In passing…

As an addendum to my earlier post on copywriting, I did a little more research and found a website called Creative Commons. It is a non-profit company that creates licensing agreements for those whose creative work is posted via the Web, or found on blogs; whose work is shared, passed around, and eventually published. These licenses protect some rights while providing unlimited use of others, and, unlike that sealed-envelope trick, are viewed respectfully by actual judges. Professors who have written web-based texts for their students, bloggers, photographers and others have found these useful – and they’re worth checking out for writer’s purposes.

A concept equally intriging is copyleft! If you’re interested in your art never being copyrighted, and forever belonging to the public domain, freely passed around, added onto, changed, built from and morphed, this is for you.

Q Bon weekend, writers!b

Cracking the World YA Writing Markets

My *S.A.M. is back from the Bologna Book fair and is feeling quite happy to be back in the U.S. with his proper pillows (apparently all of Italy is pillow-deficient). He did have a good time, and had some interesting things to say on international markets and what sells to them — generally things with universal subjects and themes. He adds, “The Europeans are a fickle bunch and they aren’t interested in issue novels in the way American houses still are–and of course, books that are too American in feeling and subject, like the Vietnam War or slavery, just won’t travel over the Atlantic. Fantasy is still of great interest, but so are mysteries, thrillers and just plain wonderful books. Anything unusual, whether historical or whimsical, also seems to have caught their attention…”

From my own tentative research into the topic, I have realized that selling something to both American and international audiences concurrently is a big challenge. I recall being disgusted with J.K. Rowlings’ publishers for leaching the British-isms out of the Americanized Potter epics, but that’s what most non-American publishers seem to feel the need to do in order to attract American audiences. And what do we do to work more equitably with the rest of the world? Not much, unfortunately. Last June’s Library Journal noted that the 2005 Bologna conference had quite a few Canadian books, however, which garnered interest in international houses. These books, the author says firmly, did not water down their Canadian content.

Many international writers are writing work that is more “gritty” (there’s that strangely definition-free word again) than their American counterparts. American writers of YA fiction don’t often come from a political point of view, because for all of our democratic status, writing about our political system is, in a word, difficult. (I take that back — writing is easy, as many a rabid blogger can attest, it’s that pesky “getting published” thing…) A writer chronicling the cultural revolution in China, the horrors of the Holocaust or the deprivations of any nation’s war in a sort of fictionalized non-fiction style has been popular at past Conferences. Fiction which embraces a culture is also well received – for instance, just writing about what it is to be Fijian in Fiji, and in the world away. For more American works to receive wider readership, perhaps the focus of the YA international literature must be more about internal validation and personal goals that are germane to everyone’s growing up, and less about cultural divides like a first cars and huge Proms or experiences which involve something uniquely American – like lots of material possessions, disrespect of adults, and money for individual use. American publishing houses are going to have to take risks, too, and present readers with longer, more challenging fiction that seems to be more the norm in the UK and other places. (Places like Bloomsbury Press seem to have that idea well in hand.)

It’s a difficult question, how to write to be acceptable all over the world… You can’t, not really. We can hardly write to be acceptable to everyone in our writing group, much less the State or the Nation or the larger planet. The best thing you can do, I guess, is hone your voice. Be unique. Then, begin with a really good book…

*secret agent man

Monday Musings

I’ve discovered a new site, thanks to the heads up of some cool people at SCBWI. Since Autumn 2005, the website Children’s Media Professionals Forum, brought together by April Sayres, the phenomenally gifted and prolific picture book and middle grade nature author, has quietly flourished and given the people who work with and for children a place to meet.

I like to think of myself as a ‘professional,’ but I merely lurk on the site as of yet. I get a little thrill reading how one of my very favorite authors, Jane Yolen, works on projects and sees the world. It’s a free registration, but you can lurk without signing up (just don’t expect to be able to comment on threads or post your thoughts). Do check it out!

Kentucky author Marcia Thornton Jones tells a funny story that has the best punchline ever. Her first book, Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots (published in 1990), was written to amuse herself when she was having a cruddy day. Before this, Marcia was a teacher and a struggling author, having never published anything major, but always hoping, and checking and double checking her work, and struggling to get the words just right. The one piece she wrote with a fellow teacher as a joke…shone. So, there’s something to be said for lightening up and letting your work sing. Here’s another bit of proof that writing what you love – in Thornton Jones’ case, silliness — always beats trying to write how you think publishers want you to. Forty middle grade books later, you’d better believe Marcia Thornon Jones believes that!
Finally, the very best story of the day — favorite children’s author Beverly Cleary turns 90 this week. Yay! Another long-lived California writer! To celebrate this week, pick up a Cleary book. (My choice will be Dear Mr. Henshaw, a book my fifth graders requested to read over and over.)
Ms. Cleary talks to NPR’s Debbie Eliott about the manically magically memorable Ramona Quimby, the brightest, peskiest character in the neighborhood of Beezus and Ramona, Henry Huggins, Otis Spofford, Ellen Tibbets and all the others on Klickitat Street. Did you know there’s actually a group called “Ramona the Pest,” in Oakland?! People are scandalized, but they mean it as a tribute…I think. Another tribute is found on Recess: the World of Children’s Culture Every Day. (This is a cool site, too, on its own.)

