May 24, 2006

Coming Back...and Looking Back

Getting away from it all really does give you new perspective sometimes. I took a copy of No More Rejections! by Alice Orr (available from Writer's Digest Book Club) with me on the plane, and reviewing some of the nuts and bolts of writing and editing from the perspective of a literary agent actually sparked some enthusiasm for going back to my beleaguered and once-again-rejected (just before vacation, by Margaret K. McElderry books) first novel and doing some major revisions.

Though a part of me hates the thought of undertaking such a daunting task, and I honestly don't know where to begin, another part of me is a little excited that maybe I can make what I think is a good novel into a great one. I had to let it go for a while, and let go of my over-attachment to it (what my ceramics teacher referred to as "precious pot syndrome," in reference to a student's first thrown piece of pottery that they don't want to let go of). Now, after about a year and a half (!), I think I have enough objectivity to tackle it again and make major changes. I think it took so long to get to this stage because I was working on the novel in dribs and drabs for two years or more, and couldn't see the forest for the trees by the end.

But now I'm ready to enter the trees again. I recommend, if you feel stuck on revisions, taking a look back at your beginning writing texts and other how-to-write books, and just letting yourself get inspired by the different aspects of craft and how they might apply to your own work. It might only happen subconsciously at first, but for me, that subconscious thought process made the all-important leap into the front of my brain. Go for it!

May 22, 2006

Summer in the ...City

The city of Medina, Minnesota, that is. I hadn't thought of going to a conference this year, but You're at the Helm! The Business of Writing of Writing and Illustrating For Children, a conference put on by The Children's Literature Network sounds like it has got some good nuts-and-bolts information about how to manage your writing as a business. The conference is mid-week, Wednesday and Thursday, July 26 and 27, 2006, and if you register before May 31st it's a lot less expensive. There's a huge emphasis on marketing -- which is something that always makes me feel a bit uneasy -- so it might be worth checking out! And somewhere in Minnesota, there's bound to be a hotel with air conditioning for all that humidity...
Statistics Lie?Bowker, which tracks book publishing in the United States says that publishing books for YA and children is down fifteen to twenty percent since 2004. Of course, School Library Journal is quick to point out that it's because 2004 was a banner year in children's books. Sales have increased, despite fewer books published overall.

Speaking of marketing, wouldn't it be great if you could simply market your book by having a treasure hunt? Oh, someday I've got to write a fantasy novel that takes advantage of that! Philanthropist and author Michael Stadther is a man who likes whetting the appetites of his readers. His treasure hunt, which celebrates the completion of his second fantasy novel, is meant for whole families to get involved in -- and the jewels are really hidden. The maps are real. This man has a lot of money, and a lot of fun planning and executing these hunts, and people really love playing. The next worldwide treasure hunt begins this September!

It doesn't seem possible, but the cute little aardvark with the glasses and his bratty little sister, DW, is turning THIRTY this year. Author Marc Brown's character, now with his own PBS series, has been around forever, even though he's still only eight. This all goes to show that if you write a really good series of books that are well loved, even if you're never "famous,' you'll be around to touch the lives of a generation. Or two! And what a 'wonderful kind of day' that makes!

Viva la Rogers! Or, El Rogers, anyway...

Not really a writing item: Since I was thinking recently about Mr. Rogers, I thought you might want to know that today in 1967, his show debuted, and started us all on the path to being ...good neighbors and cool people. Of course, there is a tribute album for his songs... but can anything involving Jon Secada and string orchestras be entirely good!?

Anyway. Here's to being good neighbors...

May 17, 2006

The Genius of Terry Pratchett: Of Invisible Hats

With a start like the one she had with the little blue men, heroine Tiffany Aching sets out on the road to being a witch thinking that life is going to be a lot of the stern work of Setting Things Right in the World. It is time to leave the Chalk, the highland world where the very bones of the earth are a beloved and familiar history beneath her feet, but where no one can teach her what she needs to know. Or so Tiffany thinks.

