Strangely Helpful Writing Tools

Okay, this one’s actually more like an amusing writing tool, but now you can link your slang to definitions on the web. In 2003 a smart chap at Cal made, as a project, a slang dictionary. I think he’s probably graduated by now and given up on every trying to finish it — language and linguistic subcultures multiply faster than cells divide. Frankly, I get more out of watching an episode of Kim Possible than out of this dictionary, but should you be in need of old-school slang that you mostly already know, check it out.

Should you be in need of a Chinese name you can always find it and other helpful hits on the Mandarin language on this nifty site.

Finally, I’ve found my fantasy writing greatly expanded by reading information posted on the Orb. ORB stands for the Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. These are factual, scholarly and sometimes deeply involved and labyrinthine dissertations on medieval fact. Now, how cool is that?

Happy writing.


Monday Scattershot

It’s only days away – the October 31 deadline for the SmartWriters.com short story contest. Just a $10 per entry fee gives you the chance for cash and prizes, plus inclusion in that sought after YA shorts anthology! Don’t forget to give yourself a shot at this!


And now, perhaps in response to my carping about how few book prizes there were for YA writers, Publishers Weekly has come up with The Quill Awards. In an attempt to “inspire an energy and focus around the importance of reading,” and together with such partners as Parade Magazine, Borders, Barnes & Noble and The American Booksellers Association, this new award is trying for the populist vote in American literature from readers.

I guess we can expect this to be like voting for the queen and king of prom. Pardon my cynicism, but can we expect real literary merit from this prize? And by that, no, I don’t mean the snobby “high art” concept that people sometimes think ‘real litt’rechure’ must have. I just wonder if at the scope for effort within the general population. What if there was no one who forced people to read difficult things, things that made them think and struggle to uncover new thoughts within themselves? Surely, some people would still strive and reach, but for the rest… Does this award really prove anything/change anything? Does it encourage literature by American Idol poll vote? Does anyone think talent-by-poll really proves anything except that someone can look good and get chosen or be audacious and get more attention? Doesn’t ‘Reader’s Choice’ mean that the readers will choose nothing other than stuff that is already popular, already what everyone else is doing?

Maybe I have an appalling lack of faith in the American public. Correct me if I’m wrong.

And now, the envelope please:
Winner, Book of the Year and Children’s Chapter Book/Middle Grade – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator), with Arthur Levine/Scholastic

Winner, Young Adult/Teen –Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, by Ann Brashares, with Delacorte Press

(for the record, the winner of the Children’s Illustrated Book, and possibly the only possible surprise in the bunch was Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook, by Shel Silverstein with HarperCollins Children’s Books, but, after all, they had a lot of celebrity board books from which to choose. Going with an actual writer like Silverstein must have been tough. Maybe it was made easier because they could choose to award him posthumously?)

All right, all right. No further snarky comments.


Oy, it’s awards season, and I’m falling behind!! Has anyone yet read any of the finalists for the National Book Awards Young People’s Literature Prizes? On the positive side, these books aren’t what you would call popular favorites at all. They seem to be a really varied group, and there are a couple of new voices and others we’ve heard from before, but not with this depth. (Being a National Book Award finalist really means something, unlike other popular… okay, OKAY!)

The Penderwicks is writer Jane Birdsall’s first novel. Go Jane! Adele Griffin who wrote The Other Shepards, a book we read at Mills for YA lit, is notable for her semi-creepy style and dealings with life and the shadows of death in Where I Want to Be.

Printz Award-winning Scotland resident Chris Lynch writes what I call “boy books;” intelligent, yet pretty scary with tough and often violent characters. His Inexcusable is a scary story of a date rape from the point of view… of the accused. Walter Dean Meyers’ work also depicts the gritty urban texture and bleakness of boys, and often their life in gangs in Autobiography of My Dead Brother. And it’s another funny and sweet Southern coming-of-age tale in Deborah Wiles’ Each Little Bird That Sings.

It’s always encouraging to write about more new books that I haven’t even had time to hear about! We writers are still out there, still working, in spite of incredible odds. Well, brava for us. I’ll be running these down as soon as I can. Pull out your comforter and snuggle down these brisk fall evenings with a good read.

Happy Autumn!

Ten nails down, one manuscript, to go.

