December 30, 2008


Oh, my goodness, Terry Pratchett has been knighted.

And so has Robert Plant.

What a strange world.

The View from my Window

Yeah, yeah, still with the infection-sweating-fever thing, but THIS is the view I have from my window. This bird is a woodpecker, and I'd have to have a better view of him to identify him, since he wasn't very cooperative. But isn't his "hair" great?

Books like The Knife of Never Letting Go, according to the UK rag (and believe me, it's considered inflamnatory Enquirer-like trash by most people with whom I've spoken) The Daily Mail are "so violent they need a health warning", according to Dr Rona Tutt. Author snipes back, in The Guardian, and the fun continues.

The most fun is that I just got this in the mail (THANK YOU Colleen!!) and am going to sit down and read it. Sans health warnings. So there.

Ooh -- THIS JUST IN!!! Are you a fan of Alan Gratz and the Something Rotten / Something Wicked Horatio books? Ally Carter (she of awesome spy book fame) is having a live chat with Mr. Gratz tonight at eight p.m., Eastern time and everyone is invited to come along and chat with.

Here's the dirt: Ally Chat
Tuesday, December 30th
8:00 eastern/ 7:00 central

The chat room will be located here.

The password will be ROTTEN, and won't work until a quarter 'til -- and after the chat, the password is expired.

The glorious weather continues to taunt me. Robin's going camping for New Year's. I'm. So. Jealous. Hope everyone else has fun plans. *sob* I'll just be here... coughing... on my bed of sickness...

Winter YA Roundup, Part II: Ellen Emerson White Extravaganza

Earlier this year, I returned from the 2008 Kidlitosphere conference with a copy of Ellen Emerson White's Long May She Reign--which I promptly read and reviewed, thus starting on that annoying road of having read the last book in a series first. Instead of going backward--which, I admit, was tempting--I was a good little reader and started from the beginning. Overall, I found the idea for this series to be rather topical, what with a brand-new president preparing to take office. However, it's not just the fly-on-the-wall glimpse into life as a White House Resident that I enjoyed--though admittedly, I ate that up--it was the fact that this is a story of a regular family faced with a succession of extraordinary circumstances.

The first book in the series is The President's Daughter, and, where the final book dealt with both the aftermath of trauma and the possibility of new beginnings, this one starts before all the dramatic events take place. The challenge to Meg Powers in this book is dealing with her mother's family-shaking decision to run for President--and her surprising, whirlwind victory. Going from the daughter of a senator--privileged, successful, and content--to being the daughter of the President of the United States, under the spotlight of the paparazzi, followed everywhere by the Secret Service--is an enormous change for Meg and her brothers. This book will really make readers think about what it would be like to be in that kind of limelight.

The vicarious thrill of reading about it, though, is balanced by the realistic portrayal of the stresses and difficulties, and the effects on a family of having a political figure as a parent. And when something happens to that parent--as in the second book, White House Autumn--the family's trauma is shared by that of an entire nation. Although the second book was a good follow-up to the first in terms of character development and interpersonal relationships, it was in some ways the least "active" in terms of the main character--the traumatic event in question happens to Meg's mother, the President, and although it definitely affects Meg, the story isn't quite as focused on her this time.

Not so in the third volume, Long Live the Queen. This time, we truly get to know Meg under the most harrowing of circumstances [WARNING: tiny spoilers, but nothing you won't find in the jacket blurb]--her frighteningly well-planned-out kidnapping by a terrorist group. This book is half a survival story, in which Meg's wit and resourcefulness as a character, and her stubborn spirit, enable her to survive her ordeal; and half a story of recovery and healing. I liked that the author doesn't confine the wrap-up to a mere chapter or two--it's very clear that this is NOT about giving readers a vicarious sensationalistic chill. However, it's definitely the climactic volume in the story arc of this series.

December 29, 2008

Winter YA Fiction Roundup, Part I

I've been reading a lot lately--really--but I've not had time to sit down and write reviews like I'd normally do. So, first of all, I thought I'd deal with some of the backlog by doing a quick set of one (or two or three) line writeups. So, here goes:

Siobhan Dowd's Bog Child, a 2008 Cybils nominee, is an unconventional mystery set in 1980s Ireland during the heart of the "Troubles." I was surprisingly touched by the story of Fergus, who is trying to resist being drawn into the conflict, hoping to get good exam grades so he can get the heck out of there and study to become a doctor. When he and his uncle discover a body in a local bog while digging for peat, Fergus finds himself strangely intrigued by the mummified girl--who appears to have been murdered. There's just a hint of the supernatural to this story, with threads of the past interwoven with the present, and it's also a wrenching story of family and loyalty. I was truly sad to hear that the author recently died, and I look forward to reading the rest of her work.

At a library book exchange, I randomly picked up a copy of Leftovers by Laura Wiess. This is the story of Blair and Ardith, two best friends and troubled teens with indescribably horrible parents and sometimes almost unbelievably hurtful classmates. It's a gripping and rather sordid story--and sounds a bit like it would make a good TV drama, with its somewhat hyperbolic portrayal of evil selfish mothers and icky fathers. However, there's definitely enough realism in there that I was able to suspend my disbelief and get caught up in the building tension--and the appalling unintended consequences. I wasn't a fan of the second-person viewpoint--its relentless recurrence was distracting--but the writing is suspenseful and dramatic. A good quick read, if a bit dark.

Coming Up for Air

While TadMack's been lost in the throes of a sinus infection, I've been buried in a vast and deep slough of my own making: a major revision of one of my novel manuscripts, which I'd really like to get done in the next few weeks and send back out. I might even send the first chapter in during Firebrand Literary Agency's query holiday, if I really get off my duff.

In doing a quick and frantic online search for revision help, how-to's, hints, etc., I came across a page on author Holly Lisle's website with an interesting method for what she calls "one-pass revision"--doing it all in one fell swoop. Although it's far too late for me to be calling it "one-pass", since this is the third or fourth actual draft, it's never too late to make use of some of the ideas she brings up. So far, so good--I'll let you know how it goes!

December 28, 2008

Sniffle! Hack!

Oh, don't mind me and my sinus infection, and my fuzzy brain. I'll just lie here and cough. I WOULD be outside enjoying the sunshine, but NO, my body rebelled about sitting in a plane for ten hours.

dramatic sigh.

One of the things I learned during my MFA program -- almost incidentally -- is that YA and children's literature rarely has "ripped from the headlines" books. Almost any garishly spotlighted, sensational murder trial has an immediate companion novel from the point of view of the lawyer, the jury, the victim's sister -- but blessedly, that trend hasn't yet blighted children's lit. We tend to stay, on average, ten years behind the curve. Think about the fuss over the penguin picture book. Alternative families are nothing new, by far, but perhaps they became more commonplace during the nineties? I find the whole thing intriguing, from a sociological standpoint.

Thus, it is with real interest that I find that the first Katrina books -- which started to come out in 2005 -- are gaining momentum. Nonfiction seems always to be the first treatment in children's books about factual events -- Katrina was a meteorological event, after all, and it's always helpful to talk about weather and storms. The next explorations tend to be about animals -- the tsunami animals come to mind as a story that spread and spread and eventually became a book.

