Remember That Mills YA Term ‘Kernel of Hope?’

I always thought it was a little awful of me to get such a chuckle out of the term ‘kernel of hope’ or ‘sense of hope’ in the Children’s Lit classes at Mills during MFA days. Every time someone would say it, I would get this sort of queasy sense that the Little Mermaid was singing her little wordless song somewhere outside, and Tinkerbell was sparkling, bells were ringing, and angels were getting their wings. It was such a weird phrase that I was thrilled to death that Oz and Ends had not only heard of it, but had a chuckle over it as well.

A Fuse #8 Production quoted an hilarious line attributed to M.T. Anderson when he won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor for Excellence in Children’s Literature in 2003 that tells you just how much Anderson has in common with the hope group: “Yes, I do have hope. Not for the human race–we’re doomed–but for the Insect Overlords who will follow us”. Hah!

Maybe roaches won’t necessarily rule the world, but I do think sometimes that the insistence on hope makes for many falsely emoted novel endings in the YA/children’s lit circles. It’s not that hope isn’t important for this age group — it is. But it’s equally important for adults. The ‘kernel of hope’ often seems to be used as a phrase that signals a “happily ever after” kind of thing, which is, sadly, bogus. Just about any teen is well versed enough in the real world to know that ‘happily ever after’ rarely even happens in fairytales… after all, like adults, they’re alive, and most of us know better than to expect a full on ‘happily ever after’ at any time.

Of course, this is not to say that we don’t wish a happy ending for our readers. Perhaps what is more important to convey is that the story continues… through whatever crap, it has continued for us, it will continue for them. Some days, they will even be happy. Hope by any other name…

The July issue of SmartWriters is up, with some fun summer novel suggestions, and the June /July The Edge of the Forest has a great review on Jeanne DuPrau’s newest City of Ember novel – this is the prequel, though. Can’t wait to read it, and check out the other interviews and information, including the Susan Taylor Brown interview that talks about how she uses blogging to help connect with her readers and get her name out there.

p.s. ~ Oh my goodness! In my Edit Hell funk, I totally missed giving a shout-out to Cynsations for her upcoming new novel with its really gorgeous cover. Yay for Cynthia, and yay for more vampire tales! They’re becoming a summer reading addiction; always good to the last… um, drop. Ahem.

Blogging from the smoke of Edit Hell

Happy Chinese Pyrotechnics Day!

Edit Hell continues, which is a bad thing, since not a lot of work is going to get done today, and the random fireworks let off by the neighbors isn’t helping. By Thursday I should have my final notes in order, and then I have a decision to make as to when/how/if I’m going to change anything more in my manuscript. I have to give props to a wordsmith and true friend who unknowingly caused me to be less hysterical and to allow S.A.M. to preserve the fiction that no one does anything wrong but the writer. It takes a bit of getting used to, but remember this from my little meltdown moment: until it’s published, your novel is not about you~!

After days in Edit Hell, one realizes that chocolate is actually its own food group. Amsterdam agrees. As reported in Arts section of the NY Times, this world’s largest cocoa port is developing a chocolate theme park. A la Wonka, there will be a glass elevator and chocolate fountain and produce small amounts of chocolate. !!!!!!! It’s due to open in a couple of years — people, start saving for the pilgrimage. (And Holland should start bracing for great Dutch Migration — between the hash and the chocolate, people will move there and never want to leave!!)

Incidentally, am I the only one who thinks that reuniting Nathaniel Hawthorne’s decayed mortal remains with those of his long dead wife is just weird? Or is Edit Hell leaching me of all romanticism?

I love poking around and finding bizarre book news, or what I consider bizarre — but here’s one for most everyone’s list: the American Bar Association has released its second novel in 127 years. It’s a YA novel. Obviously. I mean, isn’t the connection between the law and young adult literature obvious!? Maybe not… Publishers Weekly carried the report, describing the novel, Leapholes as, according to Tim Brandhorst, ABA’s executive editor of publishing, “Harry Potter meets John Grisham. It’s time travel with a legal twist.”

I guess if you publish enough legal briefs, novels seem like a reasonable next step, I suppose. But it’s not, people. It’s just not. Although fantasy was a good genre choice… Okay, okay. I reserve all judgment until I at least read the book…

Grrrl Power

Thanks to Seren for giving me a heads up about Salon’s Broadsheet kudos to New Moon Magazine for Girls. I’ve blogged about these fine people before, but I still think their mag is one of the coolest things going for girls who want to talk and think about a real future. And it’s free of ads! (Remember when Sassy was cool like that? Johnny Depp and no ads. Bliss.) Also, you’ve got to check out the work of the world’s deepest and most articulate 7-year-old, Alexa Kitchen. I wish I understood the world as well as she did when I was her age!

