Boston Loves a Bunch of Authors

This weekend Boston played host to many, many amazing authors for the young at heart and older than their years. On Saturday, Copley Square held the Boston Book Festival. The handsome man who filled in for Lemony Snicket was an uproarious delight. On Sunday, Emerson put on the first ever Boston Teen Author Festival that introduced me to the incredibly delightful, but sadly less publicized Erin Dione, Jack Ferriaolo, and more. We also learned today’s young paranormal/fantasy authors do not actually hate Twilight.

Some gems from YA: Overcoming Adversity.

“You can’t always win, but you can change your perspective.” – Barry Lyga, author of I Hunt Killers, and who once wrote something so horrible, he couldn’t be in the same room with it.

“Teens understand better the truth that love is as necessary as air and food better than adults do.” – Kathryn Burak, author of Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things.

“When we talk about writing what you know…we mean an emotional truth that is both uniquely yours and also universally understood.” – Jo Knowles, author of See You at Harry’s, on writing Your Life: Revised.

When asked “What do you write?” Barry Lyga answers, “Words.”

On overcoming adversity in YA in books and life: “Growing up sucks. But we survived!”  – Barry Lyga.

“The sky’s the limit in YA. We can do anything we want!” – Jo Knowles

“It’s almost impossible to write about teens and not include hope.” – Kathryn Burak.

On why YA Lit seems more hopeful than Adult Lit. “Young adults move on to being adults. We adults move on to death.” – Amy Patee, moderator, and awesome Simmons professor.

“Teen books can change a person’s life.” – Barry Lyga

On whether YA authors have some obligation to teen readers: A resounding yes. To “write the truest books I can.” – Jo Knowles.  “Kids can tell when you’re being dishonest.” – Kathryn Burak.

On how do we overcome adversity in selecting books for teens: “Scotch.” – Barry Lyga. He also gave us a big tip on how to get away with a bloody murder…

“Censorship doesn’t work very well.” – Jo Knowles.

“When art moves you, it doesn’t matter what the art is.” – Kathryn Burak.

“Let’s play YA bingo! Dead mother, suicide, drugs/alcohol…” – Kathryn Burak.

“Every writer writes a million bad words, and until you write all one million, you’re not ready.” – Barry Lyga.

“If someone tells you something’s wrong [with your manuscript], they’re probably right. But if they tell you how to fix it, they’re probably wrong.” – Barry Lyga. [Britt ducks from her editor, who may disagree.]

And that was just ONE panel. Here’s some more juicy tidbits from the YA: The Future is Now discussion.

“We love rendering your books unreturnable.” Cory Doctorow, author of Pirate Cinema, on signings.

On YA’s inherent hope: “[There’s] a dialectic between pessimism and optimism.” Cory Doctorow, who just inspired a grad school paper thesis. ” We find a way out of despair.” – Rachel Cohn, author of Beta. “[Teens] move from ignorance to knowledge.” – Gabrielle Zevin, author of Because It Is My Blood.

“The fundamental action of a YA novel is to put an arm around the shoulder and say, ‘This is how the world works, kid.'” – Cory Doctorow.

“[Today’s teens] have no desire to learn about this world. But they desire the imaginary world because they can still form it.” – An amazing sounding English teacher.

On why read dystopia: “[Teens] have a suspicion that our lives are not as good as we think confirmed, so we’re not alone in our misery.” – Gabrielle Zevin.

“Adolescence is a series of incredibly brave one-way decisions.” – Cory Doctorow, who planted the seed for an email I need to send to Dear Editor about maybe re-considering the the third act of TCoKGJ.

Last word:

“What I hope is that [teen readers] leave with a sense of how powerful they actually are.” – Gabrielle Zevin.

Clothing Choices

I just read a book that made me laugh. That made me cry. That made me email fellow readers and tell them that I was glad I got a copy of the book before someone inevitably slaps a big ole medal on the cover. And I have full confidence in saying this, despite its January 11 release. (Of course, I thought this about Wintergirls, too.) If I were to say it had a flaw – and it does – because let’s face it, no book is perfect – it’s the sin of name-dropping.

Heretofore this amazingly gifted author has avoided naming the brands of clothing characters have worn. But also heretofore, this author has only ever written boy characters. Now that he has gone girl, so has some of his prose. It felt like I needed at least two hands (and that’s several fingers too many) to count the number of times the character referenced her Chuck Taylors. And I would forgive the slight of name-checking Forever 21 in re The Date Dress if there had been mention of the BFF, whose characterization was such that such things are Important, or if such choices were organic in Girl’s own character. But alas, there was not.

To me, Chuck Taylors have become the Manolo Bhlaniks or Jimmy Choos of middle class YA fiction. It became such that I would just read over the name and say…okay…she’s that girl, without ever really needing to know what a Chuck Taylor sneaker looked like. So I finally looked them up. So that’s what they are. Okay. Why do I need to know she wears these things? She, like her boyfriend, is unprecedented.