What I'm not seeing much of yet are the books about the human side of the equation, about the fact that a city in one of our fifty states was allowed to treat its people like refuse washed up after a storm, allowed them to starve or drown or be abandoned to die. There are a couple of MG titles I've run across -- 2007 was a good year for those -- but YA seems to be silent.

Are there few or no books for young adults because the adults still aren't sure how it could have happened?

Has anyone else noticed this trend -- the lag behind actual events, and the lack of reading material for older readers? This is just something random that jumped into my mind.

Has anyone else seen Valentine's decorations up in stores already? Anyone else moved to violence over it? Just me? Sigh. Blame the sinus infection...

PSST! Farida, the people have spoken, and the people want flower fairies. I can't hide your identity for much longer...

December 25, 2008

It's A...n Onion?

...and my favorite Christmas gift this year.

Who says all flower fairies are from sweet-smelling flowers?

December 24, 2008

A Very Merry Un-Holiday to You

It really is sort of an un-holiday, when I think about it. I spent the last few days frantically trying to get the house clean, vacuuming up every stray cat hair and dust mote (my mother is very allergy-prone), tidying up the stray socks that my husband leaves on the living-room floor after throwing them at the naughty little cat when she scratches on the chair, doing the last of the shopping, and stocking up on groceries until the fridge threatens to overflow every time I open the door. (What do you call an avalanche of Fuji apples? An apple-lanche?)

Anyway, for me--as any fellow Shrinking Violets will know--just having houseguests, family or otherwise, is not particularly restful, except for the occasional very rare individuals. But thoughts of family and friends do remind me how very lucky I am, and I really wanted to just post a brief note to let all of my friends and colleagues, extended family and outlying acquaintances, out here in the Kidlitosphere, know that I appreciate you all very much.

I may not always comment on blogs (yeah, yeah, I know, I know), or even have time to stay current with all my blog reading (ARGH--now there's a Festivus grievance for the ages), but I'm really glad to feel like part of the community. Over the past year, I've marveled repeatedly at how much closer together the Kidlitosphere has brought like-minded writers and readers. As a not-yet-published writer (see, I'm trying to be optimistic--not an easy thing for a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist), it's heartening, educational, and comforting to feel that connection. As an introvert who sometimes feels too introverted even to blog, maintaining that connection is extra important, and often it keeps me moving forward when nothing else does.

So, thank you, and a very merry Festivus, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid (a little late), Diwali, etc. to you.

Cease and Desist... Kick Back. Eat Popcorn. Hollydaze.

Whether it means aloneness or togetherness to you, I wish you joy.

December 23, 2008

On, Dizzy, On, Dumpy! On, Groggy and Grumpy!

Did I just hear the Grinch's reindeer?

The Festival of Festivus wheezes and moans its way into the world 'o' blogs today. Billed as the "holiday for the rest of us" it's apparently a Seinfeld-esque day in which people tell each other how much they've disappointed each other throughout the year. And then they have contests of ...strength?

Well, I can't say I really ever "got" Seinfeld, but I do know this telling-family-members-how-disappointing-they-are sounds like a bad outing with certain family members, so while I'm visiting them, I'm going to have to suck up my Grinch-ing, and pass on talking about mi familia loca, or doing any gratuitous arm-wrestling. If *you,* however, have any gripes about your family or life or the season, (or if you live in Portland and aren't Nordic) definitely get over there and join in the merriment. Misery loves company, after all, and maybe after you complain, you'll be able to go back and be civil in company. Unless you work in retail...

Just one more day, and you'll be able to kick back and relax. By doing what? Sara wants to know. I'd like to add to that question -- how do you celebrate personal accomplishment? Do you invite over friends, or have a solo celebration on your own? Many people neither know how to relax or to celebrate... Something to ponder.

Publishers kind of hibernate this week 'til the second week of January, and writers ...well, we're spending our time realizing how much seventeen year old boys and a family of nine eat (how, how did I end up doing so much cooking? Was it the recipes in the novel???), and feel like they're sitting around in a jet-lag induced haze, or feeding the five thousand, who seem to need snacks in between hands of canasta and to eat 'round the clock. More coherent posts will be on tap after the weekend, I'm sure, once I've shrugged off the KP duties and hidden in a back room with my laptop! (Happy Hols to all my fellow Violets who are hanging in along with. Courage!...)

Great gift ideas and book suggestions are still pouring in, for those of you who, like me, aren't done shopping, and won't be until the 12th Day of Christmas (which is after The Epiphany, which is the realization that Dec. 25 is an artificial deadline, and including post-Christmas shopping makes the fun last longer). Check out the usual suspects -- Chasing Ray and Mother Reader. More anon!

December 21, 2008

Back Where I Left My Heart

On a personal note:
Home is where there are mugs that hold three quarters of liter of tea... Where there's football on the TV all day Sunday (fortunately confined to a back bedroom), and you realize that you're tuning everything out but the sound of the penalty whistles and your brother's occasional shouts of "Nooo!" (The Niners are playing. Sigh.) Home is where you arrive, disheveled and lugging suitcases and no one comments that you probably need a bath. Your Mom hugs you anyway. Whether you want her to or not.

Home is where you're really glad the Shrinking Violets are sending you ear plugs.

So far, holiday shopping is actually not bad, much better than expected. The parking lot was a little crazy at the bookstore today, but people were handing out cookies, and no one was throwing elbows or screeching. That's the benefit of buying people books for Christmas -- no toy aisles.

Thus Far: ~I've gotten Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its sequel, Roderick Rules and Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! already in the bag from ten minutes just ghosting through a nearby bookstore. Tomorrow I'm going to do The Serious Shopping first thing in the morning, and see how far I get. Still a seventeen year old sports nut to find a book for, an almost-two year old (and thanks to everyone for the great suggestions for him) and a twelve year old girl. Plus the older sibs, and the 'rents, but I think they'll probably be pretty easy.

Since I've only been in the U.S. since Friday afternoon and I've a.) been to the symphony b.) been to a choir show, c.) been to a Christmas brunch, d.) been shopping and e.) helped my Mom crash a wedding, I think I need a nap. Now.

According to NPR, James Thurbers' Thirteen Clocks is back in print. I've never had the pleasure of reading, but it's apparently pure, classic Thurber, in a The Princess Bride meets Fractured Fairy Tales type of way. Sounds like fun. Meanwhile, a special Christmas treat comes from Gregory MacGuire, of Wicked fame; on Christmas Day, he'll be reading an original Christmas story on All Things Considered. That's worth sitting quietly for!

Yep - this picture is of the SF City Hall. Nope, I don't live in SF, but this building has my birth certificate on file.

December 18, 2008

Toon Thursday: Revision Revisited

'K, I'm done harping on revision now. Maybe. For the time being.

NE ways (jeez, it felt wrong just typing that), I wanted to give props to Mother Reader today for her even-handed take on the latest installment of the annually recurring Newbery debate, and her excellent hat tip to the Cybils. The article prompting all the hoo-hah originally appeared in the School Library Journal, but some fresh hoo-hah has been stirred up (do you stir up hoo-hah? perhaps fling it?) by the Washington Post, and it's even made it all the way into the UK's Guardian Books Blog (thanks to Nicola for the link).

But what I found most interesting about the Guardian article was a little aside at the very end about one of the books shortlisted for WH Smith Children's Book of the Year. All I can say is, yikes. Then again, perhaps this is where I'm going wrong. Perhaps the path to publication lies in the inclusion of ponies, and my as-yet-unpublished status is entirely due to my failure to include enough ponies in my books.

