Friday, October 30, 2009
But one thing I really love about winter is all the writing I get done. Even in college, winter quarter was always my most productive. I pile my books up around me, get a hot beverage of some sort, and get to work. There's little reason to go outside, less distraction, and a certain blankness in the world that allows my mind to go on a binge. So while my garden goes dormant, my desk seems to be growing projects.
It's Halloween tomorrow. Why don't we all write ghost stories?
Learning fractions the next year helped me understand: as an octogenerian, a year was about 1/80th of Great Grandma's life, a mere sliver. But at 9, my tour around the sun was 1/9th, a hulking slab of life, luckily shaved thinner every year. I'd just have to wait a little longer to escalate.
No doubt times were simpler in my own childhood. I didn't have to take charge of much except my pet rabbit Harvey. Nor did I control much of anything. Not my bedtime, or what I ate for dinner, or where I had my birthday party (always in our unfinished basement). But I did have one freedom and that was choosing the books I read. Free run of my parents' bookshelf, unlimited trips to the library, and a good flashlight stalled time within the pages of another world, a private world where the only measure of passing time was how close I was to the end of the story. Time faded as the world of the tale grew larger and never caught up because that's how books were, a dream outside of time. And still are.
To hell with fractions.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
This week came the news that Scholastic asked Lauren Myracle to change a same-sex couple to a straight one in her new book, Luv Ya Bunches.
When she refused, they opted not to carry the book in their book fairs. A spokesman for Scholastic said the company often asks for changes to “meet the norms of the various communities that host the fairs.” Myracle did not budge.
This is no small thing. Scholastic represents money and sales for children’s book authors. To refuse them is to take money out of your own pocket—both actual and potential. It might not just be an issue of sticking to your guns, but paying for day care or college or simple time to write.
We talk a lot about book banning in children’s literature. Stories of various books getting removed from schools and libraries make the news (including that of our own Lisa Jahn-Clough.) But we don’t often hear about the books that never got through the gatekeepers at all for fear of protest. SLJ had an excellent article about self-censorship--bookstores, schools, libraries that don’t buy a book because they fear a backlash. And it’s not just these gatekeepers, as the Scholastic story indicates, but the publishers, too. A few years ago, Simon and Schuster asked a picture book writer to take out a photo in a fall-themed book of a child dressed as a witch. He refused, and Simon and Schuster released him from his contract and ultimately sold the book to another publisher.
It’s scary, sure. We just want to tell stories, and the prospect of getting removed from shelves--or never getting on those shelves at all--is a terrifying one. But there’s something new happening. A few months ago, a small internet storm exploded over the US edition of Justine Larbalesteir’s Liar, published by Bloomsbury. The protagonist for the book is black, but the publisher put a white girl on the cover. Justine protested, but they did not change their minds and sent out advance copies of the book with that cover. But then people started to read the book, and they (shockingly) noticed the discrepancy and started to talk. And blog. And tweet. Soon the story was all over the kidlitosphere. And after awhile, the noise was too loud, and Liar had a new cover.
And that’s what's happened with Luv Ya Bunches. Within days, Scholastic backtracked. They were scared of angry letters--and they got them, but not from the side they were expecting.
It’s a new era. Stories of book banning and related stupidity will spread quickly. There are a ton of kid’s lit blogs out there--writers, editors, librarians, reviewers, and readers--and their audience posts the stories to Facebook with links to online petitions and contact information for the perpetrators. A petition to Scholastic garnered 4000 signatures in 48 hours. Thanks to the internet, we have a voice now--we have thousands of voices. And children’s literature will be stronger for it.
I checked out the store's site and noticed that this weekend they're having a YA Dystopia fest, celebrating all the YA novels that are set in dystopian worlds. The Giver is perhaps the best known such YA novel. I suppose The Hunger Games would qualify too. Others? Of course, I suppose much YA fiction could fit under that banner because don't so many YA protagonists feel their worlds are far from Utopian?
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
I would say happy endings are when you come to the end of the book, close it, and feel that there is hope in the world. Which doesn't mean everything has turned out the way you wanted it to at the end of the book. I think an ending should both give a sense of closure--that this story is done, and a sense of the world of the book continuing, that life goes on for these characters.
