Magic of All Kinds

Yes, I know it’s the big weekend for Harry Potter fans, but before we get to that, first I have to say that the NPR “All Things Considered” update of the story of Owen and Mzee, the baby hippo tsunami refugee who became the foster child of a giant tortoise, is a kind of magic all its own. Of course there’s a children’s book in the works! Props to NPR for the sneak peek.

Meanwhile, we’re still wild about Harry! A few cities actually proclaimed an All Potters Eve, and I’m glad to see it wasn’t just the adults having fun. I sincerely hope this next book is worth the wait, worth the hype, though I have my doubts about that, from the sort of whinging and hand-wringing that went on in the last episode. I do, however, send good wishes to JK Rowling… and I really hope she’s well on her way to fabricating another universe, and another set of lovable characters, because boy this series is going to be a hard act to follow! On the other hand, she certainly will have an eager (to make more cash) agent and loyal readers waiting to pick up whatever falls from her pen…

So, good reading to those of you who went right out and got Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, camped out for the midnight book release, dressed in your Hogwart’s Academy best, and partied like it was …Book VI. I was with you in spirit, though I was far too lazy to get out of bed and ride my broom. However, for my next ‘pay it forward’ mitzvah activity of the year, the plan is to buy a couple of books, read them, and donate them to the public library in the next few weeks – so no spoilers, people.

In many ways, the Harry Hype is overrated, overdone, commercial, Madison Avenue derived crap, and is not even about the book, (or at least not about the writing or the storyline) anymore at all. On the other hand, when was the last time people got this excited about reading — even reading an imperfect series of books? Back when Tolkien was writing, or when The Narnia Chronicles came out, I hear. So, it’s been awhile… Even though I think sometimes the storyline is plodding, and that editing these tomes might do them (and us!) a world of good, I love the excitement of a new link in the saga. It’s so cool to read. And to all the people who bought me books that fed my imagination when I was a kid – then or now, “I can no other answer make, but thanks, and thanks, and ever, thanks.”

The 4th of July (also known as Chinese Pyrotechnology Appreciation Day) is over, and now we’re sitting down all too early with afterimages of fireworks burned on our retinas. Well, the happy consolations for the writer are thus: SmartWriter’s 2005 Write It Now Contest has announced its winners — and, in a burst of ubercool, has announced a short story contest as well. The rules are posted on the SmartWriters website, and read them carefully, possums.

The Writer’s Digest is pulling out a new short story contest, the WD Popular Fiction Awards. Um, so “popular fiction.” The antithesis, I guess, of literary fiction? Anyway, they’re looking at five categories: Romance, Mystery/Crime Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Thriller/Suspense and Horror. The Grand-Prize Winner will receive $2,500 clams, $100 worth of Writer’s Digest books and paraphenalia, plus a manuscript critique and marketing advice from a Writer’s Digest editor or advisory board member. Everyone who places gets a mention in Writer’s Digest magazine, which is a good way to get your name out there to sharp editorial assistants. The deadline is a reasonable distance away, and the fee isn’t expensive, either, which is always good to hear.

Meanwhile, the Fiction Open at our dearly beloved Glimmer Train Press has a July 15 deadline, so there’s still time to enter that fabulous story you know is within you. Courage, dear ones. Crank up the a/c, and once more into the breach!

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

I know she’s not a YA writer, but I felt a pang of sympathy on reading her story anyway, even though her books make me kind of roll my eyes… ‘Tis a wicked risk to splash your real life onto the fiction page as an adult – so much better to stick to celebrating and reviling your teen aged peers when in all likelihood they’re all too involved with their 2.5 kids and their careers to run up against your old crushes or your bitter little diatribes against their long vanished selves… This week, well known Bay Area writer Terry McMillan’s number came up on the divorce court docket. Reported in this morning’s Chronicle is the real end of How Stella Got Her Groove Backlooks like the truth is…she didn’t.

Meanwhile, her ex-husband is accusing her of being an “angry woman…” did he not see that bit in the movie version of Waiting to Exhale when a cheating husband’s car is set on fire!? Um, hello? Consider the source?

Hopefully another blockbuster will be aspirin for the ache; a new novel for McMillan is due out in July.

When did you know you were a writer?

Reading the SF Chron this morning, I came across a crystalline description of the moment it comes together – the moment that you know that you want to be a writer; when the world is somewhat of a formless blur around you, and you find yourself groping inarticulately, but you know that if you could just get a grip, just find handholds somewhere, you can spin that sphere in the direction you need it to go.

This gem is from Alicia Parlette, and I urge you to read the entire piece because it’s important and focused writing, and it will no doubt impress you like it did me, and make you briefly jealous and aware of a shapeless longing to push more deeply into your own undiscovered boundaries of your art. I hope to have my thoughts, much less my writing, someday distilled in this way — but Parlette’s depth and skill are so much more immediate than simply wanting to hone her craft. Parlette wields her metaphorical pen like a scalpel because she is 23, and has learned she has cancer.