...Or not.

December 17, 2008

A Few More Odds and Ends

Q:What do introverts get for Christmas?

Check out the Shrinking Violets "Twelve Days of Christmas, Introvert-Style." Twelve days of fun giveaways, and reminders that it's okay to take time outs, breathers, disappear and do what you need to, to save your sanity!

There's all kinds of fun distracting stuff online today - but the most distracting thing for me is trying to finish a WIP while another story idea is edging around in my brain, waving its hand and asking to be written. WHY is it that every time the WIP gets tough, there's another idea trying to flirt with me, waving its arms, winking, and leering at me from around the corner??? WHY!??!

My muse is occasionally a faithless pain in the behind.


Via Buzz, Balls & Hype, NBC Nightly News reports that library usage is up 46%! Who knew -- in tough times, there's still a place you can get books for free! The report is a little cloying; a librarian says that sometimes things are a little wild with so many patrons. Says the voiceover: "'Wild' is not a word you normally associate with the library." Um, obviously this person hasn't been to a library lately. Try going over when school's out, and there's a bunch of kids needing homework help, or trying to find something halfway interesting for a book report. And the shallowness just keeps on coming. "There's Wi-Fi, and movies!" Really? Duh. NBC News: you should get out more.

Congratulations to Lorie Ann Grover on her new board books! SO very cute! I knew Lorie Ann was a YA writer... how did I totally miss the artist thing?!

I had the most fun this weekend going through all of our blog posts for the last year! We chose one of our best (after much waffling) for the Blog Carnival at Jen's place. Please go over and check out our favorite, as well as the favorites of a whole bunch of others, and definitely wish Jen a happy blogversary! We had so much fun interviewing Sherri L. Smith that we're doing it again in February -- more talk about race and writing YA literature. Definitely stay tuned for that, we had a great, engaging conversation last time.

Speaking of engaging conversations, there are some really great suggestions on revision going on -- I'm taking notes, too!

Much to my shock, the word is that Ursula LeGuin is going to allow someone to film another one of her books!! After the SciFi Channel basically firebombed Earthsea and then spat on its remains, I'd be a bit wary, but ...she's apparently going to try again. And good luck to her. (Hat tip, Galleycat.)

I'd never heard of the Unesco Artists for Peace project, but UK author Lauren Child has traveled the world on their behalf in the last eighteen months, meeting kids everywhere, and basically doing school visits with them -- in homeless shelters and orphanages. It's a pretty neat project, really, to travel the world and tell stories.

Two more days 'til I get on a plane and go back to Sunny California -- hah, hah! It's now colder in my home state than it is in Glasgow!! What's wrong with this picture!?!?

Back to work.

December 15, 2008

Revision Blues

I have a nifty story
I wrote it yesterday
The problem now, I can't see how
To rework it today--
Oh, I've got the revision blues (it happens every time)
Oh yes, the revision blues (it really is a crime)
I've got the revision blues
And I think I need some downtime.

Yes, I admit to owning (and abusing) a rhyming dictionary. I promise, no further verses of doggerel for at least another week.

They--the all-knowing they who proclaim great truths from on high--they say that if you manage to actually finish that first draft of a novel, then you've taken a significant, and, indeed, entirely necessary and critical step towards publication.

They, in this case, are correct. However, what "they" have failed to take into account is that I don't seem to have a problem with the first draft part. I have no fewer than four separate manuscripts of YA novels in various stages of draft-dom. Where I have my issues is in revision.

Namely, when I sit down to revise, I often feel like I have no idea what I'm doing--that fancy three-letter graduate degree just sits there on my filing cabinet like an inanimate and unhelpful sheet of meaningless paper. Sometimes I revise--and revise, and revise again--only to feel completely uncertain if I've even made my work any better. In fact, sometimes I'm terrified that I've actually made it worse, and that I won't be able to tell the difference. How do other writers cope with this? How can you tell when you should keep plugging away at a story, or if it's time to put it aside, either temporarily or permanently?

I'm sure there's no way to just magically know. (Though if there is, and you're all keeping it from me...why I oughta....) But if you have any revision hints, or great links you've run across, strategies that work for you, I'd love to hear them!

Thoughts on *&#$%! language

Over the weekend, the Poetry Princesses launched back into the fray with work on the sestina project we started six months ago (oy!) and were talking about a certain excellent poem, which is rich in imagery and feeds the senses. We discussed the uses of language in poetry -- specifically, some language which could be described as evocative and "salty," which might raise brows and produce blushes. It was a good conversation, as we spoke of our strengths and limitations in terms of language. I didn't add much, but it was good to be a part of the circle.

I'm always in awe of the Princesses, because they're so very real -- in ways that I am not, and fear that I can never be. It seems that I am not yet grown up enough to get past the way I was raised, the voices in my head are still ones belonging to my parents and other adults -- and I don't yet see myself as tall enough to escape from their shadows. My writing struggles -- like a worm on a hook -- to escape. I feel sometimes that I'm standing in the stirrups, cranking back the reins on a runaway horse, which is pawing the air and doing its level best to throw me off and pulverize me. I hold back, I hold on, I censor and edit myself, and I fear that not only can I not do that, but that I can never be a great writer because of it.

A conundrum, in a way. But a necessity in another way.

Our talk about language got me thinking again about the conversation I had with my S.A.M. about a year ago, in which he exclaimed in frustration, "#$%&%! Let the character's swear!" It was actually a pretty hilarious moment, as far as that goes, but I could not take his otherwise good advice. It wasn't how I was raised (oh, that again), and it also seems in many ways as big a linguistic shortcut as dropping brand names in a manuscript.

(Now, I'm blogging about this because I'm thinking it through -- please don't jump down my throat and criticize what I'm saying. I really don't care if or by what you swear or not. I'm just thinking "out loud," here.)

I remember reading a very popular book a couple of years ago that got a lot of Cybils kudos, but we discussed it in terms of, "Wow, great story -- wow, that's a lot of language." We went round and round about whether or not it was realistic to the setting (it was), or the ages of the characters (it was), but even having drawn those conclusions, a few in the group had some serious qualms.

Some print reviewers drew some of the same conclusions, and actually alluded to the idea that language and setting together were just iconic earmarks, a kind of hipster in-speak that meant less than nothing. The book received very mixed praise -- which probably didn't mean that teens didn't read it -- and we went on to the next book...

-- but that incident stuck with me, and I've mulled it over for quite awhile.

Do some words seem to carry with them a kind of cachet, a kind of ...intangible attitude? Does a character using profanity automatically allow us to assume other things about them -- class? Religion or lack, race or ethnicity? I am not sure -- and as long as I'm not sure, I want to use other words to allow readers to come to their conclusions about the characters I write in different ways. I don't want assumptions or to use characterization shortcuts -- unless that's deliberately what I'm after. So many people have written that unless you're disturbing the universe with your work, you're not truly writing... that you're not being real.

This is how it's been explained to me: Using profanity in one's writing is like... not ending a sentence with a preposition (English Major Nerdom Alert). You really avoid going there, if you can, but there are some times -- especially in dialogue -- when this makes the speaker sound overly stiff and clunky -- that you simply have to recalibrate the sentence, or you'll end up using it. What you're talking about must be more important than how you talk about it. Surely if how you talk about it gets in the way, there must be a problem...

