April 28, 2007

Toon Thursday: Late But Not Forgotten

Well, here it is. Sorry for the lateness, but unforeseen circumstances demanded I leave town for a few days. As always, click the cartoon to view it larger, and click on the Toon Thursday label for previous installments! Oh--and if you're not familiar with previous installments of "Common Species," it helps if you imagine the caption being read aloud by Sir David Attenborough.

April 27, 2007

Weekly Wrap-Up

Finding Wonderland had a great first Craft Chat on Wednesday. Our beginning was on 'beginnings, and we had quite a lively discussion.

We talked mostly about what worked for us in terms of books we loved, and how the best books had a beginning hook that involved something colorful to interest us right away. Some of the best hooks mentioned were Sue Limb's funny little 'horrorscopes' and 'parent commandments' at the beginning of her chapters in the Girl, 15 series, Scott Westerfeld's instant action in his Uglies series (Hey, look - a hoverboard!), and of course, the playing cards from I Am the Messenger.

Quiet books often have a hard time finding an audience, but we found in our discussion that it wasn't quietness that caused us to have a hard time getting into a novel, but a lack of originality. If we felt like we were being "gimmicked" into reading the book, we were more resistant that open to reading it. We discussed how that might differ for tweens and teens than it would for us, as many of the things had to do with personal pet peeves (like text messages and novel elements like ending with a big dance or having the character able to travel anywhere in the world -- never mind passports or things like, oh, money and parental permission).

Hope next time you can all join us! We plan to do another Craft Chat maybe in mid-June -- more information to come!

In more Web Wanderings I found a piece on Henry Winkler, who talks about dyslexia, and his Hank Zipzer series. Hard to believe it, but he and Lin Oliver (yes, of SCBWI fame) are on their 11th book in that series.

"Other Heroes: African-American Comic Book Creators, Characters & Archetypes" is the name of an art show at Mississippi's Jackson State University. The show focuses on racial representation through the media of graphic novels and comic books, which should be interesting, as African Americans and other ethnicities are generally unrepresented in comic books. The show lasts through the month of April, and has already been put together in coffee table book form, for the graphic art aficionados in the house.

One of my favorite public radio programs, put out by the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture is called Recess! The World of Children's Culture Every Day, On Monday this great little show is celebrating its 2000th episode in six years (yay for all their good work!). Their celebration of National Poetry Month this April has been full of whimsical readings, one of which was the famous all-English-majors-must-read rainbow poem by Wordsworth. Thinking about all the good things that we should not lose from our childhoods seems as good a way to look forward to a weekend sleeping late and playing in the dirt (yay, Sunday! Yay, gardening!) as any.

The Rainbow
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
- William Wordsworth

Toon Thursday Delay

Not to worry; Toon Thursday will indeed be taking place this week. Unfortunately, due to a last-minute emergency trip out of town, I don't have access to my scanner and other fun stuff. But the cartoon is ready, and if I can post it today, I will...otherwise, Toon Thursday will have to be Toon Saturday or Sunday. It'll be worth it, though! I promise!

In the meantime, here's another fun (and far more educational) cartoon-related item: via morfablog comes a neat web archive of early comics, from Medieval manuscript narratives to the famous Hogarth to more familiar toons of the 20s. Includes interesting visual documentation of the evolution of speech balloons and a great bibliography. Much fun.

April 25, 2007

Artists and Moneymakers

Fuse #8 Kelly from Big A little a (I stand corrected, thanks B.) has had the great idea of redesigning the Cybils symbol into something sticker-worthy for books which garner the Cybils Award Stamp of Approval. (This is a subtle nudge to Aquafortis, because obviously what with her manuscript edit, her job, the end of semester grading, our summer project and our Craft Chat she doesn't have enough to do? But just so you know: she's more than our sly Thursday cartoonist. Let's all bug her so her art degrees don't get too dusty...)

And just so you know? Star Wars never ends. Never, people.

Speaking of science fiction, according to Wired, some people will do anything to avoid the label. (And when I think about it, there has been a spouting of so-called 'speculative fiction.') I don't know about that... I mean, we don't just have a bunch of fabulous short fiction magazines and a small section in the library anymore. We have a channel...

Oh my, it's the dreaded question over at Blue Rose: Can you make a living doing that?"
Those of us who wanted to work with books and writing for a career... absolutely loathe that one. When I was younger, a dear old minister gentleman asked me if I'd written a book all by myself. Meaning, I suppose, that either God had to write it for me, or Mac spoke, and I typed like a good secretary. Nowadays it's, "So, you're a stay-at-home, and Mac ...?" And there's the implication that this is just a hobby, and eventually I'll come to my senses and go back to teaching. Although I must admit, it's been a good four years since my father asked me when I was going to get a job.

Yes, people can make a living from writing. Not a very monied living, no, not at first, but a living. Ask someone like Justina Chen Headley, who has created an entire Livejournal about her experiences in marketing her first and second book. (And she's just left it as a public resource for the rest of us. [Platinum Karma Points going into the stratosphere.]) When you look at it, you see how much work, networking, and savvy marketing it takes, but it can happen. So, yay for the affirmation from the Blue Rose Girls, and here's to making it happen.

Nikki Giovanni is a poet and thinker, but more recently her role as a teacher at Virginia Tech has been in my mind. Today's poem is hers.


if i can't do
what i want to do
then my job is to not
do what i don't want
to do

it's not the same thing
but it's the best i can

if i can't have
what i want . . . then
my job is to want
what i've got
and be satisfied
that at least there
is something more to want

since i can't go
where i need
to go . . . then i must . . . go
where the signs point
through always understanding
parallel movement
isn't lateral

when i can't express
what i really feel
i practice feeling
what i can express
and none of it is equal
i know
but that's why mankind
alone among the animals
learns to cry

- Yolanda Cornelia Nikki Giovanni

April 24, 2007

Prayers, Poetry , Art: In War

Having done a lot of research lately into the 40's, WWII, and the lives and times of Americans in that era, I ran across a poem -- well, a prayer, really -- that is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, and is on display at the FDR Library and Museum. She carried it in her wallet throughout the War, on her visits on behalf of the war effort as a Red Cross spokesperson, wearing the blue uniform all the other girls did.
This is her poem:

Dear Lord
Lest I continue
My complacent way
Help me to remember
Somewhere out there
A man died for me today.
- As long as there be war
I then must
Ask and answer
Am I worth dying for?

A fascinating find on display at the Oakland MOCHA (Museum of Children's Art - the show runs through June 3rd.) chronicles the same war from a child's point of view. The pictures were painted at a day care for children whose parents worked in the war effort. This is one of the paintings, which obviously shows a mind well aware of the world around them.

It's amazing how children are marketed to these days, with big sound and flash, as if they're dumb and won't take in what Madison Avenue manufacturers want them to beg for without all the noise. Here lies the simple untruth of that belief: most parents would try to keep ugliness as far away from their child as possible. However, it is apparent that nothing keeps out the reality of war.

Another poem-prayer from the same time period, first published in January 1943 in a "Colored" newspaper.

"Draftee's Prayer"

Dear Lord, today
I go to war:
To fight, to die.
Tell me, what for?
Dear Lord, I'll fight,
I do not fear,
Germans or Japs
My fears are here

History. It leaves one so much to think about.

Required Reading #1: Goodbye, Heart of Darkness

It's always been my intention to occasionally revisit (or, in this case, visit) classic literature that often becomes required reading in English classrooms. I'm interested in thinking about it from a YA literature perspective, as well as from a personal standpoint. So, here goes.

