Blog Against Racism Week

At E.Lockhart’s blog I read that it’s International Blog Against Racism Week, and though I’m late, I wanted to participate. Writers — especially writers of YA and Children’s Lit have to be really aware of the world that they live in, a world in which racism seems to be here to stay. It’s the world our readers live in, and so it’s relevant. There are many excellent historical novels that deal with racism in a certain time or place… Trudy Krishner’s Spite Fences, Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watsons Go To Birmingham, Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and the other books in that trilogy by Mildred D. Taylor, Karen Hesse’s marvelous Witness, or many novels by Yoshika Uchida or Lawrence Yep come to mind) but I find the discussion of race as portrayed in modern fiction more engrossing. The reader isn’t expecting something as obvious as a white sheet, an interment camp, kristallnacht or burning crosses.

My favorite middle grade/YA books that deal with racism in a more modern world are, in order of no particular relevance:

The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks, which is a fabulous mystery as well as a story about friends and their differences — and similarities.

*Iggie’s House by Judy Blume. This story still has such power to make me cry, even though I have read it over and over again.

* The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson. Gilly learning to love people she thought previously were unlovable — herself included — make this a seriously tremendous book, and the language is really spot on. All of it.

Marie G. Lee’s If It Hadn’t Been for Yoon Jun, and Finding My Voice, are brilliant and painful to read, allowing us to see what reverse racism does to a person — hating yourself and who you are for what you are in opposition to the dominant culture in your school.

Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk is my almost-favorite Crutcher novel… Definitely a tough novel; you cry, and you laugh, and you cry again as you do in all Crutcher novels, and though the story is dark, the glimmers of light throughout make the tears well worth it.

…doubtless there are MANY more novels, but these are just a few off the top of my head. Feel free to add to my list! And don’t forget to join in the discussion. Follow the directions at E.Lockhart’s and then link your blog here.

Wait! There's More!

Morning Edition gives us the latest in jazzy, snazzy PR ideas for your book… novel trailers! Kind of like movie trailers, only… not.

Is this really a good idea!? Coming soon to a bookstore near you!

Speaking of cinematic efforts, I remember with queasy good feelings my favorite fourth grade novel How To Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell. There were rumors that it was being adapted into movie form by the same company that did the Narnia series last winter, and I thought… well, you know me. I thought uh-oh, because I am convinced that most movie directors don’t read the books upon which they’re basing their movies. (I vote for adding the word “loosely” before the word ‘based’ in the movie credits. Case in point: Disney’s version of Howl’s Moving Castle. In a word: ghastly. Some of the best plot elements were completely obscured to make an entertaining little cartoon for those who’ve never read the book! And what, then, is the point of basing a movie on a book? [I mean, besides the obvious, that directors don’t have original ideas? But I digress…]) Well, I was right to be skeptical about the Worms, it seems. The movie has already been hijacked. Fuse#8 reports on a piece she read in this month’s Creative Screenwriting that talks about the director’s “vision” for the movie, and his issues with it. Too many worms, for one thing… and since it’s a short children’s book, he seemed to feel no need to be faithful to the plot.

WOW. Does he have any concept how old that book is, and how long its been around, and how people still love it?! Novel adaptations: they’re a disease, I’m telling you! Directors out there: please! We READ EVERY WORD of the books we love, and we expect you to do it, too, and be faithful to the original vision of the author!!! We’re trying to encourage people to READ, here!

Wait! There’s More!

Morning Edition gives us the latest in jazzy, snazzy PR ideas for your book… novel trailers! Kind of like movie trailers, only… not.

Is this really a good idea!? Coming soon to a bookstore near you!

Speaking of cinematic efforts, I remember with queasy good feelings my favorite fourth grade novel How To Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell. There were rumors that it was being adapted into movie form by the same company that did the Narnia series last winter, and I thought… well, you know me. I thought uh-oh, because I am convinced that most movie directors don’t read the books upon which they’re basing their movies. (I vote for adding the word “loosely” before the word ‘based’ in the movie credits. Case in point: Disney’s version of Howl’s Moving Castle. In a word: ghastly. Some of the best plot elements were completely obscured to make an entertaining little cartoon for those who’ve never read the book! And what, then, is the point of basing a movie on a book? [I mean, besides the obvious, that directors don’t have original ideas? But I digress…]) Well, I was right to be skeptical about the Worms, it seems. The movie has already been hijacked. Fuse#8 reports on a piece she read in this month’s Creative Screenwriting that talks about the director’s “vision” for the movie, and his issues with it. Too many worms, for one thing… and since it’s a short children’s book, he seemed to feel no need to be faithful to the plot.

WOW. Does he have any concept how old that book is, and how long its been around, and how people still love it?! Novel adaptations: they’re a disease, I’m telling you! Directors out there: please! We READ EVERY WORD of the books we love, and we expect you to do it, too, and be faithful to the original vision of the author!!! We’re trying to encourage people to READ, here!