A. Fortis really inspired me to push forward through my rejection letter angst awhile back, and try to get an agent. I’ve pitched three or four different stories now to different people, and finally I got a “bite.” Until I’m sure that one of us is on the proverbial ‘hook,’ (am I hooking him? Is he hooking me?) I won’t speak in specifics, but I’ve been thrilled that my story caught someone’s eye. Better still, it happened on D’s birthday, which, to him, was probably the best gift ever; proof that finally his freeloading partner might actually get paid.

As I said, it was a thrill. Or, rather, I was thrilled. That was before the first slew of emails and rampant postal abuse.


Now, I’m as big a publisher-whore as the next writer, so at first I was twittering at all the communication I was getting. He wrote to me at odd hours in the morning – 5 a.m. on a Sunday, midnight on a Friday night. He’d write that I didn’t need to answer him, but he just had been thinking — and he’d dash off a comment on my characters. Why did so-and-so need to say that to his mother? If her family was so wealthy, why did she have an after school job?

No need to answer, he’d say.

At first, I tried to answer all of the questions — seriously. I pondered them all, and then I started worrying. Did he like my story, as it was, at all? Why did he contact me?

You know how you’re supposed to send a SASE to publishers and agents during the query process? Since my person initially replied via email, the two envelopes I’d sent them I thought would be unused. Oh, no. Never one to waste trees, these envelopes have returned to me, full of my pages (out of order), filled with the scrawl of red pen. On every page.

For a finale? He sent, in one of my postage envelopes, a page of somebody else’s story, to represent to me what a properly formatted page should be.

People don’t waste their time on minutiae without a reason. This I promise myself faithfully, as I sit here with a stomach ache from pounding down two boxes of sugar-free Mentos and all the fingernails from both hands. He’s got to be seriously planning to extend a contract to me. Or else I’ve got to find him and exterminate him in his sleep. I have never been so stressed out — aside from PMS, I don’t think I’ve ever been this ill-tempered for so extended a time in my life.

An hour ago, I finished the manuscript revisions. Tomorrow I’ll print The Beast again, and wrap it lovingly in white paper, and mail it with reverent hands to the east coast. And yes, I’ll add the requisite postage filled envelope so it can be returned. Again.

Cross your fingers.

New Voices in Short Stories

It occured to me, after musing away on short stories the other day, to wonder why there aren’t more anthologies and prizes celebrating the best in emergent YA writers… the answer, I guess, might be because there aren’t loads of schools and literary programs aimed specifically at us, so we’re not as well funded, or as well read. The bottom line is, the only folks interested in YA writing seem to be directly related to the American Library Association. We get the Michael Printz for YA lit, the Newbery Award given out by librarians for all of children’s lit, and The Golden Kite for children’s, picture books and YA lit from SCBWI, and that’s pretty much it. It’s not ‘nothing,’ by any means, but not nearly the number of prizes are awarded for YA shorts. Hmm.

Putting that aside,I was pleased to go out and check out the Best New American Voices, which came out this month, and includes a story by a friend. It’s not YA lit, but maybe someday one of us will get included in there. In the meantime, the party’s at Seren’s! You go girl!

Litquake!


Finding Neverland Lit Crawl Countdown!!!
Count the days, people: 11 left. Start thinking of dinner, books, authors and Ess Eff!

The Joys of Short Stories and Other Musings

Okay, here’s the thing. I wanna be in an anthology. Yeah, I know, cool people like Seren are in anthologies, and it should be enough that my friends are so cool, but nope. It’s not doing it. I couldn’t write a story about fruit and New Jersey for Mei’s anthology either, so I’m kind of stuck – I love reading the things, and short stories are pretty fascinating, when done well, and I want to be the kind of writer who leaves readers dying for more. So, anthologies.

And, here, offered to me in a really cool package – the first SmartWriters.com short story contest ever! And the winner wins — inclusion in that sought after anthology!! And how could I not be jazzed? Oh, wait. There’s that little matter of actually writing a YA short story, huh. Sad, but true – I’m beginning to really resent Raymond Carver. Seriously.

The fact is, there are ten million books of commentary on how to write a really good short story. There’s theory about ‘pyramid structure,’ there’s conjecture about situational writing (i.e., get a man up a tree, throw stones at him, get him down), but the fact is, modern short stories kind of ruined the simple stuff. It’s not good enough to just have a story… that’s…short. Now there’s all this enigma and stuff. I’m not sure I can do that.

