June 30, 2009

Revision That Bleeds.

No, seriously.


June 29, 2009

Books. Gates. Other Worlds.

Hard to believe that the Color Online Summer Book Drive has been going on since May 30th, I've seen it on the readergirlz sidebar, and I still haven't yet posted about it.

It's been a busy couple of months, but honestly - no excuse. Especially with the success of the Guys' Lit Wire book drive, I've wanted to give those of you who didn't get a chance to be involved a heads up. The Color Online Summer Book Drive benefits Alternatives For Girls (AFG), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization located in southwest Detroit, Michigan, serving homeless and high-risk girls and young women. Since 1987, this center has been doing good work, and Susan works with the Rise -N- Shine program for elementary and middle school girls. They need books. Lots of books.

Feel like you don't have the "right" kinds of books to offer inner city girls? The Color Online Wish List requests things like Jeanette Winterson's Oranges are Not The Only Fruit, Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose by Naomi Shihab Nye, The Savage by David Almond, and more. You don't have to find special books -- how about the latest Gilda Joyce or a KimaniTru? Gently used "old" books are welcome as well. Click here to find out details.

June 28, 2009

Reading the World: Malorie Blackman

I've mentioned her before -- and I know a few YA readers in the U.S. have come across Blackman's Naughts & Crosses novel, (naughts and crosses being what Brits call tic tac toe), which is described kind of like a race-infused Romeo & Juliet. The interviews I've read all describe a determinedly positive and funny person who is rolling with the punches of being a black British writer, and not letting the squeamishness of the publishing industry negatively affect her prodigious output. And I do mean prodigious. Aside from doing some television screenwriting, Malorie Blackman is also the author of seven picture books, four easy-reader chapter books, thirty-four middle grade/tween novels, and five crossover adult/older YA novels. I've perused a few of her books, and right now, the main emotion I'm having is... jealousy.

Now, this isn't a rant, but I find that the characters in Blackman's books are all so uniformly normal that it depresses me. There are "mums" and dads who invent things, like in Blackman's novel Dangerous Reality and Hacker. There are kids who have groundbreaking medical procedures, as in Pig Heart Boy. There are parents accused of breaking into pharmaceutical companies on behalf of environmental terrorist organizations, and then going on the lam, as in A.N.T.I.D.O.T.E.. Just normal kids with normal lives, having...

Okay. So that last bit about the terrorist parent is perhaps not quite so normal. But, what I love about Blackman's books is that the kids get to have "real" fictional...lives, well rounded in all the routine, normal ways. Lives unhampered by race.

(Okay, so maybe this is a rant. But, it's just a teensy one.)

I've just read Dead Gorgeous, and like the title suggests, it's about someone both dead, and... gorgeous. It's a good old-fashioned haunted house story, with a few modern twists.

Nova lives with her weird, hippie parents, and her sister Rainbow in an inn, which is filled with the usual cast of strange people, some of whom are just passing through, and some of whom have been there for quite awhile. One of the longest-running residents is usually invisible -- because he's dead. He's a ghost named Liam who can make himself less ghostly when he's upset, which is pretty often. Liam left the world when he was about 16, after a huge and awful fight with his Dad, and he has a lot of unfinished business.

Nova and Rainbow aren't all daisies and sunshine, either. They're a lot alike in what they want, but they go after it in different ways -- Rainbow does a lot of screeching and poetry writing, and Nova... goes underground with her sorrows. Liam sees in Nova someone familiar, and he truly wants to help her -- like he wasn't able to help himself. But first, he really needs to get one of the residents of the inn to leave. Liam's not the haunting kind of ghost, but for some reason, he's getting antsy. He tells Noval that Mr. Jackman's got to go. Soon.

Ghosts. Sisters bickering. Weird people passing through an inn in a coastal town. Guests who fail to properly flush the community toilets. Just...life. Parents, gainfully employed, mentally present, socially acceptable (accept for the little rant about the non-toilet flushing). Even the ghost is the "regular" kind, not a product of voodoo, nor does Liam produce rolling white-eyed terror and discussion of a "haint." Granted, I'm drawing from American traditions of African American stereotypes rather than British stereotypes (and they exist), but from an American perspective this was almost eerie to read. There was so much that wasn't there.

