August 31, 2006

Novel Little Lessons

This past weekend (MANY days ago - sorry!), SF Chronicle Staff Writer Reyhan Harmanci reviewed YA novel Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. Harmanci is a reviewer I like, because she's never mean, but she's straightforward, and calls it like she sees it. Of Nick and Nora, Harmanci says that the dialogue isn't exactly realistic, and "can appear to be written for and by pretentious adults."

Hm. I wonder if that's a product of a.) really hep-cat authors or b.) the sort of crossover thing that's going on between certain types of YA novels and children's novels written for adult readers. I know
MotherReader has talked about it happening with picture books... does it happen in YA? With some novels, there's this insistent sort of ...├╝ber-hipness that makes me feel... uncool when I read them. The chapter I read of Special Topics in Calamity Physics made me feel like that too (but there it was also rampant comma abuse and multiple insect names as well). Now, when I read YA novels, I usually like the feeling of "Oh, that happened to me too," and I like to impart that feeling to my readers. So, I'm thinking? Maybe I have some sort of a suburban experience, and the hep-cat novelists grew up Urban Cool. Because some YA books still feel sort of ..Unassailable to me. Of course, that doesn't mean they aren't good, and I will read Nick & Nora at some point. Just... still. Weird feeling. Discussion?

And speaking of dialogue: As I've been editing, I've had to do some fairly major surgery. One of the ...victims of my edit was this brilliant -- or so I imagined -- conversation between my two principal characters that included Gumby, Woodstock, and other strange couplings from fiction. I edited the entire novel three times without removing it. This time, it got the axe. (Or, "The chair! The chair!" which suddenly comes to mind from the movie Shrek.) For a lot of reasons, but mostly because I think the Keyboard Strokes of Authordom were far too visible, the scene had to go. Now that I am ...finished editing, (until my agent and editor get together to sharpen their claws) I can speak from the oh-so-great vantage point of having completed a major novel overhaul. So, here is my first Novel Lesson for you:

When you love something... give it the axe. See if the novel survives. If it does, you probably didn't need your too-clever-by-half little scene. This goes for characters, too. I loved a pair of sisters - Persephone and Halcyon - and I completely wiped out Halcyon, even her single-sentence mention because it was just too ...twee.

I still think sisters named Persephone and Halcyon operating a vegan coffee shop are hilarious. Maybe they'll resurface someday. But until then, it's enough that they exist in my imagination.


Ladies and Gentleman, mark this hour: The edit, she is finito.

And may I just say, it is a far, far better thing than I have done... than... something.

(Yes, I majored in English. Can you tell?) I tell you, it's really scary when you finish an edit and you can tell how much better your final copy is than your previous four or five versions. But that's what has happened. And, barring any unforeseen entanglement, like the Mailbox Store disappearing into a parallel dimensional vortex between now and tomorrow morning at Eight A.M., it's outta here. She shoots, she scores!

Okay. Sports analogies. You know it's time for this non-jock to faceplant somewhere.
Thanks for listening to all of my rants and whining, people. Promise I'll do the same for you.

Snakes in a Shed

I just want to say that I finished reading Jeanne DuPrau's prequel to the Ember series, The Prophet of Yonwood, and was very pleased. (If you've read it, you'll understand "snakes in a shed"...) I hope there will be more books in the series, or in that world setting.

I found a few interesting news articles posted in the latest SCBWI newsletter received in my inbox. Firstly, a Baha'i group in Hungary is promoting literacy for Roma mothers and children via a program in which the mothers get together each week to read a children's book, then take the book home to read to their children and keep it for their own household library. I really had no idea--though I wasn't surprised--that illiteracy is such a problem for people of the Roma ethnicity. Kudos to the Mesed project for tackling this.

There are two odd things about this article about a local library in Leeds which has chosen to start charging late fines for the return of children's books. The first odd thing is that the outraged dad in the article has the same name as a guy I went to high school with (but I'm fairly certain it's not him). Secondly, they weren't charging late fees before??

Here's an interesting article about reading to babies and how reading (age-appropriate materials) aloud to infants can provide them with a crucial jump-start in learning to read. I liked the idea that children who have been read to have heard approximately 32 million more words by the time they reach age 4 than children who haven't been.

oh, my GOSH, I wanted this job two years ago. Why now!?!?

Assistant Professor of Writing for Children
University of British Columbia

The Department of Theatre, Film, and Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Writing for Children effective 01 July 2007. An MFA or related graduate degree, or an MA or PhD with a major component in Creative Writing, is essential. The candidate should have a record of successful teaching in Creative Writing, and a significant publication record including no less than three books for children. Applicants should demonstrate a genuine interest in a wide variety of writing styles and techniques in order to deal with the diversity of work from students at the graduate and undergraduate levels in the Creative Writing Program at UBC. Publication or production credits in a second (adult) genre are required.

The successful candidate will teach workshops and classes in writing for children, and an introductory-level Creative Writing course or lecture. The successful candidate will be responsible for maintaining Creative Writing's commitment, including thesis supervision, to the interdisciplinary Masters of Arts in Children's Literature Program (MACL), which is offered jointly by the Department of Theatre, Film, and Creative Writing, the English Department, Language and Literacy Education (Faculty of Education) Department, and the School of Library, Archival, & Information Studies (SLAIS). This program gives the students involved a multi-disciplinary perspective on the full literary life cycle: the genesis of the work (Creative Writing), its critical analysis (English), and pedagogical approaches to literature in its interaction with children in schools (LLED), homes and libraries (SLAIS). Please consult the Creative Writing Program website for details about this program.

The Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing at UBC is unique in Canada, with 24 full-time faculty and numerous part-time faculty and guest artists. Each of the Programs has a national and international reputation for excellence, strong undergraduate and graduate degrees, and is a significant centre for creation and production. Opportunities for multi-disciplinary collaboration are abundant, both within the Department and with scholars and artists across the campus.

The University of British Columbia hires on the basis of merit and is committed to employment equity. We encourage all qualified candidates to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority. The position is subject to budgetary approval and salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. Applications should include a C.V., a published example of their work, and letters of reference from three referees (under separate cover). Application materials should be received no later than 15 December 2006 and should be addressed to:

Chair, Search Committee for Writing for Children
Department of Theatre, Film, and Creative Writing
The University of British Columbia
6354 Crescent Road
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z2.


August 30, 2006

It's The End of the World As We Know It

...and I feel fine.


Counting down to the end of this edifying, soul-strengthening, mind-clarifying edit (Maybe if I don't call it bad names, it'll get easier?), I am going to totally scam off of Jen Robinson and list a list of things I wish I had time to read. No, no, don't think it'll be full of wise books and fun titles like she has. No, mine is just a wee bit more ...basic. To begin:

* Five days worth of newspapers. Five. When a moment with the press has been mistaken for a sacrament in this little house! Five.

* A stack of catalogues from Coldwater Creek, my guilty-pleasure, fantasy wish-I-was-as-well-or-as-adult-ly-dressed browsing catalog.

* Two chunky adult books: Julie & Julia, which I've had to postpone, since my novel is somewhat food-esque (Julia Child appears as a patron saint) and Linda Ellerbee's Take Big Bites, which is a shame, since I've loved Ellerbee since she did that weekly news wrap-ups way back when, and I learned to say in suave, worldly (and gravelly) tones, "And so it goes."

* An enticingly thick tome called The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by one Justine Larbalestier, which was her DOCTORAL thesis, and I've been dying to get into it, since I actually love old science fiction, and an exploration of women and feminism in its development would be great fun to read. If I had the time. (Edit: Apologies to Justine, who informed me sweetly that it was NOT her Master's thesis, as I had said earlier, and trust me, I do know that between a PhD Dissertation, and a Master's Thesis: they're many years of work and agony different!!) (and how cool is it that one of my current YA idols has read this post?)

* A stack of library books, one of which is The Penderwicks, which I'm halfway through, The Star of Kazan, which I've somehow started without finishing the first, plus there's Dairy Queen, Horn Dawgs and Sex Kittens Fall in Love, and Anatopsis sitting on the floor next to my bed.