Are there times when you absolutely positively have to use vulgarity or profanity? Probably not. BUT...

As I write, the universe remains undisturbed. I cannot yet figure out how to disturb it, and keep true to where I'm at...

December 12, 2008

Once in a Blue Moon: Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

This book is a 2008 Cybils nominee for Middle Grade Novels.

When your name is Alpha because the Alpha is the brightest star in any constellation, it's a pretty sure bet that your parents are astronomy enthusiasts. That's true of thirteen-year-old Ally, who lives with her parents and younger brother at the Moon Shadow Campground. For most of Ally's life, they've been planning for the big event that's taking place that summer—a full solar eclipse, and the campground is directly in its path. In a matter of a few weeks, the campground they own will be inundated with eclipse chasers.

Two of those eclipse chasers are parents to Bree, who treasures her good looks and popularity and dreams of becoming a model. Bree's a quintessential city girl, so when her parents announce that they'll be spending part of the summer in a remote campsite with only other astronomy nerds for company, she's less than enthused. Try devastated.

Meanwhile, another city kid named Jack finds himself in an awkward situation school-wise. Nobody really wants to make up work in summer school, so when he's offered the chance to accompany his science teacher on an eclipse tour, helping him out with some data collection, he takes it. He just hopes it won't be too boring.

Of course, all three of these narrators—who take turns telling the story, who each have their own individual story to tell—inevitably meet at the Moon Shadow Campground. Their age, though, is just about all they seem to have in common. But, under the dark of the eclipsed sun and the wonder of their shared experience, they just might be able to learn from their differences. This is a sweet, warm novel that handles issues of friendship, family, and self-discovery with a light touch. With its combination of gorgeous, vivid description and fascinating scientific facts, it's also sure to make anybody intrigued at the thought of seeing a full solar eclipse someday--I sure am.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

The Power of Positive

It's been hard to read Galleycat for the last two weeks -- so many publishing houses are hitting hard times -- but Firebrand Literary Agency still believes in writers. According to agent Michael Stearn's Cynsations interview on Tuesday, Firebrand is accepting first chapters in lieu of query letters from December 15th thru January 15. The details are also on the website, and honestly, it's too good of a deal to pass up, writers. Hat tip toFuse#8).

Also via Fuse earlier in the week, I discovered AuthorsNow!, which is "a collaboration of debut children’s book authors and illustrators who are the fresh and emerging voices in children’s and young adult literature today. Created with the parent, teacher, librarian and bookseller in mind, AuthorsNow! is a one-stop-shop to learn about all of our authors and illustrators." They already link to Readers' Rants, so we'll definitely keep checking back with them. How awesome to find someone willing to celebrate authors and their new books!

Mitali is a friend I've not yet met -- and she has such a good heart. Instead of spending time bemoaning the publishing industry this year, she's turned to a positive mental space -- and turned others with her. "About a week ago, I started thinking: why not show them some author/illustrator love by planning a massive multi-author signing event? Great idea, right?" Just starting with a little Twitter about how she appreciated independent booksellers, Mitali's now opened a floodgate of affection and respect for our industry and who we are and what we do -- and turned it back to sellers and patrons and kids, which is what this is all about. -- is an extraordinary valentine to New England. Which is so very sweet.

Thanks for restoring a little of our faith in the world, Mitali.

I read with amusement the Guardian's live-blogging of Beetle the Bard, which just this week outsold Twilight. Whee! It's tiny and it's not at all HP Book 8, as so many have wished, but it's out there, and the proceeds go to charity, so that's a good thing. However, I'm still more amused that it's bumped Twilight into the, dark. And have you seen the Twilight dolls? (Or, wait -- is the Edward thing an action figure??)

Oh, all right. If you're still jonesing for a vampire story, you can download one by L.J. Smith for free until December 21. Thank-you, L.J. Smith! (Via our buddy at Cynsations.)

Earlier this week, SF Signal talked with R.A. & Geno Salvatore, the father-and-son team who are currently finishing their blog tour. I bookmarked the interview to reread later, then discovered to my happy surprise that both Becky and Charlotte got to take part in the tour.

I've read quite a bit of R.A. Salvatore, so I'm excited to read this YA/MG book, which is also a Cybils nominee! Definitely go back and visit all of their blog tour stops -- some really good comments on SFF and the idea of YA as a marketing target, trying to feed the post-Harry reading gap, writing for kids without dumbing anything down, and the introduction of a strong girl character who will reappear. Boo-yah! Can't wait to get home and read this one.

I'd never heard of Vera Nazarian until I read about her on John Scalzi's blog. People in the children's lit blogosphere are close and supportive, but I love the cohesiveness of the SFF community -- how amazing is it that one writer was able to raise over $3K just with people donating after reading a story of his? Or that the combined efforts of a bunch of writers could raise over $20K, and help save this woman's home and family? I'm not a big fan of holiday sentiment -- The Gift of the Magi actually ticks me off -- but stuff like this makes me think, "Yeah. We aren't all sucky." Which is Very Good Indeed.

I love my little icon about being self-centered. Bad times sometimes bring out the whining narcissist in all of us -- but I just love all of these examples of goodwill and balance and reasonableness and positiveness. They help me move forward. I may have to revisit this...

Poetry Friday: Finding My Center

I had so much fun reading Sara's post a few days ago -- because I'm in the process of renewing my visa to stay in the UK another two years and I'm reading the absolutely insane questions that require me to "tick yes or no."

In times of either peace or war have you, ever been involved in, or suspected of involvment in, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide?
Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?

Tick yes or no.

No. No. No. No. No.
And a thousand times more.

And yet, the last question is sticky. Have you engaged in any activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?

Who are you, then?

Meg Kearny's whimsical, elegant Creed attempts to establish part of an answer to that -- and even as thorough as this poem is, we still see only an outline of the poet.

Isn't that the way it always is.

by Meg Kearney

I believe the chicken before the egg
though I believe in the egg. I believe
eating is a form of touch carried
to the bitter end; I believe chocolate
is good for you; I believe I'm a lefty
in a right-handed world, which does not
make me gauche, or abnormal, or sinister.
I believe "normal" is just a cycle on
the washing machine; I believe the touch
of hands has the power to heal, though
nothing will ever fill this immeasurable
hole in the center of my chest. I believe
in kissing; I believe in mail; I believe
in salt over the shoulder, a watched
pot never boils, and if I sit by my
mailbox waiting for the letter I want
it will never arrive—not because of
superstition, but because that's not
how life works. I believe in work:
phone calls, typing, multiplying,
black coffee, write write write, dig
dig dig, sweep sweep.

from An Unkindness of Ravens. © BOA Editions, Rochester, New York, 2001.
---read the rest of this poem right here.

From the Earth, only one side of the moon is visible -- ever. No matter how any of us may appear, we are only the sum total of the moment we are in -- a moving picture of who we have the potential to become. We believe that we see all we are, and judge each other -- and ourselves -- so harshly, despite the fact that few of us are ever fully whomever we could be.

Life is more than yes/no, 0/1, either/or. This I believe.

Find your own creed this Poetry Friday at Wild Rose Reader, who has invited us for brunch. I think I'm late, but there will surely be leftovers.