I love the covers of Malorie Blackman's novels. They feature kids of many shades and features with facial expressions no less, all of them are of African ancestry. Blackman has been told that her books would perhaps "sell better" without these covers, but they were immediately appealing to me, and I can't help but imagine them appealing to all kinds of kids grabbing them at the library. It's hard to put my finger on how novel covers featuring African American characters are different, but there's a difference, all the same. Perhaps British publishers are willing to take greater risks in depicting black kids just being... kids. Maybe there's not so much the concern with being PC? Who knows. Either way, I really enjoyed this book, and I'm a bit envious of Blackman's body of work. People have reviewed A La Carte and have remarked at how "refreshing" it is to see a character with dreams and goals like other, normal teens, even if she IS an African American character (And WHOA am I paraphrasing, but this is my rant, okay?). And I've thought, Wow, have some of us got a long way to go in how we think about people of color.

Last week, Colleen pointed me to Dorie's Doret's post at The HappyNappyBookseller about the final book in the Percy Jackson series, and the fate of the one and only African American character -- he becomes a sacrifice for all the other characters, and then he goes from being a minor character in an eyeblink to one they all universally loved and they noble-ize and eulogize him after death to the point of ridiculousness. Dorie Doret was deeply disappointed, and Jen@Bibliophile had even more to say on the topic.

These are the types of things we had pointed out to us in grad school, in lit crit courses where such things were obvious. Somehow, it's unexpected to catch it in the here-and-now, in modern YA lit. Yet, Lainie is "refreshing" because she's got goals and dreams and wants a career when she grows up.

Boy, have some of us got a long way to go when we think about people of color.

Okay, < /rant >
Buy Dead Gorgeous from an independent bookstore near you!

June 27, 2009

HAH HAH HAH! *snort*

Geekdom rises again. Via SF Signal, this Hello Kitty/Star Wars mashup is probably the FUNNIEST darned thing I've seen today. The fact that so many other people love, love, love it is the reason the site's kind of crashed at the moment, but they'll be back and diehards can always follow them on Twitter. Apparently you can BUY these Hello Wars figures as stickers. I think I see fridge magnets in their future...

Meanwhile, Mo Willems has made it into mental_floss pop culture icon status -- there's a Pigeon quiz!! How cute is that?

You can WIN all kinds of One Lonely Degree stuff just by EMAILING the author, C.K. DO IT!

Happy Weekend!

June 26, 2009

Two from :01

One collaboration, one first chapter; one written by Asian-Americans, one written in Korea. The latest YA offerings from First Second are as different as can be--thematically, as well--but as always they are of admirable quality, broad appeal, and further push the boundaries of the graphic novel form, making it worthy of the title graphic literature.

The first one I read—one which I was looking forward to ever since reading American Born Chinese--was
>The Eternal Smile, by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim (Good As Lily). These two award-winning authors collaborated on the three stories contained within, stories that contrast and complement one another, while still all addressing a similar theme—the sometimes insubstantial and permeable boundary between the worlds of fantasy and reality, and what that means to us as the players, actors, dreamers within. I was honestly floored by all three.

"Duncan's Kingdom" is a twist on the fantasy hero's story—what if fantasy became reality in a cruel twist of fate?--as well as a tale of finding inner strength and redemption. "Gran'pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile" is, on the surface, a fun and sarcastically critical take-off on old Disney comics that many of us will remember reading as kids; but that story is layered within a more sinister one about the creators of those types of stories. "Urgent Request" is the tale of Janet, a beleaguered office worker who manages to spin a spam e-mail from a Nigerian prince into a life-changing fantasy. All three stories are winners, with the art style and writing style seamlessly meshing and supporting the stories themselves—DO NOT miss it.

I was also looking forward to
The Color of Earth, because it would be my first major foray into manhwa, or Korean manga. This first chapter in the trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa could be classified (in Japanese) as shojo, since the coming-of-age tale of a young Korean woman may appeal most to female readers. (And this is fabulous—I applaud any and all efforts to increase the amount of graphic literature with appeal for young women, especially now that Minx is defunct.) My understanding from the foreword is that this tale is based on the life of the author's mother, a sort of tribute to her growing-up years in a rural Korean village. The artwork reflects this, illustrating with sensitivity and vividness, remaining simple and expressive throughout, yet unafraid to add flourishes and whole spreads rendered in exquisite detail when called for by the storytelling.

