Monday, May 31, 2010

There's an interesting review of Adam Rapp's new play in the current (May 31) "The New Yorker." But I'm only writing about some information about AR in the piece, and not about the play. AR taught at Vermont (He'd written "The Buffalo Tree" and was a well-reviewed YA author) for one semester a decade or so ago. He was and is a smart guy, young and talented.

"The New Yorker" piece talks about his going to a town in Pennsylvania where "The Buffalo Tree" had been locked away in the principal's office; he thought he'd maybe change some minds during a censorship debate but came away wondering "whether his novel was in fact appropriate" for young readers.

I'm sympathetic with that. "Stoner & Spaz" is often on a banned books list and I've talked to parents -- some reasonable, some so hysterical they expect to hear my cloven hooves on the library floor as the smell of brimstone permeates the room.

Sometimes waving a P.E.N. award around and showing them glowing reviews calms people down, but other times I do that and talk calmly about Colleen's astonishing influence on Ben and they listen and nod and say, "Okay but does she have to use the F-word so much? I hate for my kid to read that. And why do they have to have sex. They're kids!"

Then we have a conversation like this: would one F-word be okay but are eight of them too much? How about four? And, I say, their sexual encounters are for Ben more about self-esteem than lust. They say, "Okay but do you have to write about how they take off their clothes? Can't they just get it over with?"

Then, like poets everywhere, a weariness comes over me and I long to lie down by a brook and dream.

Friday, May 28, 2010

First Person

Last week we had a pretty good chat here at the Inkpot about third person (3P) narratives and "telling." So, I guess it's time to talk about first person (1P). The thing about 1P narratives, of course, is that they are all telling; the form is pretty much a monologue. Even when dialogue is included, it's there under the umbrella of "This is what we said, according to me."

I'm revising a novel now and am switching it from 1P to 3P. Who knows where it will end up. For many reasons I think it's wicked hard to write in 1P, the primary one being it's so easy to mess up point of view as you try to tell the whole story. That's not the reason I'm backing off from it now. Why am I switching to 3P? I guess because I think 1P works best when the story calls for tunnel vision. Perhaps this is why it's such a popular match with YA fiction and the me-me-me of adolescence. I've used a 1P narrator in 3.5 of my books. Discount the .5--I used it that time to vary things in a dual-narrator book. But the other books starred girls who were obsessed, blinded to the larger picture because of one thing or another.
My current protagonist is not so focused; to the contrary, she's very much an observer of things. And the scope of a 3P narration feels better. For now.

Some readers hate 1P narratives. Some writers never work in anything else. Thoughts?


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shoes--follow up

Last week I blogged about a shoe dilemma—buy them for an event not? Thanks for those of you that wrote in and told me to go for it. Several have asked since then if I bought the shoes after all. Well, for those curious, I did NOT (I compromised by painting my toenails purple). The stressful event passed and was a success, and do you know why? Because I wrote myself through it. I thought about my novel most of the time—through awkward dinner conversations right down to the hotel we stayed in with its cheesy bright blue carpet and cockroach shaped cracks in the bathtub (you better believe that’s going into my book). I brought my notebook with me everywhere and at one point left the dinner to jot down a new chapter. I put on my social pleasantries in public, but in my brain my characters never left me. I had an epiphany of how the ending and have decided to cut one of the characters, which changes everything in a good way.
I never needed the shoes after all. They were cute, but really how often will I wear tropical colored four-inch high platform espadrilles? Certainly not around the Hamline campus as I dart from GLS to the lecture hall. I know some of you may be disappointed that I didn’t make the splurge, (I would have told any of you to buy them, too) but I feel fantastic. I saved money and I got good work done, plus I got through a stressful situation with ease. What more is there to life than that?

The lesson here? Writing is the answer to everything. For a writer, writing saves us more than shoes ever will, and it is far more satisfying...really. I love shoes, but trust me on that.