Students of History, Unite and Write!

Toon Thursday, pie makers, is all about you. And you know your love for nutmeg. Every once in awhile, though, you can take a breather from your deathless prose, and write something a little more immediate -- or encourage the writers in your family to do so. If you're a high school or college student -- undergraduate or graduate -- attending an American high school, college or university, you're in luck.

NLS Publishing is excited to announce the 2008 Students for Change Essay Writing Contest. The contest is open to high school seniors, undergraduate and graduate students who will attend a regionally accredited college or university in the United States in the Fall of 2009.

Students wishing to enter the contest are required to submit a 1000 to 2000 word essay describing "what the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American President, means to you and your family." Students are encouraged to discuss this historic event with their parents and grandparents, and to incorporate these discussions into their essays. Students may submit up to three (3) photos with their essay.

The top three (3) essay contest winners will receive a $1,000 scholarship towards tuition at a regionally accredited college or university for Fall 2009. Essays will be reviewed by a group of judges selected by NLS Publishing. Selection criteria will include:
• Organization
• Content
• Quality of Writing
• Originality
All entries MUST be accompanied by an Official Entry Form (which will come up as a .pdf), including the signature of the student (and parent, if the student is under the age of 18). Only one essay may be submitted per student. Essays must be postmarked / received no later than January 20, 2009, before 12:00 midnight.

Essays must be typed, double-spaced, and in MS Word format. Essays can be submitted via email, file upload OR U.S. Mail. Here you can find:
the Requirements for essay contest entries via Email ,
Requirements for essay contest entries via File Upload , and
Requirements for essay contest entries via U.S. Mail

If you're going to take part, r.s.v.p. so that you can receive updates and additional scholarship information from the company. This sounds like a great little project for Christmas break!

*Essay contest winners will receive notification by April 30, 2009

December 11, 2008

Toon Thursday: In Praise of the First Draft

Way back in, oh, November, I was trying National Novel Writing Month. It wasn't my most successful attempt at NaNoWriMo--I had to admit this year that I wasn't going to make it to the end. And then I felt a bit guilty, because I'd been getting all of these wonderful and inspiring pep talks in my e-mail box from various authors. There was a lot of great advice in there, and looking back over it has made me feel...not quite so bad about my poor abandoned (temporarily, at least) first draft. I thought I'd share some of that advice here, as a sort of Toon Thursday supplement. Enjoy!

Alchemists tried for centuries to turn base metals into gold. Every time we sit down and put words on paper, we succeed where they failed. We're conjuring something out of nothing. - Jonathan Stroud

The question authors get asked more than any other is "Where do you get your ideas from?" And we all find a way of answering which we hope isn't arrogant or discouraging. What I usually say is "I don't know where they come from, but I know where they come to: they come to my desk, and if I'm not there, they go away again." That's just another way of emphasising the importance of regular work. - Philip Pullman

If you're stuck for story-launching ideas, consider borrowing from the menu of time-tested plot devices: deaths, firings, loves-at-first-sight, siege ladders quietly appearing against ramparts, disappearances, robberies, accidental wealth, plagues, road trips, illnesses, kidnappings, a shortage of gummi bears when there had appeared to be many gummi bears, mysterious letters, shocking discoveries, betrayal, and wiener dogs. - Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder

[P]age 70 is where the misery strikes. All the initial excitement has drained away; you've begun to see all the hideous problems you've set yourself; you are horribly aware of the minute size of your own talent compared to the colossal proportions of the task you've undertaken. - Philip Pullman

I aim always to get to the end of the first draft even though all the time I’m telling myself that I’m writing nothing but garbage that no one on earth would ever want to read, especially me. But I tell myself that this poor little attempt, this garbage, deserves a chance. - Katherine Paterson

Michelangelo's Pieta was once a shapeless block, most of which ended up as dust on his studio floor. As you write, give yourself permission to create that formless block---the necessary first draft from which a wonderful book can spring. - Nancy Etchemendy

All of the above presumably belongs to either the original authors or to NaNoWriMo, and I hope I'm not violating anything by sharing a few choice tidbits with you. There's also a FABULOUS pep talk from Meg Cabot, but it was so good I couldn't pick just one bit. If you want to read it, let me know and I'll forward it to you.

December 10, 2008

Random Notes and Ramblings

The Literacy Evangelist strikes again! Jen is collaborating with some awesome people to create the PBS Parents Children's Book Blog! Wow. PBS is getting a really great resource in Jen and all of our awesome kidlitosphere folks, including MotherReader and Susan from Wizards Wireless who is hoping someone can help name the blog. Head over if you have some ideas.

Nice people occasionally get super awesome book covers. (The reverse is also true, but then it has nothing to do with karma, and everything to do with the little black dots on the sun.) Check out Laurie Halse Anderson's cover for Wintergirls.

Are You There, God? It's Judy! Check out the classic cover for that book! I really like the reissue cover for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Just the titles bring back memories. Good times!

"TRYING is such a huge step. You can't get anywhere until you try. Hearing the truth is FRIGHTENING. I once received very similar advice…basically: write was is true. Write what scares you. Find out WHO YOU ARE in your wip, and dig deep. At the gut level, there must be fear and love."

Kellye Carter Crocker is at the Tollbooth today, where they're talking about what keeps a writer in her chair. I've really enjoyed the Writing Secrets series lately -- some of the truths and secrets really resonate. And speaking of resonating, Liz in Ink is figuring out for me how the world works, and then encapsulating it in blog form. Thanks, Liz!

I first got a heads-up for this very cool necklace Etsy site from from Sara's Gifts For Readers and Writers, and now via Betsy's Etsy ravings, I'm back at the amazing Lioness' Den Etsy page. The necklace that reads, "Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is," kind of gives me chills. The one that reads ANTAGONIST, though, that one I could see wearing that on days when people need to KNOW the mood I'm in! Everyone has been pairing books with other gifts -- for the older reader or writer, I could see giving these necklaces away with the books from which they quote. Or, find a book to give from Chicken Spaghetti's Best of 2008 book list.

I'm struggling to write today -- a guy named Paul is drilling a hole through the three foot thick sandstone wall outside the living room... it's a bit loud. And cold, since he's opened the window and outside it's 37°. However! Soon I will have hot running water, so all will be well!

December 09, 2008

More Writers in Support of BACA

In his guest op-ed for the NY Times, "Typing Without a Clue," Timothy Egan weighs in on the whole celebrity author debacle--this time with respect to political celebrities such as the massively over-publicized Joe the Plumber, who is--wait for it--out with a book this month. WHEE. See me jump up and down. Sez Egan, very aptly:

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

It's a great article, and not only because he works in a Chris Farley SNL quote ("La-di-frickin’-da!" Farley says. "We got ourselves a writer here!"). It also ends by pointing out that our upcoming president has written quite a good book, which is perhaps a hopeful note.

Although I failed utterly at MotherReader's Comment Challenge, my attention was drawn to the fabulous resource for kidlit blogs located on Anastasia Suen's page, and perhaps I'll make a New Year's resolution to try to explore more kidlit blogs, and, yes, comment on them. I can always dream, anyway.

PSSST!! A certain blogger's book entitled A La Carte is being recommended this month by the Postergirlz--woo hoo!!! Also makes a great gift!