Many of us over a certain age were required to read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (and, if you were lucky like I was, your teacher also let you watch and discuss the movie Apocalypse Now). Of course, Heart of Darkness portrays (and simultaneously critiques) a particularly Eurocentric perspective on the colonization of Africa, and even though its tone is sometimes critical, the story is still imbued with the perspective of the colonizers.

If you're interested in a different angle on the idea of European colonization of traditional Africa, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart tells the story of an Ibo man, Okonkwo, who fancies himself a great warrior. Told from an omniscient, storyteller-like viewpoint, this book provides a detailed glimpse into the day-to-day lives of villagers dwelling in a clan-based society--a society that proves all too vulnerable to the incursions of white missionaries. Despite the attempts of Okonkwo to deny the changes in his society as well as those within his family, which he had a hand in causing, he is unable to stop the white man from building a church in his village, nor is he able to stop his alienated son Nwoye from leaving tradition behind.

Although I found the details about life, culture, and social structure to be interesting, and the ongoing story of Okonkwo and his family to be an appropriately tragic parallel to the social backdrop, I felt a bit distanced from the events of this story. Young adults studying the book for a class might experience this sense of distance as dry reading. Nevertheless, this is an important work, and could be of enormous benefit taught along with its flip side, Heart of Darkness. I mean, c'mon...somebody has to have written a thesis on that, right?? Anyone? Anyone?

Getting Out of the Starting Gate

I can't say I've done a great job of starting this week with a bang--I'm behind on blog reading, not to mention blog posting--but I did revise another chapter of my novel, and slowly but surely progress is being made. Eventually I'll get through the thing, and then I can submit my proposal, hoping that my first few chapters will really blow people away.

That's something writers have to spend a LOT of time on, especially new authors still trying to find an editor or agent--that all-important novel or story beginning. The right beginning can suck you right into a novel or story, or it can turn you off so that you put the book down and never finish it. Good chapter beginnings, too, can propel a story forward

Here at Finding Wonderland, we discuss craft issues like this from time to time in our already-existing writing group. But this week we've decided to hold an OPEN DISCUSSION ON CRAFT this Wednesday, April 25 (i.e., tomorrow) at 7:30 pm PST for about 30-45 minutes. If you're interested, please leave a comment or e-mail us directly and we will send you details about joining the chat. It will most likely be in a chat room on AOL Instant Messenger (though I must admit, all these YALSA events on Second Life are pretty intriguing...). Some questions to think about for our chat on BEGINNINGS:

  • What makes a compelling beginning or a bad one?

  • When do added elements--such as TadMack's recipes or the playing cards in Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger--serve the beginning of a story or chapter, and when are they simply gimmicky?

  • Prologues, flashbacks--when do these help, and when do they slow down momentum?

  • Introducing your main character(s)--what are some effective ways of doing this? Of bringing her/his personality and appearance to life without slowing down the opening scene?

There's a little bit of homework, too--If you've got time, find one or more examples of a novel/chapter beginning you REALLY LIKE and one or more examples of a beginning that really didn't work for you, and we can discuss why they worked, or didn't, during the chat. But even if you don't have time to do that, you're still welcome to participate or even just listen in. And remember: we don't have to discuss EVERYTHING in that list up there, nor are we limited to those topics. Think about what would be most helpful for YOU in your writing process, and what draws you as a reader. Hope to see some of you frequent commenters there!

Well Met by Kismet

Friend of Mac's: My son Jesse would like to interview your wife for a school project. Would that be possible? He chose his own topic for this project, which was to interview an author. He's a bit of a budding author himself, as I think I've mentioned, and has aspirations to continue in that vein. And he has read a good deal of Young Adult Fiction. So I think he would really enjoy talking to you and your wife. He's 11 yrs old.

Mac (sheepish): "Um..."
Tad (busybusybusy): Thinks: Aaargh! Bad timing! Bad timing! Deadline! Angst! Angst! ANGST!
Says: "Oh, okay. Fine...No problem."

Tad: Hi. Ask away!
Jesse (confidently):11 Questions, via email, one of which is 'Does your husband help you write?'
Tad (Er? Makes notes to never ask anyone she interviews that one.): 11 Answers as concise as possible, still fills three pages...
Jesse: (Thinks:) Whoa. Says: "Okay. I'm putting it on my blog. All our core classes have a blog. I'll send you an invitation."

Tad peruses blog of 11-year-old smart guy, reads his short funny poems; sees a teacher comment.
Tad:Jesse, I looked at your funny blog.
You mentioned that your teacher's name is Mr. Septka. I went to school with a Mr. Septka. Wouldn't it be funny if it was the same person? Is his first name Rod?

Looong pause.
Jesse: My teacher is Rod Septka. That's weird.

I do believe I have traumatized that poor child by knowing his teacher since he's suddenly not speaking to me anymore, but hey, these things happen. Meanwhile, three cheers for Rod Septka, a rising star in the Marin school system, who was always one of the canniest and funniest people at Mills College and who worked harder than many of us getting his MFA while also getting his MA, if I recall correctly, and teaching middle school full-time the whole time.

Whether he knows it or not, Jesse is one lucky kid.

April 23, 2007

Just so you know...

..."I Aten't Dead", good people, just a tad overwhelmed! I'm editing, avoiding finishing a manuscript despite the May 4 deadline I've been given (!!!!!), and reading like a crazy(ier) person, getting prepared for a series of summer treats that I know everyone will enjoy. (Trust me, you will. I'm enjoying it, and it's not really even started yet!) It's a privilege to read, and to get to talk to the intelligent, creative and thoughtful people who write (and aren't stuck like I am). More to come on this great reading and writing thing!

Speaking of great reading... the Disco Mermaids have once again elevated the Great Art of Lit'triture. You must check out the winning celeb book... many, many hilarious entrants, only one winner. Stay tuned for their next crazy contest!

Via A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy comes the question at of how much we can know about an author based on their books (thanks to Lectitans for a great question). As a writer currently reading other writers and thinking about how they write, I'd have to say... maybe not that much.

I had the very odd experience of hearing comments ( a few years back when I first published) such as "Oh, I know who that was!" and "Oh, you were writing about Bobbi Ann and James, weren't you?" that were frankly ludicrous, and set me wondering "What part of the word fiction don't you understand?" Acquaintances were positive they could find some hidden truths about my real life, and it turned out to be pointless to tell them differently.

In truth, each and every piece of my work reflects some small part of me. Whether it's my love of cooking (or eating, to my everlasting despair), reading, singing or artwork; my borderline incompetence with numbers and following directions, my fascination with minutiae and arcane facts -- any or all of that and more will appear somewhere in my writing. In that fabulous alchemy which occurs between readers and writers, however, whatever someone may take and interpret from my work only brings something bigger to the work itself. But! not even from the writing on my blog can you know more than even a little bit about the essential me. The reason for this, I think, is that many writers are, in equal parts:
a.) thieves
b.) mystics
c.) hermits

We're slippery, live in the gradation between light and dark, and tend to be on the outside of the ring around the campfire, watching, listening, and biding our time to put down the tales we see and hear. What is safe to assume about a writer from their work? Nothing. Writers are mostly observers, and they do observe ... but an impartial, introverted observer doesn't always impart that much of themselves.

(And now that I've made writers sound very magical-mystery and shadowy, I'll go back to my grouchy, sweats-wearing-slouching-before-the-keyboard-mundane self.)

Tick... tick... tick... That sound you hear is the Second Coming of the 48 Hour Reading Challenge! Once again, MotherReader is trying to kill me. My brother graduates from the 8th grade the selfsame weekend of the Reading Challenge, coming June 8–10, 2007, but I had an excuse last year too, and this year: no excuses. (And no reading The Book Thief, either, which is so long it could have counted as four books.) The way things are fixed, you can take the whole weekend and read for a consecutive 48, but start on your time. Head on over to MotherReader's and read the rules and join the game!