Now if I sell this book, I will most definitely buy something fantastic to go meet with my editor.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ask the Inkpot!!

Good afternoon, Inkpotters. Below is a question from the "Ask the Inkpot" inbox for you to wrestle with this week. Readers, if you have a question for the bloggers, please send it to

Thanks!! Administrator

Hey there...

I'm drowning in false starts for a novel that is begging to be released from my brain, but somehow, I cannot bring it together. I've been told that all I need to do is keep writing, that serendipity will pull it together for me, like magic. I'm still waiting after three years, with about six false but compelling starts that I believe somehow all fit together but I don't know how or why.

Do I try to weave together the common threads of the false starts into a new piece? Do I trash it all and start from scratch, trying so hard to stop trying so hard? Does this mean that it's not ready to be written, that I should start a different project until I have a rough idea of who is in my book and who isn't? Thanks so much for taking a stab at this. It's been on my mind for a while, and I don't know what to do next.

Not so anonymously,

PS- Love the blog. The discussions are like mini-lessons that have me thinking for days.

The Writer as Basket Case II - World of Publication

While Anne is dealing with her long editorial letter, this bright news for the rest of you.

A couple of my writer friends really keep up on the latest publishing news. I read or skip their emails, depending on my writing mood. Try this one.

"I read in Publishers' Weekly last week that 70% of books don't earn out their advance. Then read this today:

And, in traditional publishing—i.e. the “success” stories of those who got contracts with publishing houses—7% of the books publish generate 87% of book sales. This means, she noted, that 93% of all published books sold less than 1,000 copies."

Hey, if your book sells only 1000 copies you're in the in crowd, the pressure off. But oh the sales figures are so important for new contracts. Some of those 93% category books are terrific ones that never got the spin and support they needed to reach readers.

Get out the martini shaker indeed.

The Writer as Basket Case

My esteemed fellows in Inkpottery are writing beautiful posts that thoughtfully plumb the depths of lovely writing metaphors--this is the sort of thing they do, after all. Meanwhile I have spent the last week cleaning up after an extremely sick little boy. There are all sorts of metaphors I could plumb here, and all sorts of in depth descriptions I could give you about the things I have spent my mornings and evenings cleaning up--for I am a writer, after all, and this is the sort of thing I do--but I do so want to keep my job. So I'll just leave it to your ample, writerly imaginations.

I'm in the process of moving and trying to get a house on the market in the moments when I'm not cleaning up various disgusting substances, and I'm sure there are metaphors to be found in the layers of stuff in the basement, in the pieces of toys from homeowners past found behind radiators, in the storage containers full of things that each must be taken out and looked it and remembered and examined: You were something I acquired once, something I kept once, something that has sat here in these giant plastic containers because at one point in my life I could not let go of you. And now, now that I have had a little more time away from you, now that so much has passed, what am I going to do with you now?

On second thought, there's no metaphor there.

I have sitting in my in box an editorial letter for my latest book. Writers do so enjoy bragging about the length of their editorial letters--Oh yeah, well, mine was fourteen pages! And of course they are always single-spaced. This is the important detail. This is the one that really puts into focus the absurdity of the length. Well, I have now won this conversation for all of eternity. Mine is twenty-one pages. Single-spaced. Take that, Koertge. So after the hurly-burly has been cleaned up from my floor, I will be taking out bits of my book, looking at them, remembering, and examining. And, as miserable as the process can be, it beats preschool effluvium.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Writer as Gardener

Wow. What a stimulating post and discussion about the structure of a novel. While you all contemplated writer as architect and looked upward, I was down in the dirt. If you build a house, you eventually have to deal with the dirt around it before the weeds take over. And this weekend we did just that. Drought tolerant, native plants and all that. When it comes to a green thumb, mine is colorless. But a writer friend of mine is a genius. Passionate about plants and semi-retired from her landscaping business, I begged her to work her magic on our place. Like watching a great movie or reading a riveting book, I was carried away by her production. Saturday we worked on mounds and pathways. Yesterday the fun part came as she picked only the best and economical plants at the nursery and then came back to our house, arranging and rearranging their locations until it was just right.

