July 29, 2014

TURNING PAGES: SILVER TONGUE, by Evelyn Ink

Pull up a chair, for an adventurous novel with a lovely fantasy feel. Skyships, blunderbusses and gale cutters give this the perfect pinch of steampunk, but doesn't get in the way of the narrative. Though the fine-print on the cover says this is a companion novel, you don't have to have read ILL-FATED for it to make sense - but afterward, you'll be eager to read it, and happy to find it comes in paperback, too.

This novel reminds me of Shannon Hale's THE PRINCESS ACADEMY, with shades of other tales of adventurous girls - and, for some reason, Patricia McKillip books (though there is neither Sorcery nor Cecelia. I think it's the touch of steampunk which reminds me of enchanted chocolate pots? Anyway). This book is not yet in paperback, but apparently in time, it'll get there. Meanwhile, for those of you who frequent Smashwords or Amazon, it's available as an ebook. And now, on with the story.

Summary: Fifteen year old Belin Vaulatrix is the only daughter of the earl of Ivorydeep, in the kingdom of Shalendorf. The Kingdom is ancient and vast and filled with myriad people wealthier and more royal than the Vaulatrix family, yet Belin is the only daughter of prominence invited to attend the royal family at court. To Belin's horror, instead of having to endure the traditional month at Casterwick with the other ruling families, she's being invited to Casterwick Castle all summer, and she's invited down early...and alone... which means she's been selected specially. Belin soon discovers she is to be the wife of Prince Edmon, whom she uncharitably calls the King Larken's "sausage of a son."

Eeugh. Bleck. NO.

Though she attempts to console herself with the gossipy, amusing letters from her cousin, Chloe and ranting to her young soldier friend, Sender, the truth is that Belin is not a pleasant, pliable princess type. She is opinionated and feisty and snarky. She cannot force herself to marry someone she disrespects, not even for the honor it will entail, not even for the wealth and pampering that will be hers. The "honor" of dancing attendance on Edmon Casterwick and being "trained up" to be a queen is an honor that the family cannot refuse -- and Belin knows it. In an act of desperation, Belin makes a half-baked plan to run away to a distant cousin -- one which will exile her from her parents and the comfort of home, but it's all she can do -- she doesn't love the lazy, whiny prince, and doesn't think she ever will. Carefully drugging her maid, Dilsey, with a stockpiled headache soporific, Belin exchanges most of their clothes, gives up her signet ring, and shoves her hair beneath the starched maid's cap. At last Belin thinks she's thought of the grand plan to fix everything.

Well, sure she did. Except, she forgot about the recent unrest in the kingdom, and the number of people disappearing. If only she'd saved space in her plan for the coach being highjacked by highwaymen, her being mistaken for a maid, and being... dragged off by the biggest, darkest, scariest giant-dude she's ever seen.

Oops.

It's not a little bump in the road, no, but it does mean Belin's not summering at the castle. Now, if she can just survive working in the Grendel mines... make a few friends...figure out where she's been taken, and what her captors are looking for, and work out how to get home, she just might have a chance to survive...

The Peaks: Evelyn Ink - a pseudonym, no doubt - is an accomplished writer of dialogue and her deft characterization of Belin and her family makes this an easy novel to jump into. Better, the disaster-per-page, breakneck pacing is the perfect touch for an adventure - you feel dragged along into Belin's next scrape, as the silver-tongued girl does her best to talk her way out of trouble. There is abundant, subtle humor which leaves you smirking as Belin nosily pries her way into one dark corner after another. And there are surprises all along the way -- twists that I didn't see coming. Belin has many of the traits for which females are criticized - she's "nosy" and "dramatic," but those traits come in handy, though her many ill-fated expeditions. It's not all cake, but even when Belin is down, she's never out. Ever.

There is steampunk and industry, yes, but the bedrock of Shalendorf is its history, which is tied up in legend and mysterious stories of magical beings. I liked that there are people of another "race" in the novel; the Grendel, whom the Shalendorfians have made out to be villains and killers. There just may be another story lurking, if people would open their minds, and their eyes.

This novel is something of a mystery - for Belin anyway - the reader won't know enough of the politics or history of Shalendorf to do anything more than hang on for the ride as Belin plies her considerable powers of observation and deduction to figure out who the heck her captors are - what they're up to - and how she can stop them. This is a fun ride, from start to finish.

The Valleys: There are very few issues with this story at all for me - though the man who takes Belin is described as big and dark, somewhat underscoring the stereotype of the dark, villainous person of color, he is clearly othered by the people with him, and Belin herself is somewhat "othered," in that her coloring is different from her family's, and from the other captives - so much so that it makes her recognizable. These differences are quietly explored, in the person of Aeolus, with his serpentine eyes, who Belin is forced to trust. In the end, Belin is in a position to rescue someone different, the reasons she does it work better than they could have, and the reader is left with the idea that these tiny steps may be the beginning of saving their society.

This novel doesn't struggle with many of the formatting issues many self-published novels do; the author points out that she has no copy-editing minions, so there are a couple of typos which will probably get fixed next incarnation, but even they are minor your/you're blunders, and "revere" when the word "reverence" was intended. Readers won't be thrown out of the story by clunky phrasing or egregious word misuse, which makes for a swift, fun read.

A solid adventure, and a splendid new author, whose work could surely attract the attention of the Cybils team. Happy summer reading - this one you will thoroughly enjoy!



You can find SILVER TONGUE by Evelyn Ink online at Amazon, Smashwords, or other ebook retailers!

July 28, 2014

KidLitCon 2014 Still Wants YOU!