In A Hat Full of Sky Tiff is apprenticed to the uniquely twinned Miss Level, befriended (sort of), by the other apprentice witches, there can't help but in spite of herself, she expects excitement around every corner. But, there's not so much to be had. Tiffany ends up kind of being a servant. She beat the Queen of the Fairies. She's a witch in training! She's treated like... a servant, helping take care of stupid people! That can't be right. Where's the respect? And there are so many stupid people in the world who need help...

It's only to be expected that young Tiffany gets sick of her world as it is. Even the Nac Mac Feegle, who are charged with watching over "the young hag" can't stop what's stalking her. When Something Wicked This Way Comes, Tiffany's pride leaves her open to its invasion. And nobody can save her, not Esme Weatherwax, the greatest witch in the Discworld, not Miss Level, not the Wee Free Men. This time, Tiffany has to save herself.

The novels of Terry Pratchett all share one commonality in that they delve into deeper philosophical issues ...stealthily. The heroes and heroines are not perfect by any means, yet the Bad Child Gets Punished motif is not at work here. Pratchett reveals to YA readers the silliness of some of the way things are, but provokes readers to closer examinations about their beliefs on the nature of ethical behavior, popular myths and religious beliefs, and widely-held beliefs about science and the nature of the universe. He injects a strong shot of doubt into the unexamined life, and kicks contempt prior to investigation right out the door. Readers will want to read his work again and again, just to think through the thoughts behind the stories. Getting readers to think of and learn what is really true is of real importance to Pratchett, and it shows in all of his novels.

Pratchett has quite a few reoccuring characters, which endear his readers to him, and we can expect more from Tiffany, I have no doubt.

The Genius of Terry Pratchett: Little Blue Men

When you imagine yourself surrounded by monsters in your worst nightmares, are you armed with a frying pan? The Wee Free Men heroine Tiffany Aching is. She's ten years old, and very sure of the world. Mostly, she's very sure that people don't listen, are basically stupid, and that there's not much of a life for girls in the rural village where she lives, unless she wants to be a mother. Oh, and she also knows that her little brother will do anything for candy.

Tiffany has the world pretty well figured out until she sees Something Nasty kidnap her soggy and annoying little brother Wentworth. Trouble is, Mam told her to watch over her brother. Tiffany, a witch-to-be, knows her duty. She sets out to find him.

There's trouble in the Chalk high country where Tiffany lives. There's a hole in the world, into which all the monsters who had been banished by reassuring things like modern times and sanity, are reappearing. The unofficial village witch, Miss Tick, is aging and out of town, so there is no one to stop them... no one, but Tiffany. And on her side, are the little blue men.

Nac Mac Feegle, they're called, a sheep-stealing, bare-knuckled, hard-drinking, fierce lot of Highlander Pictsies -- NOT pixies, if you don't want a head butt to the bridge of your nose. Nothing stardusted and spry or milk drinking and cute about this lot. They're bright blue, six inches tall and wear little kilts, but don't let that worry you. They're out to bash some heads and preserve their world. Fortunately, they're part of the Good Guys.

In this fractured fairytale, where myth and folklore collide, fairies aren't sweet bewinged things bringing happiness, the hound of hell with razor teeth and burning eyes is called a grimhound, and the Queen of Elves is an absolute horror. There's nothing good out of a fairytale, and it's up to those with common sense to bring the world back into order.

The Genius of Terry Pratchett: Oh, RATS!

YA Fiction has rules, and one of them is that the protagonist in the story must be a young person, or the story has to have at least one central character who is between the ages of eleven to, oh, say, eighteen. If this weren't the case, many more of Terry Pratchett's books would be considered YA Fiction. There is a certain wonderful wryness about them, a certain skewed perspective which causes young and old, who 'get' his many sly jokes, to spew their coffee (or milk) right out of their noses most of the time. Funny? You bet. Seriously thought provoking? Entirely.

Winner of the 2001 Carnegie Medal, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, 2002, and more, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is a madly tilted story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, only this time distressingly reset in... the Discworld. (A quick run-up to the Discworld would be that it is a world... that is disc-shaped. And riding on the back of four elephants, who are, in turn, riding on the back of a giagantic tortoise, swimming through the stars. Well, you asked.) Strange things happen on the Discworld, including talking cats, which is what the aforementioned Maurice happens to be: a cat. He is accompanied by a rather dim boy, and a host of rats. They also talk... It's the perfect setup for a scam.