The story opens with Ehwa as a very young girl, living with her widowed mother the tavern-keeper. As she grows older and into young womanhood over the course of the book, we see her gradually gain insight and understanding into not only her own growth and maturity, but also into her mother's life as a single female tavern-keeper, subject to all sorts of racy gossip while also leading a relatively lonely existence. At the same time that we get a window into traditional Korean culture of the somewhat recent past, it's the universal elements of the story that will make it really resonate with Western readers—curiosity about one's own growing body, the opposite sex, and the lives of the surrounding adults; loneliness and companionship and love.

Some Cool News

We're always on the lookout for new markets / outlets for YA short stories. Via Mitali's blog, here's the latest:

REBEL BOOKS, LLP Currently Seeking Submissions:-

The first publication by Rebel Books LLP will be an anthology of stories with a supernatural theme aimed at young adults. We are looking for submissions for this anthology covering all manner of supernatural creatures, including vampires, witches, shape-shifters - so let your imagination run wild. For more information on how to submit please see our submissions criteria page.


Find out more about Rebel Books.

Another new for 2009 YA short story outlet is the webzine Tidepool. From the blog, The Tide Pool is a blog-style e-zine of short fiction for teen readers (and others who love YA fiction!). Blog-style means the stories are published as individual posts and readers can comment on them (comments are moderated).

Meanwhile, don't forget that TBR Tallboy's closing submission date for the December 1 is September 30th. Some really fine stories in the first edition, if you haven't yet received your copy.

June 25, 2009

Writing Rounds: A little news from the authors

Julie Anne Peters' Snob Squad trio is being re-released with updated covers. First debuting in 1998, the misadventures of Jenny, Prairie, Lydia and Max, the lovable band of ...well, losers, is now shinier and hopefully will attract a whole new generation of sixth-grade readers.

"When you're writing contemporary realistic YA fiction the likelihood that you'll encounter some folks who are unhappy to read about what they consider 'bad behaviour' going unpunished is high. But I'm not interested in writing morality tales."
C.K. is putting out her writing manifesto at All My Little Words. I think I can say I match up with all four of her writing points.

Did you catch Maggie's chats on self-confidence... and its inevitable flip side? I feel reassured that someone else lives in fear of the realization I don't know where I was going with this. "The fact is, the little funks and doubts and worries make it better. If you don’t see what the consequences would be of failing, victory isn’t as sweet," says Maggie. Amen and amen.

Our Neil is going to be at the Edinburgh Literary Festival August 19th, being cute and otherwise cool and reading from The Graveyard Book. Occasionally, there are benefits to Tech Boy attending university in Scotland. Gaiman sightings, and eventually, I may just run into Jane Yolen like Elizabeth Wein did. Of course, I would be much more tongue-tied and stupid than Liz. But still!

Sara Rees Brennan on Whatever blog

...makes her book, The Demon Lexicon Sound. So. Awesome. What IS it about "That Guy?"

June 21, 2009

Escape and Escapism: Two Fast-Paced Summer Reads

I've always liked novels in which a plucky and brave protagonist summons the inner courage to escape from an intolerable situation, come hell or high water, obstacles be damned. The suspense, the detailed descriptions of the how-tos of the escape, the reward of freedom—however these materialize in each particular book, I'm usually intrigued by the very premise. One of my all-time favorites is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, but a modern story of escape for older readers that was really gripping was Ellen Emerson White's Long Live the Queen.

Two recent reads that fall into this category are Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. These two very different tales of escape both feature strong young women as protagonists, characters who realize that their hopes of survival and a better future lie in their own hands.