* And let's not get into unfinished manuscripts, things I launched into before this edit. And trying to follow the online novel AF mentioned. And the knitting projects I was trying to do to -- ha hah! -- unwind.

As my mother always says, "As long as you owe me, I'll never be broke." As long as I have ten million projects left unfinished, I guess I'll never be bored. But good grief! I'd like to finish ...something. Perhaps beginning with this ... soul-fulfilling edit...

In scanning the newspapers before ruefully setting them aside, I noted that there have been reportedly fewer attempts to ban books in the past year than before (Not that that South Florida or that L.A. area school board have gotten the memo). Of course, that may be because people who like to legislate morality have found another angle...after all, the the separation of church and state is a lie, and not Constitutional... sigh. Maybe I'd better go back to the quiet, insular world of editing... and when I finish, I can look forward to going back to the classics and "reading like a writer." This New York Times review promises to help me start. I have my doubts.

Via Greenlake Library Blog, I found that Publishers Weekly has a great interview with the ever-hip Scott Westerfeld about the use of the apocalyptic in his novels. I really love the title to his upcoming novel The Last Days , not to mention its gorgeously surreal cover. There's nothing like the wee yellow eyes to alert one to the fact that the people you're dealing with...? Are just not like you. They have... special powers. Or else some major health issues...

I hope you all enjoy your well-earned rest during Labor Day like I'm going to.

Cheers! Hang in there, people... the weekend draweth nigh.

August 29, 2006

The Most Derivative Post of All Time

...Or, Belatedly Following Up on Various Posts.

If your interest was piqued by our earlier post on L. Lee Lowe's serialized online novel Mortal Ghost, check out interview on Keeper of the Snails. Interviews provide a great glimpse into the mysterious workings of the writer's mind, which is why I love reading Cynsations.

After taking the quiz on What Teen Angst Novel Are You?, I found that I am apparently The Catcher in the Rye, which is mighty disturbing. So I went to The Book Quiz for a second opinion, and found that I am really Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August:

"Though you're interested in war, what you really want to know is what causes war. You're out to expose imperialism, militarism, and nationalism for what they really are. Nevertheless, you're always living in the past and have a hard time dealing with what's going on today. You're also far more focused on Europe than anywhere else in the world. A fitting motto for you might be 'Guns do kill, but so can diplomats.'"

I think I'm still disturbed. Actually, maybe I am disturbed and that's the problem...

On a totally different note (yes, apparently I like sudden changes of direction), NPR recently aired a piece on the tribulations of bringing children's books to the big screen, with the producer of How to Eat Fried Worms, The Movie.

August 28, 2006

Once More Into the Breach

As always, when I come away from an alumnae brunch, I feel grateful to know so many bright people, and a little envious of how great everyone looks and how positive everyone sounds about what they're doing and where they're going. This time we celebrated MeiMei's scriptwriting promotion at OLTL and ABC, and then WriteGrrrl told us about the television pilot she's writing with friends, IGG introduced us to her new little one, and Seren and Pari told us about doing The Artist's Way, and how that's been for them.

And all the while I'm thinking to myself how lucky we all are -- even as we piss and moan about editing (yeah, yeah, I know I should be doing that right now) and complete laziness, and unlearning some of what we ingested in grad school, and being tired and taking home work on weekends, and not taking time to rest... even now, as we're all on the bumpy part of our roads to success, we are all so lucky because we are doing what we want to do. Even as it hurts. Even as we have to throw out 684,456 pages of our last novel because we figure out they're pure crappola right before our editor does; even as we carve out forty minutes a day to read something -- anything -- while we're on the exercise bike we've been using as a clotheshanger; even as we're coming home from work and putting the baby down for a nap, and trying to steal thirty minutes to write something that isn't a grocery list... we are lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.

And I will try to remember this.

Because, truthfully? Sometimes all I think of writing is that it's a pain. Via Jen Robinson's Book Page I found a funny, realistic post from Fred Charles' site which tells The Truth About Writing. And it is true! Although writing is not really a hard job, per se, it really is a pain at times. But again, it's a good pain... because this is the gamble I chose for right now. And as Seren said yesterday, " 100% for sure won't happen if you don't try." And so I give a roll of the dice with nothing to lose... and keep on writing...

Ooh! The newest Edge of the Forest is up. In the YA section, new novels The Rules of Survival, by Nancy Werlin, Dial Books (to be released next month), Fringe Girl, by Valerie Frankel, NAL Trade, and Out of Patience, by Brian Meehl, Delacorte Press, are reviewed, and there's more interesting stuff from other children's lit writers in the blogosphere. Check it out.

August 25, 2006

A Framed Poster I Just Received As A Gift...

...should give you some indication
of how the edit is going.

One more week...

August 24, 2006

Magic, Murder and Tangled Plotlines

Nola is only 17, and already she and her mother have had to run away a couple of times because of her particular Talent. Nola isn't much of a witch, but her power and her Mother's uncanny sense of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time have kept them on the run for years. When Nola accidentally magically witnesses a murder, it's time to run a little further, and a little faster. Only Nola can't ever leave well enough alone. She leaves a magical working intact in the town they've just left (something no witch worth her salt would ever do, but Nola's... Nola) and she's determined to go back. She's endangered herself and her mother for the last time with her magical snooping, she's going to learn to do better -- she swears. But Magic Can Be Murder -- especially if the murderer is trying to frame you for something you can't prove you haven't done UNLESS you're willing to be shown up as a witch.

An impossibly snarled storyline and a highly convenient romance make the ending a bit disappointing, but good for a quick summer read.

Questioning Lani Garver

Whatever Happened to Lani Carver? is a book I read awhile back, but have struggled to categorize. It seems to go to great lengths not to be a book about a gay kid in a small town. Instead, it brings up angels and homeless people and transgender, and never truly answers any questions about who Lani was.

Claire spent the final year of junior high with leukemia, and finds that people think cancer is... catching. So when she finally gets a friend, she's loyal. Macy is loud and opinionated and very popular with everyone, even the "fish frat," the boys who work on fishing boats and already seem to big and cool for high school. Lani Garver shows up at Claire's high school, and he/she? is ...strange. Different. And he resists the boxes people put around him. He won't just be 'gay' -- or even 'girl' or 'boy.' Obviously that means he'll be beaten to a pulp, because 'different' doesn't go over so well at Claire's school. But she persists in her friendship with him, mostly because she remembers what it felt like to be the school leper. This decision costs her friendships, and in the end almost costs her life.

It costs Lani's. Maybe.

A peculiar mystery that baffles me because of the incomprehensible actions of the characters. Big on suspense, this novel is an over-the-top story about homophobia in a small town.

'The Boyfriend' Is In!

To begin with, may I just say that Noel is my Boyfriend List Boyfriend? And that I just about cried (really heavy sniffles, only one tissue = 'not really crying') when he did that thing he did, at the end of chapter fourteen? May I also say that I am thrilled to death that this book has a sequel??? Yay again, e. lockhart. I so approve.

15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver

That about covers it. There are fifteen guys on The Boyfriend List, which Ruby has to make up because Dr. Z, her Nicorette chewing therapist suggested it. And she's making the list, because she's having panic attacks. Major ones. Oh, and also? Because nobody at Tate Prep is really speaking to her. In the past ten days, she's lost all of her friends, all of them. Except for that one guy, who gave her gummi bears? But that was like in elementary. And he basically replaced her as gummi bear recipient the next week, practically. And he's ...weird. And he has gray teeth.

The thing is, Ruby's gotten a reputation for being... sort of slutty? But there's no reason for it except that her friends are mad at her. For no really good reason, either. I mean, she dated a guy and then her ex-best friend dated him too. And then he acted like he wanted to get back with her? But then he acted like them kissing at the dance was all her idea, right? And then there's the list... which people have read. Okay, which everybody has read.

Do you see why you need to read this book?
It's just like your life. Really.
Only... with footnotes.
And a really, REALLY cool guy named Noel.
And a cute guy who smells like nutmeg.

