Tales Fresh From the Garden: The Zucchini of Doom

Signs of the Apocalypse: The Zucchini of Doom

Teasel’s knife paused, mid-slice. It leered at her daringly, glistening palely from the white tile counter. “NO!” She flung it aside, set down the knife, shivering. It was happening again.

The first time she had been little more than a child. A round-faced, frizzy haired thirteen, she had been walking along the beach with her class. Mr. Reedy had been showing them tide pools; prickly anemones, chitons, sideways inching crabs (which gave her chills, and caused Stephanie Gustafsson to leap onto her back, screaming); mussels, conical limpets, and sea urchins strewn with rockweed, It was like any other Field Excursion in Eighth; people were dragging behind, complaining of the wet, and throwing things that splatted.

Mr. Reedy had been bellowing in his Macarthur-addressing-the-troops voice. “Comulada! Sea star: carnivorous or vegetarian?”

Scott Comulada, who had just lashed VJ Lilja with a whip of seaweed, was stalling. “Um…Carnivorous, sir?”

“Are you asking me or telling me, son?”

“Telling you sir?”

Mr. Reedy had sighed, nodded briskly, and continued haranguing the others. “Now, VJ…”

Teasel had long since lost track of what Mr. Reedy was saying. Having finally shed the limpet-clinging Stephanie, she was picking her way delicately over the rocks, looking for nudibrachs, for which Mr. Reedy said he’d award five points to any student for identification. Teasel, who was a thrifty, clean and reverent type, never thought her grades were high enough, so unlike her classmates, who couldn’t care less about poking into tidepools (except to find gross things to either squish, poke with sticks, or throw), Teasel was looking earnestly. And then she spotted the rock with the strange pattern…

“Whatcha got there, Teasel, don’t you know this is a State park?” Mr. Reedy loomed close, his spearmint gum breath wafting over Teasel’s bent head. “Good Lord. That looks like a …” and then Mr. Reedy’s voice had faded. But Teasel knew. They’d had it in Life Sciences in Seventh.

“It looks like a… a uterus,” she’d muttered, and Mr. Reedy had looked at her sharply.

“Well done,” he said gruffly. “Now, put it down, you know you can’t take away things from a State Park, right? Five points for that nudibrach, everybody. Get looking!”

Teasel had not put it down. She’d waited until Mr. Reedy’s head was turned, then she put that rock in her pocket.

It didn’t seem safe to leave it in the water. It might… multiply, or something…

Teasel knew she was strange. While other girls her age were babysitting for movie cash and money for lip gloss and Victoria’s Secret, Teasel was pulling weeds at the U-Pick strawberry patch. In the off season, she wrangled laundry at the hospital laundromat, and in extremity, she shoveled dog dookey and stacked wood in the neighbor’s backyard. Teasel ranked weeds, dirty linens and dog doings over dealing with little kids. Nobody, she knew, would understand. But, there was, she’d learned, that immaculate conception thing. It seemed so… strange! And offensively invasive. Teasel wasn’t sure she wanted kids, nor was she interested particularly in Almighty God giving her one against her will. As a matter of record, the idea gave her a rash.

Other girls in her school welcomed the Life Sciences Baby Egg project in Grade Ten, where kids wandered around carrying decorated raw eggs and keeping a journal about feeding it and all. Teasel had dropped hers the first day, and then fallen into a fit of trembling, hives and wheezing so bad that her teacher had given her another one, and told her she’d forget about the first one. Teasel had shellacked it, and kept it in a metal box. Stephanie had told her it couldn’t breathe, which Teasel had thought was taking the whole thing way too far. Teasel’s teacher, Ms. Loudermilk, had given her a good grade for her neatly kept, if spurious, journal, but had written a little p.s. at the bottom, “Not everyone is cut out for motherhood. It’s okay to just have plants.”

The stone wasn’t the only image. Over time, more shapes revealed themselves to her. There was the uterine shaped stain on the carpet of her first apartment, the pattern of seeds in the heart of a pear, the shape of the water leak in the corner of her parent’s garage ceiling. Someone sideswiped her car in the mall parking lot her second year in college, and the resulting yellow smear of paint had that anxiety-producing t-shape; that upside-down cocktail glass. The cosmos kept lining them up and tossing them at her. Teasel grit her teeth to make it through the day. “No,” she would mutter to herself as she saw them. “No, no, and no, thank you!”