Have you registered yet? No? Then go! I just did, and I couldn't be more excited about how plans are shaping up--we have a fantastic team of organizers who are setting up the program of events, including a couple of meet-and-greet opportunities for bloggers interested in face time with authors and illustrators, and a few really neat Skype conversations with presenters who couldn't make it in person.

The call for proposals is still open, too--did you read Tanita's fantastic post over at KidLitosphere Central on "What Do We Mean When We Talk About 'Diversity'"? Thematic diversity, diverse reads, diverse creators--they all contribute to a vibrant online community and a wide world of books for every type of reader, young or old. Go check out the post for more information on submitting proposals and what we're looking for.

There are also a lot of opportunities for authors and publishers to get involved, so be sure to check out this post if you want info about that.

And that's all I've got for you today. I've been away at a Welsh language conference all week (yes, you read that correctly), and after a week of attempting to speak a foreign language as much as possible, my brain is fried. On the other hand, it was a very receptive audience for my new book which takes place partially in Wales--and since I'm generally pretty sad with publicity-type stuff, I was very proud of myself for actually talking about and trying to get people interested in my work. I'd love to hear from other introverted writers on that score--how do you bring up your work in casual conversation?

July 26, 2014

A Little Shout-Out to the Kidlit Con...

"Difference. Unlikeness. Variety. Multiformity. Diversity. It’s not even really easy to define terms. When one person says “diverse” another person nervously hears race, or ethnicity, or gender. But diversity in children’s lit can be – and should be – all of those things, and more."

A few months ago, a friend came to me to ask questions about race and ethnicity, in a way she feared she could never do in public, in person, with many of you.

Was this friend right? Is diversity such a divisive, taboo topic that unless you're chanting "Yes! Yes! Go, Diversity!" and waving pom-poms and hashtags that it's NOT okay to talk about it, have questions about how to talk about it, to be concerned about doing things "right" and to express yourself as clueless and confused?

"It’s easy to sit in the audience and nod when people talk about diversity. It’s easy to sign up to be a part of the crowd… but it takes trusting ourselves and trusting each other to set aside our preconceptions to speak up – and be prepared to listen and learn."

It's becoming clear that the more we talk about things, the more possibility there is for understanding. Consider speaking up, friends!

P.S. - Another great post from Liz Garton Scanlon on diversity, on BookPeople, Austin's bookstore blog. Don't miss!

July 24, 2014

Interview with Sarah Beth Durst, author of THE LOST

We've interviewed versatile author Sarah Beth Durst before--the last time was when we talked to her about her fantasy novel Conjured. We are thrilled to have her back for another interview, because her latest book, The Lost, is a bit of a departure from the last few: it's got an adult character, and it's labeled as "an adult book with crossover appeal." Tanita and I were eager to ask Sarah about this one after we reviewed it in tandem a few months ago--what it was like writing a story that doesn't cleanly fall into the YA or MG category, how she sees the book's genre, and much more. Luckily, the opportunity for an interview came along, and we seized it with gusto. Here it is!


Finding Wonderland: Do you consider your novel to be "new adult," or if not, how would you classify it (if at all)? Did you set out to write a book that wasn't YA/MG, or was that a decision that came later?

Sarah Beth Durst: For this book, I wanted to write about someone who felt empty, who felt as if her dreams had died, who felt lost. For me, that meant she had to be at least in her late twenties. And so I knew from the very start that THE LOST would be labeled an adult book with crossover appeal, since it (A) has a 27-year-old protagonist and (B) deals with the universal theme of loss.

In a way, you could say that the story chose the label.

THE LOST is about a woman, Lauren Chase, whose life feels empty. She abandoned her own dreams to work a dead-end job to pay her mother's mounting hospital bills. One day -- the day that they're due to hear the results of her mother's latest medical tests -- she gets into her car to drive to work and, instead of taking a left at the light, just drives straight... and drives and drives until she ends up trapped in a town full of only lost things and lost people.

FW: What was it like working with Harlequin MIRA, in comparison to working with a YA/MG publisher?

Most of it's the same: you're working with wonderful people who love books as much as you do. What's better than that? But one thing that I did notice is different is the timeline. In the YA/MG world, you have to turn in your manuscript about one year before publication. With Harlequin, it was more like six months.

FW: How was it writing THE LOST versus writing fantasy for a younger audience? Did your concerns as a writer change with the intended audience? If so, how?

No different. And nope.

Actually, this is something I feel rather strongly about. I think that if you're true to your characters, then everything else will fall into place. If your main character is twelve years old and you are true to her and see her world through her eyes, then the story will come out as MG. If your main character is twenty-seven and you're true to her... then it will come out adult.

FW: We have questions about the thematic and metaphoric aspect of losing, gaining, loss and identity -- are you trying to write a novel about moving on from parts of our lives, or do you feel like the novel is more about hope -- that nothing is ever really lost -- ?

Yes, and yes.

I wanted to write about loss and about hope and about finding light in the darkness, shaping a new future out of the shards of the past, and filling the emptiness.

I think that in a way, every novel is about hope, because writing a novel is one of the ultimate acts of hope. By stringing words into a story, you are hoping that life has meaning, that people can connect, and that experiences and dreams can be shared. You are hoping to touch another soul. And I think reading is a similar act of hope, of reaching out, of seeking escape or contact or even healing.

FW: Would you say that this a retelling of Peter Pan? It really does have elements of the whole Wendy, trying hard to launch herself, even as her essential self clings to belief in the real, the very loyal and changeable Tinkerbelle, the very moody and mercurial - yet helpful Peter Pan figure in the Finder... (Although, who, then, in this scenario would be The Missing Man? Who is really missing from the Peter Pan stories? A father figure? Lauren's father???)