December 06, 2008

The Basics

A Letter In Response To My Young Friend Who Wrote And Asked Me What "The Basics" Were To Writing A Book:

Dear M:

The basics of writing a book are to remember that every story has a beginning, middle and an end. You'd think that would be the easy part, but most people can only start, and never finish.

Think about what you want to write. You might make an outline or even just a list of the things you want to cover so that you remember them all and can touch on them in the way that you want to as you write.

The next thing you have to do is decide to whom you're telling the story.

Find your audience. Think of one person in the world – a real person – to whom you're telling the story. And then sit down and type it up. Double space, just like for a school paper. You should use spell check and grammar check so that your grammar is as intelligent as possible.

Every day when you start to write, read what you wrote the day before out loud to yourself. Make the corrections you need to so that it sounds good.

The other basic thing you need to do – while writing – is to read. Read the type of books that you want to write. This will give you some idea of style and the right vocabulary to use. It will also get you familiar with the names of publishers, if that's the plan for down the road. You can make a list of the publishers, and then research them online to see what their requirements are, and how to approach them. (Every publishing company has Author Guidelines online; it's just a matter of searching the site 'til you find them.)

Basically, that's it – you write until you reach the end. It's ideal to have a group of writers around your own age to read it for you, and discuss it with you – or a writing teacher/English teacher from school can help.

Publishing a book is a different matter, but writing a book – once you decide you're going to do it – can be pretty uncomplicated. Not easy – but it's a pretty straightforward job. The most important thing is that writers… write. Every day. So, it's a matter of discipline, of sitting down and just doing it.

Hope that helps,

(I'm pretty sure that did not help. I think what the author of the letter wanted was for me to tell them, step-by-step, the fail-safe, what-I-have-to-do to get published. I think she figures since I did it, it must be easy. I could have told her that, yes. But see, that's not what she asked, was it?

See, this is what happens when you ask a teacher a question and you're not specific...

December 05, 2008

Wha? Oh, Poetry Friday? Um...

My novel, dear people, is kicking my behind, so I'm going to have to send you over to Miss Rumphius' Poetry Stretch to see the climbing poem I wrote the other day. Meanwhile, you'll find the Poetry Friday Round-up between the pages of Mommy's Favorite Children's Books.

P.S. -- It's David E's birthday. Go wish him a happy.

December 04, 2008

Toon Thursday: An Oldie but Goodie

I honestly can't believe how busy I've been the past week and a half--I feel like literally every second of every day is taken up with work. I've been out in the studio the past four or five days, printing around 4-6 hours a day, working on holiday card orders which I promised (a bit foolishly) that I'd send tomorrow. The cards look good, though they still need to be folded and such.

Anyway, I just wanted to say, "hey, I'm still here!" and note that I had the best of intentions today--I even had an idea that I thought was funny and original--and then I looked back over previous toons and noticed that this one was unfortunately similar to my "new" idea. D'oh!

Stars Are Shining!

It's time again to celebrate another fabulous success! Congratulations Justina Chen Headley on your starred review at PW for North of Beautiful! Justina -- and now Jackie -- have introduced me to the notion of geocaching, and since it's in the novel, I think it's going to be a VERY cool.

Justina's just back from a sadly truncated year in China, and this is a great welcome home! Yay!

A second but equally BIG YAY goes to our friend C.K., she of the just-being-interviewed-at-Cynsations fame, and the Best Books of 2008 kudos from Kirkus. Woot! Woot! Don't miss the book trailer for I Know It's Over at the end of the interview.

Miss Piggy's beauty routines and a Home Depot barn are possibly secrets to a stunningly gorgeous person. That, and hot chocolate and Arnold Lobel books. The irrepressible illustrator Cece Bell is stopping by at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast during her blog tour of Bee-Wigged, which sounds flat out hilarious.

Happy Thursday!

December 03, 2008

And, for a further answer to "why we read"...'ll want to read this piece in the Telegraph, which talks about how story is central to who we are. Narrative is never going away, huzzah, and it seems that someone else was as baffled by the whole MIT plan to "keep meaning alive" with their "Center for Future Storytelling."

EDITED TO ADD: Oh, dear. A writer for SLJ is discussing why boys don't read. And once again, I'm sad to report assumption and stereotype are lining up. Via Miss R again.

Also -- check out the cover of Cynthia's newest vampire novel, Eternal. Oh, my.

Bridging the Bookish and Mr. KJV

Three things to say yay about:
           1.) No one has fallen down the stairs thus far today (my little signs of "ICE!" are still on the doors of the building -- seriously necessary, since the stuff DIDN'T MELT YESTERDAY, and the wee ice trucks don't come up on the sidewalk and a blizzard is forecast for Thursday),
           2.) Actual writing was accomplished and the ship of the novel is being turned toward the shore at long last (and YES, I know you're sick of hearing about it. Sorry.),
           3.) And Sarah Beth Durst has two more books coming out!!!!
From her blog:
I am delighted and thrilled and so unbelievably happy to tell you that I have just signed a contract for two new YA fantasy books with Simon & Schuster!!! Yippee!!! My new beauties are called (at least until the titles get changed, as they always do) ICE (coming Fall 2009) and IVY (coming Fall 2010).

We love her first two books around these parts, so new books is REALLY something to look forward to with glee and much Snoopy dancing!

The EPICALLY cool Judy Blume is someone most of us admire greatly, and much to our excitement, she's blog touring. She started out Big A little a's December with a great interview Monday, and talks a bit about her writing process with Little Willow here. Stay tuned for her chat with Book Evangelist Jen and the 7-Imps later this week.

Judy's not the only one blog touring -- the adorable author-illustrator Maxwell Eaton III was seen this week scarfing Cheerios and marshmallows with the ladies at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast (and may I just say The Nefarious Bunnies is such a good name for a band) and today has guest blogged at The Well-Read Child with the cutest little cartoon about how to engage reluctant readers.

Everyone has been talking so wisely about book giving this year that it nudged something in my memory this morning... about my father.

Now, my blogosphere buds know from my father already: he of the no-fiction, only KJV, laying-down-the-law sort, he of the no-fairytales-there-is-nothing-good-about-daydreaming-pick-up-a-dishtowel-stop-wasting-time kind of mentality. He has never mellowed, but learned, and tends to come down with his hobnailed boots on other things, with my younger sibs. At least, they seem less fraught than I was, but then, they're different types of people than I am. And this is good.

But I remember when my sister turned nine or ten, and I'd just sold my first book to a major publisher*, and her birthday came up, and my father was looking on as she opened the gift I brought her. It was... Barbie clothes, which galled me (because I hate Barbie), but delighted her, since she was deeply into them at that point (although I am gratified to report that she abruptly threw her dolls away about two months ago -- no prompting -- she said it was "time") -- and it confused my father. "I thought," he said mildly, off-handedly, "that you'd get her something more bookish."

::doink:: Somewhere a cartoon anvil fell on my head.

I found that comment unbelievable. Completely surreal. Books were a field I had to die on, constantly as a kid. I felt I had to hide them, tuck them under couch cushions and go back to folding clothes -- standing up, thank you, it's lackadaisical and slovenly to fold laundry sitting down -- (And yes. He used the word "slovenly." Yes, thank-you, I did totally blow the language section of the SAT out of the water.) I constantly had to defend my right to privacy, to daydreaming, to unconstructed hours of time (which is why writing sometimes makes me feel deeply guilty. Shouldn't I be Doing Something? Like taking a twenty mile hike, which is what he does for entertainment?) in which I could read and dream and launch forth into other worlds.

