After Hurricane Katrina: Is It Too Soon To Think Of Books?

Okay, people are needing shelter. I know that.
People are needing basic necessities like food and untainted water and medical care and protection from gun-toting thugs and gun-toting vigilantes.


I wish I could rock the South to sleep and tell them this hurricane/levee breakage/rising water/flooded homes/floating corpses/lost loved ones thing is a bad, bad, dream that will dissipate with the mists of morning.


Wishful thinking aside, I am trying to find something to do here, since I can’t go and rescue my relatives (blessedly missed by most of the rising water, as they don’t live IN New Orleans; the flood waters didn’t rise quite as high in the parishes further away. They’re just low on food, have no power and limited phones, and are low on pharmacologicals, but are alive… Thank God, Shiva, Buddha, or whomever – insert your Deity here.) and weeping every time I watch the news is somewhat, um, counter productive…

MoveOn.org, being the remarkably righteous people they are, have come up with a civic arm that ignores such absurdities as blue/red state, and have come down to the real issues, like housing — which is a wonderful thing for the people who live within 100 miles of the worst of the grief. I can’t help out with that, but here’s my best thought so far: I realize the schools and the libraries are going to be rotted stinking pulps of paper waste, in an already low literacy area (Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana – AND all three have rural poverty rates that are amazingly high, no coincidence)… Maybe we can do something like what Pamela Ribbon did for the Oakland School Library system, and come up with some kind of groundswell thing to collect books to support the libraries and schools, in a positive “you’re going to reopen someday” kind of mindset. Maybe the LitCrawl thing (which may have our name on it?) can somehow be involved in raising funds or collecting books…? Trying to think… but there’s still a lot of static.

We were planning to go to New Orleans for Thanksgiving. Still trying to recalibrate the brain.

Other thoughts, anyone?

Odds 'n' Ends

As well as being astringent pundits of popular culture, my girlz at Mean & Catty are also on the look-out for the odd fifteen seconds of fame in the YA business… – and yes, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak as immortalized on the Estrogen Channel, aka Lifetime is a definitely an odd sort of fame. If Anderson is lucky, it’ll be painless enough that the endless reruns won’t leave her suicidal… If she’s very lucky indeed, it’ll be a really wonderful portrayal of her work. Of course, for those of us still reeling from the Rings movies (or am I the only nerd still bemoaning plot additions and distortions?) maybe not so hopeful, eh?

Today’s been a busy day at the post office… A. Fortis has inspired, so I have launched forth book proposals and an entire manuscript to some lucky people to peruse. 51 Days and A La Carte are winging their way toward Mei Mei’s state. Crossed fingers that all editors are in a receptive mood during the fall reading period!!

Meanwhile, D’s lay-off took effect today, so for awhile I’m going to have lots of company around the office. Does that mean more writing gets done, or less? Does anyone else share work space? How do you do it?

If we save all of our pennies now, can we go here in February?

sigh

Back to work. For some reason, my failure with Glimmer Train prods me to try my luck with short stories…Again.

Optimism!

Odds ‘n’ Ends

As well as being astringent pundits of popular culture, my girlz at Mean & Catty are also on the look-out for the odd fifteen seconds of fame in the YA business… – and yes, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak as immortalized on the Estrogen Channel, aka Lifetime is a definitely an odd sort of fame. If Anderson is lucky, it’ll be painless enough that the endless reruns won’t leave her suicidal… If she’s very lucky indeed, it’ll be a really wonderful portrayal of her work. Of course, for those of us still reeling from the Rings movies (or am I the only nerd still bemoaning plot additions and distortions?) maybe not so hopeful, eh?

Today’s been a busy day at the post office… A. Fortis has inspired, so I have launched forth book proposals and an entire manuscript to some lucky people to peruse. 51 Days and A La Carte are winging their way toward Mei Mei’s state. Crossed fingers that all editors are in a receptive mood during the fall reading period!!

Meanwhile, D’s lay-off took effect today, so for awhile I’m going to have lots of company around the office. Does that mean more writing gets done, or less? Does anyone else share work space? How do you do it?