Via Bookshelves O' Doom, a fabulous piece by Sara Zarr at AS IF! which reminds me why I read Chris Crutcher when some others who profess a Christian faith avoid him with rabid dismay.

Chasing Ray's existential crisis on reviewing is a tangent of some of my own thoughts these days. In the wake of The Curious Incident with the Reviewer in the Daytime, a lot of us are feeling skittish. I feel like going to our book reviewing site, and removing the word 'review.' To be honest, I don't review books, I ...discuss them. As a writer, my books are simply one person's perspective of the world around them. But now that, in a way, my integrity as a person who discusses books has been challenged, I wonder in what ways, if any, that will or should change how I talk about books. Do I now have to say "I got this book from the library/the bookstore/ the author/ a friend of a friend who works for a publisher? Do I, like some others, trim out personal information about my interactions with said publishers or authors (not that I've got a lot of that, but it's something to consider!)? It bothers me, in a way, that I'm still thinking about this, as if I have to justify my own existence... but I can't stop.

A Word Is Dead
A WORD is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.
- Emily Dickinson

April 19, 2007

Toon Thursday: Late But Oh-So-Worth-It

God, that was fun. As long as weird, wild stuff is happening in the world of literature, I'll have great cartoon fodder. Happy Thursday night!

More NPR Notes

By now you probably know how much I adore the NPR program News and Notes. Yesterday I was given yet another reason to enjoy the show--an interesting interview and lovely reading (apropos of National Poetry Month!) by Ruth Forman from her new illustrated children's book, Young Cornrows Callin out the Moon. Forman is an instructor at our own local Vona Voices program, an alum of UC Berkeley (go Bears!), and a former student of June Jordan. To listen, click here.

I keep hearing on NPR sponsorship breaks about a book worth lusting after--Seattle librarian, Book Lust author, and action figure model Nancy Pearl has a new book about recommended reading for kids and teens called Book Crush. Says the NPR Shop website: Divided into three sections -- Easy Books, Middle-Grade Readers, and Young Adult -- Book Crush makes wonderful reading connections by theme, setting, voice, and ideas." I hope to find a copy--where else?--in my local library. I'll be very interested to see her recommendations...

Thoughts On a Reaction

I read an article today that was absolutely grim. It had to do with the terrible recent tragedy in Virginia, and the reaction of many of the Asian American students when the ethnicity of the gunman was announced. As soon as the commentators said "Korean-American," 18-and-19-year-old students jumped into cars and raced away from campus. They were running home -- not because of the threat of an insane and armed hateful student, which was by then, over, but because of the additional fear of angry and vengeful fellow students. The word they used is "backlash."

What really floored me was the reaction of many other Asian Americans who said, "Whew. At least the shooter wasn't ______-American." Fill in the blank with the ethnic group of your choice.

Was I surprised because I felt like the reactions were insensitive and beside the point of the real issue at hand? Yes. But, also, No. I was surprised because it was, once again, one of those reactions that you never articulate, but when you're an ethnic minority in this country, it's one of those reactions you have.

When we talk about writing and the right of representation that every child and young adult should have in the literature they read, it seems to me that we'd better be real when we write for these kids: really real.

Sometimes it is a strange, sad world.


NPR's National Poetry Month selections have been great! The other day they read what has become a new favorite. People always dream of lost cities and adventures. Maybe Irish poet Eavan Boland has the right idea.

Atlantis — A Lost Sonnet
Eavan Boland

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city — arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals — had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city —

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.

April 18, 2007

Odds And Ends Again

Now that the last Tolkien book has been completed by Tolkien's son (oh, horrors and blasphemy!), the Guardian reports that it has actually bumped Harry Potter from the top seller space at Amazon, which is bizarre when you consider that a.) the newest HP hasn't even been released, and isn't due for another three months, and b.) Tolkien died in 1973, and this is the first Tolkien book in 30 years.

It is a truly strange world, but I'm having a good chuckle at the idea of Tolkien gently elbowing Rowling from beyond the grave.

Cynsations has posted an intriguing interview with Ysabeau Wilce (isn't her name just fabulous?) and word is, her book, which is on my TBR list before June, is also fabulously intriguing. The full title of Ms. Wilce's recently published novel is Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog. And here is an excerpt from this fantastically titled adventure.

(Cynthia also reminds us to stop by Vampress and register to win a free copy of her latest novel Tantalize.)

Not Your Mother's Book Club, is celebrating the May 1st release of Dramarama, by e. lockhart and giving away three books, two books-on-CD, and a bunch of other cool stuff. Poets, lyric writers and general witty types, get on over and find out how to play!

A couple of fun Bay Area National Poetry Month events can be found at Poets.org. A screening of a documentary film on the life of Nobel-winning poet Pablo Neruda, narrated by Chilean author Isabel Allende happens tonight, but if you, like me, aren't there, you can still enjoy one of his poems.

The Weary One

The weary one, orphan
of the masses, the self,
the crushed one, the one made of concrete,
the one without a country in crowded restaurants,
he who wanted to go far away, always farther away,
didn't know what to do there, whether he wanted
or didn't want to leave or remain on the island,
the hesitant one, the hybrid, entangled in himself,
had no place here: the straight-angled stone,
the infinite look of the granite prism,
the circular solitude all banished him:
he went somewhere else with his sorrows,
he returned to the agony of his native land,
to his indecisions, of winter and summer.

- Pablo Neruda

April 17, 2007

My Two Cents...Well, More Like Five Bucks.

By now you will probably have heard just about all you can take in response to the thought-provoking (and comment-provoking) post at Roger Sutton's blog. His post contributes to a discussion on, essentially, the value of blogs in general, kidlit blogs in particular, and informal review blogs in especial particular. Fuse #8's comments on the subject seemed to fire up the discussion, and soon Read Roger was host to some strong words on various sides of the issue (yes, I think there are more than two sides to this, and I think that some of the commenters made largely inaccurate generalizations about the community of kidlit review bloggers). There were some excellently worded responses from some members of the blogging community, and thoughtful posts from Jen Robinson, Liz B, and others.

As it turns out, I couldn't just leave this alone. I kept thinking about it all day, and what I kept returning to was the simple--or not-so-simple--question of why I blog. Why I review. Why TadMack and I are doing this, and what motivated us to start in the first place. Warning: This is LONG. I've been thinking about it all day. Then I wrote notes in a notebook. I e-mailed back and forth with TadMack. And she's the one who inspired my jumping-off point when she told me:

Our readers know what our standards are, or are not by reading what we write. We are not held accountable to anyone but ourselves; that's part of the beauty of the blog world, in that we're pointedly not doing this for money....

Mr. Sutton gets paid for his work [at Horn Book], does he not? ... So...he's accountable. We are not. This doesn't mean that we are any less qualified - through our opinions or degrees which many of us have - but that is not the point, nor has it ever been. ANYONE who reads a book has the right to review it, say whether or not they liked it, and why. Whether or not they are paid, accountable seasoned professionals does not matter, nor does it mean that our reviews are worthless.

I completely agree. I feel accountable to myself--my conscience, my commitment to our goals for this project; to my co-blogger, because this is a joint venture; and to the community of kidlit bloggers of which we are proud to be a part. We all share a common passion, regardless of our profession or educational background, and I have a lot of respect and awe for the people who devote so many hours of spare time to spreading information and sharing their thoughts and opinions simply because they love the books, and they hope the act of sharing their words will be helpful and meaningful.