Oh my gosh, I love that! Wish I'd thought of it. Actually, that interpretation fits really well, so can I just pretend I planned it that way?

I did deliberately reference Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and the Wizard of Oz, because I believe one of the primary things lost in life is childhood and the innocence of childhood. So I wanted to have shreds of those tattered bits of lost childhood, twisted and abandoned in Lost.

And in case you were curious, you will learn a lot more about the Missing Man in the next two books!

FW: In reading this book, it felt much more like magical realism than clear-cut fantasy, as many of your other books have been. How would you describe THE LOST in terms of genre? Do you see it as a departure from your previous writing? Do you see this more of a mystery or a contemporary romance?

Definitely magical realism. So this was a new challenge for me. My other books have all been different flavors of fantasy (epic like my romantic desert adventure VESSEL, comedy like my vampire and were-unicorn book DRINK SLAY LOVE, etc.). Each flavor has its own feel and tone. For THE LOST, I wanted to create an atmospheric, disoriented kind of feel, and so I chose to use a very close first person, present tense pov. Many, many nights, this left me shaking my fists at the sky shouting, "VERBS!!!"

I love playing with different kinds of fantasy. Always have. I was that kid who was always checking her closet for a way to Narnia, who always put "magic wand" on her birthday wish list, and who really wished her school could be invaded by friendly aliens at least once. In retrospect, it was kind of inevitable that I'd end up writing it.

FW: When can we expect a sequel? Is that what you're currently working on, and if not, what ARE you working on right now?

THE LOST is the first book in a new trilogy. The second book, THE MISSING, will be out on November 25th, and the third book, THE FOUND, will be out at the end of March 2015. My next YA book, CHASING POWER, will be out in October, and I am currently working on an MG novel, THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM, which will be out in fall 2015. I'm extremely excited about all of them!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!



Thank YOU to Sarah Beth Durst for stopping by our blog again and intriguing us even further about her upcoming projects!

July 23, 2014

TURNING PAGES: HOW TO FALL, by Jane Casey

Summer reading - this is a shove-it-in-your-beach-bag book for sure. A quick, non-demanding novel which will leave you feeling a little leery, and carefully observing your friends. It's a tale of falsehoods and friendship in a tiny English beach town. The cover doesn't exactly match the reality as described in the novel, but it ups the drama. Enjoy!

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Jess Tennant is accompanying her newly-divorced mother from their home in London to the tiny seaside town of Port Sentinel. There's nothing there for Jess -- all her friends, and her father are back in London -- but for her mother, there's a whole childhood and young adulthood, a lifetime of memories, and a twin sister, her husband, and her three children whom Jess has never even met.

And, there's essentially the ghost of Freya. Freya, who was her cousin. Freya, who was almost identical to Jess. Freya, whose battered body was found in the sea below the sheer cliff on Sentinel Rock, who may or may not have flung herself off.

Jess finds the stares and the pointing disturbing -- yes, she looks just like her dead cousin. Get over it, all right? But what she doesn't expect is to be thrust into the weirdness of a small town - the internecine squabbles, the labyrinthine loyalties. Nobody wants to talk about what really happened to Freya -- how she really died. And, too many people are warning Jess to stay out of it.

Maybe that's how they play things in small towns. That's not how it's going to go down with Jess. Freya was family -- and though they've never met, Jess feels responsible - and a responsibility to find the truth.

The View from the Peak: I love family stories - and I love a well-constructed family, where people have natural roles, and ebb and flow in an organic fashion. Freya's family is grieving her loss. Her bedroom is exactly the same - but tidied - her sketchbooks and her things in the art room are the same, but tidied away, though it's been a year since she's been gone. The siblings tell jokes, but just as often step back, with sadness clearly haunting them. It seems like their grief is mostly proceeding normally - some days are worse than others, but over all, they've accepted that she's gone. The descriptions of the seaside town are lovely and quaint, and remind me a great deal of Oban and Largs in Scotland -- little seaside towns in Britain apparently have a lot in common. The characterizations of the village residents are also quite detailed and you can easily imagine yourself there.

The smaller family of Jess and her mother are a little less organic, a little less naturally situated, which leads us to...

The Rest of the Mountain: The "villains" of the piece were easily read and were presented early and clearly, so it's not at all that this was intended to be a mystery. I was more troubled by some of the characterization of Jess herself -- she's meant to be from London, she's sixteen, which means she's fairly independent, nearly done with school, and well able to get around and take care of herself -- and yet, several situations get out of her control, and she's at times oddly passive about them. People kiss her, and she just... lets them, even though internally she objects strenuously. A man touches her, and she feels he's gone WELL over the line, and she flees in fear. She's characterized as being a no-nonsense, sharp person who stubbornly decides to prove what happened to her cousin, and yet seems stopped by things which should not have tripped her up. I suspect the author is laying some ground for a sequel, and that some of the things which disturb me might not have bothered anyone else.

But what truly troubled me was an inability to feel a true connection to the characters of either Jess or Freya, though arguably, we "see" Freya for a much shorter period. We're told that Jess becomes obsessed to find out what happened to her cousin, but I found that I didn't feel any reason for this -- that is, I felt no emotional connection between the girls, and couldn't understand why. I found that to be the weakest part of the book; I was unconvinced that Jess either suddenly or gradually came to so love her lost relative so much that she simply HAD to know the last moments and details of her life. She hit the ground asking questions like a London detective, but few reacted with sincere horror at what should have seemed like a macabre interest. Instead, she got nicely suspicious anger. She asked questions, but more from a sense of pique, it seemed; she could see no one wanted to talk about it, thus she did.

