Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Kidlitosphere

image Rumor has it that I’m helping to organize Kidlitosphere Conference this year. Whatever else you may have heard about me, this rumor is entirely true. My coconspirators are Brian Farrey of Flux and Ben Barnhart of Milkweed, and we’re looking forward to hosting the best and the brightest in kidlit blogging at Open Book in Minneapolis.

If you’re reading this blog, you should consider coming. If you’re reading this blog in lieu of writing in your own blog, then you should consider submitting a proposal. No, really, I mean it. We want to hear from you soon. This conference is a terrific opportunity to participate in decidedly uncrappy “discourse” (a word I suddenly think of this as John Green® word) at the bleeding edge of kidlit blogging.

As the one picture book guy in the hosting troika, I also want to say this is not a YA-only conference by any stretch. I want proposals from picture book writers and illustrators!

In the next day or two, we’ll also be announcing the keynote speaker, and there will be much rejoicing, so make sure you’ve got the conference blog in your RSS reader and that you’re following @kidlitcon2010 on Twitter.

Photo by:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Nailing it.

Two of my favorite Lab Rats have nailed it this week—or maybe I should say others have recognized the fantastic force with which they hit ferrous fasteners.

First, Blythe Woolston posted an homage to Harvey Pekar that turned into a post about R. Crumb that became a post about writing better. And it’s still short—like her books. Amazing. 

And while you’re at her blog, watch the trailer for her novel. On second thought, watch it now:

Second, Forever Young Adult (where has this blog been all my life?) nails how Steve Brezenoff nails it in a reviewing style that, well, nails it:

talky talk: 2 legit 2 quit, motherf*cker

ok, first of all, MAJOR MAJOR pants to steve brezenoff for writing some of the most authentic teen dialogue EVER. and i don’t mean he uses “like” a lot. i mean he uses profanity a lot. A LOT a lot. and it’s completely dynamic and real and would even make a sailor (or FYAer) blush.

second of all, the book is divided up into the three perspectives of lily, noah and the crowned prince of sadness, and brezenoff completely nails each one. and just when you think shizz is real enough, IT GETS REALER. even though the characters are going through the same story, there’s a lot of variance in their accounts due to individual perspectives and baggage. so whenever i spotted a difference between, say, how lily reported something and how simon viewed something, i had a sort of eureka moment, kinda like when the detectives on law & order (RIP) separate two suspects and discover discrepancies in their story. except instead of yelling, “BUSTED!” which i would totally do if i was on law & order, i just felt even closer to lily, noah and yes, even the TCPoS, because i gained a deeper understanding of not only their reactions, but *why* they had those reactions.

We should all be able to acronym with such fluidity. (Earlier in the review, she makes Flowers in the Attic an acronym and a verb at the same time. Chapeau, FYA).

While we’re watching trailers . . .

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Separated by a common language




I’m working on Americanizing a YA novel from the UK for our spring 2011 Carolrhoda Lab list. That was a hard sentence for me to write, because I’m somewhat allergic to the idea of Americanization. As a reader, I really enjoy encountering the subtleties of different forms of English usage in fiction. I think children’s books in the US have benefitted in the Harry Potter era from letting UK English stand—from leaving those chips and mums alone. So, at least in theory and as a reader, I’m inclined to say Americanisation is rubbish.

In practice/practise, though, I’m finding it’s not quite so simple. For example:

It was long past midnight when the Horror appeared at the
end of Westmoreland Road. No one in the run-down estate saw it. No one heard it as it burst through the washing lines of the poky little gardens.

This is the first sentence of the novel in question. On the face of it, no Americanization is needed here—at least there are no British spellings or unfamiliar words. However, a young American reader is very likely to read the word “estate” quite differently from the author’s intended meaning (“gardens” won’t help things), and all of a sudden, the reader is picturing something quite different from what the author imagined. It’s an unfortunate way to start a book. I need to find a way to get readers picturing a British “council estate” not some grand country home—more Zadie Smith than Daphne Du Maurier .




This kind of dissonance between UK and US usage is a much bigger problem than the usual “mum” to “mom” and “chips” to “fries.” It’s not so much the words that are spelled differently; it’s the words that are used differently that trips up readers. As an editor, I’m coming to the realization/realisation that it’s this kind of Americanization that makes a difference for readers.

And how you make the change really matters. It’s not translation. For example, from the same book, a little later:

We walked into a wall of drum and bass. The usual assortment of year 13s were lounging about on Tori’s boxy sofas and chairs, and it was noisy, but at least the lamps in the room were subdued and indirect.

The Britishism is obvious here, but I would argue the change isn’t so simple as changing “year 13” to whatever the American high school equivalent is (I actually don’t know at the moment). I don’t want to replace a peculiarly British usage with a peculiarly American one if I can avoid it—after all, the book is still set in the UK. So, since the ages of the characters are well established and the nature of the “assortment” isn’t important, I’m probably going to change “year 13s” to “people.” The meaning is unharmed and no uniquely American syntax disrupts the British setting.

Later on, readers will encounter another different British school term: “maths” instead of “math.” I’m not going to change that. Why would I? No reader will be remotely confused, and any reader with familiarity with British usage will see evidence of my having been there if I change it—and that’s antithetical to good editing.

With Americanization, I say less focus on types of fried potatoes and more focus on making sure the story works for readers with minimal “translation.”

UPDATE: You should read this post from a commenter.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Music to my ears

imageI can say without fear of exaggeration that the best thing to find in one’s inbox upon one’s return from the holiday is a Kirkus review for The Freak Observer* that ends thusly:

“A keenly observant narrator noticing life’s small details, Loa holds nothing back, which is both riveting and heartbreaking. An auspicious debut for both the author and Carolrhoda's new Lab imprint.”

But wait, there was more. A recent Booklist review concludes as follows:

“A strong debut about learning to see yourself apart from the reflection you cast off others."

And since good things come in threes, fellow author and future Lab Rat R.J. Anderson also had a chance to read an advance copy, and was favorably inclined on Twitter:

"@Blythewoolston's FREAK OBSERVER is haunting & raw yet not hopeless. It defies cliche, stereotype & predictability. Genius."

Congratulations, Blythe! Thanks for giving Lab your excellent auspices.

*This cover still gives me chills. Reader, you are holding a heart when you hold a book!