Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mucking things up

So there was this USA Today article about self-publishing, and, as expected, it said all the things you expect a mainstream paper to say when covering this issue—which is to say not much of use to anyone actually doing the work of making books. There was this priceless paragraph on editors though:
Another reason: There's no editor to muck things up. Don't get me wrong: Nothing beats a good editor. I've had excellent editors. (And I'm not just saying that because they might be reading this.) But even the best editor can send an author off on a really-not-good tangent. There's nothing worse than having your editor say something to the effect of: "What if, instead of a lawyer racked by guilt for defending a murderer, the heroine is a shape-shifting dolphin falling in love with a werewolf? In Arizona." Go ahead and laugh, but I guarantee there are authors out there vigorously nodding. Having complete control over your own story is as irresistible as a highlander in a Janet Chapman novel.
Now of course, I wonder if I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I thought I was supposed to buy manuscripts, nurture their potential, and eventually guide them into becoming books that are the best expressions of the author’s vision (and establishing that I understand and buy into that vision happens before anyone starts editing).

My mistake.

Here’s how clueless I was about how to be an editor. The screen capture below shows the version history of Meagan Spooner’s Skylark, a book we’ve been revising* since June (note that it took two screen caps to get all of the files).


The book will come out next fall, and—*spoiler alert*—there are no dolphins.

I’ll do better next time.

*And Meg is an extraordinary reviser, so think of this list of revisions as the evidence of an extraordinary dinner party—empty bottles of wine, the gnawed carcasses of exotic birds and beasts, rinds of fine aged cheeses, etc.—rather than the failed, crumpled, and discarded first pages of some frustrated scribbler.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thinking about sex

“Let's tell it how it is, and how it could be / How it was, and of course, how it should be….”

I’m thinking about sex, sexuality, and sexual taboos in YA in advance of this. Thinking about sex, made me think about this post from Ashley Hope Pérez. So my question is, how sex-positive is YA in general?*

(This is going to get explicit-ish.)

Do girls get to enjoy sex in YA novels without dramatic consequences? (Don’t misunderstand. Sex is, I believe, almost always consequential somehow and not just for teens, but that doesn’t mean the consequences are necessarily part of the story at hand.) I can think of examples of guys of all sexual orientations getting off in YA novels without the other shoe dropping or an After-School-Special breaking out. I have a harder time thinking of girls in similar circumstances.

Teens can drink, smoke, and do any number of recreational drugs in YA novels without dramatic in-book consequences (and this is, I believe, appropriate). But can a teenage girl enjoy sex in a YA novel without getting pregnant, having her reputation ruined, etc.?

Nabokov famously said there were at least three taboos in American literature as far as publishers were concerned. Lolita covered the first. “The two others are: A Negro-White Marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at age 106.”

Is it taboo for a teenage girl to have a happy orgasm without a yeah-but moment thirty pages later in a YA novel? Examples? (Maybe there are tons and I’m just slow-witted today.)

*I’m not interested in debating whether YA should be sex-positive. That’s not the point.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

If you’re in town…


Should be very interesting. The two teenage panelists are very smart readers. The adults will try to keep up.

Monday, October 10, 2011

You are under no obligation to …

…do any of the following in picture book nonfiction:

1. Begin at the beginning.

2. End at the ending.

3. Cover everything in the middle.

I’m not being facetious here. Comprehensive coverage of any subject (particularly a biography) is not a wise goal for a 32- to 38-page picture book. It’s not possible, and you’ll invariable cut corners on good storytelling if you do, so don’t.

There. You’re free now. Go tell stories with facts.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Here’s to the crazy ones.

I don’t have a personal remembrance of Steve Jobs, but I have, in the course of my computing life, owned a non-trivial number of Apple products (the SE/30 on the right is the first computer we ever had). You may count me among those who believe there is something great about what Apple creates (but please don’t call me a fanboy; I’ve never lined up for anything).

I’m also fascinated by Jobs because I love stories, and Jobs’ whole life is a good story, one that’s being retold ad infinitum right about now. In reading some of these remembrances, it’s striking to see that Steve Jobs was recognizably Steve Jobs at least as early as junior high school, when he introduced himself to William Hewlett, cofounder of HP:

When he was in eighth grade, Steve Jobs decided to build a frequency counter for a school project and needed parts. Someone suggested that he call Bill Hewlett. Finding a William Hewlett in the telephone book, the 12-year-old Jobs called and asked, "Is this the Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard?" "Yes," said Bill. Jobs made his request. Bill spent some time talking to him about his project. Several days later, Jobs went to HP and picked up a bag full of parts that Bill had put together for him.

Subsequently, Jobs landed a summer job at HP. He later went on to co-found Apple Computer. [via]

In hindsight, that’s quite a moment (maybe Bill Hewlett gave electronics components to kids everyday, but I kind of doubt it). And I bet there were dozens of interesting moments in the adolescence of Steve Jobs  in the decade between meeting Hewlett and founding Apple.

These kinds of entrepreneurship stories are part of American mythology. Jobs isn’t alone. Henry Ford was repairing watches at 15. Edison was running a business selling candy and newspapers on trains. And on and on. This is why it’s odd to me that this stock character in American mythology isn’t really present in young adult lit (comment if you can correct me). It’s clear that these people really get interesting in their teen years.

Is the problem that the arcs of their lives don’t reach anything like a peak in their adolescent years? Is it that their adolescences seem remarkable only in retrospect? Maybe, but I’m not convinced. YA isn’t about peaks; it’s about the interesting struggles of interesting people in the midst of a transition common to us all.

So, I’m open to novels with main characters who personify this spirit. YA or older middle-grade. No biographies, no thinly-veiled novelizations of biographies. No books that extend into adulthood. Standard genre rules apply. Offer ends 11/7/11. Void where prohibited. Submission directions can be found here.

photoAnd, as a special treat, here’s an old (2001) bio of Jobs from Carolrhoda’s sister imprint, Twenty-First Century Books. Wonder what happened to that author….