Thursday, June 23, 2011

Off to ALA Tomorrow

(My first time in New Orleans too, by the way.)

So, tell me what I should be seeking out at the show as I roam and ramble between meetings and beignets?

Arnaud’s, where we’ll be dining on Saturday.

Photo by jjgardner3

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The audience is not an abstraction.

I’m a bit torn about whether to write any more about the infamous Cox Gurdon WSJ piece, but there is a strain in her argument that offends me (and I think should offend and trouble many authors and fellow editors), and I don’t see enough rebuttal amidst the #yasaves.

In the original piece, she wrote:

Veteran children's bookseller Jewell Stoddard traces part of the problem to aesthetic coarseness in some younger publishers, editors and writers who, she says, "are used to videogames and TV and really violent movies and they love that stuff. So they think that every 12-year-old is going to love that stuff and not be affected by it. And I don't think that's possible."

And in the more-maddening NPR interview (yes, it actually spiked my blood pressure more than the article), she said:

People who write books for children and people who sell books to children understand those children in the abstract. But parents of those children love them very specifically and know them very well and care a great deal about what is in their hearts and what the wallpaper is in their minds.

The first excerpt can be dismissed as a writer amplifying a quote that never should have been repeated. (Jewell Stoddard, I will work a week in your store for free if you can produce any evidence to support this incredibly sweeping generalization.)

The second, though, is just bizarre. I’m trying very hard not to read it as a mother of five implying that people who make books don’t know anything about specific children (even though it sounded that way to me when I first heard it). In any case, I don’t know of any successful YA author whose audience is an abstraction. That’s just not how good fiction works ever in any genre, either for writers or for people who work on books. Just one example off the top of my head:

For my father, whom I miss every day. And for my son, who I hope will know a little of his grandfather through me.

This is Steve Brezenoff’s dedication to his The Absolute Value of –1. A quick survey of YA novels will find many similar dedications.

For my part, the three-year-old on the right is a very unabstract entity in my imagination when I work on certain books.

I’m not suggesting that you have to be a parent to imagine children or a child reader in detail. Far from it. Parenthood is not a prerequisite to a specific, emotional, and intellectual connection to children.

For the YA novels I have the pleasure of editing, I find my personal imaginative bleachers filled with, among others, 12 year-old-me who read The Sun Also Rises much too soon because my 1990 junior high library wasn’t meeting my needs (I badly needed The Marbury Lens or Inexcusable) and by the contemporary teens I go out of my way to meet at every opportunity (particularly the members of the inimitable Teens Know Best reading group).

Maybe people who write insurance forms can afford to imagine abstractions (though I hope not); authors and editors, not so much.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

“Children, believe it or not, are the first line of defense for every community.”

I like this. Not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because of a certain “aesthetic coarseness” on my part.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

“Skip to the End.”

There was a flurry of discussion on #yalitchat last week about the indispensability (or not) of romance in YA. I think this was the match that sparked the tinder:

@cafecliche: Do you think YA without a central romance can sell?

I tuned in long enough to voice an opinion. (“Yes, emphatically and unequivocally yes. YA w/o a central romance can sell.”) Others opined and concurred:


I think the romance or no question is actually more interesting and complicated than it seems. Somebody smart (@jsgabel I think) pointed out farther down the # tag  that an emotionally meaningful human relationship is indispensible in almost any fiction. Unsurprisingly, we find the romantic ones most interesting, and so they’re well represented in YA and elsewhere. But there are plenty of books where that central relationship is not “romantic,” so I think the answer to the initial query is “yes,” so if that’s all that concerns you, go back to what you were doing.

Still here? Cool. There will be rewards. I’m increasingly interested in the romantic arc of YAs where there is a central romance. Specifically, I’m concerned with the end of that ARC. Do YA romances tend unswervingly toward a marital apotheosis*, whether actual or implied? (Free book to the first three commenters with examples of recently pub’d YAs with teen nuptials strongly suggested.)

And does YA explore the question of romantic finality as thoroughly as it might, or is there interesting territory here yet unexplored?

Marriage is a powerful force in our storytelling traditions. A marriage is the formal ending of  almost any Elizabethan  comedy. There’s a wedding in the last episode of M*A*S*H* and the promise of one in the end of Sex and the City. Even Buffy has a wedding. And on and on.

And of course marriage is a huge issue in American culture in general (same-sex, Bristol and Levi, tax penalties, etc.).

So it’s no surprise it comes up in YA, but I’m wondering if there is unexplored territory here due to to the overwhelming pull of The Wedding on our stories (I’m looking at you, epilogue to Deathly Hallows). Central romances in any other type of storytelling (and any other phase of life)  you can think of tend toward marriage if they’re successful. Shouldn’t YAs resist this? Do they? It seems to me like it’s really hard to do a significant, central romance that is explicitly not marriage bound (despite the fact that that’s the case for nearly all teenage relationships in real life). But the pay off for “really hard” is generally “really interesting” in my experience.

I think one of the trickiest things about YA is that it is fundamentally anti-ending, despite all the ceremony we associate with the end of high school. Think about it: what’s a bigger deal, the finality of getting your diploma or the unresolved status of all those friends and lovers? Nearly every American teen knows that the end of high school isn’t the end of anything specific other than their early-morning destination five days a week and nine months of the year. (And since a high school diploma won’t get you a decent job anymore, this is more true than ever.)  Teenagers make their peace with uncertainty as they end adolescence, but they don’t resolve that uncertainty. This applies to relationships (what is a marriage if not a resolution of uncertainty?).

So, I want more reading material on marital subjects: First, comments and tips on YAs that address particularly well the awful nebulousness of high school romances at the end of high school. Second, I’ll take queries for existing manuscripts that address this theme. I’m interested in YAs with central romances that know they’re doomed (and not for extraordinary reasons—fatal illnesses, galactic cataclysm, etc.) and how they cope. Go here for how to send queries. The query offer is good until 11:59 PM on June 24, 2011.

*Free Carolrhoda book to anyone who can upack that reference.