NPR reports, February 27, 2006 · Author Octavia Butler died on Friday. Butler was a leading science fiction writer who won every major award in her field. In 1995, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

Oh my goodness! She was only 58!!!! And I hadn’t yet read all of her books!

Literary Pursuits

(February 24th was Happy 1 Year Blogger-versary to US!)

The SF Chronicle Book Page had a great little review of Monkey Town by Ronald Kidd. It’s a retelling of the 1925 Scopes trial during which the town of Dayton, Tennessee put science teacher John Scopes on trial for teaching evolution in their public school, as seen through the eyes of Frances, the 15-year-old who has a mad crush on him.

Wow. What a stroke of genius it was for Kidd to take on this topic. He claims to have gotten the idea from the son of a woman who lived in Dayton at the time. He took advantage of her memory and recreated a wonderfully imaginative yet historically accurate tale of the town, the time, the craziness of the religious fanatics and the breathless reporters. It evokes a sort of Southern coming-of-age feel that brings to life Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan and the irrepressible and often quoted H.L. Mencken.

It’s a great time for the YA set to be reading about this as the debate over evolution continues, since many of them who actually notice there’s a debate have no idea what all the fuss is about. The funny thing is, this novel is all about that — the fuss. The whole thing was thought up as a publicity stunt. But what a great one! The words of the trial are still debated today.

I am always intrigued by the length and breadth of the stories we have in our country, and by the stories that we choose to tell. NPR has a little story spot in their Morning Edition on Fridays, and it’s a treat to hear the stories people record for them – really, give them, using the medium of sound to offer the public a piece of their lives. StoryCorps is a national project to instruct and inspire people to record each others’ stories in sound, and if you’ve got a minute, or an hour, sit and listen. The stories always strike such a chord in me — hearing the voices of the lives of others gets the writing juices flowing. They are multi-ethnic, multicultural, they are stories of the past, of the present, and dreams for the future. They’re just little squares in the quilt of the world, told sometimes through tears, or in disjointed conversation… but the story’s the thing, people. Some amazing stuff that reminds me of the projects done in the 1960’s by college-aged historians trying to make sure the tales of slavery, and the Appalachian and Dust Bowl stories didn’t get lost from our history forever.

Another great public venue for books – not YA, but just for hearing excerpts of stories – is Writer’s Block, the Bay Area public television podcast space for local writing.


Thanks to Nat for a great ‘starving artist’ way to support the survivors of the Katrina mess. As the New Orleans libraries are restocking, consider giving them a book. Or six. Or the twelve stacked on the stairs because they won’t fit on the shelf. They could really use a hand, and it costs less than you think.

Children’s books are still needed. SCBWI primarily concentrated their ‘Comfort Kits’ (which included books, a soft toy, toothbrush and flashlight) on the outlying states who needed hurricane assistance, like Mississippi or Alabama, but the Louisiana Department of Education has information to help you find out how to help New Orleans schools and kids too.

Did you know that for every fifteen books a teen reviews on Young Adult Books Central they have the opportunity to win books? Not a bad idea, that. This site also alerts readers to publisher-sponsored giveaways and contests, which is a great reason to check it out.

Meanwhile, HarperCollins has a new YA lit newsletter as of January. At least I think it’s YA lit… it looks like it’s Chick Lit Lite, since it’s a.) pink and b.) doesn’t seem to have too much for the guys… but anyway, it’s HipLit, the latest offerings that people are talking about, so check it out.

A fun and funny theme for the Fourth Annual Arne Nixon Children’s Center Secret Garden Party — cats. They’re even celebrating bad kitties (as found in Nick Bruel’s picture book of the same title) and the fact that their comparative literature collection has just been gifted with hundreds of children’s books about cats. No one knows what else is going on (thus the ‘secret’ part of the “secret garden” title), but you can find out if you go. It’s a fundraiser – so the starving artist thing doesn’t quite work, but if you love children’s books (not YA, but children’s), this is the gig for you.

Epiphany du Jour

You know, I had kind of a strange thought while I was emailing a friend today on a completely non-writing-related topic. (And if you’re reading, Lj, sorry, but you know how people with blogs are.) We were talking about moving, and how some people we know move. A lot. And how psychotically disarranged it makes your inner life, and how some people seem to relish bemoaning the discomfort, and the inevitable little losses, etc. And then, I said something which showed just how much of a writer freak I have become:

I do think we get conditioned to move. Or to run. Or to turn the page to a blank sheet if we don’t like the story we’re writing on this page. The only problem with that fresh start/fresh sheet is that we never finish the story we’re on. In writing, that sucks – we miss writing our way out of potentially difficult passages to see how the complexity and beauty of the finished product hinges on those chapters we rewrote and tightened up umpteen times. We miss knowing that we can, when we must, face deleting entire sections of the work and reworking it again. And again. And again. In life… well, there’s no delete button, but I do wonder sometimes if some mental files don’t get lost, like our inevitably mislaid box of knives, if we never allow ourselves to get past a certain point where we are.