There was no real diversity in this book - of faiths or ethnicity or gender or sex, which is perhaps unsurprising in a small town in England, but it was a tourist town, so it was surprisingly undifferentiated. Most of the characters were from the same class, the same ethnicity, and the same age group. While I felt a little... led through the narrative arc in this story, a little herded through a maze, as it were, the plot unfolded neatly with few surprises for me. Those who enjoy mild thrillers and summer stories will enjoy the heroine's stubbornness, the bad people's ...badness, the hint of romance and the rest of the tight-knit cast of the small town of Port Sentinel.



Though this book was published in 2013 in Britain, after August 26th, you can find HOW To FALL by JANE CASEY in America online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

July 18, 2014

5&Dime Friday: Serious as an Art Attack!

OH, my word, it's the weekend -- and it makes us want to flee! Anywhere! Well, anywhere there's water and sun, probably. Or, barring that, lovely rain, and a good bookstore with a nice coffee shop. And tights. Even if we can't pop off to Futurama in 3D, we can still find some awesome change in the couch cushions for the weekend. Dig in!

♦ For all that speculative fiction exists entirely in our imagination, there's a serious lack of ... extensions on the imaginations of some. I think Ebony Elizabeth at The Dark Fantastic calls it "the imagination gap" -- that point of failure, that last little jump that many creators in the dominant culture simply cannot make, to expand their imaginary worlds to include people of color. And yet, this week Marvel announced a female Thor and an African American Captain America. Is that enough? Actually... no. Not that it isn't cool, but to make up for an imagination gap? Friends, we've got to IMAGINE.

Which is why I thought this year's diverse anthology, LONG HIDDEN was a great idea. A book of fine short stories, the cover art really made it special -- and so I was SUPER excited to find out that the artist, one Julie Dillon, has a Kickstarter going for what she hopes will be an annual art project called IMAGINED REALMS. The artist, in her fabulous style, will be featuring positive and diverse representations of women in fantasy and science fiction. The women are all ages, all sizes, all colors and they are the leads to their own visual stories. It's an amazing, wonderful project and you can bet I'm a backer on it. Imagine being able to give a framed illustration to a kid who fears princesses only have yellow hair. Imagine the expansion of the imagination! We don't normally shill for Kickstarters - and this artist can make it without you... but I'm pretty sure you or someone you know needs a little boost in the imagination department. Hat tip to SF Signal.

♦ Two words: Jules. Betsy. Okay, technically those are two names, and the two words really should have been WICKED and FUNNY. WILD THINGS is the name of a slightly subversive pre-quel book site put together by Jules and Betsy in advance of their book by the same title. The site hosts tons of stories they've had to CUT from their book on the wild side of children's lit, and the bits therein are amusing - awful - alarming, and a whole lot of other things, including oh, so very human. Children's authors: not really made of sugar and spice at all. Nor are children's illustrators. Or, for that matter, nor are children. A fun romp, full of sacred cows (did Beatrix Potter actually smack someone?) and Harpy boobs (no, seriously. HILARIOUSLY stubborn artist, there), and a tale of six editors -- a nightmare tale, really. Do check it out, and I'll put in a plug for dear friends: buy the book in August! Thank you.

♦ I'm so privileged to be on the planning crew for the 2014 Kidlit Con. It's so nice to get notes from publishers saying, "A Con in our own backyard. I'm in - how can I help?" (Thank you, Lara from Chronicle Books!) It's great to see it blogged and tweeted about (thank you, quite a few people!) and it's so exciting to see things coming together, little by little -- authors confirming, panels coming together (#WeAreSoExcited), spreadsheets adding up properly (!), emails flying, then leapfrogging as we realize we sent poor Charlotte sixteen emails, but she's okay with that (*cough* Sorry, Charlotte).

It's HAPPENING. And, if I delurk on your blog (Hi, Multiculturalism Rocks! and Magical Urban Fantasy Reads!), and invite you personally, please don't freak. If you are an INTROVERT and think that a Con is the second coming of evil, I promise you, there will be time for quiet, actually READING the books we blog about, and non-scheduled bits. We just want ALLLL the bloggers to come! And talk! And have really, really good snacks and lots of time to hang out in the Con Living Room. We have a weekend to figure out the meaning of life and diversity and blog and swap books and ...stuff. And, I'm really hoping to see you there.

♦ There's a lot of talk about girls and gaming -- from the stupidity of manufacturers like Ubisoft, who don't see a need to have girls in their realities, to the other end of the spectrum, where both representation and diversity take form in games like Never Alone. This conversation opens it up just that little bit more -- and talks about gaming for teen girls:

Raven looks up. "Robots aren’t scary Dad."
"How about ..."
"Zombies aren’t scary either."
I’m getting a little tetchy with this unreceptive design group. I ask Raven, "So what are teenage girls scared of?"
Raven thinks for a moment. She looks sad. "Other teenagers," she says.

A Dad learns some hard truths -- that both make him a better game developer, and a hopefully, a better Dad. Hat tip, Tech Boy.

♦ Behold the awesome of the Secretary Bird, and nine other birds of crested brilliance. Because a good hair day is priceless. Also rare.

♦Happy Friday!♦

July 17, 2014

A Little of This, A Little of That...


