Thursday, June 28, 2007

What did Judy Blume teach you?

In her ALA report, Simone Elkeles wrote this of Judy Blume: "This woman taught me about sex, relationships, how to be a brat, how to increase my bust (which she said, and I quote Judy directly, 'Doesn’t work.' –but I insist it did for me!), among other important things." Then Micol Ostow asked in a comment if meeting Judy Blume is a standard Flux perk.

While this is sadly not the case, Simone and Micol did get me thinking. I learned things from Judy Blume--decidedly different things, mind you. For instance, I first encountered the idea of a family living in an apartment in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (I pictured my own suburban home, except with an elevator). Not as exciting, but still very distinct in my memory.

So, what did you learn from Judy Blume? (And I suppose we should also throw this open to other generation-spanning authors, like Robert Cormier or Flux's own Marilyn Sachs, whose first children's book, Amy Moves In, came out 40 years ago.)

Simone Elkeles at ALA

The fabulous Simone Elkeles was at the American Library Association annual meeting last weekend. Based on her report and pictures, I think she had a good time. Highlights follow:

She attended the Penguin cocktail part with Penguin author Shannon Greenland: "So we’re meeting very cool librarians at the private cocktail party (it IS the American Library Association conference) and in walks none other than JUDY BLUME. Yes, the Judy Blume. This woman taught me about sex, relationships, how to be a brat, how to increase my bust (which she said, and I quote Judy directly, 'Doesn’t work.' –but I insist it did for me!), among other important things--and I’d never even met the woman."

Well, she has now. That's Ms. Blume between Shannon and Simone.

I've never known Simone to be at a loss for words, and by her own account she came through here, paying Judy Blume a compliment she's probably never heard before: "And then I said, 'You’re bigger than…' I wanted to say God, but God does have one up on Judy Blume. So I thought of who is right under God and I said it. I told Judy Blume, 'You’re bigger than…Oprah!'”

She also got down to business and signed 150 copies of her Teen-Top-Ten nominated How to Ruin a Summer Vacation at the YALSA booth. "I signed until they turned off the convention lights at 5:00pm and told all attendees to leave. People stood in line for over an hour for me. Surreal, and awesome!"

Perhaps the coolest thing though, was this: "A librarian named Wendy, when she read my name tag, clapped and gasped. She loved my books and was so excited to meet me. I said, 'Did you just gasp? For me?' Yes, and she wanted her picture taken with me. It was a day I’ll never forget!"

Nice. Very nice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I suppose it's good that they were honest about it

I found this link on BoingBoing this morning. It's a scan of a rejection letter sent to a young woman by the Disney animation department in the 30s. Here's a big scan. The gist is that Disney didn't hire girls for any creative work, but young ladies were welcome to apply for tracing and paint-by-numbers-type work (in fact, Disney seems to have maintained a strict segregation back then: boys drew and girls traced and painted--no mixing).

I send out a lot of rejection letters, and though I've never rejected any author's work for reasons that, decades later, will probably be illegal, I'm also very rarely is direct about exactly why I'm saying no. (Nor is my stationary so colorful.)

Aside from how amusing and sad this is, it's interesting read it against the backdrop of the present-day Laura Albert/JT Leroy brouhaha, which is dissected here, among other places (includes comments from one-time Flux commenter Larry Doyle, who makes interesting points about what exactly Hollywood buys when it options a book. Hint: it's not buying just the text). Here, the basics are that the production company wanted its advance back from the author because it turned out that JT Leroy was nothing but an elaborately maintained persona of Laura Albert--and Ms. Albert's backstory was vastly less exciting than Mr./Ms. Leroy's. The production company believed people would be less interested in a movie based on a work of fiction when they found out that the author's bio was itself a work of fiction.

What to take away from all this? Well, we obviously have a long history of preconceived expectations about who can do what kind of creative work, and purveyors of that work (present company included) are not at all above playing these expectations to their advantages. Conversely, we purveyors are likely to face--or perhaps to imagine that we face--resistance or at least reduced sales expectations when there is dissonance between author and work (e.g.: male authors writing female protagonists).