If we save all of our pennies now, can we go here in February?

sigh

Back to work. For some reason, my failure with Glimmer Train prods me to try my luck with short stories…Again.

Optimism!

The Rainbow Party's End Leads to a Slag Heap

Some thought-provoking stuff shared by a.fortis with our writing circle:


I got this item in an SCBWI newsletter some time ago and just rediscovered it–still timely, apparently, since there were a few references to Rainbow Party at the recent conference. -a.fortis
***
5. NY TIMES covers Rainbow Party

The NEW YORK TIMES today [July 1] has a story about Paul Ruditis’s RAINBOW PARTY, a new YA novel from the Simon Pulse imprint that revolves around the idea of an oral sex party:

Reporter Tamar Lewin starts with parents, as well as “bloggers and conservative columnists,” being shocked by this book. Which is, of course, part of its appeal. The article then goes on to reveal:

a) No oral sex party ever actually takes place in the novel, despite many pages of talk about it. That may be one of its realistic aspects because…

b) None of the sex-ed and adolescent-psych experts interviewed for the article said they know teens who have actually participated in oral sex parties as described in the book. For example, Dr. Deborah Tolman, director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State, says, “girls, particularly early adolescents, are still getting labeled as sluts and suffering painful consequences. The double standard is remarkably intact. So what could be girls’ motivations for participating in such parties? And I can’t quite imagine, even for a moment, teenage boys comparing their lipstick rings.” There’s a lot of talk, but the rumors of “rainbow parties” seem to be distorting what most adolescents’ true sexual activity.

c) This book was actually commissioned by Simon Pulse Editorial Director Bethany Buck after hearing the phrase “rainbow party” on an OPRAH episode. She took the idea to Ruditis, author of other YA novels and such pop fare as THE BRADY BUNCH GUIDE TO LIFE. Together they developed a spectrum of characters to cover a range of situations, attitudes, and/or recognizable types. So we’re not talking about a book arising from an author’s personal or parental experience, but one step in a spiral of media attention: OPRAH begets RAINBOW PARTY, which begets newspaper columns, which begets this message…

(Thanks to John Bell, RA Central New England, MA. Email: [email protected])


I was…confused by this. Okay, no, not all YA fiction is going to come from an entirely personal place — it’s not called ‘fiction’ for nothing. But this seemed a very wag-the-dog type of marketing ploy, and dishonest manipulation. This piece prompted a mini-rant from fellow-writer Jennifer S:

Oh Oprah, how will you next enlighten us with the dastardly ways of the world according to the latest suburban myth?

I have a bunch of preconceived notions about this book, having read the Ann Brashares NY Times Op-Ed piece as well as several reviews, but I suppose I should read the actual book before I pass judgment. It sounds like yet another overly moralistic, don’t-do-it, look-what-could-happen-to-you-a-la-Go-Ask-Alice, a-very-important-after-school-special piece that puts down girls and their budding sexuality, lumping them either into the virgin camp or the slut camp, implying there is no other alternative. In fact, I’ve been surprised with some of the recently published teen lit books I’ve read this summer that still offer up these two camps as the only perceptions of female sexuality. Perhaps the one exception is “Looking for Alaska,” (c. 2005, Dutton) which is–ironically (or not, when I really think about it)–written by a man.

Are we still really doomed to be either a virgin or a slut? How about neither? Haven’t we progressed beyond Madonna/Whore in the 21st Century?

Okay, okay, I’ll crawl back down from my podium and read the book before I say more.

Has anyone else read it yet?


I haven’t– and whomever gets to it first, please review on our sister site! Meanwhile, I’m not sure the blame rests solely with Oprah for the furor over a *perceived trend in teen sexuality. First and foremost, she’s a talk show hostess, not a psychologist, not a teacher, not anyone who gets anywhere near children unless it’s for a photo op. How is she really going to know anything? A talk show hostess’ main job is to… talk. And give others something to talk about. Does being a multi-millionaire automatically beget talking about things that make sense? Obviously no. To me this is another example of the public’s gullibility, and of an omnipresent media ever ready to swoop in and manipulate and capitalize on people’s ever multiplying fears. Need we be surprised that this time the media outlet is the book publishing industry?