We live on a the edge of a park, so neighbors kept walking by with their dogs and oogling. Come to my place, they begged. We're overrun by weeds. Margy smiled and later told me she only works with people she likes. At age seventy, she's earned that right. At one point during the day, I thought about how I wanted an editor like Margy. One who could work magic with my manuscript. And then I stopped myself. No, Margy the gardener is writer and editor all wrapped up in one. The writer brings the magic, the editor helps with the pruning. Every time I look at our pathways and plants, I will try to remind myself of how much Margy loves her work.

Who in your life loves their work? Get out your slide ruler today, but don't forget the gardening gloves.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Writer as Architect

I love movies and see dozens of them a year, lots of them in an actual theatre vs. DVD. But I was watching "Walking and Talking" the other day on IFC (I'd seen it before and admired it then) and started to ask myself how it worked. Why did this scene fit here? Why is this shot outdoors? With dialogue this spare, how does the writer wring so much out of it?

Movies are good things to practice on. They are very pared down compared to a novel with its scene setting and descriptions. I've had more than one student write only the dialogue of a story until it sang. At that point the rest of the prose pretty much took care of itself.

Indies are more fun to work with than big budget pictures. They're often lean by nature. Something like the new "Robin Hood" is watchable but it's also a mess with so many sub-plots, not to mention the phlegmatic Russell Crowe.

For people who don't need the practice and want to go right to fiction, here are some basic questions: Why is this scene where it is? Why is it as long as it is? What's new? How does it move the plot along? How does it add a facet to a familiar character? Is the dialogue more than utilitarian?

Like houses, novels are constructed. Make sure yours doesn't collapse in the first critical tornado.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Writer's Dilemma and Shoes

Okay, forget writing and let’s get down to what’s really important for a moment. I have to go to an event this weekend – a potentially stressful event where I may need an extra boost of confidence. Usually whenever I sign a new book contract I treat myself to a pair of shoes. Currently I have no book contract, however I am still excited about my work-in-progress, and my editor is encouraging (sad to say no more contracts with a partial novel anymore). My dilemma: do I buy these new platform shoes that would match my black dress perfectly and also give me some extra height for a particular event even though I cannot afford them and I have no book contract to sign? Would buying them jinx my contract or would it be a good luck omen?

These are the worries of the freelance writer. Treat or no treat? When to celebrate? Bad luck or good luck? Frivolity or practicality? I can spend all my energy either talking myself into it or out of it, when really if I just get back to my novel all these anxieties about shoes and stressful events will fade away! Writing is almost always the answer to everything.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Crossing Stones - Double Duty Novel

The past winter, long ago it seems like now, I read Printz Honor book author Helen Frost’s historical novel Crossing Stones. Most often it is the character or story that stays with me. Both are true for this mesmerizing story. But her beautiful poetic forms also entranced me and helped carry the theme of the story. Lisa recently blogged about using experimental forms in art and writing. The poetic novel is no longer considered groundbreaking, but as Jason wrote in one of his critical essays, some poetic novels are light verse and nothing more. But Frost’s story set April 1917 – January 1918 uses a formal structure to give the sense of stepping from stone to stone across a flowing creek. The character Muriel’s poems are free form like the creek. Ollie’s and Emma’s represent the stones in cupped-hand sonnets, 14-line poems in which the first line rhymes with the last line and the second line rhymes with the second-to-last, Ollie’s rhymes at the beginning of each line and Emma’s at the end.

Not only is this a great story featuring the tension of World War I approaching and the strengthening movement for women’s suffrage, it deepened my understanding and appreciation for poetry. Wow – double duty. What story recently has been a terrific read and deepened your understanding of craft?