I'm not inclined to conclude that any of this reflects well on any of us.

Monday, June 25, 2007

And then there are some reviewers you just want to antagonize

Nine out of ten Imperial Storm Troopers hate Terie Garrison's DragonSpawn Cycle. They are infuriated by the triumph of a plucky band of rebels over a totalitarian cabal of evil wizards. Really, look, you can see how pissed off they are.

The Anxieties!

It's not healthy for an editor to sweat reviews, it's really not. But there are some books where I really can't help it, where I worry that the book will land in the hands of a reviewer who won't "get it." This has been especially true for satirical books like Tim Carter's Epoch. So, I say a small thank you to CM: Canadian Review of Materials for their review of Tim's novel.

Among many other good things, the reviewer writes: "Nothing is beyond his humour, and yet the satire remains more gentle and amusing than biting. For the observant reader, even the clever choice of names (Alphega Corporation, the Drear family, Chanteuse) produces a smile."

Did you hear that? The sigh? Relief.

Congratulations Tim on a four-star review!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Taking the good with the bad

The Bad: Sigh. This is sad. It must be hard to be a teen in Pickens County, South Carolina.

The Good: Last week, Brian Farrey got us invited to talk to a teen book group at a local university. This is one of the many groups nationwide that gets to read pre-pub galleys as part of a YALSA program. It was a short-notice deal, and Brian and I didn't really have much of a plan, so naturally, I was a little nervous. As it turned out, I didn't really need to be. The members of the group asked us excellent questions and made thoughtful comments for ninety minutes. It was great. Reviews are gratifying and sales are important, but nothing beats being present while a reader explains (ecstatically) why she loves a book you published. Amazing. Many thanks to Adela Peskorz of Metro State University for allowing us to come. My hope for the future of humanity was restored (though, since Epoch is now hitting stores, some of you may question that-- That gives me an idea, maybe Pickens County, SC needs an emergency air drop of a few thousand copies of Epoch . . .)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Books (and a mini contest)!

Holy cow, June is full of new Flux books and I haven't made any sort of fuss. I plead BEA and throw myself at your collective mercies.

Anyway, Terie Garrison's SpringFire is on the shelves and on the Web, and with it, fantasy readers will come one step closer to the completion of her four-book DragonSpawn cycle. I've read all four books, and I think this one is my favorite (mmm . . . scarification . . . fun stuff). Harry Potter fans will find Terie's books a more than adequate hors d'oeuvres to July's deathly main course

And speaking of sequels, Simone Elkeles' How to Ruin My Teenage Life joins its predecessor in stores this month. Yes, Avi figures prominently.

Finally, Brian Yansky's tremendous second YA, Wonders of the World is out. Brian's novel is a truly unique piece. He's one of those authors with a voice that I'd recognize instantly. A free Flux book to the first person to identify the fairy tale/folk tale source material for Yansky's villain. Put it in the comments with some way for me to get back to you.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, you'll have to read at least the first, say, fifty pages of Wonders of the World, but if you do, you can, like I did, figure it out with some quick Googling and a rudimentary (very rudimentary) knowledge of the operas of Bartok. Or being a fan of Neil Gaiman might help too, I'm told. And yes, anyone named Brian is disqualified.

UPDATE II: We have winners! Thanks all!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Getting the college thing right

Pre-college anxiety is a fixture of teen literature and teen entertainment--and rightly so, since it builds from a background buzz beginning around sophomore year into an all-consuming siren of an obsession (for many) by the beginning of senior year. It only makes sense that authors interested in capturing teen experience and telling stories about being a teen must write about tests, applications, essays, scholarships, financial aid, and their attendant anxieties. And since the pre-college obstacle course that most teens run is only getting more complicated, it also stands to reason that how it appears in teen fiction should be more complicated, nuanced, and diverse than it was decades ago.