Until people insist on thinking for themselves, especially in the formation of issues close to their hearts (and if they’re parents, that means their kids), this is what we end up with — hysteria over imaginary sexual trends in order to manufacture A Solemn Warning about sex – for no real reason at all.

I have to admit that I’m disappointed that it’s an STD Story – I read Melvin Burgess’ Doing It and saw how a frank discussion of sexuality could happen without all the panic. However, as this book was debuted in the U.S., I’m not sure (until I read it) if it could have been broached any other way and gotten published. Are people more conservative in truth in this country than they like to say? I’d certainly like to revisit this once I read the book…

*And you notice no one ever names the ‘guests’ on the Oprah show who came up with this? Ostensibly the show’s Michelle Burford found her “facts” from interviewing parents and their teens. Which parents? Which teens? I think THAT bears more research.

The Rainbow Party’s End Leads to a Slag Heap

Some thought-provoking stuff shared by a.fortis with our writing circle:


I got this item in an SCBWI newsletter some time ago and just rediscovered it–still timely, apparently, since there were a few references to Rainbow Party at the recent conference. -a.fortis
***
5. NY TIMES covers Rainbow Party

The NEW YORK TIMES today [July 1] has a story about Paul Ruditis’s RAINBOW PARTY, a new YA novel from the Simon Pulse imprint that revolves around the idea of an oral sex party:

Reporter Tamar Lewin starts with parents, as well as “bloggers and conservative columnists,” being shocked by this book. Which is, of course, part of its appeal. The article then goes on to reveal:

a) No oral sex party ever actually takes place in the novel, despite many pages of talk about it. That may be one of its realistic aspects because…

b) None of the sex-ed and adolescent-psych experts interviewed for the article said they know teens who have actually participated in oral sex parties as described in the book. For example, Dr. Deborah Tolman, director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State, says, “girls, particularly early adolescents, are still getting labeled as sluts and suffering painful consequences. The double standard is remarkably intact. So what could be girls’ motivations for participating in such parties? And I can’t quite imagine, even for a moment, teenage boys comparing their lipstick rings.” There’s a lot of talk, but the rumors of “rainbow parties” seem to be distorting what most adolescents’ true sexual activity.

c) This book was actually commissioned by Simon Pulse Editorial Director Bethany Buck after hearing the phrase “rainbow party” on an OPRAH episode. She took the idea to Ruditis, author of other YA novels and such pop fare as THE BRADY BUNCH GUIDE TO LIFE. Together they developed a spectrum of characters to cover a range of situations, attitudes, and/or recognizable types. So we’re not talking about a book arising from an author’s personal or parental experience, but one step in a spiral of media attention: OPRAH begets RAINBOW PARTY, which begets newspaper columns, which begets this message…

(Thanks to John Bell, RA Central New England, MA. Email: [email protected])


I was…confused by this. Okay, no, not all YA fiction is going to come from an entirely personal place — it’s not called ‘fiction’ for nothing. But this seemed a very wag-the-dog type of marketing ploy, and dishonest manipulation. This piece prompted a mini-rant from fellow-writer Jennifer S:

Oh Oprah, how will you next enlighten us with the dastardly ways of the world according to the latest suburban myth?

I have a bunch of preconceived notions about this book, having read the Ann Brashares NY Times Op-Ed piece as well as several reviews, but I suppose I should read the actual book before I pass judgment. It sounds like yet another overly moralistic, don’t-do-it, look-what-could-happen-to-you-a-la-Go-Ask-Alice, a-very-important-after-school-special piece that puts down girls and their budding sexuality, lumping them either into the virgin camp or the slut camp, implying there is no other alternative. In fact, I’ve been surprised with some of the recently published teen lit books I’ve read this summer that still offer up these two camps as the only perceptions of female sexuality. Perhaps the one exception is “Looking for Alaska,” (c. 2005, Dutton) which is–ironically (or not, when I really think about it)–written by a man.