One thing I'm aware of in writing the end of a book is what is the last image I want to leave the reader with--what is my parting gift to them.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I'm teaching an all-day workshop this Saturday on writing YA fiction. Prepping for that and reading THE CHEERLEADER has started me thinking about the appeal of adult fiction to teens and the line between YA and adult fiction (and I'm using "adult" in the broad sense, not X-rated, though of course more than a few passages in any Harold Robbins novel might qualify as X-rated). Many teens move back forth so easily; John Grisham, Mary Higgens Clark, and Stephen King are a few of the old guard adult writers who continue to attract a wide teen audience. But do teens read adult fiction for scintillation (and education) anymore? I suspect...not so much.
What were your favorite dirty books during your teen years?
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
This is a rug I hooked of my house in Stockholm, WI. The cover of my new book is also a hooked rug of my house, but I don't have a photo of it so this one will have to do.
Just a quick note to all that my new book of poetry, HAND WORK, is hitting the streets this week. And I'm hitting them too--doing readings in all sorts of places like the Textile Center in Minneapolis and even a small rug hooking shop in Minneapolis, not to mention Once Upon a Crime, a mystery bookstore here and a new theater in the very small town of Stockholm, WI. I love doing readings in places where they're not normally done. I think it makes me reconsider what I do. Makes me work a little harder. Reaching out to readers wherever they might be.
Where's the oddest place you've ever done a reading?
Monday, October 19, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Many of the essayist claim to eschew all rules; indeed, a number have a fixation on "no rules." This is not a how-to book in the typical sense; but there is plenty to take away. I especially loved one nugget from a favorite writer of mine, Lydia Davis (profiled this week in The New Yorker, BTW): "A comma or lack of it can be so eloquent."
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The article describes his work--which involves watching how the brain responds to visual stimuli and isolating which spots in the brain respond. I've read about similar studies involving music and the brain. So of course, I wondered, what about the literary arts? Will we someday see precisely where and how the brain responds to what is being read? And what does that mean for writers of children's literature? After all, our readers have developing gray matter. Do readers up to a certain age respond more positively to white space on the page? Does a shimmer of terror caused by a scary scene reverberate only so long and then need another jolt to the brain? Does sentiment cause a less pronounced brain buzz than fear, and does this change at a certain age? Could knowing all this help us make decisions about dialogue, pacing, subject matter?
I'm always split about the "write for an audience" argument. I believe in doing just that and I believe in not doing it. I doubt if I'll change what I do, but I was rather excited by the article and all it suggested. And yes, I know...my response may have been influenced by the tin foil on my head.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I’m in the middle of doing packets and I have a mound of email to answer, a sick child at home, and out of town husband, and an overarching preschool crisis to deal with (you would not think such things were possible, but, alas, they are.) But, since this is a writing blog, I want to take a moment to talk about baseball.
The Minnesota Twins won a one-game playoff for the division championship last night. The game’s very existence was improbable—the Twins were seven games back a couple of weeks ago, and three games back with four left to play. No one in the history of baseball has done what they did.
Baseball is a narrative. Like good fiction, it lays out its story carefully, slowly, so that at the end of the game you can look back and see that that ending was inevitable all along. A good baseball game has structure and symmetry and poetry. Your job as a fan is to watch the game unfold and try to figure out where it’s taking you.
Last night’s game seemed like it might be a simple story. An opposing player who had just suffered from embarrassing personal revelations hit a big home run early in the game. Suddenly, that guy was going to be the hero, the Twins were never going to be in the game at all, they were going to lose, the dramatic comeback would be for naught. Maybe next year. Then—boom—a midseason pickup for the Twins hit a homerun to give us the lead, and suddenly the comeback was complete, the overarching story of the season writ small, the new teammate earning his stripes along the way.
But this was a story with twists and turns. Every inning a new seemingly-inevitable narrative presented itself. The Twins shut down the Tigers in exhilarating fashion at the top of the ninth—obviously that would carry them to the win the next inning. And then they blew that chance thanks in part to a great defensive play by the Tigers’ shortstop—who then got up in the next inning and hit in the go-ahead run. Ah, yes, this story—the guy who makes the great defensive play in the last inning gets the key hit to win the game.
But it still wasn’t over. We tied the game and would have won—but a bench player who’s never quite lived up to his potential made an elementary baserunning mistake, one woefully in character for him. In the end, it seemed we would lose because the bullpen would fail us—the Twins Achilles’ heel bringing us to our fateful end. But that wasn’t it either. It was that woeful bench player who strode up with two on in the bottom of the twelfth inning, and then this happened:
This story was sprawling and messy, but also absolutely perfect. The ending was earned by all the details scattered over the previous twelve innings. Narrative done well is beautiful. Especially when your team wins.
Good to consider this writing "temperature" in directed-writing sessions and good to write with Ron. Don't forget the lute.