Actually, I’m pretty positive I can’t. I’m not enigmatic. Is young adulthood enigmatic? Was mine? I was reading a comment from A.Fortis the other day where she mentioned hearing publishers asking for stuff that was described as “nasty” (as in brutish or dirty, I couldn’t tell ya) when talking with writers at a recent conference. That word lacks, um, subtlety. So, am I completely pursuing a wrong rant, here? Is subtlety not needed in YA shorts?

This is all in the service of actually keeping me from attempting to write said short story. I’ll admit it — I’m struggling to convey something pertinent in 8000 words. It seems like that should be enough words, but I’m going to have to edit, I see. Sharply.

As usual, when in doubt, I try and read something. I’ve heard that Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen is a really good read, and that she’s one of the best short story writers writing for this age group. I’ve been reading short stories for weeks. Something’s got to give, here!

Wish me luck and I wish the same to you. Enter the contest!

Shaking Up YA Writers & Readers Around the Bay


Litquake Rocks!!!
Thanks to the ever fab Tara Weaver, our humble Finding Wonderland writers are getting a primo chance to be involved with Litquake, San Francisco’s fun and flighty literary festival. For the first time since their beginning in 2002, YA writers will be really represented, and a will be featured as a stop on the infamous toddle down Valencia Street, Lit Crawl.

Five fabulous YA writers will be reading selections from some of their latest works October 15th from 5-6:15 pm at Valencia Street Books in San Francisco, as part of the much anticipated Lit Crawl. They are: Mills College professor and mystery writer Kathryn Reiss, reading from SWEET MISS HONEYWELL’S REVENGE, the talented Gennifer Choldenko, reading her newly released AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS, the irrepressible Joyce Maynard, reading from THE CLOUD CHAMBER, Katherine Sturtevant reading from the complex and thoughtful novel AT THE SIGN OF THE STAR, and thought-provoking historical novelist Michael Cadnum, reading from STARFALL. (These books have not yet been reviewed on our sister site! Read them? Let’s hear about them!)

Hosted by our own A.Fortis, this event promises to be exciting and inspirational to all of us fledgling and would-be writers. Why not catch more of the Litquake ’05 events if you can? Check out their website now!

Random Booknotes

This month’s Book Page had a great feature on Jane Smiley’s new book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. This book sounds a lot like what we might have read in Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s class at Mills, since she’s all about making lazy readers into better writers by requiring them to really dig into some tough novels they might normally just set aside. Smiley’s book talks a bit about what makes good novels and what makes escapist novels. She overviews 100 novels that more or less span the history of literature — from the obscure to the popular, a sort of Best Novels canon. What did she discover? Serious novels, says Smiley, don’t allow you to escape. Instead they ask you to reconsider what you were thinking about in a new way. Sounds like a book to look into to me.


Wow, what a rush it must be to be Christopher Paolini. Paolini, just 19, wrote Eragon, the first book he’d ever written, as a first novel in a trilogy when he was just 15. Yeah, this, after having read all the books in his local library and graduating from high school that same year… He finished and self published at 17. Of course, it helps if your parents have a publishing company, but what a rush when you skip college to write a book that not only sells, but sells 1.5 million copies in North America alone, and remains on the bestseller list for eighty-five weeks. An even bigger rush might include the film rights being optioned, and Ed Speeler, Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich shooting it in Budapest! It’s due to be released in 2006.

But surely – the greatest buzz of all? In its third week on the NY Times bestseller list, Eldest the second volume in the Inheritor trilogy, has passed the latest Potter epic to take its place at number one. Granted, Harry has been on top for nine weeks, but this is quite a feat for someone under 20, who hasn’t yet made it to college, and has only written two books in his life thus far. Go Chris Go! We ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, obviously!