We inform each other and learn from one another, and so yes, I do feel responsible for the quality of what appears here--I want it to be informative, or useful, or entertaining. Clearly this is more important than I'd thought, since it seems so easy to lose credibility. After all, who are we--us bloggers, that is? We aren't all librarians, or parents, or teachers. Some wear multiple hats. What we do share is a love of literature and writing--and an interest in the process of creation, the craft; an interest in those who practice that craft and have grasped that elusive merry-go-round ring that is not merely publishing success but achievement of a creative work that affects readers' hearts, minds, funny bones, or whatever.

TadMack and I blog as writers. We created our blog as a way to establish our own small community--within our writing group--for sharing ideas and information. But we soon discovered an enthusiastic and welcoming community "out there," as it were; a community where the ground is leveled and writers, publishers, agents, librarians, and fans alike interact--responsibly--in a way that never used to be possible. It's been an eye-opening experience.

There are times when I think I can see the point of those who aren't favorably disposed toward blogging; when I'm burned out by the whole thing; when the mere thought of posting something exhausts me; when I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to say; when the process of blogging seems like just a race to post links or, as one commenter on Read Roger put it, a desperate attempt to compete in some bizarre online popularity contest. Sometimes I feel a little ornery about it, as the individualist in me kicks in and says a loud "So what? Everyone's got a blog now. It's no longer exciting or unusual. Let's go dye our hair green instead." (Note: my hair is not currently green.)

That's why I am ultimately thankful for this discussion, because it's made me really consider and articulate my reasons for doing this. One of those reasons is that it revitalizes me as a writer to say connected with other writers and people in the literary community. It also benefits me professionally to stay abreast of news and events in the YA writing world, and to make connections with others who share my interests. I do that via other means as well, but blogging affords an interactivity and dialogue that other media don't. I also blog to practice writing, crafting words on a regular basis; words that articulate my thoughts about writing, creativity, etc. I blog to share thoughts, information, and interesting reading material.

I do NOT blog for the free review copies. I don't feel obliged to plug a book any more fawningly simply because a publisher sent me a copy, although I AM less likely to do a half-assed job if I know that a publisher might go back and read it. (That's a joke.) The material benefits of our blogging are negligible. But there are tangible benefits in terms of the support and vibrancy of the community that exists. I don't expect to become famous on the basis of my blog. I don't even make assumptions about how many or how few are actually reading it, or how much traffic we're getting, as long as those who ARE reading it are getting something out of it--a great link, a deep thought, a laugh.

And speaking of laughs, expect a less reverent revisitation of this topic on Toon Thursday...Oh yeah, it's coming...

Professional Tastes

It's only on the days when I have meetings scheduled with my editor that my computer completely blows up, shuts down, loses my formatting, and scares me. Today I spent hours with my backup copies, sweating heavily, trying to figure out what went wrong, only to lift my head on quite a vigorous debate in the blogs. Professional reviewers, it seems, feel infringed upon by the peanut gallery known as bloggers, who swoon over authors like celebrities, reporting rapturously on their sightings, and who popularize books by word-of-mouth.

Bloggers seem to be, in a word, fans. Fans of books, fans of literature for young adults and children, fans of certain works. Recent discussion has left me wondering if it's not the 'fandom' aspect of YA/children's book blogging that has some people upset, but the hierarchy, and the idea that we are not to talk about something that no one has sanctioned us to mention.

I find that idea very odd. When I'm enthused about something, I don't generally let unwritten protocol stop me from saying so, and I very much doubt that the people whose sour generalizations began this discussion would let that stop them either.


Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

- Robert Hayden

I love this poem. I encountered it in high school, during a test, and secreted it on a slip of paper, until I could take it home and transcribe it in my journal. I hadn't always liked my father, but I knew that he worked hard for us, and the poem was a type of perspective that I needed to mull over in my mind. I'd never thought of it -- or him -- in that way.

Now, linguistic Professionals have assessed this poem; Professionals who Know Poetry. Some of those Professionals were the ones who introduced me to the poem, and for a grade, they wished for me to express my opinion on this piece. They expected me, as a student, to comment within what I had learned from them, and I did. However, I'm glad the 'blogosphere' exists so that I can express my opinion in different, perhaps more creative terms. On my blog, I can talk about this poem in any way I choose.

You don't have to like this poem.
No one is paying me to say that I like it.
I consider it a waste of time to discuss poems that I don't like.
I just thought I'd share a poem that I love.

Thanks for reading my National Poetry Month selection. If, at some point, you read any of my book reviews, I hope you find the books that I like likable as well... or not. In any case, I'm glad you visited our blog...

April 16, 2007

Monday Musings

Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

- Langston Hughes

Every revolution, Columbine High School graduate Alex Marsh once said, "begins with a single voice." Ron Koertege captures the angry voices of fifteen narrators at Branston High School who alike have suffered during high school, and whose need for revenge is a snowball rolling faster and faster.


We make plans, we download from that supersecret website, we draw diagrams, or go on a weapons recon, and Mike just gets calmer.

Not me. I keep both fists in my pockets and nod. Otherwise my voice, my hands, everything shakes.

Then I look at the list: everybody who ever blew me off, flipped me off, or pissed me off.

So I shake a little. It'll be worth it.

Mr. Koertge's poetry - always truthful, pulling no punches - roars in my head today...

Slightly Insane, Basically Just Jess

I truly enjoyed the Jess Jordan trilogy: Girl, 15, Charming But Insane, and its sequels Girl, (Nearly) 16, Absolute Torture, and finally Girl, Going on 17, Pants on Fire.

The incredibly crazed Jess Jordan is a delightfully batty British teen who once thought it a keen idea to create false boobs with -- of course -- bags of liquid. (Plastic surgeons have done this for years, but it's doubtful that any of them have ever resorted to minestrone soup.) Out of one disaster and into another Jess staggers, trying desperately not only to stay afloat in the world of high school, with its quick alliances and quicker betrayals, but to be visible in her own friendship. Jess's best friend Flora is perfect - with her stunningly blonde hair and blue eyes, Jess wavers between wanting to pull her head off and bat it to left field, and loving her fiercely, even while worrying she'll always play second, even with her quick wit and funny one-liners. Gorgeous Flora one-ups Jess every time the incredible Ben Johnson is in the room; surely he'll never notice Jess. In the end, Jess isn't sure if that matters...

On the home front, Jess' concerns with her mother -- a rather over-involved, abrasively opinionated librarian, her grandmother, who has just moved in -- along with her Grandpa, though he's in an urn -- and her father -- loving but distant, though he texts her daily with hilarious horror-scopes -- all add their insanity. Only her best boy-buddy, Fred, with his wretched poet-style hair (which Jess is dying to cut) remains a constant -- and then even he gets a little nuts.

The mysteries involving Ben, Jess's father, and the difficulties in forming a relationship and keeping on the good side of teachers and principals will keep readers busy laughing through all three of Sue Limb's scattered and nutty books. "Charming but insane" is a perfect way to describe the series.


Harry Sue Clotkin is one tough cookie, and she's not about to be anything else. Her mother tried saving her the time her father tossed her out of the 7th story window, and they would have been well rid of him, too, if she hadn't left her meth lab out on the kitchen table. Without the instruction manual and the burner, the cops would've thought it was powdered sugar.

The only child of convicted felons, Harry Sue's been stuck with Granny, who out of the alleged goodness of her crabbed and sour heart took her in. Once she found out there wasn't any money connected with caring for her own grandchild, however, Granny couldn't be bothered with her. Instead, she opened up a daycare, and Harry Sue's been protecting the crumbcatchers from Granny and her two, drugged up daughters ever since. She wouldn't put it past them to drug the applesauce to keep the kids quiet, and she's warned 'em what'll happen if she catches them. And then there's school -- why is it that she can't do anything there without consequences?! But Violet Chump really did need someone to save her life... though in reality, Harry Sue isn't supposed to be worrying about the crumbcatchers, and all of that do-gooding -- her goal is to get into the Big House. She's got to start a life of crime, or she'll never find her mother, ever. Her best dog, Homer, promises to help, but it might take more luck and moxie than anyone expected to help Harry Sue find her way home.