Writing/Publishing Bits and Bobs

Listen:Quirky Australian author Markus Zusak is interviewed on NPR about his newest novel, The Book Thief. Death narrates the story of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, who steals books in her working class town in Germany and tries to rebuild a world that Hitler’s rhetoric in World War II steals away. Some people are surprised that such a darkly haunting book is marketed to YA readers, but Zusak says he feels that writers all too often underestimate YAers, and that if we give them something to step up to, they’ll surprise us every time.
Ours is a strange world indeed, wherein the world of entertainment goes hand in hand with our …coffee? Yeah, Starbucks, that mecca of, um, dubious taste, is in the movie business. Because children and young adults simply do not have enough marketing shoved down their throats, the chain coffee store is joining the fray and aggressively promoting their spelling bee movie Akeela & the Bee. On the up side, millions of coffee drinkers will be expanding their vocabularies and their spelling skills, according to the company, by learning to spell and define such words as pulchritude and prestidigitation. On the down side, well… it’s still Starbucks.

Coming soon to a theater near you!The Penguin Young Readers Group has just made a lucrative contract with Walden Media LLC. (Walden Media was the company which put The Chronicles of Narnia together with Disney, which was the top grossing domestic film release of the 2005 holiday season.) This deal is intended to get more children’s books to theater, television and to enable older books to be mined for stories suitable for ‘family’ type films. Should be an interesting venture, and hopefully beneficial to writers.
Bet you didn’t know that Communists are to be both unseen and unheard, even outside the U.S.! A Dade County (Florida) school district is yanking books that show Cuban children in Communist youth club uniforms from the library shelves of 33 schools. The book, entitled Vamos a Cuba (A Visit to Cuba) is deemed as offensive… of course, the fact that Cuba itself is a communist country seems to have escaped the notice of those who are offended…
Religious publishing just went really mainstream. Massive publishing conglomerate Penguin Group USA, Inc. (which includes numerous imprints) has just launched Penguin Praise in an effort to capitalize on the trend of blockbuster religious books, movies and music. High on their list of new authors are Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, whose fictional Left Behind series sold a baffling 62 million copies. A first book of LaHaye and Jenkins’ new series will be available in November 2006 from Putnum/Praise, and you can look it up and find out all the buzz about it yourself, if you’re interested. Now, what I’m wondering is how this will mix and meld with the Walden deal. Hmmm…

Anybody who grew up loving the work and busy worlds of Richard Scarry might get a smile out of the fact that, before his death in 1994, he got… a little PC. Check out the differences between his very first book in 1963, and the 1991 update.

And finally, the SCBWI is making some changes to its Golden Kite Awards, to be announced on April 15th. They promise that the award will be increased in visibility and will “rock the publishing world.” We await the reverberations.

Ah, Irony

point d’acclamation
Cool, huh?
As reported by WriteGrrrl by way of the dubious compiler of information (or is that the compiler of dubious information?) Wikipedia, there has, for some time, been a such thing as… an irony mark.

Now, we know the evils of ALL CAPS and exclamation point abuse (many ranting web posts later), but we have to definitely leave it to the French to come up with a fabulous system of cues to make sure that everyone gets the wryly wrinkled brow, the ever-so-slightly sneering lips, the deadpanned expression, or the rolling eyes that make up our friend irony both here and abroad. Oh, why don’t they teach this stuff in school?! Why isn’t an irony symbol on everyone’s keyboard?

Apparently, French novelist Hervé Bazin came up with quite a few more symbols, including one for certainty, one for authority, and one that looks remarkably Spanish in origin for indignation. Now if only we can figure out how to make irony easier to explain…

™, © and More Ways to Protect Yourself

There are all kinds of, well, urban legends about copyright law. I know I’ve heard more than once that you can mail yourself a letter — unopened — with a copy of your work in it, and voila, you’re protected. Unfortunately, that, and a bunch of other copyright promises that I’ve run across on the Web, aren’t true. There IS such a thing as implied copyright under the “medium of protection” law, but people who use cyberspace as an arena for their workshopping and critiquing open themselves up to court fees and headaches since one has to file for infringement rights within three months of the first time something is copied and stolen. It’s also very difficult to prove that elusive “significant harm” thing, so it’s not as expensive as you might think to have your work of art copyrighted. It sure beats paying lawyers…

How safe are you from copyright issues? Are your readers people you know and trust? Is your Wireless network encrypted and do you have firewalls in place on your computer system? Read more about copyrighting from a Bay Area legal expert, and be careful – writers tend to borrow storylines without meaning to. Protect yourself from intentional threat and only work with people you know you can trust.