Maurice has been running the scam of -- "Ooh, the town is overrun with rats, what shall we do, what shall we do?" and "Call the Piper!" and then the Piper leads the rats out of town with a sort of ceaseless tootling on his little pipe -- for quite some time. And they've run out of towns closer to home where they're not in trouble with the law, so they're moving on. They've found a town called Bad Blintz, and everybody there hates rats. There are traps in every cellar. But something else is going on in Bad Blintz. Something worse than just non-talking rats... There are voices that get into people's heads. There is Big Evil at work. And it's making everyone kind of crazy...

Pratchett is witty, wry and snarky and his prose is quick. The jokes are quicker, so beware the laugh-out-loudness of this novel and don't slip it into someplace you're supposed to be reading quietly - it won't work. There's something weighty and thought-provoking in Pratchett's satire, teaching some big truths quietly; and it won't be hard for YA readers to find and identify with the hypocrisy of humanity and the silliness of the world at large that pretty much leaps off the pages. But don't worry -- not too much of that kind of thing. Mostly, Maurice & Co. are just a lot of fun.

Pieces Highlights for Children would like to see:

Those interested in trying to hone your craft of short stories or try your hand at writing for children's magazines should perk up: you're needed. This was sent in an open post to members of our list serv:
The editors at Highlights have created a wish list of manuscript needs. If you're in need of a little inspiration, maybe this will help. Below you will find our special needs in addition to the regular submissions we always like to receive.
If you know someone who might find this information useful, please feel free to pass it along...

George Brown, Assistant Editor
Highlights for Children

From Kim Griswell, Coordinating Editor
Travel and Adventure (I imagine stories about CHINA might work here, A.F.!)
Articles that feature adventurous travel. Not the "family vacation" kind of thing, unless your family goes to study turtles in the Galápagos Islands, as does the author of "Stars and Sea Lions" (June 2006). We prefer articles that feature kids in some way. Publishable-quality photos are almost essential for these kinds of articles, since it would be difficult (or impossible) for us to acquire photos if the writer couldn't provide them. Please remember that even travel and adventure articles need a focus—not simply "We went here and did this," but something that reveals the meaning behind the travel or the reason for the adventure, etc. 750 words maximum.

From Marileta Robinson, Senior Editor
Fiction for Young Readers
We need fun, lively stories as well as quiet, thoughtful stories for young readers at first- and second-grade reading levels. I would like to see more stories with boy appeal, like "Training Wheels" in September 2005 and "Fox and His Halloween Tail" in October 2005. 500 words maximum.

From Carolyn Yoder, Senior Editor
World Cultures
· Intimate looks at other peoples and their traditions—particularly in northern and southern Africa, Asia (other than India), Europe, Canada, the Caribbean, and the Pacific (articles on children)
· Holidays—first person
· U.S. History
· Modern history (20th century), particularly the Civil Rights movement
· Holidays, particularly Christmas and Thanksgiving
· Articles that touch on the diversity of people in the United States
· Biographies of U.S. subjects as children
· Anecdotal articles on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln
· Articles on patriotic themes
· HUMOROUS articles on U.S. history (review back issues for articles on Lincoln and humor, Washington and his teeth, Jefferson getting his life mask, and Ben Franklin and his love of exercise)

From Judy Burke, Associate Editor
We're interested in sports articles that focus either on a known athlete (a squeaky-clean one), on the development of specific skills(for example, fielding a grounder), or on the challenges faced by athletes of any kind (for example, being smaller than your teammates). Successful articles often include quotes gained from personal interviews with athletes or experts and useful tips for readers who play that sport. 800 words maximum.

From Andy Boyles, Science Editor
Science and Nature Articles
Our guidelines state that our word limit is 800, but articles that are even shorter (350–400 words) are especially welcome as possible one-page features. We put a high value on articles that show science as a process—articles that follow a scientist or group of scientists as they try to solve one of nature's mysteries.
We are always looking for science articles about animals that are of high interest to kids. An article might follow researchers who study such animals. The article may tell the adventures of only one day, but information about the animals and the research will arise naturally in the course of the action, so our readers will learn
something about both.
We currently have enough articles about birds, reptiles and amphibians, insects (especially bees), and volcanoes.