The language in this novel might be off-putting at first -- I am not accustomed to being presented with a glossary at the beginning of the book -- but the 'conglish' (Convict English) slang fades from the background as the poignant, funny-tragic tale of a scrappy little girl and her determined friends comes to the fore. There's plenty to sniffle over, but in the end there is triumph, and the feeling that no matter what, nobody puts one over on Harry Sue.

Between A Rock and a Hard Place

Mount Eskel is a place where only the strong survive. 'Skinnier than a lowlander's arm' is one of the stock phrases Eskel-ites say, since few know of the power and strength it takes to mine linder, the stone from which all castles and great houses are built in the lowlands, the stone which stays polished and true even after decades. Miri, named after a flower that grows among the linder, worries that she, too, is as useless as a lowlander. Her father will not allow her to work in the mines, and she fears that even her best friend, Peder, doesn't know her true value. It is only when word comes from the valley that the king's priests have divined Mount Eskel to be the home of the prince’s bride-to-be— the next princess - that Miri feels suddenly that maybe she has something to offer.

She would be willing to marry the prince if only to bring her father and sister a better home, and her village a better life, even though she would dreadfully miss Peder and Esa and the others. But it's not as easy as it could be. Tradition states that all eligible girls must attend a Princess Academy to make themselves worthy of marrying the prince. The makeshift mountain academy Miri attends is nothing like she thought it would be. There's jealousy and competition, and a truly evil headmistress who locks her in a closet and forgets about her. But Miri has a secret which she holds to herself -- the secret of the linder, which causes the miners to be able to speak to each other through the rock. That secret might just change everything.

A perfectly wonderful happily-ever-after fairytale, Princess Academy is a perfect curl-up-and-dream treat.

Cherry Popsicles and Other Treats

A funny-sweet-tender novel about the horror formerly known as junior high, Jenny Han's perfectly poised Shug is my new favorite junior high novel.

One day when she was twelve, Annemarie Wilcox looked up and found out that she knew the perfect boy. After all, Mark was her best, best friend, the boy she'd been hanging around with since sandbox days, eating cherry Popsicles and talking about nothing in particular. For some reason, though, Mark is acting like a dork. He's not tuning in to the clues that Annemarie is throwing down. I mean, how can he help but notice her? Instead, he asks, "Why are you always showing off?" "Why'd you have to say that?"

Then, through a series of completely horrible incidents, 'Shug,' (which her mother calls her after the strong and outrageous woman in The Color Purple) discovers that not only does Mark prefer his longstanding crush on her sixteen-year-old sister, Celia, Mark would rather look at her friend Elaine and make fun of her to Kyle, Hugh and Jack than have anything else to do with her.

Life is awful. And confusing. And funnier than heck at times. Shug discovers that sweet boys can be found in the funniest places -- sometimes just below the nasty-mean-tough exteriors of guys she's hated forever.

She's funny and fearless (at least on the outside!), and after reading her, you'll wish you'd gone to junior high with super special Shug.

Burying Her Head in the Sand

Ellen Wittlinger has created a novel of painful reality. Sandpiper Hollow Ragsdale thinks it's bad enough having a weird hippie name, but she's got a reputation to go along with it. No offense, but she's kind of a slut... not so much lately, but it's what people think, from her history of getting physical with guys for a day or two, and then dumping them for the next one. She's only doing what all her other friends used to do... the problem is, she wants to stop, but she isn't quite sure... how.

Her parent's don't really suspect how she lives -- mainly because her mother is all caught up in her own upcoming wedding, and her father -- well, he can't look at her anymore, not since her bust has developed -- really developed. Sandpiper knows she's attractive, but instead of being able to use her looks, they're using her... and they're adding dangerously to that horrible reputation. It's harder to get rid of than she thought... since it seems like other people aren't ready to let it go. Certainly not Derek and his two rock-headed friends, who suddenly show up wherever she is, talking crap about her, throwing rocks at her cat, and threatening her little sister. She didn't mean anything when she was with them, okay? So, why are they taking it -- and treating her -- so badly? Only one person seems not to see Piper - either in a good way or a bad way -- her friend the Walker. But he has demons of his own.

When everything falls apart for Sandpiper, the question ringing in her ears is Did I deserve this?

Wittlinger's fresh, original poetry gives this pieces a lot more emotional heft, especially Sandpiper's upwelling of painful bewilderment at feeling rejection from her father. The storyline of the Walker, to my mind, is an unnecessary and confusing addition to the novel which obscures the issue of a girl and her parents and the relationships that was intended to be in her life to give her strength. I felt that Sandpiper was just as obsessed with the Walker as she was with the heady rush of power she felt when she first started off with a boyfriend, and that emotional imbalance was never fully explored or explained. Still, this is an excellent book on a topic that few people care to broach, and readers who don't mind frank discussions of serious topics will come away thoughtful.

How to Save the World

When we last met Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters, there had been dramatic rescues, ever-more-spine-tingling battles against ancient evil darklings, and an astonishing discovery--another living midnighter in their small Oklahoma town of Bixby. Not to mention conspiracies to eradicate the previous generation of midnighters, which is why Madeleine is the only one left.

The midnighters--people born at the stroke of midnight--have access to the Secret Hour, an extra hour at midnight when time freezes and the midnighters alone roam the town...well, not quite alone, because there are also the darklings: ancient predators who were long-ago banished to the "blue time," as Bixby's teenage midnighters call it.

Throughout the trilogy, the five teenage midnighters, each with their special powers--Rex, the seer; Dess, the polymath; Jonathan, the flyboy; Melissa, the mindcaster, and Jessica, the flamebringer--have been fighting off increasingly aggressive attacks by darklings during the secret hour. And in Midnighters #3: Blue Noon, it becomes clear that the darklings are waiting for something. Something BIG. And when, one unforgettable day, the blue time comes in the middle of a morning pep rally, the midnighters start to get an idea of what the darklings might be so eager about.

This is another suspense-filled, creepy volume and an excellent ending to the trilogy. The way the books are structured, with constant references to time, dates of reckoning, etc., creates a fast-paced sense of urgency that makes it VERY difficult to put the book down and go be productive.

Also, don't miss TadMack's excellent review of this volume.

Contest Alert! and Weekend Wanderings

Don't miss the contest at Lisa Yee's. It's a short one... a really short one. As in, write a 25 word story. Sadly, I am already stumped.

Meanwhile, the Disco Mermaids, together with their agents and the folks from Razorbill, want you to come play. Theirs is a hilarious contest helping the less fortunate... that is, celebrities without ideas... and help them to write... a children's book. Because really - don't they all want to? So that they can follow the A#1 writer's rule of Write What You Know, your instructions are to give them a title for a book only they could write. Their example makes William Kotzwinkle's Walter, the Farting Dog turn into: Al Gore's Walter the Ozone-Depleting Dog. Despite the DM's inexplicable prejudices against French hens and turtle doves, this is an awesome contest - and has some awesome prizes. Do check it out!

Chasing Ray offers a plethora of writing inspirations... I am more than willing to try the chocolate. The axe? Not so much...

(As you may have noticed...) Books that include food are a big draw for me. My carb-addicted soul still loves the toast description in The Wind in the Willows of hot buttered toast. Ratty's buttery toast is second to none, not even hot, buttered popcorn (yum...) Ahem. Anyway, from The New Yorker comes theories about what the food means, and the question of what the draw is of imaginary or real food in our favorite novels.