Et In Terra Pax

Just received an email from a friend who has family in Lebanon…

I’m not singing and plugging my ears, but close. Worlds away, bombs are falling as usual. The literature of a time period usually lags about ten years behind, but according to a recent study, already themes of war and terrorism are filtering into children’s lit. There’s always been talk of war, because this country always seems to be at war — or having a ‘skirmish’ or doing a ‘police action’ somewhere somehow. Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario, of the Monash’s School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, did her study on J.K. Rowling’s Potter series, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series and, oddly enough, the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. Do Rozario’s study determined that authors are finding ways to examine and interpret world events in a way our readers can understand. Check it out.

Meanwhile, Cynsations’ War & Peace in Children’s Literature is also a great resource.

Infernal Inferno Monday

Word of the week: rejuvenile. Are you a rejuvenile? Though it’s the new hipster word of the season (kind of like metrosexual, only not), for me, it’s not a match. It’s simply a matter of never having gotten out of my adolesence in the first place, so there’s no “re” before the ‘juvenile’ for me.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation last week featured author Christopher Noxon, who coined the word, and talked about all of the grups in the world nowadays (Oh, come on; don’t tell me you don’t remember ‘grups’ from that awful episode of Star Trek? ); the guys who ride skateboards to work, the girls who have kickball teams and get together to watch Sponge Bob, the folks who collect metal lunchboxes, Pez dispensers, and play hacky-sack in the parking lot of the grocery store.

While ‘rejuvenile’ a sort of fey concept, I think it’s only that — another hipster concept. We’re supposed to be getting in touch with our lizard brains in the wake of the attacks in 2001. We’re supposed to be sort of backlashing into a state of worry-free bliss and revolting against the ‘despotism of facts,’ or whatever, but I think it’s not really true for the majority of people into kid stuff. To me, the truth is that we’re a nation who has fattened on the cult of youth, and we cannot let it go and grow up to save our lives. This is not to say that I ever plan to change my focus from YA fiction to anything else! But it is to say that I realize that time has passed, and I can still enjoy what I enjoy without trying to prolong some artificial childhood cool that I never even had.

Incidentally, I notice it’s only the ‘cool’ kid stuff that’s up for grabs. The uncool stuff still belongs to the uncool kids… stuff like books that don’t have movies tie-ins! If you’re really still more interested in reading young adult fiction than adult fiction, and you take weeks to get through adult novels, even a copy of Julie & Julia, even though it’s fairly lightweight and a bestseller that has people talking… well, then your friends think you’re just plain weird, and not hip at all. But you know? Así es la vida.

Man, I love it when someone else is ranting!
Today’s feel-good rant comes from our friends at Book Buds, going off on the “floozies of the book world.” Hee!!! Since I’m not a librarian, I don’t quite share BB’s angst on the same level, but let me tell you, books that flash and twinkle and glitter to attract readers — and I mean people who can read, not toddlers who need something crinkly to fixate on while they gum the pages — they really work my nerves. Why? Because one of the things I’ve learned in working on getting my novel (two, now are being read by the same editor. Huzzah!) to print is that writers are supposed to come up with all of these little gimcracky ideas as in a ‘marketing plan’ to help market their books…

Fact: I don’t want to market crap to children. I don’t believe in encouraging kids to think that they have to have money and spend money and have more stuff. I wish that there could simply be enough school and public and semi-private libraries where any kid or teen could check stuff out and read to their hearts’ content. I mean, anyone remember adolescence? That time of life when you are flat broke and have a horrible babysitting job? The world seems to aggressively normalize that Other lifestyle, where every kid has various cool technologies, a cell phone, an iPod and they all know that if they’re not Jimmy Choo’s, they aren’t shoes. When books come with tank tops, backpacks, commuter coffee cups (honestly — that was Gingerbread — a cute enough book, but pimping coffee mugs!?), colored rubber bracelets and more, it makes you wonder if someone’s trying to cover up the fact that the book’s… a dud. Anyway, I agree with BB – less consumerism, more good books!

Spooky YA author Laurie Faria Stolarz, together with Lara M. Zeises (say ‘Lara’ like ‘Sarah’) is teaching a very cool sounding online revision course called LEARNING THE LAYERS OF REVISION: A SIX WEEK ONLINE COURSE. Part of their ‘Novelist’s Toolbox’ course, this class is going to end with each person getting an in-depth critique (by the instructors) of the first ten pages of your revised work-in-progress and working synopsis. How cool would it be to work with these award-winning authors? Though I haven’t read much of the spooky stuff, I adore Lara M. Zeises’ work, and this really sounds worth checking out. The course starts August 30, so you’ve got that fully back-to-school thing happening as well, and hey, you can get yourself a new lunchbox just so you feel in the mood! Six weeks to learn to actually understand and appreciate revision? Is this a message from the universe because I’ve been whining about editing? Could be…

Okay, I made a conscious decision not to have AC in my wee house, so that I could not be involved in global warming, blah blah blah. Plus, I live by water. I need AC maybe two days a year. Okay. The two days have just expanded to two weeks. It’s so hot I feel guilty even having the computer on so – more anon…

Randomly

As an undergrad I had a religion professor who used to bring his xylophone to class on Fridays and …Sing. Hymns. I’m telling you, there is no end to the fiction fodder that just comes from my life