For a blog that does a terrific job of analyzing the craft behind recent books, check out Hamline grad student Heather Hedin Singh’s blog Story Sleuths - This month Heather and two fellow Seattle writers Meg Lippert and Allyson Valentine Schrier discuss the Newbery honor novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.

The Buddy System, II

Ron's post got me thinking--not about cats who are pains in the butt, though I believe that is something that is going around and I highly suggest everyone get theirs vaccinated--but about buddies. Writing demands buddies, I think, otherwise it's just you in the attic dressed in white using excessive em dashes. I wrote Shadow Thieves with a buddy--my friend Laura Ruby, who was writing her own fantasy at the time. I'm not sure how it happened; we just sent each other our first chapters, and then our second, and so on. It was my first time writing for kids, and getting someone to say, with every chapter--This is great! I love [THIS BIG THING]. You might want to look at this [VERY TINY INCONSEQUENTIAL THING THAT IN NO WAY MEANS EVERYTHING YOU'RE DOING ISN'T AWESOME]. Keep going!--is the sort of thing that keeps you going to your keyboard every morning. And maybe even leaving the attic every once in a while.

That was my favorite writing experience, because--even though we never talked about the stories and would happen--I felt like I was writing my book with someone. And it was nice to write those pages knowing someone would read them. You have to find the right person, of course, the one who knows just how to fill in those brackets. We've never quite managed to do that again. We wrote our sequels at the same time, too, but mostly then just wrote each other back and forth about how much we wanted to kill ourselves. But even then, what we were really saying is: You are not alone.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Buddy System

No, not Buddy the Poetry Cat who's a pain in the ass this morning. Another kind of buddy. The writing kind.

I started to think about this when I hear from students or friends who are floundering. You know I don't believe in writer's block, but I do understand when someone gets tired of writing badly every day.

So how about a collaborative novel. Maybe two people who aren't getting anywhere can set out together. The usual route is the epistolary one -- two kids exchange letters about their lives, their problems, etc. Maybe they've known each other and one has moved away. Maybe they've met on-line. If a couple of you decide to try this, my advice is to work against the grain -- trade genders, for sure. If you're a female, be a male. If you're naturally snarky, settle down and let the other person be that. Subvert your so-called natural tendencies.

Another possibility is to have a couple of writers simply alternate chapters. Some collaborators agree on a skeletal story-line; some just start and see what happens; a few people I've known go page-by-page, so X would write page one, for example, e-mail that to Y, and Y would write page two and send it back to X. And so on. At a page per day, they have a novel-sized ms. in about four months.

And any novel-sized manuscript is a cause for celebration!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

World Around Us

A writer writes every day? Not this one, not when there's lovely summer weather and yard work to do.

Which means tonight I'm too whipped to be coherent about all I'm thinking about, so I'll just send you to the beautiful rock slide show on Lisa Westberg Peter's site. Enjoy.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Most of us get this question and when I answer, as I sometimes do, "The newspaper," I'm often met with incredulity. They legitimately ask, "'Stoner & Spaz' came out of the newspaper? No, but a decade or two ago 'Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright.' And after that 'Margaux With an X.' When I wrote for that TV cop show, everyone read the Metro section; we couldn't think of crimes and capers as bizarre as the ones in the Times.

I was brooding about this the other day after an half hour in the library prowling the Teen Section, reading first pages, and feeling my spirits sink. So I made up a little exercise -- I started with a middle-grade kid. He has a mouthy younger sister, and he suspects things aren't going to well between his parents. At school, a best friend he shoots hoops with has started hanging out with a guy our narrator can't stand.

Conflict, right? One(s) we've all seen before. I'd have to be a better writer than I am now to turn that story into anything. So I opened the newspaper to a heartwarming story about a ten year old, blind baseball player. Hmmm. Heartwarming makes me want to slit my wrists. What if my narrator's sister was blind and a pain in the butt. He has to look out for her and she doesn't like being dependent. Now I'm interested. The problem with the parents and the narrator's best friend issue glide into the background.