Oh, and it also has some good points about telling the truth, and feeling your feelings and not doing things just like your Mom does and other things that will make you sort of get thoughtful or freak out and scream, or kind of cry. A little. I can't tell you much more, I'll ruin it.

But just know: when you've finished reading it, you will say, "I can't wait 'til the sequel!"

Happy Hippie Hotel

Tracey Forrester is in hell. Okay, she's actually on vacation with her father and for the first time, not with her mother, too. Her parents are divorced, so her dad is having "together time" with she and her brother, only Tracey isn't having any of it. She is on strike. She could be a world-class pianist at a world class piano retreat, but she's blown off her lessons and hasn't even played in weeks. She doesn't think her Dad's even noticed.

The house they're staying in she calls The Hippie Hotel, because it's run by this totally weird hippie chick with all this long gray hair, and this totally cute son, Paul, who of course, never even actually speaks to Tracey unless he has to. Tracey knows who and what she is: vanilla oatmeal. Especially with people like Beka, the mad sort of goth girl who spends the most time with Paul, or with the newcomer, Kelsey, who is pretty and tan and all Berkeley cool, and who actually once had courage to break up with a a skateboarder.

Tracey would've been stuck on the outside her whole vacation if it weren't for the fact that Kelsey is cooler than she thought. She's nice. She's patient. She talks her out of binging. And then Tracey meets Kevin, and she's flat gobsmacked: she's about to maybe have a ...thing. A summer thing!!! But then there's Beka. And Kelsey. And Tracey: vanilla oatmeal.

For everybody who has ever compared themselves to others and come out badly, My Not-So-Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel is a book that will make you say "Hey! You're cool as you are," or maybe "snap out of it, girl!" and then "YAY!" for the underdog. Finally!

Like A Motorcycle?

I went to school with a boy named Harley Davidson... I know our Harley was sick of answering the question: "Like A Motorcycle?" so the title of Cat Bauer's book, Harley Like a Person gave me a smile.

Harley is only fourteen, but already she knows there's something weird about her life. She's way different from her parents, looks nothing like her siblings, and her father hates her. She's got to be adopted, but everytime she says something like that, her mother totally shoots her down. She's having a bad, bad year. Her Dad's alcoholism is completely out of control, and Harley is seeing herself going the same way. Her schoolwork tanks, the gorgeous boy she's dating turns out to be in trouble -- all the time -- and all she can think of is getting out, getting away. But the people who try to save her can't do the one thing Harley really needs: to decide to save herself. A compelling story of a girl who decides -- once and for all -- to be true to herself and her real identity, no matter what it's easier for everyone else to believe.

And the Nominees Are...

Okay, everyone loves the Fonz, so I won't say anything too snarky: This morning on the Today show, Henry Winkler talked about his newest... kid book... My Dog's a Scardey-Cat (Grosset & Dunlap, $13.99), title #10 of his Hank Zipzer (the World's Best Underachiever) YA series.
Not a word about "jumping the shark," people. Not a word.

You all see how much I adore you? I actually watched the video and had to stare at the oddly deflated Al Roker on the MSNBC website for several minutes, just so I could tell you who the nominees are for the Quills this year in young people's literature. (Actually, I couldn't figure out where the Nominees were, thus scalding my eyeballs with the vision. That won't happen again soon, I can tell you.)

Without further ado, the Nominees in the Children's Chapter Book/Middle Grade Category are...
Carl Hiaasen's Flush
Cornelia Funke's Inkspell, which is currently sitting on my nightstand;
Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,
Lemony Snicket's The Penultimate Peril (which is just such a cool title),
and Ptolemy's Gate, by Jonathan Stroud.

In the category of Young Adult/Teen, the Nominees Are...
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, which I think might win;
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, (also on my bedside table);
Christopher Paolini's Eldest, which didn't impress me as much as it did the rest of humanity, apparently,
Gabrille Zevin's Elsewhere,
and Bay Area local Frank Portman's King Dork, which I can't wait to read

Authors at a black tie event, gaining the long sought-after celebrity once selfishly guarded by mere movie stars. It's all about you, writers.
Right? Right!

Dispatches from Portland, YA for Adults

Got a funny email from our erstwhile classmate, J.R., who reports that she's practically gone into debt at the bookstore this last month. High on her list of things to go into debt over next month is newbie Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl.

Pessl, just twenty-seven, has had her own cross to bear. Bookslut last March made mention that she is one of several new authors who have been outed as just 'pretty faces,' that create a buzz that has little or nothing to do with their work, but has everything to do with their huge advances and media attention. (Pessl incidentally also lists 'model,' 'dancer' and 'actress' on her CV .) The fact that nowadays sex sells, even in publishing had a lot of bloggers - justifiably - growling. It could be that Pessl's comparisons as a 'wunderkind' with Dave Eggers will do her good -- or not, but these days, it does make you wonder, just a little, exactly what is creating such hugely money-driven opportunities for certain writers. Is it really just their talent? The NY Times says yes, looking toward the fact that after two weeks on the market, the book is in its fifth printing.

Because of the buzz? Because of Pessl's talent in writing? Is this really a YA novel, or ...what? The description in various industry rags of Special Topics being "Nabokovian" and "Hitchcokian" make me "Chundernauseam," but that just may be my snark speakin'. Click on the link and read the excerpt... I'd be very interested in your opinion.

Via Jen Robinson's Book Page, I found a nifty article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about how more and more adults are looking to YA books as good reading. Of course, the unfortunate tagline is that "Harry Potter changed the rules," but we have to give ol' Harry his props -- the novel did much for allowing adults to see that what is marketed toward their children is solidly written, entertaining, satisfying and thought-provoking. I think the level of sophistication found in YA literature is helping bridge age-gaps in other ways as well. After reading something challenging, who can say that the average 11-18 year old is limited, bored, boring or listless ever again? And after reading a great YA novel, don't you have the urge to thrust it into the hands of the nearest young reader and say, "Oh, you've got to read this!"

Ah, the power of great literature.

August 23, 2006


Every year, writers go on retreats for that extra dose of solitude and silence that finishing a book needs. I tell myself every year that I'm lucky not to have to shell out extra money and leave my house; I haven't got kids, my pets don't need to be fed more than once a week (gotta love reptiles) and we have a pretty quiet little street. Now I'm jealous I never went. The Sunday Book Review this week has a rather wry little essay about what people do on these little jaunts. Affairs? Rivalries? Writing the best novels of your life? Maybe I need to leave the state to finish this edit... Or, probably not.

Musing on Race

On the up side, yesterday I got to see the back of my eyeballs. On the downside, it was a fully wasted day -- once you get your eyes dilated, no more computer!!! I am cross, and struggling again with my edit... so, time to focus on something else...

I'm late with these thoughts, but I wanted to throw out some props to my man, Al.

Okay, actually? I think Al Sharpton is insufferable, a pervasive evil most garrulous, ostensibly in the name of equality and respect and civil rights. Hah. However, for once... I respect his opinion. In a keynote address at the annual National Assoc. of Black Journalists in Indianapolis August 18th, (at which the ever excellent YA and children's poet Nikki Giovanni read this poem) Sharpton made a pointed statement about teens and race. He said, "We have got to get out of this gangster mentality, acting as if gangsterism and blackness are synonymous... I think we have allowed a whole generation of young people to feel that if they're focused, they're not black enough. If they speak well and act well, they're acting white, and there's nothing more racist than that (emphasis mine)."

WHERE was that man when I was in school? (Actually, again... he was there. Spouting something stupid, no doubt. Better question, perhaps: WHY hasn't he said something intelligent like this before? Never mind.)

After Devas T's most excellent commentary back in May, I took a closer look at my characters. I am committed to predominantly writing characters of color -- not because I don't know enough about the dominant culture, but because there needs to be more books about people of color just... living. Not being particularly ethnic or having racial whatevers, but just living life and having issues common to mankind, perhaps just flavored with their particular cultural status; issues and storylines and plot twists that are accessible to all readers, in the name of bridging the gaps between us maintainted out of fear and ignorance. I find that I am still uneasy about this -- not because I don't think there are readers interested in my characters, or having some connection to a life like that, rather I am still afraid that someone is going to say someday (and please God, may it not be my agent),

"She's never going to win a Coretta Scott King Award.
She's not black enough."

