Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Finland, Finland, Finland

Finland, Finland, Finland

The country where I want to be

Pony trekking or camping

Or just watching TV

Finland, Finland, Finland

It's the country for me

You're so near to Russia

So far from Japan

Quite a long way from Cairo

Lots of miles from Vietnam

Finland, Finland, Finland

The country where I want to be

Eating breakfast or dinner

Or snack lunch in the hall

Finland, Finland, Finland

Finland has it all

You're so sadly neglected

And often ignored

A poor second to Belgium

When going abroad

Finland, Finland, Finland

The country where I quite want to be

Your mountains so lofty

Your treetops so tall

Finland, Finland, Finland

Finland has it all

Finland, Finland, Finland

The country where I quite want to be

Your mountains so lofty

Your treetops so tall

Finland, Finland, Finland

Finland has it all

Finland has it all
-Michael Palin, Monty Python

And now Finland has Carrie Jones. A free book for anyone who can translate this review. (And are the Fins such rabid consumers of YA fiction that their newspapers regularly review American YA that's not even available in their language? Can I move to Helsinki?)
NOTE: Apparently this is in Swedish, but the newspaper is based in Finland. Good to know.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Flux, where the naughtiness goes to 11

A teacher recently told Carrie Jones about a slight difficulty with Carrie's web site and the teacher's computer. Specifically, the Symantec nannyware on the school system's computers blocks Carrie's site.

The screen capture shows what happens when you try to navigate to http://www.carriejonesbooks.com/.

Note the "DDR Score" (no, not "Dance Dance Revolution", but "Dynamic Document Review"). According to what I've read, the typical threshold for a page block is a DDR score of 50. So, Carrie managed a 794. She always was an overachiever.

No, she doesn't have the complete works of Anaïs Nin hidden in her site. It's most likely because she discusses the working title of Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend. Still, this seems more than a little silly, especially, since, as the teacher points out, the software is completely blind to other languages or to purely visual content, so feel free, kids, to surf over to porno en Español or to Google images, but stay away from YA writer and fudgesicle evangelist Carrie Jones.

(Amusingly enough, it took a while for me to get an email through to this teacher, because the nannyware blocked my emails, due to the MySpace link I used to have in my signature.)

UPDATE: Apparently this blog scores a measly 192 on the DDR. Enough to get it blocked, but not nearly as much as Carrie. Come on! I know (girls, girls, girls!) I can do (porno) better than (Viagra) that!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Great Booksellers

In a comment on an earlier post, Brian Mandabach mentioned the famous Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, Colorado. Tattered Cover is a truly great bookstore, and this is in no small part because Joyce Meskis, its owner, is one of the most inspiring and courageous people in the world of books. She is a bookseller who has actually faced down federal agents and won. I had a chance to hear her speak when she gave a keynote address at the Denver Publishing Institute in 2002, and I left with goosebumps. She can really cut right to the bone when she talks about the importance of an open and unencumbered marketplace of ideas and of the right to shop in that marketplace without fear that someone is watching over your shoulder. I particularly love the letter to her customers that's one display in the store:

To Our Customers, A Statement and a Promise:

Within the Tattered Cover there resides a vast array of books containing ideas as diverse as the world in which we live. We sincerely believe that censorship in any form, whether by individuals, special interest groups, or by government is seriously damaging to every citizen of this country. We believe that it is in the best interests of our democratic society that ideas of all kinds be allowed to flow freely to the individuals who seek them, regardless of what our own tastes might be.

While we recognize that every individual makes personal choices about what's good or bad, right or wrong, valuable or worthless, we feel it is not our right to make those choices for you regarding your reading material or the authors who sign copies of their books at the store.

In fact, we maintain that it is our responsibility as booksellers to actively resist censorship that limits your right as our customers to make those choices for yourselves.

Can I get an amen and a hallelujah on the last paragraph?

And here's a good article on Meskis's various great works.

Update: "Danger, here there be 'gay'"

More developments on this post. Some excellent comments have appeared over at Sea Heidi Write (including from esteemed friends of Flux Little Willow and Literaticat), AS IF, and at Carrie's own blog. Check 'em out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Real Danger in the Kids' Section

I've been thinking a lot about what Brian Mandabach wrote about libraries being dangerous places, and that this is a good thing. It came to mind most recently when Carrie Jones told me about her most recent experience with a book gatekeeper shying away from perceived danger.

