May 06, 2008

2-4-6-8! Whom Do We Appreciate?

The month of May is made of awesome! Aside from the eventual cessation of rain and the appearance of fields of flowers, the requisite birds and pollen-loaded bees, fuzzy chickies and wobbly-legged lambs, it's filled with fun stuff like Jules' birthday (woot!), the Byron Carmichael Promotion at, well-dressed vampires (Coming soon!), blog tours, and INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES.

Today, I want to give my shout-out to the grrlz at Shrinking Violets who have dedicated themselves and their blog to making some noise for our favorite Indies every day this month.

Why, you ask, are we celebrating only independent bookstores? Because indies, with their smaller stock, usually more attentive staff and neighborhood clientèle are the wind beneath many an author's career wings. Community and culture can be nurtured in the smaller venues, as readers come in, linger, and stay. Independent bookstores can be less intimidating place for authors to read their work, find out about their audience, and connect.

Supporting independents may seem an affectation to some -- a way of striking back politically against the idea of superstores and big-box retail, but it's not an urban myth that often the bookstore staff in smaller stores have a working knowledge of literature and a genuine love of books. To a lot of people who work at indies, their job is not just a job. So, we're celebrating their efforts and their integrity. Sure, B&N and other places exist and have lots and LOTS of books, but this month, we're celebrating the right to buy our books in small shops too, and the bookistas at Shrinking Violets have taken the time to share some really cool alternatives to mall bookstores. Viva las choices! Let's get loud in our support of indies! They're almost as good as the public library!

WOWZA, being a librarian (and/or a parent) is hard, hard, hard. Check out what Mr. Hornbook is talking about at the Massachusetts Library Association. When does a kid have civil rights? I'm really *very* interested in this conversation as I was not allowed to read fiction as a kid -- but my mother went to the library with me. She didn't trust my book choices to another adult, she was the one raising me. But for others, should a librarian guide kids to only type of books of which their parents would approve? Where does their responsibility end and a child's right to read begin? GREAT topic.

Via Shaken & Stirred, Carrie Jones is talking about class and dialogue in writing. This is a huge topic, and Carrie opens it up beautifully.

It's kind of a trip to read about ...other people who grew up poor. Neither of my parents went to college, while A.F.'s mom teaches college. My parents have taken a bunch of JC courses, but for a long time it made me cringe to think how I was the first in my family with a Master's. (And then my sister went and got two. *sigh*) My grandmother only got through third grade, and then the Depression came, and she had to take care of her siblings while both her parents looked for work. Books and reading and education are still held to be precious in many families like ours, but those with education speak differently, which opens up a wide rift between themselves and the rest. Where does language fit in? Can it bridge the gap and close it? Or can it only make it wider? Stay tuned throughout this week as Carrie "breaks it down" at Through the Tollboth.

Man, I just finished reading Elizabeth E. Wein's The Lion Hunter (stay tuned for review), and may I just say that this woman writes like Gosh, Golly and Wow!? I cannot understand how I didn't hear screaming from around the world at the way this book ended, and waiting the year it took for the sequel to emerge must have been NERVE WRACKING. Fortunately, Sharyn November graciously sent me both books at once, but now it's on me to go back and find every single other book she's ever written and read them ALL. And can you believe SHE LIVES AN HOUR FROM ME: ANOTHER AMERICAN WRITER HERE IN SCOTLAND!? I TOTALLY call Elizabeth Wein for Winter Blog Blast Tour. I'm just sayin'.

Mildred Loving, a woman whose name is part of history, died last week. Loving Day, a day held in her honor, comes from Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriage in the United States. Loving Day celebrations commemorate the anniversary of the Loving decision every year on or around June 12th, and celebrates interracial families. People have tried to make this an official holiday for years, and though Ms. Loving never lived to see it, I hope this year's celebration is extra special, in her memory.


Sara said...

Wow, Tanita. My parents were strict about everything--no TV, for instance, and church every Sunday---but the library was different. I don't remember EVER being told I couldn't read something. Not ever.

At what point do libraries decide a child is an adult, no longer subject to a parent's restrictions? 14? 16? 18? That's getting ridiculous. Honestly, I think that if you have modeled your values by example to your kids up to the time they are 10, you can trust them to explore a bit. Trust the foundation you've laid. Maybe not with the car keys, but with books? Sure! Let them read and discuss what you see in them vs. what they see.

tanita✿davis said...

I think you have a much more balanced take on things than many parents, my own included. I think they were frightened of me -- and couldn't trust themselves enough to take that leap. Incidentally, I got the no TV and church every week thing, too -- they flexed more on the TV when we were a little older than the books, which is, now I think of it, weird... and I ask them why, and they don't really have an answer... Huh.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I never realized how lucky we were. My parents allowed us to check out whatever we wanted, period. Neither my brother nor I moved out of the Children's Room until we were in Jr High or so, so there were no big worries about us getting ahead of ourselves. Still, it never occured to me to realize that all families weren't like this.

Re Carrie's posts - I'm not so thrilled about the generalizations. Consider a family that crosses class. My grandfather came from a slightly lower class than my grandfather (she was middle he was lower/working class). But after they married, all three of their children attended private catholic school (typical for their time and place). My grandfather was an oil truck driver for 50+ years - a lot of the men he worked with could not read or write. do you dialog that family? Do the three more educated children talk the same at school and home? On top of that, my grandparents were very proper speakers - but reticient compared to my other grandparents who were of the same class but different ethnicity....the French Canadian do not share feelings well period whereas the Irish share everything. (Class really has nothing to do with this.)

Throw in the fact that parents seem to be of one class and children of another (and grandchildren of yet another - all public school educated and all having gone through college) and you have a three generational conversation that FITS NO RULES.