This is, of course, ludicrous on any number of levels. First, if I don't finish this stupid edit... well, you know the rest on that one. Second, and probably more importantly, I don't need an award to tell me I'm doing well expressing the 'black experience,' whatever that is, and I'm sure the award has nothing to do with that (and apologies to anyone who has ever received it - I'm not knocking or mocking it!) But take every young adult who has been told that they're in Ethnic Deficiency since junior high... multiply their number by the divisive, pernicious, insistent media hype that says You Must Be This Thuggish To Ride, add to it the 1 in 3 Black males incarcerated, and then you'll have the number of young people, of both genders, who need to be re-educated that just being themselves -- achieving where they can, failing and trying again where they can't, speaking and thinking and discovering themselves -- is just fine.

Anyone who was or knows young people knows what I mean here. I'm sure this is not just a "black thing."

August 22, 2006

Adventure's Just An Envelope Away

I love the idea behind Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes, one of the books nominated for the ALA Teens' Top Ten (an instant source of a new end-of-summer booklist, by the way, if you're short on reading material).

The idea is that Ginny--seventeen years old and miraculously free for summer gallivanting--receives a packet from her artist aunt containing 13 little blue envelopes, all numbered. She can only open them one at a time, and she must complete the task inside before opening the next. The first envelope contains $1,000 and instructions for buying a plane ticket to London. Subsequent envelopes direct Ginny all around Europe, where she meets a cute struggling London playwright, a wood carver who lives in a houseboat, an Italian student on the make, an eccentric Scottish artist with a fetish for small toys, and many others.

The cast of characters for this book is colorful and ever-changing, and Ginny goes on a journey of self-discovery at the same time that she's journeying around Europe and learning more about her aunt. All the little details about the places she goes, all the experiences--both positive and negative--that make traveling alone a unique experience; these things ring true in 13 Little Blue Envelopes. As someone who spent two months working in London while in college, I definitely sympathize with that lost feeling you get when you're wandering around, looking for adventure, but you don't really know anybody to go have adventures with. Sometimes it leads you to wonder or disaster; sometimes you just end up...bored or frustrated.

Ginny, however, is on her own adventure, planned out by her aunt, and what she learns surprises her as well as the reader. I enjoyed this--it was sort of a fantasy journey, in a way. I don't know if it was intended to have that ethereal quality, but it did, at the same time that it doesn't skip the gory details of youth hostels and living out of a backpack. It was an interesting balance. I think part of what made it ethereal or fantastical for me was the one sort-of-semi-flaw that I couldn't get past: Ginny's parents. More specifically, their almost total absence from the story.

My main question was how in the world did she ever convince them to let her go on this trip in the first place? It's made clear at the beginning that they don't quite approve of her renegade aunt, and moreover, one of the "requirements" of the adventure is that Ginny telephone or e-mail nobody while she's off on her journey. But how she convinced them to agree to this scheme is glossed over. I did keep returning to that as I read the book. I couldn't help it. I kept wondering why they didn't insist she at least call when she arrived, or why they didn't call out the cavalry if they didn't hear from her for days on end. Anyway, it's not so crucial a thing that it mars the story at all; what's important is that they did agree, somehow, and that her traveling on her own is an experience like no other. The reader, too, gets to enjoy her adventure...from the safety of the armchair.

August 21, 2006

Better Best

In case the idea of the Quill Awards has you snarking in your seat, I've got a list of Best Books that is perhaps a bit more interesting and/or of lasting redeeming value. A recent post on AS IF! listed the Fall 2006 Banned Books Book Sense Top Ten Picks, which were chosen in honor of this year's Banned Books Week, Sept. 23-30, 2006. Support the fight for free expression and read a banned book! I'm planning to try to catch up on the ones listed which I haven't yet read. Shamefully, To Kill a Mockingbird is one. I only read an excerpt, though I remember in 7th or 8th grade we also did a dramatic reading of one scene. I can't remember what part I read, but I can remember the photocopy was on pink paper.

On a totally different subject, you can read a fun imaginary interview with Oprah on the blog of author Varian Johnson, who has an upcoming YA novel entitled My Life as a Rhombus. His agent is Sara Crowe, who is one of a select group who solicited my full novel manuscript (and then rejected it). I'm currently in the throes of re-revising that manuscript--I think that three out of seven publishers/agents wanting to read the whole thing is a good indication that it has promise, and subsequent rejection obviously means it needs more work. Plus I had one of those horrible moments where I re-read it and realized one of the main characters was tending towards the boring, and that I was unhappy with the writing style. ARGH! So T and I are both in revision-land.

August 18, 2006

Porcupine Quills, more like...

Ooh, lest we forget:

It's time for The Quills Awards! The newest in the pantheon of ruthlessly self-indulgent awards shows, it's like the Academy Awards for books! Reed Business Information and NBC last year created an industry-qualified “consumers choice” awards program for books. "The Quills celebrates the best adult and children's books of the year in 20 popular categories, including Book of the Year, plus an committee-selected award for best Book to Film."

You know you want to vote in this, so hurry on over to The Quills between August 22 - September 30th to be sure Harry Potter is chosen once again as the most popular book of forever and ever in Young Adult/Teen fiction, because, since this isn't about content but sales ("The Quills celebrate excellence in writing and publishing"), and one of the Award show's stated goals is to "Interest more consumers in acquiring books and reading," that's what's likely going to happen for many, many years. The Nominees will be announced on the 22nd, and then you can place your vote in over twenty categories!
Aren't award shows just fab?

Fine, fine, taking my snarky self away from the keyboard.

Under Pressure...Bird by Bird or not.

(Since this is a team-blog, we mostly keep things impersonal... if you're offended by a somewhat personal writing rant, I apologize, but I wanted to share this with you all. -t)

I hate writing; I love having written. - Dorothy Parker

Was looking for a knitting stitch (well, I wasn't really, but was looking at a site pointed out to me) just now. I am here at my desk, it is well after five p.m., the magical hour when I release the chains that bind me to this burgundy throne, and I am STILL HERE, disgusted, but... I have to finish this last bloody chapter before the weekend when we have friends and company and then there's the brunch next Sunday, and I don't have time, and I have a stupid music meeting next Wednesday, and somehow I got volunteered for the book thingy tomorrow, and I've got to finish this chapter, dear God, the month's almost over and I have appointments on Friday and I have to pick up my contacts and the library has a book on hold, and I have to get this to my agent before the editor loses interest..."

And then I read this knitter's post about writing that made me laugh out loud, and sigh a lot, and know I need to share it with you. You need to read the article for yourself, but the Yarn Harlot has it so right... "Towards the end of book writing I am shaky, sad, exhausted and out of my mind. ...add that I am also unreasonable, obnoxious and loud. (Very loud.)"

"...Book writing is strange and scary. You can't tell how long you're going to have to do it, what time you're going to finish, if it's going to be alright when you do finish, or if you're going to spend 3 hours dragging 500 words out of your brain only to look at them, realize 467 of them are complete crap and hit the delete key as you sob for the 14th time because you're going to need to find a way to carve another 3 hours out of your responsibilities ... probably so that you can write more complete drivel that no-one would ever like to read, knowing the whole time that your deadline is running out while you ponder that you've made an enormous mistake and really should go to work in a factory, where at least you can tell if you're getting something done and no-one tells you your punctuation is crap ..."

(or that "Teen agers don't wear acid wash," like you're a full-on born-again MORON...)

"... I am torn somehow between being profoundly aware of my luck, desperately grateful for the opportunity and deeply, deeply frightened."
Hear, hear. Sometimes I think, "What on earth convinced me that this was going to be a good livelihood? Why does anyone want to read this pointless, sucky little story? Hadn't I better get a job, just in case I actually have to SUPPORT MYSELF someday on something other than Saltines and a cardboard box!?"

