Monday, December 20, 2010

TFO on Tea Cozy

Liz Burns has an excellent review of Blythe Woolston’s The Freak Observer on her blog this morning. Aside from being glowing, I think this is one of the first reviews for this book I’ve seen that shine a spotlight on one of the novels strong points: Loa’s family (particularly her parents):

Loa’s father is not a violent man, he is a man moved to violence because he watched a beloved child die, he lost his job and sees his wife and daughter working to put food on the table, and he is moved to the violent act against Loa because she has come home in a police car after having witnessed a friend die in a truck accident which may be suicide. Loa thinks, “What’s the difference? Why am I not a dead girl? I don’t for a minute know. I look at my dad. He can’t let himself be sad. He can’t let himself be frightened. But I’ve forced this moment. The fear jumps out of his eyes and into me like a hot spark. ‘You could’a been the dead one.’ That’s when he hits me with the plunger, because I could have been the dead one. He hits me because it is easier to be angry than to be afraid. I could have been the dead one, but I’m not.” This is a story not of the toll that caring for an child takes on a family, it is the story of what happens to the family after that child who has been the center of the family dies.

Yes, yes, yes.

I think of Blythe’s book as a story of the center failing to hold and the new solar systems that arise from the destruction.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Playing in other sandboxes

(Photo from XKCD)

I’ve had a blog post in mind for a while about the difference between a service provider and a business partner and how it relates to publishing (the Amazon Bookscan announcement set me in motion), but it’s not quite fully formed yet, and it may never be. While that’s gestating, let me put in a word for keeping your RSS reader diversified—something that helps me when I’m stuck for a post.

We publishers tell authors to blog, to comment, and to participate in the blogosphere, but one thing I think we (or at least I) fail to mention is that a blogger cannot exist solely in the Kidlitosphere. I think it’s antithetical to good social media consumption to be so narrowly focused (it’s also antithetical to good print media consumption). What’s more, I think you should go deeper than BoingBoing or Gizmodo (both very useful, by the way), and get deep into another community of interest.

Experiencing another community’s blogosphere is a great opportunities to see how they deal with problems and challenges similar to our own. It’s like foreign travel—the good kind, where you don’t just go to Hard Rock Cafe.  You can learn new bloggers’ dialects, their habits, their mating rituals. And those can make you a more interesting kidlit blogger.

For instance, photography is a passion of mine and I read a number of photo blogs of various kinds, including:

These are both heavily trafficked blogs with lots of comments and very different tones. And obviously they never talk about kidlit. And yet I find myself making connections between the two blogospheres all the time.

I also follow the Tumblr blog of some IT guy who splits his time between China and Australia, and who posts mostly pictures of his exquisitely tailored suits and expensive shoes. I like his taste in clothes, but I’m also fascinated by the community (and it’s a big one) he’s blogging from within. (Warning, like all Tumblrs it seems, this one is occasionally NSFW.)

Blogging authors should ask themselves, what are my creative passions other than children’s literature? How might those blogging communities (and it’s a given that they exist) inform your kidlit blogging?

Maggie Stiefvater, one of the smartest bloggers I know, has been successful in two distinct creative blogospheres in the course of her short career. I bet she’d tell you that her time in the world of visual art blogging made a big difference in how she approaches blogging in as a novelist. (And I’d win that bet, because she said as much at her KidLitCon 2010 keynote.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Regret the error?

And you think an inkjet printer is tricky to run?

As you might have heard, the Federal Reserve has been printing a lot of money. And as you might have also  heard, there was a tiny problem with a recent batch of hundred dollar bills.

Some fraction of $1.1 billion worth of new US $100 bills will have to be scrapped due to a printing error; the new high-tech security features are so complex that they foiled the Treasury's own printers. Up to 30% of the bills are defective, and unless someone inhundred_billsvents a machine that can tell bum notes from good ones, the whole run will have to be shredded. I think they should do it and sell printers' error commemorative confetti to pay for the next run. [Cory Doctorow via BoingBoing.]

Despite Cory Doctorow’s attempt to make lemonade, this is an error with very little upside. But printers errors aren’t all that uncommon (neither are publishers’ errors, but let’s not speak of those just now) and sometimes they do come out in your favor.