My other favorite site is still also Who I Am for girl-centric and positive journals and books and jewelry. If I can’t get into the wayback machine to be ten again (and who wants to!?), I can at least pass along these fun places to you.

Viva la girlz!


So, the ALA Conference is going on now in New Orleans, and may I just say a gentle ‘God bless you and your air conditioners too’ to all the fine people who chose to go and support the once beautiful city, as it rebuilds. The South sure loves humidity, and those who love books have even braved that fierce heat and nasty wetness for a good cause. Good on you, librarians & Co., and don’t forget to pack the hives medication! It’s looks to be a memorable speaker lineup, featuring Laura Bush and Cokie Roberts (!), but I look forward more to the conference ending –because my editor is there, and took my manuscript with her. Depending on how cranky the heat makes her I may be back in Edit Hell once again…

A fun find for me is The Edge of the Forest, a children’s literature monthly put together by many fine people with YA and Children’s lit blogs. How cool is that? Something for every age group, including picture book reviews! Literature for children is getting a real presence on the Web… Friday I was following a woman whose license plate advertised her web presence as Kid Lit Suzy dot com. Strangely enough,my former Mills professor and a fairly well-known middle grade author also lives in this town, and I haven’t run across her yet…but I’ve seen “Suzy” twice. Strange world.

In preparing to try and write my(drumroll, please) Epic Fairytale, I ran across something called The Mythopoeic Society, which has announced their finalists for the Mythopoeic Awards. Started in 1967, the Mythopoeic Society is “a non-profit international literary and educational organization for the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythic literature, especially the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams.” (I haven’t read any of the work of Charles Williams! And now I’m hunting up some to see what it’s all about!) The Society puts out a couple of periodicals, including one specifically for book reviews (called Mythprint – you have got to love that!), a scholarly journal , and a yearly literary journal with short stories, etc. Incidentally, this East Bay group’s finalists for Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards include Holly Black, Diane Duane of the Young Wizards series, and Clare B. Dunkle, three of my favorite fantasy authors. Tough choice!

This year’s conference is in Oklahoma, but their 2007 Conference is already slated to be in Berkeley… I think I’ll see if I can be there!

The Chronicle had a nice kid’s section this past Sunday. My favorite book they reviewed is on the artist’s path — on the struggles and joys of embracing art. Robert Burleigh writes about Paul Cézanne, and the work it took for him to produce such beauty. It’s a middle grade novel/picture book, and it includes both historical detail and photographs; the art is also fabulous. Another great review that makes me want to pick up the book is of Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower a YA novel detailing the Japanese internment. As always, in these times, I think it’s crucial that teens are reading about our history in this country, if only so that they can protest when their government tries to repeat it… Since Kadohata made the characters so live in Kira-Kira, Weedflower may be well worth checking out as well. Great reading for another muggy summer week. Cheers!

Thoughts from Left Field

In Praise of Book Reviews: Reviewing for the 48 Hour Book Contest (for which I read a whopping 2,004 pages, so I don’t feel quite so bad anymore that it was only 7 books) made me uncomfortably aware of the hyperbole of critique. I always feel just a bit leery when I read jacket blurbs that say that something is “laugh out loud hilarious,” “edgy,” (I am actually to the point of getting a rash when I read the ‘e-word,’) or “brilliant,” or “luminous.” I almost never feel the same way, and it makes me feel like a right idiot to be the one person on Planet Earth who just thinks a novel is simply ‘pretty funny’ or ‘cute’ or “has quirky, lovable characters.” Especially when I read The Book Thief, I realized that all the adjectives in praise of the novel had been taken by writers before me (except for the word ‘humbling,’ which is what I felt about the whole huge scope of the novel and my talent next to the talent of Mr. Zusak). It makes me wonder what blurb writers do when they really don’t like what they’ve been asked to read and review. Are all the adjectives an elaborate cover-up for what they really mean? I smile whenever I read blurbs put out by friends of authors, and I solemnly promise not to make ANY of you write ANYTHING like that on books of mine, when I am rich and famou$, and I’ll do the same for you. If I like it, I’ll say so. If not… well, then look out for adjective overload and clouds of purple prose!

Dickens,The Movie: Last week (years late) I “discovered” graphic novels. Okay, I’d read some before, but they were comic books – which are old school, right? So, now that I’m hip with the new name, I’m keeping an eye out for more graphic literature that appeals to my reluctant reader little brother and sister but doesn’t insult them (like the horrible comic of the New Testament that someone gave me as a child. Pah!). I discovered a BBC site on Victorianism and Dickens. They’ve animated Bleak House, of all things, and it’s worth a quick visit.