Are we still really doomed to be either a virgin or a slut? How about neither? Haven’t we progressed beyond Madonna/Whore in the 21st Century?

Okay, okay, I’ll crawl back down from my podium and read the book before I say more.

Has anyone else read it yet?


I haven’t– and whomever gets to it first, please review on our sister site! Meanwhile, I’m not sure the blame rests solely with Oprah for the furor over a *perceived trend in teen sexuality. First and foremost, she’s a talk show hostess, not a psychologist, not a teacher, not anyone who gets anywhere near children unless it’s for a photo op. How is she really going to know anything? A talk show hostess’ main job is to… talk. And give others something to talk about. Does being a multi-millionaire automatically beget talking about things that make sense? Obviously no. To me this is another example of the public’s gullibility, and of an omnipresent media ever ready to swoop in and manipulate and capitalize on people’s ever multiplying fears. Need we be surprised that this time the media outlet is the book publishing industry?

Until people insist on thinking for themselves, especially in the formation of issues close to their hearts (and if they’re parents, that means their kids), this is what we end up with — hysteria over imaginary sexual trends in order to manufacture A Solemn Warning about sex – for no real reason at all.

I have to admit that I’m disappointed that it’s an STD Story – I read Melvin Burgess’ Doing It and saw how a frank discussion of sexuality could happen without all the panic. However, as this book was debuted in the U.S., I’m not sure (until I read it) if it could have been broached any other way and gotten published. Are people more conservative in truth in this country than they like to say? I’d certainly like to revisit this once I read the book…

*And you notice no one ever names the ‘guests’ on the Oprah show who came up with this? Ostensibly the show’s Michelle Burford found her “facts” from interviewing parents and their teens. Which parents? Which teens? I think THAT bears more research.

A Mini Challenge

The great folks at SmartWriter.com have come up with a YA shorts contest that will maybe help get some of the cobwebs out of your brain. Stuck on your current character’s current dilemma? How about backing up to another point in their lives and writing out a scene? The ensuing short story will be much richer because you have the background of really knowing the character, and can fill in enough detail to flesh out even the shortest piece.

Getting short stories for kids and young adults can be really difficult, especially if you’re not lucky enough to get into a literary-type magazine, or an anthology. This contest is a great chance to get some exposure — as well as cash prizes, the writers who place first in this contest in all three categories will be included in an anthology! Check out the Write It Now: Shorts page at SmartWriters. And get busy already! You’ve only got ’til Halloween!

Deeply Disturbing Food

When I’m completely slacking off, I find the oddest web pages to amuse myself. This one is called The Gallery of Regrettable Foods. I’ll be tracking down the book by the same title shortly. It’s hysterical, and another site I advise you not to peruse in a library… hyena laughs and spontaneous wetting have been known to get people banned from public places.

Hope your writing is progressing! If not, why not treat yourself to some light reading? Call it ‘inspiration…’

Post MFA Let-down?

“We live in an exceedingly crass, stupid, vulgar culture,” said [David]Fenza, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and author of “The Interlude,” a book- length poem. “To devote two years of your life to writing, books, studying authors, that is a wonderful oasis in anyone’s life. You take that study of literature with you through the rest of your life.”

81% of all Americans say that they have a book in them. I read this wee factlet in this morning’s Chronicle, in an article written from the perspective of one who has gone the MFA route. What does this prove? Not much – except that there are more of us with something to say (and sometimes no real skill to say it) than we’d maybe assumed. Can everyone write the book that is within them? Should they? Will an MFA really help?

In the past few years, more and more people have gotten involved with MFA programs, which should be a positive thing, yet the tone of this article was fairly depressing for me. Not because there are so many would-be writers in the U.S., or even so many degreed writers, but because, even while I was in grad school, I heard this stuff. I heard about MFA programs churning out cookie-cutter authors who depleted the very quality of the literary offerings in the world. I heard that only certain types of work got published, and if my name wasn’t something cool like Michelene, Ayelet, or I if I didn’t have some kind of unexplored ethnic angle to work with, or I wasn’t up to putting out an Astonishing Work of Languishing Genius or something, I wasn’t going to make the cut.