Wow, I scare me.

But then I thought, SERIOUSLY. This is true. How much have I grown as a writer, just in the last two months, from editing and re-editing the veriest piece of crap ever written that I used to call my novel? How good was it for me, back in undergrad days to lose entire papers, and be forced to replace said essays from memory, assignments that were always even better the second time around? While I wouldn’t advise this for anyone – our blood vessels can only take so much pressure before the inevitable Jake Morgendorffer style eruptions – it does go to show that tight spots can sometimes be good for you. Tremendously good.

Typical, huh? What doesn’t kill us makes us heck of good at ad libbing.

My two cents before the long weekend.

Writing, Randomly

Lots going on to post this week in the world of words. First, I’ve read a lot of reviews of the Curious George phenomena, and the brouhaha from animal rights and parent groups reminds me a bit of the discussions/arguments that came up over the Little Black Sambo and Uncle Remus tales we discussed at the Alma Mater. When these books were written, it was definitely a different world, both in terms of what people thought was okay to do with people and with animals. The discussion is good, but the outrage and theater picketing, completely incomprehensible to children, is somewhat pointless…

Meanwhile does anyone know if Michelle Tea’s latest is supposed to be a YA novel? The Chronicle review of Rose of No Man’s Land talks about a 14-year-old narrator, and gives it really positive reviews for a “singular voice in a coming-of-age novel.” Hmm.

All right. Back to the grind.

Ground Floor

Mini history lesson: Many years ago, science fiction was almost solely the purview of magazines. The decline and fall of the ‘penny dreadful’ left room in the pulp fiction field for more stories of The Amazing. When people began to believe that there was Someone Else Out There, alien encounter stories flooded the presses and the radio wires. The 1950’s spawned some of the best science fiction, published in the short stories of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, in the fact vs. fiction episodes of Analog, and in the long running Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. All of the above was then reviewed in Locus Magazine. As science fiction became more mainstream, the magazines became the tool to introduce new writers into the publishing market. Classics like Stephen King’s Dark Tower, Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, and Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz had their debut in the pages of magazines, and the writers went on to further success.

Science fiction magazines have never entirely lost their readership, but as writing and publishing have become more commercialized, the link between the magazine and novel market has weakened. Formerly a refuge for new writers, with the decline in story magazines as a whole, now only the best and most well-known novelists can break in. Science fiction and fantasy novels, once inexpensive, are growing pricier as the genre morphs and grows into something more mainstream.

Enter Baen Books. One of the most cheerfully prolific science fiction and fantasy pulp fiction publishers around, they’ve decided that it’s time to resurrect an aging genre. In June of 2006, they are launching a new science fiction magazine called Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE and they’re asking for writers. Two story slots per issue are being reserved for newcomers. If you’re a science fiction fan and dabble in the genre, you simply cannot beat that.

They post their rates, and give you space to discuss your work, and edit work in progress. Check out their submission guidelines and welcome to the Universe. Hope you like it there. It sounds promising — if you visit or write for them, let us know how it goes!

Okay, okay…

Obviously I owe the Post Office a little love after badmouthing them over the rate hike… I mean, yeah, rate hikes are not so good for the writer, yeah, and the notorious slowness of the postal service when you’re waiting for a reply from a publishing company or agent has to be seen to be believed, and yeah, they’re closed too many days, and they have too long of lines, and there are just too many with belltowers and people with weapons, but here, at least, they’re staffed by nice people who do their best for me, so I need to stop the hating. So, here goes: are these stamps not the cutest things ever?

A sunny weekend at the beach…?

Looking for something other than the L.A. Conference this next summer?
The Writer magazine is pleased to begin what we hope will be a long partnership with the Santa Barbara Writers Conference as its sponsor. In 2006 the SBWC celebrates its 34th year of giving writers the opportunity to improve their craft, associate with highly credentialed professionals and mingle with other writers. From June 23-30, writers from all over the country will gather in Santa Barbara, California, where they can choose among 30 different instructional workshops on everything from fiction to non-fiction, to screenwriting, poetry, biography, autobiography and memoir, travel writing, children’s lit and young adult, humor, marketing and ways to get your creative juices flowing. The Writer will sponsor a panel of agents and editors to answer participants questions about publishing and writing. Every afternoon there will be special speakers and panels and each evening a major author will speak. One day will be dedicated to letting attendees pitch ideas to agents and editors from around the country. This summer SBWC launches its Master Classes for experienced writers and a Young Writers Program for 14- to 18-year-olds. Our special guest speakers include Ray Bradbury, Erica Jong, T.C. Boyle, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Pulitzer-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, Gayle Lynds, Catherine Ryan Hyde and more. Come join us!

(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.