From Joëlle Dujardin Kirkland, Associate Editor
Crafts: Crafts with boy-appeal, games, holiday crafts, and crafts from other cultures (with background included)
Younger Nonfiction: First-person accounts of fieldwork; arts stories; biographies with interesting slants; kids living in other cultures; ancient history; animals; details from urban life(workers, transportation, etc.). These stories should have a clear focus and should be written at a first- or second-grade reading level. 450 words or fewer.
Gallant Kids: Leads (or articles) on kids under thirteen years old doing service in their communities. 350 words

From Linda Rose, Assistant Editor
Full-Page Puzzle Activities
On the inside-back cover, we like to take advantage of the cover-stock surface by using a large illustration or incorporating photos in the puzzle. Often, this is the page on which we can do several activities within one (for example, using one illustration for a number of activities). Submissions to this area ideally include
detailed art directions/notes, as well as succinct and easily understood activity directions for the reader. (Artwork or photos do not need to be submitted with the manuscript.)
Careers Articles
We are always in the market for fresh and interesting articles that take an in-depth look at a career. Our hope is that a career profile will provide kids with information that they cannot easily get elsewhere, such as in a typical "careers" book or in an encyclopedia. Instead, we want our career pieces to be intriguing reads that just happen to be about a person's career.
As our guidelines point out, "We prefer biographies that are rich in anecdotes." Substantive and "insider" anecdotes are often critical to the success of these articles; we want kids to feel that they are getting a "behind the scenes" or inside glimpse into the subject.
Focusing on one individual (or, in some cases, a few) often helps to make the manuscript feel more personal. Career pieces that focus on a person within a career tend to be more appealing. We prefer research based on firsthand experience, consultation with experts, or primary sources.

From George Brown, Assistant Editor
Short Activities
We're looking for short puzzles, activities, teasers, and interesting tidbits to go on our mixed pages—those four or five pages per issue with a variety of short activities. These activities, which can be almost anything, have to be powerful to
pull readers into the magazine. However, we do not publish word searches, crossword puzzles, or fill-in-the-blank activities.

Highlights recommends reviewing the magazine's submission guidelines, available at, found in the About Us section. Back issues can be found at most local libraries.

Please send submissions to the specific editor listed above, or
Manuscript Coordinator
Highlights for Children
803 Church Street
Honesdale, PA 18431

May 15, 2006

The manuscript is away! And now the pacing continues apace...

Because whenever I have to wait more than four minutes for something, I start to unspool mentally, I shall regale you with more news from the publishing world. After all, it's something to do while I'm waiting*, which, I'm assured, is the best way to make the time pass between S.A.M. and the Editor E. hashing out my manuscript for what one hopes is the blessedly last bloody time before it passes inspection...

I came across the story of an amazingly arrogant person who got first an MFA and then a Ph.D in children's literature, and was so angry that he couldn't find a university job that he wrote a book about it. Yes, this is what America wants to read. Strange, but I think anyone observant about collegiate life knows that professors have way too much to do to get much publishing done unless they retire for awhile. I look at my brilliant and favorite ex-Mills professor, Dr. Kahn - she had to leave teaching in order to really research and write, because she gave all of her time to us on a daily basis. While I wish this author the best of luck with his work, I suggest he just teach high school for awhile and write -- and see if he has any better luck with being brilliant and publishing and being an amazing teacher!!

Publishers Weekly reports that 'tween' publisher B*tween Productions is doubling their list this year. B*tween publishes "wholesome" reading for the preteen girls set, and began the popular Beacon Street Girls series in 2004. Admittedly, the word 'wholesome' makes my teeth ache, but what that really means is that these books are girl-positive and made to foster independence and action in girls. Their mission statement says "The mission of the company is to provide the kind of positive role models and empowering messages that help girls believe in themselves whatever their challenges. The BSG brand crosses socio-economic barriers and provides problem-solving tools within an entertaining format that girls can apply to their own lives." Sounds worthwhile to me.