When at the ripened age of 27, Teasel married, she opened up a certain box at the top of her closet, and with great trepidation laid out all of her treasures. She’d saved them — the rocks, the wizened fruit, the photographs of her car’s crumpled side panel. She showed them to Randolph, anxiously, trying to speak without letting her lips quiver. “They’re… fertility things,” she quavered. “And I keep them locked away… because… I-I don’t want children… do you understand?”

Randolph, bland-faced and genial, didn’t, but he played along gamely as he did with all the other things he considered ‘Darling Teasel’s foibles.’ “Oh, sure. No kids. Got that,” he said, and ruffled her hair springy. “No problem, lovely, more of you for me, eh?” Making a game of it, Randolph soon began to collect as many fertility markers as he could.

“Look, Teasel! Look at that cloud! Kinda looks like a uterus, doesn’t it?” “See that cow? Big black splotch on it. Looks a bit uterine, would you say?” “Wouldja look at the birthmark on that kid’s heinie! Looks just like a …”

Of course, Teasel rapidly wished she hadn’t told him anything. At those moments, she thought of him in her mind as Randolt, and wished him rapid death and decomposition for mocking her. But other than that, she liked him all right. After all, he could joke about her fears, so, so could she. Shakily, when not sneering, she learned to laugh; decided that God was not stalking her with His hands full of seed to thrust within her resisting soil.

For a few years, all was calm. Teasel grew to forget the box in her closet. Randolph became absolutely aggravating about something completely different. Teasel almost forgot.

Until the zucchini. It was, she found, simply the last straw.

“No!” she shuddered, and flung the knife away. No. Not now! She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t. Hastily, Teasel snatched off her apron, and shrugged into her garbadine coat. She had wanted to leave him anyway, and now she had her reasons. It was coming for her. She wasn’t a fool. She’d known all along what the fertility stone had meant…

Further signs of the apocalypse – a make your own McDonald’s sign.

Banned, Baby! What Are You Reading Today?

My Challenged Book of the Day is cute and funny Sex Kittens & Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, by Maryrose Wood; my Banned Book for today is Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher. Check out the American Library Association’s website this week to learn the difference between banned and challenged, and find out what this book-banning, book-burning thing is all about. Speak, think and read freely!

The ALA lists the ten most challenged YA books as:

  • Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  • Deenie, by Judy Blume
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  • Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
  • Forever, by Judy Blume
  • The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  • The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
  • The Pigman, by Paul Zindel
  • Lord of the Flies, by Wiliam Golding
  • Running Loose by Chris Crutcher

I am proud to say that I have read all of these books! Go, rebel readers!

A very cool opportunity for those who are great reviewers (and you know I mean YOU!): not only is the newest Edge of the Forest up and running (and do drop in to peruse the interview with the fabulous Rick Riordan as well as the other great pieces by the very talented writers and reviewers in the blogosphere), our Kid Lit Kelly is looking for reviewers for October. Give her a holler if you’re interested!

Another great list over at Bildungsroman: Sassy Sidekicks of Children’s Literature. Who’s the best Hermione to your favorite Harry or the helpful Diana Barry to your Anne? Add to the list, keep the ball rolling. And I’m late with this, but the Seventh Carnival of Children’s Literature is up, which is a great round-up of book reviews, as well as bloggings on topics from the troubles of to writing an algebra comic book (yikes!) to racism in literature, and more. Give yourself a few hours, and read through! You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll discover new bloggers whose musings you won’t want to miss. Meanwhile, heads up: next month’s book carnival is Halloween themed, and Scholar’s Blog says submissions are due October 15th.

And finally, via e. lockhart’s site, The YA Writer’s Cafe is back, Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. Pacific, 8:30 p.m. EST! It’s a chance to hang out with YA authors and listen and ask questions as they talk shop. The list of featured guests will knock your socks off. You don’t have to register, or be an actual author to hang out, listen and learn. Check it out!

Bad Beginnings & Banned Books!

Via Big A little A, the UK Guardian blog Culture Vulture is publishing the blog diary of their theater critic and first time children’s novelist, Lyn Gardener. She describes publication, so far, as like ‘ having been pregnant for a monstrously long time’ and that the whole thing has ‘crept out to resounding silence.’ Members of her own family haven’t even called. Oy, people. OY.
She goes on to say,

“I know that I am not young enough, pretty enough or well enough connected to attract media attention. What’s more, Into the Woods isn’t a roman a clef or a chick lit bonk-buster. It is a novel for children. When you tell people that you’ve just had a novel published they beam “congratulations.” When you inform them that it’s for 8-12 year olds their eyes glaze over and they say brightly: “So you’re the next JK Rowling.” Probably not, as I have no desire to write a seven novel series or ever holiday in the Hamptons.”