In this book’s case, I think I know what happened. The author even hinted at it. He fielded a question about the difference in writing boys vs. girls and said one main difficulty was getting the clothes right. Women in his life (spouse, editor, etc.) read the thing and their one negative comment – 16-year-old girls did not wear what he initially robed them in (flower dresses and some sort of offbeat shoe, IIRC), but they were what he remembered 16-year-old girls wearing. In 1997. So her wardrobe changed. And I, persnickety reader, am disappointed, for the character is just so “inimitable,” that the original clothing choices actually make more sense and would endear her even more to me. If that were possible.

Writers of girls: what do we do with what they wear? Is it Important? Will it date the text too much? I like it when name-dropping serves a point: satire, cultural commentary, identifier of flat characters (Gucci will always sound expensive). I hate it when it is the sole identifier of characters who are supposed to be round and when its name (or the store’s) does not signify anything some kid 20 years from now will “get.”

Is this a Gender Thing? Has anyone read a book inside a boy’s head in which he dons a Brooks Brothers for The Date Shirt when fashion is not an intrinsic part of his life? Or am I just being a crotchety old woman because I stayed up past my bedtime thinking about this book, and the clothes do not matter so much because the characters do matter to the universe and do exist beyond the oblivion of the last page?

Would a MS Sound Any Sweeter By Another Name?

Unequivocally, yes.

Recently I spoke with the publisher at a small trade house. I brought up that “s”-word, which would be funny considering she’s a religious sister – if it were that “s”-word. But it was not. It was

Slush.

I, a writer, called those pre-published, unsolicited MSes, etc., slush. Because that was what I’d known from learning about the biz on the other side of the desk. The sister laughed and gently corrected me. “We call them ‘cold submissions’ here.”

Well, I said, as a writer, I am so grateful to hear that. Rather than being compared to that dirty, gray muck that ruins your budget boots, peoples’ writing are called what they are: pieces of work that haven’t been warmed by the loving hands of agents or editors.

Proof positive some editors respect and value your effort just as much as you want them to.

 

Banned Book Week 2010 Preview

One of my fondest memories as a teen volunteer at the West Regional Library in Plantation, Florida, was spending half of my shift on display. In the front check-out lobby, the librarians had erected a tiny makeshift room for a teenager. Very few mothers would have allowed the strewn popcorn, empty soda can, and ratty pillow-rocker chair thing. At least, my mother didn’t. That was not my room. But for an evening, this haz-mat area was my refuge and the symbol of refuge for all teens and children. Refuge from the arguing.

You see, it was Banned Books Week. Each day, the librarians had us volunteers sit and read a book that had appeared on a “banned” list. I can’t remember the title I chose, but I can remember feeling exhilarated. Screw adults! I’m going to have access to this book and – gasp! – enjoy it!

Over the years I have reduced my participation in this fun protest against censorship and pointless idealogue bickering to the point of thinking to myself, “It’s Fall…isn’t Banned Book Week sometime soon?”

This year, it changes. Why do I care so much? Well, obviously as a writer, I have to confront the notion that these words I’m composing may very well be banned themselves. Recently, I wrote a chapter set in a public school’s sex education class. As my character is in religious ed, too, she got the Catholicized version. I can just tell one side will get angry I dared characterize 13-year-olds talking and thinking about sex. Then the other will argue that the chapter’s final scene is a critique of the glorified liberal “comprehensive” program. To a point it is. Because nothing is perfect or the right answer.

But just because a solitary adult is uncomfortable because someone doesn’t share your opinion doesn’t mean a child/teen will be. Do not deprive the youth of fresh perspective just because you have a psychological need to be right/to control.

Each day next week it is my goal to highlight first a couple of books that could be banned in the future due to content, books facing new challenges, and a classic book frequently challenged that might surprise you.

To be discussed! And please add your own in the comments!

Girl Parts by John M. Cusick (Candlewick 2010), Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Farrar Straus Giroux 1999), Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles (Candlewick 2007), The Giver by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin 1993), and the “Friday  Fun” post (including brief snippets on such gems as the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary).

Potpurri

Young Adult Lit = Profitable Movie

Let’s not touch the T-word. Instead, let’s talk about the hauntingly and beautifully sad Never Let Me Go (2005) getting released this fortnight. It’s one of those Brit indies and stars such talent as Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield (the new new Spiderman). Oscar bait? Perhaps. Three-hankie evening? Most definitely.

Oh, and Gary Ross http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002657/ quite possibly will helm The Hunger Games movie. Not till 2013 will we see the powerful series on the big screen. Post in the comments your wish list for actors. Right now, I just know I want an incredible visual experience and a not-starlet to play Katniss.

The Busyness of Being a Writer

It’s not all cups of tea and scribbling sentences in the park. I feel I must blog. I must enter blog contests to get my name and stories out there. I must read others’ blogs. I must read, read, read. I must review. I must support other writers with critiques (Go you!).  I love it, but I must not get paid for it, apparently.

New Addition

Check out the link “My Other Blogger Life.” I am contributing reviews and musings for Catholic women ages 11-30. If that is not you or anyone you know, forward it along to someone who is.