Meanwhile Chronicle Books has expanded their picture book and board book lines into middle grade series. The company expects to move further into older reader categories, and has expressed a desire to expand its list of titles for middle-grade readers to include stand-alone novels and nonfiction as well as series pieces. Their beautifully produced adult books make Chronicle Books a notable local publisher - hopefully one of us will get onto their lists.

Is it just me, or are we seeing more YA books by Australian authors than ever? It's a trend, and Markus Zusak's The Book Thief has helped cement the presence of the Australian voice in the American YA pantheon (and Markus being cute and nice and easy to listen to hasn't hurt, either). I hope this means more books from Jaclyn Moriarty!!

I haven't read many good girl-friendly Westerns, have you? This looks like it's going to be a lot of fun, and I can't wait to put it on my Summer Reading List!

Well, I've gotten the flyer in the mail for the 35th Anniversary SCBWI Summer Conference and found out that Our Lady Jane is speaking!! And now I have to decide between new ceiling fans and new flooring in my house, or a week in LA and getting to hear her. It's 87, and the fans and cool wood floors are winning out at present, but oh! - Lady Jane is the patron saint of Fantasy! It's a tough choice.

*Isn't it scary the places your brain reverts to when you're nervous?!

Patricia Polacco's Pen

Woe to those who cross a writer, for they shall find that writers have big mouths, fast typing speeds and a long, long reach.

At least, that's what SRA/McGraw-Hill should have realized when they decided to take on children's writer Patricia Polacco. A Bay Area resident, Polacco has a Ph.D in Art History with an Emphasis on Iconography. After years of thinking that her art lay in other directions, she began writing in her early 40's, and got her start with SCBWI. A prolific author, she has opened her heart and home to the writing community and is an avid speaker and teacher about the writing process.

Recently, she was asked by what she assumed was simply a booking group, to take part in the International Reading Association Conference in Chicago on May 2 and 3, 2006. The booking group asked Polacco's staff for a specific outline and information about her talks, and grew more insistent as the date approached.

Polacco wondered why. She was told, "They requested my written outline because their "client" wanted to make sure that I would not discuss my deep concern about the "No Child Left Behind" mandate ... as well as my concern that there is a link between this mandate and the SRA/McGraw Hill Company, which manufactures, prints, and profits from the sale of these tests to school systems all over our country." Polacco, reasonably concerned, did a little deeper digging - and found that the Buchanan Associates are not a booking or advertising firm, they represent... SRA/McGraw-Hill.

Questions as to why SRA/McGraw-Hill would want to invite this woman and pay her to speak... well, they because she is well known, and outspoken and well respected among teachers and writers and librarians. They thought to put her under tremendous pressure to say "upbeat, positive, non-political" things. About them. And then un-invited her when she wouldn't cave in.
She responded in kind, with lawyers.

And then t r u t h o u t got involved, and reported on a link between the current presidential administration, which implemented the No Child Left Behind laws, and the publishing company.
And because the 'pen' is now a mighty fast keyboard, the world passed the word, and now you know, too.

I guess, if fair is fair, these folk had the right to un-invite Polacco because her content disagreed with their requirements, especially since this was a paid gig, but it's pretty tacky to have invited her and then tried to write her speeches. More questionable is that a publishing company is so sold on trying to promote the flawed No Child Left Behind as a good thing, when it has been described at best as 'incomplete' by countless teachers and other educational professionals -- the very people with whom SRA/McGraw-Hill wants to work and support -- that they were unwilling to allow Polacco to speak if she even referred to the legislation. Possibly a Reading Association Conference was the wrong venue for such flashpoint topics... but then, why would a company representing SRA/McGraw-Hill ask the outspoken Polacco in the first place? Strange.

May 11, 2006

More Work Avoidance

Short of pacing and biting my nails, I haven't gotten much done the past hour, so I may as well let you in on something Beverly Cleary said that's been on my mind. Cleary, 90, is facing the option of her very first novel going to celluloid. Her novels have, since 1950 when she published the first, stayed steadily in print. She's never been a millionaire, but she's written good books, steadily. (Oh, how I want someday for someone to say that about me!!)