Part of me knows I don’t have the looks, the style, or the verve to be a Celebrated Children’s Author, and you have to admit that there is a certain type of cachet that some writers seem to sport. (However, they mostly hobnob in New York. Hmm!) Frankly, I don’t care. I’m not cool, and never have been, so being a Celebrated YA Author is not high on my list. Just being a Published YA Author would be good. Yet, though I know how Gardner feels, she does have a book out (and her fellow Brits certainly give her no pity! Those who have commented on her blogging have been… well, sort of nasty, in that crisply spoken, don’t-let’s-pity-ourselves British way), and though it isn’t being celebrated with parades, I can imagine the silence is eerie and foretells bad things to come.

On the other hand, it’s kind of a way of life for some of us. The looks you get when you finally, reluctantly tell people you’re a writer? The responses range from saying “it must be nice not to have to work,” to telling you their sad tale of not getting published to asking you to look at something of theirs, to asking, facetiously, where they can find your book. “Amazon?” is my least-favorite query in that line. (I mean, come on. If they have to mock me, could they at least mock me with the name of an independent bookseller?)

At any rate, I look forward to reading more of this blog diary (and then lying down and sobbing quietly as I take it all in). The Guardian makes it a pain in the butt to sign up, but you’ll want to stop by and read, if not post your two cents to give the lady some encouragement.

Party list: Banned Book Bracelets? Check. Dish of spicy sweet apple sauce? Check. Library stack? Check. Then it’s time for the big bash to begin! I know — nobody has a party by themselves with a stack of books and some applesauce, but you celebrate Banned Books Week, September 23-30 your way, and I’ll celebrate mine!

The ALA wants to know: What’s your favorite book? Was it banned? Vote for your favorite banned books, and tell the ALA why it was a great find for you!

Happy Weekend! Celebrate~!

Midweek Randomness

Celebrity, shmebrity. Okay, OKAY, Jamie Lee Curtis writes some decent children’s books. However, I still maintain that celebrity authors suck up all the air in the room. Book number seven’s probably great. Probably fabulous. Look how quickly she heard from her editor. Look how fast the newest one hit the bookstores. It’s probably wonderful, marvelous. But still. Okay, I just read The Jealousy Book last night. I’m over it. Ignore the green eyes.

Sister Mary Wookie Explains It All. Via Bookshelves of Doom, author Maureen Johnson, author of the upcoming YA novel, Devilish, has an hysterical piece on her blog that ties in to the book. From her Protestant-in-a-Catholic-school upbringing, Maureen Johnson learned so much. About wasps. About… the solar system... About life. Or some facsimile thereof. I imagine Sister Mary Wookie has a new illustration, now that Pluto isn’t even a planet anymore…

Um, what, Chris? From the cover blurbs from author Laura Ruby’s newly released novel Good Girls, a quote: “You can’t write an authentic book about adolescence without including sex and sexuality, and Laura Ruby does a masterful job.” —Chris Crutcher, author of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. Um. Really? You can’t write an authentic book about adolescence without including sex and sexuality? Honestly? I appreciate the sentiment praising the book, but is the rest of that statement really true? As I tend to be at this point, waiting to hear something from S.A.M. or the editor we’re working with, I am questioning the nature of the world and the unfolding of the universe… and I want to ask, “Oh, is that what’s wrong with my book? I just need to include sexuality and sex, and it’ll be authentic? Then editors will knock on my door and actually return my agent’s phone calls? Hm??? Forgive me, Mr. Crutcher. I’m being snarky. But if I include sex/sexuality in my work, my books will be awkward, hackneyed and awful…much like the adolescent me, I’m afraid! Maybe I’m just not comfortable enough with my sexuality to be authentic. I admire authors like you and e. lockhart, Nick Earles, Tanya Lee Stone, and even Meg Cabot who can effortlessly segue first kisses and first flirts and first… other stuff into their work, but that’s just not me. Am I then doomed to a life of inauthenticity? Or, maybe, can I just be authentic for ME!? Can we agree that not everyone’s adolescence includes acknowledging sexuality? Maybe if we had a definition of the sexuality in adolescence with which we’re supposed to be conversant?
Speaking of my books, I’m hoping that a friend won’t have the same J.K. Rowling experience… he’s printed out one of my manuscripts and is bringing it with him to read on a plane. As he has been bugging me and bugging me to read one of my novels, it would serve him right to be stopped by airport security! However, even if he is flying out of SFO… on the way to Nebraska? This is not going to happen. But still.

All right, to work.
Happy Wednesday, people.

Scattershot Thoughts on a Frantic Monday

Though it was written in 1963, years before I was born, one of my favorite Beverly Cleary novels has always been Sister of the Bride. I related to it very much, as the youngest of three sisters. And now I’m making frantic phone calls and arranging menus, and trying to get my sister to speak English, I realize that only twenty or so years later, I’m living my favorite Cleary novel… the arguments, the drama, the sneaking thoughts that my sister would be better off single… Two more weeks. Yes. This is going to be fun. Let’s all say it together: FUN!

More fun — real fun, this time — to be found at Book Divas. From Sept 27 to October 11, you can leave any question you want for e. lockhart, and she’ll actually answer! How rad is that!? Check out the dates for other YA authors with whom you might want to chat. What a neat and fun opportunity! Also via e. lockhart’s blog I’ve just found out that there’s a NEW JACLYN MORIARTY NOVEL due out October 1st. If you’ve never read Feeling Sorry for Celia or The Year of Secret Assignments, now is the time to check those out. Though the new novel is a stand-alone, it takes place at the same school. I am hoping this newest novel involves letters as well! And speaking of great Aussie writers, Nick Earls, with whom you may not be familiar, is highlighted in an interview. If you haven’t read any of his books, you’ll find them funny and heartening; stories about flawed young men and their truly good hearts, despite their truly odd behavior.

I don’t usually write about the non-fiction I read, but since my undergrad degree is in 19th century British and American literature… I had to give a shout-out to old William Blake. A sort of crazy, maybe sane, possibly delusional poet and visionary, Blake‘s life and poetry is highlighted in a nonfiction book for Young Adults that actually sounds like it’d be great reading for adults, too. Beyond “Tiger, tiger, burning bright,” there was a bit more to the man. Check it out.

And, to my mind, this is both exciting and worrisome: There’s a new Tolkien book in town. CNN reports that Tolkien’s son has finished a book his father began and abandoned in 1918, and it will come out next Spring through Houghton Mifflin.

Wouldn’t you hate for someone to be digging through your computer files for all of the story fragments you’ve begun and abandoned, to be published posthumously? What kind of critical reading could anyone give these works? Will readers be mostly reading Tolkien senior, whose work we know and love, or Tolkien Junior, trying to guess what his father intended, and to imitate that voice? And one wonders if, like in the case of C.S. Lewis, specific injunctions against certain usages, and making the estate and the private writings of this author were given, and are being ignored. … I cringe when I recall that Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson destroyed many of their letters and early manuscripts, firmly, decisively wanting no one to take that part of their private lives and make them public. We have lost a lot with their decisions… but maybe what is gone was never ours to lose.

Happy International Literacy Day!

Weekend Wrap-up

Happy Constitution Day! Somehow Constitution Day goes through to the 19th, but it’s a fun jump-off for Banned Books Week the week after. Today’s Constitutional Quote:
you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Bradbury

This almost happened to the last volume of Potter-isms, that is, we almost didn’t get to read it. The Guardian reports that airport security is so tight in New York that JK Rowling was asked to pack her manuscript and not have it as a carry-on. Paper …has now become dangerous? Or was it was the heft of the paper? Please tell me the seventh novel in the series is not the longest yet? What else could have made airport security suspicious of a woman with a few reams of paper?! Was she swinging it at people? Who can tell… Also, via the Guardian Culture Vulture Blog, adults post the sulk-buster books that lifted them out of the blues during their childhood years. We all know that Roald Dahl cheered us up quite a bit. Take the Quiz and find out how much you know about him.

A head-start for the holidays, Publishers’ Weekly interviews a UC Berkeley student who has taken five years to produce a guide to kids’ giving. Written by then 14-year-old Fredi Zeiler, this book takes philanthropy down to kid-sized bites, and may help kids start positive lifetime habits.

Via A Fuse #8: It’s not enough that Bilbo’s house was overrun by orcs and ruffians. Now it’s got real estate agents. It’s the American version of the cute-little-English-cottage. Terrifying.

Wands & Worlds reminds us that today is the deadline for contributions to the Blog Carnival of Children’s Lit, which takes place the 23rd. Now, carnivals are just blog round-ups, I’m told, so sorry, no carousels unless you bring your own. Either way, they make good reading, and I always find a blog or two I’ve missed.

Children’s Book Council Magazine has posted a nifty piece on book promotion during Children’s Book Week in November, and they also have a very sweet, very hope-provoking series of letters between author Rita-Williams Garcia and her editor, Rosemary Brosnan of HarperCollins, that shows that 20-year friendships and growth are possible between writers and their editors, and that there’s hope for all of us! And you only thought it was possible to be friends with your writing group!

I have to admit that I struggle with her books. EVERYBODY loves Meg Cabot… but I am the one holdout who hates happy endings. Bah! For good or for ill, the Philly Inquirer has a short piece on how the Great MC writes. She’s prolific, and sets herself targets… and completely blows them off and fools around until she’s down to the wire. Sound familiar?

I mentioned awhile back that Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea novels were being animated under the name Gedo Senki by Studio Ghibli. Sigh. Poor LeGuin’s novel has been made incoherent all over again. She has posted briefly to her blog about her response to the film, and says we must never blame the novelist for these things. So, I vote we find the screenwriter! I would ask questions about a possible cultural disconnect in misinterpreting the scope and sequence of the plot, except that we have the less-than-stellar American interpretation with which to grapple – and no excuses there. Anyway, the anime won’t be released in the U.S. until 2009, so there’s lots of time to pick up the original books and enjoy them all over again.

Listening gives you an advantage in writing dialogue. I spend time listening to my siblings and my niece and her friends, as well as watching The N, Disney Channel, and indulging all of my other juvenile preferences with a perfectly clear conscience in the name of my Art. (Ahem.) Today, NPR has some really great listener response to Nelly Furtado’s Promiscuous… Now, granted, I had to look up the song and all, but once I read the lyrics (!), I was intrigued by what some of the teens interviewed thought. Take a listen: “Chivalry is dead!” one girl argues. “Nobody’s going to have sex just from this song, that’s too corny,” insists a boy. The debate continues: are you what you listen to at that age? Does it warp your mind as some studies and adults seem to think? Intriguing conversations and some knowledge into the minds of potential characters!

Via e. lockhart, I’m excited to find Living Writers, a very cool public radio thing from Ann Arbor, MI, with super cool YA author interviews. This week it’s E. Lockhart, and she worries she sounds like a weenie. She so does not. This month’s radio interview gives some heads up about The Boy Book, and lets us know that Noel will be back! Yay! Be prepared for a long listen – but it’s well worth it to hear authors in a relaxed and thoughtful frame of mind. Look through the archives for other of your favorite authors.

Enjoy the weekend before you!

Cloudy With a Chance of Coffee!

As it was a cloudy and cool 40 degrees when I awakened this fine morning, I thought it fitting that my AuthorTracker email contained an interview with Terry Pratchett on Wintersmith, since I’ve been longing for cooler weather. Since I can’t find it printed elsewhere ( and forwarding you my email would be pointless), I include the interview here:

Talking with Terry Pratchett
(AuthorTracker News from HarperCollins)

Tiffany Aching has decided she wants to be a witch when she grows up. What did you want to be when you were Tiffany’s age?

When I was Tiffany’s age, I wanted to be an astronomer. I never succeeded in my ambition, because astronomers have to be good at math, and I’ve never been very good at math. I thought astronomy was a really cool job, because you got to stay up late at night. But I have to say I’m very pleased that now, because of the success of my writing, I’ve built my own observatory.

Tiffany read the dictionary straight through because no one had told her she wasn’t supposed to. Did you ever read the dictionary straight through?

Ha! Yes, I did it when I was a kid. I read dictionaries all the way through: dictionaries, thesauruses, dictionaries of slang, all that sort of thing, for the sheer fun of doing it. I think I was a rather weird kid, to be frank.

Tiffany is also an expert cheesemaker. Have you ever made cheese?

Yep. Goat’s cheese. We used to keep goats, which are really just like sheep, but a lot more intelligent and much, much more bad-tempered. I was pretty good at goat cheese, I have to say. I could make goat cheese again if someone wanted me to.

The landscape Tiffany grew up in is clearly based on the English chalk country—you’ve said there is amazingly little you had to make up about her home. What can you tell us about this part of England?

A large area of southern England is on the chalk; in fact, the White Cliffs of Dover are chalk. I live on the chalk, about twelve miles from Stonehenge. I even own about forty acres of the chalk. You always get to see sheep on the chalk, it tends to be very high country, and you don’t see too many trees. It’s really the center of all our mythologies in England. There’s Stonehenge there, and strange ancient carvings, and the burial mounds of dead chieftains. Back in the days when the valleys were just all flooded and swampy, the chalk uplands were how people moved around, and, in the heart of it all, was Stonehenge.

Is Tiffany’s family in any way based on your own?

Well, I grew up on the chalk. I was born in the Chiltern Hills, which is another chalk outcrop. And a lot of the things that Tiffany thinks and sees, in fact, I thought and saw when I was her age; a lot of the way Tiffany comprehends the landscape is based on my own experiences. I don’t come from a farming family, but I spent a lot of time among farmers and their families when I was a kid. I’m the actual archetypal example of an only child, so I had plenty of time to myself. My paternal grandmother has a very special place in my heart, just as Tiffany’s grandmother, does, because when I was a kid I was allowed to read from her bookshelf. It was a very short bookshelf, but it contained every book you really ought to read, like the complete short stories of H. G. Wells, and the complete short stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I just worked my way along my granny’s bookshelf and didn’t realize that I was getting an education.

In Tiffany’s world, being a witch means, in part, to have certain duties and responsibilities. How did you decide to include these obligations as part of your definition of witchcraft?

Certainly witchcraft for Tiffany has very little to do with magic as people generally understand it. It has an awful lot to do with taking responsibility for yourself and taking responsibility also for the less able people and, up to a certain point, guarding your society. This is based on how witchcraft really was, I suspect. The witch was the village herbalist, the midwife, the person who knew things. She would sit up with the dying, lay out the corpses, deliver the newborn. Witches tended to be needed when human beings were meeting the dangerous edges of their lives, the places where there is no map. They don’t mess around with tinkly spells; they get their hands dirty.

And then there are the Nac Mac Feegle. They’re the most feared of all the fairy races, and yet they’re also loyal, strong, and very funny. How did you come up with the Nac Mac Feegle?

I thought it very strange, and very sad that the fairy kingdom largely appears to be English. I thought it was time for some regional representation. And the Nac Mac Feegle are, well, they’re like tiny little Scottish Smurfs who have seen Braveheart altogether too many times. They speak a mixture of Gaelic, Old Scots, Glaswegian and gibberish. And they’re extremely brave, and they’re extremely small, and extremely strong, and there’s hundreds and hundreds of them, and they just are automatically funny. You can’t help but love them, at a distance.

What happens to get you to sit down your desk and write the opening words of a new novel?

I’m not sure. I start with a handful of semiformed ideas and play around with them until they seem to make some sense. Actually typing is important to me—it kind of tricks my brain into gear. I’ve got a pack-rat mind, like most writers, and once I starting thinking hard about a new project all kinds of odd facts and recollections shuffle forward to get a place on the bus.

Do you know where a story is going when you start writing, or do you let the story take control and see where it takes you?

This answer deserves one sentence or an essay! I’ll try to summarize it like this: writing, for me, is a little like wood carving. You find the lump of tree (the big central theme that gets you started) and you start cutting the shape that you think you want it to be. But you find, if you do it right, that the wood has a grain of its own (characters develop and present new insights, concentrated thinking about the story opens new avenues). If you’re sensible, you work with the grain and, if you come across a knot hole, you incorporate that into the design. This is not the same as “making it up as you go along”; it’s a very careful process of control.

The fantasy genre is often thought of as escapism, but is it escapism with a firm root in reality?

Fantasy IS escapism, but wait…why is this wrong? What are you escaping from, and where are you escaping to? Is the story opening windows or slamming doors? The British author G. K. Chesterton summarized the role of fantasy very well. He said its purpose was to take the everyday, commonplace world and lift it up and turn it around and show it to us from a different perspective, so that once again we see it for the first time and realize how marvelous it is. Fantasy—the ability to envisage this world in many different ways—is one of the skills that makes us human.

Your Discworld novels are fantastically successful. Now you’re writing Discworld novels specifically for younger readers. Why?

I think my heart has always been in writing for children. My first book was written for children, and a few years ago I realized that if I wrote a few books for younger readers I could approach Discworld in a different way. There’s a lot of difference between writing for children and writing for adults, and it’s almost impossible to tell you what it is, but I know it when I’m doing it. You have more fun, and I have to say, it’s a little bit harder, especially if you do it right.

Mr. Pratchett’s newest Discworld adventure, which is due out this month, has a sample chapter posted! And for those who can’t get enough Pratchett, his only California stop on his book tour (so far) will be on Sunday, October 15th at 3 pm at COPPERFIELD’S Books Petaluma store, but he’ll be elsewhere in the U.S. in the next months. Enjoy!

The contest over at Journey-Woman is still going! Put your mind to the madmen (and women), because EACH YA or children’s lit antagonist you submit gets you one entry into the drawing for the coffee gift cert. Submissions are due by 9PM, Eastern, September 19, 2006. The winner will be randomly selected from all entries on September 20, 2006. Think of it: COFFEE. Antagonists. Antagonistic coffee. It’s an important contest!

Deliciously Dahl on a Whacked-out Wednesday

OH! Oh! Oh!
I’ve been very, very good, and haven’t spat or swore or cursed Secret Agent Man’s name (in the last hour) so I want one of THESE!! Isn’t my half birthday coming up soon!? The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom is selling these to raise awareness of frequently ‘challenged’ books. Imagine sporting a bracelet covered with YA and kidlit titles and starting some deep conversations with strangers! Sweet! We READ banned books! And we’re proud of it!(Via A Fuse #8.)

Also, via Big A little a – and cheers to Seren for the reminder – it’s Roald Dahl Day! I am, of course, going to recite Revolting Rhymes aloud all day:

The animal I really dig,
Above all others is the pig.
Pigs are noble. Pigs are clever,
Pigs are courteous. However,
Now and then, to break this rule,
One meets a pig who is a fool…

Man, is this the day for fun stuff, or what? Thankfully, the Universe is making up for it having been a rough week thus far. Via Big A little a, over at Journey-Woman, you’re invited to name your #1 fave antagonist in the kidlitosphere HERE. Check out all the others — from The Grinch to Count Olaf, there are myriad ‘evildoers’ we love to hate. And hey — there’s maybe some coffee in it for you. A $25 gift certificate! Now you know you need to join.

Those who are super-jazzed about Stephanie Meyer’s vampire trilogy (and you know who you are, Benicia! I’m number SIXTEEN on the holds list at the library, thank-you) will want to head on over to YA Books Central for the Meyer INTERVIEW! Whoo! Everything you wanted to know about Meyer as a writer, and maybe even some hints about Book 3!

Wear your clothes backwards all day, levitate your enemies, speak unintelligibly, and generally have a great Dahl day. It’s Wednesday! Things can only get better. Theoretically.


A round-up of positive things to think about after yesterday:

From Mitali’s Fire Escape, a list of children’s and YA books to talk about and think about yesterday’s anniversary, and the deaths in 2001, and Chicken Spaghetti answers the question of how art has helped her make sense of the worst of it. Via Book Moot, we’re pointed, by way of a fabulous quote, to the New York Times interview with Katherine Paterson, who discusses the characters she writes. Characters with difficult lives, Paterson notes, are more the norm than not. Somebody has to write about them. Hear, hear! Read the first chapter. (My apologies for the NY Times membership thing, but you only have to register once.)

Via Not Your Mother’s Bookclub, more entertaining novel stupidity: Name Your Very Own Bestselling YA Novel! The first lines say, “Need some extra cash? Why not write a Young Adult novel? They’re so easy, why, they practically write themselves! All you need is a title, and you can watch the money roll in… “Um, yeah. My title is The Not-So-Terrible life of a Braless Vampire. Ummm… don’t ask.

Those of us who were sad when Cody’s in Berkeley closed down can have a little happy moment: Cody’s can now be found at the Oakland airport. It’s not perfect, but decent books from an independent source at an airport? Sweet.

A not-so-positive note I meant to mention earlier: what is with this James Frey thing? People who bought his book before he told the truth about its fabrications are now eligible for refunds? If everyone who lied had to pay people in cash, we’d have no poverty, and the presidents would be broke. Is this overkill? The power of Oprah? A one-man example? What? Does anyone else think this is a bit much?