It is increasingly clear to me that when adults suppress or censor or otherwise keep a book out of a children's section in a library or bookstore, they are reacting more from a desire to protect their own adult sensibilities than from any carefully considered notion of what is in any child's best interest. It is as often squeamishness as it is outright hostility to a subject. I really do sympathize with the bookseller who worries about offending grandmothers by stocking a certain book (I know, grandma has money; grandson does not), but that a book might give offense is not a good reason not to stock a book. I realize no bookstore can or should stock everything. Fine. But if you're not going to stock a particular book, do it because you can't sell it; because it won't find an audience among your customers. Because you think it's a crappy book and you simply don't want to be associated with it, no matter how many sales you lose. If you say you can't sell the book, then I take you at your word. (Really, those are the same rationals I use with manuscripts.) But if you see that a book is selling and if you know that there exists among your customers a minimum number of readers who might want to read the book, then how can you be satisfied with "I can't carry it because it might offend _______"?

All good books seem to offend somebody. In fact, that may be the surest sign that a book is going to prove to be important to some readers. Mandabach is right to see danger in the library. He's also right to embrace it. And so it should be with bookstores.

Isn't the challenge and reward of bookselling to create a place where people can discover a book or two that they love among many other books? I'm pretty sure that the goal is not to create a place where people will encounter only books that don't offend them.

Monday, May 21, 2007

More photos, please

Flux authors, readers, booksellers, librarians:

I feel like the blog needs more photos. Not more photos with dubious copyright situations like the one of Ms. Paltrow below, but more photos of Flux people or people with Flux books or of enormous piles of brownies at SCBWI conferences. I'll play along, too, and post sneak peaks of covers and photos I take at conferences.

So e-mail me your photos, and I'll post them in the Flickr stream that'll live on the right from now on. I feel like there's a contest in this somewhere, too, so stay tuned. And if nobody sends me any photos, I'll just ask Micol Ostow to let me run pictures of her trip to Cannes.

Created with Paul's flickrSLiDR.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Awards are good, too

Congratulations are in order for Christine Kole MacLean. How It's Done won an Independent Publishers' Book Award (an "IPPY," to the cognescenti). She took the gold medal for YA fiction. Simone Elkeles also got in on the action, taking a silver medal for her How to Ruin a Summer Vacation in multicultural children's fiction.

Books from our big-sister imprint, Midnight Ink, also came in for some hardware, as did the Mother Ship.

Congrats, all around.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Good-Review Friday

Kliatt had much love for Carrie Jones' Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend and Brian Yansky's Wonders of the World.

Claire Rosser writes that Wonders is "Grim and realistic" and that "Yansky is a fine writer who masters a complicated narrative." She also echoes my sentiments when she says of Carrie Jones, "It's good to have her talent in the field." Don't worry, there's much more of Carrie to come.

I also worry that Claire is getting a warped sense of Flux's books, given that our books made her write "lovers, yes--lovers," "pretty much a prostitute," and "life as a porn star" in her summaries. Hopefully, she'll get to review the entirely wholesome and morally upstanding Epoch, which just came in yesterday.

Warning: You are entering a library zone

Flux author Brian Mandabach has a provocative and interesting perspective on libraries at his blog. A sample:

". . . I also think that libraries should be dangerous places. When she was in 5th grade, my daughter read Fahrenheit 451. It was in the classroom library--clearly not part of the vetted curriculum approval process--and though the book terrified her, I did not insist that the book be removed. There are plenty of 5th graders in this "gifted and talented" class who would benefit from the book. If my daughter was not mature enough to read it, the fault for letting her read it belongs to her parents. Maybe I should have paid more attention, but maybe it was okay. She was tested against her own limits and learned that she wasn't ready for that sort of thing. . ."

There is something thought-provoking in the notion that libraries are inherently dangerous places. Reading itself, especially when you are young, is not a risk-free proposition--not should it be. I'm not sure what's gained if a child's reading follows a well defined and entirely safe developmental pattern, but I have to believe that some degree of self-knowledge is lost by smoothing the bumps out of the road.

Thanks Brian, I'm going to have to think about this one some more.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

“Lunch is many things. Lunch is complicated.”