I turn the page: a young woman who's gone missing turns up. She wasn't kidnapped; she just ran away, unable to face her parents and friends who thought she was a UCLA student when she really wasn't.

So our narrator senses his parents aren't connecting anymore, his younger sister is acting out, his best friend has abandoned him and then he gets a call from his missing sister who says, "You have to help me!" I'm interested again.

Everyone knows the apothegm about trying: There's no such thing. You're either writing or you're not. So maybe not so much thinking. Are you floundering? Open the newspaper.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Writing in Paradise

So you think I am going to write about journaling on white, sandy beaches and critique sessions over an ice cold pitcher of margaritas? Where is writing paradise? That's what we all need to know to be successful writers.

At a recent writing group a friend arrived with the book The Geography of Bliss in her hand. I begged to borrow it. Don't you want to find your bliss? Written by a self-named grump, journalist Eric Weiner travels the world in search of happiness. Where do people love their lives? In the nation where they appreciate literature and the arts.


Turns out, it's all about community and a sense of history. Something a place like Qatar doesn't have. Oil-rich Qatar is filled with malls but only one bookstore.

But back to that cold place. Being a writer in Iceland is the best thing you can be. "Better to go barefoot than without a book," a favorite sayings goes. The government supports writers with generous grants. Have you bought your plane ticket yet? Yes, it's dark and cold much of the year. But it produces more writers and artists per capita than any other country. Why?

1. They love their language, even more than their country. As Weiner writes, "A love of language may not guarantee happiness, but it allows you to express your despair eloquently , and that is worth something. As any poet (or blogger) knows, misery expressed is misery reduced." I feel better already.

2. They harbor minimum envy. In Iceland failure isn't a stigma, but a badge of honor if you have given it your best shot. Weiner writes about how Icelanders believe that artistic failures shouldn't be framed or published, but that the crap becomes compost for the great stuff to grow.

He concludes his section on Iceland by stating that happiness is a choice. So is being a writer. It doesn't matter where we live. We can choose every morning to write crap so the great stuff can begin to grow. Paradise.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

This, Too, Shall Pass.

There are times it's hard to walk into a bookstore. Sometimes you are in the kids section of your fabulous indie watching your little boy play at the train table, and your eye catches some enormous display of a shiny YA from a reality star-cum-artiste, and you find you cannot take it any more, that it is all too much, and you say to your little boy, "Come on, honey, it's time to go." And he says, "But, why?" And you say, "You'll understand when you're older." And you're about to pack up and go when you realize you are overreacting; that this display has nothing to do with you or your self-worth; that publishing still is what it is, shiny display or no; that this reality star actually makes it so you can write your books too; that, most pertinently, you are only ensuring that your child grows up to start his own publishing house that produces nothing but novels by reality stars because you drove him to it. So, you gather yourself. You smile at the other moms. You tell your boy it's going to be okay, he can stay. You put your hand above your eye, and you decide if you can't see the display, it does not exist. You master yourself. You manage. Because it's okay. Because it's just a reality star and we are all rational people. We can survive this.

But this? This?

Former supermodel Tyra Banks has signed a deal for a series of fantasy novels about the world of modeling, her publishers said on Tuesday...

She has already finished the first, called "Modelland", which is about a teen girl in a make-believe society at an academy for exceptional models called Intoxibellas. It will be published in the summer of 2011.

I shall not endure.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Ask the Inkpot" Question

Hello Inkpotters! Here is a question for you from the Inkpot inbox. (And, readers, if you have a question for the bloggers, be sure to send it to Thanks! Administrator

Dear Inkpot,

Every writer is familiar with the rule "show don't tell." But how exactly does this rule apply to beautifully written, award-winning third-person omniscient books such as Charlotte's Web by E. B. White ("Fern loved Wilbur more than anything. She loved to stroke him, to feed him, to put him to bed."); Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china.); and Holes by Louis Sachar ("There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas.)
These stories, as with fairy tales of old, "tell" the reader a story, yet they are evocative, powerful works of literary art. What are the rules for telling without "telling" in third-person omniscient?