Over at Fuse#8, the dreaded question of author photographs arises. Where/how/who takes those? And, like Fuse, I won't mention names, but some of them, er, stump me. My first two short novels (very out of print), the author pic was taken by the husband of the registrar of the school at which I taught. He is a photographer for PG&E (and who knows why they need photographers?). He took two rolls of B&W and color, and I found four I liked -- in B&W. Needless to say, the publisher wanted color, of course. It was, I felt, revolting, but whatchagonnado? The question thus far has not yet been broached with my current publisher and book designer... and I don't think it will, thankfully. Trying not to angst about the COVER (although I have a FABULOUS cover designer) is bad enough.

The Potter bloggers reminisce about this heady time in their lives, and wonder what to do next. Meanwhile, via Fuse, I shudder to think of the Harry Potter Theme Park. Oy. Just... oy.

April 13, 2007

Amazing Teen Poetry

In discussing craft, the question sometimes comes up of what is kitschy in a work, and what is cool. Added features like the ones Markus Zusak used in I Am the Messenger were playing cards, a mysterious way to begin chapters, and a definite tie-in to the storyline. Other additional pieces have been puzzle pieces, a sketch in stages, and an item of food being devoured as the novel progresses. Another cool and National Poetry Month related novel element is Ellen Wittlinger's poetry in the novel Sandpiper. The poems conclude each chapter, and are fresh and original pieces of poetry which give us a deeper glimpse into the character's heart. I was amazed by some of it -- it's not as if it's not work enough to write a novel, but poetry! Ms. Wittlinger was a playwright and poet before she became a novelist, and it gives a further depth and strength to her work.

And the type of poetry written is the type of poetry that seems drawn wholly from the brain of a journaling teen. Some of them have such a ring of personal truth that it was scary to read them. Here I include one of my favorites:

(with apologies to Sylvia Plath)

You do not do, you do not do,
Anymore, what you used to do.
We were such a pair, we two,
Until my poor white breasts debuted
And grew between us.

Daddy, sometimes it kills me
that I've outgrown you.
I didn't know there'd be no
Follow-through for me and you,
My pa, my pooh.

I have never been scared of you,
But this slow losing of you tears
at my heart and hurts clear through.
I can't even talk to you - you
Who once knew all my secrets.

Funny, you think the glue between us
Loosens as my almost adult self
Begins to act like you. You think
I'm screwing, and I'm screwed.
You think I need a talking-to.

Oh, Daddy, Daddy, it's the end
of our duet, the curtain
on our pas de deux.
You're mad, I'm blue.
You're sick of me; me too.

Excerpted from the novel, Sandpiper, Copyright ©2005. By Ellen Wittlinger.

April 12, 2007

Toon Thursday (It's Still Thursday!!)

I went for a more topical approach this time...Bonus points if you can name two not-so-hidden literary references (besides the really obvious one).

Extra bonus points if you can name the world's funniest usage of the word "nutsack." (Hint #1: This isn't it. Hint #2: It involves Amy Poehler.)

Even if it's a one-time deal, I'm happy to resurrect my cartooning alter ego from my undergrad days, Helen Tarnation. I recently found a notebook of my old Helen Tarnation Productions and I must say, I'm much funnier now...Good thing I remained mostly anonymous...

Poetry Before Sleeping


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Carl Sandburg

This is a cute little book about a fleeting friendship -- one day a cat came to stay, and then it went away, leaving gifts behind like cats, fogs, and friendships do.

I remember this poem from the fourth grade, where we learned to say onomatopoeia. Sadly, it took until college to remember how to spell it.

Go forth and read the latest Edge of the Forest. I'm seeing double now, but I will be sure to give it a thorough read tomorrow... especially A Day in the Life, which features novelist Lauren Myracle of text-message novel fame, the Cybils recap (but no hints on this year's - the jury is still out!), and the piece on reading and teaching Mortal Engines in Dubai... some really great stuff.

Just Popping By ...

Greetings this blustery day!

I'm pausing for five minutes to look out and appreciate the world... okay, I could actually a.) shower, b.) put on street clothes, or c.) go outside, but reading blogs is my pajamas is my "outing" this hour...

I can't figure out a joke to tell with the story of Geri Halliwell, former Spice Girl turned Children's Author, so we'll all just have to smile at the thought. Actually, my smile is... bewildered. She's been contracted to produce a series, one book a month from May 2008, and is meant to be accompanied by a "promotional song." And the storyline? Yes. Nine-year-old Ugenia Lavender, is the "incredible kid who has heaps of attitude and brainwaves like bolts of lightning", and Halliwell will give her "contemporary adventures."

Um. Okay. I'll save the open mockery for MotherReader (also don't miss her lovely and thoughtful comments on the late Mr. Vonnegut). I'd like to see Alkelda's editorial letter on that one.

Via A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, I found a call for bloggers who review "classic" children's books. Gina from AmoxCalli feels she's neglecting some of the older books she wants to recommend to a host of young readers. I have also felt that I missed being born earlier so I could read more Joan Aiken without having to hunt for old out of print copies, and I still adore such goodies as I Capture the Castle, Jean Webster's Daddy Long Legs, or Stella Gibbons' hysterical Cold Comfort Farm... Sometimes I think all of the good books and stories have already been told - but I'm proved wrong pretty much on a daily basis, happily. (Yes! So many more multicultural tales to tell. So many excellent vampire yarns. So many science fiction tomes. So many books, so little time...!) Anyway, do jet on over to AmoxCalli's and at least read the reviews. There are some fabulous books out there yet to be discovered.

Well, it's back to work for me. Ciao, ciao...

April 11, 2007

Is It Only Wednesday?

Round-up 'Round the Blogosphere

Satirical, thought-provoking and often 'banned-and-burned' novelist Kurt Vonnegut died today. I imagine him living to 84, just to aggravate those who hated his books...

YA Author's Cafe asks an intriguing questions of YA authors and readers -- what do you think about the sexual content of YA literature? Head over and log your opinion.

The ALAN Online Book Club's April read is A Room on Lorelei Street, which is a fantastic book, so the discussion should be equally good.

Did you know that Readergirlz has over 1000 friends on MySpace? How cool are they? The discussion this month on On Point, by Lorie Ann Grover is ongoing, but read ahead, and get ready for The Phoenix Dance next month. Everyone is welcome to chat and join the gang! (The Readergirlz website always has the best soundtrack... and if you find yourself humming The Rainbow Connection for the rest of the month, you'll know why...)

Fans of the graphic arts will be amused to see the School Library Journal's graphic humor. It's actually... both cute and informative. Huh. Go Librarians. (Via Fuse#8

I feel very much like a mole... or a roach. Working these weird hours makes me feel like I'm sleepwalking. It's been a productive working time, however, so I won't complain about my odd hours.

Even though it's practically tomorrow, I wanted to post my National Poetry Month poem of the day... and I've just discovered that I can't. Oh well. Until Gran Died is an unusual poem written by an British children's Wes Magee... The poem is about death, a subject that causes more furor with Well Meaning Protectors Of Children's Innocence, almost more than sex. I'll not post it here, to observe copyright, but please go and read it here. It doesn't mince words about sadness, but it isn't overly sentimental either. I really liked it.

I'm pretty sure that noise I hear is my bed calling...

April 10, 2007

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter... Here There Be...

A celebrations of dragons in poetry, prose, fiction, and original folktales, Jane Yolen’s Here There Be Dragons joyously embraces the blank spots on the edge of the map, the what-ifs that make history and lore.