I ... have to constantly balance "being a writer" with being a wife and mother. It's a matter of putting two different things first, simultaneously. - Madeleine L'Engle

You can be so quiet while people are talking to you. You can be utterly silent while you're in on the phone, chatting, talking over the breakfast table, making conversation in the hall. That's because you have a laptop downstairs, a computer upstairs, and sixteen pads of paper around the house where you're writing down the plot notes that keep sticking up from your forebrain like cowlicks. You're NOT LISTENING to any of the people around you. You're multi-tasking to the point of cell-phone user rudeness. You're inverted to the point of only needing someone else in the house so they can get you food.
The Yarn Harlot talks about housekeeping. Cleaning. Knowing you should, but you can't because you're 'working.' Then playing online Scrabble or checking Bloglines instead of actually working. Ranting about the mess anyway. And not doing anything about it until your 'cup runneth over.' And then boom -- things go flying, toilets water is sloshed, generally things are broken, and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Ah, the good life!

As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Having anybody watching that or attempting to share it with me would be grisly. - Paul Rudnick

I wish I could eat cereal out of a box. I can't even whisper to you the number of pounds that I have gained since March, doing this edit. Now I'm not eating any carbohydrates at all, I've sworn off them, 'til Thanksgiving, and I'm vowing to drag myself to the gym EVERY day WITHOUT fail... just as soon as I finish this bloody edit. Which means I have one more week. It's like quitting smoking and biting your nails at the same time you decide to take driving lessons from your rageaholic stepfather. WHAT WAS I THINKING!?

It's nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of. - Shirley Hazzard

I am beginning to see why families and spouses figure in so prominently in dedications and acknowledgements. I know I have been whiny, clingy, snappish, snarly, and whiny all over again. I have been lachrymose, self-pitying, self-defeating and selfish. I have been absolutely sickening. And I only have one hundred pages left. Mac & Lareverie, I tell you now, you have a place on the flyleaf of whatever novel I write, and stars, oh, stars, on your crowns...

August 17, 2006

Free At Last...

(Full props to MotherReader, who suggested I read this novel.)
"When a grown man threatens a little girl," he said, "he does it because he thinks he can get away with it. He thinks that little girl will be too scared to do anything about it, and that everyone she tells will be just as scared. Only this time, he picked the wrong little girl."

It's the summer of the Bicentennial, 1976, in Frita & Gabe's hometown of Hollowell, Georgia, and there's a lot to do. Gabe, along with Frita, is staring fifth grade in the face, and it frankly terrifies him. Well -- fifth grade, Duke Evans, loose cows, Frita's basement, Frita's brother, Mr. Evans, spiders, alligators, robbers, getting lost in the swamp, calling a teacher "Mama" by accident, centipedes -- the list of what scares Gabe King goes on, and on. And on. After getting tied up by two of the sixth grade bullies and missing his own fourth grade moving-up day, Gabe's best friend Frita feels it's high time for him to be free of his fears, and move ahead in life. It's The Liberation of Gabriel King in the summer of 1976, and this quick little novel takes the tale of two good friends; one chicken-hearted, one stout-hearted, one girl, one boy, one Black, one White, and envelops the reader in a true-hearted, funny, scary and happy-sad story that will make readers think and cheer and shiver, and will probably make every middle school classroom's booklist in no time.

Notes From All Over

Via Buried in the Slushpile - help for those REALLY long short stories that just...won't... quit, Miami U presents The Miami University Novella Contest. This isn't targeted specifically toward YA literature, but my long-winded peoples (and we know I mean me), might really benefit from this.

Okay, you know you've probably entered far too into the YA spectrum when you write an email to Disney demanding that they Save Kim Possible, but you know what? So what? Writers are artists, and artists are allowed to be... wildly eccentric. So there. Plus, KP is a stand-up YA heroine... I neglected to mention it last week, but Chasing Ray has a most excellent piece about bookish YA heroines in the latest Bookslut that I'm sure you'll want to read. I know I am putting all of those books new to me on my personal to-read list -- Bookish Grrrls R Us!

And people, did I say it was the Summer of Food? It IS! There's another teen cookbook - this time written by an actual teen. This 15-year-old UK teen has just hit the States, chatting with Martha Stewart and going on the Today show. Food and teens: popular. Who knew?

Yesterday I read the School Library Journal's criticism on a mystery written by a former professor of mine, and I just cringed. I live in a dull dread of a.) actually publishing someday (which does tend to be a bit limiting since that is also my life's goal, at this point), and b.) actually garnering reviews. I have determined that I should probably not read them, and leave that kind of drama to the doughty S.A.M. as part of his job. And then I read today's Planet Esme which has an "Ask Esme" segment that was heartening. A fan asked Esme why she never really rips on the books she reviews but doesn't like. I loved Esme's response, that criticism, in this society, is overrated, and an attitude of competition has given would-be critics more power and clout than is really necessary in this world.

It takes five seconds to write a bad review, and really, the main audience of a children's or YA book is a kid, right? So if the book didn't speak to us? Maybe it will speak to someone else. And as writers we all know that we will indeed have the "big books" and the "little books." Perspective: good stuff, that, and in lamentably short suppy in this snarky, post-Simon Cowell, writer-stab-writer world in which we live.

Have you seen this cartoon by Devas T? Keep pushing, people. BIC. It's the phrase of the week.

DUDE! Thou Shalt Not, Okay?!

Ah, another novel of dumping and getting dumped on. Thou Shalt Not Dump The Skater Dude was a fun read about bravery and dealing, which are two of my favorite topics for strong girls. Kelsey might look like a blonde California calendar-girl, but she doesn't feel like one, and she's not like that. She desperately wants to get away from that image -- away from the shallow girls' school she's been attending , away from the academically-focused-to-the-point-of-exclusion life her divorced parents have her leading. She wants to slow down and be real. So, 'real' is what she gets -- before she even sets foot in her new public school, she's caught the eye of one of the hottest boys on campus -- skateboarder T.J. Logan. He's been on the cover of magazines. He has... fans. Loads of screaming, empty-headed, teeny-bopper girls. And he's looking at Kelsey like he can't see anyone else.

Kelsey is Kelsey, though, and even though it's amazing at first to be the Girlfriend of a High-School god, it... gets... old. For one thing, Kelsey is Kelsey, not "babe," not a go-fer girl, not just any of the posse. T.J. can't get that. So, even though he's a great kisser -- a really great kisser, even though he makes Kelsey really want to find lots of time alone with him, she... dumps him. I mean, nicely and all, but she breaks up with him. It just isn't working for her, okay?

He cries.
And then he posts.

Oh, yeah, forgot to mention: T.J. Logan has a fansite. He blogs.
And he blogs all about Kelsey. Or, rather, about somebody. He calls her Total Sex Fiend.
And everybody at Kelsey's high school believes him. And then there's Kelsey's little brother.

NOW what will she do?

Funny, descriptive and sassy, this novel paints a realistic picture of a savvy girl who makes a few mistakes, and then corrects them -- and then some! -- in funny and creative ways. Author Rosemary Graham is a Bay Area author whose works really resonate.

"Bad" Boys? Badder Young Women

Admittedly, I began this book with contempt prior to investigation. The idea that A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl seemed a bit ...trite. I mean, are there really "bad" boys? Does this set up a scenario where there are then "good" girls? But I was wrong about the plot angle. Told from three different viewpoints in prose poetry, this short, quick novel packs in a lot of information about the reality of high school and high school relationships -- the compromises and negotiations that happen. It also tells the truths about the losses -- and the gains.

Everybody has at least wanted to get together with a 'bad boy' once, and Josie, Nicolette and Aviva can't believe their luck when the gorgeous T.L. seems captivated by them. He does thing... that turn them to mush, that make their pulses race and their brains disconnect (which, if they were still thinking at that point, should have signaled MAJOR practice). He says things -- sweet things, open-hearted things that make them believe he might be The One. But is he really only after "one thing?"

Josie and Aviva makes the mistake that many girls do -- ignore their girlfriends, ignore warning bells, the whole nine, because he makes them feel amazing. Nicolette is a loner, and she knows what she wants. She's used to be the one to make the players pant... but not this time. For all three girls, everything is going so well... And then, - pouf - it's over. He cheats. He loses interest. He tales tales. All three girls wonder, What happened? What did I do? It is Josie who first realizes that she may be wrongly blaming herself. She is the first to ask the question, What if it's HIM!?