I haven't done a links roundup in a while. That's mainly because I'm so far behind on my e-newsletters and other online reading that I've got an enormous backlog to go through. I put all that stuff in a separate email folder and instead of making me feel organized, it ends up languishing in there for months, making me feel guilty. So periodically I open up a few and find out what I've been missing, and now I'll share a few links with YOU in case you also missed them. Enjoy!
  • Ilsa J. Bick Talks with Read Roger in a VERY interesting interview for Horn Book, including some teasers about her next book, White Space, and why Ilsa Is Fearless despite all that scary stuff she writes.
  • I don't read a lot of actual memoirs, but I really, really like graphic novel memoirs, and I can't wait to read The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley, who wrote the Amelia Rules! series. GraphicNovelReporter has a nice review as well as an interview with Gownley, in which he talks about his book--which is all about how he became a cartoonist: "I never had a Plan B. I actually don’t believe in Plan B’s, because they are really just excuses to give up on your dream as soon as possible."  Yeah. What he said.
  • Also, in case you missed it, check out GraphicNovelReporter's Best Graphic Novels of 2013. My TBR list just got a lot longer...
  • Ages ago, I found a roundup of links on Writer's Digest on humor and writing--how to inject more humor into your work, lists of "funny words," and more. If you've ever agonized over the perfect way to word that hilarious phrase (I used to have a freelance job where I did that every day!), you might want to check it out.

July 15, 2014

BOOM: And we are LIVE!

Registration is OPEN.

Call for session proposals is OPEN.

The 2014 Kidlit Con, BLOGGING DIVERSITY: WHAT'S NEXT?, to be held at the stunning Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in Sacramento, California, October 10-11 is only
EIGHTY-SEVEN DAYS AWAY.

Rumor has it that some pretty superb panels and some wonderful authors have already indicated that they'll be coming. What about YOU?

Do you have something to share -- or are you wanting to attend to listen and learn?

Do you have questions, opinions, and friends with whom you've been discussing issues of diversity, difference, how to talk about it, how to write about it, and how to think about it? Are you a parent or teacher, wondering how to bring more diversity into your children's reading, or a librarian or bookseller who thinks they've got an answer or two? Do you code on your blog, find yourself mentoring newbies, prefer audacious indies, delight in mysteries or Middle Grade madness, and want to share with the rest of us?

Fill out that session proposal paperwork, then, let's confer - which is, after all, the root of Conference!

This is going to be AMAZING, I think. Really and truly hope to see you there!

July 14, 2014

Can You Quantify Successful Writing Style?

"Needs more adjectives."
I ran across an interesting news item in the Writer's Chronicle March/April issue entitled "Scientific Study Claims Ability to Predict Best-Selling Novels." Yes, I will admit there is a small part of me which is intrigued by the idea that such a thing is even quantifiable in any meaningful way. Using a computer algorithm that took into account various factors like writing style, storyline, and novelty (begging the question of how the heck do you get a computer program to analyze these in the first place? Or are there humans inputting those variable factors and then the computer just analyzes the probability of success? NEED MORE INFO), the program was able "to analyze a book’s commercial success to within eighty-four-percent accuracy."

More questions then occurred to me: Is 84% accuracy impressive? How does that compare to a human evaluator's predictive ability? And again, are the factors being used for evaluation inherently quantifiable or not? What the program did, apparently for 800 books in various genres, was "analyze text, comparing prediction results to actual historical information available regarding the success of the book."

What I found most fascinating, though, were the trends revealed by the research--the weird little commonalities that the computer program found in successful books.
Heavy use of conjunctions like “and” and “but,” large numbers of nouns and adjectives, and the use of verbs describing thought processes such as “recognized” or “remembered” were found in successful books. Conversely, less successful work seemed to use explicitly described emotions and actions such as “wanted” or “promised,” and use more verbs and adverbs.
Well, I suppose we've all been told to use fewer adverbs. But it's interesting to me that what we are often told in literary fiction is to be pithy, specific, vivid; to avoid filler verbiage and vague language; to not overuse adjectives; to imbue our work with action and emotion and select the right verbs. Plus, what the heck is up with that "and" and "but" business? What this tells me is that good writing, successful writing, goes so far beyond what you can deconstruct with an algorithm. You can't just insert random strings of adjectives and nouns and assume it will make you writing more popular. You can't just distill writing down to seemingly arbitrary rules of thumb.

Or can you?

July 11, 2014

Five/Dime Friday: From Suck to Smiles

You know it's a bad week when a friend writes you a condolence note and includes a link from the paper... Sir Terry cancelling his appearance at the UK Discworld Convention, due to his ongoing (since 2007) embuggerance, Alzheimer's, has just gutted a lot of fans. As those who have previously applauded my geek-ramble know, Tech Boy and I are huge Discworld nerds, and I've even gone so far as to bogart my way onto a panel at last summer's con with Charlotte and Sheila. I am so sad that he's not going to appear in the UK, where he's already local and everything -- because it is, for the fans, a clear sign of The Beginning of The End. Sir Terry has already let us know that he's going to take the end into his own hands, to do it his own way. And we can only love and grieve and dread...

...and support his right to do what he needs to do.

!?*&%&*#!$ stupid disease.

::sigh::

Has it not been the summer of Author Suck so far? Maya Angelou, Nancy Garden, Walter Myers, MAKE IT STOP.

Above this sea of suckitude, however, there are always gleams of silver edging the clouds. It's Friday, and at the end of the week, there's always a bit of extra to see us through. Let's dig in that couch, people. There's GOT to be something good there.

** Okay, Reading Rainbow's $5 million dollar plus coup IS the quintessential good news of the WHOLE summer. Let's not forget that one. That's a little gift from the world to books and literacy that will keep on giving.