This is as much a novel as a picture book, and even older readers will find something to like. Yolen’s collection features many of her unique poems, and the roots of some storylines which appear fleshed out in later novels. A short piece included in this collection later became the basis of the popular The Pit Dragon Chronicles. The stories in this collection are meditative, thoughtful, funny or tragic, each prefaced by an introduction by the author. The artwork by David Wilgus make this big book a dragon-lover's coffee table treasure. Yolen fans will wish to seek out Here There Be Witches , Here There Be Unicorns , Here There Be Ghosts , and Here There Be Angels , the rest of this intriguing art-filled picture book series.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Owen is a record player in a tape player world. He’s just completely out of step with his life. It’s not really his fault – he’s trying hard, but he’s not getting anywhere. If it wasn’t for Natalie Field, a girl who just happened to speak to him one day, he would have kept trying to fit in, settled for the car his father wanted him to drive, and the college his mother wanted to attend.

Natalie changed a lot of things.

Including Owen’s belief that he is all alone. He feels such huge relief that he figures that yes – this is it. I must be in love.

And of course, that ruins everything.

A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else by Ursula LeGuin was reprinted in paperback in 2000, but the characters still ring true from their 1976 incarnation. Now we are CD people in an iPod world, thoughtful introverts trying to make it in high schools filled with extroverts who seem to flash, buzz and screech to a different drummer, all the while wondering what it’s like to be so different. The Owens of the world owe it to themselves to not try to keep in step. Things that are one of a kind are, after all, are rare, and to be treasured.

Blinded by Firelight

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale leaves our heroine a queen, and her friend Enna quietly fading back into the Forest to care for her mother. However, Isi and Enna's stand-alone sequel is anything but quiet.

Enna chafes at being back in the Forest and away from the Town where Isi holds court as the wife of the Prince. Nothing happens in the Forest, she is surrounded by boys like Finn who are sweet, but who only dream only of trees and girls who want only for a dull young man to build a house for them. When Leifer, Enna’s brother, discovers something that sets him apart, he becomes strange to his sister – surly and mean. An attack on Bayern’s borders gives him the chance to expend his meanness, and he goes to war, but not before Enna discovers his secret – a piece of priceless vellum that teaches him a spell to call fires and set them – without a spark.

Fire, so life-giving and warm, is also a power without a conscience which betrays and destroys. Enna sees her brother die of its effects. But Bayern is in danger… and so Enna takes the fire into herself. Will Enna Burning destroy everything?

Taking the Words Out of their Mouths

It was just an ordinary day in Nollop, a utopian island city off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop is named after Nevin Nollop, the genius behind the typing class pangram (which is a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet) ‘the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,’ a sentence which uses all 26 letters of the alphabet to best advantage. This sentence looms above the town in monument form, and when one day the letter Z tile drops away and shatters, the Nollop City Counsel determines that it is Nollop speaking to his people from abroad. From then on, they must do without the letter which has fallen, and must abolish it from their vocabulary.

The only problem with this is, the putty backing the tiles is ancient. In time, another letter drops. And then another. And another…

Correspondence flies, as with zany charm, the totalitarian regime of the Nollop High Counsel takes the words right out of the citizens of Nollop’s mouths. Punishments are meted out, citizens are banished, land is taken as the Council grows in power. Readers who love words and their meanings will have great fun with Ella Minnow Pea, a lighthearted epistolary satire, which takes a look at hard headed zealotry, and is a story that uses silliness to point out dangerous precedents in human behavior.

Flying Home

Kendall is adrift. Her parents and little brother were killed in a car accident when she was only four, and now, with the death of her grandmother, Kendall now seventeen and a struggling high school senior, is frantic to find any kind of mooring.

Her Grandmama told her that “family sticks together,” and that has been Kendall’s rule of life. Her only living relative, Aunt Janice, is in New Orleans, and once she’s been notified of the death, Kendall waits to hear from her. And waits. And waits.

Taking matters into her own hands, Kendall finds her way down South, only to find an empty apartment, an angry landlady, and an opportunity to make a new place her home, with or without a blood-relative. Sparrow is another beautiful and long-awaited book from the talented Sherri L. Smith that tells of a strong girl being cast out into the wide sea of the world, and finding her way to safe harbor.

On Company Time

Freedom Station. It’s a supply outpost, and the kind of place where if you’re not working for the good of the Company, you’re not part of the Company. And if you’re not part of the Company, you’re from Earth. And Earthies have no business in the Black. Freedom Station is part of the Asteroid Belt, and that’s Company territory. Nobody who ruined Earth is going to come up and ruin space, too.

At least, that’s what Jack thinks. He’s always lived on Freedom Station, working and being cared for by the station – as long as he works, that is. He’s got no family but his boss, but he knows Freedom, and he thinks he knows who belongs. Earthies visit, but they don’t stay. Those who get dumped had better find a job. The other workers hunt down Rats – the kids who have been abandoned or run away to the Station – and they bring them down. There’s no room on Freedom Station for anybody to just suck down resources and not give back. Jack’s paid his dues, and he’s about to move on, when he finds a Rat… with a droid… There are people who will pay big to find that droid, and Jack’s in need of money.

But Kit’s not just a Rat, she’s a girl… with a name… and a need. Jack's conscience won't let him leave her, so for now it's Spacer and Rat , and everything about the universe is just the opposite of what Jack’s been taught to believe.


Mercedes Lackey has written a lot of novels, but some of the best ones for young adults are from The Five Hundred Kingdoms where Tradition is spelled with a capital ‘t,’ and everything happens according to the story. Life, in the Five Hundred Kingdoms, is kind of like a fairytale…

In the past, dragons rampaging villages have been soothed by a virgin sacrifice. Finding a virginal young girl and staking her out to a rock for some inexplicable reason calms dragons down, according to the Tradition, and so, when the people of Acadia are attacked by a dragon, this is what they do. In developing a lottery system whereby girls are chosen, there is what can only be a mistake. The Queen’s only daughter, Princess Andromeda is chosen. The kingdom reels as the brave young princess goes to fulfill her destiny for her people.

Of course, the Princess is saved by a Champion, which is what the Tradition calls for. Sir George doesn’t exactly slay the dragon, and Acadia is still in great danger. Andromeda has to face the worst, and is prepared to give up everything she loves best to save her home.
But is it a good idea to try and buck Tradition?

One Good Knight is a fun novel that mocks some of the pretensions of ‘high fantasy,’ and include talking unicorns, bold Lads (kind of) and Fair Maidens, creating a fast-paced and amusing adventure story.

Glued Keyboards

Non kid-lit related book news, but, you know, um, Aaargh!

April's Readergirlz book of the month is all about the spotlights, the action, and the dance. Don't miss the discussion, and check out an interview with author Lorie Ann Grover, who talks about not quitting things that are difficult to achieve.

In world's smoothest segue yet (heh), the final re-edit of my novel (how many times have I said that?!) goes apace... I fear I'm joining Colleen at Chasing Ray in feeling like words are coming out of me like... glue. And there's really no reason. I know what I'm supposed to be doing, and, as I told my editor, the words "rewrite this scene using action and dialogue" are pretty clear.

It begs the question of why I'm not just galloping forward.

Perhaps it's because I need to retire. To my cave (Via Fuse#8). It's ridiculous how much I want to...

Today's poem is just a snippet... for fun I memorized Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken as a freshman, and it has stuck with me, especially whenever I start to feel pinched by the requirements, disappointments and fears of this particular profession, I remember:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Here's to patiently walking the roads we choose.

April 09, 2007

Summer Stories

Debbie looked out into the world and wished that something would happen.

She didn't have any real idea what, just that... that indefinable something that would make her different, make her life better, just make... things... move. And over the course of one special summer, something ...did happen.