Anyway,I was just thinking about this sweet old man this morning, because he used to live on a fabulous forest road in the Napa Valley …yep, it used to be a forest road. But they’ve they’re ripped out the trees to pave the hills with wineries, and they’re ripping out even more… good old Gavin is the villain this time, opening yet another arm of the Plump-jack empire so he can be the all-round cool guy with a city AND a winery AND a shot at running for president. Siiigh. I should give it up and let go. They let Bush ride his bike up there. They let wineries proliferate like mold on septic ponds. The ground is arid and dry, the deer are gone, the wild onions and Diogenes lanterns we used to find first thing in Spring only grow in shade, under trees. My beloved woods are gone. So much for hanging onto the memories; the place is entirely unrecognizable.
Okay, so I don’t love the memories of my undergrad days, but I loved taking my introverted self into the woods to get away from everyone. And now even the woods belong to the cool kids. Ugh.

People outside are jogging, and it’s breathlessly hot. And though I can’t imagine how people even want to move, the AIDS Walk just finished, and it’s almost time for the Cancer Walk in September. You know, people send me to various websites to click on buttons to make donations to various groups. Does anyone really know how all of this works? I mean, is someone out there really paying for the six seconds it takes me to go to their site and push a button? Why do they actually need me? And don’t get me started on the bracelets

Okay, okay. Taking my snarky self and going home.

"Fiction is the truth inside the lie." -Stephen King

Writing and waiting seems to be my entire world. I’m less writing right now than moving around blocks of words, playing Rubik’s Cube with paragraphs. ‘Edit’ is such a clean and sharp-sounding word. Pity the reality is so messy.

The Books section of the Independent this weekend made me smile, with its rather good and snarky take on Children’s lit: Guess what? it’s not easy!

Now that writing a bestselling children’s book has begun to edge out winning the National Lottery as the fantasy escape route of the stressed professional classes, a demonstrable truth stands in danger of neglect: that stories for children are just as difficult, if not more so, than stories for grown-ups, and not simply a refuge for dreamy adults who can’t be bothered to write properly.

I’m so glad that someone recognizes the power of a well-written YA or children’s book. Where would we all be without them? But to think that the writing is supposed to come easily? Hah.
Only someone who’s never tried to wrestle fun and fancy into a few words for a picture book, or only someone who hasn’t ever really tried to recapture the true voice of adolescence – strangled with pain, envy, impatience, anger and unspeakable joy – only those deluded souls think writing children’s literature is easy, an instant path to success. The rest of us who know that writing is more like… life… know that it’s not exactly impossibly difficult, but it’s complicated, full of skidding and pulling and stumbling and coasting, as all true creation tends to be. As I try to keep my garden entirely clear of weeds, I remember that life breeds disorder. As I jumble together ingredients, I am reminded that eggs must break, milk must spill, dough must raise and be punched down before anything is finished. There are papercuts, nicked fingers and scalded wrists along the way. And so we persevere… and persevere…

“Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand — a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods — or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values.” – Willa Cather

It’s not really hard. I am not whining. I enjoy this. And I am not just saying so to convince myself. Really.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” Mary Anne Radmacher

Someday I will look back on this madness in Edit Hell as a happy time. Until then, let’s all say it together:

I will try again tomorrow.

We interrupt this summer to say…

Hey! Fuse#8 pointed out that The 48 Hour Book Challenge was briefly featured on the School Library Journal. How cool is that? Thanks again Motherreader for a great idea. I feel I was a part of history… Maybe next year I’ll actually do a better job of clearing the weekend and read a decent amount of books!

It’s a quiet week on the book front. Secret Agent Man has “summer hours,” as all of the houses do. No work on Fridays, lots of martini lunches… ahh, the good life. (Or something.) All a poor writer has to do is … read … (which I have been doing in volumes, and scaring my local librarians!)… AND, fortunately, write fun stuff without worries about edits! I’m looking forward with great excitement (okay, and also a little hysteria, it’s the heat) to joining in the Flickr Fiction. You’re invited to drop by my fiction blog Fridays and see all the stories. Mine will likely stick to the YA genre, but the others don’t necessarily have genre limitations. It’s an awesome chance to flex some underused flash fiction muscles and maybe get some story starters in the bargain. Join in!

Happy Wednesday!

ps – Hang in there, A.F. See you when its over…

Hm…

Really, you’ve got to love a world where there are people crazy enough to pay $9,050 for a paperback, YA fantasy novel. I know the movie is going to be released this December (A good thing? A bad thing?) but poor Christopher Paolini’s head just must be spinning at the amount bid for a first edition copy of Eragon. $9,050.

I’ve read the first two Paolini books, and I don’t know… they were solid fantasy, but I’m just not as crazy about them as the surrounding hype seems to be. I was pleased that the author was young and coming from his own love of the genre to do it justice, but it’s all just blown up so wildly it makes me a little nervous for him.

Fame. Fortune. Children’s authorship.
Now, which one of these doesn’t seem to belong?!