In Escape Under the Forever Sky, thirteen-year-old Lucy Hoffman is daughter to the U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, and is usually kept under strict supervision, much to her dismay—until a careless day's "escape" with her best friend leaves her open to kidnapping. Lucy, a huge wildlife buff, is faced with the possibility that not only might she never see her family again, she might never grow up to be the naturalist she hopes to be someday. But her skills and knowledge come in handy in unexpected ways when she takes her survival into her own hands and attempts the seemingly impossible: escape into the Ethiopian wilderness. Though the flashing back and forth in time took away from the adventure aspect for me—I would have liked a bit more focus on the suspense and the details of the escape—it's a fast and enjoyable read with some real danger to the character.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams is undeniably topical. Kyra, at nearly 14, by the rules of her Compound is old enough to get married. But she looks at the lives of her mothers (all three of them) and her father, and her innumerable brothers and sisters, and she isn't sure that's what she wants for herself. Thanks to her illicit visits to the library bookmobile, she knows there's a world outside the Compound, one where she won't have to marry according to the decree of Prophet Childs, and might have the hope of a relationship with Joshua, just a few years older than she is and equally unsure of the truth of the Compound's ways. But when the Prophet declares that she is to marry her sixty-year-old Uncle Hyrum, who already has multiple wives whom he oppresses mentally and physically, Kyra realizes that she has to try to gain her freedom. But her efforts don't come without a cost. I couldn't put this one down—I was really rooting for Kyra; her allies are sympathetic and nuanced, and the villains are truly monstrous.

June 18, 2009

Contest Alert, and Thoughts on Reviewing

Attention writers! If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, don't miss the upcoming contest running July 1 - July 31, 2009, at Diamonds and Toads. For full contest rules and info, click here. The object: retell "Sleeping Beauty" in 1,000 words or less. And I highly recommend checking out the site, too, if you're interested in fairy tale research and writing.

Are you a writer 14 years old or younger? Then you won't be able to enter the contest above, but you're encouraged to enter a new contest sponsored by Imaginator Press in honor of the fifth anniversary of their publication of the fantasy The Dark Dreamweaver. Send in your story on the theme "Dream Power" by Oct. 31, and enter to win some amazing prizes, including an iPod Touch (sheesh, wish I were eligible!).

Via Twitter, Jen Robinson tipped me off to an interesting post and discussion on Read Roger that was in part about review copies, and who should receive them; and also went back a bit to the good vs. bad reviews idea and whether there's an obligation inherent in the acceptance of a review copy.

It was interesting for me to read about bloggers who actively request copies of specific books from publishers. The only time I've done this is when I've had a prior relationship with that publisher--and usually the publishers have approached US. In fact, for a while we were getting boatloads of unsolicited ARCs, which is why we put up our review policy. With unsolicited ARCs I feel far less obligation to post a review, and never do I feel obliged to post a positive review simply because somebody sent me a review copy. However, I've generally made it a policy--a personal one--to focus primarily on books that I was enthused about, or that I feel deserve attention even if I wasn't 100% enthused.

But there's been a confluence of events that has caused me to keep coming back to the idea of why I'm writing reviews at all. Firstly, there's been all the discussions about reviewers, review copies, and different groups of bloggers, which can be truly exhausting. Secondly, I've been so busy with work, and with writing, that I've hardly had time to write blog posts or read others' posts. It's really hard for me to post a review anywhere near promptly. I feel bad about that. But this isn't my job, and sometimes it feels like it is...and it shouldn't.

So I've been in the process of mulling over, of rethinking, how I'd like to do reviews on the site. (You may have noticed some "rethinking" in the form of weird roundups and musical interludes.) We originally started posting reviews here in order to recommend books we enjoyed to others in our writing group, and anyone else who might be interested. It turned into so much more, and it's been a wild ride. Only, I'm not sure my previous method of doing more in-depth reviews is feasible right now. You'll probably see more roundups and thematic groupings of reviews. In exchange, I'd like to post a bit more about writing and reading in general. And this is just me, and my own angst, talking--Tanita might feel differently. But expect less frequent, shorter, more pithy (one hopes) reviews from me for the time being.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

June 11, 2009

For a SFF writing geek...

this, may, in fact, be the Coolest Thing Ever. A shared-universe fantasy story writing site. Wow.

Drama and Books and Such

"Teenagers have historically shown a certain appetite for calamity; they like a little madness, sadism and disease in the books they curl up with at night."