Finding out "what happened" isn't a quick discovery. Life happened, and life happens gradually. This is a reflective, quiet novel with plenty of funny sweetness that sounds absurd when described like this, but... it is what it is! The novel criss-crosses the stories of Debbie, her friend Hector, her lost locket, his guitar-playing, and their longing for boyfriends and girlfriends, to be less self-conscious, to be taller, smarter, better equipped to deal with others, and more.

This novel is definitely not for everyone, but tweens who are willing to take the time will find something special here.

The Dark Side of the Moon

A school assignment to write three different papers on the moon is no picnic. Why is it, Miranda wonders, that teachers all manage to make things due on the same day? A meteor hitting the moon is an event that spans every class she’s in, and every teacher wants to talk about it. It’s an American event, it seems, and Miranda, in her typical American family, is out on the lawn with the rest of the neighborhood, watching the show. It's just another night in Suburbia, Miranda thinks.

Nobody, however, is truly prepared for this event.

First, the meteor is bigger than everybody thought. Second, knocks the moon out of orbit. Third, it triggers a series of storms and tsunamis.

It’s not done yet.

Miranda and her brothers think their mother is nuts for running to the grocery store and filling their pantry and basement with food, but when the power flickers off and on and …off, Miranda isn’t so sure that Life As We Knew It will ever be the same…

Susan Beth Pfeffer creates one of the most stark, chilling, environmental disaster stories I’ve ever read. Miranda’s journals provide evidence of the emotional roller coaster of the survivors, the behavior of large groups of people due to human nature, the little cruelties and kindnesses. This frightening tale will make you want to pack up your garage with vitamins and foodstuff and make a run to a big-box retailer for batteries enough for the next fifteen years.

Meanwhile, the Sci-Fi Channel reports that Pfeffer has completed a companion novel to this chilling book titled, The Dead and the Gone.

The Familiar Face of Darkness

Keturah is an unique and integral part of a very small village, Tide-by-Rood. Though poor, she and her friends are happy, living below the estate of the Great Lord, working and bartering to maintain their slender thread of life. The Lord was banished here by the King, and so he may not much care for his people, but no matter. The villagers listen as Keturah weaves stories of the white hind he hunts, and are happy enough, but Keturah is not. The world around her is simple… her beloved grandmother, who still mourns her romantic and wonderful husband, her girlfriends, the village boys, and the Lord's son. These people whom she loves and entertains wish for simple things. The girls dream of marrying, the boys dream of hunting exploits, and Keturah dreams of she isn’t sure what.

One night, Keturah sees the hind from so many of her tales, and follows it into the forest where, as in all Victorian tales, Bad Things Happen. And something bad does happen. Keturah can’t find her way home, and knowing that death is coming after three days of wandering, sits down and waits for it.

It turns out that death is not an ‘it.’ Death is a He. And Lord Death is powerful, implacable, and disturbingly familiar. Keturah realizes she has known him, and been attracted by him, all her life.

Like a folk tale told around the fire, Keturah and Lord Death spins out a darkly romantic story in which all of the pieces interlock seamlessly. Honored as a National Book Award finalist, readers who love Victorian fiction and dark romances may enjoy this, and may wish to seek out other works by Martine Leavitt.

Poetry, Panic and Procrastination

Occasionally (via Bookshelves O' Doom), things just come along and attack writers, prohibiting them from doing the most basic things... like, um... finishing books.

I, myself, am close to approaching the plane of panic, but not yet cool enough to be Cecil Castellucci and make up a cool dance and song about it. Dang.

Meanwhile, Saints & Spinners has the true story of Children's Books That Never Were, 2: The MISgiving Tree... hee! I wish I had the brainpower right now to participate in this; for now I only watch and snicker...

Again at Bookshelves of Doom, people in passing were commenting on how difficult it is to read books wherein the protagonist does something so... utterly... eeek, and the reader reads on with one hand over their eyes shrieking, "No! No! Nooooo!" Well. I have since discovered a fun - or not-so-fun fact. In my most recent note from SuperE, my editor (able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, is she), I have discovered that my personal cringing has apparently extended its tentacles right on into my fiction. SuperE has said that I must not resolve uncomfortable situations so easily. "Spend some more time with discomfort," she says.


Doesn't that sound like something a therapist would say? "Make friends with silence" or, like a spinning coach, "Let the pain be your friend." Ugh, and no, thank-you very much.

Sometimes I actually take my time getting to books to which everyone else has given great acclaim simply because the subject matter assures me that I am going to squirm, feel ill, both concurrently, or worse. I am not overly sensitized by sad or tragic stories, but I do tend to cringe from being ...embarrassed. I guess it comes from really liking a character and investing in them, and identifying with them, and then, if they do stupid things... angsting for them. Bizarre, no?

It is not reassuring that I wish to keep the world in neat lines, packaged securely, wrapped in tidy brown paper packages. There's no story in neatly wrapped packages... there is no ...anything there. Life is messy. Good fiction should also strive to be so, as good fiction reflects life... So. I am now going back to the sea of blue scribbles on my manuscript and will endeavor to ...suffer a bit for the sake of my art. The best ink, it is said, comes tinted with our blood, and

I Want to Write...
I want to write
I want to write the songs of my people.
I want to hear them singing melodies in the dark.
I want to catch the last floating strains from their sob-torn


I want to frame their dreams into words; their souls into


I want to catch their sunshine laughter in a bowl;
fling dark hands to a darker sky
and fill them full of stars
then crush and mix such lights till they become
a mirrored pool of brilliance in the dawn.

-Margaret Walker
(And wasn't she brilliant? This poem she wrote when she was only nineteen years old...)

Writing is, mainly, as easy as breathing, except when it isn't... except for the days when it is impossible. I know that I am stubborn, but I guess passive-aggressiveness isn't going to get it, this time. Farewell... I boldly go seeking angst, anger and conflict.


(This concludes the Panic & Hysteria portion of this post.)

Meanwhile, in a vain (but lovely and amazing and quite pleasant!) attempt to forget just how much work I have to do, I sat down and read eleven books during the course of various gatherings and duties this weekend. In one of them, I rediscovered one of my other favorite Our Jane poems,

Why Dragons?
The smoke still hangs heavily over the meadow,
Circling down from the mouth of the cave,
While kneeling in prayer, full armored and haloed,
The lone knight is feeling uncertainly brave.

The promise of victory sung in the churches,
Is hardly a murmur out here in the air.
All that he hears is the thud of his faint heart
Echoing growls of the beast in its lair.

The steel of his armor would flash in the sunlight,
Except that the smoke has quite hidden the sky.
The red of the cross on his breast should sustain him,
Except -- he suspects -- it's a perfect bull's-eye.

The folk of the village who bet on the outcome
Have somehow all fled from the scene in dismay.
They'll likely return in a fortnight or longer,
He doubts that they'll be of much help on this day.

And then -- with a scream -- that fell best of the cavern
Flings its foul body full out of the cave.
The knight forgets prayers and churches and haloes
And tries to remember just how to be brave.

The webs on the wings of the dragon are reddened,
With blood or with sunlight, the knight is not sure.
The head of the beast is a silver-toothed nightmare,
Its tongue drips a poison for which there's no cure.

He thrusts with his sword and he pokes with his gauntlets,
He knees with his poleyn, kicks out with his greave.
He'd happily give all the gold in his pocket
If only the dragon would quietly leave.

There's smoke and there's fire, there's wind and there's growling,
There's screams from the knight, and his sobs and his cries.
And when the smoke clears, there's the sound of dry heaving
As one of the two of them messily dies.

Of course it's the knight who has won this hard battle,
Who wins in a poem beaten out on a forge
Of human devising and human invention.
If there's no dragon -- then there's no Saint George.

- Jane Yolen
Here There Be Dragons, ©1993