Josie's warning isn't exactly followed by Nicolette, because she thinks she can outwit any male. Aviva, who has lots of friends in many cliques never even hears about it, but it's there, it's written in the back of their library's copy of Forever, by Judy Blume, and it's true. Lots of girls in their high school agree. As Josie says, "Forewarned is Forearmed, Forever."

This is definitely a YA book. It's not shy about details, so it's one for the fifteen-and-up group. It's a novel that can get girls talking -- really talking about what happens in relationships, and how to take care of themselves and get what they want and need. The fact is, this so-called 'bad boy' was good for these girls -- in that their eyes were opened, their friendships were strengthened, and they recognized what they wanted out of a relationship, what they didn't want, and a little more about how to get what they needed.

My only wistful comment is that I wish that one girl at least had been able to hear the warning and decide not to get involved. There is an air of solipsism in this novel, that everyone is going to go over Fool's Hill in spite of warning, and I don't quite agree. At any rate, should every girl insist on going after a 'bad' boy, perhaps this book will help make the recovery complete.

August 16, 2006

New Muppet Moppets and the Summer of Food

I don't follow the small-fry world as much as some -- after all, I do write YA lit -- but every once in awhile, I like to read what's going on in the land of memory and early childhood. There's actually some pretty cool stuff -- and some of it has started on TV. NPR reported in May on the muppet Elmo's father being deployed to some branch of the military. This is meant to address the half million children in this country below the age of 5 with parents in the military. Quite a few books are being written on this topic as well, and for as long as this nation has been at war, I think it's an excellent thing... It's hard to fathom just how much little kids don't understand (and sometimes the adults are equally as clueless). Also, in lighter fare, Sesame Street has just introduced its first female muppet lead character. Ernie, Bert and Grover, move over.

A rather sad commentary on the new airport regulations is a small spike in airport bookstore sales. Publishers' Weekly reports that longer stays at the airport mean more books bought, but store managers expect the numbers to drop as people become more accustomed to the airport wait times. I guess if your flight is cancelled or delayed for 12 hours as a friend's of mine was last weekend, you'll need all the literary help you can get. Many airlines would not allow passengers to carry iPods as carry-ons, so even books on tape or CD were out. Ouch! I'll take a train, thanks...

The LA Times calls this not the Summer of Love, but the Summer of Food. Eric Schlosser's teen aimed Chew on This: Everything You Didn't Want to Know About Fast Food, is listed among the handful of newly released books seriously addressing America's food issues. I'm a little nervous about this trend of the 'Summer of Food,' as I'm working on foodie fiction, and there's a big difference in the 'health message' I'm prepared to tackle as a fiction topic. Sure, my character is sorta vegan, but she's also rather fond of making good old Southern gingerbread and pecan bark.

As always at this point in an edit, I am a little skeptical of the whole process. Why am I writing yet another food story to be one among millions? Is right now simply a good time to write about food? Does my story have any merit on its own? Of course, if I don't finish editing it, the question is totally moot anyway...

Onward! A bad day writing is... well, pretty much like a bad day anywhere else. Only better. BIC!

August 14, 2006

Know Why the Chicken Crossed the Road?

...if you do, has a contest for you!

Dial Books for Young Readers has fourteen answers which it will reveal in its new fall picture book release of the same name. Fourteen illustrators were asked the question, and their zany, odd, silly and thoughtful answers are in this new book. So what do you think about that chicken? Even if you're not really a picture book afficinado, it's a painless chance to answer a silly question and get involved. Three Smartwriters will be selected to receive a copy of the book AND the special chicken tote bag normally reserved for the A-List book reviewers on Dial's private mailing list. A book and a tote bag... just for answering a question via email... A fairly good deal if you're bored and in the middle of an edit or something. So!Consider the Chicken Conundrum!

Send your entry to Editor@smartwriters.comwith CHICKEN in the subject line no later than August 31, 2006. Winner will be announced September 5, 2006. Good luck...

Looking for Excuses to Read?

The ALA will be kicking off Teen Read Week on October 15-21, 2006, co-chaired by two Major League Soccer superstars. As my husband puts it, compared to other athletes participating in reading programs, "I actually believe these guys can read." Although we're obliged to professionally hate Kevin Hartman, who is goalkeeper for our former rival team, I approve of his support of Teen Read Week. :)

Also on the ALA site, you can view a list of nominations for Teens' Top Ten for 2006. A former professor of mine and TadMack's, Kathryn Reiss, has a new book on the list, Blackthorn Winter; I'll have to try to find it.

A Windy Morning in August...

Oh, ho, the rumors are true. Meg Cabot, queen of The Happy Ending and Convenient Romance is now also... the queen of Clinique!?

"If you've purchased a copy of HOW TO BE POPULAR, you might have noticed there was a set of stickers inside (the stickers are for you to peel off and stick on your favorite scenes--such as the ones to do with kissing--or tips from the book, for easy later reference).

The stickers were actually made in conjunction with my favorite cosmetics line, Clinique. Because HOW TO BE POPULAR is about a girl who is trying desperately to be popular, and who gives herself a physical AND mental makeover to become that way, we thought partnering with a cosmetics company to promote the book would be cool."

Cool, she says. A word with oh so many different meanings. In this case, "cool" must mean: If you're a teen bemoaning your spotty skin, know now that Meg Cabot feels that Clinique's 3-Step Overpriced Skincare System will help you live a better life. You'll have fresh, flawless skin! Even, white teeth! Boyfriends! Girlfriends! High school success! And now please pardon me as I go off and live my lackluster, Clinique-free life. "Kismet," indeed. Perhaps the movie deals and the myriad book sales just weren't money enough.

As I've been participating in the ever-cool Flickr Fiction short story challenge each week, I've noticed that I tend to change my language in my stories. Knowing that adults are reading my YA shorts means I'm making a few more daring choices in how I phrase things... From Buried in the Slushpile comes the question of the week: how vulgar is too vulgar in YA lit? A thought-provoking question answered by an actual editor.

I complain about actually working on my Edit From Hell, but I must admit that I'm well pleased that I'm not as famous as Neil Gaiman, whose personal assistant gave him this hilarious day-in-the-life-of essay he posted on his blog. I can't imagine being so busy that I have interviews scheduled until 2060, but it's a nice thought... if I could just finish this one edit...

Was it only me, or did everyone else believe that the with the third novel in the series, the Traveling Pants had traveled their last, er, leg in life? But no, no, no, Forever in Blue is coming, and fans of the series have until August 20 to vote for the national book tour to come to their town. The top ten cities will be chosen; I'm sure they'll be at a city near... you.

You! Out of the typing pool! Another adult writer has wandered over into children's lit... apparently because we haven't heard enough from Caroline B. Cooney lately, Mary Higgins Clark has decided that children's fiction needs her... unique worldview. One awaits the results...wryly. Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom.

August 10, 2006

Beware of Boredom and Pop Music

As a sort of follow-up to TadMack's recent post about bored teens and their propensity for finding other ways to amuse themselves, the folks at AS IF! Authors Support Intellectual Freedom have posted additional information on the study in question, as well as their usual entertaining comments on the issue.

A few other interesting bits of news: Audiobooks of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and a few other notable YA and middle-grade books can be found at Full Cast Audio. On a related note, YALSA and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) have announced a new award for the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults. To follow up on a different part of TadMack's recent post--the part about celebrity children's books--Stephen Hawking, along with his daughter, is going to write a children's book. To be honest, since he's somebody who has already written and published books, I expect a lot more out of his product than, say, some random celebrity in a totally different field.

August 09, 2006


My brain is laboring along, and it's taken me almost all day to get one chapter written. It's time to find out what else is going on in the writing world!

Publishers' Weekly has just put out their Autumn 2006 celebration of children's books. Daniel Handler's last of the Snicket books is due out this fall, as well as quite a few others... sadly, none of mine but hope springs eternal... maybe 2008?