The Wall Street Journal article about YA lit tries to be positive about the dystopian and/or what they see as darker YA books, making special notes of 13 Reasons Why and Wintergirls as examples of particularly depressing fiction that may seem, to uninformed adults perusing the copies, "fairly uncommon and overwrought." I'm glad to say that the writer does sound quite a bit more informed than many who write about YA lit (although to blame all dark books on L.H. Anderson, as the "doyenne" of such -- eh?), however, despite the popularity of The Hunger Games and If I Stay, the overarching theme of YA lit as "dark" is obviously a matter of ...opinion. Or maybe I just like "dark?" Anyway, obviously not all YA books embraced now are depressing -- or bleakly mindless. There are plenty of other options, which is why I'm glad that Colleen is looking at What A Girl Wants. Depression and snark aren't the only things teen girl readers look for, is it? These writers say no.

And speaking of Katniss -- casting calls are going to be going out soon for The Hunger Games movie. Mitali has an intriguing question about... what the characters look like. Check out her 12-second-tv spot.

Man, the Bay Area booklights a lot of us have known forever continue to go dim. Black Oak Books is closing. That's a real shocker, and the community is speechless -- as there was no warning. Ugh. WHY do they keep doing that? Can't they at least say, "Help!" so the community can rally 'round? Aargh.

On a happier note, though, I just discovered Charlotte's post which announces the new Meghan Whalen Turner Attolia book, A Conspiracy of Kings!!!! This makes life somewhat more worth living.

And this little vimeo on BookMoot's blog is so me, it made me smile. Books really are where I live. Lately I haven't been getting to read enough. Time to change that!

June 09, 2009


MARE'S WAR is about to land! Or, take off. Or... look, just work with me on the cool plane shadow, all right?? (For which I wish I could take credit, but alas: Tech Boy has me beat on the camera skillz.)

Pop on over to my publication blog this week to take part in the fun, and maybe win a free copy of MARE'S WAR, or a signed bookplate so you can put it in your *own* book, or some random items I have laying around the house. Cheers!

June 08, 2009

As Always, Mitali's Got the Questions...

It's okay to update a classic children's book to reflect changing mores ...

1. if the changes made are incidental rather than integral to the plot,

2. if the publisher includes a note in the re-issue explaining the reasoning behind the change,

3. if the author is still alive and wants the changes,

4. if the copyright holder (a descendant) is still alive and authorizes the changes,

5. never.

Authors, educators, publishers and parents -- please stop by this fascinating discussion and talk about it. Would the Little House books be better if the Native people weren't so racially stereotyped, and the he-man Western idea of "the only good savage is a dead savage" wasn't present? Would Huckleberry Finn work if Jim were listed as African American instead of that Other Word? Can you change a classic, and still leave it a classic, or does shading the colors of the past lead to changing the picture? Weigh in here.

SO many congratulations going on. This week, Aquafortis is doing major-edits-with-hints-of-book-deal, and Liz Garton Scanlon is quietly talking about the 2010 publication date of her new picture book, Noodle & Lou, to be illustrated by Arthur Howard, of Mr. Putter and Tabby fame. I'm thrilled for her --! Yay, Liz! it's a good writing year for my Poetry Princess sisters. (Operation YES: comingatcha in September, by Sara Lewis Holmes, just in case you misplaced your anticipation and thought about other books or the Twilight movie or something.) Meanwhile, I'm making bookplates for the MARE'S WAR release tomorrow. I'm completely bummed I missed the 48 Hour Book Challenge (egads - there are people who read the whole forty-eight hours this time, NO SLEEP!!!), but I was cheering you all on from afar.

Happy June!

June 07, 2009

Early June Reading Roundup

Every once in a while, I feel like I need to mix it up as far as reviews are concerned, make it a little more fun than just a standard review. Most of the time I don't act on that impulse. But lately, there's been a lot of seriousness in the lit/book blogging world, so, in order to counteract my resulting feelings of blahness, I've decided to do today's roundup in the form of a song. That's right. If you were expecting lengthy formal reviews, sorry, but that's not gonna happen today. Instead, please enjoy the following ditty, sung to the tune of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" by The Beatles (midi version here for your listening pleasure).

Randomly arriving here from Westside Books

The touching tale of Andrea McKane

Her mother's schizophrenia earns her wary looks

But running makes her strong in body and brain.

For a break, then I read, Something Rotten--

Horatio Wilkes the mystery-solving pal.

