun to see it reissued with fresher science (in just a decade, so much of that "what if" tech has changed!) and a friendlier cover that doesn't make futuristic twelve-year-olds look like they're twenty-one and living in 1950.

It's an incredibly strong sense of adventure which will get us to leave the planet and inhabit stars. Feed the flame and buy Jumping Off the Planet, its sequel, Bouncing off the Moon, and the final volume in the trilogy, Leaping to the Stars from an independent bookstore near you!