Moviemakers are now looking at Ramona and Her Father for a film. Instead of being gleeful about a Ramona Quimby movie, Cleary is...thoughtful. She's not sure it's a good thing. She said she understands why people have toys and such as tie-in to children's books, but she's "not interested in making kids into consumers."

Can I get a witness, here?

Mrs. Cleary says she is making sure that this Ramona movie is done properly so she "doesn't turn into a plastic miniature inside a kid's fast-food restaurant meal."

As our friend Seren might say, "Word to Mrs. Cleary." Down with marketing to kids! Up with great books they can get from the library.

And now back to

May 09, 2006

Timing, Timing

Can I just whine to the universe at large that A.Fortis chose the most awful time EVER to go on vacation!? I'm in a final edit! I need someone to hold my hand and bring me adverbs! How could A.F. leave me for some wall!?

Whinging aside, Locus has announced the winner of the first year for SFWA's Andre Norton Award, created to honor young adult SF/F novels and named in honor of the late SFWA Grand Master. While not technically a Nebula Award, it is voted on by members in the same way the Nebula Awards are, and the winner this year was Holly Black, one of the coolest YA SF writers I know. I really enjoyed her previous book Tithe, which I haven't written up for our sister site, and look forward to reading her latest.

Cross fingers for me - I'm hoping to send a mss. back to the editor this week for a final run-through. I'll let you know what happens next...

May 07, 2006

Insult to Injury

Not only have I been relatively inactive posting lately, but I will be on hiatus for the next two weeks due to going on China.

I hope to find access to the internet while I'm there, and if I do, I'll try to post to my personal blog with news about our adventures.

I also wanted to note that I went back and re-read my post about momentum because, as it turns out, I needed to give myself that pep talk. My novel was finally sent back (after a polite reminder) by Margaret K. McElderry Books with a polite no, thanks. Sometimes, though, you need the rude kick in the pants of a rejection to give you that little extra bit of momentum to, say, think about yet another revision. Which is what I'll be thinking about during the 13-hour plane flight.

Adieu, and more anon.

May 05, 2006

LAST comments on Kaavaya Viswanathan

The SF Chronicle's Mark Morford had some deep and good words on Ms. Viswanathan, and the Incident that got me thinking. Indulge me to underscore one tiny idea of his: my success does not depend on someone else's failure.

Just a tiny thought, world.

I'm done with this story, which has by turns depressed and disgusted me. I wish this girl the best - a new start somewhere else, not having to prove anything to anyone but herself. May the next big Incident in the writing world be a story of someone doing so well that we are inspired to greater heights ourselves.

May 04, 2006

An Alloy is a Mixture... in this case one poorly put together

I don't want to add to the breast-beating and blaming going on in the Viswanathan-a-thon. I think we all have our own opinions on the incident - deliberate plagiarism, privileged-girl stupidity, "perfect minority" myth teen manipulated by adults, etc. - Truly, we'll never know what really happened. There's a detail in all of this that is interesting to me, however. I want to explore the idea of "packagers" in YA lit, what they do, and why they exist.

As I'm going through the process of getting published by a major imprint, I find that there are a lot of things behind the scenes that I didn't realize existed. There is a huge machinery of movie tie-ins, product tie-ins, and marketing that stands ready to swoop on anything in your book that looks like it'll help it sell. Publishers are in the business of making money, and they're good at it; so good they're kind of scary. (I honestly do not trust that they have my best interests at heart. This is business.) Some of the editing comments I received early on have to do not so much with the book or strolling, but how it will be perceived, and ideas on how to market it.

The American Book Producers Association explains that book packagers are responsible for some of the best "high profile" book projects and that they exist to make sure that "complicated" projects can go forward. Complicated, in that these books often are compilations among authors and researchers, involve non-print materials (apparently the publishing company has nothing to do with the coffee cup, canvas tote and CD that comes with your new novel) and labor are intensive to the point of involving more hours and work than may be worthwhile to the publishing house. Often packagers are brought in to flesh out in-house projects.