But I'm not really seeing that last part as much as I'd like, truth be told, and I think it's a bit of a missed opportunity. What I do see are some rather conventional--dare I say, sometimes cliche--portrayals of the college application process that ought to be refined into something more nuanced and interesting, if not more realistic. Case in point, in an ARC I read just the other day on the way back from BEA, I found a slightly disappointing example of college-scholarship-realism laziness in the form of a full-ride athletic scholarship to a NCAA Division III college. Sorry, no such thing exists. D3 schools don't give athletic scholarships of any kind. It's in the rules. I'm not saying that for something to be true in fiction, it must be true in reality, but I am saying it's disappointing for a plot to hinge on a version of reality that's less imaginatively rich than the real thing. I don't like plot points that are simply expedient.

Where I think an opportunity is most greatly missed, though, is the eggs-in-one-basket character who is stressing out over that one scholarship that is the difference between going to college and not. Is it ever this cut and dry? And even if it is, is it really the best way to portray this situation for a given character? Sure, I have no problem with a character becoming irrationally obsessed with a single scholarship, to the extent that it comes to stand for something larger than college (Varian Johnson's upcoming novel handles this well)--that's interesting--but I do have a problem with a universe where everyone in the book accepts the notion of the make-or-break scholarship. That's boring compared to what actual teens face, which is a kind of complicated combination of investment and gambling, wherein it is common for an eighteen year old to sign his name to a promissory note that will have him making monthly payments into his late 30s. Adults are generally gung-ho about teens not making sexual decisions that will affect them for decades, but they are completely complicit in pressuring teens to make certain educational and financial decisions that will affect them for just as long. The complicated decision involved in whether and how to finance college by heavy borrowing (which is what many teens end up doing) can lay bare differences of class, family worldview, and personality that were otherwise completely concealed. It's a great way in particular to learn what a family is all about. I remember well a very good friend from high school, whose path up until senior year was similar to mine in most ways, and who could have easily gone away to an expensive, loan-financed private college (as I did). She did not. Of course, it was never a question of whether she could go to college (a decade ago, at my mostly white, mostly middle-class high school, that was never the question for anyone I knew); it was a question of on what terms would she go to college. I think the notion of borrowing many tens of thousands of dollars to go to one school when she could go to another school for basically nothing (a local community college, to start, then a small local state school) was not one she and her family could support. They did not see the benefits, if there were any. It seemed more practical to them for her borrow money to buy a new car and begin a very career-oriented course of study (I probably called it a "tech school course" with ample superior sneering). At the time, I was a rather narrow-minded and opinionated little shit, and I'm sure I repeatedly strained our friendship by telling her how crazy I thought her decision was (I was, theoretically, facing the same choices, but my family was a very much a wherever-you-want-to-go-and-damn-the-cost family). Looking back now, though, I see how much complexity and anxiety there was in this decision for both of us and how heavily it weighed on our friendship by exposing real differences we rarely otherwise encountered.

YA authors have done a fantastic job in recent years of capturing the nuances and varieties of some of the other future-defining Big Decisions (sex, in particular), but college doesn't seem to be at the same level of nuance yet (though, I do remember--don't ask why--a bit in Beverly Hills 90210 where Andrea goes off on Brandon for using the word "masticate." She snaps because she's freaking out over the SATs and thinks that "masticate" is a word Brandon must have learned from some expensive SAT prep course, which she can't afford. It's one of those rare moments of class-consciousness in the show).

Anyway, I'd love to see this change. I would love to see books where this situation assumes the importance and complexity it has in real life (and this doesn't mean "issues" books that are all about college apps, anymore than writing about sex means issues books that are all about pregnancy--it's all part of the larger experience). I think it could make for some really interesting storytelling in a variety of books.

BEA wrap up

So, I was at the schmooze-fest that is BEA, but, no, I don't really have a minute to do a "wrap up" anytime soon, but suffice it to say it was fabulous to meet NYC and surrounding-area Flux authors Carrie Jones, Alex Richards, Robin Friedman, Stacy DeKeyser, Micol and David Ostow, and Laurie Faria Stolarz. Do check out their blogs for details. Meeting authors made the deafness, the laryngitis, the repetitive stress injuries (smile, shake, repeat), and the sleep deprivation all worth it.