Sarah Byrnes: The Movie?

Have you read Chris Crutcher’s epic novel Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes? Do you think it would make a great movie? Are you puzzled, like I am, that so many mediocre YA books get made into films, and so many flashy, thinly plotted hackfests are marketed for YA viewers, but nothing really deep – as if someone on Madison Avenue thinks YA’s are stupid? Well, then, here’s your chance to help make the movie idea a reality…

Desert Dreams: The Writer is Inn

Casa Libre en la Solana: I’ve never in my life gone away for a writing retreat. I don’t have kids, I don’t have pets that need walking (my snake, actually, periodically forgets that I exist, and vice versa); I have a pretty low-maintenance life, so I keep thinking that I don’t need to “get away.” But one of our cool Mills poets pointed out this place, and now I think I need to go.

This was what a couple of MFA’s came up with who wanted not to let go of what goodness they had gotten from their writing immersion. A movable feast, a revolving door of a writing group, this is a not-for-profit writing refuge that looks wonderfully sunny and warm and nurturing in contrast to my cluttered office, the dark clouds outside my window, and the email that keeps sliding into my in-box.

Which would be less trouble, to unplug the phone, or fly to Tucson?

Words about waiting, writing, and revising

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve put out any official update on the *S.A.M. situation and, since he’s safely out of town now at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I thought I’d let everyone know that as of last Friday I’m not in the process of… waiting. For more instructions on…more revisions. Yes, that’s more waiting for more revisions. It’s the story of my life.

Actually, the waiting is good – this time it’s waiting for an ‘editorial guidance’ letter from a house which is willing to work with me on a novel they feel has potential, and since both of us are on the same page of wanting to see this through, I think in all likelihood that I will soon (“months-and-months-later” kind of soon, because publishing time is like eschatological time on a different sliver of the space-time continuum) have a contract that is a good fit for myself and for the house.

It’s been a pretty up-and-down process. Friends who have been helpful and supportive through the beginning excitement have begun to express dismay over how many times I’ve been asked to edit. Someone asked me plaintively if it’s really like doing work on a cadaver and if it’s like that, they don’t want to do it. Ever.

In considering – and taking back- (it’s not like autopsy, I just meant it hurt less now!) my rather drama-diva moanings about this, I realize that I believe this process has been worthwhile. a.) because it’s worthwhile seeing what other people have to say about your work, so the guidance/edit process is worth it, and b.) because it wouldn’t have been worthwhile had it come earlier than now because my work wasn’t ready. That might seem like something odd to say, but considering that I quit my last full-time job almost ten years ago now, I realize it has taken me that long to write and write and write and practice and try to hone my craft.

How crushed I would have been, as a writer, if I’d had so many people telling me “change this, change that,” at the beginning. I am so thankful that I had no agent at the start of all of this. I am also deeply grateful for the sharp and priceless grit of my master’s program and my writing group, because in these last years, I’ve been too busy writing to spend too much time submitting and revising for the eyes of the market. Instead, I’ve sought the appreciation of the eyes of my readers, and worked on honing my craft.

It’s crucial time, I think, this writing time. Literary magazines and conferences all talk about market, market, market. We get hives and hyperventilate over the almight submission letter, the query letter, the acquisitions editor over at so-and-so. We over-emphasize product in this world — we always want an end result, to the point where we commodify art into something that has dollar $ign$ all over it. We even commercialize ourselves as writers — we barely want to hold our heads up and admit audibly (much less loudly) that we’re writers unless we’ve had something published in the last five minutes. A vein in our head throbs that we’re only as good as our last sale. It’s amazing the things we tell ourselves don’t matter — stuff published in high school, college newpapers, collegiate literary journals, stuff published for work or church communities — we devalue our little ‘hobby’ down to where in the end all that matters is a publishing contract and a fat cheque. (I know we have help with that – the way people regard our occupation comes into it too, yes.) I don’t quite know how to stop that, but I want to go on record as making an attempt, at least, to buck that particular trend. I’m making it my daily mantra to say Je suis un auteur.