** ABC News reported recently that there are new Octavia Butler stories which are being published!!! OH. MY. WORD. That is an unexpected little joy. According to Open Road Media, from whom the collection is available one is a novella called A Necessary Being, and the other is a short story called "The Childfinder," and both of them are sound like that evocative Butler style that reminds me, too, of the novellas of the grand dame of speculative fiction, Ursula LeGuin. ...I wonder if someday we'll find a YA equivalent of Butler and LeGuin? Hope springs eternal...

** Did you see that one shot of Lois Lowry with a black eye? No? Then you haven't been to the Wild Things!|Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature blog, where Jules and Betsy are posting all the stuff that they couldn't use in their upcoming book by the same title. This book is going to be SUCH a hoot!

** Bookriot's E.H. Kern introduces us to her fave animal... the nearly invisible book scorpion. No, really. I give props to her entomologist spirit, and know that I will try to avoid the auto-cringe-and-fling with which I greet silverfish, should I ever see one of these noble beast/beastettes... I am well on my way to helping them live in the world as I a.) buy used books, and b.) don't dust the bookshelves as I should. Book scorpions, FTW!

** Scholastic's site This Is Teen.com put out the funniest silliest, most recognizable little video... for all of us who both laugh and cry in public and can be completely antisocial when reading a book (YA or no) "STUFF YA READERS SAY" is for you. Also, I would pay good money to see someone throwing the Mockingjay sign in the workplace. Yes, readers: everyone thinks we YA types are weird. And with good reason.

** Hey! Do you have a MG novel published? Do you work with, or have you worked with Middle Grade kids in an educational setting? You could be in line to be the next Thurber House Children's Book Writer in Residence. GO NOW and find out how. Hat tip, Alan Gratz.

** The other day, Jen Robinson, Sarah and I were talking about our weddings... which took place at a justice of peace, a skateboard park, and a city hall, respectively. We all three either eloped or planned a no-fuss-no-muss day. Which is why first:second's upcoming graphic Something New by Lucy Knisley (author of Relish; My Life in the Kitchen, which Kelly Jensen ably reviewed here) sounds like a winner to us. Geek Girl Does Wedding! Wants tacos at the reception! Sounds like a party I'd attend.

** And, speaking of Jen, Sarah and I, three people who couldn't plan a wedding without a lot of migraines, we're somehow planning the Kidlit Con. There are spreadsheets and menus and contracts! Oh, My! But, it's getting done!!!! We are THIS CLOSE to getting that registration form up. Check out Jen's piece on how the Kidlit Con came to be, what it's all about, and who's invited (hint: YOU!) at The Nerdy Book Club. And, since the call for panels and sessions has gone up, we're all looking forward to talking more about diversity in children's lit, blogging about it, and etc.

** You know another fun thing? Marvel Method: Cosplay, the new Youtube show that tells you the deets on Cosplaying and making your own costumes. After watching the Gratz family win for years at Dragon*Con cosplay, this is the DIY blueprint for the less-gifted of us.

** C'mon, y'all. You know you're here because books make you smile. And, perhaps laugh maniacally. At worrisome intervals. In public. With strangers. This is as bad as that laughing alone with salad thing. Stock photos = so weird.

There, now you've started to get your smile back. Let the weekend take care of the rest. Peace, love, and bookshelf dust. Happy Friday, Chickadees. ☮

July 10, 2014

Thursday Review: ASK ME by Kimberly Pauley

If you were ever that kid who gobbled up Greek myths like popcorn, then, like me, you may have been a bit intrigued and mystified by those exalted yet still human personages, the oracles. Cloistered in a rarefied environment, like the Oracle of Delphi on her remote island; clad in diaphanous robes, inhaling volcanic vapors and spouting the wisdom of the ages…it's hard to imagine anything like that happening in modern times, unless you make a habit of visiting psychics and palm readers. Anyway, it's not institutionalized as a part of the popular religion in the same way.

Enter Ask Me, the latest novel by Kimberly Pauley, author of Cat Girl's Day Off (reviewed here) and the very hilarious Sucks to be Me (reviewed here). I loved the premise of this book. The narrator, Aria Morse, is…an Oracle. From a long line of oracles, stretching back through the ages and including among their ranks her very own grandmother, with whom she lives. And being an oracle isn't all fun and games and telling the future. In fact, it pretty well sucks—because she has to answer Every. Single. Question. Not just questions posed directly to her, either. Every question within earshot prompts a dramatic, declamatory answer from her Oracle Voice, whether she wants to respond or not. Whether the question is about the past, present or future, the answer is always the truth, but it's often worded so cryptically that it's impossible to interpret until much later.

So basically, Aria is the school freak, wherever she goes—she's constantly muttering (the only way she can deal with her constant compulsion to answer questions is to do it quietly) and usually goes around with her earphones in so she can avoid any unnecessary and inevitably awkward conversation. (If you've read my novel Underneath, you'll know I'm interested in the idea of paranormal powers being a mixed blessing.)

Here's what else is making Aria's life miserable: most oracles lose their powers by the time they turn seventeen or so. But Aria has passed her major milestone and STILL HAS HER ABILITY. Not only that, a girl she knows at school has disappeared, and Aria might be the only one who can help figure out who is responsible. The question is, can she do it without endangering her own life? And if she has to reveal her ability in order to solve the mystery, will anyone believe her?

I really enjoyed the conflict, internal and external, created by Aria's being an oracle. She repeatedly faces the decision of whether to trust people with her secret, and whom to trust, and the ramifications of allowing herself to reveal such a powerful secret. Pauley has a very thoughtful approach to the idea of what would truly be like to have an ability like this, and how it affects the way Aria moves through her world on an everyday basis. In fact, the attention to the everyday details of contemporary teen life was an intriguing and ongoing contrast to Aria's kind of old-school power of Orating the Truth.