So, who was this guy asking for books for his kid?
Could he be made to want books for himself?
And, if he wanted them, what books would you get for Mr. KJV, a man who read aloud to me all my life, but read instructive things rather than entertaining things?

I want to take a moment to give a shout-out to Tricia and Susan and everyone else who participates in Nonfiction Mondays for helping me love nonfiction. I give great kudos to MotherReader, whose MotherReader Suggests list on the right hand edge of her blog I read and reread long months before I ever "spoke" to her; and to Colleen's years worth (no, really, I read her archives once) of books organized by interest and topic and gift-worthiness. Thank you to every single one of you who reads and reviews (or... suggests, if the word "review" is still too scary sounding). I have the tools in my hands to give some really excellent gifts this year.

Still, it's kind of terrifying.

Giving the gift of a book not only tells the recipient something about a topic, it tells them something about what the giver thinks -- of them. It says to them that someone thought about them and their interests, or thought them smart enough or good humored enough or enough the same to share their favorite stories. It's a tremendous compliment, in a way, to get a book -- be it a graphic novel or a romance, or a comedy or a tale of polar expeditions. It's a passport that says, "Oh, I know you'll like this place -- tell me all about it when you get back."

I still don't know what books to get for Mr. KJV, but I started slowly -- for Father's Day, he got Kadir Nelson's baseball book, which is gorgeous and lovely, and was possibly thought of as a strange gift... but if nothing else, he can look at it with my nephew, and think he's just reading to a child. That's surely safe. He asked me, once, if I knew anything about E.R. Braithwaite, the "To Sir, With Love" guy. I should have thought, "biographies!" but I told him the titles of the other books Braithwaite wrote. Duh. I think I've been being given some hints, through the years, but I've just never seen them, or taken him up on them.

And now I have an excuse to lay down a shaky piece of lumber to begin building a bridge.

Suggestions -- specially from those of you who know from KJV -- and you heathens, too ;) -- welcome.

*Ah, yes, geeky old me, making it sound like dog-years ago. But it was. Remember it takes almost three years to put one of those puppies out; it was purchased way back in 2006. Possibly the end of 2005. I could look it up, but who cares?

December 02, 2008

Dispatches from the Cold North

I'm feeling pretty good today, despite watching people fall down just outside my building, and having to put up "watch for ice" signs on the front doors so there would be no more accidents. (New Northern shopping list: *must* invest in rock salt). I finally made a little headway on my manuscript, and am cheering on Sara from afar as she comes in on the home stretch on her line edits. Go, Sara!

Okay -- apparently C.S. Lewis was writing a cosmological treatise with the whole Chronicles of Narnia thing. Each of his seven books is alleged to be related to a ...planet. So, if you're keeping score, the allegorical thing is out, and three-dimensional chess is in.

Just when I was asking about books for babies, Lorie Ann comes out with readertotz! Especially if you're an ECE teacher, check it out.

Ever heard of Book View Cafe? It's a cooperative, nonprofit website supported by over twenty authors who have books published in print, who are also wisely giving themselves another arena of expression. YA fiction and more is served up a chapter a week, and if you're the type of person who likes to read online, you can read a chapter a day in your Google Reader. And now no one has an excuse to say they don't have time to read.

Meanwhile, Whidbey announces their monthly fiction contest -- very, very short fiction this time because after this November we've just had, who's got the attention span to write a longer story? "Enter December’s Whidbey Student Choice Contest for a chance to find $50 under your tree and a publication on your resume. Remember to keep the word count under 1000."

December 01, 2008

Reading and You

A Happy and frosty cold first of December to you, people! November in Glasgow ended on a self-congratulatory note, as the temperature dropped to its coldest in November since 1985. Yes, round of applause, please. Being from a warm westerly place, I'd never before seen an ice mist. I have seen one now. It is not nice, though the air does rather sparkle!

Ah, another well-meaning person is talking about young adult literature! Hie thee onward to Miss Rumphius' blog, and log in on the great debate: why do you read?

This conversation was sparked by the very well-meaning Caitlin Flanagan and her piece in The Atlantic titled, What Girls Want. As soon as I a.) read the title, and b.) realized that most of the article was a long run-up to a highly positive critique of the Twilight series, I realized we have some deeply fundamental differences on men and women -- but I read it anyway.

The gist of her article is that young women are the best readers out there, because they need fiction to escape into -- to ignore the world whilst they work out Those Big Questions. During their "sulks and silences" they're thinking.

Obviously, a.) boys don't think, b.) boys have no inner lives, c.) she's just wrong.

This was a stunning piece -- as in, I'm stunned and, like Miss R., not quite sure how to respond...

Meantime, I'm in search of opinions -- I'm looking for books again -- for babies, which is totally beyond my frame of reference. What's the happening one and a half year old man reading these days?

Airbras and Airheads

It's just that 10th grade already kind of sucks.

Teresa Tolliver's in need of a leg -- or, a pair of boobs -- up. After all, high school is tough and she's got to have some kind of wedge to get in to the circle of AN's -- that's above normals, of course. Normals like Teresa need all the help they can get not to slide into being SN -- the dreaded subNormals.

When Teresa's insane-by-reason-of-wedding older sister has a brief psychotic break and takes her lingerie shopping -- Teresa's greatly excited by her airbra. At last, she looks almost like a Glam -- the airheaded but beautiful class of AN's that she aspires to -- and maybe now she can get close to Achingly Adorable Adam, and the rest of the AN's she's always envied.

Surprisingly, Teresa actually gets what she wants -- popularity. A guy who's after her. And bigger breasts. Not surprisingly, her life after this point is not the stuff of great film. Nothing Teresa gets is quite what she wants. Her win-at-all-costs worldview, which she admits is shallow and self-centered is actually costing a lot more than she thought it would. Is she too shallow to see the world around her as it really is? Will she get a clue before it's too late?

Or are her dreams as insubstantial as what's filling up her bra -- ?

Buy this book from an independent bookstore in February 2009!

The Courage to Change

This book is a 2008 Cybils Nominee for Science Fiction and Fantasy.
An unexpectedly poignant adventure in the lives of the Named, Ratha's Courage introduces new names, new faces, and new ways into the clan of sentient prehistoric cats.

Much of the novel is familliar -- Ratha is still the clan leader, and Thakur still teaches the young ones to herd -- including the females, since Ratha has something to say about it! Fessran still maintains the Red Tongue with the rest of the Firekeepers. The Named now embrace treelings, which are the ring-tailed, yellow-eyed animals which help them make fires and are generally a comfort to have around, and now two of the youngest clan members have tamed... rumblers. Monstrously tall ruminants who look down on even the largest of the Named from what seems like miles above them, the rumblers are a nuisance to the whole clan, even worse than the tuskers, who at least make good eating. The rumblers smash dwellings and uproot trees and are always, always eating and always following their two little friends whom they've taken a shine to. Ratha warns the cubs to keep the giant beasts away from the camp!