Over at A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy, Liz Burns recently blogged about the movie Brick. I saw this movie a few months ago and gushed about it unbearably to any who would listen. And now I'm doing it again. If there's a movie YA authors should be watching and studying, it's Brick. And if there's a filmmaker who should really buy the option to M.T. Anderson's Feed, it's Rian Johnson. (I love this quip from his IMDB profile: "Teen movies often have an unspoken underlying premise in which high school is seen as less serious than the adult world. But when your head is encased in that microcosm it's the most serious time of your life." )

Monday, May 14, 2007

Simulating terror

Some of my most visceral memories of elementary school are of tornado and fire drills. I remember vividly so many things, including the arcane debates over whether, during a tornado, it was a better to take a few seconds to grab a heavy book to hold over one's head before evacuating to the hallways or if one should simply make for the hallway and assume the practiced protective position with interlaced fingers protecting the back of one's head (I even remember the subspecies of that debate: whether to hold the book closed over your head or to open it for maximum coverage). It was all very, very important at the time. Later, in junior high and high school, it seemed that the extra minutes of unscheduled time created by a fire or tornado drill had a kind of intense and surprising sweetness--like reaching into your backpack and finding an unanticipated candy bar. There were conversations you could have only during fire and tornado drills. Whatever we were preparing for was abstract and impossible, but the rehearsal was welcome and pleasurable break in the day.

Apparently, memories of disaster drills--now expanded to encompass man-made catastrophes, as well as natural ones--will have a decidedly different flavor for many present-day kids. Check this out from CNN.com; the video is interesting, too (thanks, BoingBoing). Maybe, rehearsals are now terrifying because the real thing isn't so abstract or impossible anymore.

I'm assuming the teachers and administrators who dreamed this drill up aren't sadists or even particularly stupid people. I'm more inclined to believe they're caught up in a larger cultural obsession with fear and preparedness. (And if you need any more evidence of this obsession, check out the banner ad that was running on the right of the article when I read it. I circled it).

Despite the themes' relative popularity in adult fiction, YA fiction that deals directly with terror and our current state of perpetual emergency (what color are we today?) has not yet been commercially successful, and I haven't noticed that anyone is acquiring it aggressively. Ultimately, it's not for me to say whether the marketplace of YA readers wants a YA take on the material that has occupied the likes of adult-fiction luminaries like Jonathan Safron Foer, John Updike, and Don DeLillo (with not inconsiderable commercial success, I might add). But what I can say is that terrorism and fear and our national obsession with preparedness must, I'm sure, be apparent in some form in day-to-day teenage experience--and anything that's there in real teenage experience is fair game for the fictional versions. In other words, even if you're not writing about terrorism, fear, paranoia, etc., how can they not affect the worlds of your books?

Congratulations Brian Yansky

An early, early review for Brian Yansky's Wonders of the World just came in from Kirkus. Among other things, they dig his "meaningfully spare first-person voice" and the way Brian "deftly and subtly portrays Eric's slow acknowledgement of the truth about his father, and provides an ending that, while still bleak, is livable." So true.

Brian's writing has a unique sort of magic. The reviewer calls it "a touch of magical realism" but I think it's actually his eye for the sublime and the subversive amongst the overlooked that makes his writing stand out. If you read the book, then the irony of the title will be fairly apparent to you (if the cover doesn't give it away), but I can't help but think there's an unironic aspect of wonder in the book too. Author Alison McGhee called teenagers "magical beings" in a recent talk, and I think Yansky captures some of that magic in the way he creates a teenage character with an enormous capacity for hope and imagination in a world where cruelty and despair are the adult norms. It's a wonder.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sherman Alexie and YA

Sherman Alexie belongs to the illustrious list of famous living authors I really ought to have read (he fits in neatly next to Martin Amis on this theoretical bookshelf of mine), and for a while I've been thinking maybe I'll read his Indian Killer. Or maybe I'll grab his latest novel, Flight, which he talked about last night in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio--especially now that I know he has a YA coming out soon-ish.

The interview is generally interesting--I imagine especially so for fans--but for the YA crowd he does say some fairly provacative things about our favorite genre.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

More on Banned Book

Now John Green has gotten in the act in his inimitable way. Watch the video. At some point, John will point down, as though there were a link for you to click. Fortunately, there is.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Hey, hey, it's the first of May

New books are releasing today!

I don't tend to get excited about release dates because they have very little to do with reality (exhibit a: Carrie Jones, whose Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend is a May 1 release, saw an actual stranger actually buy her book in an actual store last weekend--before her hallowed release date. She blogged about this extremely rare experience). But, it's worth noting that not only is Carrie's book "officially" released today, but so is the conclusion to Jo Whittemore's Silverskin Legacy Trilogy, Onaj's Horn, from Llewellyn.

Happy release days all!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Today in banned books

It's not everyday that the author gets to confront her censors (kinda). Prolific and popular YA author Maureen Johnson does so with abundant wit and style.