“Stories Can Change Hearts.”

The declarative sentence that titles this post comes from Mitali Perkins, author of the newly published Bamboo People. I’ve always loved the power of simple declarative sentences after an Honors College professor gave us War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning to read. Though intended for two very different audiences, the two books share a common thesis. Bamboo People tells the stories of two young teen boys in Burma who learn the nature of the ethnic war and what meaning it can ascribe to humanity.

Perkins wrote this story to delve into the experiences of the young involved in such heavy a conflict and show how their small moral choices could lead to some semblance of justice for all. She says, “If words were not revolutionary, the Burmese wouldn’t be banning them.” She hopes she gets on the government’s hit list. Friends who are relief aid workers will bring copies of her book into the jungles in the hopes some young guys will fall into them.

Perkins’ book brings up the age-old publishing question of “When is it appropriate to write about conflict, people of different ethnicity, and/or the occurrences in a little-understood, shrouded country?”

Perkins’ answer was that she once heard “Never write about a suffering people until you’ve held their babies.”Why? Maybe it has something to do with the connection one feels when you having a breathing, pulsing, squirming bundle of softness next to your own chest. Your life rhythm syncs with his or hers. You also hold the most innocent of the conflict; the purest of hearts. And that starts to affect your own thoughts and perceptions, until your heart is changed figuratively, if not literally.

Perkins has held infant Karenni (Burmese ethnic minority) refugees in Thailand. She has peered across the border. She has extensively interviewed her friends who have intimate knowledge of the situation. That research and familiarity contributed to a well-thought-out novel with accessible language, a strong message, and wildly beating heart.

Congratulations, Mitali. You have a wonderful book, and even if you weren’t “Mother Teresa at 25,” if your books can change the hearts of people on either side of the Burmese conflict for the better, I will nominate you for literary sainthood.

How to Write a Post about Covers without Using that Cliche?

My compatriot, Shoshana Flax, has posed an interesting question over on her blog, Walk the Ridgepole: http://walktheridgepole.blogspot.com/2010/06/judging-cover.html#links. The recap: cover changes to reflect an upcoming movie has her questioning her previous stances. Instead of commenting many paragraphs, I have a new post idea.

What do we do about covers? Should we take that hackneyed expression literally and not do that? But I can’t help it. I admit to having personal reactions to covers.

  • Stickers: Award or otherwise – I hate it when you obscure the art/title/author name. I really hate it when I can’t remove you. “$3.99” triangle atop the paperback Abundance of Katherines, I’m talking to you.  Counterpoint: award stickers sell more books and bring awareness to the awards and awesomeness. I can’t really argue that. But a price starburst as part of the actual image design. Sorry, I can’t excuse you, no matter how cheap you are.
  • Different images for paperback editions – WHY is this practice done? Most often, the art is less sophisticated or engaging. Like Abundance of Katherines.  HC: The title graphic tells you a little about the storytelling. The rainbow silhouettes of the girls embody the distinct individuals each Katherine is despite having the same name. Here’s the paperback: Yes, I know it’s a Kindle thingy, but that is a real book cover. All of the Katherines are brunettes. Same face. I get nothing about their personality. And, with that triangle, announce to the world I am cheap, if not poor. Counterpoint: I cannot think of one, unless it’s a financial issue.
  • Pretty girl’s face art: Many of you may know about the kerfluffles over publishers putting white girls on the covers of books about girls of different ethnicities. My answer: Stop putting faces on covers. Just stop. It’s not creative; it usually tells me nothing about the book; and according to the awesome Simmons people, “doesn’t ask a question” that readers will want answer by picking up the book.  Counterpoint: By trying to represent the main character, the cover either gives the potential reader someone to immediately identify with or want to be. I’m sorry, but as a young adult, the pretty pore-less skinny girls with the shiny hair were always the mean ones, and I’d deal with them enough in real life; I didn’t want to put up with them in my books. CP2: But forcing you to go into the page gets you to read the book and maybe find killer writing. Sometimes. More often than not, I see such covers, grunt, and move on.
  • Movie Covers: Finally, what inspired this post – If the likelihood is that parents of children saw the movie and heard…”it’s based off that book,” then I think keeping classic covers the same (and still on the shelf for pre-release fans who may want it for their collection) should be the practice. Counterpoint: Broswers will see the movie cover, associate it with the commercial from Tv and more liklely to pick up the awesome book. Yes, but book and movie are two different creations. I don’t care how faithful the adaptation to screen is. When I have a book on my shelf I pick up five years later, I don’t want the images implanted on my brain to be 2010’s flavor-of-the-month actress.

The answer? Well, my answer at least: removable movie cover flaps. Or, rotating publishing schedules. If the book is in print and on the shelf, don’t make this: be the only edition I can buy for at least a year. Bring the other covers back. Counterpoint: It’s too expensive, and if the publisher goes through with your ideas, there’s less money for you to get a contract as a writer. Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh. No one wins. Let’s just go back to plain cloth binding. It’ll give our libraries that old-fashioned feel.