Alloy Entertainment, the self-professed "most successful marketers and merchandisers to the youth market" already had a checkered past before it met with Viswanathan. According to the New York Observer, Jodi Anderson, a member of the editorial staff at Alloy had an idea for a novel. She put together a book proposal, and pitched it to her fellow editors. It was well received and it was group-thinked - but then sent out to writers other than the editor, and when all was said and done, there was a novel - and the originator of the idea had her name appearing in the "special thanks" page of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ann Brashares was co-editor at that time. Jodi Anderson's departure for her own novel and work in other companies is understandable.

How much is any writer willing to pay for "success?" (What is that, exactly?)
I want my novel to sell. I want it to be read. I want to make enough money to live on, at some point, or else to support my small family. I guess the question comes down to how much of your artistic input you're willing to give up to editors, agents, book packagers and others. Do you want action figures, coffee mugs, tank tops, stickers, and tote bags along with that movie contract? Do you want your readers to be "merchandised" with more stuff? Are you willing to do what it takes to be Harry Potter-huge? Does it any longer have anything to do with how good your story is??

It's certainly something to think about before the contract gets put on the table in front of you.

B.utt I.n -- it's not that hard. Really.

I have many friends who write, and they either swing from one extreme to the other; from those who feel like they have no control over their characters, and that the characters must "speak" to them to move the story along, to those who are leery about that whole metaphysical metaphor, and feel like you just need to stick with your B.I.C. and get things done. Garrison Keillor's little screed in Salon yesterday was both amusing and revealing -- Mostly because I realized that I've never felt comfortable with admitting that writing is easy.

Okay, it's not so very easy every day; some days there are lawn mowers outside, and there are sinus headaches and small children screaming or cats miaowing and climbing on the keyboard. Some days there are spouses and grandkids and classes and deadlines and time clocks, but on the whole, the words are in there, our lives are a great reference, and it's not that hard to pluck out the words.

I whine about finding the right word. I whine about lackluster prose and dull dialogue. I whine about revisions. Everyone whines about revisions, especially when one has a contract so close they can smell it, but there are those last four hoops to jump through, and they're not sure they have any more elasticity in their knees - everyone whines then. Some of us whine because we have to remake the bed every day, it's just a personality quirk, and we refuse to sleep on the floor. But this job truly is not that hard. As Keillor says, "It does nothing for the reader to know you went through 14 drafts of a book, so why mention it?" We are lucky to have this job. We are not breaking rocks. We are not shoveling. We are not flipping burgers and sucking up grease through our very pores.

We are simply chained to our keyboards.

It's a Good thing.

May 03, 2006

Two Stories, One Troubled World

N.M. Browne has given us a taste of our own history in her novels Warriors of Alavna and its sequel Warriors of Camlann. In her latest book, The Story of Stone, Nela lives in a world quite different from the one we're used to—slaves who are part of an ancestrally bonded race; shaven-headed non-women who have sworn themselves to celibacy and therefore are able to enter "men's" professions. Nela herself is a young non-woman—she dreams of becoming a Findsman like her father, locating and researching fragments of past history, despite the seizures she has suffered since childhood.

As in Browne's other books, Nela finds herself abruptly drawn into history; on a research expedition with her father, his creepy colleague, and a slave, Nela touches the surface of a smooth stone artifact they find and sees a vision of the past. But it's not just history in general—it's a specific person's past. She's seeing someone's memories.

Nela's story in the present, dealing with the unexpected problems presented by an unwanted marriage proposal and a surprisingly handsome and knowledgeable bonded slave, alternates with the story of Jerat, a boy from the past, who lives with his clan in a Tier House. In the Tier House live the chieftain—Jerat's father, his four wives, the Brood Trove—all the children of the chieftain, and assorted warrior types. In Jerat's world, there is a race of people known as the Night Hunters, reputed to be dangerous and evil, connected with the moon goddess. But if you keep one captive, legends say, they will wish with their entire being to be free, and in so doing, change the very fabric of the world. In that moment, claim the legends, the captor's deepest wish will also come true.