Many Thanks,Perplexed

Monday Washday

Doing some writer’s cleaning. I’ve finished a draft of a novel recently and today am clearing it off my computer and office walls. The “Chapter To-Do” lists that were on the wall by my chair are now in the file cabinet. I’ve also taken down, folded up, and filed the giant post-its on which I drew a map of the protagonist’s home turf and a time line of the main characters’ major life events. The big wipe-off two-months-at-a-glance wall calendar I use for double-checking the continuity of events has been wiped clean.

The bookmarks in my favorite places have been filed in their own folder and the URLs saved to a hard copy that’s now in the file cabinet. No more will I scroll down through The Snowplow page or Andy’s Geology blog or Hypothermia Treatment or half a dozen swim club home pages to get to The Storyteller’s Inkpot.

I write fiction. I can’t imagine the clean-up process nonfiction writers have to do.

Tuesday is, if I recall the litany correctly, ironing day. Ha.


Saturday, May 8, 2010


It is Mother’s Day. Whatever that means according to Hallmark. But, really, mothers are pretty great. I give mine a lot of flack, she’s a bit crazy, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I would not be the person I am today without her. She never once doubted or questioned my abilities. She is an artist herself, and while never pushing me to become one, she nurtured creativity, and above all, exploration and inquiry. She has influenced me tremendously. I am lucky.

I have never had a strong desire to become a mother. Never. In fact, when I was a teenager I emphatically did not ever want to marry or have kids. I had my astrological chart done (a joke gift from my restaurant job co-workers when I was fifteen) and the prediction was that I was going to have many, many children in my life. The astrologer went on and on about all these children I would have. I was mortified. I imagined myself as the old woman in the shoe with so many children I wouldn’t know what to do. I have the utmost respect for mothers--I know it's not an easy job.

Years later, I became a children’s writer, and now I have many, many children in my life. Weird. Most, I will never know, but through my books I have become part of their lives. I never thought I’d become a children’s book writer—I just wanted to write because I had things to say. Perhaps all children’s writers are mothers (even the guys, though they might not be willing to admit it). Even if we don’t have children, or don’t like children (some of the best children’s authors actually hated kids—but that’s for a different blog post) there is a nurturing element in what we do. We have something to offer young people. Like it or not.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Creative Tension: Writing and Controlling Anxiety

So on a children’s writing panel the other night, in response to a question about the writing life, I said that I agreed with a comment I’d recently heard from another writer. “Writing is all about controlling anxiety.” There was nervous laughter in the crowd.

But for me, it really is about controlling anxiety. Is this worth putting my heart and soul on the page every day? Yes, yes, yes. But it’s not so easy. When I told a writer friend last week about my anxiety during the revision process, she suggested the two-handed meditation. On the one hand, I can’t write well. I’ll never finish this project. One the other hand, of course I can. I have finished many projects in my life and I’ll do it again.

Isn’t this like all the tension in our lives? How about for our characters – fiction or nonfiction? Will they step up or collapse to the ever-greater challenges in their way? Will you?

I vote for acting like our protagonists, instead of our antagonists. Janet Fitch in that workshop on dialog said that she believes the antagonist in the story is the one who never changes. So are you the protagonist or antagonist in your writing life? Do you control the anxiety, live through the creative tension or do you give up and go eat some chocolate?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Books in the Woods

I apologize for my quiet--I've been traveling and awash in manuscripts. I haven't even watched the last three weeks of Project Runway, which should tell you how bad things have gotten.

But I'm sitting in a beautiful little cabin right now in rural Pennsylvania on the campus of the Highlights Foundation. The foundation is devoted to helping children's book writers hone their craft, and they offer a ton of intensive workshops. I'm here for the very first Whole Novel Workshop in Fantasy--8 participants who each get an intensive critique on a novel manuscript, then we spend the week workshopping and meeting and critiquing some more. One of the participants has a description of the week here. My co-leader and I are not always so sticky-looking.