Environmental hi-jinks won't stop him--

Even when he doesn't get the gal.

Ryan fell off track after his sister died

Now he's ditching class and getting stoned

Chances for redemption help him clarify

His feelings—now he's not so much alone.

Vidya's family in World War II India--

Forever changed when struck by tragedy.

Now her big dreams of college are threatened--

Till she finds some sympathetic company.

Haddix is a grand dame of MG suspense--

Here's a story where conspiracies abound.

Jonah and Chip's adoptions make them both quite tense

As shifty FBI dudes want them Found.

Rico Fuentes is so sick of Harlem--

The crime and drugs there really get him down.

So he flees for a farm in Wisconsin

And finds himself through life in a small town.

Dierdre knows she should never trust faeries--

Hot musician guys like Luke all tell her so.

But he loves her, and then things get scary--

Can they fight off terrifying faerie foes?

There you go--books I read in the past month.
This was fun for me, hope it was fun for you.

It might happen again in another month,
I reserve the right to do what I wanna do.

So there. Hope you enjoyed it. I'm hoping to find time to post more detailed comments on my Goodreads, but we'll see about that. I've been lagging behind, so this was my attempt to get moving ahead again.

June 01, 2009

Learning to Show and Tell (Warning: Soapbox!!)

So, a. fortis does not usually step into soapbox territory (nor refer to herself in the third person) but today is evidently an exception. Perhaps I'm merely giddy about my recent good writing news, but honestly, I think it's because of the thought-provoking New Yorker article by Louis Menand examining the history--and value--of academic creative writing programs (thanks to Susan at Chicken Spaghetti for the link). It turns out, having gone through a graduate writing program, I have a lot to say about this. Imagine that.

Anyway, one of the questions brought up by this article is: What is the real purpose of a writing program? I had to think about this. On one level, I DO think it exists simply to give the already-talented and the promising (the ones lucky enough, anyway, to get their work in front of the right person at the right place at the right time) the indisputable validation of that all-important piece of paper—the fancy diploma that tells everyone (including us) that we aren’t just loopy and deluded creative types wasting our time on projects of dubious lasting value. That’s a cynical point of view, to be sure, but there’s truth in it.

On the other hand, there’s a lot potentially to be gained from a writing program. I entered an MFA writing program because I wanted to develop my writing further, as someone who DID NOT have an undergrad degree in the field and in fact came from a different (yet equally conflicted in terms of relevancy of academic training) area of the arts. I wanted to learn more about the luminaries of the writing canon and the stars of the contemporary literary sphere. I needed that all-important feedback from others about my work. I wanted to learn what it means to "be a writer" in today’s world.

And certainly, you can get all that from a good writing program. Arguably, that’s a lot more important than the piece of paper. As the article states, "Teachers are the books that students read most closely, and this is especially true in the case of teachers who are living models for exactly what the student aspires one day to be—a published writer."

As Menand points out, the workshop format is useful despite itself. I feel like I had the advantage of knowing that coming into my writing program, having already spent a year in a post-baccalaureate program in fine art (i.e., the visual-art equivalent to literary writing), where the Big Personality and what you are allowed to absorb from their genius is sometimes the entire basis for a class.

However, once you get past all of the blather (justifiable or not) about the purpose and ultimate effect of literary writing, I think what it comes down to for me is a love of words as an artistic tool (among other artistic media that also speak to me), a love of stories, and a need to create things. The attempt to incorporate an effete self-consciousness of one’s own process and where one’s product lies in relation to the canon DOES NOT have relevance to my underlying desire to create.

On the other hand, I truly believe that to mystify the creative process, as so many writing and art professors do, is to encourage the myth that it does not involve work but instead relies solely on some elusive genius, a talent which you’ve got or you don’t got. And it’s dangerous, in my opinion, to focus on that as the obstacle, when time would more productively be spent on figuring out and working with the fickle realities of the publishing world. You can all too easily fall into the trap of thinking that the problem lies with the misunderstanding of your work by the outside world, instead of with trying to identify what you want your work to achieve, who you want it to connect with, and how best to accomplish that from a craft perspective, to hone your raw creative ideas into their most effective form.

Okay. I'm off my soapbox now. Happy Monday!