I’ve been a writer since my first Author’s Convention in the first grade, where I took home a framed certificate for Best Story. I’ve been a writer since I used to draw conversation bubbles in the J.C. Penny’s catalog (with special stories told by the ladies in bras and underwear – really hysterical stories, now that I think about it. Uses of irony, early on!). I’ve always been a writer. And, as long as I write, I’ll always be a writer.

…and now I shall climb down from my soap box.

(*Of course, the secret agent man!)

Now, here’s something exciting from our SCBWI NORCA list-serv that goes right along with my thoughts today. Historical fiction author Susan Lindquist is going to be speaking at the SCBWI Summer Intensive June 24th at Fort Mason on novel revision! She’ll be covering such writer thoughts as:

o I loved writing the first draft. It was creative, and fun. But now I’m overwhelmed by the thought of revising. Where do I start?

o An editor sent me a revision letter that I: a) don’t understand; b) don’t agree with; c) is so long and involved that I feel like giving up before I even begin; or d) all of the above.

o I’ve been thinking up ways not to revise just to make it easy.

o My critique group said they love my book, but I still feel it needs work.

o My critique group said the book needs work, but I love it just the way it is.

o I’ve begun revising but feel like all I’m doing is making things worse.

o I know the basics of editing, but now I realize that editing isn’t the same as revising. How do I do that?

o I don’t know what’s good and what’s not. I’ve lost my perspective and objectivity.

o I’m pretty skilled at fixing little stuff, but can’t seem to get a handle on the bigger picture.

o I’m stuck. I keep revising the same scene over and over and can’t seem to move forward.

o Sure, there are weak spots in the book, but if I’m lucky, maybe no one will notice.

o I’ve had a draft hidden in the back of my file cabinet for longer than I can remember. Maybe I’ll pull it out and revise it, but . . .

The purpose of this workshop is to learn how to revise without losing the essential bits of your story. At the conference, Susan promises to teach you to develop a revision plan that will fit your project and personality, so you can go home with tons of tips and tricks that will carry you through to “The End.” To enroll, send a check made out to SCBWI for $85 ($95 for non-
members) and name, address, e-mail address to: 2912 Diamond St., #326 San Francisco, CA 94131. Fee includes box lunch! Send questions to: [email protected]

Susan Hart Lindquist is the author of three middle grade novels:
WALKING THE RIM (Boyds Mill Press), WANDER (Delacorte), and SUMMER SOLDIERS (Delacorte). She has been on the faculty at a number of conferences, including the Big Sur Children’s Writers Conference, the SCBWI Asilomar Conference, and the William Saroyan Writers Conference. She is a former instructor at the Institute of Children’s Literature and a recently retired SCBWI Regional Advisor.

It's "Lord of the Flies" in the Mall: Naomi Wolfe on Chick Lit

The New York Times Book Review had an article about “chick lit” last week, and people from all over wrote in this week to talk about it. (You can read the review, but need to register – it’s free and it’s once, and the article is well worth it.) I love, love, love the article, because Naomi Wolfe says so articulately all of the things that I’ve complained about so long — that “chick lit” is disturbing less because of its redundant sexual content, but more because the sexuality is aggressively normalized – and now, almost commercialized and sold like a product. Wolfe agrees that it’s not the sex. She says,

“The problem is a value system in which meanness rules, parents check out,
conformity is everything and stressed-out adult values are presumed to be
meaningful to teenagers. The books have a kitsch quality — they package
corruption with a cute overlay.”

Amen to that. Pastel covers with cookie-cutter glamour girls on the cover. Not too much hip, not too much bust — just flat enough, refined enough, vanilla enough. Yee haw. And author Cecily von Ziegesar told an interviewer once that she sees her books as aspirational? Yikes, people.

You know how adult chick lit has the Jimmy Choo/Prada thing going? Enter Palm V’s, fancy cell phones, Coach leather bags, and Mom’s carpooling Lexus. Product placement galore, and God help you, poor stupid 13-year old, if you’ve never heard of Juicy Couturé.

I think I get so riled up about all of this because there was a culture of exclusion throughout everyone’s adolescence (instead of the Pretty Committee, my home town’s b-girls we called The Saditty Committee), but the rules get harder and harder to follow every generation, and there are fewer and fewer kids who feel happy, relaxed, satisfied with themselves, and in control of their world. How’s that going to cut down on the craziness in our society? Wolfe points out that instead of trying to remake the world for their brave new selves, the new heroines of chick lit do their best to squeeze more quickly into the glossy and banal world of their parents — and be just like them, only moreso. Yee haw.

I hope for success in the YA genre if for no other reason than that it will PROVE there are some girls who don’t buy that chick lit thing one bit.