The Light Fantastic: I read with interest last Sunday’s Washington Post interview with Shannon Hale, author of The Goose Girl and other novels. The nicest thing her readers have told her, Hale says, is that they didn’t realize they were reading fantasy when they started reading Goose Girl, which is actually a retelling of one of Grimm’s famous tales. They just opened up the book, and fell headlong into a good story. What a nice thought.

I remember hearing Bruce Coville speak at a Conference once on what he calls the “cool things per page” ratio in fantasy novels. The Goose Girl is full of things that aren’t part of the ‘now’ world, so the reader is drawn in quickly and propelled along, and then – hey! Magic! It’s always really neat to see the stuff we writers know about in theory work so well. I look forward to getting back into the mythical worlds and peopling them with such memorable characters that the fantasy element is the last thing on a reader’s mind… At least that’s the plan! (And I was really pleased to see an editor interview at Cynsations of Mirrorstone Books, a new imprint at Wizards of the Coast, which still is interested in unagented stuff from new writers, so there’s still hope for people who’ve never published in the genre before!)
Ah well, back to work.


I recently read another YA novel aimed at girls, and there was the usual roll call of products in it that I’ve counted before – brands of lipstick, jeans, shoes, lingerie, shirts, cars, etc. It wasn’t too invasive, it wasn’t overboard, but I noticed it because it really has become something that was once a buzz and now has grown to a roar. And I looked back at my two novels in progress and realized, to my chagrin, that I actually talk about certain TV shows and cooking professionals in those books. Am I guilty of trying to turn my readers into FoodTV afficianados? I hope not!

I agree with the point of view raised at Cynsations, that we perhaps label types of people with our choices of brands and labels. There is a lot that can be inferred from the way our characters shop, the places they go, the food they eat. And for a novelist, mostly this kind of thing is deliberate. But I do wonder, for those who are inserting brand names every other sentence …I wonder if they aren’t perhaps narrowing their audience. For instance, I know when I read a novel where the characters wear Juicy Couture hoodies, I know it’s not meant for me. It’s meant for girls with money to burn and small figures. My agent mentioned that this is also why many American novels cannot “cross the pond” and do well in the UK and Australia — because one of the things that doesn’t translate well the world around is hyper-affluence in young adults! It’s an uniquely American value, the importance of things… labels… brand names.

When I knew I wanted to write YA novels, I knew I wanted to write them to show the commonalities of the human experience, of the experience of growing up. I wanted every YA to have access to that little moment that feels like “Hey! That happened to me too!” so that they would know that they weren’t alone in feeling the way they did about a particular topic. As others have said, maybe it’s not for us to judge those who do put labels and brand names in their work, but I know that I’m going to be very sparing about it. The things that we have in common in this world are more important to me than the things which divide us – So if my character never drives off in a Lexus, drinking a Snapple and talking on her T-Mobile… well, I’ll guess she’ll still be okay…

48 Hour Reading…

The contest is over, and I only managed a lousy seven books! You can check them out on our review site, but I’m a bit disappointed I got nowhere near my goal of at least twelve. Sigh! Next time I’ll hole up somewhere in the woods where no one can find me! I hear we’re doing this again next year, so I’m already making plans.

Meanwhile, I just came back from the library. As a gift to myself in Editing Hell… I’m going to go and read another book.


There is nothing as cool as a trip to the library, unless it’s a trip to the bookstore with lots of money. These things should inspire me to get a real job, but alas… What I am inspired to do, though, is read the Cool Girl novels this weekend that I haven’t yet read. I may not get them all written up in time to qualify for the 48 Hour Book Challenge, but I’m already making lists and gloating because Liesel, main character in Markus Zusak’s latest novel counts as a cool girl, and that one’s already next to my bed. The most fun thing about this challenge is that I have an actual excuse to read all weekend. It’s awful that it’s Father’s Day and I have a birthday party to attend this weekend, this is going to severely cut into my reading time. Fortunately I’m going to see my father at my brother-in-law’s party; I can fling two gifts at them and leave, thereby cementing my reputation as an antisocial boor, and picking up where I left off on my last chapter…!

A.Fortis is always finding really cool graphic novels to share. I know nothing from that genre, so was pleased to read that Hyperion is publishing Abadazan, an intriguing graphic novel book-within-a-book kind of thing. It’s partly the journal of a girl named Kate, interspersed with pages from a novel of this fantasy realm, Abadazan, and includes a graphic novel section as well. It sounds really interesting.