Carolyn Keene, the imaginary writer who won’t die: Strangely located on the Style page of the Chronicle is a review of a new book on Carolyn Keene, the composite pseudonym of several writers behind the celebrated Nancy Drew series. Melanie Rehak, whose first book Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, became completely intrigued with the pre-feminist history of this literary character when she heard the NPR obituary of Mildred Wirt Benson on the radio one day. She wanted to know who the ‘real’ Nancy Drew really was. Fans of the plucky blonde sleuth will thrill with all the attention being paid to the reborn 40’s teenager. From a new Manga-styled cover art to more modern character sketches, Nancy Drew seems fated, at 75, to be here to stay…

We have more writers wandering through the SF Bay Area than we know what to do with. Here are a few highlights of who’s in town this weekend:

Though this isn’t really a YA book, the protagonist of Jim Lynch’s The Highest Tide is thirteen, and growing up in a wonderful autumnal coming-of-age book. There’s a great luncheon planned in Pleasanton with the author at 11:30 a.m. this Thursday (9/22) It’s $10/lunch; $28 lunch and book. Towne Center Books, 555 Main St., Pleasanton. (925) 846-8826.

Wouldn’t it be the coolest to have a dad who worked on Alcatraz Island in 1935? Okay, maybe not. But if the warden’s daughter was cool… how much fun could you get up to? Okay. Fun is another name for t-r-o-u-b-l-e. But that’s the schtick in this well spoken of YA novel of historical fiction called
Al Capone Does My Shirts. Author, Gennifer Choldenko is having a meet-n-greet next Saturday at 2 p.m. Crissy Field Center, Bldg. 603, Mason and Halleck streets, the Presidio, S.F. (415) 561-7752. Also don’t forget that Pratchett’s in town this week, too!

Autumn arrives this week. Celebrate with a new book!

Odds 'n' Ends

I’m going on a little vacation at the end of the month, and I’m not taking my computer. I’m going to try and write some snatches of atmosphere — descriptions of countryside, cityscapes, and more. I’m going to try some old-school writing techniques and take lots of notes to hopefully find some great scenes to stick in books someday.

I feel like I’m going back to grad school and sitting down in coffee shops, writing down conversations I overhear…

REMINDER: The Kimberly Colen Memorial Grant, established by SCBWI and the family of Kimberly Colen, honors the memory of this children’s writer by helping authors and illustrators publish their first book. Two grants will be awarded in 2005, each for $2500, along with transportation, lodging and tuition to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. One grant will be for a picture book and/or an early reader book, but the other will be for a chapter book for middle grade, and or a YA book. Applicants must write a 1-page letter (250 words maximum) about the book they propose to write, and include their an excerpt from the book, and their contact information. The letters must be put in a #10, business-sized envelope, postmarked no earlier than October 1, and no later than November 15 mailed to:

SCBWI Kimberly Colen Grant Letter
Box 20322 Park West Finance Station
New York, NY, 10025-1512

The 24th Annual Delacorte Press Contest is open again for submissions October 1 through December 31! First time writers may submit book entries between 100 to 224 pages in length, suitable for readers aged 12-18, and Delacorte is specifically asking for stories with contemporary settings.

Writers, start your engines!

Odds ‘n’ Ends

I’m going on a little vacation at the end of the month, and I’m not taking my computer. I’m going to try and write some snatches of atmosphere — descriptions of countryside, cityscapes, and more. I’m going to try some old-school writing techniques and take lots of notes to hopefully find some great scenes to stick in books someday.

I feel like I’m going back to grad school and sitting down in coffee shops, writing down conversations I overhear…

REMINDER: The Kimberly Colen Memorial Grant, established by SCBWI and the family of Kimberly Colen, honors the memory of this children’s writer by helping authors and illustrators publish their first book. Two grants will be awarded in 2005, each for $2500, along with transportation, lodging and tuition to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. One grant will be for a picture book and/or an early reader book, but the other will be for a chapter book for middle grade, and or a YA book. Applicants must write a 1-page letter (250 words maximum) about the book they propose to write, and include their an excerpt from the book, and their contact information. The letters must be put in a #10, business-sized envelope, postmarked no earlier than October 1, and no later than November 15 mailed to:

SCBWI Kimberly Colen Grant Letter
Box 20322 Park West Finance Station
New York, NY, 10025-1512

The 24th Annual Delacorte Press Contest is open again for submissions October 1 through December 31! First time writers may submit book entries between 100 to 224 pages in length, suitable for readers aged 12-18, and Delacorte is specifically asking for stories with contemporary settings.

Writers, start your engines!