The big news in the UK is that Babar the elephant is turning seventy-five. Never a big fan of talking animals, this commemoration has been somewhat lost on me, but the Guardian pokes snarky at the real story of Babar, the bits that don't get printed anymore, and other politically incorrect comic book characters of the past.

On a completely unrelated note, Wandering through NPR-land, I came across an interview of a book review by a former professor, whose books are DEFINITELY not for children, but whom I wish well in his ecstatic, slapboxing strange life...

DuPrau: If Readers Can Learn Tolerance...

It's not often that I give books such panegyrics, but consider me standing on my chair, cheering and screaming for Jeanne DuPrau's The Prophet of Yonwood. If readers take away just one lesson from this novel, I hope it is an understanding of intolerance, and the trouble and pain it can cause when official people try to make up rules for everyone about people's private beliefs.

Many times, so-called 'prequels' are just a rehashing of a novel's storyline with a few added tidbits to make it seem new and interesting. Not so with this novel. It is set in modern times, and includes an entirely new cast of characters, each with normal feelings and goals... that get sadly out of sync.

Nickie is eleven, and has three things she wants to do in her life. One, she wants to convince her mother and her Aunt Crystal to keep her grandfather's house, Greenhaven, in Yonwood, North Carolina. It sounds so peaceful, the word 'haven,' and Nickie is sure that Yonwood is a much, much better place than dirty, crime-ridden Philadelphia where she's been. Back home in Philly, Nickie is distracted and scared. The Crisis is on the television news every day, every hour, and all the president seems to say to everyone is "Pray! Pray! It will all get better, we have God on our side." The rumblings of war have taken Nickie's father away to work on a secret government job at an undisclosed location, and Nickie's mother is scared and overworked. If they could find a haven, maybe everything would be all right.

Nickie's second goal is to fall in love. Since she's eleven, she feels it's time. In Yonwood, there are boys, and the first one she meets seems a likely enough candidate...

Finally, Nickie simply wants to help the world. She is interested in everything and everyone, and she hopes that she can simply use her own interest to somehow... help. People shouldn't be worried about war all the time. People should be happier. Yonwood is a place where it seems all of that can happen.

But Nickie, as it turns out, has come to Yonwood at a strange time. A woman named Althea has had a vision, which her best friend, Brenda, has interpreted to be straight from the mouth of God. Now Brenda is telling everyone in Yonwood what to do to be holy and good and safe -- safe from the end of the world and the terrors that are about to come from the Crisis. People in Yonwood are divided -- some people are so afraid that they are willing to do anything at all in order to escape the coming troubles. Anything. Even spy on their neighbors. Some people don't believe that Brenda is right, and there is a showdown on its way. Is there anything that can help? Anything that will stop the madness or the war?

DuPrau has created a believable, dramatic, futuristic dystopian novel which only is the icing on top of the Ember stories it precedes. Portraying a realistic vision of a society of hysterical religiosity and technical addiction, DuPrau almost satirizes our current world. (Residents of Yonwood are glued to their DATT sets for up to the minute news and announcements from the God-fearing president- DATT standing for Do A Thousand Things, which the "phone" does.) An excellent and timely look at what it means to love your neighbor for real.

August 08, 2006

Feels Like It's Still Monday...

Hmmm. How do YOU define multicultural literature? Because there is no single definition, according to the U of Wisconsin's Cooperative Children's Book Center, your answer might well be quite a bit different from mine. Most people assume that it simply means books celebrating cultural diversity through children's literature; some people assume that the books have to have been written by persons of color for persons of color; while others feel that the content and topic of the book must be something like racial equality, getting along with people of different cultures, etc. Some people I've spoken with are uncomfortable with the idea of multicultural literature, feeling that books for children should be ...books for children. Period. Anyway, Mitali Perkins shares statistics which point out that there is still a lot to be desired in the realm of books out there for young folks. I know for a fact that the day I tried to find multicultural literature about Latino kids, all I kept finding was Dora the Explorer -- I mean, Yay for Dora, but come on... Can we not find another Latina icon in literature? Anyone?

I imagine finding literature for and about Middle Eastern children, short of a few works that are meant to help children of other nations and cultures understand what's at stake with the hostilities in that region, must be well-nigh impossible. Other under-represented groups are Korean Americans, Cambodian Americans, and First Nation Natives, including the Australian aboriginal peoples. Mitali is a most excellent resource for multicultural literature, as is, of course, Pooja Makhijani but I found another site, currently being updated whose full focus is also on creating an annotated bibliography of multicultural children's lit. It includes many websites for further research, and divides books by genre such as realistic fiction, nonfiction, traditional folk tales, historical fiction, biography, poetry, fantasy fiction, and also by approximate grade level. (Note -there are no reviews.)

Meanwhile, Louisiana libraries continue the work of rebuilding their stock, and are taking wise advantage of the devastation last year to bolster certain genres. Gay and Lesbian selections and a greater number of books for and featuring African American children and adults are included in their new purchases.

August 07, 2006

An English History Fantasy

Elements of Cinderella, intertwined with British history make Sally Gardner's
I, Coriander
a strange and interesting story. Based in Cromwell's England of the 1600's, this novel is of the tale of the Hobie family.

Coriander is well loved by her mother, Eleanor, and her father, Thomas, who is a busy merchant. They are very well thought of, and very well off, with servants and goods to spare. But Cromwell's England is a perilous place, and rumors abound that Eleanor is a witch. And she is... something. She has paintings of herself and Thomas with fanciful backgrounds of lands never seen. She is an able herbalist, has rooms full of distilled medicines, and heals the sick all throughout London. She receives gifts of fancy silver shoes for her daughter, but refuses to allow her to wear them. There is something about Eleanor... But Coriander only cares that she is her mother, and good and loving. Only later, when her mother dies of a sudden and horrible illness, does Coriander realize how little she knew about her. Where was she born? What was her childhood like? There is no one left to answer those questions, and Coriander is left alone with only her governess -- and a scary future.

Coriander's father isn't a staunch Puritan, and nobody who isn't a Puritan can prosper with Lord Cromwell in power. A friend arranges for Master Hobie to marry a pious Puritan woman and retain his respectability -- but what happens next is shocking. The pious woman turns out to be an awful, evil, malign force. She brings with her an evil man who beats Coriander. At the height of their evil, Coriander finds a way into a new world... another world... the world of her mother's childhood. It is a world where time runs more quickly, and the world behind her ceases to exist for what seems like days, but is in reality, years. Here she finds the strength, and the heart, to make her way again.

There are some troubling themes in this novel; one that the beastly behavior of the Puritan adults seems rather one-dimensional and uninspiredly evil. Their behavior scarcely makes ...sense. The question is repeatedly raised as to howa religious person could be that way, but it is never answered, and it seems as if the author's bias is simply being exposed. The character of Coriander, her stepsister, her mother and her protector and governess are very fixed; they don't seem to change throughout a tale that takes place over many years. Other than these small details, which at times make the novel seem overly long, this is a good blending of fantasy and historical fiction.

Author Sally Gardner grew up dyslexic in London, and so it's a doubly marvelous thing that she was able to write the stories that she imagined. Certainly elements of Coriander's plucky spirit and determination must have come from the author herself.

The Dragon Chronicles: Sign of the Dove

Lyf has been a pampered, special, coddled girl all her life, and even though she is twelve, she knows she escaped from death once, and should be extra, super-duper totally... careful. Her mother enforces this, making sure that no one taxes her strength. She is fearful and small... and confused. Dark scares her. Noises scare her. The forest scares her. Yet, people around her do brave things all the time. Her foster sister, Kaeldra has been gone from home for weeks, helping to take hatching dragons to adult dragons away from human realms. But as long as dragons roam free anywhere, Kaeldra, her husband Jeorg, and their bright green-eyed child, Owyn are in danger, and so are their dragons. And so is Lyf, for her bright-green eyes betray the truth: she is dragon-touched.