When the doctor came in, I started focusing on the room. The mauve curtain. The computer in the corner. The crunchiness of my gown. He sat there calculating how rare my cancer was (“Let’s see … uh … huh … 1 percent of … right … and … well … 1 in 50 million, maybe?”) and the limited options I had (“We usually don’t use chemotherapy because it doesn’t work, but you’ll have to talk to someone else about that”), and I felt myself weaving in and out of panic. One second I felt like I was going to pass out; the next, I focused on his gray-blue tie. The details seemed increasingly important.

I was set up to see other doctors and with a plan to meet again, but no treatment. No concrete options. I noticed myself stepping back and thinking of it as a play, not my life. This was too horrific to be my life.

As I sat there, I could feel myself detach. And in that moment I thought, “What a great story this will make.”
That’s when I knew I was a writer. When things were more frightening than I could ever imagine and my tiny little existence was spinning and careening out of control, my first reaction was to think about recasting it as a drama, as a struggle, as a way to share my little existence that didn’t seem so little anymore.

I am still in awe of the way life’s puzzles fall into place. I think this is because, right now, God is giving me a bigger look at how the jigsaw is mapped out. Not much bigger, but big enough for me to see that even tragedies are linked with blessings, and that among my many blessings is the chance to write my story. Right at the time when my world is upended – and right at a time when I’m aching to be more creative, to find an outlet, to finally write – God practically drops this opportunity in my lap.

If I get through this, this story will help me remember the important moments along the way, the details, the dizzying emotions. And, in the worst of all circumstances, if I go through this life-changing ordeal and my body just wears out and I die, I will die a writer. The one thing I’ve always wanted to be.

Read the whole piece. You’ll find that Parlette is young, maybe idealistic, but a beginning writer who looks steadily at her world, and who writes it true. Then go forth to your world and look at it with new eyes. You’ll find your handholds. Give that world a whirl, and watch it spin.

Well, if we're going to talk the talk…

…I suppose it means we have to walk the walk. Translation: It’s time again to try and submit — AGAIN — something for the Glimmer Train’s short fiction contest. The deadline is the 31st… I’ve submitted so many stories to them in the last couple of years that I’m beginning to doubt that they actually read them! I suppose I haven’t much else to lose but my sanity, and that’s an arguable possession anyway. I really do love the magazine, I’m just not sure I can actually write a.) short/flash fiction b.) anything really readable for adults. You people with your Tin House contacts and actual adult street cred will have to show me the way. Meantime, I’m trying to make sense of a story I dreamed – something to do with outdoor showers, laundromats, the smell of Tide, and seagulls. Summer camp in my subconscious.


Well, if we’re going to talk the talk…

…I suppose it means we have to walk the walk. Translation: It’s time again to try and submit — AGAIN — something for the Glimmer Train’s short fiction contest. The deadline is the 31st… I’ve submitted so many stories to them in the last couple of years that I’m beginning to doubt that they actually read them! I suppose I haven’t much else to lose but my sanity, and that’s an arguable possession anyway. I really do love the magazine, I’m just not sure I can actually write a.) short/flash fiction b.) anything really readable for adults. You people with your Tin House contacts and actual adult street cred will have to show me the way. Meantime, I’m trying to make sense of a story I dreamed – something to do with outdoor showers, laundromats, the smell of Tide, and seagulls. Summer camp in my subconscious.


Midweek: Notes and Errata

Greetings this sticky/hot/balmy Wednesday! I’ve just proudly had my first brain freeze of the season from a really cold tofu and frozen-watermelon-bananas-and-berries slushy I whipped up after lunch. I hear it’s raining and cloudy in NY and Jersey… MeiMei, you lucky pup! I keep asking myself where the much-vaunted SF Bay fog is!!! However, my garden’s growin’, my novel’s FINISHED (thank GOD — cue the “Hallejuah Chorus”) – so really, what’ve I got to whine about?


Want a window into the lives of other YA authors? Here’s a cool opportunity in cyberspace: YA Author’s Cafe has live chat interview types of things every Tuesday evening with YA folk! Check out their schedule, and the rest of their site! A good chance for some networking.

Our silent partner, J.R., is back, and catching us up on NPR’s recent report on gay-themed children’s books. Nathalie op de Beeck,an assistant professor at Illinois State University tells NPR’s Jennifer Ludden about the recently reported upswing in demand for books depicting same sex parents. Take a listen!