On that note—a complaint I (accidentally) saw in a random review, as I was entering the title on Goodreads, addressed the fact that the book made little or no reference to the historical context of oracles in ancient Greece. While I will agree that it might have been cool (oh, let's face it; it could have been SUPER cool) to tie the story into some ancient prophecy or something-or-other, I suspect this is a standalone title and as such, it stands alone quite well as a contemporary novel without a historical thread. I still really enjoyed the book. And even though I kind of guessed whodunit fairly early on, the story kept me flip-flopping, wondering whether by guessing that X did it, I was just playing into the author's hands, and it was really Y, or even Z. A fun, fast, suspenseful read.


You can find Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

July 09, 2014

YES. THIS:

"That was when I realized that writing diverse fiction wasn’t simply about including people who looked, dressed, or spoke differently. Diverse fiction certainly encompasses those things, but at its core, diversity in fiction is about presenting the world through different viewpoints. Everyone’s life experience, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background, gives them a unique lens through which they see and interpret the world."

Livia Blackburne today on Diversity in YA's tumblr today, talking about diverse fiction and her debut novel.

July 08, 2014

TURNING PAGES: HOOP DREAMS by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

Hello, Sports Fans!

It's the dog days of summer... well, the puppy days, anyway, and sports are what's on the telly. Sports are what's on the page, too. Despite my complete-klutz status, I love a good sports novel and this fab one comes to us from Canada (what IS IT with awesome Canadian books lately??)'s Lorimer Press. While not a huge fan of photographic covers, when I do like them, it's because they're using models to depict diversity and sass - and boy, there's a lot of sass going on in this one... as befits the captain of the Podium Sports Academy girls basketball team. This is the sixth in the Podium Academy series, which is a high action series with a lot of drama and heart. This fast-paced story has a short narrative arc, but gives us a month-in-the-life of the troubled and cocky Allie McLean.

Concerning Character: Allie's world is a round, orange ball. She lives, breathes and eats basketball, and when the novel opens, she's having the game of her life -- Of. Her. Life. She beats her personal best for overall scoring, and it's the last game of Parent's Weekend. Her shots are brilliant -- all net! -- and the crowd goes wild. Too bad there's nobody with whom she can celebrate -- not her mother or her sister, back in Halifax, not even her billet-mother, Abigail, the cool and emotionless housemother with whom she stays while she's attending Podium Sports Academy. She gives her best friend, Carrie, the rose that should have gone to her mother, and tries to suck it up. It doesn't matter that nobody is there to support her. Allie has basketball. And, in that spherical round bit of rubber, she has EVERYTHING. Right?

But nothing is that simple. Everything is just...weird, and Allie's a bundle of frustrations. First up, her good friend Parmita, who just came out, is acting off. Carrie says Parm is into Allie -- but she can't be. Parm knows Allie's straight, and crushing on Allie would ruin their friendship and make things awkward. And anyway, Jonathon, one of the boys on crew, is super-hot, and he's definitely into Allie, and right now, they're kind of a thing -- even to the point where Allie's thinking he might be The One, and she might not graduate a virgin after all. Parm's critical of Allie's string of guys - one after the other, like beads on a chain, but Allie doesn't want to get all attached and emo, like her mother. After her parents separated, Allie's mother's first boyfriend completely scammed her out of he life savings. How dumb! Allie's not going to be like that. Her scholarship to Podium -- where she's earned a full ride to Duke University on a sports scholarship - is nothing less than a perfect save. If Allie had to depend on her mother to take care of things, she'd be no one, going nowhere. As it is, Allie spent too much time cooking, cleaning and taking care of her two younger sisters. She's been relieved and happy to be back at Podium... but now it seems like fifteen-year-old Kat doesn't need her anymore.

Maybe Allie just won't go home. After all, Jonothan's family is super nice -- his mother texts Allie all the time, just like she's her real Mom. Maybe Allie will add one more thing to her life: basketball, and Jonathon. Maybe, with her family-away-from-home at Podium, that's all she needs... But, if stuff goes down with Jonathon AND her friends at Podium AND her game, what's Allie got left? Can she survive waking up from her hoop dreams?

Critical Reader Reaction: Did I mention that this novel had a lot of drama? Cause it does, as in, "DRA-MA!" in the most sing-songy tone you can say it, which, translated, means "Wow, this novel has some soap opera-esque overtones..." which of course makes it so, so fun. High school drama FTW! And it's the kind of drama which plays well for either boys or girls -- there's a good old brawl on the basketball court, there's relationship drama and family stuff. All good. I found myself, after finishing it, wondering if Parm is ever going to get her courage together again and ask someone else out, if Carrie's going to be okay in Vegas, and if Allie will continue to try and hide the truth about her less-than-perfect family.

Like all the best school stories, this novel plunges you into the quickly moving current of a fully peopled world, full of relationships and backgrounds that you may not know. Though this book is sixth in a series, it read easily and well as a stand-alone, and it's diverse cast flowed together organically. Though it's clearly indicated that Allie has African ancestry - can't miss that mop of Afro - it's not an issue or a problem that shapes the narrative. Okay, so Jonathon's blonde and Allie's not -- and, who cares? Their chemistry is neither complicated nor enhanced by color -- it's not even mentioned, which is kind of startling, but perhaps reflects a Canadian point of view. Either way, I heartily recommend this series to those looking for realistic, high concept, bursting-with-narrative-drama novels with short, easy to digest chapters and a lot of heart.