The two stories are cleverly alternated so that the reader is constantly wondering who the mysterious memories in Nela's stone belong to, and how they are connected to the story of Jerat. As tension builds in the past with Jerat becoming a warrior while taking care of two of his young brothers, tension also builds in the story's present. Nela finds that her non-woman status is invalid and her father has agreed to marry her to his colleague, dashing her dreams of becoming a Findsman. The only person on their expedition who listens, who seems to care, is the increasingly mysterious slave. But how can a slave help her?

As it turns out, both of them help each other—but I don't want to spoil the story. This was such a well-built world, with so many fascinating elements drawn from what seemed to be Celtic or Pictish or otherwise ancient British and European history. I was absorbed right away by the level of detail that was accomplished with relatively few words. Browne's writing has a crispness to it; she builds a fully realized world without bombarding the reader with wordy description, and this amazes me. I enjoyed her Warriors books, but I really fell in love with this one.

May 02, 2006

Golden Kite Award Update...

We've been waiting and SCBWI has announced the changes to its Golden Kite Award.

The biggest change? Money. And it's about time, too. Books for children and young people have been low on the totem pole of book awards forever, and it's been a two-party system (Newbury and Caldecott) for quite awhile. This isn't to say that there aren't other great book awards, including some regionals and some for specific age groups (like the Michael Printz) but recognition has been slow and limited and YA and children's writers can toil in relative obscurity because the marketing money just hasn't been behind something as mundane as books. And then you get random hyped examples of people who get half a million dollars for a book they haven't even written yet... (well, I would give Ms. Viswanathan a break today, but there is new evidence. Anyway, my point was that nobody gets rich off of writing).

Happily, that looks to be changing. Beginning with the 2006 competition, Golden Kite participants can win $2,500 in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Book Text, and Picture Book Illustration. And the fun is including the backstage people, too. Editors of winning books will receive $1,000, and for the winning book in the Picture Book Illustration category, an additional $1,000 will be given to the book's art director. That surprises me a lot, and I'll need to think about what that means to the industry... do we get more "superstar" editors who are that much harder to get books to...? No offense intended, but don't we have enough of those!? Hm. Anyway, what may be the best perk is that winners get an expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to attend the award ceremony at the Golden Kite Luncheon at SCBWI's Summer Conference in August. Since we all know that the Summer Conference can be a spendy little venture, that was thoughtful on the SCBWI board's part.

This is all part of a move to get the Golden Kite Award national recognition, and in turn to promote books and quality literature. Cheers!
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Meanwhile,the brave YALSA/ALA folks are going to have their annual conference in New Orleans. In June. In hurricane season. They're already looking for volunteer opportunities as well. Good for them.

May 01, 2006

It was FATED...

It had to happen. One of my favorite nonfiction adult books has been made... into a children's book. Publisher's Weekly reports that Eats, Shoots & Leaves is going to make the 4-8 year old set grammar-savvy once again. Toning down her 'zero tolerance approach to grammar,' author Lynne Truss teams up with cartoonist Bonnie Timmons (made famous by NBC's long-ago Caroline in the City and numerous quilting toilet paper commercials) and pairs amusing pictures with funny sentences to help kids understand what they're really saying when they neglect commas, or add them in the wrong place. I can't wait to get this one for my little brother - and a copy for me, too, because my literal mind simply cannot get enough of such silliness as "Becky walked on, her head a little higher than usual" vs. "Becky walked on her head, a little higher than usual." Now, imagine that with pictures! Meanwhile, Fast Food Nation, retitled as Chew On This, is also being turned into a YA book... and here's hoping that stocks in all fast food places plummet! Doubtful, but hope springs eternal...

Meanwhile the Random House/WaldenMedia marriage is already bearing fruit; Carl Hiaasen's brilliant book Hoot is opening as what looks to be a brilliant movie on May 5. More children's/YA novels look to be coming into movie form this year include Where the Wild Things Are, a few Nancy Drew mysteries, the His Dark Materials trilogy, the Spiderwick Chronicles, The Tale of Despereaux, A Bridge to Terebithia, The Giver, Charlotte's Web (I'm a bit sad about, because with Dakota Fanning, it looks like a remake of Babe. Again. And Oprah is Gussie the goose!?) How to Eat Fried Worms, and more. Can movies really make readers? We'll find out...