Workshops, I read, are worthless. They’re boring. They slice and dice the work of others as if critical interpretation and criticism was all that made a mature writer. Workshops create writers who pander to their readers, I learned. Not good. Not workable. Not promising. Much better are the writers who organically ply their craft, right out of their wee heads. Those are the writers who will uphold the invisible Canon Nouveau, and make sure that everything we read is intelligent and worthy.

Good thing I only really want to write for children and young adults, I thought. That field is always open. Or not. When everyone from Toni Morrison to Madonna to John Lithgow and everybody else hit the shelves with their celebrity children’s stories, I… um, rethought. It wasn’t going to be that easy to do the kind of writing I wanted and get published. Not by a long shot. Like everyone has to sometime, I faced the fact that there are tons of people who are better connected, better equipped, and just downright luckier than I am. And I thought, dear God, what money and time have I just wasted!?

Truth: We spent a lot of money for our degrees. $37K down, and we’ve got not a lot to show for it except a few letters to put after our names, which, even then, doesn’t guarantee that our work will get any higher in the slush piles of publishing houses. We have a lot of faith, and a lot of great expectations, but what else?

Truth: We have allowed our work and our style of writing to be observed, commented upon, molded and shaped. In all likelihood, some of us have learned to care too much about what others say about our work. Some of us have begun to consider the reader. Does this mean our writing is doomed?

I left my MFA program at Mills with nothing but great expectations. They made me no promises, and I was well aware that they couldn’t make me anything I wasn’t before I got there. But… in order to have gotten to there, I had to have had great expectations already. If I take that faith (and those school loans) and turn it upon myself, I might yet have a chance to stand out – if merely by sheer dint of perseverance. I know an MFA program can’t produce a writer, yet I also realize that giving myself over to the process of observing and immersing myself in writing and reading gives me an edge. I know a lot more stuff than the average writer at a Conference like A. Fortis attended – how to use networking, how to listen to what editors really want, how to sense the patterns created and skill used in what I read. I’ve put in the time, in a wildly busy and rushed world, to polish my craft into something I can honestly be proud of (okay, on those good days when I’m not sucking down my Zoloft and staring moodily into my coffee cup), if I can stick out the hard work it takes to get it noticed. I can take a breath and accept that I put in a big investment in myself, and it already has paid off – the dividends being my writing group, the person I become in an educational environment, and the objective eye that I can turn on my own work.

Success will come in a more tangible form, someday. And, lest these ramblings sound too painfully Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm saccharine, I do have to lie down and scream sometimes; I often wish for something stronger than caffeine on those many bad days; I awaken some mornings and think the whole publishing racket just sucks, and that I hate everyone in New York who works in publishing and wish it was all so much more straightforward — and for goodness sakes, faster at least, and less elitist and snotty. But, like A.F., I’m going to let this hone my competitive edge. I’m going to have to succeed. Because otherwise I’ll never know. What that book within me is, I mean. Maybe not everyone can or should write their dream story, but I can, and I’m going to. I mean to find out if the book within me is The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Once and Future King. It’s why I went to graduate school…

Summer Reads: Summer Jobs

NPR’s had a piece this weekend on the great books of summer leading teen girls to believe in the great JOBS of summer. Good old Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and most daring of all Vicki Barr, Flight Stewardess (boy, I must’ve missed that one) had the best darned jobs of any young women of the era between 1947-1964… They had glamour, great uniforms, sassy flips in their hair, and no flack from their bosses. These days, the best teen readers can do for a summer job is something like M.T. Anderson’s Burger Wuss, an affectionate and sardonic tribute to the reality of the scorching summer days of doing mindless dead end work so you could buy a few things from the Gap. (Someday, there’s going to be a novel on the people who did filing for Traveler’s Insurance as a summer job… I’m sure I’ll be somewhere on Chapter 2, sneaking out to make phone calls and loitering around the snack machine…)

Meanwhile, we await with baited breath the news from the L.A. Conference, and our intrepid attendees who will give us all the lowdown hopefully soon. Enjoy the last few days of low-traffic summer days… happy August.