In more book news, according to Publisher’s Weekly, the biggest sellers for the upcoming fiscal year will be school books -(creative nonfiction types used in conjunction with texts and/or textbooks themselves) and ‘religious’ books. While that might seem a little grim, remember that PW tends to report on the major trends, while giving less importance to other things that continue to sell, like mystery novels and what I call “tech texts:” popular culture novels that capitalize on the in-thing of the moment. (Think novels in text messaging hieroglyphics.) While fiction with a spiritual theme isn’t necessarily a bad thing, religious fiction as understood in the publishing world seems to include pulp like the dubious Left Behind series (you’ll notice that I’m NOT including the link to that. None for me, thanks.) and some other really scary stuff favored by people who like to control the behavior of others by whatever means necessary. Bad karma! Bad karma!

We need more good writing with spiritual themes like the middle grade books of poet and author Nikki Grimes (you must read her fabulous middle grade book Come Sunday), or the irreverent and thought-provoking middle-grade novel of religious exploration, Preacher’s Boy, by Katherine Paterson (whose first sentence reads, “On Decoration Day, while everyone else in town was at the cemetery decorating the graves of our Glorious War Dead, Willie Beaner and me, Robert Burns Hewitt, took Mabel Cramm’s bloomers and run them up the flagpole in front of the town hall…). We need more books like the hilarious and sometimes wistful Maya Running,by Anjali Banerjee, whose whose father picks his nose as he drives, whose sari-wearing cousin is thought of as “exotic” and much cooler than she, who gets teased at school (and called the n-word) and who earnestly prays that Ganesh can help her be thought of in her school as normal. We need more books like Mitali Perkins’ thoughtful and recently reprinted The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, in which a church-going family’s religious life just blends in with how they live, and how they treat others. We need to have more of THIS type of writing, and less fear-based, platitude mouthing, sanctimoniously-promoting-discrimination-in-the-name-of-God type of tripe. Somewhere it’s out there… Let’s hear it for people with real spirituality – hopefully they’ll read this and take the challenge to WRITE SOME REAL BOOKS with themes like forgiveness and hope and love and acceptance!

(All right. Descending the soapbox. Blistering screed now complete.)

Hey – if you’re interested in YA author’s blogs, you might want to check out the blog of award-winning children’s/YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith. Smith is the author of RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins and Listening Library)(ages 10-up) She has also published middle grade short stories in Harper anthologies. Most recently, look for “Riding With Rosa” by Cynthia Leitich Smith in Cicada literary magazine (Vol. 7, No. 4, March/April 2005).

Happy Midweek, y’all. Be safe over Memorial Weekend, and we’ll catch ya later.

Monday Detritus

Good grief. Caribbean…YA…Sci-Fi?! Can we get any more specific!? Still — what a cool concept. Maybe. I’m hearing steel drums playing “Under the Sea” in a space station elevator, and envisioning dreadlocked fauns prancing on the beach. Shudder.


The Commonwealth Club has announced the California Book Awards, honoring the exceptional merit of California writers. Awards are presented to books in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, First Work of Fiction, Poetry, Californiana, Notable Contribution to Publishing, and Young Adult. As listed by The San Francisco Chronicle:

Walt Whitman: Words for America, by Barbara Kerley for the Juvenile award, and Worth, by A. LaFaye for YA silver medal. Three cheers for both writers, and you can see all the hoopla at the 74th annual California Book Awards ceremony, which will be held June 14 at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market St., San Francisco.

[Point of interest – San Bernadino author A. LaFaye is also Alexandria LaFaye, who has written a number of series books for middle grades, including the well received Year of the Sawdust Man and its less acclaimed sequels.]

Sadly, my first attempt at securing an agent has been a bust — Tina Dubois of ICM reports that she is unable to ‘resonate emotionally’ with my protagonist, Lainey. However, she admits to being tempted to try some of her recipes. Sigh. I think I’d feel worse if I wasn’t halfway convinced that she’s right… but then, you know me, I’m always questioning the raison d’etre of my characters anyway. I’m not sure where I am mentally with this story except that I’m millimeters away from setting it down permanently and moving on.

Wait. I hear gasps: One the word of ONE AGENT!? An over reaction, then? Input, anyone?


Meanwhile, in what can only be termed ENTERTAINMENT NEWS, since it’s certainly not WRITING news, Anne Rice has gone completely over the edge. It isn’t wasn’t enough that the dorky mistress of the dim (that is, the not really dark) has lent her deathless prose to untold volumes of speculation on the lives of a certain blonde vampire, nor were her soulless forays into erotica, B-Movie plots (“Exit to Eden,” anyone? Rosie O’Donnell in a thong…) and horrifying opera (Elton John’s “Lestat, the Opera?” Oy, enough! Enough!) enough to satisfy her quest for ethereal Authorial Immortality. She’s done interviewing vampires. Now she’s interviewing a new man: Jesus. Or so she says.