As always, each new episode of the Named brings some new challenges. Ratha's daughter, whom she abandoned, fearing she was not sentient, has been integrated with the Named, and with her, her mate, who still is torn between her and the voiceless Un-Named clan that took her in. Once Ratha and The Named feared everything which was different, but the treelings and the tuskers and the voiceless song of Quiet Hunter and his kin have shown them that intelligence remains in various forms. Could it be time to bridge the gap between the two cultures -- and share fire? Ratha thinks maybe it is, and the clan wrangles the question around and around. Cautiously, the Firekeepers create warm spaces for the other clan's old, very young, and their mothers -- but even as it is evident that Quiet Hunter and the rest are benefiting from the heat in the cold nights, there's a misunderstanding -- an accident -- and a tragedy. And out of that tragedy comes a war.

This is an emotionally tough novel, as the complications of conflict are shown from both sides. The implacable reasons behind why a war should have started are quite clear -- the biological imperative of territory and young are plain. Though the reasons are clear, the reader is left to decide if any of the actions are justified -- the war is not fair, it drives the Named to horrible lengths, and almost extinguishes them all.

The desire for revenge drives Ratha nearly mad. Is it that forgiveness can be a kind of courage? And is Ratha courageous enough?

Buy Ratha's Courage from an independent bookstore near you!

November 28, 2008

Building Trust, Building Family: Shifty by Lynn Hazen

This book is a 2008 Cybils Nominee for Young Adult Fiction.

Soli has been in trouble a few more times than the average fifteen-year-old boy, but this time, he's really making an effort to stay on the straight and narrow. His new foster mother, Martha, is a little flighty but really does care, and his younger foster sister, Sissy, truly needs him, as she overcomes past traumas and tries to learn to be a regular girl.

The problem is, no matter how hard Soli tries, trouble seems to find him. And for a foster kid, trouble reflects poorly on the foster parent. Soli really doesn't want Martha to get in trouble, but when infant Chance comes into their lives, all of them come under much closer scrutiny by Social Services. Even though Chance is there on a temporary placement, he brings their little family together in ways they'd never imagined.

Unfortunately, Soli hasn't had the supportive upbringing or the life experience to make all the right decisions--at least not yet. He tries hard to do right, but every little mistake, every accident and not-so-wise decision, snowballs for Soli into a WEB OF LIES (sorry--that turn of phrase just seems to demand all-caps) that threatens the stability of his new family. He's used to relying on himself when everyone else thinks he's shifty, but learning to trust--and be trusted--is a critical life lesson he'll have to figure out.

Soli is an engaging and sympathetic narrator. Author Lynn Hazen quickly and deftly gets the reader on his side and cheering for him--and his well-meaning, loving family--all the way through. Written in a simple, clear style, the narrative voice in Shifty rings true and keeps the story moving at a fast pace.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Poetry Friday: The Music of Gratitude

In our family, we never wanted anything to end, so we made a... "rule." It was your birthday until the cake was all gone. It was summer until you couldn't wear your flip flops (sometimes summer lasted until November). It was Sunday until 1 a.m. Monday morning. It's Thanksgiving until all the leftovers are finished.

So. Happy Thanksgiving, Part II, to many of you.

Today's poster is a post-Thanksgiving PSA, brought to you by the WPA, whose artists were making sure the nation had nice bright teeth without cranberry skins in between them. SO. After you make that nice turkey omelette this morning, do brush. Thank you.

It's still Thanksgiving weekend, time to give thanks for silliness. Entertain yourself by making a snowflake and enjoy today's Poetry Friday selection.

Poem: "In memory of George Lewis, Great Jazzman" by Lou Lipsitz from Seeking the Hook: New & Selected Poems. Copyright © 1997 Signal Books.

In memory of George Lewis, Great Jazzman


Man is the animal that knows

the clarinet

     makes his living
on the docks, a stevedore,
110 lbs., carrying what loads
he can

the Depression comes along,
his teeth rot, no money, and
he has to accept silence


Thirteen years
     they put the instrument
back together
     with rubber bands
bought him

new teeth
     and then he began

Read the whole of this joyful celebration of music and life here. The final stanza is one I have read over and over again:


Alright. There is a frailness
in all our music.
Sometimes we're broken
and it's lost.
Sometimes we forget
for years it's even in us, heads
filled with burdens and smoke.
And sometimes we've held
to it and it's there,

waiting to break out
walking back from the end.
Poetry Friday dances on at Under the Covers.

November 26, 2008

Post #1000: Happy Thanksgiving!

I've been watching the little blogger counter for the past couple of weeks and am amused to see it roll over to this -- our one thousandth post! Yes, those are balloons flying past your head and confetti raining down. There are more things to celebrate: Mr. Aquafortis just got his sabbatical plans approved, to which we exclaim, "A whole year off?!" It will be a working year, but how very lovely! More confetti and more balloons, and copious sips of tea! (Yes, tea. Or, eggnog, if you prefer.)

And now back to business.

Did you know that the NY Times is serializing a new Gene Yang graphic in The Funny Pages? Check it out, it's in .pdf form so you can save it to your desktop and read it when you have time. He's already posted Chapter 2 of Prime Baby.

Mindy @ Propernoun has a really cool contribution to MotherReader's original Book&Gift pairing (21 Ways to Give a Book) idea -- a really cute picture book for the wee ones, and a felt sandwich. And cheese. No, really. It makes more sense at her site.

At The Reading Zone, this brave teacher uses Twilight and Midnight Sun as contrasting examples of point of view in writing. Brave teacher! Beguiled students! People learning! This is undeniably A Good Thing, and you all know how much I HEART Twilight. (Not.) Lesson plan included.

Whatever Blog reveals the ideas behind the book called Where Am I Wearing, by Kelsey Timmerman. Imagine this fascinating book paired with a compass -- or one of those really neat etymologist's atlases that make the whole world seem like Middle Earth.

Liz has a stupendous idea for gifts to shop for after this weekend -- non-new books. (Of course, this leaves my book out, but it's still a great idea.)
"Give something not published in 2008.

Give something that you loved, loved, loved, yet, somehow, was overlooked; something that did not get on any of the awards lists, but, in your humble opinion, should have been on those lists."

I really like that idea. One tiny drawback of only reading a few of the same kidlit blogs is that I see the same books reviewed and loved and gushed about repeatedly. I tend to review more books that I get from the library than new ones, and I hope to continue that trend and encourage people to beef up the backlist and get the word out about books that are super special. Add to the suggestions for more non-2008 books.

Mitali is giving away books -- to those whose Thankfuls can be traced to specific person or events in the past. Where would your family tree have stopped if not for... ? Check it out.

In the mood to choke with horrified and disbelieving laughter and be grateful that YA doesn't need to include too many sex scenes? the Bad Sex Awards are up. Be afraid.

The Baltimore Sun newspaper carried a piece by a woman whose Thanksgiving traditions never included sweet potato or pumpkin, but carrot soufflé. Today's pre-Thanksgiving task is to figure out how to modify it in pie form, since it's about three degrees in my house and it's warmer with the oven on.

And then I will get back to procrastinating on this WIP.

I so enjoyed reading the Thankfuls at the 7-Imps; it was like a middle-of-the-week kicks break. I have to agree, I'm grateful for the tight embrace of the YA/kidslit blogosphere, which gives me somewhere to go and someone to talk to when writing novels alone is too lonely (and baffling) -- and generally something to laugh at. Happy Thousandth Post to us, and Happy Thanksgiving to you.