From the New Yorker to Children’s Lit: Adam Gopnik

Another cheery draftee to children’s literature is New Yorker columnist Adam Gopnik, profiled in The San Francisco Chronicle this morning. Interviewer Regan McMahon writes:

“He was 75 pages into writing an adult novel and realized “it was boring.” Then one day he was in the American Library in Paris, in the room with what he calls stories of the marvelous and the supernatural — “I hate to say children’s literature because it sounds condescending” — “and I thought, those are the kind of books I loved with all my heart and soul, rather than reading with my mind and taste. And as long as I was going to write a book, I wanted to write it from my favorite images and my deepest obsessions, and that was the kind of book where the magical and extraordinary suddenly enters into the life of an ordinary person.”

The article gives a quick sketch of the book’s premise; The King in the Window tells the tale of 11-year-old Oliver, an American boy in Paris with his family who gets drawn into a parallel universe by the revenants in the hotel mirrors who’ve stayed ‘active’ since the reign of Louis XIV. This middle grade novel sounds like an extraordinarily creative jaunt into the paranormal.

Admittedly, it’s always great when an able, articulate general fiction writer crosses over to the kid’s side of the world. However, Gopnik bewilders me a little when he tries to find an apt description of the other literature from the American Library in Paris that he read as he was working on this piece. Do the words ‘children’s literature’ sound condescending to you? (Gopnik prefers to call it ‘literature of the marvelous and the supernatural.’) Whatever you call it, the heartfelt sentiment that ‘these are the books that I love’ rings true, and I hope we all follow the call to write what we love, no matter what anyone else says is marketable, acceptable or trendy.

YHappy WritingY

Competitions and Contests

NaNoWriMo is the NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth competition, where you attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. (Look here for more information.)While I have nothing but faith in you, my darlings, I do urge you not to be dismayed if you’re not finished with it by the end of the month. Plug away!


Can’t hang with the novel? There’s a new short story contest coming up from Writer’s Digest. The deadline is coming up, so start now on getting your entry form and details squared away. Good luck!


The Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature,is a writing competition into which anyone who submits to Milkweed Editions is entered. Milkweed is in search of quality children’s novels intended for readers in the 8-13 age group. This competition is part of Milkweed’s children’s book publishing program for middle-graders. Prize: Judging will be by Milkweed Editions, and the winner of the prize will receive a $5,000 cash advance on any royalties agreed upon in the contractual arrangement negotiated at the time of acceptance. Check out their The World As Home series — very, VERY cool.

Now, here’s a different kind of contest: Through the cool connectivity of the Web, you can submit a favorite book while recommending it to a another person via email and be entered to win a 15 book library of titles recommended by contributors from Bookmark Now a Bay Area book/blog/web buzz phenom.

As for my peoples doing the SmartWriters short story contest…good luck! Good luck! You’ve all got great stories!

Blooming Tree Press

Writing for the SmartWriter’s W.I.N. Contest is just as hard as I thought it would be!!! If all else fails, and I totally bail on the competition, I hope to win entrance to an anthology by going directly to the source. Word has it that, since August, Blooming Tree Press has been seeking to increase their middle grade and YA lines. One of their editors, Judy Gregerson is interested in YA contemporary or historical fiction. Agent reports from various SCBWI conferences have reoprted that there’s a dearth of solid historical fiction for kids, and I know other agents who profess a liking for it. Blooming Tree is the one printing the anthology for SmartWriters, and I hope everyone is writing like mad to meet the deadline! The Contest ends on Monday!

Write away!

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!