Yes, it’s “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” (please note there is NO link to this here. If you want to find and buy it, you’re on your own, good people.) belched forth in a stream of sulfurous fire by Random House this upcoming November. Sources indicate that this novel will be a tell-all about Jesus’ childhood and adolescence, in His own words. Which will be some neat trick, since Christians since the apostle Peter and other bigwigs have never found or published any of Jesus’ little boy, clay tablet journals. Unless Rice is the illegitimate love child of Jerry Fallwell, another notable personage who claims direct conversation with God, I’m not sure just how she’s going to swing this…

The Chronicle’s irrepressible Neva Chonin adds, “Considering Rice’s views on editors, I am impressed by her willingness to accept input from the Almighty and his son. Last year, she was so put out by negative reviews of her final “Vampire Chronicles” installment, “Blood Canticle,” that she posted a 1,200-word rant on accusing her critics of using the site ‘as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehoods and lies.’

She went on to clarify her views on the sanctity of her text: ‘I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself. … For me, novel writing is a virtuoso performance. It is not a collaborative art.'”

Whoooosh! That’s the sound of an editor spontaneously combusting. I can hear them sputter: “No intention of allowing and editor to ever…” and then, in a tower of greasy smoke and flames, they’re gone. Um. So, Ms. Rice is going to be self-publishing now?? Do writers really EVER get to where they can say this type of statement, and not have people waiting for them to fall flat on their faces?

Wow. Didn’t know you were doing a virtuoso performance, did you, when you sat down to your keyboard this morning? Well, heck, I had no idea either… at any venture, my dears, let me let you get on back to yours… On with the show!!

Happy Monday.

Need a Break from Writing?

Or is it just that the horrible white void of the blank page is getting you down (see below)? Well, why not visit a few links to purge that nasty (choose one) laziness/lack of motivation/writer’s block/feeling of inferiority right out?

First, we’ve got a call for submissions. Do you now, or have you ever, written any YA sci-fi or fantasy with Caribbean themes? Joanne Johnson of Caribbean Children is accepting submissions for Macmillan Caribbean. From the SCBWI newsletter:

Caribbean sci-fi/ futuristic/ fantasy/ folk lore with contemporary interpretations etc. Full length novels. Must appeal to both boys and girls ages 12 to 15. Writers need not be from the Caribbean, but the work must have strong Caribbean themes and content. Do not send full manuscripts. Submissions: 2- 3 page synopsis of story, with three or four sample chapters; include shory bio about yourself and your work. Please indicate if the work is an exclusive submission. Include your name, email address and phone number. Email submissions to: Joanne Johnson – [email protected] Snail mail: Joanne Johnson #6 Mace Place; Haleland Park; Maraval; Trinidad; W.I. Submissions will not be returned. Only those of interest will be responded to, within 6-12 weeks. No phone calls please.

Secondly, go check out the information about YALSA’s Teen Read Week 2005–Get Real. If you or someone you know is a librarian or educator, you might be interested to know that people who sign up for Teen Read Week before September 15 will receive a free biography courtesy of Lerner Publishing Group. You don’t even have to be a member of YALSA.

Lastly, and also courtesy of the SCBWI newsletter, there is a new Yahoo Group for kids’ writers who are Latino/Hispanic or interested in Latino/Hispanic markets and topics. Just go here!

Because I really can't write worth a brass farthing.

How much is a brass farthing worth?

Is it just Mondays that bring this? This wondering why I’m doing this work, this query as to whether I have any talent at all? Mondays bring out the Horrible Writer Why Don’t You Just Get A Job syndrome in spades.

I think it’s the rain, too. Maybe JR in Portland is feeling it too. The thunder and lightning was a rare treat, enough to worry me about my computer’s surge protector — but mostly the dull greys of falling water aren’t doing my psyche any favors. Monday blahs, rain blues, and writer woes. I flipped through Thoreau – but his ascetic snobbery was no help. And then… I read…

Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know.

The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, at 58-59 (1989).

I had to read Dillard as an undergrad as part of a Nature Writer’s course, and I didn’t really ‘get’ her. She’s one of those writers you have to sort of digest piecemeal… and in my present state of mind I more ‘get’ the beauty and the starkness of that ‘eternal blankness’ she mentions of the page than much else she says. Yes, I am ruining the sanctity of that page as I blot it with my fitful and stunted observations on the universe, but it’s part of fulfilling the possibilities of that other life within me — and my secret self goes scouting down the ways of a vast myriad of other possibilities as I sit at this keyboard again and again.

I’m torn between laughing at myself for such hubris and saying ‘Gah, how depressing!’ I don’t feel any better. But, this too shall pass.

Write on. Tuesday’s coming.