When we were working on jacket designs for the cover for |-1| we got a quote on translucent paper for a design we eventually ended up abandoning. Somehow, the printer got the quote mixed up with what we actually ordered when it came time to print the final design, and so Steve’s book printed with a slightly translucent jacket. It was completely unintentional, and we could have had the printer rejacket the book at their cost. But we kinda liked the result (plus the translucent paper was really expensive, so we were getting a deal). So we kept it.

If you’re in the Twin Cities and you want to see the author and his error-ridden jacket, brave the blizzard come to Magers & Quinn this Saturday. Steve will be signing along with Alison McGee.


Printing press photo by cultr.sun

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Antarctica is for strong stomachs

Anyone who’s read Sally Walker’s Frozen Secrets will not be surprised by this video (but it will still be impressive).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

And there was much rejoicing.

Colleagues wondered why I was whooping and hollering in my office last Thursday.This is why.

Congratulations, Blythe!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Today’s editorial playlist

(courtesy of Steve Brezenoff plus one wildcard from me.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The rise of the subs

I’m on record all over the place that young adult is a genre and that paranormal, dystopian, realistic, etc. are best thought of subgenres of YA. I’ve said many times that adolescent experience is the concern of all YA, and the subgenres are the prisms through which we view that experience.

I continue to believe this, but for better or worse it’s a literary-critical stance more than a market-driven one. In other words, I think writers have an enormous amount to gain from being aware of this hierarchy, because I think it frees them from the awful ghettos of the adult genres (romance, “literary,” mystery, sci-fi, etc.) and lets them explore the richer terrain of teen characters in any imaginable situation. As a result, I don’t think you can overstate how important for writers it is that YA sections in many retailers and libraries have not been broken up by genre.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this viewpoint is carrying the day in the marketplace. The subs are rising, and the emphasis in the marketplace is shifting toward them. I think that’s at the core of Elaine Marie Alphin’s superb post on genre:

[…] genres can benefit writers unexpectedly. But I think genres can also do writers a disservice sometimes. I've recently finished a novel about the need to protect words and books from being twisted and misrepresented. It takes place in our world, perhaps a few years in the future, and I thought of it as sort of a foray into science fiction, or speculative fiction (a term I prefer). But with the current interest in dystopian literature, it's being called dystopian. And editors have rather specific ideas about what they want to see as dystopian. So when they read my manuscript, thinking dystopian, they have problems with it not fitting neatly into the dystopian template they have in their mind.

If you haven’t already, take a look at this piece in PW about “today’s YA scene” (quotes from yours truly). One example among several:

The makeup of Zondervan's YA list, which debuted in May 2008, is changing somewhat, reports senior v-p and publisher Annette Bourland. "In the past, I would say our list has been 50% chick lit, 25% paranormal, and 25% adventure fantasy," she says. "Going forward, since chick lit has toned down, the list will be 50% to 60% paranormal, 30% fantasy, and the rest contemporary fiction."

And another:

"From what I've seen, a lot of what's happening in the YA category has filtered down from the adult romance genre," says Leah Hultenschmidt, senior editor of Sourcebooks Fire, which launched last spring. Formerly editorial director at Dorchester Publishing, Hultenschmidt also acquires adult romances for Sourcebooks' Casablanca imprint. "Vampires were big in adult romance 10 years ago," she says. "Twilight reinvigorated them and suddenly vampires were everywhere. After adult romance shifted to demons and then to fallen angels, both then cropped up in YA."

Please don’t think I imply any criticism of these publishers. It’s their job (and mine) to look at the market and acquire accordingly. I don’t necessarily agree with what they conclude, but I can see why they do.

But I’m burying the lede here. The real headline here should be B & N reorganizing their YA section, a move they announced in October.

“It’s really about improving the customer experience,” Amicucci [Mary Amicucci, v-p of children’s books] told PW. “We haven’t expanded or shrunk anything. That was the beauty of this—by breaking the genres out, we can really showcase the books. The key is a directed customer shopping experience that really supports browsing patterns.”

I take B & N at its word that this move is supported by what they’ve seen from their customers. They’re in the business of selling book, not supporting literary-critical ideals, and I’d probably make the same call. But I cannot help but fear this will curtail some of the innovation and experimentation that’s been so central to the broader health of the genre in the last decade. Is this the end of the very thing that made it possible for writers like Libba Bray and Scott Westerfeld (to name but two prominent examples) to cross traditional genre boundaries without a second thought? I don’t know, but the sight of a periscope on the horizon is always troubling.

Photo by Defence Images