This book came to me courtesy of Lorimer Press. You can find HOOP DREAMS by LORNA SCHULTZ NICHOLSON online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

July 03, 2014

KidLitCon 2014 Update: Call for Session Proposals is Up!

Via the Kidlitosphere Central website, here's the latest on the Call for Session Proposals for this fall's KidLitCon (which Tanita and I are proudly helping to organize, along with Jen Robinson and a valiant and hardworking crew of other conference regulars).

KidLitCon will be held in Sacramento, CA on October 10th and 11th, with sessions held on both days. This year’s theme is Blogging Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit: What’s Next?.

From the proposal submission form:

“We are looking for presentations and panels that will inspire and edify Kidlitosphere bloggers. While we’re specifically interested in presentations that address what bloggers can do to make a meaningful difference in increasing and promoting diversity in children’s and young adult literature, sessions covering other topics such as reviewing critically, trends, social media, marketing, technology, and industry relationships are welcome.”

This year’s Program Coordinator is Charlotte Taylor, who blogs at Charlotte’s Library. Charlotte prepared this year’s submission form with assistance from last year’s Coordinator, Jackie Parker from Interactive Reader. The deadline to submit a proposal is August 1st, so get cracking!

Click here for the Proposal Submission Form.

July 02, 2014

Thank You.



Brilliant writer, Walter Dean Myers, 1937-2014

To one of the first who said, "We need diverse books," and never, ever, ever stopped saying it.

With gratitude, for lending us your words and your voice,
Young adult readers and writers of all colors, everywhere.

Full obit at Betsy's.

TURNING PAGES: SOPHIE, IN SHADOW, by Eileen Kernaghan

This book is heartily recommended to anyone re-reading A PASSAGE TO INDIA this summer (hi, Lissa!), and to anyone whose childhood summers included Kipling's KIM, which is worth a re-read this summer as well. This book is for anyone who fears that young adult books are short on literary value and too long on popular culture. In the timeless style of L.M. Montgomery and E.M. Forrester, this book is simply a treat. (Readers who have enjoyed other fantasy fiction on India during colonial times will find this much finer fare, and delight in finding that this book is somewhat of a companion volume to WILD TALENT: A NOVEL OF THE SUPERNATURAL, which tells the story of Sophie's cousin Jeannie.)

I don't love the cover to this novel - it doesn't seem to do anything for the story, nor really illustrate it, but on the other hand, neither does it sensationalize colonial times in India. I admit I was uneasy with the subject matter as written on the jacket copy - India, magic, terrorism -- hm. The novel is set in 1914 India, and there's magic and mysticism -- and I have seen some books which, larded with stereotype, romanticize the plight of India under British rule and either baldly ignore or dealt badly with the issues of colonialism -- but this Canadian novel, published by Saskatchewan indie Thistledown Press, is conscious of its time without being self-conscious, and is balanced in its views without being preachy or moralistic. And the magic -- well. The magic. The best description of this novel is magical realism -- because the time and setting is real, and then there's that soupçon of the supernatural there to liven up the game. And, indeed the Great Game once again, is afoot...

Concerning Character: It is 1914, and the power of the Raj, the British rule in India, is on the wane. India - gilded, opulent India, with its colorful silks, myriad indigenous groups, rigid caste and class roles and its exotic fruits, flora and fauna - is changing into a place the British don't recognize, a place of unrest and turbulence, kidnappings and chaos. Fresh from the disaster of losing her parents in an ill-fated ship voyage on a ship called the Titanic, wan, pallid Sophie travels from India to some of the last of her living relatives, a second-cousin-once-removed called Tom in a city called Calcutta. A stranger to the brightness and the tumult, Sophie is breathless in the smothering heat, cringing from the chaotic press of humanity and the confusion of it all -- but she is both expectant and accepting of her new home.

Sophie has read every book about India she can get her hands on - Kipling on down - and she is resigned to expect all sorts of nonsense in this new country. It has been two years since she lost her parents, and this is to be her life now, this stumbling along in the shadow of a world she no longer understands. Others say God or Fate decreed that the Titanic sank and took away everything she held dear, but Sophie doesn't believe it -- it was simply human error, and unbeknownst to herself, deep within her shaken heart, Sophie is ...furious. Still, nice English girls do not behave abominably when they are angry, so Sophie goes along and gets along with Tom and his wife Jeannie and their nine-year-old daughter, Alex, stiff upper lip and all. It is when Sophie is busily trying to go along and be an ordinary girl - a girl whose life hasn't been shadowed by tragedy -- that everything happens.

Kernaghan's lush description of India - sights, sounds, smells - are worth the price of admission, and really are where I see the parallels to reading Forrester. There's this sense of her standing inside of 19th century India in her time-traveling capsule, just sort of narrating the panoply going by. The language is rich, rich and lovely, and there's a depth and color that many writers who dabble in historical fiction miss. The characters in this book, rather than being stereotypes, are quirky and unexpected -- especially young Alex's namesake, Alexandra David Néel, an actual historical person who was brilliant, quirky and fascinating, a French-Belgian spiritualist, budding anarchist, cave-dwelling Buddhist, prolific writer, and intrepid explorer. David-Néel was also one of the first European women into interdicted Tibet, much to the dismay of the English.

If you're not a fan of historical fantasy, this novel may move a little slowly for you in spots - and, it's the early 1900's in Colonial India, so there's a certain languidness in the narrative anyway -- but I think if you're a fan of KIM by Rudyard Kipling, you'll find this a real treat as I did.



I received a copy of this novel courtesy of the author. You can find SOPHIE, IN SHADOW by EILEEN KERNAGHAN online, or at an independent Canadian bookstore near you!