Something else graphic I want to check out is a surprise find from Mo Willems. The cartoonist of Pigeon and Codename: Kids Next Door fame has written an older picturebook – kind of adult, really – called You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons: The World on One Cartoon A Day. It’s a collection of travel cartoons Willems did less when he embarked on a trip around the world less than a week after he graduated from college. What a cool idea, to wander the world sketching it as you go. Reviews says Willems captures world cultures ‘drolly,’ which has got to be the only way to capture them. I’ve heard the book might make a great gift, so possibly I’ll fling it at someone this weekend.

Sigh. The recent Kids and Family Reading Report states that only 29% of kids ages 9-11 years old are high frequency readers and that the percentage of kids who read for fun (which is the definition of ‘high frequency reader’) continues to drop off through age 17. There’s more detail, of course, talking about boys vs. girls, and telling us yet again that reading for boys drops off sharply after a certain age, etc., etc., ad infinitum, blah blah. The results of the study aren’t really new. Perhaps a more beneficial conversation would be a plan to do something about it involving parents, teachers, schools and communities. Then there could be a study published about how well it worked, and what else we could do to fine tune it. Imagine all the new information then! The more readers, the more thinkers; the more thinkers, the more informed and involved citizens in our world, and God knows we need people who are paying attention!

UnderCover Girls and King Dorks

Oh, man, is it ONLY Tuesday!? I need a vacation already. Actually, I’ve just read that the U. of Hawai’i at Manoa is having their Thirteenth Biennial Conference on Literature: Imagining Other Lives, Other Times, Other Places, and I’m wishing I was going. Put on by Children’s Literature Hawai’i, the conference features one of my favorite middle grade writers, Karen Hesse, and I just realized that if the PhD plans I had only a few years ago had panned out, I’d already be there. Sigh.

(Actually, I’m not sure what the sigh was for… I have enough to do this week without homework!)

Well, I feel slightly vindicated for my little grip last week on how so much of YA fiction is turning into a long commercial to a particular brand of something or other, since Monday’s New York Times carried a piece on the same thing. Though there is still no money changing hands (and that’s really intriguing to me – would you, as a writer, do free advertising?) CoverGirl cosmetics is well mentioned in Cathy’s Book, and the company is launching a website in August to help tie the two.

Despite the buzz, this pat-my-back, I’ll-pat-yours routine isn’t anything new, really. I guess it’s simply the first time there’s been a formalized arrangement of you change that eyeliner to a color we make, we list your novel on our website, but there are some issues that bear deeper thought. How long is your publisher going to be your publisher if they’re taking funds from someone else to create your book? How long until that touches you as the writer?, On one hand, it’s a nifty idea to have websites and addresses where readers can get more information on the book, and from what I hear of the novel, it’s kind of an updated, choose-your-own-adventure which uses technology to go even further with the storyline. That’s excellent! On the other hand… further ad space for makeup products? Even a tiny bit of marketing to teen readers seems in bad taste. Mmm, gonna have to think about that one…

The Chron did a great piece this morning on Frank Portman and his new novel that’s already generated so much excitement (in its FIFTH printing after only two months on the shelves – wow!) King Dork. I had to laugh at Portman’s assumption that someday he’d be a literati, smoking a pipe and teaching school somewhere like Maine. Yeah, that’s how all humanities majors start out, isn’t it? And then you interact with both academia and reality for a bit, and realize you might need to think again. This novel wasn’t necessarily on top of my must-read list (okay, I admit it – I’ve grown out of my punk band phase), but the enthused folks at ‘not your mother’s bookclub’ have talked it up so much that it’s rapidly moving to the top of my pile.

Happy Writing…!


I’ve been whinging about the dearth of multicultural children’s lit. Aside from Mitali Perkins, whom we’ve gushed about before on this site, I am cheered to find a South Asian children’s site that is an annotated bibliography that keeps track of what’s new, what’s out there, etc., for the young reader. Yay!

You know I have gnashed and wept and griped before about the lack of centrally featured strong and impervious girls in literature… (I mean, it’s a bit of a shame that the Potter epics aren’t called Hermione and the Sorcerers Sword, isn’t it? Okay, okay, I know that may be pushing it, but…) I was pleased to find that East Bay maven Jen Robinson has started an official Cool Girls List, and at one point, it was going to be highlighting the top twenty coolest girls in literature. Hah! It’s much longer than that now, and I can think of many more!

Awhile ago, Texas illustrator Don Tate blogged about the lack of stories of black males who just … do stuff, like normal people. I let that thought percolate around in my head in view of the conversations I’ve had with The Agent, and remembering a very nice rejection I received which said that they appreciated that my character’s race wasn’t a subject of angst for her, that it was a “refreshing change.” I am encouraged by his comments and the number of people who have linked to the post, discussed it, etc., and I know I have my work cut out for me… maybe we all do.