I can't describe how invaluable this sort of thing is, not just for the writing, but the soul. Of course there're the long drawn-out mornings in which to write (or, in my case, blog and catch up on the 700 things I'm behind on.) And the workshops, and the intensive manuscript critique, and the opportunity to think and talk in depth about revision. But it's also the sense of community, sitting around the table and realizing you're with a group of kindred spirits. I think writers need to work hard to find these chances, to remember that they are not alone, that just as we need the quiet mornings we also need the chance to be with our fellows and talk about matters related and un-. We're all in this together.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Now do I have your attention? I've been meaning to muse about this for awhile now. Only about porn tangentially. More about an aside in a movie review that said what pornography is usually accused of is its tendency to "inflame and coarsen."

Inflame I understand. People look at dirty pictures or read sexy stuff to get hot. Fine. It's the "coarsen" that interests me. And not even that, actually. It's coarsen's opposite -- refinement. If bad writing coarsens, does good writing refine?

I'd like to hear from anybody who has made a habit of reading good writing and who therefore feels more of a connoisseur, more tasteful and discriminating. And I'd especially like to hear from someone who has felt coarsened by bad writing. Not just dirty words, but bad writing.

P.S. Porno+graphos = writing of harlots. And there are all kinds of harlots. Not that I'd know from personal experience. I just read a lot.

I Want to Thank...

Rebecca Stead and the other ALA medal winners are probably suffering right now. Big day comin' up in a couple of months, and there's a little matter of a The Speech.

In 1970, William Steig felt this way about giving his Caldecott acceptance speech (For Sylvester and the Magic Pebble): “I’ve been depressed ever since January & will not realize happiness again until after June 30th when my trial is over.” (The full text of his letter is at the Hornbook Archives site.)

And in yet another letter to his editor, Paul Heins ...
"I want to make more books, books good enough to win prizes, & I’m hoping that my inability to make speeches will not hamper my progress."

I've read through most of the Newbery and Caldecott acceptance speeches. Many of the speakers wisely laid it on thick when it came to praising librarians. One winner who apparently never got the memo was Monica Shannon (1935, Dobry). She instead delivered a very long riff on nature that never once mentioned librarians, the importance of children’s books, or John Newbery.

She's also the winner who nearly went to the banquet with her dress on backwards. Fortunately, the person who came to her hotel room to escort her to the banquet noticed it in time.

Good luck to all!

Saturday, May 1, 2010


A few weeks ago an interview with David Shields on the Colbert Report caught my attention. The author of Reality Hunger is trying to “turbo charge contemporary writing.” He says “all writing is theft,” just as all art is theft, and talks about starting a writing movement that ignores the distinction between genres (like between fiction and non-fiction, or children and adult). His movement seems to be made up of quoting bits and pieces from everyone else, but his book got me thinking…

Is it possible to have a writing movement akin to visual art movements? Sure, sentence structure has changed from long compound sentences to shorter, punchier ones, and content changes constantly with the politics of the world. But the structure of the novel has stayed relatively the same. We get an occasional abstract novel, such as, Nicholas Baker’s THE MEZANINE, written in footnotes, or Jeanette Winterson’s WRITTEN ON THE BODY, a first-person novel about sex where you never know the gender of the narrator. e.e cummings did the no cap thing. But these are a few isolated experiments, not movements.

Do traditional forms make writing what it is, or does it limit us (as readers and writers)?
Imagine Pop writing, Neo-Classism writing, Impressionistic writing, Dadaism writing, Writing Nouveau, or instead of Ugly Art (or Outsider Art, which is the art of the untrained—or more specifically the insane) we can have an Ugly Writing movement… Could it work? Is it already happening?

Here’s the link to the interview and his website if you’re interested: