(The 101st Post. Cool, huh?)

I’ve always said that the most fun thing about writing is that I can be me — or anyone else. When the writer is automatically expected to embody all sorts of impossible creatures, the question of ‘who gets to write who/what’ has no more power. We will have grown as a nation of readers when we can accept humans exploring humanity as an entire subject, instead of expecting each group to limit themselves to an incremental examination of their perceived ethnicity.

It’s good to know that the same concept exists in the realms of other writers such as the talented Sid Fleischman. This nifty quote is on his biography page.

Weekend Words

Now, how cool is this? The Redwood City’s Orion School Book Fair featured 11-year olds confidently showing off their portfolios of stories and drawings to adult writers who were glad to see them. The children gained a peek into the process that creates the books they. The writers and illustrators discuss what it takes to create one. The writers talked about how hard editing was, and how bad it felt to erase things they’d written. They talked about how to get ideas, and showed flow charts, etc. When I was in the first grade, we had Author’s Conventions, where we had a single writer from the community come and do that for us, and we all had tea and were awarded on the best story from our grade group, etc. The teacher who did that for us moved on, but I hope someday to get involved in something like this — quel fun!
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An interesting side note: some of my writing group is privy to the strange conversations I have with Secret Agent Man about race and writing, and some of the strange and upsetting conversations I had at grad school about “representing” and how I wasn’t doing it, by creating characters belonging to the dominant culture. It seems that the difficulty isn’t new, Gene Andrew Jarrett, adjunct professor of English at the University of Maryland writes in the SF Chronicle Insight section:

Usually, readers assume that a book written by a black author is a story about black people. This definition is everywhere. It has determined the way authors think about and write African American literature, the way publishers classify and distribute it, the way bookstores receive and sell it, the way libraries catalog and shelve it, the way readers locate and retrieve it, the way teachers, the way scholars, and anthologists use it, and the way students learn from it.

The fact is, sometimes writers just want to write about the commonality of human experience, instead of about race. However, it just comes across as weird to some people, and a minority writer can find themselves defensive. It’s heartening to know that authors like Toni Morrison and others actually wrote “out of character” pieces in which it’s almost impossible to determine the race of the characters in the work. It certainly changes the conversation when the color of the speakers is not at issue… it tends to perhaps centralize the focus on the facts, whether emotional or literal, and create a new angle on literature. A very enlightened idea, that.

Random

Okay, I know this isn’t regarding writing, per se, but Wikipedia as organic online encyclopedic phenomenon is so useful to my life for getting random (and possibly inaccurate, but I do triple check my sources) and unimportant errata to jumpstart my brain that I had to share this tidbit. NPR reports that Wikipedia has started having to block access to their site from computers from Capitol Hill… because it’s not enough that politicians lie to your face. Their aides like to change the encyclopedia to reflect their version of reality, too. Whoo.

Meanwhile, the Newbery was another surprise for some, including Secret Agent Man, because few people expected the winning novel, Criss Cross to succeed. The Newbery Medal is administered by the American Library Association, and in awarding the prize to Lynne Rae Perkins, award committee chair Barbara Barstow praised Criss Cross as “an orderly, innovative, and risk-taking book in which nothing happens and everything happens.” This sounds much like this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s winning novel, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, in which much of the book is spent in what I’ve heard described as a ‘Little Women type of quaint nostalgia,’ though Publishers Weekly was actually kind, using the word ‘charming’ quite a bit. Criss Cross is set in the 60’s…

I find myself wondering if judges these days have succumbed to nostalgia as well. We’re told at Conferences that editors aren’t looking for ‘quiet books;’ Gossip Girls and The A- List (not to mention the others like Rainbow Party, LBD, etc.) are being push marketed with the pastel Chick Lit covers, but the awards are going to stories from the past that are long on charm and short on chaos. What gives? Editors, the public and the awards people are never on the same page.

…And more contests

Stopped by the cheerfully hokey W.I.N. competition page, and for all of its fun factor in having a “But wait! There’s more!” factor in the contest description, I was annoyed that I couldn’t quite find the contest deadline… Until I clicked ‘register now,’ that is, and found out that everything must be postmarked by March 15th. It’s actually a semi-nifty thing; you can upload your same story repeatedly if you want to a.) change it, b.) submit another section c.) just are as neurotically obsessive as most of us writer types are and need to go over and over it typos and ‘no I didn’t mean thats.’

No, I haven’t actually submitted anything yet, but I might. This is for novel excerpts instead of short stories… and we all have one or two of those sitting around, don’t we? My writing girlz, especially some of us who placed for a short story in the last contest should check it out. Hint?
You can enter as many works in as many categories as you wish, in these categories:
* Young Adult: Novel excerpt to 1,000 words + one page synopsis.
* Midgrade: Novel excerpt to 1,000 words + one page synopsis.
* Chapter Book: Novel excerpt to 1,000 words + one page synopsis.
* Non-fiction: Book excerpt to 1,000 words + one page synopsis

Plus poetry, picture book, and illustration, too, of which some of us should take note.

Okay, I know I haven’t done it yet. That’s not the point. I’m picking on someone else today.

We interrupt this writing day to announce…

2005 Award Winners in Childrens & YA Lit

Caldecott Winners
Chris Raschka won the 2005 Randolph Caldecott Medal for The Hello, Goodbye Window, written by Norton Juster (Hyperion/di Capua). Raschka had previously won a Caldecott Honor, for his picture book Yo? Yes!

Caldecott Honor Books were named: Rosa, illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Nikki Giovanni (Holt); Zen Shorts, written and illustrated by Jon J Muth (Scholastic Press); Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride, written and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Atheneum/Schwartz); and Song of the Water Boatmen & Other Pond Poems, illustrated by Beckie Prange, written by Joyce Sidman (Houghton).

Newbery Winners
Lynne Rae Perkins has won the 2005 John Newbery Medal for her novel Criss Cross (Greenwillow),
Newbery Honor Books: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Scholastic); Whittington by Alan Armstrong, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Random/Lamb); Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury); and Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott (Putnam).

Michael L. Printz Award
Looking for Alaska, a first novel by John Green (Dutton), won the for excellence in literature for young adults. Four Printz Honors were given: Black Juice by Margo Lanagan (HarperCollins/Eos); I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (Knopf); John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth by Elizabeth Partridge (Viking); and A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philippe Lardy (Houghton).

Coretta Scott King Awards
Julius Lester won the Author award for Day of Tears (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun), and Bryan Collier won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Rosa (Holt). The John Steptoe Award for New Talent went to Jamie Adoff for Jimi & Me (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun)

The first annual Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for beginning reader books went to Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Suçie Stevenson (Simon & Schuster).

An Innocent Soldier by Josef Holub, translated by Michael Hofmann (Scholastic/Levine), won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for best work of translation.

The Robert F. Sibert Award for the most distinguished informational book was won by Secrets of a Civil War Submarine by Sally M. Walker (Carolrhoda).

The Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution in writing for young adults was given to Jacqueline Woodson, and Kevin Henkes was chosen to deliver the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture.

Of all of the books awarded, I’ve read only one! I have a lot of catching up to do! These are authors to watch… and I will, at some point. In the meantime, the only author nearby is me. Back to the keyboard.

FURTHER Procrastination

You know, I was going to shoot an email today to Secret Agent Man, and tell him that I just can’t, can’t, simply can’t, no way, fugheddabouddit, or whatever his Bronx ears need to hear that conveys to him that no, No, NO, I can’t possibly ‘edit’ an entire story by taking out a major plot element, that I’m dying, that I’ve worried my husband by sobbing in the bathroom at five thirty on a SUNDAY morning, that it’s ruining my health, my writing career, my alleged sanity, my life, blah, blah, blah, blah (or, yadda, yadda, which is apparently more acceptable on the East Coast)…

And then I checked my email, and got my monthly eZine from SmartWriter.com and read the most beautifully and unbearably optimistic editorial by editorial director Roxyanne Young. There’s a lot more to it than this, you should go to the website and check it out, but here’s a quote:

“We have a motto here at SmartWriters: Dream it. Do it. Write it now.

I have another writer friend who quotes Rita Mae Brown at the bottom of her email signature: “Don’t hope more than you’re willing to work.” Candie’s first novel is coming out in June. She calls herself at 25-year overnight success. She took a long, round-about trip to publication writing everything from résumés to business profiles to articles about construction for a Tennessee magazine, but she made it.

Believe in yourself. Don’t give up. You can do this, and we’re here to help. Set some realistic and achievable goals for yourself. Set up milestones to measure your progress.

Here’s my new favorite quote:

“Imagination is stronger than knowledge. Myth is more potent than history. Dreams are more powerful than fact. Hope always triumphs over experience. Love is stronger than death. It’s been said that each of us can influence up to 250 people in our lifetimes. How will you be influential? Be bold, and mighty unseen forces will come to your aid.” – Robert Fulgham

Be bold.”

In further news, Roxyanne has already started stumping for the next SmartWriter’s W.I.N. contest:

“Are you ready to W.I.N.? The 2006 Write It Now! Competition is open for entries!

Discover how to increase your confidence and sense of accomplishment as a writer in the prestigious Write It Now! Competition. In just two years, over 40 of our W.I.N.NING writers and illustrators have had their work published or put under contract and this year you could be one of them. There’s $1,495.80 in cash and prizes up for grabs, two new categories and 5 special bonuses just for entering now, including access to great educational teleseminars. Because each entry is given careful consideration by two first round judges I’m limiting the number of entries I’ll accept, so don’t hesitate. Go to
W.I.N. at SmartWriters Pro right now and reserve your spot.”

Well, that’s it for now. Nailing my bold butt to a chair, and getting on with it.

Is it Friday yet?

The more I read Non Sequitur, the more I just love it. It may be too small for you to read, but the signs say Meet the Author vs. Meet An Actor Who Plays A Minor Role In The Film Adaptation Of The Book.

You can see who has the longer line.
Ah, the glamour of writing. Sigh.

A discussion on one of SCBWI‘s boards recently dealt with how much, if anything, children’s lit/YA writers should charge for doing presentations for schools and other venues, and it was almost embarrassing how little we as a group respected ourselves. Overall, people seemed to feel that the more books they had published, the more of a right they had to not only charge, but to speak. Judging from some of the people I’ve met at Conferences and just the fact of human nature that some people really like to claim expert status when they know nothing, maybe that’s a good rule of thumb for some people to sort of wait awhile before they start talking about their craft. On the other hand, there were a bunch of people who had been writing for years, had had a few poems or articles published, had taken myriad writing classes and still felt unworthy.

Creative work is so hard to quantify, and it’s so difficult to find self respect and motivation in it that any time someone offers to take us seriously, perhaps we should make it more of a business arrangement. Should we give something for nothing until we “pay our dues?” Who makes the rules in this kind of thing?

Today I got an email from Secret Agent Man, who casually suggested I remove an entire element from my novel. It was like, “Oh, and I thought you might actually consider killing off one of the major characters.” It wasn’t exactly that, but it was close.

Why does today feel so much like Monday?

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Yet another pseudo-celeb is on my $@#% list — but in a funnier way than usual. My girls at Mean & Catty are reporting that everyone and his dog is publishing children’s books. Seriously. I’d laugh, but then I’d have to laugh at everyone else crowding the field. I mean, it wasn’t just Tookie, people. John GOTTI tried. Geez. Some of it is really worthwhile writing. But a lot of it…

As Jane Yolen was quoted as saying, “Celebrity children’s books eat up all the available oxygen.” I’m going to add to that, and say that oxygen deprivation usually leads to brain damage. The idea of the money that could be made is obviously blowing many editor’s minds.

Lies, Liars and Literature

I think it’s time to revisit the meaning of the word ‘fiction.’ Seriously.

Is it just me, or does anyone else just completely not care about the lying literary person of JT Leroy?? Every time something like this comes up it just cements for me the reasons I only write YA fiction. Because truly? I just don’t really get so-called adults.

Literature is about becoming someone else, albeit briefly, to tell a story, and since we all know that stories are not always factual, and that this Leroy person has been deliberately murky on his/her story from the first, it’s obviously a publicity stunt/spin, and the “mystery” doesn’t merit as much ink as it has been given. All writers are liars, and all of us constantly don myriad personas to see how they fit. Of course, most of us don’t try taking our personas outside to party with them, (Maybe that’s an adult lit. thing. I’ve managed to get over the fact that I’m not sixteen.) but… either way, it just seems like a great, big, DUH that Leroy doesn’t and never did exist. And the question du jour is: SO!?

Meanwhile literary lying continues. The Smoking Gun is allegedly outing another writer on the details of his last book. James Frey’s, “A Million Little Pieces, an Oprah Book Club pick, has been disputed by several sources. I guess could appear to be a lot more serious, since the novel was written and marketed as a memoir, which is supposed to be completely autobiographical. If I were his editor and found that his story had conflicting police reports, I’d kick myself in the butt for not checking before it was printed and the movie rights were optioned. As for whether Frey is yet another liar? — his novel is a story about himself based on his memories of a time (and during that time Frey was allegedly a drug addict. Hello?). Talk to any family members about a past memory and you’ll find that no one agrees on what happened exactly, because everyone’s point of view differs. Frey’s reflecting on his life events rather than actually getting them down factually certainly blurs the genre lines, but does anyone believe that everything that Dave Eggers or David Sedaris write in their witty little memoirs actually happened that exactly as they say? Maybe that’s what all of this is about: drama, because if one person’s word is questioned, then it calls into question the work of the ‘literary giants’ among us. And how high does our reach extend if we’re all brought down to the same size? Hm.

Monday Resolutions

Okay, for most people, vacation ended long ago, but I’ve been in a weird state of mind that has mostly prevented too much work going on. A phone call with Agent Action, though, has kicked me in the bum, and I’m… here. Upright. Staring at the screen.

One thing that gives me a little boost is occasionally reading the Washington Post Style Invitational archives. I can’t waste the time reading them daily or I’d never get anything done, but when I get stuck on a chapter, I’m always a bit amused to go back and read the twists of the minds of thinkers who play with words. I also appreciate reading The Word Detective and dreaming of the day when I become that linguistically adept. And then, I get up for one last cup of tea, sit down, and really get back to business. Seriously. Which I am going to begin… now.