When Kaeldra and her family are betrayed by Lyf's sister's husband, it is only by chance that Lyf and two-year-old Owyn are in a cave. They hide, cowering, as strong men take Kaeldra away for the bounty upon her head, but by chance they stumble upon what the bounty hunters are really seeking -- a clutch of thirteen dragonlets. Lyf just wants someone else to take care of her, to take care of Owyn, and to keep her safe. It takes all her courage to find theSign of the Dove and people to take them to safety. But... there isn't anybody to help them for long. In the end, all that's left is ...Lyf.

These three books have the strong theme often lacking in fantasy of a female character helping herself. Nobody saves the day except by her own ingenuity. Though Susan Fletcher neatly ties each tale with a happy ending, and in most cases, with a handsome man waiting to marry the doughty girls, she never loses her focus on the girl's shifting for themselves, which is good and rare, and makes these books a good read.

The Dragon Chronicles: Flight of the Dragon Kyn

Flight of the Dragon Kyn is the backstory of the Kaeldra's ancestor, Kara. It is not as riveting because many elements of the story are known, but it is a well-written story regardless.

Kara is left for dead in a cave -- many different versions of the story exist, but everyone in the village agrees that somehow, someway, she found her way to her doorstep again, well and hale months later. Kara was regarded as a strange and miraculous child, but her place in her family was bartered away in exchange for many cattle to live in the King's palace. He wanted from her what all men of power wanted -- her to call down dragons. The only problem is, Kara's never seen a dragon, not that she remembers. All she can call to herself is birds. Kazan, a guest in the King's palace, also seems to want something from Kara. She is wary, disgusted, frightened, and treated like a princess -- slathered with jewels -- but watched closely, like a princess locked in a castle. Can she call dragons so she can go home? Should she? Will anyone ever just let her return to her parents again?

The Dragon Chronicles: Dragon's Milk

Susan Fletcher is well known for her stories of long ago and far away. Her Dragon Chronicles series I read all in a weekend, so I can review them in order of appearance. You can only read the first two out of order, but each book stands well enough that if you only read one, you would find yourself in possession of enough facts for it to still be enjoyable.

Kaeldra has always been treated differently. For one thing, she lives with a foster family and in their little village, it's obvious she's not of their country. She is tall and willowy and blonde in a whole village of short and dark and sturdy. Their eyes are dark or blue. Her eyes are a startling green. Green eyes, it is said, come from being dragon-touched. They say that when Kaeldra's ancestor was alive, she was who had given this dragon's touch to Kaeldra. When trouble comes, it's Kaeldra's foster sister, Lyf, who is in trouble. Only Dragon's Milk will cure little Lyf of the vermilion fever which has her in its grip. But if Kaeldra can find dragons and brave their tricky schemes for their milk, then certainly she can find dragons for warriors in training to kill, right? Even if she doesn't want to...

In brief...

Comic Stephen Pastis reminds us that though Madonna did it, NOT EVERYONE SHOULD WRITE CHILDREN'S LITERATURE!
Stop it now, Rat.

A goody from NPR This Weekend is an excerpt from Daniel Woodrell's 'Winter's Bone'. It's garnering comparisons to True Grit and Dicey's Song, and is described as well-articulated teen angst. Sounds promising!

I really wish I'd saved the Contra Costa paper the other day -- someone took a picture of a church marquee that read 'Believe it or not -- it is NOT hotter than hell!' Well, it's hot...enough lately to boost book sales. Seriously. What else should you do when it's too hot to even run the TV? Read!

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times reports that teens are ...bored. A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, the first in a series of annual entertainment surveys, finds that a large majority of the 12- to 24-year-olds surveyed are bored with their entertainment choices some or most of the time, and a substantial minority think that even in a kajillion-channel universe, they don't have nearly enough options. "I feel bored like all the time, 'cause there is like nothing to do," said Shannon Carlson, 13, of Warren, Ohio, a respondent who has an array of gadgets, equipment and entertainment options at her disposal but can't ward off ennui.

Methinks it's time somebody went to the library! At least that's what my mother always said if I dared to even mention the 'b-word' between June and August: "Want to write me a book report?" Thanks, Mom.

On a related topic, those bored teens listening to music and not reading better watch out. Another study in the DUH category says there are other things ennui-ridden teens are encouraged to do in our hypersexualized culture. Really? Seriously? Who knew?

This has to have been the shortest summer on record. How did it get so late so soon?!
Happy Monday...

August 04, 2006

Must Have Biting Wit, Enjoy Holding Hands

I think I'm in love with Ron Koertge. More specifically, I'm in love with Ron Koertge's impressive vocabulary.

I also adore his character Margaux, from Margaux with an X. She's the one who actually possesses the impressive vocab, and though she's naturally beautiful and has been part of her high school's popular crowd for years, it just hasn't been as fun lately to shoplift and make fun of everyone. Not to mention that her family is messed up. Inside, she's kind of a loner.

So is Danny Riley, who is exactly the sort of animal-loving, puny geek boy she might have once expended some choice caustic vocabulary words on. But there's something about him that draws her in--maybe it's the fact that he can match her witticism for witticism, or maybe it's that he, too, has hidden painful secrets in his family's past.

In some ways this is a hopeful story: they need each other to heal. In other ways it doesn't sugarcoat reality. Neither character is perfect; far from it. They don't quite end up happily ever after. But their unlikely friendship is a bright note, a little spark in the dark.

Like this book. It's a little spark, beautifully written.

August 03, 2006

Helping kids face Fear

YA and children's author James Howe feels that kids need support in facing their fears. In a recent interview, Howe states that although his books at times go to a dark place, it's important to lead a reader "back to the light." Howe's popular Bunnicula series, about a vampire ...rabbit have been a favorite for younger readers for a long time. Howe's work for older readers, including The Misfits and Totally Joe, follow the same pattern: putting characters in situations that identify fears that we all face, including rejection, loneliness and being unloved, and helping the character and the reader find their way through.

Via Kid's Lit @ the Greenlake Library.

August 02, 2006

A Room of One's Own

Zoe has learned what love... isn't.
Love isn't someone who is manipulative and self-centered and drunk. Love isn't guys who will just sleep with you because you're there. Love isn't people who want to see perfection so badly that they pretend things are perfect. Nope, those things are just Zoe's family. To find someone who will love her -- herself -- Zoe knows she has to leave.

When Zoe has scraped together enough money to rent A Room on Lorelei Street, the room itself takes on mythical significance. It is a place to be silent, a place to keep clean and straight and free of old memories. It is a place to invite her friends who try hard to love her. And in renting it, Zoe is trying hard to take hold of the direction of her life, and influence her future. But Zoe has a few strikes against her. One, she's only seventeen, and in the nowhere town in Texas where she lives, the only job she can find is 'slinging hash' at a diner. Two, the love she wants and deserves from her alcoholic mother, from her controlling grandmother, won't ever come like she needs it to: never. Wanting love that won't come is a huge and hard thing to understand, and it is nearly Zoe's undoing. But, like all of us, the best chance Zoe's got is in her own hands.

An amazing novel -- all the people handing out prizes aren't wrong. Read it.

Walking on Water

I keep thinking that I hate historical fiction, and then marvelous historians keep proving me wrong. Historically accurate with great detail about the livelihood of lighthouse keepers and the society of late 19th century California, this book has humor and emotional hooks to keep you interested until the very last.

Eliza Jane McCully loves being the daughter of a lighthousekeeper, and Crescent City in 1886 is a town of misty fog and intrigues. The Chinese have come, working in the mines and setting up a shanty town in the middle of "decent folks" and it's causing big trouble. White men are losing their jobs, and Eliza's father says the "heathens" shouldn't be allowed to prosper. But Eliza has eyes in her head, and she knows what she sees. She sees "Christians" joining in thuggish mobs, against the Chinese. She sees the doctor buying Chinese herbs to prescribe to his Californian patients. She sees the life she loves hanging by a thread.

But she can't seem to help herself. She blurts things. She interferes. She changes everything.

Walk Across the Sea tells the bittersweet story of one girl's choice to defy her father, her family and her community to do what was right, no matter how high the cost. A timely reflection as well on California's history of treating its laboring immigrants poorly, this book has some food for thought for today.