And that's just my family. How can anyone base a set of rules on all this?

tanita✿davis said...

C - I **DEFINITELY** disagree with the book Carrie quotes that sets out rules. I think I'm probably pretty thoroughly middle class, but I'm not a fan of Dr. Phil, and though I do think I have a good understanding of basic psychology, my whole life is not spent wading in emoland (at least I don't think so). My father - who finished high school and went into the military -- is VERY well spoken and well read -- when he chooses. At times he can sound like where he came from, but that's what's comfortable to him. Meanwhile, my mother was valedictorian of her high school class, but had a baby instead of college -- and could be an elocution teacher -- as middle class as day old bread, and is extremely reticent and not at all over-emo.

So, I agree: the generalizations are definitely not working for me. We're all too different to drag out such insanity as a set of rules, and as we age, we will have our generations 'round the table at different places in their lives as well. I believe that language and dialogue can be tools to explore how we're different yet celebrate commonalities, as well, and I hope to find better ways of doing that.

Anonymous said...

Oof - that should read "My grandfather came from a slightly lower class than my grandmother" but I'm sure your figured that out! :)

I think they might be overthinking this dialog business. Word choice maybe - I can see how a judge might choose different words than a less educated day laborer, but on the other hand I have spent time around upper class southerners who used words that would have never crossed the lips of my northern grandparents, so class meant nothing there.

I just finished Diane Les Becquets' Season of Ice which is about a middle class/blue collar family in Maine who suffers hugely when the father (and sole breadwinner) goes missing (presumed dead - in a marine accident). The language was irrelevent here - I didn't even notice any language other than standard teen middle class. The class issues were presented by events; by the teen having to quit school and work, by the description of her father's pick-up or the discussions of work that men do with their hands. Conversation does not paint the picture in other words - the story does.

She conveyed everything about what it means to be blue collar without talking up or down and as someone who comes from blue collar (albeit the other side of the country) it rang perfectly true to me. I don't think dialog is necessary to present class, in fact I think it could backfire. I'll buy it in a regional book (y'all is pretty much standard speak in the south) but for class distinctions? I don't think so. There are just too many variables.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I finally scrounged a few minutes to go and read Carrie's posts--really thought-provoking. It's great advice to consider class (or at least, not to forget about it) while writing dialogue, but it's SUCH a complex issue. Any set of rules or advice can only ever be a starting point for thinking about how dialogue will function in one's own writing.

Like Colleen, I have a very...complicated family, in terms of class, ethnicity, immigrant status, etc. etc. On one side of my family, I am the first generation to be born in the United States. On the other, I'm at least the third. My mom was the first in her family to go to college; her dad made it to 10th grade and her mom to 8th grade. My grandfather was a navy man and then a postal and factory worker. On my dad's side of the family, I have many relatives who speak very little English--THERE'S a hard one to vividly convey in dialogue without somebody somewhere thinking you're writing a stereotype.

I think I try to write dialogue as if I were hearing it in my head. That's pretty much it. And if I can mentally "hear" my character saying a particular thing in a particular way...then I write it. I guess it's a matter of knowing my character. Then, later, I might refine the voice a bit and take various other factors like class or background into consideration.

On the other hand, sometimes I'll hear someone use a turn of phrase and I'll get obsessed by it, wondering what sort of background that person had to make them utter such a thing, and then sometimes I'll even build a character around an acquaintance (in her 70s) who exclaimed "Mustard and custard!" It keeps rattling around in my head, looking for a character to attach itself to...

Anonymous said...

You must use "mustard and custard". This is a gift from the language gods!


tanita✿davis said...

I agree. "Mustard and custard!" It's kind of like "Shoot a bear!" which is what one of my bosses used to say when I was working at a glass factory in high school. (He was desperately trying not to swear in the presence of our impressionable ears.)

Having an ear for languages is, indeed, one of those 'either you've got it or you'll forever have to work at it' things -- it may seem like discussing it in such detail is thinking to people who do it well, but I think some people could really use the help...!

A.F., you bring up a good point about how to get the non-standard English thing happening. If I wrote how my own father talks sometimes, it would come across as caricature, definitely. I really struggled with that with my last novel -- I decided to err on the side of not misspelling things, at least, and having a VERY light touch with the vernacular -- it was enough to show in other ways the differences... but the non-standard English thing is especially tough.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

thanks for the b'day shout-out, and i love both "mustard and custard" and "emoland"!


Anonymous said...

Hi there, it's E Wein here, sent by sharyn november. I'm delurking because I know you're in scotland and I wanted to invite you to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Scotland regional workshop that's going on in Perth on 24 May--or at least to beg you to pass on the info to anyone who may be interested! It's meant to be an intro to the SCBWI. I'm the star attraction--for my sins--if people get bored with the technical stuff we can always talk about books.

The info sheet and booking form are up on my blog at:

Please do spread the word, and welcome!

best regards,


ps. thank you for all the INCREDIBLY nice things you have said about my books in the past couple of days.

tanita✿davis said...

Elizabeth, thank you for the invite, and I *REALLY* had fun reading your books! I'm thrilled you delurked!

Anonymous said...

OK, sadly, I have to withdraw the invite, because we've decided to postpone the 24 May workshop (sigh). A combination of the short notice given, the holiday weekend and the Edinburgh marathon are working against us.

Please pass on my apologies to anyone you may have told about it. As soon as we re-schedule the event, I'll drop by with another comment!

And again, I'm so glad you liked the books.

cheers, e wein

ewein2412 [AT] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

tanita✿davis said...

Oh no! Well, I have contacted a few friends in Dundee and Moffat -- but I know they'll be glad to come when there's more notice. I'm moving next weekend so I *wasn't* going to be able to make it, so I'm sneakily glad you're rescheduling! Thank you for letting us know!